Maddie had heard the rumour about Sam but didn’t believe it for a second. After all, like most rumours, it had spread like wildfire through the halls and classrooms, everywhere at school, which had probably destroyed the truth along the way. Maybe her friend Ava had had something to do with it, trying to save Maddie from falling for a guy like Sam. She was always pointing out the negative in people. Or maybe Justin had opened his big mouth. He and Maddie had had a “thing” last year before they’d realized there was no chemistry between them and broke up. Their friendship had changed after that. It was different somehow.
She sat up in the lounge on the deck to dig around in her purse for a bottle of sunscreen. At level “4,” it wouldn’t block out the sun for long, which was exactly what she wanted, but it would keep her skin soft and silky. After only a few days in the sun, her long, slim arms and legs were as golden brown as the fries she’d stopped eating in the school cafeteria long ago, and her otherwise mousey hair was shiny, streaked with blonde. She was happy she’d inherited her dad’s skin, which was tanned even in the dead of winter, instead of her mom’s, for it was pasty white most of the year and lobster red in the summer. Except for his skin and pale green eyes, however, she hadn’t inherited much from her dad – thank God!
Maddie hadn’t bothered to work on her tan much before because there had been no point, for she’d hidden under baggy jeans and long-sleeved shirts for years. Her mom and stepdad had said she was “pleasantly plump” not fat, but they hadn’t fooled anybody, for her stomach had jiggled like the chocolate pudding she’d practically inhaled every day. Back then, she’d had “issues” and had eaten for comfort said the counsellor whom her mom had dragged her to see after the divorce. Although she hadn’t believed his psychological mumbo jumbo at the time, it made perfect sense now because she no longer had many issues and had easily slipped into a skimpy bikini before coming out on the deck that day.
With her earphones in place, she closed her eyes and lay back on the lounge to listen to her iPod and daydream about Sam. She was thinking about him a lot lately. Sam Nowak was the nicest, best-looking, funniest, smartest and coolest guy in school. Everybody said so. He had thick dark hair that was always falling in his eyes, making him look very mysterious, and the biggest blue eyes she’d ever seen. He was tall, with a good build, a jock, which was probably the reason he had such a good build. Now that he and Paige were no longer going out, maybe Maddie had a chance with him. After all, he’d said hi to her in History last week and had asked whether she was going to the cross-country bike race on Sunday. Even though they’d been in the same class for ages and in the Kelsey Hills Cycle Club for months, he’d hardly said two words to her before. He’d even smiled at her – sort of.
As she flipped over on her stomach, her cell phone rang, cutting off the song in her head. She dug in her purse for the phone and then pulled out her earphones. “Hello.”
“Hey, it’s me,” Ava said.
“What’s up with you?”
Maddie turned over and sat up on the lounge. “Nothing much, just working on my tan.”
“Can Justin and I come over?”
“Uh, huh. Maybe you can figure out how I can get Sam to notice me.”
“Thought he already talked to you.”
“Yeah, but I think that was only because he was in my group in History and when Shamika – you know she doesn’t shut up for a second – decided to take a breath or something, Sam didn’t want to miss his only chance to speak.” She laughed.
Ava was silent.
“Are you still there?” Maddie asked.
“Um, we need to talk to you about Sam,” Ava said.
“Is this about his break up with Paige? There’s a rumour going around that he was two-timing Paige with her best friend, but I don’t believe it for a second. It doesn’t sound like him.”
Ava let out a sigh. “It’s not that. There’s something else.”
“We’ll tell you when we see you.”
“But . . .”
“We’ll be there in thirty minutes,” she said, hanging up.
Maddie wrapped herself in a towel, snatched her purse off the deck and then slipped through the sliding glass doors into the kitchen to get a drink and make her way upstairs to her bedroom to change before her friends came over.
At the table, her stepdad was sipping coffee while reading the newspaper, his glasses sliding down his nose. “Hi, Brian,” she said, moving behind his chair. She poked her head inside the fridge and pulled out a jug of lemonade. Not bothering to get a glass down from the cupboard, she took a slug from the container.
