Chapter 1

When Theresa Miller told her mother that she’d almost been kidnapped, the neighborhood went nuts. She told her mom who told the police who told all the moms on our street that a scary man with a spiky purple mohawk, yellow eyes, tattooed arms, piercings, and a gold medallion around his neck had tried to get her into his convertible by offering her candy. She told everyone that she sped away on her roller skates, leaving the scary purple-haired, tattooed, yellow-eyed, jewelry-wearing man in her dust. I spent the rest of that day on our front doorstep, watching as the police and news reporters walked in and out of her house. Our street, normally crazy with kids everywhere, was completely empty and quiet. Every single door was closed up tight. Every door but mine.

Theresa Miller’s story made the Hartford Courant the next morning with the headline “Is Your Child Safe Outside?” and a sketch of what the man would have looked like if he had actually existed. What the headline really should have said is “Theresa Miller is a Liar Who Just Wants Attention,” because there was absolutely no way any of this actually had happened. Not only was the description of the man ridiculous, it was common knowledge that Theresa Miller was the worst roller skater in the neighborhood. She could barely stand up with her skates on, let alone speed away from a convertible driven by a dangerous criminal. Besides, Theresa Miller would never say no to candy. Not in a million years.

But as ridiculous as all of this was and as much as I thought the neighborhood moms were overreacting, I couldn’t help but think it might be nice to have someone call out your name and pull you inside, even on a beautiful, sunny day, just to make sure you were safe from a purple mohawked, yellow-eyed, tattooed man. You know, on the off chance that he exists.

 

Chapter 2

My alarm goes off at least three times before my mom swings open my door, rolls up my blinds, and starts singing my name in her annoyingly high-pitched vibrato, “Jenna girl, rise and shine!”

I get up, because I know it’s the only way to make her stop. Besides, it’s nice to see her happy like this. It’s been awhile.

“Come downstairs!” she says as she dances out of my bedroom and into the hallway. “I’m making waffles!”

I take my time getting ready, put my hair in a ponytail, and slip on jeans and my favorite blue sweater. When I walk into the kitchen my little brother Francis is already sitting at the kitchen table, acting like he’s all grown up and pretending to read the paper when he is probably just reading the comics. My brother recently got glasses and ever since then he’s decided that he’s going to be, as he calls it, “an intellectual.” As if wearing glasses automatically makes you smart. Before three days ago, I didn’t even know he knew what the word “intellectual” means.

The mixing bowl is on the counter and the waffle iron is on the stovetop, but my mother is nowhere to be seen.

“Did Mom already leave?” I ask Francis.

“Yeah, I think so. She left without saying bye.”

“Again? Are you kidding me?” I look out the window to the driveway. Her car is gone.

“Well, I guess we’re having cereal this morning,” I say as I take the waffle iron off the stove and reach up to the cabinet for two bowls and a box of Crunchy O’s. I pour the cereal and then open the refrigerator door only to discover we are out of milk. Perfect.

“I guess we’re actually not having breakfast at all.”

Francis shrugs. “It’s okay. I’m not really hungry anyway.”

“Well, what can I make you for lunch?”

“A cheese and cucumber sandwich and an apple. In a paper bag,” he says as he flips to the next page of the newspaper. Francis decided last week that he has outgrown his Spider- Man lunchbox and peanut butter and jelly. Now that he is an intellectual he prefers more serious things like brown paper bags and cheese and cucumber sandwiches.

“You got it. One cheese and cucumber sandwich coming right up.”

When I finish making our lunches, Francis and I head out the front door and walk down the street to the bus stop. I can see my breath in the air and immediately wish I’d worn a heavier coat instead of my thin windbreaker. As sunny and as warm as it looked outside my window this morning, spring is still a couple of weeks away, and I should know better. This time of year, the New England sun always keeps you guessing. Francis doesn’t seem to mind the cold though and is still reading his newspaper as he walks on the uneven sidewalk.

“Be careful, Francis,” I warn him, but the approaching bus drowns out my voice as it pulls to the curb. Rita the bus driver pulls the lever to open the door, and we climb up the steps.

“Good morning, Sunshines!” she shouts gruffly to us like she shouts to every kid who walks onto her bus. Her friendly words don’t match the sound of her voice, which is scratchy and deep. I’ve been riding her bus for eight years, ever since the first grade, and I still don’t think she knows my name.

