A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "The Third Man"
"I don't want him running off," you tell ... Jack? Steve? ... the tall, rangy guy who helped beat you up this afternoon. But the personality isn't the same. "You should wait here, though," you add. "It's gotta be freaky for him, looking at you and seeing, uh—"
"Yeah, I get it," he glumly reply. "I'll hang out here."
You jog off after the new new Will Prescott.
* * * * *
He's standing in the breezeway between the gym and theater, staring out into the student parking lot, when you catch up. There's two vehicles parked nearby. One of them is your truck. The other, a sedan, you guess is Steve Patterson's.
"Hey," you say as you sidle up to him. "It's just me."
"Fuck off," he says.
"Well, lemme just say a few things and then I will. And don't worry, if you change your mind later you can come find me. We're all in this together."
You give him space to reply. When he doesn't, you continue.
"First thing is, you know anything about your new situation? I mean, do you know what your name is supposed to be? Or where you live, or who you live with?" When he doesn't answer, you ask, "Okay, so what are you planning on doing next?"
He shifts on his feet. "I dunno," he admits.
"Well, I have a suggestion. Where you're standing, you know, that used to be me. And if it works like it did last night, when Chelsea did this to me and Jack—"
"I'm going to so fucking kill that bitch."
"Well, hold your fire for a little bit. Until tomorrow at least. 'Cos I was going to say— I can give you a head start on what you need to know, but by tomorrow morning you should start to, uh, figure out on your own what your name is and all that. Jack, when he went to bed last night, he didn't know anything about, uh, me. But when he woke up this morning he could remember stuff. All the stuff he needed to know in order to, uh, pass himself off as me."
"Yeah, well, I didn't say it was going to be fun. I'm just telling you not to panic if you don't, you know—"
"I'm not panicking, you fucking—!" He catches himself. Then, after a mute moment, he mutters, "Go on."
"Well, if you want to go home, I can tell you how to get there. Or you can come home and spend the night with me. That's what Jack and I did last night. His folks wouldn't be surprised if, uh, you spent the night at my place again tonight."
"Are you two fucking each other?"
"No." You feel yourself stiffen all over. "I'm straight as a board, and I hear you are too. If you went with me, you'd take the bed, like he did last night, and I'd sack out in the living room. Or you can go back to my place and deal with my parents and brother. It's up to you." When he doesn't answer, you add, "I'll fuck off now, I'm done with what I wanted to tell you."
"Wait," he says as you turn away. "Yeah, okay. That's fair. I wanna talk about this thing anyway."
You nod and point to your old truck. "You can drive that thing around to the front, then follow me out." You're about to turn back again when you remember that Jack will need to know what to do and where to go. "What about the other guy? Do you want him to go back to your place? Or is there some other place he can go?"
The other visibly bristles. Then he says, "He can stay here, in the gym. If he's got my clothes then he's got my keys. He can sack out in the loft." He pauses. "There's a lot of weekends when I don't go home."
"I'll tell him. See you around front."
* * * * *
Jack doesn't like the idea of spending the night in the gym, but he agrees it's for the best. You and he talk over plans a little—where to go and meet up tomorrow, for instance—while Steve watches from the cab of your truck. Then you all separate, with you leading a two-car caravan back to Jack's place. His parents are understanding when you announce that "Will" is going to spend one more night with you.
Your guest looks like he's nursing a headache as you settle down in the bedroom. "Just try to relax," you tell him. "Things'll be weird in the morning. But if it's like today, you'll be able to get through it okay."
"I don't want to get through it," he growls. "I wanna fix this shit. And then I want to fuck up—"
"We all do," you assure him. "But we don't want to run around with our cocks hanging out."
Will flashes you a spiteful look, but says nothing.
"What I can't figure out," you say, "is why Chelsea did this thing to you."
"She's always had it in for me," Will mutters. "She hates me."
"I thought you and Gordon were best friends."
