The Loners

Page 33

“So . . . hey, what are you guys up to?” Lucy arched her eyebrow at Ritchie.

“You know what? Never mind. Pretend I’m not here,” Ritchie said, backing away.

When Ritchie was finally gone, Lucy squeezed David’s hand.

“So, do we have a deal or what?”

“A deal?”

“Are you going to just enjoy yourself tonight? The world’s not going to end if you have a little fun.” David took in the auditorium. He didn’t see one person who was having a bad time. If kids could mingle across gang lines here, why didn’t they all the time? He wondered if the school could ever be like this every day.

“All right,” he said. He turned to her. “Deal.” Lucy jumped and clapped her hands. She pulled him over to a concession stand that served juice. To compensate for their smaller claims on the quad, Varsity had started selling what was once reserved only for their own drop parties: their homemade apple juice hooch.

“Two cups, please.”

Lucy slid two tickets across the table, and the Geek at the stand served up two tin cans full.

Lucy raised her can up to David’s.

“To a great night,” she said.

“You drink?” David said.

“Not really, but if I’m asking you to cut loose, well, I guess I can’t be a hypocrite.”

David liked that. He raised his tin can.

“To a great night,” he said, and they each took a swig. It burned going down.

“WHOOF!” Lucy yelped. She had to cover her mouth to force herself to swallow. She fluttered her fingers and did a little dance to help it go down. She finally managed and crumbled into David. “What is in that stuff?”

“Good old-fashioned moonshine, mixed with apple juice.”

“Moonshine? Is Huckleberry Finn in Varsity?” David laughed.

“Yeah, moonshine. Anthony Smith used to bring it on the bus to celebrate after we won away games. It’s just sugar and yeast, and you distill it, I think. If Varsity can do it, it must be easy.”

“You mean, it’s sugar, yeast, and fire. I can’t feel my throat.”

“Me neither. That means it’s working,” David said, and took another swig.

The juice made him buoyant. Anxiety slipped away. David reached out to take Lucy’s arm, but somehow they ended up hugging. She felt so good in his arms. He didn’t want to let go.

The night became a dazzling blur. The colors, the sparklers, the flames. David held close to Lucy. Her laugh was fast and childlike. She had one pointy tooth that only showed when she smiled all the way. Her fingers would graze the inside of his wrist. They shared more juice. Wandering performers interacted with the crowd in spontaneous dramatic scenes.

At a game booth run by art Geeks, kids could pay one ticket to take whacks at papier-mâché sculptures of soldiers in haz-mat suits. David demolished one as Lucy cheered. They stumbled from spontaneous sing-alongs to dance perfor-mances to poetry slams. One Geek took his clothes off and streaked through the auditorium. The music thumped.

The houselights flashed, signaling everyone to their seats.

David and Lucy were ushered to the best seats in the place, a gift from Zachary. As they settled in and the lights went down, Lucy slid her fingers between his. The curtain parted, and the stage lit up. Zachary took the stage to begin the school’s most popular ongoing play, Sunday Morning.

David was surprised to discover that Zachary was a fine actor. His grandiose personal flourishes didn’t exist onstage.

He was completely in character. He was Paul, a normal kid from the suburbs, on a lazy Sunday morning. Paul went to the grocery store; he read a book; he walked his dog. David understood why McKinley students never tired of dipping into Paul’s world. It was a world with no threats, no danger, nothing but real-world leisure and everyday chores, the things that they ached to be bored by again.

He let himself be carried away by the delicate world onstage.

Paul was David. David was Paul. And nothing mattered anymore. He wasn’t in McKinley. He was in Paul’s living room, then in Paul’s backyard, under the open sky.

“Lucy,” David whispered.

“Yes, David,” Lucy said, her head on his shoulder.

“Is there anything between you and Will?” Her head lifted up.

“I . . . Will is just a friend,” she said.

While David could still feel the breeze of Paul’s world on his face, he leaned over and gave Lucy a soft, slow kiss.


WILL WANTED TO VOMIT. HE WATCHED DAVID kiss Lucy. His lips against her lips. His tongue digging into her mouth. Her hand was on her chest, covering the necklace Will gave her. He hated the look on Lucy’s face; she was in heaven.

Her eyes were closed, and she coiled her arms around David’s body. David held her face in his hands.

“Hey, man,” someone rapped their knuckles on the back of his head. Will spun around. It was Ritchie. He looked at Will, totally astonished. “What the hell are you doing, Will?” he said, then lowered his voice to a fierce whisper. “You’re supposed to be on guard duty.”

