Oh. My. God. You are never going to believe who I just saw driving through town in a Subaru.
You’re not serious.
Do I look like I’m laughing?
I heard she’s been sunning herself on the French Riviera for the past two years living off all our college funds.
No way. Her dad lost all that money.
My mom says they’ve been living in a trailer in West Virginia somewhere, like, under a bridge or something.
Oh my God. Did she look malnourished?
Her hair was kind of frizzy . . . .
I can’t believe she’s back. Does Chloe know?
Are you kidding? She sent a 911 text to the girls and they’re already convening at Jump.
Unbelievable. Ally Ryan back in Orchard Hill.
I cannot wait for the first day of school.
“So? What do you think?”
Hmm. What did I think? I had to take a moment to sort out an answer to that one. Here's what I came up with:
I thought that my ass hurt from sitting for four straight hours on the car ride from Maryland to New Jersey. I thought that the dingy gray condo in front of which I was now standing—discernable as my new home solely by the fact that the movers had propped the storm door open with a cinder block—was butthole hideous. Although, on the bright side, it was exactly the same butthole hideous as every other condominium on this particular block of the Orchard View condo complex, so at least it wasn’t alone in its butthole hideousness. I thought that the last time I had been in Orchard Hill about two years ago there had been a gorgeous apple orchard right where I was standing—an orchard that actually made sense of the name Orchard Hill—and that now it was gone. So not only was there no Orchard anywhere near the Orchard View condominiums, but there was also no View, since we were at the bottom of the hill from which one would have viewed said orchard, back when said orchard existed.
I also thought—no, knew –that the way I answered this question would determine my mother’s mood for the rest of the day. The rest of the week. Maybe the rest of the year.
So I smiled and said, “It’s great, Mom.”
Her tired, sad eyes brightened and the tension disappeared from her smile. “Don’t you think? And honey, it’s not forever. I’m going to put half my pay check away every week and Danielle says that before we know it we’ll be able to afford one of those cute little houses over by the library and . . . .”
Danielle was Danielle Moore, mother of my old friend Shannen Moore and the only one of my mom’s friends from Orchard Hill who still talked to her. Probably because she understood that wives and daughters should not be held responsible for the actions of husbands and fathers. Mrs. Moore was also the realtor who’d found us this lovely little condo in the first place. I had to remind myself not to thank her when I saw her again.
I missed the rest of my mother’s rambled promises because one of the movers—a round dude with too much facial hair—was walking by with my bike on his shoulder.
“Um . . . excuse me? Could I get that, please?” I asked, swallowing my aversion to strange men with pit stains.
He grunted and dropped my bike to the ground so hard I swear I heard the suspension whimper. But at least it was my bike. If home is where the heart is, home had just arrived.
He grunted again. I straddled my bike. Closed my hands around the well-worn rubber grips. There was plenty of dirt stuck up in the thick treds and I was ready to add some more. Instantly I felt about nine-hundred percent better. Nine-hundred percent more free.
“Ally, where’re you going?” the light was already gone from Mom’s eyes. “Don’t you want to see your room?”
“I’ll see it later. I’m going for a ride,” I said.
“Where? I hope you’re not thinking of—“
The movers slammed the truck door shut, muffling her last words, but I knew what she had said. And we both knew that I was thinking of what she thought I was thinking of. There was no reason to confirm or deny. Without a backward glance, I rode through the gates at the front of the complex, hooked a left and headed for town. It felt good to move. To breathe. To get the hell away from my mother and all her positive thinking. I love you, Mom, but things were not going to be the same now that we were “home.” Things were never going to be the same.
But still . . . it was kind of good to be back. As I waited at the light at the bottom of Orchard Avenue I couldn’t believe it had been over a year. The place looked exactly the same. Not one storefront had changed and they all still had the same cheesy names that had cracked me up back in kindergarten. The Tortoise and the Hair Beauty Salon. Baby It’s Yours Kids’ Clothing. Needle Me This Knitting Supply. Jump, Java and Wail! Coffee Company. The proprietors of Orchard Hill lived for their cutesy plays on words, which just made the Starbucks and the Gap look all the more cold and austere with their been-there-done-that signage. The movie theater anchored the downtown shopping area, its old-school neon lights doused since the sun was still up, its placard advertising the three latest and greatest indie movies of the month. The brick-faced post-office was bustling with activity and a few middle-school guys were using its handicapped ramp to show off their tricks. In the park across the way, a group of girls were laying out in shorts and tanks, their tops folded up to expose the maximum amount of stomach. As soon as I saw them I stood up on the pedals, racing up the hill and under the train trestle toward the crest. I doubted I knew any of them—most of my former friends had huge backyards with pools if they wanted to lay out—but I wasn’t ready to do the whole reunion thing yet.
