Read Don't You Trust Me? Online

Authors: Patrice Kindl

Don't You Trust Me?

To Paul, who listened

1

BELIEVE ME; I NEVER EXPECTED
things to end up the way they did. But now that they
have
, I can't get all bent out of shape about it. I guess I figure I'm pretty much indestructible—I'm like one of those Super Balls: the harder you throw me, the higher I bounce.

See, I don't scare easily. I always assume I can get away with almost anything, so I do things on impulse that other people wouldn't do for fear of getting caught. And half the time I get away with some pretty outrageous stuff.

But then, of course, there's the other half of the time, when they find out. Then everybody has sixteen hissy fits and acts all
shocked
and
appalled
.

Still, I have no regrets. I don't waste my time on regrets. What I
do
try to do is learn from my mistakes. Not being afraid is great; it frees you up a lot. I can't even imagine how boring it must be to live like regular people, scared all the time. But living without fear
can
make your life harder. If you assume you are untouchable, you can find yourself taking stupid risks. And I am not stupid.

I learned about risk-taking when I was a little kid. Back then I had no idea that there were others like me in the world; I thought I was the only one. To be honest, the whole thing seemed kind of a joke. It was funny, watching people's faces change as it dawned on them how different I was.

I'm fifteen now, but it was meeting the carnival guy the summer when I was eight years old that got me to thinking about being different, and about what it meant for my future.

As usual my parents were punishing me for something or other, so they'd locked me in my room. There was this strawberry festival—nothing much, just crafts and face painting and strawberry shortcake with whipped cream. It's not like I even wanted to go, but since they said I couldn't, I climbed out my window that night and rode my bike downtown. I didn't have any money to buy anything, so I sat and watched this man who had a game booth set up next to the fried dough station. Something about him caught at my attention, the way a ragged
fingernail or a loose tooth will nag at you. Finally I figured out what it was.

He was a cheat. He didn't cheat all the time. Every once in a while he let somebody win a lousy little stuffed animal, but mostly he cheated. His booth was low to the ground, so it was hard for adults to play, with kiddie stuff like dolls and robots and stuffed pink animals for prizes, and the game looked laughably easy. You had to throw a ball and knock down a bottle that was about two feet away, and then you won a prize. Only, somehow nobody ever did win, except if some grown-up got suspicious and insisted on trying it.
They
usually won some cheap thing, but kids never won anything.

He saw me watching him, but he didn't care. At one point this little kid with a twenty-dollar bill sticking out of his back pocket came and stood near the guy, looking on as his sister tried to win a pink unicorn. The guy reached around casually and tweaked the bill out of the kid's pocket. Then he winked at me.

I waited until both the boy and the girl had failed to win the unicorn and had gone away. I walked over to the guy.

“Care to try for a stuffed animal, little lady? It's easy! Every player a winner!”

I shook my head. “What've you got against kids?” I asked. “You never let anybody but grown-ups win.”

“I got nothing against kids,” he said. “They're my livelihood. They're stupid, see? They're easy to fool.
Grown-ups are more suspicious—they've gotten burned once or twice, maybe. I work these little community affairs instead of the big carnivals because they don't watch you so close.” He sat back in his folding chair, studying me. “ 'Cause once they start asking questions and taking my game apart to see how it works, they'll shut me down. So every once in a while I got to let a grown-up win.”

It ticked me off, the way he didn't care about me knowing he was crooked. “I could go tell those kids about that twenty you stole from them just now,” I said. The expression on his face didn't change. He just sat there, looking at me.

“Or the cops,” I added, jabbing at him a little harder. “I could tell the cops.
That
would get you shut down.”

“Go ahead and try,” he said, leaning forward to fluff out the skirt of a big princess doll so that it covered up the cheap teddy bears. “But I'll bet the cops already know you. Bet a pretty little girl like you already has a record with the local police. Don't you?”

I was silent a moment, and he went on, “Sure you do. I spotted you a mile off. You're one of
us
. You've got that stare.”

That's when he told me about the cold people—the cold, he called them. He said there were lots of us—oh, not anywhere near as many as regular people, but maybe one in a hundred. “You got to learn how to spot
them, but they're all over the place,” he said. “You get so as you can recognize one of your own. Not that we
like
each other any more than we like anybody else, mind. So after we've had this talk, you can scram.”

“Why ‘the
cold
'?” I wanted to know.

“ 'Cause we're cold-blooded, like lizards. We don't love and we don't get scared. Bet you're here alone in the dark, without your family. Ain't you scared? Most little girls would be.”

I thought over this information in silence for a while. “I don't have a
record
,” I said. “Not a
police
record.”

“Maybe not, but they know who you are, don't they?” he said. “There've been complaints, haven't there? Yeah, uh-huh.” He nodded. “I thought so. Now beat it. I got lambs to fleece.”

I beat it.

Riding home that night, I thought about what the carnie guy had said, and from then on I began to do things differently. Before, I'd have gone home whenever I felt like it. If my parents had been asleep, I'd have rung the doorbell over and over again until they'd gotten up and let me in. Then I'd have gone to my room and shut the door against their threats and pleas. It drove them crazy that I didn't care what they thought. Actually, I kind of enjoyed winding them up.

