Made you up, p.4

Made You Up, page 4

 

Made You Up
 



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  When the volleyball team entered the gym, I paused homework to snap pictures: Jetta and Art setting up the volleyball net like pros; Theo manning the concession stand; Evan and Ian scouring the bleachers for trash; the volleyball team looking perky and athletic in their spandex.

  The only thing missing was Miles. But he was probably circling somewhere, destroying villages and hoarding gold in his mountain lair.

  I cracked my neck and returned to calculus. Homework was a bitch, especially since this year I’d be doing it in the free time I had between school, work, and community service. Not to mention I still had to look for scholarships and fill out college applications. And visit my damned therapist twice a week.

  But I had to do it. Had to get it right this time. No screwups with my medicine, however much I hated the stuff. No distractions. I didn’t have time to worry about what other people thought of me, yet I had to—if I seemed too on edge, too paranoid, it wouldn’t matter what my grades were. If anyone decided I was crazy or dangerous, I could say good-bye to a future and hello to the Happy House.

  Miles walked back into the gym and settled himself at the scorer’s table. For half a second he turned, stared up at me, and quirked that eyebrow, before facing the Spandex Squad again. The base of my skull tingled. I hadn’t thought about it before—why hadn’t I thought about it before? Miles. Miles was a genius. Miles liked to screw with people.

  Miles didn’t seem to particularly like me, and I’d been antagonizing him all day. It would be easy for him to figure me out. Especially if I kept staring at him like I had in chemistry. Maybe I could head him off. Tell him about it before he found out, then beg for his silence or something.

  Or you could grow some balls, said the little voice. That was probably the best option.

  I turned my attention to the scoreboard. McCoy had made at least five different announcements about it today, and during each one somebody would mimic him and everyone would laugh.

  “There’s an urban legend about that scoreboard, you know.” Tucker appeared next to me, holding a Coke. I looked around. The bleachers were already full. How did that happen? I glanced over my shoulder, expecting someone to be standing there with a knife.

  “Really?” I asked absentmindedly, doing a belated perimeter check. “Somehow I don’t find that surprising.”

  Cliff Ackerley and a few other football player types stood at the foot of the bleachers, holding up signs for Ria Wolf, who I gathered was the starting setter. I spotted Celia Hendricks on the edge of a bigger group of students who didn’t look like they were putting any effort toward actually watching the game. Parents filed into the gym from the rotunda, holding popcorn and hot dogs and wearing shirts that read “Go Sabres!”

  “What a ridiculous sport,” said a woman near me, her voice laced with acid. “Volleyball. They should call it ‘sluts in spandex.’”

  I searched for the disgruntled parent, but teenagers surrounded me. I squeezed myself into a smaller space.

  “Did you hear that woman?” I asked Tucker.

  “What woman?”

  “The one who said the thing about volleyball players being sluts.”

  Tucker looked around. “Are you sure that’s what you heard?”

  I shook my head. “Must’ve been nothing.” I’d learned a long time ago that asking someone else if they heard something was much safer than asking them if they saw it. Most people didn’t trust their ears as much as they trusted their eyes. Of course, auditory hallucinations were also the most common kind of hallucinations. Not good for me.

  “Now cheerleading, that’s a sport. A sport with dignity. You make it or you don’t. There’s no gray area, not like with volleyball.”

  Her voice mingled with the crowd and the squeak of shoes on the court, then faded out.

  Tucker shifted beside me. “The legend says that some chick who went to East Shoal years ago was so obsessed with high school that she refused to leave it, and, in a weird suicide stunt, made the scoreboard fall on herself. Now her soul inhabits the scoreboard, influencing matches to help East Shoal win. Or lose. Depends on how she feels that day, I guess.”

  “Why didn’t you tell me that before? Geez, I thought everyone was obsessed with it for no reason.”

  “Well. I don’t know if everyone’s obsessed with it because of the legend or if the legend grew because everyone’s obsessed with it. Anyway, McCoy says we’re not supposed to talk about it. But if you really want creepy, you should watch him take care of it. Cleans every light bulb by hand. Caresses it.”

