“Hello?” Instead of walking to my car, I took the path around the side of the building to the overlook. Two benches sat on the bluff, with a perfect view of the ocean below.

“Abby!” said a voice that sounded distant but excited.

“Hi?”

“It’s Rachel! I found a pay phone! Austria has pay phones!”

I sat down on the bench. “Rachel! It is so good to hear your voice. I miss you!”

“Remember how I wondered if I’d love living without my phone?” She sighed. “I don’t. Not at all. Thank goodness my parents weren’t right.”

I laughed. “Tell me everything.”

“Aside from the phone thing, it’s been pretty amazing, actually. You and your artist brain would absolutely love it. It’s gorgeous, and there is so much art everywhere. Old buildings and history and culture.”

“Have you been to Italy yet to find your cute Italian boy to make out with?”

“Italy was first, but it’s hard to make out in front of constantly hovering parents. There were lots of really hot Italian boys though, so flirting was accomplished. We need to come back here after we graduate. The four of us.”

“Four?”

“Have we shrunk since I’ve been gone? Or expanded?”

“Oh, right. Cooper and Justin.”

“Oh no, I’ve been gone too long. Everything has changed.”

“No. It hasn’t. We’re good. The four amigos.”

“Did you really just say that? You’ve been hanging out with your grandpa too much this summer, haven’t you? I can’t leave you ever again.”

“So true. I miss you,” I said.

“You too. So, seriously, anything new happening there?”

“Nope. Just art stuff.”

“Any word from Justin?”

“He sends pics occasionally. I think he sends more to Cooper.”

“Send him a text from me, will you? Tell him: This is an equal friendship circle—we all get the same things or no things. Don’t be the cause of our demise.”

“Wow, so dramatic.”

“He’ll think it’s funny. Plus it’s true.”

“So if we all get the same things, does this mean you’re calling Cooper next?”

She growled. “You’re right. I guess I do need to call him.”

“Do you want me to add something to your Justin text, like, I miss you? Or, I hope your work on the schoolhouse for the disadvantaged is going well?”

She let out a single laugh. “Yes, add: Thank you for fulfilling the quota of good deeds required per friend group all by yourself.”

“I will send it immediately.”

“I have to go. My parents are standing by a bakery of some sort across the street and waving at me with both hands. People are starting to gather around them, as if they need help. And if I have to call Cooper now, I don’t have much time.”

“Okay. Tell Cooper I said hi.”

“Okay . . . wait. Why? You’re still talking to Cooper, right?”

“Yes, of course.”

She took a relieved breath. “Okay, good. I’ll try to find another time to call you soon.”

“Okay, bye.”

“Bye.”

A loud click sounded in my ear and the line went dead. I smiled. That’s what I was missing—my complete group of friends. I couldn’t wait for her to get home. With Rachel gone for the last month, I had forgotten why I had never told her about my feelings for Cooper. Now I remembered, and I was glad, once again, that I hadn’t. We all had the perfect dynamic, and everything would be back to perfect when they got home. I sent off Rachel’s message to Justin and left.

SEVENTEEN

“My mom is going to get mad at you for bringing McDonald’s into our house,” I said as I held Cooper’s bag in my lap the next day, the heat from the fries warming my bare legs. I tried to tug down my shorts, but it didn’t help.

“I know. That woman watches entirely too many documentaries. She needs to live in blissful ignorance, like the rest of us.”

“Do you think that’s part of the problem? She watches too many shows and reads too many articles and books about the dangers of the world?”

“I don’t know. Maybe? She seems to worry about the stuff she reads and hears more than most people.”

“I know. Maybe it would make things better. If she’d just stay off the internet and away from nonfiction books.” Maybe I could suggest that to my grandpa. Then we wouldn’t have to take the dramatic step of a therapist. “I think she takes everything she learns, then frets about it until it turns into an irrational fear.”

The car slowed, and Cooper squinted out the windshield. I followed his gaze to the right, where a big tree stood in the middle of an otherwise empty field. A man was leaning against the tree. No, not leaning. He was chained to it.

“Stop the car,” I said to Cooper.

He pulled to a stop along the curb and I rolled down my window.

“Sir? Are you okay?”

The man’s gaze had been on the dirt in front of him, and with my yell, he looked up.

“You weren’t assaulted by chain-wielding thieves, were you?” I asked.

Cooper laughed from beside me.

“No,” he yelled back. “I’ve done this to myself.”

“On purpose?”

His smile widened. “A housing development is going in this field, and they want to rip out this tree.”

“Oh. I see. You’re protecting it.”

“Yes.”

“Good luck!”

He lifted his hand in a wave, and Cooper drove away.

“Would you rather live in the treetops forever or in water?” Cooper asked.

“Waterworld for sure. If I can breathe underwater. Can I breathe underwater?”

“Sure. But then we need an adaptation for the treetops too. What would that adaptation be?”

“Monkey arms?”

“I can see why you’d choose mermaid, if the alternative is monkey.”

I smiled and stole one of his fries.

His face went serious. “Don’t eat my fries, Abby. You said you didn’t want any fries, and I said, you’re going to steal mine if you don’t get your own, and you said, no I won’t.”

“Are you reenacting a conversation that happened five minutes ago?”

“Yes, because you seem to have forgotten it.”

“It’s my charge for holding your greasy bag.”

He snatched the bag off my lap and put it on his left leg as he drove.

“You’re no fun,” I said.

“I am the most fun.” He took a fry out of the bag and ate it.

“Speaking of, did you talk to Rachel yesterday?”

“Yes, but why is that speaking of? Are you trying to claim Rachel is the most fun?”

“No, I am the most fun. It was speaking of because it sounded like she was having fun.”

“Yes, she sounded good. Did she tell you about the four-amigo Europe trip for next summer, after we graduate?”

“Did she call it that? The four-amigo? She made fun of me for saying that!”

He laughed. “Our end-of-summer reunion with them is going to be awesome.”

When we got to my house, I made sure I put some space between myself and Cooper and his bag of poison.

“I see how you are. You’ll eat it in the car but won’t admit it to your mom.”

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