Made You Up, page 25
Apparently, Miles hadn’t been McCoy’s target at all. The scoreboard was meant for Celia. She had moved out of the way because she thought I was attacking her. McCoy, enraged, had tried to strangle Miles and had been dragged off by Mr. Gunthrie. A weight lifted off my chest. McCoy had slipped up. The threat was gone.
“But you’re never going to believe why he tried to drop a scoreboard on her,” said Evan.
“You know how McCoy is always calling Celia to his office?” said Ian.
“Apparently McCoy was obsessed with Celia’s mom,” Theo said, cutting to the chase. “And she got crushed under that thing years ago. Since he couldn’t have her, he settled for Celia, but Celia wasn’t . . . living up to his standards, or something. So finally he decided he’d immortalize her by dropping the same scoreboard on her that killed her mom. The cops found all sorts of incriminating stuff in his house. Journals and plans and, like, videos. Of Celia. When they got to the school after McCoy tried to strangle her, Celia told them everything, right in front of all of us. It was horrible.”
“It was so weird,” Evan added. “It was going on for two years, and nobody knew. Why wouldn’t you tell someone about that?”
“Maybe she didn’t think she could,” I said.
Theo nodded. “I believe it. I talked to Stacey and Brittney after the awards—apparently Celia’s dad got remarried a few years ago, and Celia’s stepmother was planning on kicking her out of the house as soon as she graduated, and her dad was on board. Stacey and Brittney said Celia hardly ever told them anything, and they were her only friends.”
“She has a stepmother?” I said.
“I’ve seen her a few times,” Theo replied. “Short, brown hair, looks like she should be really nice, but I’m not totally surprised to know that she isn’t.”
Was this why Tucker and Miles hadn’t questioned me all year when I said I’d seen Celia and McCoy speaking to Celia’s mother? Because they thought I was talking about her stepmother? How many more hallucinations had gotten past me because of miscommunication?
“How did no one suspect McCoy before this?” I asked.
“’Ee ’as been voted number one principal in the township three times,” Jetta said. “And ’is office was spotless.”
“Apparently he did a pretty damn good job cleaning up after himself,” said Ian. “If he didn’t have all that stuff at his house, he probably could have said Celia was making things up. At least they still would have gotten him for trying to strangle Boss.”
Theo huffed. “At least now when Celia testifies against him in court, they’ll have a houseful of hard evidence to back her up.”
“Does anyone know if she’s okay?” I asked.
“She was molested by a psychopath for two years,” Art said. “So, no.”
Only after I threatened to rip out the stitches in the side of my head did they finally tell me what Miles had done.
“He went all white,” said Art. “I’ve never seen someone lose all their coloring like that. Then he screamed at me to cut the power, and he ran over and started trying to lift the scoreboard off you. We had to pull him away so he didn’t electrocute himself.”
They all looked suddenly guilty.
“We wanted to help you,” Theo said.
“Mr. Gunthrie came back right after that,” Evan said, “with the paramedics and everything. They lifted it off you, but Miles was still there, and he made this noise—”
“And Mr. Gunthrie made us shut him in the boys’ locker room before he did something stupid, like going after McCoy in front of all those cops,” Ian finished.
I took a long draw from the straw jammed into my Yoo-hoo bottle, trying to calm myself. “Where is he? I haven’t seen him. He knows I’m awake, right?”
They shared uncertain looks.
“We ’aven’t seen ’im since,” said Jetta. “’Ee ’asn’t called any of us.”
“We drove by his house, but his truck wasn’t in the driveway.” Evan looked at Ian and Theo, who nodded. “And we checked at Meijer, but he hasn’t gone in to work.”
“I thought he might be at Finnegan’s,” said Art. “He did get banned, but I didn’t think that would stop him.”
“So none of you have seen him since the scoreboard fell?”
They all shook their heads.
A lead weight sunk in my stomach. The threat from McCoy might be gone, but there was another threat to Miles.
One I couldn’t fight.
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My hands itched for my Magic 8-Ball. For Charlie. For soft, dark, quiet safety. For answers to questions I couldn’t answer myself. For escape from this world by retreating so far into my own head, I never had to question whether it was real or not.
But I couldn’t stop worrying about Miles.
It was Wednesday night—six days after the scoreboard fell, three days after I’d woken up, half a day before I was scheduled to leave the hospital—when Tucker burst into my room, his coat dripping with rain.
“Oh, finally decided to come visit?” I put the finishing touches on my newest Crayola masterpiece, a picture of a T-Rex. It reminded me of something, but I couldn’t think of exactly what. “I didn’t figure it’d take you this long to show up.”
The tone caught me, made me look up again.
“What? What is it?”
“Miles. I think he’s doing something stupid.”
I threw my legs over the side of the bed and hunted for the shoes Mom had brought me. “Have you talked to him? What did he say?”
