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Authors: Andy Behrens

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BOOK: Beauty and the Bully
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She was luminous. She was angelic—like with harps playing and cherubs flitting around. Her perfect brown hair was pulled up in a neat bun. Her perfect white teeth gleamed as she joked with a gaggle of friends. She wore a perfectly snug- fitting yellow T-shirt and perfectly cut-off jeans that suggested, Duncan imagined, other perfect stuff. This didn't happen often, a random Carly encounter outside school. It was to be appreciated. She seemed to move in a kind of slow motion, out of step with the imperfect world around her. Duncan was paralyzed by the sight of her. Somewhere in the far-off rational wing of his mostly Carly-focused brain, a voice echoed.
“You need to take radical action,” it said.
Instead, he stared. His pulse accelerated. The journal slipped from his lap and onto the grass. He didn't reach for it. Carly stood among her friends—all of them subordinate creatures, like handmaids—and seemed to be explaining something to them while gesturing at various objects in the park. They were maybe half a football field away, Duncan thought, based on his limited knowledge of football fields. He couldn't quite hear what Carly was saying amid the playground sounds, but he definitely enjoyed watching her say it. The handmaids listened intently. They each seemed to be carrying a pile of pink flyers. Carly extended her long, perfect arm, then let it sweep across the park in a semicircle, stopping to point at . . .
Duncan emitted an audible gasp, startling a group of nearby pigeons into flight.
Carly seemed to be pointing
directly
at him. He nearly convulsed. An agitated pigeon pooped on Duncan's journal. He failed to notice. He was completely transfixed. It was possible, he thought, that Carly was merely pointing at the statue. Or at the clearing where the lousy bands played. Or maybe beyond the park entirely. But it also seemed possible, just at that instant, that she was pointing specifically at Duncan.
His breathing became quick. He couldn't move. Carly appeared to wave her hand just slightly. Duncan involuntarily waved back—an exaggerated dork-spasm of a wave that elicited a snicker from at least one of the handmaids.
Duncan gasped again, sensing that he'd made a tactical error.
“Oh, crap,” he said. “Crap, crap, crippity-crap. Crap.” You don't gesture back unless you know—unless you stone-cold
know
—that you were the target of the original salutation. “Ack,” said Duncan. “Stupid, stupid, stupid . . .”
Carly leaned her head to the side, evidently taking notice of the jittery boy near the statue for the first time, and not quite knowing who he might be. Duncan bent low, hiding his face, suddenly hoping—desperately—to go unrecognized. “It's never been a problem for her before,” he mumbled. He began to sweat. A lot. He fumbled with the pen in his hand, drumming it nervously on his leg. Then he decided to flee.
Duncan hastily gathered his things and stuffed them into the backpack, again not noticing the pigeon excrement. He didn't dare look up. He needed simply to escape this moment, he'd decided. Flustered, he flung the unzipped backpack over his shoulder.
The Great Gatsby
and two pens flew out, landing in a four-spouted drinking fountain. Duncan retrieved the book and left the pens. He quickly took a drink, hoping to convey just the sort of casualness that he didn't possess.
“You need to take radical action,” repeated the voice in his head. This time, it cruelly ridiculed him.
“I need to leave in a big-ass hurry is what I need,” he answered, still mumbling. “Leave, leave, leave . . .” He was in a full panicked retreat. He thought he heard laughing at the opposite end of Watts Park as he strode away.
“Dammit, dammit, dammit . . .”
He left the park heading entirely the wrong direction. Part of him wished he could just keep moving along that vector, traveling the entire 24,900-mile circumference of the Earth (give or take, as he'd learned in sophomore geography) if necessary in order to ensure that he would absolutely, positively
not
be identified by Carly and her herd. But instead, he merely traveled a block past the park and then reversed course, remaining on the perimeter of Watts at a reasonably safe distance. He looked back periodically to watch Carly, who had moved closer to the statue, continue to describe God-knew-what to the handmaids. She stood in the grass near the apex of the Watts slope, gesticulating with great enthusiasm. Duncan, disgusted at his own pathological ineptitude, ducked his head and walked home.
3
Thwung. Thwung. Thwung. . .
