Made You Up, page 7
“Well, she’s a bitch and he’s a douche; they’re perfect for each other,” I said, smiling.
Theo gave me one of those looks, the ones parents give their kid when the kid is talking about something they don’t understand. That look stung more than I thought it would; I shifted and hid behind the pyramid, my face burning. What had I said? What was there about this picture that I didn’t get?
“Bored again?” Theo asked suddenly. Miles stood at the window, still holding that tattered black notebook.
“I hate volleyball,” he said.
Theo smiled wickedly. “No, you hate Ria Wolf. Don’t take your anger out on the poor sport.”
Miles gave her the same pissy look he’d given me earlier and drummed his long fingers impatiently on the counter.
Theo rolled her eyes and kept stacking. “I’ve got someone,” she said.
“Were you alive during the last century?”
Miles rested his chin on top of his notebook, looking (as I couldn’t help noticing) very much like a mischievous little boy knowing he was about to win a game. A golden-freckled, blue-eyed little boy. “Were you an Allied leader in World War II?”
I heard Theo grinding her teeth. “Yes.”
“You’re Chiang Kai-shek.”
Theo hurled her cup and the entire pyramid came tumbling down. “Why didn’t you say Churchill? Dammit, you were supposed to say Churchill or Roosevelt or Stalin!”
Miles just stared at her. Theo grumbled loudly and turned to help me clean up.
It was in English a week later when possibly the strangest thing of all happened.
When I tried to sit down, I instead found myself on the floor in a very painful position. The bar connecting the desk and the seat had been partially severed at one end, so my weight broke it the rest of the way. For a second, I thought I was imagining it. People were staring at me. Cursing under my breath, I got up, shoved the ruined desk to the back of the room, and pulled over an unused whole one.
Mr. Gunthrie hadn’t even looked up from his paper. Miles, always politely oblivious, pretended nothing had happened and continued writing in his black notebook.
That also meant that he wasn’t paying attention when I got into his backpack and emptied a tube of fire ants from the colony I’d found in the woods. With six classes together, there was no way I wouldn’t see the reaction.
This was not the strange part.
Celia Hendricks, always on the prowl, materialized next to Miles’s desk. She did that weird hair flip-and-twirl routine, like she’d learned how to flirt from a tween magazine. Miles glared at her.
“What do you want, Hendricks?”
Celia gave him a winning smile. “Hey. I’m having my bonfire soon. We’re going to have a fake scoreboard to graffiti and everything. You should come.”
“Every year I say no. Why should I say yes now?”
“Because, it’ll be fun!” she whined. She tried to put her hand on his arm, but he recoiled. I could have sworn he was about to snarl at her.
“Get off my desk, Celia.”
“Pleeeease, Miles? What can I do to get you to come?” Her voice dropped low and she looked at him through her eyelashes. She leaned over the desk. He snapped the notebook closed before she could look inside. “Anything,” she said. “Name it.”
Miles paused for a long moment. Then he jabbed his thumb over his shoulder and said, “Invite Alex. Then I’ll come.”
Celia’s expression shuffled so quickly I almost didn’t catch it. One second she’d been trying to seduce Miles, the next she glared at me like I should be impaled on a pike, and finally she settled on a sort of confused surprise.
“Oh! Well . . . you promise?” She was right in Miles’s face. Miles leaned back. I had the immediate image of an idiot backing an angry viper into a corner.
“Sure. Promise,” he said venomously.
“Good!” Celia pulled a card from the pocket of her shirt and reached over Miles’s shoulder to give it to me. She was clearly on a mission to get his face in her cleavage. I let him squirm for longer than necessary before I took the card. She hopped off his desk.
“Can’t wait to see you there, Milesie!”
Miles glared at me.
“Milesie?” I said. “Can I call you that?”
“You had better show up,” he said, his gaze flat and cold.
Celia’s bonfire wasn’t until mid-October, on Scoreboard Day. It took me a long time to decide to go, and only after consulting Finnegan’s Magic 8 Ball (Signs point to yes) and much prodding from the rest of the club. Except Miles, of course, who only deemed it necessary to give me one prod. (Days later, he still had a wonderful array of bright red welts on the back of his right hand.)
The fact that the club wanted me to go made it feel like I wasn’t so much using it as an excuse to make my mother and therapist happy, but more like I actually wanted to spend time with. . . .
I’d be paranoid as hell while I was there, but my mother was so ecstatic about the idea that I knew there was no way I could back out. She might have even blown a few synapses when I asked her if I could go, because she stood there and stared blankly at me for a minute before asking if I was supposed to take food and how much. She called my therapist with the good news, and my therapist immediately wanted to talk to me and ask why I’d made the decision and how I felt about it.
My mother also said she’d drive me, but I headed her off; Theo had already offered a ride, and I’d accepted. Having my mother and her Firenza drop me off in front of a huge house in one of the richest neighborhoods in town, at a party that I hadn’t really been invited to, was more than enough to make my stomach bottom out.
