Genre: Gen, Bob, Drama, Casefic, Pre-Series, Outside-POV
Warnings: mentions of child abuse, sexual assault, high school, and the OCs who attend
Disclaimer: If you recognize them, I don't own them.
Summary: As Class Historian, Antonia is determined to make the best high school documentary her senior year that anyone has ever seen, but the first few weeks of school bring more to light than she ever expected when a freshman girl goes missing, the new kid Dean takes an interest, and old traumas may be the key to the present.
Antonia took a moment to stare at the front doors of Rockford Senior High School at five minutes before the first bell on the first day of school of her senior year. This was it, the beginning of the end. The big brick monstrosity that had felt like such a prison by May last year now looked a little forlorn, bustling as it was with excited freshman and jaded upper classmen. Antonia sighed. One last year to get through and then she would be leaving.
The halls were crowded as they always were for the morning locker rush. Latecomers were hastily stuffing their bags while everyone tried to catch up with latest summer news. Maggie, Antonia's best friend of the last two years, threaded her way through Hillary's gaggle of worshippers, waving hello and smiling till she got to Antonia's locker.
"Mine's all the way at the other end of D wing," she complained, leaning against the locker bank with a thunk. "You'd think they'd take your home room into consideration when they assigned the damn things."
"That would be too easy and convenient," said Antonia as she glanced over her schedule one more time to make sure she had the right books. English, European History, Calculus, Study Hall right before lunch, thank God, Advanced Chemistry, Spanish, and Economics. Afternoons were going to be painful, she decided. "What are your first three again?"
"We have English and Spanish together," Maggie replied. "Daniel's with us and with you in History and Calculus, and Ari and Heather are in Chemistry with you."
"Cool." Antonia grabbed the final thing from her locker that she'd put there for safekeeping while she loaded her bag: the video camera.
"You're really doing this?" asked Maggie.
"Yep," said Antonia with a grin. "I already talked to Mr. Holms and he said as long as I got written permission from everyone I interviewed and permission from the teachers if I was going to tape part of their class, I was 'golden.'"
Maggie wrinkled her nose. "I hate that expression. Why can't he ever say anything less lame?" Antonia shrugged and closed her locker. They walked across the hall and into their neighboring homerooms where Antonia immediately went to talk to Mrs. Jennings about filming the first day of school minutiae. Antonia was Class Historian this year and she was determined to make the best damn tribute to the Class of 1998 Rockford had ever seen.
My name is Margaret Gwen Owens, but I go by Maggie. I'm seventeen – be eighteen in October. I'm on the yearbook staff and in the band, and I'm really looking forward to this year because it's our last and everyone says senior year is the best.
I'm Daniel Caldwell. Seventeen. I'm on the cross country and track teams and my other big activity is the Key Club – I'm the money-man. I'm looking forward this year mostly for the running 'cause school sucks, but I can get behind beating Lincoln's ass on the track anytime.
My name is Hillary Aberole, I just turned eighteen. I'm on the cheerleading squad and the varsity soccer team in the spring. You really want me to list all my extracurriculars? Because I'm not sure I remember them all. Whatever. I do Big Brothers and Sisters, I'm in the Language Club, in the Student Senate, on the Debate Team, in the History Club, I started the Rides to Games program, and I plan on joining the Bridge Club this year. I'm looking forward to this year because it's school and I always have a lot of fun.
My name is Jim Donahue. I'm seventeen right now. I'm on the football team which doesn't leave a lot of time for other stuff. I'm looking forward to this year because we are finally going to beat Lincoln this year, I can feel it. Razorbacks rule!
My name is Ashley Tamm. Seventeen and disillusioned. I'm in band still for some reason and I do Big Brothers and Sisters at the elementary schools. I'm looking forward to this school year being over, because high school sucks.
I'm Jacob Zurchin – Jake, please – and I'm seventeen in three days. I do the volunteer thing and I'm in a band, my own band that I started this summer, and I have the sweetest car at school, a black camaro. I'm pretty much Batman. All the jocks wish they were me and I'm looking forward this year to rubbing their faces in it, how cool they're not.
Lunch was always a crowded, noisy affair with too many people and too little time. How thirty-five minutes was deemed sane, Antonia had no idea. Study hall before lunch was a blessing though, because it meant she could get there early and grab a good table before the hordes descended like locusts on a banquet. She watched for a good five minutes as the freshman stumbled around through lines that almost everyone else had learned to skip in favor of a bagged lunch. The kids from East River were the ones who tended to buy lunch, cheaper if grosser, not that Antonia was judging, because she wasn't. It was just the way the lines were drawn really. She needed to get more of them involved in the project. Antonia didn't intend to leave anyone out of her tribute no matter how prickly some of them were.
She watched Bianca pay and turn, catching her eye. After a beat Bianca rolled her eyes and pointedly turned away to go sit with her friends, a wild obnoxious group, mostly percussion players in the band who were currently making the dirtiest jokes they could to make the table of freshman girls next to them blush. What jerks.
"Hey!" Maggie tumbled into the chair next to Antonia; Daniel, Ari and Heather dropped their bookbags and pulled out lunch a beat behind her. "Is that the list?" Maggie asked as she slid over the piece of paper Antonia had been brainstorming on to read it. "Freshman Impressions – first day, transition to high school, sports, Homecoming, expectations, friendships, cliques. Firsts – kiss, party, prom, car, football game, concert. Boyfriends and Girlfriends – dating, love, sex – you really think they're going to let you put sex in there?"
"I can edit it out," said Antonia, "but it's not like it's not happening."
"Thinking of reliving the Pete-Allison-Dave drama?" asked Ari with a grin. Antonia grinned back. It had been The Drama of tenth grade and nothing had topped it since.
"Senior Year – expectations, parents, college, privileges, top of the school, gossip, Homecoming, Lincoln-Rockford game. That's a pretty big list."
"You really think you'll get through all that?" asked Heather.
"I have a whole year. I need to fill it with something, and this is the stuff high school is made of," said Antonia. "I need to get more people though. I want everybody at least once, more if I can."
"That's close to three hundred interviews," said Daniel. "That's, like, more than days of school we have."
"You should set up an open interview time, like, during study hall or right after school. You know for drop-ins," said Heather. "Ooh, and you should do candid too."
"I want that to be the bulk of it," said Antonia. "I want it to be like Real Life, but just the real part."
"This is going to be awesome when it's done," said Ari.
Antonia nodded and fervently hoped so. This was huge. Today was just the first day and already she'd filmed homeroom and the beginning of English. There was so much more to do. How was she going to capture the flavor of Mr. Falk's strict Calculus class, or the flamboyance that she'd heard Ms. Irving taught History with? How was she going to get a sense of the cliques and who could float between them and who was out of favor of the hive mind? This whole thing would either be awesome or fail miserably and ruin Antonia's reputation as being able to do anything at all.
She said as much to Mrs. Reading at the end of the day when she was doing a quick scan of the economics posters on the walls, all handmade by students over the years for extra credit.
"You're thinking ten steps ahead of yourself, Antonia," said Mrs. Reading with a smile.
"But I don't want it to just be some random documentary about high school." Antonia had watched dozens in the last weeks before school started. They'd all had a message, something big to say, and she had what, We Were Here? "It needs . . . something." She didn't know what or how or anything really. "A bunch of three minute interviews is not going to be that interesting."
"Well, you have the school events," said Mrs. Reading.
"Then it's just another teen movie. From the eighties. A who's going with who to the Prom."
Mrs. Reading chuckled. "Ah, but first we have to get through Homecoming. You'll find something, Antonia. You just have to find what pulls everyone together."
"I don't want it to be a Rockford-Lincoln grudge show either."
"There's more to life than sports," Mrs. Reading agreed.
"And band," Antonia added. Speaking of, she better hurry or she was going to be late.
Freshman year I was terrified. But in a good way. I'd heard all these horror stories about high school from my older brothers who made it seem like Dazed and Confused so my first day was all about being relieved about not getting picked on. It wasn't like I didn't have friends. Everyone from middle school was moving up, but it was still daunting because all of a sudden we were on the bottom of the totem pole again.
It was fine. I still knew people in the year ahead of me and older guys from track and cross country since we all ran together. They were actually the best, some of the juniors and seniors swung by our hall and made sure we were doing ok that first week. It's something we still do, you know. Gotta look out for the team.
Oh gosh, I was so excited. It was high school, the big leagues. Suddenly a whole world of opportunity was opened up. My first impression was, oh my god the boys are tall. It was like we came back from summer break and even the guys in our grade were suddenly beanpoles. They were awkward still, you could tell next to the seniors. I was terrified for a month that one of them would come up and start talking to me and I'd be all tongue-tied and lame. Now I look around, and all the freshmen look tiny, even the boys.
Oh man, I just remember my first practice and how Coach was all, you have to keep your grades up or you're on the bench. I totally didn't get it, because school was never that hard. Oh man, I got nailed. Geometry and Chemistry. I did okay with the English and History because you don't really need to know anything to get by, but the other two, it's not like middle school. I spent first semester on the bench and second working my way off it.
I was actually looking forward to high school. I was ready to move on, do something new. Classes were cool for the most part; I loved Geometry. Mr. Clark was really cool and we had a bunch of fun projects that kept it interesting. Band was cool too, and we played some really awesome pieces that year. I guess that's what I'm looking forward to next year with college, moving on and being somewhere new. I'm just tired of high school.
Freshman year sucked. I was such a geek. I'm not even going to tell you what I was like. If you don't remember me back then, you sure as hell don't get to know now. It was kind of miserable for a while till I found some friends, but we didn't hang out after school or anything. My best friend's a year younger than me so we were split up that year which kinda sucked.
Antonia groaned when she saw the homework problems on the board when she arrived in Calculus. They were all the ones she couldn't get, the questions that Mr. Falk put up there now to let them know that they were extra credit and had been a complete waste of two hours last night. If Antonia had known, she wouldn't have done them. It was Wednesday, the fifth day of school and already she was feeling tortured. The bell rang as she slid in her seat beside Daniel.
"Can I just say how much I already hate this class?" she said softly.
"Kill me now," Daniel answered with a sympathetic grin.
Mr. Falk was checking roll visually with the seating chart so they had a minute of respite before Antonia needed to bash her head in. Someone was looking out for them today however, because just as Mr. Falk put his book down, there was a knock on the door. Antonia grinned at Daniel as everyone relaxed at the distraction.
It was a new kid, tall and totally hot. He handed Mr. Falk his note, said his name after prompting – Dean Winchester – and then, barely waiting for Mr. Falk to tell him to sit down, slouched right into the open seat on the other side of Antonia.
"Hi," she said, a little startled by his sudden arrival so close. Dean glanced at her, then at everyone who must be staring at him from behind her. He nodded tersely, didn't smile, and nothing happened after that because Mr. Falk called for questions on the homework and no one wanted to be seen as being overly curious about the new guy. Antonia watched him from the corner of her eye though. He had a bookbag, but didn't pull a notebook out of it. He didn't seem to be paying attention at all really, just staring at the wall, eyelids occasionally fluttering. He looked like a regular slacker, even had the grunge look going for him, and Antonia wondered how he got into Calculus.
When the bell finally rang, books closing and chatter filled in the space left by the heavy pall of math, and Mr. Falk called over it, "Dean, could you stay a minute?"
Dean obliged and Antonia heard him get his text book, the syllabus, and a quick rundown of what was expected. Dean said, "Yes, sir," and "thanks," and followed Antonia out the door.
"Where's your next class?" she stopped just outside to ask. Dean looked at her surprised for a second before raking his eyes up and down, clearly checking her out. Antonia rolled her eyes and wondered why she even bothered.
"Study Hall. Mr. Hagler," he said.
"Oh. That's my Study Hall," said Antonia. She started walking to the senior lounge and Dean fell into step beside her. Daniel was long gone for Physics so it was just the two of them. "So where are you from? I assuming you're new to town." Nosy or not, Antonia was not going to pass up being the first to know anything about the new guy.
"Kansas," said Dean, giving her a sideways glance.
"What brings you to Rockford?"
"My Dad's job."
"Oh, what does he do?"
"He's a pest controller. Does consults."
That was kind of gross, but to each their own right? Antonia wasn't going to judge or anything.
"Where do you live?"
"Why, you want my phone number?" Dean looked at her sideways, a dirty, knowing grin on his face that made Antonia want to simultaneously die of embarrassment and punch him at the implication.
"You're a jerk, aren't you?" she snapped.
"Hey, I'm not the one who wants to get in my pants," he replied with just enough of a country boy drawl to give him that touch of innocence he certainly didn't have. Antonia didn't bother answering – boys! – and strode ahead to the senior lounge that was just in sight. Dean followed, but she refused to acknowledge that she'd spent the last few minutes talking to him and went and claimed a spot on the orange couch next to Allison.
"Ooh, is that the new guy?" Allison asked quietly when Dean walked by giving Antonia another dirty smirk.
"Yes, and he's a jerk," said Antonia, still smarting. She was not a ho and she didn't chase after every hot butt like some people she could name. She was just being polite. He was the one undressing her with his eyes. Allison listened and nodded.
"Boy's are jerks," she agreed. "All they want is sex and they don't get that it's not all that we want."
"What's he doing now?" asked Antonia, not daring to look over.
Allison barely flicked her eyes over Antonia's shoulder as she had been doing while they talked. "He took over half of the blue couch and fell asleep. Think we should tie his shoelaces together?"
Antonia smiled, relieved. "That would be funny, wouldn't it?" Of course, they didn't do it. Too much risk of getting caught and getting in trouble, and besides, that would be stooping to his level.
How would I describe the student body? I dunno. We're all just teenagers I guess. I mean, average American and all that. Probably way to obsessed with TV stars and celebrities than is healthy, but there's not that much else to obsess over really. All the cute guys are taken by the cute girls already. I mean, it's not the stereotypical cheerleaders are queens and the football players get all the girls thing. If anyone's stereotypical jocks is the track team, girls and guys. Our football team's not that great, but the track team's gone to State every year for the past, like, two decades.
Everyone's pretty cool I guess. I only really hang out with the kids in the honors classes 'cause that's who I see and it's been that way since middle school. You know how it is, if you went to Bryson elementary you were more likely to get into honors. If you went to East River you generally didn't. That's just the way it is. I'm not saying they're stupid in East River, it's just they're poorer is all. My Dad says it's hard to teach school when all the kids come hungry. So there's that split I guess.
I don't know if I'd call them cliques. It's not like we turn someone away if they want to eat lunch with us. There's groups sure, but nothing exclusive. I suppose if you broke it down there's me and my group of friends, Antonia and Maggie and their group of friends, Allison and her group of friends, Jim and his group of friends, Pete and Ashley and their group of friends, Jake and Tory and their friends. But there's a lot of overlap. People go back and forth. Dave and Simon are practically a revolving door as to who they hang out with but that's mostly because they've usually pissed someone off by hitting on someone's girlfriend. But you know how friends change. My best friend in ninth grade was Heather and now she mostly hangs out with Ari, but we're still friends. We chat at games and stuff like Big Sisters.
There's a lot of different people at Rockford, some of the coolest and some of the weirdest. Most of the pretty girls hang out with Hillary and Allison when were not all together in one big group. It's hard sometimes to eat together. There's the super smart guys like Pete and Ashley. I don't know how they do it; they're going to, like, Harvard or something. A lot of the band guys are like that. I hang out with the football guys a lot, although we're together so much, sometimes I need a break from them. Wilson and Kyle are two of my good friends but we only really hang out after games. I went to one of their parties once. It was nothing like any party I'd been to before. It was crazy! Cops showed up and everything. First time I ever saw anyone arrested for underage drinking.
The student body is a spectrum, of course. We've got everybody, well, for most values of white anyway. Not too many minorities really, and most of them are from East River so we're not doing so well on equality there, obviously. How many of them are you interviewing for this? There's cliques, there's the usual backstabbing but no worse than the movies. The next dance is, of course, the most important thing ever of ever, but that seemed to calm down a bit last year, at least in our class. People still care and it's still important, but everyone's a little more mellow about it now. We know each other. We've been practically living in each others pockets since elementary school. Well, I guess we don't all know each other. There's still secrets, just not the kind people like to think about.
There's the cool crowd, the not cool crowd, and the East River crowd. And let me tell you, the cool crowd, totally exclusive. They've got some secret list of rules or something where you have to be at so many parties, or do this volunteer thing, or play in the band, or play a sport. The only reason I volunteer is because I need it for college. It's the reason everyone does it and they're lying if they tell you otherwise. They're all sheep. Gotta be the same, gotta fit in, gotta be like them. And if you're not? It's little things. The wrong time for parties, worst seats at events, the way they look at you at dances because no one will dance with you. It was lame in middle school, it's lame now, and I don't give a shit, because I am who I am, and screw them. I have friends and we like each other just fine and we don't need them.
Antonia watched Dean to see where he would go at lunch. He was cute and walked like he owned the place. No doubt he'd been king of the hill at his old school. Probably had some skanky girlfriend who put out when he looked at her. His button down shirt and ratty jeans put him somewhere between nice and Jake's crowd. Jim smiled when he walked by, no doubt sizing him up for football. The team needed all the help they could get, and Dean was tall, about six feet, little more. He wasn't massive but he looked strong enough to take a hit and dumb enough to run into someone else headfirst.
Dean nodded to Jim but walked on. He nodded to a bunch of people near where Bianca sat who all whispered to each other which was kind of weird. Antonia was still wondering about that when Dean stopped at a table where one boy was sitting all alone, nose in a book, and hit him on the back of the head. Antonia gasped in surprise.
"Did you see that?" she asked Maggie immediately, tearing her eyes away to get her friend's attention. When she looked back, Dean was crouched over the boy, had to be a freshman, whispering in his ear. She couldn't see the boy's face but she could see him stiffen and then slump. He fished something out of his pockets and handed it to Dean. Dean grinned, but it wasn't friendly, and then he swiped the boy's milk carton and headed for the lunch line. "Did you see that?" Antonia demanded again.
"Wow. He totally just bullied that kid into giving him money," said Maggie, a little stunned.
"And stole his milk!" added Ari.
"Daniel, go over and check on him," Antonia said.
"The freshman!" said Antonia. She couldn't believe Dean had just done that. "We should report this."
"Don't you think you're overreacting a little bit?" asked Heather, looking uncomfortable. "I mean, the kid's not doing anything."
"We can't let him get away with this. Daniel, go." Antonia pushed at his shoulder until Daniel finally sighed and got up. The boy looked up when Daniel came over, and they still couldn't see his face, but a minute later Daniel was back.
"He said nothing happened. He was fine, and said he could take care of himself," Daniel shrugged. "He sounded okay about it."
"Okay about it?" said Antonia. She couldn't believe it. Dean had threatened him, leaned into his ear and said something that had that poor kid scared or something. It wasn't right. Dean, that smug bastard, was not going to get away with this. She should tell a teacher, only now it was too late because nothing was happening and Dean, and the freshman it seemed, would both deny it. Shit. Antonia settled for glaring at Dean the whole time he was in line and the last five minutes of lunch that he spent eating by himself across the cafeteria. He didn't notice. By the time lunch ended she was ready to go over and give him a piece of her mind, but she didn't want to make a scene, and there was the bell so she'd have to do it later. Dean didn't move, finishing his lunch and was quickly lost to sight.
Antonia fumed all through Chemistry, wishing she'd said something. She came up with a hundred different scenarios, the worst of which dissolved into "Oh yeah," comebacks that she'd never say out loud. She did have the satisfaction of telling Hillary and Emily all about it though, and what he'd said on the way to Study Hall.
Emily giggled. "Kristen and Kristina are already crushing on him," she said.
"I bet Brad and Keith are happy about that," said Hillary dryly.
"Well now you can set them straight," said Antonia. Not that it would do any good. Kristen and Kristina were sluts and a bad boy would only spur them on.
By Spanish, Antonia was feeling calmer, mostly because she actually did have to concentrate in this class and Mrs. Gunther asked her about her documentary project which was not easy talk about in English let alone Spanish.
Antonia didn't expect to see Dean again, but she did, at the end of the day. Turned out that his locker was near hers and he was opening it with a slip of paper in his hand. Seeing him just made her mad all over again, so this time she marched right up to him as he was putting his math and physics textbooks away.
"Dean," she said louder than she intended.
He looked up, lifted his eyebrows, and said, "Antonia," back with a little smile. "Still trying to get in my pants?"
"I see right through you, mister," said Antonia, wincing internally at her mother's words coming out of her mouth. "I saw what you did to that freshman at lunch, don't think I didn't, and don't think you can get away with it either. You can't just go around picking on freshman just because you're older and bigger. And you are not God's gift to anybody so you can just quit acting all big and macho. Nobody cares and nobody cares about you and if you have to pick on someone half your size then all that proves is that your dick is smaller than my pinky. Have a nice day!" Antonia glared at his gape jawed expression for all of half a second and then spun on her heel and marched off. She was not fleeing, definitely not, even though her cheeks were burning because she'd just told off the hottest guy in school on his very first day and talked about his dick in a crowded hallway.
Behind her she heard someone say, distinct from the rest of the wind up of the rumor mill, "Dude, what was that about?" And Dean replied, "I have no idea." Antonia refused to even dignify that with a glare.
The first party I went to was at Jim's house – his older brother was throwing it when their parents were away, separate business trips I think, I don't remember. Anyway, Jim's brother was throwing it and freshmen weren't supposed to come, but Jim told everyone and it ended up being the worst kept secret in school. It was huge. They have that big house up on Maybury, right, and it was decked out with lights, music, and more kegs than I had any right seeing that night. The beer was crap and I was too afraid to drink too much and too intimidated to dance, or, you know leave the wall. I felt so lame but so grown up.
My first party was after our first cross country meet, fall of freshman year. I don't really remember much of it; it's kind of a haze. I should probably stop there.
Oh my god, Jim's party! It was his brothers really, but I remember Jim coming up to me after English and saying, hey, we're throwing a party this weekend you should come, and I was so excited. In middle school, you hear about them, someone's got an older brother or sister floating around, but this was it. It was amazing. The house was so pretty and there was music and dancing and all the juniors and seniors we're cool with us there. I even talked to Pat Monahan, remember him? Tight end? Tight ass? Utterly gorgeous. God, I got blisters on my feet from dancing until I had to stop and I ended up watching Bianca make out with, like, well. . . You remember her back then. Anyway! That was my first party, my first drunk – you're editing this right? – my first hangover. And my first grounding when my mom found out.
First party? High school or middle school? Cause my brother threw parties. He threw one early freshman year which I promised not to invite any of my friends to which I totally lied about. I invited everyone, because I had to send Ray a message, you know. I'm in high school now, and I'm here to stay. I was not going to stand in his frickin' shadow, and if I had to steal it from him, all the better. I never did, but he was cool with me inviting people after that. I think he liked my friends.
My first party was at Pete's house, I guess, where we went through the liquor cabinet with hours of every bad action movie we could find. I think we had something like four Arnold movies back when he was a body builder. There were maybe ten of us and we were in so much trouble when Pete's mom got home. My first party as everyone else defines it was probably the third or fourth one of the year. All I remember was being unimpressed and leaving after Bianca puked all over the dining table.
I went to my first party sophomore year. I went with Ben, he was a freshman then, and it was cool because for once we weren't shut out. No one paid any attention really, we were just there and a part of it. We got to drink and guys offered us refills, we got to watch the girls dance and nobody made jokes. It was all cool.
By Thursday morning, it was all over school. What Dean had done, what Antonia had said. There were scattered whispers all over the place when Antonia walked down the hall, and Hillary and Allison immediately rushed over with a couple other people. Maggie was already waiting at Antonia's locker having heard all about it when Antonia called her last night to panic.
"Did you really say his dick was smaller than his pinky?" was the first thing Hillary said.
"My pinky," Antonia corrected, embarrassed just thinking about it. "God, I can't believe I said anything. It was like something just took control of my mouth."
"I heard it was awesome," said Allison. "He was stunned and you let him know he crossed a line. I wish I could have seen it."
"I can't believe I said it in public," said Antonia. "This is going to make me the scary bitch and undatable forever."
"No it's not," said Maggie. "You're just letting guys know that you have standards they have to live up to. It's not a bad thing."
A quieting of the hall drew their attention and the girls all watched with everyone else as Dean came down the hall to his locker. He didn't look embarrassed or anything, he just smirked and walked like he still owned the place. Some people avoided his eyes that roamed everywhere but not Antonia, though she wanted to because those eyes didn't back down when they met hers. But she had made a stand and she was going to keep it, so help her. None of her friends were moving or backing down either and their support suddenly made everything easier.
"Antonia!" Dean smiled, broad and charming. "Ladies. How are you this fine morning? 'Cause me and my dick, we're fine."
Antonia could feel the whole hall hold their breath to listen and she prayed that she wouldn't blush, she wouldn't blush, but there it was anyway. Damn. But she had made a stand and she'd gone this far once already. "Really? I'm surprised you could find it."
"Oh, it was tricky, me being a bully and all," said Dean easily, his smile never wavering. He didn't flinch or look away and damn him for being so calm anyway. He was the one who was supposed to be defending himself. "I think you still have my balls though."
Startled gasps and a giggle from the crowd accompanied the blush that Antonia knew had just turned her bright red. Dean just grinned wider, pleased with himself, and Antonia hated him so much in that moment . . .
"But don't worry," Dean went on. "I'll just get them back from you at lunch. Later." He waved, a twitch of his fingers as the bell rang and everyone was jolted back into reality and the need to get to homeroom.
By third period Calculus, this story was all over school, too. Daniel glared when Dean came in and sat in the empty seat next to him to which Dean rolled his eyes but didn't otherwise reply. "You got a lot of nerve, Dean," he hissed.
"Dude, whatever, she started it."
"She wasn't the only one who saw you picking on that kid," said Daniel. "I saw him earlier, by the way. He has a nice scrape on his arm and a bruise on his cheek."
Dean snorted dismissively. "You should see the other guy."
"I'm looking at the other guy." It was a challenge, and Antonia could practically see Dean's hackles rise, but thankfully Mr. Falk chose that moment to come in and close the door with a solid meeting of wood on wood that broke the tension. Daniel and Dean studiously ignored each other as Mr. Falk checked roll. His eyes lingered on Antonia and Daniel's swapped seats but he didn't comment on it.
"Questions on the homework?" he began and class started. Antonia pointedly paid attention, ignoring Dean and his lack of notebook and textbook or anything on his desk. It didn't take Mr. Falk long to notice either, and he did care.
"Dean, where's your homework?" he asked.
"Didn't do it, sir."
Dean shrugged. "Busy."
"Too busy to do your homework?" said Mr. Falk with a frown. Dean didn't even flinch, unafraid in the face of Mr. Falk's disapproval.
"You care to share why?"
Dean glanced pointedly at the rest of the class and shook his head. "No, sir." Mr. Falk looked at them too and only said, "stay after class," before continuing on with the lesson.
Antonia didn't try to linger today. She didn't want to give him the satisfaction of knowing she was curious. Everyone was curious, judging by the slow looks over the shoulder, but ultimately they had fourth period to get to and Antonia had interviews to do.
Dean never showed up in study hall. He did, however, show up at lunch, at Antonia's table with a tray loaded with gross cafeteria food.
"What are you doing?" she asked, startled by his sudden appearance. None of her friends were here yet and she couldn't believe he'd just sat down with her.
"Hi, Antonia. How's you're day going?" he asked with false cheer. "Cause mine's been great. Started yesterday with trying to figure out what the hell you were yelling at me for. Then I come to school where I'm greeted by your shining face, and then I get pulled from study hall to the office, not because I didn't do my stupid math homework, but because of rumors that I had beaten up a couple kids at lunch yesterday."
