فصل 13

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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Officer Rodriguez walks with us to the far end of the park, past the Demon Rollercoaster with its blood-red waterfall and the entrance to the Dark Witch Maze. Two girls giggle nervously as a masked attendant hands them each a flashlight. “You’ll need these to navigate the pitch-black lair you’re about to experience,” he intones. “But be careful along your journey. Fear awaits the further you go.” One of the girls examines her flashlight, then shines it on the thatched wall of the maze. “These are going to shut off right when we need them, aren’t they?” she asks.

“Fear awaits the further you go,” the attendant repeats, stepping to one side. A clawed hand shoots out of the wall and makes a grab for the nearest girl, who shrieks and falls back against her friend.

“Gets them every time,” Officer Rodriguez says, lifting the flap to one of the Bloody Big Top tents. “Here’s where I leave you guys. Good luck finding seats.” The bleachers ringing a circular stage are packed, but as Ezra and I scan the crowd we spot Mia waving energetically. “About time!” she says when we reach her. “It’s been hell holding these seats.” Mia stands, picking her coat up from the bench beside her, and Ezra glances down at a small concession stand set up to the left of the stage.

“I’m going to get a drink. You guys want anything?”

“No, I’m good,” I say, and Mia shakes her head. Ezra thuds down the stairs as I squeeze past Mia in the too-small space. It’s not until I sit down that I notice the flash of red hair beside me.

“You certainly like to cut it close,” Viv says. She’s in a green corduroy jacket and jeans, a gauzy yellow scarf looped around her neck. Two other girls sit beside her, each holding steaming Styrofoam cups.

I look at her and then at the stage, where Katrin, Brooke, and the other cheerleaders are lining up. “I thought you were a cheerleader,” I say, confused.

Mia fake-coughs, “Sore point,” as Viv stiffens.

“I don’t have time for cheerleading. I run the school paper.” A note of pride creeps into her voice as she gestures toward the aisle in front of the stage, where a man is setting up an oversized camera. “Channel 5 in Burlington is covering the vandalism story based on my article. They’re getting local color.” I lean forward, intrigued despite myself. “The school’s letting them?” “You can’t stop the free press,” Viv says smugly. She points toward a striking, dark-haired woman standing next to the camera, microphone dangling from one hand. “That’s Meli Dinglasa. She graduated from Echo Ridge ten years ago and went to Columbia’s journalism school.” She says it almost reverently, twisting her scarf until it’s even more artfully draped. Her outfit would look incredible on TV, which I’m starting to think is the point. “I’m applying there early decision. I’m hoping she’ll give me a reference.” On my other side, Mia plucks at my sleeve. “Band’s about to start,” she says. Ezra returns just in time, a bottled water in one hand.

I tear my eyes away from the reporter as dozens of students holding instruments file through the back entrance and array themselves across the stage. I’d been expecting traditional marching band uniforms, but they’re all in black athletic pants and purple T-shirts that read “Echo Ridge High” across the front in white lettering. Malcolm’s in the first row, a set of snare drums draped around his neck.

Percy Gilpin jogs onto the stage in the same purple blazer he wore to the assembly last week, and bounds up to a makeshift podium. He adjusts the microphone and raises both hands in the air as people in the stands start to clap. “Good evening, Echo Ridge! You ready for some serious fall fun? We’ve got a big night planned to support the Echo Ridge Eagles, who are undefeated heading into tomorrow’s game against Solsbury High!” More cheers from the crowd, as Mia executes a slow clap beside me. “Yay.” “Let’s get this party started!” Percy yells. The cheerleaders take center stage in a V-formation, their purple-and-white pom-poms planted firmly on their hips. A small girl steps out from the band’s brass section, squinting against the bright overhead lights. Percy blows a whistle and the girl brings a trombone to her lips.

When the first few notes of “Paradise City” blare out, Ezra and I lean across Mia to exchange surprised grins. Sadie is a Guns N’ Roses fanatic, and we grew up with this song blasting through whatever apartment we were living in. An LED screen at the back of the stage starts flashing football game highlights, and within seconds the entire crowd is on its feet.

About halfway through, as everything’s building to a crescendo, the other drummers stop and Malcolm launches into this fantastic, frenetic solo. His drumsticks move impossibly fast, the muscles in his arms tense with effort, and my hand half lifts to fan myself before I realize what I’m doing. The cheerleaders are in perfect rhythm with the beat, executing a crisp, high-energy routine that ends with Brooke being tossed into the air, ponytail flying, caught by waiting hands just as the song ends and the entire band takes a bow as one.

