Carswells guide to being.., p.3
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       Carswell's Guide to Being Lucky, p.3

         Part #3.10 of The Lunar Chronicles series by Marissa Meyer
 
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  day. Two-year-old triplets.” He shook his head, “They’re a handful, but so blasted cute, it’s impossible

  not to love them.”

  Blakely’s anger fizzled into war adoration. “Oh.”

  “But if they end up not needing me, you’l be the first to know.”

  She squinched her shoulders up from the flattery. “But do you want to work together today?”

  “Ah, I’d love to, Blakely, but I did ask Kate already . . . er, Kate?”

  Kate had her head down, her hair falling over her face so that he could only see the tip of her nose.

  Her body had taken on a new tenseness, her knuckles whitened as she gripped the stylus.

  “It’s alright,” she said, without looking up at him. “I’m sure the teacher will let me work on my own.

  You can work with your girlfriend.”

  “Oh – She’s not - We’re not-“

  Blakely grabbed his arm. “See, Kate doesn’t mind. You said that you chose Joel Kimbrough?”

  Clearing his throat, Carswell looked first at Blakely, then back up at Kate, now hidden behind her

  wall of hair.

  “Um, fine.” He leaned toward Kate again. “But, are we still on for lunch? So I can, you know, check

  out that homework assignment?”

  Kate tucked her hair behind her ear and leveled a look at him that was both annoyed and intelligent.

  It told him that she knew exactly what he was doing, or trying to do. To her. To Blakely. To every girl

  he’d ever asked a favor from. Carswell was surprised to feel a tingle of shame down his spine.

  Her jaw twitched. “I don’t think so. And we probably shouldn’t study together after all.”

  Turning away, she fitted a pair of speaker-plugs into her ears, and the conversation was over. In its

  wake was a feeling of disappointment that Carswel couldn’t quite place, but he didn’t think had very