Oh god, it was already out of hand. Antonia shifted nervously feeling a little guilty at the exaggeration. Still, "Daniel saw the kid you beat up," she said.
"Oh," said Dena brightly and Antonia had the distinct feeling Wile E. Coyote must get just before an anvil fell on his face. "You mean that kid at the table over there with black eyes and broken fingers currently cowering away from the beanstalk with the scratched up arm?" He wave to her left, his right, where a group of freshman, including a boy with black eyes and taped fingers, were glowering at yesterday's freshman. There was no mistake they were looking at him because when he glanced over, they all looked away and a table of older students, two over from Bianca's table of seniors, laughed. Looked like there really was an 'other guy' and the winner was walking straight for her table.
"What's he doing here?" Daniel's voice made Antonia jump. He, Maggie, Ari, and Heather had arrived and were all staring at Dean who smiled welcomingly at them with that damn smile.
"Eating lunch, dude. Join us," he invited as if he wasn't the one invading their space.
"Dean." The freshman had arrived, his eyes darting around to Antonia and her friends before returning to Dean. "Tell me you're the one who took all the cash."
"I did." He turned his bright smile on the younger guy who made a get on with it motion with his face when Dean just sat there.
"So give me some!" He slapped Dean's arm, hard.
"Ow! Sam! No need to get violent, or Antonia here will rip you a new one." Dean turned wide eyes to her. "Save me from the bully, Antonia! Save me!"
"Shut up, jerkface," said Sam, glancing nervously at the rest of them. "C'mon, Dean, the line's getting longer, and if I don't eat –"
"You'll talk my ear off, God, here." Dean dug into a pocket and pulled out some crumpled bills and shoved them into Sam's hand. "Make sure you drink your milk!" he called loud enough to carry as Sam hurried off. He got the finger in return and turned back to the rest of them with his smile going fake and plastic. "That was Sam. My brother. Great kid, isn't he?"
Antonia waited for the floor to swallow her. It didn't oblige.
I want a job I like but I have no idea what I want to do. I like math okay but I don't want to be an accountant. Something cool, maybe computers. Build websites or something. I want a family someday, too. Meet a guy who isn't creepy or weird, or . . . you know. We both should have jobs so we can keep up a good income. Live in a house, have a better marriage than my parents. Every kid's dream right?
I want to compete, like seriously compete. Olympic trials, Nationals, whatever I can get into. I think that would awesome. I'd get out, see the world a little maybe and just be able to run during the best years of my life. The rest I'll figure out afterwards, but I think I could do it.
I'm looking forward to college for a lot of reasons, mostly just to see what it is I want to do. I want to try and go out of State if I can, but not too far, because I know I'd miss my folks. You hear so many things about college, how there's so many opportunities and beautiful campuses, and you get to do what you want when you want to. I'm looking forward to that freedom. That responsibility. My parents still think I need my hand held to cross the street, and it's annoying. So yeah, go to college, meet a guy, have a family. That's pretty much the plan.
My future plans include making it through high school. It'll be alright. I want to go to college but honestly, I don't think my grades are there. Who'd take me? We have an average football team and I'm certainly not a star player. All the scouts go to Lincoln. They don't care about us. I'll probably go work at the hardware shop where I work in the summers. Hillary I think is planning on sticking around. She's applying to Milton which is only an hour away. It could be good.
College. Far away. East or West Coast, whoever will take me I'm out of here. I don't know what I want to do yet, but as long as it's someplace new, someplace out of here, I'll be happy.
Well, don't let this get out too much, but we're thinking of hitting the road, me and the band. We're good. I think we're good enough to get picked up, we just have to go after it, you know? We'll have to get a van. Ben's looking into it. He's going to see if he can graduate early to come with us, or we'll wait around for him, get jobs, save up some money. If it doesn't work out, it's still something to put on a college application, you know?
If lunch Thursday was awful, Friday was miserable. It wasn't that everyone thought she was a bitch or an idiot. In fact, several people came up and told Antonia that they were glad she stood up to him, even if it was a misunderstanding.
"That took guts," said Jim after History. "Wilson told me that Dean's brother started the fight over basketball court rights and the only reason he didn't get his ass handed to him after he knocked out that other kid was because Dean was watching the whole thing twiddling a knife in his fingers."
"I heard the whole reason they moved here was because Dean just got out of juvie. Clean start and all that," Larry chimed in.
"Really?" said Jim. "Naw, you're pulling my leg."
"No really," Larry insisted. "Kyle told me after practice yesterday and he lives just down the block from them." The boys split off down the hall still arguing over how full of shit Kyle was, and Antonia and Daniel went on to Calculus.
"You really think that's true?" asked Antonia. It sounded more like an out of hand story that got passed along one too many times. Dean had only been in school for three days after all, and God, what a mess already.
Dean showed up in Calculus right before the bell rang and slid into the seat beside Daniel giving Antonia a bright grin. "Hey, did you miss me? I know you couldn't spy on me after school and everything. It must have killed you," he said.
"I wasn't spying on you," Antonia hissed around Daniel as Mr. Falk checked roll.
"So checking me out then," he smiled cruelly. "Afraid you lost your chance there, baby."
"Don't call me that," was all Antonia could reply before Mr. Falk started class. She could feel Dean's slimy grin and the slide of his eyes over her even as she pointedly turned away and ignored him for the rest of period. What right did he have to call her 'baby' anyway? And why was he even talking to her? She'd apologized at lunch yesterday; he hadn't left their table and instead just chewed with his mouth open and stared at her while she and her friends tried to have a conversation. He'd interrupted every five seconds to ask who they were talking about – in an effort to change the subject Heather had told them about Kristen and Brad's blowup in the parking lot. The fact that the fight had probably been about Dean had killed that thread pretty quickly and left them in uncomfortable silence until Daniel started spouting track stuff that he usually avoided for the sake of the rest of them. Dean took a perverse interest in it that Antonia was sure was just to piss them off.
Now it seemed that Dean was determined to keep it up. He followed Antonia out of Calculus to study hall, talking all the while about how ugly the floors were, how stupid the motivational posters were, and look at that couple holding hands – did Antonia want to go over and ask if they were having sex?
"What the hell is wrong with you?!" Antonia spun and demanded when "Shut up," "Leave me alone," speeding up, slowing down, and outright ignoring didn't work. They were right outside the door to the senior lounge where Dean at least was clearly visible through the window.
"Just making conversation," he said with that stupid fake innocence he probably thought made him look adorable but which really made him look like anasshole.
Antonia didn't bother to stifle the groan of frustration as she pushed through the door that didn't have the courtesy of slamming in his face. In fact, he followed her right up to the orange couch where Allison was waiting with Kelly and Keith, today's interviewees.
"So what's all this?" Dean asked, pulling up a chair and dropping his bag onto the floor. Everyone looked at Antonia who pulled out her camera and refused to answer. If she didn't give him the attention, he would give up. Keith answered however.
"It's a documentary for the senior class," he said. "Antonia's Class Historian and she's going all out this year." He grinned stupidly at her, faltering a bit when he finally got that Antonia was glaring daggers at him for even acknowledging Dean. Boys were so stupid sometimes.
"Oh, yeah?" said Dean. "What kind of documentary?"
Keith glanced at Antonia again before shrugging and saying, "Interviews, slices of life, but not just school, you know? It's just the interviews so far, right Antonia?"
"Yes," she said, short and clipped. "You ready?" She stood up and finally looked at Dean. "You're in my way."
"Oh. Excuse me," he drawled, not in the least sorry. But he did move, slowly and fractionally, forcing Antonia to edge him out by getting into his space. He grinned that stupid grin the whole time, even when she said, "You're disgusting," and kicked his bag after him. It was surprisingly light and felt empty, which figured since she'd never actually seen him take anything out of it, not even a pen.
It was Keith's first interview so it was pretty straight forward. The easy questions that didn't need to be asked in private after school. Normally, Antonia didn't mind doing these with spectators, but with Dean watching it was like having someone peering into your window when you were showering. He was stranger. He hadn't grown up with them, gone K-11 with all the same teachers and shared memory of their class. As much as she was determined to not let it bother her, it did, and Antonia asked Kelly if they could do hers tomorrow.
"I need to study for my Spanish quiz," she said apologetically. She didn't, of course, she actually did her homework unlike some people, but Kelly's eyes flickered to Dean, and Antonia knew she understood.
"So documentary, huh?" said Dean when it was down to just her and Allison on the couch.
"Yes. Now leave me alone," she said not looking up from the book in her lap. He wasn't too good with hints.
"That's cool." Wasn't too good with clue-by-fours either. "So you're what, interviewing every member of the senior class, see what they have to say about the joys of high school, shed a tear for nostalgia. That's sweet."
"I wouldn't expect you to understand," Antonia told him.
"Really? Why's that?"
"Because you have no respect for anything," she snapped. "I said I was sorry for yesterday, and I just want you to leave me alone."
"Gonna put it in your little documentary?" he asked. "How you screwed the new kid on his very first day? 'Cause I gotta say, it's the worst hospitality I've had in a long time, and believe me, I've had some shitty welcomes."
"Yeah, well, you're not paying me, so I don't have to be nice to you."
"Ooh, ouch. I'm hurt, really."
But of course he didn't. Antonia stopped answering and Allison finally got up with a sympathetic glance and went somewhere quieter. Antonia was tempted to follow her but the way today was going, Dean would follow her, and anyway that would mean that he won this round. Her sigh of relief when the bell rang was cut short by the knowledge that Dean was going to follow her to lunch too.
She did have a ten minute reprieve while he waited in the lunch line. She saw his brother there as well, not needing money today. When her friends arrived, Antonia sighed in relief. "Save me!" she said. "Dean won't leave me alone." But other than an out and out fight, there was nothing they could really do, so they all watched Dean approach with his tray and join them with that stupid smile of his.
"Hey. I didn't get all your names yesterday." Then to Antonia's complete shock, he was nice and polite. He shook hands with Heather and Ari, nodded to Maggie and pretended he'd never argued with Daniel. After the morning she'd had trying to fend him off, it was surreal. He even kept his mouth shut when he was chewing. It wasn't until he winked at her that she realized he was just doing it to piss her off again. Win her friends over – not that they would go – while she knew it was all a game to him.
The simmering frustration was put on hold, however, because Bianca was coming toward them. Antonia watched, surprised. Bianca never sat on this side of the room, in fact, she'd already put her tray down on her usual table.
"Hey," she said, taking a step back in her path as if she'd just noticed them sitting there. "Dean, right?"
Dean looked up and smiled at Bianca. "Yeah," he said. "Dean Winchester." He held out his hand for her to shake which she did.
"Bianca. You just moved into my building. The Crying Girl's apartment."
Dean chuckled and nodded. "Oh yeah? No crying there anymore," he said. "What floor are you on?"
"First. One-C. We should hang out sometime. I can show you around."
"That would be great," Dean smiled, practically offering Bianca to jump him. It was disgusting.
"I'll see you around then," she said, smiling back. Bianca glanced at the rest of them. "Hey, Antonia."
"Hey." Antonia didn't dare look away.
"I heard you were doing a documentary of the senior class."
"Yeah, that's right."
"Ever gonna interview anyone from our side of town?"
"Of course," Antonia snapped, but Bianca gave her a look that said, 'yeah, right' that only pissed Antonia off more. "When do you want to do your interview?" she asked because she wasn't going to let Bianca think she was afraid of her or anything.
Bianca actually blinked. "You want to interview me?"
Antonia didn't, she really didn't. "Yes."
"All right then. I guess I'll see you around, too," Bianca said, her eyes glittering coldly. She left and headed for the vending machine, the one just past their table and on the opposite side of the cafeteria from the one she usually went to. She ignored Antonia all the way there and all the way back to her table.
"She seems nice," said Dean, snapping Antonia back to his annoying presence. He wasn't grinning though, and the look he gave her made Antonia feel like he was he was peeping in the shower again. Antonia twitched away and shared a look with Maggie, wishing he weren't there more than ever.
"Yeah," she said, not sure if she was agreeing or not.
Hi. I'm Brittany Aberhoff. I'm seventeen. I have an afterschool job so I don't do any extracurricular activities, though I used to be in the band in ninth grade but I wasn't any good. I'm looking forward to the school year I guess. School's kind of nice since I get to hang out with my friends all day.
I'm Whitley Richardson, Whit for short. I'm eighteen and I run track. It's the best thing about school and I guess what I'm looking forward to the most this year. I don't sweat classes much, don't need to because running will get me where I need to go.
My name is Lucinda Estelle Hoit, I go by Estelle because Lucinda is a hideous name. I'm eighteen already, summer birthday. I'm on the yearbook staff. I'm looking forward to this year because it's senior year, but I also don't really want it to end already because it's the end of high school and I'll have to face the real world and go to college and be a grown-up and I don't want to do that yet.
I'm Wilson Randall. I'm seventeen and I'm on the football team. It's pretty much my life. It's what I'm looking forward to this year. Nervous as hell about it, too. We don't have a great team, but we're solid. I just want to have a good season, play my best, and hopefully the scouts at the Lincoln game will give me a second look. That would be pretty cool.
I'm Bianca Harrison. I'm seventeen. I don't do any extracurriculars anymore. I have an afterschool job at the 7-11. I'm looking forward to the end of this year, getting my diploma, and getting gone. I'm out of this shit-hole town and I'm never coming back. None of you will ever have to see me again.
Seriously, these are your first questions? Fine. My name's Dean Winchester. I'm eighteen. I'm new. Don't do extracurriculars. Don't care much what happens in school this year. I'm only here because my dad won't accept GED as an answer. There. My hatred of school saved for posterity.
After lunch, Antonia was finally able to get away from Dean. She remained in a bad mood for the rest of the day anyway. It wasn't like she was excluding anyone from the documentary. She'd given Mr. Cleever the announcement that anyone one who wanted to be interviewed just had to tell her; it wasn't her fault if no one came forward but people she knew. She wasn't ignoring anyone.
"You okay?" Heather asked as they slid into their seats in Chemistry. Antonia smiled for her, wanting to ease the worry etched in her friend's face.
"I'm fine," she said. "Really." Heather didn't believe her, but she pretended to pay attention as class started anyway. They were talking about electrons and spin and Antonia couldn't help but think that that's what happened to her a Bianca, the two of them stuck in the same place in different directions. She stopped before she thought about it too much.
In Spanish, Antonia made another announcement about her project and asked for everyone to spread the word to everyone they know to come do an interview. "Es una historia de nosotros."
Hollywood had its idea of high school with its cliques and bullies and all sorts of stereotypes that were like plastic people walking around. They ended up being what everyone thought of millions of high school students, and Antonia was sick of it. That wasn't who they were, and she was damned if she was going to let anyone accuse her of doing the same thing.
By the end of the day she was ready to make signup sheets and distribute flyers and was brought up short when Mrs. Reading asked her a question in econ that Antonia had not been paying attention to. "Supply and demand?" she answered, getting a chuckle from everyone else and a reminder from Mrs. Reading that the day wasn't over until the bell rang. Antonia managed to pay attention, or at least follow half-heartedly for the rest of the period, but when the bell did ring she was one of the first out the door.
"Antonia!" Hillary called from two classrooms over, hurrying through the throng. Antonia paused long enough for her to catch up then started headed quickly to her locker. "I saw Dean Winchester eating lunch with you," Hillary followed along after her.
"Yeah? He was annoying me all morning."
"Maybe he likes you."
Antonia gave her a look. Conversation with Dean had been anything but flirting. If anything, he'd gone out of his way to make her uncomfortable.
"He doesn't like me," she said. "And if he did, I don't like him. He's an asshole."
"So it really was his brother who got in a fight? Jim and Larry said he just got out of juvie. Someone on the football team told them. He's from East River, you know."
"Yeah, I know." Antonia hesitated before adding. "He lives in Bianca's building." She focused on finding her English binder. Their first essay was due next week sometime and she needed that binder, like now.
"Still. Bad boy from the wrong side of the tracks. It's kinda hot," said Hillary.
"Would you date him?" Antonia decided the binder wasn't worth it. Hillary shrugged, one shoulder lifting as she cast a look over her shoulder to where Dean was unloading his bag into his locker down the hall. He wasn't taking his books home again.
"No," said Hillary, turning back. "Not my type. But you are going to interview him right? Part of the senior class and all that?"
"You are a nosy bitch," Antonia closed her locker with a slam and felt like rolling her eyes. No wonder Hillary had come over here. They were okay friends, closer when they were younger but these days they had their own circles that didn't usually overlap unless something else was going on. Dean Winchester just happened to be the most interesting thing since sophomore year's love triangle. And Antonia had unwittingly plopped herself right in the middle of this one.
Hillary just grinned. "So says the girl interviewing everyone in school for nostalgia's sake."
"Whatever," Antonia replied. "Why are you so interested anyway?"
Hillary goggled at her. "Have you not heard the rumors floating around school? Hell, you started half of them. Come on. How can you look at that and not wonder? And you have the perfect opportunity to ask him questions."
"So you do want to date him."
Hillary's huff was all the answer Antonia needed, though she refused to admit anything. Interest in boys and dating was one reason they didn't hang out that much after Antonia broke up with Larry last year. "I'm just curious," she said.
"He's trouble," Antonia answered.
"So you'll find out the truth for me?" Hillary replied, a winsome smile on her face.
"If he wants to do an interview, I'll do an interview with him," said Antonia, not mentioning that there was no way she was going to ask. If he came to her, that was a different story.
Hillary smiled brilliantly. "I knew I could count on you."
Antonia barely restrained the eye roll as Hillary bounced back over to Emily and her other friends. The crowds were thinning out and Dean was gone for which Antonia was immensely grateful. She dodged that bullet nicely.
Another one she didn't. Bianca was waiting for her by the steps to the parking lot.
"So when are we doing the interview?" she asked without preamble.
"Is Tuesday after school okay?" asked Antonia.
"I have work at four, but yeah."
I guess we mostly hang out at Little Tony's by the movie theater. Shops, movies, food, it's pretty much the only interesting place to be on the weekends if we're not at someone's house.
Little Tony's with my friends because they have to best cheese fries ever. And shakes. With my track buddies we go to Gonzolas to eat after. I think we kill their buffet deal. But just to cut loose? Tony' s is the place.
Well, it depends on who were out with. If it's just us girls sometimes we just hang at my house. I mean, we're usually all over there to get ready to go out anyway. When we go out with the guys we usually end up near the movie theater or the arcade, they always want to play games but we can get a Coke so it works out.
The arcade, man. We've been going there since our parents first let us out on our own. It has all the old school games plus a couple pool tables for just hanging out. The only downside is there's a lot of kids there until dinner time and sometimes birthday parties. But for the most part, it's the place to be on a Saturday night.
Pete's house or the park where we can kick a ball around, or the movies, or a restaurant somewhere. I dunno. Wherever we feel like going. Some places we avoid because of the company but mostly we hang out wherever strikes the mood.
We hang out mostly at my house, especially now that we have the band. We've kind of taken over the garage and my dad gives us a lot of crap about it, but I'm the only one with enough space.
"I can't believe you brought the camera."
"Shut up," said Antonia not looking away from her screen as she did a slow pan of Tony's. It was crowded and noisy as it always was on Saturday night, but they had scored their usual table in the corner booth. Chili cheese fries, burgers, and soda to tide them over until the movie started. Mostly it was just to hang out, a chance to get away from annoying people at home. If only she could get away from the annoying people here, Antonia thought fondly.
"Okay, everyone just be natural," she told them. "Pretend I'm not here."
"Antonia," said Heather. "You can't just say that and then expect us to be able to do natural."
"Come on, guys."
"Give us a minute," laughed Daniel.
"Okay, look I'm gonna go get some other people having a good time on film. When I get back you better be happy." They all laughed, and Antonia took another drink from her Dr. Pepper then delved into the Saturday nightlife, high school style.
Mostly it was just groups of kids from school doing what she and her friends did, meet over food and talk and gossip about everything and nothing. There was a lot going on since it was the first week back to school and people were still talking about vacations and summer flings. Antonia caught snatches of conversation as she ghosted by. Tom Warren went to Paris, Amy Patterson had three boys fighting over her when her family was in Colorado, Marsh Stebbins's parents were separating again.
Antonia kept her distance from people to get as wide a shot as possible and to let everyone have space to act naturally. Standing closer to other people she also heard about how much someone hated their job, the price of gas being outrageous these days, and a list of reasons of how the government was incompetent. Antonia felt like a fly on the wall, waiting for the secrets of the world to unfold around her.
"Look at what the Mayor is saying about that girl who went missing. History of depression, trouble at school, which obviously makes her a runaway instead of a victim," the woman behind Antonia was saying. "If it's someone from East River, it's the family. If it's the daughter of a 'fine upstanding citizen' it's the bad influence of East River on a wild and uncontrollable girl. It's ridiculous."
Antonia turned. She didn't recognize the couple, but the words sent a chill down her spine. Someone else had gone missing? She quickly turned away before they noticed her. It didn't matter. The police were taking care of it. It was horrible and sad but none of her business. She had a documentary to shoot after all. She wouldn't be able to do anything about it anyway.
Her friends were still waiting on her so she went back to them, coming up so that only Maggie could see her. She got a good shot of them, catching Daniel's laugh, happy and loud. Her friends were all here; she didn't need to worry about anything else.
The movie was funny and just what Antonia needed to get back into her head. It was still early afterwards and no one wanted to go home so they wandered the strip mall for a while. A lot of people were still out and the arcade was crowded with the after dinner crowd.
"Yes, yes?" asked Daniel pointing. "Come on, we almost never go." Daniel was the only one who really liked the arcade out of their group, and he usually didn't mind when they passed it up, but there was more of a crowd tonight than usual so they went in. Who knew what they would miss if they didn't.
Most of the games were taken and the air hockey and pool tables in the back were crowded with a bunch of people watching. The football guys had claimed two of the three tables with track guys at the last one. Daniel went over to say hi to his buddies and the rest of them drifted after looking for a place to sit and watch. There weren't many left; everyone was watching Jim and Keith playing and smack talking. They were both good and always a spectacle because of the shots they tried to take.
"Hey, I bet you five bucks he misses that shot," said someone nearby. Antonia looked and saw Dean leaning against a support pole with Larry and Brad. "Come on, five bucks," he said with that smile that made her want to hit him, only this time it was directed at Larry who looked a little nervous and was trying to hide it.
"You see anything else making this game interesting? What's five bucks anyway?" said Dean fingering a bill.
"Yeah, okay," Larry shrugged. Jim took the shot and made it. Antonia grinned to herself, and snuck at look at Dean who looked a little put out as he handed Larry his five bucks. Sucker.
When Dean got lucky on the next prediction, he was delighted and seemed to think he was invincible because he upped the next bet and lost. He lost the one after that and the one after before getting lucky once more.
"Whatever," he said when the game was over and he'd lost all his money. "I bet I could beat you," he said.
Larry laughed, having fun now. "You got any money left to back that up?"
Dean nodded. "Just a sec," he said, leaving Larry and his friend for the snack counter where his brother was chatting with the cashier over a basket of fries. Dean leaned over and after a brief argument came back with a twenty and a grin.
Antonia almost wanted to protest; Dean was gambling away his brother's money, but it was twenty bucks and besides, Dean deserved to lose. "This is going to be fun," Maggie nudged her arm, obviously thinking the same thing as Larry and Dean took over the table from Jim and Keith. They weren't the only ones who thought so as the crowd started cheering for one or the other. It was too good of an opportunity to film to pass up, and Antonia had her camera recording in time to catch the break.
Dean turned out to be not half bad. Larry was better, but the game was closer than she expected it would be. Larry won.
"Double or nothing," said Dean before he could leave the table. "My brother's got me covered. That was too close to prove anything."'
"Fine," said Larry cheerfully, sensing easy money on the horizon.
"Rack 'em up."
The second game was just like the first with Dean talking to the balls to get them where he wanted them. It was another close game up until they each had two balls on the table plus the Eight. It was Dean's turn, and one, two, three it was over. "Well, would you look at that," he said, clearly pleased with himself while everyone around groaned because they'd been rooting for Larry who wasn't a smug bastard when he won.
"Hey, think you could beat me?" Jim spoke up. He sized Dean up who stared back for a second before shaking his head.
"Nah, I'm not that good," said Dean. "Gonna quit while I'm ahead." He pocketed the money and shrugged. "See ya round."
"Coward," Jim called as Dean pushed his way back toward the snack bar. Antonia followed him with her camera, drifting out of the crowd to get a clear shot. She was surprised when he just ignored Jim. Most guys like him would be up Jim's face for saying that in a crowded room, but Dean didn't. It was like he didn't care.
"How much you get?" she was close enough to hear Sam ask when he met Dean by the snack bar.
"Eighty bucks," said Dean. "I need fifty for a stake at the bar." He handed Sam the rest of the money. "You get groceries, I'll restock the kit on my way home." And the two of them were out the door, leaving Antonia staring after them.
Freshman year was weird. It was like we were all grown up all of a sudden because we were in high school. It's kind of stupid to think of it that way now, since all the freshman are so young when I look at them. But it was like a whole new world, you know? One we could change.
Ninth grade was crazy. It's like everything changed that year. Guys I'd been friends with back in middle school were hanging out with some of the tenth and eleventh graders who were getting them into trouble. My mom ripped me a new one when I went with them once – nothing bad, prank stuff, but after that we grew apart, and that's when Mr. Simms got me started on the track team. Said anyone could do it, and then said I was talented when after the first practice, which . . . well, I'd never been talented at anything before except trouble, you know?
School wasn't much different. It was still school. I was still a cheerleader then but after a while decided that school was more important. I think what surprised me the most was how much it didn't change.
The cool thing about ninth grade was that we were no longer in middle school. It was a bit weird for me because my older brother moved out. Joined the Marines after he graduated and suddenly I'm the oldest at home and my mom needs me to go to the store or pick up Ellie and Brian, and do all this stuff that I knew Louis did but it never really hit me how much he did until it was me. And then there was school and football and everything else.
You know what happened in ninth grade. I checked out of everything. School, band . . . friends. My parents were getting a divorce, they both wanted custody of me and my sister. My mom had to move to East River because she couldn't afford the court costs and the house. My dad moved to an apartment and got us every other week. I got drunk every chance I could.
School is school. Ninth grade was no different than eighth, except I think I went through five schools that year instead of four. Repeated the same chapter in Geometry at least three times. One place was on the Junior High system so I wasn't even in high school there. Didn't matter. Kids are the same everywhere. All that changes is the scenery.
Antonia couldn't help but watch Dean out of the corner of her eye when he came to school on Monday. The whole thing at the arcade was so weird. Antonia had watched her tape a dozen times on Sunday trying to figure it out, trying to figure out why Dean would go to a bar for steak and needing fifty dollars for it. She must have heard wrong because that made no sense, but she didn't know what else it could mean.
God, she was obsessing over an asshole. She should just stop. Leave him to mind his own business and leave her alone. Except now she was curious, and she couldn't get out of her head the look of relief on his brother's face when Dean had handed him thirty dollars for groceries. In the end she didn't go over, just made sure she had everything and made her way to homeroom.
In Calculus, she took the seat that would put Daniel between her a Dean again. It wasn't any of her business, she'd decided, curious or not. Who knew what someone like Dean was doing in a bar when he was clearly underage. He'd probably gone to get hammered, only unlike every other teenager that actually had brains, he went to do it where he could get caught. The bags under his eyes were probably from spending the night in jail. Dean slouched into his seat with a sigh.
"Man, you suck at pool," said Daniel by way of greeting. "I can't believe you lost to Larry."
Dean glanced over and shrugged. "I came out ahead."
