The Saints

Page 11

“I’ve thought about it …,” she said. “I mean, wasn’t being in a gang the whole point of forming the Loners? Isn’t that what we fought for?”

He wasn’t going to beg her. He wouldn’t sink that low. He really wanted to beg. He was ravenous to beg.

“… And I know you probably think that nobody wants you because of … what happened,” she said.

“You’re right,” Will said.

“But that’s not true,” Lucy said, pouncing. “I mean, okay, you’ve got a lot of enemies. The Freaks and Varsity. And the Skaters probably haven’t forgiven you for their boards, but—I talked to some Geek who said they’re desperate for people to join, and Zachary hasn’t seemed to hold a grudge about the Loners putting him in a cage.”

The Geeks wouldn’t have Will. Not after what happened in the quad. No one would. Lucy was fooling herself. She needed to believe it. He guessed she’d never forgive herself if she bailed on poor, little, epileptic Will.

“Geeks, huh? That seems like a good gang for a coward,” Will said.

Lucy stared at him, confused.

“That’s not funny.”

“I’m not laughing. I’m just saying, that’s what you are.”

“Why are you talking like this?”

“Think about it. You always hide. In the Pretty Ones. Behind David. Why not behind Zachary?”

“I’m trying to help you, Will.”

“Don’t strain yourself.”

“Don’t say this stuff. You don’t mean it!”

“Why are you here?” Will said. “Why don’t you just walk to the auditorium right now? You probably have your bag packed. Am I right?”

Lucy didn’t answer. She looked down.

“Then go,” he said. “Get the fuck out of here. I don’t want you around me.”

“No!” she said. “You can’t do this. I won’t leave you.”

She cried. She was going to hate him, but that was better. If she hated him, she might be able to forget about him.

“Do yourself a favor …”

She looked up, cheeks wobbling, eyelashes clumped by tears. “… and fuck off,” Will said.

She slapped him. She disappeared up the stairs, crying, then came back down, with a small, half-full backpack over her shoulder, and her phone lit up in her hand. She walked right past him and her phone’s glow faded off down the stairs toward the ground floor exit.

If he was going to go after her, this was his chance. To take it back. There was still a window, he hadn’t heard the door open or shut yet.

Will struggled to his feet. He let the crinkly blanket fall off him as he trudged to the top of the stairs. Down past the darkness of the stairwell he saw Lucy standing at the open door, her cell phone shining on her face. She looked up at him. If he persuaded her to stay, she’d only leave later. He could never be what she needed.

“Don’t come back! You hear me?” Will shouted. “I don’t want your pity!”

She slammed the door shut and left. Will walked back to the sink fire and sat. He tried to let the flames warm him. They wouldn’t last long. The cold of the empty Stairs would win in the end. Will had better get used to it. He was alone for good.



Violent looked surprised. She stood in the doorway to the cafeteria, holding the door open. There was an ugly Slut beside her, who was topless. These girls were a marvel. Even their breasts were aggressive. Violent looked different in the middle of the night. Her red hair was a mess, and the stitched seam of her pillow had left its imprint across her cheek. She wore a XXL boy’s black T-shirt, full of holes and rips. Without her tape eyebrows, her sinister makeup, and all the spiky armor, Violent almost looked nice, like a mom. A mom with no eyebrows.

“Violent, I know I missed the deadline on your offer, but—”

Violent raised her hand to quiet her. She pulled Lucy close and wrapped her in a sturdy hug. It took Lucy completely by surprise.

“Ssh,” Violent said. “Come in. We can talk in the morning. Right now it’s time to sleep.”

That was good by Lucy. She’d never felt so drained. The empty cafeteria was quiet. It smelled faintly of berries. Everything was clean and organized, every weapon hanging in its place on the far wall, like the pegboard wall of tools her dad used to have in their garage. The main floor of the cafeteria had been cleared away. The dining hall tables were broken down and stashed up against one wall. The beige plastic cafeteria chairs were stacked high next to them.

“Lips, get her a mattress,” Violent said to the topless girl. Lips. It was a joke of a nickname. The girl barely had any lips at all. They were just thin, flat strips of skin. It was almost like her face stopped and her mouth began without an intermediary step. Lips nodded to Violent and walked off.

Violent led Lucy toward the kitchen without a word. She stopped at the doorway and took her shoes off. Lucy figured she should do the same. She put her stuff down and slipped off her white canvas sneaks that had served her for so long. It was a lie to call them white. She couldn’t wash them as well as David used to, and even he couldn’t get them white. They were gray and speckled with black like an Oreo milk shake. She put them in a cabinet, next to where Violent put hers.

