Made You Up, page 22
Somehow we made it to the janitors’ closet. Tucker hurried to the back of the small room and pulled open a freezer. The snake swung its head up, tasting the air. Tucker pulled a whole frozen raccoon from the freezer. He dangled it near the snake, and then tossed it on the floor.
The snake slithered off me.
I stumbled back and fell on my butt in the middle of the hallway.
Miles backed out of the room and turned to me.
“You gave me a piece of the Berlin Wall,” I whispered.
“You gave me a piece of the Berlin Wall.”
“Yeah, Opa gave it to me. I’ve had it for a really long time, and I thought you’d like—”
“MILES.” I grabbed the front of his shirt and hoisted myself up to his level. “YOU GAVE ME A PIECE OF THE SYMBOL OF THE DOWNFALL OF COMMUNISM IN EUROPE.”
“Crimson Falls isn’t Crimson Falls.”
“I almost got killed by a fucking snake.”
“I think I’m going to faint.”
My hands fell away from his shirt, blood rushed to my head, and the world went black.
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I spent the rest of first period and all of second in the nurse’s office, watching Animal Control pass through the hallway. I had to answer a lot of questions, then talk to my dad on the phone. (Apparently my mother thought I’d hallucinated the snake, but then she found out half my English class was now paranoid as hell, and the other half was so excited they couldn’t stay in their seats.) Miles helped Tucker get rid of the snake food fridge, but they refused to tell me exactly how they snuck it out past the teachers and Animal Control. Miles looked grim. Tucker was sweating.
“What’d you have to do, kill someone?” I asked. “Did you have to hide a body, too?”
They glanced at each other. Tucker pulled on his collar. “Not exactly.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Miles said at the same time.
I decided to leave that one alone.
I went back to class during third period and was bombarded with requests to retell the story. It was so bad that the teacher decided we weren’t learning anything and we got a free study period instead.
The problem with retelling the story was that it made me relive it, and I didn’t want to remember the feeling of coming close to having my ribs crushed. I didn’t want to remember how that python had gone from fake to real in five seconds. Looking back on an event and realizing how easily you could have died—without even comprehending the deadliness of the thing that killed you—was a little like getting a bucket of ice water thrown in your face. Mostly harmless, but no less shocking.
I spent my lunch period combing my food for poison and thinking about how I could have been gone forever.
Forget college—bye-bye, all the other years of my life.
I would have died in this lobster tank.
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I was working at Finnegan’s on Friday when a swarm of East Shoalers stormed the place. Everyone from the club to Cliff and Ria showed up, cramming every corner of the restaurant.
Finnegan himself always stopped by on Friday nights, and this royally screwed me over because I couldn’t take pictures or do my perimeter checks or my food inspections. He sat in his office and made sure we were doing what we were supposed to. He was an average-looking guy—average height, average build, average black-brown hair and gray-blue eyes. He reminded me of a vulture, his neck too long and bent at odd angles.
Miles wandered in and took a seat with the rest of the club. Gus slid his burger and fries through the kitchen window before I could ask for it.
“Thanks,” Miles said when I set the food in front of him. Art and Jetta sat across from him, the triplets at the next table over.
“Sorry I can’t stay and talk,” I said. “Finnegan’s here. He’ll crucify me if it looks like I’m not working.” I tugged on Miles’s white shirtsleeve with two fingers as I said it. A sorry replacement for a kiss, but the best I could do under Finnegan’s watch.
“Pretend like we’re ordering something else,” Theo said. “And answer this question: You’re going to prom, right?”
Miles rolled a french fry between his thumb and index finger.
“I—no, I can’t.” I pulled out my notepad and pretended to write something down. “I have to work that night.”
“Oh, but Jetta could make the perfect dress for you,” whined Theo. “Please? Please go. Ask off work. I did, and I never ask off.”
“I really can’t, Theo; I’m sorry.” I didn’t have the money for it, and neither did Miles.
“Don’t look now,” Art whispered. “Cliff’s giving you the evil eye.”
In my peripheral, I noticed Cliff and Ria staring at me from a few tables over.
“They can do what they want,” I said. “They probably just want to make some more jokes about me being a snake charmer.”
I didn’t expect anything else from them at this point. After the snake incident, I saw them in the cafeteria, reenacting what had happened for their friends. According to them, I’d fainted straightaway, and Miles had tried to beat the snake to death while it was still wrapped around me. A-plus performances, really, but if they were going to make fun of my near-death experience, they could have at least gotten the details right.
I ignored them and returned to the counter, pretending to look for another notepad but actually searching for the Magic 8 Ball. Was that snake real every time I saw it, or only sometimes? Were there others things I had thought were hallucinations, but were actually real? Even if the answer to that one was yes, it wasn’t like the 8-Ball could tell me exactly what they were. . . .
The 8 Ball’s usual spot beside the register was empty. I grabbed Tucker. “Hey. Where’s the 8 Ball?”
