Fire with Fire Page 2

Only that wasn’t what happened. Not even close.

Reeve knew who I was as soon as he laid eyes on me. Despite all the ways I’ve changed since seventh grade, he saw the fat girl who’d been dumb enough to believe he was her friend. Reeve saw Big Easy. Hearing him say it knocked the wind out of me, the same way it had when he’d pushed me into the dark, cold water. I’d only ever be one thing to him. Nothing but that. I was so angry. So hurt. And I snapped.

I can hear Aunt Bette breathing shallow breaths a few steps away from my bed. “Was it . . .”

I roll back toward her. “Was it what?” It comes out so mean, but I can’t help it. Can’t she tell I’m not in the mood to talk?

Aunt Bette’s eyes are wide. “Nothing,” she says, and backs out the room.

She’s scared of me. And the truth is, I’m scared of me too.

I can’t deal. So I get up, wrap a sweater around my nightgown, slip on my sneakers, and creep out the back door.

I walk down to Main Street and head toward the cliffs. There’s a big one I used to love to look out from, because you could see for miles.

But tonight there’s nothing but blackness beyond the cliff. Blackness and quiet, like the edge of the world. I shuffle my feet until the tips of my shoes hang over the rock. Some gravel tumbles over the edge, but I never hear it hit the water. The fall goes on forever.

Instead I hear Reeve whisper to me at the homecoming dance. Big Easy. Like an echo, over and over and over.

I ball my fists, fighting to push the memory of what happened next out of my head. But it doesn’t work. It never works.

I remember the other times too. Like when Rennie fell off the cheering pyramid. Did I make that happen? Or did she slip?

Same with the locker doors that slammed closed all at once. Could it have been the wind? Or was it me?

If it was me, how did I do it? Was it telekinesis? Telepathy? Some kind of power transference?

The scary thing is . . . I don’t know. And if I don’t know what it is, how am I supposed to know how to control it, so it won’t happen again?

A cloud pulls away from the moon, like a curtain in a play. Light reflects off the wet rock and makes everything glisten. I catch the caps of waves rippling against a cove down below. Above it there’s a ledge where a couple of beer bottles lie empty in a pile. There’s some graffiti, too. And the ashy remains of a small campfire. Someone else was looking for a place to hide.

I didn’t go to school today. Truthfully, I don’t know if I’ll ever go back.

It takes me a minute to figure out how to get down to the landing. But then I trace a path where the rocks stagger down the side of the cliff in crooked stairs. When I was a kid, I’d scamper along the rocks in bare feet, searching the pools for hermit crabs or seashells, without any fear of falling. Tonight I feel clumsy, stiff, unsteady. I pat around with shaky hands for places to hold on, but everything is slick and cold. But I manage to scamper all the way down. The waves in the cove are still a good bit below me, and they beat against the rock and fill the air with mist.

If only I could talk to Kat and Lillia. But what would I say, exactly? That I’ve got some kind of power? That the strangest things are happening to me and I don’t know why?

They’d think I was crazy. That it’s all in my head. They’d show me the article from the Jar Island newspaper, how the inspectors determined it was an electrical fire. An electrical upgrade had been in the works for a long time, but our principal was more interested in getting the swimming pool redone. He’s probably going to be fired for it.

But I don’t care about that guy. I care about Reeve. He’s the only thing I care about.

That’s how truly, truly pathetic I am.

Suddenly there’s a gust of wind and a splash of water. It nearly knocks me over the edge. I fall to my knees and crawl backward to the path, my heart in my throat.

And that’s the real reason I can’t talk to Kat and Lillia. Because I’ve got an even bigger, more shameful secret than what may or may not be going on inside me.

I love Reeve.

I love him in spite of everything he did to me. I love him even while I hate him. I don’t know how to stop.

And the worst part is that I don’t even know if I want to.

CHAPTER ONE

When the Monday morning sun streams through my window, something tells me to get out of bed instead of rolling over toward the wall like I’ve been doing for the past week. It’s funny. I’ve known I should go back to school for a while, but I couldn’t quite muster up the energy to make it happen. So I stayed in bed.

