Page 24 of This is Not a Test

Rhys moves forward and then he stops. They stare at each other and a smile slowly stretches across Trace’s face.


“Where did you put the gun?” Rhys asks.


“Somewhere safe.”


“Tell me where you put it.”


“No.”


Rhys looks a second away from exploding, jumping Trace, something. Trace senses it. His smile vanishes at the same time Rhys recovers. It’s the most incredible show of restraint.


“Why not?” Rhys asks. “I went out there for your dad. I thought we were cool.”


“That was then,” Trace replies. “I don’t like how you put Baxter before us. I don’t like how you or Price there put Chen before us. I don’t think you should have the gun.”


“But—”


“That’s fair,” Harrison says, surprising us.


“I didn’t say it wasn’t,” Rhys says slowly. “But what happens to it after Cary comes back?”


“He’s not coming back,” Trace says.


“If he hasn’t turned in three days, he’s not turning. And we’re a group,” Rhys says. “We should decide this stuff as a group—”


“Sure, whatever you say.” Trace shrugs. “Whoever thinks I should keep the gun until after this thing with Chen is resolved, raise your hand.”


Three hands go up. Trace, Grace, and Harrison.


“Okay,” Rhys says. He holds his hand out to Trace.


Trace hesitates and then they shake.


I don’t believe in either of them.


Rhys visits Cary every hour. Sometimes I want to go with him, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I keep thinking of how we sent Baxter out, him pounding against the door. The only thing that manages to pull me out of my thoughts are Grace and Trace. They argue quietly in the corner. I know it’s about Cary. Grace’s arms are crossed. Trace actually points at her like he’s her father and then she snaps something at him. They stand there for a minute, then he gives her this hug and it’s over, I guess, even if it’s not resolved. Is this how brothers and sisters fight? It’s not the way Lily and I ever fought.


Grace wanders over to me. I ask her what she said to Cary, what Trace said to her, but she won’t tell me and my prying sends her away. She flops down on one of the couches and eventually, I go to sleep. Morning has crept up on us, but it doesn’t matter. When I wake up again, it’s still day. The auditorium is uncomfortably quiet. A quick look around the room tells me Grace, Harrison, and Trace are gone. At my left is Rhys. He’s asleep, one arm splayed out, half on his mat, half off it. His hand rests on the floor, open. I get this urge I can’t resist. I reach over and gently press my index finger into his palm.


He doesn’t wake up. I do it again, let it stay there for the longest time and he’s too asleep to feel it. I stare at his face. His lips are parted slightly. His breathing is rhythmic, even. His shirt has ridden up past his abdomen.


LaVallee’s keys are clipped to his belt loop.


I want to see Cary. I don’t want to ask Rhys’s permission. I watch him for a little longer, gathering courage and when I have it, I sit up and move close to him, as close as I can get to him. My hands are at his jeans, trying to unhook the keys. This is not how I imagined the first time I’d fumble with some guy’s pants would go.


Rhys grabs my wrist and stares at me through half-lidded eyes.


“What are you doing?” he asks thickly.


“I want to see Cary.”


His eyes drift shut. He swallows.


“Just give me a minute.” He sounds distant. “We’ll go and see Cary…”


I wait, but he doesn’t move. He’s fallen back asleep and I’m glad because I want to see Cary alone. In one quick motion, I unclip the keys and hurry out of the auditorium. I don’t see Trace, Grace, or Harrison on my way to the nurse’s office and maybe I should worry about that, but I don’t because if anyone’s fine it’s them.


Cary is on his cot when I unlock the door and I think maybe I should have brought him something to eat or drink. But then I notice a tray of uneaten food on the nearby desk. Cary looks at me but he doesn’t speak.


“If you were expecting Rhys, he’s sleeping,” I say.


“Not surprised. He took a metric shit-ton of Benadryl the last time he was in here.”


I sit beside him, reach over, and press both of my hands against his face. He’s not cold. If anything, he’s hot. Cary wraps his hands around my wrist and gently lowers them.


“Did Rhys tell you about the—”


“Yes.”


“So you’re not infected,” I say. He shrugs. “I thought you’d be happy.”


“You saw how quick they were going to throw me out of here.”


“It was just Trace.”


“I really thought I was bitten, Sloane. I thought that was it for me.”


