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Authors: Tom Leveen

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BOOK: Random
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He really is out there. On some mountain road.

That's a lot of effort for a prank.

“You're right,” Andrew says. “
You're
talking to me. For the time being. So I guess technically you are there. Or, here. Around. Whatever. Thanks.”

“So you
don't
really think there's no one out there,” I say as my fear begins truly to mount. I don't think this conversation
is going to be as simple as I thought it would be five minutes ago. “Otherwise you wouldn't have made a call like this.”

“I guess I was looking for a miracle,” Andrew says, his voice softening.

“You don't need a miracle,” I say, unable to help myself. “You just
don't do it
. It's easy. It's easier to
not
do it, in fact.”

“You think so, huh?”

“Andrew,” I say, lowering my voice, because the last thing I need is Mom barging in here again, “please. I'm asking you—I'm begging you, please, just go home. Okay? I'll even stay on the phone until you get there if you want, if you're really serious about all this.”

“You still don't believe me.”

I tell myself,
Run these bases cautiously, Victoria Renée. Just in case.

“I believe you enough that I'll do whatever it takes to get you home safe, yes.”

Andrew snort-laughs. “Nice,” he says. “See, that's what I meant. There's nobody anywhere who gives a shit about anybody else. That is exactly my point. This isn't about me, Tori. It's about everybody. Everybody screwing everybody else over, and—god,
fuck
this!”

The engine roars.

“Andrew, wait!”

Mom opens my door and sticks her head in.

“Tori? It's late. Get off the phone.”

Friend Requests

 
 

Lucas Mulcahy

Confirm

Not Now

Albert Jiminez

Confirm

Not Now

Steve Weide

Confirm

Not Now

Delmar Jackson

Confirm

Not Now

Dakota Lorey

Confirm

Not Now

FIVE

“Please, wait!” I plead into the phone.

The engine rev slowly fades. “All right,” Andrew says, like he's saying it between closed teeth.

“Thank you,” I say, feeling momentarily stupid for it, then turn to face Mom.

“I really can't get off the phone,” I say, dropping my arm so the flip is beside my leg.

“Yes, you really can, and you really will,” Mom goes, rubbing her temple with two fingers. She does this when she's about ready to explode. It's like she's sending telepathic warning rays to her victims. I figured this out years ago. Jack's still not getting it, and he's nineteen.

She's been doing it a lot lately.

“Mom,” I say, as calmly and patiently as I can so I don't set
her off about my
tone
, “I swear, this is really important, and I can't hang up right now—”

“Victoria,” Mom says, which is warning number two, “I took the last phone and I will take this one too. You're lucky to even have it.”

“I know, I know, but Mom . . .”

“God
dammit
!” Jack's voice blares from the kitchen.

Eesh. I think I know what that's about. The coffeemaker. Right.

Mom winces and turns to glance out my doorway, as if that will somehow enable her magical mom eyeballs to go down the hall, turn, and enter the kitchen of their own accord. Then again, maybe they can. Moms are kind of superpowered that way, like Jack's X-Men or whoever. One of the worst parts of this whole mess is that Mom and Dad couldn't just make it all go away, like when I lost a game or did poorly on a test.

What do you do when your parents look as scared as you feel?

“Oh, now what?” Mom groans, and, dismissing me entirely, tightens the belt on her robe and leaves, heading for the kitchen.

Mom would get a lot more done in life if she didn't micromanage her kids. Now is probably not the time to suggest it.

I hurry to my door and shut it softly, grateful that Jack, even in his idiocy and silent treatment, has managed to bail me out.

“Are you still there?” I say into the phone when my latch has shut.

Nothing.

“Andrew?”

I press a hand to my other ear, listening as hard as I can. I'm pretty sure I can hear the rain still.

“Andy,” his voice says at last.

“Are you okay?”

“I'm fine. Thanks for asking. Can you call me Andy?”

Will you kill yourself if I don't?
I think, and squeeze my eyes shut. I came way too close to blurting that out. Someone should suture my mouth shut. If they used red thread, my whole face could look like a softball, ready to be batted into the outfield.

“Andy, sure,” I say, and sit on my bed, blowing out a breath.

“You sound relieved.”

“I
am
.”

“That I'm alive?”

He says it in a challenging way. And it's too late, and I'm too tired, and too much is going wrong for me to try to be all nicey-nice about this.

“Yes!” I say. “I'm relieved you're alive. Isn't that what this is all about? That someone cares? There, I've said it.”

“Wow,” Andy says. “I'm not sure whether to feel grateful or, you know,
suicidal
after that.”

I laugh.

Just once, one little bark of a thing, which quickly transforms into a sob that I punch back down my throat before it can come out.

But he laughs too. Also just once, or maybe twice, short and sharp.

Then we're both quiet.

“You mind if I ask what you look like, Tori?” Andy says after a minute.

I feel my eyebrows rise. So all this, and it's just
phone sex
he's after?

On the other hand, no pun intended, maybe that wouldn't be the worst thing in the world right now, even if it's totally gross. It's better than if he's telling the truth about the cliff anyway. I could definitely hang up then.

“Why?” I ask him.

“Just so I can get an image in my head.”

Yep. So this whole suicide thing, just a ruse for a perv looking for a virtual hookup.

“I don't think so,” I say.

“Why not?” Andy says, then immediately afterward, goes, “Oh! Sorry. No. That probably sounds like . . . Yeah, that didn't come out right at all. God. How the hell do I make it through the day, y'know?”

He sounds genuine. Okay. I'll let it slide.

“Longer hair,” I say, taking my time. “Past my shoulders. I usually wear it back, though. . . .”

The truth is, and I'm okay with this, there's not much
remarkable about me. I tend to blend in. I don't think I'm ugly, but I don't think I'm cute. Even my hair is an everyday brown. Shiny, maybe, but just sort of thick and straight and—I don't know—unassuming?

