The Loners

Page 35

“You almost took that Nerd’s head off when he was operating on you. Jeezus, it was crazy.”

David tried to laugh, but he fell asleep instead.

She took my eye. That’s all David could think.

He was conscious again. He reached up and dared to feel his right eye for the first time. His fingers grazed the crusty gauze.

She took my eye, David thought again. We were a couple. My mom made her dinner twice a week. I loved her once. And she took my eye out!

He gnashed his teeth together. He was angry now. No matter how many times he thought it, it never seemed acceptable. She could have killed him if she wanted to, but no, she wanted to shame him. Scar him. Make him look weak.

Sam made her. Sam wanted all of those things, and he scared Hilary into doing it. He made her feel like she had no choice.

But she did have a choice.

David had asked her to join the Loners, leave the Pretty Ones behind. He would have protected her. She wouldn’t do it.

She wouldn’t let go of the power. David knew then that Hilary never loved him.

No one would ever mutilate someone they loved.

The rage within David felt good. It dampened the fire in his eye. He turned revenge scenarios over in his head, lying on his side, staring at his room with his one good eye. Dull light seeped through the curtain.

His room had been rearranged. A first-aid kit, bottles of water, rags, and a pile of books sat on the floor, next to his bed. A pillow lay scrunched into the corner. That was where Lucy sat when she read to him and kept him company.

She’d talked about episodes from her childhood, things about her family, random thoughts about life. One time, he remembered her singing softly to him. Some kind of folk song or something. He couldn’t remember the chorus, but her voice had been so sweet and lulling.

David’s mind traveled to the night of the Geek show. It seemed like a dream.

Lucy entered in the half-light, stepping quietly around the room so she wouldn’t disturb him.

“I’m awake,” David said.

Lucy sat down on the bed beside David.

“I need to change your bandage.”


She peeled the tape away from his face. With a damp cotton ball she gently dabbed below his eye to clean the area. David kept his good eye to the ground. He felt ashamed. How could she look at it? It had to be vile.

“It looks a lot better,” she said.

David stayed silent as Lucy unwrapped a new bandage, then used a pair of scissors to cut it into a much smaller shape.

“Thank you for treating me so well,” David said.

He looked up at her. Lucy was right there, her eyes big and loving. He missed her, even though she’d been right next to him day after day. He felt like precious moments had been stolen from them. He took her hand and held it tight. Her eyes glistened with wetness. Tears threatened to tumble out from his eyes as well. It hurt.

“I wasn’t going to lose you,” Lucy said. “I swore I wouldn’t.” David was overcome by her devotion. He was lucky to have her.

“How long have I been out?”

“Almost three weeks.”

David reeled at the thought.

“Where’s Will?”

Lucy stayed quiet.

“Just tell me he’s okay.”

“He’s okay. He just . . . decided to leave.”

“I don’t understand. Where did he go?”

“Nobody knows,” Lucy said. “He left not long after the attack, and nobody’s seen him since.”

“Nobody’s seen Will for three weeks? Where did you look?”

“There’ve been a few search parties for him, but he didn’t turn up. It’s been hard to persuade the gang to go after him.”


“Will left his post the night you were attacked. That’s how Hilary got in. Ritchie saw Will at the Geek show.” He knew what it meant. Will saw them.

“It’s my fault,” Lucy said. “You asked me if there was anything between me and Will, and it was just so complicated, I didn’t know how to put it.”

“Well, how would you put it now?”

“I may have . . . I did . . . I gave him the wrong signals, when I should have been clear. I hurt his feelings. This is all my fault.”

David hung his head. He punched his fist into the bed. Lucy jumped.

“I’m not mad at you, believe me. This is not your fault,” David said.

This was all David’s fault.

“I tried to stop him from leaving, but he wouldn’t listen,” Lucy said. “He said the Loners would never forgive him. He thought they might even try to kill him.”

“They wouldn’t.”

“Everybody was upset, David. You were in bad shape. You screamed for days straight. I just don’t think Will could take it anymore. But we’ll find him. I know we will.” Lucy finished the bandage she was cutting and lifted it to place it over David’s eye. He stopped her.

“I want to see it.”

