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Boys, Bears And A Serious Pair Of Hiking Boots Part 24

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"What about Olivia?" I venture. "I can't just leave her with Adam and Susie - they don't deserve that."

"It's fine," Fiona says, shooting me a sympathetic look. "She was locked in the bedroom, the last I saw, ranting on the phone to some guy about how destructive and thoughtless we all are. She's good until morning. My plan is still perfect."

"OK, OK!" I agree, smiling for what seems like the first time all night. All around us, people are full of celebration, and even though the past few hours have been tragic, stressful, and scary, it feels as though all of that is finally behind us. "You are the undisputed queen of deception. We bow at your lying, sneaky feet."

"Better believe it." Fiona grins, smug. "Now, where is that ice cream . . . ?"

We sleep on the floor in the Johnsons' bas.e.m.e.nt, overlapping like puppies in a tangle of blankets and sleeping bags. But as soon as I open my eyes, woken by Fiona's sleeping mumbles, I know what I need to do.



I slip on my sandals and creep up the stairs, careful not to wake anyone. Ethan is lying curled in the corner, worn out from his stress - and the three episodes of that sci-fi series I insisted we watch, with brownies and ice cream, after he and Grady slouched back from the lake. I don't know what happened, but it seems like things are OK between them again, a grudging kind of peace. It can only get better.

The route back to the B and B is pale in the early morning light, with birds singing in the trees and a glow from the sun still hanging low over the mountains. I breathe in the crisp air, trying to savor every step as if it's my last.

Because right now, I think it is. I don't know yet about the interns.h.i.+p I'll get here next summer, working with the tourism board to promote eco-friendly travel in British Columbia; I haven't seen the small, cute apartment Mom and me will move to, or Dad's place in Sweden, where I'll spend Christmas, stringing sugar cookies to the tree and eating local smorgasbord. I don't know yet about the new friends I'll make in photography cla.s.s, or how the Green Teens will fall into anarchy after Olivia handcuffs herself to Princ.i.p.al Turner and swallows the key, ranting about corporate control of the social studies syllabus.

No, all of that is still ahead of me, so I can't help but feel sad as I let myself into the silent house, using the key hidden under the ceramic turtle on the porch. There's debris in every room: cups stacked in haphazard towers, streamers, and partly deflated balloons. I retrieve my cell phone from my room, and, wrapped in that snug blanket of mine, I settle down on the back porch to make the call.

"Hi . . . Mom?" I can't remember the last time I talked to her - really talked. Because I'm scared of what she'll have to say, and of what will come after, when the talking's done. I don't know yet that everything will turn out OK, for all of us, but even so, I curl my legs up under me and brace myself for the future. I've faced down white-water rapids, a wild bear, and even Fiona this summer; I can do this.

"I'm ready for that talk."

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.

Many thanks to my marvelous agent, Rosemary, for all your help on the climb. To Liz, Mara, Kaylan, Tracy, Jennifer, and all at Candlewick and Walker for your commitment and support. Thanks to my family, and the Canadian contingent for the hospitality (especially Uncle Don, for getting me up - and down - that mountain!). Thanks to Dom P. for all your patience and help, Narmada T. for the positivity, and Elisabeth D, as always, for everything.

ABBY MCDONALD is the author of the acclaimed novel Soph.o.m.ore Switch. She graduated from Oxford University in 2006 with a degree in politics, philosophy, and economics. An entertainment critic turned full-time author, Abby McDonald divides her time between Montreal and her hometown in Suss.e.x, England.

end.

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