ESCAPE TACTICS

I wake up thinking about a movie I once saw. The main character dies somehow—I forget how—but he’s only half dead. One part of him is lying there in a coma, and one part of him is wandering the world, kind of in limbo. The point is, so long as he’s not completely 100 percent dead, a piece of him is trapped in this in-between place.

This gives me hope for the first time in two days. The idea that I might be lying somewhere in a coma, my family bending over me and everyone worrying and filling my hospital room with flowers, actually makes me feel good .

Because if I’m not dead—at least not yet —there may be a way to stop it.

My mom drops me off in Upper Lot just before third period starts (.22 miles or not, I will not be seen getting out of my mom’s maroon 2003 Accord, which she won’t trade in because she says it’s “fuel efficient”). Now I can’t wait to get to school. I have a gut feeling I’ll find the answers there. I don’t know how or why I’m stuck in this time loop, but the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that there’s a reason for it.

“See you later,” I say, and start to pop out of the car.

But something stops me. It’s the idea that’s been bugging me for the past twenty-four hours, what I was trying to talk to my friends about in the Tank: how you might not ever really know. How you might be walking down the street one day and—bam!

Blackness.

“It’s cold, Sam.” My mom leans over the passenger seat and gestures for me to shut the door.

I turn around and stoop down to look at her. It takes me a second to work the words out of my mouth, but I mumble, “Iloveyou.”

I feel so weird saying it, it comes out more like olivejuice . I’m not even sure if she understands me. I slam the door quickly before she can respond. It’s probably been years since I’ve said “I love you” to either of my parents, except on Christmas or birthdays or when they say it first and it’s pretty much expected. It leaves me with a weird feeling in my stomach, part relief and part embarrassment and part regret.

As I’m walking toward school I make a vow: there’s not going to be an accident tonight.

And whatever it is—this bubble or hiccup in time—I’m busting out.

Here’s another thing to remember: hope keeps you alive. Even when you’re dead, it’s the only thing that keeps you alive.

The bell has already rung for third period, so I book it to chem. I get there just in time to take a seat—big surprise—next to Lauren Lornet. The quiz goes off, same as yesterday and the day before—except by now I can answer the first question myself.

Pen. Ink. Working? Mr. Tierney. Book. Slam. Jump.

“Keep it,” Lauren whispers to me, practically batting her eyelashes at me. “You’re going to need a pen.” I start to try to pass it back, as usual, but something in her expression sparks a memory. I remember coming home after Tara Flute’s pool party in seventh grade and seeing my face in the mirror lit up exactly like that, like somebody had handed me a winning lottery ticket and told me my life was about to change.

“Thanks.” I stuff the pen into my bag. She’s still making that face—I can see it out of the corner of my eye—and after a minute I whip around and say, “You shouldn’t be so nice to me.”

“What?” Now she looks completely stunned. Definitely an improvement.

I have to whisper because Tierney’s started his lesson again. Chemical reactions, blah, blah, blah. Transfiguration. Put two liquids together and they form a solid. Two plus two does not equal four.

“Nice to me. You shouldn’t be.”

“Why not?” She squinches up her forehead so her eyes nearly disappear.

“Because I’m not nice to you.” The words are surprisingly hard to get out.

“You’re nice,” Lauren says, looking at her hands, but she obviously doesn’t mean it. She looks up and tries again. “You don’t…”

She trails off, but I know what she’s going to say. You don’t have to be nice to me.

“Exactly,” I say.

“Girls!” Mr. Tierney bellows, slamming his fist down on his lab station. I swear he goes practically neon.

Lauren and I don’t talk for the rest of class, but I leave chem feeling good, like I’ve done the right thing.

“That’s what I like to see.” Mr. Daimler drums his fingers on my desk as he walks the aisles at the end of class collecting homework. “A big smile. It’s a beautiful day—”

“It’s supposed to rain later,” Mike Heffner interjects, and everyone laughs. He’s an idiot.

Mr. Daimler doesn’t skip a beat. “—and it’s Cupid Day. Love is in the air.” He looks straight at me and my heart stops for a second. “Everyone should be smiling.”

“Just for you, Mr. Daimler,” I say, making my voice extra sweet. More giggles and one loud snort from the back. I turn around and see Kent, head down, scribbling furiously on the cover of his notebook.

Mr. Daimler laughs and says, “And here I thought I’d gotten you excited about differential equations.”

“You got her excited about something ,” Mike mutters. More laughter from the class. I’m not sure if Mr. Daimler hears—he doesn’t seem to—but the tips of his ears turn red.