Which was hilarious, considering where I was headed. I hesitated for a split second at the foot of Harvest Lane. What was I doing here, anyway? I hadn’t seen this hill since February of my freshman year—the night my family and I had driven down it for the last time, me staring out the back window of my dad’s soon-to-be-repossessed BMW, trying to commit every detail to memory. I hadn’t even called my friends to say goodbye. Hadn’t texted. Hadn’t emailed. Hadn’t tweeted a less-than-140-character “See ya!” I’d been too confused, too scared, too embarrassed. And soon too much time had passed and getting in touch felt awkward and humiliating and I just . . . never had. Now here I was, eighteen months later, wishing I could go back and smack my freshman self upside the head. Because if I had said goodbye, if I had kept in touch with any of them, it would have made moving back here so much easier. But how was I supposed to know my mother would one day get a job at Orchard Hill High? When we’d left, my parents had told me we were gone for good and I’d believed them.
It wasn’t my fault they didn’t have a clue they were talking about.
After spinning a couple of circles at the foot of the hill, I figured what the hell? I’d come this far. If fate wanted me to bump into one of my old friends today, then let fate have her way. I turned, flipped my bike into first, and started the long climb. The late August sun beat down on my back and sweat prickled my neck and underarms as I worked my bike uphill. There were no houses on this stretch of Harvest, the drop off on my right way too steep for building, the ridge on my left made of solid rock. As I came out of the trees, the view opened up and I glanced over my shoulder to see New York City lying low and gray in the distance. In front of it, the town of Orchard Hill opened up like a pretty pop-up book at my feet. From this height I could see Orchard Avenue and all the little side streets criss-crossing it at various angles. On the hill across the way was Orchard Hill High where I’d be starting school in a few days, and at the foot of that hill, the Orchard View condos, where my mom was probably cursing my name right now. Beyond that were all the cute cookie-cutter houses on their grid-like streets and the strip mall with its Dunkin Donuts and CVS and mom-and-pop pizza place and deli. At least we lived within walking distance of Munchkins and pizza. Always try to look at the bright side.
At the tip top of Harvest I paused and put my feet down, breathing heavily and taking in the view. I’d been thinking about this moment the whole ride up from Maryland. But now that I was here, my heart fluttered with nerves. I swallowed hard and pretended I didn’t feel it. Why should I be nervous? It wasn’t like I was going to see anyone. It wasn’t like it mattered. It was all in the past. I was a completely different person now. I was smarter. Stronger. Better.
I took a deep breath and rode around the bend. Suddenly everything became crisply clear in front of me, as if I’d been looking through someone else’s glasses for the whole ride up here and they’d finally fallen away. I leaned back on my bike and drank it all in. The tall, green trees forming a canopy overhead, the hissing sound of the sprinklers spritzing the manicured lawns, the scent of barbecue wafting through the air from the backyard of one of the stately houses. Suddenly I was twelve years old again. Ten. Five. A little kid running from yard to yard, chasing fireflies with my friends, laughing and shouting and singing like no one could hear.
Home. I was finally, finally home.
I rode slowly, lazily, down the wide lane, letting my front wheel weave in and out like I always did when I was a kid. The first house I came to was Faith’s. It was all stone and brick and pointed roofs, like something out of a gothic novel, except that her little brothers’ sleek, silver scooters were parked on the gravel path out front. The landscapers were out in full force, mowing and blowing and trimming and weed-whacking. There was one car in the driveway, a red Audi, which I didn’t remember. But this was not surprising. Faith’s mother got a new car every year, donating the old, barely driven one to charity as if she was doing it for the less fortunate and not just because she wanted her new-car-smell back. When I left, Faith was convinced she was destined for either Broadway or her own show on The Disney Channel. She was auditioning for some summer program at a theater in the city. I wondered, not for the first time, if she’d gotten in. If she’d taken her first step toward superstardom.
