The Saints

Page 31

Hilary ignored the kid’s emergency and turned to P-Nut with an impressed smile. “Highest sticker is the best?” she said.

“You got it.”

“And whose is that?”

“He’d like to invite you into his office.”

P-Nut extended his hand. She took it.

As they walked hand in hand, she could see all the Skater girls in the room smoldering. A swarm of jealous reactions followed her across the whole room. It felt so good. She missed that feeling. She hadn’t really felt it since Sam had been on top. She used to get it from the other girls in the school, just for the fact that she was a Pretty One. She used to get it from the other Pretty Ones, jealous that she had Sam. She felt at home. It did cross her mind that P-Nut might have slept with every girl in his gang, but that’s pretty much what she expected.

P-Nut led her into a dark room. He closed the door. A lighter sparked. A little flame in the darkness. It was quickly blocked by the vague dark mass of P-Nut’s body. He moved and there was now a second flame. A candle. He was lighting candles. It seemed almost as hokey as his line about how he “lived for her,” but she wasn’t complaining.

“Well, you get right to the point, don’t you?”

“Ha, you’re funny,” he said, moving on to another candle. “I’m only trying to show you I care.”

There were ten short, thin, brown candles lit around the room now and he was still going. It was an office with antique bookshelves, a plush reading chair, and an ornately carved wooden desk. All of it was lit by golden candlelight that revealed the deep red stain of the mahogany furniture. The air smelled calming and familiar, but she couldn’t place it. She could have gotten used to a room like this.

“I don’t remember any of this stuff coming in the drop,” Hilary said.

“I guess Principal Warfield was a big antique freak. All this is from his office. I’ve kept them safe.”

She liked that he had taste. It was the last thing she would have expected.

“And the candles?” she said.

The candles were finely made, smooth from trunk to tip. And Hilary would know. They were worthy to be sold at the Pretty Ones’ market table. Well, they would have been, if Gates’s free-for-all hadn’t flooded the school with real beauty and bathing products that put their homemade ones to shame.

“Nah, I made them,” P-Nut said.

“You are a fantastic liar.”

“I did make them,” he said. “You really think I’m just some idiot, don’t you?”

“Kinda,” she said. “You know how to make candles?”

“Of course I do. You think this vibe creates itself?”

“Okay, then what’d you make ’em out of?”

“Crayons I bought from the Geeks a long time ago. Melted all together.”

“And the wicks?”

“Shoelaces,” P-Nut said. “I unwove them and waxed the individual threads.”

Why did that turn her on so much?

“I only break them out for special occasions. For special people.”

“I’m that special?” she said, smiling on the inside only. It had been too long since she’d had even a decent compliment.

He walked closer to her.

“I want to talk about our future.”

“Ew, stalker,” she said and backed up, hoping he didn’t see through her bluff.

“Don’t talk tough. Be yourself with me. That’s how it’s gotta be if we’re gonna do big things.”

“What kind of big things?”

“A Skater-Pretty One partnership.”

Jackpot. There was really no sweeter pleasure than something falling perfectly in her lap.

“I’m listening,” she said.

He didn’t say anything. He continued to stalk her around the room. She’d retreat, he’d advance. She couldn’t wipe the smile off her face. She forgot how good it felt to flirt with someone she was actually attracted to. She slinked to the other side of the desk. He climbed up over the top of it and hopped down, landing with his face only three hot inches away from hers. This was her ticket. The Skaters had it all. Her girls loved the Skater guys, and P-Nut was hot. The only thing that scared her was she couldn’t see a chink in his armor. She hadn’t found that tender part of him yet, that part that she could twist and gain control. She had to trust that she’d find that part of him eventually. She always did.

He took hold of her head with both hands and pulled her into his lips. However many hundreds of girls P-Nut had kissed to get this good at it, she forgave him. P-Nut was soft but assertive. They were in sync. He moaned low as his lips told hers where to go. His hands slid all over her body. She could feel the heat of his palms through her dress.

It took all of her willpower to push him away.

“Slow down, Cashew. We haven’t talked terms yet.”

“Let’s have some fun first,” he said, and pulled at her.

“The Pretty Ones need to be taken care of,” she said, struggling to gain her footing.

“New clothes,” he said. “Daily laundry. Food. Your own rooms you can decorate like you want. And they’d only work a couple nights a week.”

He placed his hands firmly on her hips. She pushed away.

“What did you just say?”

“People have more than they need now. They got stuff to spend. And I got just the thing for them to spend it on. I’m gonna open a gentlemen’s club. I’ll build go-go cages. I’ll have a bar—”

Hilary laughed, she didn’t know how else to respond. It was ridiculous.

