“Marcie Mill ar, that’s who.”
“I thought she left!” A jolt of anger fired through me. “Is Patch with her?”
I squared my shoulders and sat even higher. “I’m calm. I can handle it. Most likely, she won’t see us. Even if she does, she’s not going to come over to talk.” And even though not one part of me believed it, I added, “There’s probably some twisted explanation for why she got into his Jeep.”
“Just like there’s a twisted explanation for why she’s wearing his hat?”
I flattened my hands on the bar and swung around. Sure enough, Marcie was elbowing her way into the crowd, her strawberry-blond ponytail streaming out the back of Patch’s ball cap. If that wasn’t evidence they were together, I didn’t know what was.
“I’m going to kill her,” I said to Vee, turning back to face the bar, gripping my cherry Coke, heat rising in my cheeks.
“Of course you are. And here’s your chance. She’s beelining this way.”
A moment later, Marcie ordered the guy beside me out of his seat and perched herself on top of it. She took off Patch’s cap and shook out her hair, then pressed the cap to her face, inhaling deeply. “Doesn’t he smell amazing?”
“Hey, Nora,” Vee said, “didn’t Patch have lice last week?”
“What is it?” Marcie asked rhetorically. “Fresh-cut grass? An exotic spice? Or maybe … mint?”
I set my glass down a little too hard, and some of the cherry Coke sloshed onto the bar.
“That’s really eco-friendly of you,” Vee told Marcie. “Recycling Nora’s old trash.”
“Hot trash is better than fat trash,” Marcie said.
“Fat this,” Vee said, and she picked up my cherry Coke and underhanded it at Marcie. But someone in the crowd bumped Vee from behind, so instead of sailing straight at Marcie, the Coke spread out and splattered all three of us.
“Look what you did!” Marcie said, jumping off her bar stool so hard she knocked it over. She swiped at the Coke in her lap.
“This dress is Bebe! Do you know how much it cost? Two hundred dollars. ”
“It’s not worth that much anymore,” Vee said. “And I don’t know what you’re complaining about. I bet you shoplifted it.”
“Yeah? So? What’s your point?”
“With you, what you see is what you get. And I see cheap.
Nothing says cheap like shoplifting.”
“Nothing says fat like a double chin.”
Vee’s eyes went slitty. “You’re dead. You hear me? Dead. ” Marcie shifted her eyes in my direction. “By the way, Nora, I thought you’d like to know. Patch told me he broke up with you because you weren’t enough of a slut.” Vee smacked Marcie upside the head with her handbag.
“What was that for?” Marcie shrieked, clutching her head.
Vee smacked her other ear. Marcie staggered backward, eyes dazed but quickly narrowing. “You little—,” she began.
“Stop!” I shouted, wedging myself between them and holding my arms out. We’d drawn the attention of the crowd, and people were shuffling closer, their interest piqued by the prospect of a cat fight. I didn’t care what happened to Marcie, but Vee was a different matter. Chances were, if she got in a fight, Detective Basso would haul her down to the station. Combined with sneaking out of the house, I didn’t think jail time would go over well with her parents. “Let’s all just back away. Vee, go get the Neon. I’ll meet you outside.”
“She called me fat. She deserves to die. You said so yourself.” Vee’s breathing was ragged.
“How do you plan on killing me?” Marcie sneered. “By sitting on me?”
And that was when everything broke loose. Vee snatched her own Coke off the bar and raised her arm, aiming to throw.
Marcie turned to run, but in her hurry, tripped backward over her fall en bar stool and toppled to the floor. I swiveled to Vee, hoping to defuse any further violence, when my knee was kicked out from behind. I went down, and the next thing I knew, Marcie was on top, straddling me.
“This is for stealing Tod Bérot from me in fifth grade,” she said, punching me in the eye.
I yowled and grabbed my eye. “Tod Bérot?” I shouted. “What are you talking about? That was the fifth grade!”
“And this is for sticking that picture of me with a giant zit on my chin on the front page of the eZine last year!”
“That wasn’t me!”
Okay, maybe I’d had a little say in the photo selection, but it wasn’t like I was the only one. And anyway, Marcie was holding that over my head? Wasn’t a year a little long to be clinging to a grudge?
Marcie shouted, “And this is for your whore of a—”
“You’re crazy!” This time I blocked the hit and managed to grab the leg of the nearest bar stool and overturn it on her.
Marcie shoved the bar stool away. Before I could get my feet under me, she swiped a drink from a passerby and doused me with it.
“An eye for an eye,” she said. “You humiliate me, I humiliate you.”
I wiped Coke out of my eyes. My right eye flowered with pain where Marcie had punched me. I felt the bruise spreading under my skin, tattooing me blue and purple. My hair was dripping Coke, my best camisole was torn, and I felt demoralized, beaten … and rejected. Patch had moved on to Marcie Mill ar.
And Marcie had just punctuated the fact.