The Wednesday before the party, Theo put her homework aside to tell me what to expect at the bonfire.
“Don’t eat any of the food,” she said as she handed a customer his hot dog. “Not even joking. Eat before you go. And don’t drink anything.”
Well, that certainly wouldn’t be a problem. I almost thanked Theo for giving me an excuse to be paranoid about the food.
“Why? Does she poison it?”
“There’s no guaranteeing that someone won’t try to slip you a roofie.” Theo turned to refill the popcorn machine. “You’ll be fine. Don’t eat or drink; stay inconspicuous.”
So my normal routine, then.
“Oh, and don’t go upstairs,” Theo added.
“Why would I go upstairs?”
“Just don’t do it, okay?”
“All right, fine.”
“Anyway, everyone only goes to these parties to deface the fake scoreboard and get stories about crazy stuff. Celia’s parties make better stories than Celia does.”
Crazy stuff happening at parties with roofies and questionable upstairs goings-on didn’t make me feel very good about the whole thing, but if I tried to back out now, my mother and my therapist would be on me like hounds. There was pretty much no way I wasn’t going.
“FUCK IT, I’M BORED.”
“Here he comes.” Theo didn’t even look up when Miles rounded the corner and tossed his notebook onto the counter. “I don’t think cursing is going to help,” she told him
“Maybe it fucking will.” Miles seethed. “I hate everyone in that gym. Pick someone.”
“No, I don’t want to play.”
“It won’t take that long.”
“That’s why I don’t want to play.”
“Can I do one?” I raised my hand. “It might actually take you more than five questions, too.”
Miles quirked his eyebrow. “Oh, you think so?”
“If you get this in five, I’ll be thoroughly impressed.”
He leaned over the counter, looking eager. Weirdly, weirdly eager. Not like he wanted to rub my face into the floor. Not like he knew he was going to beat me. Just . . . excited. “Okay,” he said. “Are you fictional?”
Broad question. He didn’t know me as well as he knew The
“No,” I said.
“Are you still alive?”
“Are you a leader?”
“Was your civilization conquered by a European nation?”
“Are you . . . a leader of the Olmec?”
“How’d you get there?” Theo blurted out, but Miles ignored her.
“No,” I said, trying not to let him see how close he’d come. “And the Olmec weren’t conquered by the Europeans. They died out.”
Miles frowned. “Mayan?”
The corners of his lips twisted up, but he said, “Shouldn’t have taken so many guesses for that one.” Then he said, “Did you found the Tlatocan?”
“Did you reign after 1500?”
Theo watched the conversation like a tennis match.
“Are you Ahuitzotl?”
“No.” I smiled. This kid knew his history.
“What the hell are you saying?” Theo cried.
He’d cut off a chunk of the Aztec emperors and whittled them down until there was only one remaining. But now he had three questions left—two he didn’t need.
Why hadn’t he cut it down again? Surely he could have shortened his options and not guessed his way through all the emperors. Was this some kind of test? Or was . . . was he showing off?
There was a fanatical gleam in his eye, another smile playing on his lips. Both were gone as soon as I said, “Almost twenty. Not quite, but I almost had you.”
“I’m never playing this game again,” said Theo, sighing and returning to her homework.
The little boy from the lobster tank disappeared from Miles’s face.
* * *
Why did he invite me?
I wish you could say more than yes or no.
* * *
UNCORRECTED E-PROOF—NOT FOR SALE
Charlie planted herself in my bedroom doorway with her hands on her hips, the head of a black bishop clenched between her teeth. “Can I come with you?”
“This isn’t an eight-year-old sort of party.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means no.” I ducked back into my shallow closet in search of something different to wear. Old jeans littered the floor and shirts hung lopsided from hangers. A ratty pair of ginger cat-shaped house slippers curled up underneath a fraying sweatshirt. The slippers purred when my foot brushed against them.
“Why not?” Charlie stamped her foot. Her cheeks were round and red. With her expression and her tiny frame, she looked closer to four than eight.
“Why are you being so whiny tonight? Usually you give up after a while.”
She wouldn’t look at me.
“Are you crying?”
“No!” She sucked in snot.
“It’s not like I’m leaving permanently. I’ll be back later.” I finally decided it would be easier not to change at all and yanked the Lacedaemon Spartans XXL sweatshirt away from the (hissing) cat slippers to pull it on.
My mother called from the living room. “Alex! Your friends are here!”
It might have been the first time she ever said those words in that order in her life. I picked Charlie up under her armpits and carried her down the hallway, setting her on the carpet in the living room. The triplets waited at the end of the driveway in Theo’s Camry.
“Are you sure you don’t have to take anything?” asked my mother.
“I’ll be fine, Mom,” I said. “But I’ve been dying for some Yoo-hoos lately.” Had to get the requests in while she was still on this normality high. “See you later. If Dad calls, tell him he’s got horrible timing.”
“I wanna go!” Charlie tugged on my pant leg.
“You can’t—it’s a big-girl party,” I said.
“I’m not four!” Charlie screeched, the black bishop dancing on her lip.
