Famous in a Small Town(8)

I hadn’t really thought about the possibility of not raising the money. The booster club would pull through. They always did.

But maybe she was right to be worried. Nothing we’d done had ever cost as much before, and if we did all the same things we always did … maybe we wouldn’t make it.

My thoughts were interrupted by the pound of little-kid feet, and when I looked up, Cadence had appeared, dragging August behind her. I waved when he caught my eye.

“Sophie, what should we read that’s good?” Cadence said.

“They’re all good.”

“Especially good.”

I smiled, setting aside the College Collective handbook (would Mel endorse spelling it Kollege Kollective, or was it no longer cute when higher education was concerned?) and getting to my feet. As I helped Cadence pick out a few books, I heard a baby-pitched squeal from near the front desk and saw Heather going after Harper, who hadn’t quite mastered her center of gravity yet, having only just begun to take on walking. Heather scooped her up and waved when she saw me. She gestured over to the general-fiction shelves and then retreated with Harper in her arms.

“Let’s read, Uncle August,” Cadence said after she had made her selections, tugging on August’s arm until he sank into a nearby yellow beanbag chair. She shoved a book in his hands and squashed in next to him.

They read, and I flipped back open to JUNIOR YEAR, JUNE–AUGUST. But really I was listening in on the random voices August was giving the characters, after Cadence complained that there wasn’t enough variation between them.

“The elephant can’t sound the same as the pig. They should sound different.”

August gave the pig a super deep voice, and the elephant an indeterminable accent.

They had read through a few by the time Heather came over.

“Okay, let’s pick out the ones we want to take home,” she said, gesturing Cadence up and following her back to one of the low shelves crammed with picture books.

August watched them for a moment from the beanbag chair, and then stood, stretched, and moved to look at a shelf nearer to me.

“So where was the elephant supposed to be from?” I said, because I was pretty sure he wasn’t interested in browsing picture books.

“Scotland,” he said, like it was obvious, and when I raised an eyebrow, “Scotland adjacent?”

I smiled, first at him and then down at the kids on the College Collective cover. I knew their names from the photo caption inside—Jeff, Jackie, Sonja, Han, and Fadia enjoy time out on the quad. I liked to imagine that Jeff and Jackie had dated briefly, but she left him for Sonja. The smile she and Sonja were sharing was just too knowing.

This didn’t seem like a solid avenue of conversation with August. At least not yet.

(I had mentioned it to Brit once, and she took one look and said, Oh yeah, Jackie and Sonja have totally boned down.)

“You disappeared the other night,” I said after a pause. “You should’ve left a note.”


“So I would know if you were really gone or not. I thought you might have been waiting to jump out at me.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Because it’s funny. Well, it’s not funny if you’re the person being jumped at, but it’s funny if you’re the person doing the jumping.”

“You speak from experience?”

“I used to pull that shit on my sister all the time when we were kids. Hiding in closets, or under the bed so I could reach out for her foot, like in a horror movie.”

“I’ve never done that.”

“You don’t know what you’re missing,” I said. “Anyway, if you’d left a note, I would’ve known when you were coming back.” He was looking at me strangely. “Not that I was, like. Anticipating. Your return.” I swallowed. “It’s just polite.”

He nodded. “Next time, I’ll leave a note.”

“Good.” I liked the idea of there being a next time.

His lips twitched, eyes shining. “‘Dear Sophie, mind your own business. Fondest wishes, August.’”


“I said ‘fondest wishes.’”

I fought a smile.

I thought of Heather’s words the other night—Maybe you could help ease him in here a little bit, introduce him to some people?

“So,” I said. “This girl from school, Tegan Wendall? She’s having this thing tonight and a bunch of people are going, so, uh, if you wanted to come … you know. You could.”

“You’re asking me to a party?”

“Yeah.” But that felt too much like a declaration. “I mean, no. But yes. I’m inviting you, but it’s not like, with me, it’s just … if you want to meet new people or whatever.”

For a moment I’d swear August’s face said yes, but then his mouth said: “I probably shouldn’t. But thanks.”

My mouth replied: “Cool, yeah, maybe next time,” but I’m not exactly sure how my face responded. August wouldn’t know either, though, because he had already turned toward Cadence, who had returned with a large stack of books in her arms. Heather had corralled Harper and was heading toward the checkout desk.

“See you around, Soph!” Heather called over one shoulder, as Cadence beamed up at August.

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