The Loners

Page 28

Every time he petted it he could feel its brittle ribs. It used to chase him around the house trying to hump his leg. Nasty little thing. Nothing was more disgusting than its little furry hips thrusting away at his ankle. It scratched at every door he hid behind, always wanting to hump him more. And no one helped him, all the adults just laughed. “Look, Sammy’s afraid of Trixie. How cute!” They stopped laughing when he stomped down on the thing and snapped its back. He could still hear the dull crunch. His father beat him for that. “What’s wrong with you?” he yelled. No one seemed to understand. The per-verted little thing was assaulting him. It was self-defense.

“Hi, baby.”

Hilary walked up the bleacher. She sat beside Sam and slid her hand down his thigh to his knee. Her nails made a zipping sound along synthetic fabric of his breakaway pants. She kissed him on the cheek.

“How come you’re not playing with the boys?” she said.

“Where’ve you been?” Sam asked. He readied himself for one of her lies.

“Downstairs. I said it was okay for people to have the drop party at the pool. How was the market? Did it make you feel better?”

“Saw your boyfriend.”

Hilary pulled her hand off his knee. “Why do you say things like that?”

Sam laughed. “Relax, baby. It was a joke.”

“I hate it,” she said, her eyebrows digging down deep.

Just what he needed, Hilary pissed at him. He took her hand and put it back on his knee. He touched her face with his other hand and turned it toward him with a little force.

She kept her eyebrows angry and her lips tight. She was playing angry, another lie.

“You don’t like jokes?” he said.

“Not funny, Sam. Just not funny,” she said, doing her vulnerable act. There was still no one hotter than her. Sam leaned in to kiss her but stopped. There was a one-inch smudge of filth on the underside of her jaw. He swiped it with his finger.

“What is this?” he said.

He looked at the dirt on the pad of his forefinger. She looked at it too. Dirt and grime were prevalent in McKinley, but not on Hilary. She was always clean, made up, and smelling sweet.

“It looks like dirt, Sam.”

“It was on your face,” he said, his words heating up.

“Okay, so?” Hilary said, then let out an exasperated breath.

“When are you going to stop acting like this?” She was avoiding the question. She was covering for something. She was lying and lying and lying.

Hilary lowered her voice. “You’re starting to freak people out.”

Someone was laughing. Sam snapped his head toward the gym floor where Alan’s half-assed game was under way. His team was huddled near the basketball foul line. Alan was braying like a donkey over some joke. He hated Alan’s laugh.

Sam caught his eye from fifty feet away. That sort of thing didn’t happen accidentally. Alan was talking about him. He knew it.

“Would ya come on and play, Cappy?” Alan shouted over the gym. He was trying to cover his ass.

“Go,” Hilary said, a little anxiety in her voice. “They need you, Sam.”

Sam didn’t move. Alan sighed and waved him off, pulling the ball up and nodding to the rest to get started. His boys talked to each other and smiled. They weren’t talking about the game. Who cared about games anymore? They all had their little plans for him that they’d kick off when the moment was right.

They didn’t think he had it in him anymore. He could still feel the fingernails of those Scraps tearing at him. They never would have stopped if David hadn’t called them off. David. As long as David and his gang were walking the halls, no one would forget that Sam had crumbled when it mattered.

“Who’s Alan’s girl?” Sam said.

“Roberta Fennessey,” Hilary said.

“Have her dump him.”


“We’ll hook her up with one of my sophomores.”

“I can’t do that. She likes Alan. They like each other.”

“Do it.”

“No,” Hilary said. Her tone was firm. Sam looked at her.

She’d betrayed him. He didn’t know how, but she’d done something. He was slipping. He was asking for her betrayal.

He was asking for a coup. Nobody feared him like they used to, back in the early days, after he’d disposed of Danny Liner.

His tangle with Bobby in the market meant nothing to them.

They all saw it as a desperate move.

“Fine,” he said.

Sam stood up. He picked up an aluminum baseball bat. He never went without it in the gym. You could never be too careful. He stepped down the bleachers, reaching the gym floor in five long strides.

“Sam?” he heard Hilary say distantly.

Anthony had just run a touchdown for his team. Alan was acting as his quarterback.

“YES!” Alan shouted, and raised his fists to celebrate. His offensive line was a good ten feet in front of him after the play. Alan turned toward the bleachers, smiling toward where Sam had just sat. His smile bent down when he saw Sam charging him.

Sam smashed his aluminum bat across Alan’s face.

