Made You Up, page 3
“Ria!” the last girl said, almost skipping to her spot behind me. Her strawberry blond ponytail jumped happily as she went.
Mr. Gunthrie tossed the class list back onto his desk and stood at the front of the room, hands clasped behind his back, square jaw high.
“TODAY WE WILL HAVE PAIR DISCUSSIONS OF YOUR SUMMER READING. I WILL PICK THE PAIRS. THERE WILL BE NO SWITCHING, TRADING, OR COMPLAINING. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD?”
As if he remembered all of our names after only seeing them once, Mr. Gunthrie pulled pairs out of thin air.
Being stuck in the seat behind Miles was my payment for getting to be partners with Tucker, I guess.
“I didn’t know you’d be in my class!” I said when I raced out of my seat and slid into the chair behind his. He was the one person in this room who didn’t give me the creeps. “And you weren’t lying about this place.”
“People around these parts don’t lie about a thing like that.” Tucker tipped an imaginary ten-gallon hat. “And you didn’t tell me you were going to be in AP English. I could’ve told you. Mr. Gunthrie teaches the only one in the school.” He held up the papers he’d scribbled on. “I already finished the discussion. He does the same first assignment every year. Hope you don’t mind.” He paused, frowning over my shoulder. “God. Hendricks is doing that thing again. I don’t even see why she likes him.”
Celia Hendricks, who’d returned wearing a baggy pair of black sweatpants, was leaning over her chair and doing some weird flips with her hair and whisper-calling Miles, who had his back to her. When he ignored her, she began launching balled-up pieces of notebook paper at his head.
“Why do you hate him so much?” I asked Tucker.
“I don’t know if ‘hate’ is the right word,” he replied. “‘Am afraid of him,’ ‘wish he’d stop staring,’ and ‘think he’s a lunatic’ are more accurate.”
“Afraid of him?”
“The whole school is.”
“Because it’s impossible to know what’s going on in his head.” Tucker looked back to me. “Have you ever seen a person completely change? Like, completely completely? So much that they don’t even have the same facial expressions they used to? That’s what happened to him.”
I hesitated at Tucker’s sudden seriousness. “Sounds creepy.”
“It was creepy.” Tucker concentrated on a design someone had etched into his desktop. “And then, he, you know. Had to be the best . . .”
“You . . . wait a minute . . . he’s the valedictorian?”
I knew Tucker didn’t like the valedictorian, but during his rants at work he’d never said who it was. Just that the kid didn’t deserve it.
“It’s not even that he’s beating me!” Tucker hissed, casting a quick look back at Miles. “It’s that he doesn’t try. He doesn’t even have to read the book! He just knows everything! I mean, he was sort of like that in middle school, but he was never the best. Half the time he didn’t do his work because he thought it was pointless.”
I looked back at Miles. He and Claude had apparently finished their discussion, and he’d fallen asleep on his desk. Someone had taped a paper sign to his back that said “Nazi” in black marker.
I shivered. I liked researching Nazis as much as the next war historian, but I would never use the term as a nickname. Nazis scared the daylights out of me. Either everyone at this school was an idiot, or Miles Richter really was as bad as Tucker was making him out to be.
“He has this ridiculous club, too,” Tucker said. “The East Shoal Recreational Athletics Support Club. It’s just the sort of obnoxious name he’d pick.”
I swallowed the sudden unease in my throat. I knew the club name, but I hadn’t known it was his club. The sign on Miles’s back rose and fell with his breathing.
“Um. Hey.” Tucker nudged me. “Don’t let him try to pull anything on you, okay?”
“Pull anything? Like what?”
“Like unscrewing your chair from your desk, or tearing a hole in the bottom of your backpack.”
“Ohhhkay,” I said, frowning. “You know, now I’m pretty sure he’s either a gorilla, a T-Rex, or a poltergeist. Anything else I should know about him?”
“Yeah,” Tucker said. “If he ever starts talking with a German accent, call me.”
