You Owe Me a Murder(8)

“How did you score a row to yourself?” I jolted, surprised at her voice. Nicki dropped into the far seat. She put her feet up on the middle space between us. She had on thick blue fuzzy socks. She wiggled her toes in my direction. “I’m stuck next to some old lady,” she whispered. “She smells like mothballs and greasy burgers.”

“Where are you sitting?” I hadn’t seen her since I boarded.

“Near the front on the other side.” Nicki nudged my knee with her foot. “Can’t sleep?”

“Ever have that thing where you can’t turn your brain off?” I pulled my sleeves over my hands and swung my legs up into the middle seat, mirroring her.

“All the time. Studies show that the higher your intelligence the more likely you are to have insomnia.”

“Really?” Suddenly all the nights I’d lain in bed watching the minutes click by were justified.

Nicki smirked. “No idea. I just made that up—?but it feels like it should be true.” She rubbed her temples. “I couldn’t sleep either. I thought you might be so kind as to help.”


“Well, your vodka.” Her eyebrows bounced up and down wickedly.

I giggled. “You want to drink it here?” I peered around, but all the flight stewards had disappeared.

“No one is going to care as long as we’re quiet. You in?”

I didn’t bother to answer. Instead I dived for my tote bag under the seat in front of me. I pulled the bottle out like a magician pulling a rabbit from his hat. Nicki clapped silently.

The first sips were like swallowing lit gasoline. It burned a trail down to my stomach, but after a few more, the edges started to soften. We talked about everything and nothing for hours. I showed her pictures on my social media accounts of the robots I had built. She told me how much she hated her parents’ divorce and her dad’s new girlfriend. I gave her the highlights of what had happened with Connor.

Nicki’s mouth popped off the neck of the bottle with a smack. “Wait a minute. He asked you to drop out of a science contest so he could win?”

I closed my eyes briefly as if I could block out the memory. “It’s worse,” I said, noticing my voice was slurring slightly. I should slow up on the vodka. “He didn’t ask. I gave up the science award. Told ’em I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore, because I knew they would then give it to him since he was in second place.”

Her nose wrinkled up. “Why would you do that?”

I waved my hands around. “I thought it would make him love me.” I sighed—?it sounded even more pathetic said aloud.

It had made so much sense at the time. When I got the initial results, I went over to his house. I thought he’d be happy. He knew how much time I’d spent on my quadcopter. And he’d come in second. The two of us—?top of the heap for every high school in Western Canada.

As soon as Connor opened the door, I held the notice I’d printed off above my head, whooped, and threw myself into his arms. But right away I could tell something was wrong. His body was stiff—?he held me, but it was like trying to hug a statue.

“What’s wrong?”

“Nothing.” He shrugged me off as if I were a too-warm coat on a summer day. “Congrats.”

I wanted him to touch me again and found myself reaching out to tap his arm as I spoke. “Mr. Schmidt’s going to have a bird when he hears. He’s never had one student place, let alone two in the same year.”

“Yeah.” Connor shoved his hands into his pockets. “You didn’t have to come here to tell me. They sent me an email too.”

This wasn’t going how I’d pictured it at all. A sour knot twisted in my stomach. And even though I told myself that I was being paranoid, I was certain he was avoiding my eyes. “Are you mad that I won?”

“No, of course not.” He looked past me down the street as if he hoped someone would come along to rescue him. “It’s just that I was counting on being able to list this on my college apps.”

“You can still list it. You came in second.”

“Yeah, sure. Listen, I told my mom I’d do some stuff for her in the yard before dinner, so I should go.”

“I can help if you want.” I flexed my arm. “I’m stronger than I look.”

“No, it’s fine,” he said. “I’ll see you at work tomorrow.”

I had to fight the urge to shove my foot in the door so he couldn’t close it. “If you want, I can help you with your university application essays. I’m great at those things,” I offered.

“No, it’s okay. I got it.”

“I don’t mind, or you could write them and I could look them over. I’m a comma ninja, you know.” I was trying to make a joke, but it wasn’t working. I realized I was wringing my hands and made myself stop. I knew I needed to quit talking, but the words kept building up in my mouth until they tumbled out in a rush.

He shrugged. “It’s all good. It’s the kind of thing I want to do myself.”

“Are you sure you’re not mad about the science contest?” I found myself taking steps closer as he moved back.

“I’m not mad, just stressed. Senior year coming up and all that. I’ll get over it.”

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