  much to do with math.

  ~~~~~

  “Seven card royals,” said Carswell, dealing another hand of cards. “Aces are wild. Triplets beat the

  house.”

  “Why don’t we ever play that doubles beat the house?” asked Anthony, picking up his cards and

  rearranging them in his hands.

  Carswell shrugged. “We can play that way if you want. But it means the pots will be smaller. Not as

  much risk, not as big a payout.”

  “Triplets are fine,” said Carina, needling Anthony in the side with her elbow. “Anthony’s just afraid

  he’s going to lose again.”

  Anthony scowled. “It just seems like the odds are a little biased toward Carswell, that’s all.”

  “What do you mean?” Carswel waved his hand over the pot. “I’ve lost the last three hands in a row.

  You guys are bleeding me dry over here.”

  Carina raised her eyebrows at Anthony as if to say, See? Do the math. Antony duly fel quiet and tossed his ante into the pot. They were playing with markers scavenged from the school’s lunch bar –

  olives where micro-unives, potato crisps were singles, and jalapeno slices made for fivers. The trick was to keep Chien, who was seated on Carswell’s left and had the appetite of a whale, to keep from eating

  them in between games.

  At the end of every school day, Carswell – as “the house” – would divvy up the wins and losses

  between the players’ real savings accounts. He’d based his system on the same odds that casinos in the

  val ey used, al owing him to win about 60% of the time. It was just enough to turn a consistent profit,

  but also to give players frequent enough wins that they kept coming back. It had turned out to be one of

  his more profitable ventures to date.

  Carina took the next hand without much competition, but that was fol owed by a round in which no

  on could beat the house’s required triplets-or-better, ending Carswell’s losing streak. He kept the grin

  from his face as he raked the pot of food scraps into his dwindling pile.

  He quickly did the math in his head. He was up from where he’d started the lunch period, nearly

  fifty-five unives. Just twenty-nine more would put him at his goal for the day and push him into the next bracket of his savings account.

  Twenty-nine unives. Such a smal thing to just about anyone in this school, just about anyone in the

  entire city of Los Angeles. But to him, they equaled sixteen weeks of freedom. Sixteen weeks of being

  away from his parents. Sixteen weeks of total independence.

  He brushed his thumb over the Rampion tie tack for good luck, and dealt another hand.

  As the betting began, he glanced up and caught sight of Kate Fal ow sitting against a palm tree at the

  edge of the courtyard, the pleated skirt of her uniform pul ed snugly around her knees. She was reading

  from her portscreen – no surprise there – but it was odd to see her out here at all. Carswell had no idea where she normal y spent her lunch hour, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t in this courtyard, where he could always be found.

  The betting ended and Carswell began to dole out replacement cards, but now he was distracted.

  His gaze kept flicking back to Kate. Watching how she smiled at something on the screen. Mindlessly

  tugged at her earlobe. Seemed to sigh with a hint of longing.

  Maybe she came to the courtyard every day and he’d never noticed. Or maybe she’d come here

  today because he’d suggested it, even if the offer had ultimately been declined.

  Either way, it was clear from the faraway look in her eyes that she wasn’t in the courtyard right now,

  not real y, and he couldn’t help wondering where she was.

  Holy spades. Was he developing a crush on Kate Fallow? Of all the girls who smiled and swooned

  and giggled, all the girls who would have handed over their math homework for nothing more than a

  flirtatious compliment, and he suddenly couldn’t keep his eyes off one of the most awkward, isolated

  girls in the school?

  No, there had to be more to this. He was probably just confusing his desperation to raise his math

  grades and lift his dad’s punishment with something that bordered on romantic interest. He didn’t like

  Kate Fallow. He just wanted Kate Fallow to like him so he could swindle her out of her math homework.

  Just like he swindled everyone.

  There it was again. That peculiar tingle of shame.

  “Ha! Suited triplets!” said Chien, laying out his cards. The other players groaned, and it took Carswell

  a moment to scan the hands and determine that, indeed, Chien had taken the round. Usual y he could

  pick out the winning hand in half a glance, but he’d been too distracted.

  As Chien scooped up his winnings, Carswel determined that he probably should have quit while he

  was ahead after all. He was back down to thirty-eight univs won for the day, forty-six behind his goal.

  Boots would not be impressed.

  “Wel done, Chien,” he said. “One more hand?”

  “There won’t be time for it if our dealer goes out to space again,” said Anthony. “What’s wrong with

  you?”