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
My next three classes of the day were like the first. I walked into the classrooms and spun in a circle, checking everything. If I found something strange—like a World War II–era propaganda poster on the wall—I took a picture of it. I was asked four times if my hair was dyed. My AP Macro teacher let me know it was against the rules. I told him it was natural. He didn’t believe me. I showed him the picture of my mother and my little sister, Charlie, that I always carried with me, because their hair was the same. He sort of believed me. I sat in the chair closest to the door and kept a watchful eye on him for the rest of the period.
The cafeteria was huge, so there were plenty of open spots. That was a good thing, because no one paid attention to me in the seat against the wall, picking through my food for Communist tracers. Mr. McCoy came over the PA to make another announcement about the scoreboard. People stopped talking and eating to snicker about it, but no one seemed surprised.
Miles Richter was in all of my AP classes.
My fifth period, study hall, was the only class he wasn’t in. I still wasn’t sure what Tucker had meant when he’d told me not to let Miles pull anything on me. He hadn’t done anything Tucker had warned me about, but he certainly hadn’t ignored me.
Pre-lunch, when I dropped my pencil in AP U.S. History, he kicked it to the far side of the room before I could pick it up. Because he leaned back and looked at me like, What are you going to do about it? I shoved his backpack off his desk.
In AP Government that afternoon, he “accidentally” stepped on my shoelace and I nearly fell on my face. When the teacher passed our first homework assignments down the rows, I gave Miles one that had “accidentally” been ripped in half.
In AP Chemistry, Ms. Dalton seated us in alphabetical order and handed out lab notebooks, which look like notebooks on the outside but are filled with graph paper and make you want to kill yourself. She dropped mine onto my desk with a loud THWUMP.
I kept a careful eye on the back of Miles’s neck as I wrote my name on the cover. It turned out lopsided and scratchy, but still legible. Good enough.
“I figured we’d start off the school year with a little icebreaker lab,” Mrs. Dalton said with a certain lazy cheerfulness as she returned to her desk, popped open a Diet Coke, and chugged half of it down in one go. “Nothing hard, of course. I’m going to assign lab partners and you can get to know each other.”
I suspected bad karma sneaking up on me with a nine iron. Probably because of the time I flushed Charlie’s entire line of black pawns down the toilet and told her Santa didn’t exist.
Drawing slips of paper from a beaker filled with names, Mrs. Dalton called out pairs, and I watched the desks slowly empty and partners migrate to lab tables stationed around the edge of the room.
“Alexandra Ridgemont,” Ms. Dalton said.
Karma prepared to swing.
“And Miles Richter.”
Direct hit. Results: minor concussion. May have trouble walking, seeing. Should not engage in any strenuous activity or operate heavy machinery.
I got to the lab table before Miles even left his seat. A survey paper waited for us. I checked the kids on the other side of the table—they didn’t look remotely threatening, but the worst ones were always the least threatening—the cabinets above my head, and the drain in the sink.
“Well, let’s get this over with,” I said when Miles arrived. He didn’t answer, just pulled his pen from behind his ear a
I waited until he was done writing. “Ready?”
“You can go first.” He pushed his glasses up. I wanted to grab them off his face and pulverize them.
I grabbed the paper instead. “First question: ‘What’s your full name?’”
“Wow. This is going to be stupid.” It was the first reasonable thing he’d said all day. “Miles James Richter.”
I wrote it down. “Alexandra Victoria Ridgemont.”
“Well, we both have middle names that don’t fit.” Out came the Magnificent Quirked Eyebrow. “Next.”
“May twenty-ninth, 1993.”
“April fifteenth, same year,” I said. “Siblings?”
No wonder he was such a brat. Only child. He was probably rich, too.
“I have a sister, Charlie. Any pets?”
“A dog.” Miles wrinkled his nose when he said it, which didn’t surprise me—I imagined that Miles was sort of like an overgrown house cat. Slept a lot. Always looked bored. Liked to play with his food before he ate it.
