The Loners

Page 26

David relaxed a little. He already had the upper hand.

“You owe us a TV, bitch!” Bobby said. He got in David’s face.

Will lunged for Bobby. David barely caught him by the waist of his pants. He yanked Will back beside him.

“You want that TV? You come and get it! Bring all your poser friends!” Will said, trying to fight David off in the same breath. David motioned for Gonzalo to intercede. Gonzalo wasted no time picking Will up and walking him away to the back of the group. But he still got one last jab in. “They can watch me beat your face in, toilethead!” “It’s Jackal!” Bobby shouted after Will, spit flying from his mouth. He turned sharply to David. “Who the hell are you, huh? The Loners? You’re not a gang, you’re nothing.” The Freaks creaked forward in their shoes, waiting for Bobby to say the word. Grab your machete, Bobby’s eyes seemed to say. David had only thirty people with him; the rest were on the other side of the school by now. That’s why Bobby had picked the market instead of the quad to face off. Bobby had at least sixty Freaks with him now. The Loners would lose.

“Just take it easy, Jackal,” David said.

“Stay outta the drops, Loner. You’re messing with our livelihood,” Bobby said, getting louder so other gangs could hear.

“You’re messing with the whole food chain! I want to hear it, right now! I want to hear you say the Loners are off the quad for good.”

“Fuck off,” David said. His hand crept up toward his machete.

The Freaks raised their weapons, but they didn’t have a chance to use them. Varsity surrounded the Freaks. Bobby’s nose crinkled in confusion as Sam stepped out from the forest of his guys. David was shocked. Everyone was. Sam hadn’t made a public appearance since he was nearly killed by the Scrap mob in the quad.

Sam looked pale, which was an odd thing for David to think, considering no one had been outside over a year. But this sort of pale was different. It was a sickly pale; the natural ruddiness of his skin was gone. Sam’s eyes seemed darker too, like his pupils had spilled and stained his corneas. Sam rushed toward Bobby and David. David sped up his reach for his machete, and as he wrapped his fingers around the hilt, Sam grasped Bobby’s hair.

With a single yank, Sam pulled Bobby off his feet and dragged him to the closed door of a classroom. The door had a two-by-two-foot window in it, at head level. Sam slammed Bobby’s head into it. David heard the glass crack with a pop.

The Freaks lurched forward, shouting, but Varsity held them back. They watched as Sam pressed Bobby’s face hard into the cracked glass, and leaned close. He whispered in Bobby’s ear, but he kept his eyes locked on David. Sam’s eyes quivered with rage.


The single crack in the glass grew longer, reaching up from the bottom corner toward Bobby’s face. Bobby was staring straight at it, like he was face to face with a rattlesnake. Sam pressed Bobby’s face harder and harder into the glass, whispering all the while. He sneered at David. If the glass gave way and his head went through, the glass would filet his face.

David pictured Bobby trying to pull his head back out and leaving half of his cheeks behind, hanging from the shards like a wet leather glove.


The crack splintered off into smaller ones. One touched Bobby’s nose. He whimpered. The Freaks pushed at Varsity.

They were upset now, yelling and punching back. Bobby’s eyes bulged. Sam wasn’t whispering anymore. He bore down on Bobby’s head.

Sam pushed off of Bobby and stepped away. Bobby didn’t move at first. He just kept his face to the glass, staring at the cracks that could have disfigured him. The Freaks ran to him.

He wouldn’t look any of them in the eyes.

The whole market watched as the Freaks, with their tails between their legs, pushed past the Loners toward their trading post. As Sam walked in David’s direction, David finally pulled his machete from the sheath. He held it down but ready, and the Loners flanked him. Sam walked like he was going to pass David right by, but stopped. He stood in profile but slowly lifted his head and turned it toward David. There was dirt on his face. He must not have washed it in days.

“Nobody’s gets to kill you but me,” Sam said. “Happy shopping.”

Sam walked on, and the rest of Varsity followed.

David spent the next twenty minutes in a fog. He had gotten too comfortable with Sam not being around. Varsity had attacked them repeatedly in the halls, but they were unfo-cused without Sam’s leadership. Loner-Varsity scuffles had become routine, but Sam’s return was a bracing reminder that this was personal and always would be until one of them was dead. David sank. Whether it was tomorrow or in a month, the only way David could stop this vicious cycle was to kill Sam.

Could he do that?

“We’re good to go,” Ritchie said, his team behind him with a full load of supplies from the Sluts.

David nodded. “Good. The rest of the team is at the Nerds’.

