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Hush, Hush (Page 5)

“I study her,” Patch said. “I figure out what she’s thinking and feeling. She’s not going to come right out and tell me, which is why I have to pay attention. Does she turn her body toward mine? Does she hold my eyes, then look away? Does she bite her lip and play with her hair, the way Nora is doing right now?”

Laughter rose in the room. I dropped my hands to my lap.

“She’s game,” said Patch, bumping my leg again. Of all things, I blushed.

“Very good! Very good!” Coach said, his voice charged, smiling broadly at our attentiveness.

“The blood vessels in Nora’s face are widening and her skin is warming,” Patch said. “She knows she’s being evaluated. She likes the attention, but she’s not sure how to handle it.”

“I am not blushing.”

“She’s nervous,” Patch said. “She’s stroking her arm to draw attention away from her face and down to her figure, or maybe her skin. Both are strong selling points.”

I nearly choked. He’s joking, I told myself. No, he’s insane. I had no experience dealing with lunatics, and it showed. I felt like I spent most of our time together staring at Patch, mouth agape. If I had any illusions about keeping up with him, I was going to have to figure out a new approach.

I placed my hands flat against the table, held my chin high, and tried to look as if I still possessed some dignity. “This is ridiculous.”

Stretching his arm out to his side with exaggerated slyness, Patch hung it on the back of my chair. I had the strange feeling that this was a threat aimed entirely at me, and that he was unaware and uncaring of how the class received it. They laughed, but he didn’t seem to hear it, holding my eyes so singly with his own that I almost believed he’d carved a small, private world for us that no one else could reach.

Vulnerable, he mouthed.

I locked my ankles around the legs of my chair and jerked forward, feeling the weight of his arm drop off the back of the seat. I was not vulnerable.

“And there you have it!” Coach said. “Biology in motion.”

“Can we please talk about sex now?” asked Vee.

“Tomorrow. Read chapter seven and be ready for a discussion first thing.”

The bell rang, and Patch scraped his chair back. “That was fun. Let’s do it again sometime.” Before I could come up with something more pithy than No, thanks, he edged behind me and disappeared out the door.

“I’m starting a petition to have Coach fired,” Vee said, coming to my table. “What was up with class today? It was watered­down porn. He practically had you and Patch on top of your lab table, horizontal, minus your clothes, doing the Big Deed—”

I nailed her with a look that said, Does it look like I want a replay?

“Yeesh,” Vee said, stepping back.

“I need to talk to Coach. I’ll meet you at your locker in ten minutes.”

“Sure thing.”

I made my way up to Coach’s desk, where he sat hunched over a book of basketball plays. At first glance all the Xs and Os made it look like he’d been playing tic­tac­toe.

“Hi, Nora,” he said without looking up. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m here to tell you the new seating chart and lesson plan is making me uncomfortable.”

Coach kicked back in his chair and folded his hands behind his head. “I like the seating chart. Almost as much as I like this new man­to­man play I’m working on for Saturday’s game.”

I set a copy of the school code of conduct and student rights down on top of it. “By law, no student should feel threatened on school property.”

“You feel threatened?”

“I feel uncomfortable. And I’d like to propose a solution.” When Coach didn’t cut me off, I drew a confident breath. “I will tutor any student from any of your biology classes—if you will seat me beside Vee again.”

“Patch could use a tutor.”

I resisted gritting my teeth. “That defeats the point.”

“Did you see him today? He was involved in the discussion. I haven’t heard him say one word all year, but I put him next to you and—bingo. His grade in here is going to improve.”

“And Vee’s is going to drop.”

“That happens when you can’t look sideways to get the right answer,” he said dryly.

“Vee’s problem is lack of dedication. I’ll tutor her.”

“No can do.” Glancing at his watch, he said, “I’m late for a meeting. Are we done here?”

I squeezed my brain for one more argument, but it appeared I was fresh out of inspiration.

“Let’s give the seating chart a few more weeks. Oh, and I was serious about tutoring Patch. I’ll count you in.” Coach didn’t wait for my answer; he whistled the tune to Jeopardy and ducked out the door.

By seven o’clock the sky had glowered into an inky blue, and I zipped up my coat for warmth. Vee and I were on our way from the movie theater to the parking lot, having just watched The Sacrifice. It was my job to review movies for the eZine, and since I’d already seen every other movie showing at the theater, we’d resigned ourselves to the latest urban chiller.

“That,” Vee said, “was the freakiest movie I have ever seen. As a rule, we are no longer allowed to see anything suggestive of horror.”

