A high school student finds a grimoire that shows how to make magical disguises.
|Previously: "The Planning Committee"
You sigh. Is Kelsey really trying to put these decisions onto you?
Well, if she is, your instinct is to put Karl Hennepin on the back burner.
"Okay, like I said, I think we should go on like nothing's changed," you tell her, "but that's only for, you know, public consumption. Your thing with Karl, no one knows about that. So if he and I don't, uh ... "
"Uh huh?" Will's eyes narrow.
Fuck, this is tricky. "Well, you're not even sure that you're that serious about him. Are you?"
You can hardly believe that you're putting the question to her so directly and boldly. But then you realize that it's what Kelsey would do, if someone was going to ask her for advice.
"So you want to break up with him," Will says in a tight voice.
"I don't want to fuck up anything for you, Kelsey. But I also don't want to, well—"
I don't want to fuck your boyfriend, is what you'd say if you were being completely honest. Luckily, you come up with something better than that. "I don't want things to develop between you without you being there," you say.
"That's a good excuse," Will snorts. But he doesn't argue.
"And what do you feel about Eva and Jessica?" you ask.
"They're not interested in you, Will. Except to fuck with you. And me." He hesitates. "But I wanna keep close to them. Try to figure out what they're up to."
"Then go for it. And don't worry, I won't cut it off with Karl or anything. I'll just, you know, string him along." But no more afternoons at the Donna Motor Court, you silently add. "Anything else we should talk about, while I'm here?"
"Do I have your permission to punch out your brother?"
"Sure. He is annoying, isn't he?"
"I caught him breaking into your bedroom this afternoon."
He was probably looking for my porn stash, you almost say, but catch yourself in time. You don't want to talk to Kelsey about her love life, and you sure as fuck don't want to talk to her about yours.
Especially as you haven't got one, except the one you entertain yourself with when you're alone, in the dark. You doubt she wants to talk about it either.
* * * * *
"Jesus," you exclaim as you sweep into Ms. Simeon's classroom the next day. The math teacher—one of Kelsey's favorites—has fourth period free, and she lets Kelsey's "study group" meet in the back of her room that period. "Sometimes I think Mr. Walberg just lays awake at night thinking of new ways to piss me off!" You slide gracefully into a seat and sigh heavily as you drop your bag into the desktop.
So far it's only Lin Pol and Christine Coolidge in the room with you. Lin is another cheerleader, and she's a good friend of Eva and Jessica, and you briefly wonder if she's mixed up in the thing with them. Christine is on the swim team, and has the trim figure one would expect from a swimmer. It's too bad she's got a honking great schnozzola in the middle of her face. It looks almost like a fake, putty nose that a careless makeup artist slapped over her real nose.
They both glance up from their phones at your entrance, but neither one says anything, and you fill the silence with another exasperated sigh. "So it's history class, okay," you say, for Kelsey has the old walrus for AP World History as well, "and we're doing ancient Greece and Athens, and when I raise my hand to ask—"
"Anyone here taking Physics?" You turn around and make a face at Noah Baker, who has sauntered in to interrupt you. His books clatter as he drops them onto a desk. "With Mrs. Gambetta?" he adds as he squeezes with a grunt into a seat.
"Try asking your friends when they get here," you suggest when no one else answers. Helplessly, you find yourself thinking that Noah is one of the reasons this "study group" is rapidly going to hell. It was okay when Michael Wilson joined, on account of his being on the swim team with Christine, because Michael is sweet and quiet and good looking. But then he brought Ryan Ness with him, and Ryan—though a hunk—is a stuck-up punk, and he brought along Noah, who is on the baseball team, and whose girlfriend—
"Well, I got this bastard of a problem," Noah says, "and I only got until seventh period to—"
"I was talking," you inform him. "So Mr. Walberg was going on about—"
"Abel Baker Charley!" another voice interrupts you. This one is even deeper than Noah's, and it rumbles out of the broad chest of Ryan Ness, who now comes swaggering in. He claps his teammate on the shoulders and kneads his neck as he slides into the desk next to Noah. "Lemme look at your math."
"You're taking AP Physics, aren'tcha, man?" Noah asks as he unzips his pack.
