The Loners

Page 13

When the East Wing exploded, it threw his plan off the rails, and it never seemed like the right time after that. How do you ask a girl out when the world’s ending? He wanted everything to be perfect when he asked, but once the gangs formed it was too late.

Now, out of the blue, he had a real chance, and David was trying to take it from him. Will should have been the one to save her. He would have done it. And probably wouldn’t have killed someone in the process. She should have been looking at him the way she’d been looking at David all night. It wasn’t fair.

David didn’t get to have Lucy just because he had to take a monster dump.

Will pulled one of David’s buckets off the shelf and laid it in the center of the floor, upside down. He placed his toe on the bucket and stepped up as quietly as he could. He pulled himself out of the elevator. He’d been sneaking out for months without David knowing. Usually he was satisfied just wandering around, getting into trouble, but tonight he had an actual mission. It was the beginning of a plan that would keep David alive, and keep him away from Lucy.

First step, Will had to get to his locker.

He wasn’t dumb. He knew he had to nip this David-the-hero business in the bud. It was just the kind of thing girls melted over. David didn’t deserve her; he didn’t even know anything about her. He didn’t know that she makes amazing quesadil-las. He didn’t know that she does a hilarious French accent.

But Will did. He knew everything about her.

Will stepped out of the elevator control closet and into the dark hallway. An uneasy smile stretched his lips. Ventur-ing out now, after what David had done, was idiotic. Danger tickled his fingertips, vibrated through his arms, and sent a shiver rippling up his neck. He couldn’t stop smiling. He felt electric.

Will sprinted softly down the hallway, gaining confidence with every footfall. He hated being cooped up in that elevator.

Running through the empty halls, all alone, while everyone else slept, he almost felt like he was outside again.

Something rumbled toward him out of the darkness. He jumped into the nearby stairwell. A Skater with a spiked Mohawk bombed past on a longboard, with three full garbage bags slung over his shoulder. The skateboard’s rumble came to a stop. Will peeked around the corner. The Skater dropped his bags on the floor and jumped up to place an adhesive label on the high wall clock. It had a ballpoint pen drawing of a duck on it. The Skater picked up his bags and kicked away down the hall. Will exhaled with relief. If Will wanted to pull this off, he had to remain unseen. It was a real possibility that some gang could kidnap Will, trade him over to Varsity, and maybe use him as leverage to lure David out of the elevator.

Will ran and fantasized about his plan. He would return to the elevator with enough food for David to survive on for weeks, then announce that it was too dangerous for Will and Lucy to keep coming and going from the elevator. The two of them would have to move out and find somewhere else to live. Together. He pictured the look on their faces when he returned with arms full of food. Both David and Lucy would realize that Will had risked his life to get it. David would flip out, but that would only make Will look more brave.

He snatched up an apple-size hunk of concrete from a pile of rubble and chucked it. It smashed into a PA system speaker, knocking it loose. The speaker hung by a wire and swung from side to side, scraping the wall. It was stupid to make this much noise. There were hundreds of kids sleeping in the classrooms all around him.

Let them come out here and take me on, Will thought. I’d like to see them try.

Ten minutes later, he’d reached his locker. It was always a small relief to see the door still there with the lock attached.

A lock was a sign of valuables. Will had written RIP Emmett Dorn on the front of the locker in white-out. Who would want to open a locker that might have a corpse inside? He dialed the combination, and the lock popped open.

Will’s locker was full of months’ worth of stolen goods.

Sometimes he’d steal something from the market, but most of his best finds were the products of his night walks, when he snuck around the perimeter of gang territories looking for anything left unattended. He’d occasionally find something valuable, but the bulk of his stuff was small things: school supplies, old clothes, books, an occasional laser pointer. But when he’d accumulated enough of this stuff, he was going to trade it all to buy the phone charger that David refused to rent for him. Tonight, things had changed. Getting Lucy all to himself was way more important than any phone charger.

Will moved fast, grabbing a garbage bag and stuffing the locker’s contents into it. He locked it up and hurried off to where he knew Smudge would be.

Will and Smudge had been friends since middle school. For as long as Will could remember, Smudge had been frail and bony, but now his face was creased with wrinkles that a kid shouldn’t have. Will had gone through a growth spurt, like most kids their year had at this point; Smudge hadn’t. He was still the size of a child, and he looked about as healthy as an old woman’s finger. But he was a survivor. The kid was a cock-roach.

