Made you up, p.5

Made You Up, page 5

 

Made You Up
 



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  “So, how was it?”

  “All right,” I replied, swirling the cold soup in the bowl, checking for poison. I didn’t really think my mother would poison me. Most of the time.

  “That’s it?”

  I shrugged. “It was all right. It was a day of school.”

  “Meet anyone interesting?”

  “Everyone’s interesting if you stare at them long enough.”

  She put her hands on her hips. Tally one for Things Alex Shouldn’t Say at the Dinner Table.

  “How did it go with that club?”

  “I really didn’t have to do that much. I like them, though. They’re nice.” Most of them. Mom hmm’d in her very passive-aggressive way.

  “What?” I shot.

  “Nothing.”

  I sipped a bit of soup. “I’m on speaking terms with the valedictorian and the salutatorian, if that makes you feel any better,” I said.

  Okay, so the valedictorian was a bit of a stretch. Most of our conversations that day had ended with one of us pissed off. But I did, technically, speak to him.

  Thoughts of Blue Eyes strutted forward once again, and I beat them back. The moment I mentioned a lobster tank, my mother would have a conniption. She’d spent years trying to forget the Freeing of the Lobsters.

  “Oh really?” My mother perked up a bit. “And what are they like?”

  “The salutatorian’s really nice, but the valedictorian could work on his people skills.”

  “You should ask them for college advice, you know,” she said. “I bet they’re aiming for the Ivy League. Oh, they could help you with your essays! You’ve never really been good at writing.”

  Tally one for Mother Mentions College Future and Unlikeliness of Such at Dinner Table. It probably wouldn’t help my case to tell her Tucker had applied to half a dozen Ivy League schools, and had already been accepted at twice as many less prestigious institutions. “I don’t need help getting into college. I have good grades, and most people can’t write to save their lives, but they get in. Besides, you have to be an idiot not to get into state college.”

  “You’re saying that now,” she said, waving a soapy knife at me. “But what are you going to do when you don’t get in?”

  I dropped my spoon. “The hell, Mom? Do you want me to get in or not?”

  “Language!” she snapped, going back to the dishes. I rolled my eyes and hunched over my soup.

  The violin music came to an abrupt halt. There was the patter of small feet in the hallway, and then Charlie’s arms wrapped around me and her momentum nearly knocked me out of my chair. She was undersized for her age but hit like a wrecking ball.

  “Hi, Charlie.”

  “Hi.” My shirt muffled her voice.

  I pried Charlie away from my side and stood up, pulling my bag with me. “I’m going to my room.”

  “I expect lights out by ten,” my mother said.

  “Oh, and apparently I need a school uniform.”

  She slapped a wet hand against her forehead. Water ran down the side of her face. “Oh, I completely forgot. Your principal mentioned a uniform to me when we went for that tour. How much are they?”

  “Like, seventy dollars. It’s ridiculous. All for a school crest on the breast pocket.”

  My mother turned to look at me again, her face creased with that damn pity look. We weren’t so poor that we couldn’t pay seventy dollars for something I had to have, but she would make me feel awful about it anyway.

  “I’m getting a spare from the janitor tomorrow,” I said quickly. “It shouldn’t be a problem.”

  “Okay, good.” She relaxed. “I already laid out your clothes for tomorrow, so you can wear those to school and bring them home with you.”

  “Fine.”

  I stalked out of the kitchen and down the back hallway, Charlie close on my heels. She jabbered incessantly about the song she’d been playing, what she thought of our mother’s mushroom soup, how much she wanted to go to high school.

  She hustled to get inside my bedroom door before I closed it. Even in the room I’d slept in for seventeen years, the place I knew better than anywhere else, I had to make sure nothing was out of the ordinary.

  “What’s it like?” Charlie flung herself on my bed and pulled the covers up over her head like a cloak. The resulting gust of air made the pictures tacked to the walls flutter. The artifacts on my shelves rattled ominously.

