The description will be updated when I've figured out what the story is.
|I WAS HALFWAY TO SCHOOL the next morning when my phone chimed with a text, and I was parked and wrangling my book bag onto my shoulders when I flicked my messages open to read it.
It was from Madison, telling me that she didn't need a ride to school after all.
I scrolled back a text or two, and that's when I found her earlier note, the one that must've come when I was in the shower, asking if I come pick her up.
I chewed hard on the inside of my cheek, then thumbed back a quick reply: no prob babe.
My friend Derek was loitering in the breezeway in front of the gym as I loped up to the school. He was talking to a couple of guys with skateboards balanced on their shoulders, but his grin flared when he saw me. I put out my hand for a grip-n-greet, but he slapped it away and tried leapfrogging onto my shoulder.
"Get off," I grunted. "What are you doing?"
He laughed, squealing like a tickled pig. "s'Friday, man," he giggled. "Parties tonight, game tomorrow!"
He snorted and shoved one of the skateboarders. "Where," he said. "Chaz wants to know where the game is. Menefee, man!" He tried hopping onto my shoulder again.
"I meant—!" I shoved him back, almost sent him reeling into a pod of five girls who were passing by. They all gave us dirty looks, which I returned, because they were all a bunch of porkers, with piggy little eyes set in doughy faces, and thighs like sausages stitched up inside their leggings. "I meant, where's the parties?"
"Pfft, somewhere." Derek held up three fingers. "Did I tell you I hit three of them last Friday, all like, bam bam bam?"
"Yeah, you told me something like that."
"Right." His grin turned sly. "And meanwhile you was stuck at Tara's with Madison, on account of—"
"We're doin' somethin' over at Duncan's tonight," one of the skateboarders interrupted. He was almost as tall as me, but lanky, with arms that seemed to hang halfway to his knees, and long, black hair that stuck out from under a dark, knit cap. He jerked his head at one of his friends, who I assumed was Duncan. "If you wanna come out, we'll be—"
"Yeah, that's great," I told him. To Derek: "Come on, I gotta change out my books before first." I turned away without waiting for Derek to follow.
"Jeez, why were you so rude to Mike and them?" he muttered when he'd caught up to me.
"I wasn't rude, I just need to—"
"They asked you to a party!"
I gave him a look. "They asked me to hang out in Duncan's basement and smoke a bowl and play Xbox," I corrected him. "That's what they asked me to do."
Derek stopped to throw out his arms, then hustled to catch up again. "The fuck, Chaz?" he said. "You used to be all into that kind of scene, you weren't—"
"Yeah, well, I got a girlfriend now, dipshit."
"Oh." Again, he stopped, and I stopped too because we were at the school doors and there was a crowd coming out. "So you don't think Madison would be—"
I gave him another look. His eyes rolled back as he burst into another pig-squeal giggle.
It was too loud inside to keep talking—too many voices bouncing and clattering off too much tile and too many metal lockers—so I shut Derek up with an elbow to the gut when he tried braying about my girlfriend at the top of his voice. At my locker, though, he squeezed in close. "So she make plans for you already for tonight?" he asked.
"If we had plans I wouldn'a asked you where the parties are at."
"Yeah?" His eyes lit up. "Want I should ask around, find out where the best ones are gonna be at?"
I glanced up and down the hallways, then made a face as I turned back to my locker. It was getting to be a nervous reflex, a tic almost: the wary flinch that came with the feeling that one of Madison's friends was about show up, to tell me where I was wanted or expected, or to tell me to prepare myself for the immediate arrival of another intermediary with a message from the hive mind that was Madison and her friends.
"You do what you want," I told Derek as I unloaded my books into my locker. "I'll tell you when I know what I'm doing."
I didn't have to look over to see the grin that was unfolding across his face. I could feel it, like a heat lamp radiating onto my cheek. I bent my head to concentrate on the books I'd need for the first few periods of the day, tugging them out and catching the tumbling avalanches I set off.
"Yeah, okay, I'll see you second," he said, and popped me in the shoulder blade. Then, in a loud squeal: "Oh hey, Ashleigh!"
