Chapter Eighteen

“The hell you are!” Rusty blurted.

“She’s my friend, too.”

“You’re not coming.”

Glaring at her brother, Bitsy said, “If you don’t let me come, I’m gonna tell.”

Rusty’s eyes flashed at me. “See?” Then he shoved the rest of his wiener into his mouth.

Bitsy turned to me. “You don’t mind me coming, do you?”

Here was my big chance to redeem myself with Rusty and ruin Bitsy’s day… or week, or month. I didn’t want to do it. But I wasn’t crazy about having her tag along with us, either. “It’s fine with me,” I said.

She gave Rusty a glance of triumph.

“The only thing is,” I said, “it might be dangerous.”

“That’s okay.”

“I wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”

“I don’t mind.”

“Do you mind if you get us hurt?” Rusty asked her.

“I’m not gonna do that.”

“Oh, yeah? What if we get chased and you’re too slow and we have to run back to rescue your fat ass and like Dwight gets killed all because of you?

“Quit it, Rusty,” I said.

A stubborn look in her eyes, Bitsy told him, “You just don’t want me to come. But it’s okay with Dwight. He said so.”

She looked at me for confirmation.

“Sure,” I said. “If you really want to, you can. But we are going to Janks Field. No telling what might happen. There’s the dog, and…”

“I’m not scared.”

“You oughta be, you little twat.”

“Rusty!”

She turned on him. “I’m gonna tell!”

“Go ahead. See if I care.” To me, he said, “Damn it, Dwight, we can’t take her to Janks Field. She’s my sister. What if something does happen to her?”

“We’ll make sure she’s all right,” I told him. To Bitsy, I said, “Are you really sure you want to come? It’s not just dangerous, it’s a long walk. Five or six miles,” I added, exaggerating slightly.

“Is not,” she said.

“Round trip.”

“I can walk that far.”

“Sure you can,” Rusty muttered.

“I’m coming,” Bitsy said. “Right, Dwight?”

“If you really want to,” I told her.

“I do.”

“One thing, though. You can’t come with us barefoot. It’s a long walk and Janks Field has all sorts of broken glass and stuff….”

“Spiders and snakes,” Rusty added.

“You have to put some shoes on,” I told her.

An eager look in her eyes, she said, “Wait right here.” Then she swung around and trotted to the back stairs. She hustled up them, pulled open the screen door and entered the kitchen. The door banged shut.

Rusty and I looked at each other.

I nodded.

We split.

Ran like hell around the corner of the garage, cut across the neighbor’s yard, made it to the sidewalk and didn’t stop running till we reached Route 3. Panting and drenched with sweat, we stopped by the side of the pavement. I walked in slow circles while Rusty bent over and held his knees.

When he had his breath back, he straightened up and grinned at me and shook his head. “Good man,” he said.

“Yeah, well.”

He patted me on the back, and we walked up Route 3. On both sides of us, the woods were tall and thick. Though the sunless afternoon made the road ahead of us look gloomy, in there among the trees there was hardly any light at all.

After a while, Rusty said, “Bet she never thought you’d ditch her.”

“I know.”

“That’s why it worked.”

“Yeah.”

He patted me on the back some more. “I can’t believe you did that to her.”

I glowered at him.

“Just kidding, man. It was brilliant.”

“I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.”

“Blew that one.”

“If she’d just listened to reason…”

“Ha!”

“I tried to talk her out of coming.”

“You did your best. Anyway, she had no business butting in like that. Not to mention threatening to tell on us. Serves her right.” Rusty chuckled softly.

“What?” I asked.

“Just thinking about the look she must’ve had on her face when she came back out and we were gone.”

“It’s not funny.”

The humor left his face. “Just hope she doesn’t decide to come after us. I wouldn’t put it past her.” Scowling, he looked over his shoulder.

I looked back, too. The road behind us was deserted, at least to where it curved out of sight about thirty feet away. “Maybe we’d better hurry,” I said.

We picked up our pace.

Every so often, we glanced back.

I felt lousy about ditching Bitsy.

I told myself that she had no business going with us in the first place. She wasn’t really one of us and we might be running into trouble. If things went bad, she could hardly be counted on to take care of herself. Saving her would be our job and we didn’t need that sort of responsibility.

Still, I’d tricked her. I’d betrayed her. I’d probably broken her heart.

I almost wished she would show up just so I could stop feeling so guilty.

Because of the twists in Route 3, we couldn’t see very far behind us. Bitsy might’ve been back there, closing in. At any moment, she might come hustling around a bend, jiggling and waving.

I half expected it to happen.

Every so often, cars went by. We stayed along the edge of the road, walking single file, and ignored them. Though most of the people in the cars probably recognized us, nobody called out or stopped. With any luck, we might not even get talked about; it wasn’t as if we were doing anything interesting, just walking.

By the time we were about halfway to the Janks Field turnoff, Bitsy still hadn’t appeared. Maybe because we were walking too fast. So I slowed down.

Rusty gave me a grateful look. Our fast pace had been rough on him.