“The 8 Ball. Finnegan’s Magic 8 Ball. I can’t find it.”
Tucker gave me a weird look, said, “Finnegan doesn’t have a Magic 8 Ball,” and hurried off.
I stared at the countertop and let that sink in. I’d used that 8 Ball so many times I couldn’t remember all the questions I’d asked it. And I’d never once suspected it of being a hallucination. It didn’t even seem like a hallucination. There was nothing strange about it. The blue water wasn’t purple or orange or green. It never said strange things. It was just an old Magic 8 Ball, red scuff mark and all. It was just there.
I looked up. The restaurant was a living, breathing creature, ready to eat me alive. I braced my hands against the edge of the counter and took a few deep breaths.
“Alexandra!” Now Finnegan was leaning forward in his computer chair, craning his vulture neck around the office door to see me. “Get back to work!”
I scrambled for my water pitcher. Tucker was already going around with the Coke and tea. I nodded as I passed him, refilling drinks on the way. When I stopped at Cliff and Ria’s table, everyone there was strangely cordial to me. I liked it that way. It was like they didn’t really notice me. I ignored them and they ignored me. Good.
Until I turned to move on to the next table. My foot caught on something. I stumbled. The water pitcher, after sloshing its contents across my front, caught me in the jaw. Pain throbbed through my lip, and coppery blood spread across my tongue.
I cursed and pushed myself up. Laughter arced over my head. Cliff pulled his foot back under the table.
Then Miles rose from his seat and dragged Cliff out of his, slamming him back against the table. Ria and the others cried out as their glasses rattled.
“Chill out, Richter—”
“YOU FUCKING CHILL OUT, CLIFFORD.” Miles slammed him against the table again. “If you’ve got a problem with anyone, it’s me. So deal with me.”
I stood, grabbing my water pitcher. “Miles, stop. He’s not worth it. It’s not a big deal.”
Miles’s eyes flickered over to me. “He hurt you.”
I touched the spot on my lip where I’d bitten myself. My fingers came away bloody. “I’ll be fine. I bit my lip. It was an accident.”
Miles looked less than thrilled, but he released Cliff.
“Damn, Richter. You know your girlfriend is screwy in the head, right?” Cliff tugged on his collar. “But I guess you’re used to that, huh? I figure you like her because she reminds you of your dear old Mutter.” He paused and folded his arms, getting a serious, concentrated look on his face. “It’s really kind of creepy, when you think about it, because that means that you want to fuck your mom.”
I felt the shock wave move through the room. It started with Miles, knocking him slightly backward, seeming to ripple through every last inch of him. It silenced the rest of the restaurant. I saw Tucker in the far corner, forgetting that he was refilling someone’s tea and letting the cup overflow.
In the world of high school insults, it was actually pretty tame, but Miles’s reaction made it terrible. Even Ria seemed scared. The muscles in Miles’s throat worked as though he was trying to speak or swallow, but his lips pressed together so tightly they turned white. He closed his eyes.
“Miles,” I said.
He exhaled sharply through his nose, opened his eyes, and reached out for me.
Cliff punched him in the ear.
Miles gasped and staggered to the side, clutching his head. I dropped the water pitcher and threw myself at Cliff before he could get another hit in. The next thing I knew, I had Ria grabbing at my hair and shirt, and Cliff trying to pry me off. Then Art was there, holding off two other football players from joining the fray, and Jetta and the triplets and Tucker jumped in around him, trying to help me, and the whole place went to hell.
Eventually, someone grabbed me underneath the arms and lifted me right out of the fight. I was set on my feet behind the counter, and turned to see Gus—big, potbellied Gus, the cigarette still clamped between his lips. He nodded, looking worried.
I hated that look.
He trundled off to break up the fight, leaving a fuming Finnegan in his wake. Finnegan’s face went from red to purple to white. Plates shattered. Drinks flew across the room. Blood dripped from my lip.
Finnegan only got two words out before he apparently lost the ability to speak.
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My mother was not amused.
As soon as she saw my lip, she knew what had happened. Like Finnegan had some sort of telepathic link with her or something.
Or, more likely, that Finnegan had a sister called the Gravedigger.
She sat me in my room with my pictures and my artifacts, and she forced me to stay there for the rest of the night. Charlie kept me company, curled up in my lap, my arms around her. The gravity of the situation didn’t hit me until Saturday afternoon, when Miles showed up on the doorstep, apologizing.
“I didn’t mean to get you fired,” he said.
I’d invited him in, but he still stood on the welcome mat outside the door, his hands stuffed in his pockets. Shadows ringed his eyes. A bruise was forming along his left cheekbone that may or may not have come from the fight at Finnegan’s.
“It’s not your fault Cliff punched you in the ear,” I said. “He’s a two-hundred-pound human wrecking ball. Did you really think I was going to stand there and wait for him to hit you again?”
