Made you up, p.11

Made You Up, page 11

 

Made You Up
 


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  I looked around quickly; finding another ride home would be pretty impossible. And as I looked out at the dark, quiet street, it occurred to me that walking home wasn’t the best idea ever. Sure, I hung out around Red Witch Bridge in the middle of the night, but that was in the cover of the trees with an urban legend and a baseball bat as weapons. Here, I was a teenaged girl with average upper body strength, hair like a signal beacon, and a mental condition that could make me think I was being attacked even when I wasn’t.

  At least I knew Miles well enough to understand that the look of frustration on his face wasn’t a ploy. So I tossed the two halves of Erwin into the back of his truck and climbed into the passenger seat.

  The cab still smelled like pastries and mint soap. I breathed in deeply without realizing it, and hastily let it out as a sigh. Miles glanced through the driver’s side window, let out a quick curse, and grabbed a stack of papers on the seat.

  “Sorry, I have to drop these off. I forgot. I’ll be right back.”

  He hurried into the school. The papers must have been his stat charts for the week, but I found it hard to believe he’d forgotten them. Miles didn’t forget things.

  His truck was surprisingly clean. The dash had been stripped bare; the radio front was smashed in, and the knob for the heater was missing. Miles had stashed his backpack behind the driver’s seat—apparently in a hurry, because it was on its side, and its contents spilled out in the cramped space.

  The corner of his black notebook peeked out beneath his chemistry book.

  This was my chance. I could just . . . take a look. Get a glimpse at the tip of Miles Richter’s psychological iceberg. I checked to make sure he was still safely inside East Shoal, then pulled the notebook out.

  It was bound in leather. There were several pieces of paper clipped to the inside back cover, but I ignored them and flipped it open to the middle. Both pages were covered with his untidy scrawl.

  I went back to the beginning and skimmed through. Math equations filled whole pages. There were symbols I’d never seen and little notes scribbled off to the sides. There were quotes from books and more notes. There were lists of scientific classifications for plants and animals, and even more lists for words I’d never encountered. There were entire passages written in German, dated like journal entries. I noticed familiar names, like my own and the other members of the club.

  And then, separated from the rest of the scribbles by a few blank pages, like he’d wanted to remember these things specifically, were short one- or two-sentence declarations, marked with the dates they’d been written.

  Intelligence is not measured by how much you know, but by how much you have the capacity to learn.

  You are never as great or as pitiful as you think you are.

  Those who are picked last are the only ones who truly know what it feels like.

  Schools without bike racks should be convicted of criminal negligence.

  I stared at that last line, dated on the first day of school, urging it to change, to revert to its true form, because I knew I must have made it up. If that wasn’t a quote from somewhere, if that was one of his own observations . . . then he’d lied about not standing up to Cliff for me. Celia’d scoffed at Erwin, and Cliff had stood in my way, and Miles had said he hadn’t done any of it for me. . . .

  This notebook didn’t sound like Miles. It sounded like someone a lot more naïve than Miles. Someone who really liked to know things. Scientific classifications. Complex math. Words.

  I looked up. Miles was coming out of the school. Groaning, I stuffed the notebook back under his chemistry book. I faced forward, trying to look inconspicuous. He slid into the driver’s seat.

  “Is something wrong?” he asked.

  “You seem to have forgotten that someone cut my bike in half.”

  “And you seem to have forgotten that I have a truck,” said Miles. “I can give you a ride. To school, at least.”

  “No thanks,” I said.

  “Really. I’m not joking. Unless you’re that against having anything to do with me. I don’t care. You can get in line.”

  He turned onto the main road. The line from the notebook felt like a dead weight in my stomach.

  “No, not against it.” I realized with a strange sort of happy dread that we were falling back into the easy conversation we’d had at the bonfire. “But I’d like to know why you’re offering.”

  “What do you mean?” Honest confusion crossed his face. “Isn’t that the good thing to do?”

