The Loners

Page 32

The PA system squawked to life, and a booming voice addressed the school.

“Geek show! Geek show! You don’t want to miss this one.

Get your butt to the auditorium before we run out of tickets.” David had made a promise to his gang, and he wasn’t going to back down now.

The Loners proceeded into the auditorium, and David scanned the light rigging for any ominous figures. Colored lights and flashing strobes made it impossible to tell for sure.

He’d heard of Freak kids trying to perfect bow and arrows.

He didn’t want to find out those rumors were true tonight.

David let his eyes wander over the spectacle before him.

It was nothing like the dismal gray that lurked outside the doors behind him. The air smelled fresh somehow. The Geeks had frosted the tips of their hair with acrylic paint from the art studios. He saw turquoise, magenta, and tangerine, rare colors for McKinley. He had forgotten how big the auditorium really was. It’d been built to house the entirety of the student body and the faculty for school events for decades to come. A red-curtained proscenium stage, bathed in golden light, took up the entire far wall. Between the stage and where David stood were fifty rows of raked seating. Interspersed along both walls were small, makeshift tents. In front of each tent was a Geek barking the surprises and entertainment that waited within.

It was a carnival, and to David’s disbelief, it looked like kids had not only checked their weapons at the door, but also their affiliation. He’d never seen anything like it, probably because he’d never had the opportunity to go to a Geek show before.

It put him on edge. Everyone mixed freely with each other.

An assassination seemed more feasible than he’d imagined before. He noticed Varsity members and Pretty Ones scattered through the room. A Freak gave him a hateful look. All through the crowd David saw potential threats, enemies pretending to be amused by the extravaganza.

“Stay close,” David said to Ritchie, who signaled to the rest of the Loners.

David heard a high-pitched scream and feet rushing toward him. He pivoted his body and dug in, ready for anything. Anything except a hug. It was Zachary. He wore a blazing orange Marie Antoinette wig, tall as a top hat and full of decorative curls.

“Well, look how far he’s come!”

Ritchie grabbed Zachary’s shirt and swung him off David.

“Hey, hands off!”

A throng of Geeks broke out of the crowd, and they promptly surrounded the Loners. David put his hands up to calm the situation.

“Whoa, whoa, all a mistake! Let’s be cool,” David said.

Ritchie held out his hands. They were covered in a glitter that shimmered with every flash of the lights. Zachary righted himself with a sneer and straightened his black shirt, which was covered in the same stuff, a powder of crushed glass bonded to the fabric with a weak glue. Sparkles sprinkled onto the floor all around him.

“What is this crap?” Ritchie said.

“Fashion, moron. And that before is called a hug. You cave-men don’t get out much, do you?”

“We’re a little rusty,” David said. “But if I recall correctly, partying is like riding a bike, isn’t it?” Zachary smiled and waved for his Geeks to relax. He winked one eye and wagged his finger at David.

“If you didn’t spend like a drunk stepmom, I’d throw you right out of here, Davey-pie,” he said, and then waved his hand around at the tents. “So here’s the deal. The main show and sideshows are free, but games and goodies cost tickets. We’ve got a couple lovely girls over there who will gladly relieve you of whatever you’d like to trade for a roll of tickets.” Zachary clapped his hands, and one of the Geeks tossed a large roll of tickets to David.

“Here’s a few on the house.”

“Hey, you shouldn’t have,” David said dryly, passing them back to Ritchie.

“I know. I really shouldn’t have, but hey, we’re going to rob you blind tonight anyway. Have fuuuuun, Loners!” With a twirl and a sweep of his hands, Zachary led his crew on to the next gang of customers. David smiled. Even with a death threat looming over his head, it was hard not to find Zachary’s mood infectious. Since forming the Loners, David had paid close attention to the leaders who had gained the true respect of his gang. Zachary was one of them, and he admired his style.

David turned to his gang mates. Eighty of them had come, and twelve had stayed behind at the Stairs. All of them were salivating over a different Geek show attraction. They were dying to cut loose.

“Okay,” David said. “I need five volunteers for a security team, and we’ll rotate it. That’s it. Everybody else, go hang out. Somebody better have some fun, or this going to be one pricey downer.”