I walk to the back of the bus and sit down next to Sarah, my best friend since the third grade. As usual, Francis sits near the front and keeps his eyes straight ahead. He knows that things are different when we step onto the bus. When we’re on the bus or at school, he knows that I’m not the girl who plays Legos or trucks with him at home. He knows that I’m not interested in hanging out with my dorky second grade brother. But the truth is that it’s sort of nice to have him around. I would never tell him this, because then he’d never leave me alone, but I like having him close by. That way I can be sure he’s okay.

Even though I just talked to Sarah yesterday afternoon, she somehow always has plenty to tell me. She starts to talk about what she did last night, but she’s interrupted by the sound of sirens as two police cars pass us on the left. The bus suddenly jerks forward and we come to a complete stop.

“What the?” we hear Rita mutter, her voice filled with the grouchy attitude we know all too well. Rita has been known to scream at any kid who stands up in the aisle or “horses around.” Once she even kicked a kid out and made him walk the rest of the way home. But today the problem isn’t inside this bus. Something is going on out there, and she has no control. It must be driving her crazy.

Sarah stands up, pulls open the bus window, and unsuccessfully tries to stick her head through to see what’s happening.

“I can’t really see anything,” she says, shaking her head. “There’s just a huge line of traffic.”

We’ve hit traffic on the way to school before, but never the kind of traffic that makes us stop completely. I’m dying to know what the holdup is. An accident? Construction? Whatever it is, we’re going to be late, which is fine by me. I have a math quiz first period and I could really use an extra day to study.

Kids are shouting, laughing, pushing each other around, and for the first time ever Rita’s not saying a word. I’m expecting her to get out of her seat any second now and scream for us all to shut up, but she’s gotten quiet and is just sitting there. The only thing scarier than Rita yelling is Rita being completely silent.

All of the windows are open now, and I swear every hair on my body must be sticking straight up. I can’t stop my teeth from chattering.

Blue lights are flashing up ahead, so it’s clear that something really serious has happened. Somebody must be hurt. My mind jumps back to my mom dancing and singing in my room this morning, and I panic. Her office is just down the road. She drove this way this morning.

Francis stands up and turns around, his eyes wide and terrified. “Jenna!” he calls out to me, but he doesn’t have to say another word. I know that he’s thinking the same thing as me.

We start moving again, though still slowly. My heart feels like it’s twisting and I’m thinking I might throw up, so I hold my breath as we get closer and closer to the flashing blue lights. I’m so panicked, I’m not even cold anymore. There is a crowd of police officers and men in orange vests huddled around something. Part of it is wrapped in a tarp and I squint, trying to make out who or what it is. There is blood smeared across the pavement, and I cover my eyes with my hand until I feel Sarah’s elbow against my chest.

“Jenna, look!” she says, her voice high-pitched and excited. I slowly remove my hand from my face, look out, and let out a sound I’m almost certain I’ve never made before. It isn’t my mother; it isn’t a person at all. It looks like Theresa Miller’s cat, the one that’s always loose and roaming around the neighborhood, except it’s huge. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever seen, this enormous, beautiful creature, so dead yet so perfect. The bus is now entirely quiet and everybody’s sitting like the good little boys and girls we’re supposed to be. Finally someone speaks up, “Well, what the heck is it?”

My brother, the intellectual, is the only one to reply. “A mountain lion,” he says as he stands up and turns around to face everyone. Even from all the way in the back of the bus, I can see that behind his glasses my brother is crying.

 

Chapter 3

The bus is still dead silent as we push up the hill to the entrance of Wakefield Elementary and Middle School. As we slowly turn into the bus drop-off lane, Rita’s snarkiness comes back to life and she shouts at us to stay seated until we come to a complete stop, familiar words that everybody knows but still ignores. As soon as she starts yelling, everything goes back to normal, and by the time the bus door flies open, kids are shouting at each other and pushing their way down the aisle. Francis stays quiet though and keeps his head down as he gets up. A part of me expects him to wait for me outside the bus. A part of me thinks he needs me right now. But since he sits up front, he’s one of the first kids off the bus and by the time my feet hit the pavement, he is already entering the school. His backpack hangs down low, looking huge and heavy against his tiny body. But he walks forward, not even slouching.

Francis’s backpack used to be mine. It’s light purple and kind of ripping apart at the front pocket. Only one of the zippers works—the other won’t budge, no matter how hard you pull. The bag’s even got my initials embroidered across the top, J.E.M., and I wonder for the first time if it bothers Francis that nobody has ever bought him his own backpack, that he is always getting my girl hand-me-downs.

“Jenna, are you even listening to me?” Sarah interrupts.