Lucy followed Violent into the heat of the kitchen, where Sluts lay sleeping all over the floor. They were nestled in around each other like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The only light in the room came from the oven door windows, receding rectangles of glowing red.

Violent led Lucy through the obstacle course of bodies. From what she could make out, most of them wore boxers and T-shirts with the sleeves torn off. Even that seemed too hot to sleep in. The heat from the ovens pressed in all around her like a sauna. The purr of the gas ovens softened all other sounds. Violent reached a clear spot of floor by the dishwashers, far from the ovens, but still entirely warm.

“You can sleep here tonight,” Violent said in a low hush.

Lips arrived silently and dropped a man-shaped mattress on Lucy’s spot of floor. The mattress was a pair of khaki pants and a long-sleeve denim shirt that had been sewn together and stuffed with pink wall insulation, which puffed out where the seams had come apart. Lucy lowered her bag to a spot right next to the mattress.

Lucy opened her arms to hug Violent again. Instead, Violent patted her shoulder and walked off with Lips.

“Okay,” she said, mostly to herself. “Okay, then …”

She guessed that was it. This was her gang now. She lowered herself down on her headless, handless, footless mattress man. She scanned the nearby faces, trying to see if she recognized any of them. Not a one. She was sleeping with a bunch of strangers. What had she gotten herself into? Was she so desperate to prove Will wrong that she’d actually thought for a second she could be a Slut? When she knocked on the cafeteria door she felt like she knew what she was doing, she thought she wanted everything Violent had described about being a Slut. Now she feared that she was not like these girls, that she would not be accepted here, and she wouldn’t have what it takes to be one of them.

You’re a coward. She swore she’d never forgive Will for what he’d said. She cussed him in her mind, but no matter how many times she wrote Will off, she’d hear him say those sharp words again. She just wanted to forget about him, and the Loners and how everything had gone so wrong.

She squeezed her mattress man. The oven heat seeped into her, soothed her. It made Will’s words hurt less and less. She felt sleep pull her under, into the warmth.

It was the clong of a steel ladle on an iron skillet that woke Lucy up. It took a second for her to remember where she was.

“Five more minutes for chores!”

Every light in the kitchen was on. She looked around the floor and saw that she was the only one still sleeping. The other Sluts had already risen and stored their bedding away. Lucy sat bolt upright. No, it couldn’t start like this, with her looking like a big slacker. She looked over at a Slut standing by one of the stovetops. She held a huge steel pot by its towel-wrapped handles. The Slut tipped the pot and poured steaming water on the tile floor. The piping hot puddle spread fast toward Lucy. She sprung to her feet with barely enough time to keep from being scalded. She picked up her mattress man, just as the water touched it. The soaked fabric seared her fingers. She looked around for her bag, but it was gone.

Lucy tiptoed around the scalding mop water. Steam rose knee-high. Every Slut she walked past ignored her; they were completely focused on their tasks. Lucy could feel the walls they had up against her; but she was determined to break through. She approached a bony Slut pouring ash into a tall aluminum broiling pot.

“Um, can I help?” she said.

The Slut responded without looking at her. “You’re supposed to be out there.” She flicked her head toward the cafeteria.

“Thanks,” Lucy said. For nothing, she thought.

Lucy made her way out of the kitchen, the same way Violent had led her in. She saw mattress men like hers stuffed into the open storage closet where she’d stowed her shoes. She wedged hers between two others, and went to grab her sneakers. Like her bag, they were gone. Maybe Violent had moved them, or sent them to be cleaned.

Lucy walked barefoot into the dining hall. In one corner Sluts worked out in pairs. One would do push-ups or deep knee bends with her partner on her back. There was sparring in the opposite corner. Girls wore oven mitts stuffed with something that made them plump like boxing gloves. Near Lucy, other girls were busy at work, clearing out the last of the breakfast. On the last uncleared table, there was a wide iron pan of scrambled eggs. A third of it was still uneaten.

Lucy’s stomach woke up. She knew about the powdered eggs in the drops but she’d never actually seen them cooked. They glistened in the pan, golden and yellow. They called out to her tongue. They must have called out to her feet too because she was drifting toward the pan.

“Not so fast.”

Copyright © novelfull All Rights Reserved.