“Harrison, I was just fucking with you…”
“No, you weren’t. It’s nothing. I thought it could be something, I mean, eventually.” He finally looks at us. “My life. I thought—but I mean … it’s nothing.”
Cary groans. “Please shut up.”
“But I still want it to be something,” Harrison says. A single tear trails down his cheek. “That’s stupid, isn’t it? And now it’s too late to do anything about it.”
Cary buries his head in his hands. No one does or says anything for a long time and then Grace scoots over to Harrison. Her nose and cheeks are a warm red from the whiskey. She wraps an arm around him and he starts to cry in earnest.
“Don’t cry,” she says. “You have a lot of time.”
“No, I don’t.”
“Yeah, you do.”
“Yeah! Yeah, you do. It’s okay. Look—”
She does something that is amazingly selfless and also gross. She tilts Harrison’s face up and gives him a sweet kiss on the lips and it lasts long enough for him to taste her back, to move his mouth against hers. Trace regards her proudly and when it’s over, Harrison stares at her dumbfounded but he’s stopped crying.
She is so nice.
Cary makes a disgusted noise and struggles to his feet. “Well, this was fun until Harrison started crying, but hey. That’s what he does, right? Thanks, Harrison.”
This brings Harrison back. “I didn’t—”
“Yeah, you did.”
“What the fuck is your problem?” Trace asks. “Let the kid cry if he needs to.”
“That’s all we let Harrison do! I don’t want to dwell.” Cary rubs his eyes. “I’m tired of dwelling. I just wanted to get totally wasted and—”
“You’re there,” Rhys tells him.
“It was just sharing,” I say. “That’s all he did.”
“Yeah, but not—” Cary gestures to Harrison. It throws him off balance. He sways precariously for a second before steadying himself. “Not that. We didn’t need to hear it. I didn’t want to hear it. It’s fucking pathetic…”
“I’m sorry,” Harrison says. “I didn’t mean to—”
“He can fucking dwell if he wants to,” Trace says. “I never see you dwell.”
“Oh, let me guess,” Cary replies. “The next words out of your mouth are going to be something about your dead parents that I killed because I’m a murderer.”
“Yeah, something like that. Exactly like that actually.”
They stare at each other. I watch Trace. He holds Cary’s gaze, unblinking. Cary caves first and he does it in a way I don’t expect, that I don’t think any of us expect. He curls his hand into a fist and presses it against his forehead.
“You think I wanted this,” he says.
“Cary,” Grace starts. “Don’t do this—”
“But you must. You think I wanted it,” he says. “You actually think I wanted to be left with you guys, without them.” He laughs. “You think I wanted that? Really?” He takes a step back. “I didn’t. I loved the idea of—I loved the idea of them.” He lowers his hand. “It shouldn’t have been them. It should have been—”
He stares at us, lost, and I keep waiting for him to finish even though I know he’s never going to finish. It should’ve been me. Cary changes for me in that instant. From the boy who is crazy good at survival stuff to the boy who thinks he should be dead.
He’s finally become someone I understand.
He shakes his head and weaves out of the auditorium. He’s through with us, with everything. I want to follow after him, tell him he’s not alone.
I want to ask him how we can help each other.
Grace catches my eye. She opens her mouth and closes it and then she looks away. She doesn’t look happy anymore. I feel like someone should do something. I guess it should be me. I get to my feet and the world tilts a little.
“I’ll find him.”
“Don’t,” Trace says. “Let him rot.”
Rhys stands. “I’ll go with you.”
I don’t want his company but I guess I’m stuck with it. Rhys is steadier on his feet than I am and when we leave the auditorium, I end up following him. He seems to know where Cary is: the library. He’s slumped over at one of the tables, his head resting in his arms.
“Just leave me alone,” he slurs. “Please.”
“Let us take you back to your mat,” Rhys says.
“Mat. I don’t even have a bed anymore. None of us have beds anymore. You realize this, right? We can’t go home. There are no more beds.” He raises his head and looks at us. His eyes are glassy. “We can’t go home, Sloane.”
“That’s okay with me.”
“Why? This is the alternative.”
“Okay. Enough.” Rhys stands behind Cary and pulls him to his feet. Cary pushes away from him and says, “I am not going back to the auditorium—”
“The nurse’s office, then,” Rhys says.
