Made You Up, page 24
The hard ridge of his glasses pressed into my temple. I liked the pressure. It reminded me that he was there.
“Don’t go away.”
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Morning sunlight crept into the room, lighting up my artifacts and the freckles on Miles’s face. The sheets were tangled around us. One of his hands was curled in my shirt, warm against my stomach, and the other was tucked beneath his chin. The rise of his body blocked most of the room, so I had to peek slowly over him to check the surroundings
Bloody Miles was gone.
So was Charlie.
I stopped the thought as soon as I noticed it creeping up on me and allowed it to get no farther than that: Charlie was gone. No amount of hoping or wishing would bring her back. Not really.
The door opened a crack. My mother. I met her eye, expecting her to barge in, to yell us, to put me under house arrest for lying to her yesterday, for running out so late, for letting Miles sleep in my room. But she didn’t.
She nodded and turned away.
Miles sighed. His glasses were askew on his nose. I didn’t want to wake him up, but I also didn’t want to be alone. I kissed his cheekbone. He sighed again. I huffed and said, “Miles.”
He grunted, cracking his eyes open.
“Morning,” I said.
“How did you sleep?” he asked.
“Okay, I guess.” I wouldn’t have slept at all if he hadn’t stayed awake until I drifted off. The night was a blur now; I couldn’t remember any dreams, just flashes of red hair and chess pieces, wisps of violin music. “You?”
“Better than usual.”
I reached up to fix his glasses. He smiled a little.
“Do we have to go to school today?” I asked. “Can we at least skip the awards?”
“The awards are the one thing we have to go to,” he said. “I have to be there for the club, and if you don’t go you’ll be violating your community service.”
“But McCoy will be there. I don’t want you near him.”
McCoy will burn his eyes out.
“If we don’t go, McCoy will have a reason to call me to his office. Then he’ll have me alone and it will be even worse.”
God, he was humoring me and I couldn’t stop myself. “Then you have to stay away from him. Don’t let him anywhere near you. Don’t even let him look at you—”
“I know.” His fist pressed into my stomach. “I know.”
If I looked at him any longer, I was going to start crying, so I pushed myself up and crawled over him to dig my school uniform out of the mess on the floor.
When I’d finished changing clothes, I had Miles wait by the front door while I crept into the kitchen.
Dad was alone, staring out the window over the kitchen sink. I tapped on the doorframe to get his attention.
“Your mom’s on the phone with Leann,” he said. I checked the clock. Seven in the morning—that had to be a new record for her.
“I’m going to school,” I said.
He turned away from the sink. “Lexi, I don’t think—”
“I don’t want to be here all day.”
“Your mom doesn’t want you to go.”
“Just today, please?” I wasn’t letting Miles go by himself, and I knew, if I kept pushing, Dad would cave. “If it makes you feel better, Miles will be with me all day.”
He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Actually, it does. But you know she’s going to be pissed if I let you leave.”
He waved a hand in defeat. “Go. But promise me you’ll come home if you get scared or panicked or—or if anything happens—tell Miles this, too, so he can bring you back here!”
He had to raise his voice for the last part; I was already marching to the front door.
Believing something existed and then finding out it didn’t was like reaching the top of the stairs and thinking there was one more step. Except when the thing was Charlie, the stairs were five miles high, and your foot never found the floor again.
Being back in school after that kind of drop was surreal, like I was falling past everyone else so quickly they couldn’t even see me.
Everyone ignored us, for the most part. After classes were over, Miles and I retreated to the gym and sat behind the scorer’s table. He barked out orders; all hands were on deck to set up for the awards.
“Celia!” Miles snapped. “Why are you late?”
Celia hurried into the gym, her lank brown hair hanging around her pallid face.
“Sorry!” she whimpered as she settled onto the bleachers, wiping her eyes. “Richar—Mr. McCoy wanted to talk to me.”
My heart sank. Why did he want to talk to her? What were they doing in his office? Why did McCoy have a picture of her and her father in his house?
Miles scrutinized her. “About what?”
Celia squirmed. “Nothing.”
“Celia. What did he tell you?”
“It’s none of your business, douche.” A little of Celia’s old self resurfaced. She huffed and went to sit at the end of the bleachers, then dropped her head into her hands and began sobbing.
This was worse than usual. Much worse.
I forced my breathing to remain even. If McCoy came anywhere near Miles, I’d be on him like a snake. Like that python.
Be the snake, the little voice said. Be the snake. Squeeze the life out of him.
Miles glanced toward the gym doors that led to the rotunda. “McCoy will be here soon,” he said. I couldn’t tell if he was worried or scared.
“Do you think he’s still in his office?” I asked. Miles nodded.
Celia was having a breakdown. McCoy was probably sharpening his executioner’s axe.
