There was this boy who used to be in my class. One day he stopped coming to school. His best friend, Nick, told everyone that he was being homeschooled. He seemed shifty about it though. I honestly didn't think about it too much. I knew Jeremy from class but we didn't talk much. Then, a month or so after he'd left school I saw him leaving Dr. Estrada's small clinic late one night, looking pale and miserable.
There might have been a lot of reasons to leave a hospital looking miserable but there weren't that many to leave with a cooler. It was enough to spark a few suspicions. Those didn't bother me too much. What was bugging me more was how depressed he looked. I wasn't close with Jeremy, but I knew he was a pretty social guy. He attended every dance and most school activities. He sat at crowded tables, and I couldn't for the life of me remember ever seeing him without two or three of his friends. Since he'd left school I hadn't seen him around anyone. He seemed to have lost touch with all of his friends.
"Is Jeremy going to the game?" I asked Nick one day between classes. He seemed startled and confused.
"I don't think so." He answered nervously.
"Why not? It's at night." I pointed out. I still wasn't 100% sure that was important, but it seemed reasonable. A lot of things don't like the sun. "He should go."
"Oh, that's rich." Jessica scoffed. "We don't go to the games. Why should he?" I stepped on her foot and she yelped rather comically.
"He should go." I insisted. Nick stared at me thoughtfully before he nodded.
"I'll tell him. Melody, right?" I nodded and dragged a grumbly Jessica away.
Jessica's revenge for stomping her foot definitely outweighed the crime. She dragged me to the game. I didn't even have a good defense! Every time I tried to protest she just brought up the conversation I had with Nick and taunted me with it.
"You can't seriously tell me you want to do this?" I groaned as she pulled me to the field with an unruly grin.
"Don't be silly, Melody. We have to go." I had to anyway, because Jessica had my wrist locked in an iron grip.
"Wouldn't you rather have a Bourne Identity marathon?" I cajoled. "We can even watch the new ones."
"Don't say that like it's a bribe. I know you secretly like them too." Jessica accused as she hauled me into the middle of the bleachers knowing that with a crowd on either side of us I couldn't escape. In the end, she also trapped herself.
Here's the thing about Jessica and sports. She would always rather play than watch. She was twitchy within minutes and just as bored as I was. I could tell she was getting more and more aggravated as the game went on. She actually snarled when someone from the other team fumbled the ball. She didn't care who won or lost, she just wanted to get on the field and play herself.
"We can still get out of here." I urged, leaning over her shoulder both to speak into her ear and to shift away from the loud enthusiastic boy to my left. "There's a jungle gym on the way to my house. It's late enough that there won't be any parents around to yell at you for climbing too high and giving their kids bad ideas..." She was wavering. I pressed on. "I bet the drugstore's still open. We can stop for candy and jerky." The crowd collectively started to cheer, the noise almost taking on a physical manifestation. Jessica tensed, one hand going to her ear.
"Okay!" She relented, shouting over the crowd. We stood and struggled over to the edge of the bleachers. I breathed a sigh of relief as I almost tripped past the last person onto the semi-clear steps, Jessica right on my heels. As we made our way down the steps I spotted Nick for the first time that night. He ducked from the edge of the crowd on the other side of the bleachers and out of sight.
"Oh, thank god." I sighed as we left the brightly lit field and into the cool night. A breeze rose to meet us. It seemed impossible that there could be such an intense difference between being on the other side of the bleachers but even the cheering crowd seemed blissfully muted.
"Yeah. Wanna race to the park?" Jessica was taking quick steps, practically vibrating with barely contained energy she was desperate to burn.
I snorted. "No thanks. I don't start things I know I can't win."
"Melody!" Someone yelled my name behind us over the fading shouts of the crowd. I turned and saw Nick dragging a reluctant Jeremy behind him.
"Hey guys, I didn't see you inside." I smiled at them.
"Jay here didn't go in." Nick elbowed his friend. Jeremy looked annoyed.
"It's loud." He muttered, he seemed to be avoiding our gaze.
"Tell me about it." I grimaced. Jessica nodded sympathetically. He used to attend the games with his friends but it sounded as if his senses got overwhelmed more easily now. I'd have to keep that in mind.
"Hey! We're headed over to the park then Melody's house for a spy marathon." Jessica told them excitedly. "Want to come?"
"Yes." Nick cut off whatever Jeremy was about to say. "Absolutely."
"Great! Let's go!" Jessica took off towards the park.
"Now you've done it." I laughed. "She's going to drag all of us into some kind of game, just watch." We followed her. She'd stopped about half a block away where she was bouncing up and down impatiently waiting for us to catch up. I noticed that Jeremy lagged a step behind us. He was walking between me and a strangely determined Nick. He was also looking anywhere except for at me. It stung a little bit. It was too bad that he couldn't hang out with his real friends but I hoped that just us would help a bit.
