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Authors: Tom Leveen

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BOOK: Random
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I write a question mark. He writes, “This kid is not going to kill himself.”

“God, I know how awful that sounds,” Andy says. “It's so cliché and lame, but I don't know how else to put it. I could be who I am without worrying about it for the first time in my life, when I was with her.”

He pauses.

“She made it okay to be me.”

Some smart-ass remark whistles through my brain, but it's gone before I can really seize it. Then I'm grateful it's gone. I don't want to make fun of something like that. Even Noah lets that one go.

“Then my dad started getting suspicious,” Andy goes on.

“Suspicious about what?”

“That we were doing a lot more than staying up all night watching movies or whatever,” Andy says. “Which is exactly what we
were
doing.”

“And makin' out,” I can't help but say.

“Sometimes.”

“He didn't like her?”

“At first he did,” Andy says. “Dad thought she was cool. I mean, she was smart. Knew how to have a conversation, once she opened up a little.”

Staring into the mirror over my dresser, I ask, “Was she pretty?”

I must've really hit a nerve there, because Andy is quiet for a long time. During the silence I notice Noah looking at my reflection too, from behind me. The look on his face is . . . weird.

“I wouldn't say pretty,” Andy says at last. “I wouldn't
not
say it, but it's the wrong word. It was something else. She was attractive. I know that's a colossally lame kind of word, but I can't think of another one. When Kayla first came into the store, it was like . . . I don't know. . . .”

“Love at first sight?”

Noah is still looking at me in the mirror. Which, I guess, means I'm still looking at him. For a second I imagine Lucas sitting there instead. Lucas has this swagger that, to be honest, isn't unique unto itself around the upperclassman guys, especially the athletes, but his is elegant. Like he's not trying. And, sure, he comes off a little cocky, I suppose. But in a charming way. And holy crap, his
arms
, and . . .

 . . . and he's not the one sitting here in my room past two in the morning when I needed someone. Even if I could have called him, he wouldn't be here. I know it. I know it like I know the bags on our infield and how second has a black mark along one corner. I just know it.

“No,” Andy says, and it comes out sharp, stabbing me back
to reality. “Love at first sight is too simple. Too
neat
. It was something else. The way she carried herself. Kept her head tilted down a little. Things like that.”

I break my reflected gaze from Noah's. “Oh. That's sweet.”

“Yeah. It kind of was.”

“So your dad found out you were hooking up . . .”

“And said he didn't approve. Neither did Mom. They thought we'd get into trouble.”

“Like, pregnant?”

Andy and Noah both snort at the same time. Fortunately, Andy doesn't hear him.

“Something like that,” Andy says. “They didn't actively hate her or anything, they just thought . . . maybe we weren't a good match. And then school started getting tough on her. . . .”

Noah leans closer to the phone. I nod and point to it, as if to say,
See? Here it comes.
I could hear it in Andy's voice.

When he speaks again, his voice is tighter, like his throat has started to close up on him.

“She was catching a lot of shit,” Andy says. “She was never real popular, you know, just didn't make a lot of friends or anything. That never bothered me. But I went to a different school. There wasn't much I could do to help.”

Noah hits the mute button.

“I'm still not buying it,” he says, keeping his voice low.

I hunch my shoulders, feeling profoundly guilty for saying, “Yeah . . . me either. I mean, I
am
pretty sure he's serious
about—you know, going through with it, but not . . .”

“Not because of her. His girlfriend.”

“Right! Or . . . maybe he just hasn't gotten to the real reason yet, I don't know.”

“See if you can get him to go there,” Noah says. “Figure out what's really going on.”

“See if you can get me to go where, exactly?”

I suck in a breath. Noah's eyes bug out.

“So, Tori,” Andy says, as if the rage in his voice is held back only by tightly clamped teeth. “Wanna tell me who your friend is?”

Kevin Cooper
wrote on your timeline.

September 21, one year ago.

You got that same backpack. my smiley is still on the strap. :)

Like · Comment · Share

Tori Hershberger
Yep.