  I burst out laughing. “Since when have you been good? Are you feeling guilty or something?”

  “A little sentimental, maybe. My first idea was to drive up and down in front of you a few times to prove I had a car and you didn’t.” His tone was light and he was smiling.

  Holy crap, he was smiling. A real, teeth-showing, nose-scrunching, eyes-crinkling smile.

  The smile slipped off his face. “What? What’s wrong?”

  “You were smiling,” I said. “It was kind of weird.”

  “Oh,” he said, frowning. “Thanks.”

  “No, no, don’t do that! The smile was better.” The words felt wrong coming out of my mouth. I shouldn’t say things like that to him, but they hung neatly in the air and cleared out the tension. Miles didn’t smile again. He turned down my street and pulled into my driveway.

  “Charlie’s playing her violin again,” I said. The music floated out of the house like a bird on a breeze. The “1812 Overture.” I had to throw my weight against the passenger door to get it open.

  “The smile was better,” I said again as I closed the door behind me, the words sounding less awkward now. “I think people would like you if you did it more.”

  “What’s the point, though?” said Miles. “So, Monday.”

  “Monday.”

  “Should I be here?”

  “Do you want to be here?”

  He looked like a cat eyeing its prey. “Seven o’clock. After that I’m leaving without you. Do you work tonight?”

  “Yes.”

  “Guess I’ll see you there. And Alex?”

  “Yeah?”

  “I won’t tell anyone. In case you were wondering.”

  I knew what he meant. And I knew he was telling the truth. There was something in his voice that said he understood. I believed him.

  I fished Erwin out of the truck bed. Then I propped the halves up against the garage door and headed inside as Miles drove down the street. My head spun with everything that had happened. Celia’s revenge. Erwin. The increasingly plausible idea that Blue Eyes was not a hallucination at all, and never had been.

  My mother let me get ten steps inside the front door before bombarding me with questions.

  “Who was that?”

  “What happened to your bike?”

  “Did you forget you have work tonight?”

  And my personal favorite, “Do we need to have the talk?”

  I cringed. I did not need to think of Miles in that way. I was plenty confused about him as it was.

  “No, we do not need to have the talk, Mom. I understand how boy and girl parts work. Yes, I have to go to Finnegan’s. No, I don’t know what happened to Erwin.”

  “Who was that in the truck?” She waved her empty coffee mug around. I couldn’t tell if she was angry or excited—her zealotry managed to cover pretty much all the emotional bases.

  “That was Miles.”

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

  ..................................................................

  Chapter Twenty-one

  I giggled a little when I found out the librarian I’d accused of being a Communist five years ago still worked at the library. I giggled a little more when Tucker and I walked in and she glared at me.

  “She remembers me,” I whispered to Tucker, grinning.

  Tucker snorted and pulled me to a section of the library in the back, where several aging computers
sat in a line against the wall. We took the two open computers at the end.

  “I can’t believe they don’t have these records online,” Tucker said, clicking incessantly at his yellowed mouse. The old computer wheezed as it started up. “I don’t even think these are connected to the Internet. I don’t think they have Ethernet ports. Oh God, what if they don’t have network cards?”

  “You make it sound like the nineties were hell,” I said.

  “They probably were. Our childish naiveté saved us.”

  The computers blinked to life and allowed us to access the newspaper archives from the desktop. The catalog seemed recently updated, despite looking like a victim of 1990s pattern choice.

  “Okay, so I’m thinking there must have been something to spark this scoreboard legend,” Tucker said. “Look for anything that says anything about East Shoal or the scoreboard itself.”

  I didn’t mind scouring old newspaper articles—they were still forms of history, just slightly more recent than I was used to. Twenty minutes later, I found the first clue, one that I’d already seen before.

  “‘Scarlet Fletcher, captain of the East Shoal cheerleading squad, helps introduce “Scarlet’s Scoreboard,” a commemoration of the charity and goodwill her father, Randall Fletcher, has shown toward the school.’”