  “Be careful, Charlie. You break anything, you’re paying for it.” I opened up the top dresser drawer and pushed pairs of striped socks out of the way until I found my stash of superglue, hidden so my mother didn’t think I was huffing it. I tossed it onto the nightstand partly as a warning to Charlie and partly as a reminder to myself to pick it up for the morning. “I don’t know. It was school.” I grabbed the clothes my mother had left out on the end of the bed and tossed them on the floor. After seventeen years, she still picked out my clothes. I was a schizophrenic, not a damn invalid.

  “But what was it like?”

  This was understandable. Charlie had never set foot in a real school.

  “It was like school. I went to class and listened to the teacher and did the work.”

  “And there were other kids there?”

  “Yes, Charlie, there are lots of other kids there. It’s a school.”

  “Did they discriminate against you because you’re new?”

  Discriminate. There it was. Charlie’s Word of the Week. Every week, Charlie had a word that she used whenever she could fit it in. This week it was discriminate. Last week it was usurp. The week before that was defenestrate, compliments of me. Just thinking about Charlie whipping that one out of her vocabulary utility belt in front of our mother made me smile.

  “Has Mom been letting you watch the Disney Channel again?” I opened my closet to look for my pajamas.

  “So . . . they don’t sing at lunch?”

  “Nope.”

  “Oh.” The blanket fell away from her head, revealing her straight, ketchup-red hair and big blue eyes. She pulled a black chess piece from her pocket and jammed it into her mouth. She’d been chewing on things since she was four years old. “Did you meet anyone cool?”

  “Define cool.”

  “You know. Cool.”

  “Not really. I met nice people and stupid people and complete jerks, but I didn’t really meet any cool people.”

  Charlie gasped, her blue eyes became the size of plates, and the chess piece fell out of her mouth. “Did you meet your soul mate? That always happens on the first day of school, right?”

  “Oh God, Charlie, she’s letting you read again! You went straight to the paranormal section, didn’t you?”

  Charlie huffed and crossed her arms. “No. But the TV doesn’t do high school very well.”

  “The TV doesn’t do anything very well, Charlie.”

  She looked glum after that, and I felt sorry that I’d crushed her hopes. She’d never go to high school. The only reason our mother had stopped homeschooling me was because my therapist said I’d do better around people my age. That led to my involvement in the Hillpark Gym Graffiti Incident and my senior year condemnation at East Shoal.

  A familiar pang of guilt poked at my stomach whenever I looked at Charlie. I was the big sister. I was supposed to set an example and lead the way so people would say, “Hey, you’re Alex’s sister, aren’t you? You two look exactly alike!” instead of “Hey, you’re Alex’s sister, aren’t you? Are you crazy, too?”

  The only example I was ever going to set for her was to always check her food before she ate it.

  Relief washed over me. Relief that she wasn’t old enough yet to understand why she should hate me.

  “Get out of my room. I need to change.”

  Charlie whined and pouted but grabbed the chess piece, scrambled off the bed, and hurried out the door. I changed into my pajamas and slipped under the covers.

  I looked around the room at all my pictures and artifacts.

  The pic
tures had no rhyme or reason. I realized a few years back that sometimes I’d look at an old picture and something would be different in it. Something would be missing. I reached into my bag and pulled out my camera, then flipped through the pictures I’d taken today. The first one from this morning, the one of the squirrels—it was already different. It looked like I’d just taken a picture of the neighbor’s lawn. The squirrels were gone.

  It wasn’t always so easy. Some things took longer to disappear than others. But this technique helped me figure out what was a hallucination and what wasn’t. I had albums full of pictures, too, but the albums were for things I knew were real, like my parents. Charlie had a whole album to herself. More than once I’d caught her in my room, looking through it.

  My artifacts came from my dad. First and foremost, Dad was an archaeologist. I didn’t blame him. If I could do nothing but play in the dirt all day, I’d be an archaeologist, too. My mother used to travel with him, but then they had me and they took too long trying to decide if they wanted to take me to the digs. By that time, my mother had ended up homeschooling me and didn’t want to take me anywhere, and then Charlie was born and they didn’t have the money to take both of us. So my mother stayed home all the time and Dad was always gone.

  Whenever he came home, he brought stuff: most of the things we owned, our furniture, and even some of our clothes. My mother crammed every available corner with Dad’s stuff, and the house didn’t feel so empty.

