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1 Hillary looked up from her phone, squinting at me in the afternoon sun before she pulled on the sunglasses perched on her head. “There is nothing happening tonight. Nothing.” Ally rolled onto her stomach and took a sip of Diet Coke. “There’s a barn party coming up.” She had a streak of sunblock on her shoulder, which Hil leaned over and rubbed in. “That’s still three days away—is there really nothing planned until then? Mia?” “Not that I’ve heard,” I answered. “But not that I’ve asked either. Do you want me to?” My cell phone was somewhere below my chaise and I made a halfhearted attempt to pick it up without looking. She sighed. “Don’t bother. But if the rest of this summer is as crappy as June has been, then let’s just fast-forward to September.” I couldn’t see her eyes behind the dark lenses of her sunglasses, but I knew they’d look hurt; she’d had a rough week.

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“Except for us, right?” Lauren asked. “We’re not part of the crappiness.” I rolled my eyes and Hil poked me with a purple pedicured toe. “You guys know I love you—it’s the rest of this suckfest of a summer I hate.” My phone kept beeping, but I didn’t feel like checking it. It was one of those afternoons where the weather was too perfect to take anything seriously. I allowed myself some laziness— stretching my arms above my head, soaking up as much sunshine and pool weather as possible. The summer was just beginning; I’d let it ramp up to excitement—there was plenty of time for parties and discovering if school-year flings would become summer ones. Plenty more afternoons just like this. “Laur, you’re turning really pink,” I said, poking her arm gently and watching it transition from white to ouch-red. “It’s not fair. You’re blond; I thought you’re supposed to burn too.” Lauren stated it like an accusation as she traded her spot at the end of our row of chaise longues for a chair beneath the shade of the patio table’s umbrella. “Nope, just redheads.” I tossed her the bottle of sunblock. It was a bad throw, landing closer to the pool than to her hands. “But you’ll be the only one of us without wrinkles when we’re twenty, so it’s almost fair.” “Who wants to come sit with me?” Lauren was constantly asking questions like this. Yesterday I’d done the whole shade-time thing with her. Today I was too content to move, so I simply stared up at the deep and endlessly blue sky.

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“You’re, like, ten feet away. I think you’re fine,” Hil answered. Shifting my shoulders to unstick them from the chair, I selfconsciously adjusted the top of my bikini. Again. At the mall Ally had told me buying a smaller size would make my boobs look bigger. Hil had argued that I was asking for a wardrobe malfunction. Hil was right—and, since she caught the gesture, she knew it. She raised an eyebrow and shook her head. “The green one looked better on you. We’ll go this weekend and buy it.” “Plan,” I agreed. I could maybe get away with this one while lying flat and tanning, but the thought of attempting to wear it while Gyver and I swam laps was enough to make me blush and look toward the fence separating his yard from  mine. Laps often turned into races, and races turned into cheating, grabbing ankles, and dunking each other to get ahead. The winner was the person who didn’t choke on pool water—swimming and laughter not being a great combination. And after we raced we floated side by side, hands, feet, legs, and arms bumping as we bobbed and talked. These scraps of fabric and sequins would never stay put through all that. “What happened to your leg?” Hil asked, interrupting my thoughts. I’d been busy studying the house next door— something I found myself doing all too often lately. “It’s nothing. I banged it against the side in the game of chicken the other night.” I shifted my leg so she couldn’t see the bruise that wrapped around half my calf. It was the latest in a series of purple polka dots on my body.