  I turned my screen toward Tucker. He frowned. “I thought the scoreboard was older than that. This was twenty years ago.”

  In the picture, Scarlet beamed and flashed a set of white teeth. Her face wasn’t obscured here; she looked vaguely familiar. There was another picture at the bottom of the article. Scarlet stood beneath the scoreboard with a boy with dark hair, wearing a football captain’s uniform. His smile was strained.

  “He’s hot,” I said absentmindedly.

  “Sure, if you like the classical look,” Tucker mumbled.

  “What was that?”

  “Nothing, nothing.”

  “Are you jealous, Mr. Soggy Potato Salad?”

  “Jealous? When I’ve got this?” Tucker whipped off his glasses, bit the tip of the earpiece, and squinted at me. I laughed.

  The librarian sprang out from behind a bookcase and shushed me. I clapped a hand over my mouth.

  We returned our attention to our search. “Hey, here’s something,” Tucker said. “Not about the scoreboard, but it mentions Scarlet again.” He turned his screen to me.

  We returned our attention to our search. “Hey, here’s something,” Tucker said. “Not about the scoreboard, but it mentions Scarlet again.” He turned his screen to me.

  “‘Though only numbering 151, East Shoal’s graduating class of 1992 includes several remarkable names, including Scarlet Fletcher, daughter of politician Randall Fletcher, and the class valedictorian, Juniper Richter, who tested top in the nation in both math and language comprehension. . . .’” I let my voice fade away. “Is that . . . ?”

  “It’s Miles’s mom, yeah.”

  “They went to school together? That means she was there when the scoreboard went up—maybe she could tell you something about it.”

  Tucker rubbed his neck. “That’s . . . probably not going to happen.”

  “Why not?”

  “She’s, ah, in a mental hospital up in Goshen.”

  “A . . . a mental hospital?” I paused. “Why?”

  Tucker shrugged. “I don’t know anything else. She calls Finnegan’s sometimes when he’s there. One time I redialed after he’d hung up, and an orderly answered.” He waved his hand around. “And now you see why I don’t mind eavesdropping on people’s personal lives.”

  I sank back in my chair. “You’re sure?”

  “Yeah. Are you okay?”

  I nodded. That was why I’d trusted Miles when he’d said he wouldn’t tell anyone. He knew what it meant to hide a secret like that.

  I dove back into the articles, trying to shove thoughts of Miles and his mother and Blue Eyes to the back of my mind. I had a strange, intense desire to see him.

  My eyes began to glaze over and my legs went numb right about the same time I found it. I was well into ’97 when the headline reached right off the screen and smacked me in the face.

  MEMORIAL SCOREBOARD FALLS, CRUSHES DONOR’S DAUGHTER

  “You’re kidding me,” I whispered. “I think I just found your story, Tucker.”

  “What?”

  “Scarlet died in ninety-seven,” I said. “The scoreboard fell on her when she went back for the class reunion. And . . . Jesus, McCoy was the one who tried to lift it off of her. He was electrocuted. Scarlet died in the hospital a few hours later from sustained injuries, and they hung the scoreboard back up.”

  I showed him the article. His eyes widened as he read.

  “McCoy went to school with Scarlet,” Tucker said. “McCoy tried to save her and couldn’t. Now he worships the scoreboard because . . . why? It killed somebody.” He sat back, raked his hands through his neatly combed hair, and stared at me. “How messed up is this guy?”

  “It didn’t just kill somebody,” I said. “It killed Scarlet. He’s made it like . . . like a monument. A memorial for her.”

  A memorial for a dead woman.

  There was definitely something strange going on. I just didn’t know what it was.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

  ..................................................................

  Chapter Twenty-two

  I sat in the copse on the hill behind Red Witch Bridge that night, trying, for a little while, to forget what I’d learned in the library. Not the part about Scarlet, even though that was interesting. It was the information about Miles—about his mother—that had kept me from falling asleep.

