The dread of the impending doom that Alex knew he would have to face that evening made the entire school day breeze by in a blur. He couldn't even rejoice in the fact that he was now nearly the most popular kid in school, what with his being beaten by the principal and everything, and instead only found annoyance in everyone's need to approach him and enquire about everything. It made it difficult to even speak to Morgan at all, and even worse was that everyone kept asking about Ivory, as if they thought Alex would somehow know (which he did, of course, but he wasn't about to divulge that information).
The best, he supposed, was that now he had incredible dirt on Frank Alan and Geoffrey Willow—a quick promise to neglect to mention their role in his beating to the police and they were both squirming to do his bidding. It made it all a little bit better.
When he returned home that afternoon, Morgan immediately collapsed on his bed and announced his intention of a nap—Alex decided to grant him that, as he had other plans for the afternoon anyway.
Quietly, he gathered up everything he had found over the past few weeks relating to the fire and Gladys, including the backpack he had extracted from the boys' bathroom at school that day, and then pulled out a few sheets of paper, a pen, and began writing notes down, as well as detailing his hypothesis of the actual events of the fire.
He described Gladys Clarkson, the girl who had disappeared from all historical records; Trenton Clarkson, her little brother who had eventually committed suicide to escape the torture of a ghost's haunting; Calvin Gable, the boy who was locked inside an empty hall and died because of it, solely due to the fact that he had a shameful relationship with an unstable girl's little brother. Solely, Alex thought internally, because he had loved the wrong person.
He wrote about Gladys's suicide, and about Trenton's beating but eventual acceptance of the corruption that had denied him the life he wanted. He mentioned Phillip Clarkson's donation to Southbrook Academy, the final touch to delete Gladys's existence. He wrote about the fifty-five children who died and were forgotten if only because one family didn't want its name disgraced, because the bigotry and pride ran so deep within that family's bloodlines, it decided to sacrifice the world to save its own image.
He finished it up with a message—a message to anyone, really, but mostly to Gladys herself. "Knowledge is the key to understanding the world. Nothing should ever be buried. Shame comes and goes—eventually people will look upon Trent and Cal with pity rather than disgust—but murder and the sacrifice of innocence will always bring about remorse and regret. History is an important factor in defining oneself. To deny it is to deny oneself and to ignore key parts that make the world around us what it is. If we refuse to acknowledge the world as it is, we will never achieve the understanding that we as a human race relentlessly seek. This story should never be forgotten, as no other story should ever be forgotten. Let this remain in your heart for as long as it can, because there is room there for it, and it belongs there, forever. Alexander Fitzgerald."
All the while as he wrote, he could feel a lingering presence watching him work. When he turned, all he could see was Morgan asleep in his bed. Only when he returned to his message could he sense it again. Fleeting shadows in the corners of his eyes would have him glancing about every second only to find nothing out of the ordinary; whispers inaudible breathed into his ear had him jerking to the side from something that was never there. He could feel someone sitting behind him, watching him the entire time, but he ignored the presence as best he could.
He finished with a sigh and slipped the note into the textbook, The History of Southbrook Academy, and then set the items in a very conspicuous place on his desk, hoping that if he were not to make it through this evening, Renee would find it and hopefully turn it over to the police. Once Morgan had suggested that they keep this story a secret, lest Gladys try to kill everyone who knew of it, but Alex now understood the problem in that. The world was nothing without its history, as he had written, and history was key to knowledge. He and Morgan already understood the importance of knowledge, and he was certain the rest of the world did too.
He thought again of what Morgan had told him in that dirty, crowded hospital waiting room, about knowledge being the key to understanding people. "I know my mother is a drug addict and a prostitute, but I don't know why or how she became that way. If I knew that, maybe I wouldn't hate her so much because she'd seem like an actual person," he had said.
Alex thought about Gladys. He knew she had murdered her classmates because she had hated Calvin so much, but if he had understood why she felt such rage, why she needed to kill to protect her own name, he might not hate her so much. He thought about the entry in the diary: "He said he'd leave me alone, but he came at me today and chased me all across the campus;" he thought about the writings he'd found in that vent, and about the hints in Trenton's letter. Was Gladys a killer among victims?
If she had known why Calvin and Trenton had done those things, she might not have hated them so much. But, she had ignored the reality of the story and become wrapped up in her own version of things so much that now the rest of the world was in danger.
A movement to his side had Alex snapping his head to face it, but all he saw were the two glass doors and an empty balcony, silent before a suburban backdrop.
The sacrifice was worth it. Gladys was evil and could not be allowed to succeed, no matter the cost. Tonight, Alex would win in any way he could. He was confident of that.
Of course, that didn't mean he dreaded it any less.