“Sorry,” I tell her as I turn to face her. Francis is out of sight now. “What were you saying?”

“Oh never mind,” she says as she frowns. “I’ll just see you later, ‘kay?” She smiles and hugs me.

Sarah has started doing this thing where she hugs everybody whenever she says hello or goodbye to them. A lot of the popular girls in school already do this, the girls who wear lots of makeup and talk too loudly about things that nobody really cares about. It can get kind of annoying after awhile. I mean, it’s not like we’re not going to see each other for a long time. I’ll see Sarah again at lunch and neither one of us will have anything important to say. But I don’t tell her any of this. I just hug her right back.

The school halls are quiet, since everybody but the kids on our bus are in class. The school administrative assistant, Mrs. Andersen, calls out to us from behind the main desk, “Head to second period!” They made an announcement this morning and all the teachers know Bus D is running late today.

I’m supposed to go to Language Arts, but I can’t stop thinking about my mom. I should be relieved, but even though I know it wasn’t her in the road, I have this sinking feeling in my stomach that something is wrong. I need to hear her voice.

They don’t usually let you use the phone in the Main Office unless it’s an emergency, and when I go up to the desk and ask Mrs. Andersen, she immediately says no without looking up.

“Please?” I add, and something in the tone of my voice must make her reconsider, because she looks up, pushes the phone over to me and says, “Dial 9 and then the number.”

I pick up the phone, dial nine, and call my mom’s office. It rings three times before she picks up.

“This is Vanessa Marra,” she says in her serious, professional work voice. I hang up without saying a word. I don’t actually want to talk to her. I just want to hear her voice and know that she’s okay.

“Thanks,” I say to Mrs. Andersen as I fake a polite smile.

“Nobody there? Do you want to try calling someone else?”

“No, everything’s fine.”

“Okay,” she says, but I can tell she knows I’m lying.

Just as I’m about to turn around and walk to class, I hear the scraping of tree branches against the window behind Mrs. Andersen. The wind has picked up, and the sun has disappeared into a gray sky. Snowflakes are falling fast, already collecting on the ground. Mrs. Andersen turns to look out the window, too.

“I heard we’re supposed to get about six inches today,” she says as she sighs and shakes her head in disbelief. “I thought for sure that spring was here, but I guess it’s true what they say. March comes in like a lion.”

I nod. “Yeah, I guess so.”

With my backpack slung over my shoulder, I head down the empty hall to Language Arts and try to pretend it’s an ordinary day.

 

Chapter 4

Mrs. Joy hates when kids are late for her class, even when you have a note and a good excuse like a dead mountain lion lying in the road. “I don’t condone tardiness,” I’ve heard her say about a million times. Mrs. Joy always closes the door and locks it as soon as the bell rings so that she can make a big deal of walking over to open the door and embarrass all the “tardy arrivals.” Needless to say, I’m not looking forward to walking into her class today.

When I reach her classroom though, I’m surprised to see the door still propped open. I’m even more surprised to see a stranger standing up front near the blackboard.
The stranger is the opposite of Mrs. Joy in every way. He’s young, tall, good looking. Most alarming of all, he’s smiling. All eyes are on him, and everyone is laughing at something he’s just said. Even though I’ve missed the joke and have no idea what he’s said that’s so funny, I like him right away.

He is wearing a button-down light pink collared shirt. He looks really put together, his khakis are perfectly pressed, and he’s wearing dark brown loafers, the expensive looking kind. It’s strange though – he’s not wearing any socks. Socks are kind of a necessity this time of year, and I can’t help but imagine how cold his feet must be.

“You must be Miss Marra.” He turns to face me with a smile.

I nod.

“I’m Mr. Zawitowski, but you can call me Mr. Z,” he says pointing me towards the only empty desk in the classroom, which is not my assigned seat. Something tells me that Mr. Z is the kind of guy who likes to switch things up.

 

Chapter 5

I wake up on Saturday morning to a loud buzzing sound outside. It’s 6:33, and the Millers across the street have decided it’s a good time to vacuum their garage. The sun is barely up and this is supposed to be my day to sleep in, but I’m completely awake. I guess I’m not the only one bothered by the Miller’s morning chores, because when I walk downstairs to grab a drink of water, my mom is at the kitchen table, drinking her morning coffee and staring out the window. I walk over to the cabinet, grab a glass, and turn the faucet on.

My mom looks up suddenly, and I can tell that I’ve startled her. “Oh, Jenna! You scared me,” she says laughing. “What are you doing up?”

“That stupid vacuum. I couldn’t sleep.”

