Gone – Chapter Eight
14,274 / 50,000 words. 29% done!
All things considered, Jessica thought, perhaps putting on heels before the most epic shopping spree of all time was a bad idea.
She was laden down with cassette tapes by all the hottest singers: Johnny Buck, Melody Powers, Coco and Darcy Campman to name but a few.
And, of course, she had Janet trailing after her (wincing every time she passed a window or shiny surface), agreeing with every suggestion she made.
During their dress-buying spree, everyone had arrived and were in the stores helping themselves to whatever they wanted. She was completely unsurprised to see fat Lois Waller heading out of Some Crumb bakery, pushing a cart laden down with the store’s entire stock. She saw Bruce Patman and his friends laden down with video games. As she watched, Aaron Dallas looked up and waved at her.
Jessica smiled and waved back. Aaron was her sort-of boyfriend. That meant that she had no obligation to only date him exclusively, but she mostly expected him to make an effort to remain her sort-of boyfriend. They had stopped dating a few times, because every so often Aaron would stop making an effort.
He walked over to her. “Hey, Jess, you look terrific.”
Her smile widened. It was so nice when he did make an effort. “I got it for the party. You’re coming right?”
“Yes, and I hope you’ll save me a dance.” He gave her a bashful look, and then scuffed his sneaker against the tiled floor. It made a squeak that Jessica was less than crazy about, but it was cute when Aaron seemed shy. “Actually, I was thinking about your party…”
“Have you found a location yet?”
Actually, she hadn’t. She’d been too busy picking up everything she wanted so she would look amazing at the party to think about something as boring as the party’s location. “I’m considering my options.”
“We were thinking about the roller rink,” put in Janet. She seemed particularly fond of this suggestion, and clearly wasn’t enjoying the fact that she couldn’t simply announce the location and move on.
“I have a suggestion. Why don’t you have a party all over the mall?”
Jessica frowned. “Like, go store to store?” That sounded stupid.
“No, I mean get into the control panel and put music on the PA, set the lights, and let anyone party wherever they like—in or outside of stores.”
Jessica blinked. That actually sounded fun. She looked around and imagined herself dancing on the walkways. Half the mall was under a glass ceiling with a latticework of support beams. She thought it would probably be wonderful to dance under a moonlit sky to the hottest Johnny Buck song.
Aaron followed her gaze. “You came here at Christmas, right? Remember the glass ceiling being lit up in different colors? I’m sure if we can just find the control panel, we could set up the lights to be amazing. It would be better than any dance the school held.”
“But the roller rink already has the lights set up like that. They run a roller disco ever month,” Janet said.
“Exactly,” Jessica said. “It’s been done a hundred times. This is meant to be the best party ever.” She paused and gave Janet a pointed look. “The best party ever will reflect well on the Unicorns.”
Janet nodded quickly. “Of course you’re right, Jessica. Where is the control panel?”
Aaron glanced around the mall and shrugged. “I don’t know. I could really do with rounding up the SOAR kids and then we could start investigating all the doors we’re not allowed to go through. Once we find the right one, they could help me set up the lights and PA system.”
Jessica saw Janet’s eyes flash at the mention of SOAR (Science Offers Awesome Rewards), a special two week module for the promising science geeks of the future, which Jessica had somehow managed to be included in. Janet had felt threatened because her sort-of boyfriend, Denny Jacobson, had also been involved. Thankfully, by the end of the module, things had calmed down. Even so, it was better not to mention it in front of Janet.
“I think I saw Winston with Grace over at Lisettes,” Jessica said. “Randy Mason and Cammi Adams are back in Valley Records,” she indicated over her shoulder at the store they’d just come out of. “But I haven’t seen Lloyd Benson all day.”
“I could go and look for Denny Jacobson,” Janet offered.
Jessica considered it for a moment. It might put Janet in a good mood. But on the other hand, she didn’t need Janet in a good mood. She had Janet over a barrel. “No, if we see him, we’ll ask him, but I’m sure that Winston, Randy and Cammi would be a good start.” She paused. “Won’t the security doors be locked? And whoever had the keys is now outside the dome.”
