Thanksgiving Break had come and gone. The kids all returned to their families. Some drove or flew out of city or out of state. Some simply feasted with their close family at home. All of them, however, enjoyed the four-day break from the burdens of school. All of them went back to being a kid, instead of worrying about the complications of a war at hand.
When school began once again, it took them all a while to readjust. Some had grown used to sleeping in, and on that Monday many came in late or with a drowsy head. Most of them had nearly forgotten all about the playground war. They were kids, after all. They had a childhood to enjoy.
It took Lue an entire recess to convince Tricari to become Tricari again. He seemed frustrated that the only one who had remembered the cause was himself and some really enthusiastic players. Jurist was as laid-back as ever. Alier...well, Alier wasn't really a true organized clique, nor was it at war. Experi was the group that snapped back into order fastest, with the discipline instilled by their president Jacques, and his puppeteer David.
James was upset at the fact that Patrick still wasn't back to school yet. On the one hand he felt bad, because it was partly his fault that Patrick pushed himself over the edge. On the other, he was mad at Patrick for taking his sweet precious time to get well. Surely a sprained ankle should only put you out of school for a couple of days at most...?
When Recess had ended, Miss Candace called her class back into the classroom.
"I didn't really appreciate the inattentiveness earlier today," she said, "but I hope that maybe a good Recess could have helped clear your minds up."
James looked around. The class was at attention...at least a lot more than this morning. Miss Candace's chirpy attitude seemed to help this a bit.
"Now, I've been handing out fliers for a while now, but I doubt any of you actually read them. But most of your parents know that this Friday night is the annual Harena Elementary Family Camp-Out."
Around him, James could hear the class buzz in excitement. Most of them harbored good memories of camp-outs hosted at their old school.
Sensing the excitement, Miss Candace continued. "This will be on-campus, on the black-top and field areas. If you want, you can just stay for the evening and enjoy the movies and festivities. If you're camping over night, then you will need to bring a tent and a flashlight, along with the other camping gear on your list."
Miss Candace held up the flier for all to see and then put it back down. She then walked up to the board in front of the room.
"I hope you all reviewed the lesson on fractions over the weekend, because you're going to need it today."
The class immediately let out a collective moan. So much for attentiveness.
"Now come on, you guys. It's simple. Let's review how to add fractions--simply take the greatest common numer--"
"Yes, denominator. Thank you, David. Anyway, find out the greatest common denominator and..."
Once again, James subconsciously tuned out Miss Candace's ramblings and turned over to Kieu.
"So Patrick is gone still?" James asked.
"Yeah," Kieu said. "But he's getting better. He'll be gone a few days at the most. The nurse said that the case was worse than the doctors had thought before, but he still got no permanent damage."
"That's good," James said. Things weren't the same without Patrick, especially at this crucial time to regroup from the break.
Just as the two were about to break off to pay attention once again to Miss Candace (who had now started to explain what a reciprocal was, for the tenth time in the past week), Frank popped his head into the conversation.
"Patrick coming soon?" he said. "We're missing him."
"Yes," James answered. "Soon. But we have you to do his job right?" he said, with a touch of sarcasm.
"I have big shoes to fill," Frank replied, not taking the hint. "So, anyway, something was nagging at my mind for the whole break."
"Shoot," James said.
"You know how when Kate called us over to send me on that mission?" Frank stuck out two fingers and walked them across his desk. "Obviously that left you and Kate alone for a while. What were you talking about? It might have jeopardized our cause."
"That's a big word there, Frank," James said.
"Yeah, I was watching Jeopardy over the weekend and my pop told me what it meant. Anyway, seriously, I'm worried."
James continued while Kieu rolled her eyes. "Actually, while you were gone, Kate and I were discussing possibly an alliance between Jurist and Alier."
"Really?" Frank said in surprise. "Man, I shouldn't have missed that."
"But, hey, duty calls," James reminded him.
"You're right, I guess." Frank glanced at the whiteboard at the front of the room to catch what he missed, and then look back. "So do you think there will be one?"
"She said she was on the fence. Oh, and that she had watched too many spy movies," James said, adding on the amusing anecdote that had stuck on his mind.
"Spy movies, spy movies...could that possibly mean something?" Frank said. "What an important choice of words."
"Hardly," James said. "She was talking about when she sent you off on your mission."
"Well, I don't think so. There's something about it. Something...deeper."
James started regretting mentioning the detail at all. He should have remembered Frank's good-intentioned meticulousness.
"Look, it's nothing, okay? Drop it."
"What if she has a network of spies? What if she's spying on us right now? On Tricari...?"
"That's enough, Frank," Kieu said. Her eyes were squinted with authority. That, or she was simply Asian.
"But Frank does bring up a point," James continued. "Do you think that she's actually going to ally with us? Or is it just a false hope?"
"To be honest?" Kieu looked down at her feet. "I don't really know. It seems too good to be true. Their 'big push' was watching a game which we, for all intents, lost. Something is going on around here. From what I've heard, Kate isn't one to go into something without serious consideration and without being sure that she will win."
"Well, then, maybe she's waiting for something," James said, turning back to face the teacher. "She's waiting and watching."
The three all let the conversation drop there, and James and Frank both turned their attention back towards Miss Candace, at the front of the room.
It didn't take long for Kieu to bore of the lesson. It was, after all, simply a review. Kieu had listened diligently the first time, and didn't need this overkill.
She looked around the class to catch the moods of the kids. She noticed first that Ricardo and Kate no longer sat together. One of them must have put in a word with Miss Candace and wanted it really badly.
Instead, Ricardo now sat, oddly, next to Yasir, and was whispering in helps and hints for the lessons in his ear.