“Yeah, welcome to the club.”

She pats the seat next to her and I walk over to her, glass of water in my hand.

We sit in awkward silence, and I’m relieved to hear the back door creak open and Francis’s little footsteps walk back inside the house. As usual, Francis has started his day before us and has already been outside enjoying the early morning. I swear that kid never sleeps. I’m guessing he probably watched the sunrise and the birds wake up.

Francis goes “birding” a lot in the mornings. Before this became his hobby, I didn’t know this was an actual term. Birding is just bird watching. I’m not sure why they just don’t call it that. Maybe by calling it “birding,” you can trick people into thinking it’s a sport instead of a thing where you just sit there and look at things.

A few months ago he saved up his cereal box UPC proof of purchase labels and sent away for binoculars. They took forever to get here, and everyday he’d get off the bus and run straight to the mailbox. He waited for weeks for these dumb things and when they finally came they were really small and hollow, and they had a white stretchy string instead of the nice head strap that they showed on the front of the box. They were wrapped in more bubble wrap than was necessary, as if these were priceless gems in danger of being destroyed on their way from the plastic factory to our house. When Francis unwrapped them and saw what they looked like, I expected him to be disappointed. He had waited so long and had saved up seven whole UPC labels to get them, and here they were: small, red, weightless, and most likely useless. But when I looked at Francis’s face, there was no disappointment. There was just pure joy. He put them up to his eyes right away and ran outside. I’d never seen such a big smile.

If Francis had just asked for a pair of binoculars for his birthday, I would have saved up my money and bought him a pair. They would have been a lot nicer. But for some reason he wanted this pair.

This morning he walks into the kitchen all bundled up in his camouflaged jacket with his binoculars hanging off his neck. The stretchy white string looks dangerously close to breaking. He looks surprised to see us at first, but then a smile takes over his face.

“See any cool birds out there, Francis?” I ask.

“Oh yeah, lots of ‘em. I saw four turdus migratorius! That’s another word for robin, in case you didn’t know,” he says very proudly.

“You get smarter and smarter every day. It must be those glasses.”

Francis smiles at me and nods. “Probably.” He shifts his eyes over to our mother. “Mom, did the paper come yet?” he asks.

But my mom doesn’t seem to hear him and is staring out the window again.

“Try the front steps,” I tell him.

He races to the front door and comes back with the paper. He’s already unfolded it and is flipping through the pages.

“What are you looking for?” I ask.

“I want to see if there’s anything about our mountain lion.”

Our mountain lion. He says it like it belongs to us.

He walks over to the table, and I scoot over so that he can sit with me. The headline says what we already know: Mountain Lion Killed on Busy Connecticut Road. I read on.

Officials report this is the first confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in the area since the 19th century. The eastern mountain lion was relentlessly hunted and is now classified as extinct. Department of Environmental Protection officials believe the animal was being kept in captivity and was accidently released. There is also speculation that it traveled from out west.

“They think it was someone’s pet that got loose?” Francis asks, wrinkling his forehead. “Do you think someone really had a pet mountain lion?”

He looks at me like I should have an answer.

“I have no idea, Francis. I can’t really imagine having a mountain lion as a pet, but you never know.”

The Department of Environmental Protection advises Connecticut residents to watch their children and pets and not leave any food outside.

“Geez, maybe birding in the morning is not the best idea, Francis.”

Francis crosses his arms and sighs, the way he always does when he desperately wants to be taken seriously.

“They don’t travel in packs, you know. Mountain lions live all by themselves. And they don’t like to be near people,” he informs me.

“Sheesh, where’d you hear all that?”

“Research, Jenna. Research.”

“Ah, yes. I should have known.” I do my best not to smile.

Francis tilts his head. “If it came from out west, where do you think it was going?”

Again he looks at me like I have all the answers.

“I don’t know, Francis.”

“Maybe it was searching for something,” he suggests.

“Aren’t we all?” my mother finally chimes in, reminding us that she is still here with us. She takes a sip of her coffee and sits back in her chair. Holding her mug with both hands, she continues to stare out the window.

 

Chapter 6

We’re watching some boring nature show that Francis loves when the doorbell rings. Sarah’s at the front door, her bike leaned up against the tree in our front yard. It’s not much of a tree anymore. Last year during a big windstorm, the largest branch, the one we used to hang on, broke off. So now it’s unclimbable, kind of useless but still there, reminding us of how much fun it used to be.

