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Authors: Tom Leveen

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BOOK: Random
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“You're definitely not feeling very good if homework is a reasonable alternative to sleep,” Noah says. He's full of it. He gets straight As.

“Hard to do English without a computer,” I say.

“True,” Noah says. “But you could always use one of those, what do you call them . . .

I'd probably laugh if tonight wasn't the night that it is. Still, Noah has a point. Maybe I could handwrite some things. Except I don't think my English teacher accepts anything less than twelve-point Times New Roman with one-inch margins. Mom promised to find a laptop from her work that would have an Office suite on it or something, but so far she hasn't. We've all been a
preoccupied. But if I don't start turning some things in, there goes junior year.

Speaking of next year . . .

I'm sixteen now, which means if things go badly, I won't get out of prison till I'm twenty-six.

I don't say that to Noah as I sit at my empty desk, holding my phone to my ear and listening to him eat something. Probably popcorn. It's not crunchy enough for chips. I'd hear it if it was chips.

I hate my new phone.

Wait; I should be careful using a word like
right now too. In fact, I'd be happy to never hear it used again.

I should also use quotes around the term “new” phone. It's not
-new. Mom had been meaning to recycle it for more than a few years now. It's been sitting on the kitchen counter, in a little clay dish I made in first grade, along with a stew of paper clips, rubber bands, and an outdated Burger King coupon nobody's bothered to throw away. The coupon is so old,
it's a family joke. “Hey, buy one, get one free at Burger King!” we'll say whenever someone asks Dad what's for dinner. Mom always sighs and says she knew Canyon City was getting too big when we had
Burger Kings instead of one.

Well, at least I've
a phone. They didn't completely take away my ability to communicate with the few people who still care to acknowledge me. Which, can I just say, is so hypocritical. As if my teammates didn't give Kevin Cooper a hard time at school. As if the entire coaching staff didn't have it in for him during PE. My God, if ever there was a person who gave Cooper a bunch of crap, it was Coach Scordo, who runs the baseball team and all the boys' PE classes. Any guy who couldn't run a lap got ostracized; I'd seen it. And did administration or the rest of the staff do anything about it? No. Why aren't
in trouble too?


I sigh out loud and trace a finger on top of my desk. In addition to switching my phone, my parents also confiscated my laptop, and thus, my lifeline to the wider world. There's still a rectangular dust pattern on my desk from where it used to sit. I should clean that up.

Maybe tomorrow.

“So, Tori-chan?” Noah says on my new/old phone. “You're being awfully quiet. Dare I ask what's on your mind this fine evening?”

“Don't you watch the news?” I ask back. “You know what tomorrow is.”

I almost tell him to stop calling me “Tori-chan” instead of just Tori, but right now anything other than Victoria Renée Hershberger is a relief. The TV reporters insist on using all three names, like they do with assassins: Lee Harvey Oswald, John Wilkes Booth. . . .

Hershberger. There is one word to describe this surname:
. It looks god-awful beneath last year's freshman Canyon High yearbook photo the news uses all the time. It crowds across my shoulders on my jersey. And it definitely didn't sound any better coming from that stupid reporter during dinner.

“Of course I've been watching,” Noah says. “But I don't expect them to tell me the truth.”

“I love you,” I say.

Noah laughs. “Don't let your mouth write checks your heart can't cash, Hershy.”

He's the only person left on planet Earth I'd ever let get away with calling me something like “Hershy.” But we go back a long time. Sixth grade. That's virtually an eon. We hung out a lot more back then, in junior high. Even last year. We sort of drifted this year, though. Which makes me all the more grateful that he's sticking by me now.

I lie flat on my bed, staring at the ceiling. “Hey, can you eat a popcorn ceiling?”

“The question is, why would you want to?”

“Because it's popcorn. Duh.”

“Pretty sure it's not real popcorn, Tori-chan.”

He loves to hear himself say that. Noah wants more than anything to live in Japan. He has this whole spiel about the difference between
. It's cute, but also stale. He's been in love with all things Japanese ever since he first saw
Fullmetal Alchemist
. The obsession grew from there.

“More important, would it taste good with butter and salt?” I say, and answer my own question. “Yes. Everything tastes better with butter and salt. I'd eat my own feet with butter and salt.”

“Your own feet, huh?”

“I mean, I'd wash 'em first, obviously.”

“That's good, 'cause I've smelled your cleats after a game, and
. . . .”

“Shut up.”

“Seriously, you guys need to clean up better.”

“Says the man crushing on our entire infield.”

“Just the infield?” Noah says, feigning shock. “It's the whole team, Hershy.”

“I was trying to keep you from sounding like a man whore.”

“Yeah, well, man whores get dates,” Noah says. “So when's your next game—”

He cuts himself off. I won't be at a game for quite some time. Like, next year, maybe. If I'm lucky. Apparently he forgot.

Or is it
he forgot? I can't keep track anymore.

“Well,” Noah says after a pause, “I guess, whenever you come back, huh?”

“Yeah,” I say. “Sure.”

I hear him sigh. “So why'd you call me? To talk about eating your ceiling?”


“Look, Tori, if you're so totally opposed to talking about it . . .”

“Sorry,” I say, very bitchy—bitchily? “Forget it.”

I hang up, closing the flip phone. A
flip phone
. A cheap and outdated substitute for my iPhone. May as well be chiseled out of granite. I dump the flip onto my nightstand and fling an arm over my eyes to block out my overhead light. Feels like an interrogation room in here with that blazing corkscrew bulb. “Soft white light,” my muscular

I didn't mean to be bitchy to Noah, but God, I need a distraction, not more talk about the case. I've been living and breathing nothing else for like a month now. Can't we just talk about dumb things like . . . like popcorn ceilings? Or how hot he thinks Alexis and Alyssa and Taylor and Megan and the rest of the team are?

