“You’re such a pig.”
“What, this isn’t cozy enough for you? Do I need to get a smoking jacket and a fireplace, maybe hire the Jazz Ensemble to play Sinatra in the background?”
Steph pushes at Kevin’s chest until he rolls off her, onto his side. The storage closet is musty and old, despite the amount of work he’s obviously put into cleaning it up. In spite of herself, she has to admit the blanket and candles are a nice touch.
“I thought you said you didn’t want to die a virgin.”
She rolls her eyes. “I’m already dead, dumbass.”
Kevin’s shouting something in Chloe’s ear over the music, but he has no idea what he’s saying – probably something brilliant like, “I’m fucking wasted right now!”, because he is. Wasted. And possibly doing the sprinkler, but it’s kind of hard to be sure because other people’s heads keep getting in the way of his arm.
She laughs, still singing along with “Heart of Glass” as it blasts through the speakers of the club, and she’s grinning as Steph comes up behind her tugs on her hands, laughing until they spin off into the crowd.
It’s one of their better Halloweens.
There’s a greenhouse connected to Westfield’s courtyard; it was part of the building plan when the school went up in the seventies, when people started caring about the Earth or whatever. The Environmental Club’s the only one who uses it, but it’s nice at night, dark, warm. One night, Kyle picks a rose and thorns catch on the web of skin between his thumb and forefinger. There isn’t any blood, and it’s weird; he always wanted superpowers, he just never thought he’d actually get them.
As far as origin stories go, he could’ve done without the hole in his head.
Amir was skipping class when the shooting started, frantically typing the last paragraphs of his Hamlet essay while Tate Langdon opened fire outside the cafeteria.
It wasn’t his best work: rushed and full of tangents, no credible sources. English was his worst subject; deep down he’s actually glad he never had to hand it in. He finishes it a few months later, though, when he’s finally bored of playing cards with Kevin, slipping it into the pile of papers on Mr. Thomas’s desk.
(Thomas grades it and mails it to his parents. He deserves a C. He gets an A.)
“He’ll come out.”
“He’s a coward, he won’t.”
“Then we’ll make him come out!”
Steph and Kyle glare at each other and the tension practically crackles in the air between them. Amir leans against a mailbox across the street from Tate’s house, waiting for someone to speak, while Chloe scuffs her sneakers against the sidewalk and Kevin drags his fingers through his hair.
“I’ll wait,” Kyle growls. “I’ll wait all fucking night if I have to.”
“You don’t have all night, idiot.”
“Enough,” Chloe says, stepping between them. She touches Kyle’s arm, gently. “Next year. We’ll come back next year.”
Something’s going wrong with the Environmental Club’s latest project and Kyle decides to help. When Chloe finds him, he’s repotting their hydrangeas, tamping down the damp earth with dirty fingers.
“I’ve got a green thumb,” he tells her proudly, “Like, I never had it before this. It’s cool.”
“Please don’t tell me you honestly think we got mutant powers out of being dead.”
Kyle ducks his head and mutters something along the lines of, “…no,” and Chloe smiles at him, rolling her eyes. She sidesteps a spilled bag of fertilizer and kisses his cheek.
“It’s a good thing you’re pretty.”
They tried to leave again, and now they’re definitely paying for it.
They’re sitting in the nurse’s office, Kleenex held hard to their freshly-opened head wounds. Steph tosses the bloody wad in her hand into the trash and grabs some clean tissues. “How long were you out for?” she asks, folding them into a neat square.
“Five minutes. My mom was watching her soaps and my brother just got home from school.”
“Did you see him?”
Kyle looks thoughtful. “Through the window.”
Blood drips down the side of her neck, sticky and warm. He passes her the box of tissues.
Amir misses talking, misses having a goddamn mouth. He’s gotten good at sign language and he’s always had an expressive face, but there’s honestly no substitute for a good argument, for a perfectly timed expletive or a total verbal beatdown.