  I tried not to think about the fact that shipping things like that across the ocean must cost a lot of money.

  I remembered a few times, before I was diagnosed, when I’d lay in bed and my artifacts would talk to me or to each other and I would listen to them until I fell asleep.

  My artifacts didn’t talk to me anymore. At least not when the medicine was working.

  I turned off my light and rolled over onto my side, pulling my sheet with me. The little boy at the lobster tank was losing his definition--until I reminded myself that even if he was real, which he wasn’t, he and Miles were not necessarily the same person.

  That was ten years ago. Ten years, and I hadn’t seen him since. It would take some ridiculous odds to bring us full circle like that.

  I didn’t fall asleep. I couldn’t. I waited until I heard Mom walk down the hall and close her door (Charlie had shut herself in her room half an hour ago), then slipped out from under the covers, put on a jacket and an old pair of sneakers, and grabbed the aluminum baseball bat I kept under my bed. I popped the screen out of the window and set it carefully against the wall.

  I didn’t often ride my bike in the dark, but I walked. Baseball bat clinking against the heels of my Converse, nighttime breeze brushing against my legs, I trekked through my backyard and into the woods of Hannibal’s Rest. The creek whispered up ahead. I took the last bend in the road and stood face-to-face with Red Witch Bridge.

  I didn’t feel the need to do a perimeter check, because this was where the worlds met. Everyone thought they saw or heard strange things here, and I didn’t have to hide the fact that I really did.

  I laughed when I remembered Tucker bringing up the bridge earlier. The Red Witch? The one who gutted travelers, coated herself in their blood, and screamed like a banshee? No, I wasn’t scared of her. The nighttime might have made everything upside down, inside out, scary as hell, but not to me.

  The baseball bat clink-clink-clinked as I walked toward Red Witch Bridge.

  I was the scariest thing out here tonight.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

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

  Chapter Nine

  Einstein’s definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I kept taking pictures, hoping I’d look at one and know its subject was a delusion. I did my perimeter checks, thinking I’d eventually be able to walk around paranoia-free. I spent every day hoping someone would tell me I smelled like lemons.

  If I wasn’t insane by anyone else’s definition, I figured I was at least insane by Einstein’s.

  UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE

  HarperCollins Publishers

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

  Chapter Ten

  The first thing I did the day after the parking lot incident was look for Miles’s truck at school. Rusty, sky blue, 1982 GMC. Looked like he’d saved it from a scrap heap. It wasn’t there. Marvelous.

  My second order of business was with his locker. I hurried into school, checked to make sure no one was around and the ceiling wasn’t wired, then delved into my bag in search of superglue. Two tubes and seventeen Popsicle sticks later, Miles’s locker was well and truly glued shut. I tossed the evidence into the nearest trash can, swapped out what books I needed from my own locker (most still severed from their covers), and left to find a uniform.

  The janitors’ closet was next to my chemistry room. When I knocked, there was a crash inside. The door cracked open and a familiar bespectacled eye looked out.

  “Oh, hi, Alex.” Tucker opened the door a little wider. His gaze flitted around the hallway behind me. “W-what are you doing here?”

  “Uh, they said I could get a uniform from the janitor.”

  “Oh, yeah. There are some here . . . hold on a sec. . . .”

  He disappeared and I heard some muted, angry cursing. When he returned, he held a uniform. “It might be a little big, but it’s the only clean one. The others were yellow.”

  I took the uniform. “Thanks, Tucker. What are you doing in the janitors’ closet?” I looked behind him, but I didn’t see anyone else.

  He gave me a weak smile. “Don’t worry about it.” And then he closed the door.

  I forced myself not to take any pictures—it was Tucker; Tucker was not a hallucination, even if he was hanging out in a janitors’ closet—and ducked into the nearest bathroom to change. Tucker had really been playing it down when he said the uniform might be “a little big.” I needed swimming lessons to wear it.

  I had to pass through the science hallway on my way to class, and that was when I saw the snake.

  Its head hung down between ceiling tiles that had been shifted to the side for some reason. I jumped. I’d only ever seen pythons in the zoo, behind glass—but annoyance settled in when I got over the initial shock of seeing it.