A little bit further and I came to Shannen’s place. Wide and white-faced and sprawling. The yard was unkempt, but it was otherwise the same as always. Two cars this time, and I heard music blasting from the general direction of Shannen’s bedroom. I leaned down and pedaled as hard as I could until I’d gotten past the hedgerow and out of sight. The level of fear I felt at the thought of seeing her surprised me. What the hell was I going to do on the first day of school if I couldn’t even handle the thought of Shannen Moore spotting me out her bedroom window? Drop dead of nervousness, apparently. I wondered how her family was doing these days. It had been almost two years since Shannen’s older brother Charlie ran away. When I left, Shannen still thought it was her fault and her parents weren’t speaking to each other. Had things gotten any better since? Had Charlie ever come home?
At the corner, was Hammond’s place. It looked dead. Down the shore for the weekend, of course. No one spent more time at their shore house than Hammond’s family. Sometimes they spent the whole summer, but they were probably back during the week now, since Hammond would have soccer practice. Everything revolved around Hammond’s sports schedules—and his older brother Liam’s back when he was in high school. I stood up on the pedals, trying to spot the secret path that cut through the tree line separating his back yard from my side one, but the full, green trees hid it from view.
The secret path. My heart pounded at the thought of the last time Hammond had used our short cut, and I quickly hooked a quick right onto Vista View Lane, scooting past the yellow “Dead End” sign that both my mother and Chloe’s mother had actually gone to borough hall to protest because it was so “unsightly.” To my left was Chloe’s place, and the thought of seeing her freaked me out even more than the thought of seeing Shannen. Did Chloe know? Had Hammond told her what had happened that last time he’d come over? Were they still together? And if not, was I the reason?
I only knew one thing for sure: I was not ready to find out the answers to those questions. I laid into my pedals, putting Chloe’s place behind me. And then, there it was. At the end of the cul de sac was my house. My home. The mansion where I'd grown up. I assumed the gate would be closed, but it wasn’t, and as soon as I saw the opening, I accelerated. I didn’t even think. I just rode. Through the gates and up the hill of the driveway. At the top was the circle with the apple tree at the center, surrounded by little pink flowers and a stone border. My dad had taught me to ride my tricycle around that circle, and later my bike. All the scraped knees and tears and shouts of joy came flooding back out of nowhere. I rode around it once and everything unexpectedly blurred.
There was a set of shrubs planted under the library window. Someone else’s bike tossed on the grass. New planters in front of the door with happy little marigolds dancing in the breeze. Not my house anymore. Not my home.
My gaze drifted to the right, to the row of evergreens that shrouded the view of the basketball court in the backyard. My dad had built it for me for my twelfth birthday—a state of the art outdoor court complete with scoreboard, bleachers, and a hand-painted sign that read “Ryan Arena.” It was the best birthday of my life. All my friends were there and dad had jerseys made up for each of us with our last names emblazoned across the back. At my mother’s insistence, the number was the same on each, because she knew that if, say, Chloe was given number one everyone would think that meant I had chosen favorites—like she was my best friend. But my mother knew I hated putting labels on the group. They were all my best friends. Chloe, Shannen, Faith, Hammond, Trevor and Todd. We’d been together since Kindergarten. Had never gone a week without seeing each other for a party or a practice or a music lesson or a charity event. In my opinion, we were practically related.
Which made the fact that I’d ditched this place without saying goodbye potentially unforgiveable.
I wondered what my father would say if he could see me right now. “Chin up, Bud,” I heard him say in my ear. “No use dwelling on the past. What you do tomorrow and the next day and the day after that is what matters.” Was that what he was doing out there right now, wherever he was? Forgetting about this place, about us? Starting a new future? Two weeks after he’d moved us out of Orchard Hill and in with my grandma in Baltimore, my dad has simply disappeared. One night he was there, and the next morning he was gone. He hadn’t left a note. Had cancelled his cell. No one—not even my mother or his mother—knew where he was. Grandma had told me that my father was ashamed. That he couldn’t handle being around us every day when he had hurt us so badly. That he’d probably come back when he felt himself worthy again. That was his way, she said.
But it made zero sense to me. Because his leaving hurt way worse than the fact that he’d lost all our money and our home. Way worse.
