Back | Next

There’s forty-six other apps on the gun,” said Dante. He’d worn the military-green duster that he’d found at the Salvation Army before school began. Peter thought it made him look like a Columbine shooter. “We’ve got to try them all.”

Peter watched students streaming past where they stood near the pop machines. “Sounds dangerous to me. What we ought to do is figure out who else visited the dump. Maybe the gun belongs to them.”

“You’re getting scared in your old age.” Dante grinned at a freshman girl as she passed. “Going to school is like a coed buffet. All you can eat, all the time.”

Peter couldn’t laugh at the joke. It wasn’t funny. “Someone’s going to hear you say something like that, and you’ll regret it.”

Dante admired the girl until she entered a classroom. “Maybe you’re right and someone is looking for the gun. We should take it someplace else. No sense returning to the spot where whoever owns it might be looking for it. How about the old softball field at Slessing Park? Nobody goes there except pot heads, and that’s only at night.”

Peter shrugged. “Okay.” He knew Dante wouldn’t give up until he’d tried the gun again, and he was interested too, even if the memory of the heat waves around the tree before it caught fire were still vivid.

Dante grinned. “Great! See you 5th hour.” He pushed away from the wall and joined the crowd moving toward the classrooms.

Peter worried about strange adults. Suddenly the hall in his own school seemed threatening. A man in a business suit, carrying a briefcase, walked by purposefully. Probably just a sub, Peter thought, but the guy looked like he was on a mission, checking students as they passed him. What would he be looking for? Would someone who used the gun have traces of it on him? Maybe all the owners would know is that the people at the dump wore running shoes. He and Dante must have left footprints everywhere in the clearing. Peter watched his classmates’ feet as they walked by. There were a scattering of sandals, cowboy boots, and deck shoes, but most students had running shoes, some of them even the same kind of shoe that Peter wore.

Another man, wearing a tool belt with heavy pockets and a hammer stuck in a loop, came out of the janitor’s room. Was that a janitor that Peter had seen before? He couldn’t remember. What better way to scope out the students than posing as a janitor. If Peter wanted to wander through a school without being noticed, pretending to be a janitor would be perfect.

Or maybe the gun’s owner was camped in a van in the parking lot filled with electronic monitoring equipment. Peter glanced uneasily at the school’s security cameras. It wouldn’t be that hard to hack into their feeds.

I’m just being paranoid, he thought, but when he turned to go to class, he ran right into Christy Sanders.

“Did you do the reading in Of Mice and Men? If you did, could I borrow your notes?” She smiled, and Peter couldn’t speak. Suddenly it was last night again, except this time she was right here, physical, immediate. He could smell jasmine—maybe it was her shampoo—and she was paying attention to him. He’d never felt so much like a bug under a magnifying glass in his whole life.

“I . . . umm . . . Mice and Men . . . I . . .”

She looked at him quizzically. “Are you okay? You’re flushed. Do you have a fever? I tried to do the reading, but someone told me how the book ends, and I don’t want to get there.”

Peter held up his hand. “Yeah . . . notes.” He dug desperately through his backpack, came up triumphantly with the spiral notebook, and almost flung it at her.

“Don’t you need them?” she said. “I can give them back at lunch.”

“I’m good,” Peter gasped out. He could feel the blood in his face. With a force of will, he looked her in the eyes, convinced that if he looked down he’d reveal that he’d seen her, really seen her.

“Okay,” she said. “Thanks, I think.”

As she walked away, he tried to control his breathing. He imagined his adrenal gland inside his chest—where is the adrenal gland?—pumping all its flight or fight hormones into his system at the same time. His heart hadn’t pounded this hard since they timed a mile in P.E.

It occurred to him that today might be a long one.

Until lunch, Peter alternated between studying every strange adult he saw (there were a lot more unfamiliar adults in the school than he would have ever guessed), and hoping that he wouldn’t run into Christy Sanders again.

I need to get a grip, he thought. It wasn’t like he’d never seen a naked woman. How could he not? He had a computer and access to the Internet. A few months ago he’d wanted some ideas about what to do with the last school vacation, so he searched for “spring break.” His screen filled with underdressed bodies.

The Internet gave him an idea, though, so he dashed to the library during lunch to search for information. He looked for images under “guns,” “strange guns,” —he found multi-barrel muskets from the 19th Century to be fascinating— “multiuse weapons,” “unusual landfills,” “strange trash,” and “unexplained junk yards.” No luck. Normally he was pretty good at finding information on the Internet, but today’s search was a bust. It didn’t help that the school’s filtering software blocked half the sites. It didn’t like most searches with “gun” in the title. The program was stupid that way. He’d have the same problem if he searched for “breast,” even if he was working on a paper on breast cancer, or if he wanted to learn more about breastworks, or if he wanted a recipe for making a dish out of a chicken breast. Half of the human race has them, he thought, but the school administration wants to pretend they don’t exist. He shook his head in disbelief.

