And wished he hadn't.
Because something happened to a girl that night. Something terrible, unimaginable, and Callie Wheeler's life will never be the same. Plus, now Callie has told the police that Vic is responsible. Suddenly, Invisible Vic is painfully visible, on trial both literally, with the police, and figuratively, with the angry kids at school. As the whispers and violence escalate, he becomes determined to clear his name, even if it means an uneasy alliance with Callie's best friend, the beautiful but aloof Autumn Dixon.
But as Autumn and Vic slowly peel back the layers of what happened at the party, they realize that while the truth can set Vic free, it can also shatter everything he thought he knew about his life...
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By Kelley York, Stacy Abrams, Tara Quigley
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2015 Kelley York
All rights reserved.
Aaron Biggs leans over me to ask, "How's it going, Vic?"
His freckled face and dyed black hair obscure my light. I squint at the page of algebra equations on the cafeteria table, decide they aren't going to make any more sense to me whether or not I pause to see what Aaron wants, and look up at him. "Um. F-fine?"
"Super." He flashes me a grin. "My brother and his buddies rented out a cabin on the lake for a party this Friday. He said it would be cool if I invited a few people."
I'm used to playing receptionist. This invitation is not meant for me, but for my best friend, Brett. I am not important. I am tolerated by association. I am Vic Howard, Brett Mason's Best Friend, so while people don't always care to learn anything about me, they do recognize my face. Being cool to me, they seem to think, is a way to stay cool with Brett. At least Aaron knows my name instead of referring to me as "Hey, you." Of course, that's only because his mom and my mom are also best friends.
Aaron doesn't leave until I've written down his information: address of the party, phone number, and time. He stresses that there will be booze, food, and girls. Plenty of girls. College girls, even. The idea makes my throat dry. I can hardly talk to a girl my own age, let alone one older than me and with undoubtedly a great deal more life experience.
It's Wednesday, meaning I don't even see Brett until tennis practice after school. This also means I'm parking my butt on the bleachers outside the tennis courts and watching for the next two hours while Brett and a handful of others knock balls back and forth while wearing shorts that are way too short for my comfort.
When they're done, Brett slips through the gate, mopping sweat off his forehead and grinning my way. "Yo."
Sometimes when I look at Brett, I still see the chubby, pimple-faced kid with braces and glasses whom I befriended in third grade. Maybe that's why he doesn't impress or intimidate me the way he does everyone else. I knew him back when nobody else wanted to. "P-party invite," I say, short and to the point. Even though Brett has never made fun of my stutter, it's habit to keep sentences short. I hand him the information I took down.
Brett takes it and skims it over. "The lake, huh? Could be fun. Do you want to go?"
"The invite was f-for you."
"And you, by extension. I'm not going if you aren't going." He crams the paper into his duffel bag.
Parties aren't my thing. More often than not, I end up being the loser sitting on the couch and watching Brett mingle and make new friends. Not that I'd want him clinging to my side the whole time — that'd be even lamer — but still ... knowing he likes me to tag along is what convinces me to go to his social outings. No one else may care that I'm around, but Brett does. "Maybe."
Brett plops himself down beside me. "Do you have other plans?"
He always gets me there. "I m-might ..."
"You don't." He laughs. "Come on. It's something different, yeah? Not some lame kegger while soand-so's parents are out of town where we'll get yelled at for breathing on anything."
It is something different ... except I don't like different. Brett nudges me with an elbow — once, then again when I roll my eyes and don't answer right away, and a third time, until: "Fine, I'll go."
"That's my boy." He claps me on the back, shoulders his duffel bag, and jerks his chin toward the parking lot. "Now let's get out of here."
Friday after school, Brett and I head to his place so he can get showered and dressed, all while lecturing me about the importance of wearing something nice and "at least run a brush through your damned hair, Vic," because my dark curls look unruly no matter what I try. Then we swing by my house so I can drop off my stuff and get changed. We're planning on grabbing a bite to eat on our way to the lake. I'm thinking the combination of a bunch of drunk people and a large body of water is a really bad idea, but what do I know? Don't be a buzzkill, Brett would say.
Mom is in the kitchen nursing a cup of coffee. As I'm heading out the door, I stop to tell her, "Going to the movies, then I'm s-staying at Brett's tonight. Be home tomorrow." This is more of a formality than anything. Mom doesn't care where I am if I say I'm with Brett. She assumes anyone with a 4.0 grade point average must be a good kid. A good influence. Ha. Since it's just Mom and me and she doesn't really care what I do as long as she thinks I'm not getting into trouble, I pretty much have free rein to do whatever.
Mom halfway twists around to smile vacantly. "That's good. Tell him I said hello." No further questions. Not that I expected any. Brett is outside, honking, so I leave without a good-bye.