"Barely," Daniel snorted. Dean shrugged again, his eyes flickering over to Antonia who quickly averted her eyes, uncomfortable because she knew he'd gone to a bar afterwards. It was stupid but it made her feel young for some reason.
Mr. Falk came in and class started, but Antonia couldn't shake the feeling for the rest of the period. She kept sneaking glances at Dean in his battered jacket and scuffed up jeans. He looked like every skater punk, except the shabbiness wasn't something washed into his clothes. The bar thing aside, he'd spent almost half that money on groceries, and that made her feel ashamed for some reason. Hell of a welcome she'd given him to school when he probably already had enough problems at home.
Study Hall couldn't come soon enough, and for once Dean didn't seem intent on bugging her. Antonia was relieved of course. She certainly had better things to do than have Dean Winchester slobbering after her. Still, she couldn't help watching him as he sacked out on the couch like he had on his first day. She wondered if he had an after school job or something, or was going to get one. Suddenly she just wanted toknow. He hadn't really talked to anyone besides her so far. Hadn't made any overtures of friendship, hadn't stayed to hang out at the arcade. Antonia and the stories of the fight his brother had gotten into kept most people from approaching him which was kinda mean and sad. Except for Bianca.
"Hey," Antonia turned towards Allison. "You ever hear of the Crying Girl's Apartment?"
Allison looked up from the homework she was finishing for Chemistry. "You mean the ghost story? Sorta. I mean, I've heard the story about that apartment building in East River where you can hear a girl crying for her mother in the middle of the night."
That was about all Antonia knew about it, too. She hadn't realized it was more than a story though. Ghosts weren't real, of course, but the fact that there was an actual apartment associated with the story was a little freaky. Glancing over at Dean again, she wondered if he knew the story. Probably not, and if he did he probably didn't care except as some lure for cool points. She tried to put it from her mind because it was stupid and so summer camp, but Antonia was still thinking about it at lunch.
"Do you know the story?" she asked her friends.
"This girl and her mom lived there," said Daniel. "She was a prostitute or something and one day she just locked her kid up and walked out. They found her days later."
"I thought she was knifed by one of the men her mom slept with," said Ari. "And her mom was a crack-whore. Hard into drugs."
"When did this happen anyway?" asked Heather.
"Sometime in the fifties," said Daniel.
"Seventies," Ari correct him. "No one did crack in the fifties."
"So her mother just left her there and she, what? Starved to death?" asked Antonia, not really caring if it was the fifties or the seventies. No one probably knew for sure, and it didn't matter. Both Daniel and Ari shrugged not knowing that either.
"I bet they only found her body after it began to rot and smell up the place," said Ari.
"How could they tell?" said Daniel with a grin.
"Guys!" Heather gave them both a disbelieving look.
"What? It's true!" said Daniel. "I've been to one of those old apartment buildings. They smell like shit. Real shit."
"When were you ever over there?" asked Maggie.
"I dropped a couple of the track guys off after a meet. It was late and the busses weren't running."
"Did you even get out of your car?" asked Antonia with a tilt of her head. It was a building. It couldn't smell that bad.
"I didn't need to," said Daniel. "The place was a dump."
Antonia wouldn't know. She had stopped thinking about what living in East River might be like a long time ago.
"It can't be worse than your room," said Maggie.
"Hey, my room is paradise in comparison," Daniel retorted.
"Your room is a biohazard wasteland," Maggie shot back. Antonia agreed with Maggie but let them argue it out instead of joining in. It was a familiar argument, one where Maggie was always right and Daniel never changed his ways.
Across the room, Dean sat at the end of a table with a bunch of other guys from East River. He didn't join in on their conversation, but he was listening, although Antonia couldn't tell if he was a part of the group or not. He looked the part certainly, and as much as Antonia hated to admit it, he looked damn good doing it. God, she was pathetic. And he was still an asshole, whatever was up with the pool thing this weekend.
It took a couple tries but Antonia was able to tune back in to her friends who were now back to talking about what if the CDC was called in because Daniel's room was such a disaster area and the whole town had to be quarantined like in Outbreak but without the monkeys, just Daniel's dirty socks. Her friends were such dorks sometimes.
When lunch was over, Antonia continued not thinking about Dean and managed to get seated in Chemistry for all of five minutes before Hillary slid into the seat next to her and even though she didn't say anything – Mrs. Havershield had just started talking about the lab – she raised her eyebrow in a question.
No, Antonia shook her. She hadn't interviewed him and she wasn't going to. She restrained herself from rolling her eyes and turned her attention back to the front. It was their first lab and she didn't want to screw it up after all. "Do you know the story of the Crying Girl?" she asked preemptively when Hillary took the lab bench beside her a few minutes later.
"What? The ghost story?" asked Hillary.
"You don't know it?"
"Just the basics," Antonia shrugged. "And none of the stories are the same."
"It's a ghost story," Hillary gave her a look that clearly said that Antonia was being slow. "It's not even true."
"It's true." Both Antonia and Hillary looked up and through the shelves that divided the bench into two sides. Estelle was peering at them even as she pulled out her beakers and Bunsen burner.
"What?" Antonia hoped she didn't sound as surprised as she felt. She hadn't even realized Estelle was in the class. Not that she shouldn't be. Just, Antonia wasn't expecting it.
"The Crying Girl," said Estelle earnestly. "In the Bluff Apartments. It was a girl who lived on the third floor, except she lived next door to where she was killed."
"Who killed her?" asked Antonia, leaning closer.
Estelle shrugged. "They never caught him."
"So it wasn't her mother?"
"No." Estelle stopped shuffling her things. "Who told you that?"
"Just heard it around."
"No, it was some guy."
Antonia waited for her to go on, but that was all Estelle had, apparently, because she pulled her handout closer and started reading it. "Why do you want to know anyway?"
"Just curious," said Antonia, picking up her own handout to read. They were doing simple stuff to familiarize themselves with the lab equipment today.
"About Dean Winchester?" asked Estelle with a teasing grin. Hillary immediately swung around to stare at Antonia who was not blushing. Okay, maybe a little, but not because she was curious about Dean, not really.
"Antonia!" It was all the reproof Hillary needed.
"What?" Antonia threw her look right back. "Someone said he lived in the Crying Girl's apartment and I just wanted to know what that meant."
"Means he's dirt poor," said Estelle, getting their attention again. "No one lasts there more than a few weeks so the rent is rock bottom," she explained. "People would rather break their lease agreements and pay the fine than live there."
Antonia looked at Hillary, startled. Hillary blinked back. "This has all the makings of a really bad horror movie," she said, and both Hillary and Estelle snorted.
My first kiss was with Daniel. Tenth grade. It was kind of sloppy and gross because he totally couldn't kiss back then. He got better with practice.
I was dared to kiss Sandy Belles way back in middle school. Does that count? It was on the lips but real quick. I guess my real first kiss was Maggie in tenth grade. I asked her out once and we went to the movies and a couple parties for about three months. The first kiss was pretty bad. Too much open mouth and not enough control. She got better but then we broke up.
Oh God! My first kiss was too embarrassing to think about. I think I'll pass on this question.
Hillary Aberole, freshman year at one of my brother's parties sometime in the spring. Let me tell you, she can kiss. It's the only part of that night that I remember.
I haven't kissed anyone seriously. The one boyfriend I had, I dumped before we got that far because he was an asshole and just wanted some. Called me a bitch when I wanted to watch the movie instead of make-out. Simon left before the movie was even half over. I hear he's gotten a lot better at conning girls since then.
First kiss? There's been so many I can't remember the first. You know how it is.
It was just like a bad movie after school. Antonia was half running to her locker, quick stutter steps that couldn't exactly be called walking unless it was the Olympics because Mrs. Reading had been in a chatty mood after class. Antonia loved the woman, really, but couldn't she pick a more convenient time to ask about the documentary? It was going fine. She wasn't going to interview the teachers until later in the year, and she had interviews to get to now. Twisting, Antonia was already trying to get her bookbag open while she was still moving, barely paying attention to where she was going until she rounded the corner and ran straight into Dean Winchester.
He caught her before she fell on her ass, but all Antonia could think was, 'Why her?' "Dean," she said reflexively. She had managed to not think of him all day. Since lunch.
"Antonia!" Dean flashed her his sleazy smile, and Antonia quickly recovered and pulled out of his grasp.
"Excuse me," she said, avoiding looking at him and going to her locker. She quickly spun her combination, shielding it with her body because Dean had decided to pester her again.
"Hey, I hear you were asking about me," he said shamelessly, leaning against the lockers beside her. Thankfully, this time Antonia was annoyed enough not to blush.
"Whoever told you that was lying," she said. English, Calculus, and Chemistry for sure had homework. Econ was already in her bag. She couldn't remember if there was anything for History or not.
"No one told me," he said. "But I have good ears."
"Well, they're wrong." Antonia spared a scathing glance for him but he only raised his brows irritatingly. Behind him and across the hall she could see Hillary and Emily watching avidly. Maggie, who would save her from this, was unfortunately nowhere to be seen.
"So it wasn't you asking everyone about my apartment?"
"I was asking about the ghost story," said Antonia with a long drawn out sigh because really, the rumors that got around school. "And I asked one person other than my friends. Don't tell me it's a crime to talk to my friends."
Dean shrugged like it didn't bother him one way or the other. "Why do you want to know about the ghost story?"
"Why do you care?"
"It's my apartment."
"Rent controlled," Antonia said before she could stop herself, and was suddenly mortified because it was crossing a line, even for someone she disliked. But when she risked a glance at Dean he wasn't angry like most people would have been. He was giving her a wry smile.
"That's the best you got?" he asked, laughing at her. "If that's supposed to be insulting you need to go home and practice."
"Sorry," said Antonia. "I didn't mean –"
"Whatever," Dean cut her off. "You know, if you wanted to know the story you could have just asked me."
"No one from Rockford knows the real story of the Crying Girl," she said in disbelief. "Why would you?"
"Cause maybe the landlord knows it?" he said. "And maybe I got a dork for a brother who looked it up."
"Oh yeah?" Antonia didn't believe that for a minute, except for the landlord maybe, but then why didn't anyone else know the story if he did.
"Yeah," said Dean. "Her name was Anna. She lived with her mom across the hall in 3B. No dad, and her mom worked two pretty shitty jobs to keep them afloat and had a record for prostitution. Some creep moves in across from them and a few months later Anna goes missing. They don't find her till she's long dead. Raped and beaten to death. For ever after you can hear her crying for her mom."
Antonia stared at him, books, homework, and interviews forgotten. Until Dean flashed her that grin again. "You wanna come over and see her room?"
Slamming her locker shut, Antonia rolled her eyes. "Go find someone with a little less self-respect," she said pushing past him. He was making it up. He just wanted one thing after all. Guys were all the same.
This is the only high school in town so we have everybody, the rich kids and the rest of us. Most of the classes are split up like that, although there's people like Estelle and Darren who are in all the honors classes too. But they've always been overachievers.
The student body has all sorts of people but they're not really mixed up. There's the people who play sports, the football team, track, basketball in winter. There's the cheerleaders, who are totally hot, and the dorks in the band. I don't know. There's us from East River and there's the people who grew up rich. Everyone gets along okay but you don't really talk to people outside your group. I mostly chill with the track guys, but there's a bunch of people who still just hang out with the same people they've always hung out with since elementary school, especially the people who went to Bryson. They always stick together.
I wouldn't call it diverse but people still stick with what they know. You walk through the lunchroom and you can tell where someone's lived their whole life, but it's more than that. They're people like you. I don't know how I could talk to someone who never had to work a day in their lives. What would we talk about?
Everyone's pretty cool I think. It's a little weird because there's so many people I don't hang out with except for during practice, and all the things you think should be different, aren't really. Jim and Larry are like me and Kyle. They just want to have a good time and they love football as much as we do.
The student body is a bunch of angsty teenagers. Doesn't matter where we're from. We're all the same. I thought it would be different, and I guess it was after we moved, but for different reasons. Girls still think they're too fat and want boys. Boys still think with their dicks. Everyone wants to be different and unique because of individuality and independence but at the same time, no one wants to stand out. I don't blame them. Standing out sucks.
I don't know about here, but the perfect student body is a little curvy, legs up to here, brunette, though blond or redhead's fine too. Maybe a little sassy and adventurous – what?
Tuesday morning Antonia was half asleep. Yesterday had been a bit hellish when her camera had run out of batteries in the middle of interviewing Pete and she'd had to run to the store to get more and Pete couldn't stay late so she'd have to interview him again. Then there had been History reading after all and she hadn't brought her textbook home. It was so stupid of her. Stupid Dean for distracting her with his sob story that she really hoped wasn't true.
But what if it was? It was one thing when it was the Crying Girl, another when she had a name. Had she heard her mom looking for her? Had her mom even looked across the hall? Had she stayed up all night worrying, too scared to sleep? It had happened a long time ago, Antonia reminded herself, and might not have been true anyway.
Antonia put her camera bag on the locker shelf and double checked that she had put the extra batteries in the side pocket. No way did she want to have to run out in the middle of Bianca's interview. She might not come back to do it over. It was going to miserable and awkward and horrible as it was.
"Hey," said Maggie as she joined her, frowning a bit when Antonia looked up. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," said Antonia. "Forgot my History book last night."
"Read it in homeroom. Or skim it. I doubt we'll have a pop quiz today."
"God, I hope not. I can already feel myself falling behind in there. It's so boring."
"It's not so bad," said Maggie, unsurprising since she actually liked History. "It's not," she added at Antonia's disbelieving look.
The first bell rang so they waved and spit up for homeroom. Once in her habitual spot, Antonia pulled out her History book and got to it. They were reading about the Renaissance and it was all men and politics. Boring, no matter what Maggie said. She ignored the Pledge of Allegiance and the Moment of Silence but looked up when instead of the Vice Principal with the announcements it was the man himself, Mr. Holms.
"Students and teachers of Rockford, may I please have your attention for the following announcement. Last Friday, freshman student Linda Karlyle was reported missing by her parents. She was last seen Thursday after school on the #2 bus. If anyone has any further information on her activities Thursday please come to the office. All information will be held in the strictest confidence. I would also like to caution everyone not to go anywhere alone. Tell someone where you will be at all times and be safe in your neighborhoods. We here at Rockford extend our prayers to the Karlyle family and for a speedy and safe return for Linda. Thank you."
Stunned. Everyone was stunned. Antonia wasn't sure if she was breathing or not. She didn't notice that more than one person had turned to stare at her. She was busy telling herself that it would be okay. That the police were looking for Linda. That she was going to be found. That it had nothing to do with her. It only took her a few seconds to pull herself back together and for everyone else to get over their initial reaction. School went on after all and none of them probably knew her since she was a freshman. Still, it was a subdued chattering that returned after the regular announcements finished, and Antonia couldn't help but feel cold.
I have plenty of school spirit I think. I mean, I play in the band so I go to all the football games. It's one of those things that has grown over time though. In ninth grade I was much more about the music than the football, but now that I actually know what's going on on the field, it's a lot cooler. Even if we lose all the time.
On the track I have tons of spirit. I want to win, damnit! Off the track, not so much. The football guys think they're hot stuff but they're not really, and it's just embarrassing. They expect respect that they haven't earned. It makes me mad sometimes, because we have, but since it's not football, no one really cares.
I love this school and I'm proud I go here. And I want everyone to be proud to go here because it really is a good school and there are so many wonderful things it offers. School spirit is about more than cheerleading for me. It's about my friends and the student body and making this school the best it can be. I'm in the Senate too and there's all sorts of things that we do to help give Rockford students a better high school experience, and that's very important because it gives them a stronger base for college and the work force.
Hell yeah, I got spirit! Sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who does. Everyone else disses us and never come to games. We work hard and sometimes I just wish people would pay attention. It's like no cares unless you win, despite all the crap teachers always spout about doing your best is all that matters. No one even cares about the Lincoln game because no one believes we can win, and it's disheartening.
Rah, rah, rah. School spirit is such a joke. I can't wait to leave all this behind. It's high school and I don't care what everyone says, these are not the best years of my life. They, in fact, suck and all the talk about loving your school and spirit is so forced and ridiculous. It's like painting a smile on your face so no one will realize how miserable you are.
School spirit is for all those people who have something here. That's who all the spirit's for, the sports teams and the cheerleaders. What has spirit ever done for me? Get me picked on maybe, for not being cool enough to have something to cheer about.
Everyone was still stunned about the freshman but trying to hide it. "My mom's going to freak," said Maggie when they met up again in English.
"Yeah," Antonia agreed. Her own mom was going to more than freak.
"I bet she was snatched while she was walking home from the bus station," said Jim at the end of class. "Kyle said the police have been all over the place asking questions."
Someone whose little sister knew her said she'd been acting strange for a while, and there was another rumor by the end of History that she had just run away because she had no friends. That one Antonia figured had been started by someone who didn't know the girl at all.
She didn't bother speculating herself. She hadn't heard of Linda before and didn't want to add anything to the muddle that was out there. "Maybe she ran off to join the circus," she told Daniel as they went to Calculus. "The police will find her."
"But aren't you curious?" asked Daniel, a little puzzled.
"Yes," said Antonia, sitting. "But no one here knows for sure so it's stupid to keep talking about it."
Daniel was still looking at her funny but Antonia ignored him and focused on getting her homework out. Dean came in under the bell as usual, and as usual, didn't get out any homework. Thankfully, Mr. Falk got started right away so there was no time for him to open his mouth in her direction. Seeing him only reminded Antonia of the Crying Girl, and how she went missing right across the hall from where she lived. How did people do that, just go missing? Why didn't they call it kidnapping from the get go?
There was no answer that Antonia could believe in. Some people were just fucked up. Already fed up with the day, all she wanted was to go home and forget everything. But Bianca's interview was still after school and Antonia wouldn't back down from it. Maybe God would help her out and Bianca would. She hoped so.
The bell was startlingly loud when class ended. Antonia had barely paid attention, and when she jumped at the metallic sound Daniel gave her another worried look. "You okay?" he asked.
"Yes," said Antonia, annoyed because she was fine and she didn't need anyone telling her she wasn't. Daniel looked like he didn't believe her, but she didn't give him a chance to pester her about it as she hurried out of the room.
Study Hall she spent doing another interview but the whole time she was wondering what Bianca would say. Thankfully, the camera and the questions kept her occupied and her mind from wandering too far, but instead of the usual satisfaction she got with a successful interview, Antonia was just filled with more dread.
"Hey, look at that," said Kelly when she was done, nodding over Antonia's shoulder. Following her gaze, she saw Dean chatting up Kristen with his smarmy smile.
"Brad's going to like that," Antonia snorted, glad for the distraction.
"I doubt she's serious about it," said Kelly which was probably true. Kristen was a flirt and there's no way she could have resisted Dean Winchester even if she'd wanted to. Dean looked like he was into her though, and Antonia smiled a bit at the thought of him getting knocked down a peg or two. It cheered her up and gave her something else to think of other than lost girls.
The first party I went to as a high school student was the North Pennet Block Party. It's every year in October but this was the first time my mom let me go because it's so wild. There's free stuff all over the place – food, beer, music. It's pretty cool but was also a little scary that first time because there were so many people moving and dancing and I kept getting lost in the crowds. It was fun though.
My first party was when I was ten. I snuck out of the house with my friends waiting. One of their brothers was letting us come with him to the party. It was wild. It was a first time for a lot of things. I think that's where I got my crash course in sex. I though it was pretty gross at the time because these two people were making all these embarrassing noises. Nearly scarred me for life. First time I tried pot. Didn't get high and I puked afterwards, but yeah. I just thank God my mom never found out. Forget grounding, she would have killed me.
Parties are a weird thing. See when I talk to people in my classes from across the river, they talk about house parties where it's pretty much just high school kids. In East River, the whole neighborhood comes. I don't remember my first. I didn't like it much, and I still tend to stay away from them unless there's going to be really good music there or something.
Oh, man, parties. I love parties. I don't think they love me 'cause I usually end up blacking them out. The first one I went to was one down the street from where I lived. My brother took me and made me stay with him the whole time. I hated that. I must have been thirteen or fourteen. But it was still awesome. Lights and dancing and girls. Lots of girls and they weren't shy, not the ones my brother hung out with.
The first party I went to was that one at Jim's house, freshman year. The one everyone went to. I remember getting to the keg and being nervous about the beer. After three it was great because everything was so much better. Life didn't seem nearly as bad, you know?
First Party. I went to one once in . . . well, some farming town. Smaller than this place. It was weird. No one did anything except drink and smoke pot. Even the girls were boring. There was another, later, way better. The girls there were definitely not boring, and some of their boyfriends weren't too happy about it.
Antonia had more and more butterflies show up as the day wore on, and by the time she was at her locker, getting ready for Bianca, she was ready to screw pride and call it quits herself. She needed to calm down. Focus. This was for the documentary. She wanted to tell the story of the senior class, let them have their voice that was often denied them, and whether she wanted it or not, Bianca was a part of that.
Testing the camera was probably a good idea after yesterday's fiasco, and besides, with this morning's announcement she should probably get some reactions from people. So Antonia shouldered her bookbag and pulled out her camera. Candid shots, she decided, maybe she would get a few questions in if people were willing. Slowly, she panned across the hallway, then slowly she began walking to the main office where she had permission to do the after school interviews in the conference room.
Most people looked at her then ignored her. They all knew what she was doing. A few boys made faces and some other people waved. Strands of conversation floated around. Shouts of, "Wait up!" and "Did you hear about Thomas?" and more than a few, "I've gotta ask my mom. With that girl missing I might not be able to go."
"Do you know her?" Dean's familiar voice caught her attention behind her. Antonia froze and focused on a chunk of juniors all bent over something between them.
"No." Dean's brother answered. "She was shy. Kept to herself. Always had her hair in her face."
"She never talked in class," said Sam. "Oscar told me she sometimes didn't bother showing up to school."
The sound of a locker slamming shut made Antonia jump, and then they were walking away and out of earshot. Time to stop stalling.
Bianca was waiting at the door to the conference room when Antonia got there. "Hey," she said.
"Hey," said Antonia. They looked at each other for a moment, and Antonia could feel the years between them. "If you don't want to do this . . . with everything that's going on . . ."
Bianca took a deep breath and said, "No, it's okay. I want to do this."
"Okay." Antonia couldn't say no to that. If Bianca could do it, then she could.
It's the standard high school cliché isn't it? Every school has a football team that it's supposed to be ridiculously proud of and all the popular boys are on it and all the girls want to fall at their feet. It's just a sport, and I like it as much as the next person, but it's not the be-all, end-all. Our team doesn't even win that much.
Why the emphasis on football, that's what I want to know. It's a stupid sport but it's the only one anyone cares about and all the other sports get pushed to the side. Where's the enthusiasm for things like soccer and track where you don't stop the game every ten seconds?
I love football. It's fun to watch, I like the guys on the team, I like cheerleading – it's its own sport too, you know – and I love the feeling of going to games and being a part of something special. Our team may not be the best, but it's still our team.
Football rules! But seriously, I love it. Just playing is such a rush, a real contest of strength and endurance. You have your team and when you're on the field, it's not just about you. It's about playing for your teammates, of not letting them down. It's a pretty big responsibility when you think about it. And I know we get a lot of crap for not being the best team. We lose games, but some people forget how close some of those games are. We're in a tough region, and we work hard and we play hard and I know that when we walk off the field we've played our hearts out, win or lose because everyone on the team plays for everyone else. We're in it together.
What I like best about football games is how it brings everyone together. No one really watches the games and when you're in the band you get stuck in the stands a bit, but the game is someplace to hang out and launch the weekend from. Even if they don't go to the game, everyone still shows up for the end to catch up with their friends and go out.
Oh, not another one of these! Can't you ask questions about things the popular crowd doesn't do? Football sucks. It's just another way to let people know who is bigger, badder, and cooler and everyone else can go screw themselves.
It ended up not being so bad. Antonia asked all the same questions she had asked everyone else and if the answers were a little harder to hear, she tried not to let it get to her. But they weren't that bad. Bianca was still Bianca, still the girl Antonia wondered if she could ever understand. She was blunt but not cruelly so. It was mostly her and the camera with Antonia giving her something to talk about.
She was nevertheless worn out by the time she got home, but a good night's sleep and having it done did wonders for her mood when she showed up at school the next morning. She even got a chance to properly mock Dean in Study Hall with Allison and Kelly when Kristen snubbed him for Spanish homework.
Best yet, seventh period was cancelled for a pep rally. This Friday was the first home game and despite the football team being not so great, the school still wanted butts in the seats. Antonia, Maggie, and Daniel saved seats for Ari and Heather when they showed up in the gym. As seniors they had the front rows of bleachers and had to limit their talking. Antonia had her camera and switched between filming the show and the reactions of the students, and got a lot of good shots in of both disinterest and genuine delight.
It was all so ridiculous, Antonia thought even as she clapped for the cheerleaders who were going through their routines. It was such a strange ritual when you thought about it. The girls dressed up in skimpy clothes to drum up support for boys who spent an hour running into each other on purpose.
After the cheerleaders were done, the team was introduced, all forty of them. It took forever, and the cheering got quieter the longer it went on. They were finally let go – ten minutes before the end of the usual school day – and the masses started pouring out like water from a broken dam. Done with the pony show, the football players left with the rest of them, shoving each other and laughing because they were genuinely excited about their first game. Antonia followed them with the camera, interested to see if they had any rituals. She'd never really paid attention to them before except as other guys in her classes and as players on the field. Now they were players off the field, laughing and joking and so clearly a pack that thought they owned the school. It wasn't like the track guys who were always a pack but quieter about it, watching out for each other. This was wilder, and when Jim started running and pushing people out of his way with a whoop when the bell rang, the others followed.
There were yells of protest and loud cursing that went unnoticed in their wake. Antonia tried to keep up and keep the camera steady, but she had a feeling she was bringing back the shaky-cam with this one.
But then everything stopped like a derailed train. Jim's whooping was cut off and the sound of people falling to the ground rippled outward through the crowded hallway. Antonia got to the front in time to see Jim scramble to his feet in front of Dean who was smirking.
"Gotta watch out there," said Dean, all cheerful sarcasm. "Make sure you don't run into people."
"You tripped me!" said Jim, disbelief and anger coloring his voice. Larry, Wilson, Kyle, and the rest of the football team closed ranks around him. It didn't seem to bother Dean at all. In fact – Antonia had to look away from the screen and up at the scene unfolding in real life before her – he looked like he was just waiting for them to try something. If the football team was a pack of dogs, he was the wolf, faster, stronger, and ten times more dangerous.
"Better watch where you're going before you start shoving people out of your way," Dean said. "Some of us don't need a helmet and padding to take a hit."
"Oh, man, you didn't," said Wilson.
"What, call you guys pussies?" said Dean with another smirk. "You think you can take me, you're welcome to try."
Jim went for it. Lunged, angry and a bit terrifying, but Kyle grabbed him back in time to avoid him crashing into Mr. Holms and Mr. Falk who were suddenly there demanding to know what was going on.
"Nothing, sir," said Dean who had taken a quick step back with the arrival of the principal. "Jim here knocked into me and fell down. Traffic accident." He shrugged and smiled easily, the same smarmy smile he used on girls and that seemed to work well enough on principals, too.
Mr. Holms looked from Dean to the football team. Antonia dropped back before he noticed her with her camera although she kept recording the school discipline in action. But nothing happened. Mr. Holms just sighed and said, "All right. Everyone just go home. And I want no more traffic accidents," he said pointedly to the boys before shooing them off. Antonia went too, not wanting to be caught staring, but she lagged behind in the crowd until Dean was in front of her and followed him to their lockers.
