The Loners

Page 29

Shut up.

“Don’t stop,” Hilary said. He didn’t realize he had. She managed to get his pants unbuttoned. She slid her fingers down inside. Her hand was cold, but it felt amazing. David hadn’t been with anyone since Hilary. But Hilary had. She’d been with Sam. It turned his stomach.

David pushed Hilary away, which forced her to plant her feet on the ground.

“What are you doing?” she said.

David buttoned his pants and stepped away from the desk.

He didn’t know what to say.


“I need a second,” he said. “What are we doing here?”

“This,” she said. She pressed herself into him, and went in for an openmouthed kiss. He pulled his head away.

They stared at each other for a moment. Tears gathered on her eyelashes and twinkled in the light of the candles.

“Don’t cry,” David said.

“Sam killed Alan today.”


“He killed him. For no reason. He just beat his face with a . . .” She couldn’t go on, she was sobbing too hard. She pushed away from David. A shiver came over David. Alan. Out of all of Varsity, why Alan? He was one of the most cheerful kids David had ever met.

“Alan’s dead?” he said again. It didn’t feel possible.

Hilary collapsed into a chair, lifting her feet up onto the seat and tucking her knees underneath her chin. David pulled a chair around to face her and sat down. He leaned forward, placing his hands on her legs.

“Sam’s lost it. Ever since you beat him on the quad, he’s been worse. He thinks everybody’s out to get him. I’m trying to act like everything’s okay for the Pretty Ones, but I’m scared.

When’s he gonna swing that baseball bat at me?” Hilary sobbed again. This wasn’t what he wanted. He thought they’d talk about their feelings. She’d tell him everything she’d felt about him for the past year and a half, and he’d do the same. He never thought it would be this.

“He’s made me do so many awful things. Things I never would have done.”

“Why did you do them?” David said. It sounded cold, but he needed to know. She looked at him like she was offended.

“You don’t know what it’s been like.”

“I think I do,” David said. “He tried to hang me.”

“Well, we all can’t be as noble as you, David.”

“That’s a cop-out.”

“I had to survive, David!” Hilary said. David realized that she had probably never said any of this to anyone. “And he was my boyfriend.”

“He’s not anymore?”

“It’s complicated.”

“He kills people. And lets others starve. Why would you stay with him?” David said.

“You kill people too.”

That got David’s anger up.

“Maybe this was a bad idea,” David said.

Hilary stared at the door.

“I don’t know what to do,” she said finally.

The excitement he had felt walking into this room had died.

This wasn’t the girl he lost back at Sam’s party. Or maybe it was, but the feeling was gone. They didn’t belong together.

But he still cared for her. He didn’t want her to live in fear.

“Do you want to join the Loners?” David asked.

“You could kill him,” she said. “I could sneak you in. You could take over Varsity. I’d support you. I have the girls.

Everything would be okay. We could be like we were.” David stared at her. He couldn’t believe she’d just said all that. Who was this girl? She dumps him, acts like he’s invisible all this time, and then asks him to kill her boyfriend?

“I’m not going murder anybody, Hilary.”

“Why not? After everything he’s done to you? After everything he’s done to everybody,” Hilary got angry. “He’ll do it to you. He’s going to kill you!”

“Well, it sounds like he’s really going someplace.” Hilary stood up. She jabbed her finger at him like a knife.

“You’re an idiot. I’m giving you a chance to change things, David. Everybody could start over!”

“I already have started over.”

Hilary shook her head and pushed open the door.

“I’m sorry,” David said. And he was.

She slipped out into the hall and was gone. David let out a long breath.

“Oh, man . . . ,” he said to himself. “That went well.” David leaned back and ran his fingers through his hair.

He stared at the ceiling. If there was anything to be said for McKinley High, it was that, with enough time, it revealed the truth about everybody.



This was the moment of truth. He looked back at Lucy. She smiled at him. But it wasn’t her full smile. He knew what Lucy looked like when she was truly happy, and this wasn’t it. He hadn’t planned on taking her out tonight. He hadn’t even checked out what was in the locker yet. He was going to do that tomorrow. But earlier in the night, when Lucy gave him the book on Alexander the Great, he knew he couldn’t wait.

