The Loners

Page 24

Will rounded the next corner. Before following him, Lucy glanced back to the door of the Stairs, now a hundred feet behind her. She got a stab of anxiety and hurried up next to him.

“Will . . . I’m not sure we should do this,” she said. “David’s rule is sounding pretty good right now,” Lucy said. She stopped walking. Will sighed.

“David doesn’t get it. He doesn’t know what it’s like for us,” Will said.

“What do you mean, for us?”

“He’ll be out of here in months. We’ve both got years to go,” Will said.

Years. She focused on the new long hallway ahead. The air was dirty. There was barely any light. The lockers were littered with dents. Each month the lockers were more dented, the walls more scrawled with cuss words. Lately, people were taking the walls apart to use the wood and drywall. The walls.

What would be left of the place by the time she got out?

“It’s fine for him to play it safe,” Will continued. “He’s almost out. But we have to adapt to living here ’cause—well, we have no choice.”

Lucy didn’t want to think about the idea that David was going to leave.

“I know what you need,” Will said. He smiled and wagged his eyebrows up and down again. It was cute. “You need to run.” Will tugged her forward. She took big breaths and big strides. It felt good watching the school fly past her so fast.

She never got to run anymore. She either stayed in the Stairs, or she walked at a regular pace inside a tight group. That was the only thing that looked good about the food drops: Those kids got to run around.

Will wasn’t kidding, he did know his way around. Some corners he barreled right around, then at others he would make her stop and he’d peek around it first. The longer they went, the more she felt fast and slippery, like no one could catch her.

The only reason she stopped on the third-floor balcony of the foyer was because she had to. She was out of breath.

“Wait.” She panted and leaned against the railing that looked down on the graduation booth below, where she’d had her mini breakdown two months ago. Will stopped and bent over with a smile, resting his hands on his knees.

“Check it out,” he said, and climbed up onto the balcony railing.

“Will!” She gasped. “What are you doing?” It was a forty-foot fall to the foyer floor. Will stayed focused on the three-inch-wide metal path in front of him.

“Shh,” he said gently. “I’m trying to concentrate.” He took a careful step forward.

“Hold my hand,” Lucy said. She reached up to Will. He ignored her hand. She wanted to grab hold of him and yank him down to her, but what if that made him slip and fall the wrong way?

“Watch this,” Will said with a wild smile. He closed his eyes.

“Will, don’t! Cut it out.”

He took another step. Bigger this time. He lifted one knee up and stood wobbling on one foot.

He was going to die right in front of her.

“You’re scaring me,” she said.

Will dropped his foot, tumbling forward a few steps. His eyes snapped open. He jerked his body to keep his balance.

Lucy squealed. Will shot his arms out to his sides and steadied himself. He looked at her, his eyes wide with astonishment.

“Did you see that?”

“Yes, I saw it! Will, I swear to God, if you die . . . !” He cackled with delight.

“What is wrong with you?” she said.

“Oh, I don’t know. A lot of things.”

Will hopped farther down the banister, landing on his other foot again. Lucy gasped.

“I’m epileptic.”

Another hop. Lucy cringed.

“And I got it bad for a girl, and I mighta missed my window with her.”

Lucy looked Will in the eyes. Was he talking about her?

“I’ve always had bad luck.”

Will jumped, but his foot missed the mark. He slipped off the side, the bad side. His armpit landed hard against the top rail. He clamped down with his whole body. He hung by the hook of his armpit, and the rest of his body dangled over the foyer below.

“No!” Lucy said.

She lunged for him, grabbed his arm, and pulled. She pushed off the balcony wall with her foot. She could hear his feet scurrying for a foothold. He threw his weight over the top of the banister, and they landed on the balcony floor next to each other. She whacked him in the chest.

“Don’t do that!”

“I’m sorry,” he said with a chuckle.

“I’m serious,” Lucy said. “Don’t you ever do that again.” The smile vanished from his face.

“I won’t,” he said. “Don’t get mad.”

“I want to go back to the Stairs,” she said.

He nodded. They got up and walked. Will tried to start up more conversations, but she acted mad. She didn’t want to encourage him, but the truth was she hadn’t felt this alive in months. She was still riding the thrill of the run, Will’s feet slipping off the banister, her catching his arms, her hands clutching his body. It made her wonder what it would be like to date Will.