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Her eyes narrowed. “Ryan is such a klutz. He should’ve been more careful.” “Ryan? Careful?” I laughed. “I’m sorry, are we talking about the same person?” “Ryan’s never careful,” added Ally. She liked to state the obvious, to make sure we were all on the same page. “Speaking of Ryan,” said Lauren. “Where are the boys? Let’s call him and Chris and Kei—” She cut herself off, clapping a hand over her mouth. Ally and I connected with “oh shit!” eyes. “And no one,” Ally finished, a weak attempt to cover Lauren’s slip-up. Weak but sweet. Hil was sitting so still, she looked like a statue—Pixie in Red Bikini. I dropped down next to her on the chaise and wrapped my arms around her. I could almost not blame Lauren; we were all used to including Hil’s ex on the list of guys to invite, but Lauren tended to misspeak a little too often, and look a little too innocent afterward. “Sorry, Hil,” she said. “It’s fine.” Her words were sharp. It was the tone that made freshmen flinch and made me buy cookie dough and schedule a girls’ night for us—a voice she used only when she was hurting. Usually because her parents were involved in another custody hearing. Not because they were fighting over who got to keep her, but because neither wanted to. “Mia, it’s hot, stop hanging on me. I’m fine.” Still the razor voice, but she was leaning into my hug. I didn’t move. “Keith’s an asshole. I don’t need him.”

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She pulled her shoulders back, pulled away from me. In a fluid movement she rose from the chaise and dove into the pool, swimming a length before she surfaced and shook water out of her face. “Laur, Mia, Ally! Get your asses in here.” Potential sunburn forgotten, Lauren obeyed instantly—the pull to be included stronger than her sense of self-preservation. My phone beeped again as I stood. I gathered my hair into a messy knot with one hand and pulled up the texts from my mother, placing the phone on my chair so I could read them while I secured the hair elastic. Drs called. I moved your appt to today. 4 pm. Leaving now. Be ready when I get home. “Aren’t you coming in?” Ally was already bobbing in the water, her toned arms wrapped around a pool noodle. “It feels amazing.” “My mom.” I pointed to my phone. “Can’t. We’re going somewhere at four. If I’m not dressed and ready to go when she gets here . . .” There was no need to finish the sentence; we had years of friendship and my mom’s dramatics in our collective history. “Stay. Swim. If you’re gone before I get back, I’ll call you later.” They were just bruises. It must have been a slow week at her advertising firm for Mom to make such a big deal about them. I probably had a low iron level or something—Lauren claimed she skewed anemic every time she went on a diet. I probably just needed to take a vitamin. I paused before closing the door and shutting out the sounds of Ally’s high giggle and Hil’s throaty chuckle. Lauren shrieked,

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“You guys!” I leaned out, plucked one of the flowers off Mom’s bright-pink clematis from the trellis beside the door. Counting the petals as the door closed behind me: One for sorrow Two for joy Three for a girl Four for a boy Five for silver Six for gold Seven for a secret, never to be told . . . Seven petals. I crushed the flower in my hand.

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2 Coming tonight had been a mistake. I did a quick survey of the party: Hil mixing drinks on a makeshift bar made from hay bales; Ally and Lauren dancing; Ryan cocking his wrist to throw a Ping-Pong ball into a cup of beer. Since they were all occupied, I allowed my smile to slip, let my cup dangle loosely at my side, and stepped back into the shadows that formed along the wall beneath the hayloft. “Drop the drink, Mia. We’re leaving.” It was Gyver’s voice. He didn’t belong here. Not that the rest of us did, but we used the old Nathanson barn for parties more often than the East Lake Historical Society used it for their reenactments, so it felt like ours. “What are you doing here?” I asked. He grabbed the red plastic cup from my hand and threw it into the hay. “Seriously. I don’t care if I have to carry you. We need to go. Now.”

