A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "The Morning Fog"
This is the first time you've ever been on x2z.com as a member with an account, so it takes you awhile to orient yourself inside the DM page. While you're still untangling the fact that "Meryl_Elle", "@ElleNMoore," and "firstname.lastname@example.org" are different handles for the same person, you get another note, from "Uno_Jack": Confirming I got ur acct set up. Need ride after school? That one, you quickly figure out, is from Jack.
Without thinking, you shoot a reply: Yes. Only after it's sent do you realize it sounds like you're asking for a ride. Rather than send Jack a clarification, you tell Elle that you want to play frisbee-golf and will hang out with her there.
* * * * *
"This is your actual x2z handle," Leah Simmons explains to you. She's the girl with the blonde bob who teased you in the library about your lunch, and you're riding in the back of Jack's minivan with her. "It's like Twitter," she continues. "So, at-WillPrescott is your actual x2z handle, and the WillPrescott-at is like an email account you can access through the site. But your screen name and avatar, you can set them to whatever you want. Want me to do it for you?" She pulls your phone from your hand. "Jack gave you some boring ones."
"Hey, I was just setting it up for him," Jack calls back from behind the wheel. "Let Will personalize it however he wants."
"I was going to! Cocksucker!" Leah kicks the back of Jack's seat. Then she leans over to whisper in your ear. "Not really, Jack doesn't actually suck cock. But I can give you the names of some girls who do."
You almost bolt out of your seat. Leah cackles, and you blush hard.
"I'll set up a contact list for you too," she says as her thumbs fly over the screen. "So, I'm 'LeahCoolBeans', at least for now. I need to change that, it's getting stale. Jack ... Okay, you already got him in here. Elle ... Ooh, she's changed her screen name! Adam!" she calls to the fourth of your company. It's the guy with the Trolls-like hairdo, and he's slumping in the front seat with his bare feet up on the console. "What's your x2z handle?"
"Madam I'm Adam."
"No! Your account name!"
"Oh. At Adam Dortch. Dur!"
"I'm tagging you from Will's account. And you should change that handle. It's lame. Anyone else you want me to tag?" she asks you.
"Uh, Laura MacGregor? I don't know anyone else I might, uh—"
"You will once I get done with you." She taps a bit, then leans over to murmur in your ear. "These aren't girls who'll suck your cock. 'Cept for Adam. He might." She titters, so you can't be sure she's serious.
By the time she's done, you have a dozen or more x2z contacts, most of them girls.
* * * * *
You're also able to add "Parker Stott" (the Mansfield clone) and "Kristina Townes" and "Wendy Terrill" to the contact list after you've arrived at the frisbee-golf course. All told, there are ten of you at the party. You break into two quintets, with one quintet taking the course in numerical order up one trail and the other taking it from the opposite end in reverse order. You're in the latter group, along with Leah, Jack, Adam and Laura.
Elle is with the other group, and you were surprised to see her show up after you turned down her suggestion of a one-on-one afternoon together. You meant to put yourself in whatever group she was part of, but Laura claimed you by grabbing your hand, and when the groups were sorted Elle was in the other company. Still, you watched her out of the corner of your eye. She didn't seem to be paying much attention to you—she greeted you in a very off-handed fashion—and you have to take that as a bad sign, like you've offended her.
"I wish we had a thing like this down in Acheson," Laura says as you and the others wait on Adam to take his turn. He is taking his throw very seriously, for whereas Jack just tossed his in the general direction of the chain-link basket, Adam is balancing himself on bent knees and sniffing at the wind. "There's nothing to do there, besides go to the community center. You ever go out there?" she asks you.
"The old elementary school? A couple of times."
"Boring, isn't it?"
You shrug. She's talking about the old elementary school a few blocks from your house. Most of it has been closed up, but the old cafeteria and one wing were converted into a community center a long time ago. In fact, the "couple of times" you were out there, you didn't go into the community center but instead broke into the basement through an outside door. You found nothing inside but a lot of dusty, discarded school furniture—stacks of old desks, bookshelves, cafeteria tables, and the like—but you and your friends rearranged it all a little, and even spent Halloween down there, drinking and telling ghost stories. But it's been almost a year since you've been back.
