A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "An Exercise of Character"
"I want to talk to you about Will," Laura says. "About him and me."
Naturally, this takes you aback. And, equally naturally, you have to restrain yourself from lunging hungrily at the hint. "What about you and him?" you ask.
"Where are you going now?"
"Home," you lie. "Then ... I don't know." Your heart is beating hard, but you cover it as best you can with an air of studied neutrality.
"If you want to talk, let's go someplace. But separate, so I can take off afterward. I got stuff I need to do."
Laura looks a little disappointed, but agrees. You hesitate when she suggests moving down a couple of blocks to the donut shop by the Lube 'n Go, then agree.
* * * * *
"I don't know why I lied about it," Laura moans after she's made a full confession. She's got her elbows on the tiny Formica tabletop, and clutches her head in her hands. Her shoulders sag, and every couple of sentences she lets out a deep sigh.
"It was just a spur of the moment thing," she continues. "Like, he just popped out saying we met that night, and I panicked. All you guys were standing around, listening, and I just thought— Yikes! You know?" She looks up at you with big, wet eyes. "Doesn't that ever happen to you?"
You shrug, and swallow another slug of coffee. It's cheap, nasty stuff they serve at Don's Donuts, much worse than you remember it being. But then, Jack is a bit of a coffee snob. Even before you ordered, you had a feeling—Jack's gut feeling—that it would be terrible.
"And after that," Laura goes on after another deep sigh, "I was trapped. You all made such a big deal of it. Because of—" She gives you a sharp look. "Has Elle told you anything like this? About the night she, uh, was supposed to have—?" She trails off.
"I wouldn't tell you, even if she did."
"You're so diplomatic," Laura says. Discreet, you think. That's the word you keep reaching for. "Wouldn't it be funny if there was all these girls circling around Will, and they were all too, um—"
"I guess. Is that what I am? Bashful?"
"So you couldn't say anything about what really happened that night because we were all too busy dumping shit on him," you summarize.
She gets a pinched look. "I wish you all hadn't been doing that."
You shrug again. You agree with her, of course. It was ugly, some of the things that got said about Will Prescott. How desperate he was, and how it was actually kind of creepy, when you thought about it, with him making up stories to make it sound like he was being chased by a bunch of girls. That's really stalker-ish behavior when you think about it, Hermione Gilbert had said. Like, obsessive.
Jack (to his credit, you suppose) didn't join in much, and a couple of times even tried making weak excuses for you. But his excuses were things like, I heard he had a bad break-up, cut him some slack, or He's new to x2z, he doesn't know how to handle the trolls. Only once did he really lay into the one of the others. Elle had made some tart wisecrack about Will's overly dramatic imagination, and Jack retorted with a sarcastic, Yeah, I can't imagine anyone in the theater program letting their sense of the dramatic run away with them. She was frosty toward him the rest of the afternoon.
"So I don't know how I'm going to come clean now," Laura now moans.
"Well, you could start by apologizing to Will. For lying about meeting up that night," you can't resist adding.
"I know, I'm going to do that," she says. "But it's, like, how do I tell everyone else?"
"Do you have to?"
"Don't I?" She gives you a hopeful look.
You drain the Styrofoam cup. This is one of those times I really wished I smoked, Jack confesses from the back of your head. It gives you time to think and makes you look like you really are thinking.
"Yeah, I guess you have to," you tell her. "It's only fair to Will. Have you told anyone else?"
She shakes her head. "You're the only one I'd tell this to."
Flattering, you think. But at least it inspires a suggestion.
"How about you tell them the way you told me," you say. "Tell them you've got this problem— Tell them that night, when Will says he met you in the neighborhood, you really did meet him, he wasn't lying. And you don't know why you lied about it, except you were scared people would tease you about it. Then you ask them, How do I tell everyone else? That way," you conclude, "it doesn't sound like you're telling them you lied. It sounds like you're asking their advice. The way," you dryly add, "you're asking me for advice instead of apologizing to me for lying about it."
If Laura notices your dig, she ignores it. "That's not a bad idea," she says, and frowns thoughtfully.
Then she turns a sharp glance on you. "How come you met up with Will last night? Instead of going out to the Warehouse?"
"He had some family issues he—"
"You told us you had a migraine!"
"You lied about meeting him, the way I lied about it!"
"Not the same," you correct her. "You lied about Will right in front of. I just told you I changed my mind about going to the Warehouse. And I told you I had a migraine because I was being ... diplomatic."
Laura sticks her tongue out at you. "Would you lie about meeting me here? Talking to me here?"
"Sure, if you want me to. In fact, I think I should. If you're going to 'ask people for their advice,' like I suggested."
Laura makes a face at you.
"You're so smart, Jack!" she exclaims with some small peevishness. "What makes you so smart?" You shrug. "You have been talking to Will about this, haven't you?"
She snorts. "And you wouldn't tell me even you did! You can be such a shit sometimes! Such a diplomatic shit!"
"Why are you pissed at me? Just because I won't—?"
"Do you think Will likes me? Would you tell me if you thought or knew that he liked me?"
You stare at her. Well, this is a wallop to the side of the head, says a little voice inside you that sounds like Jack's. "Why do you want to—?"
"Well, would you?"
You can't stop your mouth from curling up.
"I don't think he likes you now," you tell her. "Not after you made him look crazy in front of everyone."
She groans. "But what if I told him I was wrong, and I said I was sorry, and I told him I would make it up to him? Do you think he—?"
"I don't know. How would I know?" Your hands and feet go cold, and you stiffen all over.
"Because you talked to him last night!"
"About other things. Not about you."
She slumps in her chair, with arms folded. "So he doesn't like me anymore."
It would be undiplomatic—not indiscreet, but undiplomatic—to agree with her. So you query another part of her complaint. "Anymore?" you ask. "Did he used to like you? I didn't know you ever hung out."
"Well, we did! Back in middle school. We hung out a lot. Him and me and his friends and my friends. We were all friends! Like you 'n Parker 'n Kristina 'n—"
You don't remember being friends with her that way. You mostly remember taking classes together, and sitting next to each other and talking, and sometimes going up to the mall or to some movies with her as part of a bigger group. You did have a bit of a crush on her, maybe, but it wasn't a crush strong enough to survive the move to high school, where you never shared any classes.
"Do you want to hang out with him again?" you ask.
She squirms. "For a start. Then see, like, if anything more— Do you think he'd want to?"
"You keep asking me that. How would I know? I barely know the guy."
"But could you ask him for me? Or just, you know, feel him out? You're going to see him again anyway."
You feel like you've been slapped. "What makes you say that?"
"Well, you are! What were you talking to him about last night? Did you get it all sorted out, whatever it is? You can't leave people alone, Jack, I've watched you. People are your tar baby."
"Go talk to him yourself, Laura." She scowls as you get up. "You're the one who has to talk to him anyway. But yeah, you're one of my tar babies. So tell me how it goes when you do."
You nod at Keith, who has been studying his phone all this time while pretending not to eavesdrop. "Hey Tilley!" you call out, and he jumps with a guilty expression. "Thanks, man! I'll see you around."
You drive off, your head buzzing. You texted Will that you'd be late meeting him at the school. Should you tell him about your talk with Laura? Because if you do, he'll want to know how to handle her if she talks to him before you get the business with Chelsea straightened out.
Next: "A Chat with Chelsea"