Fire with fire, p.1
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       Fire With Fire, p.1
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         Part #2 of Burn for Burn series by Jenny Han
Fire With Fire

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  “Something of vengeance I had tasted for the first time;

  as aromatic wine it seemed, on swallowing, warm and racy:

  its after-flavor, metallic and corroding, gave me a

  sensation as if I had been poisoned.”



  I COULDN’T DECIDE WHAT TO wear. At first I thought casual, like jeans and a button-down; then I thought no, in case his parents are there, I should wear a dress, something somber like my gray scoop neck with the skinny belt. Then that looked too much like a funeral outfit, so I tried a marigold silk shirtdress, but that looked too spring, too cheerful.

  The elevator doors ding open and I step out into the hallway. It’s early Monday morning, an hour before school starts. I’m carrying a wicker basket of freshly baked chocolate chunk cookies and a get-well card covered in pink- and red-lipsticked lips. I’m wearing a navy turtleneck sweater and a camel-colored miniskirt, cream tights, brown suede ankle booties with a high heel. I curled my hair and did it halfway up, halfway down.

  Fingers crossed I don’t look as guilty as I feel.

  At least it wasn’t as bad as it could have been—that’s what I keep telling myself. It certainly looked bad that night. It looked horrible. Watching Reeve fall off the stage and onto the gym floor in a twisted heap . . . it’s something I’ll never forget. But there was no spinal damage, just some bruising and soreness. His only injury was a broken fibula. Which, I know, isn’t great.

  He would have been released sooner if not for the hospital running a bunch of tests to make sure Reeve hadn’t suffered a seizure. As far as I know, they didn’t test him for drugs. I was sure they would, but Kat was pretty confident they wouldn’t bother with someone like Reeve, an athlete. So no one knows about the ecstasy that I slipped in his drink. Reeve won’t be suspended and I won’t be going to jail. He’s supposed to be discharged today.

  I guess we both got off easy.

  Now we go back to our normal lives. Whatever that means. After everything that’s happened this year, I don’t know if I’ll ever feel “normal” again, or if I even want to. It’s like there was the Before Lillia and now there’s the After Lillia. The Before Lillia didn’t have a care in the world; she didn’t have a clue. Before Lillia couldn’t have handled any of this—she wouldn’t have known what to do with herself. I’m a lot tougher now, not so soft and lily-white. I’ve been through things; I’ve seen things. I’m not the girl on the beach anymore. That all changed the moment we met those guys.

  I used to be scared of leaving Jar Island, of being so far away from my family and my friends. But now I think about how when I go to college next year, no one there will know Before Lillia or After Lillia. I’ll just be Lillia.

  The woman at the reception desk smiles at me and asks, “Are you here to see our celebrity football player?”

  I smile back and nod.

  “He’s at the end of the hall.”

  “Thank you,” I say. Then I ask, “Is anybody here with him?”

  “That cute little brunette,” the woman says with a wink.

  Rennie. I don’t think she’s left his side since Saturday night. I’ve called her twice, but she hasn’t called me back. She’s probably still annoyed with me for getting homecoming queen over her.

  I make my way down the hall, clutching my basket and the card. I hate hospitals; I always have. The fluorescent lights, the smells . . . When I was little, I would try and hold my breath for as long as I possibly could. I’m good at holding my breath now, but I don’t play the game anymore.

  The closer I get to his room, the faster my heart beats. All I can hear is the sound of it beating and the clacking of my heels on the linoleum.

  I’m standing outside his hospital room now. His name is written on the door. It’s closed all but a crack. I set my basket down so I can knock, and then I hear Reeve’s voice, defiant and husky. “I don’t care what the doctors say. There’s no way my recovery time is gonna be that long. I’m in peak physical condition. I’ll be back on the field in no time.”

  She sniffles. “We’ll show them, Reevie.”

  Someone brushes past me. A nurse. “Excuse me, hon,” she chirps, and opens the door wide. The nurse pushes through the curtain that divides the room in half and disappears into the other side.