I watched a ladybug crawl along the edge of the sink. I was pretty sure it wasn’t real—its spots were shaped like stars. I’d left my camera in my backpack. “None. My dad’s allergic.”
Miles grabbed the paper from me and looked it over. “You’d think they could bother to make the questions a little more interesting. ‘Favorite Color’? What can that possibly tell you about a person? Your favorite color could be chartreuse, and it wouldn’t make a damn bit of difference.”
Then, without waiting for me to answer the question, he wrote “chartreuse” under “Favorite Color.”
It was the most animated I’d seen him all day. Listening to him rant relaxed me, in a weird kind of way. If he was an angry ranting asshole, he wasn’t Blue Eyes.
“Then yours is mauve,” I said, writing it in the blank.
“And look—‘Favorite Food’? What’s that going to tell me?”
“Agreed. What do you like to eat? Pickled frog hearts?” I pressed my pen to my bottom lip and mulled it over. “Yeah. You love pickled frog hearts.”
We got through a few more questions. I knew I wasn’t imagining the awed looks of our comrades across the table. When we got to “Pet Peeves,” Miles said, “When people say ‘catsup’ instead of ‘ketchup.’ It’s a condiment, not animal vomit.” He paused a moment and said, “And that one’s true.”
“I can’t stand it when people get history wrong,” I said. “Like saying that Columbus was the first explorer to land on North America, when he didn’t even land on North America, and the first explorer was Leif Ericson. And that one is also true.”
We answered a few more, and by the time we got near the end, something strange started happening to his voice.
It was rougher, somehow. Less fluent. His th’s slurred together, and his w’s started sounding like v’s. The group across the table stared at him like it was the advent of the apocalypse.
I moved down to the last question. “Thank God, we’re almost done. What’s one thing you remember from your childhood?”
“Animalia Annelida Hirudinea.” Miles bit the end of his pen like he wished he hadn’t said it. He didn’t look at me, but stared at the two silver faucets arching over the sink basin.
Those words . . . the bandages. The pain I hadn’t understood. The Yoo-hoo. The smell of fish.
A chill seeped from my head to my feet, freezing me to the spot. I stared at him. Sandy brown hair that stuck up all over the place. Metal-frame glasses. Golden freckles sprinkled over nose and cheekbones. Blue eyes.
Stop looking at him, idiot! He’ll think you like him, or something!
I didn’t like him. He wasn’t even that cute. Was he? Maybe another look would help. No, dammit! Oh hell.
I scratched awkwardly at my notebook, ignoring my pounding heart. Was I supposed to write down what he said? Why was he speaking in scientific classifications? Blue Eyes wasn’t real. There had been no one to help me free the lobsters. He hadn’t just said that. This was my mind screwing with me. Again.
I coughed delicately, pulling on a piece of my hair. “Well. You can write down ‘Yoo-hoos’ for mine.”
“Yoo-hoos,” he said slowly.
“Yoo-hoos—you know, the best drink ever?”
Now he was the one staring at me. I rolled my eyes. “Y-O-O-H—”
“I can spell, thanks.” His voice had snapped back to normal. Fluent and clear. As he began writing, I glanced up at the clock. Class was almost over. My hands shook.
When the bell rang, I sprang to collect my bag and join the others moving into the hallway. I felt better when I got away from Miles, like the revelation I’d had in the chemistry classroom had been nothing but a dream, and I’d woken up from it. I didn’t understand him—he’d come right out of my delusions, but here he was. He straddled the line between my world and everyone else’s, and I didn’t like it.
We arrived at our lockers at the same time. I ignored him, opened my locker, and reached for my textbooks.
They fell right out of their covers like guts out of a fish.
“Looks like someone destroyed the binding in your books,” said Miles.
No shit, asshat. Screw him—Blue Eyes or not, I wasn’t putting up with this.
I picked up my ruined books, stuffed them into my bag, and slammed my locker shut. “Guess I’ll have to fix them.” And then I stomped off toward the gym, knowing I wouldn’t be able to get away from him now.
