When I got home from school on Friday, I dragged the lawn chair from the porch onto the lawn by Mom’s garden. Armed with the copy of Encyclopedia Brown I’d checked out from the library earlier that day when Mr. Venza took us, I splayed out in the sun.
“You’re going to get burned,” Mom called out the door ten minutes later when she saw what I was doing through the living room window. “Put sunscreen on.”
“If I feel hot, I’ll come inside,” I called back. I rarely got sunburned—Caroline said my skin tanned well. After a summer at the pool, my skin was easily two or three shades darker than my sister’s. She always said she was jealous, but she hardly ever came along to the pool with me.
Mom was apparently not okay with my answer because she came marching out the door with a bottle of Coppertone and watched me apply it to my face and arms. “Neck,” she said when I tried to hand the bottle back. “Why are you sitting out here? You’re already tan.”
“I just wanted a different spot to read,” I said, showing her the cover of my book with the hand that wasn’t covered in lotion. “The house is boring.”
Mom shook her head at me with a what-am-I-going-to-do-with-you smile. “You’re turning into your sister.”
My stomach twisted at the mention of Caroline. Tonight was the night of the off-base party I’d sworn to keep secret, and so far I had. She’d poked her head into my room the night before and asked, “You haven’t said anything to Mom or Dad, right?”
She looked relieved but not surprised, like she knew I’d keep her secret. “I should be back by midnight. I told them I have the late shift at work and that my boss wanted me to help clean the ovens, which could take God knows how long. So they shouldn’t suspect anything.” She bit her lip. “This is normal. I’m almost seventeen. Something would be wrong with me if I wasn’t sneaking out for a party, right?”
“Right.” Her moment of doubt vanished with my answer, and she became her confident self again. “If either of them asks anything, just play dumb. You don’t need to get in trouble over me.”
Now as I stared at Mom, I knew I could end this whole thing here. I could tell her what Caroline was planning, and she and Dad could ground her, forbid her to go out. Then the bad feeling in my stomach would go away, and I wouldn’t have to lie in bed tonight, waiting to hear her tiptoe up the stairs and know for sure nothing bad had happened. I’d thought about it all week: what if something happened to Caroline at the party? What if she got lost or hurt? What if there was a fight like there always was on the TV shows she watched? There was a reason Mom and Dad didn’t let her go to these parties.
But all I did was shrug at Mom and hand the sunscreen tube back. I wiped my hands, slimy with lotion, on my shorts so I wouldn’t get fingerprints all over the library book and went back to guessing who stabbed a watermelon in Idavill even though Encyclopedia Brown had already beaten me to it.