LITTLE BROWN FOR YOUNG READERSCopyright © 2006 Tony Abbott
All right reserved.ISBN: 0-316-01171-1
It wasn't much, really, the whole Jessica Feeney thing. If you look at it, nothing much happened. She was a girl who came into my class after the beginning of the year and was only there for a couple of weeks or so. Stuff did get a little crazy for a while, but it didn't last long, and I think it was mostly in my head anyway. Then she wasn't there anymore.
That was pretty much it.
I had a bunch of things going on then, and she was just one of them. There was the car and the class election and Courtney and Jeff. But there was Jessica, too. If I think about it now, I guess I would say that the Friday before she came was probably the last normal day for a while. As normal as things ever were with me and Jeff.
It was the last week of September. The weather had been warm all the way from the start of school. St. Catherine's has gray blazers, navy blue pants, white shirts, and blue ties, and it was hot in our uniforms. I sweat most of those days, right through my shirt, making what some of the kids called stink spots under the arms. We weren't allowed to take off our blazers in school, even when it was hot, so mine always got stained from the sweat.
Like most afternoons, I got off the bus at Jeff Hicks's house. We jumped from the top of the bus stairs and hit the front yard running, our blazers flying in our hands.
"You ever smell blood?" he asked, half turning to me.
Jeff had been my friend for about three years, since the summer after third grade. As we went up the side steps to his house, I remember thinking that he asked me off-the-wall questions a lot.
"What?" I said.
Jeff always said some strange thing, then waited, and I would ask "what?" so he could say it again and make a thing about it. He reached the door first.
"Did you ever smell blood?" he repeated.
"What does that mean?" I asked.
"Sometimes my mom comes home from the hospital all bloody from the emergency room-"
We rushed through the side door, making a lot of noise in the empty kitchen. Jeff's house was always unlocked, even though it had been empty all day.
"-some guy's guts on her shirt," he said. "It's so gross. It's the coolest thing. So, did you ever smell blood?" He yanked open the refrigerator door.
"I don't know. Maybe. When I cut my finger-"
"That's not enough. I mean a lot. A whole glass of the stuff."
I felt my stomach jump a little. "A glass of blood?" I said. "Who has glasses of blood?"
He pulled out a tumbler of red liquid-blood?-from the refrigerator and began drinking. He drank and laughed and drank. I finally realized it was cranberry juice. The juice sloshed all down his chin and onto the front of his white shirt.
His shirt had little blots of red spreading down the front as he was dripping juice and laughing and watching me, until I laughed, too, at the whole thing.
"Stupid," I breathed. "How long did you have that glass waiting in there?"
Laughing even harder, he put the dripping glass on the kitchen table and wiped his mouth on his cuff. "By the way, I went for a ride in it last night." He went to the basement door and pulled it open.
I was still looking at the glass on the table. "Huh?"
He jumped down the stairs to a room with a TV and paneling. There were dark wooden shelves on the walls piled with stacks of his comic books.
I was right behind him. "You went for a ride in what?" It was that game again. But I already knew.
"Duh. In your brain," he said. "My uncle's Cobra. I thought it was all you ever thought about."
"Yeah? The Cobra?"
He snickered as he went to the shelves. "The Cobra."
A Cobra is a classic sports car from the 1960s. I love Cobras. Not the skinny kind they made for a couple of years, but the fat one. You see them every once in a while. A Cobra is low and all curved and super-fat, like a chunky bug that's pumped up like a balloon. It isn't a family car. It's just two seats, a steering wheel, and pedals on the floor. It's a machine. The racing tires are really fat. The wheel wells over each tire flare out like big, angry lips. The front end of a Cobra looks like a snake, with two headlights like eyes and a big mouth (the radiator hole) that could suck the pavement right up into it. It's the nastiest-looking fast car on the road.
I love Cobras. I've built plastic models of them. I've bought magazines about them. I once went to an auto show with my father, and they had a red racing Cobra there. The shine was so thick it seemed like if you dipped your finger into it, it would be hot and wet. But they wouldn't let you get near enough to touch it. "As if it's so hot it'll burn you," I remember telling my father. He laughed. Cruise nights at a drive-in restaurant in the next town sometimes had a Cobra, too.
That past spring, Jeff had told me his uncle had an original Cobra, and I was totally floored. He had restored it from a used one he bought in New York, where he lives. I had never seen the car, but Jeff told me it was a red one.
"The kind you like," he had said.
People don't really talk to me much in school or notice me, not even adults. My mother says it's because I don't "get out there." But Jeff and I had been friends for a long time. We never really said much to each other, but we did stuff almost every day. I always got his jokes, and I think he liked that. I remember feeling it was so cool that he knew I liked red Cobras.
Jeff had said his uncle sometimes brought it up to his house, and he got to ride in it. But I didn't get why I had never seen the car.
"I've never even seen your uncle," I said.
Jeff was flipping through a stack of comics he had taken down from a shelf. He chose one and slumped in a chair with it. He didn't say anything.
"I don't have an uncle," I went on. "I don't get the whole uncle thing. It's just me and my parents. Neither of them had sisters or brothers." He still didn't say anything, so I just kept on babbling. "Uncles always seem like these guys who get to have all the cool stuff fathers never get to have."
Finally, he dropped his comic into his lap and looked at me. "Yeah, well, my Uncle Chuck has a Cobra. And he's coming over next weekend."
I think my heart thumped really loudly. "Saturday? Next Saturday?"
He shook his head. "No, the weekend after. The ninth I think my mother said. Maybe we'll drive over to your house in the car." He pushed the comic book off his lap.
He got up. "My mom said she got me two Avengers and a Spawn, the one where he bites through to another world. But she hid them because I yelled at her. Let's find them. I need to get all the school junk out of my head."
"Really? You mean it about the car? The Cobra? You'll come over and we can ride around in it?"
"Sure. Let's check her bedroom."