Made you up, p.21

Made You Up, page 21

 

Made You Up
 


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  I kept my eyes peeled for any sign of Miles.

  What I saw instead were Cliff and Ria, on their way to the bleachers from the concession stand. I froze like a deer in headlights when they neared—this was what I got for not doing a good perimeter check. If I’d done the perimeter check, I wouldn’t have run into them, I wouldn’t look like an idiot, I wouldn’t . . .

  “Watch out, babe, she’s dangerous,” Cliff said to Ria, holding out an arm like he was going to protect her from something. Protect her from you, idiot. I gritted my teeth and tried not to look at them.

  “I’m not dangerous,” I said, keeping my voice level.

  “Yeah, and your boyfriend isn’t a Nazi,” Ria scoffed.

  For a second I wondered what Miles ever saw in her. She must’ve been horrible to him, because nothing else would make him hate her so much.

  Now I understood why the nicknames made Miles so upset, and I couldn’t listen to it anymore. “Don’t call him that.”

  “Really?” Ria blinked, eyes wide and innocent. “Because he’s kind of asking for it today.”

  Anger balled up in my chest. “And you’re kind of asking to be called a bitch.”

  I hardly realized I was saying the words until they were out of my mouth.

  Ria almost dropped her soda. Her voice turned flat and sharp and deadly. “What did you just call me?”

  I couldn’t back down now. “You’re a bitch. Sleeping with other guys just to make him jealous”—I jabbed a finger at Cliff—“is pretty far into the definition of bitch, I think.”

  Ria’s knuckles turned white around the soda bottle. I really really hoped she didn’t charge at me—my legs weren’t going to move very fast, even if I asked them.

  “Take that back,” she said, voice tight. “Fucking take it back, or I swear to God—”

  I didn’t listen to the rest of her threat—I lowered my head and walked past them, toward the concession stand, to wherever Miles was. Coming to this game didn’t seem like such an awesome idea anymore. I took deep gulps of air, thinking about the trouble I could get into for saying things like that to people like Ria. I could already imagine them formulating a plan. Fuck. Oh, fuck.

  I needed to find Miles.

  I didn’t have to look far. I spotted him walking toward the visitors’ bleachers. My heart jumped into my throat and my stomach dropped, leaving a gaping void in my chest where vital things belonged.

  He was a Nazi.

  Or he was dressed like one. The brown suit. The black boots and gloves. The hat. The glaring armband. A saber hung at his side and the German flag from East Shoal’s Flags-of-the-World entryway rested against one shoulder. He pulled his hat off and wiped his forehead. He’d gelled his hair back, finally putting it in some kind of order.

  It wasn’t until his eyes met mine that the realization this was really happening hit me. When he saw me, his gaze didn’t turn glassy and hard and cold. It softened into something deeper than recognition. The eyes were his. The rest was not.

  I hurried over to him, stopped ten feet away, and hugged my chest so he wouldn’t see me shaking.

  “You’re going to get arrested!” I hissed, barely daring to raise my voice above a whisper. “What are you doing?”

  “They can’t arrest me for wearing an outfit,” Miles said, his eyebrows creasing. “Besides, I’m the mascot, see?” He nudged the saber sheathed at his hip.

  “Hey, it’s Schizo Ridgemont!”

  Some kids I knew from Hillpark walked by, looking shocked to see me alive. Miles whipped around, yelling at them in rapid German. The Hillpark kids shut up in surprise.

  “I realize that you think you have to keep doing this, but . . .” I yanked on my hair. “But you’re dressed up like a Nazi. What about everything you said to Cliff? About not wanting people to call you that?” I hesitated. “How much . . . how much did they pay you to do this?”

  Miles didn’t reply.

  Someone passing by laughed loudly, and I caught the words, “The Nazi and the Communist.”

  “Shut up!” I yelled. “You’re all so fucking inconsiderate! I’m trying to talk!” I turned back to Miles, lowering my voice again. “You don’t need to degrade yourself like this.”

