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Foreword by James Patterson
Read by Kathleen McInerney
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Best friends are the ones who share your deepest secrets, complain with you about school, laugh with you so hard your belly hurts, and go on epic adventures with you, sometimes without even leaving the house. Your friends understand you in a special way because they’re going through a lot of the same things that you are, and they know you almost as well as you know yourself. I’ve had some of my friends for a long, long time, and even though we don’t see each other every day, our bonds are still strong and always will be.
Scouts is a wonderful story about good friends who nevertheless might be on the edge of drifting apart. Growing up and having different interests can sometimes do that. One night, they decide to go on a seemingly simple trek to check out a crashed meteor, but instead they find danger, thrills, heartbreak, and joy… and discover just how deep their friendships really go.
Everyone needs friends like the Scouts, and after reading this story, I hope you’ll feel like they’re your friends as well.
1985—The Here and Now
The walkie-talkie crackles on my bedroom desk. “Annie, come in. Beans here.”
I snatch up the gadget. “This is Annie. Over.”
“Don’t forget your walkie. Over.”
I roll my eyes. So typical of Beans. Like I would ever forget my walkie. “Yeah. Over.”
Unzipping my backpack, I start cramming in all the stuff I’ll need for our camping trip: ball cap and toothbrush (I hate dirty teeth), chore money (last time I counted, I had twenty-three dollars and thirteen cents), box of matches, flashlight, can of Pringles, and I finish it all up with my sleeping bag.
I’m digging under my bed for some spare batteries when Mom peeks in my open door. “Annie, do you want to take… is that your new yellow dress crumpled on the floor?”
I look out from under my bed and cringe. Whoops.
With a sigh, she sits down on my bed. “What am I going to do with you, Annie? Your room is a disaster.”
“I’ll clean up when I come home. Promise.” Standing, I give her my best smile because I so don’t have time to clean up right now. The Scouts are waiting.
Mom looks me up and down for a second, taking in my cutoffs and Guns N’ Roses tee, before letting out another sigh. Uh-oh.
“I think we need to talk.” She pats the spot next to her on the bed. “Sit down for a second.”
My shoulders drop. “What? Why? Am I in trouble?”
“No,” she says. “It’s just… it’s just… well—”
I hold my breath. What’s going on?
“You’re getting older now. You’re not a little girl anymore. Your friends aren’t little boys, either. Before too much longer, those boys are going to want to do different things and they might not want you to come along. You’re going to want to do different things, too.”
“What? No!” I snap, knowing that’s never going to happen. “They’re my only friends!”
“I know.” Mom runs her fingers down one of my two dark braids. “But maybe it’s time you made some friends who are girls.”
Dad sticks his head in the open door, just back from work and still wearing his suit and tie. “My goodness, you two look so alike.”
Everyone always says that, and it’s true. Mom’s Native American genes definitely dominated over Dad’s Caucasian ones. But it’s especially true right now because we’re both wearing our hair in braids with bandanas. Me because it’s what I always do, and Mom because she’s been painting our kitchen.
My mom gives my dad a look. “Honey, I was just telling Annie that we think she should start making some friends who are girls.”
Dad looks confused for a second. “Oh, yeah. Right.” His gaze takes in my stuffed backpack. “I didn’t realize you were camping out with the Scouts tonight.”
I nod. I love when he uses our club name, even if we’re not real Scouts.
“Where’re you going to be?”
He gives me a warning look. “Stay at Rocky’s. Do not go anywhere else.”
I nod again so I don’t have to answer him. I’m more of a lie-by-omission type of person. When it comes to actually speaking a lie, I stink at it. Now, Fynn—he’s the good liar in our group. He can open his mouth and tell you whatever you want to hear, and you’ll believe it. Yeah, that’d be a good skill to have.
Dad looks at my overstuffed backpack again. “I’m serious, Annie. Only Rocky’s. No wandering off.”
“How was work today?” I ask him.
Dad points his finger at me. “Do not go on Mr. Basinger’s farm. And definitely do not climb up his silo again!”
I nod again. So much for changing the subject.
Sure, Old Man Basinger hasn’t exactly warmed up to us Scouts yet—he yells at us, rides his tractor waving a shotgun, even threw a peach at us once—but we know how to skirt around him.
I look between my parents. “Can I go now?”
Dad’s lips tilt up into a little smile. “Not before I give you something.” He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small object. “Hold out your hand.”
I don’t hide the giant smile that creeps onto my cheeks as I bounce off the bed and hurry over. Dad always gives the best presents. I hold out my hand and watch as he opens his.
A purple pocketknife drops into my palm!
My eyes widen. “For real?” I can’t believe Mom agreed to this.
