Chapter Two

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The Ramones blast when I open the door to Todd's pickup and climb in. The seats are worn, gray cloth, and the smell of fake berries swirls around. A circular air freshener sits in the cupholder beneath the stereo.

My pulse flares into a frenzy just being near him. Heat gathers in my cheeks and chest, and I sense him even across the gray seat. The lines of his face are different to me now. I've known them better than my own since I was nine, but now they're like a language I've only caught bits and pieces of but have come to understand completely. The level of his cheekbones, the soft curve of his lips.

"What took you so long?" he asks. He wears a tan jacket, and his curly black hair tufts behind his ears. "I was honking for, like, fifteen minutes."

For a moment I debate whether or not I should tell him about the TV flicking on, or about hearing my dad's voice, but I decide against it.

"You were not," I say instead, and then add, "you and your oldies," before turning down the volume. The sight of Todd's Snoopy Pez dispenser shoved among a gob of crumpled receipts in the cubby below the radio is oddly relaxing. I take a few breaths to slow my pulse. It was nothing, I tell myself. It couldn't have been my dad's voice. My house just does freaky things. That's all.

"I'll have you know The Ramones are one of the original punk bands that stick to the main three-chord guitar system—"

"Yeah, yeah." I wave him off with a smile and sink back into the seat with another shaky breath. "Nerd," I add, as if that says it all.

It wouldn't be a surprise if Todd had a book somewhere on the history of rock bands, with a whole section on subgenres like punk. He's a geek like that, the type of person to do extra reading on the Revolutionary War just so he can learn more about it than what gets covered in class.

The sunshine helps me relax further, makes everything seem brighter out here, helps me detox from grim thoughts. Or maybe it's just being with Todd. He knows me, gets me, the way no one else cares to. I don't have to rush around him, to be afraid he'll poke fun at what I say or how I look. He sees beyond that.

I stare at the multicolored brick homes lining the street. Their quaintness is so different from the lavish Victorian architecture of my home, with its wide, white porch and triangular trim on the eaves. And I can't get the desperate sound of Dad's choppy message out of my head.

"Today's the big day," Todd says, turning the corner and providing a distraction.

"No, tomorrow," I correct him. He gives me a grin that lets me know he's joking. "You'll still give me a ride, right? Because Joel has to work and he tried, but he can't get it off—"

"We've been over this, Pipes. You know I'll give you a ride."

I was afraid once he made the football team he wouldn't have as much time for me anymore, but nothing has really changed. Except for his new pack of friends. I think again of Sierra's group. In any other case I'd grind my teeth, but this time another thought occurs.

If Dad is trying to contact me, I want to know why. The house would know I don't like those guys—maybe inviting them over will trigger it again. It's stupid, I tell myself. They'd never buy it, and who knows if it would work at all, anyway? And besides, I still don't understand why the house didn't want me leaving this morning in the first place. Or if that's what actually happened.

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