The Loners

Page 39

They wanted to devour everything Sam had worked for. They wanted destroy everything he built.

A light splash from the pool drew his gaze. Hilary glided through the water. This was her nineteenth lap. Watching her go back and forth helped him think.

He could practically hear all of Varsity pacing upstairs. Idiots. He had to do it all, and if he was wrong, just once, they grumbled. He knew they were up there plotting. They’d try to kill him before the rest of the school had a chance to. Sam wouldn’t allow that to happen. Whether it was his own gang or the rest of the school, they were going to lose. He would be the last man standing in here.

Hilary stepped up out of the pool and wrung the water from her hair. Yellow dye splattered on the tiled floor. Seeing her hair nearly white made Sam uneasy. He knew why she’d let it get so light. She was being defiant because he hit her. He admired the dark triangular bruise under her eye. She was so beautiful. She wrapped a towel around her naked body.

“Come here,” Sam said.

She walked to him, her face vacant. She knelt beside him, and he sat up. He reached out and touched her temple. His forefinger drifted to her bruise, and he pressed into it. She didn’t shudder. She was perfectly still.

“I’m sorry, baby. I didn’t want to hurt you.” She didn’t say anything. She lay down beside him and rested her head on his chest. She’d been so quiet since the night in David’s room. He supposed he understood. She wasn’t used to killing.

He had to make her do it. When Anthony told him what Tara knew, that Hilary had reached out to David, he had to strike her to show her how wrong she was. She admitted what she’d done, but then she thought an apology could be enough. She really could be dense sometimes.

Getting to watch David at the graduation was the most enjoyable thing Sam had done in forever. David was maimed, shaken, faking like he was strong. It was great. Sam had planned on killing David at that graduation. But Dickie Bellman ruined that. His only consolation was getting to watch David flop around on the floor like a drugged cat.

“David’s going to come for revenge,” Hilary said.

“I know,” Sam said.

“I don’t want to see David ever again, Sam. You said I wouldn’t have to. You promised me!”

“I have a plan,” he said.

“Well, what is it? Tell me,” she said. She was desperate.


Hilary was sitting up now, her face clenched in anger. He didn’t like looking at it. He reached out to touch her pretty face, to smooth out the tension. She slapped his hand away and stood up. She flung her towel in his face and marched off, naked. Sam grinned.

He loved the way she flirted.


LUCY WALKED PAST THE STOLEN FLAT-SCREEN TV that lay flat on the lounge floor. Empty cans sat on it like a coffee table, and a few kids were using it as a surface to play poker. Dorothy had taken the TV down when the electricity had become unreliable.

Lucy stared at the creation Dorothy had put on the wall in its place. She had removed some hinged windows from the quad, stretched a white sheet behind them, and mounted the whole thing on the wall, with lightbulbs shining through it. It looked almost like a real window, with dawn’s dim light shining through from the outside.

Lucy moved close to the window, shut her eyes, and imagined she was at the lake house again, staring out at the water.

Belinda interrupted her mental vacation.

“I’m scared, Lucy. I mean, really. Why didn’t they drop the food?”

“I don’t know,” Lucy said, her eyes still closed, but she could tell that Belinda was choked up.

“Yeah, but no, but—do they hate us? I mean, does the whole world hate us?”


“It just feels like . . . I mean, who’s in charge out there? Do they know what they’re doing?”

“Don’t worry, Bel.”


She was just as scared as Belinda, but she had to make her stop somehow. Lucy went back to the lake house. She was in the sunlight now, playing croquet with her father in the front lawn. Her mother brought everyone glasses of fresh iced tea.

David was with her. Everyone loved him. He wore a pair of pin-striped shorts that would have looked awful on anyone else. They took a walk around the water, and he held her hand. David’s hair was lightened by the sun, milk-chocolatey with streaks of caramel.

Belinda piped back up. “I haven’t seen Dorothy since Tues-day. When’s the last time you saw her? Oh, thank God, David’s here.”

Lucy opened her eyes,and turned around. David stood on the next landing below them, in the kitchen. Other Loners gathered around David. Her body tingled with relief. He wasn’t there when she woke up in the morning, and she’d been freaked out over it ever since. It made her uneasy whenever David wasn’t around. She wanted to run to him and pull him away, but the group stood in her way. They all needed him so much, she barely got to be alone with David anymore. She was afraid that David might be doing it on purpose.