Will found him in his usual place, the closet of a first-floor computer lab that no longer had any computers in it. A single candle lit up the closet, casting long shadows up Smudge’s gaunt face.

“Willy! How goes it?” he said.

“Same old. Got some big items to trade tonight, man. You’re in luck.”

“Same old, my ass. I heard what happened.”

“What did you hear?” Will said.

“Varsity is going crazy. They want your brother bad.”

“It’ll blow over, probably.”

“I don’t know, they’re all having a funeral for Brad in the quad right now. Your bro is suicidal, man. It’s retaliation, right? ’Cause Sam shut you fools out of the gangs?”

“No, it’s not like that at all.”

“Maybe that’s not what he tells you, but if I was some football star that got knocked down to being a washing machine, I’d want a little revenge.”

“Yeah, laundry this, washing machine that, it’s always the same stuff with you,” Will said.

“They want to kill him. Straight up. I heard they’re gonna cut his head off and play soccer with it in the quad.” Will pictured David’s severed head sailing through the air.

“Hey, you okay? You’re not gonna spaz out on me, are you?

I don’t want you peeing everywhere,” Smudge asked with a flickering grin.

Will tolerated Smudge’s shithead comments; he’d known Smudge long enough to know that he was all right underneath. His meanness was his armor. Smudge mimed a seizure, sticking his tongue out and rolling his eyes.

“I’m fine,” Will said. The truth was Will hadn’t had a seizure in a month, and it was making him antsy. He was due for one.

He wished there was a way to induce it himself. Then he’d be able to relax.

“Yeah, but you guys both gotta be crapping your pants, right?”

“Anyway . . . you know who’s living with us now?” Will said.


“What! For real?”

“She got kicked out of the Pretty Ones. So we’re helping her out.”

“How much you charging for rent? A grope a day?”

“Don’t be such a scumbag,” Will said, and then realized what a pointless a request that was.

“You lucky bastard. Seriously, congrats. It’s high time you closed that deal.”

“It’s not about closing a deal, man.”

“Oh. My bad. What’s it about? Love?”

“No,” Will said.

Smudged laughed so hard that drool spilled from his mouth.

He shook his head and wiped the errant spit off his chin.

“You actually think you love her!”

“Screw you. Just show me what food you got.” Smudge shrugged and spread a bunch of food items across the floor between them. He hooked Will’s garbage bag with his other hand and picked through it. Will looked over the food. It was enough for David to stretch out for a good two weeks.

A gleam of gold caught Will’s eye from inside the closet. He looked closer. It was a grime-covered gold necklace with a sparkling pendant on a pile of stolen goods. Will fished it out of the closet. He held it up, the candlelight glittered up and down its gold links.

“Where did you find this?” Will asked.

“Found it in a clogged toilet in the ruins.” Will grimaced at the necklace and dared to sniff the grime.

He instantly recoiled. He gave the necklace another look. If he could polish it up and make it sparkle, no one would know where it came from. He could see the look of love on Lucy’s face when he placed it in her hand.

“What do you want for this?” Will asked.

“That’s a real top-notch item. I could sell it to a Pretty One for some major loot.”

“It smells like a vulture’s ass,” Will said.

Smudge shrugged, “Well, since you might not be around much longer, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll give it to you for everything you brought.”

“Are you kidding? Just the necklace? That’s three months’

worth of snatching right there!”

“Hey, listen. We don’t have to do the deal. I’m sure whoever you were gonna give this to wouldn’t mind a can of collard greens instead.”

Bastard. Will felt stuck. It was either the necklace or the food. His brother couldn’t leave that elevator; he needed food. But Lucy. Will thought of the two of them in the elevator, alone. His mind flared with the image of David and Lucy tearing off each other’s clothes the moment that they noticed Will was gone.

“You got a deal,” Will said.

“You got a necklace.”

Will pocketed the necklace, then reached over and grabbed his garbage bag. He turned it over and emptied all the contents on the floor.

“Hey, what the hell are you doing?”

“The bag wasn’t part of the deal,” Will said as he scrunched up the bag and stuffed it into his back pocket. “Good tradin’.” As Will turned to leave, Smudge piped up. “Hey where are you guys living now?”

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.