The Loners

Page 12

“Thanks,” Will said. “I can’t believe you’re here.”

“I know,” Lucy said.

Lucy looked over at David, shivering still. It seemed she wanted to say something to him, talk about what happened probably. David looked away—he couldn’t bear that. He needed to do something. He got up, grabbed a crumpled bottle of water off the shelf, along with a toothbrush and detergent.

He fished a T-shirt out of his sack and sat back down on his mattress. David set to work, scrubbing wet detergent into a soot stain.

“You look so different,” Lucy said, still eating.

“Oh, yeah? You look great. So great,” Will said.

“I’ve seen you at the market,” Lucy said. Then, as if she was apologizing, “I wanted to say hello.”

“Me too,” Will said.

David felt Lucy’s eyes on him. He didn’t look over.

“The last time I saw you, you were wearing those ripped-up pants,” she said.

“Yeah,” Will said. “Those were cool.”

Lucy laughed. “They weren’t cool, but I liked how excited you were about ’em.”

“What? Those pants were badass!”

She laughed again, but it was wilting and quiet. The elevator became silent but for the sound of her slow and shaky breaths. David scrubbed like mad.

“We’re going to get through this,” Will said. “It’s just another challenge. Just like Wild-Trek.”

David stopped scrubbing. It all clicked. That’s why Will insisted this girl come back to the elevator. This was the girl he met on his camping trip in Utah. He and Will had been joined at the hip for over a year in this place, and Will had never mentioned that Lucy went to McKinley. Why hadn’t Will told him?

“You’re right,” Lucy said. “Thanks, Will. You’re a good friend.”

“So . . . what happened?” Will asked.

“Hilary kicked me out of the Pretty Ones.” David looked up at her.

“Yeah, I heard she’s mean,” Will said, knowing it would piss David off.

“Mean?” Lucy said. “She’s psychotic.”

“Psychotic how?” David said. Lucy looked him in the eye.

“She tells every girl who they’re expected to date. The Pretty Ones depend on Varsity. We—they wouldn’t survive if Hilary didn’t keep Varsity happy.”

“She made you do that?” Will said.

“She tried. I found ways to avoid the arrangement, y’know?

I stayed busy. I worked the door at the girls’ showers and helped make beauty products. I actually developed a new shade of lipstick using a box of red pens I found.” Lucy brightened for a moment.

“I flirted when I knew Hilary or one of her suck-ups was watching. And then I’d—” Lucy suddenly laughed. Will sat up, moving closer. The laugh was such a surprise to David, after what she’d just been through. The candlelight lapped across her face. She looked at David, and she smiled. It was a sexy smile. He found himself smiling back a little.

Will took Lucy’s hand in his, “What? What did you do?”

“It’s embarrassing,” she said, shaking her head. She covered her mouth and laughed even harder. She was swept up in it now.

“Come on! You’ve got to tell me now,” Will prodded.

“When the girls weren’t looking, but I knew Varsity was, I’d always try to throw in a belch or a snot rocket. The grosser it was, the better. Anything, just so they’d leave me alone.”

“Ha!” Will said, and hooted. “That is classic Lucy.” Lucy gave the faintest of smiles.

“About a month ago, I was changing in the girls’ locker room. I thought I was alone, but I wasn’t. A Varsity guy snuck in and was watching me. He was one of Brad’s friends.” David clenched his jaw. Lucy looked to the ground as soon as Brad’s name escaped her lips.

“Scumbags,” Will said.

“I screamed, and he ran off. But after that, he started asking around about me. I knew it was only a matter of time. Hilary approached me and said I had to be his girlfriend.”

“She said that?” David asked. Lucy nodded. She maintained eye contact with him as she spoke. Her version of Hilary was ugly, and he didn’t like it.

“When I told her that I wouldn’t, she got this look on her face. It was scary. I thought she was going to stab me. But she just walked away. At first I thought maybe everything was fine. But then I noticed none of the girls would talk to me.

Then no one would let me into the bathrooms. And eventually, they wouldn’t let me have food. Hilary made everyone freeze me out, even girls I thought were my friends.” Lucy ran out of breath. She’d been talking so fast, reliving each moment so vividly. She sobbed suddenly. Will dared to stroke her hair. Lucy collapsed on him, and he held her closer.