The thing was, my dad was always there for me. He was the one thing I had that always made my equally privileged Crestie friends jealous. All of our dads had these high-powered jobs in New York. Chloe’s father owned a bunch of successful restaurants and was never around at night or on weekends. Shannen’s dad practically ran this huge advertising firm and was always jetting off to L.A. or Chicago to oversee commercial shoots. Faith’s father was a concert promoter so he spent tons of time schmoozing superstars whom Faith never got to meet, which drove her totally insane. Hammond’s father was the boss man at a cable news channel and spent half his time buying up smaller stations around the globe. The Stein twins’ father did something in real estate that I never quite understood, but it meant spending lots of time in Florida and Texas. Basically, it was rare to spot any of their dads on the Crest. But my father always did his best to make it to my basketball games and plays. He actually came to the hospital when Shannen and I crashed our bikes on a dare and broke various bones, while Shannen’s father didn’t even have time to call. He never missed a Christmas, always took my mom into Little Italy for Valentine’s Day, helped me blow out my candles each birthday. Unlike the rest of the Crestie fathers, my dad was somehow always there.
Until he made some bad investment and lost everything. And not just for us. He’d lost a lot of my friends’ parents’ money, too. I’d never been clear on the details. All I knew was it meant we had to sell our house and cars and our shore house—that we had to leave. I think that was part of the reason I hadn’t been able to face calling any of my friends. What my dad did . . . it made me feel like a moron. I’d thought he was so perfect—the greatest dad on the crest—and then he’d talked everyone’s parents in to some stupid risky investment and lost tons of their money. My dad, as it turned out, was a fake. A loser. And it made me feel like a loser too.
My mom was always telling me that my dad hadn’t done it on purpose. After all, if he knew that stock was going to tank, he wouldn’t have put all of our money into it as well as some of our friends’. She said he’d simply messed up. But he’d messed up so big time that my life had been completely turned upside down.
So yeah, I was angry. But not so angry that I’d never get over it. At least I would have. If he hadn’t bailed on us.
The tears that had blurred my vision started to sting. I placed my feet on the stone and took a breath. I had not come here to cry. I was not going to cry.
Behind me there was a noise. The unmistakable sound of a window sliding open. My feet hit the pedals.
“What the hell are you doing?”
My fight or flight reflex was overruled by curiosity. I had to see who was living in my house. I looked over my shoulder. The first thing I thought was, “That’s my room.” The second? “Who are you and why are you not on television?”
The guy who lived in my room was shirtless. He folded his bare, tan arms on the windowsill and gave me an arch look. His hair was wet as if he’d just come in from a swim, and his eyes danced as he looked down at me. He had the most perfect shoulders I’d ever seen and his biceps bulged as he settled in. An athlete definitely. A possibly naked male athlete of the highest hotness order. And he was living in my room.
“Are you lost?” he said.
He was amused. One of those guys who was so confident in himself and his position that even the appearance of a scraggly looking girl trespassing on his property presented nothing more than an opportunity to tease.
I turned my bike around to face him, still straddling, just in case I needed to make a quick getaway.
“You’re in my room,” I said.
He laughed and I felt it inside my chest. My toes curled inside my beat up Converse. “Oh, really.”
He looked over his shoulder. “So that’s your jockstrap on the floor.”
I grimaced. “Okay, I’ve known you for two seconds and already that’s too much information.”
His smile widened. “How is this your room?”
“I used to live here,” I told him, swallowing a lump that suddenly popped up in my throat. “I moved a couple of years ago.”
Now he was intrigued. He shifted his position and looked me up and down. “Prove it.”
“Okay. Go look inside the closet, above the door. I used to write down my box scores up there.”
He narrowed his eyes, but went. The second he was gone I noticed my hands hurt. I released the grip on my handlebars and looked at my palms. Dozens of tiny red lines were cut into them from the rubber. I had been holding on for dear life. He came back.
“You scored forty points in the state championship?”
“JV championship,” I clarified modestly.
“If I had stats like that they’d be spray painted on the walls.”
“My dad,” I told him. “He was always lecturing on being a team player. Didn’t want me to get all me, me, me about it, so I had to hide it.”
Which, considering how things had turned out, was pretty ironic.