“He hasn’t been coming to school.” Tucker’s words came out short and fast. “I haven’t seen him until just before I came here. He was at my house—he looked really freaked out, like someone was after him. He apologized. Except he kept tripping over his words.”
I stood, grabbed Tucker’s hand, and pulled him toward the door. “What else?” I peeked around the doorframe
“He . . . he wanted me to make sure you were okay. He said he couldn’t come himself.”
I ignored the invisible buzz saws cutting holes in my stomach. “Give me your coat.”
“Give me your coat. You’re sneaking me out of here.”
“But you’re hurt!”
“I don’t care if I’m missing a leg, Tucker. We’re going to Miles’s house, and you’re driving. Give me your coat.”
He did. I pulled it on, zipping it all the way up. I balled my hair back and pulled the hood up to cover it.
“Lead the way,” I said.
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My perimeter checks were useful, but it was Tucker’s knowledge of medical-speak that got us out of the hospital.
I knew I’d never be able to repay him for sneaking me out. And I’d never really be able to thank him for being worried about me when he found out Miles and I were together, instead of being angry.
We sprinted across the rain-soaked parking lot to Tucker’s black SUV and peeled our way out to the street. He didn’t ask me what I thought was going on. They used to be best friends. He probably already knew.
I couldn’t see Hannibal’s Rest because of the dark sheeting rain, but I knew when we passed my street because the phoenix sat atop the stop sign, its feathers flaming red in the rain. We swerved through the Lakeview Trail entrance. Tucker pulled up in front of Miles’s house. I spotted Miles’s truck in the driveway, but not the Mustang that had been there before.
“We have to get inside.” I jumped out of the SUV.
“We’re going into the house! Come on.”
Together we climbed the fence into the front yard. I d
I pulled Tucker to the doghouse, freezing when I saw the hulking silhouette of the huge Rottweiler, apparently asleep. But there was something unnatural about Ohio’s stillness.
Chills ran up my arms. This was it; this was the night. I climbed up on the doghouse and reached for the drainpipe, like I’d seen Miles do when he’d left the house that night. It had been reinforced with pieces of wood that stuck out at odd angles and made perfect hand- and footholds. Miles must have put them there. The trick to climbing them was not combusting from the fiery soreness burning through my entire body.
Within minutes, both Tucker and I were on the rain-slicked porch roof and making our way to the room with the light.
The window was open enough for me to wedge my fingers underneath and pull it up. Tucker and I tumbled inside.
I started out noticing the little things: the notebooks spilling from the closet; the hunk of Berlin Wall sitting on the dresser, crumbling on one side like part had been broken off; the words scribbled on the walls. A picture frame sat on his nightstand. The black-and-white picture was of a man who looked almost exactly like Miles, one eyebrow quirked up, wearing a black flight jacket and standing next to a WWII-era fighter plane.
“He’s not here,” I said. “We have to search the rest of the house.”
“What about Cleveland?” Tucker asked.
“I think he’s gone. His car is gone.”
Tucker didn’t look so sure.
“Come on.” I walked to the door and wrenched it open. A stale smell hit me straight in the face, and I realized how much Miles’s room had smelled like him, like mint soap and pastries.
Tucker followed me out into a narrow hallway lined with doors, all open. The rain and wind howled outside. This place was so cold, so sad, I wondered how Miles managed to live here at all. Tucker walked toward the opposite end of the hallway, where a staircase descended to the first floor. A single lightbulb over the stairs cast a halo on his black hair.
He sucked in a breath. “Oh, shit.”
“Oh shit, Alex, oh shit.” He started down the stairs, two at a time. I ran to the top of the stairs and looked down.
Miles sat against the wall at the bottom, slouched over.
One second I was at the top of the stairs and the next I was at the bottom. Tucker was already at his cellphone, speaking to a 911 operator. I knelt next to Miles, wanting to touch him but afraid of what I’d feel. Blood dripped slowly onto his glasses; the extra weight pulled them down until they hung off one ear.
Would he be cold? As dead and empty as the house around him?
This could not be happening. I was hallucinating all of this. I could make it all go away if I tried hard enough.
But I couldn’t. And it was real.
I placed a shaky hand over his heart. I couldn’t feel anything. I pressed my ear against his chest, closed my eyes, and prayed, really prayed, for the first time in my life, to whatever god was listening.
Don’t go away. Don’t go away.
Then I heard it. And I felt the almost unnoticeable rise-and-fall motion of his chest as he breathed.
Tucker dragged me back.
“Is he breathing?” I asked. “Is he really breathing?”
“Yeah,” Tucker said, “yeah, he’s breathing.”
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We sat on the front steps as the paramedics took Miles out of the house on a stretcher. The cops found Cleveland’s car not far away, wrapped around a tree, and Cleveland stumbling around in an angry drunken stupor. Connections weren’t hard to make.