  And then there’s Reeve, in a faded hospital gown. He hasn’t shaved, there’s a bit of scruff on his chin, and there are black circles underneath both of his eyes. He’s got an IV drip in one of his arms, and his leg is in a huge cast, from his foot up to his thigh. His toes, what I can see of them poking out of the cast, are purple and swollen. His arms, too, are all cut up and scabby, probably from the broken glass that fell down on top of everyone that night. A few of the bigger wounds are sewn closed with thin black suture strings. He seems strangely small in the hospital bed. Not like himself.

  Rennie’s eyes are red-rimmed, and they narrow when she sees me. “Hey.”

  I swallow and hold up my card. “It’s from the girls on the squad. They—they all send their best.” Then I remember the cookies. I move to bring the basket to Reeve, but I change my mind and set it on a chair by the door. “I brought you cookies. They’re chocolate chunk, I think I remember you liking them when I baked them for Key Club bake sale last year. . . .” Why am I still talking?

  Reeve quickly wipes his eyes with the bedsheet. Gruffly he says, “Thanks, but I don’t eat junk during football season.”

  I can’t help it. I stare at his cast. “Right. Sorry.”

  “The doctor’s coming back any minute to discharge him,” Rennie says. “You should probably go.”

  I can feel my face reddening. “Oh. Sure. Feel better, Reeve.”

  I don’t know if I’m imagining it, but when he looks at me over Rennie’s shoulder, I think I see hate in his eyes. Then he closes them. “Bye,” he says.

  I’m halfway down the hallway when I stop and finally let out a breath. My knees are shaking. I still have the card clutched in my hands.


  “IT’S DEAD,” I SAY, AND let my head fall onto the steering wheel. “Dead as a doornail.”

  My older brother, Pat, wipes his hands on a dirty rag. “Kat, quit being such a drama queen and turn the freaking key again.”

  I do as I’m told. I turn the key in the ignition of our convertible. Nothing happens. No sound, no rumble. Nothing. “This is stupid.” I say it, because even though Pat knows what he’s doing when it comes to any kind of engine, there’s no saving this jalopy. Our family needs a new car, or at least one built in this freaking decade. I climb out and slam the door so hard the entire convertible shakes. I don’t need to be walking to school, freezing my ass off this winter. Or worse, taking the bus. Hello! I’m a senior.

  Pat shoots me a dirty look and then goes back to the engine. He’s got the hood popped open, and he’s pitched forward between the headlights. A few of Pat’s friends are gathered around, watching him while they pound our dad’s beers. Their favorite way to spend a Monday afternoon. Pat asks Skeeter for a wrench and then starts tapping it on something metallic.

  I come around behind my brother. “Maybe it’s the battery,” I say. “I think the radio turned off before it crapped out on me.” It happened this afternoon. I decided to skip eighth period and drive to Mary’s house. I wanted to check on her, because I h
adn’t seen her in the hallways. I bet she was still too shaken up after what happened at the dance to come to school. She was scared out of her mind that Reeve might be hurt. Poor thing. But I didn’t get far. The car died, right there in the school parking lot.

  My first thought was Is this karma?

  I sure as shit hope not.

  Pat turns to reach for another tool, and he nearly knocks me on my ass. “God, would you relax? Go smoke a cigarette or something.”

  I have been a little, um, skittish the last few days. I mean, who wouldn’t be, after what went down at homecoming? Never in a million years did I expect to see Reeve wheeled out on an ambulance stretcher. We wanted him kicked off the football team for getting caught high on drugs. We didn’t want him put in the hospital.

  I keep reminding myself that what happened at the dance wasn’t our fault. It was an electrical fire. The newspaper even said so today. So there you have it. The explosions were what caused Reeve to freak out and fall off the stage. Not the drugs Lillia slipped in his drink. Facts are facts.