My feelings were no excuse for what I did next, but they were definitely a catalyst. I had no clue how to fight, but I closed my hands into fists and clipped Marcie in the jaw. For a moment her expression was frozen in surprise. She scooted off me, two-handing her jaw, gaping at me. Buoyed by my small victory, I lunged for her, but came up short because someone had me under the armpits, hauling me upright.
“Get out of here now,” Patch said in my ear, dragging me toward the doors.
“I’m going to kill her!” I said, fighting to get around him.
A gathering crowd enveloped us, chanting, “Fight! fight!
fight!” Patch brushed them out of the way and dragged me through. Behind Patch, Marcie got to her feet and flipped me her middle finger. Her grin was smug, her eyebrows high. The message was clear: Bring it on.
Patch handed me off to Vee, then went back and clamped a hand around Marcie’s upper arm. Before I could see where he took her, Vee wrestled me toward the nearest exit. We came out in the all ey.
“Fun as seeing you fight Marcie was, I figured it probably wasn’t worth the cost of you spending the night in jail,” Vee said.
“I hate her!” My voice still sounded hysterical.
“Detective Basso was plowing through the crowd when Patch lifted you off her. I figured that was my cue to step in.”
“Where did he take Marcie? I saw Patch grab her.”
“Does it matter? Hopefully they both get hauled downtown.” Our shoes crunched through the gravel as we ran down the all ey toward where Vee had parked. The blue and red lights of a patrol car sliced past the opening of the all ey, and Vee and I pressed back against the warehouse.
“Well, that was exciting,” Vee said, once we were locked inside the Neon.
“Oh, yeah, sure,” I said through my teeth.
Vee licked my arm. “You taste pretty good. You’re making me thirsty, smelling like cherry Coke and all.”
“This is all your fault!” I said. “You’re the one who threw my Coke at Marcie! If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have gotten in a fight.”
“Fight? You laid there and took it. You should have had Patch teach you some moves before you broke up with him.” My cell phone was ringing, and I yanked it out of my purse.
“What?” I snapped. When no one answered, I realized I was so worked up that I’d confused the text message chirp with an actual call.
One unread message was waiting for me from an unknown number. STAY HOME TONIGHT.
“That’s scary,” Vee said, bending sideways to read. “Who have you been giving your number to?”
“It’s probably a mistype. It’s probably meant for someone else.” Of course, I was thinking about the townhouse, my dad, and the vision I’d had of him cutting open my arm.
I tossed the cell into my open purse at my feet and bowed my head into my hands. My eye throbbed. I was scared, alone, confused, and on the verge of crying uncontrollably.
“Maybe it’s from Patch,” Vee said.
“His number has never shown up as unknown before. It’s a prank.” If only I could force myself to believe it. “Can we go? I need Tylenol.”
“I think we should call Detective Basso. Police love this kind of scary stalker crap.”
“You just want to call him so you can flirt with him.” Vee put the Neon in gear. “Just trying to be helpful.”
“Maybe you should have tried being helpful ten minutes ago when you threw my drink on Marcie.”
“At least I had the guts to.”
I turned in my seat, giving her the full weight of my stare. “Are you accusing me of not standing up to Marcie?”
“She stole your boyfriend, didn’t she? Granted, he scares the candy out of me, but if Marcie stole my boyfriend, there’d be hell to pay.”
I pointed a stiff finger at the street. “Drive!”
“You know what? You really need a new boyfriend. You need a good old-fashioned make-out session to mell ow you out.” Why did everyone think I needed a new boyfriend? I didn’t need a new boyfriend. I’d had enough of boyfriends to last a lifetime. The only thing a boyfriend was good for was a shattered heart.
AN HOUR LATER, I’D FIXED AND EATEN A LATE SNACK of cream cheese frosting spread on graham crackers, tidied up the kitchen, and watched a little TV. In a shadowy corner of my mind, I hadn’t managed to forget the text message warning me to stay home.
It had been easier to brush off as a miscal or prank when I was safe and sound inside Vee’s car, but now that I was alone, I wasn’t feeling anywhere near as confident. I considered turning on some Chopin to break the silence, but I didn’t want to handicap my hearing. The last thing I needed was someone sneaking up behind me….
Pull it together! I ordered myself. Nobody’s sneaking up on you.
After a while, when nothing good was left on TV, I climbed upstairs to my bedroom. My room was, for all intents and purposes, clean, so I color-coded my closet, trying to keep myself busy so I wouldn’t be tempted to fall asleep. Nothing would make me as vulnerable as dozing off, and I wanted to delay it as long as possible. I dusted the top of the bureau, then alphabetized my hardcovers. I reassured myself that nothing bad was going to happen. Most likely, I’d wake tomorrow realizing how ridiculously paranoid I’d been.
Then again, maybe the text was from someone who wanted to slit my throat while I slept. On an eerie night like this, nothing was too far-fetched to believe.
Sometime later, I woke in the dark. The drapes on the far side of the room Bill owed as the electric fan oscillated toward them. The air temperature was overly warm, and my stretchy tank and boy briefs clung to my skin, but I was too caught up in envisioning worst-case scenarios to even think about cracking the window. Looking sideways, I blinked at the numbers on my clock. Just shy of three.