The next day, Cary was awoken by Lana leaning over him and shaking him, roughly. “Have you seen Bird?” she asked. Cary shook his head and inched away from her. He looked past Lana to the wall clock. It was just before six in the morning.
“S’probably passed out in his truck or something...” Cary mumbled as he rubbed his eyes.
“His truck isn’t here!” Lana said, aggravated and upset.
Cary sighed. I don’t care. Bird is likely passed out somewhere, sleeping off a drunken binge.
“I promised Pastor...promised I would bring him to the Sanctuary today...” Lana said. Lana fidgeted and twitched. Leave me alone. I can MAKE you leave me alone...
Lana moved back, as if pushed.
“Sorry, Lana. But I have to go to school...” Cary said and with exaggerated slowness. Gently, he pushed her bodily away from him. Don’t use all your strength. Lana slid across the room. Her eyes went wide with confusion and terror once she hit the wall.
“What...” she mumbled, looking up and down from the floor to Cary. ”..the heck?”
“Sorry, Lana, I told you I have to get ready for school.” Cary said, shrugged and smiled nastily.
Lana did a double take and fled the room.
Cary caught his reflection in the mirror of the bathroom a minute later and beamed at himself, laughing with the joy of the moment. The satisfaction which came from knowing Lana could never beat him up again, would never hurt him again, never make him do anything again; was more than Cary thought his body could contain. He wanted to jump and dance. Why didn’t I realize this earlier? Suddenly, it seemed, a whole world of possibilities just opened before him.
Cary hummed as he made toast and got ready for school. He was terribly eager already to see if his latest wish had come true. Yet had no doubt it had. A steady, low-pulse spasm beat just under his heart, a slight tugging, and Cary knew what it meant now.
At least I think I do.
Cary skipped part of way towards Happy Endings High. Stopped, looked around and started again. He laughed each time he stopped himself. The Sun shone from behind trees on his right giving the little copse of woods a halo-like glow. With every step Cary took, he became more confident, more pleased with himself and more sure this was going to be the best day ever, and just the first of many more. He had never felt anything remotely like the surge of joy rushing through him and it was overwhelming. He couldn’t make himself stop smiling. Once he cleared the little copse, there was someone standing on the sidewalk ahead, between himself and the high school. Cary recognized the frizzy hair and glasses right off.
Cary rushed over to her, beaming. “Did it...”
She shook her head sadly. “Obvi. No.”
“I’m sorry, B. Really, I...”
“It’s OK, Care. Maybe it only works for you...” Bugs said, clearly not at all consoled.
“Really, B. I don’t think mine came true either. I...” Cary said, but a throng of voices hushed him.
Kids began appearing everywhere. From behind them, in small groups of two and three, traveling together, but not as one. From the other direction came even more kids, tighter packed, and led, mob-like, by Troy. The Sun had finally risen fully above the trees.
“What is going on, Care?” Bugs said, worry or fear flooding her voice. She moved closer to him. Her hand laced its way through his.
Yet Cary didn’t feel worried or afraid.
I’m strong enough to never be afraid again.
The two groups stopped, just a few feet on either side of them. And they clapped. Cheered. Catcalled. Troy’s face broke into a wide smile and he approached Cary, sunlight casting his face in morning shadows.
“Sup, bro?” Troy said. “I can’t explain it dude, but it’s like... everyone just wanted to meet up with you this morning.” Troy looked around, maybe annoyed, then shrugged. Bugs was flabbergasted and immediately angered.
“So, I was thinking, C-dawg, maybe you should try out for swim team...” Troy said. And he pulled Cary away from Bugs. The whole crowd of kids moved, streamed between them, separated them with the effortless ease of a tsunami. Cary looked back at Bugs; bewildered, confused. Bugs looked miserable and reached out her arm towards him. Cary wanted to reach out to her, pull her along, but the crowd had moved too fast, much too energetic. Kids were reaching out to squeeze his arms, shoulders and neck. To pat his back. The touches combined were more than he could ever remember having had his entire life prior, all in a matter of moments. Before he could think clear enough to act, to grab hold of Bugs, at least without hurting someone, the mob had rounded a corner and were almost to the high school.
Bugs was gone.
Cary craned his neck, tried to look above the crowd for her, but he was not tall enough.
She was gone.
Troy talked constantly; Cary had to work had to pay attention, to not forcibly push the crowd away and go after Bugs. Bugs! Bugs! The other boy’s words washed over him not getting through his anxiety over Bugs, until Troy touched him and Cary shivered uncontrollably. His thoughts went errant, uncontrolled, focused entirely on Troy, the image of the boy dripping wet, pushing himself out of the pool at the Natatorium freezing itself in Cary’s mind, blotting out everything else. The feeling scared Cary. He looked away and saw Troy’s friends; they seemed like they wanted to move in and get closer to Cary, as though they had very important things which needed to be discussed. But Troy dominated, held them off, kept himself closest.
Once the school bell rang, Cary had had enough. He panted and looked around, desperate to know what the heck was going on.
Is Troy going to do something horrible to me now?
He can’t hurt me! I’m stronger than him!
OH! My wish!
It dawned on Cary like the Sun coming up over the trees – he had wished for popularity. And now he had it. The crowd around Cary dispersed at the sound of the bell to go to class, except for Troy, Tommy - and hanging back a bit - Jonathan.
