Excerpt - Strangers With Candy

Chapter 1



I lay wide awake, my eyes on the glowing eight. It flicked to nine. Twenty-one more minutes. When the nine turned to zero, I slipped from the bed and crept across my room. I opened the door, being careful to make no sound, and tiptoed down the hall.

I pressed my ear to my parents’ closed bedroom door, hoping for silence or maybe Dad’s snores. What I got was bedsprings and heavy breathing. I closed my eyes, fighting back a growl. Did you have to do that tonight? Really?

At the sound of my sister’s door opening, I stepped away from my parents’ room, moving toward the stairs that led to the first floor.

Nine years old, Kimmy still looked a lot like a cherub, only skinnier. She was cute but not nearly as cute as she thought she was.

“Whatcha doin’?” she asked in the singsong voice that always made me grit my teeth.

“Going for a drink.”

“You went the wrong way.”

“Must’ve been sleepwalking.”

“Yeah, right,” she said, following me down the stairs.

“Did you know people sometimes kill their nosy little sisters when they’re sleepwalking?”

“Wonder what mothers and fathers do to their nosy sons that listen outside their bedroom door? Maybe I should ask them.”

I liked her better when she was little. She was just as annoying then, but dumber.

“You’re gonna sneak out, aren’t you?” she said as I opened the refrigerator.

“No,” I said, pulling a Coke from the shelf.

“You know you’re not supposed to have that after you brush your teeth.”

I narrowed my eyes at her, snatched a glass from the cabinet, and poured half the soda into it.

She studied the glass for a long moment, deciding whether to take it. If she did, she couldn’t tell on me.

“I’ll let you slide,” she said, picking up the glass and clinking it to the top of my can. “Since it’s almost your birthday.” She took a gulp of the drink and licked away a foam mustache. “So where you going?”

“Nowhere.”

All I wanted to do was go to my room, hook the phone line to my computer, and talk to my online friends. That was all. Was that too much to want, on the eve of my thirteenth birthday? Evidently so, given that my parents had chosen that night to give in to their carnal needs and Kimmy had apparently stayed up just to irritate me.

“Come on, Timmy,” she said, leaning close. “You can tell me.”

“My name is Tim,” I ground out. Our parents still insisted on calling us Timmy and Kimmy. Utterly puke-worthy.

“I won’t tell.”

“There’s nothing to tell. I’m not going anywhere.” And if I were, I’d be darned sure not to let her know because the last time I snuck out my window at night, the brat saw me leave and locked the window behind me. I spent that whole night locked out of the house and the next month grounded, getting you-disappointed-us-again looks from Mom and Dad.

It wouldn’t even help to lock my bedroom door because my parents wouldn’t let me have a real lock on there and the stupid thing could be opened with a butter knife.

“Okay,” she said. “Well, just so you know, I wouldn’t tell, if you did.”

I snorted, drained the can, and threw it in the garbage.

Kim said, “That’s supposed to go in recycling.”

“So put it there. Goodnight.” I hoped she’d show the decency to leave me alone after that.

“Goodnight, Tim. Happy almost birthday.”

“Yeah. I’m thrilled.”

“Don’t worry,” she said, returning to her singsong voice. “It’ll get better.”

I turned to look at her. She was giving me an I-know-something-you-don’t-know look.

“Did they get me the PlayStation?”

“PlayStations are boring,” she said. Then she grinned. “Goodnight.”

They got me the PlayStation. They had to. It was the only thing I’d asked for. Originally I’d hoped to get a new computer monitor for my birthday but then my PS2 died. Had to have one of those.

Gaming was pretty much my life. My dream job would be to land a spot on the G4 channel.

I tiptoed up the stairs and down the hall, then pressed my ear to my parents’ door. All was quiet. I smiled and slipped back into my room.

I usually waited until I thought they were good and asleep to log on. Both of them seemed to be heavy sleepers, so things like the clacking of computer keys didn’t wake them. Sometimes they woke on their own, though. With my mother, I thought maybe it was an anxiety thing. With my father, it probably was because he worked rotating shifts as an EMT—emergency medical technician—so his biological clock was a little screwy.

I knew I should give it another hour or so, to be safe. But that night, I just couldn’t. I checked the clock.

Nine minutes. If I hurried and the Internet connection and gaming site cooperated, I could get to the chat room in time for midnight birthday wishes.

I grabbed a towel from my bathroom and laid it at the bottom of my door, to block my light, then flipped the switch, smiling at my prized possession. Damien. I loved the computer as much as I had the night I got it, almost exactly one year before.

My parents would take Damien if they knew what I did with it. All it would take would be for one of them to pick up the house phone or for someone to ask why our line had been busy for hours one night. It helped that they both had cell phones they used more than the house phone, but still, the possibility for disaster always loomed.

My heart pounded and my hands shook in my nervousness as I moved to the phone and yanked out its cord. I turned for the computer.

Please don’t let them wake up.




Chapter 2



A soft knock came at my window, the one at the side of the house. That would be Jason. I detoured to the window, sliding it open for him, and hurried to the computer.

“Surely you can find something better to do tonight,” Jason said.

His voice, so quiet and calm, was a salve for my frazzled nerves. Jason never got frazzled.

“I’ll just stay on a few minutes,” I said, dropping to my knees to plug the phone line into the computer tower. “Then we can hang out, if you want.”

I might be an Internet addict but he was my best friend and I didn’t want to be rude after he’d come to see me for my birthday.

“Do you have to do that tonight?”

I laughed a little, remembering I’d had that same thought about my parents. “It’s what I do, Jason.”

