Home > The Serpent King(16)

The Serpent King(16)
Jeff Zentner

As she typed, a warm wave of excitement about her impending new life swept through her.

Dill surveyed the parking lot with glum resignation, watching his fellow students file in. But this year, I don’t even get to wish for the year to be over quicker, because that means no more Lydia. Al Gore was parked in the rear of the lot, Lydia’s preferred spot for quick after-school escapes. She even had a track of fast banjo music that she played on her iPod for these getaways. Somehow, they’d arrived with time to kill before class began. The hatchback was open and Lydia and Dill sat on the bumper.

Ms. Alexander, the cheerleading coach, walked past.

“I never thought she was as hot as everyone else does,” Lydia said, after she’d gone.

“Me neither,” Dill said.

Lydia looked satisfied, as though he had passed a test of some kind. “I’d bet twenty bucks she ends up arrested for banging some thirteen-year-old student.”

Lydia kicked her legs gently. She wore tights woven in an intentionally chaotic pattern with purposeful rips. They would have been a disaster on anyone else. Her calf tapped the A HEALTHY SMILE IS A HAPPY SMILE bumper sticker. Her dad had offered to remove it. “Why didn’t you let him?” Dill had asked once. “Because it’s still as true as when he drove it,” Lydia had told him. “Plus, it’s both creepy and hilarious.” “What hotness discount do you give her?”

Dill thought for a moment. “Seventy-five percent hotness discount.”

“Oh damn. That’s Dollar General pricing.”

“People at this school confuse a tan and perfect teeth with hotness.”

“But not you.”

“Not me.”

Lydia gave him the you-passed-the-test smile again. Her teeth were as chaotic and imperfect as her tights. And like the tights, Dill thought she pulled them off in style. She refused to let her dad fix them, just like with the bumper sticker. She explained to Dill once that it was similar to the way makers of Persian rugs would intentionally leave a flaw in their work, as a reminder that only God is perfect.

They kept up their red-carpet commentary until it was almost time to head inside.

As Dill was about to ask Lydia what she had first period, he heard laughter off to the left. He saw Tyson Reed and his girlfriend, Madison Lucas, approaching. His heart sank. Here we go.

“What up, Dildo? Senior year!” Tyson said with mock excitement, raising his hand for a high five. “Come on, player, don’t leave me hanging!”

Dill went into defensive mode. He shut off and turned away, ignoring Tyson. He prayed in his heart. Bless them that curse you, bless them that curse you, bless them that curse you. And another thought ran parallel: God is punishing me for dishonoring my mother and going to school. He won’t allow me even an hour’s peace.

Lydia laughed a braying, sarcastic laugh. “Wait a minute, hang on…I see what you did there! You said ‘dildo’? Like his name! But you add ‘-do’ to the end! This is fun with these good jokes.” She applauded.

“Glad you appreciate my joke, Lydia Chlamydia,” Tyson said. Madison snickered from behind him.

Lydia’s mouth dropped open. “Wha—Lydia Chl—You did it again! You made an extremely hilarious joke by rhyming my name with a funny sex disease! Tremendous!”

“You’re tremendous,” Tyson said. Another snicker from Madison. This one was louder and more pointed, as though he was finally treading the territory she hoped he would.

Something surged through Dill. Not courage exactly. More the realization that he had nothing to lose by getting kicked out of school. Maybe that was what God wanted for him anyway. He might be able to land a punch on Tyson before Tyson could react. He wouldn’t be expecting Dill to do anything. Even Christ had chased the moneylenders from the temple, and Lydia’s friendship was a temple to him.

Dill rose. He felt Lydia’s hand, warm on his arm. He sat, his head spinning with adrenaline, trying not to visibly shake.

“Yeah, Dildo. Do it. Bring it,” Tyson said.

Lydia crossed her legs, holding her knee and rocking back casually. “Tremendous, huh? Let’s go with that and say I could lose, oh, twenty pounds. I can easily do that by not eating chess pie or bacon or any of the other things that make life worth living. But you”—she pointed at Tyson with an elaborate flourish—“are dumb. And there’s nothing you can simply not eat that will make you any smarter. You’ll die an idiot.”

“You’ll die from too many french fries, fatass Lydia Chlamydia.”

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