The grad party began as any high school dance did—less formal than prom, of course, since it was only being held in the biggest auditorium the school had in Red River Hall, but Alex absolutely delighted in being able to see everyone dressed up and showing off (and he was surprised to find large attendance, what with everything that had been going on, namely Ivory's death and the principal's fault). Morgan had nicked some fancy clothes out of Alex's brother's wardrobe, and Alex couldn't stop looking at him.
Despite his preparation for tonight's battle and the duty he knew he would have to face, deep down, Alex wished for all the ghost stories and commotion to just die down, starting at that moment. He didn't want to go ghost hunting; he wanted to enjoy himself, dancing in Morgan's arms, just in the way he had always imagined himself by now. Steady (though his boyfriend's face had changed slightly, it was merely a minor adjustment made with much pleasure) and content, facing the prospect of the rest of his life with confidence and excitement rather than fear.
However, his worries came true about an hour into the dance when a flash of red and green plaid skirts caught his attention and he turned, finding, much to his horror, Gladys Clarkson, her face back to resembling a normal, living girl's, standing near the door of the auditorium. Once she caught his eye, she turned and exited quietly, leaving Alex to stew in his apprehension.
He tugged on Morgan's sleeve and nodded toward the exit in explanation. Morgan gave him a questioning, though at the same time reassuring, look, but followed him obediently out. Once they were in the all-but empty hallway, Alex breathed a sigh.
"I saw her come this way," he explained softly, but no sooner had the words left his lips than he caught another flash of her, this time marching angrily deeper into the hallway. Quickly, he dragged Morgan after her again, a little putout that Morgan moved so slowly with his crutch.
He managed to keep up with her for a few turns, but after that, he didn't need her anymore. He recognized that path she was taking, as he had run this course not a few nights ago as he fled for his life. The dread and fear was beginning to grip his heart, but he swallowed it down. This was it. It was now or never. If he didn't stop her now, he would die with a gun to his head like Trenton Clarkson after a life of torture and misery.
Gladys had disappeared after a few turns, but Alex led the rest of the way, much to Morgan's apparent confusion, and stopped when he reached it—the old broom closet he had visited several times in visions and only once in real life. Now, the graffiti on the door had changed once again.
"The History of Southbrook Academy," it read. Alex paused in front of it, reading the words with a certain reverie, before reaching forward and pushing the door open with fervor.
He had been expecting an immediate confrontation with Gladys. He had been expecting to witness horrific images of the school's past. He had been expecting death and pain and misery. Yet, all that he saw when the door swung open was a dusty old broom closet, lined with mops and chemicals and useless junk.
"Anti-climactic, wouldn't you say?" Morgan murmured, and Alex shot him a warning look if only because he was so jittery, he wasn't sure he could handle humor.
With a sigh, Alex stepped inside, approaching the tiny window that just barely let in a glare from the streetlights outside. He looked up at it—it was so tiny, he doubted a person would be able to get through it. Its sole purpose, he supposed, was to shed light on a dark place, even if it were only a little bit.
He heard Morgan hobble inside behind him, and as soon as the noise of his crutch hitting the ground ceased, the door slammed shut. With a gasp that bordered on a shriek, Alex swung around to see Morgan, too, facing the door.
"Why'd you shut it?" Alex cried, pushing past him to get to the door. "Why would you do that?"
"I didn't," came Morgan's quiet, tense reply, just as Alex grasped the doorknob and tried to open it, only to find that it was locked tight.
In that moment, Alex's heart froze still, and terror greater than he had felt before crept into him.
"She knows," he cried, frantically shaking and jerking the doorknob, hoping that by some miracle it would give. He tried to grab it with his left hand, to increase his strength, but all that left him with was a sharp spike of pain follow by a thundering throb.
He never got to hear Morgan's response to his exclamation; before the other could even open his mouth, a high pitched scream sounded, and, as if on cue, smoke began pouring in through the crack above the door, swamping the room in a gray haze and blocking out the pathetic bit of light the window allowed through.
"Oh no, no, no," Alex hissed hysterically, still trying fruitlessly at the doorknob. His worries ended in a coughing fit, however, when he breathed in a lungful of smoke. He fell to his knees, placing his right hand over his mouth as if to filter out the smoke, but nonetheless his lungs burned and his eyes stung so much they had begun to blur with tears.
In a second, he felt Morgan's arms comfortingly placed on his shoulders, but he shook them off.
"She's gonna kill us all," he squeaked out, holding the stinging of his lungs in long enough to get that out before breaking down coughing again. "We're…all gonna die. Be buried beneath the new hall that will be built here. …Fitting, almost…"
"Shut up!" Morgan snapped, drawing Alex's full attention back to him. "We came here tonight to fight. Don't you dare give up with just this!"
"What do you propose we do?" Alex cried, but Morgan shot him a dark glare. "I doubt we can get through that window!"
