Authors: Tom Leveen
Fuming, I hiss back at him, “Fine.”
Even though I'm athletic and Jack is decidedly not, he's got that Big Brother gene that allows him to win all physical confrontations. I stomp over to my bed, slap the laptop shut, and give it back to Jack. He takes it without a word and goes back down the hall. I shut my door and drop onto my bed, picking up the phone.
wrote on your timeline.
April 30, one year ago.
So those are your new friends huh?
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Â Noah Murphy likes this.
Relax, Kevin. They're nice.
What's that sperm bank Cooper talking about tori?
Â You and 4 others like this.
ouch, cruel Lucas! but also true soÂ .Â .Â .
Â You and 4 others like this.
It's cool, everyone. :)
I think you mean cold
“Andy? Andy, come on. Be there. Andy? Hello?”
“Hello?” Andy says. “Tori?”
I clutch my throat with my free hand, amazed at the speed of my pulse. “You scared me,” I say.
“Sorry,” Andy says. “I figured I should use the facilities too. My facilities ended up being a bush, though. So what were you writing about?”
“Are you writing a book or something?” Andy asks. “You're a loud typer.”
Oh, great. I hadn't thought to mute the phone. “No! No, justÂ .Â .Â . umÂ .Â .Â . blogging.”
I wince. That sounds awful. I'm used to physical reflexes, not mental ones.
“Wow,” Andy says slowly. “My life is in your hands and you're recording the whole experience for posterity. That's terrific. You sound like a real gem, Tori.”
“I've been called worse,” I say.
“Oh yeah? Like what?”
“Bitch. Monster. Oh, evil homophobic slut bomb was a personal favorite. Murdâuh, jerk. Stuff like that. So, yeah, âgem' doesn't really have any cutting power.”
“What was that one in the middle?” Andy asks. “Turd?”
“UmÂ .Â .Â . yeah. Something like that.”
“That must keep you up nights,” Andy says. “People out there calling you a turd.”
“I'm over it.”
“Who's doing it?” he asks. “Who's calling you that stuff?”
“Why, you going to protect me?”
“If I make it through the night, I might.”
Cute. I can't even count the number of ways I don't want to get into this with him. With anyone. So I say, “Thanks. It's nobody in particular.”
“Is it people at school?” Andy presses. “Or, like, online or something?”
“Sure, yeah,” I say quickly.
“Sucks, doesn't it?” Andy says, and his voice has gotten softer. “People calling you names like that.”
“You could say that.” I stop and consider for a second. “Is that what happened to you? I mean, people talking shit?”
happened,” Andy says. “But is that what parked me
at the top of a hill overlooking the city? No, not exactly. I'm not
big of a nancy.”
“Okay,” I say carefully, and peek through my blinds, as if Noah could've gotten here in two minutes. “So what, then? How'd you end upâhere?”
Andy is silent. And a heartbeat later that silence is filled by three thumps on my door.
“Crap, hold on,” I say quickly into the phone, and go open the door.
Jack stands there with the laptop resting on his upturned arm. He flips it toward me, showing the chat window with Noah that I, of course, did not close. Like I said, I'm not a fast thinker.
“What the hell is this?” Jack says, turning the screen back toward himself, scowling and underlit by the white light from his screen.
“I tried to tell you,” I say in a harsh whisper, and then remember to hit the mute button on my phone. “You didn't care.”
“You mean someone really called you to say they were going to commit suicide?”
“Yes! I told you that.”
“And they're not kidding?”
“Oh, gee, Jack, I never thought of that, let me ask him.”
Jack considers this for a moment. It's long enough for me to realize that this is the most we've talked in a month. Ever since Dad told him they might have to raid his college account to pay for Mr. Halpern if my account isn't enough.
“You think he means it,” Jack says finally, as if my sarcasm was totally lost on him. Maybe it was.
I lean against my door frame. “I don't know,” I say. “Probably not. I mean, what are the chances, right?”
Jack snorts, and, very quickly, a look of pure disgust passes over his face. It makes my heart shrivel.
“But so far, he sounds for real,” I go on. “I don't know.”
“Where is he?”
“Some hill. Outside. One of the mountains, I guess, on a highway I think. I heard one of those tractor-trailer horns going by.”
“That's all you got?”
“Yeah. Jack, please, you've got to help me. If something happens, if he's really serious and something bad happens, and he has my number on his cellÂ .Â .Â .”
“How'd he get your number?”
“Says he dialed it randomly.”
“You believe that?”
“Not exactly. But I don't have any choice.”