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The action and the words clicked: he was the police chief’s son. “I’m not drunk. I can walk.” “Then do. Quickly.” He grabbed my wrist and began to pull me past the stalls containing couples mid–hook up. Past the blaring iPod-speaker combo set up on the ladder to the loft and the barn door balanced on hay bales, where one game of beer pong was ending and guys were fighting over who was next. “But what about—” Twisting back toward the loudest part of the crowd, I tried to locate Ryan or the girls. I stepped in someone’s knocked-over drink and slipped; my flip-flops had no traction on the dirt floor. Gyver didn’t answer, just steadied me and hurried me out the door, down the grass slope, and into his black Jeep, which was still running at the edge of the nearly empty parking lot. Most people parked on the other side of the woods, so they could escape out the back and run if needed. Gyver barely stopped for me to shut my door before he pulled out and sped away. I waited for him to speak. He didn’t. It was dark in his car. And quiet. The party lights and noise faded as we traveled around the lake and back toward town. It was too dark to see the titles of the CDs stored on the visor above my head. Too quiet for comfort. I couldn’t handle silence; I’d gone to the party to escape, so I wouldn’t have to think about what I learned today—and what would happen tomorrow. Not that I understood tomorrow’s agenda. I still couldn’t grasp what the doctor had told me. I understood the individual words, but strung together in a sentence they no longer made sense. I wasn’t sure I wanted to comprehend anything yet. I

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wanted to hide from the truth for as long as possible. So while the doctor told my father about treatments and my mother sobbed on the shoulder of some supportive nurse, I’d tuned out and planned my outfit for the party we’d just left. Parties and I were a predictable fit, like Gyver and his music. I reached up and grabbed one of his CDs—it could be any of his custom playlists: Songs for Studying, Rhythms for Rain, An Album for Algebra. He liked alliterative titles. And names. Walt Whitman, Galileo Galilei, Harry Houdini, Arthur Ashe. And me, Mia Moore. Was that why we were so close? If I’d been named after Dad’s mother instead of Mom’s, would I be sitting in his car right now? Maybe my name was his sign. But Gyver didn’t look for signs the way I did, and he’d laugh if I suggested this. He wasn’t laughing now. He fixed his frown on the road, and I studied the CD I twirled on my finger. I wished, not for the first time, that his car had an iPod hookup so I could see the contents of his playlists. It didn’t matter; the first song that played would be a sign— and I needed something to point the way. Should I tell him? Could I tell him? I hadn’t said the words out loud yet. I slipped the disk into the CD player and pressed shuffle to add another layer of chance: track six. A few notes floated out of the speakers and I leaned forward on the seat to catch them. The song began thin, a light piano repeating, fleshed out with the quietest tapping on a cymbal and a background layer of electric guitar.

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Before the lyrics began, however, in the pause while I held my breath waiting for the first words, Gyver reached over and switched the stereo off. “Let’s talk,” he said. I twisted my fingers in my necklace, clutching the clovershaped pendant. Gyver glanced at me and sighed. “It’s just a song, Mi. It doesn’t mean anything. I don’t want you looking for hidden meanings and all that crap.” He knew me too well. Hopefully well enough to know I couldn’t let this go. “But what is it?” “It’s a bad CD selection.” He pressed Eject, turned on the overhead light, held up the disk, then read the title while I squinted at his smudged lefty letters. “Anthems for Anger. You’re already weirdly quiet and you’re going to get all superstitious. What’s up? Talk to me.” “I need to hear it.” A tidal wave of panic battered against the blockades I’d reinforced all day. Something, anything, was liable to tear them down and leave me useless. “I picked it— I’ve got to hear it.” “Mia, it’s just a stupid song.” Gyver’s voice was rough with frustration. He used his elbow to hit the window-down button and bent his wrist back to throw. “Don’t!” I snatched at his arm and we veered onto the dirt shoulder. My elbow slammed against my door as we jerked to a stop. A few feet from us was a blur of pine trees, and beyond that, water. The builders hadn’t yet bulldozed nature on this side of East Lake, but unless there was a sudden drop in the