  That was a terrible cover-up, and he knew it, and I could tell that he knew it. The truth was that I was terrified of Nazis, and here one stood. “Please take the uniform off,” I whispered. “Please.”

  He stared at me with a strange expression on his face and took a few steps forward, reaching out for me; I took a few steps back in response. He pulled his hat off and blinked at the sun in his eyes.

  “Okay. Just give me a few minutes. My other clothes are in the pool locker room.”

  He headed toward the school. I escaped up to the press box where Evan and Ian worked the baseball scoreboard controls and explained to them where Miles was and how I planned on hiding with them for the entire game.

  “Isn’t this your old school?” Evan asked.

  I nodded. “Unfortunately.”

  “What happened? What got you thrown out?”

  “I, uh, spray-painted the word Communists on the gym floor. Things got out of hand; I was having a few problems at the time. Everything’s fine now.”

  “It’s okay,” Ian laughed. “We really don’t care about your—problem? I guess, is what we’re calling it.”

  “Well, that’s good.” Relief washed through me. I looked over at the Hillpark stands, then back at Evan and Ian, and remembered how much it had sucked the first time: how people hadn’t trusted me, how they made fun of the way I spun around every time I entered a room, my incessant picture taking, and how I hadn’t been that lonely since I was seven years old and my only friend had left me for Germany.

  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone climbing the stairs to the press box. A brown uniform flew up and landed on the scoreboard controls. “Your Nazi boyfriend won’t need that anymore!”

  I spun, catching a flash of Ria’s blond hair. I looked down at Miles’s uniform, then over at Evan and Ian, and all three of us understood at the same time.

  “Theo!” Evan called to the concession stand below us. “Come up here and run this thing for a second!”

  The three of us sprinted to the school, each holding a different piece of Miles’s uniform. We barreled into the hallways behind the gym, through the locker rooms, and into the connected natatorium.

  It had finally happened. McCoy had used Cliff and Ria as a distraction and Miles was laying on the tiled floor in a puddle of his own blood.

  The natatorium was dark when we arrived. A lone figure sat on the bench next to the pool, soaking wet and clad in nothing but a pair of boxer shorts.

  “Go get towels,” I said to Evan and Ian. They vanished into the locker rooms.

  I sat down next to Miles. His glasses were missing and his eyes were unfocused. “I hate water,” he mumbled.

  “I know.”

  He looked like a waterlogged cat. His hair was plastered to his head. Goose bumps covered his skin, layered over fading bruises that dotted his torso and ran down along his ribs. A horrible green-yellow-blue one ran diagonally across his back. They were all old, not inflicted here.

  “What happened?” I asked.

  “I went into the locker room to change,” he said. “They ambushed me. Took my glasses. Threw me in the pool. They were gone by the time I got out, but it was slippery and I fell back in. Now you’re here. The end.”

  He scratched at his legs, his arms, picked at his skin like there was something there. I remembered all the bandages. The smell of pond scum and algae. Animalia Annelida Hirudinea.

  Leeches.

  “You can’t let them do things like this to you,” I said.

  “It won’t be much longer.”

  He said it softly, his voice like every part of him I’d ever met—the Jerk, the seven-year-old, the genius—and none of them, all at the same time. This was something new, something unknown. Something that scared me. Maybe he
meant it wouldn’t be much longer until the end of the school year, that when we were out of high school he’d have more freedom to do what he needed to do.

  Are you sure, idiot?

  You’re so stupid.

  He never talks about college, or anything after this.

  Are you really so naïve?

  All he wanted—all he knew to do—was to get his mother out of that hospital. But he had to get rid of Cleveland first. He had a plan. I knew that.

  I hadn’t realized how far he was willing to go.

  Some deep instinct made me reach out and grab his arm, hold it tightly as if I could keep him right where he was, alive and sound.

  I could not lose him again.

  No—I could not let him get lost.