TEN

“Well?” Andy says.

“Uh . . . hi?” Noah says, and his voice breaks. Normally, I'd laugh. Not now.

“Who the fuck is this?” Andy demands.

“My name's Noah,” Noah says. “I'm friends with—”

“Oh,
Noah
, of course,” Andy says. “I should've guessed. So nice to meet you,
Noah
. So how long you been joining us there in the studio audience,
Noah
?”

“I just got here, man, I swear.”

“I don't believe you.”

“He doesn't live very far,” I say quickly. “Andy, just hold on a second, please?”

“Why?” Andy spits. “So you can bullshit me into saying something else I only meant for you to hear?”

“It's not like that!” I say. “I'm scared for you, okay? And I'm
scared for me, and I needed help, so I called Noah. I wasn't trying to piss you off or make a fool out of you or anything. Come on, please? You can trust Noah, I swear.”

Noah and I both stare at the crappy little flip phone like it's a video screen instead, as if we can see Andy's reaction if we just stare hard enough.

My ribs constrict when I hear the engine rev. My hand jets out and grabs Noah's, all on its own. Noah squeezes my hand in return.

After a minute Andy says, “So what'd she tell you so far, Noah old buddy, old chum?”

Noah clears his throat. “Well . . . that you're having a tough time, that you called this number at random . . . and that you're pretty serious about killing yourself.”

“Ding-ding, you win,” Andy says, his voice dry. “And now explain why I shouldn't just roll on down this road and off the side of a cliff, considering my entire point has been that the whole world screws each other over, and that's clearly true here as well?”

“That's not what I meant,” I say before Noah can answer. “You're not being fair.”

“Yeah? Lotta that going around,” Andy replies. “How could you do this, Tori?”

“You can trust him,” I repeat.

“Like I trusted you?”

And for whatever reason, maybe because it's so late and I'm so tired-not-tired, or maybe because the past couple of
months have been such a royal bitch . . . I slide to the floor on my knees, so that my body rests on top of my mattress. I pull the phone close.

“Andy?” I say. “Please. I want to help. I'll listen. We both will. I just want the sun to come up and for you to be okay and for all this to be in the past, okay? I'm sorry I didn't tell you Noah was here, but I needed help. I couldn't do this by myself anymore.”

Noah, who hasn't let go of my hand, squeezes it again.

“Andy, just please don't do something that you can't take back,” I say. “All right?”

“Do you want me to go?” Noah asks. “Because I will, no problem. I wasn't trying to mess with you, man. I swear. I'm just here for Tori. We go way back.”

Andy snorts. “Like I could know you really left even if I told you to.”

“For what it's worth,” Noah says, and his face is un-Noah-like serious, “I wouldn't do that to you. If you want me to go, I will go.”

“What, is that supposed to be your word of honor?”

Noah shakes his head, then blinks as he realizes he's done it and Andy can't see it. I know the feeling. Funny how our body language doesn't change over the phone.

“No,” Noah says. “The samurai never gave their word. They just said what they would do and it got done.”

“So you're like a ninja now or something?”

“No. Samurai were totally different.”

“Hey, Tori?”

“Yeah,” I say. “I'm here.”

“Is this guy as big a dork as he sounds?”

I feel a minuscule smile tug my lips. “Bigger,” I say.

Noah gives me a smile about the same size as my own.

“Yeah?” Andy says. “So you crushing on him, too?”

I can't answer. And the fact that I can't throws me completely off.
No,
I want to say.
No, of course not, he's Noah. If you knew him and you knew me, you'd understand we could never—

“We're just friends,” Noah says, then seems to suddenly notice he's got my hand. He carefully pulls it away from mine. “Really good friends.”

“Uh-huh,” Andy says. “Well, isn't that nice. Nice to have friends like that. People you can count on. Huh, Tori?”

“Yes,” I whisper. The skin on my hand cools where Noah had held it.

“What's that? I couldn't hear you.”

