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Shelter in Place
Author: Nora Roberts

PART ONE

Innocence Lost

No acquisitions of guilt can compensate the loss of that solid inward comfort of mind, which is the sure companion of innocence and virtue; nor can in the least balance the evil of that horror and anxiety which, in their room, guilt introduces into our bosoms.

—Henry Fielding

CHAPTER ONE

On Friday, July 22, 2005, Simone Knox ordered a large Fanta—orange—to go with her popcorn and Swedish Fish. The choice, her standard night-at-the-movies fare, changed her life, and very likely saved it. Still, she’d never drink Fanta again.

But at that moment she only wanted to settle down in the theater with her two best friends forEVER and lose herself in the dark.

Because her life—currently and absolutely for the rest of the summer, and maybe for all time—sucked beyond infinity.

The boy she loved, the boy she’d dated exclusively for seven months, two weeks, and four days, the boy she’d imagined cruising through her upcoming senior year with—hand in hand, heart to heart—had dumped her.

In a text.

done wasting time cuz i got 2 b with somebody ready to b all the way with me and thats not u so we r done c u

Certain he couldn’t have meant it, she’d tried to call him—but he didn’t answer. She’d texted three times, humiliating herself.

Then she’d gone to his MySpace page. Humiliation was too weak a word for what she suffered.

Traded in the old DEFECTIVE model for a hot new one.

Simone out!

Tiffany in!

Shook off a LOSER and I’ll be rolling through the summer and into senior year with the hottest girl in the class of 2006.

His post—with pictures—had already generated comments. She might’ve been smart enough to know he’d ordered his friends to say mean, ugly things about her, but that didn’t lessen the sting or the embarrassment.

She grieved for days. She wallowed in the comfort and righteous anger of her two closest friends. She raged at her younger sister’s taunts, dragged herself to her summer job and the weekly tennis lessons at the club that her mother insisted on.

A text from her grandmother made her sniffle. CiCi might be meditating with the Dalai Lama in Tibet, rocking it out with the Stones in London, or painting in her studio on Tranquility Island, but she had a way of finding out anything and everything.

It hurts now, and the pain’s real, so hugs, my treasure. But give it a few weeks, and you’ll realize he’s just another asshole. Kick butt and namaste.

Simone didn’t think Trent was an asshole (though both Tish and Mi agreed with CiCi). Maybe he’d tossed her aside—and in a really mean way—just because she wouldn’t do it with him. She just wasn’t ready to do it. Besides, Tish had done it with her ex-boyfriend after the junior prom—and twice more—and he’d dumped her anyway.

The worst was, she still loved Trent and, in her desperate sixteen-year-old heart, knew she’d never love anyone else, ever again. Even though she’d torn out the pages of her journal where she’d written her future names—Mrs. Trent Woolworth, Simone Knox-Woolworth, S. K. Woolworth—ripped them to shreds, then burned them, along with every photo she had of him, in the patio firepit during a girl-power ceremony with her friends, she still loved him.

But, as Mi pointed out, she had to live, even though part of her just wanted to die, so she let her friends drag her to the movies.

Anyway, she was tired of sulking in her room, and she really didn’t want to slump around the mall with her mother and little sister, so the movies won. Mi won, too, as it was her turn to pick, so Simone was stuck with some science-fiction deal called The Island Mi was crazy to see.

Tish didn’t mind the pick. As a future actress, she felt that experiencing movies and plays was both a duty and pre-career training. Plus Ewan McGregor ranked in Tish’s top five movie boyfriends.

“Let’s get seats. I want good ones.” Mi, small, compact, with dark, dramatic eyes and a thick wedge of black hair, gathered her popcorn—no fake butter—her drink, and the peanut M&M’s she favored.

Mi had turned seventeen in May, dated sporadically, as she currently preferred science to boys, and skimmed just above the nerd line only because of her prowess as a gymnast and solid slot on the cheerleading squad.

A squad unfortunately captained by one Tiffany Bryce, boyfriend stealer and slut.

“I need the ladies’.” Tish—double-fake-butter popcorn, a Coke, and Junior Mints—pushed her snacks at her friends. “I’ll find you.”

“Don’t fool around with your face and hair,” Mi warned her. “Nobody can see them anyway, once the movie starts.”

And she was already perfect, Simone thought as she juggled Tish’s popcorn on the way to one of the three theaters in the DownEast Mall Cineplex.

Tish had long, smooth, silky chestnut-brown hair—with professional golden highlights because her mother wasn’t stuck in nineteen-fifty-whatever. Her face—Simone loved studying faces—a classic oval, added flirty charm with dimples; and the dimples flirted often, as Tish always found something to smile about. Simone figured she’d smile a lot, too, if she’d turned out tall and curvy, with bright blue eyes and dimples.

On top of everything, Tish’s parents totally supported her ambition to pursue acting. She’d hit the jackpot in Simone’s mind. Looks, personality, brains, and parents who actually had a clue.

But Simone loved Tish anyway.

The three of them already had plans—secret ones for now because Simone’s parents completely did not have a clue—to spend the summer after graduation in New York.

Maybe they’d even move there—it had to be more exciting than Rockpoint, Maine.

Simone figured a sand dune in the Sahara had to be more exciting than Rockpoint, Maine.

But New York? Bright lights, hordes of people.

Freedom!

Mi could study to be a doctor at Columbia, Tish could study acting and go on auditions. And she … could study something.

Something that wasn’t law, as her own clueless parents wanted. Not surprising, and so lame and clichéd because her father was a big-shot lawyer.

Ward Knox would be disappointed, but that’s how it had to be.

Maybe she’d study art and become a famous artist like CiCi. That would freak her parents out awesomely. And, like CiCi, she’d take and discard lovers at her whim. (When she was ready to do it).

That would show Trent Woolworth.

“Come out,” Mi ordered, giving her an elbow bump.

“What? I’m right here.”

“No, you’re in the Simone Brood Zone. Come out, join the world.”

Maybe she liked it in the SBZ, but … “I have to open the door with the power of my mind because my hands are full. Okay, done. I’m back.”

“The mind of Simone Knox is an awesome thing to behold.”

“I must use it for good, and not use it to melt Tiffany into a puddle of slut goo.”

“You don’t have to anyway. Her brain’s already a puddle of slut goo.”

Friends, Simone thought, always knew the right thing to say. She would rejoin the world with Mi—and Tish, whenever Tish stopped playing with her already-perfect face and hair and came out—and leave the SBZ behind.

A Friday night opening meant she walked into a theater already half-full. Mi grabbed three seats dead center, took the third one in from the aisle so Simone—still heart tender—could take the one between her and Tish, whose longer legs earned the aisle seat.

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