He disappeared. Suddenly a basketball was hurtling toward my head. I reached up and plucked it out of the air with both hands before it could break my nose.
“Thanks for the warning!” I shouted, my heart in my throat.
He pulled on a maroon and gold t-shirt. Orchard Hill Soccer. Of course. “I gotta see these skills,” he said. “I’m coming down.”
My palms started to sweat all over the ball. Who was this guy? If he was on soccer he obviously knew Hammond. Was he friends with Chloe and them as well? Who was I kidding? Of course he was. He lived on the crest. Suddenly my brain was flying three steps ahead. He was definitely going to tell them I was here. Then everyone would be talking about me. What would they tell him? What would he think? He was just coming out the front door—tall . . . very tall . . . taller than me, even—when my cell phone trilled.
I considered not answering, but my mother would freak. I tucked the basketball between my hip and forearm and fumbled the phone from the pocket of my jeans.
“Hey,” I said.
“Ally, I really need you back here,” she said. “They want to know where to put your furniture and we have to get something for dinner. Where are you?”
I looked at the hot boy who was standing in front of me expectantly with his perfect calves and ready smile and the lightest blue eyes I'd ever seen. Looked at the house that wasn’t my house, behind him.
“I’m on my way,” I said.
His face fell.
I closed the phone and tossed him the ball. “I gotta go.”
“Wait,” he protested.
Wow. Way to sound belligerent, Ally.
“If you used to live here then you must know the crew,” he said, taking a few steps toward me, passing the ball back and forth from hand to hand.
The crew? Seriously? “Um, the crew?”
“Hammond, Chloe, Shannen, Faith, the Idiot Twins,” he said, rolling a hand around.
I laughed. The Idiot Twins. It was our nickname for Trevor and Todd Stein, local daredevils. Hadn’t heard that one in a while.
“Yeah, I don’t know who came up with that name, but it fits,” he said with a smile.
“I did,” I told him.
His eyebrows shot up. “Yeah?”
“There was this whole thing where Trevor and Todd rigged up a homemade bungee cord and tried to bungee jump off their jungle gym,” I said, narrowing my eyes. “Let’s just say the results weren’t pretty.”
He laughed. “Is that why Trevor’s nose is like that?”
“Nice,” he nodded, dribbling the ball. “I must mock them endlessly about that later.” He looked me in the eyes and my knees went a tad weak. Just from eye contact. “So you coined the idiot twins. Nice work.”
“Thank you,” I said, bowing my head slightly.
“There’s a party the night before school starts. At Connor Shale’s house.”
Connor Shale. The boy who’d shoved his tongue down my throat in Shannen’s tree house the summer between eighth and ninth grade while his parents played train dominoes with mine on the patio down below. I’d been too polite to shove him off of me and had let the heinousness go on for at least two minutes until, thankfully, Hammond Ross had appeared at the top of the rope ladder and laughed until Connor finally stopped. Then I’d practically fallen the ten feet to the ground trying to get away. My first kiss. Not my finest moment. Even more unfortunate? I’d only kissed one other guy since.
“You should come,” Bedroom Boy said.
I experienced an unpleasant twisting in my lower gut. It was amazing how casual it was for him. Like he wasn’t inviting me into the very scene I had both dreaded and looked forward to with a mixture of excitement, apprehension and abject fear for so long.
But it was kind of nice that he wanted me there. And wasn’t this a good sign, anyway? Clearly my friends hadn’t been slandering me all over the place for the past two years. If they had, he never would have invited me to a party with them. Right?
“Um, yeah. Maybe,” I said. My phone trilled again. “I really gotta go.”
“Oh, come on. Just one game?”
“Rain check,” I told him, turning and peddling away.
“I’m holding you to that!” he shouted.
It wasn’t until I was halfway down Harvest Lane that I realized I’d never even gotten his name.
“Am I running some kind of geriatric summer camp here?” Coach shouted. “Let’s hustle!”
I didn’t hustle. I looked at Hammond and he rolled his eyes. I hate laps. If you’re going to make us run distance at least let us out on the streets. What am I, some kind of lab rat scampering in circles for your block of cheese? Upperclassmen, at least, shouldn’t have to do this shit. It was so fucking hot out. And my brain was fried. And I still had three hours of practice ahead of me and back-to-school shopping with my mom tonight and all I could think about was the girl who used to live in my room.
