Mary stood at her locker, sorting through her textbooks. It was TAB, ‘Take-A-Break’, a fifteen-minute break between first and second period. Students milled around the halls, not having to be anywhere. Rachel had disappeared at the beginning of TAB. She’d made Mary swear to alibi her if anyone asked. Mary prayed that her best friend wasn’t spiking Vicky’s shampoo with hair remover. Not because she didn’t want Vicky to lose all of her hair, but because Mary knew that somehow she would end up with the ISS.
"Hey there, deserter.”
Startled, Mary fumbled her book, and it clattered to the bottom of the locker.
She turned to look at Cy. He flashed a smile at her and leaned on the locker next to hers. Mary’s mind whirled as she took in the fact that he was there, talking to her, and seemed happy to see her. Her brain was having difficulty believing all of this, but she was kind of happy to see him too. Then she analyzed what he’d said. It didn’t make much sense. "What?”
He crossed his arms and stared back at her. “You know yesterday, after English, when Vicky came up and began trying to talk to me. Emphasis on the try. You left me trapped with her. Whatever happened to leave no man behind?”
Mary ducked her head. She did feel a little guilty for ditching him now. “I thought you might want to talk to her.” She ran her hand over the stack of books in the locker as she tried to remember what class she had next. She’d known a moment ago.
“Really? I think if given the choice I’d rather have a root canal without the anesthesia.”
She smirked at that. Cy had figured out how to get quickly into her good graces: Bash Vicky. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye and saw him grin at her again. He had a nice smile. She liked that he smiled at her, but she was worried about how much she liked it. She fixed her eyes back on her locker. From the bottom, she pulled her Latin book out. She scrunched her brow. She had Latin next, right? She did take Latin, didn’t she? If she didn’t, what was she doing with this book? Was this what happened to her classmates?
“So how’d you get away?” she asked.
“I told her I had to fill out some paperwork because I’m a new student, and it would take like an hour before I was done, and not even she is that tenacious, so she left. I tried to find you, but you’d vanished.”
“Why’d you want to catch up with me?”
“I thought since you were like the first person I’d met here, and we have a class together, and you seemed fun that--”
This had gone on long enough. Mary shoved the Latin book into her bag, not caring if it weren’t her next class. She turned and looked him in the eye. “You are so mistaken.”
“About me being fun.”
“We made each other laugh yesterday.”
“I wasn’t myself,” she muttered.
He laughed at that.
She looked him in the eye. “You really think I’m fun?”
He grinned. “Yeah, I do. May I hang out with you? Is there a formal application process? I have excellent references.”
She averted her eyes. “Thanks, but trust me, you don’t want to be associated with me.” She turned to go to class.
Cy caught her arm. “Hey, I don’t care what Vicky and them say. Don’t worry about them. Do you want to come over to my house this Saturday? We could hang out and watch movies.”
“And miss the welcome back dance?” She pointed at the hot pink flier on the wall.
“You’re going?” he asked in surprise.
“Well, I was in the mood for a lynching, but I guess watching movies could be cool,” she said.
“Great.” He gave her another grin and turned down the hall. Mary turned the opposite way and stopped. Where was her Latin class?
At lunch, Mary sat out on the front school lawn, waiting for Rachel to join her. She had her Latin book out and was trying to conjugate a few verbs. She did take Latin, only during third period. Luckily, she’d remembered that right before she went into the classroom.
Two shadows fell across her book.
“Hey Mary, look who I ran into on the way out here,” Rachel said. She looked up and found that the second shadow belonged to Cy. Mary saw it in Rachel’s eyes. If she couldn’t pry the details out of her, Rachel would get the details from the source. She dropped to the ground beside her and started rummaging in her book bag for her lunch, leaving Mary still staring up at Cy.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hey,” Mary said back, but her ‘hey’ didn’t sound casual and friendly like his. Hers sounded like, ‘Hey, don’t do that!’
“Is it all right if I sit with you?” he asked.
"You didn’t ask yesterday,” she said and winced. Geez, now she sounded tetchy. “I mean, it’s okay. You can sit with us if you want. Please.” She almost winced again. From tetchy to needy in less than five seconds, that had to be a record somewhere.
“Thanks.” He smiled and sat down by her.
“So what’s up?” Rachel demanded, taking a voracious bite out of her peanut butter and banana sandwich.
