Authors: Laura Langston
Amy steps up on the curb and turns left. The woman in the puffy red jacket waits until all the kids are on the sidewalk before bringing up the rear.
I swallow the lump in my throat and blink back my tears. Then I check my side mirror. And that's when I see it. A flutter of movement. A flash of black hair.
I blink and it's gone.
My hands are shaking. I clutch the steering wheel to keep them still, slowly step on the gas. I'm not imagining things. And I'm not crazy either. It's Logan. He's pissed. He's haunting me.
And I deserve it.
I can't eat dinner.
“Roast beef is your favorite,” Mom says as she glances at my still-full plate. Becky's almost done. Cam and Becky's boyfriend, Russ, are already on seconds. “What's wrong?”
What's not wrong? “Ray brought in burgers and it was kinda late.” True, except I couldn't eat them.
Mom eyes me too closely. “I swear you're losing weight. Maybe you should see the doctor.”
What am I going to tell him? That my dead buddy is haunting me? I don't think so.
I force myself to eat a little, though Mom gives me another weird look when I turn down pie. I never turn down pie. Especially not apple.
After I help with the clean up, I park myself in front of the tv with Becky and Russ, suffering through a bunch of reality shows about hoarders and baby beauty contestants and women who didn't know they were pregnant.
There are worse things than not knowing you're pregnant, I decide as I watch them wheel a woman into the operating room. Worse things than losing a car too. Like losing a brother or a son. Like losing a best friend. Seeing Amy reminded me of that. But it also reminded me that my car is my protection. My safety net. I can't lose it. It's the only thing I have left. The only thing that makes me, me.
Eventually Russ and Cam leave and Mom reminds us that it's a school night, so I have no choice but to head upstairs. I boot up the computer and ignore the prickle that's been tickling the back of my neck since I saw Logan in the crosswalk. Then I do what I always do when I need a distraction: I drive.
Within minutes, I'm screaming through the make-believe streets of Bayview in a red Lamborghini, shooting past hidden hideouts, coming face-to-face with unexpected challengers. I'm totally there, totally present, not thinking of Logan or Amy or my problem with Ray. I'm in control. And the way things are going lately, it's a relief to be in control of something.
Several hours and a couple of successful races later, I'm in the black by thousands of dollars. Too bad real life isn't as simple as
Need for Speed 2.
I shut things down and crawl into bed. Too bad I can't turn Logan off like I turn off the computer.
I can't. And I don't. In fact, I dream of him. We're playing basketball on the school court. He is beating me. We're both laughing. Then he turns serious, deadly. He lunges for my neck and squeezes. I see Drew and Blair and Lucas in the distance. I open my mouth to yell for them but I can't breathe, never mind talk. They don't knowâ¦they aren't helpingâ¦and then Logan turns into Ray andâ¦
I jerk awake, bolt up in bed, gasp for air. It was a dream, just a dream.
But the smell of cherry Twizzlers almost chokes me.
Heart thudding, I gulp in deep breaths and stare around my bedroom. I'm searching out familiar shapes in the darkness, praying I don't see
. There's my desk, the computer, the mess of clothes I dropped on the floor a few hours ago. They're all where they're supposed to be.
wasn't. But it sure felt real. Especially when Logan turned into Ray and when the guys ignored me.
I lie back down and pull the covers almost over my head. They would have come if I'd been able to yell. That's what friends do. They help. I'll talk to them tomorrow. Tell them about Ray. Together we'll come up with a plan. I focus on that thought instead of the smell of cherry Twizzlers wafting through my bedroom.
I get to school early the next morning, but I can't find the guys. I strike out between first and second class too. After math I see Blair talking to Kate and I'm tempted to interrupt, but then I catch the warning in his eyes and keep on going.
My luck turns at lunch when I find them in the weight room. Blair's doing leg presses, Drew is doing a series of curls and squats with dumbbells and Lucas is goofing around with a ball.
I straddle the weight bench beside Blair. “You know how you want to get your front end lowered?”
He does another leg press and grunts.
I take that as a yes. “I need you to get your car in to Ray this week.”
He grunts again and keeps on pressing.
Blair stops mid-press. The leg press smashes back to home. “Why are you bugging me about this now?” He grabs a towel, wipes a trickle of sweat from his forehead. “I'm trying to work out. Or did you miss that part?”
“Ray's threatening to take away my car,” I blurt.
“Holy shit.” Lucas stops bouncing.
Drew's dumbbell stops midway to his shoulder. “You're kidding, right?”
“I wish.” I jump from the bench, grab a seven-pound hand weight, flip it nervously between my palms. “Ray says if I don't get him five grand in cash or bring in sixty-five hundred dollars' worth of work by Friday, he's taking the Acura.”
“He can't do that,” Drew says flatly. “That's illegal.”
“I owe him twenty grand for the rebuild.”
“Are you making payments?”
“Then he can,” Lucas says.
Luc's mom is a lawyer. I'm betting he's right.
“I can't lose my car.”
“Why not?” Blair says. “It's not like you're racing it.”
Lucas tries not to laugh and ends up snorting.
“It's my wheels. Cut out my heart, why don't you?” They won't meet my eyes. Not even Drew. Of course, he's probably embarrassed because he doesn't have a car to defend. “How would you like it if someone took your car?”
A weighty silence falls. Luc and Blair look at each other. Drew stares at his feet.
“What can we do?” Blair finally asks.
“You can get your car in this week.”
“I can't.” Blair holds up his hands when I start to speak. “I'm sorry, okay? Really. But my brother has this big Christmas gift idea for the parents and I told him I'd kick in some cash. I can't do my car until after the holidays.”