Aaron gave another bashful smile. “I don’t think that’s a problem.”
Elizabeth glared at her supposed best friend. “Say that again.”
Amy kicked the ground and stared at her hands. “I just think we should go to the mall.”
“But we need to be here to figure out how to get out!” Elizabeth cried. Why was nobody taking her seriously? Why didn’t anyone care? If there was anyone she could count on not to be shallow, it was Amy, so why was Amy so keen to go to the mall. Weren’t they better than that? Didn’t they spend hours smugly talking about how all the Unicorns did was gossip and party?
“Figure what out?” Amy burst out. “What are you going to figure out? There’s a big dome over town. There are scientists—actual qualified adults—coming from all around the country to get to the bottom of it. You are a twelve year old with an oversized sense of self!”
Elizabeth took a step back, shaking with shock. “I can’t believe you just said that.”
Amy looked ashamed. “I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I didn’t mean to be hurtful, but sometimes you do have to let other people be in charge. Not everything needs you to fix it.”
Elizabeth bit her lip and willed the tears forming behind her eyes not to fall. Amy didn’t know what she was saying. Of course she had to fix everything. Sweet Valley was one big Liz-Fix project. There were poor people, the homeless, broken families, people with disabilities… the list went on and on. It’s what she did. “I can help!” she snapped. “Look at all the things I’ve done: I’ve reunited the Henkels, I brought down a crime ring, I helped Mary find her mother, I helped Melissa find her dad—I fix things! And what do you do? Nothing!”
Amy toed the ground. “You also wouldn’t hear a word of truth when Jessica was being unfairly ignored by Madame André, you bullied Brooke Dennis with that Jennifer thing, you dropped all your friends when Lila got a horse and when you thought you were going to be a Model Student, we both assumed your Great Aunt Helen was in witness protection… sometimes we get it wrong, Elizabeth. Sometimes you do. You could just step back.”
“I don’t get it wrong!” Elizabeth snapped. “I made all of those things right in the end. You’re just jealous because everyone knows I’m right. When people look back on this dome crisis, everyone will say ‘Elizabeth Wakefield saved us’. I’ve already saved you in that fire today!”
Amy nodded. “That’s my point, Elizabeth. Maybe we can’t fix the dome, we should leave that to the adults. But maybe we do need someone who can save us from fires. And if everyone’s gone to the mall, I think we should go there. If there’s trouble, it’ll be where everyone is. And if we need supplies, we’ll find it at the mall. What’s the alternative? Sitting on the sidewalk next to the comatose body of Julie, writing signs back and forth with the outside world?”
Elizabeth blinked away tears and held her head high but said nothing. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do, but she always worked on the logic that if the Unicorns did something, it was the wrong play, so she should do the opposite.
After a few moments, Amy turned and started walking slowly away.
It was fine, she would stop. Amy would never leave her. They were best friends, and that meant that Amy would do whatever Elizabeth wanted.
Amy paused and glanced back at Elizabeth. Elizabeth felt a rush of smug triumph.
“I’ll be at the mall,” Amy said. “I’m going to Valley Books to see if there’s anything that might explain what’s going on. If you want to join me, I’d be happy to have you there.”
Lois Waller and Caroline Pearce were doing a roaring trade in Valley Burgers. They had quickly understood that the idiots they went to school with would love the concept of not paying for anything, but be completely flummoxed that they couldn’t get food at the mall.
They had also very quickly realized that their idea would spawn a bunch of imitators, and most of their classmates couldn’t be trusted with fire. This was just asking for problems—problems that would be solved by Saint Elizabeth Wakefield, and they both tried to avoid that where they could.
They had done a walk around of the food court (turning off lights, ovens, drink makers and otherwise fire hazard they encountered), and settled on Valley Burgers. It had the largest interior seating, and a good amount of chairs and tables in the food court.
