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Authors: Jen Malone

Wanderlost

BOOK: Wanderlost
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DEDICATION

To Emma and Mary, the grandest of grands

CONTENTS
ONE

I'm wedged into
the pantry, between forty-seven rolls of toilet paper and an industrial-sized box of Raisin Bran. Oh, and a chunk of my hair is hopelessly snagged in the joints of a metal shelving unit.

Seriously?

All I wanted was to grab a roll of paper towels for the inevitable moment beer pong went bad.

What I got
was an epic fail.

Rule #1 of horror movies or Those of Us with Lives That Sometimes Resemble a Horror Movie: Always, always turn on the light. Never assume that just because you've been inside your own pantry eleventy billion times in the last seventeen years, you will therefore be able to navigate safely around your mom's latest Costco finds.

Now I have a bump on my head that's gonna look super-fantastic in all my graduation photos and there's the chance this may not end well for my hair, which, my mother would
say, serves me right for having it long enough to reach my elbows. Except she isn't the one who had to endure seventh grade, when Brady Masterson said my bob reminded him of Edna in
The
Incredibles
and got the entire class on board with the nickname. It took five years of growing my hair out to put that in my past, and I'm sure if I studied this year's yearbook messages carefully I'd still find a mention or two.

Rule #2 of horror movies or Those of Us with Lives That Sometimes Resemble a Horror Movie: Don't ever say, “I'll be right back.” Those guys NEVER make it to the credits in one piece. And it's exactly what I said to Madison before I made my paper towel run.

I stretch my arm toward the doorknob, but each time I pull away from the shelves, my scalp yelps. This is so not good. If I could reach the light, I could maybe see enough to untangle the stupid hair myself, but no such luck on that one either. At this point, it's snarled in so many places, I'm worried all my efforts in the dark are making things ten times worse.

Yelling is an option, but my secret (from Mom and Dad at least; definitely not from anyone in the senior class) pre-graduation party—which was supposed to be six of my friends getting together for a night of tiki torches and margaritas by the pool and somehow turned into a raging kegger with half my grade in my living room—is in full swing. I already have sort of a reputation among my classmates for being . . . not always “pulled together.” No need to let the whole senior class in on yet another lovely episode worthy of
rehashing at our ten-year reunion.

At some point someone has to come looking for me, right? I strain my ears and pick out voices coming closer. Oh thank God!

“Did you see the smoke show in the feminazi T-shirt?” Damn. It's the class creeper, Matt Grafty-Hamm. I'd rather wither away to nothing in here than be rescued by Matt “Grabby Hands.” I smother my cry for help.

“‘Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,'” a mocking voice quotes. “Yeah, but did you see her rack in that shirt? Dude, she's so hot.” Sounds like Brad Worthy, who, unlike Matt, in no way, shape, or form lives up to his last name. It's really no wonder I'm single.

“Hells yeah she is. I think she's Aubree Sadler's sister.” I instantly snap to attention. My sister's home? She isn't supposed to get back from college for another four days.

Matt gets zero-point-zero points for class when he follows up with, “Total piece of ass if you can pry the stick out of it. That chick's name was on every sample paper my English teacher handed out last year and she graduated forever ago.”

“Dude, but she's hot
and
a college girl. Think I could hit that?”

Oh, ick! I throw up a little in my mouth as their voices fade away. That said, why am I not surprised to hear Elizabeth's papers are still circulating as shining examples of perfection. “Shiny perfection” pretty much fits my sister to a T. We're talking about a girl who made my entire extended family fill
out evaluations of her third grade piano recital performance so she could “better identify her weak spots.”

Okay, this situation is now officially borderline pitiful. I'm gearing up to shout for help (even if it means suffering through Grabby's attempts to cop a feel) when a bright light assaults my eyeballs.

“Aubree? Bree, are you in here?”

My sister.

“Hey.” I blink about a hundred times as my eyes adjust to the bulb. “What are you doing
home?”

Elizabeth shuts the door behind her, closing us both into the tiny space.

