“Norah, breathe,” Willow said with a laugh. “I swear I’ve never seen you this excited in my life. I’m starting to get jealous.”
I swatted her arm with a folded blue sweatshirt, then added it to the open suitcase on my bed. “You should be jealous,” I teased. “He was my best friend for most of my life. You only just passed three years.”
“I think was is the key word there.”
She was right, of course. I hadn’t seen Skyler since the summer before eighth grade. That’s when he and his family moved across the country to Ohio. We’d Snapped and messaged and texted a lot that first year, but every year since, we’d drifted more and more apart until we basically had zero communication. Now all we did was occasionally like each other’s posts on Instagram.
“I was kidding,” Willow said. “Bring back your super-cute excited face. Tell me more about taking over Pokémon gyms and gummy worm dioramas and video game marathons and how you did all this without kissing this boy, not even once.”
I laughed. “He left when we were thirteen.”
I dug through the top drawer of my dresser and scooped up a handful of socks. I threw them in the air like confetti. “And now he’s coming back!”
“For three weeks,” she reminded me. “Where you will be crammed in an RV together. Sounds”--she picked up a sock ball from where it had landed on the floor next to her and half-heartedly threw it in the air--“fun?”
“This trip is going to be amazing. I get to see my childhood best friend. I get to visit my future college. It’s like my past”--I held up my left hand--“and my future”--I held up my right--“are coming together!” I joined my hands in a dramatic clap.
“What did you just do with your hands? That didn’t look good. Are you getting in a major traffic accident on this trip?”
I frowned at my hands, which were still clasped, fingers intertwined. “No, it represents a magical combination where magical things are going to happen.”
“It looked like a major collision--glass and twisted metal everywhere.”
I rolled my eyes. “You really are jealous.”
“Yes, I am. He will not take back best friend status from me. I will fight him to the death for it.”
“Weapon of choice?” I asked, collecting the socks, then dropping them in my suitcase.
“Probably a long sword. Or a throwing ax. It depends. Is he tall?”
“He wasn’t four years ago.”
My phone buzzed on the bed with a text. Behind me, Willow’s phone buzzed too. It was a message from Leena in our group text. Who’s going to the party this weekend?
My initial instinct was to type, Not me, I’ll be in a magical collision with my childhood friend. But that was dumb. Nobody else would get that and I’d sound ridiculous. I only said stuff like that around people I felt perfectly comfortable with, like Willow . . . and Skyler. I never worried about how I sounded around Skyler; he was just as weird as I was.
I looked out the window again, my anticipation almost unbearable now, but the street was still empty. My phone buzzed.
I’m in, Willow had answered. She wasn’t one to analyze everything she said.
I’ll be out of town, I finally typed. A perfectly normal response.
“You won’t have to fight him,” I said, back to our conversation. “Like you said, it’s only three weeks. And technically we won’t be crammed anywhere together. He’s going to be in an RV with his mom and siblings, and I’m going to be in our RV with Mom and Ezra.” But Skyler was coming to see me! Well, not specifically to see me, but it felt that way.
“Why now?” Willow asked.
“What?” I studied my suitcase and the backpack beside it, trying to decide if I had remembered everything I’d need. I had my sketch pad and pencils. Skyler would want to see all my drawings. He’d be surprised at how much better I’d gotten. I hoped he brought his sketch pad, too, so we could draw together like we used to. I’d even brought the charcoal pencil he’d loaned me before he left that I’d forgotten to give back.
Willow’s voice drew my eyes out of my suitcase. “You said your moms have been talking about doing an RV trip since they were in college.”
“So why spring it on you now? After all these years?”
“They miss each other. Apparently, they’ve been planning it for months. They wanted to surprise us.” I pulled my stack of flash cards from my back pocket and held them up. “Plus, I told you, I have my college interview thing.”
“That’s a weekend trip, not a three-week, multi-stop, bring-two-families-together-who-haven’t-seen-each-other-in-years kind of thing.”
“It’s just another good excuse to do it now. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Truuue . . .” Willow crawled over to my bookshelf in the corner and started running her finger along the spines of books, pulling several out as she did and setting them aside.