The girl, was hot. Not, like, model hot, but hot. I like a girl who dresses down—when they don’t need all those bows and doilies and jewelry and crap—when they know they’re hot without it. And the ponytail? That sealed it. She even had those little curls behind her ear just, like, touching her neck . . . . Shit. So effing sexy. All night, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. I mean, she used to sleep in my room. How could I not think about that?
“Dude, that’s ten,” Hammond said, smacking me in the chest with the back of his hand.
We grabbed paper cups full of water and dropped down on the grass to watch the stragglers.
“Jonah! Pick it up!” I shouted at my brother. Just to be a dick. He was a freshman and all freshmen and Varsity virgins get hazed. He shot me an annoyed look, but sprinted the last turn. Hammond laughed and crushed his cup before tossing it on the ground.
“Look at that little fucker,” he said, nodding at David Drake, who had finished ahead of us and was now running stairs on the bleachers, tossing a soccer ball back and forth from hand to hand, for no apparent reason. “He doesn’t watch out he’s gonna get a kick in the head.”
“Maybe he’s on something,” I suggested, not at all serious.
Last year David Drake had been the most pathetic player on JV. This year he’d added at least ten pounds of muscle and had shown some respectable skills on the field. It was obvious he'd been working his ass off all summer, which I respect. Not everyone cares that much. I know I don't. But Drake didn’t live on the crest, and he still had the balls to play soccer, which around here was a Crestie sport. So that meant Hammond didn’t like him.
Which brought up a question. Where was the new-old girl living? As far as I knew none of the Crestie families had moved this summer. I glanced sideways at Hammond.
“What do you know about the girl who used to live in my house?” I asked.
Hammond’s head whipped up so fast I heard a crack. “What about her?”
“Who is she?” I asked. “Were you, like, friends with her?”
“Why? What do you know?”
I stared at him. Why was he so tense all of a sudden? “She came over yesterday,” I said. “Guess she wanted to see her old place or something.”
“Shut the fuck up. You saw Ally Ryan?” Hammond shifted his position. He reminded me of a dog waiting for a treat. A pit bull/German shepherd mix. The kind of dog that would take the Milkbone out of your hand and then bite your fingers off just for fun.
“Yeah,” I said.
Ally Ryan. Her name was Ally Ryan. AllyRyanAllyRyanAllyRyan.
“Wait. Ally Ryan. I’ve heard that name before,” I said.
“She comes up every once in a while,” Hammond said.
Right. Now I remembered. She was the girl in the picture in Shannen’s room. The one of a whole mess of Crestie girls taken at the country club pool in, like, sixth grade. I’d asked Shannen about her once and she hadn’t wanted to talk about it. Interesting.
“Dude. How did she look?” Hammond asked.
I didn’t like his tone. He was practically licking his chops. “Fine. Good. Whatever. I don’t know what she looked like before.”
“Is she hot?” Hammond asked.
I lifted a shoulder. “She’s all right.”
Hammond eyed me for a long moment. I stared straight ahead at the field, where the coaches were lining up cones for drills. My face was burning. I hoped I was already red from running so Hammond wouldn’t realize why.
“Dude, you don’t want to go there,” Hammond said.
I sucked down the rest of my water. “Who said I was going anywhere?”
“Good. Because Ally Ryan is, like, enemy number one.”
“What? What does that even mean?” I asked.
“Short version? Two years ago her father screwed all of our families out of a load of money and then left town,” Hammond said. “We were all friends before that. You know, Sunday dinners and all that shit.”
“She comes to Sunday dinners?” I asked.
I dreaded the stupid Sunday dinner tradition. My mother had campaigned for over a year to get my family invited to them and once we were in I still had no idea why. It was all so fake, the crest families gathering once a week for a homemade five-course meal like we were one, big, happy family. We didn’t even know these people existed three years ago, but now all of a sudden my mother’s happiness hinged on whether or not Mrs. Appleby approved of her banana crème pie or whether Mrs. Kirkpatrick broke her vegan rule for Mom’s roast. I had an okay time with my friends, but the formal setting always made everyone act like morons, like Shannen trying to sneak alcohol between courses or Faith flirting with the wait staff or the Idiot Twins, well, being themselves only ten times louder. I was constantly counting the seconds until dessert was cleared and we could bail. But I had a feeling I could tolerate Sunday nights a lot better if Ally were there.