Alan dropped to the floor. He writhed at Sam’s feet. Alan groaned. He was disoriented, reaching for his head, trying to understand what had happened. Blood spouted from his ear.

He clawed at the air in front of him.

Sam heard the shouts behind him. He heard Hilary crying out for him to stop. Sam raised the bat over his head and brought it down again. He felt Alan’s face give way. Blood and teeth flew. Alan barely looked like Alan by the third swing.

He was dead by the sixth. But Sam didn’t stop until the tenth.

It was an awful mess. He dropped the bat, and it clanged onto the hardwood floor beside Alan’s collapsed face.

Sam turned to the gathered crowd. The Pretty Ones buried their faces in the sleeves of their Varsity boyfriends. None of them dared to meet his gaze. He saw the fear in their faces now.

It had to be done.


DAVID SNUCK INTO THE MARKET. EVERY light was off. Every trading post door was closed and locked. There was no bustle, no hocking of goods, no fighting. Everyone was gone.

The sounds of his own shoes scuffing the floor made him tense up. If anybody happened upon him, even just a few Skaters, they could overpower him and hold him for ransom.

Stupid. The Loners would either have to bend to them, maybe give up all their food as a payoff, or they’d have to fight to get him back. Either way he’d be dragging everybody down, just because he couldn’t control himself.

Hilary wanted him back. That was all he could think about.

He still fantasized about her, maybe not as much as he used to, but every time he saw her he couldn’t help but remember the feel of her hands on his chest, the sweet smell of her neck just below her ear. And now, after all this time, she wanted to meet. Alone. At night. He’d been wishing for something like this for so long.

She’s psychotic.

Those were Lucy’s words. He’d never forgotten them. Lucy described such a vindictive, nasty Hilary, one that he had no memory of. Psychotic sort of matched the Hilary he’d seen shaving Belinda’s head, and enjoying it. It definitely fit the girl he saw savagely attack Lucy on the quad.


How could anyone attack Lucy? She was so good. So kind.

David understood now why Will thought she was so amazing.

She had such an easy way about her, so disarming, so beautiful. He always felt relaxed around her. As time had passed, David had become more at ease about what happened at the graduation booth with Brad. Brad’s death was a horrible thing, but David shuddered to think what could have happened if he hadn’t intervened. He felt violent at the thought of someone trying to hurt Lucy and damaging such a pure spirit. If he had to live it over, he wouldn’t do any different.

He’d kill Brad all over again if that’s what it took to keep her safe.

David reached the door to the Pretty Ones’ trading post. He reached out to knock on the door but paused.

Was this really what he wanted? He’d built a gang. He’d come back from being entirely forgotten and had become a real force in the school. And now he was thinking about hopping into bed with the girl who’d treated some of his gang like dirt? If Lucy ever found out . . .

It didn’t matter what Lucy thought. He’d wanted this for almost a year and a half.

David gave the door a soft knock and stepped back. She might not have shown. Maybe she’d chickened out. That would settle it. David’s eyes wandered up to a sprinkler pipe above him. It was the same pipe Sam had hung him from.

The door clicked open. Hilary peeked out from the crack between the door and the door frame.

“Hey,” David said.

Hilary threw the door open and grabbed David by his belt buckle. She yanked him into the candlelit classroom. He closed the door behind him and barely had a chance to lock it before she swung him over to a teacher’s desk.

“Whoa, easy,” David said.

Hilary didn’t say anything. She was all over him. She kissed him. She tore at his shirt. It was his good flannel shirt, and he tried to stop her. She pushed his hands away. She wrapped her legs around him, and her hands locked around the back of his neck. The candles were dim, so he could barely see her face.

“Slow down,” he whispered in her ear. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. He wanted to savor every moment, he had been craving this for so long. He wanted it to be like it used to be, back in his room, before everything went to hell.

“I need you right now,” Hilary said. She tugged at his belt, trying to unfasten it. Just go with it, David told himself. Here she is, in your arms again. What the hell are you complaining about?

He slipped her dress up and held her firm thighs, pulling them closer to him.

“Mmmmmm,” she moaned, and closed her eyes. “I missed you so much,” she whispered. She managed to get his belt loose and was working on the top button of his jeans. He was kissing her neck, searching for that sweet spot. She didn’t smell the same as he remembered. Maybe he had it confused with something else . . . with Lucy, when they were in the elevator, her arm over him, so close, so warm. She would never forgive him if she found out about Hilary.

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