KIMBER: How u doing?
ME: Ok. Noah’s still kind of clingy. You did a good job but he was still scared. Thank you so much for taking care of him. Im so glad he was safe
KIMBER: That’s what friends do—u wud do it for me. I’ve been thinkng about u … U want to get together, maybe talk?
ME: No. Just want to lay low for a while
MARIE: Hey Sophie! Me and Maggs and Dancer want to hang out tomorrow night … Want to join us?
ME: Thanks but probably not. You have fun
MARIE: Okay. How are you?
ME: Im fine
MARIE: You talked to Em?
ME: No. She ok?
MARIE: Not sure. She wont tell me anything. I’m worried … Did anythng happen we should know about? I mean, while you guys were … wherever? Maybe we can get together and talk
ME: Im fine, just want to stick to myself and Noah for a while. Em and I werent together the whole time. If you want to know more, you need to get it from her
MARIE: Okay. We’re worried about you too … How are things
ME: Fine. I just want space
MARIE: I get that. But please call if you need us ((hugs))
DANCER: Hey. how goes it? Maybe we could let the kids play this afternoon?
ME: Um, we’re pretty busy right now.
DANCER: Know how that goes … Did you remember Maries bachelorette party? Its a week from Friday. We have a sitter, she offered to watch Noah too
ME: Not sure I’ll maek it. I’ll find my own sitter
DANCER: Okay. Don’t hide out too long
KIMBER: This is bullshit. I get ur pissed at Ruger and Reapers but I’m not one of them, u can’t freeze me out. You guys come over tonight or I’m sending Ryan to get u
ME: Noah and I are watching movies at home
KIMBER: No. Ur coming to my house. We’re having a party. I need backup!!! NO Reapers. Nromal people. Kids too. U and Noah be here at six or I will come and get you. Not f**king around.
ME: Your a pushy bitch
KIMBER: Ya think? Get ur ass here or I’ll come for u. No excuses. Bring swimsuits and a dessert
My brand-new iPhone said it was five fifty-six when we pulled up to Kimber’s house. Ruger had dropped it off the previous Sunday, the day after my little adventure with Em. I wanted to tell him to go to hell, but I needed a phone, and I figured he could afford it better than I could. I didn’t feel guilty about it, either. It was his fault I’d gotten kidnapped in the first place, so I might as well blame him for drowning my phone.
I didn’t let him into the house. Noah wanted to go to his house and I told him no. Then I shut the door in Ruger’s face.
Now it was Friday night and I’d caved to Kimber’s ultimatum, because I knew she was serious when she said they’d come and get me. I held a plate of brownies in one hand and a bag of swim gear in the other, and when Kimber’s husband, Ryan, opened the door, I had to smile. He wore neon-green swim trunks and a purple Hawaiian-print shirt. On his head was an orange cowboy hat, and he held a Super Soaker in one hand.
Coming here had been a good idea, I realized.
“Welcome to the party,” he said, smiling at me broadly.
“Nice look,” I said, eyeing his outfit.
“Hey, it takes a very confident man to pull something like this off,” he said without an ounce of shame.
“Did you lose a bet?” I asked, smirking.
“As a matter of fact, he did,” said another man, coming over to stand next to Ryan. He had longish, scruffy brown hair and a great smile, and the look in his eyes said he appreciated my appearance. He also held a Super Soaker, although he wore perfectly normal trunks and a T-shirt that said “Code Monkey Like You.”
I’d seen his picture before—this was the guy Kimber had wanted to set me up with.
“Ryan and I had a little programming challenge at work, and I kicked his ass. Hi, I’m Josh. Nice to meet you.”
“Nice to meet you, too,” I said, glancing down at my full hands helplessly. “Um, sorry, I’d offer to shake your hand, but …”
He laughed, and then his eyes widened almost comically as he saw the brownies.
“Let me help you with those,” he said, reaching out to grab the treats. “And who is this?”
“I’m Noah,” my boy announced. “Do you have any more of those Soakers, Ryan?”
“I have a whole box out back,” Ryan replied. “You want to come pick one out? We have a bunch of kids out there. I’ll bet they’d love to play with you.”
“Mom?” He looked up at me, eyes pleading.
“Go ahead,” I said, feeling almost carefree. Kimber was right. I had needed to get out, and coming to a nice, suburban party like this was just what I needed. No Reapers, no kidnappings, nothing bad at all.
I could do this.
Noah took off through the house, followed by Ryan. Josh looked down at me, offering a friendly smile.
“So, once we get this stuff settled, could I get you a drink?”
“Sure,” I said. “So tell me, how long have you and Ryan worked together?”
Three hours later I was feeling pretty good about life. Josh turned out to be a great guy, spending a good chunk of the night hanging out with me, but not so much that it felt weird. Ryan grilled burgers and hot dogs, the kids played in the pool, and Kimber’s blender ran almost constantly, churning out margaritas in every imaginable flavor. I stuck with iced tea and laughed so hard I nearly cried when Ryan caught her and threw her into the pool.
The mob of kids kept growing, and I met so many people I couldn’t begin to keep them all straight. Most were from Kimber’s neighborhood or Ryan’s work—sleek, polished yoga moms and their slightly dorky husbands who worked as accountants and IT professionals. Nothing like the Reapers’ party.
The first time I’d met Ryan, I didn’t understand him and Kimber together. He was so geeky and she was so wild and cool—but they balanced each other out perfectly. I was holding Ava and sitting by the pool after eating when Josh came over and flopped into a chair next to me.
“So,” he said, grinning at me. “I’ve got a question for you.”
“What’s that?” I asked.
“You and Noah want to hit Chuck E. Cheese’s for dinner tomorrow?” he said. “I know it’s not the most romantic setting, but I’ve got this theory about skee-ball that needs testing, and I figured he’d be an excellent assistant.”
I burst out laughing.
“Are you insane? Chuck E. Cheese’s on a Saturday night is crazy. I bet you wouldn’t last an hour.”