Girl of Nightmares


Page 40


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It's doubtful. As we crest the hill it looks like most of the school is hanging out around the quad and parking lot. Of course they would be. It's the last day of the year. I hadn't even noticed.

It doesn't take long for Thomas to zero in on Carmel; her blond hair shines a few shades brighter than everyone else's. She's in the middle of a crowd, laughing, with her backpack on the ground, resting against her lower leg. When she hears the Tempo's distinctive sputter, her eyes flash our way and her face tenses. Then the smile is back like it never left.

"Maybe we should wait and call her later," I say, without knowing why. Despite her queen bee status, Carmel is our friend first. Or at least she used to be.

"What for?" Thomas asks. "She's going to want to know this." I don't say anything while he pulls into the first open space and puts the Tempo into park. Maybe he's right. After all, she's always wanted to know before.

When we get out, Carmel's back is to us. She's in a circle of people, but somehow manages to still be perceived as the center of it. Everyone's body is slightly turned toward hers, even when she's not the one talking. Something's wrong here, and all of a sudden I want to grab Thomas by the shoulder and wrench him around. We don't belong, is what my blood is screaming, but I don't know why. The people surrounding Carmel are people I've seen before. People I've talked to in passing and they've always been friendly enough. Natalie and Katie are both there. So are Sarah Sullivan and Heidi Trico. The guys in the group are the leftovers of The Trojan Army: Jordan Driscoll, Nate Bergstrom, and Derek Pimms. They know we're coming, but none of them acknowledge us. And there's something frozen about the smiles on their faces. They look triumphant. Like cats who've swallowed a flock of canaries.

"Carmel," Thomas calls, and jogs the last few steps to her.

"Hey, Thomas," she says, and smiles. She doesn't say anything to me, and none of the others pay much attention to me either. They all have predatory expressions locked on Thomas, who doesn't notice a thing.

"Hey," he says, and when she doesn't say anything in return, but just stands there looking at him expectantly, he starts to trip up . "Um, you weren't answering your phone."

"Yeah, I've just been hanging out," she replies with a shrug.

"I thought you had mono or something," Derek interrupts with a smirk. "But I don't know how you'd have gotten it."

Thomas shrinks a few inches. I want to say something, but it's Carmel who should do the talking. These are her friends, and on any normal day they would know better than to say anything offside to Thomas. On any normal day, Carmel would rip them a new one just for looking at him funny.

"So, uh, can we talk to you a minute?" Thomas has his hands shoved into his pockets; he couldn't look more awkward if he started kicking the dirt. And Carmel just stands there, disaffected.

"Sure," she says with another half smile. "I'll give you a call, later on."

Thomas doesn't know what to do. It's on the tip of his tongue to ask what's the matter, what's going on, and it's all I can do to keep my own mouth shut, to keep from telling him to be quiet, not to give them anything else. They don't deserve the satisfaction of seeing this look on his face.

"Or maybe tomorrow," Derek says, stepping closer to Carmel. His eyes are on her in a way that makes my stomach turn. "Tonight we're going out, right?" He touches her, snakes an arm around her waist, and Thomas goes pale.

"Maybe I'll call you tomorrow," Carmel says. She doesn't move out of Derek's grip and her face barely twitches while Thomas's crumples.

"Come on," I say finally, and grab his shoulder. The minute I touch him he turns and heads back for the car, half running, humiliated and broken in ways I don't want to think about.

"This was a real pile of shit, Carmel," I say, and she crosses her arms over her chest. For an instant, it looks like she might cry. But in the end she doesn't do anything but look down at the ground.

* * *

There's pure silence on the drive from the school to my house. I can't think of a single thing to say and I feel useless. My lack of experience at friendship is showing. Thomas looks brittle as a brown leaf. Someone else would know something, some anecdote or story. Someone else would know what to do besides sit in the passenger seat and be uncomfortable.

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