Made you up, p.12

Made You Up, page 12

 

Made You Up
 


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  “What?” I said.

  “Why are you here?”

  “I told you—I’m the witch.”

  “How are you the witch?”

  I sighed and swung my arms back and forth, wondering if I should tell him. He had that look on his face again, like he understood what was going on in my head.

  Around us, the wind rustling the trees sounded like thousands of voices.

  “Psithurism,” Miles said, looking up at the forest around us.

  “What?”

  “Psithurism. It’s a low whispering sound, like wind in leaves.”

  I sighed again. The wind blew his mint-soap-and-pastries scent toward me.

  “I had a bad week a while back,” I said finally, “when I was at Hillpark. I snuck out of the house at night because, y’know, I thought that Communists were kidnapping me. Came down here screaming my head off. Apparently I scared some potheads. My parents found me sleeping under the bridge the next morning. They were mortified.”

  “Because you slept under a bridge? ‘Mortified’ isn’t the word I’d use.”

  “I was naked.”

  “Oh.”

  “They were angry, too. At least, my mother was. Dad was worried.”

  “Were you okay? The potheads didn’t do anything to you?”

  “No, I scared the crap out of those guys.”

  “That wasn’t that long ago, then. How’d the story get around so fast?”

  I shrugged. “Beats me. People communicate surprisingly well when they’re scared—they just don’t communicate the right things.”

  The breeze ruffled the leaves over our heads. Psithurism. I’d have to remember that. I desperately wanted to ask Miles about his mom, but I knew this wasn’t the time. I sat down in the middle of the gravel road and patted a spot next to me.

  “Cars rarely come down this way,” I said.

  Miles sat down. He folded his long legs and balanced his arms on his knees, bunching his bomber jacket up around his ears. The breeze had mussed his hair; I balled my hands in my lap to keep from reaching over and putting it back in place.

  “I didn’t see you at Finnegan’s tonight,” I said.

  “I didn’t get a shift at the store today. Went home after school.”

  Didn’t get a shift. Like he wanted one.

  “I don’t understand you,” I said, the realization hitting me at the same time I said it.

  Miles leaned back on his hands. “Okay.”

  “‘Okay’?”

  He shrugged. “I don’t understand you, either, so I guess we’re even. But I don’t understand most people.”

  “That’s weird.”

  “How so?”

  “People aren’t hard to understand, except you. And you’re so smart, I figured you had everyone on your puppet strings.”

  He snorted. “Puppet strings. Never heard it described like that before.”

  “I want to know what you do when you’re not at school or work or running jobs. Where do you even live?”

  “Why does it matter?”

  I sighed again. He made me sigh a lot. “You’re an enigma. You walk around doing stuff to people for money, and everyone’s afraid to look you in the eye, and I’m pretty sure you’re part of a mafia. You don’t strike me as the kind of person who has a place to live. You’re just there. You exist. You are where you are and you have no home.”

  The moonlight reflected off his glasses and lit up his eyes.

  “I live a couple streets away from here,” he said. “The Lakeview Trail subdivision.”

  Lakeview Trail was one of those half-and-half subdivisions—half pretty new houses like Downing Heights, half run-down hovels with crumbling sidewalks, like mine. I had a good feeling which side of the subdivision Miles belonged to.

  “I’m not home most of the time. When I am, I try to sleep.”

  “But you don’t.” He was always tired. Always sleeping through first period. Always falling asleep over his meal at Finnegan’s.

  He nodded. “Most of the time I think about things. Write stuff down. Is that what you wanted to know?”

  “I guess.” I became aware that we were staring at each other. And had been for a while. I noticed and looked away, but Miles didn’t. “It’s rude to stare at people.”

  “Is it?” He sounded serious. “Tell me if I’m doing something weird. Sometimes I can’t tell.”

  “What is up with you lately? Why are you being so nice?”

  “I didn’t realize I was.” His face remained completely neutral. Except for that infuriating eyebrow.

  I couldn’t stand it anymore. I had to ask. “So you don’t think it’s creepy? My schizophrenia?”

  “That would be stupid.”

