Crescendo, p.30
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       Crescendo, p.30

         Part #2 of Hush, Hush series by Becca Fitzpatrick
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Page 30

  A granite-hard smile touched her mouth.

  My breathing faltered. Was there any possible way she could know I’d taken her diary? It wasn’t until I’d walked home and crawled into bed last night that I remembered I still had it. I would have returned it right then, but it had been the last thing on my mind. The diary had seemed insignificant next to the raw turmoil scraping me both inside and out. As of this moment, it was sitting untouched on my bedroom floor, right beside last night’s discarded clothes.

  “Isn’t your outfit the cutest thing ever?” Marcie said over the prerecorded jazz. “Ethan, didn’t you wear a vest just like that to prom last year? I think Nora raided your closet. ” While they laughed, I held my pen poised on the order pad.

  “Can I get you something to drink? The special tonight is our coconut lime smoothie. ” Could everyone hear the scratch of guilt in my voice? I swallowed, hoping that when I spoke again, the jittery quality would be gone.

  “Last time I was in here, it was my mom’s birthday,” Marcie said. “Our waitress sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to her. ” It took me a whole three seconds to catch on. “Oh. No. I mean— no. I’m not a waitress. I’m a counter attendant. ”

  “I don’t care what you are. I want you to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to me. ”

  I stood paralyzed, my mind frantically groping for an escape. I couldn’t believe Marcie was asking me to humiliate myself this way. Wait. Of course she was asking me to humiliate myself.

  For the past eleven years, I’d kept a secret scorecard between us, but now I was certain she was keeping her own scorecard.

  She lived for the chance to one-up me. Worse, she knew her score doubled mine and she was still running up the points.

  Which made her not only a bully, but a bad sport.

  I held out my hand. “Let me see your ID. ”

  Marcie lifted an uncaring shoulder. “I forgot it. ” We both knew she hadn’t forgotten her driver’s license, and we both knew it wasn’t her birthday.

  “We’re really busy tonight,” I said, feigning apology. “My manager wouldn’t want me to take time away from the other customers. ”

  “Your manager would want you to keep your customers happy. Now sing. ”

  “And while you’re at it,” Ethan chimed in, “bring out one of those free chocolate cakes. ”

  “We’re only supposed to give out one slice, not a whole cake,” I said.

  “We’re only supposed to give out one slice,” Addyson mimicked, and the table erupted with laughter.

  Marcie reached into her handbag and pulled out a Flip camera. The red power button blinked on, and she aimed the lens at me. “I can’t wait to spam this video to the entire school.

  Good thing I have access to everyone’s e-mail. Who would’ve thought being an office aide would be so useful?” She knew about the diary. She had to. And this was payback.

  Fifty points to me for stealing her diary. Twice that many to her for sending a video of me singing “Happy Birthday, Marcie” to all of Coldwater High.

  I pointed over my shoulder at the kitchen and slowly backed up. “Listen, my orders are piling up—”

  “Ethan, go tell that lovely hostess over there that we demand to speak to the manager. Tell her our counter attendant is being cranky,” Marcie said.

  I couldn’t believe it. Less than three hours on the job, and Marcie was going to get me fired. How was I going to pay off my ticket? And good-bye, Volkswagen Cabriolet. Most importantly, I needed the job to distract myself from the useless struggle of finding a way to deal with the blistering truth: Patch was out of my life. For good.

  “Time’s up,” Marcie said. “Ethan, ask for the manager. ”

  “Wait,” I said. “I’ll do it. ”

  Marcie squealed and clapped her hands. “Good thing I charged my battery. ”

  Subconsciously, I tugged the newsboy cap lower, shielding my face. I opened my mouth. “Happy birthday to you—”

  “Louder!” they all shouted.

  “Happy birthday to you,” I sang louder, too embarrassed to tell if my tone was perilously flat. “Happy birthday, dear Marcie.

  Happy birthday to you. ”

  Nobody said a word. Marcie stowed the Flip back inside her handbag. “Well, that was boring. ”

  “That sounded … normal,” Ethan said.

  Some of the blood drained from my face. I gave a brief, flustered, triumphant smile. Five hundred points. My solo was worth at least that. So much for Marcie blowing me to smithereens. I had officially taken the lead. “Drinks, anyone?” I asked, sounding surprisingly cheerful.

  After scribbling down their orders, I turned to head back to the kitchen, when Marcie called out, “Oh, and Nora?” I stopped in my tracks. I sucked in a sharp breath, wondering what hoops she thought she could make me jump through next.

  Oh, no. Unless … she was going to out me. Right now. In front of all these people. She was going to tell the world I stole her diary, so they could see just how low and despicable I really was.

  “Could you rush our order?” Marcie finished. “We have a party to get to. ”

  “Rush your order?” I repeated stupidly. Did this mean she didn’t know about the diary?