We kept glancing back every so often. Rusty, I’m sure, hoped he wouldn’t spot Bitsy on the road behind us. I didn’t want her with us, either, but I might’ve been relieved to find her coming along.

When we finally reached the dirt road leading to Janks Field, I stopped and looked back toward town. There was a fairly long stretch before the first bend. Staring at the empty lanes, I realized this was where the sheeted man had come gliding toward us last Halloween night. The memory gave me a little shiver up my back.

What was he doing out here that night? I wondered.

Who was he?

Where is he now?

I almost expected to see the sheeted figure in its silly bowler hat and not-so-silly hangman’s noose come drifting up the road toward us.

Would it be as scary on a summer afternoon?

Maybe even scarier.

What if he’s just on the other side of the bend?

To stop myself from thinking about it, I said to Rusty, “Maybe we’d better wait here for a few minutes and see if Bitsy turns up.”

“Are you nuts?”

“What if she is coming after us?”

“All the more reason to get going.”

I shook my head. “And leave her alone out here? We’re two miles from town.”

He gave me a disgusted look. “She knows the way home.”

“But she might keep on looking for us. If she thinks we’re somewhere just ahead of her, no telling where she might go.”

Rusty sighed. “She probably never came after us at all. She probably went straight to her bedroom, crying.”

“Maybe,” I admitted. “But let’s at least give her five minutes or something to catch up. In case she…”

“Hi guys.”

Rusty flinched and gasped, “Shit!”

Even though I recognized the voice, I jumped. A moment later, warmth and relief spread through me. I turned and searched the deep shadows of the woods alongside the dirt road.

“What’s up?” Slim asked, stepping out from behind a tree.

“Hey hey!” Rusty blurted. “I knew you were okay.”

I’d known no such thing, myself. As she came toward us, my throat tightened and tears filled my eyes.

She looked fine.

She looked great. Her short blond hair was wet and clinging to her scalp. Her skin was shiny and dripping, scratched here and there from her encounter with the dog. On top, she wore nothing except her white bikini. Her cut-off jeans hung low around her hips. Her feet were wrapped in shirts, mine on her right foot, Rusty’s on her left.

Seeing the look on my face, she said, “Hey, Dwight, it’s okay.”

I hurried to her and spread out my arms, aching to hug her. But then I remembered all the cuts on her back, so I didn’t do it. She looked into my eyes. She had tears in her eyes, too. Her lips and chin quivered a little. Suddenly, she threw herself against me and wrapped her arms around me and hugged me hard.

Not wanting to hurt her, I put my hands on her shoulders.

Her hot, wet face nuzzled the side of my neck. She was breathing hard, her chest and breasts pushing against me. I could feel the pounding of her heart. Each time she took a breath, her flat belly touched mine.

“You guys gonna do it?” Rusty asked.

“Shut up,” Slim said.

“Do I get some of that?”

Neither of us bothered to answer him.

After a while, Slim loosened her hold on me and tipped her head back. “I sure am glad to see you,” she whispered.

“Same here,” I said.

She looked at Rusty. “You too, I guess.”

“How’s the back?” I asked.

“Not bad.”

I turned her around by the shoulders. The cuts looked raw and gooey. None seemed to be bleeding at the moment, but her skin was ruddy with a mixture of sweat and old blood. The bikini ties in the middle of her back were still white in a few places. Mostly, though, they were red.

“Has it been bleeding?” I asked.

“Not much.” She turned around to face me. “Just for a little while right after I jumped down off the shack,” she said, and glanced at Rusty.

“What’d I do?” he complained.

Instead of answering, she looked over her shoulder. “Let’s get off the road before someone comes along.” As we followed her into the trees, she said, “I’ve been staying out of sight.”

“Good idea,” I told her.

“Waiting for you. I knew you’d be coming back for me sooner or later.”

“We’ve been looking all over for you,” I said.

“I’ve been right here.” She stopped and turned toward us. “A long time,” she added.

“How long?” I asked.

She shrugged. “More than an hour, I bet.”

“Why?” Rusty asked.

She gave him a peeved look. “We were supposed to wait for Dwight.”

“I know, I know.”

“Some of us do what we say we’ll do.”

“You didn’t exactly stay put either,” he told her.

“No, I didn’t. But I came here so I could meet him.” To me, she said, “I figured if you came back with a car, you’d have to slow down for the turn and I’d have a chance to run out and stop you.”

“I did come back in a car,” I said.

Her head jumped forward, eyes going wide, mouth dropping open—a look of total, dumb surprise. “Huh?”

“In Lee’s pickup.”

“When?”

“I don’t know. Around noon, I guess. Twelve, twelve-thirty, something like that.”

With a few minor changes in her face and posture, she looked intelligent again, but perplexed. “That must’ve been right after I took off,” she said.

“Should’ve stayed,” Rusty told her.

“You’ve got to be kidding. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough after what I saw.”

“What?” I asked.

“The way they killed the dog.”

“They killed the dog?”

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