She’d told him that Alexander had conquered the ancient world even though he had epilepsy. She wanted to inspire Will, she believed in him, and that meant she really cared about him. Will couldn’t hold it in. He told her he had a surprise for her, but they’d have to sneak out again. She didn’t want to go at first, but he’d convinced her.

Tonight was the night he would make his move.

As he lifted the locker’s handle, he panicked. What if there was nothing inside? What if this was all a big practical joke by Smudge? He didn’t know what could be in there. Maybe a map to another location? A ring of keys that unlocked a door that no one else could get through? He took a big breath.

“What’s wrong?” Lucy said.

“Nothing,” Will said. He swung the locker open.

There was a giant hole in the back of the locker.

The metal back wall of the locker had been bent inward, and a hole had been knocked through the drywall behind.

There was darkness beyond. Lucy gasped.

“What is this?” Lucy asked.

“I said it was a surprise, didn’t I?” Will said.

He hoped she bought that. This was way better than he hoped. It was taking everything he had to hide his shock.

“Ready?” Will said.

“I think so. Where does it go?”

“You’ll see.”

He took her hand. He stepped into the locker and through the ragged hole. Will led her into the black void on the other side. He clicked his phone on, and its thin light revealed that they were in an interstitial space between the wall of lockers and the load-bearing concrete wall. It was a slim space, three feet wide. He couldn’t tell its length, it was too dark. The air smelled stale. Someone, probably Smudge, had drawn a large black arrow on the concrete wall. It pointed left.

“Will, should I be scared?”

“No way. It’s gonna be fun.”

He prayed he wasn’t wrong. He reached back through the hole and closed the locker behind them. It felt like closing a coffin from the inside. The hallway’s light barely illuminated the underside of the locker’s horizontal vents. Will got a little scared himself. They were inside the guts of the school, head-ing who knew where. He didn’t let go of Lucy’s hand. Her palm was the littlest bit damp now, just a trace of sweat.

“This way,” he said.

Will followed the arrow and pulled Lucy down the thin pas-sageway. His phone’s anemic light only revealed a few feet in front of them.

“How do you know about this?” Lucy asked.

“I know a lot of places in here you’ve probably never been to.”

“Is that so? Like what?”

“Don’t worry about it.”

Lucy chuckled. “Bullshitter.”

The passage came to an end at a drywall and stud wall, with another hole knocked through it. Again, there was only darkness beyond it.

Will stepped through the hole. By his phone’s illumination he saw a light switch on the wall. He flicked it. Bright ceiling lights sputtered on. Will and Lucy were in a small ten-by-ten-foot room with a metal access panel, sort of a hatch, in the middle of the floor. The hatch was open, revealing a maintenance shaft with a utility ladder that led down toward the basement level. The room had a single door on the far wall, but the knob was missing.

“Is this . . . it?” she asked.

“Yeah, I just wanted to show you a supercreepy room.” She rolled her eyes.

“Keep your pants on. It’ll be worth it,” he said.

He had the distinct feeling that he was digging himself deeper each time he said something like that. He was depending entirely on Smudge’s good will now, and that was less than reassuring.

“I should tell Sasha about this place. She’s always looking for a private place for her and Gonzalo to have sex,” Lucy said.

“Maybe you should. I hate having to listen to them go at it.”

“I know, right?”

Will peered down the shaft. The metal ladder extended down to a dirty concrete floor. He was getting nervous that this wasn’t leading anywhere good at all. Lucy tried to open the knobless door, but it wouldn’t budge.

“This way,” Will said.

He climbed into the maintenance shaft and took the ladder down one cold metal rung at a time.

“Don’t look up my dress,” Lucy said as she followed him onto the ladder.

He looked. But she was just a black silhouette against the light of the room above. The shaft emptied into a small hot room full of large humming machines with blinking control panels, and a network of square metal air ducts coming off them. He hopped off the ladder. He spotted another arrow.

It pointed to a square hole in the side of a low-lying air duct.

The vent cover was missing.

Lucy stepped off the ladder and took in the room. For the first time, she looked genuinely disappointed.

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