“Yes,” I say, louder. “It's nice. It's good.” Weak, but it's all I can manage.

Andy doesn't reply right away. I stare emptily at the phone, trying to ignore Noah's expression in my periphery. I don't want to know what he's thinking. I don't know why I don't want to know.

I guess I don't know much of
anything
.

“Okay,” Andy says at last. “I'll see this part through, anyway.”

“What part?” Noah asks, and I'm grateful because I can't seem to make myself ask the question.

“About the love of my life,” Andy says. “So where was
I? I mean, now that there's a crowd, I guess I should dance, right?”

Noah and I both sink a little, like in relief. We're back on track. No idea where we're headed, but at least I'm not alone.

“You were talking about Kay . . .” Noah hesitates. “Kaylynn?”

“Kayla,” Andy and I say in unison.

“Right,” Andy goes on. “School. Those assholes. They just wouldn't leave her alone, you know? Kept pushing and pushing. . . .”

“What do you mean, ‘pushing'?” Noah asks.

I think I know, but there's no way I'm going to pipe up and say it.

“Making fun of her,” Andy says. “How she looked, how she dressed, how she talked. Everything. And then a few weeks ago she was driving over to my place, so we could hang out, you know, and . . . just got real emotional . . . and . . .”

Noah and I sit absolutely still. Before he even says it, I know where Andy's going with this. Not a doubt in my mind now.

“I guess she didn't see the turn,” Andy says quietly. “Or maybe I just hope she didn't.”

I honestly can't tell if he's crying or not. I honestly can't tell if I am either. I don't, usually. Not often. It's just not my way of dealing. But the pattern on my bedspread does seem to blur a little.

“Just sailed right off,” Andy continues in the same soft voice. “Probably didn't feel anything, anyway. One quick snap. Or crash. And done.”

That's why he is where he is tonight. Just like I thought. In his mind, there's a poetry to it. Drama. Just like this phone call.

He
is
serious, and he wants it just so.

“Was that here?” I ask him, lowering my voice to match his.

“Huh?”

“Was that in town?” I say.

“You mean, in Canyon? Yeah . . . I mean, not in town, it was just outside of town. Up here, in the mountains. Yeah. Why?”

“I just didn't hear about it,” I say.

“Yeah, because you're so tuned in to the news,” Noah says.

I give him a look.

“It
did
make the news,” Andy says. “But so what? Reporting it didn't bring her back. Reporting it didn't make those assholes change their minds about her.”

“Well, that's what makes them assholes,” Noah says.

Andy snorts a laugh.

“What did you want them to do?” I hear myself saying. I'm looking at Noah when I do it.

“Who?” Andy says.

“The assholes,” I say.

Noah meets my gaze. It takes all of a millisecond for him to see that I'm talking to
him
just as much as to Andy. Because when Noah says “assholes,” I know he's talking about Lucas and them.

“What did you
want
them to do?” I go on, still eyeing Noah. “What could they have done afterward to make you not be where you are tonight?”

Noah frowns at me. Andy is silent.

“I mean, no offense,” I say, as anger starts burning my face. “But lots of people's lives suck, and they don't commit suicide. It's not someone else's fault, it's their own. Right? Isn't it? Are you trying to say that if you drive off a cliff tonight, that's on
me
? . . . Because, you know what? My calendar's full. This is not my problem. Too many people have already made their lives my problem, and it's not fair, okay?”

I have to stop and catch my breath. After a second of silence it slowly filters through what I've said. How it must sound. I scramble my brain backward, trying to figure a way to backtrack my way out of it.

Andy does the job for me.

“Noah?” he says.

“Uh—yeah,” Noah goes.

“Why is she talking like that?”

Noah raises his eyebrows to me.

“Because,” Andy says, coughing a bit, “Victoria, dear, I gotta tell ya, that was not overly helpful right now. So how about we tally up which of us has had the most bullshit to put up with and see who wins, huh? Let's go, you wise fucking sage of the universe.”

BOOK: Random
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