I’m clapping so hard my palms hurt as Mia catches my eye and grins. “I know, right?” she says. “I lose all my cynicism when the band performs. It’s Echo Ridge’s uniting force.” I accidentally knock into Viv when I sit back down, and she shifts away with a grimace. “There’s not enough room on this bench,” she says sharply, turning to her friends. “I think we might see better further down.” “Bonus,” Mia murmurs as the three of them file out of our row. “We scared Viv away.” A few minutes later, a shadow falls across Viv’s vacated seat. I glance up to see Malcolm in his purple Echo Ridge High T-shirt, minus the drums. “Hey,” he says. “Room for one more?” His hair is tousled and his cheeks flushed, and he looks really, really cute.

“Yeah, of course.” I shift closer to Mia. “You were great,” I add, and he smiles. One of his front teeth is slightly crooked, and it softens the moody look he usually has. I gesture toward the stage, where Coach Gagnon is talking passionately about tradition and giving your all. Photos are still looping on the LED screen behind him. “Will you play an encore?” “Nah, we’re done for the night. It’s football talk time.”

We listen for a few minutes to the coach’s speech. It’s getting repetitive. “What happened six years ago?” I ask. “He keeps bringing it up.” “State championship,” Malcolm says, and then I remember. The yearbook from Lacey’s junior year, filled with pictures of the team’s huge, come-from-behind victory against a much bigger school. And Declan Kelly, being carried on his teammates’ shoulders afterward.

“Oh, that’s right,” I say. “Your brother threw a Hail Mary touchdown with seconds left in the game, didn’t he?” It’s a little weird, maybe, how perfectly I remember a game I never attended, but Malcolm just nods. “That must have been amazing.” Something like reluctant pride flits across Malcolm’s face. “I guess. Declan was bragging for weeks that he was going to win that game. People laughed, but he backed it up.” He runs a hand through his sweat-dampened hair. It shouldn’t be attractive, the way his hair spikes up afterward in uneven tufts, but it is. “He always did.” I can’t tell if it’s just my own nagging suspicions of Declan that make Malcolm’s words sound ominous. “Were you guys close?” I ask. As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I realize I’ve made it sound as though Declan is dead. “Are you close?” I amend.

“No,” Malcolm says, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. His voice is quiet, his eyes on the stage. “Not then, and not now.” Every once in a while, it feels like Malcolm and I are having some kind of sub-conversation that we don’t acknowledge. We’re talking about football and his brother, supposedly, but we’re also talking about before and after. It’s how I think about Sadie—that she was one way before the kind of loss that rips your world apart, and a different version of herself afterward. Even though I didn’t know her until Sarah was long gone, I’m sure it’s true.

I want to ask Malcolm more, but before I can Mia reaches across me and punches him in the arm. “Hey,” she says. “Did you do the thing?” “No,” Malcolm says, avoiding Mia’s gaze. She glances between us and smirks, and I get the distinct feeling that I’m missing something.

“And let’s not forget, after we defeat Solsbury tomorrow—and we will—we’ve got our biggest test of the season with the homecoming game next week,” Coach Gagnon says. Between his perfectly bald head and the shadows cast by the Big Top’s stadium lighting, he looks like an exceptionally enthusiastic alien. “We’re up against Lutheran, our only defeat last year. But that’s not going to happen this time around! Because this time—” A loud popping noise fills my ears, making me jump. The bright lights snap off and the LED screen goes black, then flashes to life again. Static fills the screen, followed by a photo of Lacey in her homecoming crown, smiling at the camera. The crowd gasps, and Malcolm goes rigid beside me.

Then Lacey’s picture rips in two, replaced by three others: Brooke, Katrin, and me. Theirs are class photos, but mine is a candid, with my face half-turned from the camera. A chill inches up my spine as I recognize the hoodie I wore yesterday when Ezra and I walked downtown to meet Malcolm and Mia at Bartley’s.

Somebody was watching us. Following us.

Horror-movie laughter starts spilling from the speakers, literal mua-ha-has that echo through the tent as what looks like thick red liquid drips down the screen, followed by jagged white letters: SOON. When it fades away, the Bloody Big Top is utterly silent. Everyone is frozen, with one exception: Meli Dinglasa from Channel 5. She strides purposefully onto the stage toward Coach Gagnon, with her microphone outstretched and a cameraman at her heels.

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