The Loners

Page 27

“Hmm,” Sasha said, considering it for barely a second before moving on. Conversation failure. Sasha didn’t need Lucy.

Sasha had Gonzalo, and that was enough to survive. Belinda was on her other side, and she didn’t even bother to look up.

Belinda had been the hardest nut to crack, and Lucy was sure that if she could just get Belinda to warm up to her, the other girls would ease up too.

“Really?” Dorothy said with a dreary tone from behind her.

“I heard it was trashy.”

“Of course it’s trashy. That’s why it’s fun,” Lucy said. She hoped that was right attitude to take.

“I’m sick of trash,” Belinda said.

Lucy sagged. In Belinda’s eyes, Lucy was beneath Dorothy.

She was worse than the girl who turned her back on the Loners when they needed her most, and then groveled her way back in. Was there any point now? If she spent the next year pandering, would it still not make any difference?


Lucy looked up from the beach book in her hand. A tall Asian girl with crimson hair stared back at her. The tip of her nose had been horribly torn away. It was Julie Tanaka, and she was flanked by six Sluts. Belinda, Sasha, and Dorothy clambered to attention and snatched their weapons off the book table.

“Um . . . hi?” Lucy replied. Lucy’s father had been friends with Julie’s in college. Once or twice when she was younger, Lucy’s family had made the trip to Pale Ridge to visit. When Lucy’s father got a job with Mason Montgomery Technologies, the family relocated to Pale Ridge, and Lucy’s parents decided that she and Julie Tanaka would be probably be best friends.

Lucy and Julie never got the chance for that.

“I didn’t know you were a Slut,” Lucy said, in an attempt to make the moment less awkward. But it didn’t sound so friendly. No matter how she tried to say it, it always sounded bad out of Lucy’s mouth. The big Slut. The Asian Slut. The Slut without a nose.

“Can I talk to you for a second?” Julie said.

“Okay,” Lucy said, staying put.

“Like, in private?”

Lucy looked to her gang mates. It didn’t seem like the right thing to do, and even if their dads were friends, Lucy didn’t have a good reason to trust this girl. Who knows what they had in mind for her? Most of what Lucy heard about the Sluts came from rumors among the Pretty Ones. All the Sluts were lesbians, and they beat each other up all the time just to get more scars on their faces. Lucy didn’t believe any of it, but she couldn’t help but doubt herself as she stared at Julie’s nose.

Julie sighed, fed up with waiting, “Fine. Anyway, we’re all new recruits and we’re each supposed to bring in one prospect. I picked you.”

“Oh, well, that was nice,” Lucy said.

Julie sneered at Lucy’s gang mates, then dropped her eyes back to Lucy. “Well? You want in?”

“Want in? I don’t get it. I have a gang.”

“Yeah, but wouldn’t you rather have somebody who can back you up?” Julie said, and she looked Belinda up and down.

Lucy didn’t know how to respond. She’d never had a chance to consider the Sluts as an option. She’d left the Pretty Ones and gone straight to the graduation booth, where David had swooped in. Could she leave David? Should she? Eventually, he’d be leaving anyway, and then what would happen to the Loners? Most of them seemed to only put up with her because Will had made such a scene. Lucy turned to Belinda. Belinda met her eyes, just as interested in Lucy’s response as Julie Tanaka was.

“No,” Lucy said. “No, thanks.”

“Um, yeah, get lost,” Belinda said, quick on Lucy’s heels.

“Yeah, ’fore I kick you upside your funky nose,” Sasha added.

“Be that way,” Julie said. She waved her Sluts off, and they left.

Lucy let out a long breath she didn’t even know she was holding. “Um, that was awkward.”

“Does this mean we can’t hide out in the cafeteria if we get attacked?” Dorothy said.

“Who cares?” Belinda said with a frown at Dorothy. “They started it. They’re asking for trouble, trying to poach Lucy.”

“Yeah,” Lucy said with a pump of her head like she was outraged. She wasn’t. She was ecstatic. It was the first time Belinda had ever said anything positive about her.

“I’m gonna tell you something,” Sasha said, and wagged her finger. “I don’t like those girls. I think they got bad attitudes, all of them. And that red hair has got to go. They look like used tampons.”

“Ugh, Sasha,” Belinda said.

“I think Violent’s freaking out,” Dorothy said. She was thumbing through the beach book that Lucy had put back.

“She’s got way too many seniors, and I heard she lost, like, eight people to graduation this month.”

“Yeah, but no, you don’t steal from other gangs to get your numbers up,” Belinda said, and shook her head.

