Finally Read online

  I follow her gaze to the last woman in the row, the shortest and stockiest. Although she’s currently facing away from me, dropping a tiny scoop of tuna onto a kid’s plate, I gasp with recognition. As I whirl around to tell them I know her from the Reservoir, my book bag swings behind me, knocking a seventh grade girl’s food completely off her tray and sending it clattering to the floor. She stands there, staring down at the floor, the soda she had just grabbed from the shelf now dangling from her hand.

  “Omigod, I’m so sorry,” I say, bending down to help her pick things up. There’s nothing to be done about the sloppy joe, though. It’s a huge mess of ground beef, chunks of what I hope are onion but could be anything, and red sauce. A lot of red sauce.

  “Don’t worry,” Leo says, hurrying over and placing a few layers of napkins on top of the mess. “Happens all the time.” I look up to see that the lunch lady is already replacing the girl’s sandwich. I hope the sauce on the side of her shoe won’t stain. By the time I collect myself enough to look for the short, white-haired woman, she’s gone.

  “Where is she?” I ask, looking in all directions. “Where’d she go?”

  “Must be her lunch break,” Amanda says with a shrug. She points at the food counter. “It’s your turn.”

  After seeing the sloppy joe in all its glory on the floor, I point to a turkey sandwich. The woman plops it onto my plate along with some mashed potatoes. I follow Amanda and Leo down the line, sliding my tray along like they do. “Did you guys ever notice anything strange about that lunch lady? The one you pointed out to me?”

  “Strange like what?” Leo asks, pulling a hot pretzel out of the case.

  I take a pretzel, too. “Like if she has a strange birthmark on her cheek? Kind of looks like a duck?”

  “I never noticed anything like that,” Amanda says, grabbing some milk. “Have you, Leo?”

  Their eyes meet for a split second before Leo shakes his head. “Nope.”

  “I’m sure I know her,” I mumble as I hand over my five dollars to the cashier. She hands me back two.

  “Enjoy your lunch,” Leo says, as he and Amanda head off in the other direction.

  But all I can think is, You won’t get what you want, until you see what you need. What is it I need to see? And will I know it when I see it?

  Chapter Seven

  After school, Annabelle, Sari, and I had planned to scope out the trailers to see if we could find which one has Jake Harrison’s name on it. But to my surprise, Mom is waiting for me behind the row of buses, leaning against the door of her car, texting. From a distance, my mom doesn’t look that much different from a teenager, but still, it’s embarrassing. I tell Annabelle and Sari to go without me, then hurry over to her, assessing the situation as I go. The fact that she’s standing outside her car means she doesn’t have Sawyer. If something were wrong, she’d be frantically yelling into the phone, not casually texting. So why is she here?

  I dig out my house key (now attached to a really cool silver key chain with the number “12” on it from Sari) and wave it in the air. “Did you forget I’m allowed to walk home on my own?”

  She presses a few more buttons on her phone, then slips it into her pocket. “No, I didn’t forget. I thought I’d swing by and take you on an errand with me while Sawyer’s on a playdate.”

  “An errand?” I repeat, staring longingly after Annabelle and Sari, who I can see have already dodged the security guard posted at the end of the parking lot.

  “C’mon,” she says, opening the passenger door for me. “You’ll like this one.”

  As we maneuver around the buses, Mom asks, “So, what did you buy for lunch today?”

  I tick things off on my fingers. “Turkey sandwich, mashed potatoes, juice, and a hot pretzel.” Now, had she asked what I ate for lunch instead of what I bought, I would have been forced to admit that all I ate was the hot pretzel.

  “Those sound like good choices.”

  “Actually … they didn’t taste very good.” I wait for her to say she’ll go back to making my lunch, but she doesn’t. As we turn onto Main Street, my phone vibrates. It had been going off all day, which was very distracting. I answer it, tell them they have the wrong number, and hang up. “Mom, you have to let me turn off my phone during the day. The pizza people call, like, every five minutes. It almost got taken away this morning.”

  “I’ll think about it,” she says. I’ve just put it away when a buzz alerts me to a new text. That could only mean one thing.

  Why do I miss all the fun things? I stare out the window glumly until Mom makes a left into the bank parking lot. I perk up. The errand I’m supposedly going to like is at the bank? Is she going to give me the money for my bunny? Seems unlikely, but why else would we be here?

  She leads me inside and surprises me further by telling the bank clerk we need to access our safe-deposit box. I didn’t even know we had a safe-deposit box. What else don’t I know about my parents’ secret lives? This is all very mysterious. The clerk asks if my mom has her key, and she says yes. Then he grabs a huge set of keys hanging off a round wire chain and motions for us to follow him. I had hoped we’d be going into the vault, because that’s how it always is in the movies, but we pass right by the huge gold-colored door with the wheel on the outside. He unlocks a door at the end of a short hallway, and we follow him inside. This is a little more what I had expected to see. Rows and rows of boxes along the wall that look like the boxes at the post office in town, except these each have two keyholes. As the guy begins flipping through the keys on his chain, my phone vibrates loud enough to be heard. Mom glances at me and says, “Boy, that really does go off a lot, doesn’t it?”

  I nod vigorously.

  “Must be a pain.”

  Again with the vigorous nodding.

  The guy holds up the key that matches my mom’s box number and says, “Ready?” They both stick their keys in the holes and turn them at the exact same time. The door springs open and Mom slides out a narrow metal box. The guy directs us over to an area in the back with private booths, and tells us to hit the buzzer by the door when we’re ready to leave.

  My curiosity is at an all-time high. Gold bars? Fake passports? Stacks of hundred dollar bills tied together with twine? The booth has a small table with a velvet pad covering half of it, and a curtain that Mom pulls shut behind us. We sit on the small bench and I don’t take my eyes off the box as Mom flips open the lid. At first all I see are papers with words like Deed, Homeowners Insurance, Last Will and Testament. Mom quickly lifts these out and places them to the side. Underneath are a few silk pouches of different sizes. Not as exciting as my initial guesses, but still intriguing. “What are those?” I ask.

  She takes out the largest one and empties it onto the velvet pad. My eyes widen as jewelry of all sizes and shapes tumbles out. Necklaces, earrings, bracelets, rings with stones of various colors and shapes, some the size of grapes! The only jewelry I’ve ever seen Mom wear is her wedding ring, dainty little earrings, and maybe a bracelet or two if she and Dad are going out.

  I can’t help reaching out to touch the pile. “What is all this? Did you rob a jewelry store?”

  She laughs. “Nothing that sinister. I inherited this from your grandmother and great-grandmother. You’ll inherit it from me one day.”

  I grab her arm. “You’re dying? Is that why you brought me here?”

  She laughs. “I’m not dying, I promise!”

  When I calm down enough, I pick through the different pieces. Everything is so … big. “How come you never wear any of this?”

  “It’s not really my style,” she says, scooping it up and putting it back in the pouch. “Tastes were different back then.”

  “It’s really cool and everything, but why did you want to show it to me?”

  She reaches for one of the smaller pouches, a deep red rose–colored one. “This is what I want to show you. Actually,” she says, placing the pouch in my hand, “I want to give it to you. It’s from yo