To be honest, Sarah’s not always as much fun as she used to be either. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the new blonde highlights in her hair or the new stylish wardrobe her cousin from New York helped her pick out. But today, Sarah looks like the old Sarah. Ripped jeans, dirty sneakers, hair in a messy braid. Sarah, my best friend since the third grade.

“Dairy Freeze is open!” she shrieks. “Let’s go!” She doesn’t need to say anything more. I leave the TV to babysit Francis. I grab my bike and helmet from the back porch and hop on, riding through the grass towards the road. Sarah’s already back on the street, pedaling fast. I follow.

Dairy Freeze always opens for the season the first weekend in March and we always go together as soon as it opens. It’s sort of a tradition. Once it opens for the season, Dairy Freeze is always so busy that if you didn’t know any better, you’d think it’s the only place around that serves ice cream. When we get there, there’s already a huge crowd of people. We lean our bikes against the side of the building and get in line.

“Oh no!” Sarah says as she turns around to face me.

“What is it?” My heart skips a beat, imagining that something terrible has happened. “Tell me!”

“Ricky McGill is up there.” I squint and see the one and only Ricky McGill, pushing his way to the front of the line. Pretty typical of Ricky McGill, pushing little kids out of his way. He’s always thought the rules don’t apply to him. With his hemp necklace and blonde streaked hair, you can tell he thinks he’s pretty cool. I’m not fooled.

“Okay, so Ricky McGill’s over there. So what?”

Sarah rolls her eyes and sighs. “I can’t let a guy like him see me like this. I’m such a mess!”

I don’t even know what to say.

“Will you just order something for me while I wait by our bikes?” she whines as she backs away.

“Okay, whatever,” I say, rolling my eyes right back at her. “The usual? Chocolate peanut butter swirl?”
Sarah shakes her head no. “No, just a lemon popsicle, okay? Fewer calories.”

 

Chapter 7

The school gave Mr. Douglass, the cafeteria monitor, a microphone, which was probably the worst idea in the world. Mr. Douglass is loud, big, mean, and frightening, and the microphone just amplifies everything about him. He’s also the music teacher and band director for grades six through eight, so he already knows how to project his voice. He absolutely does not need a microphone. In the fifth grade, Sarah and I both played the clarinet, but we decided to quit when we got to the sixth grade just because we were scared of him. A lot of kids refer to him as the last three letters of his name, which I think is actually pretty funny. No one would ever dare call him that to his face though.

Today, he walks around as usual with his mic as if he is the most important man in the world, as if this microphone is a magic wand that gives him a special power over everyone else. Sarah always says that he thrives on embarrassing kids. He has this cruel confidence about him.

Lunch is twenty minutes long, which in my opinion is not enough time to eat. Now that we’re in the seventh grade, we don’t get recess anymore, and lunch is really our only time to be with our friends, but Mr. Douglass doesn’t seem to care or understand this.

“Settle down,” he demands. “If you don’t quiet down, you don’t get to eat.”

He walks around and points out the tables of kids that he’s decided are worthy of getting in the cafeteria line. Sarah and I and the rest of our table sit perfectly quiet until he points to us.

“You may line up.”

By the time I buy my milk and sit back down at our table, Mr. Douglass has granted permission to talk again.

“So, what do you really think of Ricky McGill?” Sarah asks in her gossipy, high-pitched voice. She motions over to his table. “He’s pretty cute, right?”

I look over at Ricky McGill’s table. “I don’t know, Sarah. He’s not really the nicest guy.”

“But he’s cute, right? Plus, I think he likes me. What do you think?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I never know these things.”

“Speaking of liking someone, check out who’s been looking at you this entire time,” she says elbowing me.

“Who?”

“That new kid. He’s been staring at you all lunch.”

She points to the back corner of the cafeteria, not even trying to be subtle about it. In the corner sits the new kid, though he’s been here for at least two months so he’s not really all that new anymore. He’s reading a book and is definitely not looking at me at all. Sometimes Sarah just makes things up to stir up drama.

The new kid always sits in the corner, and he doesn’t smile or look anyone in the eye. He’s in my Social Studies class, but he keeps his head down and never says anything to anybody. He’s pretty much always reading. Since he’s been here for a couple of months, you’d think he’d have made some friends by now, but I’ve never seen him hanging out with anyone. I know nothing about him other than the fact that his name is Michael. Michael Martin.

When Michael Martin first arrived, I think we all found him very interesting. We don’t get a lot of new kids in our school, so his arrival was kind of exciting. But then he never really did anything—he didn’t smile or laugh or talk—and I guess we all lost interest in him. We left him alone. It seems like that’s what he wanted.

