"I was talking about doing something with them too," you tell Eva. "Mind if I tag along?"
"Knock yourself out," she says, but doubles her pace. You grimace at her retreating back, but double down on your determination to chase after her.
* * * * *
Eva beats you out to the storage place, but you've still got the code that Carlos sent you on your phone, so you're able to get inside without having to ride in on her rear bumper. It turns out you're not too far behind her, though, for as you pul upp you're just in time to see her disappearing into the temperature-controlled unit.
Do I really want to do this? you ask yourself. Do I really want to be this pathetic? She doesn't want to talk to me, and I already blew those other guys off. Almost you turn the engine back on, and drive off.
But courage returns when you see Keith's car parked a little ways off. As long as he's here, there will be one friendly face at least. That'll make it easier for you to tell Carlos and Mike that you changed your mind and want to work with them on some YouTube reviews.
And that will give you a reason to be on hand when they talk to Eva. Maybe you'll even get to be in a "bit" with her!
Eva is way off down the central hallway, peering into one of the bays—probably the studio—when you enter. She turns as you call her name, but you can't make out her expression. Someone must have said something to her, though, for with a start she turns back around and vanishes into a bay. You take off in a sprint to catch up to her.
You find her standing in the middle of a small cluster of boys: Carlos and Mike, Philip Fairfax, and Keith. They all turn as one with a look of surprise as you step up to the doorway. "Hey guys," you exclaim. Eva gives you a brief, distracted frown.
"Jesus Christ, Will," Keith says. "What are you doing here?"
"Um, I came out with Eva," you stammer. "I mean, not with her. But we ran into each other and she said she was coming out, and— Um—"
You find the words dying in your throat. The air is tense in way you don't like, as though you've interrupted a scene that you were definitely not invited to. It's like this one time last year, when you were at a party and you went outside to get a breath of fresh air, and you tripped onto Tony Peterson and Haley Flanagan in a pitch-dark corner of the yard. You tried talking to them in a friendly way, but the air grew frostier and frostier until at last—like an utter doorknob—you finally realized what kind of situation you'd stumbled onto. (You would have known what was going on, you tried telling yourself afterward, except it was too dark to make out clearly (until it was too late late) that Tony and Haley were cupping each other's asses while they offered mute, one-word answers to your prattling inanities.) You are getting the same kind of vibe off Mike and Carlos now.
Eva, though, just seems impatient and peevish. "Okay, so what exactly kind of thing are we talking about here?" she demands of the boys, but they seem to be having a hard time tearing their attention off of you. "Because I've got the minivan, and my brother and sister are—"
"Keith," says Carlos, "how about you take Will over into the workout room, find out what he wants, and we'll take care of— I mean, we'll talk things over with Eva."
"Huh?" says Keith, like a dope.
"I said—" Carols starts to say, but Philip pokes Keith hard. Keith comes alive with a jerk, and stumbles over to grasp you by the shoulder. "Hey, come on," he says, and pulls you out the door.
"So what the fuck are you here for, man?" he demands when he's got you in the storage bay next door. "Yesterday you were all, like— An' I don't remember asking you out here today!"
You feel yourself bristling. "Well, I changed my mind," you say. "I mean, I had other things I had to do yesterday. Had to help Stephanie Wyatt move some furniture. Then today—"
"You tol' me last night you were gonna do extra credit by sucking off Mr. Hawks!"
"I did not!"
"Sure, you said you were gonna get a good grade it the old fashioned way!"
"Oh, fuck you! Anyway, I changed my mind! I got to thinking and, you know, I—"
"Is this on account of you coming out with Eva?" Keith asks. His glance turns very shrewd.
You hesitate, then give up. "Yeah, alright, I ran into her in the parking lot, and—"
"Thought so! Well, we're gonna do something with her, and—"
He breaks off and looks over your shoulder. You glance back to find Fairfax standing inthe doorway. He catches your eye only briefly, then gestures at Keith. With a mumbled, "Be right back," Keith follows Philip outside. They disappear toward the studio.
Well, fuck this, you fume. You weren't expecting to be greeted like the prodigal son returning, but you didn't expect to be treated like a leper, either. Particularly by Keith. Maybe I should just take off, you think. It's clear you're not wanted, and it would probably be better if you took the hint and left—like you did with Tony and Haley that one time—before Keith or Carlos or Philip comes in and has to bluntly tell you to fuck off.
But still you hang back, on the chance that things might yet work out. That starts to sound really fucking unlikely when loud voices break out next door. You can't make out the words, but Keith and some of the other guys seem really spun up about something.
An awkwardly long time passes, though, before you hear the squeak of sneakers in the hallway outside. You turn in time to see Carlos and Mike come charging in. You've just time to register the hard and unfriendly expressions on their faces before they grab you. You gasp and are about to shout, but Carlos shoves something into your face. The world goes dark, and the floor seems to vanish from beneath your feet. You fall into darkness and know no more.
* * * * *
You're woken by a rocking motion, but your head is filled with an acrid, burning sensation, like smoke, and you keep your eyes clenched shut even as you grimace. Whatever hellish sleep you've woken from, you wish you could fall back into it.
You're thrown to the side as the vehicle—you've enough awareness to tell that you're in the cab of a car—makes a sharp turn, and a motor roars as it pulls up an incline. The world jerks to a stop and the motor, after gunning once, shuts off. The sun is hot on your face.
"Hey," a familiar voice says. "I know you're awake there. Come on, sit up!"
A hand slaps at your face. You bat it away, but sit up with a groan and pry your eyes open. This had better fucking be good, you think as you raise up to scowl at the world.
You're parked facing a brick wall, next to a garbage dumpster. When you glance behind, you spot a Carl's Jr.
So you're more or less across the street from the storage center. You irritably wonder why the guys have dragged you over here when there's business to be done. You have the vague but alarming impression that you've mislaid a couple of very important hours.
"Yeah, so, what the fuck—" you start to ask as you turn around to confront the driver. You're gonna have a thing or three to tell him, particularly about hauling you around over bumpy roads and getting you carsick while passed out. But you freeze when you see who it is behind the wheel of the truck.
He's glaring at you hard, his rabbity eyes gleaming angrily from beneath the brush of stiff, straw-like hair that sticks out over his forehead. His upper lip is peeled back in a snarl, showing big, yellow teeth. He looks like he's going to bite something off you.
He raises a long forefinger and holds it before your face. "Don't freak out, man," he says.
"Freak out about what?" you demand. Now that you're sitting up, you're feeling a lot better, and as you glance about the smoke inside your brain seems to dissipate. "What're we doing here? And what was I passed out for?" You squint out the window against the afternoon sun. "I don't feel like I was having a good time, man."
Then the words drain away, down the back of your throat.
This is all wrong, the thought forms in your head. I shouldn't be sitting next to Will. Because I am Will. I am Will Prescott!
"I said, don't freak out on me," Will warns you again.
"Oh yeah?" you retort. "Well, before I start going all Assassin's Creed on your ass, how about you tell me what the fuck is going on here, uh—?"
So who is it—really?—sitting next to you? Carlos? Mike? Probably not Philip. Definitely not Josiah. But you know that if you're Will Prescott, it must be one of those guys, wearing that mask they made of Will.
A feeling like a cascade of cold water washes down your back. You grab the rearview mirror and swing it around to look into it. The pimply face of Keith Tilley stares back at you.
"The fuck did you do to me?" you whisper, more to yourself than to your friend behind the wheel.
"I'm saving your ass, man," Will says.
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