She didn't know what to make of this new side to him. The whole football team. And he just stood there like they were nothing. As she watched him saunter down the hall, she wondered if he could have done it, taken them and won. But that was stupid, it was like, twenty to one. Even Rambo needed a gun to even those odds and she seriously doubted that Dean had any Jackie Chan moves up his sleeves.
Sam accosted him where everyone else had given him a wide berth. Antonia was close enough to hear him hiss, "You jerk!" as he shoved at Dean's shoulder. Dean retaliated by shoving Sam away from him.
"They were being jerks, bitch," he said, uncowed.
"And if Dad finds out you've been fighting, he's going to hand you your ass," said Sam. They both stopped at Dean's locker and Antonia turned to hers, slowly.
"I wasn't fighting."
"Close enough. Dean, I like it here."
"What, this place?" Dean twitched his head to the side. "Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Don't fuck it up," said Sam intently, ignoring the question.
Dean rolled his eyes and dumped his books into his locker, replacing them with one spiral bound notebook. "Relax, Sam. Dad's not even going to find out."
"That's what you said last time."
"I'm not the one who left evidence for him to confront me with." Dean slammed his locker shut and turned with Sam toward the door, right toward where Antonia was standing. She was far enough away for denial plausibility – she hoped – as she tried to think of something that wasn't completely lame to say.
Dean raised a brow at the camera dangling in her hand anyway. Antonia smiled sweetly. "I see I was right after all," she said. "No brains, all brawn. What there is of it. You're lucky the teachers showed up."
Sam snorted and huffed past her, looking for all the world like a five-year-old. "You're just pissed you didn't get to see my hot body in action," said Dean, the smirk once more coming out to play.
"No. I've seen you crash and burn enough for one day," Antonia retorted, amazed that he thought she would even want him. His brother had said it, he was a jerk. Antonia was wasting enough time on him as it was. There were no layers here, so she just threw his smirk right back at him and brushed by him to her own locker.
Sometimes I feel like the future is already here. I have a job at the grocery store. I work almost every day and when I get home I help my mom with supper so she gets a break before she has to go to her second job. I gotta make sure my little brother doesn't run off with his friends and get arrested. The only thing I really see different is me with a husband and kid instead of my mom and brother.
Coach says I have a shot at a track scholarship at State. I have to keep my grades up, but if I can, and get in, then it's college for me. And if I do well there, I'm thinking Olympics. So maybe that's too ambitious, but that's what I want. I love running.
I want to be a doctor. I've told that to about two people. My parents don't even know. My dad went to college for a little while but he couldn't finish, and they've been supportive about college, I guess, but only in a surfacy kind of way. Sometimes I feel so overwhelmed by all the choices and applications and want to give up. Mom says that's fine too. There's nothing wrong with not going to college. I guess I want it to matter more to her, because if I can make it and go and become a doctor I can really do something in world.
I don't know. I was thinking of joining the Marines like my brother. He's learning all about computers and it's really cool. The Marines are a brotherhood, and I'd get to see other countries and stuff like that. If I get a shot with football then maybe I'll go pro, but my brother says that the Marines will give me a life after football. I hadn't really thought about it like that until he said it.
You remember. I used to want to be a vet, and then it was a pilot, and then I wanted to be a writer except my writing sucked. Now I just want to leave. Get out of here and seek my fortune. My mom wants me to go to college. She says I can get financial aid, even started filling out the forms for it. I just feel like it's out of my control and the only thing I can do is to just leave.
I already know what I want to do. I've known since I was six years old. It's the family business.
Antonia watched the first two minutes of the segment on the news about Linda. She got as far as the first interview with her parents before the static glitching in the sound made the perfect excuse to go do her homework. She didn't need to see the rest anyway since everyone else at school had and it somehow worked its way into conversation over the course of the day. Antonia didn't really pay attention because today was a good day for filming the goings on of the student body. Who loitered in what hallways, who sat with whom at lunch. Jim and his buddies had been bitching about Dean all day and now they eyed him as he took his tray to an empty table. Seemed that even the guys from East River were shunning him right now.
The girls were another story, however. Antonia looked back and forth to be sure she was seeing it right, but yeah, that was Kristen waving at Dean and getting a wink – who did that! – in return. Antonia could understand it; everyone wanted to bash the football team's collective heads in at some point because they were acting like they owned the school, but that didn't mean people had to fawn over Dean, who certainly didn't deserve it.
"Hey!" Antonia turned the camera on her friends. "What did you guys think of what happened yesterday when Dean nearly got in a fight with the whole football team?"
"It was funny," said Maggie, grinning. "Showed them, right?"
"I was stupid and arrogant," Daniel countered. "I know the guys were being immature, but so what? We were just at a pep rally."
When Maggie and Daniel started arguing acceptable post-pep rally behavior, Antonia shared a look with Heather and got up to see what other people thought for posterity.
It turned out to be kind of fun. Antonia circled around the outside tables first, getting a general consensus that Dean was hot from just about every table of unaffiliated girls of all ages. From the freshmen and sophomore boys there was more than a little admiration and joking. Other responses ranged from, "Stupid," to "Testosterone poisoning," to a full ten minute rant from Jim and Larry about how they were going to show Winchester a thing or two and he better be ready for it. They didn't care if he'd been in juvie, he wasn't going to know what hit him! They were like puppies, but Antonia couldn't help but laugh at them anyway.
Near the windows, Dean was unaware that he was suddenly the talk of the cafeteria. His brother was sitting with him now, and they were arguing if the glares between them were anything to go by.
"Chill, Sam. It's just asking questions," Dean was saying by the time Antonia was walking behind him close enough to eavesdrop. Sam, however, had pinned his eyes on her so Antonia gave him her best you-wish-I-was-interested look and didn't linger, his eyes following her the whole time. "We won't do anything till Dad gets back," was the last she heard of that conversation. As curious as she was, she didn't dare stay to find out what he was going to be asking about.
It turned out that she found out later anyway walking between C and B wings on the way to Economics. There was a crowd in the courtyard that people cut across to get to D wing on the far side of the school with Dean and Kyle in the center of it facing off.
"Dude, I just asked if you saw anything," Dean was saying when Antonia pushed her way outside and through the rubbernecking throng on their way to class.
"So you're saying, I'm the one who kidnapped her?!" Kyle retorted angrily. "Is that it? Because that is fucked up."
"Well, forgive me for worrying if there's a psycho loose in our neighborhood," Dean spat back.
"The only psycho loose is you." Kyle pointed a finger at Dean. "You and your freaky father. I've heard how he comes and goes in the middle of the night. I bet he's the one who took that girl."
The words rippled through the courtyard like waves in a pond, stuttering students to a halt to turn and stare. Dean froze. His jaw clenched and Antonia watched his hands fold into fists.
"You don't know anything about my dad," he said softly.
"That's right, no one does," Kyle took a threatening step closer. "Bet he likes girls on the side. Wouldn't be surprised if he's the one who drifted through here and snatched Bianca, too. He ever leave you on your own for a few days, Winchester? Come back with her dad's blood on his hands?"
Dean punched him. A devastating right hook that snapped Kyle's head back and then the fight was on. Antonia jumped in surprise, shocked as much by what Kyle had said as by Dean's violent retaliation. For all that it seemed like time froze, it was over quickly. Kyle recovered enough to throw a punch back at Dean who dodged and brutally hooked a heel around his leg and threw him to the ground. Antonia was too far away to hear what he hissed in Kyle's ear, but then he was up and gone, people parting before him like the Red Sea. A couple of Kyle's buddies helped him to his feet only to be angrily shaken off.
The bell rang, making everyone start and hurry the rest of the way to class, whispers of murder and kidnapping, and "Bianca? Really? Who's that?" from kids too young to remember.
Antonia stood still amid it all, trying to breathe, the vivid image of Kyle falling to the ground overlaid with a middle aged man, falling, crashing down, head split open. Blood and a wrangled scream.
It's so hard sometimes to live up to everyone's expectations. My parents expect perfect grades. The teachers expect me to get it on the first try. My friends expect me to be there for them when they need a shoulder to cry on. Sometimes I feel like I'm always doing for others and no one's doing anything for me.
On the track team is where I feel the pressure the most. I've done so well and now I'm a senior and I can't not do well. I can't blow off a practice for something else because I'll fall behind. Some of it is pressure I put on myself because what if I fail? What happens then?
I'm doing so many things, it's sometimes hard to balance them all. Cheerleading or soccer practice versus homework. Debate practice or doing the extra work for the Senate committee. Don't get me wrong, I love all of it, except the homework, but sometimes I feel like I can't do any of it. Or I'll crash and burn and then everyone will know what a failure I am. And now we've got college applications on top of it? My mom's already on my case about that stuff.
The pressure's not so bad. In football no one really expects us to win, and that's actually kind of nice for us. We play our best but it's like a bonus when we win. School's all right. My dad keeps telling me I should do better, but I'm doing fine. No need to kill myself over it. A C is still passing, you know?
It's all about college right now. Everything goes on that application and anything you've screwed up in the last few years means your chances of a good school are blown. Yeah, it's a little nerve wracking. My mom's the worst. Every time I want to do something that's a little bit fun or off the wall, she's like, "Remember you've got applications to fill out and grades to keep up." As if I don't know that. I can't wait for second semester when I'll know I've been accepted somewhere, hopefully, and all this stress will be gone.
I don't care what other people think. I'm going to do things my way. Mr. Jones seems to think I'll actually listen to his crap about a "bright future if I just apply myself" every time I have to go to his office. I don't care about a bright future or business suits or selling my soul to corporations. I'm a musician. I'm gonna try to make it with the band.
Supply and demand. That's all she had to think about right now. Mrs. Reading was going on about Coca-Cola but Antonia couldn't look away from the poster of a supply and demand graph. It was very simple really. The basics of people wanting something and other people willing to give it to them for a price. Material things. Normal things. Milk, bread, cars. They hadn't gotten to the Great Depression yet, but Antonia remembered from History last year about the farmers who poured out their milk because the price was too low for them to sell it and the people in the cities starved because the price was too high for them. No wonder communism had been big back then.
Kyle was an ass. And as much as Antonia didn't like Dean, she couldn't blame him for hitting him. They were both jerks. Guys were such jerks, and now everyone was probably talking about it behind their hands so the teachers wouldn't find out – it wasn't often a fight went unnoticed but no one would openly rat it out. The teachers would find out, they always did, but there wasn't anything they could do about it now. They'd both lie about it anyway.
God, Antonia didn't want to think about lies right now either. Supply. Demand. Price where they intersect, no matter the context. This was a pretty crappy thing to be thinking about too.
Somehow, she got through the rest of the class, itchy, annoyed, and watching the clock the whole time. She'd have to get the notes later from someone who had paid attention, but when the bell rang all she could think about was getting away from the madhouse that people affectionately called high school.
"Antonia!" Hillary called as she made her way down the noisy corridor. She pretended not to hear until the other girl actually caught up and grabbed her arm. "Did you hear about the fight?" she asked excitedly. Normally, Antonia would have been excited about it too – drama! Action! A break in the tedium! – but not now. Not when it was about Linda and Bianca and she couldn't deal with Hillary the Gossip-monger right now.
"Yeah," she said briskly. "Look, I can't talk today." She hurried on to her locker.
"What? Since when?" said Hillary, following. "Dean punched Kyle and got away with it! Do you know what it was about?"
"No," Antonia lied. She spun her combo and hoped Hillary got the hint.
"Hey, Hillary!" Maggie's voice rose above the clamor of the hallway. "Emily's looking for you." Antonia didn't look up, but she could feel Hillary's eyes on her for a long moment before she gave up and left. Maggie came over and took her spot. "Probably," she added.
Antonia smiled at her gratefully. "Thanks." Maggie smiled back and nodded in return, but she still looked worried.
"I overheard some of the guys talking about Bianca," she said softly.
"Yeah," said Antonia, glancing away. "I don't know if I'm going to make band practice today."
"Game's tomorrow. You should come," Maggie replied. "Let Mr. Kermit yell at us for a couple hours."
Put that way it shouldn't have sounded as good a prospect as it did. "Okay," she said. Maybe it would be okay – hell, no maybe about it. She could go to band practice or be stuck at home with nothing but homework to take her mind off of things.
"I gotta go to my locker still," said Maggie. "Meet you by the picnic tables?"
"Yeah," said Antonia, the smile coming a little easier. "See you in a bit." Maggie left, and Antonia sorted through what she needed for the night until she got to Econ and had no idea whether there was homework or not. Mrs. Reading unhelpfully didn't have a regular homework schedule, so Antonia threw the books in her locker. If there was homework, that's what Study Hall was for.
Dean was at his locker when she turned. His brother was there again, his back against the locker bank staring at the opposite wall looking just as put out as he had yesterday. Dean didn't seem to notice.
"Hey!" Antonia barked at him before she even realized she had stalked over. His head snapped up, intent and holding something back that Antonia was too angry to care about right now. "You shouldn't have dragged Bianca into this," she said.
Dean blinked but said fiercely, "I don't know what you've heard, but we had nothing to do with anything that happened –"
"You still brought her into this, you bastard. She should be allowed to forget about it and move on and you had to bring it up again."
"Hey, wasn't me," Dean threw up his hands. "That was all Kyle, and why do you care so much anyway. I thought you hated each other."
Where he got that idea from, Antonia had no idea and she didn't care. "Just leave it alone," she ordered him. The last thing this school needed was more rumors. She turned and left halfway through his next denial, heading for the picnic tables and band practice, wishing for once that she played the drums instead of the flute.
I don't really hang out. I got to work after school. I go home from there and I'm so tired I don't want to go out. I guess sometimes I'll go to one of my friend's houses or apartments on the weekend and we'll watch a movie or something.
With my friends at school we sometimes go out after track for sodas or something at Gopnzolas. On the weekend, me and my other friends may hit the basketball courts at the park or the movies. You know, normal stuff.
We hang out at the strip mall or the movie theater. There's a couple good restaurants around there, cheap too, so we go there every once in a while. Mostly though, we go to each other's houses so we don't have to waste money on stuff we really don't need.
I love going to the arcade and I'm always telling Kyle we should go. He doesn't like it as much because it's where all the rich kids hang out, but it's the only place with good pool tables. There's a place in East River about two miles from my house, but it's filled with methheads and I'm not that far gone yet to want to hang out there. Not with football on the line.
I don't go out much. If I hang out it's at someone's house that I know. I don't let anyone come over to my place. It still freaks me out. It's stupid, but it does.
To hang out, I would need friends. Don't really have any of those now do I? Whatever. I wander around with my brother. We've hit most places in town worth anything. Now they're all the same as anywhere else.
Friday wasn't as bad as Antonia had thought it would be. There had been another update on the news that had spent a long time telling them that Linda was still missing. It had been a lot more straightforward than the mini-biography that had aired on Wednesday night, and Antonia was able to sit through all of it after dinner. Mom had asked her twice if she wanted to change it, worried of course, but if she had wanted it changed Antonia would have said so.
At school, news of yesterday's fight had spread far and wide, but thankfully it was mostly about Dean and his stint in juvie and no wonder with his family. It was actually kind of fascinating since no one really knew anything about him, and there were a zillion stories. It was Dean, Sam, and their dad who wasn't around much. The leading theory was that he was more likely a drunk than a killer since he was known to stumble in at three in the morning and the police hadn't hauled him off yet for questioning. They were dirt poor, and Dean was probably dealing drugs since they had one sweet ride that they wouldn't be able to keep otherwise. While Dean was doing time, so was his dad, and his little brother had been through three foster homes and hated his brother and his father now that he was back with them. Juvie was where Dean learned how to fight, and the only reason he'd beaten up Kyle. Couldn't stand anyone better than him.
Of course, no one said any of this to Dean's face. Or near his back because he also had super hearing, according to one freshman. Better than a cat's. The upper classmen were a little more realistic but no kinder about it all. Rumors grew on trees after all.
"They wouldn't let someone who'd been to juvie in here," scoffed Heather at lunch. "Even Rockford has standards."
"He's just another guy," Ari agreed, getting a couple of rolled eyes form Daniel.
"A guy who gets into fights at the drop of a hat."
"Kyle called his dad a murderer," said Antonia softly. "Wouldn't you get into a fight over that?"
Daniel shrugged. "Maybe," he didn't quite concede. "Would depend on if my dad did it."
"Daniel!" said both Maggie and Heather at the same time. "There's no proof!"
"And the police don't think he did it, otherwise we'd have heard about it by now," added Ari.
"How do you know?"
"We just would."
"Kristen and Kristina don't seem to care," Antonia said before another argument broke out. It seemed like all they did lately was argue about stuff.
"What? Where?" demanded Maggie, craning her head around Daniel to see where Antonia was pointing her chin. Dean had chosen a table to himself again, this time without his little brother, and Kristen and Kristina had both joined him. Everyone else in the cafeteria was either watching or pretending not to, and both girls were eating up the attention of being the bold ones willing to talk to the hot, dangerous new guy. It was a good thing Brad had Second Lunch. Keith on the other hand looked like he had just won a bet. Of course, he didn't have a good enough angle to see how Kristina was falling for Dean's charm.
As riveting as this new development was, it was boring to watch without sound so Antonia found her eyes wandering. It was only when Bianca's caught hers that she realized she'd been looking for her all day. Half-hidden by a couple of her friends, Antonia had been half convinced that she hadn't shown up at all. But there she was.
For once, Antonia didn't flinch away, but nodded. When Bianca nodded back, Antonia didn't know if it meant anything, but it felt like it did.
Dating in high school. Sometimes I wonder how or why people ever marry their high school sweethearts. I mean, I feel like I grew up with half the people I would potentially consider dating now. And let's be honest, high school boys kinda suck sometimes. They think they know everything about sex already when I can guarantee that there are more virgin boys out there than girls. I just wish there were more to choose from.
Well, there's a lot of people to choose from. The question is do you want to date them. There's a lot of pretty girls, but most of them are taken already, the girls not taken tend to be, not bad, but different, you know? Outside the mold, which is good, just sometimes they're a lot of work.
The Dating Scene is vast and complex. You have, first of all, me and Jim. We're going through an off period right now because he totally stood me up for football before school started. He's still groveling. There's Brad and Kristen and Keith and Kristina. Those four do everything together and are totally doing it. Emily's dating Luke but she was dating Larry after you two broke up. Melissa and Ferne are single. So is Kelly, and I think Allison hooked up with Simon over the summer, but Simon is like a revolving door. I don't see why people keep falling for him. He's an okay kisser I guess, but he's strictly a one night stand deal. Dave's like that too and there was that whole thing with Dave and Pete both after Allison sophomore year and she was so right to dump them both. Pete has this thing going on with Ashley though I'm not sure if it's just friends or friends with benefits because they don't really date, they're just kind of joined at the hip. That's about it I think. You're currently single, but I guess I don't need to tell you that.
Dating, man, I hate dating. I mean, what the hell do girls want? I miss one date with Hillary when she changed the time on me. She knew I had football practice. It was training week. We aren't even supposed to go out on training week and I got into huge trouble with Coach about it when I got back from not even going on a date with her. And now she'll barely talk to me and she says I have to show her I care about her needs. What about my needs? If I didn't like sex I wouldn't even bother.
The thing I hate about the dating scene is that there's so much drama. Half of the guys I see girls crying over are so not worth it. I mean, Simon? He's a great guy if he's not trying to get in your pants. Otherwise, watch out, he's a scumbag. And I've told this to his face. He likes his reputation, and that's a sign right there. A lot of guys are like that.
I don't have that much time to date. With the band, we're practicing every day. I like girls, just none of them really get the band thing yet. I'm not worried though. Once were get out no the road, there'll be girls falling over themselves to sleep with us. I mean, you know, one at a time. Not together. Unless there were two girls, that would be all right. That would be pretty awesome.
The last heat of summer lingered into the evening after the football game. They lost. Disappointing but hardly surprising. Antonia was just glad to finally get out of her scratchy band uniform.
"So you guys up for Tony's tonight?" Daniel bounced up to Antonia and Maggie as they left the stadium. Ari was standing a little further away from the gate talking with Simon, Pete, and Ashley.
"I can't," said Maggie. "My mom wants me home right after the game."
"You're kidding me," said Daniel. "Is it because of that freshman? Because that's just stupid."
Maggie shrugged and sighed. "Yeah, well, I'm not in the mood to fight with her about it," she said. "I'd rather have a curfew than be grounded."
"How is going home right now different from grounding?" Daniel demanded. Maggie just shrugged again.
"What about you, Antonia?"
"I can stay out till ten." Antonia's mom hadn't been too thrilled about it either, but she also said she expected them to say in a group in lit, public places. Antonia had no problem with that. She wasn't going to put herself in any more danger than she had to, but if Daniel was going to be annoying about it, she might go home early anyway.
Maggie made her goodbyes and Antonia and Daniel went and joined Ari. "Is Heather coming?" she asked.
"No," Daniel sighed. "Stupid girl. Why did she have to go and get herself kidnapped?"
"It wasn't her fault," said Antonia. Daniel was understandably irritated, walking quickly and fast, but still.
"Well, she shouldn't have been wandering around where no one could find her," he replied. "If she had, someone would have seen her and she'd be found by now."
So Linda maybe should have been more careful. "But what if it was someone she knew?" challenged Antonia. "Most kidnappings are done by people who know the victim."
"Then she should have known better! Now she went and got kidnapped and everyone's freaking out about it."
"It wasn't her fault!" Antonia couldn't believe him. She stopped walking trying to put together what she meant in her head. There was a whole other person involved who had done the actual taking.
"Fine, right, I know," said Daniel. "Sorry. I'm just . . . frustrated." He gave her an apologetic smile that was anything but happy. "You'd think that someone from East River would know better than to walk anywhere alone, is all. Then we wouldn't have to worry about curfews and crap."
"You have a curfew, too?" said Simon now that they were close enough to join their little circle. Ashley and Pete stepped back a bit to let them in.
"Yeah," said Daniel. "Fucking sucks."
"Yeah," Simon agreed. "Why did that girl have to get herself kidnapped anyway?"
"She didn't," Antonia snapped harshly enough to get everyone's attention.
"O-kay," said Simon slowly and with a caution that immediately made Antonia feel like she was overreacting.
"Sorry," she added hastily. "Look. I don't know if I'm up for going out tonight. I've had a pretty bad week." She didn't wait for Daniel to protest. It wouldn't be much fun without Maggie there anyway. "I'll see you guys later."
I haven't had time to get kissed yet. It seems like I'm always a step behind everyone else with stuff like that. There's a guy at work though who's pretty cute and we've talked a bit on our breaks. So maybe?
My first kiss was after my third track meet. Vanessa Joliet. I liked her back then. A lot. An embarrassingly lot. Anyway, it was the end of the day and we were watching the Varsity relay together. It was a close race. Neck and neck the whole way, and every second on every change over counted and it was still down to the anchor. I think it was Philip Koan, who was a senior then and one of our co-captains. He was neck and neck with the guy from Hollis High, he almost lost it on the curve, but then he hit the straightaway and it was like magic. He pulled in front and beat that other douche by half a pace. It was awesome and we were going crazy on the side and Vanessa and I just grabbed each other. I kissed her on the cheek first in all the excitement – it startled us both – but then we were kissing for real and it was amazing because we had just beaten Hollis by half a pace.
My first kiss was with Brian Alldon. Fifth grade. Lips on lips, no tongue. We were boyfriend/ girlfriend for about two weeks before he decided he liked kissing Taylor better. In high school, my first kiss was also Brian. For real, and it was good, and good practice. We didn't bother with dating and just made out every once in a while. Then he decided he was serious about Stacy and no more kissing partner for me.
My first kiss was with Ally Hooper. Two years older and smoking hot. It was at a party I think. I think I was drunk, too. So good. She wore cherry lip gloss and now whenever I kiss someone with that kind I think of her.
Let's skip this question.
First kiss? Natalie something. We were somewhere in the South. It was summer. She was staying at the same motel we were. In the pool everyday. I would go out and watch because she was gorgeous. I don't really remember how we got to the kissing. I think it was boredom and the only other kid around was Sam who was eight and annoying. That was a good motel.
Antonia figured that the best way to stop obsessing about everything that was going on was to focus on the documentary. She didn't want to look at the footage yet though. She'd done enough of that already to have a feel for it and right now she didn't want to think about all the different perspectives and histories that were winding their way together. Instead, she headed for the public library to see what they had for video editing programs since there was no way their home computer had the ability to do the professional job she wanted.
The library was one of those places in town that had everybody pass through at one point or another. Some became fixtures like Ashley and Pete and their friends who preferred to meet in one of the study rooms to do homework instead of at one of their houses. Antonia spent a good chunk of sophomore year in the microfilm room for her history project on the early years of the Civil Rights Movement, so she knew her way around that area and the computer area next to it where she had actually typed the paper. As she walked in, she went to the computer she had used then, a fond little smile curving around her lips.
The room was mostly empty as she settled in. On the other side of the computers where the big work table was, she could hear someone rustling around, probably the same person using the on but empty microfilm station.
Antonia had done a little poking around on the internet to look for what kind of programs she needed. She was using the new digital camera that she'd saved all summer for in preparation for this documentary, but the question was would the library have the programs she needed. It took her a little while to find that they had something video editing related, and even longer to figure out that it wasn't what she needed.
Time to ask the librarian what to do. Antonia stretched as she got up, straightening the curve out of her back and shoulders. It was still pretty quiet in her little corner of the library. Standing she could see the back of the guy hunched over the table that was covered in microfilm printouts. Idly curious, Antonia glanced at the microfilm screen as she passed. It was unsurprisingly a newspaper, but the headline made her stop.
"Murdered Child Found in River"
Antonia stared for a second then leaned closer to look at the date in the corner. 1984. Footsteps startled her back a step, an excuse barely formed fleeing as soon as she saw who it was. Dean's brother, Sam. He looked up from the notebook in his hands when she did and the two of them were like deer caught in each other's headlights.
"Hi." Antonia waved awkwardly.
Sam's eyes were darker than Dean's and they seemed to watch her twice as carefully. "Hi."
Antonia meant to turn and continue on to the reference desk, but somehow she found herself waving her hands toward the headline. "Murdered children?" Because what the hell.
Sam glanced at the screen, too, and if it weren't for the fact that Antonia was more than a little bit confused and wondering if this was what Dean thought leaving it alone meant, she would have been a little more conscious of the fact that it was none of her business.
Sam looked back at her. "They were missing for weeks before they showed up dead. The ones that were found."
Antonia frowned. "They weren't all found?" That couldn't be. How could they not find them? Realistically, she knew that happened, that people went missing for fifty years before their corpses showed up in the wall of a building that was being torn down. Helplessly, she looked back at the school photo of the girl that had been found in the river thirteen years ago. They were supposed to at least find the children.
"Three," said Sam. With a sudden need to know, Antonia sidestepped him and strode to the table in the back. She took him by surprise but he still jumped after her. "No, wait!" he said, but the table wasn't that far away. On it were laid out ten stacks of printouts and newspaper articles in chronological order from left to right.
Anna Lineus, 1962, Laura Folke, 1967, Phillip Ousler, 1974, Katherine Buchanon, 1976, Lindsey Kohl, 1979, Perry Grossman, 1982, Julia Andale, 1984, Alicia Scott, 1988. Bianca Harrison, 1993. Linda Karlyle, 1997.
"What is this?" she whispered, fingers landing on Bianca's stack covering the picture of her father's smiling face. "Why are you doing this?"
Sam huffed, put out by her inconveniencing him, no doubt. Well, too bad. These were people's lives stacked up here. "I was just curious," he whined.
"Bullshit," said Antonia. She could feel the anger burning hot in her belly. First Dean had been asking questions, now this? Had Kyle been right?