If I went now, I might be able to head him off. Stop him before he ever left his office. It could work.
“I’ll be right back,” I told Miles. “Restroom break. Stay away from McCoy if he comes in here, okay?”
As soon as I was out of Miles’s sight I began jogging. The rotunda was dotted in red—trophies, pictures, whole pieces of wall dripped with red paint. A long wavy red line led the way from the gym to the main office at the far end of the main hallway. I followed it.
Be the snake.
I strode past the front desk, ignoring the protests of the secretary, and pushed my way into McCoy’s office.
He sat behind his desk, looking unusually put together. Suit. Tie. Hands folded in front of him. Bloodshot eyes. The office was just an office—certificates framed on the walls, books on a bookshelf, computer humming on the desk.
“It’s okay, Mary,” he said to the secretary. She huffed and went back to her seat.
“What are you going to do?” I asked, balling my fists at my sides.
McCoy picked a piece of lint off his sleeve. “What do you mean?”
“I know you’ve been calling Celia down to your office for the past four years. I know you’ve been working on some kind of plan with her mother. And I know you hate Miles. I know you’re trying to get rid of him because . . . because Celia’s mom said he’s an obstacle.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about, Miss Ridgemont.”
“You know exactly what I’m talking about.” I glanced out the door to make sure the secretary wasn’t listening. “I’m not crazy, all right? I know about Scarlet. I know about your obsessions. I’m not letting this get past me. And I’m not going to let you hurt Miles.”
McCoy rearranged the nameplate on his desk. “You’re mistaken. I don’t plan on doing anything to Mr. Richter.”
“If not you, then who? Celia?”
“I can’t say I know what Celia Hendricks has to do with it.”
“I have, actually. You’re not my mother, so please don’t ask me that again. Now tell me what you’re going to do to Miles.”
“Again, Miss Ridgemont, I’m not going to harm a hair on Mr. Richter’s Aryan head.” He paused, and it took all my willpower not to look away from those searing eyes. “You should hurry back. It would be a shame if you failed your community service requirements right at the end of the year.”
I hesitated. If McCoy revoked my community service hours, I would definitely get sent away somewhere—Woodlands, or worse—and I would probably lose all class credit for this year. He had leverage; I had pieces of a story and a psychiatrist on speed dial.
He laced his fingers together with a benign smile. “I think we’re finally seeing eye to eye.”
No we’re not, you asshole. But I couldn’t say that. I couldn’t say anything if I wanted to get out of here in one piece. I stood on the other side of his desk, shaking with fury.
“Have a nice day, Miss Ridgemont.”
I trudged back to the gym in silence.
I couldn’t stop McCoy on my own, but if I told anyone about this, who would believe me? It might sound vaguely believable coming from someone like Tucker, but from me . . . There was no way. If I even breathed a word of something this big, my mother would have me committed before I could say just kidding.
I entered the gym on the other end of the bleachers, near the scoreboard. The bleachers had already filled with athletes and their parents. The members of the club were stationed around the room near the doors. Miles stood beneath the scoreboard, his back to me. Celia stood beside him, like she was on a leash.
McCoy was already there. He was already standing at the mic in the middle of the gym. Already talking.
But if he was here, who had I spoken to in his office?
“Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. I’d like to welcome you to our annual spring sports awards. We’ll begin with our league-winning baseball team, who’ve had a great season. . . .”
My shoe squeaked against the floor. Celia turned and saw me there; she was still crying, but harder than before.
Her mother was standing in the shadow of the bleachers on the opposite side of the gym, with her business suit and her long blond hair. But her face—I had seen her face before. In the newspaper. In the display cases outside this gym. In Celia’s own expression—because when they stood side-by-side, the similarities were unmistakable.
But Scarlet—Scarlet was dead. Scarlet had been dead for years.
“Remember, Celia,” she said, her voice filling the gym, “I’m doing this for you.”
Celia didn’t react.
“Richard and I have sorted everything out. It’ll be over soon.”
Celia didn’t react because Celia couldn’t react because Scarlet was dead.
“You can move on.”
The scoreboard gave an ominous creak. Scarlet smiled. McCoy spoke a little louder at his microphone when the scoreboard creaked a second time. No one noticed. I couldn’t be the only one seeing this. It was happening—it had to be—except Scarlet—Scarlet wasn’t smiling at Celia; she was smiling at me. And she lifted one pointed, cherry-red nail toward the scoreboard.
I looked up. Red paint dripped down the wall. Each letter was ten feet tall; the two words crunched the scoreboard between them like bloody teeth.
The scoreboard screamed too loudly for McCoy to cover it up. Celia jumped away, scrambling onto the bleachers. Miles turned to hiss at her.
The scoreboard’s supports snapped.