“There must be guys you know who need work done. Can't you ask around?”
“For sure,” Drew says.
“Today,” Blair adds.
But ever-practical Lucas says, “It's a long shot. You know that, right?”
“Of course I know that. But I'm desperate. Tell them they'll get a great price. Tell them what a good mechanic Ray is.”
Blair gulps from his water bottle. “Even if he is a jerk.” He wipes his mouth.
“It's gonna be a hard sell,” Lucas says. “Guys are still hot on the new mechanic in Everett. Not so much on Ray these days.”
“He did a good job on Luc's trannie,” I remind them. “And he did a total rebuild of my Acura.”
“Yeah, exceptâ¦” Luc's voice trails away.
Who knows how it's performing
. I know exactly what he was going to say.
Blair returns his dumbbells to the rack. “You have anything hanging around your house you can sell? My grandmother sold a couple of old paintings and made over three grand.”
“You should look in your basement,” Drew says. “You never know what you'll find. We made twelve hundred bucks in a garage sale last summer.”
Luc scowls. “He doesn't have time for a garage sale. It's Monday. Ray wants the cash by Friday.”
“Who said anything about a garage sale, dweeb?” Drew turns to me. “Hey, it was just an idea. Secondhand stores buy stuff all the time.”
“It's a good idea. Anything helps.” I return the hand weights to the rack, mentally review the contents of my basement. I'm sure there's a box of old ski equipment down there. Piles of books. “I'll have a look.”
Blair unfolds himself from the weight machine. “We'll get on it right away,” he says as he heads for the door. “There's no way we can let a prick like Ray take your car from you.”
“No way,” Drew and Lucas echo.
As I follow them into the hall, I'm almost grateful for my nightmare. And I'm certainly grateful for my friends.
That afternoon, Hannah hits me with a bomb. And she does it in senior seminar.
“ I saw Amy on Friday, ” she whispers.
And I saw her yesterday. Nausea turns my stomach inside out. But I don't want to talk about her. I'd rather talk about the assignment Lansky has given us. Ten minutes to write two paragraphs on who we'd like to have as a mentor in our second semester. “I know. You took her to a show.”
I frown at my paper, pretending to be thinking hard. I've written Ray's name down, with a big question mark. Hannah, I note out of the corner of my eye, has finished her two paragraphs.
“She's doing okay,” she adds.
How okay can she be? She's lost her big brother forever.
Hannah fiddles with her pencil. “She asked about you.”
Sweat beads on my forehead . “Right.” I don't want to know. I cross out Ray's name and write down Cam instead. He's a bus driver. Probably not the kind of mentor Lansky has in mind, but Cam's honest and he's smart.
“She wants me to ask you to come to Logan's party.”
My head jerks up. “Logan's party?” Lansky is staring in our direction. I lower my voice. “What party?”
“Logan would have turned eighteen in December.” She taps her pencil lightly against her desk. “Amy wants to hold a party for him.”
Another roll of nausea. This one makes me full-on queasy. Maybe I'm coming down with the flu. Or maybe I'm sick with guilt. “You're kidding, right?”
“No.” Hannah shakes her head. “She's having a party. Her parents have said it's okay. Amy wants you to come. They all do.”
My heart skips a beat. Like I believe that. Not. “Logan's dead. A party's a dumb idea.”
“Maybe, but they're having one and Amy wants you there.”
She might want me there, but for sure her parents don't.
“What should I tell her?”
“Tell her no.”
“You won't go?”
“I won't go.”
Hannah puts her pencil down. “Why not?”
“I just can't.”
A veil of disappointment falls over her face. “Please?”
“No.” It was bad enough seeing her on the street when I was inside my steel safety net. I can't walk into Logan's house and see her there. See his parents. I can't take another reminder of what I did.
“I'll be there too,” she adds.
And that's supposed to help? Logan was Hannah's boyfriend. I don't need a reminder of that either. I shake my head.
She turns away, but not before I glimpse the flicker of disgust in her eyes.
Lansky stops me after class. First I think it's because Hannah and I were talking too much. Then I think it's because he's seen that my assignment is incomplete. As I brace myself for another lecture, he says, “I went over the self-assessment sheets you finished Friday. I see you've picked a direction. You want to be a licensed mechanic.”
Now it's coming, I think. The lecture. The reminder that I could do better.
“So I dug up some information for you.”
He holds out some brochures. Lansky's helping me? He's barely been civil since Logan died.
He flaps the papers. “Inside you'll find some of the technical colleges that offer the courses you'll need to become a licensed mechanic. It appears the two best contenders are Renton Tech or Bellingham Tech.”
Realizing this isn't some kind of joke, I take the material. His fingers are squat, like him, but his nails are perfect rectangles, and shiny. Lansky gets manicures? It's just one surprise on top of another.
“Don't look so shocked, Mr. Shields.” He says my name like he's calling me
. “It's my job. I'm paid to find this stuff out.”
I guess civility is too much to expect. “Thanks.”
He reaches for his briefcase, gathers up his papers.
“I, uh, I'm thinking of becoming an apprentice.” I'm not sure why I'm telling him this. Maybe he'll know someone? Maybe I want him on my side when I tell Mom? Maybe both.
“Look at Renton then. They have an apprenticeship program.” He grabs his brown blazer from the back of his chair. “There are lots of opportunities out there for you.” His bulbous blue eyes fasten on my face. “As long as you don't screw up.”
, he is thinking. I can read his mind. “And are willing to work hard.”