Authors: Nora Raleigh Baskin
Yeah, that was it. He called and explained he had wanted to call over the weekend but had gotten run over by a taxi. . . . No, that was no good. . . . No matter what story she came up with, nothing really worked. If a boy wants to call you, he calls. So when Laura looked up and saw Jonas Goldman walking into the subway car, she was over him. Done. Finished. She lowered her eyes and hoped he hadn’t noticed that she had seen him.
He said it again before she raised her head slightly.
“I tried calling you and calling you. I think you gave me the wrong number.” He sat down right beside her. He was wearing an odd jacket, some strange kind of woolly material she had never seen before. He had no umbrella, but he was the only person on the train who wasn’t wet at all.
Laura shifted away slightly. Her intuition was right; he was bad news, but then again, he looked so sweet, earnest, without guile.
“I must have called a million times.”
And he didn’t seem to mind looking eager. Most boys wouldn’t have admitted that. Unless he was lying, that is.
“No, I didn’t give you the wrong number. I gave you my dad’s. You never called.”
Laura realized that, to a degree, she had just given herself away — let him know that she had noticed he hadn’t called; she had been waiting, and she probably let him hear her disappointment.
“I even checked my phone line,” Laura said. “About a hundred times.” She laughed. Somehow with this boy it didn’t matter.
“Well, don’t you have a cell phone?”
Jonas made a face that Laura couldn’t interpret.
“I guess you don’t,” he said. “Maybe I could just sit and talk to you? Wanna go to a Starbucks or something?”
She didn’t want to do it again, look stupid, let on that she had no idea what he was talking about.
Her mouth opened but nothing came out.
“Coffee?” he asked.
So she answered, “Sure.”
was just too crazy. It wasn’t like everyone had poured out of the subway car and they’d simply lost track of each other in the throng. It was weirder than that. Jonas just disappeared. The doors opened. Jonas actually held out his arm to let Laura go first. She stepped onto the platform, sensing he was right behind her, and then sensing he wasn’t.
She moved forward, away from the gap, out of the way of the crowd waiting to board, and he was gone. She turned around and no one was there.
“I told you, I just got off at the wrong stop,” Laura told her mother Sunday night. Her mother was reading the paper under a single floor lamp. Laura was lying on the floor sharing the light, trying to read a book.
As it turned out, her mom was at work when the phone call from New York came, and it was Bruce who spoke with Laura’s dad, and it was Bruce who had to walk into town to deliver the news to Laura’s mom. By the time they got back to the house and called her dad, Laura had been found.
Bruce was working in the next room, at the dining-room table, where he had a large industrial sewing machine set up. He and Mitchell were planning on building a tepee as soon as the weather got a little warmer, somewhere up in the woods behind their house. Bruce had brought in heavy white canvas and special thick thread. For some reason, anything American Indian was groovy cool.
“No, next time Mitchell will go with you. That was ridiculous. Your father was furious.”
“No,” Laura blurted out.
She didn’t want her brother to go. If Laura was ever to find Jonas again, she had to be alone. If she was ever going to figure out what had happened when they stepped off that train, Mitchell couldn’t be there. She knew that.
Bruce looked up from his work. “I’m not going to walk all the way into town again because you don’t know which subway to take.” He put down his stitching.
“I mean, I just made a mistake. I was fine.” Laura felt something rising up her spine, like an involuntary surge of electricity. Her muscles tightened.
Mitchell would ruin everything. “I don’t want Mitchell to go.”
Bruce stood up.
Laura understood, as she had for a while, that it wasn’t pain she was afraid of. She had experienced much worse, a fall from her bike onto gravel, a nail that went right through the bottom of her Keds, that sliver of wood that wedged directly underneath her fingernail when she ran her hand down the railing.
No, it wasn’t pain. It was the anticipation.
It was fear, and it was fear that made her angry.