“My last exam got canceled. I'm officially a college grad. I just bumped into Madison—she's been searching all over for you and she's freaking out. Which you should be too, incidentally. Mom and Dad are going to flip when they find out about this.”

I know my friends have probably helped themselves to a few beverages by this point, but really, how hard would it have been to think of opening a few doors and peeking inside? Elizabeth found me, no problem. Then again, she
is
Elizabeth. And Mom and Dad cannot know about this party. Ever. Period.

“Are you hiding from the guy in the ‘I'd Wrap That in Bacon' hat? Because if so, permission to carry on,” she stage-whispers, reaching around my side for a twenty-pack of Purell. She unwraps a bottle and squirts a blob into her
hand before offering it to me.

“Yeah, not hiding. I'm kinda, um, stuck.” I gesture to my hair and Elizabeth does a comical double take, then gasps. To her credit, she does not laugh, though I can see the effort that's taking her.

“Go ahead,” I groan. Blessing given, she collapses in giggles. I manage one last woe-is-me sigh and then I crumble too. Even
I
can admit when I'm too lame for words.

And I also have to say, it's kind of nice to laugh with Elizabeth. The four-year age difference was only kind of a thing when we were younger and lumped together in the backseat of the car and at the kiddie table at Thanksgiving dinners, but it became pretty pronounced when she left for college. She was barely around during breaks and always took summer internships near her campus outside Chicago. Once she got an apartment there, she basically never came home for more than twenty-four hours. There's only so far that bonding over the turkey wishbone as six- and ten-year-olds can carry a relationship.

It's not that we don't like each other. More that we don't
know
each other. Not to mention the fact that her shining beacon of perfection casts a loooooong shadow behind her that's pretty hard to step out of.

Laughter is good. It's a start.

When we get our composure back, Elizabeth slips out to find Madison and a pair of tweezers. She returns with both and I endure their wisecracks as Elizabeth carefully unwinds
my hair. Freeing me, she then produces a brush from her purse because, being Elizabeth, she has one on hand at any time to maintain all that gloriousness.

Then she puts both hands on my shoulders. “All fixed,” she says.

“My hero!” I clutch at my heart and pretend to swoon at her feet. Madison snorts.

“And don't you forget it!” Elizabeth says. “Okay, how about we clear this crowd outta here? I had big plans for a quiet night on the patio. I'm in the middle of the
best
biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. Seriously, you should read it. Wanna help me ditch Bacon Dude?”

I do. I really do. Bacon Dude and the rest of them crashed my own plans for the night, but at the same time I'm kind of pissed that Elizabeth thought she could show up out of the blue and just reclaim the house. What if I'd wanted this party? What if I'd planned and plotted for it and was psyched to bid high school good-bye with a bang? She's not the boss of me.

“Nah. I'm good with them here. I'm gonna go grab a beer.” I wait to see if Elizabeth's eyes widen. They do. Well, maybe there's a lot about me she doesn't know. I'm grown-up Aubree now and she's gonna have to accept it (even if I don't exactly embrace it myself).

Besides, I may as well soak up every chance I get to hang with my friends before they head off to college and leave me behind to commute the twenty minutes to classes at Kent State. Though, truth be told, as much as I'll miss them, I'm perfectly
fine being the one holding down the fort here. There's a reason they call it home
sweet
home. I love it here.

“Mmm-hmm,” Elizabeth says, and her disapproval is written all over her face. She probably waited until her twenty-first birthday to sip from a glass of classy white wine and the odds of her having a house party when she was in high school were negative one billion to one. I try not to remind myself that my own track record was not so different before tonight's accidental rager.

Elizabeth frowns. “Well, on your way to the keg, I suggest you stop by the living room. Someone threw up in Mom's ficus. I'll be upstairs. Try to keep the noise under control, okay?” Elizabeth slips from the closet and I slump against the wall, making sure I'm nowhere near the shelves this time around.

“Do you think she'll rat you out to Nancy?” Madison asks, joining me on the wall.

Oh God. It's a major miracle my parents went away for the weekend in the first place, given my mother's addiction to
Dateline
and her related belief that strangers dangling candy from their van windows at her youngest daughter lurk around every corner. She was halfway to DEFCON 5 the one time I was three minutes late for curfew. The second any of us coughs, she's on WebMD.