“You can’t seriously think that my Pretty Ones would strip for you.”

“No,” he said, like what she’d just said was the craziest thing in the world. It helped Hilary catch her breath. “Calm down. I got my girls for that. I’m looking for a higher class of girl, for those guys who are willing to pay the price. And I promise … It’ll be a steep price, to spend a night with royalty.”

It was a knife in the heart. She couldn’t even find the words. She was so stupid. She shouldn’t have let her guard down, shouldn’t have let herself get excited about him wanting her. He hurt her feelings. No one hurts her feelings.

“Just think. You and me, Hil, we could make bank. ’Cause seriously, how long is this Sam hostage thing gonna last? All the good stuff is gonna dry up, but if we act now, we could collect it all.”

She knew what some people thought, that the Pretty Ones were just concubines, that they were just in the business of pleasing Varsity to stay alive. Well, it was true, and it was something Hilary had been well aware of the whole time, but she had always been able to spin it to her girls as real, authentic companionship. And she’d seen actual relationships blossom from that “understanding.” The more relationships there were, the more it kept the Pretty Ones believing that they had a choice. But this wouldn’t fly, she couldn’t say, Hey, if we join up with the Skaters, you could all be whores! Whaddaya think?

“Who do you think you’re talking to?” Hilary said in P-Nut’s face.

P-Nut shrugged like he was talking about what he’d like to have for lunch. “Well …,” he said. “Let’s be real about your situation here. I’m guessing the only reason why you came here today is because you haven’t been able to find a replacement for Sam. I’m offering you a way to stay the prettiest, with the finest things. You can stay on top, and you’ll barely have to lift a finger. Isn’t that what you want?”

P-Nut was ice-cold. She would have respected him for how ruthlessly he’d played it all if it didn’t hurt so much. He wanted them to work in a whorehouse. Opening their legs for anyone with a backpack full of food cans, or a stack of fresh towels. It was unthinkable. She felt like she’d been molested from just hearing the offer.

She had to verbally murder him right here, collect whatever pride she had left off the floor. He looked at her with the same smile, like she wasn’t understanding yet that he hadn’t said anything wrong. The candlelight twinkled off his teeth. Sexy piece of shit. Hilary wiped her hands down her face, pressing her fingers down hard to keep from screaming.

She felt her tooth click out of place.

It was loose in her mouth. The glue had snapped. P-Nut stared at her. She couldn’t open her mouth. She wanted so badly to shriek in his face, to tell him everything that was wrong with him and right with her. How he didn’t deserve to speak her name, let alone put his hands on her.

She pushed past him, striking his ribs with a sharp elbow as she went. She tore the door open. She ran down the hall. She found her girls that had accompanied her were flirting with a crowd of Skaters. She waved at them angrily. They didn’t see. She wanted to cry. She couldn’t open her mouth to shout an order. She waved like an idiot. She walked up to one of them and slapped her across the face, as hard as she wanted to slap P-Nut. It must have stung. The girl, Michelle, was scared, red-cheeked, confused. She didn’t know what she had done. The Skaters looked confused too. The tooth was under Hilary’s tongue now, its sharp roots poked the thin skin of the bottom of her mouth.

Hilary turned and stomped for the door. Her girls followed. As soon as she was out the door, she sped up. She walked faster than all her girls, so that none of them could see her crying.


GATES LAY FACEDOWN ON A WHITE SAND beach. The hot grains of sand pressed into his eyes, his lips, his nose. He rolled onto his back. There were two oiled-up girls in bikinis and linen beach shirts with him, one lying on either side. He didn’t know who they were and he didn’t care.

The beach was long and crescent-shaped and empty. He and his female companions were the only ones around. The ocean had no waves, no movement, its surface was still, like a lake. He stared up and watched thousands of white dots appear across the deep blue sky, and then slowly grow larger. As they grew, he could see them better. Volleyballs. Volleyballs were raining from the sky. The first of them struck the soft sand and bounced back up high, like the sand was hard as asphalt. More balls hit the beach and bounced high, spraying sand in the air as they launched back up. White balls battered the beach all around where Gates lay, with his arms still behind his head, and his ankles crossed. None of them struck him or his two lady companions. Other things rained down. A falling cloud of shuttlecocks and Latin-to-English dictionaries pummeled the ground behind his head. Red neckties with little skulls on them came fluttering down. Hundreds of purple Super Balls struck the beach along with boxes of Boston baked beans that rattled when they landed.

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