I went up on my toes. If I could've, I'd have climbed into my locker and pulled the door shut behind me.
Instead, I straightened my back and glanced behind.
Ashleigh Perkins was parked there, her lips peeling back with distaste, and she caught her breath as Derek, squeezing past her, raked her breasts with his own chest. I put my face back inside my locker.
Then I felt her fingernail in my shoulder blade.
"Hey, Charles," she said as I swung back around. She looked up at me from under lids heavy with eye shadow and mascara. Her lips were peeled back a little, giving me a really good view of her top row of teeth, and her nose was puckered up in a light sneer. But when someone bumped into her, and she bumped into me, she didn't recoil like she had from Derek.
"You hanging out in the library now?" she asked.
"I dunno," I improvised. "I, uh, was going to look for Madison at her locker, I think."
Ashleigh nodded, then looked both ways down the hall. Maybe she gets that same feeling, I thought. Maybe she hears the buzz of the hive mind too.
"We're hanging out in the library," she told me. "Until first."
I nodded. "Then it's off to class, right?"
Her expression, which had been slowly relaxing, tightened up again. "Some of us have a study hall first period."
"Yeah, I've heard rumors."
Her eyes narrowed. Then she glanced up and down the hall again. "You going to Madison's locker now?" she asked.
"Yeah, lemme just—"
I turned back to my locker, dug some pencils out of the bottom of it, then shut it and zipped up my bag. I felt Ashleigh fall into line behind me.
But halfway to Madison's locker, I felt fingers closing around my belt.
Ashleigh had her phone out when I looked back. "We're in the library," she told over the mutter of the crowd.
"Madison and everyone else."
I nodded. "We" indeed.
But we weren't in the library, I found, when Ashleigh and I got there, we were standing outside the library doors in a huddle, talking to us and to our cell phones.
Madison was in the middle of it.
She was wearing her burlap bag, as I called it—though I never called it that out loud where she could hear me—a shapeless yellow-with-green-flowers sack with thick straps and no sleeves that fell in a straight line to the middle of her thighs. It was the ugliest thing in her wardrobe, but it was my favorite of her frocks, because when she was wearing it with sandals (like she was today) she couldn't but show off lots of bare arm and bare leg for me to enjoy.
She opened up her arms when she saw me, and I went in to wrap my own arms about her. She went up on tiptoes and I ducked down to meet her. She took my lower lip between hers for a long, soft moment, and I got a good taste of her cherry lip gloss. "Hi," she chirped when we broke off. "Sorry I missed you this morning."
"I'm sorry too. What are we doing?" I watched the rest of the hive out of the corner of my eye.
"Talking about tonight. You made plans?"
"Just to be with you."
"Mm." Her mouth puckered into a small smile. "Major doings," she groaned.
"Mm-hmm. Lemme see your phone." She frisked my front pockets.
It was like popping the lid off a jack-in-the-box down there.
But if she noticed she didn't say anything, and she didn't say anything as I gasped and backed away and nearly brained her friend Lauren while swinging my backpack off my shoulders. "What do you need my phone for?" I croaked as I pawed at the side pocket where I kept my cell.
"Your contact list, babe," she cooed. "Make sure all your friends know where you're going to be."
My fingers stiffened around the phone, but Madison pried it away.
She still hadn't finished texting everyone when first bell rang, so she said she'd give it back to me at lunch. In my second-period history class, Derek gave me a weird look when I asked him which party I was going to, and he snickered snot out his nose when I explained how it wasn't me who texted him about where I was going to be.
Madison was busy with a school spirit committee at lunch, so it wasn't actually until I picked her up that night for the party that I got my phone back, now stuffed with a lot of texts it was pointless to read or reply to.
But I checked them anyway, after we got to where we were going.
And I almost bit the tip of my tongue off, when I saw the reply from Georgina: Great, see u at Terrys.
Which, yeah, would have been great if we were meeting her at Terry Pierce's house.
But we weren't. We were meeting everyone else at Cole Bolson's house.
And Georgina was the only one on my list that Madison had sent to Terry's.