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Authors: Laura McNeal

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BOOK: Crushed
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Chapter 3

To Do

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, as Audrey understood it, had to do with a subatomic particle moving through space, and the fact that you could know its velocity or its position, but not both. The more accurately you defined where it was, the less you knew about how fast it was going, and the more you knew about how fast it was going, the less you knew about where it was.

As Audrey moved within the stream of students in the hallway of the south wing, she saw them briefly as subatomic particles. She could see what they were doing, but not what they intended to do. If she could measure their velocity, could she still know their positions? She knew that physics wasn't psychology, but she couldn't help feeling that there was an uncertainty principle at work in her own life, where there was so much to measure and so little to know.

“Cheer up, dudette. It may never happen.”

It was Brian's voice, carrying with it the pleasant smell of citrus. Audrey, jolted from her thoughts, said, “
What
may never happen?”

Brian shrugged and popped a wedge of tangerine into his mouth. He was leaning against his locker. “Whatever it was you were toddling along all worried about. You looked like the doctor just gave you ten minutes to live.”

“Oh, sorry,” Audrey said, and made a little laugh.

“What for?” Brian said.

“I don't know,” Audrey said. It was true. She didn't. She couldn't help it if she got lost in her thoughts.

“Close your eyes,” Brian said.

“What?”

“Close your eyes and open your mouth.”

She did, and he slipped a section of tangerine between her lips. When she started to open her eyes, he said, “Keep them closed and chew slowly, and it'll be like nothing you've ever done before in the hallowed hallways of Jemison High.”

She did, and it was.

Brian shrugged. “Yeah, well, I told you.”

Something occurred to Audrey. “Where's the bearded dragon?”

“Busted. Turns out none of the reptile nation are welcome on campus. My guy's in Murchison's office, in the reptile slammer.” Mr. Murchison was the assistant principal.

“But you'll get him back?”

“Oh, yeah. Right after the closing bell.” Brian stretched out one of his wide, lazy grins. “You just can't keep a boy from his dragon.”

Audrey glanced at her watch and said, “Gotta go.”

Brian said, “No, you don't, but you will.”

She laughed and set off.

“Hey,” he called after her, “if you're heading for Patrice's class, stay away from the temps. Theo's over there.”

Patrice was Patrice Newman, who taught World Cultures; the temps were the temporary classrooms; and Theo was Theo Driggs, a steel trap of a boy who, along with his hulking friends, hung out in the unsupervised recesses of the campus and waited for prey.

Audrey's personal introduction to Theo Driggs had occurred soon after enrollment. Mr. Daly, her trig teacher, had asked her to take a notice down to the journalism classroom on the basement floor of the vocational education wing, and as she'd turned at the bottom of the stairs, a group of boys in big shirts, leather jackets, and low-slung jeans stood against a wall. Most of the boys were mountainously big, but a compact, muscular boy of medium height stood at the center of the group. He had oily blond hair, fleshy lips, and a soft, moist-looking neck. When he saw Audrey turn their way, he closed his eyes, exaggeratedly sniffed the air, and said, “Denizens, I smell a snob.” With his eyes closed, he reminded Audrey of a basking lizard.

Now all of the boys were making sniffing sounds. One of them said, “Oh, yeah, I smell it, too.”

“It smells like caviar.”

“Know what else smells like caviar?”

Audrey kept her stiff limbs moving and stared woodenly ahead. “Aren't you in the wrong section of town?” Theo said. “Ain't no AP classes this part of town.”

As she drew closer, the huddle of boys tightened, leaving only a narrow channel between them and the wall for her to pass through.

“Attention, shoppers!” one of the boys said. “We have a snob lost in the basement!”

Hard laughter, and Audrey, leaden, numb, passed close to the group, close enough that she smelled the boys' leathery, sweaty smell. Their voices nipped at her ears.
Eyes straight
ahead,
she thought.

“Where's Her Majesty going?”

“Talk to us, Miz Caviar.”

“You too good to talk to us?”

Theo Driggs leaned forward, brought his thick lips and softly flattened triangular nose within inches of Audrey's, and said, in a whispery voice, “I've got my eye on you. You're on my to-do list.”

They'd receded slightly, and Audrey had moved woodenly through the group.

“God!” C.C. had said with real vehemence when Audrey later told her and Brian about the incident. “He said you were on his
to-do list
?”

Audrey nodded.

“Theo Driggs,” Brian said, his voice full of mild wonderment. “Now there's a dude there's no handy explanation for.”

