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Authors: Lauren Barnholdt

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BOOK: Rules for Secret Keeping
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“Thanks,” Daphne says. “Sounds great.” She kicks me under the table, like,
“Hello, why the heck would we go over to her house, especially if she likes Jake, duh.”

“Look,” I try. “I'm going to need to ask my mom if—”

“Samantha,” Emma says, sighing. “That's fine, but if I were you, I'd be there. How can we stop this if we don't have a plan?”

“I don't know,” I say.

“Ugh, this yogurt is definitely not agreeing with my stomach,” Charlie says. She sets it down on her tray. “Why don't they have Fage here like every other place?”

“You should get your mom to write a note,” Emma says. “Like, protesting the food or something.”

“Totally.” Charlie dumps her spoon back into her yogurt and pushes her tray away from her. Her cheese sticks go untouched. She picks up one of Olivia's flyers. “So what's the deal?” she asks, waving it. “With this?”

“The deal,” Emma says, “is that someone is starting the exact same business as Samantha. I told you that in math.”

“It doesn't seem, like, exactly the same,” Charlie says, her eyes scanning down the page. “It seems like this one is virtual.”

“Virtual?” I ask.

“Yeah, like on the internet, digital, you know, the wave of the future.” Charlie pushes her chair back and looks around the cafeteria, bored. “I really wish Mark was in this lunch period.”

I still don't know who Mark is, and I'm about to maybe ask her, just in case he has a cute friend Emma can get hooked up with so that she will stop thinking about Jake, when I remember what my dad said to me yesterday about everything going digital nowadays, and I feel my stomach do a flip.

“Ooh, that reminds me,” Emma says. “Did you give my note to Jake yet?”

Daphne and I look at each other across the lunch table. “Um, not yet,” I say. “But I will as soon as I see him.”

When lunch is over, and Emma and Charlie have taken off for their art class, I reach down and carefully slide the note up from under the table and back into my bag. Middle school so far? Um, pretty much a disaster.

WHAT DOES ONE BRING TO A
sleepover at the house of the-most-popular-girl-in-school-who-might-like-your-crush when one is trying to make a good impression? You'd think it wouldn't be that hard to figure out, right? You throw some pajamas and a toothbrush in a bag, and you're good to go.

But on the way out of school, while I was walking to my bus, I ran into Emma and she said, “See you tonight, I'll text you the address. And don't forget to bring a karaoke outfit!” Then she kissed me on both cheeks(!!) and was gone.

A karaoke outfit? I have no clue
what
she is talking about.

So now I'm home, and I have pulled every single thing out of my closet, including all my bags, because now even
my tote bags don't look right. I mean, I can't exactly show up at Emma's house with all my stuff in a “I
Cheese” duffel, can I? (In my defense, it's not even mine. Tom got it at some kind of food show he went to when he was working in the food industry. Tom's had a lot of different jobs. He works at the phone company now, although I'm not exactly sure what he does there.)

I survey the mess in front of me and decide there's only one thing to do.

“Taylor!” I scream. “I need you!”

“What?” she rushes into my room, her cell phone to her ear. “What is it
now
?” Wow. That's really not very friendly. And what does she mean by “now”? I hardly ever ask Taylor for help. Only, like, once a week. Or maybe twice or three times.

“I need help packing for my sleepover,” I say.

“Oh.” She tells whoever's on the phone she has to go, then slaps the phone shut. She looks at the big jumble of clothes, shoes, and bags that's littering the bedroom floor.

“It's not my faullllttt,” I whine before she can say anything. “I don't know what to brinnnngg.”

“To Daphne's?” Taylor asks. “You go there all the time.”

“No, to Emma's.”

“Who's Emma?”

“Emma is this girl who goes to my school, she went
to Kennedy, and she's very popular and very cool and she has long red curly hair and she's having a sleepover and she said to bring a karaoke outfit do you EVEN KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS?” Wow. I'm really starting to get myself all worked up, which I don't think is good for my skin. Or my eyebrows. Also, I hope the fact that Emma might like Jake isn't important when it comes to my fashion choices. I cannot tell Taylor about that situation, because Taylor doesn't even know that
I
like Jake. The only person who knows about
that
is Daphne.

“First of all, you need to calm down,” Taylor says. “You're freaking out.” Her hands are flying over her phone, texting away. Probably to the person she just hung up with. Which was probably Ryan. They're usually in constant contact.

“Okay,” I say, sitting down on my bed. I don't feel so good. I wonder if maybe I should put my head between my legs or something, like I had to do that time I broke my wrist and almost fainted at the hospital.

“Now,” Taylor says. “You cannot bring that ‘I heart cheese' bag; that's just offensive.”

“Cheese is offensive?”

“No, bringing that bag to someone's house is offensive. It's like you're saying you don't care about their opinion one little bit.”

“Agreed,” I say. Even
I
knew that bag wasn't going to cut it. And I kind of hate cheese. Although Charlie might have liked it; she had all those cheese sticks on her tray today.

“You can borrow my purple Adidas bag,” she says. “It's cute, but casual, so it won't look like you're trying too hard.”

This is why I love my sister! Honestly, she can be cranky and annoying and sometimes she's self-absorbed, but when it comes down to it, who else would get the importance of a purple Adidas tote bag in a situation like this?