David didn’t speak until he was sure everyone was ready to listen. Fluorescent light gleamed off his white eye patch.

“I know you have a lot of questions about what our next move is now that there’s no more food coming in. I wish I had answers for you today. But this is about something else.” The crowd rumbled with conversation. David raised his hand to get everyone’s attention again.

“I got a nosebleed last night.”

The crowd erupted in frantic whispers. Lucy felt short of breath.

“The virus is leaving my body. My graduation would have been this morning. You all know what that means.” The crowd quieted. The reality sank in. Lucy reached for the railing for support. Her equilibrium seesawed.

“Sometime tomorrow maybe”—David searched the crowd until he found Lucy’s eyes—“I’ll die.”

Concerned Loners swarmed to David. Everything blurred.

Lucy’s head felt like a spinning plate on a stick. She turned away from David and started pushing people out of her way.

She had to get out of there. Belinda called out for her, but she didn’t stop. The trek upstairs felt endless. People were staring at her, pitying her. Lucy ran into David’s room, sobbing, and flung herself onto his bed.

David didn’t enter the room until almost a half hour later.

She could hear him answering desperate questions as he made his way up the final flight stairs. Finally, they let him through.

She heard him enter the room, but she didn’t look up.

David didn’t say a word. She felt guilty. She should have been consoling him, not waiting for him to tell her that everything would be all right.

Lucy opened her eyes and sat up. She looked at him, but she didn’t know what to say. She was afraid that if she opened her mouth she might just scream. David’s face puckered with tension. Was he about to cry?

“I was never a big fan of lungs anyway,” David said.

She jumped up and ran to him. He wrapped her in his arms and held her tight. She didn’t want to cry anymore. She breathed in the smell of him. The heavy scent of his perspira-tion lurked under the scent of the citrus detergent he used to wash his clothes.

“It was all a joke, wasn’t it?” Lucy said.

He stroked her hair in consolation. It wasn’t a yes.

“You were joking,” she said.

“No, Lucy.”

“I don’t understand.” She let go of him and backed away.

“How can you be so calm?”

“I walked around for hours, wishing it wasn’t true. I thought I could figure it out, come up with some solution. But then I realized I was just wasting time,” he said. “I’ve only got a day left. My brain will start freaking out on me soon. I don’t want to throw away what time I have left.”

She guessed she understood, but she started to cry again, more out of frustration than sorrow. David wiped away her tears.

“Don’t be sad. I can’t take any more sad,” he said.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry either,” he said. “Please. I just want to be with my girlfriend.”

“Girlfriend?” she said with a little smile.

David grinned. “Well, it seemed like a good time to make it official.”

She laughed and felt a tear slip down her cheek.

David ran his fingers down her hair. He kissed her. She kissed back. All her tension unraveled. He picked her up and moved her back to his bed. She clawed at his shirt. He guided her down.

David was kissing her chest. The diamond pendant slipped down the gold chain around her neck and fell to the side. She pulled David back to her face and kissed him more. She wondered how long she’d actually have him—a day, an hour, only minutes?

Just kiss, she needed to keep her mind on kissing.

It was no use, the floodgates were open. What would happen after David died? The Loners might not be strong enough to stay together. She could be on her own. The last time she’d been on her own . . . did not go well.

She moaned. David’s hands were gliding under her dress and up her thighs. She unbuttoned his shirt. He kissed her neck, pressing against her. His body was warm and heavy.

An image flashed in her mind of David coughing out globs of bloody meat onto her. She shuddered.

She sat up.

“What’s going on?” he said.

She wanted to tell him she loved him.

“Will,” he said, before she got a chance.


David was looking past her. She followed his gaze. Will stood just inside the curtain. She didn’t know how long he’d been there. Will’s clothes were caked with black muck. Lucy scrambled to straighten her dress. David buttoned his shirt in a hurry. They both stood, keeping a slight distance from each other, guilty but not sure why, as if a teacher had just walked in on them. Will stared back at them, still as a tree.

“Where have you been?” David said first.

Will didn’t answer. He watched them calmly.

“We’ve been so worried,” Lucy volunteered.

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