I wish they'd call me.

Anyway. For all the terrible things about to happen to me, it's kind of a relief to be cranky about my phone or that the light is too bright in here or that my name is so dumb. It's comforting. Reality. Such normal things to be pissy about.

The phone rings, vibrating on the nightstand.
Reeee. Reeee. Reeee

I look at my clock. The red digital letters blink from 11:53 to 11:54. A single red dot illuminates the p.m. window. It looks
so lonely out there on its own, that little red dot. Doing the same old job, day in, day out.
The time is currently post meridiem,
the little red dot says.
Just so you know.

Am I getting weirder? Is this what happens when you can't leave the house? Maybe it's cabin fever or Stockholm syndrome or something. Wait, no, that's kidnappers. Whatever.

I pick up the phone and check the teeny-tiny LCD screen. It's Noah on the ID. He's one of the few people whose number I have, and that's only because he called me. If he hadn't, I'd have lost his number forever. It's not like I had it memorized. I didn't have
's number memorized. Mom and Dad didn't even take me to the Apple store to try to download my contacts onto the flip before they took my iPhone. They just took it and came back later with this piece of crap.

A contact number transfer probably wouldn't have worked anyway; the technology is too dated on the flip phone. It would've been like teaching Neanderthals to drive a sporty coupe.

“You shouldn't hang up on people like that,” Noah says after I open my phone back up.

“Why not?”

“It's rude,” he says.

“I've been called worse,” I say.

“Don't start that,” Noah says.

“Sorry,” I say, not bitchily this time. “Can't much help it.”

The next words that almost come out of my mouth are,
Noah, I am so scared
. But I don't let them. It won't help.

“So what's your plan tomorrow?” Noah asks, trying very hard to make it a casual question when it is anything but.

My stomach clenches from the inside out, like a series of fists doing a hand-over-hand on my softball bat.

“Try not to pass out, I guess,” I say.

“Man, I'm sorry, Tor,” Noah says, sympathizing instead of pushing me to divulge my plan for court like those reporters tonight. Like the rest of the world. They can wait a few more hours, all of them.

Noah's willingness to let me not talk specifics is one of the reasons I'm friends with him. He doesn't go straight for the gossip, straight for the big scoop, like the girls on the team would have. Maybe it's better they haven't called, after all.

“I know it's probably a long shot, but is there anything I can do?” Noah asks.

His voice is calm and gentle. I've never kissed Noah, but I would totally make out with his voice if that were possible. His voice and Lucas Mulcahy's arms. Perfect.

I yawn. Finally. I would've gone to bed an hour or two ago except I can't get my mind to stop trampolining. Or, is that a word? Did I just make up a new word? Cool.

“I don't think so,” I say to Noah.

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” I say. “It's late. I should go to bed.”

“Early day at school?” Noah says.

It's a bad joke. Very bad. I don't even have to point it out.

“Sorry,” he says right away. “That was stupid. Didn't mean it.”

“It's okay,” I tell him. “I know. I get it.”

“Everyone misses you.”

“No, not everyone.”

miss you.”

“Thanks,” I say, but I'm thinking of Lucas when I say it. Does
miss me? The one guy I really want to miss me, I'm not supposed to talk to anymore. I wonder what Lucas is doing tonight? Are those big hands wrapped around a pillow, or folded carelessly beneath his head as he sleeps, confident in his plea tomorrow? What about Marly and the others? Are they already asleep too? I wonder if Lucas is worried. I doubt it. I wonder if he's worried about
. I doubt it.

Then I wonder how expensive
lawyer is. I'll bet he charges more than Mr. Halpern.

Now I've bummed myself out. Again.



“What do
think I should plead?”

I hear Noah blow out a breath, and imagine him rubbing his eyes with one hand as he says, “Jesus, Tori.”

“I'm serious,” I say. “I mean, you knew him too. Why don't
hate my guts?”

It's so quiet for so long, I imagine I can count each individual drop of rain on my awnings.


“Look,” he says suddenly, “you're right, you should get some sleep. It's probably gonna be a tough day tomorrow, yeah? So
just . . . you know, turn off your phone, kill the lights, listen to some music or something . . . just give yourself a break.”

“Why aren't you answering the question?”

“I don't—I don't
what you should plead, Tori,” Noah says. “I know that I don't hate your guts, that I could
hate your guts, that I've always—”

He stops. I listen.

“Just shut everything off and forget about it,” he says finally. “Okay?”

Not the response I was hoping for. But then again, I'm not entirely sure
response I was hoping for.

“Okay,” I say. “I'll call you tomorrow when it's over.”

Except it won't be over
, I think.
It will have just gotten started.

“Well . . . I dunno, I could stay up or something,” Noah says abruptly. “I'm pretty amped on caffeine right now, I can talk if you want. I'll be up anyway. I'm gonna do a chat with some guys in Tokyo. Which probably also means I'll be ditching tomorrow.”

“Thanks, but I'm sure,” I say. “I'm going to go to sleep. At least, I hope so.”

Another pause. He seems to be taking his time answering now. I wonder if I've totally scared him or just made him uncomfortable.

“Okay,” Noah says. “Later on. And hey, Tor?”


“You'll be okay.”

A drop of acid burns my eye. At least, that's what it feels like.

“Thanks,” I say as salt water pools at the back of my throat.

I end the call before he can say anything else, and toss the phone back to my nightstand.

Thank God for Noah. Despite hearing what the media says about me, he's still around. I'll bet everyone at school only watches the news because they want to see if their particular interview was used or not. Will their
genuine insights into the tragedy
make national news, or just local?

It's probably easy to wish for fame when the spotlight's not on you. Fame sucks.

BOOK: Random
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