“Where were the teachers?” C.C. said. “How do a dozen guys stand around harassing girls without any teachers finding out about it?”

Audrey shrugged.

“What we need is a Mafia contact,” Brian said, almost talking to himself. “We would say, ‘Rocco, we got a punk in need of a popping.'” Brian made a gun of his hand, closed one eye, and, pointing his index finger off toward the distance, let his thumb hammer down three times, saying,
“Pop pop pop.”

C.C. had stared blankly at her brother, then turned to Audrey. “This is what happens to a sensitive youth left too long in the public schools.”

The incident with Theo had occurred six weeks earlier. Since then, Audrey had seen Theo from time to time—in the halls, out in the quad, once even at Bing's Restaurant on a Saturday morning—and each time he saw her, a smirk formed on his plump lips and he let his eyes fasten onto her.
Like a
tick,
Audrey thought. It made her blood crawl. Which was why, today, Audrey went back through the quad and all the way around to the humanities wing to avoid letting Theo fasten his eyes on her again.

Chapter 4

Barter

Lea and C.C. shot grins Audrey's way when she burst into World Cultures just before the bell rang, and as soon as Patrice Newman turned her back, C.C. slid Audrey a note that read:
One more day almost over and we're still unbloodied.

Audrey wrote back,
Day ain't over yet,
and added a smiley face.

Then, fingering her long hair, Audrey turned to glance at the craggy boy across the room, the one she'd thought had been staring at her at lunch. He sat now as he always sat, bent over his desk as if trying to make his large self small, but it was the same guy all right. Heavy eyebrows, scruffy unshaved jaw, brown eyes that never seemed to settle on anything. Different, and not necessarily good-different. No one else wore pink bowling shirts that said HARRY'S FRIES on the back. To C.C. Audrey wrote, Who's the guy in pink and black, due west?

C.C. wrote back, ID unknown but Audrey, honey, why dost
thou ask?

Audrey was thinking how to respond when Patrice Newman, who had requested that the students call her simply Patrice, announced, “Okay, kiddos, we're going to have some fun today.”

World Cultures had always been a mixed blessing. Patrice wore her graying hair long and dressed in clothing made of hemp. Sometimes class consisted of nothing harder than listening to music samples and guessing which country they came from. On the downside, the class was chock-full of cheerleading, dancing types who used the “creative” structure of the class to prey on the fashionless. C.C., Lea, and Audrey referred to these girls as the
snobbae popularae,
and assigned them individual flavors ranging from Battery Acid to Lemon Tartlet.

Today Patrice was breaking the class into groups of four to play a card game meant to imitate the process of barter among migrant sub-Saharan herdsmen.

C.C., Audrey, and Lea collected at one table, but the fourth chair remained vacant. This was fine by them, but Patrice noticed and said, “We've got an empty over here, kiddos.” She spotted Sands Mandeville loitering by the window and said, “Sands, that empty chair's got your name on it.”

Sands turned and took the situation in. “Can't, Patrice. If I go over there, then Zondra's group, which is where I belong, is down to two, so we've only made matters worse.”

Patrice seemed hardly to hear, in part because of the din building in the room. “Okay, listen up, kids,” she said, and when the noise didn't diminish, she began to shout over it. “Okay, you'll find a sealed envelope in front of you!” she began, and someone yelled, “Not me. I already opened mine!” which drew raucous laughter.

Hopeless.
That's what Audrey thought this class was, and she began to write the word over and over on the cover of her green composition book, just above her name and address.

When everybody else began opening their envelopes, Audrey opened hers, too. Inside, she found three index cards. One read, “2 baskets flax.” The others read, “1 olive press” and “5 flagons olive oil.”

From two tables away, she heard Zondra Freese yell, “I'll trade you a camel and two asses for your flagon of red wine,” which most of the students found unmatched for hilarity.

Audrey flipped back to the cover of her notebook and kept writing.
Hopeless.

About ten minutes later, Patrice Newman slipped out of the room, and shortly thereafter Zondra Freese cracked open the door, peered both ways, and then turned back to the class. “Gone,” she said, and the noise in the classroom, already loud, grew louder.

Lea and C.C. got out their French homework. Audrey brought out her literature anthology, and soon became so absorbed in it she didn't notice that the room had gradually grown quiet. When she looked up, Sands Mandeville and Zondra Freese were standing over her.

