The following day after classes I accompanied Danielle to the student post office to drop off a birthday present she was sending to her sister. The box was wrapped in plain brown paper embellished with glittering flowers Danielle had spent half the night working on. She was so proud of it she’d showed it to me first thing that morning. (She was already at her computer emailing Tag, her boyfriend, when I’d woken up.) Still, she seemed listless as we made our way along the pathways that meandered through Hereford’s extensive grounds. Something was up.
“Why aren’t you going home for your sister’s birthday?” I asked, pulling my coat closer to me to guard against an eddy of wind.
“I wanted to, but my parents didn’t think it was worth the money,” Danielle replied with a shrug. She attempted a carefree smile, but I could tell she was disconsolate. “I was just there for Christmas . . . . ”
“Well, I’m sure she’s going to like the present. I mean, a twelve-year-old and a complete makeup kit? It doesn’t get any better than that,” I told her, attempting levity.
Danielle’s smile seemed to brighten a bit. “Thanks. This is it.”
She paused in front of a short wooden door in a stone wall that was covered in ivy. The whole building looked like something from a bygone era with its round windows and its turrets. A metal sign that with the letters “S.P.O.” stamped on it hung above the door, but the letters had been almost entirely obliterated by the elements.
“State-of-the-art, huh?” I said.
I laughed as I stepped into a long room, the left wall of which housed at least three hundred tiny mailboxes, each with its own keyhole. There was a window cut out of the wall to the right, behind which a wizened, stern-looking old man stood, sifting through a stack of mail. Behind him was a system of wooden slots for sorting letters, and who should be haphazardly stacking packages in front of it but Jon Wisnewski?
I swear, sometimes I’m just so hapless I can hardly believe it. How many times could I bump into the guy?
Okay, but he didn’t see you last night, so he only knows about two of the three times, I thought, although it didn’t make me feel any better.
“Hey, Mr. Smoot!” Danielle said, sliding her package across the counter. The old man’s face lit up when he saw Danielle. I was starting to notice this was sort of a trend with her. People just took to Danielle. Adult people, anyway.
“This is going to your sister, huh?” Mr. Smoot asked genially.
“Got anything else for me today?”
“Nope. Not today,” Danielle replied. “Just this.”
When Danielle spoke, Jon looked up and noticed me standing there.
“Stalker,” he said, dispassionately .
I graced him with my most saccharine smile. “I’m with her,” I told him as Danielle fed instructions for shipping to Mr. Smoot. “I swear I didn’t even know you worked here.”
“Whatever,” Jon said. He turned and tossed a package marked “ fragile” halfway across the room. I couldn’t help thinking that his working here was just a little too perfect. He was the epitome of a disgruntled postal worker.
“Do you find it hampers your job performance to ignore the warnings on the packages?” I asked.
“So, how long have you worked here?” I asked the back of his head.
“Why do you care?” he shot back.
What was the point of trying to initiate a conversation with this person?
Because you have to. It’s your job, I reminded myself, bolstering myself for another try.
“Do they pay well?” I asked.
Ever taciturn, Jon snorted in response and tossed another package on the pile. I watched as he picked up a small box and read the address. Unlike the others, this one he placed carefully on a high shelf. Huh. What was the import here? Why did it merit such distinction?
And then it hit me. Maybe the package was for Jon himself. And maybe, just maybe it was a shipment for his little underground drug enterprise. Of course! What better way to smuggle drugs into Hereford than to ensconce yourself in a job at the antiquated post office? They had no computer system to log who received what and when, and Jon probably handled every package that came through here!
“Do you have some kind of staring problem?” Jon suddenly snapped.
That was when I realized I had been gaping at him, enthralled, while my Nancy Drew brain worked its wonders.
“You know, it’s always so great talking to you,” I said mordantly as Danielle finished her transaction. I followed her over to her mailbox, my turbulent thoughts muddling my brain. This was it. A real lead. I had to tell my mother about this and I had to step up my attempts to whittle my way into Jon’s life. But how? The kid clearly thought I was deranged. Whenever I was around him I became either inarticulate or totally shrill. And at this point, I was having a hard time masking my contempt for him.
I shot a glance over my shoulder at Jon, just in time to see him bump a shelving unit with his elbow and cause an avalanche of letters to rain down on his head. Ha! Served him right. Dealing drugs out of a school post office. Could there be anything more sinister? I was going to lock him up and throw away the key.
“Kim? Are you okay?” Danielle asked, looking from me to Jon and back again. She raised her eyebrows in a surprised, leading way as if she thought I was checking Jon out—as a potential date, not as a potential criminal.
I flushed. “I’m fine. It’s just . . . what is that guy’s deal?” I said as Danielle unlocked her box. “Is he that boorish to everybody?”
“Are you kidding? You got him to say two words to you,” Danielle replied, her eyes wide. “That’s tantamount to a miracle.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever even heard his voice before,” Danielle said, shoving a bunch of envelopes into her bag. “He and his little snowboard buddies only hang out in deserted areas or in each other’s rooms, and he even snubs the teachers. According to David, if Jon weren’t irreproachable on paper, he wouldn’t even be here.”
“Is he really that smart?”
“The only other contender for Cheryl’s throne before I got here, apparently,” Danielle said. “Trust me. If I thought Jon was capable of liking anybody, I’d say you were it.”
She slammed the door of her post office box and we headed out. As we walked by the window again I eyed Jon’s tanned face. Was it remotely possible that Danielle was right? Could the fact that Jon even grudgingly acknowledged my existence mean that he didn’t detest me as much as he detested the rest of the student body? It seemed improbable. Unless, of course, he liked his girls inarticulate and shrill.
Just as we were about to leave, Jon looked up and caught me staring—again. I didn’t look away and neither did he. A slight shiver of attraction ran through me, but I squelched it. I was not going to be attracted to a drug dealer! I did have a chance to notice that there was the faintest discrepancy between the color of the skin around his eyes and the color of the skin on his face—sun-goggle tan.
He and his little snowboard buddies . . . .
Suddenly I was struck with one of my brilliant ideas. Maybe there was a way to break through to Jon Wisnewski.