Sam's lips pursed as he tried to out stare her, but he wouldn't win this contest. It took a good minute for him to realize it before he finally shoved past her and started pulling everything together. He was going to leave, Antonia realized when he snatched his bag off the floor.
"No." Antonia grabbed his arm hard enough to feel his muscles shift under his skin. "You think they're connected." She was sure that he was going to pull away, but he didn't. He nodded. "How?"
"If I knew, would I be looking?"
"How?" she repeated.
"They're all the kids that have gone missing in the last seventy years," Sam shrugged. "That's a lot for a town this size. Especially so close together, done by different people?" He shrugged again. "You're the one who lives here. You tell me what's going on."
Antonia stared at him again and didn't know if he expected an answer or not. There stared at each other as the silence got longer and longer.
"Do you know anything about when Bianca went missing?" Sam finally asked quietly. He slipped his arm out from under her hand and sat down, pushing a chair out for Antonia. When she couldn't answer, the silence dragging on, he said, "She was the only one ever found alive. It doesn't say by whom – anonymous tip. Her dad got there first and surprised the guy or something, the article's not too clear, but he died."
She remembered Bianca's muffled sobbing and the sound of her choking on her own spit. It was dark and it stank, but the phone worked. Antonia had no idea how long they had sat there, but she remembered the look on Bianca's face when her dad came in. "There was no guy," she said, half to herself, because there hadn't been. There had been blood and the fire poker, and there hadn't been anyone else.
"What do you mean?" asked Sam.
But Antonia shook her head. She didn't want to talk about it. Or think about it. Or have it brought up again. Blinking, it was like seeing Sam again for the first time, and this wasn't why she had come to the library in the first place. She had come to get away from this, not relive it with Dean's little brother staring at her like a puppy.
"Forget it," she said, standing, turning, and hurrying back to her computer. Sam followed a step and a half behind her.
"No!" She spun around to face him. "There was no one else there. It was just Bianca and, and her dad, and . . . it was just them. Now leave it alone."
Sam kept his mouth shut. Antonia, the rush of blood loud in her ears, turned and fled.
My parents are divorced. That happened when I was ten. My mom's remarried and my dad's still single. My stepdad's great, we all get along just fine. I still ignore them as much as possible. You know how it is. My mother tends to worry too much and always wants to know where I'm going, who I'm going with, when I'll be home. I think she thinks that I'm going to go buy drugs the first time she forgets to pester me. If I wanted to do drugs her pestering me would be what drives me to it.
My parents are okay. Dad's in business for himself so he works a lot, but he's always been there when I needed him. Lately they've been on my case about college, telling me I need to think of life after running. And college is great, just where I want to go for track and where they want me to go don't always line up.
I love my parents. My mom is pretty cool. Going shopping with her is one of my favorite things because it's like going with my friends. Sometimes my friends come with us, but I like it when it's just the two of us. She's like another friend, you know? Which I didn't expect at all when I was in middle school and didn't want anything to do with my mom because it was so uncool to have her hanging around. It felt like she was around all the time, but it was because she came to all my soccer games and all the football games just to see me cheer, and a lot of people's parents don't go to that effort.
I actually don't talk to them much because I'm so busy and they're pretty busy too. It's easier to get along with them when they're not in my business. Dad's gone on business trips a lot, and my mom goes with him about half the time, which is great for having parties. They trust me though and they don't mind.
It's just me and my mom but it's good. She has to work a lot – she's a lawyer – so I try to help out around the house. On the weekends, one thing we like to do is get a couple of really cheesy romantic comedies and make popcorn. Half the popcorn ends up on the floor when we throw it at the people doing stupid things, but it's just the two of us.
My parents are crazy and they don't let me do anything. They're always telling me to do this or that or do better in school, and my dad hates the band. He thinks it's a waste of time and that I'm going to end up on a street corner with a tin cup for tips. I just want him to look at me and see that I can do this. Screw school, I'm terrible at it and it's no use trying to do better because it's not going to make a difference. My dad doesn't get that.
Antonia was exhausted when Monday rolled around. Nightmares she'd thought long gone had returned and with them the heavy weight of guilt and the longing for it to just be over. But late Sunday night, trying to talk herself out of turning on the light, part of Antonia thought, it'll never be over. Not really.
She tried to be normal at school although she felt anything but, and did a fairly passable impression that fooled her teachers. Maggie knew something was up, nothing much got past her, but she did Antonia the courtesy of not asking and acting as a buffer from the world during English. But it wasn't English she was worried about.
Dean surprised her though. He wandered into calculus and instead of asking a thousand inappropriate questions, he threw her two glances that were for once serious, the same kind of look he'd given his brother with thirty bucks for groceries. But he didn't say anything. Unsettled, Antonia wondered what he was playing at. Sam had to have told him, he'd be acting like an asshole as usual otherwise, but now he wasn't doing anything about it. She couldn't decide if she was relieved or not. It felt like he was waiting to pounce.
Antonia didn't give him a chance, avoiding him through Study Hall by sitting with Allison, and hurrying to meet her friends at lunch. Dean didn't seem bothered by it, in fact, he barely gave her a glance when Kristen snagged his arm and invited him to eat with her, Kristina, Keith, Kelly, and Simon. He hesitated before shrugging in acceptance, sitting like he belonged there.
From across the room, she couldn't hear what they said, but she couldn't stop watching. Wondering how they could sit there and laugh and joke as if nothing were wrong. As if there weren't a student missing. Ten in forty years. None in the thirty before that. Antonia had no idea about statistics and town sizes, but she'd never heard of the other children, never even cared about that stupid ghost story that was a little girl bruised and battered in a closet. Lost and afraid and not knowing when it was going to end.
"Antonia!" Maggie touched her arm, making her jump.
"Movies this weekend," said Maggie. "If I ask early and we go before dark the parents shouldn't care."
"Yeah, of course." Movies. Antonia concentrated on her sandwich trying to get back to the now.
"Great!" said Daniel. "Make sure you ask today." Antonia nodded absently, her eyes already drifting back to Dean, wondering why he was interested in the missing kids and when would he get it over with and ask her already, whatever it was.
"You stare any longer and everyone's going to think you have a crush on him," Heather startled Antonia by saying.
"Dean Winchester?" Heather nodded in his direction. "What's with you today? I thought you didn't like him."
"I don't," Antonia confirmed. She didn't. She didn't know why Dean kept stealing her attention or why she even cared what he did in his free time or how much money he had or how he got it. She shouldn't. He was your typical guy, thinking about nothing but sex and food and getting into fights. And he might also be the only other person at this school that cared that Linda was missing. "I don't," she repeated when Heather didn't say anything.
"Kristen does," piped up Maggie. "Emily saw her push him into the First Floor Corner before school today."
"Really?" That bitch. That was a mess waiting to happen. The First Floor Corner was the start of a hallway that never got finished. It went for six feet then stopped making it the prime make out spot on school grounds. "Does Brad know?"
Maggie did a face shrug, and Daniel said, "He's gonna kill him."
Brad didn't kill Dean. He didn't even start the fight. He did get in Dean's face and warn him to stay away from his girl. Dean had smirked and challenged Brad to keep her. "Oh my God, I'm not a horse," Kristen had giggled from the sidelines, delighted that they were arguing over her.
Later, Antonia heard from Hillary that Dean had grinned and said, "No, but I bet you like to ride," loud enough to scandalize everybody and their mothers.
That was what prompted Kyle and Wilson to start heckling and calling him a fag. Shouting how he liked to "take it like a bitch," and that's when the fight started. This time, in the broad corridor between A wing and the cafeteria, the teachers did see it. Antonia hadn't been there, but she'd bet it was Dean who threw the first punch.
It was so stupid, she thought as she listened to Hillary and Emily. "It took four teachers to get them apart. It was like, five to one, and Dean still put Kyle and Hanson on the floor. If I hadn't heard what they called him, I would think he was psychotic."
"Do you think the juvie rumors are true? Was he really in?" asked Emily.
"I don't know. Why are you asking me?" said Antonia, glancing at Maggie puzzled.
"You've actually had conversations with him," said Hillary with a flick of her eyebrows that very succinctly conveyed "duh!"
"So have Kristen and Kristina."
"Who are totally flirting. Dean likes you, you know," said Hillary. "I heard he was asking about what you were like when you were younger."
"He was!" she insisted. "Are you ever going to interview him?"
"No," said Antonia sharply. Although she wanted to. God knew why, but the kernel of needing him to explain everything once and for all was right there. Then she'd know and he wouldn't be this mystery walking around like he owned the place. There'd be context and history and maybe he wouldn't be so frustrating to deal with.
"You should. Weren't you the one talking about making sure every voice is heard?" said Hillary with a sly smile. "Maybe you can ask him who he's going to Homecoming with."
"Why? Still interested?"
"Hell no!" Hillary shook her head with a disgusted little pout. "He might be hot, but he's still probably a murderer or something. Drug dealer at least, and I am not going to get mixed up in that."
"Now you see why I don't want to do an interview with him," said Antonia, hoping that would be enough to get her to drop the idea, but Hillary just rolled her eyes.
"So get Daniel to help you or something. You should still do it. Dig into his tragic past. Find all his skeletons."
This time Antonia thought Hillary was the one being overly dramatic. "Yeah, I'll get right on that."
"Great!" Hillary beamed. "Now's your perfect opportunity."
Antonia turned to look over her shoulder. Sure enough, Dean was walking quickly to his locker, a red patch of skin already purpling on his jaw. It was late enough after school that he must have just been released from Mr. Holms's office.
"I'm not asking him," hissed Antonia as they watched him.
Antonia glared at Hillary who simply raised a brow in a dare. She couldn't back down from that, but fortunately, as soon as she started moving across the hall, Dean shot her a look that just as clearly said that now was not a good time. His gaze lingered a moment longer than it should have before he hurried off toward the parking lot. Antonia didn't bother going back to the others. Hillary and Emily could go screw themselves for all she cared and Maggie was already catching up. They got out front in time to see Dean get into an old style black car with a gruff older man that must have been his father. He didn't look very happy if the look he shot Dean was anything to go by, and Antonia flashed back to Sam's fear after the last fight, wondering whether the bruise on his chin would be the only one still there in the morning.
Don't get me wrong, I like school and I like Rockford. I just don't have time to do the extra, "Yay, school!" routine. So I guess I'm all for school spirit, I just don't really do it myself. I'm lucky if I make a football game all year.
Okay, there's school spirit and then there's school spirit. There's what the Mr. Holms thinks is spirit and all the football hype which is so overrated, and then there's all the other sports that get no attention but we all still love our sports and representing our school. So yeah, I have spirit. It's just not the normal spirit.
School spirit is a funny thing because it's something that seems like it's for all the popular kids, and me and my friends are always making fun of them because they are giving in to the party line and being sheep. But you know, I always kind of want to participate in Spirit Week anyway, even though it feels like copping out, because it looks fun and I'm really proud of my school even when I hate it.
I have school spirit and I like it because it feels like when we play we have people behind us and we're playing for more than just the game or winning, but for pride. When it's not football season, I try to give that back by showing up to basketball games and I have a bunch of friends on the track team and one ex-girlfriend, Mandy is on the soccer team, and so I used to go to those games, too. Spirit works both ways.
I've never really thought a lot about school spirit. Ninth grade I didn't notice a lot of things and afterward, I just couldn't. I went to my first football game junior year and it was okay. It was the first time I felt normal, even if it was only for a little while.
I don't bother with school spirit. We never stay in one place long enough and it's just not worth it. Most schools are the same anyway. There's not much to distinguish them except the little things like the mascot, but for the most part? I can't remember much difference from one place to the next.
Dean wasn't at school the next day. It quickly became apparent that the story of him skipping town on the run from the police was unfounded when none of the other boys in the fight were at school either. They were all suspended, as per the punishments listed in the Student Handbook for fighting. So it was a little surprising when Dean showed up after school in Antonia's way by the picnic tables as she was making her way to band practice.
"Dean!" She startled, taking a quick step back to keep her balance. "What are you doing here?"
"Picking up Sam," he shrugged. His eyes, however, had the same intensity they'd had yesterday, like they knew far more than Antonia wanted them to. "I also wanted to talk to you."
"Oh, yeah?" Antonia crossed her arms across her chest and hoped she didn't sound as nervous as she felt. Linda hadn't been found, the nightmares hadn't gone away, and Sam's list of missing children felt like it was constantly getting longer.
"Yeah," Dean said. He didn't have a bag or anything with him. "You were there when they found Bianca."
Even though she'd been expecting this since Saturday, the words still came as a surprise. "You don't know that," she replied, fingers clenching on her arms. She'd been kept out of the newspapers, the press had never talked to her, and if Bianca had told, Antonia would have heard of it by now.
"You're in the official record," said Dean, taking a step closer to her, his voice softening.
"And how did you get that?" she snapped. He had no right to pry into this. It was none of his business. No one was supposed to know, just the police and Bianca and her mom. "Forget it. I don't want to know." She shook her head sharply, breaking the grip of anxiety. She had band practice to get to, but Dean stepped into her way again. "Move."
"Bianca was beaten up. Her father ended up dead," Dean stepped closer, but Antonia held her ground. "Her statement said someone else was there. Yours doesn't."
"There wasn't anyone else there!" she snapped, pushing him out of her way, two hands to his chest. He was big enough that he could have stopped her, but he didn't, instead he fell back a step, finally letting her by.
"Fuck off!" She stormed past him, her hands clenched tight against the shaking, she was so mad. But the little voice in the back of her head whispered that it wasn't anger at all.
Homecoming is really an excuse for having a dance early on in the year. No one ever comes back for the homecoming part, and the game is something but not everything – we don't have a reputation to worry about – so it's all about the dance, which is the fun part anyway.
Okay, Homecoming is such a bunch of hype. The girls go crazy about the dance and it's the preview for Prom and it's all they talk about. Yeah, okay the dance is fun, but does it have to be the only thing that gets talked about for two weeks?
I love Homecoming. It's the first dance of the year and it's way less stress than Prom. Parties are fun and all but there's always drinking and the music sucks half the time. Homecoming's more like getting back to basics and everyone's there so you get to see people who don't normally go to parties. It's just good fun and I love the dancing because there's real slow dancing. I'm excited about this year. We don't do the king and queen stuff till Prom so there's no pressure or anything at Homecoming.
Homecoming is so vanilla. I go because my girlfriend wants to go and I'm not going to be the one loser who doesn't show up. The football game isn't usually any bigger than any of the others so it really is all about the dance. For me it's just getting through the school part to get to the real party afterwards. I'm already planning it. Better music, plenty of kegs, it's gonna be real, if you know what I mean. None of this chaperoned shit.
It's fun, it's a dance. I go because my friends go and it's fun to dress up a bit. Me and my friends go as a mass, all with each other which makes it unlike Prom where someone's feelings always get hurt.
Screw Homecoming. I went freshman year and got swirlied by a couple juniors in the bathroom. It's just another place where the popular kids can show off how wonderful they are and how they hate everyone else.
He was still there when band practice let out, sitting on the picnic table with his elbows on his knees like he had all the time in the world. As soon as his eyes fastened on Antonia, she felt the good mood left by the music leave her.
"Antonia?" said Maggie cautiously, eyeing Dean.
He wasn't going to give up, Antonia realized with a growing dismay. Why did he care? Why was part of her grateful that he did? "I told you to fuck off," she said when he got up to meet them.
Dean glanced at Maggie. "Two minutes, or I'll follow you home."
"I'll call the police," she retorted. Dean made a face, not liking that idea at all.
"Two minutes," he repeated, believing her at least when she said she'd do it.
"I'm not going to tell you anything."
"Then I'll talk." He was frustrated now and trying to hide it. When she started past him with Maggie as a buffer zone, he added, "I'll pay you. I'll even do one of your stupid interviews, just two minutes."
The offer of an interview was tempting enough to make Antonia look back. He was serious. After all the mocking and being a pain in her ass, he'd do it. "Two minutes of you talking," she clarified, the offer making her feel a little bit more in control. "For an interview. And you're not an ass through it."
Antonia wanted to say yes, but she was afraid of what he would say. Nevertheless, an interview she didn't have to stoop to get was maybe worth it. Should she, shouldn't she, should she, shouldn't she. "Okay," she said before she thought about it too much. He couldn't let it go, but then neither could she.
Maggie went to the parking lot with a worried glance for Antonia, leaving the two of them at the picnic tables. Antonia checked her watch, already regretting it, and Dean got straight to the point. "Someone else was there when you found Bianca," he said. "Bianca saw him and told the police about him, but you didn't because you were scared. You thought you were going crazy."
Antonia looked past him at the arts building and tried not to think about that night. Interview. She was getting an interview out of this.
"Did he flicker?"
Her attention jerked back to him at the question. How did he . . . Antonia felt her eyes widen but was unable to help it.
"I'll take that as a yes," said Dean, still perfectly serious. "You're not crazy." But she was already shaking her head. "He was there. He was real."
"No." The word slipped past her lips by accident. It was impossible. People didn't just flicker. She knew this. She knew it. Bianca had been out of her head with pain. She'd been tied up and gagged when Antonia found her, only wearing a torn, men's sized undershirt. Her skin had been clammy and mottled like a calico cat, and when she was cut free all she did was hold on to Antonia and cry. She'd been out of her mind with pain and didn't know what she was doing or later, what she saw.
"Antonia," Dean took a step forward and she took a step away. "Okay, okay," he stopped, his hands going up spread wide and open. Antonia spun around; an interview with the mystery boy wasn't worth this. "Wait, Antonia," Dean called after her. "I still have a minute."
"Leave me alone," she shouted back, hating the threadiness of her voice. Her hands were shaking and she couldn't make them stop. Dean didn't give up, however, following a few steps behind.
"Look, forget the guy, he wasn't there, whatever you want to believe," he said quickly as if that was supposed to make everything better. "How did you find her?"
"Bianca. How did you find her?" Dean repeated when she stopped and half-turned, brought up short by the question. "She was missing for two weeks. The police looked everywhere, and you found her in the middle of bumfuck suburbia."
"I . . ." She didn't know how to answer that. She didn't know how to think about it, so she never did. Antonia glanced at her watch. "Your two minutes are up," she said instead. "I'll talk to you tomorrow about the interview." She summoned up the last of her composure to flash a false and probably pathetic smile that was more a baring of teeth.
She was such an idiot. And Dean Winchester was a bastard.
"You're not crazy!" he called after her, but Antonia ignored him. He didn't know anything.
Like I said, I don't get to games because I have to work. It's okay as a sport but I barely know the rules and the only reason to go is because that's where all my friends are hanging out.
I like football, even if it's overrated. I played a little in middle school. Well, I mostly sat on the bench in middle school, but it's a fun game. I go to as many games as I can. I get a little crap for it, going and actually watching the games. All the track guys just hang out and talk shit about the game and how little sense it makes, and my other friends think it's me trying to be better than all them because I like it. It's like I'm sucking up or something. It used to really bother me and I wouldn't really watch like everyone else, but this year I've decided that I don't care what they think. Or you know, care less.
I don't really feel one way or the other about football. The football guys are kind of jerks really and the team sucks and this whole country is obsessed with football and I wish it weren't. It just seems like a huge waste of time and effort. I have better things to waste my time on.
Football is the only reason I go to school. It's the only thing that makes all the other shit worth putting up with. Let's be honest. I barely pass the school stuff. Football's the only reason I haven't dropped out yet.
I've already kind of answered this one. I haven't spent a lot of time noticing football or any of the other things you're supposed to care about in high school. You know what it was like. I just wanted everything gone and to be the way it was before my parents started the divorce. That's when everything changed and I had no idea . . . How could I care about football?
I think we both know what I think of the football team. Sports in general are all good I suppose. I've never played on a school team. My brother's the one with the jones for organized sports. Me, not so much. None of it's real anyway. None of it will count for anything when it matters.
Even if Dean was full of shit, it didn't stop Antonia from thinking about what he'd said. The crazy part of her brain that insisted she'd seen something that night kept whispering no matter how Antonia tried to silence it, tossing and turning all night and still bothered by it when she went to school Wednesday morning.
Dean was still suspended, but Antonia saw Sam who, for the first time that she could remember, smiled at her. It was a weird and unsettling and she just knew that Dean had told him about their non-conversation yesterday. It felt like having a layer of herself peeled back for the world to see everything private underneath. The only saving grace was that they clearly hadn't told anybody else since the chatter around school was more focused on who had asked whom to the Homecoming dance that was in a week.
It was early this year, almost too early for new relationships. It was an asking frenzy since summer break-ups hadn't all been patched up yet, even Antonia got a few queries from boys she barely knew. Dave also asked her, but that was almost a tradition now so she could laugh in his face. He took it with good grace, grinning as she went through the motions of outlining why she would not ever go out on a date with him. It was fun and by the time he said, "Okay, okay, already," like he had back in tenth grade, they were all laughing.
"So we're all going together, right?" said Heather after Dave went back to his table across the cafeteria.
"Jason in band already asked me," said Maggie with a blush.
"Jason?" Antonia smelled fresh news, feeling light and free for the first time in days. "From the drumline? That Jason?" He was kinda hot. Antonia had Spanish with him last year, and of course, knew him a little through band, but she hadn't expected this.
Maggie's blush got darker. "Yes. He asked after practice while we were packing up. Nothing really special about it."
"Do you like him?"
"You totally like him," Heather and Antonia grinned at each other. "That's great," Heather went on. "Then me and Ari can go together and Antonia and Daniel can go together."
Antonia nodded and shared a knowing smile with Daniel. Maggie wasn't the only one who totally liked someone. Today was Maggie's day to get teased, however, if only to spare Ari for a little while longer. Maggie cursed them all to hell and back, but enjoyed every minute of it.
Antonia was still chuckling when she went to throw her trash away, but her good mood evaporated when she saw Bianca waiting for her.
"Hey," said Bianca. "You got a minute?"
Mutely, Antonia nodded. Bianca looked terrible. Her hair was in a ponytail today, loose and greasy, and her face looked like she hadn't slept in a week. She knew what this was about, and for once she didn't feel like running away. Her nightmares of Bianca trapped in that closet were too fresh, the grief and pain of that night pricking on the underside of Antonia's skin, too close to ignore.
"Dean came by my apartment last night." Bianca looked down at her hands. Her polish was chipping and her nails were bitten down. "He said he talked to you."
"He cornered me after band practice," Antonia felt the need to clarify.
Bianca nodded with a wry smile that suggested Dean had done something similar to her. "He said you saw . . . saw him."
Antonia didn't move, frozen, because she didn't know what she saw. Bianca was watching her and it was too much so she glanced away, toward her friends who were still laughing back at their table. A world away. "I . . ." she started, but didn't know how to finish it.
"Two years of therapy," said Bianca, "and I was finally convinced it was displacement or projecting from the post traumatic stress. And now you saw him, too."
"I don't know what I saw." It wasn't quite a lie. After Bianca . . . after Bianca's dad got hit, he had appeared out of nowhere, enraged and snarling. Terrifying for that split second, then he was gone, dispersing like smoke. Antonia was so sure she had made him up. Still was. Maybe. With everything that had happened afterwards, how could it have been anything other than something her mind had made up to cope?
Yet when she met Bianca's eyes now two years and another missing girl later, they both knew that she did know. Bianca broke away first this time, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear, something she'd always done when she was uncomfortable. "Dean also asked how you found me," she said. "I opened my mouth because it seemed obvious, but I realized I didn't know. No one ever told me." She laughed self deprecatingly. "I was so messed up I never even thought to ask." Her eyes held the question she didn't voice, another question Antonia didn't have an answer for but for different reasons.
"I have no idea. Really," she added when Bianca's stare turned doubtful. She couldn't explain it, and it was her turn to laugh helplessly. "You were my best friend and you were missing. Two weeks and the police were ready to call off the search so I just got on my bike and found you because no one else would. I don't know how or why . . . I just found you."
Whether Bianca believed her or not, Antonia couldn't tell, surprised instead when Bianca sniffed and blinked away tears. "Did I ever thank you?" she asked in a small voice that hid the hurt of their broken friendship. That part, Antonia remembered, when everything fell apart, crumbling under guilt and anger and shame. They were just two girls who didn't understand how the world had changed on them so quickly.
Antonia felt her eyes prick and hoped that no one could see the pair they made in the corner of the lunchroom surrounded by garage cans. "You never had to," she told Bianca.
In her mind's eye, Antonia saw Sam's stacks of missing children, all but one dead. "You're welcome."
So there's, like, three types of friendship. Your real friends who you hang out with outside of school. The friends that you only really talk to in school because they're in class with you and your real close friends aren't. And the people who you're friendly with but you don't really know them beyond their name. It's not that complicated until one of your acquaintances thinks that you are their real friend just because you smiled one too many times in the hall at them. Then it's all hurt feelings and trying to make nice and then your real friends get mad at you because of the hanger-on and it's very stressful and unpleasant all around.
I've got a bunch of different groups of friends. The guys I used to be tight with I've kinda drifted away from since I got involved in track. The track guys are some of my best buddies. They're a hilarious bunch and we spend so much time together it's like family. I love my other friends though. You and Maggie and Heather and Ari. You guys are just, comfortable, you know?
I feel like such a social butterfly sometimes. I know just about everyone and they all know me. My closest friend is Emily though. We've known each other forever and I don't think there's anything that could separate us, you know? Well . . . anyway. She's my best friend because I know I can go to her with anything and she'll make it right somehow.
Friends are the people who stand with you. I'll never forget this one time in tenth grade after a game we lost to Dunhare, a couple of the guys on the other team were harassing us when we were going back to the bus and one of them threw a full soda can at us that busted and sprayed everywhere but mostly over me. I was so pissed, I was ready to break his head open so I went after him. He ran even though he probably could have taken me back then. I turned around and three of my friends were standing with me. That was pretty cool.
I love my friends. I think they're the only reason I haven't tried to graduate early and get out of here faster. I'd miss them too much. I know we're all going to college next year and everything will change and be different. I guess that's the one thing I'm not looking forward to changing.
Oh man. Friendship, huh? Friends are everything. My parents sure as hell don't get me. All my teachers at school think I'm wasting my life or hate me. Everyone else makes fun of me, but not Tory and Ben. They're just like me.
The first Antonia heard of the raid was overhearing Jim and Larry talking in English about how Wilson said it was just like the movies, guns blazing and everything.
"What was?" she turned in her seat to ask them, curious.
"The SWAT team," said Jim with a grin. "I don't know what happened, but they had a house surrounded in Wilson's neighborhood last night. He said it was really cool."
"Did they find her?" Antonia felt her heart skip a beat with sudden hope.
"Linda!" She wanted to smack him that he even had to ask. Did no one remember that there was a girl who had been kidnapped still missing?
"Oh right. I don't think so," Jim shrugged. "They'll find her soon. I mean they're obviously working on it."
Antonia wanted to scream at his casual acceptance that everything would be all right in the end. It had almost been two weeks since Linda had gone missing. Two weeks. How could no one understand how long that was?
She tried not to think about it, but her brain was stuck on repeat of Bianca's cold, clammy skin and the echo of her cries.
"Antonia." The sudden touch on her arm made her jump, but it was only Maggie standing beside her.
"The bell rang," said Maggie with a frown. "Are you okay?"
"I'm fine," Antonia snapped because she was. She had no reason not to be. She never had and this whole thing was stupid and ridiculous and she hated that she'd just zoned out of English like that. It was stupid because they had a test next week on these readings and if she failed she was screwed.
Despite her determination to get her head on straight, the day didn't get better, and by the end she was even more out of sorts than she had been that morning. She jumped nearly another foot when Sam appeared beside her at her locker after school.