“No,” I said, “you’re eight. And you need to stop chewing on those things—you’re going to choke.”
My mother’s eyebrows creased in worry right before I ducked out the door. Maybe she cared more about what happened at this party than she let on.
Being in a car with Theo and her brothers was like shutting myself in a bank vault with eighty pounds of TNT and a lit fuse. Theo let me sit in the front seat, but even then it felt like Evan and Ian were too close. The three of them sang earsplitting drinking songs the whole way and only stopped when Theo turned into Downing Heights.
Downing Heights was the richest neighborhood in town. All the houses here were huge and immaculate and eggshell white, but it didn’t take long to figure out which one was Celia’s. Cars lined up on both sides of the road nearly ten houses deep in either direction. Theo parked, and we walked to the two-story McMansion at the center of all the chaos.
A bad feeling roiled in my stomach. I’d never been to this neighborhood before, and eyes watched me from the dark spaces in the landscaping. I balled my fists in the hem of my sweatshirt.
Music beat a steady rhythm from a huge stereo on the back porch; the bonfire crackled a short distance away. Inside the house, lights flashed, and people came and went through all sorts of doors and windows like flies on a hot day.
“Keep calm,” Evan said, grinning, as he led the way into the house.
“Don’t go upstairs,” said Theo.
“And don’t. Ingest. Anything,” Ian finished. And then the triplets were gone. Sucked into the crowd beyond the door. Unfamiliar bodies pressed in on me from every side.
My perimeter check wouldn’t do any good in here. I could hardly see five feet in front of me. Checking each person for a weapon would be more than impossible. I had my camera, tucked in my sweatshirt pocket, but that wouldn’t do me any good. I’d never remember what I’d seen and what I hadn’t.
I slipped my way through the sweaty bodies and loud voices, looking for a familiar face. I thought I saw Tucker and headed toward him, but when I made it across the room, he’d vanished.
As I edged around the elaborate, china-cabinet-flanked dining room, I wondered where Celia’s parents were and if they knew exactly how many cans of beer were stacked on their polished mahogany dining table. (Answer: seventy-six.)
The curving staircase was around the corner from the dining room; the upstairs seemed a lot quieter and less alcohol-filled than the downstairs. I knew what Theo had said, but unless someone was going to ambush me, I didn’t see any reason not to go up.
At the top of the staircase was a gloriously quiet hallway lined on either side with doors. Most of them were closed. Probably bedrooms. About halfway down was a narrow table covered with framed pictures. I could see Celia in them, Celia smiling, but before I could get near them, a girl’s voice floated out of a bedroom up ahead.
“Stop squirming! Shut up and sit still . . . I thought you were going to do what I said.”
I tiptoed closer to the cracked-open door until I had a view of the room’s occupants. There was a bed. And on the bed was a half-naked Ria Wolf on top of a half-naked guy who was definitely not Cliff Ackerley. Ria, her back to me, sat up and flipped her hair over her shoulder.
I pushed away from the door and sprinted for the stairs. Holy—that was what Theo had been talking about—Ria’s revenge plot—
Everyone was either clustered around the stereo or the seven-foot-tall piece of plyboard, propped up on the lawn, which had been painted to look like the scoreboard. Beer, candy wrappers, old movie ticket stubs, and one soiled pair of underwear had been left on the ground around it as offerings. A rainbow of fluorescent graffiti covered its face. Curse words, cartoon penises, obscene suggestions for what McCoy could do with his genitals. Nothing you wouldn’t find carved into the desk of the average teenaged boy. Several people were busy spray-painting the words Rich Dick McCoy Forever along its bottom edge in bright pink.
I could only think of the Hillpark Gym Graffiti Incident. Not exactly my shining moment. I headed to the lawn. The nighttime silence and the crackle of the bonfire made a sort of wall against the blaring music on the porch. Three benches were arranged in a triangle around the fire: one had been smashed in the middle by a bowling ball that still rested between the halves; another was occupied by a couple so tightly wrapped around each other I’d need the Jaws of Life to pry them apart. Astronomical amounts of bird crap covered the benches, but the couple didn’t seem to mind and bowling balls tend to be astoundingly unobservant.
The third bench had only one occupant, sitting with his back to me, watching the marshmallow on his skewer burn black in the fire.
When I realized who he was, my heart rose and fell and I considered going back inside before that flaming marshmallow could be weaponized. But then he turned and saw me and arched his eyebrow, that freaking eyebrow can I rip it off already.
“You can sit here, if you want.” Miles scooted to one end of the bench. There was something weird, subdued, about his voice. He sounded normal. Calm. Like we were friends or something.
I sat down on the other end of the bench (“the other end” being five inches away), checked him from head to toe for sharp objects, and tugged on my hair. If he was my only point of normalcy in this party from hell, I’d take him. He’d ditched his school uniform for a worn pair of jeans, thick-soled work boots, a white-and-blue baseball shirt, and a heavy bomber jacket that looked like it’d come straight out of World War II.