Fine by me. Take into consideration that someone had been lurking outside my bedroom window last night and compound it with watching a fully developed stalker movie tonight, and I was starting to feel a little bit paranoid.

“Can you imagine?” Vee said. “Living your whole life never having a clue that the only reason you’re being kept alive is to be used as a sacrifice?”

We both shuddered.

“And what was up with that altar?” she continued, annoyingly unaware that I would have rather talked about the life cycle of fungi than about the movie. “Why did the bad guy light the stone on fire before tying her down? When I heard her flesh sizzle—”

“Okay!” I practically shouted. “Where to next?”

“And can I just say if a guy ever kisses me like that, I will start dry heaving. Repulsive doesn’t begin to describe what was going on with his mouth. That was makeup, right? I mean, nobody actually has a mouth like that in real life—”

“My review is due by midnight,” I said, cutting across her.

“Oh. Right. To the library, then?” Vee unlocked the doors to her 1995 purple Dodge Neon. “You’re being awfully touchy, you know.”

I slid into the passenger seat. “Blame the movie.” Blame the Peeping Tom at my window last night.

“I’m not talking about just tonight. I’ve noticed,” she said with a mischievous curve of her mouth, “that you’ve been unusually crabby for a good half hour at the end of bio the past two days.”

“Also easy. Blame Patch.”

Vee’s eyes flicked to the rearview mirror. She adjusted it for a better look at her teeth. She licked them, giving a practiced smile. “I have to admit, his dark side calls to me.”

I had no desire to admit it, but Vee wasn’t alone. I felt drawn to Patch in a way I’d never felt drawn to anyone. There was a dark magnetism between us. Around him, I felt lured to the edge of danger. At any moment, it felt like he could push me over the edge.

“Hearing you say that makes me want to—” I paused, trying to think of exactly what our attraction to Patch did make me want to do. Something unpleasant.

“Tell me you don’t think he’s good­looking,” Vee said, “and I promise I’ll never bring up his name again.”

I reached to turn on the radio. Of all things, there had to be something better to do than ruin our evening by inviting Patch, albeit abstractly, into it. Sitting beside him for one hour every day, five days a week, was plenty more than I could take. I wasn’t giving him my evenings, too.

“Well?” Vee pressed.

“He could be good­looking. But I’d be the last to know. I’m a tainted juror on this one, sorry.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means I can’t get beyond his personality. No amount of beauty could make up for it.”

“Not beauty. He’s … hard­edged. Sexy.”

I rolled my eyes.

Vee honked and tapped her brake as a car pulled in front of her. “What? You disagree, or rough­androguish isn’t your type?”

“I don’t have a type,” I said. “I’m not that narrow.”

Vee laughed. “You, babe, are more than narrow—you’re confined. Cramped. Your spectrum is about as wide as one of Coach’s microorganisms. There are very few, if any, boys at school you would fall for.”

“That’s not true.” I said the words automatically. It wasn’t until I’d spoken them that I wondered how accurate they were. I had never been seriously interested in anyone. How weird was I? “It isn’t about the boys, it’s about … love. I haven’t found it.”

“It isn’t about love,” Vee said. “It’s about fun.”

I lifted my eyebrows, doubtful. “Kissing a guy I don’t know—I don’t care about—is fun?”

“Haven’t you been paying attention in bio? It’s about a lot more than kissing.”

“Oh,” I said in an enlightened voice. “The gene pool is warped enough without me contributing to it.”

“Want to know who I think would be really good?”

“Good?”

“Good,” she repeated with an indecent smile.

“Not particularly.”

“Your partner.”

“Don’t call him that,” I said. “‘Partner’ has a positive connotation.”

Vee squeezed into a parking space near the library doors and killed the engine. “Have you ever fantasized about kissing him? Have you ever stolen a peek sideways and imagined flinging yourself at Patch and crushing your mouth to his?”

I stared at her with a look I hoped spoke appalled shock. “Have you?”

Vee grinned.

I tried to imagine what Patch would do if presented with this information. As little as I knew about him, I sensed his aversion to Vee as if it were concrete enough to touch.

“He’s not good enough for you,” I said.

She moaned. “Careful, you’ll only make me want him more.”

Inside the library we took a table on the main level, near adult fiction. I opened my laptop and typed: The Sacrifice, two and a half stars. Two and a half was probably on the low side. But I had a lot on my mind and wasn’t feeling particularly equitable.

Vee opened a bag of dried apple chips. “Want some?”

“I’m good, thanks.”

She peered into the bag. “If you’re not going to eat them, I’ll have to. And I really don’t want to.”

Vee was on the color­wheel fruit diet. Three red fruits a day, two blue, a handful of green …

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