Fire with Fire
CHAPTER ONE MARY
WHEN THE MONDAY MORNING SUN streams through my window, something tells me to get out of bed instead of rolling over toward the wall like I’ve been doing for the past week. I’ve known I should go back to school for a while, but I couldn’t quite muster up the energy to make it happen. So I stayed in bed.
But today feels different. I’m not sure why. It’s just a feeling I have. Like I need to be there.
I braid my hair and put on my corduroy jumper, a button-up shirt, and a cardigan sweater. I’m nervous about seeing
Reeve; I’m nervous about . . . something bad happening again. And then there’s all the schoolwork I’ve missed. I haven’t even tried to keep up with my assignments. My books, all my notebooks, have stayed zipped away in my backpack, untouched, in the corner of my room. I pick it up by one strap and hoist it over my shoulder. I can’t worry about how I’ll catch up right now. I’ll figure something out.
But when I put my hand on my doorknob and try to turn it, it won’t budge.
This happens in our house. Especially in the summer, when the wood swells up with the humidity. The doors are original and the hardware is too. It’s a big glass doorknob with a brass metal plate and room for a skeleton key. You can’t even buy that kind of thing anymore.
It usually takes a little jiggling to get it to work, but I try that and it still won’t move.
“Aunt Bette?” I call out. “Aunt Bette?”
I give the door another try. This time a much harder shake. And then I start to panic. “Aunt Bette! Help!”
Finally I hear her coming up the stairs.
“Something’s wrong with the door!” I shout. “It won’t open.” I give it another shake, to show her. And then, when I don’t hear anything happen on the other side, I sink down to my knees and look through the keyhole, to make sure she’s still
standing out there. She is. I can see her long, crinkly maroon skirt. “Aunt Bette! Please!”
Finally Aunt Bette springs into action. I hear her struggle with my door on her side for a second, and then it swings open.
“Thank goodness,” I say, relieved. I’m about to step into the hallway when I spot some stuff on the floor. It looks like white sand, or a chalk of some kind. To the left I can see it was laid in a thin, perfect line, but directly in front of my door it’s been totally messed up by Aunt Bette’s footprints.
What in the world?
I think about stooping over and touching it, but I’m a little spooked.
Aunt Bette has always been into weird things, like smudgings and crystals and channeling different energies. She used to always bring back trinkets and lucky charms whenever she went overseas. I know that stuff is all harmless, but I point down at the chalk and say, “What is that stuff?”
Aunt Bette looks up guiltily. “It’s nothing. I—I’ll clean it up.”
I nod, like Okay, sure, while stepping past her. “I’ll see you in a few hours.”
“Wait,” she says urgently. “Where are you going?”
I sigh. “To school.”
With a thin, frayed voice she says, “It’s better if you stay home.”
All right. I haven’t had the easiest week. I know that. I’ve done a lot of moping around the house, a lot of crying. But it’s not like Aunt Bette’s been doing so hot either. She hasn’t been sleeping much. I hear her in her room at night, puttering around, sighing to herself. She hardly ever goes outside. And she’s not painting much anymore, which might be the most worrisome thing of all. When Aunt Bette paints, she’s happy, simple as that. It’ll be good if I get out of her hair for the day. Give us both some space.
“I can’t stay in the house forever.” I have to follow my gut. Something inside me is telling me to go. “I’m going to school today,” I say again. This time without smiling. And I walk straight down the stairs, without waiting for her permission.
* * *
By the time I reach the bike rack at Jar Island High, the sun has disappeared, leaving the sky cold and wispy. The parking lot is empty, except for a few teachers and the electrician vans. Our school is being completely rewired after the homecoming incident. It looks like they’ve hired every electrician on the island, men working around the clock to get it done.
I’m glad to be here early, before most of the other students. I need to ease myself back into this carefully.
To my surprise, Lillia runs up beside me. She has her jacket
zipped up tight and the hood over her head. Every day it’s getting colder.
“Hey,” I say shyly, and lock up my bike. It’s the first time we’ve seen each other since homecoming. “You’re here early.”
“Oh my gosh, I’m so glad to see you, Mary.” When I don’t answer right away, she frowns and says, “Are you mad at me or something? You haven’t called; you haven’t reached out. I looked up your aunt’s number in the phone book and tried calling, but nobody picked up. And Kat’s stopped by your house a few times, but no one’s answered the door.”
I guess it was stupid to think Lillia and Kat wouldn’t notice that I’ve been avoiding them. But I haven’t wanted to see anyone from school. It’s nothing personal. “Sorry,” I say. “It’s just been . . . a lot.”
“It’s okay. I get it. And things have been so crazy; it’s probably good that the three of us are lying low.” She says it, but she still sounds sad. “Hey, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but Reeve’s coming back to school today.”
I have a hard time swallowing. Is this why I had the feeling that I needed to be here? Because Reeve was coming back too?
“How is he? I read in the paper his leg is broken.”
Lilia presses her lips together and then says, “He’s okay. But I think he’s out for the rest of the season.” I guess she sees something in my face, because she quickly shakes her head.
“Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be fine.” She walks backward, away from me. “Let’s talk later, okay? I miss you.”
Reeve’s broken. I broke him.
I got what I wanted.
He’ll be arriving soon. I speed walk into school. Almost every classroom has big, gaping holes sawed into the walls, for the electrical work. I need to be careful where I walk or else I’ll trip on bundles of new wires running along the hallway floors.
I go into homeroom and take a seat on the radiator by the window, with the skirt of my corduroy jumper tucked underneath me. I leave a textbook open in my lap. I’m not studying. I don’t look down at the pages once. I peer through my hair and watch the parking lot as it fills up with students.
The temperature dipped down past the freezing mark for the first time this weekend, and I guess the janitors didn’t waste any time shutting the courtyard fountain off. It’s only the smokers and the cross-country runners who can handle the cold. Everyone else is hustling inside.
I pick up the sound of bass thumping through the window. Alex’s SUV pulls into the school driveway. He parks in the handicapped spot, close to the walkway. Alex gets out, walks around the front of the car, and opens the passenger door.
Everyone in the courtyard turns to look. They must know he’s coming back today too.
Reeve plants his good leg on the ground. He’s wearing mesh basketball shorts and a JAR ISLAND FOOTBALL hoodie. Alex extends his hand, but Reeve ignores it, holds on to the door, and swings his other leg out. A white plaster cast stretches from his upper thigh all the way down to his toes.
Reeve balances on one foot while Alex gets his crutches out from the trunk. Rennie hops out of the backseat. She grabs Reeve’s backpack from the passenger-side seat. Reeve motions like he wants to carry his stuff himself, but Rennie shakes her head, swishing her ponytail from side to side. He gives up and starts hobbling toward school as fast as he can with his crutches, which is pretty fast, actually. He leaves his friends trailing behind him.
A couple of kids rush up to Reeve, smile, and say hello. But everyone’s staring at his leg. One guy tries to crouch down with a pen, so he can sign the cast. Reeve doesn’t stop. He lowers his head, pretends not to notice them, and keeps going.
It’s just like always. Everyone wants a piece of Reeve. Most of them will never get it.
But I had it once.