The fact that the dickwad bullying his sister can’t even see him only makes it worse.
The kid breaks into Hanna’s locker and steals her books and Amir just wants to lose it on this asshole, bash his face in until it’s just bloody pulp. Kevin, unsurprisingly, is all for it.
“I’d smash the fucker,” he says. “That’s what brothers do.”
“You want to know the one good thing about being trapped in high school forever?”
Kevin sits up and glances over at Steph, who’s still lying on her back, using his leather jacket for a pillow. Her eyes are closed; they’ve been in the closet a long time and he wonders if any of the others are looking for them. He kind of hopes they aren’t.
“What’s the best thing?” he asks, looking for his shoes.
“Not the best thing, the good thing.”
“What is it, then?”
“You’re never alone.”
“Really? ‘Cause…that sounds kind of bad.”
She shrugs. “It’s both.”
They weren’t friends before, but Stanley, Stapleton, they were always next to each other on field trips, in the yearbook; close, but not in any way that counts.
Chloe’s leaving the library when she walks into Amir coming back from the chemistry lab, dropping books all over the main hall’s steps. When they gather them up he raises his eyebrows at her, holding out his hand for her to take. He’s genuinely surprised when she does.
They walk past the big window on the main staircase; with the way they’re reflected, Amir looks like he still has all his face.
The gym gets cold this time of night, and Chloe leans over and loops her arms around Amir’s neck, groaning against his hair when the basketball bounces off the headboard for the tenth time in a row. Kevin and Kyle have been locked in an epic game of HORSE that’s been going on for the past two hours, their shoes squeaking against the polished floor as they race up and down the half-court. They’re both doing terribly, but at least they’re enjoying themselves.
In the bleachers, Steph doesn’t watch. The drawings in her sketchbook look better than the game, anyway.
“Know what I miss most?”
Steph glances over at Chloe’s reflection in the mirror. Chloe’s busy fixing her hair, and she’s reapplying her eye makeup with eyeliner she snagged earlier from some yuppie brat’s purse.
“I’m not playing this game again.”
“Oh, shut up, like you don’t ever think about it.” Chloe fiddles with her bangs, pouts, and brushes them back the way they were. “I just…sometimes I miss having a real bath, okay?”
Steph purses her lips and caps the eyeliner in her hand. Years since, and it still hurts to think about home. “Yeah,” she agrees, “Me too.”
He’s been getting distracted by her hands, lately: how soft they are, the nails polished, smooth. She has these long fingers she twists together when she’s nervous, like she’s playing cat’s cradle and lost the string.
“Aren’t you sick of solitaire?” she asks, and Kevin smirks a little.
“Aren’t you sick of pretending to ignore me?”
Chloe scoffs. “The world doesn’t revolve around you.”
Irritated, she reaches out and turns his head, nails pressing into the skin at his jaw. He thinks she’s going to kiss him, and when she drops her hand and leaves he’s actually disappointed.
Kyle looks at Amir, who only shrugs and pushes away from the desk, walking back to the table Kevin had pulled him away from ten minutes earlier. Kevin’s staring at the screen of his borrowed laptop with the air of a little boy at Christmas: his expression is a mix of impatience, excitement, and outright glee.
“Dude, I’m dead, not blind.”
“Come on, porn? On a school computer? In front of all of us?”
“None of you have to stick around, man. And besides, if a corpse can crack the administration’s password, then they definitely need a better firewall.”
They’ve all done it.
Steph stops after the second year. Kyle and Kevin sneak in quick ones on their bad days. Amir’s been lucky, if you can call it that: his youngest sister’s just started at Westfield; he spends most of his time following Hanna from class to class, watching her, keeping track. His parents even came to an open house. Chloe calls home on her mom’s birthday, literally aching to hear her voice, and she’s practically shaking with anticipation as she dials.
The disconnection buzzing in her ear hurts worse than when she took a bullet to her chest.