The whole class has been like this. I’m in a good mood, certain everything will be okay. I’ve got it all figured out. I’m going to get a second chance. Plus Mr. Daimler’s been paying me extra attention. After the Cupids came in he took a look at my four roses, raised his eyebrows, and said I must have secret admirers everywhere.

“Not so secret,” I said, and he winked at me.

After class I gather up my stuff and go out into the hall, pausing for just a second to check over my shoulder. Sure enough, Kent’s bounding along after me, shirt untucked, messenger bag half open and slapping against his thigh. What a mess. I start walking toward the cafeteria. Today I looked more carefully at his note: the tree is sketched in black ink, each dip and shadow in the bark shaded perfectly. The leaves are tiny and diamond shaped. The whole thing must have taken him hours. I stuck it between two pages of my math book so it wouldn’t get crushed.

“Hey,” he says, catching up with me. “Did you get my note?”

I almost say to him, It’s really good , but something stops me. “‘Don’t drink and love?’ Is that some kind of a catchphrase I don’t know about?”

“I consider it my civic duty to spread the word.” Kent puts his hand over his heart.

A thought flashes—you wouldn’t be talking to me if you could remember —but I push it aside. This is Kent McFuller. He’s lucky I’m talking to him at all. Besides, I don’t plan on being at the party tonight: no party, no Juliet Sykes, no reason for Kent to wig out on me. Most important, no accident.

“More like spread the weirdness,” I say.

“I take that as a compliment.” Kent suddenly looks serious. He scrunches up his face so that all the light freckles on his nose come together like a constellation. “Why do you flirt with Mr. Daimler? He’s a perv, you know.”

I’m so surprised by the question it takes me a second to answer. “Mr. Daimler is not a perv.”

“Trust me, he is.”

“Jealous?”

“Hardly.”

“I don’t flirt with him, anyway.”

Kent rolls his eyes. “Sure.”

I shrug my shoulders. “Why so interested?”

Kent goes red and drops his eyes to the floor. “No reason,” he mumbles.

My stomach dips a little bit, and I realize a part of me was hoping his answer would be different—more personal. Of course, if Kent did confess his undying love for me right there, in the hallway, it would be disastrous. Despite his weirdness I have no desire to publicly humiliate him—he’s nice and we were childhood friends and all that—but I could never, ever, ever date him, not in a million lifetimes. Not in my lifetime, anyway: the one I want back, where yesterdays are followed by todays and then tomorrows. The bowler hat alone makes it impossible.

“Listen.” Kent shoots me a look out of the corner of his eye. “My parents are going away this weekend, and I’m having some people over tonight….”

“Uh-huh.” Up ahead I see Rob loping toward the cafeteria. At any second he’ll spot me. I can’t handle seeing him right now. My stomach clenches and I leap in front of Kent, turning my back to the cafeteria. “Um…where’s your house again?”

Kent looks at me strangely. I did basically just set myself up like a human barricade. “Off Route Nine. You don’t remember?” I don’t respond and he looks away, shrugging. “I guess you wouldn’t, really. You were only there a few times. We moved just before middle school. From Terrace Place. You remember my old house on Terrace Place, right?” The smile is back. It’s true: his eyes are exactly the color of grass. “You used to hang out in the kitchen and steal all the good cookies. And I chased you around these huge maple trees in the front yard. Remember?”

As soon as he mentions the maple trees a memory rises up, expanding, like something breaking the surface of water and rippling outward. We were sitting in this little space in between two enormous roots that curved out of the ground like animal spines. I remember that he split two maple-wing seeds and stuck one on his nose and one on mine, telling me that this way everyone would know we were in love. I was probably only five or six.

“I—I…” The last thing I need is for him to remind me of the good old days, when I was all knees and nose and glasses, and he was the only boy who would come near me. “Maybe. Trees kinda all look the same to me, you know?”

He laughs even though I wasn’t trying to be funny. “So you think you’ll come tonight? To my party?”

This brings me back to reality. The party. I shake my head and start backing away. “No. I don’t think so.”

His smile falters a little. “It’ll be fun. Big. Senior memories. Best time of our lives and all that crap.”

“Right,” I say sarcastically. “High school heaven.”

I turn around and start walking away from him. The cafeteria is packed, and as I approach the double doors—one of which is propped open with an old tennis shoe—the noise of the students greets me with a roar.

“You’ll come,” he calls after me. “I know you will.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” I call back, and I almost add, It’s better this way .

Contents

Обращение к пользователям