  I was suddenly more afraid than I had ever been my entire life, more afraid than when Bloody Miles had shown up at Celia’s bonfire, more afraid than when my mother said she would send me away. This was worse than the idea of McCoy trying to hurt Miles. I could stop McCoy. I could yell and scream and even if they didn’t believe me, they would stop and look.

  I had no sway over Miles himself. Not when it came to this.

  Evan and Ian returned laden with towels and Miles’s school clothes, and Miles dried himself off. Neither of them said anything about the bruises as Miles pulled his pants and shirt on.

  We followed him out of the natatorium. As we passed the main gym, I heard voices and glanced inside, but only McCoy was there. He paced below the scoreboard, talking aloud like he was gearing up for a big speech. No Celia, no Celia’s mother. Fear spiked through me that he was so close, that the only thing separating him from Miles was a closed door.

  Then the fear was gone again, and McCoy was just a lonely man in a lonely room, talking to himself.

  “What’s wrong?” Miles asked.

  Even if I told him, I wasn’t sure he’d understand.

  “Nothing,” I said.

  * * *

  Will he be okay?

  Outlook not so good

  Can I do something to make him okay?

  Very doubtful

  . . . can I do anything?

  Don’t count on it

  * * *

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

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

  Chapter Forty-three

  I saw what Miles had meant when he’d said people would start paying him to do ridiculous things. In chemistry, someone gave him thirty dollars to call Ms. Dalton a Coke-sucking whore in German, which of course she didn’t understand. He got twenty dollars to put tape on the bridge of his glasses, wear too-short pants, and don argyle socks for three days. Cliff, the asshole, paid Miles fifty dollars to be able to deck him in the jaw, and one punch turned into several punches and a kick to the gut. The triplets speculated that Cliff had been aiming for the genitals, but Miles’s incessant stare had thrown him radically off target.

  Every day he threw away another piece of his pride and dignity for a few dollars, but I couldn’t stop him.

  I don’t think anyone could have.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

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

  Chapter Forty-four

  “RIDGEMONT.” Mr. Gunthrie slapped his newspaper down on his desk.

  “Yessir?”

  “I AM TIRED OF THAT DAMN LIGHT FLICKERING.”

  The light over my desk flickered as he said it, mocking him.

  “Do you want me to do something about it, sir?” I asked. I could hardly keep my eyes open. My dreams had been less than restful lately.

  “I DAMN SURE DO. THE MAINTENANCE MEN HAVE REPLACED THE LIGHT THREE TIMES. GET UP THERE AND TELL ME WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE.”

  I wasn’t about to ask him why he didn’t just ask the maintenance guys to check. While the rest of the class turned back to their work, I climbed onto my desk and lifted away the ceiling tile next to the light. Putting my hands on either side of the opening and standing on tiptoes, I looked up into the darkness.

  “Something’s gnawed on the wiring.” I squinted into the dim space, trying to focus on the frayed wire. It hadn’t just been gnawed on—it had been completely ripped in two.

  Something near my head hissed.

  I turned and saw the python there, its tongue flicking out at me. I rolled my eyes. I didn’t have time for this. Damn delusions needed to leave me the hell alone.

  I ducked my head back down but kept my hands up for balance. Something touched my arm, but I ignored it. “Hey, Miles, you wanna give me a boost? I think there are mice or something up here. I might be able to see it better.”

  Miles turned, rose halfway out of his seat, and looked up at me.

  The snake hissed again.

  I looked at the snake. I looked at Miles.

  The snake. Miles.

  The snake.

  Miles.

  “Alex.” He held up a hand. “Don’t. Move.”

  Several kids screamed; desks shifted and scraped against the floor as they jumped up and ran from the room. Mr. Gunthrie shot out of his seat, cursing loudly and yelling about snakes and Vietnam.

  The python coiled down my arm, passed behind my head, and wrapped over my left shoulder and across my chest. It looped itself once around my waist, then down my left leg. Its body spilled out of the ceiling like scaly water, lighter than it looked.