Jack snorts again. “You got that right.” Suddenly Jack shakes his head and backs off. “Well, good luck,” he says.
“Wait!” I whisper-screech. “Can't you at least let me borrow your laptop?”
“Come on! At least let me look up his number!”
Jack shakes his head again, melodramatically walking backward down the hall toward his door. “No,” he repeats. “This is your mess, Vic. Maybe you should figure a way out of it. Or maybe try, I dunno, helping the guy out. Be a nice change of pace.”
“I can help him if you let me use your laptop, dumb-ass!” I say, following him into the hallway.
“Right, because I have satellite-imaging capabilities and just so happened to plant a tracking device on this guy too. Brilliant.”
“I can at least look up his number and see if it matches the name he gave me,” I say. “That way if he's lying, I can go to sleep.”
“And that helps
I clench about three dozen fists. “Goddammit, Jack!”
“It's still all about you, isn't it?” Jack says. “Jesus, Vic. Why can't you just assume he's for real? Why can't you just offer to listen or to talk him down, or whatever needs to be done?”
I'm on fucking trial
, Jack,” I whisper, and it sounds demonic.
He's not impressed. I never could scare him. “All the more reason to stick with him, even if he's full of crap,” Jack says. “If it's a sick joke, you lose a little sleep. If it's not, maybe you canâ”
He cuts himself off, snapping his mouth closed. I peer at him in the dark hallway, trembling at the many, many ways that sentence might end.
“Maybe I can what?”
My big brother stares at me. For a long time. Then he snorts and shakes his head. “My computer can't help you help him,” Jack says. “You're gonna have to do that on your own. If you want to.”
“If I want to?” I say. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, now suddenly you don't remember Jack
-Berger? Krakatoa? Cystâ”
These are all names Jack got called during the worst of his acne. I interrupt him. “What does any of that have to do with this?”
Jack narrows his eyes. “I was an inconvenience to you last year,” he says. “And that's the only way you could see me. Well, now this guy's inconveniencing
. Oh, snap.”
But Jack's sarcasm flies past me. Or,
“You think that's what I thought about you?” I say. “That you were an inconvenience?”
“If I had a dollar for every time you talked to me at school last year, Victoria,” Jack says, “I'd have about a buck fifty.”
didn't talk to
“If I didn't talk to you, it was because you were too busy with your little jock buddies,” Jack says. “And look what hanging out with
Trust me: If I could call Jack a liar right now, I would. In an instant. I have no trouble telling him when he's full of it. What I've never been very good at, though, is refuting him when he's telling the truth.
Jack doesn't give me time to form a response. “Better get back to your call,” he says, and continues on toward his room.
I shake my head to snap back to my immediate issue. “At least let me Google the number, Jack. Please?”
Jack pauses, then turns to me, gritting his teeth. “Gimme the phone.”
I go grab it and show him the screen. He types the number in while the laptop is still balanced on his arm. He scans the page.
“Nothing,” he says. “It's a cell, and it's local. If you want to know who it is, you'd need a credit card.”
“No. It doesn't
,” Jack says, clearly impatient. “Knowing if he is who he says he is doesn't help
. Look, just stay up with him. All night if you have to. Things will look better when the sun comes up.”
“But the hearingÂ .Â .Â .”
“Somehow I'm sure Mom and Dad will make sure you're there on time. I gotta get back to work.”
“Are you coming tomorrow?” I blurt.
Jack hesitates, and doesn't look at me.
“I don't know,” he mumbles.
With that, he finishes his walk to his room and closes the door behind him.
Feeling my body go empty, I go back to my room and close my door too, and put the phone back to my ear. I've got to get my head back in the game. Basically, Jack is right; whether
Andy is lying or not has nothing to do with him and everything to do with me. I want to sleep just so I don't look like a burnout tomorrow morning in court. Right now, this is more important.
“Sorry,” I say to Andy after tapping the mute button off. “It was my brother again.” I try to erase Jack's voice playing on repeat in my head.
I don't know. I don't know.
“It's okay,” Andy says, and he sounds tired. “No big. You love him?”
“Who, Jack? My brother?” I sit down on the edge of my bed and hunch my shoulders. “Now is maybe not the best time to ask. I mean, fundamentally, yes. I do. It's just that lately he's been a real bitch.”
The real reasons spring to mind, but I'm not about to talk to Andy about them. And without stopping to consider why I'm telling him anything at all, I say, “Some of my friends used to make fun of him a little, and he thinks it's my fault or something.”