  “Patch is meeting us at Delphic Beach, and I don’t want to be late. ” Marcie instantly covered her mouth. “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t even thinking. I shouldn’t have mentioned Patch. It’s got to be hard seeing him with someone else. ”

  Any smile I was clinging to slipped. I felt heat creep up my neck. My heart beat so fast it made my head light. The room slanted inward, and Marcie’s cutthroat smile was at the center of everything, laughing at me. So everything was back to normal, then. Patch had gone back to Marcie. After I’d walked away last night, he’d resigned himself to the deal fate had handed us. If he couldn’t have me, he’d settle for Marcie. How come they were allowed to have a relationship? Where were the archangels when it came to keeping tabs on Patch and Marcie? What about their kiss? Were the archangels going to let it slide because they knew it meant nothing to either of them? I wanted to scream at the unfairness of it all. Marcie could be with Patch when she didn’t love him, but I couldn’t, because I did and the archangels knew it. Why was it so wrong for us to be in love? Were angels and humans really that different?

  “It’s fine, I’ve moved on,” I said, injecting a note of cool civility into my tone.

  “Good for you,” Marcie said, nibbling seductively on her straw, not one part of her looking like she believed me.

  Back in the kitchen, I sent Marcie’s table’s order in to the cooks. I left the “special cooking instructions” space blank.

  Marcie was in a hurry to see Patch at Delphic Beach? Too bad.

  I picked up my waiting order and carried the tray out of the kitchen. To my surprise, I saw Scott standing near the front doors, talking to the hostesses. He was dressed comfortably in loose-fitting Levi’s and a snug T-shirt, and given the body language of the two black-clad hostesses, they were flirting with him. He caught my eye and gave a low wave of recognition. I dropped off table fifteen’s order, then hiked the stairs.

  “Hey,” I told Scott, pulling off the newsboy cap to fan my face.

  “Vee told me I’d find you here. ”

  “You called Vee?”

  “Yeah, after you didn’t return any of my messages. ” I wiped my arm across my forehead, sweeping a few loose hairs back into place. “My cell is in the back. I haven’t had a chance to check it since I clocked in. What do you need?”

  “What time are you off?”

  “Ten. Why?”

  “There’s a party at Delphic Beach. I’m looking for some poor sucker to drag along. ”

  “Every time we hang out, something bad happens. ” The light didn’t go on in his eyes. “The fight at the Z,” I reminded him. “At the Devil’s Handbag. Both times I had to scrounge a ride home. ”

  “Third time’s a charm. ” He smiled, and I realized for the
first time that it was a very nice smile. Boyish even. It softened his personality, making me wonder if there was another side to him, a side I hadn’t seen yet.

  Chances were, this was the same party Marcie was headed to. The same party Patch was supposed to be at. And the same beach I’d been at with him just a week and a half ago, when I’d spoken too early by declaring I was living the perfect life. I never could have guessed how fast it would tailspin.

  I did a quick inventory of my feelings, but I needed more than a handful of seconds to figure out how I was feeling. I wanted to see Patch—I would always want to—but that wasn’t the question. I needed to determine if I was up to seeing him. Could I handle seeing him with Marcie? Especially after everything he’d told me last night?

  “I’ll think about it,” I told Scott, realizing I was taking too long to answer.

  “Need me to swing by at ten and pick you up?”

  “No. If I go, Vee can give me a ride. ” I pointed toward the kitchen doors. “Listen, I need to get back to work. ”

  “Hope to see you,” he said, shooting me one final grin before departing.

  At closing, I found Vee idling in the parking lot. “Thanks for the pickup,” I told her, dropping into shotgun. My legs ached from all the standing, and my ears still rang with the conversation and loud laughter of a packed restaurant—not to mention all the times the cooks and waitresses had shouted corrections at me. I’d carried out at least two wrong orders, and more than once, I’d entered the kitchen through the wrong door.

  Both times, I’d nearly knocked over a waitress up to her arms in plates. The good news was, I had thirty dollars in tips folded inside my pocket. After I’d paid off my ticket, all my tips would go toward the Cabriolet. I longed for the day when I wouldn’t have to rely on Vee to haul me around.

  But not quite as much as I longed for the day when I’d have forgotten Patch.

  Vee grinned. “This ain’t no free service. All these rides are actually IOUs that will come back to haunt you. ”

  “I’m serious, Vee. You’re the best friend in the whole world. The bestest. ”

  “Aw, maybe we should commemorate this Hall mark moment and swing by Skippy’s for ice cream. I could use some ice cream. Actually, I could really use some MSG. Nothing makes me happy quite like a boatload of freshly fried fast food, smothered in good old-fashioned MSG. ”

  “Rain check?” I asked. “I got invited to hang out at Delphic Beach tonight. You’re more than welcome to come,” I added quickly. I wasn’t at all sure I’d made the best decision when I’d made up my mind to go tonight. Why was I putting myself through the torture of seeing Patch again? I knew it was because I wanted him close, even if close wasn’t close enough.

  A stronger, braver person would cut all ties and walk away. A stronger person wouldn’t beat her fists against fate’s door.

  Patch was out of my life for good. I knew I needed to accept it, but there was a big difference between knowing and doing.

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