"Hey," he said, shifting awkwardly while she tried to slow the beating of her heart. He wasn't as tall as Dean and hadn't started to fill out, but the long lanky lines of his arms and legs suggested he was going to be tall.
"What do you want?" she asked testily.
"Dean wants to know if you can do the interview tomorrow," said Sam.
"Yeah, maybe, why? I would have thought he'd put it off as long as possible."
Sam stared at her as if he couldn't tell if she was being stupid on purpose or not. "He wants to talk to you."
"He does," Antonia repeated with just enough of a disdainful question in her voice to make Sam huff in annoyance.
"We need to know how you found Bianca. You can tell me if you don't want to talk to him." He crossed his arms across his chest, his eyes widening just enough to make him look ten years old.
"I don't know how I found her," she snapped, hating that he expected her to just answer, but hating even more that she didn't know. She didn't know, she didn't know, she just had. How was she supposed to do something she didn't know how to do? What did they expect form her. It was too weird and frightening and, "Why do you even think you'll do a better job than the police? Why do you even care?" she demanded, pulling her bookbag over her shoulder and slamming her locker shut with a satisfying bang. No one else cared. No one even noticed anymore. It was all about the movies and TV and hey, you want to go to Homecoming with me?
Sam was staring at her, his jaw clenching slightly like he was angry and for a second Antonia saw the same thing in his eyes that had been in Dean's when he'd faced down the football team. "Why shouldn't I?" he finally responded. "Because she's just another kid from the wrong side of the river?"
That wasn't what she meant at all, and it hurt the way he said it because Antonia cared too but was helpless about it. She was the only one it seemed like and it wasn't fair of him to accuse her of blowing Linda off. "I didn't mean . . ." She didn't know what she meant either except that what was in the past was in the past and she didn't see how dragging it all back into the light was going to help. Bianca had been her best friend since first grade. She didn't even know Linda.
"Whatever." Sam's eyes flickered away from her to the doors and back. "You gonna do the documentary thing tomorrow with Dean or what?"
"Yes, fine. Tell him, I'll meet him after school," she said. It was just a stupid interview.
Sam didn't bother saying goodbye; he just left. Antonia stared after him blankly, wishing there was something in all this that wasn't slipping through her fingers.
Oh man. Yeah, I feel pressure. I help keep my family afloat with my job at the grocery store. I gotta do well in school so I can get a job that actually pays something after I graduate. Sometimes I feel like everyone's counting on me, my mom, my brother and no one says thanks or even notices. I work my ass off and all people do is ask for more. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Shouldn't I get to do something for me every once in a while?
From my mom, she expects me to do my best no matter what. She doesn't take any crap from me at all. I got an F once on my report card in English. I told her I couldn't do any better, the teacher hated me, which she did, and my mom just looked at me and said "you will do better." It was so embarrassing, but she called up Mr. Jones the same day and then made me go to tutoring sessions with one of the seniors. I hated it and was a jerk about it until Coach found out, then he wouldn't let me practice until my grade in English improved. It was like everyone was out to get me, but I sucked it up because I couldn't not run. I tried it for a week and it was miserable. I passed English the next grading period. Taught me to never say "I can't" to my mom.
I feel like if I'm smart I can't ever not do well or everyone will think I'm a faker. All my friends expect me to go off and do great things and they're always saying things like, "you're going to forget all about us if you ever go to college." And I can't ever not know stuff, so I say I do even when I should ask, because I'm the smart one. Even though my parents don't really care if I'm smart or not, I still feel like I have to prove to them over and over that I can do it and make it outside of Rockford.
I don't feel a lot of pressure. I'm doing pretty well. I'd like to do well in the Lincoln game cause that's where the scouts are. I think I could make it as a football player. My brother says I have to work hard at it, and he always wants an update on me whenever he writes or calls. It's like having a third parent sometimes and not even our parents are as bad as he is.
There's a lot of different types of expectations. Sometimes I think people just expect me to go off on them, and when they treat me like that I want to. My mom's been real good about it for a while though. Sometimes I think she's the only one who sees me. My friends are okay but I haven't let them in. It's hard for me now, but they don't pressure me about it, which I guess is why they're my friends. I don't know. Sometimes I wish people would expect more of me.
Yeah, there's pressure. My dad expects me to take care of my brother when he's gone. Always has, but it's nothing I can't handle. Frustrating at times, but Sam's a pretty good kid, when he doesn't have it in his head that we're trying to ruin his life anyway.
Antonia didn't get a chance to talk to Dean in Calculus, but he caught up with her on the way to Study Hall. "We still on for this afternoon?" he asked.
Antonia put a little more distance between them. "Yes. In the conference room in the office," she said, not looking at him.
"And we're just doing the interview," she said.
Dean didn't say anything, and Antonia didn't dare look at him, but the weight of his judgment was there between them anyway. "What?" she snapped, finally glaring at him. He was watching her again with the intensity of someone who saw right through her. It was downright uncomfortable but she didn't flinch away, as much as she wanted to.
"Just wondering where the girl who chewed out my ass on my very first day went to," he said.
"What?" She stopped walking, thrown.
"You calling me a bully for picking on my brother? Any of this ringing a bell?"
It felt like a lifetime ago, a different person, although it had only been two weeks of stress between then and now. "So what?"
"So help me find Linda," said Dean.
"How the hell am I supposed to do that?" Antonia demanded, baffled and frustrated that he didn't see that there was nothing she could do. "I don't even know the girl!"
"You found Bianca."
"What the hell has that got to do with anything?!" It was one thing to talk to Bianca about it, she was there. It was quite another for Dean to be demanding this of her. He didn't know the first thing about what it was like to be scared out of your mind for two weeks of not knowing. He didn't know what it was like to find your best friend brutalized. He didn't know what it was like to call for help and have something other than help arrive.
"Everything!" Dean almost shouted it. The hall was getting emptier, and they were going to be late to Study Hal, and Antonia did not need a detention on top of everything else.
"That is such bullshit," she said, turning and hurrying on to the lounge. She didn't want to have this conversation. Bianca's case had nothing to do with Linda's.
Dean easily kept pace with her with his longer legs. Antonia just wanted him away from her. "Look, I get that you're scared," he said. "There's things going on here that you don't understand, but I can explain."
"There's nothing for you to explain." It was just another excuse. "I said I'd do the interview. I'll see you after school."
"You can help her, Antonia," Dean persisted. "It's all connected and someone's going to kill Linda if you don't help us find her."
"I can't!" She spun on him as they reached the lounge, frustrated by her own powerlessness as much as by his determination to make her feel guilty for not being able to just wave a magic wand and find missing people. Dean put his hand on the door before she could open it and escape into the crowd beyond.
"You can," he insisted, his voice dropping to something calm and certain that had no place in a teenager. "You just have to try."
He pulled the door open then, seconds before the bell rang.
I don't feel like I have more privileges or responsibilities now that I'm a senior. My parents certainly don't trust me more. They're pretty good but they still want to know everything about what I do. It's not that they don't trust me, just that they don't leave me alone about it.
I have more responsibility this year on the track team as co-captain. It's something I take very seriously because we have a lot of freshman that need to be brought up to speed and also we look out for them off the track, too. I'm treasurer of the Key Club and one of the leaders this year and that's a lot of responsibility because we're in charge of the direction of the club and making sure all our members keep up with the time commitments. It's a hard job because a lot of the guys are friends and we're walking that line between ordering people around and pissing people off. It's a good experience though, and I'm glad I'm doing it. And I'm not just saying that.
I feel a great deal of responsibility towards my fellow students as a member of the Senate. I want to make sure that I hold their best interests at heart at all times and sometimes that's hard. I sometimes feel torn between my commitments like student government and doing the research I need to in order to make good decisions, Big Brothers and Sisters, cheerleading, because we have practice every day. There's a lot going on and balancing all that, staying on top of it is, like, you know, juggling. I manage okay. Better than some people.
I've always been responsible. It's never been a problem. My parents trust me, Coach trusts me on the field, my friends know I'll have their back when they need it. I don't know about privilege. I'm not anything special and I have to work as hard as the next guy.
I think of myself as a responsible person but I wouldn't say growing older has caused me to have more responsibility other than the usual moving up in groups I'm involved in. My mom and I have worked out what were each responsible for between us and the major change there was when I got my driver's license in tenth grade. I feel more responsible for my own future now than I did then, and that's what makes me want to do well in school, get into a good college and move forward in life.
I'm responsible for the band since it's in my garage. I keep everyone organized, make sure people have their music. I told my dad that but all he talks about is how that's playing and that I have no sense of real responsibility. Which is bogus because it is real responsibility. I don't need a real job. Music's where I'm going and there's a lot of responsibility there, too. With, with, you know, fans and stuff and telling the truth that people want to hear.
However much she wanted to discount what Dean had said, Antonia couldn't shake it. She never thought of herself as someone who would back down and hide from difficult choices. As a kid, she'd loved the sassy heroines who always talked back and sacrificed everything because it was the right thing to do, only no one ever told her that it was so hard in real life. It wasn't till ninth grade that she understood what silence meant.
She spoke up for Sam because he wouldn't speak up for himself. Even if he hadn't needed to in the end, it wasn't something Antonia could let lie. She wanted to help Linda, too, but it wasn't the same thing at all. It was too big for her.
Sitting on her corner of the couch in Study Hall, she stared at her Spanish book, not taking in the reading. Across the room, Dean sat at a table with a notebook out, the first time she had seen him do any kind of work this year. How could he be so confident? How could he be so sure that this would end the way it was supposed to and Linda would be alive and no one else would be dead?
Bianca's father had been shocked when he walked in.
Antonia snapped her book shut, the memory burning through her. She wasn't going to think about it, she wasn't going to think about it. She wasn't going to think about it. The sound of her book slamming closed had everyone looking at her, the weight of their stares too heavy for her to return at so she closed her eyes. If she was honest with herself, here in the dark and quiet of her own mind, Antonia was scared.
"You okay?" Allison's voice was hesitant and quiet, but still enough to make Antonia flinch.
"Yes," she lied, when all she wanted was to scream "No, no, no!"
Somehow she got through the rest of the day, fighting memory and faking happiness like nothing was wrong. It had worked before, after all, and by the time the final bell rang she had almost convinced herself that everything was fine. She'd interview Dean and it would be done with. She was strong enough to withstand his questions and whatever he had to say.
He was waiting for her at her locker, watching her approach with the same steady gaze he'd pinned her with that morning. Antonia pretended that it didn't bother her, that it didn't feel like he was peeling a layer of skin aside and seeing all her secrets. But she was stronger than the need to run away from him.
"You ready?" he asked when she'd gotten her books together.
"We're doing the interview and only the interview," she told him as she set up the camera in the conference room. Dean dropped his bookbag on a chair and slouched in the seat beside it. He thankfully didn't say anything but it didn't seem to matter. Antonia could feel what wasn't said in the silence between them. She wasn't going to say anything, she wasn't, she repeated like mantra in her head, only it sounded ridiculous because, she realized, adjusting the camera height so Dean was set up off center, because she was tired of being afraid.
The last time she'd been in here, Bianca had sat in the same chair and they'd had their longest conversation in over two years. It may have been scripted, but they'd had it, and if Bianca, who had more reason to flip out about things than Antonia did, could sit face to face with her, then maybe Antonia could stop being scared for long enough to figure out what was going on.
She didn't turn the camera on. Dean frowned a bit, puzzled when instead of pulling out her list of questions she took a deep breath and said, "Okay. How are they all connected?"
Dean actually looked surprised by the question and his eyes flickered to the camera before settling on her face. It made Antonia feel better, like she was in control for the moment, and not jumping off a cliff into the unknown.
"It's complicated and a little weird," said Dean, but he pulled at the zipper of his bookbag and took out his notebook. There were loose papers in it, articles that Antonia recognized from Sam's stacks in the library. He slid a couple photographs over to her.
They were black and white photocopies of newspaper articles, both from 1962, both featuring Anna Lineus. In the first picture, Anna was smiling for the school camera. She was about fourteen or fifteen, blond, with a sixties haircut. The second picture was a police sketch of a man with dark hair and dark eyes. Antonia's breath caught when she saw it.
"Is it him?" asked Dean quietly. He didn't need to clarify; Antonia nodded. It was the man she had convinced herself wasn't real. "His name's Todd Murphy," said Dean. "He's the man who kidnapped and killed Anna. He turned up dead in the river five years later." Too stunned to ask, Antonia blinked and just stared at him. "You saw his ghost," Dean went on, calmly, making Antonia blink again, because what . . . "We think he's the reason so many kids have gone missing."
It took a moment for Antonia to find her voice; all she could do was stare at the face that had haunted her nightmares. "That's impossible."
Dean didn't contradict her, he just kept talking. He told her about the missing children, the ones found anyway, how the beating that finally killed them all tended toward the same pattern as the one that killed Anna. "They were all hurt before though," he added quietly. "By different people. One of the boys had a file with social services and a court order removing him from his father." He didn't say what for, but he didn't need to. "Ghosts are creatures of habit," he went on. "They repeat what they did in life. This guy takes kids with bad families. Hurts them the same way he hurt Anna, then leaves them to die slowly and throws them in the river."
Dean stopped, his voice cracking a bit, and for the first time, Antonia looked and saw how much this was bothering him. He wouldn't meet her eyes, kept his own on the photo, but his hand was in a fist on the tabletop.
Antonia didn't know if any of this was real. It was too fantastical, too weird, and if she hadn't seen Anna's flickering murderer, if Bianca hadn't, if, if, if . . . the look on Dean's face, angry and a little bit broken would have made her believe.
"But we can't figure how where he takes them. The ones not found in the river, there's no pattern." He looked up at her with the reason they needed to know how she found Bianca in the air between them. Antonia still didn't know how she had, but something else was clicking into place in the back of her head.
She'd called 911 with the phone in the hall, and then she'd called Bianca's dad because he had a cell phone and she couldn't remember her mom's number. He'd told her, "I'm on my way. Don't call anyone else." He'd gotten there before the police had.
"I don't –" her voice cracked so she swallowed. "I don't think the ghost hid them." When she risked a look at Dean he wasn't even frowning like she thought he would, but waiting, listening. Traitorous thoughts Antonia had shoved away in the wake of the funeral and the publicity of Mr. Harrison's tragic rescue of his daughter finally bubbled free. "With Bianca, I think her dad did."
Dean didn't move, didn't say anything, and it was like permission to finally speak, Antonia thought hysterically, because Dean wasn't from here. He didn't know all about what a philanthropist Mr. Harrison was. He didn't know about the gifts to the school, the way he smiled to the newspaper after he won a case in court, putting someone away. Even when he and Bianca's mom were getting divorced for undisclosed reasons, everyone felt sorry for him that his work was driving a wedge between him and his wife. He didn't know how Antonia thought Bianca's mom was weird for taking long naps during the day and wearing sunglasses inside, smelling like alcohol, or how relieved she had felt when she'd heard him calling her name in that abandoned house when he arrived so quickly.
"I called him after I called 911," she said, the words flowing out of her like water. "He told me he'd be right there and not to call anyone else but he hung up before I could tell him I already had. Bianca was in bad shape. She was only wearing a t-shirt and I was so scared I could barely think about what to do. When he came in, he tried to take her from me, but she wouldn't let me go. I remember being so confused, and then she hit him, barely because she was so weak. He hit her back and knocked her out of my arms. She was screaming and I don't know what I thought, except maybe he was trying to get her to calm down, like when someone's hysterical you slap them. That's when that other man appeared. The ghost." The word sounded strange and stilted on her tongue, but now that she had a name for it, it also felt right. "It happened so fast. There was a fireplace and Bianca grabbed the poker. Her dad was trying to pull her up and the other guy, the ghost, was right behind him. She just swung."
Antonia didn't know if that was right, but she remembered the poker and the blood and the wrangled scream that she didn't know if it came from Bianca's dad, Bianca, or her own throat. Maybe none of them. Maybe all of them. She remembered Bianca crying afterwards, going to her dad and collapsing onto him, "Daddy, no! Wake up, I didn't mean it!" sobbing until the sirens sounded down the street.
"Everyone just assumed that her kidnapper had killed him," she whispered. "We never talked about it." She laughed suddenly, hollow and worn out. "I don't even know what I told the police."
"You said someone hit Mr. Harrison but you couldn't see who." Dean's voice cut through the silence, loud despite its softness. "You said you didn't think anyone else was there. With Bianca's statement, the police thought you just didn't see her kidnapper."
"He wasn't there." The words she'd repeated so many times finally felt false.
"He was there," said Dean. "But he was after Bianca, too."
Antonia finally looked at him. He didn't think she was crazy or stupid or wrong, and just that acceptance was like a weight lifting that she hadn't realized she was carrying.
"How did you find her?" he asked, and this time Antonia didn't flinch from the question.
She sighed. "I went looking. I didn't have a plan, I just had to find her. And I did." She shrugged helplessly. "I can't explain it." She wished she could because Linda was out there now, still missing.
The argument she expected from Dean didn't come. Instead he nodded, "Okay."
"How did you know it was a ghost?" she asked suddenly. "And how did you even think up ghost as an answer, and why? Why are you doing this?" Because Dean was the type of guy who was the last she'd think would care about anything like missing children.
Dean gave a self-conscious shrug. "We thought it was just Anna, the Crying Girl, but then we looked into it." He shrugged again. "Then Linda went missing, and the news broadcast with her parents was suspicious." He didn't say anything about how they knew about ghosts and for once Antonia didn't want to push it. She wasn't sure if she even believed it really, except nothing else made sense. She was exhausted, and she wanted to go home and let him fix this. She looked at her camera, silent and waiting, then back at Dean who was as mysterious as ever, but maybe not the complete jerk he was before they walked in here.
"Are you free next week to do the interview?" she asked, after a minute.
"Yeah," he said. "Anytime."
I don't have time to date. It takes too much energy to do it properly. But there are a lot of cute boys at school, I'll give us that. Whether any of them are dateable? Well, none of them are interested in me. I feel like such a black sheep sometimes because it's always one of my friends, Felicia or Bianca, who gets all the attention. Never me.
The dating scene at Rockford is complicated. I can date girls from East River, maybe some from the track team. Me and Vanessa dated for about a year, till she said I was too boring and dumped me half way through sophomore year. I've hooked up with people since then, but not really dated dated. I had this huge crush on Emily for most of junior year, but could never ask her out. Such a shame. She's seriously hot.
I've had two boyfriends. I'm currently with Darren who very conveniently lives in the same building as I do. We've known each other for most of our lives but we never even thought of dating until last year when we were partners in Computer Science. We stuck together in that class since we didn't really know anyone else well. Everyone else sat with each other. Even when we switched partners, Darren and I would usually end up together. It ended up working out just fine for us. He's really cute, isn't he? And so sweet. This summer he kept getting me flowers at the most random times. I have no idea how I got such a good guy.
There are some fine looking girls here. Really hot. There's also some pretty ugly ones. And those girls in the band? So not worth the effort. If you want to really get to know someone, if you know what I mean, you have to know how to ask and who. I've gotten laughed at a couple of times for assuming in public, but back behind the locker rooms? Well, I won't name names since she was waiting for someone else and I don't want him to kill me, but she certainly lived up to her reputation.
I don't date. Part of it's me. I don't want anyone that close to me. But mostly it's what everyone thinks. "Damaged goods." People pretend I don't know what they say about me. It's always just loud enough when I pass by though, you know? It's funny, everyone knows all about me. Everyone knows jack shit, but they're still right. I am damaged goods.
Well, I know Kristen likes me. Pretty sure a couple of those other cheerleaders were whispering about me last week. Things got a little strange after the fight. As far as I can tell about how actual dating people goes, I'm pretty much scandalous material. One girl I talked to said not even if I didn't live in East River. What kind of bullshit is that?
If she weren't in the band, Antonia would have skipped going to the football game. As it was, she sat quietly in her section and for once let her mind wander without a censor. Bianca had been a mess freshman year. It had started after the divorce had, when her mom had moved out to East River and she and her sister started going back and forth in the temporary custody agreement. Antonia hadn't understood it then. She hadn't understood it afterwards either. Hadn't wanted to. Who would? she wondered, looking around her at the crowd of students, her classmates, everyone. She knew some of their stories, tidbits from their lives that they were willing to share on tape, but how many other secrets weren't getting told. How many people were like her or Bianca or Linda?
The football team pulled off a win, and Antonia thought of what Jim had said about playing for his teammates and not letting them down. Later when she and Maggie met up with Daniel and Ari and Heather, she thought about the track team and how they looked out for each other in school, how Maggie fended off Hillary, how she found Bianca. How Sam Winchester looked at her when she'd asked why he cared.
They went out to the movies and Tony's afterwards for floats. The curfews of last week had been lifted; no one was really worried about their kids getting kidnapped as the search died down. The police had their suspect and that was the end of it as far as most people were concerned. Antonia felt guilty but she wanted the questions from her friends less about why she was staying home, so she went with them, going through the motions, relieved when it was time to go home and call it a night.
"So how did the interview with Dean go?" Maggie finally asked as they were walking to her car. She glanced back at Daniel and Ari to make sure they didn't overhear. "Is he a jerk on the inside, too?"
"Yeah," said Antonia for lack of anything she actually wanted to say. It was still too raw for her to talk about. She almost wanted to tell Maggie everything, but she couldn't do that without sounding like a crazy person. Which was why she had never said anything before. Still the words didn't come.
They drove home in silence down the main road that paralleled the river, splitting their town in two. Antonia stared out into the darkness and the shadows of warehouses and piers giving way to the residential areas and finally the cemetery on the old marsh where a fire reflected off the water.
Oh, that's not fair. You can't ask college essay questions. A challenge that I've overcome? Fine, let's see. Passing physics last year. I learned that there are truly things that I do not understand but that if I memorize how to do the problem I can get by with a C. How's that for a life lesson. Faking it works!
Personally, my most challenging moments have been on the track. Pushing myself further than I think I can go. I've learned the hard way that my body really does have limits but that perseverance still counts for a lot. There's knowing that in your head and knowing it because you've done it. That's a big difference.
I've faced a lot of challenges in high school. I can't think of any right now, I know that's lame, but you know how it is. As soon as we're done, I'll think of, like, twenty, but right now I'm blanking. But they are all things that I'm sure I learned from, and came out the other side a better, stronger person in the end.
Challenging is figuring out why your girlfriend is mad at you. I remember once Hillary stopped talking to me for a week and I had no idea why. She wouldn't tell me. Her friends wouldn't tell me, just gave me the evil eye or cursed me or whatever the hell girls do to make your life hell when they're mad. Took me two weeks, some serious eavesdropping, and fifty bucks to pay spies before I found out what it was. I told Larry that I was excited about going to a Garth Brooks concert and Hillary didn't know about it. I had just gotten the tickets that day! Of course I hadn't told her about it yet. I hadn't seen her. She finally forgave me when I bought her a ticket, too. She doesn't even like Country.
I did a summer program to France where we stayed with host families for six weeks. That was probably the most challenging thing I've ever done. We had to speak French all the time, and school really doesn't prepare you for how fast people talk and how hard it is to keep up. It was great though. We did little touring trips every other week. By the end I was getting along okay, I could follow the conversations even if I sucked at participating in them. That wins hands down.
Learn the guitar. I taught myself. Bet you didn't know that. My uncle who I don't see very much got me a guitar when I was in seventh grade. Dad thought it was a waste of time, but I thought it was cool. I didn't really do anything with it for a while, but then I guess I started messing around and then I went to the music store, just to check it out. One of the guys there, Nathan, was really cool about me being a complete idiot and when I told him my dad wouldn't let me take lessons he offered to coach me through teaching myself. It was really hard at first, and I gave up about ten times, but Nathan kept calling with music books to suggest so I ended up learning. It was the best thing I ever did.
Dean Winchester and his brother were the last people Antonia expected to see on her doorstop on Saturday morning. Her mother gave Antonia a look that promised conversations and lectures on just who she was hanging out with when she left them in the foyer. Antonia couldn't blame her. Dean and Sam were filthy. Their normally shabby look was compounded by dirt ground into the knees of their jeans and fingernails and bags under their eyes. On top of it, they smelled like smoke, the kind that suggested arson instead of cigarettes.
"We can't find her," Dean said without preamble.
"Are you crazy!" Antonia demanded feeling underdressed in her hastily dragged on jeans and t-shirt. "You can't just show up here like this!"
"Antonia! Would you shut up and listen? The ghost is gone, the cops have the wrong guy, her dad is lying low, and Linda is running out of time before she dies of dehydration." Dean hissed, keeping his voice down so her mom wouldn't hear. "We can't find her. And we think you can."
"Look, I told you, I don't know how I found –"
"We don't think it matters," Dean interrupted with a glance at Sam who today looked more like a moody teenager for once. "We called . . . some people, and they think you found her because you wanted to."
Antonia stared at him, not believing she was hearing this. "Are you telling me I'm psychic?"
"Maybe?" Dean was once again as serious as a judge, but this time Antonia wasn't buying. It was one thing for him to spout off about ghosts and maybe be right about them, but her having special powers was ridiculous.
It was Saturday, bright and sunny, and yesterday felt more like a dream than reality. Antonia stepped back in the house and closed the door on Dean and the pounding that followed. It was crazy. She was crazy.
But. She stopped, leaning back against the door and feeling the vibrations shiver through her. Could it hurt to try? Could she find Linda by wanting it badly enough? Could she live with herself if she didn't? Without stopping to think about it too closely, she opened the door again. Dean and Sam were already walking back to their black monster of a car. "Give me ten minutes!" she shouted, startling them both.
It was crazy, she was crazy, but she couldn't not try. She had found Bianca, and somewhere between telling Dean everything and him showing up here asking for help, Antonia had started to believe that maybe she could find Linda too.
She ran out the door with a box of Nutrigrain bars and a less than satisfactory explanation for her mother. She was so grounded when she got back, but for once, Antonia didn't care in the least about that. Dean's car looked ancient but well cared for with a bench seat in front that they all three crammed into, Antonia between the boys. Her heart was still pounding from the run from her house, the engine thrumming in counterpoint when Dean turned her over.
"Now what?" she asked looking at Dean, but it was Sam that answered.
"Now think about finding Linda," he said as if that was all there were to it.
"I don't even know Linda," Antonia retorted. "How am I supposed to find her if I don't know her?"
"How did you find Bianca?" asked Dean. Up close he was even grubbier and more exhausted than he'd looked on her front steps, and Antonia realized that they'd probably been out looking all night.
"I didn't exactly think about," she replied more softly.
"So don't think about it," said Sam.
Antonia tried but soon discovered it was impossible. "It's not working," she said.
"You have to do something!" Dean all but shouted.
"I don't know how!" Antonia shouted back, the calm of not thinking about jumping in the car with the Winchester brothers rapidly dissolving. It had been a stupid idea. What could she possibly do, anyway. She was just a girl and they had no right to put Linda's life on her. It wasn't fair, damnit, and she refused to feel guilty about it.
The silence in the car quickly became oppressive and they were all determinedly not looking at each other. Antonia was about three seconds from telling Dean to drive her home, fighting off the hot flush of tears that had started prickling behind her eyes.
"Can I have one?" Startled, Antonia glanced at Sam who had a tentative finger on the Nutrigrain box.
"Knock yourself out," she said. Sam did, taking four bars and passing two to Dean who ripped them open with his teeth and ate them in about five bites. She wondered when the last time they had a meal was. The car coasted to a stop at the stop sign and even though the intersection was empty, Dean didn't move them forward.
"Where to?" he asked. Both he and Sam looked at her expectantly, and Antonia resisted the urge to snap, "I don't know!" one more time like a broken record. She said, "left," instead.