"We are. That's how come she—"
He hurls himself to his feet and paces the bedroom, like a jungle cat penned up in a too-small cage. "It's none of my business," you say.
But he's already wound up. "She's bad for him," he says. "I mean, she's highly fuckable. Maybe you don't see it, but—"
"Oh, I see it," you retort. "I told you, I'm straight. Jack isn't, but I am. And even he knows when a girl has a hot bod and when she doesn't."
"Yeah, well, Chelsea is highly fuckable, but she's psychotic. Unstable. She drives Gordon crazy 'cos you never know from one minute to the next if she's going to be normal or if she's going to start screaming. And Gordon—" Will sucks his lips in so hard that they disappear.
"Gordon wants to fuck her," you suggest, "but he doesn't know how to handle her."
Will shoots you a hot look.
"No, it's worse than that. His dad's the same way. Except not fuckable, you know," he adds with acid sarcasm. "His dad's a raging asshole. He's a cop, I don't know if you knew that." You shake your head. "Well, he's a real shit. Just this far"—he pinches his forefinger and thumb together—"from being, like, an abuser. Or just that far on the other side of the line," he adds. "Close enough it's hard to tell.
"And would you believe it," he continues, "that's the one thing me and Chelsea agree on? That Gordon needs to get out of his house, get away from his dad. But the fucking bint doesn't get that she does the same thing to him. And it's worse, 'cos he's actually in love with her. Naturally, 'cos she puts out for him like a sloppy whore, but then she'll turn around and scream at him because he— I dunno! Because he forgot it was their fourteenth-month anniversary and he didn't buy her a present."
You say nothing, but listen alertly. What he says jibes with your—Jack's—impression of Chelsea as a selfish and high-maintenance personality, and with your—Jack's—impression of Gordon as a lunkhead with the emotional IQ of a cabbage. But it would be impolite, you sense, to vocally agree with Steve.
"Anyway, I've told him she's bad for him and I've told her she's bad for him, so she hates me. This would totally be her idea of a great joke, sticking me with—" He gestures at himself, and does a full-body flinch.
Then he gives you a hooded look. "You guys said she already did this thing to you, right? So this—" He points to himself. "Is really you?"
"And that guy—" He points to you. "He's ... He's back at my place?"
"Up at the school, probably. But yes."
Will's grin is the grin of a man who feels he's about to throw up. "Perfect. That's exactly why she picked him and me! So he can—"
"Jack's not going to do anything that'll embarrass you," you tell him. "He's going to take good care of you."
That gets you a skeptical look. Then he kicks at the floor. "I guess you want the same thing from me. Take good care of it while I've got it."
"If you can manage it, I'd appreciate it. Though there's not a lot you could do to fuck things up for me. But there is one thing you could do for me," you add.
"Yeah?" His tone is contemptuous.
"Jack spent all last night and today freaking out. If you could just manage to keep your shit together, I'd really like that."
Will makes a face back at you. But you can tell your message was received.
* * * * *
It's getting fairly late, and you can tell your guest is done talking. Sure, up at the school, he said he wanted to "talk about this thing," but you decide that that was just a cover to preserve his pride—he didn't want to admit to wanting a safe place to go. So you make up the bed for him, and again unpack the sleeping bag in the living room. You settle in to sleep, hoping that during the night Steve will become better acclimated to his new situation, as Jack did.
It's early when you wake, so early that the dawn is only a gray line on the horizon. You lay awake for a good long time, then get up with a sigh and make yourself some coffee. While that's brewing, you jump in and out of the shower—just enough to get the night sweats off you; you'll take a longer and nicer one later—then pad wetly outside to pick up the Sunday paper. It's as you're bending over to pick it up that you notice your truck is gone.
You race inside to your bedroom and tap gently at the door with a fingernail. When there's no answer you peek inside.
The rumpled bed is empty, and the floor is free of clothes. Will Prescott has gone.
Next: "The Problems of Three People in This Crazy World"