“I think you’re old enough.”
I stand up a little taller. I can’t wait to show the Scouts!
Dad chuckles. “Okay. Go. Have fun.”
“But we’re not done talking about the boy/girl stuff,” Mom says. “We’ll finish up later. Just think about what I said.”
I definitely will not be thinking about it, but I nod anyway as I grab my pack and walkie-talkie, yell, “Love you!” and fly downstairs. I climb onto the BMX bike that Dad and I built last summer and hit the street, taking off toward Rocky’s house.
Rocky’s dad’s Trans Am is up on blocks, as it always is. Sometimes he lets me crawl under and help him with stuff. He’s cool that way. I wish my dad could do stuff like work on cars. All he does is wear a suit and go to an office.
Though he did help me build my bike, so there is that.
Rocky’s sister is shooting hoops outside their garage when I pedal up. Everybody in his family is an athlete, which is why I love hanging out over here. One of them is always up for playing basketball, catch, football, or soccer.
His dad played football for UT, and Rocky’s been playing forever, too. A lot of people in the neighborhood say Rocky’s got raw talent and could go pro someday. That’d be neat—having a superstar friend and all.
Rocky’s already outside waiting on his bike, dressed in his usual jeans and muscle tee. He catches a wheelie off the ramp we all built in his side yard and meets up with me on the street.
“You are such a girl,” he jokingly complains.
“I can do anything you can do, and better, so what exactly are you getting at?”
“Hello?” He holds up his wrist, which doesn’t have a watch. “I’ve been waiting forever.”
“Um, let me remind you that Fynn is typically the one we’re waiting on, so that has nothing to do with being a girl. Besides, my parents wanted to talk.”
I feel my cheeks heat as I think back to the conversation. “Nothing,” I say, pedaling off. “Let’s just go.”
We hang a left and come up on Beans’s house, and Rocky and I brake to a stop in front and wait.
A couple of seconds go by, and then Beans opens the door and steps out. His mom follows right behind him, sticking her finger in his face and saying something. I listen real close and make out “B minus” and “no more TV” and “your father’s going to be very disappointed.”
Beans is a straight-A student. I’m sure a B minus to his mom is like a D to mine.
I watch as Beans stands in his high-water jeans, staring down at the porch, and my chest aches. I hate what he must be feeling. I don’t know why his mom is always railing on him. And I don’t know why she doesn’t buy him clothes that fit. I mean, they’re the richest family in the neighborhood.
She finishes whatever she’s saying and then turns to look across their front yard at me and Rocky. She straightens up and gives us a big wave, like she wasn’t just all up in Beans’s face. “Y’all kids be good.”
“We will,” we say, and watch as Beans climbs onto his bike and quietly pedals the length of his driveway to meet us.
When Beans’s mom closes the door, he immediately ruffles his Afro to rub out the side-part that she always puts there.
“Everything okay?” I ask.
“Fine,” he snaps, and then does this thing where he peels his lips off his braces before racing off.
He’s been snapping a lot lately.
“Beans’s mom is so strict,” I whisper to Rocky.
“I know,” he says. “Let’s just go.”
We hurry to catch him, pedaling furiously up the hill, and squeal to a stop in front of Fynn’s house. There’s a new car in front. A Buick. Sounds from the backyard filter around.
“I’ll just stay here,” Rocky says.
“What?” I drop my bike. “Why? Come on.”
With a sigh, Rocky gets off his bike and slowly follows me and Beans. As we round the corner of Fynn’s house, we see everyone sitting on Fynn’s deck, finishing dinner and laughing. Fynn’s mom, another woman who looks just like his mom, and a girl about our age. With all their blond hair and preppy clothes, they look like a staged magazine ad.
And here’s me with my bandana, Beans in his high-waters, and Rocky with his muscle tee, looking like a bunch of hoodlums (to use Mom’s word) leaning up against the fence that surrounds their backyard.
I turn to see Rocky’s dad coming out the back door of Fynn’s house, and my head snaps over to Rocky.
Rocky mumbles hello but totally avoids eye contact with me. And before I can ask him what the deal is, Fynn comes off the deck toward us, high-fiving Rocky’s dad as he passes.
When Fynn’s standing right in front of us, I look between my two friends. “Anybody going to tell me what’s going on?”
Fynn furrows his brows. “With what?”
“Hello?” I wave my hand in the direction of the back door. “Rocky’s dad?”
Fynn looks at Rocky. “I thought you told them.”
Rocky shrugs but still doesn’t say anything. I glance over at Beans, and he looks as clueless as me.
“His dad and my mom are dating,” Fynn tells us with a smile that so doesn’t match Rocky’s attitude.