My feet stuttered; Scarlet’s high laughter pealed across the gym.
I shoved myself off the doorframe and slammed into Miles’s back.
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Here’s the thing about dying in a sudden and tragic accident, like getting crushed by a scoreboard:
You don’t expect it.
I expected it. So I think that’s probably why I didn’t die.
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I forced one eye open. Then the other.
My head had been caught in a vise. My mouth was lined with cotton. The light in the room was low, but enough for me to make out the ridge of my legs and feet underneath the covers of a bed and the dark alcove around the corner, where the door would be. A white noise machine hummed in the corner, and a sterile smell crept up on me.
I was in the hospital. Bed. Bathroom. Machines hanging from the ceiling. Red-eyed camera by the door. No hallucinations here.
My body was still asleep. I flexed my fingers and toes to make sure I could, then looked around.
The curtains were pulled back from my bed. The bed next to mine was empty. On the other side of me, a figure swaddled in a blanket slept soundly in a chair that looked like it had been designed by a torture expert.
I coughed to clear my throat. She jerked awake, stared at me blankly until she seemed to realize I was staring back at her. Then she was right in front of me, brushing my hair from my face.
“Oh, Alex.” Her eyes had already glazed over with tears. She held me carefully, like I’d break.
“That scoreboard fell on you,” she said, sniffling. “Don’t you remember?”
“Sort of.” I did. I remembered running, then pain, then the light closing off around me like I was being smashed between pages of a book.
“They said . . . they weren’t sure if you were going to wake up.” A sob escaped her, and she clapped a hand over her mouth.
“Where is Miles? Is he okay?”
“Yeah. Yeah, honey, he’s fine.”
“Is he here?”
“Not right now, no.”
I had to figure out where he was. I had to make sure he was safe. “How long was I asleep?”
“Mom.” I said it mostly from surprise. The tears were spilling down her face.
“I was so scared,” she said. “When your dad told me you went to school, I wanted to bring you home, but he said you’d be okay. . . .”
“This wasn’t his fault.”
“I know it wasn’t.”
“It wasn’t my fault either.”
“I know, I know.” She wiped her eyes with the collar of her shirt. “I don’t blame you; of course I don’t blame you. I just want to keep you safe, and I . . . I don’t think I know how to do that anymore.”
Carefully, making sure nothing hurt too badly, I propped myself up on my elbows. She took the hint and put her arms around me, hugging me to her.
Why had she waited so long to tell me about Charlie? Was it because she couldn’t bring herself to think about it? Or because I was happier when Charlie was around?
And was this why she wanted me to go to the mental hospital? Not to get me out of her hair, but to save me from myself, because she couldn’t do it anymore?
“I bought you . . . some Yoo-hoos. . . .” she said when she finally pulled away, sniffing. “I put them in the fridge, because I know you like them cold. . . .”
And I thought she poisoned my food.
So apparently crying did hurt. My tears stung. I felt the pulse in my head as my face heated up.
“Love you, Mom,” I said.
She leaned over and kissed my forehead.
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The next day, while Mom went for lunc
Celia. She stood at the edge of the room, looking a little more like her old self—blond hair, too-short skirt, layer of makeup topped by a coat of strawberry-colored lip gloss.
“You know,” I began, finishing off a drink of water from my sippy cup, “everyone says history repeats itself, but I did not expect it to be so literal.”
Her jaw tightened, her hands fisting in the hem of her shirt. Tough crowd. She stood there, staring, like I was going to whip a couple of throwing knives out from under the covers and use her for target practice.
Finally, she said, “How did you know?”
“I’m crazy, didn’t you hear?” I said. “The real question is, why didn’t you tell anyone?”
Celia shrugged. “I . . . I don’t know. I didn’t think anyone would care. They’d say I was just trying to get attention. Or that it was my fault. Or . . . I don’t know.”
She suddenly looked very, very old. “I’m tired of this. I’m tired of being alone. I’m tired of the way people look at me and the things they say. And I’m tired of trying to deal with it on my own.”
“So don’t,” I said. “You’re allowed to ask for help.”
“Why doesn’t anyone tell us that?”
“Because . . . maybe no one told them.”
“Do you think I’m a bad person?” Celia asked quietly.
“No,” I replied. “I don’t think you’re crazy, either.”
It wasn’t until a few hours later that the nurse came in and said, “We’re all so surprised you haven’t had any visitors yet!”
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The club visited later, when Mom and the nurse were in the room so I knew they were real. They brought candy and flowers and history textbooks. You know, things they thought would cheer me up. They sat around the bed for most of the day, recounting with great detail and enthusiasm how heroic I looked knocking Miles out of the way right before the scoreboard hit him, and how everyone in the gym freaked out, and how I was still all over the news.