Lucy gave David an unsure glance. “David—”

“I want to see it.”

Lucy got up, walked out of the room. She returned with a small mirror and handed it to him. He took a deep breath and then held it up to his face. His dead eye stared back at him.

It was crusted with yellow and red, and the globe itself was deflated and opaque. It looked like a steamed onion.

David lowered the mirror. He was disgusted. He felt weak.

He felt violated. He knew that’s what Sam wanted, but he couldn’t stop himself. Lucy sat down next to him again with a pleading look.

“You’re no different, David. Everybody’s waiting for you.

Everybody believes in you.”

How could he possibly think his enemies would take the night off just because he decided to?

“David,” Lucy said, trying to get his attention.

David turned to Lucy. She gazed at him, and he recognized the same affection she had in her eyes at the Geek show. He was still the same to her.

“You’re so beautiful,” he blurted out. She blushed and looked down.

He wanted her even more now than he did the night of the Geek show.

“David,” Lucy said. “There’s something else. It’s Gonzalo.

He’s graduating tomorrow.”

David laughed.

“What else are you going to tell me? Somebody stole all our food?”

Lucy didn’t laugh. David’s face dropped.

“That didn’t happen, did it?”

Lucy shook her head, then said, “You should be happy for him. He’s been a good friend. He got everybody through a tough time while you were hurt.”

Lucy took David’s hand.

“I’ll be right next to you. I’ll do whatever you need me to do.

We’re going to be okay.”

Lucy squeezed David’s hand.

“I have something for you,” she said.

Lucy reached over to the first-aid kit and plucked up a twelve-pack box of chalk. David gave it an odd look.

“Open it.”

He opened it and pulled out a white leather eye patch. He smiled.

“You made this? From your pocketbook?”

She nodded.

“Well, let’s see it on,” she said.

Lucy placed the small bandage over his eye and taped it down. She took the eye patch from David’s hand and gently placed it over the bandage. She ran her finger along the white shoelace straps, guiding them through his hair. As she tied it, her dress stretched across her curves, and her warm body pressed against his.

Lucy leaned back to have a look at David.

“There,” she said, biting her lip, seemingly impressed with her handiwork. She giggled. “Ooh-la-la.” David laughed, and afterward he felt exhausted, like it took everything out of him.

“I’m tired,” he said.

“You should lie down.”

He nodded and lay back. Lucy lay down with him. She wrapped her arms around his body and cradled David. He thought about kissing her, but he didn’t do anything. It felt too good to be held by her, and to let someone protect him for once.

David strode fiercely down the hall. It was reckless considering he’d barely mastered his equilibrium, but so far he was doing a decent job of walking a straight line. The Loners struggled to keep pace. He wouldn’t slow down for them. He couldn’t.

“You know I’m getting out, not you, right?” Gonzalo said.

“Yeah, you sure you don’t want to stick around? It’d be a big help. Even if you’re dead, I could probably still scare people off with your corpse,” David said, forcing a smile. Gonzalo gave him an approving clap him on the back. It nearly sent him into the wall.

Appearance was everything today. It felt too soon for David’s first public appearance since the attack. He was still plagued by episodes of unbearable, plunging pain in his eye.

He’d slugged back two cups of juice to try to numb it. But that didn’t help his insecurity. He felt like a gimp. He’d been mutilated and was about to put himself on display for everyone to ogle and gossip about. What could he do? It was Gonzalo’s graduation day.

Graduation was the most important event in a McKinley student’s life. You’d made it through. You’d earned your freedom. And it was an important reminder to everyone else that there was still hope, and that life on the inside wasn’t real life, a point that he was finding harder and harder to remember.

If David had skipped Gonzalo’s graduation, not only would he miss saying good-bye to his most trusted right-hand man, but his absence would have been an admission of defeat to Varsity and the rest of the school.

He prayed they didn’t meet with any trouble today. He wasn’t even sure he could land a punch, working off one eye.

He couldn’t afford a fight, but he needed to convince everyone, including the Loners, that he could.

Thunderous conversation echoed out from the foyer. The closer he got, the more it sounded like the whole school was there. He could see students packed into every inch of space.

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