“Came. Past tense, dude,” Hammond said. “Look, everyone hates the Ryans. Her dad is the reason Shannen’s father is on a permanent bender. He’s the reason I have no college money and Liam had to take out freaking student loans. Trevor and Todd lost their house because of him.”
“That’s why they live at their grandparents?” I asked.
Huh. I’d always wondered why the Idiot Twins and their parents lived in the Enclave. It was this exclusive condo neighborhood on the crest where most of the places were owned by Crestie grandparents who only visited on the holidays. The Steins lived there year round and every once in a while their grandparents would come back and squeeze in. They seemed to like it though. Nana and Pop were like superheroes to those dudes.
“Wait. But Shannen always says her dad’s been sloshed her whole life.”
“Maybe, but he got really bad when Charlie split and then went off the reservation after Ally’s dad lost all their savings,” Hammond said, his jaw clenched. “Stopped going to work, lost his job . . . . That’s why he’s ‘consulting’ now,” he said, rolling his eyes and adding air quotes. We both knew Mr. Moore hardly ever left his house. If he was an advertising consultant, he wasn’t doing very well at it.
“Whoa.” I was surprised Shannen hadn’t told me that part. She was basically my best friend and usually told me everything. But then, maybe this was why she didn’t want to talk about Ally the one time I’d asked.
“No shit,” Hammond said. “Chloe’s dad’s the only one who didn’t get screwed when the Ryans skipped town. Guess he was the only one smart enough not to invest with the guy.” He ripped up some blades of grass and tossed them at the ground. “Trust me. We’re all better off if Ally Ryan stays far, far away.”
“Wow. Crazy,” I said.
Probably not the best idea to invite her to Shale’s party then. I wasn’t even sure why I’d done it. Usually I didn’t invite anyone anywhere. Especially when it wasn’t my party to begin with. I just go with the flow. Don’t rock the boat. But I don’t know. I think I’d just wanted to make sure I’d see her again. Of course if I’d thought about it for two seconds I would have realized I’d be seeing her in school. Every day. But whatever. Maybe she wouldn’t show up. I mean, if she was at all aware of how everyone felt about her, she’d be stupid not to stay home. Either way, not my problem.
Coach blew his whistle. “Let’s go! Break time’s over!”
“The girls are going to shit when they hear you talked to Ally Ryan,” Hammond said as he stood up. “You coming?”
I got up and tossed my cup in the garbage can, then stooped to pick up Hammond’s and tossed that, too. I wanted to know more, no doubt, but I wasn’t about to press for details. If there was one thing I had learned since moving to this town it was that the people on the crest had their own way of doing things. They had their theme parties and their group vacations. They had their cheesy little traditions and their pack mentality, as my dad called it. And they also had their opinions. And hardly any of them made sense. At least not to me.
“Hey guys,” David Drake said as he jogged to catch up with us. He bounced back and forth from foot to foot, juggling his soccer ball. He had this self-satisfied look on his face. The kid was showing off his energy level. Maybe later I should take him aside and give him a few pointers about not coming off like a pathetic, needy loser.
“Fuck off, Drake,” Hammond said, slapping his ball away. It bounced halfway across the field and onto the track on the far side, where the cheerleaders were throwing each other around.
David chuckled. “Yeah, right. Good one.”
This guy had no idea the size of the hole he was digging for himself. I looked at Hammond and we laughed. David did, too. Like he was in on the joke. Dig, dig, dig.
“Line it up!” Coach called out.
We did. I made sure I was between Hammond and David so that Ham couldn’t shove the kid over in the middle of a calf stretch.
“That dude is so getting hazed this weekend,” Hammond said, almost loudly enough for David to hear.
I bent over to stretch out. Ally Ryan’s face flashed in my mind and I squashed it. I wasn’t about to hook up with some chick all my friends hated. Even if them hating her made no sense. It wasn’t worth the drama. I was just going to have to start fantasizing about someone else. Luckily, there I’d heard some marys from Blessed Heart Academy were going to show up at Shale’s. Blessed Heart girls were hot. I needed distraction from Ally Ryan?
Done and done.