Not counting the hour-long stop for dinner at a restaurant, the trip only takes about forty minutes. There are something close to thirty cars crammed haphazardly together outside the lake house already, because Brett insisted on showing up fashionably late. Everyone else has probably been here a good hour or two. Brett parks close to the end where it isn't as crowded. Even from here, I can make out the sound of music blaring, along with the shouts and cheers of people splashing around in the lake on the far side of the house. I should not have eaten that greasy cheeseburger and fries at the diner, because my stomach is in knots.
The lake houses are two stories separated by a stretch of beach, so the noise from a party isn't likely to bother the neighbors. I looked this place up online last night (I like having a good idea of what I'm getting into before an outing) so I know they're pricy rentals. I know it has four guest rooms upstairs, two bathrooms, its own kitchen, and a hot tub out back. Shrubs line the walkway to the front door.
Brett leads me inside. It's one of the rare instances where I get to see him out of his element, because here he isn't Mr. Popular with everyone. (Yet. We'll see what happens by the end of the night.) Out of the sea of faces, I recognize maybe half. The rest must be friends of Aaron's big brother, students of the local colleges. The people who are familiar to me aren't people I've ever talked to much, anyway. Nearly everyone in the immediate vicinity is older than us, with the exception of Aaron, who just so happens to be making his way over from beside the patio doors with two plastic cups in hand.
"Glad you could make it!" He shoves a beer into Brett's hand and one into mine. "Got food in the kitchen with the keg. There's a chick in there mixing drinks, too."
Brett doesn't smile, but he looks around with an appraising nod that suggests he approves. He leaves my side and drapes his free arm around Aaron's shoulders despite being a good three inches shorter, and casts a look my way as though to ask if I'm coming. I don't particularly care for Aaron, nor do I want to trail on Brett's heels all night, so I shake my head mutely. Brett shrugs and they drift away from me. Brett is saying, "Why don't you introduce me to a few people?"
I give it twenty minutes before he's either making out with someone or getting into deep conversations about the merits of whatever college these people go to versus some of the colleges on his (or rather, his dad's) wish list.
Where does that leave me? Standing just inside the front door with a beer in my hand. I hate beer. It tastes like battery acid. Not that I've ever tasted battery acid, but it's what I suspect battery acid would taste like. I try a sip anyway, like maybe I've forgotten and tricked myself into thinking it tastes horrible.
Nope. Still battery acid.
I don't want to abandon my cup just yet, so I wander through the house, observing the various clusters of people talking, dancing, shoving their tongues in each other's mouths, mingling, having fun — everything I am not a part of. I'm in my own little bubble, unacknowledged by everyone.
In the kitchen, I discreetly dump my beer out in the sink and toss the cup into the trash. Before I can get far, someone spots me drink-less and shoves another red plastic cup into my hand. At least this one doesn't smell like piss in plastic. I'm pretty sure this drink consists of orange juice and vodka, with a little umbrella poking out to make it look fancier than it is.
The throng of people and the steady rumble of various conversations going on at once is making me claustrophobic. I make my way out back, which is much better. The air is cool and sharp and smells of water and sand. Paper lanterns hang from the trees, providing a dim but helpful glow to the stretch of rocky beach the house rests on.
There is no sign of Brett, which means he's still inside somewhere. I don't really care about finding him just yet. As long as he's having fun, then whatever. I'm not going to be the dude who puppies around after his best friend because he can't function socially on his own. If that means sitting here until he comes looking for me? Cool. That's sort of how these things go. Brett wants me to come with him, even in groups, but I never know how to interact. We've gone to the movies, bowling alleys, laser tag, arcades, and just hanging out at Brett's place with his friends from school or his tennis group. Some of them are nice enough guys; I just prefer to keep to the sidelines, out of the way.
My drink stays in hand while I people-watch. I spot Aaron's brother stripped down to his boxers, conversing loudly with a handful of people with lake water lapping at their legs. One guy I remember seeing at school floats around on a pink raft, tethered to the shore so he doesn't drunkenly drift away. A couple near the back door are arguing. By some miracle, despite their slurred speech, they're being quiet enough not to attract too much attention. A girl behind me is throwing up in the bushes.
My stomach rolls in sympathetic nausea at the sound of her heaving. A quick look around tells me that either none of her friends are here, or they don't care that she's spewing her guts all by herself. I weigh my options: go inside and pretend I didn't see anything, or help her before she falls over and passes out. Possibly in the same bushes she's getting sick on.
In the end, it isn't really a question. Maybe I'd like to turn my head the other way, but I'm already setting my drink down and coming up behind where the girl is bent over, hands on her knees, long blond hair a tangled mess around her face. She's taking small breaths, shallow and quick, and whimpering. I squint. Now that I'm getting a better look, I recognize her from school.
