“He doesn’t have to,” I said quickly. “Rae’s going to pick me up.”
“Oh. What’s her name again?”
“Rae Landau,” I said. “Her father’s a detective.”
She made a mental note of it and told Uncle Buster. I overheard them talking about it. He phoned someone to check on my story. They were being extra careful all right, I thought. However, when he returned and reported I was telling the truth that there was indeed a Detective Landau, I had to admit to myself I felt better about it, too.
Anticipating Saturday night and how sweet my revenge would be put some excitement into my life. I actually looked forward to going to school and seeing how the boys looked at me, Skip and Grog smiling and winking, and how excited both Taylor and Rae looked whenever I confronted them.
On Friday, right after I entered the cafeteria and got my lunch, Grog came up beside me and handed me an envelope.
“Just put it away quickly,” he said, looking around nervously. “We can both get into lots of trouble for this.”
I dropped it into my purse and later, in the girls’ room, I took it out and counted seven twenties and one ten. I smiled with glee. Won’t those rich arrogant boys be surprised? Just the thought of it put some pep into my steps and gave me new energy. I worked hard in class, so hard Mr. Cody gave me a compliment.
“You keep going like this, Phoebe, and you’ll be on reading level and back where you belong before you know it.”
The others looked at me with envy.
That’s exactly where I’d like to be, I thought. Back where I belong.
That evening and all the next day, I tried to be Miss Perfect at home. I didn’t want anything to happen that would interfere with our plans. I offered to help Aunt Mae Louise with the dishes before she asked. In the morning right after I rose and dressed, I started to vacuum, cleaning my room and then going into the halls and the living room.
Aunt Mae Louise smiled and nodded. Later, Uncle Buster asked if I would like to go with him, Barbara Ann, and Jake for some frozen custard. I thanked him and told him I had to get myself ready for my party. I chose the most conservative thing I had to wear and asked Aunt Mae Louise’s opinion, something that took her by complete surprise.
“Yes,” she said, “that’s appropriate.” She thought a moment and said, “Once your father’s estate is straightened out, we’ll use whatever there is to buy you some new clothes, Phoebe. A girl your age needs a nice wardrobe. Some day you’ll go off to college or a business school and need nice things to wear.”
I nodded. Me in a college, even a business school? Get real, I thought, and then, for a moment, I tried to imagine it. Every image seemed silly. I was sure I’d end up like Mama, a waitress in some restaurant. It made me angry and even more eager to go to this party and turn those rich boys and their friends upside down.
Rae and Taylor showed up exactly at seven o’clock. Aunt Mae Louise insisted I bring them into the house to meet her. They looked more nervous about it than I was.
“I think it’s real nice of you girls to welcome someone new to the community like this,” Aunt Mae Louise told them. “It shows a warm heart, a charitable and compassionate heart, and that’s how we all walk in the light of the Lord.”
They smiled at her and looked to me to get them out quickly. As soon as we left, Rae pounced.
“You didn’t mention the sting operation to your uncle and aunt, did you?”
“No. You don’t have to worry about that. I know what to say and what to do,” I told her sharply.
These spoiled girls with their fancy clothes and cars weren’t going to make me feel innocent and incapable of handling myself. They hadn’t seen half the things I had. If they had, they’d be the ones hiding in a closet, I thought.
“Rae’s father told us we’re supposed to act like we don’t know anything,” Taylor explained. “The boys will be sitting around, drinking. There’ll be music and then Ashley will bring out the Ecstasy. You should take it just to keep them from being suspicious. You ever do that before, take drugs?”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Where I come from, it’s like candy,” I said.
“I bet. After this is over, I want to have a real party at my house so the girls can get to know you. Some of them are so naive and simple, they’ll think you’re out of a movie or something.”
“But not you, huh?” I said.
“Taylor and I are a lot more sophisticated than our friends,” Rae explained, “mainly because of things I hear my father talk about, things he doesn’t even know I’ve seen and heard.”
“That’s nothing. That’s like watching it on television,” I said.
They were both quiet. We traveled through another neighborhood where the houses looked bigger and more expensive than the ones in my aunt and uncle’s development. It had been mostly cloudy all day and had grown darker and darker until the wind picked up and some drops of rain struck the windshield. By the time we drove up a long driveway lined with lanterns and beautiful cypress trees pruned to the exact same height all the way up to the circular driveway, the raindrops had become a steady drizzle.
I was impressed with the size of Ashley Porter’s house, but I didn’t want to gape and sound like I was. It was a two-story home with a steeply pitched roof and tall, narrow windows. I could see the chimney on the left side. The walls of the house were solid brick. I saw five other cars parked in front.