  I laughed.

  Tucker paused, his neck and ears turning red. He fidgeted. “There’s also the myth about a python in the ceiling tiles, being fed by the lunch ladies. But that one’s not too interesting. Do you know about Red Witch Bridge?”

  I shot him a look out of the corner of my eye. “I’ve heard of it.”

  “Never drive through the covered bridge by Hannibal’s Rest at night. You hear the witch scream right before she rips you to shreds and leaves your car empty by the side of the road.” A gleam of excitement lit his eyes as he waited for my reaction. Normally he only got that look when he was telling me about one of his conspiracy theories.

  “Have you ever done it?” I asked.

  “Me? Drive through Red Witch Bridge? No, I’m brave as soggy potato salad.”

  “You? Soggy potato salad? No.”

  Tucker laughed and puffed out his skinny chest in mock bravado. “I know I don’t look it, but I’d run the other direction before I got anywhere near that bridge.” He dropped the act and offered me the Coke. “Thirsty?”

  “You don’t want it?”

  “Nah. Bought it and then remembered that I hate soda.”

  I took it hesitantly. “You didn’t put anything in it, did you?”

  “Do I look like that type of person?”

  “I don’t know, Mr. Soggy Potato Salad. You’re a wild card.”

  I technically wasn’t supposed to have caffeine—my mother said it made me too excitable and screwed with my medicine, which made her a liar because I felt perfectly fine whenever I broke the rules—but I drank it anyway.

  “I see your textbooks have had a rough day.” Tucker prodded the binding of my calculus book.

  “Mm,” I said. “Stray cat found its way into my locker.”

  “Superglue will fix that right up.”

  Superglue? Now there was an idea. I glanced down at Miles. He was staring over his shoulder at us, eyes narrowed. The enormity of this balancing act hit me all at once, made my stomach lurch. I couldn’t let him walk all over me, but I couldn’t make him angry, either.

  Tucker gave him the finger. Miles turned back to the court.

  “I’ll regret that later,” Tucker said, “when my steering column is gone.”

  Either Tucker would regret it, or I would.

  “Are you okay?” Tucker asked. “You look like you’re going to vomit.”

  “Yes.” No. “I’m okay.” This was the least okay thing that had happened to me since the Hillpark Gym Graffiti Incident.

  I realized too late that I’d snapped at him. I didn’t mean to be harsh, but I hated worry, and pity, and that look people got when they knew something wasn’t okay with you and they also knew that you were in denial about it.

  I wasn’t in denial. I just couldn’t let it slip this time.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

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

  Chapter Seven

  I spent the rest of the game flipping my focus back and forth between my homework and Miles. He didn’t look back up at us, but I knew he knew I was watching him.

  I distracted myself by trying to think of ways to pay Tucker back for the Coke. He ignored me when I brought it up and changed the subject to conspiracy theories—Roswell, the Illuminati, Elvis faking his own death, and when Miles glared up at us again, a nice little story about a Nazi moon base
.

  Tucker was the sort of intelligent, history-savvy person I could throw at my mother and watch him stick, but also the sort of person I’d never do that to, because I had a soul.

  Then I thought, Hey, I could hug him. I’m sure he wouldn’t mind if I hugged him. But I knew that physical contact meant certain things in the world of normal social conduct, and while I trusted Tucker more than most of the other people I knew, I didn’t want to mean those certain things toward him.

  Tucker left with the crowd when the game ended. I stayed behind to help the club, but they were so quick and efficient that the net was down and the ball carts stowed before I’d stepped off the bleachers.

  Miles and Jetta stood at the scorer’s table. When I walked up to them, they fell silent; I was pretty sure they hadn’t been speaking English.

  “What?” Miles snapped.

  “Do you need me for anything or can I go home?”

  “Yeah, go.” He turned back to Jetta.

  “Bis später, Alex!” Jetta smiled and waved as I walked away. Apparently any feelings I’d hurt by not shaking her hand had been forgotten.

  “Um. See you,” I replied.