  He cringed, the words reflecting his father’s question from just that morning. “Nothing,” he said,

  shuffling the cards. “Just had something on my mind.”

  “Oh, I see what he was looking at,” Said Carina. “Or should I say who.”

  Chien and Anthony followed Carina’s gesture. “Kate Fallow?” said Anthony, with a curled lip that

  said he highly doubted she was the person who had caught Carswell’s interest.

  Ducking his head, Carswell redistributed a new round of cards, but no one picked them up.

  “He was flirting with her in lit class this morning,” sa
id Carina. “Honestly, Carswell. Do you really

  need to get every girl in the whole school to fall under your spell? Is this some sort of manly conquest

  you’re on or something?”

  Cupping his chin in one hand, Carswell leaned toward Carina with a suggestive smirk. “Why? Are you

  feeling left out?”

  Rol ing her eyes, Carina shoved him away, at the same time that the speakers announced the end of

  lunch hour. A groan rose up from the courtyard, but was hastily fol owed by the sounds of footsteps

  padding back into the buildings, and friends bidding each other good-bye for the whole ninety minutes

  they were about to be separated.

  Carswell gathered up the cards he’d just dealt and slipped them back into his bag, “I’ll tally the

  winnings,” he said, shooing away a fly that was buzzing around the pile of food.

  “How do we know you won’t take a little extra for yourself?” asked Chien, with unhidden distrust.

  Carswell only shrugged. “You can stay and count up your own if you’d prefer, but then we’l both be

  late to class.”

  Chien didn’t argue again. Of course, a lost univ of two was nothing to any of them, so what did it

  matter if Carswell skimmed a little off the top?

  By the time he’d entered the balances into his portscreen and put in a reminder to shuffle the

  money between their accounts when he got home, the courtyard had emptied but for him and the

  seagul s that were creeping in to pick at the scraps of abandoned food. Carswell slipped his portscreen

  back into his bag beside the deck of cards, and heaved it over one shoulder.

  The second announcement blared. The hal s were abandoned as Carswel made his way back to

  second-era history. He would be a couple minutes late for the second time that day, but the teacher

  liked him, so he couldn’t bring himself to be worried about it.

  And then, through the quiet that was laced with the padding of his own footsteps and the hushed

  conversations behind closed classroom doors, he heard a frustrated cry.

  “Stop it! Give it back!” Carswell paused and traced his steps back to the hallway that led just off the

  tech hall.

  Jules Kel er was holding a portscreen over his head, grinning, with Ryan Doughty and Rob Mancuso

  surrounding him.

  And then there was Kate Fallow, her face flushed and her hands on her hips in a semblance of anger

  and determination, even though Carswel could tel from here that she was shaking and trying not to cry.

  “What do you keep on this thing, anyway?” said Jules, peering up at the screen and scrol ing through

  her pages with his thumbs. “Got any naughty pictures on here?”

  “She sure does stare at it a lot,” said Rob with a snort.

  Carswell’s shoulders sank, first with embarrassment for Kate, then with that inevitable feeling that

  something bad was about to happen. Bracing himself, he started down the hal . No one seemed to have

  noticed him yet.

  Kate squeezed her shoulders against her neck and held out a hand. “It’s just a bunch of books. Now

  give it back. Please.”

  “Yeah, sleazy books, probably,” said Jules. “Not like you could ever get a real date.”

  Kate’s bottom lip began to quiver.

  “Seriously, there aren’t any games on here or anything,” said Jules with apparent disgust. “It’s the

  most boring portscreen in L.A.”

  “We should just keep it,” said Ryan. “She’s obviously not using it right.”

  “No – it’s mine!”

  “Hello, gentlemen,” said Carswell, at the same moment that he reached up and snatched the

  portscreen out of Jules’s hand. He had to get on his tiptoes to do it, which he hated, but seeing the flash of surprise and bewilderment that crossed Jules’s face made it worthwhile.

  Of course, the look didn’t last long.

  Carswell took a few steps back as Jules’s hand flexed into a fist. “What a coincidence,” he said. “I

  was just coming to look for Kate. So glad you found her for me.” He raised his eyebrows at Kate, then

  quired his head back down the hal way. “Come on.”

  She swiped at the first tear that started down her cheek. Wrapping her arms around her waist, she

  dodged around the boys to come stand beside him, but Carswell hadn’t taken two steps away before

  Jules grabbed him by the shoulder and turned him back around.

  “What is she, your girlfriend now or something?” he said, nostrils flaring with, if Carswell hadn’t

  known better, a hint of envy.

  Which just blasted figured. Mocking and bullying a girl would be the way that Jules attempted to

  show interest. It just seemed to fit with that completely messed-up head of his.