"I picked it at random," she told them a bit spitefully as they made the turn. Dean shrugged in response, and Sam started listing off everything he knew about Linda. Hair color, eyes, what she did in class, where she sat, everything her parents had said on the interviews on the news. At each intersection, Dean waited for Antonia to give him a direction. It was stupid and pointless and didn't feel like anything other than random chance so it was a surprise to Antonia as much as to them when she said "Stop!"
My mom is amazing. She works two jobs to take care of me and my brother. It's hard for her but she does the best she can and she keeps my brother in line. We've grown up pretty well, I think. I try to help out as much as I can, but she still does most of the work.
My parents aren't married. They never were. My dad's still around. He comes and goes. Mom says he's a good-for-nothing but she doesn't really mean it. She means it when she says I'm not going to end up like him though. He's always been in my life. He would come take me to the zoo in Lincoln or take me fishing on the river, stuff like that when I was little. He's made every birthday, but he can't hold down a job and he comes to visit at weird times of the year sometimes. It's random. I know he never helps my mom with the money because they always fight about that, but he's there when he can be, and there's plenty of dads who don't even do that.
My parents love me, I don't doubt that, but sometimes I wonder if they understand me at all. It's like they see a different world than I do sometimes. I know there's a generation gap but still. I don't know. We have dinner together every night and go on vacations and stuff, but it's like we don't know how to talk to each other. I wish we could, but I don't know what to do about it.
My parents are good folks, but they always want to know what's up with me. I can't get away from it sometimes. It's like they didn't go through high school either and need me to give a play by play of everything I did at school in order to get the full experience. It's so stupid. I love them, but they really need to get out my business.
My parents got divorced but my dad . . . my dad died while they were still fighting for custody over me and my sister. Mom's great. I don't know what I'd do without her. I don't know how she's put up with me. I love her so much.
It's just me and my dad and my brother. Dad does the best he can. I help out with taking care of Sammy. Sometimes it's harder than others when Dad's gone, but his work is important so I don't mind.
They were at an old strip mall, seven or eight shops and a grocery store long abandoned, whose signs had been torn down, leaving only reverse sunburn patches. Butcher paper covered some windows, cardboard boxes were stacked haphazardly within others. The three of them stared at the long stretch as Dean pulled into the parking lot.
"No cars," said Sam softly.
"Could be around back," Dean replied but he didn't sound too worried about it. "Which building?"
"The travel agency." Antonia pointed to where World Travels was imprinted on the building. She didn't know how she knew. She just did, like she knew multiplication tables or that the Earth was round. There was nothing strange or earth shattering about it, no weird tug or headache or anything but the certainty that that's where Linda was.
It was terrifying. "Hey, hey, hey." Dean's hand on her shoulder startled her, and Antonia couldn't breathe, there was air all around and she couldn't breathe, couldn't breathe, couldn't . . . Dean pushed her head down and said something else she couldn't hear because of the blood rushing through her ears. There was rustling and a moment later a bag smelling like stale French fries and ketchup was being shoved in her face, held over her nose and mouth. Slowly, Antonia came back to herself. The bag smelled disgusting, but she didn't remove it yet, safe in the dimness, staring at the floor of the car.
What was she?
"Antonia." Dean's voice was pitched low. "We're gonna go check it out. You stay here, okay?"
She nodded even as Sam said, "I thought we were supposed to call Dad," over the metallic creak of the door opening.
"Gotta have something to tell him," Dean replied then the doors slammed shut. Antonia kept her head down through the sound of the trunk opening and closing and the crunch of graveled asphalt. The silence helped clear her head, focus on the hope that they had found Linda. She laughed a little hysterically, sitting up in time to see Sam disappear into the building after Dean, thinking she'd never cared so much about someone she didn't know before. But everyone was important to someone, and if they weren't they should be.
It was going to be all right.
Antonia didn't know how long she sat there in Dean's car. It felt like forever – how long did it take to search a building anyway? – and it was starting to get hot. The sun prickled her skin where it shone through the glass, baking the interior along with her nerves. She should go help them, but part of her was afraid of what she might find. It was probably dark and she'd never been one for horror movies and this one had freakin' ghosts. Asking if it could be worse than her nightmares was only tempting fate, nevertheless, Antonia felt useless and lame, the damsel in distress while the men did all the rescuing. It didn't bother her, really it didn't. She didn't need to be there. She wouldn't make a difference.
She wished they would hurry up, though.
She tried singing to keep her mind off it, but her voice had never been made for singing and the light wobble only made it worse. Besides, she could only think of "Go team!" songs from band which were so wrong, sitting in the parking lot of an abandoned strip mall in East River where the only cars around were square cornered and falling apart like the one pulling in, made when boxy was in style.
Antonia watched the car for three whole seconds before it registered. It was only a few hundred feet away and kept coming, eating up the empty space of the lot between them, and it could only have one destination. She glanced at the door, but Dean and Sam didn't magically show up. They didn't even have a phone. The police didn't know they were here. The car was almost there, and she could see the driver, a man but he was too far away to recognize, especially with the glare of the sun on the windshield. Antonia couldn't sit any longer. Dean and Sam were totally unprepared, and if Linda was there she'd need help.
But the car surprised her by parking in front of the Laundromat two shops down. Antonia stared at it, confused, as the man got out. He was tall, taller than he looked on TV, and he had a key to the door that he used to let himself in.
Frantically, Antonia scrambled for the door handle, half tumbling out onto the pavement and to the door to World Travels, cursing Dean for parking a row away. "Dean!" she yelled as soon as she got to the entrance. "Dean! He's here!" Boxes and a broken desk were in her way as she tried to get to the only other exit in the back, but she barreled past them, barely noticing when a corner caught her shirt, ripping it. "Dean!" The back room turned out to be a back hallway, stretching to either side, the length of the connected buildings. Antonia froze, terrified that Linda's dad had heard her. Where were they?
It was a warren of old stock rooms with doors that wouldn't open and half collapsed walls. Antonia quit thinking about it and just let herself move as fast as she could. Nearby, footsteps sounded on the cement floor, heavy and loud. Somewhere ahead of her she could hear the sound of banging and Dean shouting Linda's name. The footsteps around the corner stopped. Antonia's heart was in her throat. Dean and Sam had no idea he was coming. They might be two against one, but Linda's dad was twice Dean's size and Sam was just a kid. She knew better than anyone what one stray blow to the head could do – to the skull, to the brain, to the walls. Swallowing hard, Antonia pushed the memory back. The footsteps were already jogging away towards Dean and his brother.
"Dean! He's here!" she yelled at the top of her lungs. The silence that followed was deafening. For two heartbeats then everything seemed to converge in her direction. Antonia ran.
She didn't know where she was going except away. Right, right, left, right again. Away from Linda, away from the pounding beat of feet behind her that kept getting louder and louder until she couldn't tell what was him and what was her. She didn't dare look back. Curses slid past her like oil, barely noticed as she ran and tried not to kill herself on the sharp corners and broken boards.
"You little bitch!" she heard Linda's dad yell as his hand snagged in her hair. Antonia jerked free with a scream, knowing it was only a matter of seconds before he caught her for real and she wouldn't be able to get away.
Instinct took over and she dropped. A gun went off and overhead she felt sprinkles, heard a scream, and Bianca's dad was falling, falling, falling, blood everywhere, except – "Dean!" Sam yelled – there was a large strong hand on her leg and Antonia was in the hallway again, Linda's dad too close behind her so she kicked and thrashed because she wasn't going down without a fight.
The grip broke under her frantic feet and Antonia scrambled up and away. Dean was running toward her, a shotgun against his shoulder, aimed at Linda's father who was groaning in pain, a splatter pattern of blood staining his shirt.
"Sam!" shouted Dean, stepping in front of Antonia as soon as she was past him.
"I found her!" Sam's voice floated back from . . . somewhere. Antonia slumped against the wall, trying to catch her breath and keep her heart from running on without her. She was shaking all over form adrenaline and fear and she couldn't stop, her own panting harsh and loud in her ears. Dean had a gun, she thought wildly, a thousand stories of him doing time suddenly seeming a lot less theoretical. Antonia had never been more grateful.
This is another college essay question and I don't care what you say about practice. This is cruel and unusual punishment for something. All right. The thing I am most thankful for in life is my dog. Shut up. I'm practicing for college, remember? My dog is awesome and cute and totally adorable. I always know where I stand with her.
I'm thankful for my car. Before I got my car getting around was a nightmare, and I think I fought more with my dad when I was sixteen than I did in all the other years combined. So Dad getting me my own car both made my life livable and kept the two of us from killing each other.
I am most thankful for all the blessings in my life. My family, that we're all safe and happy and healthy. That we don't have to worry about anything big. I thankful that I'm a good student and that I decided early on to get involved with school because that will help out with college applications. I'm thankful for my friends and that we care about each other as much as we do. I could keep going, do you want me to?
Football. It's the only reason I even try in school anymore because otherwise I'd be benched. Everything else could change or die but as long as I can play, the rest of it doesn't matter.
I'm thankful for my mom. She's awesome. Sometimes annoying and she loves to embarrass me, but she's still the best person in my life.
I'm most thankful for Ben. He's my best friend and I don't know how I'd survive without him. Sometimes we just sit and talk for hours and it really helps because it reminds me that there's more out in the world than what my dad thinks there is. Ben believes I can make it which makes me believe I can make it. I think we will someday. We will and then all these suckers at Rockford will wish they never screwed around with us.
Antonia wanted to stay with Linda until the police arrived, but Dean had a very valid point when he demanded, "Do you want to explain this?" gesturing at Linda's dad lying tied up in the hallway, unconscious after Dean had knocked him out with the but of his gun. Sam had gone for the first aid kit that was in the car and Antonia watched as they carefully wrapped Linda's battered body in a blanket, covering the scrapes and bruises. Her hair was tangled and greasy, her lips were dry and cracked, and her eyes that had peered open briefly were bruised and shadowed. She didn't look anything like her pictures.
"It's all right now," Dean murmured the whole time he knelt beside her. "Help's coming and you're safe. It's gonna be all right."
They stayed until the sirens screamed in the distance – God only knew where Sam had found a phone – then Dean handed Sam his shotgun and picked up Linda, carrying her outside. They had chalk in the trunk too for some reason – Antonia had given up being surprised – that Sam used to leave a note on the sidewalk, an arrow pointing in with "lair" written underneath.
"Help's here," Dean told Linda who was more unconscious than not when he laid her on the sidewalk in the sun. "You're safe."
The three of them scrambled for the car and were on the road just as the ambulance came around the corner. "We should have stayed," said Antonia, a kernel of guilt forming in her stomach for running. "They'll need to know what happened. What if they just let her dad go?"
"There's plenty of circumstantial evidence," said Sam quietly. He was staring out the window. "We should call Dad."
"We will," said Dean looking across Antonia at Sam with concern. They'd brought Linda out before Antonia could see the room where they'd found her. She was grateful for it; she'd seen the inside of that kind of Hell once before. "We'll call when we stop."
Apparently the first thing you did after finding a kidnapped girl and running from the cops was go eat. Antonia wanted to protest, but Dean was already pulling in to McDonalds and the thought of food made her stomach rumble, reminding her that the guys had eaten her breakfast.
Walking in was a surreal experience. She half expected the police or someone to show up and drag them off for questioning, but everything was normal. They ordered Quarter Pounders and fries, several each for the guys and sat in a back booth where the sun was streaming in the window, warm and reassuring on Antonia's skin. Linda was going to the hospital. They were less than fifteen minutes away and already it felt like a dream. Or a nightmare. The phantom tingling on her scalp reminded her that it could have turned out very differently.
"So you guys brought guns," she said. Both Dean and Sam stopped mid chew and stared at her before sharing a look. Dean shrugged and resumed stuffing his face.
"Seemed kinda stupid not to take the precaution seeing as how we were walking into a dark, falling apart building. That's just asking for trouble."
The blast had had been at once the best and worst thing she had ever heard. "What did you shoot him with?"
"Excuse me?" Antonia knew it hadn't been shot, but salt? What was up with that? Her eyes immediately landed on the white shaker on their table. It was practically a condiment.
"Salt repels ghosts," said Dean through a mouthful of fries. He didn't blink as he said it, just grabbed another fry and dragged it through more ketchup. He didn't close his mouth when he chewed, either.
"You made up that bit about the ghost, didn't you," she said, picking at her own fries. "Because he wasn't there at all." Now, Antonia couldn't wrap her head around . . . ghosts. Seriously, they were sitting in McDonalds. It was like fast food negated even the possibility.
"We torched him last night," said Sam. "That's why we were out all night."
"Didn't know how losing the ghost's influence would affect Linda's dad." Dean flicked his eyebrows as if that were all the explanation necessary. Maybe it was. Antonia shook her head.
"Never mind. I don't want to know," she said. It was all too much, but Antonia didn't know whether she was overwhelmed or just empty of everything, drained.
"Hey, you okay?" Dean had asked her before, a brief touch on her arm before they ran off to find Sam. Antonia still didn't have an answer and shook her head because she couldn't form thoughts either. "That was good what you did back there," said Dean. "Stupid but brave. Warned us. Gave us the time we needed to get him."
"All you did was stand there with your gun." It didn't quite come out as a criticism. If he hadn't been there . . . she couldn't even bring herself to think it.
"Hey, I'm trying to say thanks here."
"You're doing a crappy job of it," Antonia told him. "But you're welcome anyway."
The smile Dean flashed her was wry, but warm. "You gonna eat that?" he asked pointing at the other half of her burger.
"Yes," she said because he was talking with his mouth full again and it was disgusting. To make her point she took a big bite and didn't quite regret it.
"That's attractive," Dean rolled his eyes at her, and the snort Sam made at the face she made trying to keep her mouth closed earned him an elbow in the ribs from Dean who then snatched some of his fries. Sam retaliated by shoving back and trying to stop them from going into Dean's mouth, grabbing his arm, the two of them scuffling until Dean had him in a head lock – "Num! Num! Num! So good!" Dean chewed directly in his ear.
"Let go of me, you jerk," Sam scrabbled at the arm pinning him, but Dean just gave him a noogie, laughing. Antonia had to cover her mouth because she was laughing, too.
The grin on Dean's face was bright and unfettered, and Antonia would wave sworn he pulled Sam closer before letting him go with a shove. "Bitch," he said fondly. Sam scowled, running a hand through his hair, though Antonia had no idea why he thought it would make it look better.
"Dude, you got grease in my hair."
"Dude, there was already grease in your hair."
"No, there wasn't." Sam elbowed Dean again who turned hurt eyes to Antonia.
"You see what I have to put up with?" Given the monumental pout on Sam's face, Antonia had no doubt, but this side of Dean she was seeing, playful and with a ketchup smear on the corner of his mouth, didn't seem to mind.
Antonia managed to chew and swallow the horrendous burger bite, sighing and slumping back when she could breathe again. She was still tired and still felt like she was walking in a world outside her own, but inside, pieces were shifting and resettling and she was starting to be okay with that.
Now Homecoming is a social event that I can get behind. I've gone very year because I can always talk my way into time off work and my mom always gets excited about Homecoming and Prom and practically makes me go since I don't get to do stuff like this often. I love it. I don't know who I'm going with. If I don't get asked, I'm going anyway. Nothing can stop me.
I like it. It's fun. It's a bunch of dancing and maybe a party or two afterwards. Everyone goes.
I'm going with Darren this year. He asked me, like, the third day of school just to make sure I wouldn't suddenly dump him or something. It was sweet, even if he's totally crazy for even thinking I'd go with someone else. Who would I go with? None of the guys I could go with are in any of my classes so I don't really know them anymore. It would be so awkward.
Homecoming makes girls crazy. I don't understand it. I don't like it because whatever I do, I do it wrong. The only good thing about Homecoming is the after party when everyone's too drunk to care about that crap. Or remember it in the morning.
The last time I went to Homecoming was freshman year. I went with a junior I met at one of the early school parties. He was ok and I went out with him afterwards to the party at Jim's house. Pretty much everyone was there, but it didn't feel like it since we spent most of that time alone. I was pretty out of it for a while and I remember I passed out because that was the first time I did that.
I like Homecomings. If I'm lucky I can get two or three in a year. In tenth grade, I missed all of them. Go with the right girl and it can be a hell of a night.
There was a buzz in the air at school on Monday. Everyone had seen or at least heard the news about how Linda was found after an anonymous 911 call. Her father was found at the scene, bound and unconscious, and he had been arrested for the kidnapping and battery of his daughter. There weren't any real details yet; the police still had the crime scene closed and were playing it close to their chests for now.
Antonia didn't need to know details; she'd been there. Dean's need to keep himself and his illegal weapons under wraps had convinced her to keep quiet. Theirs was a secret worth keeping, and besides she'd spent Sunday composing an anonymous letter to the police because what happened was a secret worth exposing.
"So? Any idea who found her?" asked Maggie, joining her at her locker.
"What? Why are you asking me?" Antonia was only able to half hide her smile in spite of herself.
"Because you're the one who's been such a wreck about this," said Maggie. "I know with . . . what happened before it was bothering you."
"With how Bianca was kidnapped freshman year," Antonia turned and faced Maggie fully, feeling like she was facing herself. "How her father beat her and . . ." she stumbled over the words, " . . . and raped her." She closed her eyes briefly, seeing again Bianca's broken body, but this time she also saw the girl who grabbed that poker.
She opened her eyes because she could face this. Maggie was looking at her with an uncertain expression. Antonia didn't blame her and tried to smile a reassurance, surprised to find it easier than she expected.
"Yeah," said Maggie softly.
"Yeah," Antonia agreed.
Homeroom and English passed in a haze of how-school-never-applies-to-the-real-world. Antonia still couldn't quite believe everything that had happened that weekend. Part of her still couldn't quite believe that school was the same as ever despite how everything had changed. When Calculus arrived, she was almost surprised that she hadn't made up Dean when he strolled in and nodded to her. She'd beaten Daniel to the seat next to his, fending off her friend's frown with a casual eye roll and, "I'm not going to let Dean ruin this seat forever."
Dean once again pulled out nothing more than his spiral notebook with more doodles of naked women than math as Mr. Falk got class started. Antonia watched out of the corner of her eye as Dean tuned out and, curious, scratched out a note.
'Do you ever do your homework?' she wrote.
Dean raised his eyebrows at her when she passed it to him, laughing silently when he read it. He scribbled an answer back and waited for Mr. Falk to turn to the board before passing it back.
'No. I have no idea what's going on in here.' He shrugged when she glanced at him.
"Sam thought it would be funny," he said at the end of class as they were filing out. "He was in charge of registering us for school since he says me and dad always put him in the wrong grade or some crap like that."
She could see Sam doing that, just for spite. "You've moved before?" she asked.
"Couple times a year."
Antonia blinked at that because that wasn't what she'd been expecting. "Why?"
Dean shrugged again but this time with forced casualness, his gaze wandering off down the hallway. "We go where the work is," he said, and Antonia knew instinctively that he wasn't talking about a normal nine-to-five job.
"Ghost hunting," she said softly, getting a quick glance and a small nod in acknowledgement. Antonia tried to wrap her mind around that thought, but it was too big, too different. All she'd ever known was this town, these people. She couldn't imagine. Even with their own ghost and their own tragedies, Rockford was such a nothing place in the middle of a big country. It could have so easily been forgotten on the wayside. "Why here?" she asked.
"Huh?" Dean glanced over, puzzled. "What do you mean?"
"Why did you come here? If you go after ghosts, aren't there others you could have picked instead?"
"There was one here, too," said Dean, not getting it.
"Yeah, but –" Antonia stopped because she'd been about to ask, "why bother here?" but maybe she knew the answer already. "Can I see them?"
"See what?" Dean was still frowning, obviously not as adept at reading her mind as she was at finding people.
"The files, or notes, or whatever you found on the other kids." Because even if the rest of them had died, they shouldn't be forgotten.
Dean was still staring at her, paused in front of the door to the senior lounge and confused, but something of what she meant must have been written on her face because he nodded after a moment. "Yeah."
The most outrageous rumor I ever heard was that Kristina was pregnant and that was why she was throwing up in the girls' bathroom after lunch everyday for a while. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it turned out that she was bulimic. I have no idea what the status of that rumor is. She's on the thin side but doesn't really look unhealthy.
Rumors? I don't know. All I know is that news travels fast through this school. Mostly through girl channels, I mean you and Hillary alone are like the telephone company. It comes out about the same anyway.
I don't even know where to begin. Where should I begin? Ninth grade and how you and Bianca imploded? You guys used to be tight, and then bam, you aren't even speaking to each other. You guys had the fight of the year. Tenth grade was all about Allison, Dave, and Pete in the love triangle of epic proportions. Titanic had nothing on them. First she and Dave are all set to get married, then Pete and her are sneaking around under the bleachers right where anyone can see them. Then Allison's back with Dave then she's with Pete and Dave is kicked to the curb, literally when she leaves his ass at the mall because of something he said. I still don't think anyone knows. I doubt they even remember. It was better than TV, I can tell you that.
The only rumors I care about are the ones that impact the football team. Everything else is small potatoes. Hillary lets me know what I need to anyway, so I don't worry about it that much.
My favorite rumor was the one where there was a cat being hidden in D wing. I don't remember who made it up but the whole school was looking for it without letting the teachers know about it. It was pretty hilarious to watch people peering into janitor's closets and the corners of the locker clump looking for a cat that wasn't there. Rumors are weird things because even after it was debunked people still kept looking.
I hate rumors even though there's not a lot I can do about them. There's been a bunch of crazy stuff said about me, stuff that wasn't true, like that I was gay for Ben. None of it's true and it really hurt at the time. Now I just ask who said it and how did they know, right in their face and they shut up about it.
In Study Hall, Antonia settled on her usual couch with Allison while Kristen not so subtly settled next to Dean across the room.
"She and Brad had another fight," Allison leaned towards her to say. "Brad's all mad because of how everyone was talking about how she and Kristina were hanging out with Dean, and Kristen was mad because he was boring and they never did anything different so now she wants Dean to ask her to Homecoming to make Brad jealous."
"When did this happen?" Antonia couldn't help the curiosity. At this point, it was as ingrained as breathing.
"After homeroom," said Allison. "Hillary was there and she said it was huge. Kelly thinks they're going to break up soon. She was saying how they almost always fight now, ever since the big blow up just before school started. I heard it was just after they did it, too."
That's what Antonia had heard as well, from Kristina who could usually be counted on to be accurate when it came to Kristen. Dean seemed to be enjoying the attention at any rate. He'd slipped back into his bad boy attitude with a pretty little slouch and a smirk that didn't quite reach his eyes. Given the way he'd handled himself over the weekend, perhaps he'd earned the right to be that confident in himself. Antonia could be generous.
Since she had actual Spanish homework to do, Antonia firmly corralled her attention from the flirting and giggling that was going on across the room, and after a little while was even able to get into the groove enough to get most of the questions answered with what she hoped was a minimal amount of grammatical errors.
"So who are you going to Homecoming with?" asked Allison ten minutes before lunch when she was packing up her things.
"Daniel," said Antonia absently as she did one more check of subject-verb agreement.
"Really? I thought you were just friends."
"We are," said Antonia. It was as good as it was going to get on an empty stomach so she began putting her books back in her bag, too. "Maggie got asked by Jason and Heather really wanted to go with Ari so she paired us off instead of asking him directly."
"Sneaky!" Allison grinned. "And you and Daniel?"
"What? We're friends."
"Oh, come on," Allison had a gossip-mongering grin peeking out. "You've spent so much more time hanging out with him this year than you did last year. It used to be you and Maggie. Now it's you and Daniel."
Antonia rolled her eyes. "We're friends. He's a good guy."
"Would you date him?"
"Would you? Seriously, now. He's cute, he's smart, he's on the track team. You're already friends."
Allison wasn't giving up. Antonia huffed a laugh at her persistence, but thought about it. Daniel was a good friend and she'd be lying if she hadn't thought about it, but that had been back when he and Maggie had a thing going on back and forth, and now? He wasn't the first guy she thought about dating, but . . . "Yeah, I guess. If he asked." Allison raised her eyebrows meaningfully. "And no, Heather saying we had to go together does not count."
"Whatever," said Allison. Thankfully, the bell rang after that original comeback, cutting off the horrible conversation as they split out the door to meet up with their respective groups of friends. Ahead of her down the hall, Kristen had her hand on Dean's arm, laughing again and making Antonia roll her eyes at the two of them. It was so typical.
The cafeteria was as noisy as ever. Everything was the same as usual, and the floating feeling from that morning had evaporated while Antonia had been trying to remember how to conjugate poder into the past subjunctive. She sat back for a moment as Daniel and Ari tried to steer the conversation away from dresses with high falsettos pretending to put on makeup. There was so much life in here that it made Antonia itch to pull out her camera, save it and bottle it up to give to someone to say, see? This is what life and high school should be.
Near the center of the room, Dean had been dragged over to sit next to Kristen with Keith and Kristina and those guys. Allison and Emily and a few other cheerleaders sat nearby while Ashley, Pete, and their crowd had all somehow managed wear solid colors today.
Across the main aisle on the East River side, it was just as loud, just as carefree, even at Bianca's table where she laughed with an ease that Antonia had watched from this distance for going on three years.
That night, when Bianca had taken that swing at her dad or maybe at the ghost, Antonia doubted she even knew anymore, afterwards they both had thought it was the wrong decision. Bianca was crazy with pain, Antonia was seeing things, and they both knew that it hadn't been her dad's fault, not really. That's what they told themselves. That's what everyone else said. Looking back, Antonia could see now that it was the lie that had broken their friendship because they couldn't lie to each other.
"Where you going?" asked Daniel when Antonia stood up.
"I need a Coke," she told him, but instead of going to the machine at their end of the cafeteria, she went to the one at Bianca's.
"Hey, Bianca," she said when she got to Bianca's table. All her friends looked up with her and stared, but for once Antonia didn't care about them or what anyone else thought of her for coming over here.
"Hey," said Bianca, her eyes not leaving Antonia's.
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry," she said, a rueful smile breaking free at the utter inadequacy of the words. "I'm sorry for everything. I didn't say that last time, and I should have." Bianca's expression shifted from confused to guarded, but Antonia went on before she could say anything. "I always believed you. I just . . . just couldn't deal with it, and I'm sorry for that too because I should have been there for you no matter what and I'm sorry that I wasn't."
"I wasn't any fun to be around," said Bianca, almost shy, glancing at her friends self-consciously. She wasn't lying. When she'd come back to school she'd been worse than she'd been before she had disappeared. They'd avoided each other a lot back then, and had a couple of spectacular fights that sealed the deal.
"I'm still sorry."
Bianca didn't look away this time. "Me too."
For the first time in a long time, Antonia could sense the connection that had been there since the third grade. It wouldn't ever be the same, too much had happened, they had different friends, different lives. They couldn't go back, but maybe they could go forward. She smiled, warmed by the thought, and went on to the vending machine.
I know I've been going on about how I have no time with working after school and stuff, and I don't, but I still try to make time for my friends because without them I would go insane. Sometimes they even visit me at work which is pretty awesome because they don't have to do that, but they do and it makes it easier to get through my shift.
I feel like I have distinct groups of friends. There's the guys from my neighborhood who my mom doesn't mind me hanging out with. There's the guys that she does mind me hanging out with. There's the guys on the track team which includes some Bryson guys. Unless it's track related, we don't really talk much. It's like, I know what I'm doing based on who I'm doing it with, that's how it's divided.
I feel like in the last year, since I started taking more Honors classes, I've been drifting farther and farther away from my friends. It's not that I don't like them, just that they don't get that if I have to study on Thursday night for a test, then I actually have to study. I think that's why Darren and I get on so well. He gets that.