But this time I slid back through my bedroom window without making a noise. Maybe it wasn't as much
fun, but it avoided trouble. Lately it had been like they expected me to be doing something wrong all the time, so they watched me pretty closely. If, like the carnie guy, I could lull them into a false sense of security, they might let up on the twenty-four-hour surveillance.

And, do you know, it worked?

After about a month of me doing mostly what I wanted to do, but hiding it, they relaxed. They started complimenting me on being so well behaved. They exchanged relieved smiles over my head as I pretended not to notice. And in a year it was like they had almost forgotten I was ever such a wild little thing.

Yeah, sure, it was more effort, but I got a whole lot more freedom.

I learned. And this kind of learning, as I later discovered, comes hard for people like us. Oh, we're smart enough—we can understand difficult concepts and master complex formulae. But when it comes to getting what we want, it is our tendency to just go for it.

The key is: the clever cold person learns self-control, learns to work around the ordinary people, in order to get what she wants in the long run. And the truth is,
that's
kind of fun, figuring out how to cover up my trail and put the normals on the wrong scent.

So, you ask, if I'm so smart, and I've learned to keep my true nature a secret, why am I telling
you
this
?

I don't care if
you
know, because you will think that I am
made up
.
You will think I am
fictional.
And if you should happen to meet me in real life, you will never, ever guess.

But enough about you. Let's go on talking about me.

As I was saying, I got smart. In addition to obscuring my more questionable activities from my folks, I started keeping tabs on
them.
Three years ago, when I was twelve, I bugged their bedroom. You'd be amazed at the equipment you can buy online, and it's not that expensive either. Kind of gross, some of the stuff I heard as a result, but well worth it for the nuggets I picked up, things they would say to each other but never in front of me. I can't tell you how often that bug has saved my neck.

For instance, one time I was listening to my mother and father talking after I'd gone to my room. “Mrs. Pinckney from down the street called,” my mom said. “She was asking if we knew anything about her cell phone. She says she left it on the front porch for half an hour, and when she went back, it was gone.”

“Why would we have any idea what the Pinckney woman did with her cell phone?” my father said, sounding annoyed.

“Oh . . . I don't know . . . but maybe you could ask Morgan? [
I
am Morgan.] She does walk right past there on her way to the school bus.”

“Why can't
you
ask her?”

“Oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry.
She seems to take it much better coming from you. You know how I hate confronting her,” my mother said, her voice getting high and panicky the way it does when she's stressed. “Please?”

“I really do not see why everyone in this neighborhood expects us to know the precise location of any valuables they happen to have misplaced, and I don't—”

I didn't hear the end of my father's complaint, because I was busy getting Mrs. Pinckney's cell out of my top dresser drawer. It was a cheap knockoff phone anyway, and I didn't care that I couldn't keep it. I know you can get credit card numbers and stuff off phones, but I had a feeling that if major purchases began showing up on her account, the finger of blame would start pointing in my direction pretty quickly. That woman has serious trust issues.

Anyway, I wasn't tempted by anything as blatant as credit card fraud. It's too easy to get caught, unless you live in Nigeria or someplace far, far away. No, I could have kicked myself for taking it, but the stupid woman had left it sitting out there in plain sight. What did she expect? You don't see
me
leaving things I care about lying around where somebody could lift them. Truth is, I'd taught her a valuable lesson about taking care of her possessions.

Still, I shouldn't allow my acquisitive instincts to overcome my better judgment. It's a fault, little though
I enjoy admitting to any shortcomings, and I intend to get the better of it. I let myself noiselessly in through the back door of Mrs. Pinckney's house. (Even after having her cell stolen, she
still
didn't lock the gate to her yard
or
her back door.) I could hear her yakking away on the house phone upstairs, to her married daughter this time. I found her gardening jacket hanging on a hook, a ratty old thing she only wore when she worked outdoors, and slipped the phone into a pocket. She'd find it soon enough.

As I closed the door behind me and walked back down the driveway to the street, I realized I ought to shape up and forget about that nickel-and-dime stuff. I needed to focus on long-term goals. I have plans for my future; I am going to go to law school, and then on to a career in the corporate world or politics, or both. I'm going to have a nice house in a much nicer neighborhood than ours, and I'll be highly respected by my neighbors and colleagues.

In fact, I'm going to do much, much better for myself than the usual cold one. Since that time at the strawberry festival so many years ago, I've encountered a number of others of my tribe, which isn't surprising. If you figure that the average high school has, like, a thousand students, that means that most schools would have enough of us enrolled to organize an after-school club. And when you consider that there's probably at least
one
of our kind on the staff, we could even have a faculty adviser.

Other books

Desperate Measures by Linda Cajio
Trang by Sisson, Mary
Love Jones For Him by Loveless, Mia
Seize the Storm by Michael Cadnum
Never Go Back by Robert Goddard
Elisabeth Fairchild by Provocateur