He should have stayed home. That thought repeated itself in Jacob’s head as he cautiously made his way from one shadow to the next. There was still a block to go before Hill Street and then he had to make it to the old church. If he was caught…he hated to think of the look that would be on his mother’s face if that happened. The disappointment. Of all the things he did his best to avoid, disappointing his mother was highest on the list. It was also that fear of disappointing her that kept him from turning back. Far more quickly than he thought possible, he found himself rounding the last curve of Hill Street.
Stepping off the road he found the dirt path that wound through the small garden alongside the church. At the end of it, he saw the others who had braved the dark and possible punishment to make the meeting. There weren’t that many. He recognized Bradley Owens and Katrina Bates from his class, not a surprise since they were Natalie’s best friends. Standing near them and nervously twisting his hands in his sleeves was a boy two years older. Jacob knew him as one of Josh’s friends, Timothy Malcolm. Next to him were the Hensen twins, Moira and Michael, also from Josh’s class. Last in the group, and the only one who didn’t look like he wanted to bolt, was Henry Wallace.
It made sense now. Henry was Natalie’s older brother and Josh’s classmate. Out of everyone at school he would want them back the most. It still puzzled Jacob why he had received an invitation to the meeting but he had and now was not the time to question it. Now was the time to act. Stepping around the hedge, he moved to join them. Trying to look more at ease, he smiled nervously but Henry was quick to cut him off from the group.
“What are you doing here? Go home, there’s a psycho on the loose.”
Jacob hated confrontations. He stuttered while fumbling for the note in his jacket pocket, “I got this in my locker and-” The piece of paper was snatched out of his hand and Henry stalked away from him before he could finish. Timothy took a step back at the glare Henry threw his way.
“You put it in the wrong locker! This was supposed to go to Zack!”
Henry advanced on Timothy to shake the thin boy like a doll, still growling at him. Jacob stood there trying to get his bearings and calm his shaking. That solved the mystery of why he had been given a note. He had hardly exchanged more than a few words with Natalie the entire time they had known each other. He was quiet and tended to melt into the background most of the time. The other children watched the dressing down Timothy was receiving but before Jacob could think of what to do next, Henry spun on his heel and glared at him.
“What are you still doing here? Go home!”
“B-but, I want to help. Natalie’s my classmate too…”
Jacob’s voice trailed off as Henry continued glaring. He really wasn’t good at confrontations. There wasn’t any going back, though. If he did then how could he look at his mother again? She was always encouraging him to stand up for himself. While he had been trying to steel his nerve, Henry had turned back to the group.
“You’d just slow us down. Go home.”
“NO. I’m staying. I-if you want to waste our time we c-can keep arguing but wouldn’t you rather find Natalie and Josh instead?”
After getting that out he was feeling a little light headed. Henry turned to glare at him again and it took all Jacob had to keep from looking away. This wasn’t the time for him to back down. How was supposed to help if he just went home? The older boy took a step toward him and he slipped his hands into his jacket pockets wondering if he had what it took to stand up Henry, but luckily Katrina and then Michael interrupted before he had to answer that.
“We could use a lookout, couldn’t we? He’s right about us wasting time. I want to get home before my dad notices I’m gone.”
“Yeah. The more people we have the safer we’ll be too.”
Henry still looked like he’d rather pitch Jacob over the garden hedge but he stepped back to the group. Katrina gave him an encouraging smile which he did his best to return. He wasn’t being sent away and that was a big step. He couldn’t do much from his room, however safer it was. Tonight he would be brave. With a sigh, Henry motioned Jacob and the other children closer.
“You can stay but mess up once and you’re out. This is what we know…”