Callie Wheeler moved to town in the middle of last year. I knew her only because Brett and I have both shared classes with her at some point or another. She jerks her head around in my direction so fast she nearly falls over, and I catch her by the elbows. Her gaze floats across my face. She's probably trying to place my name. Most people don't pay enough attention to know it. Just as she opens her mouth to say something, I see the color drain from her face. I help turn her back around just in time for her to throw up again, and I rub awkward circles across her back, unsure what else to do. Only when she's done does she straighten up and slump against me. I hold on to her arm and place the other hand on her hip to turn her around to head for the house. Such is the joy of getting here late; everyone else is already plastered.
Callie wobbles on her feet, eyes closed to slits so small I doubt she can see where we're going. "Who're you 'gain?" she mumbles.
I have to hold on to her waist to make sure she doesn't stumble coming over the threshold of the back door. "Uh. V-Vic. Vic Howard?" Why do I feel the need to make it a question? As though I'm asking, I'm Vic, is that okay? "I'm a f-friend of Brett Mason's. We've had classes together."
"Oh," says Callie, and her eyelids droop and then close as we reach the steps that lead to the second floor. I'm left to haul her up them one at a time because she isn't lifting her feet much.
Given we aren't in someone's permanent home, I'm not worried about which room I take her to. I figure the first bedroom I come to on the left will do fine. Callie groans as I lay her down on the bed — on her side, in case she throws up again — and tug over a small wastebasket in hopes that she'll use it instead of, say, the floor. I lift her legs up onto the mattress.
When I straighten up to pull away, she paws at my arm. "Don't ... don't call my dad ..."
"I won't, I promise. But I'm g-going to leave you here, okay? Try to sleep."
Callie rolls her red and blurry eyes up to look at me. She manages a smile before shifting further onto her stomach, flopping her head against the pillow, and passing out almost instantly. She's going to be in for it with her parents if she stays here all night, I'll bet, but that isn't my problem. She's safe and she's comfortable. I've done my part.
Heading back to the party, I stop halfway down the stairs where I have a better view of the people lingering in the living room and near the back door. Callie isn't the only one passed out: the couch is occupied by a couple pawing at each other and a guy slouched back against the cushions, surrounded in plastic cups like he came here for no purpose other than to get as drunk as he could as fast as he could.
I'm searching for anyone who might go to my school and who might be a friend of Callie's so I can let them know to check on her. I see plenty of people I know, but I don't remember seeing Callie ever hanging out with any of them. Hell, even if I did spot one of her friends, I probably wouldn't know it. I see Chris Christopher (yeah, that's really his name) passing a joint around to Helen Barkley and Robbie Kurtis. Patrick Maloney, one of Aaron's best friends, bumps into me as I come down the stairs while he's going up, along with Eric and Jacob. Probably in search of a free bathroom or something, or to scope out the rooms to bring girls to later. Nobody looks twice at me.
The smell of weed is so strong at the bottom of the stairs that it almost makes me gag. I don't feel much like going out back again, so I wade through the crowd to the front door and squeeze outside.
It's amazing how much quieter it is from the front porch. The party is a world away, nothing but distant sounds of splashing and shouting, and I try to decide if there's something wrong with me that I'm incapable of mingling and having a good time like everyone else here. Like Brett. I've never "lived it up" at a party. I've never hooked up with a girl. I've never gotten so drunk that I threw up in the bushes. Given how much fun everyone seems to be having ... am I missing out?
We got here two hours ago. Brett could be out in ten minutes or five hours. There's never any telling with him. It depends entirely on if he found something to entertain him: a conversation he enjoys or a girl he can flirt with. I have little else to do but utilize the abundance of games on my phone to entertain myself.
It's another two hours before Brett texts me:
you ok? where are you?
I respond, and in a few moments he emerges from the house with a smile. He's been drinking, but Brett never gets sloppy drunk, just happy drunk. Kudos to him.
He tosses me his car keys. "Ready to get going?"
They hit my knuckles and then the ground when I attempt to catch them. "Yeah. Meet anyone?"
"Nobody worth calling later." Brett crams his hands into his pockets and heads for the car. I grab the keys from the dirt and follow. Driving is always exciting. I've had my license for a year, but Mom doesn't have money to help me buy a car, and even after saving all summer I'd only ended up with enough cash for something I'd be humiliated to be seen in. Getting behind the wheel of Brett's semi-new hybrid is always awesome. Although I had planned to stay at his place, he informs me that he has things to do bright and early in the morning so we might as well drop me off at my house.
While Brett dozes in the passenger's seat, I focus on getting us home in one piece, letting my mind wander. This is my car. I'm driving home from a party I was invited to, not because of who my best friend is but because people wanted me there. I have the windows down and my sunglasses on, smiling at anyone we meet because I'm not self-conscious that my hair is a mess or I'm too tall, too skinny, too dorky, or too not worth looking twice at. When I get home, I'll have a bunch of texts waiting for me:
thanks for coming tonight, man! and it was great meeting you, let's hang out next weekend.
Excerpted from Modern Monsters by Kelley York, Stacy Abrams, Tara Quigley. Copyright © 2015 Kelley York. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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