The Loners

Page 14

“Ha! Where do you go during the day, Smudge?” Smudge smiled. Neither of them would be revealing any more.

“Keep your ear to the halls for me,” Will said as he walked out.

“I hope she likes it, Willy boy,” Smudge called out.

Will chipped the filth off the necklace with his thumbnail as he bopped down the hall. The necklace would put him over the top. He felt like he’d found a diamond in the garbage. No one could get their hands on a new gold necklace in McKinley—they didn’t exist. Lucy would be floored. He ran faster, with no other purpose but to run, to pump some blood through his veins.

He skidded to a stop when he saw the west entrance of the gym. How had he run that far into Varsity territory without noticing? He nearly darted off the other way, but he noticed the gym was silent. They must be still in the quad.

Will had always fantasized about going to one of Varsity’s legendary parties. The drinks, the girls, the food. A brilliant idea bloomed in Will’s mind, and he shivered from the sheer danger of it. He fingered the crumpled plastic garbage bag hanging out of his pocket.

Varsity had a giant stockpile of food in the gym.

If Will returned with a garbage bag of food on top of the gold necklace, that would be the killing blow. Lucy would forget all about David, wouldn’t she? He had an idea, and before he could decide whether it was a good one, his hand reached out and knocked loudly on the door. He ran back into the shadows behind a line of lockers. All was still. Will gradually stepped back into the hall. His heart walloped in his chest. He crossed the hall, put his hand on the gym door handle, and opened it. Will stepped inside. There wasn’t a soul in the gym.

Holy shit. He was inside Varsity headquarters. The place was a mess. Party cups were strewn all over the basketball court. There were individual rooms separated by hanging sheets; free weights littered the ground; there was a lounge area; and on the opposite end, a gigantic pile of food cascading down the extended bleachers. Will guessed the pile could have fed the entire school population for a week. It was obscene. Will’s pulse pounded with fear and with a raw hatred for Varsity.

Will bounded over to the food. He had to work fast; who knew how much time he had left? He shoveled food into his bag. His hands shook. His breaths were short and shallow. It was taking too long to fill the bag. He shoved bread in there, jam, sugar, salami, cookies, canned chili. He couldn’t believe it. There was so much. The bag ran out of space. Will cinched it up and dashed toward the exit.

A basketball in the middle of the court caught Will’s eye. He stopped. He knew he shouldn’t. It was stupid. Pointless. His luck couldn’t last forever. But then again, who could say they shot a three pointer in the middle of Varsity’s home base?

Will ran to the basketball and picked it up. As soon as he touched the ball, he felt a surge of bravery. He checked the main entrance. Nothing. He dared to dribble the basketball once. The thwap of the ball on the floor exploded like cherry bomb, sending tinny shock waves of sound to the farthest corners of the gym. It sounded too good not to do it again.

Will dribbled. Then again. Each loud bounce was like a middle finger in Varsity’s face. His heart beat faster with each thwap.

He took a moment to line up his shot. One more long breath.

He let it fly. The ball arched gracefully toward its target. Just as it swished through the hoop, savage bellows echoed in from the market hall outside the main entrance.


Before the ball even hit the ground, Will grabbed his heavy bag and launched himself toward the west entrance. The voices were approaching too quickly. He shifted his momentum, reversed, and dove behind the bleachers. The main entrance doors flew open. The entire gang thundered into the gym. They raged, kicking chairs over, tearing down whatever they could lay their hands on. Will braced himself and stared out at them through the slats of the bleachers.

He watched as the Varsity guys started punching each other and smacking themselves in the head. They howled. A pack of them ran onto the bleachers and stomped and kicked all around Will’s hiding place. He had seen video footage on the Internet of a zoo where all the monkeys went crazy in their cage at once. This wasn’t much different.


Will’s stomach twisted into a knot. He recognized Sam’s voice. Varsity roared in response. Will spied Sam through the slats of the bleachers. He was standing on a chair with his arms outstretched, looking down at his gang like some crazed preacher. His yellow hair looked unnatural against his skin.

He looked bigger than Will remembered.

“We won’t let this stand!” Sam said.

Varsity cheered louder.

Hilary glided over to Sam and entwined her arm around the inside of his leg. She looked up at him with a soft smile and said something that Will couldn’t hear. Sam’s expression lost some of its menace. He held up his hand, signaling that he needed a minute. He climbed down from the chair. The gang entertained themselves with vicious conversations about David. Sam and Lucy walked over to the bleachers. Will lost sight of them, but he could hear their conversation; they were very close.