He stared at me.
“The answer is no, you didn’t, because no, I wasn’t. Besides, Finnegan was going to find something to fire me for sooner or later. I’m glad it was something worth getting fired over.”
“I could have handled Cliff,” Miles said. “I have some general experience getting the shit kicked out of me. But you needed that job.”
I wanted to argue with him, but sometimes he had a terrible way of being right. I hadn’t just gotten fired; I’d gotten fired for starting a fight. So much for ever using Finnegan as a work reference.
I glanced back into the house to make sure no one was listening, but Mom had gone to the store with Charlie and Dad had fallen asleep reading a National Geographic on the couch. I stepped out onto the porch and closed the door behind me.
“Well, it’s too late now,” I said, then offered up a pitiful smile. “But hey, that means I’ll have more time to figure out what McCoy’s doing, right?”
I was joking, but Miles frowned. “You still want to break into his house?”
“I have to figure out what’s going on. As long as we don’t get caught, it’ll be fine.” I was positive it would, if Miles was still in on the plan. I waited, but his frown only deepened until he pushed his glasses up to rub at his eyes.
“I remember lifting you up, you know,” he finally said.
“With the lobsters. I remember lifting you up. You were heavy.”
“Uh . . . thanks?”
He shook his head. “When are we doing this?”
“The day before the spring sports awards.”
“I know. Tucker found out from the front desk secretary that McCoy is staying late that day for preparations, so we know he won’t be home. I told my mom I’d have to go back to school to help the club set up the gym—I’d sneak out, but my parents have been watching me constantly.”
Miles exhaled sharply through his nose.
“Okay,” he said. “Am I picking you up?”
“Tucker said he could, and we’d meet you there. Since you already live so close.”
“Fine.” He hesitated a second, then turned to go.
“Wait!” I caught his sleeve between my fingers. “Are you angry?”
He only turned halfway back. “I’m a lot of things,” he snapped. “I don’t know.”
“You could . . . you could hang out here for a while. You don’t have to go home.”
“I shouldn’t—” he began. Then my mother’s Firenza turned down the street and pulled into the driveway, boxing in Miles’s truck. Charlie bounced in the passenger seat. My mother got out and called for help bringing in the groceries.
“Well,” he said, and I swear he sounded relieved, “I guess I could stay for a while.”
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The day before the spring sports awards, Tucker picked me up just as the shadows of the trees began slanting the other direction. I ran out to his SUV as fast as I could, ignoring the perimeter check, so my mother wouldn’t have time to see who was driving. The Hannibal’s Rest phoenix soared overhead. I didn’t mention it to Tucker.
“I didn’t need anything, right?” I asked, checking myself over. Converse. Jeans. Striped T-shirt.
“Nope. Richter said he knows a quick way in.” Tucker pulled out of the driveway and started toward Lakeview.
“Why do you still call him ‘Richter’? You’ve called him ‘Miles’ before.”
Tucker shrugged. “Habit, I guess. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to call him an
We made it to Lakeview in ten minutes. Tucker passed Miles’s street and went two more, to a cul-de-sac where rainbows and unicorns came to die. Miles’s truck was already parked along the curb. Tucker pulled up behind it and pointed to a house a little farther down.
The place had probably looked good once, but now unchecked ivy grew up its sides. The house must’ve been red and white, but the white was peeling and yellowed, and the red had been bleached to a Pepto-Bismol pink.
We got out and met Miles.
“He hasn’t been home since I’ve been here,” said Miles.
“How long do you think we have?” I asked.
“An hour—Evan and Ian said they could hold McCoy at the school until at least four. Should be plenty.”
“Are you sure you can get in?” Tucker asked.
Miles scoffed. “Have some faith, Beaumont. I got into your house, didn’t I?”
Tucker rolled his eyes. “Fine then. Lead on.”
The two of them started down the sidewalk. But as soon as I took a step, a flash of red behind the driver’s seat in Tucker’s SUV caught my eye. I looked back, wondering if it was some sort of hallucination, and then realized—I knew that shade of red.
The two of them stopped as I marched back to the SUV and threw open the back door. Charlie crouched in between the seats, curled so tightly I hadn’t seen her there on the drive over. She stared at me, eyes wide and frightened. The black king was in one curled fist, shiny with spit and dented with teeth marks.
“Sorry!” she whined. “I thought you were going to your school and I wanted to see it! You never take me anywhere with you!”
I tugged on my hair. “Seriously? Ugh—I can’t take you home now.”
“Let me come with you!” She tried to jump out of the car. I shoved her back into the SUV. I didn’t want her walking around in the middle of the crappy side of Lakeview Trail.
“Where are we?” she asked.
“Stay here. Are you listening to me? Do not leave this car.” I fixed her with my most searing gaze. “Do. Not. Leave. This. Spot. Got it?”