Today he’s surrounded by a bunch of kids who are laughing and yelling, but he just continues to read. It’s almost like he doesn’t hear or see them. And for some reason, I am dying to know what he’s reading.

Lunchtime flies by way too fast, and Mr. Douglass clears his throat into the microphone.

“Social time is over,” he announces.

When the talking doesn’t immediately stop, he adds, “Sounds like we’ll be having five minutes of silent lunch tomorrow.”

A couple of kids groan.

“Make that ten minutes of silent lunch.”

More groans.

“Fifteen minutes of silent lunch.”

A soft yet clear voice speaks up, “Man, just get over yourself…”

Mr. Douglass’s face turns bright red, and the way his eyebrows slant downward is just pure terrifying.

“Who said that? Whoever said that, stand up now.”

No one stands up.

“Well, thanks to the mystery voice, we’ll be sitting alphabetically for the next month. Starting tomorrow, you can say goodbye to eating lunch with your friends.”

 

Chapter 8

The next day at lunch, I cross my fingers hoping that Mr. Douglass will have forgotten all about alphabetical lunches, but it’s no use.

“Take your seats everyone. Find the letter of your last name,” he says, pointing at the signs that are taped to the tables.

I wander a little until I find the table labeled “M.” I am the first M to arrive.

Sarah is all the way across the cafeteria seated next to Nina Chase and Laura Carter. I wave to her and smile, but she is too busy chatting and doesn’t see me.

“Is this seat taken?” a voice asks.

“Nope,” I say as I turn my head. As soon as I see who it is, I regret my answer.

Sitting right next to me is Theresa Miller.

“Looks like we’re lunch buddies!” she says way too loudly as she gives me the world’s tightest hug.

I look down the table and realize it’s even worse than I thought. Next to Theresa Miller is Ricky McGill. He’s drawing in pen on the table, and even though I can’t see what he’s drawing, I’m pretty sure it’s something disgusting.

He looks over at me, chewing his gum loudly even though he’s not supposed to even have gum. “Gina, right?”

“Jenna.” I shake my head in disbelief. There is no way Ricky McGill doesn’t know my name. We were in the same 3rd and 4th grade class.

Mr. Douglass lists off letters and announces into his mic that Table M may push in their chairs and line up.

I walk right by Sarah’s table and get in line behind Ricky McGill. She opens her mouth like she is about to say something, but then she just gives me an odd smile. I can tell it’s killing her that I get to sit with her precious Ricky McGill.

I buy my milk and head back to my table and find that another M has arrived. A double M, in fact. Michael Martin sits in the chair right across from mine. As I take my seat, I try to catch his eye and give him a smile, but he doesn’t even look up from his book to acknowledge that he is somewhere new. I try to peek at what he’s reading, but he’s got the book curled over so I can’t see the cover. A part of me wants to ask what the book is, but I don’t. It looks like he wants to keep it all to himself.

 

Chapter 9

Last night I dreamed of the dead mountain lion, but in my dream he was alive. He was strolling through the neighborhood, holding his head up against the breeze like he belonged there. He was barely twenty feet away and there was nothing in between us, but somehow I wasn’t afraid.

I was sitting on the front steps with Francis and Sarah. Sarah was reading one of her mom’s celebrity fashion magazines, and Francis was reading the newspaper. Neither one of them seemed to notice the mountain lion strolling down the street.

The mountain lion walked past our old climbing tree and through the Miller’s front yard. I could hardly believe my eyes, and when I went to whisper to Sarah, she was gone.

As the mountain lion moved away, I followed him. I yelled out to Francis, “Come with me!” but when I turned around he wasn’t there anymore and the pages of his newspaper were spiraling down the road with the wind.

Across the street, Theresa Miller was sitting on her front doorsteps with her roller skates on. Francis’s plastic binoculars dangled from her neck. As the mountain lion passed her, she lifted the binoculars to her eyes, and her mouth dropped wide open. I knew that she could see him, too. She gave me a strange wave just as the door to her house opened. A hand guided her inside and she effortlessly rolled through the doorway. The door slammed shut.

I spun around, looking up and down our empty, quiet street. Every door was closed up tight. Every door but mine.

The lion stopped, turned, and looked at me like he knew exactly who I was. Then he turned back around and walked farther and farther away until he faded into the sun. Then he was gone, and it was just me. On an empty, quiet street. Alone.


Special Mention, 2013 Katherine Paterson Prize, judged by Rebecca Stead