Lois suggested that they raid all the other eateries for their stock, and the two of them had quickly set about storing the food in the back rooms, fridges and freezers of Valley Burgers (Lois had noticed Jessica’s superior and fat-shaming gaze as she cleared out Some Crumb Bakery, but had ignored it. Jessica would come crawling to her as soon as she realized she was hungry). Once everything was emptied, they locked the doors using chains and padlocks from Valley DIY.
“I was thinking,” Caroline said as she set down a meal on a tray with ruthless efficiency. “Maybe we should grab some overnight supplies? One of us could get some sleeping bags and toiletries, and we could sleep in the break room upstairs?”
Lois rolled her eyes and gave her friend a smile. Of course Caroline was asking her to go.
“Well, yes,” Caroline said. “But you can’t deny that I’m far more useful here, interacting with people.” She slid the tray in front of her to Nora Mercandy and accepted a hefty set of batteries in payment. “Have a Valley Burgers day!”
“‘Have a Valley Burgers day’?” Lois replied doubtfully.
Caroline shrugged. “Just trying something new.”
It’s goofy, Lois thought hard.
“Yes, but it put a smile on your face.”
Caroline had discovered that she could read thoughts around the time that Mr. Nydick vanished and quickly whispered to Lois. Since then, Lois had been sending random thoughts to her friend to test her. Lois wished that she could read minds. It would be a lot of fun to have perfectly silent conversations with Caroline.
They quite often exchanged silent looks whenever a Wakefield was being particularly obnoxious, and while those looks conveyed a lot, the additional commentary would be amazing.
The plan to run Valley Burgers was a plan that held many bonuses: they would be kept occupied until whatever they were going through was eventually resolved (probably by a Wakefield); their decision to run a fast food joint had actively prevented other idiots from burning the mall to the ground; they were charging items for food and were starting to stockpile useful things, such as toilet roll and batteries; and, finally, Caroline’s constant interaction with people would allow her to read minds and keep ahead of trouble. Neither of them had any intention of losing their life to prove to a Wakefield that this situation was serious business.
Lois did wonder what on earth was going on, but she was pretty sure it wouldn’t last more than a few days. Nothing ever did in Sweet Valley. It seemed a very strange situation. They were without adults, there was a glass dome around the town—Caroline had tried to explain what Elizabeth had seen, “Imagine we’re in a snow globe that gives you electric shocks if you touch it.”—and people were developing strange powers.
This was not the usual Sweet Valley event. Drama in Sweet Valley was much more in line with soap operas, although some soap operas did like to have a big unexpected (some might even argue unlikely) event to devastate the nation. Perhaps this would be theirs.
Lois did wish that she’d developed a super power though. She was glad Caroline had something so useful and that she was using it to keep them both safe—and amused by what was going on—but Lois wished she had something.
“It’s ok, you don’t need anything to make you special, you’re—OUCH!” Caroline leapt backwards from the hot drink maker, cradling her hand.
Lois stopped what she was doing at the grill and strode over to her friend. “What happened?”
“Sorry, I was listening to you think, and I wasn’t paying attention. I burned myself on the nozzle thingie,” Caroline replied.
Lois gently took Caroline by the wrist and peered at the burned hand. There was a nasty blister already puffing up on the web between Caroline’s thumb and first finger, and the skin was red and angry.
“Looks like I’m going to be manning the machinery until that heals,” Lois said.
“I don’t know, it’s starting to feel better already,” Caroline replied.
And as they watched, the blister got smaller, and the skin started to return to the usual color.
Caroline tilted her head and looked at Lois. “Well, I guess you do have a special power now.” She flipped her red hair over her shoulder with a perfectly healed hand. “But you’re still going to fetch our overnight supplies. My power is much better right here.”
Lois gave her a smirk. “Fine. And if you injure yourself, I’ll be back soon to save you!”
“Elizabeth Wakefield has nothing on you!”
“You are a twelve year old with an oversized sense of self!”
Just wonderful! Keep writing!