But today feels different. I’m not sure why. It’s just a feeling I have. Like I need to be there.

I braid my hair and put on my corduroy jumper, a button-up shirt, and a cardigan sweater. Sure, I’m nervous about seeing Reeve; I’m nervous about . . . something bad happening again. And I don’t want to think about how much schoolwork I’ve missed. I haven’t even tried to keep up with my assignments. My books, all my notebooks, have stayed zipped away in my backpack, untouched, in the corner of my room. I pick it up by one strap and hoist it over my shoulder. I can’t worry about how I’ll catch up right now. I’ll figure something out.

But when I put my hand on my doorknob and try to turn it, it won’t budge.

This happens a lot in our old house. Especially in the summer, when the wood swells up with the humidity. The doors are original and the hardware is too. It’s a big glass doorknob with a brass metal plate and room for a skeleton key. You can’t even buy that stuff at the store anymore.

It usually takes a little jiggling to get it to work, but I try that and it still won’t move.

“Aunt Bette?” I call out. “Aunt Bette?”

I give the door another try. This time a much harder shake. And then I start to panic. “Aunt Bette! Help!”

Finally I hear her coming up the stairs.

“Something’s wrong with the door,” I say, breathless. “It won’t open.” I give it another shake, to show her. And then, when I don’t hear anything happen on the other side, I sink down to my knees and press my face up to the keyhole, to make sure she’s still standing out there. She is. I can see her long, crinkly maroon skirt. “Aunt Bette! Please!”

Finally Aunt Bette springs into action. I hear her struggle with my door on her side for a second, and then it swings open fast.

“Thank goodness,” I say, relieved. I’m about to step into the hallway when I spot some stuff on the floor. It looks like white sand, or a chalk of some kind. To the left I can see it was laid in a thin, perfect line, but directly in front of my door it’s been totally messed up by Aunt Bette’s footprints.

What in the world?

I think about stooping over and touching it, but I’m a little spooked.

Aunt Bette has always been into weird things, like smudgings and crystals and channeling different energies. She used to always bring back trinkets and lucky charms whenever she went overseas. I know that stuff is all harmless, but I point down at the chalk and say, “What is that stuff?”

Aunt Bette looks up guiltily. “It’s nothing. I—I’ll clean it up.”

I nod, like Okay, sure, while stepping past her. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”

“Wait,” she says urgently. “Where are you going?”

I sigh. “To school.”

With a thin, frayed voice she says, “It’s better if you stay home.”

All right. I haven’t had the easiest week. I know that. I’ve done a lot of moping around the house, a lot of crying. But it’s not like Aunt Bette’s been doing so hot either. She hasn’t been sleeping much. I hear her in her room at night, puttering around, sighing to herself. She hardly ever goes outside. And she’s not painting much anymore, which might be the most worrisome thing of all. When Aunt Bette paints, she’s happy, simple as that. It’ll be good if I get out of her hair for the day. Give us both a some space.

“I can’t stay in the house forever.” I have to follow my gut. Something inside me is telling me to go. “I’m going to school today,” I say again. This time without smiling. And I walk straight down the stairs, without waiting for her permission. If Aunt Bette is afraid that I’m not strong enough to handle it, well, then this is proof that I am.

By the time I reach the bike rack at Jar Island High, the sun has disappeared. The sky is cold and wispy. And the parking lot is empty, except for a few teachers and the electrician vans. Our school is being completely rewired after the homecoming incident. It looks like they’ve hired every electrician on the island, men working around the clock to get it done.

I’m glad to be here early, before most of the other students. I need to ease myself back into this carefully. In case there is something really wrong with me.

To my surprise, Lillia runs up beside me. She has her jacket zipped up tight and the hood over her head. Every day it’s getting colder.

“Hey,” I say, and lock up my bike. I realize it’s the first time we’ve seen each other since homecoming. “You’re here early.”

