Playing with Fire
The front door swung open, taking me by surprise. I sucked in my breath, startled to see him.
To see him with Lily.
I’d just jogged up the Randazzos’ walkway. I hadn’t yet reached out my hand to ring the bell, and there he was.
His green eyes sparkled with recognition. I did everything to keep my lips from curling in a smile. We held a secretive gaze for a moment, before I looked away.
After all this time, it was strange to see him in front of me. No longer just words illuminated on a tiny screen.
“Sara!” Lily cried. She hadn’t been expecting me, but it was a hot day in August and I was bored. It was the kind of day meant for showing up at your best friend’s door “This is great. Mason’s here.”
“Hey there,” I said softly as I shifted my weight uncomfortably.
“Mason’s hanging out with Buddy,” Lily continued. Her little brown dog panted beside Mason’s ankle. Buddy had been Mason’s dog, but his mom was allergic so Lily’s family had taken Buddy in. “His mom dropped him off while she went to the doctor.”
Dr. Shiffer, I wanted to say. He specializes in migraines. Mrs. Meyer has been getting superbad headaches lately, and Mason has to watch his brother and sister. Mason’s mom heard about Dr. Shiffer from a friend and is hoping he will be able to help her.
But I couldn’t say that.
I couldn’t say that and not say a whole lot more.
“Sara and I’ve spent the whole summer on the beach,” Lily told Mason, not knowing that Mason already knew that. That Mason knew pretty much everything that was going on with me. She pointed to the black Nikon camera I wore around my neck. “She’s been doing this thing where she takes a photo of the same spot on the boardwalk every day at three thirty. Same background but always different people doing different things.”
“Really?” Mason actually sounded surprised. As if he knew nothing about my hobby. As if he didn’t call me
“Eye Spy” in our texts. “What are you doing with them?”
“She’s been printing out the photos,” Lily answered. “She’s going to mount them on a large board—”
“Actually, I’m thinking of binding them together and making a kind of flip book,” I interjected. I fixed my gaze on my orange sandals. I couldn’t look at Mason. The flip book had been his idea yesterday.
“Oh, I love it!” Lily’s maple-syrup-brown eyes widened. “You could sell that at one of Stellamar’s souvenir shops, you know. Print a lot of them. Mason, isn’t that totally original?”
“Totally.” Mason smirked. “One-of-a-kind. I can’t believe you thought of that, Sara.”
He thought he was being funny, but he wasn’t. I smiled my biggest smile back at him, playing along. I was confident he wouldn’t dare spill our secret. He knew Lily could never know about us.
If she knew, she’d ask questions.
Questions neither of us wanted to answer.
My stomach twisted. I felt bad. Lily Randazzo was my best friend. She’d be humiliated if she knew Mason and I were playing at barely knowing each other.
I also knew what Lily would think if she found out
that we’d been texting almost every day for the last month. She’d think we liked each other. She’d think we were together.
But we aren’t.
We’re just friends. There was no way Lily or any of our other friends would believe me. I didn’t text with any other boys. Plus, Mason wasn’t even from our school. He lived almost thirty minutes away. And he was cute. Really cute. White-blond hair. Tanned skin. Wide-set eyes.
If I didn’t like him, she’d want to know what I was doing. Why I was talking all the time to a supercute guy. Guys and girls our age usually don’t talk all the time unless they like each other. She’d want to know what we possibly could be talking about.
And the answer to that question was complicated.
Mason unzipped the black backpack that he’d slung over one shoulder. Kneeling in the grass, he searched several outside pockets while rubbing Buddy. The little dog rolled eagerly onto his back, pointing his four paws toward the blue August sky.
“Hey, Lily, I think I left my house keys on your kitchen table,” Mason said suddenly. “My mom’s going
to be here in a minute. Could you see if they’re there? I don’t want to leave Buddy-boy.” He scratched the pale pink skin of Buddy’s belly.
Lily shrugged. “Sure.” Her long, dark hair swung as she hurried into her house, leaving me and Mason outside together.
“I did it.” He stopped petting Buddy and stood so he was close to me.
“Did what?” I shifted back. My bare legs pressed against the lavender blooms of a hydrangea bush. Big hedges and tall flowering bushes bordered the front of Lily’s house.
“She’s inside.” Mason had noticed my eyes dart nervously toward the front door. “She can’t hear us. I told my parents.”
I gazed blankly at him, my mind still on Lily.
“Sara, I told them. I did it.”
The urgency in his voice jolted me. “Really?” I squealed. I couldn’t believe it. I’d been pushing Mason for weeks to tell them, but I never thought he’d find the courage to do it. “What happened?”
“Last night after my baseball game, it happened again. I’d pitched nine innings and I was tired, you
know? My body was tired, but my brain was more tired—tired of lying and always having to come up with a story to explain it. So when the Gatorade slid across the table, I just blurted it out.”
“What’d you say?”
“I told my mom that I moved the drink. Not with my hand or a string but with my mind.” Mason’s eyes shone. “I told her that I can move objects without touching them. I told her that I’ve always been able to.”
“This is huge!” I was so excited for him. He’d been tortured for so long, having kept his powers a secret from everyone. He’d never meant for me to be the first to find out. We barely knew each other. “What happened next?”