“That’s kind of neat,” Beans says. “If they get married, you two will be brothers.”
Fynn nods. “Cool, huh?”
I look over at Rocky. “How long?”
“Couple weeks,” he mumbles.
I want to be irritated he didn’t tell me, but clearly there’s something going on. Rocky’s mom died several years ago, and he doesn’t talk much about it, but I suspect this right here has got to stink. I think about my own parents, and yeah, it would totally bum me out if one of them died and the other started dating someone.
But at least it’s Fynn’s mom, who is usually really nice and not strict like Beans’s mom.
The laughter from the deck filters over again, and the girl who was sitting beside Fynn gets up and comes bounding over, blond curls bouncing.
“Wow,” I hear Beans breathe, and I cut him a look right as Rocky must spot her, too, because he straightens up from the fence.
Wide-eyed, both Beans and Rocky stare as she comes toward us—tank top, miniskirt, bow in her hair, and ankle socks. It reminds me of those Pert shampoo commercials where there’s obviously a fan off-camera blowing the girl’s hair. This is exactly how Mom would have me dress if she could get her way. The “perfect” girl.
Well, there are a lot of “perfect” girls at school who are also perfectly mean. I don’t get it—what’s so great about being pretty?
“Hi.” The girl grins, all dimples and lip gloss and freckles. “I’m Scarlett, Fynn’s cousin.”
“Hi!” Beans squeaks, and then clears his throat.
“Hey.” Rocky pitches his voice low, and I roll my eyes.
Fynn pulls a tissue from his back pocket and blows his nose. “Scarlett lives in Chicago. She’s going into the eighth grade. She’s here for the week while her mom goes off and gets married.”
Wait a minute, “for the week”? I hope that doesn’t mean what I think it means.
“Are you going to come watch the meteor shower with us?” Beans asks, and I shoot him the evil eye. This was supposed to be our secret adventure night! Just the Scouts.
She nods. “Fynn says we’re camping out, too. Let me just get my purse.”
She races inside, and I watch as her miniskirt bounces with each step. We’re supposed to be climbing a silo. I hope she’s changing.
“What are you doing?” I grumble at Fynn. “Why did you invite her?”
He refolds his tissue into a neat square. “My mom said I had to bring her along.”
“But this is our first-day-of-summer camping trip. We do it every year. Just. Us,” I emphatically point out. What’s wrong with him?
Fynn just shrugs. “Sorry. Mom said.”
“She’s a girl,” Rocky whispers.
I frown. “I’m a girl.”
“Yeah, but she’s a real girl. A woman.”
A woman? She’s going into the eighth grade!
“She’s going to be here the whole week?” Rocky asks with so much wonder in his tone that I start chewing my thumbnail.
“Yeah.” Fynn sighs, all put-out, and walks his used tissue over to the garbage.
Well, at least I’m not the only one none too thrilled with her arrival and intrusion on our week.
Scarlett’s bike has pink and purple tassels, a white basket, and an annoying horn—and she can’t keep up. Me and Beans take off to Basinger’s farm, leaving Rocky and Fynn back with her. They know where we’re going. They’ll catch up.
At least Scarlett put on some pants. Even if they are neon-pink spandex. Now she won’t flash everyone with her undies when she’s climbing the silo.
We drop our bikes, tucking them under our usual hiding tree, and we take a second to survey Basinger’s land. I honestly don’t know where it starts and stops; there’s so much of it. It’s a dairy farm with two barns, lots of cows, hay fields, and a few houses scattered around, where Mr. Basinger’s sons and their families live.
The good thing about the silo we plan on climbing is that it’s an old one they don’t use anymore, and it sits in a back pasture, pretty much out of view. It’s also the tallest thing in the area. Perfect for stargazing.
On the way here, I tried to ask Beans about what went down with his mom, but he just gave me a snippy “Nothing.” But Beans tells me things he doesn’t tell the others, and so before Fynn and Rocky catch up, I try one last time. “Hey, anything you want to talk about? You know I’ll keep it between us.”
He looks away, and a beat or two goes by, and I’m totally expecting another “Nothing.” But then he shakes his head and turns to me, and slowly, his dark eyes fill with tears. The sight unnerves me. I’ve never seen him cry, not even when that bully on the bus punched him.
“Beans?” I hesitantly ask.
“We’re losing our house,” he quietly admits. “And I might have to go live with my dad.”
“I don’t understand.”
“It’s being foreclosed on. Mom says Dad didn’t give her enough alimony and child support, but Dad says she spent all the money on herself instead of paying the bills.” Beans sniffs and wipes his nose with the back of his hand. “I don’t know. They went to court and everything.”