“Ssh,” he said. “It’s okay.”

“For a week I was invisible. I was dirty and hungry. She wanted me desperate, I know she did. And I was. She came to me again and asked me if I felt like dating that boy now. I probably would have said yes, I don’t know, just to eat. But she brought him with her, and he was so . . . He looked at me like I was his property. I couldn’t do it. I said no again.”

“Damn right you did,” Will said.

“What did she do then?” David said. He’d placed the stained shirt aside.

“She dragged me in front of all the girls. She tore the Pretty Ones insignia off of my sweater and said I was banished. She said I was dead to them. I kept looking at my friends in the crowd, but none of them would look back at me. And then Hilary made an announcement to all the Varsity boys that I was no longer protected by the Pretty Ones.” Lucy took a deep breath to steady herself. “She said they were free to do what they wanted with me.”

“I hate that bitch,” Will said. “I always did.” David looked at Will, but Will wouldn’t look back. David clenched his eyes shut and rubbed his temples. He wanted to forget everything he’d heard. He wanted to forget that Brad was dead too, but he couldn’t.

“I ran out of there. I was so scared. I thought they were going to pop up behind me at any second.” Lucy finally crumbled. She couldn’t get any more words out without crying. “You saved me,” she said between sobs. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry that happened. And that Brad—” Lucy’s tears took her over again. David was glad. He’d heard enough.

“Sam’s gonna go crazy,” she said.

David stood. He was done. He put his tools and the shirt away and snuffed out the candles in his corner.

“I’m going to hide out here for as long as I can stretch out our supplies. Hopefully, things will cool down. You can stay tonight. Don’t eat any more of the food. I’m going to bed.” He lay down on his bed with his back to them both. He could hear Will say that Lucy could have some of his food.

Will could say what he wanted. She couldn’t stay.

David imagined Varsity swarming the corridors in search of him. He saw himself staying in this elevator for months, gripped with fear that the hatch door could be torn open at any moment. That they’d come crashing down through the ceiling, stuffing themselves into his secret home until they blocked out the light. Then they’d stomp him into the floor until he stopped breathing.

David clung to the belief there was a chance of survival. If the elevator stayed hidden and Will found a way to bring him food. . . . If he could trust Will to keep his mouth shut, and if the girl kept quiet, and if no one saw Will come and go and no one caught him while he was out there. If all that, maybe he could last until his graduation. He could find a way to sneak all the way to the front door without being noticed, scan his thumb, and get his walking papers. He might be able to last.

In the hour it took him to fall asleep, David’s mind whirled with nightmares to come. He did his best to stay focused on the hope that he could do it, that he could get out, without ever having to answer for what he’d done.



Lucy was there. There was only two feet between him and the girl he’d dreamed about since Wild-Trek. And there weren’t two inches between her sleeping body and David. It made him crazy. Before Lucy went to sleep, Will tried to persuade her to take his bed. She insisted on the floor. She said she didn’t want to be a burden to anyone. Once she was asleep, it was as though her body was magnetized to David’s. She tossed and turned, moving an inch closer here, two inches there. Will could count on his hand how many times Lucy had looked at him since they got back to the elevator. She had spent the rest of the time staring at David.

She was almost entirely on David’s mattress now. Was she really asleep? It would be almost worse if she was asleep.

Then she’d be subconsciously trying to spoon his brother. It was torture, and Will couldn’t take it anymore.

Will rose to his feet, quiet as a burglar. He looked down at David and Lucy, still curled up together. He knew David was asleep, his snoring had started right on cue. Will monitored Lucy for any more movement. The tear in her sweater revealed the butter-soft skin of her chest as it gently rose and fell with each breath. Were all girls this beautiful when they slept?

He could’ve stood there and watched her all night, but if he was going to leave, he had to do it now. He slid his fingers up her shoulder. He just needed to make sure that she was asleep first. She didn’t stir. He did it again, but much slower, just in case. He could still feel the summer breeze slip through the tent the night they spent together; her head on his chest; the stars twinkling through the mesh skylight overhead; the sweet smell of lemon juice in her hair.

Lucy murmured and shifted her body closer to David again.

Ugh. Why did he have to go to the bathroom after the market? He’d been kicking himself for the past year that he never made a move, never took things to the next level with Lucy.

Will had planned to ask her out on the first day of school.

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