“So, you’ll come to practice tonight, right C-dawg?” Troy said, his brown eyes fixated on Cary. Cary blinked, tried in vain to make the boy’s face vanish from behind his own eyes. Did Troy just ask me to come to swim practice? And did he call me “C-dawg?”
“Um, I have plans tonight, Troy.” Cary lied. “But maybe tomorrow, OK?”
Troy looked angry, disappointed - and for a second Cary thought it might mean trouble - but Troy’s face broke into a smile. He clapped Cary playfully on the shoulder. “Totally. S’cool, C-dawg. We’ll see you later. C’mon...” Troy waved to Tommy and Jonathan. They left, both of them fawned on a Cary a bit as they said effusive good-byes, Jonathan turned around just before the trio entered a classroom, gave Cary a wist-filled look.
It wasn’t until they were gone Cary noticed someone had been watching the whole scene. Cary couldn’t keep the look of guilt from his face when he saw Clearing, peaking from behind the door of his classroom, watching from down the hallway.
“Cary.” Clearing said, sternly. “I see you’ve have a change in fortune.”
All Cary could do was nod, he could not keep the guilty flush from his face.
“It’s amazing how that happens, isn’t it?” Clearing said and his tone was penetrating, his eyes blazed. “Like it was FATED or something.”
Cary shook at the word and looked away, unable to meet Clearing’s steady gaze. “Well, Cary, I suppose you should come by tonight and finish up work on your computer and so you may take it home. A promise is a promise and you earned it. That is, if your social schedule can handle the interruption.” Clearing’s disdain made Cary’s face heat further and his fists balled up. Another crowd of students passed through the hallway around them, rushing to class, and every single one said some variation of “Good morning, how are you” to Cary. By the time he had awkwardly answered most of them, Clearing was gone. Cary sighed. The day had just started and he already felt very, very stupid.
Every one of his classes was a trial. People wouldn’t stop writing notes to him, trying to get his attention, some even fashioned the notes into paper planes or origami animals and tossed them at him. Twice, fights broke out between two people who wanted his attention at the same time. The worst was in Clearing’s class, however and in Gym. Everyone wanted Cary on their team, it took Coach Mandy’s screeching holler to get the class settled. The man glared icepicks at Cary and though Cary was no longer afraid of the man, it was off-putting. Still, the man hardly spoke a word in Cary’s direction, and none directly to him. Cary was happy to accept that.
In Clearing’s class, the last of the day, Cary tried to sit next to Bugs, but several other kids removed her from her chair bodily and plopped down around him, all vying for his attention. When he tried to follow Bugs to her next seat it happened again, until she shouted above the din.
“Gah, just leave me ALONE, Cary. Geez.” She glanced away and wouldn’t talk to him or make eye contact with him the rest of the class. It hurt Cary incredibly and confused him even more. Bugs didn’t raise her hand once during class, although she did make snorting noises whenever another kid audibly called out for Cary to take a note or whisper. It was easily the most miserable class Cary had ever sat through, even worse than Gym. And all the strength in the multiverse couldn’t make the class go faster.
If only I had the tablet and Book of Fates with me, I could WISH it over....
The realization thundered back into him. And none of it felt right. By the time the bell rang for class to be over, Cary just wanted to be alone, to collect his thoughts and talk to Bugs. Tell her his wish had come true and inquire about hers. But he wasn’t allowed. Small crowds pursued him down the hallways and out of the school, all clamoring to hang out, all wanting him to either “come with!” or to come along to his house.
Cary had to scream at the kids following him.
“I don’t want anyone coming over! Leave me ALONE!” He ran as fast as he could into the woods between the school grounds and his neighborhood. Still, he heard kids following, but he managed to get away, nearly crashing into several trees in the process. When he broke out into his neighborhood, still running, he was blessedly alone.
He jogged the rest of the way to his house; the only person he saw was Lurlene Darxis, loitering outside her house as though waiting for rain. This time not even with the pretense of heaving things into her trunk. She just leaned against her car, watching his every step. Cary’s mind drifted back to the moment they had shared in the hallways at Happy Endings High, when Lurlene had pressed him again the lockers, nearly choked him.
She had been so strong and frightening...
I could CRUSH her now!
He hadn’t wondered about that moment in days. Nor about the apparent torture of Principal Jenson by the short, wiry woman.
I should tell Bugs the story, see what she thinks about it. But I’ve got to get her alone first...
Lurlene did not stop watching until he was inside, Cary kept looking at her from the corner of his sight. Once inside he peeked through the blinds at her. She stared at his house for a full minute after he had gone inside before she went away, Cary counted the seconds. Once she was gone Cary let the blinds down and his mind drifted.
I have to go over to Clearing’s and somehow make amends.
He suspects I used the Book.
Clearing knows way more than he let on. Did Clearing really know what the Book could do? If so, why does he want to keep it from me? Was it possible it doesn’t work for Clearing either? Like it worked for me and not Bugs? Had it worked for Derek?
These questions swarmed around Cary’s mind as he lay on the guest bed, his arms behind his head waiting for the hours to pass. The time alone was calming and re-assuring.
He also had a profound realization.
Today sucked. If that’s what being popular is about, I don’t want it.
But what can I do about it?
How can I undo what I’ve done?
Only one solution came to mind.
The Book of Fates.