  And to be honest, the electrical fire was actually a blessing in disguise. Obviously, it sucks that people got hurt. A bunch of kids had to get stitches from the falling broken glass, a freshman boy had a burn on his arm from the sparks, and one of the older teachers got treated for smoke inhalation. But the electrical fire took the heat off us—pun intended. Reeve’s injury was just another casualty of the chaos. There’s no way he’d remember Lillia giving him the spiked drink, with all that was going on.

  At least that’s what I keep telling Lillia.

  Pat holds up the silver dipstick to his buddies and they shake their heads, like it’s some kind of travesty. “Geez, Kat! When’s the last time you checked the oil?”

  “I thought that was your job.”

  “It’s basic car maintenance.”

  I roll my eyes. “Did you take my cigarettes?”

  “I had one or two,” he says sheepishly. Pat points over at his workbench. I go grab them, and of course my brand-new pack is empty. I throw it at his head.

  “You want a ride to the gas station?” Ricky asks me, helmet in his hand. “I need to fill up my bike anyway.”

  “Thanks, Ricky.”

  As we walk out of the garage, Ricky puts his hand on the small of my back. Immediately I think of Alex Lind at homecoming, how he gallantly led Lillia out of the pandemonium to safety. I wish I didn’t have to see that go down. Not that I’m jealous or anything. More like the corniness made my stomach hurt. I wonder if he was being nice, or if he’s actually into her. Not that I care. As I climb on the back of Ricky’s bike, I inch up as close as I can to him, so we’re practically spooning.

  He turns his head around and says, in a low voice, “You’re killing me. You know that, right?” before flicking his helmet visor down.

  I can see my reflection in it, and I look pretty hot. I give him a wink and an innocent look. “Drive,” I order him. And he makes his engine growl for me.

  The truth is, if I want a guy, I can get him. Alex Lind included.

  The sun is setting on a gray sky, and the roads are mostly empty. This is what it’s like here on Jar Island come fall. More than half the population in summertime vanishes. There’ll be a few tourists that come in to geek out over foliage and stuff, but mostly it’s dead. A bunch of restaurants and shops are already closed down for the season. Depressing. I can’t wait until next year, when I’m living someplace else. Hopefully Ohio, hopefully in a sweet dorm at Oberlin. But I’ll live anywhere, so long as it’s not Jar Island.

  While Ricky gasses up his bike, I buy a fresh pack from the convenience store. Smokes are expensive. I should quit, save this money for college. When I turn back to the bike, I see the big hill that leads up to Middlebury. To Mary’s house.

  “Hey, Ricky, are you in a rush to get back?”

  He grins at me. “Where are we going?”

  I point the way to Mary’s house. No one answers the front door, not even her freaky aunt. There’s a ton of mail bursting out of the mailbox, and the lawn is mangier than Shep. I walk around the side and find a rock to toss up to the second floor. The lights are out in Mary’s bedroom, her curtains pulled shut. I check the other windows for signs of life. Every one is dark. The house looks . . . well, creepy. I let the rock fall out of my hand.

  I wish I could talk to Mary for just one second so I could ease her mind. She has nothing to feel sorry for. She shouldn’t feel bad for what happened. That a-hole got what he deserved, plain and simple. Hopefully now that our revenge stuff is all over and done with, Mary can move on with her life and not waste another second on Reeve Tabatsky.


  I’VE BEEN CRYING FOR TWO straight days. I can’t eat; I can’t sleep. I can’t do anything.

  I hear Aunt Bette in the bathroom, washing her face and brushing her teeth. Her nightly routine. On her way to bed, she stops in my room. She has her robe cinched tight around her waist and a newspaper under her arm.

  I’m lying in a heap on my bed, staring at the ceiling. I can’t even bring myself to say good-night.

  Aunt Bette stands there, watching me for a second or two. Then she says, “There’s an article in the paper today.” She holds it up for me. The story above the fold is about the dance, the fire. There’s a picture of the gym, black smoke trickling out the windows, a stream of students pouring out the door. “They think it was electrical.”

