The Loners

Page 31

Will was swimming for the side of the pool. He tore through the water with long, hard strokes.

“Where are you going?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Another surprise?”

How many surprises could he have? Will pulled himself out of the pool. His wet boxers clung to him. Will knelt down by his clothes and reached his hand into the pocket of his jeans.

Lucy did a little kick in the water and glided left to get a better view of what he was getting.

Will stood up, his fist closed around something. They locked eyes across the water. Will smiled. Lucy watched his closed hand as he walked back to the pool. What was he holding? It had to be a condom.

Oh, no. She shouldn’t have gotten down to her underwear so fast. Should she not have smiled at him like that? Did she make him think she wanted him? He eased back into the water.

Lucy’s heart fluttered. She took a deep breath to steady herself. Will waded toward her, the water lapping against his chest. He stared at her with purpose. She shouldn’t have let him tickle her. This was happening too fast. Her mind flashed with the question, If Will did try something right then, would she let him? She wasn’t sure. Will’s hands rose out of the water. Draped between them was a glittering gold necklace with a diamond pendant. She wanted to go back underwater.

“What’s this?”

Will didn’t speak. He leaned close, his cheek touched hers as he fastened the clasp of the necklace behind her neck.

“I just like you so much . . . ,” Will said.

Lucy couldn’t breathe. All she wanted was to have a little fun. This was much more serious to Will. He moved his mouth toward hers, his lips beginning to part.

I’ll only hurt him, she thought. Lucy lowered her head just as Will’s nose touched hers. He tried to reach her lips. She turned away. Oh, God. What had she done?

Will stayed frozen, mouth open, as if he didn’t want the moment to be real. She saw the hope in his eyes die. It was replaced with a naked embarrassment. He shrank away from her. The water felt too cold all of a sudden.

“I’m sorry,” Lucy said. She didn’t know what else to say.



If his messy hookup with Hilary had taught him anything, it was that he was lucky to have so many people around him that he trusted. There definitely weren’t any Loners asking him to murder someone. They were his family, and he was proud. It was time to celebrate them.

David walked down to the lounge where people had gathered for breakfast and a morning screening of a National Geographic video on Will’s flat screen. He passed Gonzalo and the twins sitting on the stairs, eating a black bean breakfast. The twins were mashing their beans into a paste and spreading it onto crackers they pulled from their pockets.

He noticed that the crackers had green fur on them. Gonzalo groaned.

“Damn! How long have those been in your pockets?” Gonzalo said.

“A while,” the girl said.

“They went bad,” Gonzalo said. “Don’t eat that shit.”

“If they was black, they gone bad,” the boy said.

“If it’s black, send it back. If it’s got fuzz, eat it just becuz,” the girl said, then giggled. The boy guffawed through a mouth of beans and crackers and mold.

“Will y’all get the hell outta here?” Gonzalo growled. “You’re ruining my breakfast.”

The twins laughed at Gonzalo even harder this time, then picked up their breakfast and headed upstairs, arm in arm.

David smiled. He liked the twins. They were dirty, rank, and weird as hell, but they stuck together. Half of David’s gang was weird. There was Drew; he would take off running at the drop of a hat, and people would have to chase him down to bring him back. There was Sal, who’d eat anything on a dare.

David had seen him eat belts, drywall, feathers, and one of Ritchie’s scabs. And of course, there was Vincent; he was a compulsive liar. It was harmless stuff, but fun to listen to. He claimed he’d knocked out a cow with one punch. Evidently, his father was the personal drug dealer to the vice president of the United States. And once he’d been run over by a tank.

The Loners were about as far you could get from David’s old football friends, but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

David moved to the center of the crowded landing and put his arms up, “Hey, everybody! Can I get your ears for a minute?” All the chattering went quiet. Someone clicked off the TV

just as a grizzly bear snagged a jumping salmon.

“Everybody here has worked really hard to turn the Loners into respectable presence in this school. We’ve made a name for ourselves. We fight like a team, and because of that nobody’s hungry . . . well, you might be hungry, but nobody’s starving.”

They all laughed eagerly.

“We’ve got a safe place to sleep at night. We can defend ourselves. And every single one of you is going to graduate, because every single one of you is committed to the gang.

