It was so quiet. The click of the lock on the back door and the slamming of the same door a second later came through clear as day. Chris swore bitterly, striding back to the counter. “No good.”
“Damn,” said John.
“Not a bad idea, though . . . you know. Shit. Forgot this was open.” Out of the topmost corner of my eye I could see Chris reaching over the counter, pulling cash out of the register. “You need any?”
“Twenty never hurts, right?”
“Right,” laughed Chris, handing a couple of bills over. “Go around and grab me some cigarettes, would you?”
“Sure. What do you smoke?”
Chris huffed out a breath. “Marlboro.”
“No worries,” said John, moving around behind the counter. “Man. What a mess.”
Squelching noises came from back there, the kind you get when a rubber-soled shoe meets something wet. My stomach turned, bile burning the back of my throat. I swallowed it down, trying once again to calm my breathing, trying to stay still.
“What’s your problem?” asked Chris.
“Slippery back here,” said John. “Never been great with blood.”
“Pussy.” Chris giggled like a lunatic. “You’ve gone gray, man. You going to puke?”
A grunt. “Go easy, I’m still in high school. I got a few years to get hard like you. Mind if I grab a pack?”
“Sure, kid. Help yourself.”
I stayed still, taking it all in. And wasn’t it beautiful that John and his hero Chris the meth-head could spend this quality time together? Fucking hell.
Chris cleared his throat. “Who’s your friend? Grab some for him too.”
“Ah, that’s Isaac,” said John. “A friend from school. He’s on the football team.”
“No shit?” said Chris. “What position?”
“Receiver,” came a quieter, less assured voice.
“I was fullback, Dillon was quarterback,” said Chris proudly. “Those were the days.”
Isaac mumbled something agreeable-sounding. A match flared and the acrid scent of tobacco smoke drifted through the air.
“Want me to get us something to drink?” asked John, like he was helping to host a damn party.
Squelch, squelch, came the footsteps toward me. Faded green Converse, the soles stained red with blood. I stayed still, sprawled on the ground, blood puddled around my face. At least the cool floor eased the ache in my head a little. A very little.
Chris’s friend, John, stopped beside me, watching for a moment. Without a word, he about-faced, leaving a trail of bloody shoe prints behind him.
“Better not go past the door,” he muttered.
“No,” said Chris, giggling again. “That’d be bad.”
Bottles clinked against one another. Outside I could hear car doors slamming and lots of different voices. The flashing red, white, and blue were brighter than before, as if a whole squadron of cars had joined in with the light show. Please, God, let one of them do something constructive to get me out of here. I’d go to church; I’d do anything. I was only seventeen, still a virgin, for fuck’s sake. And while I knew I’d probably never make prom queen, I’d at least like to live long enough to attend the damn thing.
“Nice,” said John. “They’ve got Corona.”
More noises. The pop of beer bottles being opened as the boys settled in to celebrate the whole hostage situation. I couldn’t see the other kid, Isaac, just Chris the tweaker and John. They were sitting on the ground with their backs to the counter, hanging out. It was ridiculous. And they might’ve known each other, but I don’t think John did drugs. At least, not seriously. His shoulder-length hair wasn’t patchy and greasy like Chris’s. Scruff covered his jaw, framed his mouth. But his lean, angular face didn’t have the same sores or emaciated appearance.
“What’s your name?” he asked when he caught me looking.
I licked my lips, trying to summon up some moisture. “Edie.”
A nod. “Eee-dee allowed to have a drink too, Chris?”
“Whatever,” the guy mumbled, staring off at nothing.
John rose, carefully approaching me like I held the gun. You’d have thought the meth-head would be the bigger concern. Then the nutter—John, that is—winked at me. Not a come-on kind of wink, but a play-along sort of thing.
Huh. I’d read him all wrong. He wasn’t trying to be like Chris. He was trying to manage him.
“Sit up,” he said quietly, crouching down at my side.
God, it hurt. Moving, thinking, breathing, everything. I set myself right, leaning back against the edge of a shelf. Gray fuzz filled my vision, the world tilting this way and that. He popped the cap on another Corona, putting it into my hand, closing my fingers tight around the cold, wet bottle. The way he touched me might have been the only thing that didn’t hurt.
“Drink up, Edie,” he said. “We’re being social, right, Chris?”
Chris huffed out a laugh. “Sure. Social.”
“That’s right,” said John. “It’s all good.”
I only just stopped myself from snorting.
“Maybe hold it to your head,” he said, a little quieter. “Okay?”
Beer had never been my thing. Georgia and I were prone to liberating the occasional bottle from her mom’s wine collection. All of it cheap and nasty crap. It wasn’t much like she’d notice, let alone care. The beer slid down my sore throat, joining the churning and nausea going on in my belly. I willed it to stay put, taking deep breaths, swallowing it back down.
I nodded back, still alive and all that. “Thanks.”
His eyes were intense, gaze heavy. In a pretty-boy contest, he’d have beaten the now-dead cute clerk guy easily. What a screwed-up thought. Who knew whose blood would wind up decorating the walls next?
“What school you from?” John asked.
“Poor little rich girl,” said Chris, words slurred. “Bitches, all of them.”
I kept my mouth shut.
“Dillon always liked the Green girls.” John joined Chris back over by the counter.