  I roll away from her, toward the wall, because I don’t want to talk about homecoming. I don’t even want to think about it. I’ve already gone over it a million and one times in my head. How everything went so wrong.

  I was finally ready for him to see me that night, in my pretty dress, proud and strong and changed. I had this idea of how it would go. Reeve, completely spaced out on the drugs we’d slipped him, would keep noticing me in the crowd. Something about me would seem familiar. He’d be drawn to me. He’d think I was beautiful.

  Each time our eyes met, I’d touch the daisy pendant necklace he’d given me for my birthday, smile, and wait for him to figure out who I was. Meanwhile, the teachers would be watching Reeve act more and more crazy. They’d sense that something was off. And as he realized who I was, they’d haul his butt off to the principal’s office and he’d get the punishment he deserved.

  Only that wasn’t what happened. Not even close.

  Reeve knew who I was as soon as he laid eyes on me. Despite all the ways I’ve changed since seventh grade, he saw the fat girl who’d been dumb enough to believe he was her friend. Reeve saw Big Easy. Hearing him say it knocked the wind out of me, the same way it had when he’d pushed me into the dark, cold water. I’d only ever be one thing to him. Nothing but that. I was so angry. And I snapped.

  “One of the students who got hurt, it sounded like he was a big football player at the high school.”

  “His name is Reeve,” I say quietly. “Reeve Tabatsky.”

  “I know.” I hear Aunt Bette take a step closer. “He was the boy who used to tease you, Mary.”

  Instead of answering her, I press my lips together tight.

  “We had that long talk about him over hot chocolates when I came for Christmas. Remember?”

  I do remember. I’d hoped that Aunt Bette would have some good advice for me—a way I could get Reeve to act like he did on our ferry rides when other people were around. I thought she’d understand. But Aunt Bette told me to just grab a teacher and tattle the next time Reeve teased me in front of other kids. “That’ll teach him to leave you alone,” she’d said.

  Leave me alone? It was the last thing I wanted.

  That’s when I knew that no adults could understand. Nobody would get the kind of relationship that Reeve and I had.

  I can hear Aunt Bette breathing shallow breaths a few steps away from my bed. “Did you . . .”

  I roll back toward her. “Did I what?” It comes out so mean, but I can’t help it. Can’t she tell I’m not in the mood to talk?

  Aunt Bette
s eyes are wide. “Nothing,” she says, and backs out of the room.

  I can’t deal. So I get up, wrap a sweater around my nightgown, slip on my sneakers, and creep out the back door.

  I walk down to Main Street and head toward the cliffs. There’s a big one I used to love to look out from, because you could see for miles.

  But tonight there’s nothing but blackness beyond the cliff. Blackness and quiet, like the edge of the world. I shuffle my feet until the tips of my shoes hang over the rock. Some gravel tumbles over the edge, but I never hear it hit the water. The fall goes on forever.

  Instead I hear Reeve whisper to me at the homecoming dance. Big Easy. Like an echo, over and over and over.

  I ball my fists, fighting to push the memory of what happened next out of my head. But it doesn’t work. It never works.

  There were those other times too. Like when Rennie fell off the cheering pyramid.

  And the time all the locker doors slammed closed at once. Something is wrong with me. Something’s . . . off.

  A cloud pulls away from the moon, like a curtain in a play. Light reflects off the wet rock and makes everything glisten.

  There’s a path where the rocks stagger down the side of the cliff in crooked stairs. I make my way down them until I can’t go any farther. I peer over the edge. Waves crash down far below me. They beat against the rocks and fill the air with mist.

  One more step . . . one more step and it all goes away. Everything I’ve done, everything that’s been done to me, it just washes away.

  Suddenly there’s a gust of wind and a splash of water. It nearly knocks me over the edge. I fall to my knees and crawl backward to the path.

  There’s one thing I can’t let go of.


  I love him in spite of everything he did to me. I love him even while I hate him. I don’t know how to stop.

  And the worst part is that I don’t even know if I want to.

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