Hush, Hush (Page 6)
She held up an apple chip, examining it front to back.
“What color?” I asked.
“MakemegagGrannySmithgreen. I think.”
Just then Marcie Millar, the only sophomore to make varsity cheerleading in the history of Coldwater High, took a seat on the edge of our table. Her strawberry blond hair was combed into low pigtails, and like always, her skin was concealed under half a bottle of foundation. I was fairly certain I’d guessed the right amount, since there wasn’t a trace of her freckles in sight. I hadn’t seen any of Marcie’s freckles since seventh grade, the same year she discovered Mary Kay. There was threequarters of an inch between the hem of her skirt and the start of her underwear … if she was even wearing any.
“Hi, Supersize,” Marcie said to Vee.
“Hi, Freakshow,” Vee said back.
“My mom is looking for models this weekend. The pay is nine dollars an hour. I thought you’d be interested.”
Marcie’s mom manages the local JCPenney, and on weekends she has Marcie and the rest of the cheerleaders model bikinis in the store’s streetfacing display windows.
“She’s having a really hard time finding plussize lingerie models,” said Marcie.
“You’ve got food stuck in your teeth,” Vee told Marcie. “In the crack between your two front teeth.
Looks like chocolate ExLax …”
Marcie licked her teeth and slid off the table. As she sashayed off, Vee stuck her finger in her mouth and made gagging gestures at Marcie’s back.
“She’s lucky we’re at the library,” Vee told me. “She’s lucky we didn’t cross paths in a dark alley. Last chance—any chips?”
Vee wandered off to discard the chips. A few minutes later she returned with a romance novel. She took the seat next to me and, displaying the novel’s cover, said, “Someday this is going to be us. Ravished by halfdressed cowboys. I wonder what it’s like to kiss a pair of sunbaked, mudcrusted lips?”
“Dirty,” I murmured, typing away.
“Speaking of dirty.” There was an unexpected rise in her voice. “There’s our guy.”
I stopped typing long enough to peer over my laptop, and my heart skipped a beat. Patch stood across the room in the checkout line. As if he sensed me watching, he turned. Our eyes locked for one, two, three counts. I broke away first, but not before receiving a slow grin.
My heartbeat turned erratic, and I told myself to pull it together. I was not going down this path. Not with Patch. Not unless I was out of my mind.
“Let’s go,” I told Vee. Shutting my laptop, I zipped it inside its carrying case. I pushed my books inside my backpack, dropping a few on the floor as I did.
Vee said, “I’m trying to read the title he’s holding … hang on … How to Be a Stalker.”
“He is not checking out a book with that title.” But I wasn’t sure.
“It’s either that or How to Radiate Sexy Without Trying.”
“Shh! ” I hissed.
“Calm down, he can’t hear. He’s talking to the librarian. He’s checking out.”
Confirming this with a quick glance over, I realized that if we left now, we’d probably meet him at the exit doors. And then I would be expected to say something to him. I ordered myself back into my chair and searched diligently through my pockets for nothing whatsoever while he finished checking out.
“Do you think it’s creepy he’s here at the same time we are?” Vee asked.
“I think he’s following you.”
“I think it’s a coincidence.” This wasn’t entirely true. If I had to make a list of the top ten places I would expect to find Patch on any given night, the public library wouldn’t make it. The library wouldn’t make the top hundred places. So what was he doing here?
The question was particularly disturbing after what had happened last night. I hadn’t mentioned it to Vee because I was hoping it would shrink and shrivel in my memory until it ceased to have happened.
“Patch! ” Vee stagewhispered. “Are you stalking Nora?”
I clamped my hand over her mouth. “Stop it. I mean it.” I put on a severe face.
“I bet he is following you,” said Vee, prying my hand away. “I bet he has a history of it too. I bet he has restraining orders. We should sneak into the front office. It would all be in his student file.”
“We are not sneaking into the front office.”
“I could create a diversion. I’m good at diversions. No one would see you go in. We could be like spies.”
“We are not spies.”
“Do you know his last name?” Vee asked.
“Do you know anything about him?”
“No. And I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Oh, come on. You love a good mystery, and it doesn’t get better than this.”
“The best mysteries involve a dead body. We don’t have a dead body.”
Vee squealed. “Not yet!”
Shaking two iron pills from the bottle in my backpack, I swallowed them together.
Vee bounced the Neon into her driveway just after nine thirty. She killed the engine and dangled the keys in front of me.
“You’re not going to drive me home?” I asked. A waste of breath, since I knew her answer.
Vee grinned. “Oh, boy. He is so on your mind. Not that I blame you. Personally, I’m hoping I dream about him tonight.”