  The night was quiet aside from the breeze ruffling the leaves and the whisper of the stream. Most cars didn’t come down this road at night because of the bridge. People said it was because they didn’t trust the bridge’s integrity, but the real reason was the witch.

  A long time ago, back in the days when people still got pressed to death, a witch lived on this side of the river. Not the misunderstood kind of witch who only wants to heal with her chants and herbal remedies, but the creepy kind who cuts off crow heads and eats children and small pets.

  So the witch was fine—or so the story goes—most of the time because everyone else lived on the other side of the river and didn’t bother her. But then they built the bridge, and people started coming onto her land, and she got pissed. She would wait by the bridge at night and kill those unlucky enough to cross after dark.

  Eventually she got pressed to death or something. But even now, when a car drove across the bridge at night, you could hear the witch scream. She was called the Red Witch because she was coated with the blood of her victims.

  I was probably the only teenager in the state who wasn’t scared of the witch. Not because I was extra fearless or anything, but because I knew where the legend came from.

  Two sets of headlights appeared around the bend in the road. I scooted farther behind my tree, cracking twigs and fallen leaves, even though I knew they wouldn’t see me. The cars pulled off on the shoulder. Doors opened and closed. Voices floated to me, words scrambled. A girl’s high-pitched giggle, a boy’s low murmur. Teenagers come to play with the witch. The headlights threw their long-legged shadows across the pavement.

  There were five of them: four in the first car, one in the second. All with their shoulders huddled up around their ears in the chilly autumn air. The first four seemed to be reasoning with the fifth. The girl giggled again.

  The fifth person broke away from the group and started across the bridge. His steps echoed against the old wood. Brave guy. Usually it took more persuasion. The others wouldn’t be able to see him when he reached my side because of the trees, but if he walked up the hill, the moonlight would let me see him.

  He crossed the bridge and stood in the darkness, looking around. Then he started up the hill.

  “Miles?


  I stood and stepped out of the trees. I should have known. I didn’t want to freak him out or anything, but he still stopped in his tracks and stared at me.

  “Alex? What are you doing here?”

  “What are you doing here?”

  “No, I asked first, and since you are literally chilling here behind these trees, and no one does that at Red Witch Bridge at night, your answer is infinitely more important than mine.”

  “Well, you do it when you’re the witch.”

  He stared at me. “You’re the witch.”

  “I’m the witch.” I shrugged.

  “You sit out here at night and scare people?”

  “No,” I said. “I sit out here at night and watch people scare themselves. It’s fun. What are you doing here?”

  Miles motioned over his shoulder. “Cliff, Ria, and some others pooled their money to pay me to walk the bridge at night. I didn’t bother to tell them I don’t believe in urban legends.”

  “Maybe they figured if the legend was true, the witch would get you out of their way.”

  “Richter! Find anything?” I recognized Cliff’s voice.

  Miles looked back and sighed.

  “Want to mess with them?” I asked.

  I pulled him down the hill with me and we stood at the other end of the bridge, in the darkness of the trees where the others couldn’t see us. “Okay, all you have to do is yell at the top of your lungs.”

  “Right now?”

  “Right now. Like you’re being attacked.”

  Miles took a deep breath and yelled. Cliff and the others jumped, but didn’t move. Miles’s voice died out.

  “Come on, Richter, we know you’re trying to—”

  I screamed. A good ear-shattering, chainsaw-killer, bloody-murder scream. Cliff stumbled backward, fell over, and had to scramble to his feet again. Ria screeched. The other two fled to their car, followed by Cliff and Ria, and peeled away. Miles and I stood there for another few moments, silent and waiting. The cold bit at my cheeks.

  “Do you do this all the time?” Miles asked finally.

  “No. Just today.” I smiled.

  He stared at me.

 
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