It’s currently upside down at the bottom of the same drawer where I’ve hidden my dad’s stupid photo book. I wanted to throw it away after we stopped speaking, but I couldn’t make myself do it, because that walking route he drew? It’s where the Great Experiment started.
Who knew walking could lead to heartbreak?
Out of curiosity, I screw on a low-power eyepiece and hesitantly aim my assembled telescope toward the Mackenzies’ duplex. Just for a quick look. It’s not as if I usually spy on all the neighbors. I quickly focus on Lennon’s room. It’s empty. Thank God. After an adjustment, I can see an unmade bed and, right beyond it, his reptile terrariums. The last time I was in his room, there were only two, but now there are at least six sitting on shelves and one big floor model. It’s a freaking jungle up in there.
I scan the rest of his room. He has a TV and a million DVDs stacked precariously, out of their cases. Probably all horror movies. An enormous map hangs over his desk. A map of what, I’m not sure, but it’s professional, not one that’s he’s drawn himself—definitely not one of our late-night walking routes. Silly even to think it could be.
A shadow catches my eye as the door to his room swings open and closes. Lennon walks into view. One by one, I watch him turn off lights and heat lamps inside the terrariums. Then he sits on the edge of his bed and begins unlacing his boots.
That’s my cue to bail.
Only, I don’t.
I watch him take off both boots and chuck them in the middle of his floor. Then he tugs up his shirt and pulls it off. Now he’s bare-chested, wearing only black jeans. I should definitely look away before this turns X-rated. But holy mother of God, when did he get all . . . built? I mean, it’s no soccer-player physique, or anything. He’s too lean to be buff. But he flops on his bed, lying on his back with his arms spread, and stares at the ceiling while I keep staring at him.
And staring . . .
There are now muscles where there weren’t before, and his chest is a lot bigger. Is he lifting weights? No way. That is not him at all. He hates sports. He’d rather hole up with a comic book in the dark.
At least, I think he would. I suddenly feel like I don’t know him anymore.
“Of course you don’t,” I whisper to myself. He’s changed.
I’ve changed. Only, I haven’t, or I wouldn’t still be looking at something that should be off-limits.
When I sharpen the focus, I home in on a stack of muscles rippling down his stomach as he sits up again. And—
I pan to his face. He’s staring this way.
Not in my general location, but RIGHT AT ME.
Heart racing, I jerk back from the telescope and lurch to the floor. Smooth move. Like he didn’t see me do that. If I had just kept a level head and shifted the telescope to the sky, I could have played it cool and pretended I wasn’t really spying on him. But now? My humiliation is total and complete.
Good job, Zorie.
I lie on the floor, dying. Wishing I could take back the last few minutes.
Guess I can add that to the list of everything that’s gone wrong today. Andromeda jumps off the bed and licks my nose in concern.
New plan: I am going on that glamping trip—and to the star party on Condor Peak—if it kills me. I have to get away from this place. Away from my cheating dad. Away from the daily mortification of living next door to a sex shop. And far, far away from Lennon.
* * *
“Oh, check out this one. It will look great on you,” Reagan says in a loud, raspy voice as she pulls a Barbie-pink backpack off a hook. We’ve been inside this specialty outdoor gear store for all of ten minutes, and she’s already filled up a shopping cart with enough hiking gear to outfit the Donner Party. The store’s owner is probably counting up the total in his head and putting a down payment on a new house. Reagan’s mom gave her a credit card and told her to go wild.
Must be nice.
“Jesus! Look at the price tag. It’s too expensive,” I tell her. It’s one of those structured backpacks that covers your entire back from head to butt and holds whatever it is that backpackers need when they’re hiking—sleeping bags and tent poles, things like that.
“Mom said we could buy anything, as long as it’s in this store,” Reagan argues, giving me a mischievous look as she swings a light brown ponytail over one shoulder. “She will regret that. Besides, my dad just made a shitload of money on the stock market. Why do you think my parents suddenly decided to fly to Switzerland? They can afford a couple of backpacks.”
“There’re four in the cart already,” I point out.
Four backpacks. Three tents. Hiking sticks. Sleeping bags. Headlamps. And a set of enamel cookware, because it was “cute.”
“We’ll be needing it,” she says casually.
“I thought this was glamping,” I argue. “Your mom told my mom that the tents are already set up and that all the meals were provided.”
Reagan pushes the shopping cart into an outdoor clothing area. “Yeah, I stayed there last year for my sixteenth birthday. The compound has really nice yurts.”
“Yurt,” she enunciates, pretending to snap at my nose with her teeth. “They’re giant round tents. You could host a huge party inside one. Anyway, the tents we’re buying today are for the backcountry trip we’re taking.”
I don’t like the sound of that. “No one mentioned this.”
“It’s just walking, Zorie. Anyone can do it.”
I snort. “Says the athlete who gets up every morning at the butt crack of dawn to exercise.”
A tortured look clouds her eyes. Is she thinking about her Olympic failure? I think of what Mom said about Reagan struggling, and I immediately regret teasing her.
“I suppose you’re right,” I say quickly. “It’s just walking.”
Reagan glances down at my plaid skirt and surveys my bare legs. “Hiking will do you good.”
I’m not sure what she means by this, but I choose to ignore it, and instead route the conversation in a different direction. “You’re planning on pitching tents in the wilderness? Like, with wild animals and stuff?”
Reagan smacks her gum and wheels up to a display of hiking boots. On the nearby wall is a giant poster of pretty models dressed in flannel, grinning with perfect teeth as they brave the wilds of their photo shoot, pretending to be roughing it. “There are a zillion campgrounds in King’s Forest. I’m sure we’ll be sleeping in one of them,” she assures me. “At least, I think so. I don’t know. All I’ve been told is that the place we’re going is a couple hours’ walk from the main compound. Your average Silicon Valley wannabe hikers don’t know about it. We’re talking totally off trail, baby.”
Off trail sounds awful. Unlike Reagan, I don’t have boundless natural energy and calves of steel. I need to be where there’s caffeine in walking distance, not fighting off bears and mosquitoes. I make a face at Reagan.
“We can be as loud as we want and no ranger will be there to shush us,” Reagan says in her big, raspy voice. “The people who run the glamping compound are nice, but they know my parents. We can’t really let loose around them, you know? I don’t need them giving my mom a report card on our activities.”
Now I’m wondering what kinds of activities she has in mind.