Zip and her friends didn’t seem to be bothered by the fact that Edie wasn’t quite sitting with them. “Mark, want to start your story over so Edie can hear it?” Zip said.
“Sure,” said a boy with light brown hair and pale eyes—paler than the rest of the group, anyway—who was leaning back on his elbows in the grass. “So over the summers I work at my dad’s shoe store. Last summer on my last day of work it’s pretty quiet and this woman comes in. I’m sitting behind the counter reading a magazine because, come on, it’s boring. So I’m not paying attention to her.” A few of the listeners grinned.
“And it’s not an expensive shoe store. We just sell, like, basic work shoes and sneakers and stuff. Nothing fancy, you know?”
“Sneakers can get pretty expensive,” a girl said.
“Not the kind we sell. Anyway, I see the lady go into the sale section, but I don’t think anything of it. A lot of people just like to browse the sales.”
Edie nodded. She wondered if this story was going to end with Mark foiling a shoplifter.
“Eventually she comes up with a pair of shoes and I scan it and tell her the price including tax. She goes ‘No, that’s not right. These are from the sale section, they’re supposed to be ten dollars.’ I’m already on my guard because people try to scam you and switch price tags and stuff. So I look at the price tag on the shoebox and sure enough, it has a ten-dollar price tag. But I realize that I recognize these shoes—I just put them in the sale area this morning, and I tagged them myself and put the information in the computer.”
“So they were supposed to be on sale?” Zip asked, frowning.
Mark nodded. “Yeah, she’d just switched the tag with another pair in the sale section. But get this—I know what I tagged them as and it’s five dollars! She’s trying to pay me more for these shoes. So I look straight at her and go, ‘If you want to pay me more for these shoes, I’ll take the tip, but these really are five dollars and forty cents with tax.’ She just turns red and storms out of the store.”
Everyone laughed, including Edie. She wondered whether the woman had been incompetent at her scam or just not paying attention. Had she meant to switch the ten-dollar and five-dollar stickers and then buy the shoes that were originally ten dollars?
But it was a funny story, and another girl picked up the thread, telling a story about people trying to trick her when she’d worked at a pool over the summer. They allowed kids under five into the pool for free, and a dad had tried to convince her that his kid was four when the little girl was insisting that she’d just turned five and had a great birthday party.
Edie felt a little bad that she didn’t have any stories to contribute. Maybe she really should try finding a job over the summer. If the library in her town needed any summer help, she could work there… but she would have to learn how to drive first, and her parents would have to let her borrow one of their cars. She certainly couldn’t afford to buy her own car without a job first.
They shared stories and jokes until the sky started to turn golden, the sun setting over the trees to the west. A girl Edie now knew as Ariel shivered, even though it wasn’t at all cold, and sat up. “We should get indoors before it gets dark. I don’t like being out here at night anymore, after what happened to that girl.”
Edie nodded agreement, as did a few others. “I don’t think we need to worry about anything,” Mark objected. “The school would have a curfew if being out after dark was dangerous.”
“Either that or they expect us to actually be intelligent, like college students, and look after our own safety,” Zip said, making a few people laugh.
“I don’t think we have to worry,” said a girl whose name Edie hadn’t caught. “The cops will figure it out.”
“What cops?” snapped Ariel. She stood up and walked to the path. “I haven’t seen a single cop on campus.”
“Somebody cleaned up the blood,” Mark said.
“That’s not the same thing as investigating.” Ariel glared around at the group.
Edie stood up, grabbing her backpack. She was getting nervous, too. “I agree with Ariel and Zip. The teachers would have told us if there was any specific danger, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be cautious. Stay in groups after dark, anyway.” Not that she thought anything that could kill Elrath would be stopped by two or three humans—but it might hesitate if it saw them being smart.
Professor Lal had said there was no danger, she reminded herself. But Professor Lal didn’t know everything.
“Good plan,” Zip said. She joined them on the path. “Do you want me to walk you back to your dorm?”
Edie smiled and shook her head. “It’s still light out. I’ll be fine. If you’re worried, you can watch me walk back—you can see the door to Gilkey from here.”
Another boy stood up and stretched. “Sabbath’s almost over anyway. We can turn the lights on soon.”
Edie waved to Zip and headed off down the path to Gilkey. When she reached the door, she turned to see if the group was still there. A few people were, so she waved before heading inside.