Killer Strikes Again
"Hey, Killer! How's your boyfriend?"
Juliet Dove felt her cheeks begin to burn. Why couldn't Bambi Quilp just leave her alone? Why couldn't everyone just leave her alone?
"I don't have a boyfriend," she said softly.
"Oh, we've seen you walking with Arturo," said Bambi knowingly.
"Yeah, we've seen you walking with Arturo!" repeated Samantha Foster, who was sort of Bambi's official leech.
That Bambi and Samantha had seen Juliet and Arturo walking together was no surprise. Arturo Perez was Juliet's across-the-backyard neighbor, and they had been walking to school together since first grade.
"Artureo and Juliet, the love story of the century!" cried Bambi. Clasping her hands she placed them against her cheek and fluttered her eyelids. "How Juliet does luh-uve that may-unn!"
Juliet flared. "Look who's talking, you pea-brained, metal-mouthed boy chaser! Did you ever see anything in pants that you didn't want? You'll probably have to wait to get the tin off your teeth, though. I hear boys don't like the taste of stainless steel!"
Juliet knew she'd made a mistake the moment the words left her mouth. Bambi had only been wearing braces since Monday and she was still sensitive about them. But Juliet had been desperate to turn the attention away from herself, and the blistering comments had escaped her lips before she even had a chance to think about them.
Explosions like this were what had earned her the ridiculous nickname Killer to begin with—ridiculous because, in truth, Juliet was the most painfully shy person in the entire Venus Harbor Middle School. Or the entire state, by her father's calculation. But Mr. Dove was given to poetic exaggeration.
Juliet hated the nickname, especially because the ferocious comments that earned it for her had never been spoken out of anger. It was just that the minute people started teasing her about personal matters, she felt such an acute panic that she would say anything—anything—to get them to leave her alone. Unfortunately, whenever she tried to explain that she did this because she was shy, people laughed.
"It's because you're too good at it," Arturo had told her once. "I mean, when you set your tongue on slice and dice, it's like you've got a Ginsu knife between your teeth."
Juliet might not have lashed out at Bambi quite so horribly if she hadn't already been upset over their language-arts teacher's announcement that they would be doing oral reports at the end of the month. As far as Juliet was concerned, doing an oral report was not much different from being slowly ground up in a sausage machine—except that, given a choice, she would have opted for the sausage machine. She could not think of anything more excruciating than having to stand up in front of people and speak.
All this was going through Juliet's mind later that afternoon as she pressed herself against the brick wall of the alley that ran alongside the Venus Harbor Cinema. She had ducked around the corner to hide when she saw Bambi and Samantha coming toward her. Though she kept telling herself that the simplest way to deal with the situation would be to walk up to Bambi and apologize, Juliet found the very idea terrifying. So she remained tight against the wall, barely breathing, wishing she could melt right into it, until the girls had gone by.
Unfortunately, Bambi and Samantha-Did either of them ever go anywhere alone? Juliet wondered-did not keep walking. Instead, they stopped to examine the poster for the weekend's big event, the Third Annual Venus Harbor Valentine's Day Poetry Jam.
Go away, thought Juliet desperately. Go away!
The mental command didn't work. Bambi and Samantha stayed right where they were.
"My pathetic mother is totally jazzed because Scott Willis is coming to this," said Bambi.
"Who cares about a fat weatherman?" scoffed Samantha. "Corey Falcon is the one I'm excited about!"
"Just because you've got fifteen pictures of him on your wall?"
"You think he's hot, too!" protested Samantha. "Besides, did you ever read any of his poems? He's not just a great actor. He's got a beautiful soul!"
Juliet tried not to betray her hiding spot by making puking noises. The whole poetry jam was her father's idea and he had been grumbling for months about having to bring in "fake poets" like Scott Willis and Corey Falcon. She felt a twitch of irritation at Bambi and Samantha for even looking at the poster.
"So are you going to go?" asked Samantha, after a few minutes.
"Are you kidding?" said Bambi. "And miss a chance to see Corey Falcon in person? Besides, it's going to be fun. People are coming from all over. They even did a thing about it on Fox News last night." Suddenly she laughed.
"What's so funny?" asked Samantha.
"Remember what happened to Juliet the first year they did this?"
Samantha snorted. "That was so pathetic!"
Juliet's cheeks blazed nearly as red as the brick wall behind her as the unwanted memory swept over her. More than ever she wished she could just disappear.
"So-what are you going to do about her?" asked Samantha.
"About who?" said Bambi, sounding genuinely puzzled.
"Why should I do anything? Everyone knows what a jerk she is. I've got more important things to do than worry about getting back at Killer."
"I can't believe you're going to let her get away with saying those things," growled Samantha. "In fact, when I see her, I'm going to slap her face for you!"
A horrible panic, too powerful to resist, seized Juliet, and she turned to flee. She did not run because she was afraid of being slapped by Samantha. She ran simply because she was afraid of being seen by either of them.
The back end of the alley opened into the parking lot behind Cosgrove's grocery. Juliet raced across the lot, ignoring the hello called to her by Suzy Cosgrove. She shot behind the teddy-bear store, turned up Dell Street, then turned right, toward the beach. But somehow she must have gotten turned around, because the beach was only two blocks away, and she kept running and running. To her surprise, she found herself on a street she did not recognize—which seemed impossible, since she had lived in Venus Harbor all her life, and it wasn't that big a town.
Juliet slowed to a walk, pressing her hand against her side where a sharp pain had blossomed. She noticed that a mist had started to rise. Early fogs were not unknown in Venus Harbor, but this was thicker than usual, and the tendrils of it seemed to cling to her feet. She pulled her drab sweater more tightly around her shoulders and looked from side to side.
The street was lined with old-fashioned-looking shops. Like the fog, this was not unusual for Venus Harbor, wher...