  I laughed. I fell back into the gravel and laughed, my voice carrying up through the trees and into the sky. His response made me feel free. That was what I came down to Red Witch Bridge to feel anyway, but I’d never expected any help from Miles.

  In a weird way, it felt like he belonged here. He belonged in the land of phoenixes and witches, the place where things were too fantastic to be real.

  He leaned over and looked down at me. He seemed more confused than anything.

  I pushed myself back up. He kept staring at me. I realized I wanted to kiss him.

  I didn’t know why. Maybe it was the way he looked at me like I was the only thing he wanted to look at.

  How did one go about it? Ask him if I could? Or maybe quick and unexpected would be better. He made a pretty easy target, sitting there, docile for once, and kind of sleepy.

  I really needed Finnegan’s Magic 8 Ball. But I could guess what kind of answer it would give me. Ask again later. So freaking noncommittal.

  No, none of that. Decision: Outright questioning.

  Just say it, said the voice. Ask him. Blurt it out. What can he say?

  He can laugh in my face.

  Let him. It’ll be a douche move on his part. You’re only being honest.

  I don’t know.

  Do you really think after all this, he’d brush you off like that?

  Maybe.

  Maybe he likes you, too. Maybe that’s why he stares so much.

  Maybe.

  Screw it. I was chickening out. Quick and unexpected—GO!

  I leaned forward and kissed him. I don’t think he caught on until it was too late.

  He froze up as soon as I touched him. Of course—he didn’t like to be touched. I should have asked. I should have asked, I should have asked . . . . But then, like a building wave, I felt the heat pouring off of him. His fingertips brushed my neck. My heart tried to strangle me and I jumped away from him.

  A band of moonlight lit up his eyes like fluorescent bulbs.

  “Sorry,” I said, standing and hurrying back up to the copse to find my baseball bat, trying to figure out what I’d been thinking.

  He was still sitting there when I stumbled back into the street.

  “So, um.” My jaw tingled, lungs contracted, throat tightened. “I’ll see you on Monday, I guess.”

  He didn’t say anything.

  I barely kept myself from sprinting through Red Witch Bridge. The wind thundered in the trees, and when I finally looked back, Miles stood at the door to his truck, outlined by moonlight, staring right back at me.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

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

  Chapter Twenty-three

  I spent the rest of the weekend wondering what I was going to say to Miles on Monday. We both knew secrets about each other now. The only difference was he didn’t know that I knew. It felt unfair, somehow. Like I was lying to him.

  When I woke up on Monday morning, I remembered the pictures on my camera and wondered how long it would take Celia to find me and kill me after I’d handed them over to Claude. Tucker and I had exhausted the library’s databases on Scarlet and McCoy, with no further clues about McCoy’s par
ticular brand of psychosis. So either I asked Celia what exactly was going on with McCoy—she probably wouldn’t give me a straight answer—or I found another source of information.

  I told myself to drop it. I told myself it wasn’t worth it. But then I looked at the picture of Celia spray-painting that car, and all I could see was myself spray-painting the Hillpark gymnasium.

  Two minutes before seven, Miles’s truck idled in the driveway, tailpipe gushing exhaust into the frosty air. My mother stood at the front door, holding her coffee mug in both hands, her face pressed against the screen. I would’ve gotten mad at her, but she’d bought me a case of Yoo-hoo over the weekend. So I poked her out of the way as I shouldered my backpack and grabbed a Yoo-hoo from the hallway table.

  “That’s Miles?” My mother shifted to see better when Miles let his arm dangle out the truck window, as if that arm would give her his life story.

  “Yes. He brought me home after the bonfire, remember? And on Friday.”

  “You should invite him over for dinner.”

  I laughed into the Yoo-hoo straw, making the drink bubble up. My face got hot. “Hah, right.”

  “You need to learn to be more sociable, Alexandra, or you’re never going to—”

  “Okay bye Mom love you!” I charged past her and out the door. She huffed loudly as the screen door clattered shut.

  I jogged down the front yard, perimeter checking as I went, and climbed into Miles’s pickup.

