My Soul to Steal Page 6

“What are you gonna say?” Emma asked. “‘I’m not sure I want you back, but I’m sure I don’t want your ex-con ex-girlfriend to have you, either’? Yeah. That’ll start this little triangle off on the right foot.”

“This is not a triangle. This is—” a disaster “—nothing. Exes turn into friends all the time, right?” Emma and Tod exchanged a glance. “Right?” I demanded, when neither of them answered.

“I don’t know, Kay.” Emma crumpled her empty popcorn bag and tossed it into the trash can from across the counter. “But on the bright side, according to Mrs. Garner, the triangle is the most stable geometric shape. That has to count for something, right?”

“This is not a triangle,” I repeated, turning my back on them both to check the number of nacho cheese containers lined up beneath the heat lamp. I couldn’t afford to let my decision about me and Nash be influenced by Sabine’s arrival. Or her criminal record. Or her prior claim on my boyfriend.

When I turned back around, Em was still watching me. “Maybe you shouldn’t start grilling Nash about his ex until he’s back on his feet for sure.”

“Yeah.” Except by then she could have swept him off of them. Or knocked them out from under him. Either way, Nash off his feet would be bad.

“Marshall, your break’s over!” the new assistant manager called from across the lobby, fleshy hands propped on his considerable gut. “Back in the ticket booth!” His name was Becker, but when she made fun of him after work, Em replaced the capital B with a P. She’d called him Pecker to his face once, by accident, and he’d been yelling at her ever since.

Emma rolled her eyes, pushed the remainder of her soda toward Tod, and headed backward across the lobby. “See you after work.” We’d ridden together, as we usually did when we had the same shift. But now, more often than not, we had a third carpooler.

As if he’d read my mind—not a reaper ability, as far as I knew—Tod glanced around the snack bar as a group of junior high kids came through the front door, wearing matching aftercare shirts. “Where’s Alec?”

Tod, Nash, and Harmony were the only ones—other than my dad—who knew the truth about Alec, that he’d spent a quarter of a century enslaved by a hellion in the Netherworld. Until we’d rescued him in exchange for his help saving my dad and Nash from that same hellion.

I glanced at the clock. “He’s on his break, but he should be back any minute.” I’d given him my keys so he could eat a bag of Doritos in the car, by himself. Alec had grown comfortable with me and my dad, but the same could not be said for the rest of the general populace.

For the most part, Alec had adjusted well to being back in the human world. He was fascinated withthe internet, DVDs, and laptops, none of which had been around in the eighties, when he’d become Avari’s Netherworld proxy—a weird combination of a personal assistant and snack food. I hadn’t even seen my iPod in days.

But he was still sometimes overwhelmed by crowds, not because of the numbers—he’d regularly faced large groups of terrifying monsters in the Netherworld—but because of the culture shock. He was getting to know the twenty-first century at his own speed through TV, newspapers—evidently people still read them in his day—and all the movies he saw for free at the Cinemark. But he got nervous when he had to actually interact with groups of people who didn’t understand his cultural handicap. So far, “Medium or large?” and “Would you like butter on your popcorn?” were the most we’d gotten out of him at work.

“Want me to find him?” Tod asked, as the gaggle of kids descended on Emma in the ticket booth. But before I could answer, Alec rounded a corner into the lobby, tucking his uniform shirt into his pants.

“Sorry. Fell asleep,” he said, then ducked into a small hall leading to the break room and service entrance. When he stepped into the snack bar a second later, scruffing one brown hand over short-cropped, tight curls, I couldn’t help noticing that he still looked only half-awake.

“Just in time. We’re about to get hit hard.” I pointed to the swarm of tweens, and his dark eyes widened. “Don’t worry, kids usually get Slurpees, candy, and some popcorn. Nothing complicated.”

Alec just stared at me as I dumped a bag of popcorn seeds into the popper, careful not to burn myself. “Hey, you missed the inside scoop on Sabine.” Em and I had told him about her on the ride to work, but his confused frown said he obviously hadn’t been paying attention. Not that I could blame him. After twenty-six years spent serving a hellion in the Netherworld, high school drama probably felt trite and irrelevant.

But Sabine was anything but irrelevant to me.

“It turns out she’s an ex-con. Or something like that. Tod doesn’t know what she did, but…” I turned around to look for the reaper and wasn’t surprised to realize he’d disappeared. I think the temptation to put a couple of the prepubescent punks out of their misery was a little too strong.

“Anyway, she definitely wants Nash back, and…” But before I could finish that thought, the kids descended on the snack bar, and my pity party was swallowed whole by the universal clamor for sugar and caffeine.

I pointed to the other register. “You take that one, and I’ll cover this one.”

Alec nodded, but when the first of the tween mob started shouting orders at him, he stared at his register screen like he’d never seen it before.

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