So we take him there. Cary needs an arm around each of us to stay upright. Taking on his weight slows us down. His legs are uncooperative, jelly, and as we pass a classroom, he detours inside and pukes in a garbage can and then he spits.
“Better,” he mumbles. After that, he is a little better. He just wants to pass out, he tells us. When we hit the nurse’s office, he flops back on the cot and Rhys unties his shoes.
“I’m a murderer,” Cary says. “I. Am. A. Murderer.”
“No, you’re drunk. Sleep it off.”
I don’t want Cary to stop talking. I want him to finish what he was going to say in the auditorium. I want to hear someone else say they’ve given up. I need to hear it.
“It should’ve been you, right?”
Rhys gives me a look. “Sloane.”
“What? No…” Cary blinks. “No. It should’ve been—Harrison.”
“That kid just can’t get a break,” Rhys says.
“We didn’t even know him—” Cary sits up with difficulty. “Rhys, remember we found him and we didn’t know him and it turns out he went to this fucking school? Just by looking at him, you could tell he’s nothing. Everyone else—everyone else, we knew—” He leans forward and puts his head between his knees. “It should have been Harrison.”
“You’d feel just as bad as you do now if it had been.”
“No one would have held it against me if it had been Harrison.”
Cary’s breathing gets so heavy and for a second I think he’s passed out sitting up, but then his shoulders start to shake. He’s crying.
I turn to Rhys, who stares at Cary, horrified. Rhys turns to me and his eyes are begging me to do something, like I’m the girl here and I should know what to do. I take a tentative step toward Cary but I don’t know what to do. I think I’d need to be drunker than I am to have any idea of what to do or say to help him. Cary raises his head and he looks so sad.
“The alley was swarmed,” he whispers. My heart hears this, processes it, understands it before my brain does. I take two steps back. “I knew it was swarmed…”
“Cary, shut up,” Rhys says.
“It was the only way to the school and none of us knew Harrison. Bait.”
“But the Caspers insisted, you know? They insisted, didn’t they? They couldn’t wait and I—I couldn’t say I lied, right? But it wasn’t … it wasn’t supposed to be them. It was supposed to be Harrison. I set it up and it was supposed to be … Harrison—”
He starts to sob. He cries so hard I think he’ll be sick again. He curls up on his side, his eyes squeezed shut. The pain is so etched on his face that I can feel it. He knew that the alley was swarmed.
Harrison was bait.
And I remember—I remember Cary looking down that alley and turning back to us, telling us it was safe and the Caspers … the Caspers rushing ahead. They wanted to get to the school so badly, they were so eager for the walls, the shelter to keep them and their children safe. I close my eyes and I hear Mrs. Casper’s voice in my head, just before she went. Thank God one thing’s finally gone right. She sounded so hopeful, so relieved. And then—
“Cary,” Rhys says.
“Go. Just get the fuck away from me—”
Rhys doesn’t need more incentive than that. He grabs me by the hand and pulls me out of the nurse’s office. He shuts the door quietly and then stares through the window at Cary. My heart is jackhammering in my chest. Rhys turns to me.
“We can’t tell anyone about this.”
“I’m serious, Sloane. We can’t—”
He swallows, nods, and then we make our way down the hall together, back to the auditorium. I am terrified they’ll somehow see what I’ve heard on my face, so I stop. Rhys stops. He waits for me to walk again and I do and he walks with me. When we turn the corner, I realize how spent I am. I lean against a locker. I really don’t want to go back. Not yet.
“Are you okay?” he asks.
“Give me a minute.”
“Whiskey and head trauma don’t really go, huh.”
“I don’t want to be around you right now.”
The meanness surprises the boy who told me to kill myself, but wouldn’t let me kill myself. He stalks off. I wait until he’s gone and then I sit down on the floor.
My father never went after Lily after she left. Nineteen. She was legally an adult, but he was so angry I could never understand why he didn’t just go to the police and make them track her down. I don’t know why he didn’t make it hard for her. But then I think … as long as he had something to hurt it must’ve been okay that she was gone. Cary wanted to use Harrison as bait and the Caspers got in the way. The Caspers thought Cary should stand in front of them. They thought he was expendable. The man outside, he was expendable. He didn’t mean anything to me. Was I expendable? Was I Lily’s bait?