"Just got out." Ryan nods past Noah, at you. "Why don'tcha get Amanda to come sit in here with us? She's in Krohling's class, she can help Baker straighten out his shit."
"Uh, she has a class this period?" You roll your eyes. "And she's got a low tolerance for shit."
Noah guffaws, but Ryan grins. "What's she got this period?"
"You could try asking her yourself, but I think it's German. AP. AP German IV." You feel your eyebrows cinching skyward.
Ryan snorts like a buffalo and holds your eye.
"That's hot," he says. "She was in a black leather skirt and black leather boots yesterday. And you're saying she takes German? Fuck me, but that makes me hurt in a good way all over just thinking about it."
"Oh, God!" you cry out, and your cheeks flame as Noah laughs out loud. "You disgusting—!"
"I've got a leather skirt," Lin tells Ryan. "It's red, not black, though." She tucks a long strand of jet-black hair behind an ear, and ostentatiously runs her tongue over her bottom lip. "I'll let you try it on sometime, if you think you can handle it."
The air freezes, so that the only sound comes from Noah: a kind of hoarse, asthmatic gargle. Ms. Simeon returns to the room during that interval, so that everyone has to settle down. You have to satisfy yourself by staring hot daggers at Ryan every time you glance over at him during the next hour.
"Tss, you just gotta know how to handle guys like that, Kelsey," Lin tells you afterward when the period is over and it's just you and her, and you are free to spit fire over Ryan and his disgusting fantasies about your friends. "Guys who talk like that are too scared to do actually do anything. So you shut 'em down by calling their bluff."
"I suppose you've shut down lots of guys that way," you retort.
Her expression curdles slightly.
"Yeah," she says, and quickly begins shoving books into her bag. "But the guys I couldn't shut down lived up to their brags."
"Oh, really? And was it for them you bought that red leather skirt?"
Lin swings her bag onto her shoulder, and turns to hold your eye.
"Yes," she says, then wheels and stalks away.
What a nasty confession, you think afterward. Except she probably didn't mean it, except as a "Fuck you" to me.
Still, it gives you food for thought. And for fantasies. Because down underneath Kelsey's prim hauteur, you are also turned on by the idea of trim girls in leather boots and leather skirts.
* * * * *
You've got nothing better to do than to follow Kelsey's instincts, so when Amanda texts you after school, you agree to meet up with her at the Milagro Beanfield Warehouse. It's their favorite hangout because it's more expensive than most of the other coffeeshops in town while still being bohemian. And thanks to all that talk during your study hall, you've got leather skirts on your mind when you connect with her.
"You need to be more careful about what you wear to school, Amanda," you tell her after you've got your coffees. You tell her what Ryan said about her, pretending to be sympathetic and disapproving while secretly relishing the embarrassment you hope it causes her. Amanda, like Kelsey, likes to dress for attention, and this is a way of getting in some backhanded digs at her.
But Amanda only shrugs. "No point in putting something like that on if it doesn't stir up the guys," she says.
Your jaw slackens. "You mean you don't mind?"
"Don't you?" She's still wearing her sunglasses, but you see her eyes shift behind them to give you a direct look.
"Not that kind of attention! And you know what Lin said afterward?" You relate some of the things Lin told you, hoping to shake Amanda's confidence by comparing her to Lin, who is one of the biggest sluts at the school. "It's like she's advertising herself," you gloat. "You must be this big of a prick to give me a ride." You can't help snickering to yourself.
But Amanda continues cool and thoughtful. "I've seen some the guys she's probably talking about," she says. "If you have to advertise to get their attention, it's worth it."
"Oh my God!"
Again, her gaze shifts to you, and a tiny smirk appears on her lips.
"I could introduce you to some of them, Kelsey," she says. "They go to Eastman, so it's not like you'd be risking anything."
Despite yourself, her offer excites you. It bothers you until you realize it's Kelsey's own instincts rising to the proffered bait. It's one reason she likes Karl Hennepin—he's a kind of forbidden fruit.
Well, you're not going to do anything with Karl, and you're not going to do anything with any guys that Amanda could introduce you to. But if you get out of this, Kelsey might appreciate it if you had at least gotten some introductions for her to follow up on.
Next: "Dress for Success"