  Freaking snake. I didn’t even bother getting my camera out. A snake hanging out of the ceiling was exactly the sort of thing my mind would cook up. I stuck out my tongue and hissed at the python as I walked underneath it.

  I slunk to Mr. Gunthrie’s room, hoping I wouldn’t meet Cliff or Celia or, God forbid, Miles on my way. People still stared at me—this hair, this damn hair, why did it have to be so damn red—but I ignored them.

  Theo was kneeling outside the classroom door, mixing condiments inside a Mason jar, while Miles stood next to her with his arms crossed. A shiver ran up my spine when I walked past him, but I forced my face to remain expressionless. He didn’t notice me—if he did, he didn’t say anything.

  I got a glimpse of Theo’s disgusting concoction. Pickle juice, mustard, what looked like pepper shavings, sour cream, horseradish—basically all the things you put together when you’re thirteen and you want to trick a younger sibling into a vomit-induced coma (Charlie had never forgiven me for that one).

  I slipped into my seat, keeping them in my peripheral vision while I did a perimeter check. Theo capped the Mason jar, shook it, and handed it to Miles. Miles watched the cloudy, swirling liquid for a second, then raised it to his lips, and chugged the whole thing in one fell swoop.

  I gagged and yanked my collar up over my nose. Ironically, the collar smelled like barf already, so I lowered it. Miles sauntered into the room and dropped into the chair in front of me, his gaze fixed on the whiteboard.

  Class started normally. As normally as it could, I suppose, when the first
announcement of the day is about a scoreboard, and your drill sergeant of a teacher is yelling at everyone. I tried paying attention to Mr. Gunthrie’s lecture on British literature, but the side of Miles’s face had turned chalky white and was morphing into sickly green.

  “. . . THE FACT THAT BURGESS TAUGHT ALONGSIDE THE WOMAN WHO WOULD GIVE HIM IDEAS FOR A CLOCKWORK ORANGE IS VERY LITTLE KNOWN. HE WAS IN THE ARMY AT THE TIME.”

  Mr. Gunthrie stopped in front of Cliff’s desk, leaned over, and got right into Cliff’s face. Cliff, who had been making hand signs across the room at Ria Wolf, jumped and faced forward.

  “TELL ME, MR. ACKERLEY, DO YOU KNOW WHERE BURGESS WAS STATIONED?”

  Cliff’s mouth popped open like he was going to say something.

  “NO? THAT’S A PITY, MR. ACKERLEY. PERHAPS I SHOULD ASK SOMEONE ELSE. DO YOU THINK I SHOULD ASK SOMEONE ELSE, MR. ACKERLEY?”

  “Uh, yes?”

  “WHO DO YOU THINK I SHOULD ASK, ACKERLEY?”

  “Uh...Richter?”

  “UH, RICHTER. THAT SOUNDS LIKE A QUESTION, ACKERLEY. DID I GIVE YOU PERMISSION TO ASK ME A QUESTION?”

  “No.”

  “NO WHAT?”

  “No, sir!”

  “NOW I’M GOING TO ASK YOU AGAIN, MR. ACKERLEY. TO WHOM SHOULD I ASK THE QUESTION YOUR INCOMPETENT ASS COULDN’T ANSWER?”

  “Ask Richter, sir!”

  Mr. Gunthrie straightened up and marched across the room to Miles’s desk.

  “RICHTER. COULD YOU PLEASE TELL ME WHERE ANTHONY BURGESS WAS STATIONED WHEN HE TAUGHT ALONGSIDE ANN MCGLINN AND TOOK HER IDEAS ON COMMUNISM FOR A CLOCKWORK ORANGE?”

  Miles didn’t answer at first. He was hunched in his seat, swaying a little. Slowly, he looked up and met Mr. Gunthrie’s gaze.

  Please throw up on him, I thought. Please, please throw up on Mr. Gunthrie.

  “Gibraltar,” Miles said, then he lurched out of his seat and made it to the trash can in time to be violently ill. Several girls squealed. Tucker yanked his collar up over his nose.

 
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