Mitchell would pretend to be concentrating on his sewing, and their mother would keep her eyes focused on her newspaper. Bruce was walking closer.
“If your mother wants Mitchell to go, he’ll go.” Bruce took his knee and thrust it against Laura’s thigh. It would leave a bruise for certain, but the impact didn’t make a sound.
Finally, Laura had to tell someone. Not about Bruce. Not that. But about Jonas. She had to tell someone, and that someone was her best friend, Zan.
Zan had moved to town right smack in the middle of the school year, seventh grade, the year after Jamie Stein moved away. The teacher introduced the new girl to the class as Alexandra Benoit.
“It’s Zan,” the girl answered. “Not Alexandra.”
“It says Alexandra.”
“I prefer to be called Zan.”
Laura sat back and watched, in awe of this skinny, orange-haired newcomer who was brave enough to correct the teacher.
“I think Alex is a more appropriate nickname for Alexandra.”
“Zan. I’ll stick with Zan.”
At once Laura knew she had to become friends with this girl. She wasn’t a rebel in the way Jamie had been, embracing the counterculture by wearing long skirts and headbands and no underwear. No, this girl was the real thing, a rebel with a cause. Besides, Laura was in the market for a new best friend.
“That’s so crazy,” Zan said.
The girls were walking back to Zan’s house from the grocery store. The sun was teasing the world, hinting at an early spring. Easter was still two weeks away, but Laura took off her hat and shook out her hair.
“No, I mean really crazy,” Zan said. “He just disappeared?”
“Well, you know, a love that isn’t tested can’t be real,” Zan said. She poked her head into the paper bag, then her hand, and rummaged around. “Didn’t we get bubble gum?”
“Where did you hear that? Anyway, jeez, I don’t love him. I don’t even know him.”
So he’s testing you.” Zan found the gum.
“He doesn’t love me. And I don’t want to be tested. It was just really strange — that’s all I can say.”
They walked up the front steps of the trailer where Zan lived with her older sister, Karen — who, like Laura’s brother, was absent most of the time, either physically or otherwise — her mom, and her stepdad.
“Nobody’s home,” Zan said. She pulled open the front door. “Come on.”
Laura knew trailers weren’t exactly supposed to be luxurious, but she liked it. It was compact and cozy. Everything had a place or a little pocket to slip into. The beds were attached to the floor, with drawers hidden underneath. Tables popped out of panels in the wall. Doors slid to the side and disappeared.
The living room wall-to-wall carpet was covered with a large shaggy rug. Laura plopped down on the couch. “Where is everyone?”
Zan turned on the television and fiddled with the antenna until a fuzzy picture appeared.
“My mom is at work. I have no idea where Karen is, but who cares?” she said. “And let’s hope Pete never comes home.” She slouched down on the shaggy rug and rested her head against the couch. Another thing that brought Zan and Laura together, or kept them together, was their mutual hatred for their stepfathers (in Laura’s case, her mother’s boyfriend).
“So, where were you going to go with him? Starburst?”
. I’m sure of it. I listened carefully.”
“Well, let’s call that number, then, like in the movie
and find out what Starburst is.” Zan sat upright.
“Whatever. Let’s call.”
’s a movie. That’s not real.”
“It is. That’s what librarians do. They can answer any question you ask them. It’s their job; they have to.” Zan got to her feet. “Starbucks. It sounds like something futuristic, like
Lost in Space.
Do you think it’s like something from
? Ooh, I love Dr. Spock.”
Spock. Dr. Spock is the baby doctor.”
“Fine, let’s call. The phone is in my mom’s bedroom.”
“We can’t. That library from the movie was in New York City, remember? You can’t make a long-distance call in the middle of the week,” Laura said.
They ended up calling the Woodstock Public Library reference desk. Laura waited on the phone for ten minutes before she heard the librarian return and pick the phone up again. She sounded out of breath.
“From what?” Laura asked into the phone.