Five people stepped forward to stick with David, and the rest scattered like mice let out of a cage. A band playing on a tiny homemade stage kicked into a song. A small crowd gathered around. The band used traditional instruments together with handmade ones. Tubas and violins harmonized with desktop wood blocks and nails being scraped down chalkboards. There was a stand-up bass made out of stripped electrical wires and a desk drawer. The clash of sounds made a harmonious racket.

Lucy was dancing by herself right up front. There were a hundred different things you could do at the Geek show, but all David wanted to do was watch Lucy dance. “You should dance with her,” Ritchie said. “Before I do.”

“You’re not dancing with her.”

“I am if you keep hesitating. Seriously,” Ritchie said, moving his head in unison with Lucy’s butt, “I want that thing to live on my face.”

David laughed. He felt like a goon, standing with five other goons, ogling her.

“I’ll be right back.”

“Yeah.” Ritchie nodded slowly.

“And look at something else, will ya?”

“Just trying to keep you safe, Dave.”

David navigated past dancing kids. He felt acutely aware of how hard he was trying to act casual. He sidled up to Lucy and stared at the band, as if that was the real reason he was there.

He bopped his head. He tried to shuffle his feet to the beat, but he felt like an idiot. He wasn’t a dancer. He glanced over at her as she rotated her hips.

“Have you ever been to a Geek show?” David projected loudly.

The band stopped playing, and the second half of his question echoed out over the lull. They put down their instruments and took a break.

“Hmm?” Lucy said.

“I said, have you—”



He didn’t expect to feel awkward around Lucy. But he did.

“Will you show me around?” David said.

“Are you dating Hilary?” Lucy said.

“Whoa,” David said, and reeled. “Where did that come from?

I mean, I used to date her.”

“I saw you with her at the market,” she said.

“Oh, uh . . . okay, well, I did talk to Hilary, but we are most definitely not dating.”

Lucy bit her lip and considered David as if he was lying.

Maybe he’d left some stuff out, but he wasn’t really lying. He gave her a reassuring smile. Lucy had really done her home-work. He didn’t know she was keeping tabs on him.

“Come on,” she said, then hooked her hand around his arm and pulled him off into the rest of the crowd. Her hand was light but firmly nestled into the crook of his elbow. As she pulled him past a cluster of Freaks, David felt a surge of anxiety. He looked back at the Loners fading from view. They were struggling to catch up, but Lucy was moving quickly. He suddenly felt out of control. Who was watching him now? Did he just bring Lucy into the line of fire?

“Actually,” David said, “we should stick by the guys in case—”

“They’ll catch us eventually,” she said.

Lucy placed her other hand on his arm too and pulled David away from Ritchie and the security detail. They came to a comedian who paced on a rectangle of six milk crates. A small crowd was gathered around him. The kid was painfully short and had a face like a bulldog. Given how he looked, being funny was his only option.

The comedian’s eyes lit up when he saw David.

“Uh-oh, look who it is,” he said. “Does anyone have any zit creme? I got some whiteheads I need to get rid of.” The crowd chuckled. David didn’t. He moved to leave, but Lucy tugged him back. She was giggling.

“Hey, what do you call it when two Loners stand together?” David looked up at the guy.

“I call it my future wife and . . . some loser.” More laughs. The comedian mouthed the words I love you to Lucy, and he got a cheap laugh out of the crowd.

“I’m just joking, David. No hard feelings, right? I’m glad you’re here. I got a stain on my boxer shorts. Got a second?” The crowd laughed hard at that one. David pushed out a strained smile. Lucy’s hand was shaking on his arm. David looked over to see that her face was red from trying to hold in her giggling. She couldn’t stop.

“Oh, come on,” Lucy said, tugging him away from the comedian. “It was a joke. You can’t take a joke?”

“Hey, if it’s funny, I’m the first one to laugh.”

“Ooh, I think he touched a nerve.”

“Pssh, are you kidding me? I love thinking about all the mornings I spent trying to scrub blood off of some kid I hate’s sleeve with a toothbrush.”

Lucy looked unsure as to how to respond. David meant it to be sarcastic, but it came out angry.

“That’s just not what I am anymore,” David said.

“David, do you ever relax?”

“What do you mean?”

“You never take a break. You’ve already done more for all of us than anyone could have expected you to. Take the night off, for crying out loud. Let Ritchie do the worrying, because he already is anyway.”

Lucy motioned behind David, and he turned to see Ritchie less than ten feet away. He was shadowing them, and he knew he was busted. Ritchie strode up to them.

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