“What?” That’s not how things went down. He ditched me.
“Frankly, I’m surprised you’d risk being seen in public talking to me,” he says. “Every second you’re near me, your hit points drop. Better watch it, or your life meter’s going to drop to zero.”
“I don’t even know what that means.”
“That’s because you’ve been hanging around with Reagan effing Reid for too long.”
“Says the boy who sits home alone with a bunch of snakes.”
“Hey, you would know, spymaster general.”
I press my forehead again the screen. “I already told you, that was a mistake.”
His dark eyes are centimeters from mine. “Was it?”
“If you say so.”
“I . . .” Wait. What are we talking about?
His smile is slow and cocky.
I pull back from the screen. My ears suddenly feel like someone’s holding a blowtorch up to my head. Tugging the curling ends of my bob, I try to cover the telltale redness, wishing it away before the blush spreads down my neck.
“Screw this,” I say. “I was going to apologize for my dad’s behavior, but now I might be glad he bit your head off. I hope you have to get a rabies shot.”
“Am I the bat or Ozzy? Because if your dad was doing the biting, technically he’d have to get the rabies shot.”
“I hate you so much.”
“You know,” he says after huffing out a single, sarcastic chuckle, “I genuinely felt bad for you. I really did, for all of two seconds. Guess I was an idiot, because I can see now that nothing’s changed. You’re still the same cold-as-ice girl. You’re just like him. You know that, right? More concerned with appearances than anything real. Maybe lying runs in your blood.”
Chaotic emotions bubble up. Embarrassment. Pain. And something else I can’t identify. Anger. That must be what it is, because without warning, my eyes sting with unshed tears.
Don’t you dare cry in front of him, I tell myself.
“Zorie,” he says, voice low and rough. “I . . .”
He doesn’t finish, and it doesn’t matter. I don’t care what Lennon Mackenzie thinks. Not now, and not ever.
“I thought I could come in here and talk reasonably with you,” I say, using the calmest, most professional voice I can muster as I step farther away from the cage. “But I guess I was wrong. All I ask is that if you and your parents have any respect for my mother—”
I raise my voice to talk over him. “—that you’ll stay out of her business and let me handle it. If anyone’s going to destroy her life, it should be me, not some stranger who doesn’t care about her.”
And with that, I walk out of the store.
Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.
* * *
“You have everything?” Mom asks, testing the weight of my backpack. It’s almost ten in the morning, and Reagan’s supposed to pick me up in a few minutes. I stopped by the clinic to tell my parents goodbye. “Good lord, this is heavy.”
“That’s my portable telescope and camera.” Who knew ten pounds could be so heavy? It takes up a lot of space in the pack, so I’ve got one of the tents Reagan bought stuffed in the bottom, a compressed sleeping bag, clothes neatly rolled to save space, a couple of energy bars, peanut butter cups, and some chocolate-covered espresso beans—you know, all the major food groups.
I also may have brought a grid-lined journal. Just a small one. And a few gel pens.
“You have the emergency cash I gave you?”
I pat the pocket of my purple plaid shorts. They match my purple Converse, which match my purple eyeglass frames. Did I mention the glittery purple nail polish? I’m killing it. Someone should pay me to look this sharp. One modeling contract, pronto.
“Portable cell phone charger?”
“In my pack,” I lie. It’s an older model that weighs a ton, and in the battle of heavy versus heavy, my telescope and camera won. Besides, they’ll have electricity at the glamping compound. I can just plug my phone in.
Mom inspects my arms. “Hive cream?”
“Yes, I’ve got the stinky homeopathic cream. Where’s Dad? I need to leave soon.”
“Dan!” she calls out to the back rooms, cupping her hands around her mouth. Then she turns back to me. “He’s rushing to head out to the bank. I tried to get an increase on the clinic’s credit card, and they say our credit score is too low because we’re overextended. Which is crazy, because that’s our only credit account, and I paid off your father’s car loan last year. There must be some mistake. He’ll get it sorted out. Oh, there you are,” she says as he jogs into the reception area, keys in hand.
And toward the front door.
“I’ll be back in a jiff,” he says, keys in hand.
“Dan, Zorie’s leaving for her camping trip,” Mom says, sounding as exasperated as I feel.
He turns around and blinks at me, and apparently is just now noticing my backpack. “Of course,” he says, smoothly covering up his faux pas with a charming smile. “Excited to spend time with the Reid daughter?”
“Reagan,” I say.
“Reagan,” he repeats. More smiling. He turns to my mom and says, “Everything checked out at the campsite, right? The girls will be safe there?”
“They have security and everything,” Mom says. “I told you, remember? Mrs. Reid talked to the owner, and they’re going to pay special attention to their group.”
“Right, right,” Dad murmurs, nodding enthusiastically. Then he smiles at me, starts to extend his arms as if he might hug me—which is weird, because we don’t normally do that anymore—and then changes his mind and pats me on the head. “Have a great time, kiddo. Stay in touch with Joy and take your pepper spray in case there are any boys with roaming hands.”
There will be boys, and I certainly hope there will be roaming hands. But no way am I telling him that, so I just laugh, and it sounds as hollow as his smile looks.
He nods stiffly, and it’s awkward. “Gotta get to the bank. See you when you get back,” he says, and before I can answer, he’s jogging out the front door.
When he’s gone, I vent at Mom. “Hello! I’m leaving for an entire week. Does he realize this?”
She holds up a hand in shared exasperation. “He knows. I told him I could take care of the bank on my lunch break, but he insisted it had to be now. He’s just—”
“Stressed,” I say, resigned. “Yeah.”
And what’s up with this credit thing at the bank? That sounds fishy. Or maybe I’m just suspicious of everything my dad touches.
“Hey, forget him. I’m right here,” she says, holding my face in her hands. “And I’m going to miss you like crazy. I will also worry every day, so please call or text to check in when you can.”
“Spotty cell service,” I remind her. We read warnings about it on the glamping compound’s website.
She nods. “If I don’t hear from you, I won’t alert state troopers. Not unless you aren’t standing here in front of me at noon next Friday. In one piece, I might add.”
“Don’t know about one piece, but I’ll be here. Reagan’s got to be back for some presemester orientation thing for her cross-country team,” I remind her. “Speaking of, I’d better get outside. Need to stay on schedule.”