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number of couples moving from New York or Philly to raise their kids in our sleepy, postcard-perfect town, these trees had a limited life expectancy. Life expectancy. “Dammit, Mia! Do you want to kill us? What’s wrong with you tonight?” I was glad it was dark in the car—too dark to see the emotion I knew would be carved into his forehead, making his brown eyes blaze. Gyver was a master at intimidating stares, and his frown would be all it took for me to crack and spill everything. My fingers started to tremble. I untangled them from my necklace, sat on my hands, and waited him out—let him curse under his breath and squeeze the wheel with a onehanded death grip. “Fine. You’re not going to listen to anything I say until you’ve heard it, are you? It’s ‘Break Myself’ by Something Corporate.” “I don’t know it—I may need to hear it more than once.” I rubbed my elbow. It was already bruising, a reminder of what I wasn’t telling him. “Be my guest.” Gyver thrust the CD in, punched the Advance button, then twisted the volume to an uncomfortable level. It was a male singer and he started quietly, but I knew I was in trouble before he’d finished the first verse. I was sniffing before the chorus. It was starting to be too real. I’m willing to bleed for days . . . my reds and grays so you don’t hurt so much

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And crying before the refrain. I’m willing to break myself. I’m not afraid. I was afraid. Terrified. “Do you need to hear it again?” Gyver growled as the final notes echoed through the SUV. I shook my head and he turned off the stereo. My ragged breathing was the only sound in the Jeep. “It’s just a song. They aren’t even a band anymore. What’s going on with you?” “It’s been a long day,” I whispered, then changed the subject before he could ask why. “Is the party going to be busted?” “Yeah. I didn’t think you’d want underage drinking on your perfect record right before college apps. You’re lucky you’re so bewitchingly gorgeous and I couldn’t resist rescuing you.” He poked my knee and smiled at me. I rolled my eyes. “I wasn’t drinking. I just needed a night out.” A last night. “You had a cup.” “Of water.” “And I’m sure The Jock’s playing quarters with apple juice.” “Ryan! The girls! They’re going to worry about me. Do you think they got caught? I’ve got to call.” With everything else clamoring in my brain, I’d forgotten them. “Why?” Gyver scoffed. “ ’Cause he’s—” “He’s what? Your date when it’s convenient for him? Your hook-up buddy? How exactly would you define it?”

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“It’s casual,” I mumbled. “I’m not sleeping with him.” “He’s an ass. You can do better.” “It’s no big deal. And you should talk—either you have some impossible standard no East Lake girl can meet, or you get off on disappointing the ones who ask you out.” Gyver laughed and shrugged. We were friends. Just friends. We’d been friends our whole lives. He’d seen me in footie pajamas and heard our mothers discuss my first training bra and the more embarrassing “milestones of womanhood.” His mom made me a cake when I got my first period—there was no chance he’d ever see me that way. Besides, I had Ryan. Sort of. And my dating life wasn’t a priority right now. I’d almost forgotten. My breath caught in a mangled sob. “Calm down. I’m sure The Jock’s fine. He’s a fast runner. Your cheer-friends too.” “You should’ve warned everyone else.” I wasn’t too worried; we’d never gotten caught before. “You’re lucky I was allowed to get you. I begged for a ten-minute head start to pick you up. I had to pull the old Halloween photo of us dressed up as Sonny and Cher off the fridge and bring up how you chased down the sixth grader who stole my candy.” “Gyver, I just needed . . .” My voice was shaking. I’m not afraid. “What? What do you need, Mi? I’ve been patient. Tears over a song? That’s extreme, even for you. Even if you were drunk—”

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“It was water.” I wasn’t sure yet. I wasn’t ready to tell everyone. But he wasn’t everyone. He was Gyver. I needed a sign. Or a distraction. “Why isn’t that band together anymore?” “Something Corporate? The lead singer wanted to pursue a solo project. Then he got leukemia. You’ve heard some of his new band’s music. Jack’s Mannequin?” He searched my face for recognition. “No? I’ve played it for you. You like it.” I gripped the seat with both hands. “What’d you say?” “You like Jack’s Mannequin?” Gyver reached toward his CDs, but I shook my head. “Before that.” I hadn’t meant to whisper, but it was all the volume I could manage. “He made a new band? He got leukemia? His original band was called Something Corporate? What part?” Signs don’t get much clearer than that. “I’ve got to tell you something.”

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Send Me A Sign, by Tiffany Schmidt  

Mia is always looking for signs. A sign that she should get serious with her soccer-captain boyfriend. A sign that she'll get the grades to...

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