“Get a glass, Maddie,” Brian muttered, his eyes still on the paper. As he glanced over his shoulder, a grin spread across his face. “Can’t pull anything on me, can you? You know I’ve got eyes in the back of my head!”
With a shrug, she got a glass and poured herself a drink. Her stepdad was a bit much sometimes, but she liked him for the most part because he seemed to make her mom happy and didn’t play favourites with his daughter, Rebecca, who had lived with them until she had started university last fall. Maddie had even considered taking his surname, Moore, and ditching her father’s, Sigmund, and then her official name would be Madison Moore. That was kind of sexy. She didn’t care that her stepdad was taking her father’s place. Well, not really. After all, she hadn’t seen her father in years and wasn’t sure she wanted him back in her life.
Brian’s gaze drifted towards the glass doors. “Was it too hot for you out there?”
“Nope. Just came in to get changed. Ava and Justin are coming over in a couple of minutes.”
“That so? Well, you’ll have the place to yourselves,” he said, eying his watch. “Your mom should be home shortly, and then we’re going over to the neighbours’ house for drinks but will be back before dinner. Want to ask your friends to stay? We’re having burgers and my special potato salad. Of course, it is Saturday,” he said, chuckling, returning to the paper. “You probably don’t want to waste it hanging out with us old folks.”
“No, we haven’t got anything special going on.” She set her empty glass on the counter near the sink. “I’ll ask.” Her friends liked Brian. He was always doing things for Maddie and her friends, such as driving everybody to the movies and the mall or listening to them going on and on about teachers, homework or kids at school who drove them crazy. He was a software consultant who worked from home, so he was around the house a lot, more than her mom, a social worker who worked at an agency downtown.
Maddie had just pulled on a white T-shirt, the one with Just Do It in bright red letters across the chest, and jean shorts when the doorbell rang. After tying her hair back in a ponytail, she ran downstairs to the front door.
“Where are your parents?” Ava asked, stepping inside with Justin at her heels.
“They’ve gone to the neighbours’.”
“Good.” She stole a look at Justin.
“Why? What’s up?”
“We got some news about Sam,” he said, frowning.
Avoiding her gaze, Justin stuffed his hands into his pockets. “Tell you in a minute, but first can we go downstairs where it’s private? In case your parents come home?”
“Yeah, they never go down there. Believe me, you’re not gonna want them to hear this and start asking a bunch of nosey questions,” Ava said.
With her stomach suddenly in a knot, Maddie led her friends through the kitchen and downstairs into the recreation room in the basement, where they often hung out on weekends. While Ava and Justin got comfortable on the couch, she dragged the rocking chair across the well-worn carpet to sit in front of them. “So, what’s going on?”
Justin blew out a breath. “Sam’s in a lot of trouble. A couple of nights ago I overheard some guys talking in the bike shop. You know I work there on Thursdays and Fridays after school, right? Well, Sam and his brother Adam work there, too.”
“Sam’s nothing but trouble,” Ava said, her dark eyes growing to twice their size. “I don’t know why you like him, Maddie. There are lots of guys at school who are way better than he is and just as popular. Clayton, Deon, Marcus. Marcus is, like, so nice.” Glancing away, she tucked a curl behind her ear. “Sam used to be a nice guy, too, but he’s not anymore. Paige couldn’t take it so she dumped him. Caitlyn, not Kaitlyn Brown but Caitlyn McCabe, told Shamika and Shamika told me that he . . .”
“Ava!” Maddie cried, exasperated. Ava had a bad habit of going on and on about something without getting to the point.
“Okay, listen,” Justin said, pushing himself to the edge of his seat until his boney knees were almost touching Maddie’s. “I overheard Adam and the boss’s son, Russell, talking about some stuff in the repair room when I was coming down the hall. Russell had painted a bike blue, but the colour wasn’t quite right, so he was planning to mix two tints together and . . .”
“Justin?” He had obviously caught Ava’s bad habit of going on and on without saying anything significant, which was no big surprise, for they had been hanging around together every day for weeks. “Sam? Remember?” Maddie asked, annoyed.
His eyes widened. “The police were at his house. He’s been charged!”
Ava sighed. “He put a guy in the hospital!”