  Outside the school was pandemonium. I expected big crowds after football games, but this looked like the entire school had formed one huge tailgating party. At eight at night. After a volleyball game. On the first day of school.

  There was no way I could do a sufficient perimeter check here, so I went for plan B: Get out. I wheeled Erwin out of the bushes where I’d hidden him, and hoped to God no one noticed me. The people closest to the school entrance were the men still standing on the roof, the few football players probably waiting for their girlfriends, and Celia Hendricks and two other girls, doing who the hell knows what.

  “Nice bike!” Celia called over her shoulder, flipping her bleached hair out of the way. Her two friends stifled laughs. “Where’d you get it?”

  “Egypt,” I said, trying to figure out if she was serious.

  Celia laughed. “Remind me never to go to Egypt.”

  I ignored her and continued past the football players. I didn’t get far; all 230 pounds of Cliff Ackerley fell into step beside me. “Hey, you’re the new girl, right?”

  “Yes.” His closeness sent shivers crawling up my spine. I veered away to put some distance between us.

  He planted himself in front of me, pointed at my hair, and yelled, “HILLPARK FAN!”

  A thunderous, rolling BOO instantly rose from the crowd. Most of them probably had no clue I’d actually gone to Hillpark, but brandishing any kind of red around here was asking for trouble.

  I tried to move around Cliff, but he stuck his foot on Erwin’s front tire and pushed. “What the hell?” I stumbled backward to keep Erwin upright.

  “What the hell?” one of the other guys mocked in a high falsetto, a million times more sinister than when Tucker had done it at work the night before. The rest of Cliff’s friends circled around me. I squeezed tighter against Erwin. Either these guys were all drunk or they were all douche bags. If they were drunk, they were less likely to see reason but also less likely to catch me if I ran for it. But I couldn’t run with Erwin. Maybe I could use him as a shield. That meant leaving him behind, and the last thing I wanted to do was leave Erwin behind. No matter how I played this situation, Outlook not so good.

  “Why don’t you stop being a dick and get out of my way?”

  “Ooh, harsh words.” Cliff grinned. “Here’s the deal—I’ll let you by if you agree to let us dye your hair green.”

  “My hair isn’t dyed; it’s naturally this red. And no.”

  “Fine, then we’ll shave it off. Jones has a razor in his car, don’t you, Jones?”

  I backed away, tugging on a lock of hair. I’d seen documentaries about stuff like this. Bullying, student brutality. They wouldn’t really shave my head, would they? But there were so many people, all watching, waiting. The men in suits on the roof weren’t doing a thing—so much for school security.

  The ring of people drew in tighter. There was no . . . I wouldn’t be able to get out . . . Maybe I could kick Ackerley in the balls and call it a day . . . .

  Then everyone went quiet. Cliff’s gaze roamed to a spot above my shoulder.

  Miles stood there, staring Cliff down. The Light triplets at his side.

  Cliff scoffed. “Need something, Richter?”

  “Not at all.” Miles shrugged. “Please, continue.”

  Cliff narrowed his eyes and took a step back, looking me over. He leaned to the side and peered around me.

  “Problem?” I asked.

  Cliff scoffed again and stepped out of my way, his lips curling in distaste. Miles and the triplets moved to flank me, helping clear a path through the party. There were no more boos, no jeering, no search for razors. But when I looked back, Cliff and his friends had their heads together, and past them, Celia glared daggers at me.

  “Thanks,” I said.

  “Didn’t do it for you.” Miles stopped beside a rusty sky-blue pickup on the far edge of the parking lot. He yanked the driver’s door open and tossed his bag in. “I really hate that guy.”

  “Don’t listen to anything Cliff says,” Theo chimed in, pulling the pencils from her bun and shaking her hair out. “He’s a moron—he thinks we planned to have you do something to make him look stupid. That’s why he left you alone. Besides, I don’t think he’d know how to use a razor if he had one.”

  “I’m pretty sure his mother shaves his facial hair,” said Evan.