“And the fog always gets worse near your house,” Vee continued. “It freaks me out after dark.”
I grabbed the keys. “Thanks a lot.”
“Don’t blame me. Tell your mom to move closer. Tell her there’s this new club called civilization and you guys should join.”
“I suppose you expect me to pick you up before school tomorrow?”
“Seven thirty would be nice. Breakfast is on me.”
“It better be good.”
“Be nice to my baby.” She patted the Neon’s dash. “But not too nice. Can’t have her thinking there’s better out there.”
On the drive home I allowed my thoughts a brief trip to Patch. Vee was right—something about him was incredibly alluring. And incredibly creepy. The more I thought about it, the more I was convinced something about him was … off. The fact that he liked to antagonize me wasn’t exactly a news flash, but there was a difference between getting under my skin in class and possibly going as far as following me to the library to accomplish it. Not many people would go to that much trouble … unless they had a very good reason.
Halfway home a pattering rain flushed out the wispy clouds of fog hovering above the road. Dividing my attention between the road and the controls on the steering wheel, I tried to locate the windshield wipers.
The streetlights flickered overhead, and I wondered if a heavier storm was blowing in. This close to the ocean the weather changed constantly, and a rainstorm could quickly escalate into a flash flood. I fed the Neon more gas.
The outside lights flickered again. A cold feeling prickled up the back of my neck, and the hairs on my arms tingled. My sixth sense graduated to high alert. I asked myself if I thought I was being followed.
There were no headlights in the rearview mirror. No cars ahead, either. I was all alone. It wasn’t a very comforting thought. I pushed the car to fortyfive.
I found the wipers, but even at top speed they couldn’t keep up with the hammering rain. The stoplight ahead turned yellow. I rolled to a stop, checked to see that traffic was clear, then pulled into the intersection.
I heard the impact before I registered the dark silhouette skidding across the hood of the car.
I screamed and stomped on the brake. The silhouette thumped into the windshield with a splintering crack.
On impulse, I jerked the steering wheel a hard right. The back end of the Neon fishtailed, sending me spinning across the intersection. The silhouette rolled and disappeared over the edge of the hood.
I was holding my breath, squeezing the steering wheel between whiteknuckled hands. I lifted my feet off the pedals. The car bucked and stalled out.
He was crouched a few feet away, watching me. He didn’t look at all … injured.
He was dressed in total black and blended with the night, making it hard to tell what he looked like. At first I couldn’t distinguish any facial features, and then I realized he was wearing a ski mask.
He rose to his feet, closing the distance between us. He flattened his palms to the driver’sside window.
Our eyes connected through the holes in the mask. A lethal smile seemed to rise in his.
He gave another pound, the glass vibrating between us.
I started the car. I tried to synchronize shoving it into first gear, pushing on the gas pedal, and releasing the clutch. The engine revved, but the car bucked again and died.
I turned the engine over once more, but was distracted by an offkey metallic groan. I watched with horror as the door began to bow. He was tearing—it—off.
I rammed the car into first. My shoes slipped over the pedals. The engine roared, the RPM needle on the dash spiking into the red zone.
His fist came through the window in an explosion of glass. His hand fumbled over my shoulder, clamping around my arm. I gave a hoarse cry, stomped the gas pedal, and released the clutch. The Neon screeched into motion. He hung on, gripping my arm, running beside the car several feet before dropping away.
I sped forward with the force of adrenaline. I checked the rearview mirror to make sure he wasn’t chasing me, then shoved the mirror to face away. I had to press my lips together to keep from sobbing.
FLYING DOWN HAWTHORNE, I DROVE PAST MY house, circled back, cut over to Beech, and headed back toward the center of Coldwater. I speeddialed Vee. “Something happened—I—he—it—
out of nowhere—the Neon—” “You’re breaking up. What?”
I wiped my nose with the back of my hand. I was trembling down to my toes. “He came out of nowhere.”
“He—” I tried to net my thoughts and funnel them into words. “He jumped in front of the car!”
“Oh, man. Ohmanohmanohman. You hit a deer? Are you okay? What about Bambi?” She half wailed, half groaned. “The Neon?”
I opened my mouth, but Vee cut me off.
“Forget it. I’ve got insurance. Just tell me there aren’t deer parts all over my baby… . No deer parts, right?”
Whatever answer I was about to give faded into the background. My mind was two steps ahead. A deer.
Maybe I could pass the whole thing off as hitting a deer. I wanted to confide in Vee, but I didn’t want to sound crazy, either. How was I going to explain watching the guy I hit rise to his feet and begin tearing off the car door? I stretched my collar down past my shoulder. No red marks where he’d gripped me that I could see …