Let’s get the hell out of here.”

David stepped away from the wall and into the flow of market traffic. Someone in the crowd took his left hand for a moment and squeezed it. It was a Scrap girl David didn’t recognize. Her white hair was gray with filth, and it hung over her face. She wore a ratted-out down jacket two sizes too large for her, and a slash in the nylon fabric left a trail of down feathers behind her. Some of the feathers clung to the rags wrapped around her feet. There weren’t many Scraps left who hadn’t joined up with the Loners. She must have been one of the kids who’d lost their minds.

David pulled his hand away out of instinct, and the Scrap girl kept walking without flinching or looking back.

“I didn’t know there were any more Scraps left,” Ritchie said.

“Some people just want to be alone,” Will said with a shrug.

David felt something stuck in his palm. He opened his hand to see a folded rectangle of paper in the middle of his hand and flipped it open with his thumb. “Follow me,” it read. “H.” H.

David knew the handwriting. Hilary. He looked up and frantically scanned the crowd for the girl. He spotted her as she slipped between a bunch of Skaters and a troupe of Geeks promoting their next show. She ducked into the Nerds’ trading post.

“Uh. . .,” David stuttered. “Why don’t you guys. . . Why don’t you guys meet me at the market entrance. I’ll get everybody else.”

David didn’t wait for their responses. He cut through the crowd. Hilary wanted to talk to him, and he’d been waiting to talk to her for more than a year. It wasn’t smart. She’d cheated on him. She’d dumped him. She dated the guy who wanted David dead. She didn’t make a move to help him when Sam strung him up. She had a hand in all of this misery. It could be a trap. There were so many reasons for David to stop walking, but he didn’t.

He caught up to Hilary at a table of electronic goods at the Nerds’ trading post. Behind her haggard bangs, her face was smeared with soot, but her eyes were vibrant. She pretended to look at a battered laptop for sale. David stood beside her and poked through some used phone batteries.

“What the hell is this about?” David said.

“I know this is crazy, David, but I’m desperate. I didn’t know how else to get your attention. I tried to send you a letter, but it got turned away.”

Turned away? Who did that? Why didn’t he know? And why was she desperate? What did Sam do? Her frantic tone made him want to hold her. But he kept still. Stoic.

“Why should I trust you?” David asked.

He wanted to trust her. He knew that any reason, even a thin excuse, would have been enough.

“You know me, David. Don’t you? I mean, I’m still me.” David looked up and studied Hilary’s face. Now that he was only inches from her, he could see that her dirty white hair was a wig. Her lip quivered. Part of David wanted to reach out and cup her face in his hand and whisper that everything was all right, like she had done for him after his mom died.

“Don’t look at me,” Hilary said. “Somebody might see you.”

“Hil, what do you mean desperate, what’s happening?” Hilary looked up at David for the first time since he entered the room. Her face was flushed, even through the gray and black of the soot. She needed him. He didn’t know why, but he knew that look. He wanted to tell her that he missed her.

A few Varsity guys entered the room, and the yearning in Hilary’s eyes was overtaken by fear. David reached out and took her hand. It was still soft. If anyone else had touched her skin they would have known for certain that this was no Scrap.

“David, let go,” Hilary whispered, barely convincing.

“Talk to me,” he said.

She tried to pull her hand away, but David wouldn’t let go.

He’d hold on until he got an answer.

“We’ll meet tonight,” she said.


LUCY WISHED SHE WAS A NERD. BEST SHE could tell, they got to hide in the library and read books all day. It sounded wonderful. She wondered if the Nerds organized salons to discuss great fiction or the pertinence of historical events to the present. Were they living out some Chekhov-worthy existence two floors up, musing over phi-losophy or quantum physics, while the people below them smashed their heads together?

It didn’t matter. She wasn’t one of them. That was the point.

She was a Loner, standing in a cluster of Loner girls, at the Nerds’ trading post, sifting through their bin of bargain books. Like Will said, she would be here for two and a half more years, maybe more. Either she was going to need a whole heck of lot of books, or she would have to adapt and figure out a way to make peace with her surroundings. Sasha, Gonzalo’s girlfriend, stood next to her. She was a Persian girl with a smattering of freckles across her olive cheeks. Everything about her was miniature, except her attitude. Lucy usually kept clear of Sasha, but maybe it was time to start making friends.

“I heard this was pretty good,” Lucy said. She held up a rust-colored paperback. She didn’t know if it was good. She did remember seeing it on her mom’s beach-book shelf though, and she needed a way into the conversation.

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