“Why did you say true like that?”
“That’s how I say true.”
“That was a suspicious true.” I pocketed my cards again. “Speaking of my college tour and interview, what do you think of this outfit?” I grabbed the hanger from my closet that held the pencil skirt, button-down, and blazer my mom had bought me the week before.
“Are you applying to be their librarian? Or maybe just run the school?”
“I’m serious, what do you think?”
“I think no wannabe video game animator I know would ever wear that.”
“How many do you know?”
“Just you. And you don’t wear that.”
I laid the outfit flat across the contents of my suitcase. “You want me to wear a T-shirt and leggings to the interview?”
“Yes, your Super Mario Bros. Princess Peach shirt would be perfect.”
I didn’t even wear that to school. Besides, this was an interview. I needed to be professional, show I was serious. “Maybe Dean Collins hates Super Mario. Maybe she’s more a Street Fighter fan. I can’t create controversy from the very first impression.”
She rolled her whole head to show she disagreed, then pointed to the stack of books she had created. “Can I borrow these while you’re gone?”
“Cool.” She stood and slid the books into her bag by the door. “And you were right about my true. It was suspicious.”
“I know. So talk.”
She looked in the mirror above my dresser and patted her dark curls. Willow was beautiful, dark brown skin, full lips, intense eyes, and curves for days. “I just think that there’s probably another reason for this sudden RV trip that doesn’t include husbands.”
“You consider something that took at least six months to plan ‘sudden’?”
“They told you two weeks ago.”
“That’s what a surprise is,” I said. “And I’ve heard about this plan pretty much my whole life. It was always supposed to be husbandless. Believe me, my dad is not offended. He’s been on plenty of RV trips.”
“You’re probably right. You know me, always suspicious. But prepare yourself for some big news in the next three weeks, just in case this trip has some hidden agenda.”
“Like what?” I asked, my brain suddenly creating possibilities at her suggestion.
“As long as they don’t tell you that you’re moving to Ohio to join your ex–best friend, I’ll be okay.”
“You’ll be okay?”
I picked a stuffed animal off my bed and threw it at her.
She caught it and studied the embroidered eyes of Donkey Kong. “Maybe take him to the interview?” She turned him to face me. “Is he the one that climbed a building to save that woman in distress?” She chucked him toward my bed, and he landed perfectly in my suitcase.
“You’re thinking King Kong, and I’m pretty sure he caused her distress. But Donkey Kong is no prince either.” I tossed him back in my pile. “If I were to take anyone to my interview, it would be Ms. Pac-Man. She’s a baddie.”
“Like you’re going to be in that interview.”
I took a deep breath. I hoped she was right. I would just have to focus, not go off track like my brain sometimes did, and stick to my rehearsed answers. I’d be fine.
Before I realized what she was doing, Willow had snatched my flash cards from my pocket and started flipping through them. “These are the questions you’re studying for it?” She had her back to me and I reached around trying to get the cards back. “Who has influenced your art the most? Why animation?”
“They’ll ask those,” I said.
“Why do you look like you want to be our librarian?” she said, pretending to read off a card.
“You’re such a brat.”
She turned around with a big smile and handed me the cards. “There will be some questions you didn’t write on these cards, too, you know.”
I did know. And that was the thought that had me adding questions to the cards every day. I needed to think of everything. Even the unexpected.
“Norah! Ezra! They’re here!” Mom’s voice rang out from the hall.
My eyes shot to the window, where an RV now blocked my view of the road. I smiled. “They’re here!”
“Go,” Willow said, shooing me. “I’m going to leave some notes in your suitcase for you to find later that will remind you of your loyalty.”
I hugged her and ran out the door, nearly colliding with my older brother, Ezra, as I did.
“Today’s the day!” I said, grabbing hold of his arm and shaking it.
“It’s this kind of attitude that made Mom think three weeks in a rolling box is something we actually want to do,” he said dryly.
“You know you’re excited.”
“Three weeks, Norah. Only weirdos like you can spin that into anything but torture.”
And Skyler. He’d be into this, I was sure of it.
