“What’s going on over here? You two look awfully cozy.”
“We’re just sitting here, talking, man,” Porter says, highly irritated. “Why don’t you go see Amy and we’ll catch up with you.”
“Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“What are you talking about, Davy?”
“Trying to get me back for my past sins? Because I invited her here”—he nods lazily toward me—“but looks like you’re making a play for her, which isn’t cool.”
Um, what? Grace invited me, but no way am I getting in the middle of this.
“You’re wasted,” Porter says carefully, pointing an unwavering finger in Davy’s direction, “so I’m going to give you five seconds to get out of my face.”
I’m getting worried now. Porter is more than intimidating: He looks scary as hell. I’ve never really known many guys like this, more on the man side of the sliding masculinity scale. Not up close and personal, anyway.
Davy does something with his face that might be classified as a smile. “Hey, relax, man. It’s cool. Forget it. Brotherhood over Bettys.”
Gross. Am I the “Betty”? Porter’s knuckles press against the side of my thigh—a warning. I guess he’s got this.
“Besides, I’ve been planning something special for you. You know what today is, right? Anniversary of Pennywise’s death, man. I’m giving him a salute. Check it out.”
Davy marches off around the bonfire, calling out for somebody to bring him the “salute,” whatever that means.
“Idiot,” Porter mumbles. “It’s next month, not today. He’s such a waste of space.”
I’m just relieved he’s gone and that no one’s punching anyone, but when I see Porter’s brow lowering, I know it’s not over. There’s a loud noise, and sparks shoot in our direction. We sway backward as the crowd o-o-ohs! Someone’s hauling more wood onto the bonfire on the other side. Several someones. Wooden crates, pieces of chairs, driftwood—all of it’s being tossed into the sandy pit. The fire roars up like a beast. The partygoers gasp in delight. In no time, it’s twice as tall as it once was.
Loud cheers fill the beach. Fire big. Fire strong. The horde is pleased.
Well, not everyone. Porter, for one. He’s pulling me to my feet and cursing a string of obscenities near the top of my head. “Do they ever learn?”
“What’s the matter?” I say, and it’s then that I notice the fringes of the crowd beginning to unravel: here and there, several people are starting to pull away and head up the trail to the parked cars.
“It’s the bonfire,” Porter says. “When it’s too high, everyone can see it from the road. People who live around here tolerate it until they can see it. Then they call the cops. It’s like a goddamn Bat Signal. Morons!”
But it’s not just that. Something else is happening across the bonfire from us. I get Porter’s attention and point to where two boys are lifting Davy onto a large, flat rock on the edge of the beach. The surf crashes into the rock, spraying his legs with foam. He doesn’t seem to care or notice. He’s too busy holding something up in his hand that looks like a big stick, and when he shouts for everyone to shut up, the crowd quiets and listens.
“In honor of all our fallen brothers who’ve bashed their bones against these rocks in the garden of good and evil, tonight, on the anniverseary-rey,” he stumbles, and then gets it right, “anniversary of Pennywise’s death, I’m doing a military-style three-volley salute. Ready?”
What the hell is he talking about?
“Oh, God,” Porter says.
Davy turns to face the wall of rocks, perches the stick on his shoulder, and then—
My world changes.
I’m . . .
Not on the beach.
I’m fourteen years old, and I’m standing in the living room of our old house in New Jersey. I just walked home from school. And there’s broken glass and blood dripping on the expensive carpet. And my mom is screaming, but I can’t hear anything at all.
Then the carpet turns back to sand and the crowd’s roaring gleefully and everything’s back to being okay. Only, it’s not.
“Bailey!” Porter is shouting in my face, shaking me.
I swallow, but my throat is too dry.
I really am all right now. I am. It’s okay. I’m mainly afraid I’m going to cry in front of him, and that would be humiliating. But it’s too late, because I check my face and a few tears have already leaked out. I swipe them away and take a few breaths.
The terrible memory flashes again, but I don’t disappear this time. It just rattles me, hard. Maybe it wasn’t Porter shaking me before. Maybe I’m just shaking.
“Jesus, what’s the matter?” Porter says. He’s pushed hair away from my forehead, trying to check if I’m running a fever.
“I’m okay,” I finally say, moving his hand away. Not because I don’t want his help, but I need to see what Davy’s doing. He’s reloading. Three-volley salute, he said, so there’s still one more. I think he’s got a shotgun. It’s hard to tell from here.
I hate this. Hate being like this. It hasn’t happened in a long time. And I wasn’t prepared. If I know it’s coming, I can brace myself. But this . . .
Davy puts the gun against his shoulder. Final one. I cover my ears with both hands. For a brief moment, I see Porter looking anguished and confused, then he pulls my head against his chest and wraps his arms around me. Boom! I jump against him, but he doesn’t let go. And it helps. The explosion is muffled. I have a solid anchor, and I don’t want to let go. It’s embarrassing how hard I’m clinging to him now, but I don’t even care, because he’s safe and warm. It’s just that he’s prying me off him, trying to tell me something, and I really should be listening.
“We have to go, Bailey,” he’s telling me. “Now.”
I see why.
Red and blue lights. The police are here.
“To repress one’s feelings only makes them stronger.”
—Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000)
“I have to find Grace,” I shout at him as we’re racing across the sand.
It’s total chaos, everyone scattering, half of them clogging the upward trail to the parked cars—but that’s where the police lights are.
“Gracie knows how to take care of herself,” Porter yells back. He’s got my hand locked in his, and he’s shouldering his way across the main path, heading toward the dark area of the beach, away from the bonfire. Away from the people. “She’s been in this situation before, and she’s got a million friends who can get her home.”
That doesn’t feel right to me. I try to tell him that, but it’s so loud, I can’t even hear my own voice. Now it’s two cop cars—not one. And it strikes me just now: What if it’s Wanda? Would she arrest me, even if I haven’t been drinking? I picture Dad having to come pick me up from the police station and my stomach twists.
“CCPD,” a booming male voice says over the squad car speaker. “Hands up where I can see them.”
Holy crap. They’re arresting someone. Hopefully it’s Davy and his rock-blasting shotgun.