Me and my friends do everything together. Me and Kyle especially. We've been best friends since kindergarten, lived on the same block for our whole lives. He's the reason I'm still playing football. I'm the reason Coach hasn't benched him yet. We look out for each other, you know? Who else is going to?
I used to know what friendship was, but I make a pretty bad friend. I don't hang out much. I don't get asked to a lot of places. In East River, I've made friends with a few people in my classes who also live on my street. I pretty much burned all my bridges with everyone from Bryson. Whatever. I'm getting out of here. I'm going to find a new place where I can start over.
I don't have friends. I'm new, and people don't really care that much about the new guy for a while. Everyone's still sniffing me out, and by the time they come around to thinking I can sit at their lunch table regularly, I'm headed out of town, so I don't usually bother with trying to make nice. There's no point to it. I got my brother. I got my dad. They're all I need.
"So what's up with you and Bianca?" asked Daniel on Wednesday as they arrived for Calculus.
Antonia looked at him as they took their seats, wondering why he was asking. There was nothing up with her and Bianca. They weren't going out of their way to avoid each other was all. Yesterday they'd even had a whole conversation that wasn't fraught with tension and weighty history.
"Nothing's up," she said.
"No, something's up," said Daniel, jokingly but not. "Come on, you can tell me."
"There's nothing to tell," Antonia told him. "Really." It was between the two of them anyway.
"Okay." Daniel clearly didn't believe her. "I just thought you were done with that crap."
Antonia blinked, not sure she'd heard right. "What?"
"That crap," Daniel repeated. "The drinking and the hard core partying."
"It was ninth grade."
"You were half crazy in ninth grade, and it was because of her. She was mixed up in some bad stuff."
"You didn't even know me back then," Antonia retorted, stung, because what the hell?
"I knew what was going on though. Everyone did," said Daniel as if it were obvious, as if every rumor that came out of the woodwork were true. Antonia knew rumors; she'd started enough of them, she'd lived through enough of them to know that truth had very little to do with it.
"No," Antonia hissed because Mr. Falk was at the board and ready to start class. On her other side she could feel Dean staring at them, along with everybody else. "You really didn't." She turned abruptly, unable to even look at him. She couldn't focus through the lecture. She barely noted the homework problems she missed because she knew the rumors he was talking about, the ones where Bianca was a slut, where she was a drunk, where she was a freak. They'd started before her dad had kidnapped her, and they had only gotten worse when she'd been falling apart afterwards.
"Hey," Daniel caught her arm after the bell, but Antonia shook him off. "What's with you?"
"Nothing is 'with me,'" Antonia snapped, storming into the hallway. "Nothing is wrong with me. Nothing is wrong with Bianca. And nothing is wrong with us being friends."
"I didn't say that!"
"You meant it!"
"I did not!" Daniel looked genuinely surprised.
"Then what exactly did you mean by 'that crap'? Because that sounds a lot like you think anything to do with Bianca is wrong."
"You're overreacting," Daniel rolled his eyes. "I didn't mean –"
Antonia stopped abruptly in the middle of the corridor to turn and face him. "What?" Daniel tried to get her out of the way, but Antonia refused to move. She was tired of being pushed around on this. "What, exactly, did you mean?"
"Nothing," he said. "Come on. Forget I said anything."
"Do you have any idea what she went through?" said Antonia. "That 'crap'? Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. It's common in people who get beaten up and left to die. Look it up."
But she was already heading for Study Hall.
I don't think I have more responsibility than I used to. My mom's always expected a lot from me. I've been working since the end of ninth grade to help out. I guess what's different as I get older is my mom being more appreciative of the sacrifices I've made. She looks at me sometimes with this sad look on her face and says, "I'm so sorry," because I've had to give up a lot of the normal teenage things. I don't mind though. Well, not that much. Okay, a lot sometimes, but that's life. And it's not fair. My mom needs the help and it's up to me to be there and do what I can because no one else will.
My curfew's later, if that's what you mean. My mom trusts me to be smart when I'm out and she's not on my case as much. I feel older. I feel like I can give advice to the freshman and be right and not look like an idiot. I like that, because it's like, finally! I know something.
My dad got me my own key to the car right before school started. That was pretty big. It's our only car, and he's trusting me with it when I go out, and I don't have to beg the keys from him anymore. It's like I'm finally an adult in our family.
What hit me when school started was that I might be leaving at the end of the year like Louis. It was a little weird to think about like that, but I will and Ellie and Brian need to be ready for that. I've got to make sure that they can do what they need to do to help Mom out. Brian's going to get his learner's permit this year, so I'll probably need to help teach him how to drive. When I think about it, there's all these things. Then I think about it some more and I wonder if I'm ready to leave.
What I feel responsible for is my future. It's something my councilor keeps telling me, that I have control over my future, and with senior year and all the talk about college and jobs from everyone else, I've started to believe it. I'm the only one who can make sure that I'm on the road I want to be on. I can't control everything, obviously, but I can try. That's what I hold onto anyway, when everything else around me seems to say that I can't pass math, how am I supposed to make a future for myself. Sometimes I don't think it's possible, but I hold onto it anyway because if I don't . . . well I don't know.
I've always been responsible for a lot of things. Taking care of my brother when Dad's gone, helping out on jobs, whatever else needs to get done. It's a lot of responsibility maybe, but it's always been that way.
By the end of the day, Antonia was a crazy bitch all over school. Maggie was sticking by her, but Heather and Ari were back and forth just wanting everyone to get along. Antonia ate lunch at Bianca's table and met some of her other friends properly, Brittany, Felicia, and Marta.
"He was just looking out for you," Hillary told her in Chemistry. "You're lucky he's still going to Homecoming with you."
"I'm not," Antonia replied. She hadn't thought about it until that second but there was no way she was going with Daniel now. No way in hell.
"Well, you're not going to find another date," said Hillary. "Not this last minute and not after that little show. So just make up with him already."
The sad truth was she was right. There was no way to get a date two days before the dance, and the humiliation of showing up dateless to Homecoming, especially after this, well, Antonia might as well stay home. Which would mean losing.
Which was why she lingered after school by her locker until Dean showed up.
"Hey," she said, ignoring the butterflies in her stomach and the complete overthrow of tradition she was about to commit.
"Hey, Antonia." Dean smiled at her, a real smile that touched his eyes. "I heard you busted someone else's balls today. All in a day's work, eh?"
The light, playful tone startled a smile out of her. "Yeah," she said. "Daniel, my Homecoming date. Possibly ex-friend."
Dean shoved a few books into his locker, letting them fall haphazardly. "I saw you hanging out with Bianca."
"Yeah, we're trying to be friends again. It's why Daniel got mad. It's stupid." She watched him as he emptied everything out until his bookbag was as empty as it always seemed. She wondered what other classes Sam had signed him up for.
"Sounds like." Done, Dean closed his locker and gave her his full attention. Right. She'd come to him.
"So." She took a breath. "You wanna go to Homecoming with me?"
That got a response: two eyebrows and genuine surprise. "Homecoming?"
"You know, dance, football game somewhere in there. You can say no if you want," she added hastily. This was such a bad idea. No wonder guys always sounded like idiots when they did this.
"Well, Kristen seems to want to go with me," said Dean, tilting his head a bit, and Antonia told herself it was a stupid idea to even ask him in the first place. They'd spent the first three weeks they'd known each other sniping, and of course, he'd prefer bubbly Kristen to her. God, she must sound so desperate, especially since she was asking him of all people. She was breaking pretty much every social rule that Rockford had. Ever.
"Okay. See you later then. You still owe me an interview." She turned and headed for the door, a blush creeping over her face, burning with the embarrassment of asking Dean Winchester to Homecoming.
"Hey, Antonia!" Dean called out behind her, loud enough for everyone to turn and stare, including her. Dean had that stupid smirk on his face that she hated. "I'll go to the dance with you." He winked and didn't give her time to recover before sauntering off, meeting Sam at the end of the hall. She saw Sam shove him and could almost hear him calling Dean a jerk.
In her part of the hall, people were still staring but hurriedly glancing away when her eyes turned on them. Cowards, all of them. Hillary and her friends were the only ones to openly stare. With all the talk that had gone around about Dean, it was more than a little gratifying. Giving Hillary a sweet smile, Antonia decided that bucking tradition was a very good thing after all.
The biggest challenge I faced in high school was learning how to drive. I know it's stupid, everyone does it. But with my mom working all the time, me working, and we sure as hell couldn't afford Driver's Ed, it took me forever. I don't tell anyone this. It's too embarrassing. But it took me almost a year to pass my driver's test. I could only practice about once a week, if that, and for a while there I didn't think I'd ever get my license.
One of the challenges I faced last year, that I didn't expect, was all of a sudden everyone at track giving me the cold shoulder. It was weird because it happened right after we had a really great meet against Lincoln and I did really well in the eight hundred meter race. Then the next week it was like I had killed someone's dog or something. I kept asking what was going on and no one would say anything. It hurt, you know, because I thought I was part of the team and suddenly I wasn't. I felt all alone. It passes a few weeks later and things eased back to being normal. But it was the longest two weeks of my life. I still don't know what went on.
School has been my biggest challenge. I've always done pretty well in my classes, but it wasn't till Mr. Jones starting talking about college and I could get a scholarship and that made it real. I wanted it. I moved into more Honors classes and it was so much harder and I had to work at it. But I've done okay so far, and I think after I getting through last year, I've got a shot at those scholarships.
A challenge I've faced. I dunno. I guess the last challenge I faced was keeping my little sister from dating a complete ass. Ellie has terrible taste in boys, and this one was a little shit who thought he could get away with pushing her around. I had to follow him around for a week before he got the idea to take a hike.
Getting up some days is a challenge. Getting up and coming to school and facing everybody. I'm supposed to be over it. But everyday I still have get up.
A challenge I've faced. Getting you to talk to me. That was a challenge.
Friday night, the cafeteria was transformed. White and gold streamers arched around the ceiling while underneath the tables had been cleared away to make a dance floor. The school had hired a DJ for the night and already people were swaying to the music.
It was always fun to see everyone all dressed up. It wasn't Prom or anything, so the dresses tended toward the last of the summer fashions and the guys wore suits instead of tuxes. Antonia had been pleasantly surprised by Dean who cleaned up very nicely indeed.
"Didn't think I owned a suit, did you?" he'd asked when he'd picked her up. Since Antonia had asked a few rather pointed questions in that direction after they finished with Dean's interview for the documentary – finally – she couldn't blame him for calling her on it. Especially when he looked that good in a button down shirt and a tie, the jacket abandoned in the car.
They got a few looks when they walked in, but nothing worse than what Antonia would have expected. Things had settled down from Wednesday, even though Daniel still wasn't speaking to her and Heather and Ari were still trying to get them back together. Maggie had the best advice, having dealt with Daniel in a snit before: ignore him until he feels like growing a brain. He wasn't here yet, and as of the last bell of the day, he'd asked a sophomore on the track team to go with him.
"Antonia, you look quite wonderful," Maggie greeted them with a grin. "Hi, Dean. This is Jason," she introduced another of the he-cleans-up-just-fine persuasion. Antonia didn't know him very well but he was smiling when he did the guy thing with Dean without all the extra posturing that Dean tended to evoke since his suspension, so Antonia gave him extra points and a subtle thumbs up to Maggie.
They chatted for bit, mostly about who really had ended up coming with whom, and Kelly totally won Best Dress. It was pale peach, cut in Marylyn Monroe style that was simple and perfect for her body type. She looked gorgeous in it. Antonia startled for a moment when Dean handed her a cup of punch – so far unspiked – because she hadn't even noticed that he and Jason had wandered off while she and Maggie chatted.
More and more people arrived. The football players and their dates came fashionably late and en masse so everyone knew they had indeed arrived. It was hard to miss with the hooting and the spontaneous cheers they started up. They'd lost the game tonight by only three points and had played the best they had all season. Antonia was proud of them, even if they were noisy and annoying. Nevertheless, she needed to keep Dean as far away from them as possible so she dragged him out onto the dance floor despite his protests.
"I really don't dance," he said once she finally had both him and herself where she wanted them. It was a semi-slow song, one of those that you could dance pleasantly to separately or snuggle in close. They were somewhere in between since Antonia had to keep her toes safe somehow. For a guy who was pretty athletic, it took Dean a minute to get the feel for it.
"Too bad," she replied. "I want to dance."
"Hey, you're the one who asked me out. Shouldn't you be catering to my wishes? Trying to win my heart?"
"Please, you're lucky I asked you. I saved you from the humiliation of getting thrown over by Kristen." She nodded to their left where Kristen was seamlessly tucked up against Brad. By the end of the night, Antonia would bet they'd be making out on the dance floor shortly followed by a quick getaway.
"Because you were desperate," Dean retorted, that smirk appearing, and okay, he had a point. That didn't mean she was going to admit to it.
"It's shameful how far I've fallen. You do realize I'm never going to live this down, right? Asking you?"
"Whatever. You like me."
"I do not!" was her instant reply, which Dean responded to with a pair of doubtful eyebrows that clearly said she was crazy. He was such a jerk, and Antonia hated how he looked at her, like he could see right through her, like he knew her, the real her, and maybe he did a little better than most. It was wonderful and terrible, and made her want to be the person he saw when he told her that she wasn't crazy when he came for her help in finding Linda because he believed in her even if she didn't believe in herself. He saw a part of her that no one else did. In return, she'd gotten a peek at who he really was under all his bluff attitude. So maybe she did like him.
Dean only grinned wider. "You look beautiful," he said. "Especially when you're mad."
Antonia smacked him for that, making him laugh, but she was warmed all the same and couldn't help the delighted smile on her own face. When the music changed, she didn't protest as he pulled her closer, sliding her own hands from his shoulders to the back of his neck, warm to the touch.
"You really are beautiful," he said quietly, the smile dancing up into his eyes. Then he bent his head and kissed her, soft and chaste and utterly perfect.
I'm thankful for my mom and my brother. Thankful were all still together, still doing fine. I'm thankful that this is my senior year of school and even though I'm going to miss school and everyone when people go their separate ways, I think I'm ready for the change of pace.
I'm thankful for the way things have turned out for me. You know, two of my friends from middle school have already been arrested. Me, I've got a future.
Mr. Jones. I don't think I'd be making it out of Rockford if it weren't for him. I wouldn't even be considering college or anything. I don't know what would be happening next year if he hadn't encouraged me to go for it. Scary isn't? How one conversation can change your life?
I'm thankful for everything. What kind of question is that? I don't know. My life's okay. It could be better. Course, it could be a lot worse.
I'm thankful I'm alive. Is that too melodramatic? Especially since sometimes I wish I weren't. Now that sounds melodramatic. It sounds stupid. I shouldn't feel that way, right? Like I'm wasting my second chance because I'm too afraid or something. But I can't help it.
I'm glad we're okay. You, me, my brother. I'm glad my Dad's okay. I'm glad Linda's okay. As for being thankful, I can't really ask for more than that, can I?
"So." Maggie landed against Antonia's locker Monday morning. "You and Dean." She had a wicked grin on her face, eyes demanding details.
"You and Jason," Antonia parroted back.
If anything, Maggie's grin got wider as she leaned in close. "Totally made out in the park. Best. Kisser. Ever."
"Better than Simon?"
"Way better than Simon," Maggie nodded emphatically. "We're going out again this weekend. So that's where I'll be."
"Where are you going?"
"To make out." Antonia laughed, feeling giddy herself at the idea of sitting in the back row of the movie theater.
"Yes," said Maggie shamelessly. "So. You and Dean . . . You were getting some action on the dance floor."
Even now, Antonia couldn't help the blush that stole up her face at their very public first kiss. "Way, way better than Larry. Or, you know, anyone," she confessed.
"And we went to an empty parking lot on the river." She shrugged letting Maggie fill in the rest for herself. They'd gotten to an enthusiastic second base before Antonia accidentally clobbered him when he hit a ticklish spot. Kissing had devolved into a tickle fight and ended with them pressed close and holding onto each other tight, Antonia trapping Dean's roving hands until they just cuddled and made out. It had been pretty late by then, so they'd called it a night. Dean had to be back before his dad got home, he hadn't really explained, but it had still been one of the best nights ever.
"You gotta give me more than that," Maggie whined, but Antonia just shook her head and changed the subject. She still wanted to keep Friday night all for herself for a little while longer.
"Did you watch the news?"
"About Linda?" Maggie nodded. "Yeah. They released her from the hospital. It's good news."
"It's great news," said Antonia. "But I think the hardest part is what comes next." It had been for Bianca. It had been for her and she hadn't even been hurt. Linda's father was still in jail awaiting trial, and Antonia prayed that Linda would get some sort of closure from that.
Dean hadn't shown up by the time the bell rang, and he didn't show up in Calculus at all. Antonia was disappointed and by lunch she was cranky. Maggie and Heather both gave her sympathy as she let loose some of her frustration. "He didn't even call me this weekend." She'd wanted him to. Wanted to call him, but she didn't have his number.
"Boys are so clueless sometimes," Heather agreed, casting a glance over at where Ari and Daniel were eating with some guys from the track team. Her Friday night had ended with the dance. Ari still hadn't figured out why she was mad.
Antonia just wished Dean would show up, or even Sam so she could give him a message but Sam wasn't there either. Bianca was on her way over, however.
"Antonia, this is for you," she said by way of greeting, handing Antonia a thick manila envelope with her name on it. "Hey, Maggie. Hey, Heather."
"What is this?" asked Antonia.
Bianca shrugged, looking nervous. "Dean left it in front of my apartment. I'm pretty sure it was Dean." At Antonia's confusion, she added, "They skipped town this weekend, Dean and Sam and their dad. Didn't even pay rent."
The news was like a blow to the stomach. "They did what? Why?" Even Antonia could hear the hurt in her own voice. After everything, Linda and the ghost and Homecoming, they couldn't just leave. Things were just getting good again.
"I'm sorry," said Bianca, laying a hand on her shoulder. "Their dad came and went a lot. Kyle wasn't lying about how creepy it was. Friday night he came back. Saturday morning they were gone. I didn't find out till yesterday when our landlord came over bitching about the rent and then I realized about the envelope . . ." she trailed off. "I'm sorry."
"No. No, it's okay," said Antonia. She took a deep breath and tried to keep the hurt in. She should have expected something like this. Dean had moved more times than he could remember after all. Why should here be any different? It wasn't like they were dating or anything. "I'm gonna –" Her throat closed over and she could feel the sting of tears and she wasn't going to cry over Dean freakin' Winchester, not during lunch in front of everyone. She didn't look at her friends, grateful when they didn't say anything. "I'm okay," she finally managed, forcing a smile.
"You'll be fine," Bianca agreed. She squeezed Antonia's shoulder and it felt like the truth.
"Do you want us to remind you of all the times he was a complete asshole?" asked Maggie.
"Or recite all your complaints against him?" said Heather, making her laugh despite the blurring of her vision because they had been pretty horrible to each other. Then things had gotten horrible and he'd been pretty amazing.
Antonia didn't open the envelope until she got home from school. Locking the door to her room, she grabbed the scissors off her desk and settled on the bed. Inside was an inch of paper, the printouts Dean had promised her of all the articles about the other children.
Anna Lineus, Laura Folke, Phillip Ousler, Katherine Buchanon, Lindsey Kohl, Perry Grossman, Julia Andale, Alicia Scott, Bianca Harrison, and Linda Karlyle.
He'd remembered that she'd asked for them. Leafing through the pile, Antonia thought about the scrapbook she could make with these, something more than dry articles to remember them by. She already had a couple articles to add for Linda.
Under the articles were notes in a combination of handwritings. She recognized Dean's scrawl on top of Sam's neater research. Comments, questions, arrows pulling things together and underlined conclusions. There were police reports and county grave records, a host of details that had led them to the ghost, Antonia, and Linda. But the last page was different. It was another article, but this one was cut from an actual newspaper.
Third Man Drowns in Desert After Religious Festival
The newspaper was from New Mexico and dated on Thursday. She couldn't figure out why it was there at first, but then she realized. It was where they had gone next. Perhaps not the goodbye Antonia would have liked but at least it was a goodbye of sorts and maybe something of an apology, too. Dean and his family had ghosts to hunt. It's what they did and as much as she wished it were different, that their move to Rockford had been a real move and that Dean would show up tomorrow, a jerk as always but the guy she really liked underneath, it wasn't different. He was gone with ghosts to hunt, and Antonia was still here with high school to finish.
It wasn't fair. In fact, it pretty much sucked as much as anything could. A lot of things sucked, she amended, setting the article aside and touching Linda's picture. For her, this ghost story wouldn't be over soon, if it ever was. It wasn't for Bianca; it wasn't for Antonia. She couldn't just run off to the next big thing or ignore it this time. Bianca's picture, half underneath, grinned up at her, a bright contrast to the young woman of today shadowed by the loss of innocence. Antonia remembered that girl, and she remembered the other little girl who used to run beside her.
Dean might have ghosts to hunt off in New Mexico, but so did Antonia, right here.
I try not to pay attention to rumors unless it's someone I know telling me who is usually right. There are so many stories that get thrown around and most of them are wrong somehow. It can be awful.
The best rumor that went around school was the one about the cat in D wing. I swear I almost saw it, like, twice, but it turned out to be a couple making out in the janitor's closet. Crazy. I heard someone telling one of the freshman about it the other day. Guess it's going to be a tradition now, huh?
The worst rumor I ever heard was about me. It got around that I wanted to be Class President – I wanted to be on the Senate – and someone, who I'll do the favor of not naming, starting talking shit about me everywhere. She said all I cared about was forcing everyone to buy lunch because I was a pig and ate my weight in pastries every day. There was some other stuff too, but that was the one that made everyone stare at me and snigger when I ate lunch. Even my friends teased me about it and at first it was funny but then they wouldn't shut up about it and I felt like they all believed it, too.
That's the thing about sports, and football especially. There's always a story to tell afterwards. We can talk about that play or when Jim threw that awesome pass and Larry made that awesome catch and scored the winning touchdown against Brammer last year, two minutes to go at fourth and thirty. I'll have those stories forever, and that's kind of cool.
I hate gossip and I hate rumors because everyone thinks they know everything about everyone, but most of it's just a mask. I promise you that everyone at this school has a secret they aren't willing to tell anyone because they know what would happen if it got out. I think that's okay because there are some secrets that should stay secret.
What I've learned is that there's always some truth buried somewhere in what people say. And in what they don't say. Or in how they lie. Stories get told and retold, sometimes until they're twisted beyond any recognition, but they start somewhere, and the beginning is what you have to find in order to understand the end.
Antonia took a moment to stare at the front doors of Rockford Senior High School under the banner proclaiming "Welcome Back Class of 1998!" This was it, her ten-year reunion. The big brick monstrosity that had felt like such a prison in high school now looked small and worn, like an old women wearing fresh makeup with the lights and music that were pouring out of the cafeteria. Antonia sighed. She almost couldn't believe that she'd bothered to come, but curiosity as much as nostalgia had drawn her back.
She took a quick look around the gym as she headed for the registration table where name badges were laid out in neat little rows. There were streamers hanging from the ceiling, a DJ playing danceable music and tables spaced out around the room where people were milling around, talking, and laughing. Antonia had barely kept up with anyone after graduation except Maggie and the occasional run-in with someone when she visited her parents.
Antonia blinked at the woman manning the table. It took a moment to place her. "Hillary?"
"Oh my god! It's so good to see you!" said Hillary. "How are you? What are you doing? You were one of the ones who kind of disappeared after college."
It was true. Antonia had gone to school in Chicago and ended up staying. "I'm good," she said, feeling underdressed for the occasion next to Hillary. "I'm a cop."
"A cop?" Hillary stopped mid badge search to stare. "You're kidding."
Antonia shook her head. "Missing persons in Chicago." She had a knack for finding people after all, a knack that her captain called uncanny when she couldn't quite explain how she knew where someone was.
"Wow. I never would have expected that," said Hillary, handing over her name tag.
"What about you?" asked Antonia. Time had been good to Hillary and there was wedding band on her ring finger.
"Oh, nothing spectacular like being a cop," said Hillary with a modesty that Antonia didn't remember. "I manage Lily's Boutique down at the mall now. The hours are good so I can spend time with my kids." She paused to fish out photos from her purse of a four and two year old. "That's James and Beth."
"They're beautiful," said Antonia. They looked a lot like Hillary had as a child, and were both grinning happily at the camera.
"What about you? Are you married?"
"No." Antonia passed the pictures back. Her love life was a sad state of affairs these days between her hours and her ever diminishing bullshit limits. "I'm between boyfriends right now," she felt the need to clarify, feeling the old anxiety of not fitting in rising up between them.
"Oh. Well," Hillary said, floundering for a second before adding brightly, "We're showing your documentary later. You remember that? That was a really good idea you had because now we have this record of everything from that year."
Of course Antonia remembered. That project had been her life senior year. It felt like it had changed her life. The final count had been two hundred and ten seniors interviewed. Some of them short, some people interviewed several times over the year. Candid interviews in the halls, classes, football and basketball games, track meets, Debate competitions, volunteer work, soccer practices, Prom. Antonia didn't want to even think about the time she spent editing it into a two hour essence of Rockford High. Her original cut had been about fifteen hours long. She still had all the footage.
With a few more banal pleasantries exchanged, Antonia made her escape in to the reunion proper. She knew Maggie wasn't going to be there, but she saw Ari who was doing well for himself in Real Estate and Heather who had married her college boyfriend and was now living in Virginia with a two month old. Antonia navigated those conversations through a cloud, their lives so different now that she could barely remember how it had been back in high school.
It wasn't long before Antonia headed for the wall that had the old yearbook photos of everyone in their class to avoid any more awkward conversations. The wall was huge with wallet sized photos and a little blurb talking about what that person was up to. A little gold star denoted if they were planning on coming to the reunion or not. Bianca wasn't, Antonia saw, but she had replied with her current address in St. Louis and that she was working at the Humane Society there.
As Antonia's eyes drifted over names and faces, her mind kept skipping back to some of the stories she'd heard from them. Wilson ended up joining the Marines and was in Iraq. Jim had played college football and was now coaching in at a junior high in Lincoln. Ashley was here and had gone to Law School, and Estelle was in graduate school for Bio and Chemical Engineering. Brittany had moved up from grocery stores to a manager position at Macy's, married now with two children. Whit and Daniel had both been star runners for a while before coming home and getting married. Whit taught tenth grade English, and Daniel had taken over coaching track. Jake wasn't listed, the small note beside his name that said simply "Class of 1998." She wondered if he had ever taken his band on tour.
The last name she looked for didn't even have "Class of" beside it, instead it just had the dates Dean had shown up for like birth and death dates on a gravestone. It was oddly appropriate. The picture they had was a still from the documentary, and probably the only reason he was listed at all. He was grinning that stupid smirk she'd hated so much, the one she'd seen more recently on a Wanted alert from the FBI.
That had been the surprise of her life, and Antonia had only wished for him to be there to tell her she wasn't crazy when she called bullshit on his whole case, much to the amusement of her colleagues. There wasn't much she could do except poke holes in it over coffee but she wasn't going to just let the condemnation stand. Dean Winchester was no serial killer. She had a scrapbook of lost children that told her otherwise. She had her career, her life's work, and a memory of a Friday night that told her otherwise. She knew that wherever Dean was, he was still hunting ghosts and still helping forgotten souls.
She brushed her finger over his face one last time before standing up, satisfied in a way that she couldn't quite explain. Over the years, Antonia had learned not to worry about it, but to go with her gut, so she smiled, glad she'd come back, glad to see faces she'd all but forgotten and where they'd ended up. She thought about the camera wedged in her handbag, and wondered if her classmates would mind sharing their stories one last time.