Duncan pounded his head lightly against his metal locker. Number 535, near the computer lab. His eyes were shut. He made no effort to open the locker. He knew everything that was in there, where it sat, and how it got there.
Thwung. Thwung. Thwung . . .
Kinda like a kick drum, he thought.
It was 6:37 a.m. on Thursday, more than an hour before first period. Duncan had arrived at school uncharacteristically early in order to achieve something that was, at least for him, entirely new: he wanted to avoid Carly. He was not quite over the park episode. Carly's locker was directly next to his. Number 533. It smelled vaguely like oranges.
Thwung. Thwung. Thwung . . .
Back in early September, Duncan—acting through intermediaries—had negotiated a series of locker trades in order to situate himself near Carly. At the time he considered this an astonishing coup. In exchange for something like two hundred prestamped hall passes (his mom was a guidance counselor) and copies of Jessie's sophomore year geometry quizzes (she was a math freak), Duncan managed to orchestrate a six-person locker swap, making it appear as if the entire thing had been a plot by several wrestling cheerleaders to move near Albert Trejo, state finalist in the 112-pound weight class. And who suffered because of the locker rearrangement? No one. Certainly not Albert. Not Carly, either. Duncan had hardly spoken to her.
Thwung. Thwung. Thwung . . .
Yup, the park incident was deeply troubling, he thought. A serious setback. Even though it was entirely possible that neither Carly nor her flock identified him as the waver, he decided he was going to lie very low for a while. He'd collect everything he needed for his prelunch classes, then spend the rest of his morning in the resource center. Or in the cafeteria. Or in his car. Or in the woodshop breaking his toes in a vise. Basically, he didn't care where he was, as long as he risked no further embarrassment in front of Carly.
But first, just a bit more ritualized punishment.
Thwung. Thwung. Thwu—
“You know, repetitive head trauma is really bad for you. I read an article.” Duncan's eyes flashed open. He turned and saw Jessie skipping down the second-floor hallway. “That's why soccer players are such goofs. All those balls bouncing off their heads. It's just not good for people. Blunts their young minds. Basically you don't want to hit stuff with your head unless it's absolutely necessary.” She hopped to a stop beside him. “And c'mon, when is it ever really necessary to hit stuff with your head, Duncan? Never.”
He smiled.
“Good morning, sunshine. You're here early.”
“Yup, sure am. I'm beginning my school day just like I'll end it: sitting in detention, carving things on a desk.”
“Detention? Still? Because of the Tater Tot assault on that yearbook chick?”
“No, no. The erotic noises at the volleyball assembly.”
“Oh, right. That was nice. I thought it was pretty hot, actually.”
“Just trying to inspire the team. Go Owls. Hoot.” She shrugged. “Hey, sorry to bail on practice yesterday. I'm kind of a hothead, I guess. And you were kind of . . .”
“. . . pathetic. Totally, unforgivably, girl-obsessed, flagrantly pathetic.”
“Right. That.”
“Yeah, it got worse after you left.”
“It got
worse
? What could you do that was more pathetic? Sing Michael Bolton songs? Make out with a secret inflatable Carly doll? Put on some Mariah Carey and sob deep, womanly sobs?” She pouted, then mockingly stroked his arm. “Poor widdle Dunky-poo.”
“No,”
he said emphatically. “And there is no secret doll. But don't give me any ideas.” He banged his head against the locker again and said, “I went to Watts. Did a little homework. Carly was there. I waved at her—a total geek wave. You should've seen this wave. Unbelievable. God, I'm an idiot.”
“You waved at her.” Jess drummed her fingers against a locker.
“Yeah. Stupid, I know.”
“Um . . . huh? Why was it stupid to wave at her?”
“Dude, this was such a spazzy-ass wave. It's almost indescribable. Totally stupid.”
“I fail to see how any wave, no matter how spazzy, is worse than my hypothetical scenario where you make out with an inflatable doll. Are you really so screwed up over this flakeball that you can't even deal with
not giving her your best wave
?” She stared for a moment. “Look, you know those creepy loner kids who no one ever notices until they stash a bomb under their coat and blow up a lunchroom? Well, to Carly, you're like one of those guys. Before the atrocity.” Duncan gave her a puzzled stare. “Dude, what I'm saying is this: you would literally have to
blow crap up
around here in order to get her to notice you. So don't sweat the park.” She slugged his arm, and not softly. “Later. I've gotta go serve my time.”