I think about the way his mom dresses and the fancy car she drives. Their house, too. Super nice with the big pool in back, where we always hang out. “But I thought you were rich?”
Beans just shakes his head, and I reach over and give him a hug as my mind starts to reel with memories.…
Rigging his room with fishing line to catch the tooth fairy. Camping out in his living room with a Scooby-Doo sheet for a tent. Cooking chili dogs with his mom’s curling iron.
This can’t be happening. Beans can’t leave. He’s one of my best friends.
Maybe he can come live with me. Or maybe we can convince his mom to sell her fancy car and pay their bills.
“We’ll figure it out,” I tell him.
“I know all y’all think my mom is mean, but really she’s just stressed.”
“We don’t think she’s mean,” I assure him, though of course we do. But I guess her behavior makes sense. She might be losing everything, including Beans.
He smiles weakly. “Don’t tell the others yet, okay? I don’t want them to know.”
If he’s embarrassed his mom spent all their money, he doesn’t need to be. But I don’t say that and instead assure him. “Okay, I won’t.”
I give him another quick hug. “I promise.”
The others still haven’t caught up yet, I’m sure because of Scarlett. So together Beans and I climb through the barbed wire and make our way up the grassy hill toward the silo. Heaven help us if Old Man Basinger ever does one of those fancy electric fences around here. Though Beans could probably figure it out. Some sort of antielectric thingamajig.
I love Beans’s inventions. Last year he made a vest that’s sort of like one of those Swiss Army knives. Each pocket and zipper and flap doubled as a survival device, but the zipper was the best part. If you removed it, it could be used as a flexible blade to saw wood. Yeah, Beans has got a cool brain. He definitely can’t leave. We need him.
I need him.
It’s almost dark now, but we don’t dare switch on our flashlights as we approach the silo. I glance back to see Fynn, Rocky, and Scarlett just now dropping their bikes and climbing through the barbed wire. Rocky steps on the bottom strip and pulls the top one up for Scarlett to safely climb through.
He’s never held the barbed wire for me. None of them have.
Grabbing on to the first rung of the silo ladder, Beans starts climbing, and I follow behind. Halfway up I stop and look down to see the other three beginning their ascent. Scarlett’s babbling and giggling about something, and somewhere in the mix I hear Rocky chuckle. But it’s not a real laugh, it’s a fake one. He’s my friend, and I know the difference.
Frankly, I don’t know why people fake-laugh. It’s the stupidest thing ever. If I don’t think something’s funny, I don’t laugh. Kind of a no-brainer.
Beans keeps climbing and I follow, and when we reach the top, we crawl under the railing and scooch over to make room for the others. A few minutes later Fynn pops up, followed by Scarlett, and then Rocky.
When they’re all on this side of the railing, Scarlett stands for a second and looks out over Basinger’s farm. “Wow!” she exclaims, and claps her hands.
Yep, it is pretty impressive.
We lived in Los Angeles before we moved here. I don’t remember much, but I do remember a lot of concrete and small houses with even smaller yards. Here it’s all green and hilly with trees and fields and mountains in the distance. Mom says it’s picturesque.
All I know is that it’s just about the best place ever to play and get lost with my friends. Oh, and snow tubing is awesome. Especially when you hit a bump and go flying out of the tube.
I never want to leave. I never want my friends to leave, either.
“Be careful,” Rocky tells Scarlett, and motions for her to sit.
Yeah, we wouldn’t want her to fall over the railing or anything.
Rocky nudges in to sit between me and Scarlett. Good. I don’t want to sit next to her anyway.
“You’re wearing a bra,” Rocky notices, looking straight at the front of my tee.
Beans giggles. I feel my cheeks get hot as I look down at my white Guns N’ Roses tee, and sure enough, I can see the outline of the training bra Mom made me put on. I never get embarrassed, but right now my face goes from red to full-on fire.
I defend myself. “It’s a sports thing!”
“That doesn’t even make sense,” Rocky says.
“Yes, it does.” Fynn points to my T-shirt. “Your sister wears one of those when she plays basketball.”
Rocky thinks about that a second. “Oh, yeah, true.”
“Oh, my God!” I yell. “Can we drop it?”
“What’s the big deal?” Scarlett asks. “She’s a girl. Girls wear bras.”
“But she’s Annie,” Rocky says. Like that even makes sense. Have the guys really not noticed until now?
“Just shut up,” I snap, and then I shove Rocky, sending him right into Scarlett.
She screams, like she’s about to plummet to her death, and Rocky grabs her. “I’ve got you,” he says, and she giggles again, and the bra topic is officially over.
- On Sale
- Jul 23, 2019
- Hachette Audio