I took Ezra’s hand, pulling him toward the front door, where I could now hear voices. “You get to see Austin.” Austin was Skyler’s older brother, and much like me and Skyler, Austin and Ezra had been inseparable when they lived in Fresno.
Ezra shook his head. “Literally haven’t said a word to him in about three years.”
“Just saying, it will be weird.”
“Only if you make it weird.”
“I will,” he joked. “I totally will.” Unlike me, Ezra never made anything awkward. He had been the King of Cool in high school. Mr. Popular. Star football player and class president. Nearly everyone I met knew of my brother.
We came to the end of the hall and rounded the corner into the living room, where laughter and hugs were being exchanged. Mom had her arms tight around Olivia, tears in both of their eyes.
“Best friends shouldn’t spend four years apart,” Mom said.
My gaze searched the room, landing first on Paisley, Skyler’s younger sister. When they moved, she was only ten. Now, at fourteen, she had long dark hair and was almost taller than me. Austin looked like an adult, which technically, at nineteen now, he was, complete with face scruff, neatly trimmed dark hair, a filled-out frame, and jeans instead of basketball shorts. My dad was shaking his hand. When he backed away, Austin saw us.
He smiled. “Hey, guys.”
Ezra, who seconds before had pretended not to be excited, was the first one forward. They exchanged a quick hug, slapping each other on the back once, and then laughed.
“Oh, Norah, look at you,” Olivia said, free from my mom’s hug. She walked toward me and I met her halfway. “You’re all grown up and beautiful.” I didn’t feel much different, at least looks-wise. I still had my long wavy brown hair, my same burns-easily-in-the-sun white skin, my same average height and build.
“Hi,” I said, hugging her. “How was your trip?” I asked when really I wanted to yell, Where is Skyler? Because he definitely wasn’t in this room.
“We flew in last night and got our rental RV about an hour ago,” she said. I had forgotten how calm Olivia was. Where my mom was loud and animated, Olivia was slow and measured. “So far it’s been great. But now the real adventure begins.”
Ezra cleared his throat. “Where’s Skyler?”
I wanted to hug my brother for asking, but instead I stood very still so I wouldn’t miss the answer.
Olivia looked around the room as if realizing for the first time that he wasn’t here. “I . . .”
“He’s in the RV,” Paisley said. “On the phone.”
Olivia rolled her eyes toward my mom. “Not everyone thinks this is a dream vacation like we do, Miranda.”
Ezra raised his hand and when Mom shot him a look, he said, “Oh, we weren’t talking about me?”
“We will convert everyone by the end,” Mom said with a smile.
My heart seemed to drop to the floor. Skyler didn’t want to be here.
“You all packed?” Mom asked me.
“What?” I’d been staring at the front door while everyone chatted, wondering if once Skyler got off the phone, he’d come in and show that even if he didn’t want to be in an RV, he at least was happy to see me. “Oh, yes. Just let me get my stuff.”
Willow really was tucking notes into my suitcase when I got back to my room. “Well?” she asked. “How was the grand reunion?”
“Um . . .” I put a hand to my forehead.
“What is that?” Willow pointed at my wrist. “I haven’t seen that in years.”
I twisted the bracelet. A faded letter on each of the blue beads spelled out best friends. “It’s funny and nostalgic. Me and Skyler were going to laugh about it together.”
“And did he think it was funny and nostalgic?”
I pointed out the window. “I haven’t seen him yet. He hasn’t come in, but he will.”
Willow’s brows popped up. “Oh.”
“No, what?” I zipped my suitcase closed and hefted it off my bed.
“Here I was worried he was going to steal my best friend. I guess I didn’t have to worry. He’s grown up into a bona fide jerk. Did we see signs of this early on? Are we proud, or no?”
“It wasn’t a joke.”
I waved a hand through the air. “No, Skyler is . . . was . . . the nicest, funniest boy I knew. Whatever. It’s fine. He’s just on the phone. Maybe he’s getting summer homework or something. It’s obviously important.”
“Ooh, maybe it’s his parole officer. Or maybe he’s talking to a sick relative or is learning he really can get the demon horn on his forehead removed.”