Tucker took me back to the hospital. To my surprise, no one yelled at me, but I did pull a few stitches, blow up my blood pressure, and get couple more days in the hospital under strict confinement to my room.
I was okay with that. Because the next morning, I got a roommate.
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
“Mr. Lobster. Do you think my hair is more Communist red, or your red?”
Morning sunlight swept across the tiled floor and over the white bed sheets, bathing the room in warmth. The white noise machine under the window dulled the beeping of the monitors next to the bed. The only other noise came from occasional footsteps in the hallway and a TV somewhere.
I hardly heard it, he said it so quietly. I wasn’t even sure he was awake at first; his eyes barely opened, but he licked his lips.
“Fire truck,” he said again, a little louder. “Strawberry, stop sign, ladybug, Kool-Aid, tomato, tulip. . . .”
He slowly raised his arm and reached out, feeling for the bedside table. “Glasses.”
I had his glasses; they dangled off my right index finger. I gently took his hand and placed them in his palm. He fumbled with them for a moment before finally getting them straight on his face. He blinked a few times and stared at the ceiling.
“Am I dead?”
“Fortunately, no. I know you were pretty hell-bent on it, but it didn’t really work out.”
“What happened to the good dying young?” he said, his voice breaking. I smiled even though it felt like nails were being hammered into the left side of my face.
“We’re not good, remember?”
He frowned and tried to sit up and fell back again, groaning.
“God . . . what happened?”
“You got beaten up and thrown down a flight of stairs. Want to explain what you were doing?”
“I don’t really remember. I was upset. . . . .”
“Yeah, I figured that much.”
“It wasn’t supposed to go that way. I provoked him.” He looked around. Saw the other bed. “You’re in this room, too?”
I nodded. “Someone likes us.”
He carefully turned his head, wincing, to look at me. “Your face.”
I smiled again; I was wondering when he’d notice.
“It’s only the left side,” I said. “The doctor got all the glass out. He said when the swelling and redness go down, I’ll look basically the same as I used to. Just with a lot of scars.”
Miles frowned. “Are you okay?”
“Great,” I said. “Concussion, electrocution, scarring . . . nothing I can’t handle, trust me. You should be more worried about yourself. I know how you like to keep people away, but after this I think you might have your own fan club.”
“What are you talking about?” he asked, licking his lips again. “Is there any water in here?”
I reached for the glass of water the nurse had brought earlier. As he drank, I explained what had happened to Cleveland after he’d thrown Miles down the stairs.
“They got him. He was pissed. I guess he thought they were going to help him or something, because he told them exactly where he lived and what had happened. There was already an ambulance at your house, so they pieced it all together.” I paused and curled my legs up underneath me. “Anyway, Cleveland’s sitting in jail. They aren’t going to hold the trial until their three star witnesses are ready to testify.”
Miles opened his mouth to say something else, but then smiled and shook his head. I searched for a word for what I was feeling, for this mix of relief and exultation and serenity, but I couldn’t think of anything.
Words were his thing, not mine.
A few moments later the nurse came back to check Miles’s bandages and ask him how he felt and if he needed anything.
“Well, I guess if you’re feeling up to it, your frien
“Who . . . ?”
“Did she zay come een?” Jetta poked her curly-haired head through the doorway and looked around. The rest of the club was visible over her shoulder.
“Don’t be too rowdy.” The nurse edged her way out the door as the club came spilling in.
“You look like hell!”
Miles looked at all of them—Art, Jetta, and the triplets—gathered at the foot and side of his bed, and frowned.
“What are you all doing here?”
“We’re your friends,” Theo said slowly, like she was explaining some fundamental truth to a child. “We were worried about you.”
“See?” I said. “They do like you.”
“Who said anything about liking him?” Evan asked.
“Yeah, we never said we liked you,” said Ian, smiling. “We just prefer that you don’t die.”
“Where would we be without our fearless leader?” Theo added.
“How’d you guys get out of school?” Miles asked.
“Skipped,” said Art. “Wasn’t hard.”
“You two are, like, heroes,” said Theo. “The story is in every paper. Have you seen all the presents you’ve been getting?” She motioned to the stacks of cards and flowers on the table by the window. They’d been arriving on an hourly basis since the story had gotten out.
“I still don’t understand why they’d send gifts,” Miles said sharply.
“It was your mom,” Theo said. “She told us the story—why you did all that stuff in school, why you worked all the time.”
“Why didn’t you ever tell us?” Ian asked, but Miles didn’t seem to hear him. He was looking past Jetta, toward the doorway.
June leaned through the door, clutching a large purse in both hands, looking like a deer in headlights. She took a few steps into the room. I wondered if this was the first time in years she’d really been outside of Crims—Woodlands. I wondered if she’d only been able to leave for Miles.