Still nervous about Cy’s presence, Mary was startled by the question. “No-thing,” she stuttered. She ducked her head and occupied herself with her lunch.
For ten minutes, they all ate silently. Rachel was busy doing her best tennis fan impression with her eyes darting back and forth between Cy and Mary. Mary made a face at her when Rachel’s eyes jumped back to Mary for the fifth time. Rachel laughed and almost choked on her sandwich. Cy pounded her back and asked Rachel if she were all right. Mary made no move to help. When Rachel recovered, she said, “Okay, I’ll start. How do you like Eastern Snyder High so far, Cy?”
“It’s all right. This school’s about the same as my old school.”
“So why’d you move here?” Rachel asked in full interview mode.
“My dad’s work. He got promoted, but the promotion also came with an address change.”
“Must’ve sucked to have to get up and move,” she said.
“It seemed that way at the time, but I’m beginning to see the upside.” Mary saw the glance he gave her while he said that and bent her head to hide her blush. Rachel saw it too and grinned.
“So do you have any brothers or sisters?”
He nodded. “Yeah, one older brother.”
“How much older?” Double dates were already dancing in Rachel’s eyes.
"A year, but I wish it were ten, then maybe he’d be living somewhere else.”
Her eyes fell. “Yeah well, like they say, you can’t choose your family. Take me for example. Do you really think that I’d have chosen a legal eagle with a surgically implanted stick up his butt for a father? If I’d had a choice, Jerry Garcia would’ve been first, second would’ve been Bono.”
“I thought you wanted to marry Bono,” Mary said.
“I do, but he could adopt me for the meantime while scientists work on a youth restoring pill, and once that’s discovered, he could take that, and then he could confess his undying love for me.”
Mary grimaced. “Too Woody Allen.”
“That’s because it was Woody Allen. I mean, the man looks like a total pedophile.”
“But the public would judge you and Bono differently?” he asked in a slightly confused tone.
Rachel gave him a shocked look, amazed that he wasn’t on her wavelength. “Totally, everyone judges rock stars on a more liberal level.”
“Ooh.” Cy caught Mary’s eye, and they both started laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Nothing,” Cy said.
“Tell me,” Rachel demanded and hit Mary’s leg.
Mary turned her head to wipe her watering eyes. She saw something headed their way that squelched her laughter.
Rachel looked over her shoulder to see what had caught her attention. “Uh oh, cheerleader incoming. Everyone prepare for imminent impact.”
“Huh?” Cy turned to look.
“Well, there you are, Cyrus,” Vicky said coming to stand over the trio. She bestowed a flash bulb ready smile upon him.
“What’s up, Vicky?” He asked, looking up at her, but he didn’t return the smile.
“I just wanted to personally invite you to the Welcome Back Dance. I was on the decorating committee. It will be great. I know you’re new, but you are very welcome to come,” she told him, excluding Rachel and Mary.
“Fine.” Cy returned to his lunch.
“Is that a yes?”
“No,” he said, trying to eat his sandwich.
“So what is it?” she asked. She tilted her head to the side like an inquisitive bird trying to understand some strange sound or maybe a bird looking down a hole at the earthworm it wanted to yank up and gobble whole.
“Fine, you’ve invited me. Thanks, but I can’t make it,” he said.
“Oh come on, your brother said that he’s coming. You two can like ride together.”
“I’m glad that he’s going,” he muttered.
“Maybe we can talk about this later.” She turned away to leave. Cy shot her a dark glare.
“Hey Vicky,” Rachel called, “I’m sorry too, but I can’t make it either. I gotta be in Aspen this weekend. You understand, right?”
“So what?” she said. Her voice dripped with disdain.
“Oh, I just want to be a part of the rejection. Buh-bye,” she said giving her the beauty queen parade wave.
Vicky walked away grumbling about outpatients.
Rachel dropped her hand and stared daggers into Vicky’s diminishing back. “Mary, are you sure your grandma doesn’t do voodoo?”
“Yeah, but I got some books,” she replied as she glowered at Vicky’s diminishing back too.
Rachel rubbed her hands together. “I feel a study party coming on.”
Mary jumped. She’d forgotten that Cy was there. He didn’t know about her grandma or her for that matter. Her eyes slid to him. “Uh, my grandma’s a fortuneteller, so I’m sort of into all that new age stuff, you know, because it’s like a family thing.”