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
Tucker was wrong about the East Shoal Recreational Athletics Support Club. Miles hadn’t chosen that name. Principal McCoy had, and he’d told me so when he explained my mandatory community service to me and my mother.
I walked to the main gym now with Miles on my heels. His cat stare burned into my shoulder blades. I stopped inside the gym doors and looked around, trying to be inconspicuous about spinning in circles.
The gym was older than the one at Hillpark; I’d expected it to be newer, remodeled, like East Shoal’s disgustingly expensive football stadium. The bleacher row adjacent to the main doors housed the table with the scoreboard controls. The basketball goals were raised to the ceiling, giving me a straight view across the gym to the scoreboard hanging on the far wall. “East Shoal High School” was spelled along its top in green letters.
Miles tapped me on the shoulder. Just the tip of his index finger, just a jolt; I jumped.
“Don’t keep them waiting,” he said, slipping past me.
At the scorer’s table stood five kids laughing together. One of them was a girl I recognized from English; she had a pair of pencils spiking out of her messy blond bun. The two boys standing next to her were so identical I couldn’t tell them apart. I’d never seen the other two, but every one of them stood at attention when Miles walked up. I hovered awkwardly behind him.
“This is Alex,” he said without any sort of greeting. “Alex, this is Theophilia.” He motioned to the girl from English class.
“Just Theo,” the girl replied, glaring at him.
“—and these are her brothers, Evan and Ian.” He motioned to the two identical boys, who grinned in unison.
“To reduce confusion, we’re triplets.” Theo thrust out a hand, very businesslike. “And please don’t call me Theophilia.”
“No worries,” I said, staring at her hand—guilt had made me shake Miles’s, but I had no good reason to go near hers. “My parents wanted two boys—they named me after Alexander the Great and my sister after Charlemagne.”
Theo put her hand down, apparently not at all offended by my refusal to shake it, and laughed. “Yeah, my parents wanted boys, too. Instead they got two idiots and a girl.”
“Hey!” Theo’s brothers cried in unison. She dropped the clipboard and faked a punch toward their crotches. Both boys recoiled. I knew how genetics worked—even normal identical twins don’t look as identical as Theo’s brothers. My fingers tightened around my camera.
Miles rolled his eyes and went on. “And this is Jetta Lorenc and Art Babrow.”
Jetta shot Miles a dimpled smile, shoveling her mass of curly hair back over her shoulder. “Eet is nice to meet you,” she said, holding out a hand like she’d wait as long as it took for me to shake it.
I didn’t. “Are you French?” I asked instead.
Foreign. Foreign spy. French Communist Party acted on Stalin’s instructions during part of World War II. French Communist spy.
Stop it stop it stop it
I turned to Art, a black kid who was a foot and a half taller than me and whose pecs were about to burst out of his shirt and eat someone. I gave him a two on the delusion detector. I didn’t trust those pecs.
“Hi,” he rumbled.
I waved weakly.
“This is the rest of the club,” Miles said, gesturing around to all of them. “Theo, concession stand. Evan and Ian, bleacher duty.”
“Aye aye, Boss!” The triplets saluted and left for their posts.
“Jetta, net and ball carts. Art, get the poles.”
The other two departed as well. I relaxed once they were all gone, even though I still had Miles to deal with. Miles, who turned to the scoreboard controls and forgot about me.
“So what do I do?” I asked.
He ignored me.
He turned, sporting the Magnificent Quirked Eyebrow.
“What do I do?”
“You’re going to go up there”—he pointed at the empty bleachers—“and shut up.”
Was there some kind of law about drop-kicking assholes in the face? Probably. They always had laws against things that really needed to be done.
“No,” I replied. “I think I’ll go sit over there.” I pointed to a spot a few feet from where he had, then marched off to sit there. I crossed my arms and glared at him until he and his eyebrow looked away. Then I yanked all the ruined books out of my bag, piled them beside me, and started my homework.