As they neared their home base, Lucy saw a smallish figure in an oversize McKinley sweatshirt by the entrance to the Stairs, about to knock on the door.

“Hey,” Will said. “What do you want?”

The figure jumped in surprise and turned to Will and Lucy, a strand of blonde hair curled around the lip of her hood. The light caught her face. Lucy knew her.

“Tara?” Lucy said.

She was the one of the more athletic girls in the Pretty Ones, and they used to be friends; that is, until Hilary snapped her fingers, and Tara turned her back on Lucy like all the rest of them.

“I’m here to see David,” Tara said.

“Why?” Lucy asked.

“I have a letter to deliver to him,” Tara said, her hands clutching something in her sweatshirt pocket. “And I’m only supposed to give it to him.”

That letter had to be from Hilary.

“Give it to me,” Lucy said.

“No. I’m only supposed to—”

“You’re not getting in here,” Lucy said. “I don’t know what you thought or Hilary thought, but you’re not going to see David. It doesn’t work that way.”

She could see Tara’s confidence slip a little. Lucy pounced.

She got right in her face.

“I know you don’t want to go back to Hilary with that letter in your hand.” She spat her words out, sharp and nasty. “I mean, I can’t imagine what she’d make you do. But I’ll take it.

I’ll give it to David. And you can go back to Hilary and tell her you placed it right in his hand.”

Tara looked at Lucy, still unsure. She picked at her lip as she weighed Lucy’s words. Give it to me, Lucy thought. Give it to me, you little bitch.


Lucy lunged for Tara’s stupid, oversize pocket. Tara ran.

Damn it! She needed that letter. Lucy saw Will looking at her. She could tell he was upset. What came over her? She hated the Pretty Ones, but she’d never acted like that before.

Will needed to stop looking at her like that.

Why the hell was Hilary writing David a letter?


A WINDOW SMASHED BEHIND WILL. HE couldn’t run any faster. They were coming up hot behind him.

Will pushed a rolling cart, it had a flat-screen TV and a DVD

player on it. The dangling power cords twisted and tangled and lashed at his legs. One wheel of the cart was stuck, and it flapped around like a flag on a car antenna, shaking the entire cart. The TV began a tap dance off the side, but Will caught it.

He looked back. Freaks. A herd of them, clutching splintered two-by-fours. Fifty feet away. Blue hair whipping above their furious faces. They screamed. The sound of it bounced off the hollow metal lockers of the long hall and vibrated in the air all around him like the crash of a symbol.

Don’t seize.

He could have a grand mal seizure. Right now. But then again, he could anytime. Eating breakfast was just as dangerous. He could clench up, choke on a piece of bread, and die. He pumped his legs harder. He felt alive. The danger, the chase, the psychos at his heels, it all coursed through him like an electrical current.

Will rammed the A/V cart smack into the door of the Stairs.

“OPEN THE FUCKING DOOR!” Will screamed.

He pounded and kicked it. The screaming mob barreled toward him like a runaway train.

“It’s Will!” he shouted. The door jerked open a crack, security chain still in place, and Leonard peeked out from the gap.

“What’s going . . . ,” Leonard trailed off.

“HURRY!” Will barked, and Leonard jumped.

The chain fell away on the other side, and Will shoved the cart into the door. It swung wide, he charged inside. He let the cart roll away and smash into the armory. Will spun around and slammed the door shut on a Freak’s forearm.

The Freak’s hand writhed and twitched and clawed around for Will. Will drove his shoulder into the door and pushed with everything he had.

WHAM! Something heavy hit the door on the other side and cracked it open three inches wider. The Freak got his whole arm through the gap. The disembodied arm grabbed Will’s hair and yanked on it.

“Leonard, help me!”

Leonard stood still as a statue. Three Loners ran down the stairs and pushed Leonard aside. One of them was Gonzalo.

Gonzalo dug in and planted his wide hands on the door. His arms were as thick as legs.

“Who’s out there?” Gonzalo shouted.

“Freaks,” Will said. “A lot of them.”

WHAM! WHAM! More Freaks against the door. Gonzalo filled his chest and pushed. The hand let go of Will’s hair. A scream for mercy soared louder than the rest of the mob, and the arm jerked back. With a painful twist, the hand slipped back through, and the door slammed shut. Will quickly looped the chain and locked the door.

WHAM! A last-ditch effort from the other side. Some muffled conversation, then . . .

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