He looked like he was absorbing this.
“What? No, it just explains some things.” He took a contemplative bite from his sandwich. She could just imagine what it explained. Who knew what he’d heard about her around school and from Vicky in particular.
Mary chewed on her nails as she sat in her usual seat in sixth period. She kept telling herself that she wasn’t nervous. So a boy had asked her over to his house, no big deal. It didn’t matter at all. He was just a guy from school. They would watch movies. There was nothing to get excited about. Anyway, he was probably going to uninvite her after what he’d found out at lunch.
Vicky came in and looked at Mary sitting in the back. Mary dropped her hands to her lap. In a condescendingly sweet tone, Vicky said, “Look everybody, Scary Mary is waiting for her new friend Cy. Isn’t that cute?” Everyone turned to look at Mary either openly or in hidden glances. Mary did not like the attention but ground her teeth and kept her head high. She would not give Vicky the satisfaction of seeing her squirm. Vicky sat down and put her bag in the empty seat next to her to save it for someone. Mary’s shoulders slumped. Vicky was going to try for Cy again.
Cy came in and made his way toward Mary. Vicky leapt up and called to him, “Cy, sit by me today. I need to talk to you.”
He turned to her with a grimace. “Sorry, Vicky, but Mary and I need to talk.”
“You can talk to Mary anytime. I need to talk to you now,” pleaded Vicky.
“Sorry, Vicky,” he said again. Vicky’s face darkened in anger as she sat down in her chair with a huff. Now everyone looked at her openly or in hidden glances, except Mary. Her eyes were glued on Cy. He’d chosen her over the cheerleader again. It was beyond startling.
He sat down beside her and leaned over. “How are you?”
“Fine,” she murmured. She stole a glance at him out of the corner of her eye. He was doing the same. They both smiled.
“So what’d you want to talk about?” she asked.
“I don’t know. How about them Broncos?”
"What sport do they play?”
He smirked. “I forgot that you’re a girl.”
Mary’s back stiffened. “I’m not sure, but I think I’m offended.”
"Sorry. So what do you want to talk about?”
“Why do I have to come up with something? You’re the one who had something to tell me.”
“That was just to get Vicky off my back.”
“So I’m just your handy excuse?”
“No, it’s just that when I look at you, my brain goes blank.”
She raised an eyebrow. “Yeah, right.”
He decided to ham it up even more. “But Mary, the radiance of your smile completely undoes me. One little look from you sends me into fits of rapture. My entire universe hinges on your every whim.”
She turned away and scanned the room.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m looking for another place to sit.”
His hand smacked his chest. “You wound me. All I want to do is worship you.”
“Going to build an altar to me and sacrifice small woodland creatures in my name?”
“Cool. I could get into that.” Cy glanced at her sharply. She grinned back. He shook his head with a chuckle.
"Cy and Mary, could you please turn your attentions to the board, or do I need to separate you two?” Mrs. Myers asked. They’d been talking in low voices while she’d begun class. They both guiltily turned their attention to the blackboard.
When the final bell rang, Mary and Cy dashed out of school and stopped on the lawn to catch their breaths. They’d had to bolt out the door to escape Vicky, who’d looked about ready to tackle Cy to speak to him. When he’d caught his breath, he let out a long sigh. “Vicky doesn’t let up, does she?”
“Not on something she wants,” Mary replied.
“I’m flattered, but I could do without the attention.”
“So could I.”
Cy looked like he wanted to ask her what she meant, but Rachel came bouncing up to them. “Hey guys, enough with the long faces. It’s the weekend. Two days of freedom.”
“Freedom for you. You get to flee to Aspen,” Mary said.
“So you’re really going to Aspen?” Cy asked.
“Yep, my dad’s taking me with him to some conference. He thinks that it’ll keep me out of trouble. Oh, but how little he knows. So while you two losers are kicking your heels without any clue about to what to do, I’ll be speeding down the powdery slopes in Colorado.”
“Rub it in why don’tcha?” Mary said.
“Hey, I’ll think about you, maybe even bring you back a snow ball."
“Mary and I’ll be able to make do without you for two days I think. We’ll rent a few movies like maybe Alive and Touching the Void, and think of you in snowy Aspen,” he said.
“Yeah, Mary’s coming over to watch movies and hang out.”