Twenty minutes later, I'm all packed up. Taylor has lent me not only her bag, but also these really cute pajamas (Her: “If you spill anything on them, I will kill you!” Me: “All eating will be done before I change into my pajamas, promise!”) that consist of a pink and white shirt and soft cotton pants with hearts all over them. I'm wearing jeans and a red sweater over to Emma's, and for my karaoke outfit, which Taylor had to explain to me (“No, I don't think it means you're going out to do karaoke, they only do that in bars, you're thirteen—it probably means you're going to do karaoke at her house and she wants you to dress up like a rock star”), she lent me a really cute short silver dress with beading up and down the skirt, black footless tights, and matching silver ballet flats.

Taylor has gone back to her room and is on the phone
again (I can hear her laughter coming through the wall that separates her room from mine), and I am waiting for Tom to get home from work so that he can drive me and Daphne to Emma's.

What should I do for the next half hour? I could start my homework, I guess. I pull my math book out and look at it forlornly. Honestly, though, who does homework on a Friday night? I'll have all day tomorrow to do it. And Sunday, even.

The doorbell rings, and I hear my mom downstairs opening it.

And then I hear her say, “Well, hello, Jake, how nice to see you. Did you have a nice summer?”

What?! Jake! Jake is here! Jake is here, in my house! For the love of God, Jake has come over to see me! I rush over to my mirror and run a brush through my hair, then swipe some more lip gloss over my lips. I squeeze my cheeks the way I've seen Taylor's friend Amanda do when she wants to give them some color. I lean over and look closely at my eyebrows, hoping they don't look painted on. They don't. They look great, actually. Thank God for eyebrow pencils! And thank goodness for excellent eyebrow artists, like Jemima. I hope my mom gave her a good tip.

I'm about to rush down the stairs, but then Jake is at my bedroom door.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hi,” I say. My stomach does the hugest flip ever, and my heart speeds up. Jake's wearing blue mesh shorts and a white Quiksilver T-shirt, and he smiles at me and then flops down on my bed.

“Do you guys want a snack?” my mom yells up from downstairs.

“Do you?” I ask Jake.

“Sure,” he says, shrugging.

“Yes, please,” I yell back. I hear my mom shuffle back to the kitchen. Apparently she is unfazed by the fact that I have a boy in my room, something she would never let Taylor do in a million years. Of course, Taylor's older than me and has a boyfriend. But still. I'm thirteen! That is definitely old enough to kiss a boy. Unless. Does my mom think that I'm unkissable? Does she think that because Jake has been coming up to my room all the time since we were, like, five that it means he doesn't want to or won't kiss me? Does Jake think that? Is that why he is just sitting on my bed, throwing a nerf basketball in the air like it's nothing? Oh, God, this is confusing.

“What's up?” Jake asks.

“Nothing,” I say. “Getting ready to go to a sleepover.”

“At Daphne's? You two should hang out with me for a little bit; we could play Guitar Hero or something at my
house.”

“No, at, uh . . . at another friend's house,” I say. I hope he doesn't ask me who.

“Who?”

“Just this girl,” I clear my throat. “Um, you know Emma? From our homeroom?” I cross my fingers that he'll say something like “
Oh, her? Ewww, she's not cute at all,
” or “
Wow, that one really fell off the ugly truck,
” or “
Sorry, I haven't noticed anyone in our homeroom besides you, Samantha.

“The one with the red hair?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say. “Her.” I'm sitting next to him on the bed now, but pretty far away. I can't decide what a safe distance is. It has to be far enough so that he doesn't think I like him, but not too far, because that would be weird, and he might start thinking that I'm sitting so far away from him so that I don't tip him off that I like him.

“I didn't know you were friends with Emma,” Jake says.

“I'm not,” I say quickly. “I mean, we are. Sort of. I guess. She found this”— I pull one of Olivia's flyers out of my backpack and hold it out to him—“and she wants to help me.”

Our fingers brush against each other as Jake takes the paper from me, and I try not to faint. Okay, that's a little dramatic. I'm not going to
faint
, obviously. I mean, that
would be way crazy. But touching Jake's fingers now is soooo different than before the summer. “Emma's going to help you?” Jake sounds doubtful.

“Yeah,” I say. “Well, not just Emma. Her friend Charlie and Daphne are going to be there too. We're all going to brainstorm.”

“Oh,” he says. He seems like he's about to say something else, like maybe he
wants
to say something else, like maybe he's
thinking
about saying something else, but then he spots something in my book bag.

“What's that?” he asks. I follow his gaze. Right over to where the note that Emma gave me this morning is poking up out of my bag! Darn you, cute, open-topped bag! I really am thinking about trading it in for a normal backpack. “Oh, that's just a secret I'm supposed to pass,” I say. It's called downplaying.

“It has my name on it,” Jake says.

“Oh, right,” I say, breezily, hoping I sound innocent. “It's for you, totally.” I pluck the note right out of my bag and then hand it to him. Which I was going to do anyway. Really, I was. I wasn't going to
keep
it from him, that would have been ridiculous, not to mention completely wrong. It would go against everything I stand for, and so—

He's reading it. He's opening the note! Right there in front of me, he is Opening. The. Note. I can't decide what's
worse—him opening the note in front of me, or him taking it home and reading it in private. He slides his finger under the tape and then unfolds the paper. He scans it, and I keep my eyes on his face, trying to get any hints as to what it might say. But there's nothing! His face is like a blank piece of paper!

BOOK: Rules for Secret Keeping
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