  “I’m pretty sure a monkey shaves his facial hair,” said Ian. “Did you see his face last track season? I thought he’d need a blood donation.”

  “Disregarding his faults in personal hygiene,” Miles interrupted, “I still think he needs his head shoved into a wood chipper.”

  I took a long step away from Miles. “Right. Well, I’ll see you all tomorrow.”

  The Light triplets said good-bye. Maybe they weren’t so bad after all, even if Evan and Ian did look like the exact same person. I hopped on Erwin and rode out of the parking lot, trying to forget about Cliff, Celia, that weird-ass scoreboard, and everything else.

  I marked Miles’s parking spot so I could find his truck again tomorrow morning.

  I wouldn’t let East Shoal and its psychotic inhabitants get the best of me.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

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

  Chapter Eight

  My delusions became more frequent in the dark. More than once when I was little, I heard voices coming from beneath my bed, claws reaching up around the mattress to get me. Riding home, the sunlight fading, an enormous red bird with long tail feathers sailed over me. I stopped to take a picture of it. On the camera screen, its feathers glowed like fire. Freaking phoenixes. I’d had an obsession with phoenixes when I was ten, and this one followed me home every night. The Phoenix of Hannibal’s Rest.

  Hannibal’s Rest. Home.

  Here’s the thing about Hannibal’s Rest, Indiana: It is astoundingly small. So small I’m sure it wouldn’t show up on a GPS. You’d pass right through without realizing you were anywhere different. It’s just like the rest of central Indiana: hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and the only way to know the weather other times of the year is to walk outside. You drive west to get to Hillpark and east to get to East Shoal, but nobody from either school can tell you the name of a single person who goes to the other, and they all hate one another.

  My parents didn’t grow up here or anything. They chose to live in this nowhere town. Why? Because it was named after Hannibal of Carthage. Their basic train of thought was this: Hannibal’s Rest? And we’re naming our child after Alexander the Great? MARVELOUS. Ah, the history, it tickles.

  Sometimes I wanted to beat my parents over the head with a frying pan.

  If you could say one thing about them, it was that they loved history. Literally, bot
h of them were in love with history. Sure, they were in love with each other, but history was like the be-all, end-all of intellectual stimulation to them. They were married to each other and to history.

  So, naturally, they weren’t going to give their kids any old normal names.

  I was the lucky one. Alexander to Alexandra wasn’t a huge leap. Charlie, on the other hand, got the entire blunt force of the namesake sledgehammer: Charlemagne. So from the day she was born, I called her Charlie.

  I turned down my street and aimed for the one-story, dirt-colored house lit up like a Christmas tree. My mother had this thing about leaving all the lights on until I got home, as if I would forget which house was ours. The sounds of a furious violin poured from the living room window. Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, as usual.

  I leaned Erwin up against the garage door and did a perimeter check. Street. Driveway. Garage. Front yard. Porch. House. The porch swing creaked and swayed like someone had just gotten out of it, but that could’ve been the wind. I did another check when I stepped in through the front door, but the house looked like it always did, cramped and barren at the same time. Charlie stood in the living room with her violin, playing her musical prodigy stuff. When my mother wasn’t teaching online college classes, she homeschooled Charlie like she had me, so Charlie was always practicing.

  My mother was in the kitchen. I braced myself, remembered not to do another perimeter check—my mother hated them—and went to find her. She stood at the sink, dishrag in hand.

  “I’m home,” I said.

  She turned. “I left out a bowl of soup for you. It’s mushroom, your favorite.”

  Minestrone was my favorite soup. Mushroom was Dad’s. She always got them mixed up. “Thanks, but I’m not really hungry. I’m gonna go do my homework.”

  “Alexandra, you need to eat.”

  I hated that voice. Alexandra, you need to eat. Alexandra, you need to take your pills. Alexandra, you need to put your shirt on right side out.

  I sat down at the table, dropping my bag next to me. My books made a pitiful shunk sound, reminding me that I couldn’t let my mother look in my bag. She’d think I’d destroyed them, and that would definitely warrant a therapist call.

 
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