“Are you sure about this?” Hilary asked.

“What are you talking about?”

“What if you captured him and kept him as your prisoner?”

“He has to die,” Sam said.

“But if you locked him up in the equipment cage and kept him there, he’d have to pay for it day after day, and then, baby, he’d end up wishing you killed him.”

There was a pause.

“Why do you want this?” Sam asked.

“If you kill him it will spook the other gangs. They’ll want to take us out.”

“They’re not strong enough to take us out.”

“They could band together,” Hilary said.

“Together, they aren’t strong enough! What are you up to?”

“Strategy, baby.”

“You still love him.”

“No, that’s in the past. You know that.”

“You don’t want your boyfriend to get hurt, huh, bitch?”

“Sam, don’t.”

“Say another word. I dare you.”

Hilary said nothing. Sam stormed back into Will’s view and stepped up on top of the chair again. He shouted to his gathered flock.

“David dies tomorrow! Everyone will see. They’ll all see what you get when you cross us. We’ll get our blood in the morning, you can be sure of that!”

One Varsity echoed Sam. “We’ll get our blood in the morning!” The chant caught on. “WE’LL GET OUR BLOOD IN THE


The gym reverberated with the threat. The senior Varsity members escorted their Pretty One girlfriends to their respective sheeted cubicles. The Varsity underclassmen all climbed onto the bleachers above Will to lie down.


Will stared up, petrified. He lowered himself to the ground, amid the trash and giant clumps of dust. He shut his eyes and tried not to make any noise, as a nest of his enemies piled up above him.


DAVID WAS FIVE YEARS OLD. HE LAY ON the couch eating a bowl of cereal. He could feel the warmth of his mother lying behind him. The living room of their old house was bathed in an easy morning light. He felt safe, nestled in against his mother’s body. He could smell something sweet baking in the kitchen. His mother placed one of her arms over David, squeezing his belly with affection. It all seemed too perfect.

Just as that thought entered his mind, David knew he was dreaming. Everything started to slip away. He tried to hold tight to his cereal bowl, to the couch, to his mother, but he couldn’t get back to that perfect moment no matter how hard he tried.

David opened his eyes, and he stared at the cold brushed steel of the elevator wall, only inches from his nose. There was an arm around him, but it wasn’t his mother’s. It was Lucy’s. Lucy’s body pressed firmly against his back. He could feel every curve and swell of her, the slight pant of her breath on his neck. David strained to keep any movement minimal.

He didn’t want Lucy to wake up. As he inhaled, he smelled the sweet scent from his dream. It belonged to Lucy. She smelled like cookies or something. How did she do that?

He knew he should throw her arm off of him and stand up.

He should tell her that he wasn’t her protector, and it was time for her to go. But she was so warm.

He sighed and placed his hand around Lucy’s arm. He contorted his body to slip out from underneath it. Her skin was seductively soft but goose-bumped from the endless cold of the elevator car. David and Will had adjusted to it long ago, but Lucy must have been freezing.

He sat up carefully and looked over to Will’s corner hoping that he hadn’t seen any of the cuddling. It was dark, but it looked like Will’s bed was empty. He strained his eyes to see more sharply.

Will wasn’t there.

Any fogginess from sleep burned off in a flash. He saw the bucket turned upside down in the middle of the floor. He looked up to the emergency hatch. The little bastard snuck out? Was he out of his mind?

David stepped over Lucy with as much speed as silence would allow. Before hoisting himself up to the top of the elevator car, he snagged a blanket from Will’s bed and placed it over Lucy.

David tugged a Geek’s dirty green hoodie out of his materials sack; he didn’t want to wear his own. He grabbed a can of tuna and stuffed it in the sweatshirt pocket. He might need to barter his way in or out of something. He pulled himself up to the hatch and disappeared into the pitch black above.

“Will?” David whispered into the darkness of the elevator shaft. All David heard was a stunted echo. Damn it.

David reached over the edge and located a two-foot-long metal pipe he kept duct-taped to the side of the elevator car. It was thick and heavy; the thing could definitely break a bone .

David hoisted himself into the vent that led to the hallway.

When he emerged from the elevator control closet, he pulled on the hood, keeping it low over his brow. He concealed the pipe up the loose sleeve of his sweatshirt. His shoulder still hurt from punching Brad, but if he ran into any trouble, he hoped the pipe would make up for it.

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