A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "A Warning for Laura"
Monday dawns with thunder and low, dark clouds—a foreboding start to a week that finds the unlikely trio of yourself, Jack Li, and Steve Patterson inhabiting each other's bodies and personas. You're up early, before dawn, and you catch yourself trembling as you wash, brush, scrub, tweak, polish, and primp yourself into shape. Jack likes to look his absolute best at school, and each time you turn from the mirror with the thought, That's enough, you turn back to make one more pass with the cleanser, the tweezers, the styling mousse, or the hairbrush.
Then you pick out the clothes. Earth tones today, you decide. And hiking boots. The last thing you want is to get mud on yourself while wearing white.
It's not until you're settled into the minivan, and rubbing at an incisor in the rearview mirror and wondering if it's worth going back in to give your toothbrush another short workout, that you face up to the real reason you're fretting in this very procrastinating way.
I have to be Jack Li at school today.
It's funny that you didn't feel a tenth the pressure you feel now when you were working out with Parker and the girls Saturday morning, or talking with Laura or Leah, or eating with his parents. Those were very intimate encounters, and you should have been terrified of slipping up. But they went down very easily.
It's because it's like there's going to be an audience, you finally conclude as the morning traffic coagulates around you as you approach school. There's going to be hundreds and hundreds of other kids around, and I'm going to be putting on a performance in front of them. Even if they're not paying the slightest bit of attention.
You can't help smiling faintly, though, with the kind of self-knowledge that you, an outsider to Jack's life, have on the guy you're impersonating. "It's always a bit of a performance with you, isn't it?" you murmur at yourself when you catch part of your face in the rear-view mirror. You're stopped in traffic, and twist the mirror around to give yourself a crooked, knowing smirk. So it's just a day like any other, you silently add when you push it back into place.
You're surprised to see your truck already parked in the student lot when you arrive—so surprised, in fact, that you make a circuit to double-check the license plate to confirm that it's yours. Why does Steve want to get up here so early? you wonder. On the way into the school you fire off a quick text to him: Hey have lunch w me and friends? You expect a four-letter word in reply, but he actually says, K where? You tell him to look for you in the library at the start of fifth period. That's technically a study hall that Jack shares with Parker and Wendy, but in practice it bleeds in and out of the fourth-period lunch you all have.
That will be the only chance you have in school to see him, for you don't have any classes together. But you make a detour before first bell to glance into Mr. Walberg's classroom. You pretend like you're looking for someone else, but it's "Will Prescott" you want to see. The sight unsettles you, as it would. It's not just seeing "you" sitting in your usual desk that bothers you, though. There's something ... unnatural ... about the way he's sitting in his desk, staring straight ahead with a tight, preoccupied expression. But it's not until you're in your own first-period class can you begin to put a finger on it. The clothes were slightly off, for a start. He was dressed up nicely in a red, long-sleeve denim shirt that you don't usually wear except out to dinner with your parents, and jeans. But even aside from that, there was the impression of coiled energy in his pose. He looked like a spring that had been tied down and was ready to bust loose.
And he would cause damage if he did.
"Good morning, Jack."
You look over with a start at Wendy Terrill, who is seated across the aisle from you. She is grinning at you. "Oh, hey," you reply. "Happy Monday."
"Boy, are you preoccupied with something."
"What do you mean?"
She answers by craning her neck and looking past you. You turn around. In the row opposite, two desks behind, Austin Dougherty—one of the soccer players—is distractedly unpacking his book bag. His dark, shaggy hair is dripping, and his white v-neck t-shirt is clinging wetly to his meaty torso. His skimpy shorts leave little to the imagination.
You turn to make a sour face at Wendy, but she's staring past you, dreamily drinking in Austin and his powerful thighs.