You’ve changed my life, and I want to say thank you. We’re going to have to hustle a little harder at the next drop to make up for the expense, but I struck a deal with the Geeks this morning, and . . . you’re all going to the Geek show tomorrow night.”

Ecstatic cheers cut David off. He raised his hands to try to quiet everyone down.

“And . . . I’m waiting to hear back from the Nerds on their phone supply, but we should be able to strike a deal this after-noon. There probably won’t be enough for everybody right away, but we’ll get there, okay?”

More shouts of approval.

“So, here’s the only bummer. Tomorrow night, we’re going to have to do shifts for the Geek show. Just like on market days, one group is going to have to stay behind to guard the Stairs, but then we’ll rotate through the night, so everybody gets an equal—”

“Everybody but you, right?” Will said.

David stopped. Will walked up from the first floor. He leaned against the banister and ran his hand through his frizzed-dry hair. Lucy was behind him on the stairs, hesitating for some reason. Her hair was as rumpled as Will’s. What were they just doing together? He felt a stab of jealousy.

“Where’ve you been?” David asked Will.

“Don’t act like you didn’t hear the question. Tell the truth.

Everybody has to work a shift but you, right? Isn’t that the way it goes for King David? We all hustle while you get to take everything—”

“Will, stop,” Lucy said.

“You know what?” David said to Will. “I don’t care where you’ve been. Maybe it’s best if you just go back there.” Will turned away from David and addressed the gang.

“Don’t believe a thing this guy says. His whole ‘I put you first’ act, it’s fake. He acts like he only thinks about you, but I know from personal experience that when everything goes to shit and you need him, he won’t be there.” David couldn’t believe his ears. Where did he get the nerve?

“Screw you, man. You lived off me this whole time! I do everything for you!” David said.

Will stormed up to David.

“Oh, really? Where were you when Mom died?!” Will said.

Will’s face was nearly purple, and it was strained. He might seize. David didn’t care.

“She died on me too!” David said. “What, you’re the only one who gets to hide in your room and cry like a little baby? You’re an idiot. I had a life that had nothing to do with you, and you know what? I liked it.”

Will applauded sarcastically.

“Thank you! Thank you for showing everyone what you’re really like.”

David stomped toward Will. He was going to break his nose.

But Ritchie got to him first, standing on his toes to get in Will’s face.

“What are you talking about, huh? David busts his ass for this gang!”

“Get out of my face, Ritchie. I’m talking to my brother,” Will said.

“No, you’re talking to our leader, and none of us want to hear any of it, you little punk.”

“Who you calling little, midget? Get out of my way.” Will pushed past Ritchie, but Ritchie shoved him after he passed.

Will spun around, furious. He shoved Ritchie back. Ritchie lost his footing at the edge of the landing and toppled down the stairs. People rushed to the edge. A girl screamed. David pushed his way through the crowd and grasped Will by the shirt.

David cocked back his fist.

“No!” Lucy yelled. “Please stop!”

Both brothers turned to see Lucy watching them. Her eyes were wide and pleading. David let go of Will. Everyone was watching them.

David scowled at Will. “You’re not going to the Geek show, and you’re on guard duty for a week.”

“How about a month?”

“Done,” David said, and turned to the other Loners. “Fights within this gang won’t be tolerated. You heard it right now.

Punishment is guard duty for a month. We’ve got nothing if we’re not together.”

David walked away from Will.


“SORRY, GUYS, YOU’RE GONNA HAVE TO check your weapons.”

Ritchie, who had a nasty new gash scabbing up across his forehead, sneered at the Geek like he was crazy.

“It’s okay,” David said to Ritchie and the mob of Loners behind him. One by one, the gang piled their weapons high on the table in front of the well-guarded box office, and each Loner received a claim ticket in return. By the end of five minutes, the counter was overloaded with blades, spears, chains, pipes, slingshots, and wire knuckles. What the Geeks didn’t know was that hidden somewhere on each Loner were at least two shivs.

Someone was going to kill David tonight at the Geek show.

That was the rumor. According to the Skaters, Bobby was losing his cool after being publicly embarrassed by Sam. He may have been scared of Sam when he was in the market, but when Bobby got back to Freak territory, David bet he was more scared of what his own gang might do to him. Bobby had to show the school that they should fear Jackal. Offing David would definitely get the message across.

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