He could take a picture of the gun, and then use an image-search program to see if there would be a match, but, he thought, if someone was tech savvy and was missing the gun, wouldn’t they be on the lookout for a search for the thing they’d lost? His hands froze over the keyboard. Had he already revealed himself by this Internet search? He had logged in under his own name! His search history was practically a confession.

I’m more paranoid than I thought, he thought. He looked around him in the library. The other students were busy at their computers or talking to their friends. No one seemed to be paying attention to what he was doing, but he closed the search program anyway, suddenly afraid that he might already have identified himself as a person of interest. He closed his browser, signed off from the computer, and hurried from the library.

He dreaded 5th period English like he never had before. Dante would be there, and Peter knew that what he would want to do would be to talk about the gun. If they didn’t talk about the gun, maybe the gun would go away, he thought, then immediately recognized his own denial. Paranoia and denial, he thought, were terrible in combination, and if he combined that with unresolved sexual feelings, he might well explode. He made a mental note to quit reading pop psychology articles. And, of course, Christy would be there too.

Maybe if he really, really concentrated on Lennie, George, and Of Mice and Men, he could get through the class.

Trying not to think about a thing only made it worse. Students settled into their desks around him. Backpacks dropped to the floor. Notebooks opened on desks. Pens clicked open, and students talked about their day, but Peter kept picturing the duffle bag revealed from under the sheet of metal. Why didn’t he just leave it alone? He imagined the owner of the shoe in the forest, the one who’d left his muddy print, leaning over a computer right now, looking up the class schedule of the student who had searched for strange guns.

Naturally, Mrs. Pickerel put them into groups. Dante wasn’t in Peter’s group, but Christy was. She and the three other students moved their desks together.

“Thanks for the notes,” she whispered in his ear as she pushed her desk next to his, her breath soft on his cheek.

Their discussion topic was “Was Curly’s wife a ‘rat trap’ as George labeled her, or was she as innocent and misunderstood as Lennie?”

Christy slouched back in her chair. “Steinbeck hated women. That’s clear. It’s not her fault that the men on the ranch saw her sexually and were afraid of her.”

The guy to Peter’s left who he didn’t know well, said, “She knew what she was doing when she went into the bunkhouse and stirred those men up. I’ll bet she liked the attention. George was spot on calling her a tramp.”

Everyone contributed to the discussion, but Peter stayed quiet, suffering in the irony of a topic about how men see women, and what that says about men.

Somehow the talk morphed into a debate about dating and what kind of person you should date. Two other girls in the group maintained that you should only date someone you love. The guy who’d reminded everyone that Curly’s wife was a rat-trap, surprisingly agreed with them, but ruined it by saying, “When you’re in high school, though, you date for sex. Love doesn’t have anything to do with it. Love is when you’re old, like twenty-two.”

Christy said, “Girls keep a list, you know, of guys who aren’t datable. Your name just went on it.” The two other girls nodded, and suddenly Peter wondered if there was such a list. Did girls get together and share notes? That would answer a lot of questions, until he thought of a flaw.

He said, “Then how come so many girls date guys who make them unhappy? If there’s a list, shouldn’t the bad guys end up alone? From my point of view, they’re the only ones who do have girlfriends.”

Christy laughed at that. “We keep a list, but girls are stupid this way. The good guys end up in the friend zone, and you can’t date within the friend zone because it might ruin the friendship. A good friend is more valuable than a boyfriend, so you don’t want to risk him. We end up dating from the bad boy list.”

“Good for me,” said the guy.

“Except for you,” said Christy, although it was clear that one of the other girls didn’t think so.

“Not all girls are stupid,” Christy continued. “The smart ones figure out that you have the best times in your life, and you feel more alive and in a better mood when you’re with your friend, so eventually, if you’re smart, you cross a boundary with a friend. That’s the only way to go. Friends first.”

“Friend zone guys are like brothers,” said one of the girls. “Yuck.”

Like brothers,” said Christy, “because they love you, but they’re not your brother. If you can’t make that distinction, you ignore the best guys in your life and date the bad ones instead. That’s a recipe for unhappiness and abuse.”

“Like Curly’s wife,” said the first girl.

When the bell rang, though, Peter realized he hadn’t thought about the gun or Dante wanting to experiment with it for the last fifteen minutes. So, there is a silver lining, he thought.

Back | Next