  “Holy shit.” Miles stood fully now. “Holy shit, Alex, it’s the snake.”

  “You can see it?” I hissed the words out through my teeth.

  “Yeah, I can see it.”

  “What do I do?”

  “Uh—let me think—” He pressed his palms to his forehead and spoke rapidly. “They can live over twenty years—feed on large rodents or other mammals—average about twelve feet but can reach nineteen—” He groaned loudly and spoke even faster. “Trinomial name is python molorus bivittatus, can be domesticated, nonvenomous, can kill a child when they’re young and crush a full-grown man when they’re older—”

  “Miles! Shut up!” My voice rose an octave, my heart pounding against my ribs. The snake shifted against me. I fought the urge to scream.

  “Someone call Animal Control!” Theo cried.

  “No, that’ll take too long!” Tucker was suddenly beside me. “It’s hungry. C’mon, Alex, you have to get down from there.”

  “How do you know it won’t”—I shivered as the snake’s waving head brushed my calf—“kill me?”

  “It’s hungry,” Tucker insisted, avoiding the question. “I can help get him off; you have to come down here.”

  “Him?” I squeaked.

  “Please, please get down! It’s going to be okay.”

  “God, Beaumont! What the hell is wrong with you?” Miles shoved Tucker out of the way and held out a hand. I slowly lowered my left hand from the ceiling to reach out and take his.

  “No more facts,” I whispered.

  “No more facts,” Miles agreed. “Go slow—step down.”

  I moved slowly.

  The snake hissed.

  “Tucker!” I waved my other hand, the one attached to the arm that had the snake’s tail wrapped around it. Tucker looked surprised, but took my hand. “Where are we going?”

  “The janitors’ closet,” he said.

  “Lead, lead.”

  We headed toward the door, passing stunned classmates and a freaked-out Mr. Gunthrie.

  I crushed their hands. We shambled out into the hallway and toward the stairs.

  “I think you’re breaking my fingers,” said Miles.

  “Shut up.”

  As we painstakingly descended the stairs, they kept up a steady stream of small talk. We stopped at the bottom and took our time turning, then set off for Tucker’s Cult in a Closet. The snake weighed on me like the heaviest piece of clothing I would ever wear.

  “So, um, Miles.” I
squeezed his hand harder. “Have I said how much I really don’t want to be stuck in Crimson Falls? But I’m pretty sure my mom is going to put me there anyway, and this situation made me realize the direness of that whole thing. . . .”

  “Crimson Falls,” Miles repeated. “What’s Crimson Falls?”

  God, we were not about to play this game. “The psychiatric hospital. Where your mom is.”

  “Alex, the hospital is called Woodlands. Where’d you get Crimson Falls?”

  I sucked in a breath under the snake’s weight, trying to keep calm. “That’s what the sign out front said. It said Crimson Falls.”

  “The sign in front says Woodlands.”

  Panic gripped me. Made Miles panic.

  “Hey,” he continued quickly, “what’d you do with my Christmas present?”

  “What present?” I breathed out. “The cupcake? I ate it.”

  “No, not the cupcake—oh dammit, I forgot to explain.” He flexed his hand in mine. “I left it on your desk before we got out for Christmas break.”

  “The rock? The one that’s been sitting in my locker all semester?”

  “Yeah.”

  “That was you?”

  “It’s a piece of the Berlin Wall. I thought you’d like it.”

  I looked over at him, felt the snake constrict again, and could only say, “Shut up.”

  “God, Alex, I am so sorry,” Tucker breathed. “I never thought this would happen—I thought it would die soon. . . .”

  “Do you even have a club in that closet, Beaumont?” Miles growled.

  “No! Of course not! You seriously think I have friends?” Tucker shot him a glare over my head. “You have a club. I have a python. You can stop rubbing it in my face now, all right?”

  “Both of you! Shut. Up.”

 
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