Rachel turned to Mary with raised eyebrows.
Mary suddenly found her shoes very interesting.
“Yeah, why watch TV at my house when I can do it someplace else?”
“Especially since at home, you can’t share popcorn with anyone,” Rachel said with a sly grin. Cy returned the grin. Mary scowled at both of them. What did they think they were getting at?
Rachel smacked her hands together. “Well, I gotta go home and pack.”
"Have fun,” Mary said.
"Yeah, build a snowman for us,” Cy said.
Rachel waved and headed off, leaving Cy and Mary standing awkwardly together. She remembered that she didn’t have his number or his address and got both from him. He got her info as well. After a few seconds of just staring dumbly at the scrap of paper with his address and number scrawled on it, Mary said to her shoes, “Well, I’ll see you this weekend.”
"Yeah, come over Saturday anytime, and we’ll hang out,” he said.
Then they went their separate ways.
Mary was humming a happy tune as she let herself into the house. She’d started doing it on her walk home. If she’d stopped and thought about it, she would have realized that she’d never hummed on the way home. It was usually dark thoughts and imaginings of revenge. But she wasn’t thinking about humming or having foul thoughts about her classmates. She was thinking about Cy. He was so cool. He didn’t make fun of her, he didn’t act like she was a total reject of society, and he wasn’t afraid of her. It was neat. Rachel was the same way, but she was a girl. Mary smiled to herself. A boy liked her.
She was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she was caught completely off-guard by the tiny cannonball of frenetic energy that hit her in the legs. She fell in a heap. She lay there for a minute blinking. What’d just happened? Her mind quickly figured it out as something began touching her cheeks. It felt disturbingly like licking. She scrambled to her feet.
She came out of her office. Mrs. Polk, who was once again toting Chowder, followed her. Gran took one look at Mary and ushered Mrs. Polk back into her office. Mary could hear her telling the woman that she would only be a few moments and giving her a quartz crystal to meditate with while she waited. When she came back out, she was holding back a smile.
“Are you all right?”
“The ghost dog made me fall again. Are you sure he isn’t a malevolent spirit?”
Gran chuckled. “He seems perfectly friendly to me.”
“He seems to like you.”
She snorted again.
“He scampers off whenever you come into the house. Why don’t you try playing with him while I finish up with Mrs. Polk?”
Mary stared at her slack jawed. She wanted her to play with an invisible dog?
“Here, use this. Mrs. Polk says it was his favorite toy.” She pulled a red, squeaky ball out of a pocket. Mary took the ball reluctantly. Not believing that it would work, she tossed it across the room. It floated back to her in a bobbing fashion and dropped at her feet. She scowled at her feet. She did not want to play with the ghost dog, but Gran had already retreated to her office. She picked up the ball. She couldn’t believe she was doing this. She tossed the ball again.
Really, the dog didn’t annoy her that much. As ghosts went, he seemed innocuous, but still, he was a ghost. If anyone had come upon her, they would have freaked out. There she was throwing a ball, and it was floating back to her.
She had to get used to this sort of thing from an early age. She’d had the ability to hear ghosts since she was born, but she hadn’t been aware of it until she was five. It was normal for kids to have invisible friends, but not invisible dead friends. When she’d told her schoolmates about these ‘friends’, they’d run screaming for the teacher. She’d realized very quickly that no one else heard the rich, chuckling voice of the late elementary school principal admonishing students not to run in the halls or the requests from the little boy named Henry who wanted to play hide-and-go-seek in the park. She’d learned quickly that she had to keep mum about what she heard. The only person she could tell was her grandmother. Other people just didn’t want to hear it.
She threw the ball across the room for Chowder and listened to his invisible paws click across the hardwood floor. She wondered what he did when he was home with Mrs. Polk. He probably stayed dormant or something. She wasn’t sure why, but ghosts tended to perk up when she was around. Gran had theorized that her aura strengthened them or made their presences more pronounced on this plane. Meaning Mary was like some sort of walking amplifier for them. Mary didn’t like that theory because it meant that she didn’t just hear the dead, she also helped them even if she didn’t want to.
A car starting behind the house alerted Mary of Mrs. Polk’s departure. She threw the ball one last time, but it lay where it landed. Chowder was gone. If only all of her ghostly encounters were so simple.
Continue to Chapter 5