“Oh my gosh, I’m so glad to see you, Mary.” When I don’t answer right away, she frowns and says, “Are you mad at me or something? You haven’t called; you haven’t reached out. I looked up your aunt’s number in the phone book and tried calling, but nobody picked up. And Kat’s stopped by your house a few times but no one’s answered the door.”

I sigh. I guess it was stupid to think Lillia and Kat wouldn’t notice that I’ve been avoiding them. But I haven’t wanted to see anyone from school. It’s nothing personal. “Sorry,” I say. “It’s just been . . . a lot.”

“It’s okay. I get it. And things have so been crazy; it’s probably good that the three of us are lying low.” She says it, but she still sounds sad. Maybe she misses us too. “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Reeve’s coming back to school today.”

I have a hard time swallowing. Is this why I had the feeling that I needed to be here? Because Reeve was coming back too? “How is he?”

Lilia presses her lips together and then says, “He’s okay.

But his leg. It’s broken. I think he’s out for the rest of the season.” I guess she sees something in my face, because she quickly shakes her head. “Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine.” She walks backward, away from me. “Let’s talk later, okay? I miss you.”

Reeve’s broken. I broke him.

I got what I wanted.

Didn’t I?

I speed walk into school. Almost every classroom has big,

gaping holes sawed into the walls, for the electrical work. And I need to be careful where I walk or else I’ll trip on bundles of new wires running along the hallway floors.

I go into my homeroom and take a seat on the radiator by the window, with the skirt of my corduroy jumper tucked underneath me and leave a textbook open in my lap. I’m not studying. I don’t look down at the pages once. I peer through my hair and watch the parking lot as it fills up with students. I breathe deeply, in and out. Nice, calming breaths.

The temperature dipped down past the freezing mark for the first time this weekend, and I guess the janitors didn’t waste any time shutting the courtyard fountain off. It’s only the smokers and the cross-country runners who can handle the cold. Everyone else is hustling inside.

I pick up the sound of bass thumping through the window. Alex’s SUV pulls into the school driveway. He parks in the handicapped spot, close to the walkway. He gets out, walks around the front of the car, and opens the passenger door.

Everyone in the courtyard turns to look. They must know he’s coming back too.

Reeve plants his good leg on the ground. He’s wearing mesh basketball shorts and a jar island football hoodie. Alex extends his hand, but Reeve ignores it and holds on to the door instead and swings his other leg out. A white plaster cast stretches from his upper thigh all the way down to his toes.

Reeve balances on one foot while Alex gets his crutches out from the trunk. Rennie hops out of the backseat. She grabs Reeve’s backpack from the passenger-side seat. Reeve motions like he wants to carry his stuff himself, but Rennie shakes her head, swishing her ponytail from side to side. He gives up and starts hobbling toward school as fast as he can with his crutches, which is pretty fast, actually. He leaves his friends trailing behind him.

A couple of kids rush up to Reeve, smile, and say hello. But everyone’s staring at his leg. One guy tries to crouch down with a pen, so he can sign the cast. Reeve doesn’t stop. He lowers his head, pretends not to notice them, and keeps going.

My breath catches in my throat. How am I supposed to face him, now that he knows Big Easy is back in town? What if he starts up on me again?

I try to get control of my thoughts. I can’t worry about that stuff right now. I need to keep going, second by second, minute by minute. That’s it. That’s the only way I’m going to survive.

CHAPTER TWO

I’m in the middle of my calc equation when there’s a knock at our classroom door. It’s the school secretary, Mrs. Gardner, wearing a totally unflattering navy blazer. It’s way too long, way too boxy for her, with buttons that are huge and gold. It looks like she stole it from her husband’s closet—in 1980. Short women should never wear blazers, in my opinion. Unless they are cropped and super fitted with, like, three-quarter sleeves.

Anyway.

I go back to my worksheet. We’re solving derivative problems. It’s not even hard. All everyone said last year is that calc is the hardest thing ever. Umm, seriously?

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