“So who
are
you guys?” Zondra said. She hooked one French-manicured fingernail around the necklace she wore and slid the pendant from side to side.

“What do you mean, who are we?” Lea asked.

Sands cut in. “She means, like where did you come from?”

From behind them, someone, a boy, said, “Nerdstone Terrace,” which drew clamorous laughs.

Audrey felt the class watching. They were waiting to see what Battery Acid and Lemon Tartlet had in store for the new girls.

“So what school did you go to before you came here?” Zondra said, still sliding the pendant.

Lea had lowered her eyes, and to keep C.C. from saying something regrettable, Audrey said, “The Agatha Ingram Tate School.”

Sands Mandeville smiled. “I've never heard of”—she prissified her voice—“the Agatha Ingram Tate School.”

A girl's voice behind their table said, “It's a tiny little private school for freaks and lesbos.”

“Really?” said Sands. “So which are you?

When the laughter from that remark abated, Zondra said, “Why either-or? Maybe they're both.”

More hard laughter moved through the room.

Audrey felt her skin turning hot. Lea squinted at her book.

“We're neither,” Audrey said, but her words came out brittle and small.

Zondra and Sands ignored her. Sands said, “So who's the hubby, that's what I want to know. Who's the hubby and who's the hussy?”

More hard laughter.

“You're so rude!” Audrey heard herself say. She knew at once that this was a mistake.

Sands said, “Golly, Zondra. We're so rude!”

Zondra said, “I'm thinking Miss Audrey's the man-dude. Telling us what's what in her he-manly way. Trying to protect the wee little wifeys.”

More general laughter. Audrey felt sweat slide from her pores and glaze her body. C.C., usually impossible to intimidate, clenched her teeth and worked her jaw, and Lea just squinted at her book, sitting perfectly still. Audrey thought Lea was actually studying until a tear fell on the book. Saying “Please excuse me,” Lea rushed from the room just as Patrice Newman reentered it.

“What happened to her?” the teacher said, looking back.

Nobody spoke until Sands said, “I don't know, Patrice. She didn't look well, and then she said she felt nauseous and then—” She gave a vague wave of her hand toward the door.

Patrice Newman shrugged, then glanced at the clock. “Okay, kiddos, three minutes, then we look at your inventory and decide whether you've gained or lost stature in the eyes of your tribe.”

Zondra said, “Sands has increased in stature big-time. She now has three asses.”

This seemed to make everyone laugh, even Patrice, but Audrey noticed that the boy in the bowling shirt wasn't laughing. His look was cold, and he was staring at Zondra.

Chapter 5

Ally

After class, Lea was waiting for Audrey and C.C. down the hallway, and as they were walking away together, the bowling-shirt guy caught up to them. “Hey,” he said, and the girls turned.

He carried a motorcycle helmet under his arm, and he was much taller than C.C. or Lea, taller even than Audrey. For once he let his brown eyes connect with Audrey's. The coarse stubble of his chin made Audrey flinch a little, as if he had actually touched her face with his.

“I just wanted you to know,” he said in a tight, gravelly voice that made Audrey want to clear her own throat. “Not everyone thinks Sands and Zondra are funny.”

The boy's words were kind, Audrey supposed, but he spoke with such awkwardness and intensity that they seemed to be coming from some mysterious well of emotion that made him seem out of balance, and scary. He was staring so hard at Audrey that she wished he would be shy again. She looked down and hugged her green composition book to her chest. She was trying to think what to say, but nothing at all came to mind.

The boy tried to smile. “That's all I wanted to say,” he said, and turned and walked off with his book bag over his shoulder and his helmet under his arm.

When he was beyond earshot, C.C. said, “Who was that? Dr. Death?”

Audrey watched the boy—he'd just stopped and seemed to be writing something on the palm of his hand—and tried to think of something charitable to say. “Somebody trying to be nice, I guess.” But the truth was, he'd seemed more odd than nice. And what was the deal with the helmet? Did he own a motorcycle?

“He had eyes for you, Aud,” C.C. said, grinning, “and the time is velly auspicious for romance.”

Audrey laughed. “I'm thinking he's not my type, whoever he is.”

She glanced at Lea, who at the Tate School had been known as “the Database.”

“His name's Clyde Mumsford,” Lea said quietly, “but I've heard people call him The Mummy.”

C.C. said, “Well, The Mummy just spoke.”

Audrey, Lea, and C.C. shared a laugh—which helped a little—and walked on together, their own small, movable, on-campus island.

BOOK: Crushed
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