She managed to be next-to-last off the bus to her relief, but then to her chagrin the first bell rang before she’d even gotten on the main stretch of sidewalk leading up to the school. She grabbed her backpack strap and broke into a run, thankful for her speed but struck with regret. Track and Field was yet one more thing that was probably lost to her now.
One of the high school teachers stood by the door, waving the kids through as they slowed down right at the door frame. “No running!” he barked, again and again.
Andi slowed dutifully and walked in, feeling anonymous for a second in the throng that split into smaller sections, hall after hall and turn after turn, until she was once again exposed to the world as part of a small trickle of students. She got to her locker, dialed it open, and grabbed her books for first period.
“Andi!” someone shouted.
Here it came.
She leaned back around her open locker door to see what fresh hell this would be.
Wren, her second-in-command of the flag corps, stood ten feet away, hands on hips, managing to look intimidating despite being a head shorter than Andi.
So this was the first domino? A coup within the flags? Or maybe a coup from within everywhere, since her diminutive friend was also on the student council, and the dance-planning committee, and…
Before Andi could react, Wren broke into a run. Before she could react to that, Wren had her in a fierce, wiry hug.
“Thank God you’re back!” Wren cried.
Andi could only stand there, stiffly. After a second or two, she reached around and returned the hug.
“Thank God!” Wren drawled again. She looked up at Andi with a smile full of happiness and relief.
To hear the story told, the entire universe had come close to unraveling in Andi’s absence.
First period was meant to be Math, but the teacher was out sick. Once they’d completed their busy-work worksheets, Andi and Wren caught up in whispers, casting an eye now and then at the indifferent substitute, who sat at the teacher’s desk reading a romance novel.
“I can’t get anyone to commit to a time to decorate the gym for the dance,” Wren lamented. “And the flag routines last week were both complete disasters!”
“Okay,” Andi said. “But what did I do –”
“We were worried about you, dumdum,” Wren said, rolling her eyes. “We were terrified! Everybody wants to hear what happened. There’s, like, ten thousand rumors going around.”
“Oh, God –”
Wren waved away her worry. “It’s down to about a dozen now. Anyone I heard spreading lies about you, I kicked their sorry butts.”
And she would have, too. Wren’s mixture of ‘microscopic blonde’ and ‘savage temper’ had served her well over the years. If anyone she beat up tattled on her, well, who would believe such a sweet little porcelain doll could have ever dealt such viciousness to another person?
“So what rumors are left?” Andi asked, bracing herself.
“Just vague stuff now,” Wren said, then paused as the sub coughed. Both girls adopted sweetness-n-light expressions and faced forward, but the teacher was still engrossed in her bodice-ripper.
“Everyone knows you were out at the Hart farm with the nerds, and –”
“They aren’t nerds,” Andi shot back.
Wren looked at her like Andi had pointed at a beagle and said, “That’s not a dog.”
“Okay,” she said, shrugging. “You were out there with those guys, and somebody kidnapped Benjamin Vail’s little sister.”
“All that’s true,” Andi said, and Wren’s normally big eyes doubled in size.
“What were you doing out there? That’s what nobody can figure out. Did they try to kidnap you, too? The ner — guys, I mean.”
“God almighty,” Andi said. “None of them did it. It was somebody else. They just…as far as we know, somebody took her into the woods.” She knuckled at her eye for a second at the thought of Eury.
“What are you looking at?” Wren snapped, and Andi looked up just in time to see another girl turn away, blushing. “Yeah,” Wren followed up. “That’s what I thought.”
“Still angling for Most Friendly in the yearbook?” Andi asked with a tiny laugh. Wren huffed.
“Don’t change the subject,” Wren said. “What were you doing out there?”
“I was…hanging out with some new friends,” Andi said. “They’re nice guys. We were…we were playing games.”
“What, like Monopoly?” Wren asked, puzzled. Then, with a smile creeping in at a corner of her mouth, “or like Seven Minutes in Heaven? Was it that Eddie Montreux? I swear, I can’t decide whether to punch that boy or French his tonsils out…”
Andi didn’t return the smile. “I thought you were in charge of preventing rumors.”
“Oh, I am, I am,” Wren said, raising her hands. “It’s just, nobody can figure out why you were out there.” She tapped her Math worksheet. “And if you don’t know what ‘x’ stands for, sometimes you just gotta take a wild guess.”
“I was out there,” Andi said, “having fun.”
“Okay, suit yourself,” said Wren, turning away. Then, seconds later: “Is that code for devil worship?”
Almost time for lunch, and Andi traded out one set of books for another in anticipation of fourth period. She promised to meet up with Wren later to work out the kinks in the planning for the Halloween dance, not to mention getting the flags out of their state of discombobulation after school.
She kept flipping that one rumor over in her head, like a penny that came up heads or tails but might, if you turned it over enough times, reveal a hidden third side.
That anyone could think the Voidville crew was involved in Eury’s kidnapping!
They were goofy guys, to be sure. Awkward. Lost in their own heads a lot (but like Andi over the last few days could point a finger on that account). But the game was how they got the badness out of their systems. Of course, she only had her own experience to go by. When she’d finished that first game, surprising even herself by scaling that barn in a flush of adrenaline, she’d felt all the stress of school and activities drain away in the pure excitement of imagination and play.
None of them could have stolen that sweet little girl. Not Benjamin, not Cy, not even Eddie…
And she stopped, her armload of books at the ready.
And wondered why, in that list of people who couldn’t have kidnapped Eury, she didn’t include Jason.
Today’s Words: 1107
Total Words: 23314
Notes: The four of you who have been reading these posts will notice this one is four 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!)