“I guess I’m just not enough of a Slut,” Lucy said. Belinda giggled. Lucy wanted to ease the tension, but it didn’t work on Sasha. She was still riled up.

“You know why Violent named her gang that, right?” she said, then she lowered her voice. “I heard she got . . . raped.” Lucy felt light-headed at the thought. It was the worst nightmare for all of them, definitely Lucy’s, and if it happened to the strongest girl in school, it could happen to any of them.

Lucy knew that well enough.

“I heard it was bad,” Sasha continued. “It was before the gangs formed. Some senior guy did it, he beat her up bad. A few weeks later, she got a bunch of girls to come with her and find him. They were gonna kill him. But he was already dead.

The virus got to him before she could.”

They all stayed quiet. What was there to say? It was ugly, just one more nasty story they’d have to carry around in their brain. It made Lucy want to take back her smart little crack about not being a big enough Slut. She hunted for any comment to change the subject. A hardback book caught her eye.

She picked it up.

“Oh! I’m gonna buy this.”

Belinda eyed the book. “Alexander the Great?”

“Planning on taking over the school?” Dorothy said.

“I think Will would like it,” Lucy said.

“Will? I thought you were wet for David.” Sasha clucked.

“Sasha! Ew!” Lucy said.

“Oh, please, girl, I’ve seen you following David around like stink on the twins. You got it bad.”

“I do not!”

“So, you like Will then?” Belinda asked.

“Will’s my friend,” Lucy said.

“So then, who do you like?” Belinda said.

David. The answer was David. Or maybe Will. She didn’t know what to tell them.

“Guess it’s gonna have to be Will, ’cause looks like big brother’s taken,” Sasha said with a wide smile. She was looking at someone across the room. Lucy spun around.

David was at another Nerd table shuffling through a stack of books. Beside him was a weird white-haired girl in a puffy jacket. She wasn’t a Loner, that was for sure. She looked more like a bag lady. Belinda giggled again. Even Dorothy laughed at the weird pairing.

“Is that Weird Peggy?” Dorothy said.

“No, she graduated last week,” Belinda said.

“Good thing you took yourself out of the running, Lucy.

That is some stiff competition,” Sasha said with a playful push. Lucy relaxed. “Oh, my God, you shoulda seen your face.

You got it bad!”

A warmth filled Lucy as she watched David pick through the pile of books. What was he deciding on? What did he like to read? She wanted to know everything about him. She decided that was what she’d bring up in their next chance encounter.

Maybe they could read a book together, discuss it, they could have the salons she imagined were in the library. What was stopping her from doing that kind of stuff with the Loners in the Stairs? And with David.

Lucy’s fantasies blew away like dust. David was holding the weird girl’s hand.

David’s lips were moving. He was talking to her. She looked back to the hand. She knew that hand. She knew those long fingers and those manicured nails. The ugliest girl in the room was actually the prettiest one. What was Hilary up to?

Why was David touching her? Hilary pulled away from David and scurried out of the room. Lucy looked back to David, who stared after Hilary long after she’d walked out the door.

“You want to buy that?”

A Nerd was pointing at the hardback Alexander the Great book in Lucy’s hands.

“Yeah, I think I do,” she said.



That one thought echoed inside Sam’s head. He knew they were thinking it. His own gang. The whole school. Everyone saw what happened in the quad. They saw David and his gang of beggars kick Sam’s ass.

“Come on and throw with us, Sammy! Get that blood moving!”

Sam looked down from the bleachers at Alan Woodward, who slapped a football in his fat hands. His round cheeks were red like cherry bombs, and Sam wished they’d explode.

“No,” Sam said.

Piss off, you fat lump. It wasn’t that Alan was a bad guy. It was just that he was an idiot. Ninety percent of Sam’s day was dealing with idiots, keeping them happy so they didn’t gang up and kill him. It was starting to drag him down. But he couldn’t slip now. That was what everybody was waiting for.

Alan shrugged and shuffled off. He cocked his arm and threw the ball to a group at the other end of the gym. Sam admired the tight, spiraled throw. It was a nice toss. The guys at the other end elbowed and shoved each other to get a clean grab at the ball. Their shoes squeaked on the varnished floor.

It sounded like the squeal a dog made when you hurt it.

When Sam was seven, he had a curly-haired black dog named Trixie. It was a stupid name, because Trixie was a boy. His mom named it. She wanted a daughter but only had sons, so the dog became Trixie. It was one of those miniature dogs that women kept in their pocketbooks. Twitchy. Fragile.

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