Jessie whistled and air-drummed as she bounded off toward wherever it was detentions were served—Duncan, when he broke rules, tended to break them in a more subtle manner than her. His behavioral record was thus far unblemished.
He stood in the silent white-tiled hallway and considered the possibility that—even if Carly and her friends had noticed him at the park—they were over it yesterday. Whatever snickering they did at his expense probably didn't last very long. After all, the significance of Duncan (or Dalton) Boone in the life of Carly Garfield was not quite the same as the signi ficance of Carly Garfield in the life of Duncan Boone. He sighed, leaned against the locker, and allowed himself a small laugh.
Then he heard Carly's unmistakable voice from the stairwell, and the clap of her sandals against the floor. These were unexpected sounds—they were difficult to process. Duncan watched Carly turn down the hallway toward her locker. He admired the swish of her patchwork hippie skirt. He stared for several seconds before a small voice from within stammered, “Oh, crudballs.”
Then the voice demanded to know what the effing F she was doing at school.
Normally, prior to six forty-five, the halls offered nothing but a few strays: school-district maintenance employees, chronic detention-servers like Jess, and tired jocks getting ready to practice God-knew-what. Carly Garfield arrived at seven twenty-five like clockwork—no, like cesium atomic clockwork. She did
not
arrive at . . .
“Oh,
crudballs
!” repeated the voice, this time in desperation.
Carly was no more than sixty feet away and closing fast. She was sipping an organic cola and chattering with what appeared to be the same handmaids from the park. Duncan spun around to face his locker, then began to twist its dial with unnecessary haste. He tried to focus on the details of the Carly/handmaid dialogue.
Carly: “. . . and that's a big if, but
if
we get that kind of support from the national organization—which is completely loaded right now because Bill Gates or Oprah or Bono or some bazillionaire just gave them a bazillion dollars—then this could be completely . . .”
Handmaid Number 1: “So, like,
Bono
might be there? In Elm Forest? That'd be sooo cool.”
Carly: “No, Marissa, I'm not saying he'll
be
there. I'm saying that's how rich these guys are. They're Bono-rich. Oprah-rich.”
Handmaid Number 2: “Ohmygod, if Oprah's there, my mom will wet herself. She's a total Oprah junkie. An Oprahzoid. An Oprahphile. An O—”
Carly: “No, Oprah is
not
going to . . .”
Duncan tugged at his lock, which didn't open. He'd been too frantic and too zeroed-in on Carly's conversation to precisely turn the dial. Again, almost involuntarily, he banged his head. Hard.
Thwung!
At this, the girls stopped talking.
A deeply uncomfortable quiet replaced their discussion. Seconds passed. The idea had been
not
to attract attention, and
not
to be noticed by Carly and her entourage. Duncan couldn't look anywhere but at his lock. He felt sweat begin to bead across his forehead. He tapped his foot nervously. Gaining access to his locker seemed—ludicrously and incorrectly—like the singular way to escape the tension of moment. He jerked open the lock.
But the awful silence persisted.
Duncan hurriedly removed the books and notes required for his morning classes, placed them on the floor, and, using both hands, crammed his overstuffed backpack into the narrow locker. He was certain that Carly and her coterie of underlings were watching, giggling quietly. He bent down to collect his books. A drip of sweat splatted on the floor. He stood up, shut the locker with a nudge, then turned to escape down the hallway. But Carly stood in his path with a half-perplexed look on her face.
“Oh, hey,” said Duncan, flustered yet unable to endure any more unnerving quiet.
She nodded in an almost undetectable way.
“How's, um . . . yeah . . . how're you?” Duncan stammered.
“Great,” she said softly, tilting her head and smiling.
The handmaids looked at Duncan with blank eyes. Carly simply stood there, a polite grin on her face. Duncan continued sweating.
“So, um . . . ready for that exam in Mr. Arnold's class?” he asked. “I don't know if I ca—”
BOOK: Beauty and the Bully
8.48Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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