“It’s not.”


“Makes you think, though. The apocalypse: one big existential crisis.” He cracks a smile. “But whatever, right? I’m here, I’m alive, probably not infected. Great.”


“What did Grace say to you when she was in here?”


“That’s between me and her,” he says. “But I didn’t tell her what Rhys said about the bites. I don’t know if he told you but he doesn’t want them to know what he knows. He’s pissed at them.”


Neither of us says anything. It’s nice to be able to sit with someone and not say anything. Something about it makes me brave. It makes me do something I don’t entirely understand. I lean over and wrap my arms around Cary. I rest my head against his chest. He tenses but then he wraps his arms around me. I don’t feel anything about Cary that’s romantic.


I just want this.


“I loved your sister,” he says.


It’s so unexpected, it’s beyond processing. And then, as it slowly sinks in, I look up at him.


“But I Never … you said—”


“What, you think I’m going to put all my cards on the table? I knew you were freaked when I told you we had sex.” He sighs. “It was that unrequited bullshit, anyway … she didn’t know. Never knew. Now I can’t stop thinking about it. Maybe telling you is the closest I’ll get.”


“Why didn’t you tell her?”


“Lily had to keep me at an arm’s length to have sex with me. She didn’t like to get personal, so I didn’t.”


“You really think she made it?”


Cary lets the question hang in the air. The last time we talked about her, he said she’d make it but when we played I Never, he also said he’d never been in love.


“I hope she did. I like to think she did.”


“She left me,” I say. “She didn’t tell me she was going.”


“She had things to figure out.”


“I thought you said you never got personal.”


“It didn’t get personal enough.”


“What do you think she had to figure out?”


“I don’t know. She said she felt hopeless once,” he says. He pauses. “Trapped. She never felt free. I thought it was one of those post-high-school I-have-no-idea-what-I-want-to-do-with-my-life meltdowns. Was it?”


Letting this conversation happen was like putting a toe in the ocean and now the water is over my head. The way we hold each other changes, in that I stop. My whole body turns to stone. It doesn’t escape his notice. I sense my name on the tip of his tongue, but I don’t give him the opportunity to say it. I get to my feet but as soon as we’re not touching, I feel it so much.


“I should get back to the auditorium before they start wondering,” I say.


“What you should really be doing is looking for Baxter’s way in,” he says, and he’s right. That’s what I should be doing. That’s what all of us should be doing. “Don’t forget to lock the door on your way out.”


I do and then I just stand there in the hall.


What she told me: it was us two, nobody else. Our future was our freedom. She was the one who tied and knotted us together, made escape with her the only thing I wanted, convinced me there was nothing else to want.


But I knew she hated it.


I can’t do this anymore, I’m so sorry.


Just because she said it to Cary first—


I wrap my arms around myself and circle the school. Trace’s, Harrison’s, and Grace’s voices sound from the gym. When I step inside, the basketball is in Harrison’s hands and everything about this moment is something I want to kill.


“We should be looking for how Baxter got in,” I say.


“Don’t start,” Trace says. “Already got this lecture from Moreno.”


“Yeah, for good reason. It’s important we find it.”


“So important he’s all hopped up on Benadryl and passed out in the auditorium, right? Hey, have you seen Cary? Has he turned? Let me know as soon as it happens.”


I guess the sparkle of how I went outside for him has faded, all for not wanting him to kill Cary, for voting against him about the gun. I head back into the hall.


Baxter’s way in is also a way out.


If I find it, I can leave.


I comb classrooms and closets, push against walls absurdly, like they might move. I cannot find it. I go back to the auditorium. Rhys is still in a coma. I hook the keys back onto his jeans and then, impulsively, press my hand against his face. He stirs a little. Leans into my palm. I run my fingers over his skin for the longest time and he never wakes up.


Hopeless.


Grace insists on taking Cary breakfast.


“No way.” Trace tries to take the tray from her hands.


“I wasn’t asking you,” she says. “I’m telling you.”


“No,” Trace says slowly. “I’m telling you. I don’t want you anywhere near him when he’s like this. Stop being stupid, Grace.”


“Last I checked him—like an hour ago—he was fine,” Rhys says. “I doubt anything is going to happen to her if she goes in there right now.”

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