* * * * *
You have Wendy, Kristina, and Parker, either singly or in combination, in almost all of your classes, so you are never without any of those close friends. And of course Jack has lots of other friends that you can put your head together with. So you make vague plans with Cody Schaefer to play tennis on some upcoming weekend; talk with Anthony Kirk about doing a round of golf at the country club sometime soon; ask Adam Dortch when he's next planning to be at the Legends dance club; and (when you should be working on a group project for AP World History) quietly gossiping with Naomi Batson and Genesis Lee about the new girl in school, Sydney McGlynn, who is really tight with the volleyball players when by all appearances she should be joining the cheerleader squad.
"They'd all hate her," Genesis theorizes while casting slit-eyed side glances across the room, where Sydney is having an intense-looking conference with Kayla Shea and Kerri Mullen. "I hate her. I mean, look at her. Marcia Brady!" Sydney does have the lithe figure, the golden hair and tan, and slightly vapid good looks of a California beach bunny.
"Oh God, you weren't encouraging her, were you?" Brianna Kirschke cries out later when you flippantly mention to her what Genesis said. You're in a corner of the cafeteria with her, Kristina, Wendy and Parker. "Tell me you weren't egging her on!"
"I was just letting her talk," you protest. You do feel a little flustered, and embarrassed that you said anything to others about how Genesis was carrying on. Jack usually is much more discreet. "And then she just started going on about—"
"Didn't I hear her say something about putting gum in Sydney's hair?" Parker asks. How would you know? you want to ask him. He was in the class too, but got put in a group with Brooke Galloway and Randy Hodges.
"Tssshhh!" Brianna exclaims.
"Why are you all out of sympathy with her?" you ask.
"She's just being stupid all of a sudden," Brianna says. She gobbles some of her chicken cacciatore without looking at you. "Since last Friday."
"What happened last Friday?" Wendy asks. You're a little too surprised by Brianna's vehemence to have asked the question yourself.
"I don't know. I don't wanna talk about it. She's had a bug up her ass since Friday." Brianna almost puts her face in her tray as she shovels her lunch down.
You and the others can't help exchanging some shrewd glances, but Brianna doesn't want to talk about it any more.
* * * * *
Will is lounging in the hallway outside the library, studying his cell phone phone, and again you are struck by a sense of panther-like energy under his casual pose. His eyes are cold and watchful as he greets you with a chuck of the chin, and wordlessly invites himself to join you and Parker and Wendy. "Hey, let's take it outside," you tell the others, "so Will can eat." He's got a brown paper bag in his hand.
You go out the nearest doors and spread yourself on in the wide, grassy spaces between the school and the open fields to the west. The ground is wet, so you sit on your windbreaker, but Will plops his skinny ass right down and pops open his lunch. "Any of you guys have a gym membership anywhere?" he asks.
"Up at Steel, close to the Starbucks on Twentieth," Parker says after a startled pause. "Why?"
"I'm looking for a place to start working out."
You feel the glances from Parker and Wendy, but ignore them. You don't know what to say, but wish you'd thought of something when Parker says, "You could try using the equipment here at school."
"Why don't you?" Will shoots back.
"I do, in my P.E. class. I don't have any time, the rest of the day."
"Steel's a good place," you interrupt. "Parker and I go out there Tuesdays and Thursdays after school, and on the weekends, when we remember. We can take you in as a guest tomorrow, if you want to look around there."
You catch sight of Parker's expression from the corner of your eye. He's keeping a poker face, but you can still read the thought behind it: WtF?
Will nods. He flexes a skinny arm. "I decided I need to start getting in shape," he says. There's a scornful undertone to the statement.
Parker starts talking about some of the other gyms in town—how they're not as nice but they're a lot cheaper and just as good as Steel—and how if you go into the school gym at the right hours you can get at the weights without much trouble, but Will listens with only a polite interest.
Then you're interrupted.
You're first aware that something bad is coming when Will does a slight double-take at something behind you, and his face goes gray and chalky. Then Parker and Wendy turn to look, and get very sober. Ripples of horror go up your spine, but you don't look behind you.
A hard foot is planted into the small of your back. "Remember that little talk we had yesterday?" a hateful and familiar voice says. "I got some more I want to say to you."
You twist and around and squint up into the cold and unfriendly face of Steve Patterson.
Next: "Who's Who at Westside High"