Hands-off, Mom is not.

And yet she made a big deal about going away with Dad for their anniversary, given the fact that I was almost a college student and, even though I'd be living at home for school next
fall, had earned myself the right to some independence. Wait. Was that just for show? Did she turn right around and summon Elizabeth home? Because I don't need her to babysit me. Um, with the small exception of me being held captive by a set of shelving units.

“Why couldn't
you
have found me,” I whine, bumping my shoulder into Madison's, but we both freeze at the quick whir of a siren.

It sounds close. As in driveway close. We swing open the door and are nearly mowed down by a crowd of people scurrying for the back door as if Godzilla's appeared in the living room.

“Cops!” Madison says. “Oh God, oh God, oh God. I'm so dead. I can't lose my scholarship!” She puts her hands over her eyes and leans against the kitchen doorframe.

“Don't answer the door!” I order anyone in earshot as a pounding sounds from the front hallway. “They can't enter without permission, can they?” I whisper to Madison. I sneak a glance around the now-empty kitchen at the abandoned keg and an assortment of beer cans that form a fairly impressive pyramid. Hudson High should be proud; at least one of my classmates mastered engineering.

“What do I do? Okay, get back in the pantry!” Madison tugs me inside again and we tumble against a stack of cleaning supplies and a hand vacuum.

The house is eerily quiet. And then the pounding starts again. “Police! Open up!”

Inside the pantry, all is still. The last bottle of Clorox stops wobbling on the floor and stands at attention, much like Madison and me. The knocking ceases once more, and then I hear something that turns my blood to ice. My sister's voice.

“Good evening, officer. How can I help you?”

What is she DOING? Madison grabs my arm and she mouths the words, “Is that Elizabeth?”

I nod, confusion wrinkling my forehead. I miss the policeman's next words, but Elizabeth responds, “Yes, sir. Everything is fine here. I'm so sorry the neighbors felt we were being too loud. I'll be sure to monitor the noise level more carefully.”

I can picture the cheeseball smile she's giving him. It's the same one she used to use to con me into sharing the last of the mint chocolate cookie swirl ice cream with her. Worked on me every time, so I'm not surprised when I don't hear the cop's voice anymore. But then suddenly he speaks and it sounds like he's right outside the pantry door.

Oh man, I think he
is
right outside the pantry door.

“Looks like quite a party,” he's saying. I'm guessing the beer pyramid does not impress him.

“Hey, don't I know you? Did we go to high school together, Officer Dixon?” Elizabeth asks.

It's quiet for a second, and then the deep voice answers, “You don't even remember my first name? That figures. Too busy being valedictorian to notice us little guys, huh?”

On the other side of the door, he snorts, and I gaze wide-eyed at Madison, who returns my expression. Should we go
out there? If Elizabeth knows this cop, chances are he isn't going to bust us. Then again, it doesn't sound like they were cozy lab partners or anything. If I needed proof he didn't know her well, it would be right there in the way he described her. My sister is super-accomplished and confident and everything, but she's not stuck up. She's pretty friendly to any and all normal people. Emphasis on
normal
, which this guy doesn't seem to be.

“I'm sorry. Can you remind me?” my sister says.

“Whatever,” Officer Scorned replies. “Looks like there's quite a lot of alcohol here.”

“Oh, well, not really. The cans are left over from an, uh, experiment we were conducting. We didn't drink all those or anything. Really, this is just an intimate gathering.”

The cop isn't buying it. “So intimate your friends felt the need to run for the hills when my cruiser pulled into the driveway?”

“What? No, of course not. They were on their way out anyway.” Elizabeth coughs delicately.

“You find this funny?”

His voice has an edge to it that makes Madison clutch my arm again.

“Of course not. Not at all. I had something in my throat.”

All is quiet for a second and I exhale carefully. Maybe he'll be leaving now. Obviously there's no more noise violation, so the complaint is handled.

“You have any ID on you?” he asks.

BOOK: Wanderlost
12.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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