Sneak Preview: “Just Another Switch-Out” (2)

“Somebody’s out there,” Jill Matthews said. She peered over Taylor’s shoulders.

“You’re seeing things,” Taylor said as she drew the blinds of her bedroom. “There’s nothing back there but woods. You must have seen a bird or maybe a deer.”

“Right, ‘cause the brilliant Taylor Smart has never been wrong about anything in her life.”

Taylor just glared at her.

“Okay, that was cold. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Taylor said. She sat on her bed. Jill pulled up the desk chair and used the bed as a footstool.

“How long till you have to go home?”

Jill checked the time on her cell phone. “About an hour. Do you think we could do some geometry now? It was why I came over, you know.”

“I thought it was for my mom’s spaghetti,” Taylor said. She leaned over to grab her backpack from the edge of the bed. She reached in for her math workbook.

“Well, that too.”

“Okay. Geometry,” Taylor said. “But admit it, you’d rather sit here and talk about Uncle Waldo.”

“Taylor!” Jill threatened to throw her own workbook at her friend.

Uncle Waldo was Taylor and Jill’s pet name for the creepy guy who had been hanging out in the park lately, a pasty-white old man who always dressed in black.

“I’m telling you,” Jill said, “that guy is definitely up to something. He looks like a serial killer or something.”

“Oh? And how many serial killers have you met lately?”

“You know what I mean.”

“Jill, he’s just a reject from a mental hospital somewhere. Sure, he’s creepy, but he’s perfectly harmless.”

“Whatever,” Jill said.

“Unless, of course, he’s a foreign spy trying to steal Mom’s spaghetti recipe.”

Jill gave Taylor a sour look.

“Oooh! Or maybe he’s an alien shapeshifter who’s lost contact with the mother ship… Or a vicious monster on his way to a Cannibals Anonymous meeting!”

“That’s enough, Taylor. I get your point.”

“He could be the ghost of an evil mortician…or a zombie…or a Justin Bieber fan! But I shouldn’t repeat myself…”

“Give it up, okay?” Jill said. She fumbled through her math worksheets. Taylor pulled back. She knew her friend could only take so much of her teasing.

“You’ve got to admit, though,” Jill said. “He’s a little strange.”

“Yeah,” Taylor said. “But not ‘vicious criminal’ strange. More like ‘drools and talks to himself’ strange. Or maybe ‘dorky brother’ strange.” Taylor winked.

Jill grinned. “I’ll be sure and tell William you’re thinking of him.”

Taylor stuck out her tongue.

“Which reminds me. You never said if you’re going to Jared’s party this Saturday.”

Taylor sighed. “Probably not.”

“Oh, come on! Do you know how long it took to convince my parents to let me go? ‘Who are this Jared boy’s parents?’” she imitated her mother. “’Where do they go to church? He doesn’t get into any trouble at school, does he?’ I swear, I’m surprised they didn’t get the police to run a background check on him.”

Taylor realized this was one of those times she probably ought to keep her mouth shut. Amazingly, she found it in her to do so. It didn’t help.

“I don’t suppose your parents gave you the third degree?” Jill said.

“My dad is his folks’ accountant,” Taylor said. “I think he’s pretty sure they’re not drug dealers or anything.” She made a point of burying her face in her math book. “Look, if you want to go, just go. You already said your parents are okay with it.”

“Barely. They’d feel better if they knew my best friend was going, too.”

“I just haven’t decided yet, okay?”

“But I don’t want to go by myself!”

“Isn’t William invited?”

“That’s not what I meant,” Jill said. “Come on. It’ll be fun.”

“Yeah, well.” Taylor studied the floor. Then the walls. Anything to keep from making eye contact.

“Okay, so you’re not the most sociable person in the world,” Jill said. “It’s really not that bad. Would it kill you to go eat some cake and ice cream?” She leaned in conspiratorially. “I notice the way you look at Jared at school, you know.”

“Don’t even start,” Taylor said, her cheeks reddening. Jill started to giggle, but Taylor pressed on. “Besides, you know I…I don’t like parties. I never know what to say. Nobody else is into the same things I am. I’m afraid people are talking about me. Laughing at me.”

“What am I going to do with you?” Jill said, shaking her head. “This is Jared McCaughey we’re talking about. You know the kids he hangs out with. He’s not going to invite any of those glamour school rejects who are always cracking on you. Just say you’re going, okay? I really want you to be there. Dad can drive us.”

“We’ll see.”

There didn’t seem any point to arguing, so Taylor held her piece, and she and Jill dove into their homework.

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