I was right. Jessica almost immediately conscripted us into a climbing contest. Surprisingly, Jeremy won on speed, vaulting over a bar and beating Jessica to the top by a good three seconds. Unsurprisingly, Jessica won on height, clambering on to what was supposed to be the roof of the structure where she balanced precariously, arms outstretched and, at the top of her lungs, declared "I AM VICTORIOUS!" Then laughed like the lovable maniac that she was.
We stopped at Crowe's General Store & Pharmacy. Mary Ann Crowe was about to lock up but she stopped when she saw us. "Hello girls! I thought you weren't coming tonight." She cheerfully flicked back on the lights she'd turned out.
"Movie night wouldn't be the same without snacks." I laughed as Jessica charged towards the salty and sugary treats.
"Who are the boys, Mel?" Mary Ann asked, a teasing twinkle in her eyes.
"Mary Ann..." I rolled my eyes.
"Come on, I might be on the wrong side of forty but I know how it is. Which one do you have your eye on?" Mary Ann smirked. She didn't really seem forty, though the white strands that peppered her dark hair would seem to support that. I noticed that Jeremy's cheeks were flaming red with a blush against his pale skin. He was standing ten feet away, examining a magazine rack too closely, Mary Ann probably didn't realize that he could hear us. He looked up and met my eyes. His face was suddenly so red he looked like he had a sunburn. He turned on his heel and darted for the candy aisle with a surprised Nick following him.
I shook myself. I wanted to get Mary Ann off that track and I needed something from her anyway. "Actually I was hoping I could pick up Dad's headache medicine while we're here."
"Sorry Mel, it hasn't come in yet." She replied apologetically, easily stepping out of her teasing mindset and into a more professional demeanor. She moved behind the counter where her white pharmacist coat was hanging on a hook, but she bypassed the shiny modern area on the right side and went to the more rustic section on the left. "This tea should tide him over." She offered me a glass jar of homemade tea bags. "Wards off headaches like nothing else." I shook my head.
"He's not going to drink it. Strictly coffee. Got any other brews that would help?" She paused at the word 'brew' processing it like she didn't know it was obvious what she was.
"Not for a coffee brew, exactly." She said, as if choosing her words very carefully. "But," She turned around and pulled a tin of cocoa off the shelf. Even with her back to me I could still hear her mutter something lyrically over the tin before she turned towards me. "If you add a spoon full of this to his morning coffee it might give him a bit more pep." Dad was a nut for chocolate so that might actually work. And if Mary Ann implied it would help with his headaches it definitely would.
"Thanks." I accepted the tin and frowned. "I better get a second one so that Jessica doesn't drink it all tonight." Mary Ann got a sticker to mark which was for us and which was for my dad (a difference that was lost on everyone but her). Jessica came carving back with an armful of jerky for her and a mix of our favorite sugar. Nick carried a variety of chocolate bars. Jeremy trailed behind them, empty handed.
Mary Ann rang us up and shooed us out of the store so that she could close. I found myself between Jessica and Jeremy. Nick seemed to be purposefully boxing Jeremy in next to me. He'd been pretty quiet, but I might as well keep making an effort. I bumped his shoulder with mine. "So, we were planning on spy thrillers. Maybe a few Bourne movies. Do you guys had any preferences?"
"Uh, nope. That sounds good." Jeremy answered, reddening again. Nick snorted.
"Don't let him fool you." He pushed Jeremy's head down so he could look at me. "There's nothing this guy likes more than a romcom." Jessica choked beside me.
"Nick!" Jeremy jerked up and threw his hand off him. He tossed me an anxious glance before scowling at Nick. On my other side I could feel Jessica eyeing me with a glare, daring me to change our plans. Romcoms were the bane of her existence. She literally walked out a theater the last time I tried to take her to one. I bit the corner of my lip.
"How about RED?" I suggested as a compromise. That had a pretty romcom plot despite the explosions.
"That's great." Jeremy answered automatically, elbowing Nick hard enough for him to double let with an audible grunt.
"Yeah, alright." Jessica agreed. I grinned.
"This is us." I nodded at a shadowed house. I led the way up the steps on to the porch of the modest two story house and let myself in. Jessica practically pushed past me in her eagerness to start the popcorn. I jingled the keys. My house key always seemed to get stuck. I heard a whispered conversation and looked behind me.
Nick and Jeremy seemed to be arguing in hushed tones. I picked out Jeremy's harsh "-go in there!" And it clicked. Wow, that should have occurred to me.
"Come on in, Jeremy." I called, returning my attention to the stuck key. The arguing stopped. "I'll be there in just a second I just have to-" A cold hand was suddenly over mine. I glanced up in confusion, even as I felt the key slide gently from the lock. Jeremy was close. So close I should have been able to feel his breath.
"You were pulling too hard." He smiled at me. And his teeth were sharp and white.
"Thanks." I grinned back. Nick was practically beaming at us. "Well, what are you waiting for? I've already given you an invitation. Come on." I ushered them inside where Jessica was shouting about me being out of the 'good' ice cream. Because clearly that girl needed more sugar.