Loopholes, Chapter 14

(Previous chapters: 1, 2, 3, 4567, 891011, 12, 13.) (And © ©©©©©©© as long as the day.)

 

We all stood there staring stupidly where it had been. “Forget it,” Emily said. “Just: no. I’m getting out of here.”

“That was pretty crazy,” Adam said. “You saw…that, before?”

“Maybe,” I said. “A few of them.” They stared at me. “Just a couple of times.”

“Forget this,” Emily said. “I’m supposed to go to the mall with my whole family. There’s a new Armenian restaurant my mom’s cousin started, but my great-aunt is sick and—wait, why am I even telling you this?” She picked up her bag. “Look, I’ve got to get home, OK? My parents will kill me if they find out I was ever even near detention. Come on, let’s go.” I took out my pig flashlight to lead the way.

“How did you even get down here?” I asked.

“I snuck her out,” Adam said from behind me. “Go straight,” he said to Emily. “I know it down here pretty well.”

I looked over at Emily, amazed. “You snuck out of detention?” Then I shook my head to clear it. “Wait, I know you want to go to the mall or whatever—.”

“I need to see my family,” she snapped.

“But we’re supposed to work together, right?” She didn’t slow down, and I looked back to Adam for confirmation.

Emily kept walking. “Look. Um—no. You guys don’t seem to get my situation. My parents? They’re really strict. You don’t know what it’s like to have parents who are always on you, OK?”

I stared at her, because no one could ever be stupid enough to think they have it worse than you because their dad is strict and yours is dead. Right? “You’re an idiot.”

She stopped then, and glared at me, her heavy dark eyebrows drawn down in a straight line. “I am NOT doing anything with you,” she said. “And you know what? It wouldn’t matter if I was, because I’m not doing anything with him either.”

It’s not like I wanted to do things with her, but having her say she it felt crappy. “Fine.” I said. “I’ll just look with Adam.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” she said.

I looked back at Adam. “Why not?”

She and he exchanged a quick, sharp look and didn’t say anything. Which made me mad. I hate not knowing what’s going on. “What? Are you a bad influence or something?”

He stopped and looked at me, a very direct gaze, like he was looking to see whether I was OK to talk to, and he couldn’t tell. So he just said, “I killed a kid.” Emily gave a big heavy sigh like she wanted to say, duh, you should have known that, and also, now we’re going to be late. And I stopped, because: What?

My skin got hot and cold, and I took a step away from him.

Emily said, “Don’t make a big deal about it.”

“Don’t make a big deal about it? Are you kidding?”

“It’s not like he’s some bloodthirsty murderer or anything,” she said. “But he definitely doesn’t have a good reputation, and if you’re trying to save the world or whatever it is you’re doing, I don’t think it’s a good idea.” She shifted her bag to her other shoulder.

“Wait,” I said. “I don’t understand what you guys mean, I think.”

Adam hesitated, his face flickering in the weak light from the pig. He looked sadder than anyone I ever saw. I let the pig go off, so he could talk in the dark. “OK,” he said. I waited. “There was this kid, Victor Alvarez.” He paused.

“Wait, are you guys making this up to freak me out?” I switched the pig on their faces for a second. They weren’t making it up. I turned it off.

“He was just an annoying kid, is the thing,” Adam went on. “I’m not saying it to excuse myself. I’m saying it to help explain what happened.” I heard him shifting in the dark. “He used to bother me all the time, like a little mosquito, calling me fat, and talking about Yasmin Hargitay.”

“Who’s she?”

“Doesn’t matter,” Emily whispered to me.

“He was a pincher, too—.”

“So you killed him? Like: Bullied kid breaks under the pressure?”

He hissed out a breath. “I just—I hit him one day.”

I waited. It was weird listening in the dark, not knowing what his face looked like. “That’s it?”

“Everyone at school still talks about it,” Emily said.

“He was grabbing at my fat. He always did that, pinching and stuff. And…I got so irritated, is the thing. I just hit him. In the chest. And he died.”

“Wait.” I turned on my little pig light towards the floor so you could see all our sneakers really clearly. “That doesn’t make any sense.” Maybe this was some sort of joke they played on new kids? You can’t kill someone just by hitting them. Right?

“It turned out there was something weird about his heart. I hit him in the heart, and it stopped beating and didn’t start again.”

I felt a surge of relief. “So you didn’t really kill him! He had a bad heart, that’s all.” I laughed, a little nervously. “It was an accident.”

He sighed, and I felt the air in the tunnel eddy towards me. “I hit him on purpose, and it stopped his heart,” he explained to me, almost gently. “If I wouldn’t of hit him, his heart wouldn’t have stopped, right? That’s killing someone.”

“But that’s totally different! You didn’t kill him on purpose. It was just bad luck!”

“Yeah,” he said. “So, do you know what would have happened if I didn’t hit him?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know, what?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing would have happened if I hadn’t hit him.”

“But it wasn’t on purpose.” I switched on the pig light and shined it on his face, like somehow that would show him what I meant.

