Dream Dark Page 2

“Excuse me? Did you say somethin', Clayton?

Because I thought I heard you underminin' my authority while you're sittin' there eatin' the breakfast I cooked for you.”

Link's dad swal owed hard. “I was just sayin'—”

“I think it would be best if you didn't say anything at al ,” she snapped.

Mr. Lincoln knew when he wasn't going to win a battle. He'd given up and started waving the white flag at his wife as soon as their son was born.

“Not a word,” Mrs. Lincoln repeated.

“I expect I can do that.” Mr. Lincoln sighed at his

“I expect I can do that.” Mr. Lincoln sighed at his fork.

Link's mom picked out the crispiest pieces of bacon from the serving platter and turned her attention back to Link, who had been pushing the food around on his plate while she wasn't looking.

“Now that you mention it, you've been actin' peculiar ever since you came home last night.”

“No, ma'am. I didn't.”

“Didn't what?”

“Mention it.”

“Don't you sass me. I was the one who said spending time with questionable folks only gets you a big fat question mark next to your own name.”

“Yes, ma'am.” Link stared down at the pile of white slush. His mom was no Amma in the kitchen. Amma would no more sit down to a plate of Mrs. Lincoln's biscuits 'n' gravy than she would bring home store-bought biscuits.

“Aren't I always sayin' that, dear?” She turned to Link's dad, but she didn't give him a second to respond. “I'm here to tel you, there's no question mark by my good name. The Lincolns have kept the family name spit shine around these parts for generations.”

Link looked up in time to see gravy dribbling down his mother's chin. His stomach lurched. He shoved his chair back from the table, then sprinted out of the room and up the stairs.

“Wesley Lincoln!” she cal ed after him.

“Mom, I think I'm gonna be—”

The sound of dry heaving floated down the stairs.

Link's parents looked at each other. “That boy probably caught some kinda nasty virus,” Mrs.

Lincoln said. “I'm gonna cal over to Doc Asher's and see if he can squeeze Wesley in today.”

Mr. Lincoln put down his fork, hesitating. But I guess al the browbeating had taken its tol , and he couldn't resist. “Maybe it was somethin' he ate.”

The look his wife shot him was so charged, it could've knocked a whole flock of pigeons off a telephone wire. Without saying a word, she grabbed every dish she could off the table and carried them over to the sink. It was al Mr. Lincoln could do to hold on to his half-eaten biscuit.

“I'l tel you one thing. People in this house should start listenin' to me. If Mary Beth Sutton had listened when I told her that husband a hers was as crazy as a wolf starvin' in a henhouse, she wouldn't be in the fix she is now. Sissy Honeycutt told me that she heard from Loretta Snow that Mary Beth told her he took their son Waylon's pickup and drove it al the way to Memphis. And they'd just gone and put new tires on it.”

Link's mom kept talking as fast as she could. She had to. Otherwise, she would have to think about the fact that either something was wrong with her only son or something was wrong with her only biscuits 'n'

gravy recipe.

It would be hard for her to decide which was worse.


The Birds, the Bees & Mötley Crüe

Up in Link's room, everything was al wrong.

I mean, it always looked wrong because his mom hadn't let him change anything in it since third grade.

She said the wal paper had at least ten good years left in it, and every good Baptist knew that vanity was the Devil's business, anyway. The Star Wars border around his ceiling was stil there, Darth Vader peeling around the edges, right above the cross with Noah's ark and the animals marching over it. His basketbal trophies, going al the way back to elementary school, were lined up above his Field Day ribbons.

And in case there was any doubt, a church camp poster read: GOD WANTS YOU!

Only Link had changed YOU to YOUTUBE in pencil, light enough that his mom couldn't see it if she wasn't wearing her good reading glasses, the ones she saved for the packages wrapped in brown paper that Marian sent from the library. Link liked to hide the glasses because he said it made his life a whole lot easier if his mom could only see half of what he did. Since I had delivered some of those packages with Liv, and knew that Mrs. Lincoln was reading romance novels, I hoped she never found her glasses. And this from a woman who made us turn off the television if the animals got too frisky on the Discovery Channel.

Link's CDs were in a box under his bed, next to his comic book col ection and some back issues of Hot Rod magazine. But tonight even his favorite comic, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and his favorite CD, The Best of Heavy Metal Power Ballads, couldn't distract the most distractible guy in town.

Al he could think about was his mom's gravy and how it had smel ed like roadkil on a plate. It was time to pul out the big guns. The one girl who could keep his mind off anything—except her.

Ridley. His candy-striped pink and blond bad girl with a heart of gold. Or, at least, gold plate. Not that Link would want it any other way. In his eyes—and in hers—she was perfect.

He thought about Lena's Claiming, which he had started thinking of as Hel Night. It had felt like someone tore a hole right through him when Ridley disappeared and he thought she was dead. And then like someone had duct-taped it closed again when he saw her alive just a few minutes later. She'd jumped into his arms and hugged him like she was a regular girl—for about two minutes. Those were an awesome two minutes, the best two minutes of his life.

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