Some have reported that it’s hard to keep up with the characters. I’ll be updating this document as I go along, so feel free to check it if you have questions. It will update as we move along, so if you’re well behind it may contain mild spoilers.
It’s illegal to muzzle a zombie dog, although Stacy was sorely tempted. She had been avoiding Ethan again after yesterday’s fiasco. Now she couldn’t know if people were staring at her for her finger or because of her strange-looking dog, or because Ethan had told them she was spying on him. Mom always said she just imagined that people were staring at her, but she didn’t know anything.
Even the people she knew looked at her differently. Julia never seemed to think twice about saying whatever nonsense was on her mind, but when she looked at Stacy’s finger, she looked like she wanted to say something, but couldn’t find the words. This time she even stepped closer until she bumped into Blas, who started barking again. He kept barking after Julia fled, whipping his head back and forth looking for attacking zombies nowhere to be found. Certainly that got stares. Not that Stacy herself didn’t want to bark at Julia until she ran away, but if she could keep it to herself, so should Blas.
Mr. Gobi’s already soft voice dropped a whole decibel, and since the accident he started every conversation with Stacy “how are you feeling, Stacy?”
Stacy would respond through clenched teeth, upping her own volume to compensate for his. “I’m great, Mr. Gobi. Never better. How are you?”
“If there’s anything you want to tell me, you should know that I’m here for you.”
Stacy eyed Blas, hoping he might erupt into barks, but he laid despondent on the floor, turning his good eye to the corner. She offered a forced smile. “Duly noted, Mr. Gobi.”
It wasn’t until Stacy was putting her books back in her locker that Blas started growling again. “Shut up, Blas” she grumbled.
When she closed the locker door, she shrieked. There Ethan was standing behind it, again. Blas growled at Princess sitting next to Ethan’s pressed slacks. “Hello, stalker” he said, again. Stacy didn’t even bother to defend herself. Instead, she said “Hi Ethan. One date and you drop out of the paper.”
“Two dates and I don’t tell anyone that you were hanging out outside my house like a creeper.”
You haven’t told anyone, then. Stacy kept her grateful relief to herself. Don’t show weakness. Remember what happened to Trusting Tom. “I was lost.”
“And I’m sure that the moment I looked in your direction was when you forcefully realized where you were going?”
“Yes, exactly. Lost and in a rush. One blackmail at a time, please. Quit the paper.”
“Start an investigation with me and I’ll close the weather column. I’d much rather do some real reporting anyway. The free press is a critical element of a functioning democracy.”
Stacy agreed. In fact, that was what she wrote verbatim in the “about” section in the back of every edition of “The Romero Star.” Don’t plagiarize me Stowe. She smiled and reached her hand out. “You have a deal, Ethan.”
Ethan furrowed his brow. “Uh.” Then he recovered. “Great! Are we going to find out what happened to the art endowment?”
“I-” Stacy’s heart skipped a beat. The disappearance of some hundred thousand dollars to fund an art class in Romero High, and Mr. Gobi’s refusal to support an investigation into it had always been a sore spot for her. Behind that smarmy grin, did Ethan actually care about something?
“Earth to Stacy,” said Ethan, and Stacy came back to reality. It’s just money. “Ethan, maybe I’ll take you up on that later. First, we have to go hiking.”
Ethan’s car had more air fresheners than an Uber. Stacy wrinkled her nose at the overpowering scent and Blas breathed heavily, like his lungs were getting more artificial vanilla than oxygen. Princess sat at attention in the passenger seat while they were in the back.
“Why do you have so many air fresheners, Ethan?” Stacy coughed.
Ethan turned back to look at Stacy. “I’ll tell you if you tell me what happened to your finger.”
“Ethan, look at the road!”
“Relax, it’s driving itself.”
Reckless. “Not while I’m in the car, Ethan. Look at the road!’
Ethan rolled his eyes and turned back to stare at the road. This car had driven him hundreds of times, and it was a better driver than he was. He wasn’t ashamed to admit it. Besides, what if he did get in a crash? Who cares? Death comes for us all. He knew how to talk to girls, though, and nothing good would come of starting a fight.
Honestly, Ethan’s back still ached, and another long car ride had really been the last thing he wanted, but somehow Stacy had turned his game around on him, and now he was hooked. What was in these woods that Stacy wanted him to see? Why wouldn’t she just tell him?
“I fell and broke it too bad to be saved,” said Stacy, too fast, too monotone. She looked out the window as she said it, and Blas had turned his good eye to look at the car seat.
What was the truth? Did it have to do with where they were going? Ethan had to admit that he was falling in love with the way mysteries seemed to sprout like mushrooms in Stacy’s footsteps. She wanted nothing to do with him but she was stalking him? She chastised his recklessness leaving the trail while she herself managed lose a finger? Now she was lying about it and taking him on a mysterious mission into the woods?
Ethan had gone into this thinking he was just going to win over the most difficult girl in school, but this passing fancy was now something he couldn’t get out of his mind. He adjusted his back and twisted his wrist to relieve the tension. He reached out to scratch Princess behind the ears. He stole a glance in the rear-view mirror at Stacy, hair as wild as she was and eyes narrow with suspicion. What are you afraid of, Stacy? Ethan had the impression that this girl was the key to the adventure he had been looking for. The one that would make his short life worth remembering.