I mean, is it any wonder that Lucas might have an eye on other people beside me? If he has an eye on me at all.

“Nice,” Andy says. Sounds like he forced himself to say it, though, like he's still reeling from sounding like a creeper.

“Yeah?” I ask. “Why's that?”

“I just think it's . . . I dunno. Cool. Like that. Pulled back, I mean. I like it when girls pull their hair back.” He breathes out, once, harsh. “I am making no sense at all.”

I
get a very clear picture of
him
right then. No way to prove it, of course, and I don't particularly feel like asking him what he looks like, but, somehow, I know.

Black hair. Long.

Kind of skinny. And tall.

A long, hooked nose and high-as-hell cheekbones.

Brown eyes. I want to imagine them blue but can't. I think that's what makes me so sure my imagination is right; otherwise, I could make them any color I wanted.

He's sitting with his hand draped over the steering wheel of his . . .

His—

“So what kind of car you driving?” I ask. Maybe he'll slip up, give me a clue about where he is.

“A Sentra,” Andy says.

“Yeah? What color?”

“White. Plain, boring white.”

Interesting. I don't know why I'd figured blue. I'm not going to tell him this, though.

“It's my mom's,” Andy goes on. “She'd . . . heh.”

“What?”

“I was just gonna say, ‘She'd kill me if she knew what I was going to do with it,' but I guess that wouldn't really matter, huh?”

I lick my lips. My tongue feels like a sandpaper caterpillar. This is my first real clue.

“Are there any . . . you know, like, landmarks nearby?”

He's not buying it. “Tori, you can't stop me like that.”

“Like what?”

“There's no time for you to come up here and talk me down,” Andy says. “Or send a hostage negotiator or whatever. It's just you and me.”

He makes a noise like he's stretching. Must be cramped, sitting in that car seat.

“So whaddya got?” Andy says.

I try to lick my lips again and only dry them out even more. Andy's smart. Smart enough to know what I was thinking, anyway. Not that I was being particularly subtle. And, again—he's right. Even if I borrowed one of my parents' or Jack's cars, or tried to get ahold of the police, he could be down that hill and over the cliff in a matter of seconds.

But what hill? Where?

I guess it doesn't matter. What could I possibly tell the cops? Why would they believe me?

More to the point, why would they believe
me
in particular? I wouldn't if I were them.

“What do I got, what?” I say, stupidly.

“Tell me why not,” Andy says. “Tell me why I shouldn't do it. Give me one reason why I shouldn't drive my mom's Sentra over this cliff in a nice big blaze of teenage angst and glory.”

“I don't know,” I say, then shake my head. Not a great reason, there. “I mean, because you're young, what about that?”

“Since when is being young so wonderful?” Andy says. “Seems like a twenty-year cruel joke some Flying Spaghetti Monster dreamed up to make us miserable so we'd be better prepared for even
more
misery after we got out of college.”

“Wait,” I say. “A flying
what
?”

“Flying Spaghetti Monster. You never heard of that?”

I run through a mental catalog of SpongeBob cartoons. “No.”

“It's an atheist term for God. It's like, believing in God makes as much sense as believing in the Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

“Oh.”

“Do you believe in God?”

Wait a second
, I think. This is the second time he's asked me that. Is that what this really is? Is this some whacked-out cult calling people at all hours to get them to drink the magic Kool-Aid or whatever?

And what the hell does that expression even mean, anyway? Maybe it's something to do with whatever religion Tom Cruise is.

No. It seems unlikely. Of course, so does a suicidal guy randomly calling my number.

I need help. In more ways than one, ha. No, really, I can't handle Andy on my own.

“Um, God?” I say to Andy, while weighing my options. Who can give me a hand here?

My mind goes straight to Jack, my big bro, who until this whole mess went down never failed to back me up or defend me, even if he is a gigantic dork. Now that I've apparently ruined his entire life for all eternity—and hey, Bro, mine's no picnic right now, you ever think of that?—there's not much chance he would help me out. He's made that clear.

“Yep,” Andy says. “The big man upstairs himself. What's your take?”

“Overrated and underappreciated.”

“Aren't you underappreciating him by virtue of calling him overrated?”

“Well, sure, why not. I'm a very complicated person.”

“That doesn't surprise me.”

There's Noah, of course. He's reliable. More than reliable, I mean. We've been friends for so long now, and he's the only person who's come by the house. He said it was to trade some anime movies with Jack, but he stayed and talked to me for more than an hour. He's probably still up,
doing his chat thing. How can I get ahold of him when Andy's on my phone? God, this whole not-connected thing is going to drive me insa—

“Wait, what?” I say. “What do you mean, that doesn't surprise you?”

“You, um—sound like someone who has a lot on her mind,” Andy says after a moment. “Distracted.”

“It's that obvious, huh?”

“A bit. What's going on?”

I shake my head again, again realizing it's a stupid gesture since he can't see me. “Absolutely nothing that I want to get into. Plus, you're the one who's . . . you know.”

“Yeah, but I asked you to tell me why I shouldn't ‘you know,' and so far you've given me a bunch of crap about being young. I want to know what you think about God. So do you?”

Now I'm confused. “Do I what?”

“Do you believe in God?”

“I don't know anymore,” I say. “I don't know what to believe. I hope I still do. So I guess I did at some point.”

“And now?”

“Now I think that even if he does exist, he doesn't give much of a crap what happens down here.”

“Ah,” Andy says, like this makes perfect sense. “Me too. Used to, I mean. My family was never real big on church or anything, just holidays, you know? I always thought it was hypocritical to go to church just twice a year.”

“You mean like Easter and Christmas?”

BOOK: Random
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