The Loners

Page 47

“I said enough!”

The clomping slowed to a stop, and the line of would-be tacklers dispersed. Sam dragged his folding chair out in front of David. David breathed through the discomfort. Sam casually sat down in front of him. He stared at David and considered him as if he was a piece in a museum.

“Why didn’t you kill me?” Sam asked.

“What?” David replied.

“Back on the quad. When all your Scraps were trying to tear me apart, you stopped them. Why’d you do that?”

“Why?” David said. “I don’t know, I felt bad for you.”

“You felt bad?” Sam asked.

Sam scrunched his face up. He was flabbergasted.

“What would it have proved?” David asked.

“Proved? It wouldn’t have proved anything. It would have gotten rid of me. You had to know I wouldn’t stop, that I’d keep coming for you.”

“I’d already won,” David said. “It seemed . . . too cruel.” Sam scoffed. “That’s a loser’s attitude if I’ve ever heard one.

Guess you’re regretting that one now, huh?” Sam smiled then looked upset when David didn’t react.

“What do you want from me, Sam?”

“I don’t want anything from you. Look around. I have it all.” Pain flared through David’s head. His patience for whatever little game this was had come to an end.

“You sent the whole school after me. For what? What did I do to you? I hit you once for stealing my girlfriend,” David said, raising his voice. It hurt his chest to talk so loud.

“Oh, that,” Sam said. He stood up. “I sent the whole school after you just to keep them occupied. They all want to kill me for my food. But now, instead, they’re killing each other to get to you. They’re hungry. They’ll do anything. They’ll kill their best friends. All I have to do is dangle some food in front of their noses. I don’t even have to give them any. I stiffed those Nerds who brought you in,” he went on. “Later tonight I’m putting a bounty out on them. And then I’ll put a bounty on the ones who bring them in, on and on, and by the end of the week, the whole school will be so weak and hungry that even if they all banded together they wouldn’t have the strength to knock on my door.”

Sam laughed. The noise of it expanded in David’s ears like high-pitched thunder. He felt his eardrums tear open. He screamed, “GET AWAY FROM ME!” but he couldn’t hear it over the wretched sound drilling into the back of his eyes. He cried. He screamed. The noise stopped dead, but the pain still thudded in his head.

He opened his eye. Sam stared at him, perplexed.

“What are you, nuts?”

He thought about not telling Sam the truth, but what did it matter now?

“I’m dying.”

Sam plopped back down in his chair. He stared at David.

“I mean . . . how long do you have left?”

“Not long.”

Sam’s posture, his tone of voice, confused David. He almost seemed concerned. David wondered if somewhere deep down in his crooked mind there was a nugget of compassion, a speck of humanity remaining that David could appeal to.

“Sam. I know a way out. Let me go, and I’ll show you. We could escape together. This could all be over.” Sam studied David’s face, considering the offer.

“I don’t think I want to escape,” Sam said. “I like it here.” Shoes clapped hard against the gym floor. Hilary stumbled over to Sam. Her eyes were lazy slits. She carried a squeeze bottle full of juice, and there was a wet stain all down the front of her dress. Sam turned to face her, and his lip curled in disgust.

“You’re drunk,” Sam said.

“Yup,” Hilary slurred.

“What are you doing up here? Go back to the pool.”

“Hi, David,” Hilary said. “I miss you real bad.” She lost her balance, and Sam had to catch her to keep her from falling.

“Get off of me,” she said, her words falling clumsily out of her mouth. “I don’t want to be with you, I want to be with David.”

“What did you say to me?” Sam said, so loud that it echoed through the gym.

Hilary hung off Sam but peered into David’s eye.

“I’m sorry, David,” she said slowly, trying not to slur. “Sam was a mistake. I never should have broken up with you.” Sam threw Hilary to the ground. She landed face-first.

When she rolled over, one of her teeth, her right cuspid, was gone. Hilary fumbled her hand to her bloody mouth.

“You broke my tooth,” she said.

“Why the fuck would you want to be with him?” Sam screamed. “Look at him. He’s dying, he’s got nothing. I’ve got it all!”

“You don’t have shit,” she said. “Everyone hates you. Your own gang wants you dead. You haven’t got one friend in the whole school.”

“Shut up!”

“When do you think one of your guys is gonna take you out?

Tomorrow? Today?” Hilary said.