Kieu looked next for David and found him in his usual spot in the back of the room. She recalled his odd behavior last week. Today, he seemed to sit in the opposite extreme. His head was on the table, as if in sleep. The whole day he had remained lethargic--more so than the other kids, even. If she had to place a word for his mood...she'd say that he was depressed. It was something that she never thought she would say about the inquisitive kid.
Something was off. A four-day weekend couldn't cure it. Kieu suspected it was something deeper.
"I think...that I get it now," Yasir said, leaning back in his seat. "Thanks," he said to Ricardo. "Although this would have been helpful a week ago."
"Better late than never," Ricardo said. He pushed the paper filled with charts and diagrams that he used to tutor over to Yasir's desk.
"Not sure how I could ever thank you," Yasir said. He took the paper and put it under his books. "If I stayed this bad for too long, the number of detentions that I would get would stop me from helping Lue."
"We can't have that happening, now, can we?" Ricardo said, peering over his shoulder to make sure that Miss Candace wasn't watching.
Yasir nodded, letting the relief rush over him. He smiled at Ricardo and wondered where this boy had been this whole time. Ricardo had the reputation of being the friendly kid, but Lue never gave him a good word. As a result, to Yasir, he was just "the ref".
So then why did Ricardo decide to help Yasir? It seemed a random prospect. Yasir placed it on Ricardo's friendliness.
He took the time to glance up to the board. Miss Candace had just written down a problem: "3/4 x 2/3 ?"
Most of the class wasn't even paying attention, so Yasir raised his hand. "6/12?" he said, once Miss Candace called his name. He quickly corrected himself, remembering to reduce the fraction. "I mean, 1/2?"
Miss Candace smiled, not expecting an answer at all from the class--let alone from Yasir.
"Why, yes," she said. "That's good."
She stopped to give Yasir a gold star, and he felt someone give him a congratulatory pat on the back. He turned back to Ricardo and returned the gesture.
Yasir spent the rest of the day with Lue trying to reorganize Tricari and getting things back in order. To Lue's embarrassment, Tricari was the last of the main cliques to catch up to speed. However, by the end of the day, things were back on track and Tricari was as ready to fight as ever.
"Yup, I'm back." Patrick held up his ankle at school the next morning, which was wrapped up in a hard cast. James and the others watched in awe. Miss Candace hadn't arrived yet to open the class doors, so in this early morning, her kids sat around waiting.
"Finally," James said. He started a high-five, but paused when his eyes met Patrick's. "No hard feelings, right?" he asked.
Patrick furrowed his brow in confusion. "Hard feelings for what?"
"You know. I sort of...pushed you a bit too hard."
"What? No way. Don't you ever even suggest that again. You may have helped me make it, but that choice to play on was mine, and mine alone."
James nodded, a relief rushing through him. "Nice to hear that."
James watched as kids came up to Patrick to offer to sign his cast. He rebutted saying that it was a soft cast, and that the hard cast was taken off yesterday (which would explain why he was gone). His friends persisted, however, and before Mrs. Candace could arrive, there was almost no room on his cast left.
"That's it, guys," Patrick said, putting down his foot and grabbing his crutches. "I'm putting my foot down. You can sign it some more during P.E. if you wanted to that badly."
James smiled, knowing that Patrick would be nowhere near any of them during P.E. ("Physical Education", the weekly gym/outdoors/exercise class). Instead he'd be waiting the whole thing out in the library with a Doctor's Note.
"Hey, Patrick," said Kieu, just arriving and noticing him as she followed Miss Candace into the classroom. "Nice to see you back."
"Missed me, haven't you?" Patrick said with a smirk.
"Whatever you say," she said, returning the smile. "That's one less problem to worry about now."
"Ouch," Patrick said as he rubbed an imaginary bruise on his head. "That hurt more than anything Yasir threw at me last week."
Kieu gave him a wink and walked back away towards her desk. It was then just James and Patrick walking together.
"I had thought that nothing could have possibly happened during my two school days away," Patrick said, with barely detectable sarcasm. "However, our friend Kieu here seems to think otherwise."
"You'd be surprise how many issues could pop up over one weekend. I also think that Kieu has been noticing some other complications that we haven't."
"Any good news?"
"Some," James said. "I'll explain it to you later." He split off to walk to his desk.
Patrick, already at his spot, sat down. He could tell that this would be a long week.
"Now, class, listen up," Miss Candace said, starting the day. "The camp-out is coming up soon so I want to get a quick show of hands on who thinks that they might be coming? Even if you aren't staying the night."
James had already asked his parents. They wanted to go, and would like the opportunity to meet his friends. While James felt more than inclined to deny them the latter, he could consent to allowing them to escort him to the camp-out.
From across the room, James realized that Patrick had completely missed the fliers and announcements that Miss Candace had given over the past week. However, Patrick still raised his hand. It seemed that he expected his parents to say yes, as well.
Next to James, Kieu also raised her hands. That meant that the key kids from Jurist were going (including Frank, who had just raised his hands from behind James).
James looked across the room and saw that Kate would go. But where was Ricardo? Didn't he sit next to Kate? James searched the room and found Ricardo sitting next to...Yasir? Yasir was raising his hand, and Ricardo, sitting next to him, did the same.
In fact, nearly everyone in the class raised their hands, except for a few people who James would have never expected to go anyway. Then he saw David, who was zoning out and staring into space. James doubted that he even heard the announcement.
What was up with that kid?
After Miss Candace took down the count, she took roll and started on their lesson. It was then that James, too, felt the strangeness in the air that Kieu had noticed before.
At least Patrick was back, James thought in reassurance.