“My mom was skeptical. She went upstairs and had a long talk with my dad.” He pushed at the grass with the toe of his worn sneaker. “They came downstairs together. They kept suggesting other explanations. I showed them, but I don’t think they can wrap their minds around it yet. You are lucky that your dad understands everything about your powers.”
“He’s not fully there, believe me.”
“I have a feeling there will be a lot more ‘little talks,’
as my mom calls them, in our house.”
“But they weren’t angry, right? They didn’t yell or flip out or—”
“No. Can you believe it? They were calm. Surprised. Confused. But no screaming or blaming or any of the other stuff I’d expected.”
I had known deep down that Mason’s parents wouldn’t be mad at him, but he had convinced himself that they would be. That they wouldn’t understand. What I knew—what I had learned firsthand, actually, with my own dad—was that sometimes parents don’t understand stuff, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try.
“You need to celebrate,” I said, truly happy for him. I pushed back the same strand of straight blond hair that always hung in my eyes so I could see him better.
“Even though I’m not sure what’s going to happen next, it feels good to have it out there.” Mason scooped Buddy into his arms. “It’s your turn now.”
“I don’t think—”
“Oh no. You’re not backing out. We made a pact, Sara,” he reminded me. “I tell my parents and you tell Lily.”
“It’s different,” I said.
“It’s not,” Mason insisted. “My parents rolled with
it when I told them I move objects with the force of my mind. Lily will be cool when you tell her that you can see and talk to ghosts.”
“Friends are different from parents,” I objected. “Your mom gave birth to you. She’s seen you vomit and do stupid things, and no matter what you say or do, she’ll always love you. That’s what moms and dads do. Friends aren’t connected that way. A friend can drop you in a second and never look back.”
“You don’t believe that about Lily.” Mason’s gaze turned stern. “Come on, Lily is way cooler and more open-minded than my dad, and if he didn’t flip . . . Look, we both know it’s been eating at you. Sara, it feels amazing to come clean.”
We’d been texting about this for weeks. The very thing that connected us. Our supernatural secrets.
Lily had brought us together at her thirteenth birthday party in June. I’d discovered his power, and then he figured out mine. Maybe because we were so alike in that way, we recognized it in each other.
Besides my family, Mason was the only one I’d ever told. I wanted to tell Lily I saw the dead. All around me. Everywhere.
Lily was the best friend I’d ever had. I knew everything about her. But she knew nothing about me. Nothing important, that is.
But this was big. Huge.
She might laugh at me. She might be afraid of me.
She might not want to be my friend.
The thing was, Lily had seen and heard me do lots of strange things since I moved to Stellamar last summer. She hadn’t known there were spirits by my side. I couldn’t imagine what she thought.
I couldn’t let it go on like this. She’d been so cool. Never questioning me. Always loyal and understanding, no matter how crazy I must’ve looked.
“I want to tell her.” My fingers clenched into fists. “I’m just scared. Petrified, actually.”
“Are you sure?” Lily’s melodic voice rang out. “I looked everywhere, Mason. No key.” As she hurried across the grass, I took a step away from him.
“Really?” Mason patted the pockets of his baggy cargo shorts. “Oops. My bad.” He extracted a key, swinging it on a red ribbon. “Must’ve been here all along.”
“What a dummy!” Lily gave him a playful shove, then snatched Buddy from his arms. “Your mom’s
here.” She nodded toward the white SUV that had just pulled up to the curb.
“Later,” Mason called, hoisting his backpack onto his shoulder and heading toward the car. Then he turned and caught my eye. Just do it, he mouthed.
“Do what?” Lily asked as they drove away. “I saw that, you know. Do what?”
I bit my lip. This was it. The perfect intro. Could I just blurt it out right here?
“Well, he wanted me to . . . ” I hesitated. Every time I’d rehearsed this conversation in my mind, we were both in my kitchen and I’d just baked Lily’s favorite caramel-swirl brownies. Maybe that didn’t matter.
“Honey, do you see the time? We’ve got to go!”
I gasped as Lily’s mom poked her head out from behind the tall hedge to our right. She held a pair of hedge clippers and had a few stray twigs and leaves caught in her long, dark hair.
“What are you doing?” Lily sounded horrified. “Why are you in the bushes?”
“Gardening.” Mrs. Randazzo peeled off her floral gardening gloves. “I saw Mason’s mom pick him up. We need to get a move on. Lily, you didn’t forget the
dentist, did you?” From the way Lily scrunched her eyebrows together, I knew she’d definitely forgotten.
“Come on, to the car.” Mrs. Randazzo turned to me. “Hi, Sara. Lily can come over after her dentist appointment. You’ll have plenty of time together then.” Her eyes bored into mine, and suddenly it dawned on me. She’d been in the bushes. Had she heard my conversation with Mason? My breath caught in my throat. I couldn’t meet her gaze.
I knew Mrs. Randazzo well enough to know that she wouldn’t tell Lily my secret on the way to the dentist. At least I thought she wouldn’t.
I cut across the lawns, waving to Mr. Vega, who lived in the gray gabled house that separated my house from Lily’s. He was pinning his rosebushes, withering in the heat, to a trellis. I pulled open the back door that led into our kitchen.
Maybe Lily’s mom hadn’t heard. Or maybe she had.
Either way, I’d made a decision.
I’d tell Lily as soon as she came back.