Adam squinted in the light, and looked at me with this patient, pitying expression, like I didn’t understand anything. “Look. I did the worst thing a person can do. That’s all—I did it, it’s done. You don’t have to tell me that I didn’t do it on purpose. I know that.”

“OK,” I said.

“So look,” Emily said. “I actually really need to go?”

“Right,” I said, like a robot. “OK.” And we started walking again. “So, you know how to get out of here?”

“Yeah,” he said after a moment. We didn’t talk the rest of the way, just walked. I kept catching glimpses of my arms, and each time it seemed more obvious that they really were silvery. I thought about my mom’s grayness, and my grandmother’s.

“Did you guys notice anyone else with glittery arms?” I asked. “Or is it just us?”

“What? No. And I don’t even think that’s a real thing,” Emily said. “It’s an optical illusion or something.”

I turned my pig light on my arms. My skin seemed like it was held together with tiny glowing pieces, like a net, like every other atom or something wasn’t me anymore. “I don’t think this is an optical illusion. Look.” I handed her the pig light, but she ignored it. I couldn’t look at Adam.

“The door,” Adam said.

“What?” I looked where he was pointing, instead of at him.

“The door.” He pointed up. About ten feet up, in the ceiling above us, was a square, shining around the edges with light.

“How do we reach it?” I asked.

He put his flashlight into his backpack and pointed to the wall, where strips of metal were bolted into the wall. A ladder.

“Oh. Ok, then.” I looked up. It did look climbable at least. We were getting out. “So?”

“So go,” Emily said.

I grabbed on to the lowest metal rung. The edges were sharp, but I hauled myself up. When I reached the top I looked down at Adam and Emily standing below me.

“Just push up against it,” Adam called up. “Push really hard. Sometimes it sticks.”

I shoved hard. Nothing.

“Bang it,” Adam called. “Like, with a big strong shove.”

I smacked my whole arm into it, and it burst open. Light and air and warmth came flooding in. I blinked against the brightness.

“Move up!” Emily said, “I’m coming up behind you.”

I scrambled out of the hole and onto the grass. We were in a scrubby little park. There were all the regular park noises: kids, and yelling, and the tinny bouncing of a basketball somewhere.

Emily emerged from the hole, popping up like a prairie dog. She looked different in the light, pale, almost sick. Her eyes were still red but it was her skin that seemed messed up, a sickly silver gray. Which probably meant that mine looked even scarier. We sat on the grass and watched as Adam emerged from the hole, awkward and sweating. Once he got out, he pushed the door down like a lid. The top of it was covered with grass. When it was closed you couldn’t even see that it was there.

Adam looked pale, but not as gray and strange as Emily did. He sat down heavily on the ground. “No one ever notices when you come out of here,” he said to Emily. “You know, just in case you’re worrying about it. I’ve come through there a ton of times and no one’s ever seen me.”

“You guys don’t have to act like I’m crazy just because I don’t want to get caught doing bad things,” Emily said. “I’m not crazy, I just…I just like to do things the right way, that’s all.”

“Like escaping from detention?”

She flushed. “Yeah, well if you escape from detention the right way, no one finds out. And if my parents find out I got detention?” She sort of laughed, except it wasn’t a laugh.

“And wait,” I turned to Adam. “You escape from detention all the time?” I asked him.

“No.” He looked at me. “I escape from other things.”

“Oh.” I nodded. Adam was silent and embarrassed, and it felt almost mean to look at him. He put on his backpack, which was sort of dirty, and nodded like he was agreeing with whatever we said, though we didn’t say anything. If the lizards wanted to get me help, they would have to do a little better than this.

“Yeah,” I said. “So, I need to go.” I grabbed my backpack and started to get up. “Thanks and all.”

“So we’re not going to work together,” Adam said, like already knew it, but just needed to say it out loud.

“I don’t think so.” I needed to find my mom, I needed to get somewhere—like Massachusetts. I tightened my backpack straps.

“Anyway, I have to go to the mall?” Emily said. “My dad—.” I gave her a look, and at least she shut up. “Anyway, my great-aunt is sick and I need to go be with my family.” She stood up and brushed dead grass off her skirt. We stared at each other, and then she ducked her head a little. “Maybe we can talk tomorrow in school,” Emily said, in a completely, I’m-saying anything-so-I-can-get-out-of-here-and-I-actually-won’t-talk-to-you-at-school voice.

“Fine,” I said.

“Look, I didn’t want to have anything to do with you in the first place,” she said.

“I never asked for your help.” I hated my voice for shaking. “And I don’t want it.”

“All you ever do is ask for help,” she said.

“I don’t know,” Adam shook his head. “It seems to me that—.”

“I’m going,” I said. It was still hot, even though it was getting towards late afternoon and the sun was slanting down. “Well, good luck staying out of trouble,” I told Emily. She ignored me. “Do you guys know where the bus station is?”

“Maybe that way?” Adam pointed, and I acted like I understood where he was pointing. I resettled my backpack on my shoulders, and I walked away.

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