Will didn’t have an answer. He looked down where David and Lucy were seated. Lucy was resting her head on David’s shoulder.

Will found it hard to breathe. The auditorium was immense, but it felt like it was pressing down on him. He broke away from Ritchie and pushed past a Geek guard. Will bolted out a fire door into the raked hall that ran the length of the auditorium.

The guard took off after him and shouted to a cluster of costumed drama Geeks at the end of the hall to stop him. Before they could react, Will blasted through them like bowling pins.

He ran past dressing rooms, catching a fleeting glimpse of a make-out session in one, a pile of ragged costumes in another, and in the third,he saw a momentary reflection of himself in a full-length mirror, the biggest mirror he’d ever seen intact.

It would have been worth a fortune in the market.

Will careened into art studios. A shirtless guy poured black paint over his face, then rubbed his head against a bedsheet that was stretched across the wall. Will slipped on some paint and slammed his body against the sharp corner of a metal table, cutting open his lower back. He shouted in pain and kept running. He blazed past wire sculptures, reconstituted furniture, graffitied canvases, and finally a series of charcoal drawings. They were head and shoulders portraits of the old faculty members, but in all of the drawings, they were vomiting blood.

“Get that guy!” A mob of Geeks burst into the workshop.

“You get him, I’m trying to work!” the shirtless guy snapped back.

Will was already out of the room. As he sprinted down the hall and rounded the corner, the Geeks’ shouts faded. A minute later he skidded into the foyer of the school. It was empty.

He couldn’t run anymore; he wasn’t out of breath, he was heartbroken. He dragged himself to an out of the way corner and sat underneath a shattered window. Will gritted his teeth so hard he thought they would crumble.

David knew how Will felt, and he’d stabbed him in the heart anyway. It was revenge, pure and simple, cold and calculated.

Will’s eyes overflowed. He tried to wipe the tears away, but more kept dripping out.

Will could finally see how much his brother hated him.

David had held it in for so long, but now it was all out in the open. And the worst was that Lucy meant nothing to David either. He’d just led her on with his quarterback bullshit act, so she could never, ever really consider Will. That’s what happened at the pool, when Lucy pulled away from him. She just saw David’s little brother in front of her, the virgin from the trail. David just had to have it all. He always got it all. He was the star. Will kicked the window frame.

He wished Smudge had never told him to go.

An hour before, Will had been stationed at the third-floor door to the Stairs. Everyone had gone to the show, mostly everyone anyway, just Will and a skeleton crew of kids remained in the Stairs, guarding the exits. He was in the middle of telling himself how unfair it all was when he heard a whisper echo in from the other side of the door.

“It’s Smudge.”

Will stayed quiet. He trotted over to the stairs and leaned over the railing to make sure the guards below didn’t hear. He didn’t see anyone. He hurried back to the door.

“It’s about Lucy. Lemme in,” Smudge said.

Will narrowed his eyes. He was curious. He pushed the barricade back just enough so that he could pull the door open a crack. Smudge was right outside, staring back at him.

Smudge’s nose was plagued with blackheads. Smudge looked grave. It didn’t suit him. It only made him look uglier.

“I saw something tonight. Something I thought you should know about.”

Smudge told him that he had seen David with Lucy at the Geek show. He said they were all over each other, for everyone to see. Will didn’t believe him, but the longer Smudge talked and the more details he supplied, the more afraid Will got.

“Trust me, Will. I’ve watched a lot of people make out. I know what it looks like when two people are about to mash lips.

This was, like, a half step away. Who knows what they’re doing now?”

The thought of David and Lucy kissing made Will even more ill than realizing that Smudge probably spent hours watching the Pretty Ones from that air vent in the pool room. Probably jerking off.

“He ain’t your friend,” Smudge continued, “I’m your friend, man. What pisses me off is that you’ve been so loyal to that asshole. I mean, you could’ve come with me the day of that food drop, but you didn’t. You stuck with him because you guys are brothers.”

Will punched the door.

“I’m sorry, man, I shouldn’t have told you.”

“No,” Will said. “You did the right thing.” That’s when Smudge offered to cover for him on guard duty for ten minutes. And Will ran all the way to the auditorium.

And then he saw them. All over each other. Licking inside each other’s mouths. He wanted to die.

Will stood up. His tears were dry now. He knew what he needed to do.

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