Sam paced back and forth, yanking on his own hair. He whipped back around and thrust his finger at her.

“Is this a suicide attempt? Is that what this is?” Sam asked.

“You want me to kill you?”

She smiled at him. Blood and saliva wet her lips. “I don’t want to date a loser anymore, that’s what I want.” Sam picked up the metal folding chair. He stomped over to Hilary and swung the chair up over his head.

The school’s PA system squawked to life.

“This is Will Thorpe. Are you listening, McKinley?” Sam halted his swing; the chair stayed frozen in the air.

“This is a message for that big pussy, Sam Howard, who’s so scared to leave the gym, he has to send his girlfriend to attack people while they’re asleep. That’s the guy I want to see in the quad in fifteen minutes. If you want to see a real fight, everybody should come on down. But don’t blame me if the big pussy doesn’t show.”

Sam threw the chair into the bleachers and howled.

David laughed. He couldn’t stop. It was so perfectly Will.


WILL STOOD IN THE CENTER OF THE QUAD. The rest of the school watched from around the edges, waiting for the show. Will felt the singe of every stare. People were hungry and volatile. The sun had set, but the exterior flood lamps were on. The generator was on its last legs and chugging. The harsh spotlights surged bright, casting sharp shadows, and then faded nearly all the way out again, like a drunken strobe.

“You’re gonna die,” Nelson said from behind him.

“Not helping,” Will said.

“I said, you’re gonna die!” Nelson shouted at the top of his lungs.

“I heard you! Everybody did.”

“Oh . . . sorry.”

It didn’t matter that the crowd heard him. They were already thinking it anyway. They all came to watch him lose, badly.

Every gang was there. If Sam didn’t kill him, there was a good chance that the Freaks might.

“I just hope David’s still alive,” Nelson shouted.

Will had to push that out of his mind. If he thought about all the holes in his plan, he’d be sunk. He just prayed that Sam would come soon. He was already late.

Will had no backup. Nelson was against the whole idea, and the rest of the Loners stood in the far corner of the quad. He would have liked them behind him, at least as a show of support, but they had lost faith in him after the debacle at the library.

Will understood. They had already joined in on one of his crazy plans, and it got them ambushed, injured, and demoral-ized. None of them even believed the exit was real anymore.

This was on his shoulders, and he would have only one chance to get it right.

A Freak in the crowd wore black sunglasses. She grinned at him and slowly drew a finger across her neck. Will swallowed hard. He was thirsty. His chest felt tight. He looked back to Nelson, whose teeth were gritted like he was watching a car accident in slow motion. No matter what bullshit he’d told her, Will wished Lucy was there. He secretly hoped that she would be, so she could see him at his bravest.

The crowd came alive. All heads turned as one. Varsity had arrived.

The Freaks moved aside so that Varsity could enter the circle of gangs. Varsity wore full pads and uniforms like it was a Friday night game. They jogged onto the quad and took a regimented formation across from Will. There were a lot of them, and the other gangs looked like packs of starved dogs in comparison. Varsity was well fed and at full strength. Sam stepped through the front line.

He knew he had a fight coming his way. That was the whole point, but somehow he didn’t ever have this bad a picture in his head. If he did, he probably would have never gone this far. Sam was fuming. He seemed repulsed by the sight of Will.

He pulled off his jersey. Sam’s upper body bulged and flexed.

He was huge. Will felt like the idiot everybody thought he was.

Will clenched his fists and raised them. His fists were trembling, and there was nothing he could do to hide it. Snickers rippled from all around him.

He wanted to run, but he didn’t think he could. He didn’t feel in control of his body anymore. He was all nerves. His mind was plagued with visions of all the ways he was going to screw this up.

Two burly Varsity guys broke through the front line. They were holding David up between them. David’s toes dragged on the ground behind him. His head hung down. His clothes were stained brown with dried blood. The crowd gasped at the sight of him.

“All we did was slap your brother around a little, and look what happened. You sure you wanna go through with this, little boy?” Sam said.

If Sam wanted to get inside Will’s head, it was working.

He saw David’s foot move. His right toe fumbled forward until he laid his foot flat on the ground. Then the other one.

His legs locked straight, taking on the weight of his body.

David raised his bloody and swollen head. It looked like a white eye patch was tied tight around a purple water balloon.

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