She looked around the hallway as the students filtered into their various classrooms. She wasn’t looking for a face — she’d never seen Jason out of costume — but rather for someone whose head poked up above the rest of the crowd. Jason was tall, taller than most of the teachers.
So he was, what — in basketball? Andi tried to think of the hoops players in school, even the high schoolers, but couldn’t match his height to any of them.
The second bell rang, and she hugged her books close and hurried to class.
English sped by, and Andi’s thoughts were only broken once as the teacher, catching her daydreaming, tried to humiliate Andi by having her diagram a sentence at the blackboard. She knocked it out in record time and returned to her seat, already thinking about Jason again as the teacher blustered.
Specifically, thinking about where he was in the aftermath of last Saturday.
Had he been standing there in the backyard with the rest of them as Benjamin freaked out?
Had he been interviewed by the police, like her and the others?
Had he been lined up and chewed out by the Harts when they sped home? Or looked at with disgust and hatred by Mr. and Mrs. Vail, when they were called?
She couldn’t remember. She couldn’t remember at all.
And the more she couldn’t remember, the more frightened she became. If he wasn’t there, why hadn’t she noticed? Wouldn’t she have told the police one of the players, a strange kid she didn’t know, had vanished about the same time as Eury?
And as she didn’t notice, it seemed no one else had, either.
The lunch bell rang, and her head tilted back as she went into the hall, scanning above the crowd for a tall, tall person.
She saw nothing.
But she knew who she had to talk to.
SIDE TWO, TRACK TWO: PARANOIMIA
They sat at their usual table, side by side, eating but not speaking. It seemed to Andi there was a slightly larger zone of empty seats around them than normal. Space was always at a premium in the cafeteria, but shunning appeared to be worth the sacrifice.
“What’s up?” Eddie asked as she approached. “Ghostess with the mostest.” Cy looked up and gave a small, uncertain wave.
“Hey,” Andi said, and sat opposite them. She glanced behind and saw a few people who’d been staring turn away. More work for Wren’s anti-rumor crusade. And for want of anything else to say, “How’s it going?”
From their expressions, she wished she could’ve taken it back.
“Well,” Eddie said, spreading his arms expansively, “everyone in town thinks we raped and murdered a seven-year-old girl, not necessarily in that order. How’s things with you? Back in good graces with the student council?”
“It’s not that bad,” Cy said. He seemed diminished, weaker. For such a small guy, it was extra noticeable.
“Oh, I suppose not,” Eddie said. “When you eat three square meals of crap a day, what’s the addition of a crap high tea and a crap midnight snack?” He smirked at Andi. “How about you, Red? You ever eaten crap?”
Andi straightened her back and refused to think about Jules and Peri. “Sounds like you at least get to have self-pity for dessert,” she said, staring at Eddie.
He wouldn’t look away, and she broke eye contact first with a small frown of disgust.
“You probably shouldn’t sit here,” Cy told her after a stretch of silence. “It won’t be good for you if –”
“If I sit with my friends?” Andi said, and this time got the satisfaction of staring at someone until they looked away. “Or are we not friends?” Cy looked at her again, blinking. Even Eddie looked nonplused.
“Look,” she said. “People are going to say what they say. But you guys…you run around in public to play your game! Why do you care what people thin–”
“We do it for Benjamin,” Eddie said, with such forceful quiet that Andi’s teeth clicked together as she shut her mouth.
“We do it for him,” Eddie said, “because if we don’t, he’ll fall to pieces.”
Cy said nothing, only looked at his tater tots.
“…What do you mean?” Andi asked.
Eddie drew a deep breath and let it out. “I don’t want to tell the story,” he said. “If I tell it, I’ll get some part wrong, and it’ll put Benjamin in a bad light, and he’ll never forgive me.” He had the slightest quaver in his voice, and Andi caught a small, shimmering glimpse of the depths of love Eddie had for his friend.
But as soon as he’d spoken, the armor came back up, and Eddie was all cockiness again. “It’s about our friend Lloyd who died last year. But that’s all I’m telling you. You ask ‘Ben’ if you want to know more.”
“Okay,” she said. “Is it all right if I ask you about someone else?”
“Your buddy Jason.”
“Jason? From the game? What about him?”
“Well,” she said, “for starters, who is he?” She looked around the packed cafeteria and all the munching students. “Point him out.”
Eddie craned his neck. “He’s, uh…well, he…” He plopped back into a slouch and snapped at Cy. “Hell, man, he’s your friend. You point him out.”
Cy turned to stare at Eddie, and his expression looked like the inside of Andi’s head right then.
“…I thought he was your friend,” Cy said. “Y’know, another scout.”
“If that freakin’ Hulk is a scout, he’s his troop’s flagpole,” Eddie said.
“So who is he?” Andi prodded.
The two boys looked at each other then back at her.
“…Benjamin’s friend?” Cy asked.
“We know all of Benjamin’s friends,” Eddie said. “That’s because all his friends are sitting at this table.”
“What an awful thing to –” Andi started to say.
“I’m not saying it to bust on him,” Eddie said. “I’m saying it because it’s the truth. It’s…really hard for him to make friends. And after Lloyd, even harder. He doesn’t have a secret six-and-a-half-foot-tall behemoth pal stashed away somewhere. You know this, Cy,” and the smaller boy shrugged, abashed. Eddie focused back on Andi. “So that’s your answer. We don’t know who Jason is.”
“And that doesn’t bother you?”
Eddie shook his head, eyes to the ceiling. “It didn’t until you came up and started babbling about it!”
“We don’t know him, and he disappears right when Eury does…was he even there afterwards? Did the cops talk to him? Did he…”
Eddie stood. “I don’t know! I don’t know! How many times do I have to tell you –”
“I know you don’t know,” Andi said, gazing up at him with calmness she only half-felt. “But do you care?”
Today’s Words: 1136
Total Words: 24450
Notes: The four of you who have been reading these posts will notice this one is three days late. Well spotted!
I’m attempting to write a Halloween-themed horror novel in October! Visit Day Zero for more information or Day One to read from the beginning, and check out Countdown to Halloween for more blogging that’s altogether ooky!
(And the cat is Valentine — I figured the presence of a black cat would make things that much more Halloween-y!)