“But on your birthday, you need to do something special.”

“I don’t get to do special things. I have no life. You know this.”

“Come with me.”

“I can’t.”

“Yes, you can.”

“If they caught me, it would ruin my birthday. And the next six weeks.” The penalty was always higher for repeat offenses.

Jason just didn’t understand. He tried. He really did. But he couldn’t know what it was like to live with overprotective parents like mine, any more than I could know how it felt to have parents like his, people who were hardly ever there and, even when they were, paid next-to-no attention to what he did.

I added, “And Kimmy’s awake.”

“She won’t tell.”

“Yeah, right.” Then I gave a harsh laugh. “No, you’re right. She’ll just lock me out again.”

“She won’t.”

“Why not?”

“Because I asked her not to.”

I let out a disgusted sigh. It probably was just that easy for him. Kimmy had a major crush on him. Even people who didn’t, though, usually gave Jason what he wanted. It was just something about him. Everybody loved Jason. But when had he had time to talk to Kim?

Jason usually only came to our house late at night, entering through my window, because he didn’t like dealing with my parents. None of my friends dealt with them, if they could help it. I wished I didn’t have to.

I turned to ask him about Kim. As often happened when I got sight of him, I felt a stab of resentment. He was only a couple months older than I was but he looked like a teenager and I still looked like a kid. He’d already attained the epitome of masculine appeal—tall, dark and handsome. With muscles, even. His hair fell way past his shoulders, which all the girls loved, and he didn’t even look silly with it since he was half Cheyenne. He looked better than I ever would or could. He was so darned interesting-looking, even when he wasn’t doing anything.

At that moment, he was reclined in my window, half-in and half-out. He was one of those people who looked comfortable and relaxed, wherever he was.

“When did you ask her?”

“Couple hours ago.”

“You went to her window?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t think you oughtta be doing that.” It would be bad enough if my parents caught him at my window. Mom would really freak about Kimmy’s.

“I did it one time, Tim,” he said. “It’s not like I plan to make a habit of it. Now come on. I want to give you your present at midnight. Then, if you want to, you can come right back and get on the computer.”

“What is it?” I asked.

“It won’t be the same if I tell you.”

“I can’t go, Jason. I’d get in trouble if they found me gone.”

“Well, you’d get in trouble if they came in here and found you hooked to the Internet, too.”

“Not as much.”

“Okay, maybe you will get in trouble.” He grinned, his black eyes sparkling. “But I’m like ninety-five percent sure it’ll be worth it.”

I chewed my lip, studying him. It had been a long time since I’d seen him look so excited about something. “Ninety-five?”

“Okay, ninety-four-point-nine,” he said. “Come on. You’re almost thirteen. Live dangerously.”

Live dangerously. Evidently Jason did.

While I sat home night after night, he was out living. He used to tell me the things he did but then he stopped telling me. I thought maybe it was because it bugged me so much to miss it all.

Now, he only mentioned significant events once in awhile. I heard more about him, other people telling things he did and places he went, than he ever told me. From their accounts, he was fearless on his skateboard. He liked to drink. He liked to smoke pot. He didn’t go looking for fights but was always happy when he found one. And he liked to hook up with girls.

He also was the only one who stayed the whole night at the old Perkins place after everybody else got scared and bolted. That wasn’t surprising, really. As much as his parents were gone, he was used to being alone at night.

He had a whole life outside of school and our friendship. Still, even after all my other friends outgrew the kind of life my parents let me have, Jason never stopped making time for me. We didn’t really have much in common, being a geek and a jock, but our friendship held strong while others came and went. What we did share was a genuine concern for the other’s happiness and well-being. There were a lot of nights he came to my room and did nothing but share my space. He could have been doing anything. He chose to see me.

If I did get grounded, he’d come keep me company, suffering through my parents’ hovering and Kimmy’s buzzing around. He always did that when I was grounded.

“Let’s go,” I said, reconnecting the phone.

“You won’t be sorry.” He rolled out the window and onto the porch roof without making a sound and then added, with a quiet laugh, “I hope.” His head reappeared in the window. “Oh. Yeah. Put on some clothes.”

I exchanged my white T-shirt for a black one and pulled jeans on over my boxers. I yanked on socks and shoes and followed him out the window, then carefully slid it down the frame.

“Have fun,” Kimmy’s voice said, and I looked to find her poking her head out her window. She looked and sounded so wistful, I almost wished she could go, too. I knew it wouldn’t work.
Within thirty seconds, she’d be going out of her way to get on my nerves. But in that moment, it wasn’t easy to leave her.

I walked to her window and leaned, putting a kiss on her forehead. “Thank you, Kim.”

“Just don’t get caught,” she said, her eyes huge in the moonlight. “‘Cause if they get any stricter with us, I’m gonna have to run away.”

I fantasized about running away sometimes. I’d never known she did. I knew it probably was just talk but the idea of Kimmy out in the world all alone made my throat ache.

“Don’t run, okay?” I said, tousling her blond curls. “Not without taking me.”

She giggled and I followed Jason down the porch roof and to the rail, then the ground. I stood for a long moment, my hand maintaining contact with the solid wood of the porch. I felt the way I imagined people did just before they jumped out of planes.

Please don’t let them find me gone.

I drew a deep breath and held it. Jason pressed a hand to my shoulder and I felt stronger.

“You don’t have to come,” he said.

He would forgive me. I knew he was feeling guilty now that he’d asked. But I also knew, if I wimped out at that point, he’d probably never ask again.

I let out my breath, slowly and calmly, and let go of my house.


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