“No, I don’t think so. I think it has something to do with coffee. In New York City.”
“Let me check again.”
It was quiet on the other end, and then the librarian came back on the line.
“I’m afraid I can’t find any reference to anything called Starbucks in New York City. Are you sure you have the spelling right?”
“Yes,” Laura said, although of course she wasn’t.
“The only thing I can find is a small coffee-bean company in Seattle, Washington, on 2000 Western Avenue. Does that help at all?”
“No, but thanks,” Laura said, and she hung up the phone.
Jonas wasn’t that surprised when Laura vanished as soon as they stepped off the train. It wasn’t as if he was expecting it, but it didn’t feel that out of the ordinary anymore. There was something so unordinary about being on that subway, the way it looked, the way people were dressed — kind of grungy, old-fashioned maybe. Of course, he wasn’t really paying attention to his surroundings. Mostly to Laura. The doors had closed behind him, the crowd dispersed, and she was gone.
Jonas slumped down on a bench facing the tracks and just sat. It was a few minutes before he noticed someone was sitting beside him, a minute or two more before he recognized the guy from the museum. Yeah, it was probably, almost definitely — it
the same guy from the Met. Wasn’t it?
“What are you looking at?”
Jonas startled. “Uh, nothing.” The boy was Hispanic and had a kind of ghetto look, but then again not really. He was wearing really high-waisted pants and a plasticky jacket. He had a ghetto
but an almost nerdy look.
“I mean, sorry,” Jonas added. “I just thought I saw you at the . . . somewhere before.”
“Seriously?” the boy asked. “I doubt it.” He looked Jonas up and down.
“Yeah. There was an exhibit at the museum, I think.”
The station was empty. You were supposed to be careful in New York, especially down in the subways, but Jonas didn’t feel like being careful. He felt like finding out what had happened to Laura. Why she had run away. Why she had disappeared. And this guy seemed connected somehow.
“Oh, I thought maybe you were an artist,” Jonas went on. “You know, a painter or something. The way you were studying that painting.”
The Hispanic kid, the teenager, sat up straighter. “I am.” He made a motion in the air with his hand, his finger bent. “A writer. I write.”
“You know. A writer.”
“Oh,” Jonas said out loud. The bent finger, the hand. He was holding a can, an imaginary can. “Oh, spray paint. A graffiti —”
The boy looked around. “Whoa there, man. Watch it.”
Jonas lowered his voice. “So, what are you doing here?”
“Waiting,” he said. “Watching. My train should be coming any minute. Unless they got to it early.”
train?” But as soon as he said it, Jonas figured it out. The Pink Panther, the train Laura had been on. “Oh, right. Cool. When did you do it?”
“Last night. I wanted to see it first thing this morning on the Jerome Ave. El when it first came out of the layup, but the cops were all over it. They don’t expect us up here. You write?”
“ ’Cause I see you here, like you’re benching.”
“Benching?” Jonas was sitting on a bench, but benching? “No, seriously. I’m not.”
“And the camera. I thought maybe you were somebody.”
Jonas looked down at the bag strapped across his body. Not many people knew what it was. “Oh, well, yeah. I take pictures.”
The boy reached inside his jacket and pulled out his camera. It was a film camera, an old Nikon FM series.
“Nice,” Jonas said. “You shoot old school.”
The kid smiled. “Old school? Man, who are you kidding? This is state of the art —” And the sound of the nearing train vibrated the station. “Whoa, brother. Get ready — here comes my train. You’re going to read about me one day.”
It wasn’t the same subway car or the same artwork that he had seen the other day, but the style was consistent; the flare was the same. Like when you see a Monet and you know it’s a Monet. No Pink Panther this time; it was a Christmas scene, snow and pine trees, a smiling Santa, and the name
— this boy’s name, Jonas assumed — was written across the side of the car just below the windows in wild-style 3-D neon colors, and when the doors flew open, Laura was inside.