"Nothing's boring if you know what to do with it," Leah says. Adam is just tensing for a throw, and she steps up to goose him in the ass. He leaps and whirls, and she jumps back with a laugh.
"Someone's looking for a poke in the butt," he growls through his grin.
"Only if you can find it with both hands, and you know what to do with it when you do," she chortles back.
Laura goes after Adam—and where his throw only missed the basket by half a foot, hers curves hard to the right—and then Leah steps up. You wait for Adam to make a move on her, and when he doesn't, you impulsively step up to poke her in the butt. She doesn't jump, but only turns around long enough to give you a narrow, squinty smile. Your heart sinks. That was a dumb thing to do, you chide yourself.
And no one gooses you when you step up to take your shot at the basket. Leah must have a thing for Adam, you decide. Or maybe she's just more comfortable with him.
* * * * *
You broach the subject with Jack a little later that afternoon, as you and he are searching for your lost frisbees, which both sailed into a pocket of trees behind the basket. "So are any of these guys going out with each other?" you ask as you tramp through the underbrush.
"The guys out here with us. And I mean the girls, too. Not just, uh—" You can't help reddening a little as Jack straightens up to give you a very even look.
"Well, Parker and Kristina just started going out with each other," he says as he bends over to resume searching. "I don't think anyone else is."
"What about Leah and Adam?"
"Which one are you interested in?"
"Leah. I mean—!" Silently you cuss yourself out. "I'm not interested in—! I'm not saying I—! Look, I'm not interested in Adam!"
"Are you interested in Leah?"
"I didn't mean—! I wasn't asking 'cos I'm interested in Adam! That's all!" You blush hard.
"Then why mention it? Anyway, I'm pretty sure Adam isn't interested in you."
You're not sure whether to be insulted or relieved. "I just mean there's a lot of flirting going on, and I don't know what it means. Or who's serious about—"
"Is someone flirting with you?"
You are tempted to bolt, and to not stop running until you reach the Canadian border. "Well, not today, not here! But ... Sort of. I think. Okay, yes, for sure," you add as Jack straightens up to look at you. "Except I don't—"
You suck in a deep breath. "I'm not sure I should tell. She asked me not to tell."
Jack's eyebrows go up. "She asked you not to tell anyone that she was flirting with you?"
"She kissed me. Last night. We met up in my neighborhood, and she kissed me, and then she ran away. And she asked me not to tell anyone what she did." Your face feels like it's being pan-fried over a hot flame.
Jack stares at you. Then he breaks out in a huge grin.
"You dog!" he exclaims. "Go, man! Warf!" He follows the guttural bark by raising his hand for a high-five.
But you cringe. "I just don't know what to do about it! She's all, like, don't tell anyone, don't talk to me at school, but let's go off together, just us, instead of, uh, going frisbee-golfing with you and the other guys—"
"It's someone here?" Jack exclaims.
"Uh ... ! No comment!"
"Oh, that's a confirmation! But you turned her down?" He frowns in astonishment.
"I was freaked out! 'Cos I don't know what— If—"
Jack gives you a look like he wants to slap your face off, and looses a haggard sigh.
"Okay, if you're asking me for advice again, Will, you have to tell me who it is."
Still you hesitate. But Jack seems trustworthy. "It's Elle," you say through gritted teeth. You nod when he repeats her name back to you.
There's no more joshing or teasing. "Well, that's interesting," he says. "That's—" He seems to catch himself, and tilts his head to give you a hard but puzzled stare. "Well, maybe you do something to her," he murmurs to himself. "Maybe you set her off in a weird way."
"What does that mean?" you demand.
"Are you interested in her?"
You hesitate, then shrug.
"Then maybe you should figure that out first." Jack gives you a look. "She's not gonna put out for you, Will. So if you're not gonna be serious about her, don't lead her on."
Then he bends over to resume the search for his lost frisbee.
* * * * *
Later that night your phone chimes. It's not a text, though, and it takes you a bit to realize the alert is from x2z. "LeahSomethingSomething" has sent you a note. Loved day with u, Will, it reads. Let's have lunch together tomorrow.
Next: "Life Behind the School"