  “So, how was your weekend?” I asked, trying to sound casual. His gaze snapped up to my face—I think he’d been staring at the Yoo-hoo bottle—and he shrugged.

  “Same as usual.” He left something hanging in the air, like he wanted to finish with except for Saturday night. Same here, buddy. He backed into the street.

  “You work at Meijer, right?” I asked.

  “Yeah,” he said. The corner of his lips curled up. “I work at the deli counter. Have to give people their succulent, chemical-ridden salami and whatnot.”

  I pictured Miles in a dark room, standing at a butcher’s block with a large knife in one hand a bloody cow’s leg steadied under the other, a huge Cheshire grin spreading over his face—

  “I bet the customers love you,” I said.

  “They do—when my manager is around.”

  “So do you run jobs there, too?”

  “No. I don’t steal from them, thank you very much,” said Miles. “I’m above common thievery. Outside of school.”

  “Why do you do it all?” I asked. “It can’t just be for the money.”

  “I have reasons.”

  “But, I mean, you know sometimes they just want to humiliate you. Like, don’t you think if you’d gone back through Red Witch Bridge on Saturday, Cliff and the others would’ve tried to scare you?”

  “Probably. Trust me, I know. I’ve had plenty of embarrassing jobs.” He parked the truck and reached around his seat for his bag. “It’s all schadenfreude. People just want to laugh at you.”

  “Can you really speak German?” I already knew the answer.

  Miles glanced out the side window, and then said, almost too low for me to hear, “Ja, ich spreche Deutsch.” A smile stretched across his face. “But don’t ask me to do it—it makes me feel like a monkey doing parlor tricks.”

  We got out of the truck and started toward the school. “It must be awful for Jetta,” I said.

  “I think she’s used to it. Whenever someone asks her to say something, she curses at them.”

  “She speaks French and Italian, right?”

  “And German and Spanish and Greek and a little Gaelic.”

  “Wow. Can you speak all those?”

  “Not really. I’m just . . . German.” We crossed the parking lot. “Hey, since we were talking about it—I have another job to run on Thursday night. I want you to help.”

  “Why? What can I do?”

  “Extra pair of hands. Art was the only one available. I’ll give you a cut of the reward, of course.”

  “It’s nothing illegal, right?”

  “Of course not. You’ll be fine.”

  I had no idea how far Miles’s definition of legal stretched, but maybe this was his form of a peace offering. He wasn’t stupid—if it was really, truly dangerous, I don’t think he would have asked. “Okay. I guess.”

  Miles went with me to the newspaper room, where I handed over my memory card to Claude Gunthrie, showing him the pictures of Britney’s spray-painted car. First, Claude laughed. Then he downloaded them and sent an e-mail to his father, Assistant Principal Borruso, and McCoy.

  I didn’t miss all the weird looks we got on the way to English. I thought it might be because Miles was smiling, but that didn’t seem like it, either. I didn’t like this new attention. It made my neck itch.

  I’d hardly finished my perimeter check when Ria Wolf slid into the desk next to mine, looking eager. Chills ran up my arms and legs at her predatory smile. I wanted to get as far away from her as humanly possible, but I dug my fingernails into the desktop and forced myself to stay put.

  “Hey, what was Celia like when she was spray-painting Britney’s car?” she asked.

  “Huh?”

  “You were there, weren’t you?”

  I looked around and realized Celia wasn’t there, and most of the class was watching us and waiting for my answer. “I mean—yeah, I was there, but she was just painting the car. . . .”

  Holy hell, had it really gotten out that fast? It had barely been five minutes.

  “Are you out to get her or something?” Cliff appeared next to Ria, talking to me like we were best buddies. He was even worse than Ria; every time I saw him, I knew he was half a second from lunging out at me with a razor blade. “’Cause that’s awesome; she deserves it.”

  “Hey, Clifford,” Miles growled from his seat, “go find some other territory to mark.”

  “Hey, Nazi, go find some more Jews to gas,” Cliff shot back, but even as he said it he stood up and moved back toward his desk.