  Carswell stifled a sigh. Maybe he could start an afterschool Flirting 101 class. There were a lot of

  students who could real y use the help.

  What could he charge for that? he wondered.

  “Right now,” he said, drawing his attention back to the numbskul in front of him and placing a hand

  on Kate’s arm, “she’s the girl I’m escorting back to class. Feel free to spread whatever rumors you want

  from that.”

  “Yeah? How about the rumor that I gave you a black eye because you wouldn’t mind your own

  business?”

  “I’m honestly not sure people are going to by that one, given that-“

  The fist collided with Carswell’s eye faster than he’d have thought possible, sending him reeling back

  against the row of lockers with a resounding clang.

  The world tilted and blurred and he thought Kate may have screamed and something clattered on

  the ground – her portscreen, falling from his own hand – but al he could think was, Spades and aces and stars, that hurt.

  He’d never been punched before. He’d always assumed it would be easier to bounce back from, but

  now he had the instinctive desire to curl up into a ball and cover his head with both arms and play dead

  until they all went away.

  “Carswell!” yelled Kate, seconds before Rob grabbed him by the elbow and yanked him away from

  the lockers, and then Jules’s fist was in his stomach and he’d probably broken a rib and Carswell was on

  his knees and Ryan was kicking him and all his senses were made up of pain and grunts and Kate’s

  shrieks and he real y would have thought that he’d have lasted a lot longer than this but. . .

  A gruff voice bul eted through the haze of fists and feet and Carswell was left blessedly alone, curled

  up on the school’s tiled floor. He tasted blood in his mouth. His entire body was throbbing.

  As his senses began to register his surroundings again, he realized that Vice Principal Chambers had

  broken up the fight, but Carswel was too woozy to make sense of his angry words.

  “Carswell?” said a sweet, soft, horrified voice.

  His left eye was already swelling shut, but he peeled open the right to see that Kate was now

  crouched over him. Her fingers were hovering just off his shoulder, like she was afraid to touch him.

  He tried to smile, but felt it probably looked more like a grimace. “Hey, Kate.”

  Her eyes were filled with sympathy, her face still flushed, but she wasn’t crying anymore, and

  Carswell liked to think he’d put an end to that, at least.

  “Are you alright, can you stand?”

  Flinching, he forced himself to sit up, which was a start. Kate helped a little, although she still seemed hesitant to touch him.

  “Ow,” he muttered. His entire abdomen was throbbing and bruised.
r />   Aces, how embarrassing. He would be investing in some good martial arts simulators after this. Or

  maybe boxing. Outnubmered or not, he’d never be on the losing side of a fistfight again if he could help

  it. “Are you alright, Mr. Thorne?” asked Mr. Chambers.

  Squinting upward, Carswel saw that they’d been joined by two of the tech professors, who were

  standing with their arms folded over Jules and his friends. Everyone was scowling. Rob even looked a

  tiny bit guilty, or maybe he just hated that they’d been caught.

  “I’m grand,” said Carswell. “Thank you for asking, Mr. Chambers.” Then he cringed and rubbed at

  the spot on his side where the jolt of pain had originated from

  Mr. Chambers sighed. “You know that all fighting is against school policy, Mr. Thorne. I’m afraid this

  calls for a one-week suspension. For all four of you.”

  “Wait – no!” said Kate. Then, to Carswell’s surprise she laced their fingers together. HE blinked at

  their hands, then up at her profile, and doubted she even realized she was doing it. “Carswell was

  defending me. They’d taken my portscreen and wouldn’t give it back. It’s not his fault!”

  The vice principal was shaking his head, and though Carswell could tell he felt bad about the

  decision, he also had an expression that suggested there was nothing he could do about it. “School

  rules, Miss Fallow.”

  “But that isn’t fair. He didn’t do anything wrong!”

  “It’s a no-tolerance policy. I’m sorry, but we can’t make exceptions.” Mr. Cambers glanced back at

  the boys. “Mr. Keller, Mr. Doughty, Mr. Mancuso, you can follow me to my office so we can comm your

  parents. Miss Fallow, why don’t you assist Mr. Carswell to see the med-droid.” He attempted sympathy

  when he met Carswell’s one-eyed gaze again. “We’ll comm your parents later.”

  Chin falling to his chest, Carswell cursed under his breath.

  “Miss Fallow, I’ll ask your teacher to forgive your absence for this period.”

  “Thank you, Mr. Chambers,” she murmured, full of resignation.

  As Jules and his friends were escorted away, Carswell allowed himself to lean against Kate and push

  himself onto his wobbly legs, which was another handful of curses and groans.

  “I’m so sorry,” she whispered as he draped an arm around her shoulders and she began escorting

 
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