  “Do you understand what you’re saying when those words come out of your mouth?” Miles asked. “Or do you just repeat what everyone else says because everyone else is saying it?”

  Cliff settled into his seat. “What the hell are you talking about, Richter?”

  “Everyone in this room knows what I’m talking about. Stop calling me a Nazi.”

  “Why should I?”

  Miles’s hand came down on the desk. “Because the systematic slaughter of millions of people isn’t funny!” His sudden anger quieted the entire room. It even startled Mr. Gunthrie out of his newspaper.

  I had thought he didn’t care when people called him a Nazi. A mixed wave of relief and happiness rolled through me that he did care, but why did it make him so angry?

  “ENOUGH TALKING.” Mr. Gunthrie rose to his feet, looking between Miles and Cliff like he thought they might explode. “GET INTO YOUR LITERARY DISCUSSION PAIRS, AND I DON’T WANT TO HEAR A WORD OUT OF ANY OF YOU. UNDERSTOOD?”

  “Yes, sir!”

  “BEFORE WE BEGIN CLASS TODAY, I’D LIKE TO HAVE A NICE LITTLE CHAT ABOUT THE VALUE OF RESPECTING ANOTHER PERSON’S PROPERTY. DOES THAT SOUND NICE TO YOU ALL?”

  And so began our twenty-eight-and-a-half minute lesson on why spray paint and car windshields don’t mix. Britney and Stacey watched him intently the whole time, nodding in agreement. Mr. Gunthrie gave us a last disappointed look and told us to get on with our discussion of Heart of Darkness.

  Tucker, as usual, had already written up our discussion paper. He was being weird again, his expression closed like someone had shut a door inside him. I knew why as soon as he glanced over at Miles.

  “So,” he said, “are you two, like, friends now?”

  I tried to keep my expression neutral.

  “I . . . I guess. He gave me a ride here this morning.” I paused, then said, “He spoke German.”

  “What?”

  “You told me to tell you if he ever started talking with a German
accent. I got him to speak German, so that’s even better, right?”

  If anything, Tucker looked more upset than before. “Why are you in his club?”

  “Um. Community service.”

  “For what?”

  “It’s not a big deal. Just a misunderstanding at Hillpark.”

  A smart person would be able to put the Hillpark Gym Graffiti Incident—which most of East Shoal knew about—together with my community service. But no one knew enough about me. Hillpark and East Shoal hated each other so much it severed the lines of communication. Out here in the boonies of suburban Indiana, it was red versus green, Dragons versus Sabres. You didn’t speak to someone from the other school unless you were spitting in their face. The only reason East Shoal knew about the graffiti at all was because Hillpark’s main gym had been closed for several games while they cleaned the floor. My reputation at Hillpark hadn’t bled into my time at East Shoal. Not yet.

  But Tucker was separate from all that. He did know enough about me.

  “When you two walked in, he was smiling.” Tucker looked down at his desk, tracing the grooves in its top with his pencil. “I haven’t seen him smile since eighth grade.”

  “He’s only driving me to school,” I reassured him. “I’m not going to start hanging out or figuring out scoreboard-related mysteries with him or anything.”

  “No, because that’s my job.” Tucker’s face lifted, a smile tugging at his lips. “He’s on transportation duty and I get mysteries. I see you building your harem of manservants.”

  “I’m looking at Ackerley next—I think he’d give a killer foot massage.”

  Tucker laughed, but glanced over his shoulder as if Cliff was going to appear behind him and slam his head into the desk.

  I knew how he felt.

  For the rest of that week, I felt strangely buoyant. At work, at school, even when I had to go near the scoreboard. Everything was good. Celia was suspended for the paint job. I got all my homework done on time (and even understood my calculus, which was a miracle in itself), took enough pictures and did enough perimeter checks to put my paranoia at ease, and I had people to talk to.

  Real people. Not homicidal people.

  Miles drove me to and from school. Like most people, he didn’t act the same when you got him alone. He was still an asshat, but alone he was more Blue Eyes than jerk. On Wednesday, when the club stayed after school to work a swim meet, he even helped me bury Erwin.

 
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