"I promised I'd protect you, didn't I?" Morgan said in way of response, and then out of nowhere snatched Alex's neck, eliciting another cough out of the boy. For a second, Alex was filled with a different kind of horror—that born of betrayal—but the smirk in Morgan's eyes somehow reassured him of his fate.
He was safe…like this.
"Call for your sister," Morgan whispered into his ear, and Alex paused for no longer than a second before complying with Morgan's request and letting his voice break out from the very bottom of his lungs into a shrieking scream. He could almost feel the smoke he had inhaled leaving his body on his voice—he felt the fear, the dread, the regret, all jumping onto the back of his breath as it raced from his body, cleansing his soul in a way he never knew existed.
When he ran out of breath what seemed like hours later, his eyes slipped open and he realized that they were no longer in that old broom closet, but instead that deserted boys' bathroom in F-Hall. He was on his feet, pressed against the wall—there was no smoke and plenty of light. Morgan's hand was now on his shoulder, touching him so affectionately that Alex wondered if he even knew that the scenery had changed.
Alex's eyes landed on the mirror and he saw their reflection accompanied by Gladys Clarkson, standing quietly off to the side, staring at them. When he glanced over to where the mirror claimed her to be, she was suddenly there, looking so forlorn Alex could hardly think her capable of any evil at all.
"Isn't this a nice place?" she whispered, and Alex recognized her voice as Nikki's this time. He frowned at her, but she was oblivious to it as she looked around wistfully. "It's almost like…like time doesn't exist here. And, if there's no time, there's no past and no future. Just now, the present, alone with your thoughts and happy in your solitude. Can't you feel it?"
"It's terrible," Morgan answered, finally letting go of Alex and turning to face Gladys.
Gladys gave him an incredulous look that was laced with tears. "How can you say that? Here there is nothing to worry about. Here there is no shame, no terror, and no evil. The history of Southbrook Academy is an awful one indeed, and I doubt its future is any less bleak. Why not bury it now, beneath a pile of ash, so that it may be forgotten and begun anew?"
"Why must it be buried to start over? If that were the case, history would merely repeat itself, unless everyone knew what to avoid," Morgan said, and Gladys's expression sharpened into fury.
"What do you know? You're the one who started all this!" she cried, but softened her voice and let her eyes slide closed. "No, Cal, no. I loved you. I really did. But you tainted me and my family, you brought evil into the school and forever imprinted it on us." Her eyes opened again, darkened with rage. "We cannot start anew. We are doomed to evil, so let it die with us! First, with you!"
She held up her hand, pointing a thin, almost elegant finger toward Morgan, but in a breathless, tense instant, Alex shrieked and sprung in front of him, holding his hands out in surrender and letting his expression morph into a pleading one.
"Please!" he cried, using Gladys's apparent surprise to his advantage. "Please stop! We may be evil, and we may have no bright future, but please stop playing God, because that is the ultimate evil!"
"Playing God?" Gladys repeated, her eyebrows shooting upward. "I'm…"
"You judge us as if you have the right," Alex went on, bending over as if to humble himself before her. "You punish us as if you have the authority. You dictate the future as if you know something about it, but you don't! You're not God, and to impersonate Him is your evil!"
Gladys lowered her hand and stepped back slowly, her eyes darting back and forth in confusion.
"What do you know of us?" Alex went on. "How much do you really know? That is your fault! You make uninformed decisions; you act on emotion rather than reason. You'll send us to a grave beneath the school, but we'll leave behind a trail of ashes and this charade will never end!"
"But our history is one of evil!" Gladys cried.
"So be it!" Alex countered. "It may be evil, but it is a part of us, and without it we are nothing! The past may be evil, but there's a chance the future will be good. Would you sacrifice it for the slim chance that it is not? Would you erase its existence merely for a dark stain from its beginnings, just as your parents did yours? Would you kill the future in exactly the same way this world killed you?"
Gladys fell back, silent, her mouth opening and closing in succession, but no retort came from her.
Alex continued, this time in a much more calm voice. "Wisdom is the ultimate reward, isn't it? It is what we all strive to achieve. But if you bury the past, the future is unattainable. A timeless place is a stagnant one, and if you stay here, your mind—your memories and your existence—will wither away until there is no meaning left in this life. Do you want that?" He paused and took a breath, lowering his eyes to the ground. "If you don't want that, then please, return us to our futures and let us be. Face your god and let him judge you, and let us face ours."
Gladys stood silent, her eyes glued to her hands, but she never responded other than to look back up at Alex with the tiniest hint of a smile on her face. Her eyes glimmered, and for a moment he knew exactly what she was trying to say, despite her silence.
In that moment, the bathroom faded into darkness until they were once again in the broom closet, surrounded by smoke and terror. Now, however, the door was open and without graffiti. Alex stood, stunned, but Morgan jumped into action and bolted forward, jerking Alex back to the present as he dragged him along.
Morgan had left his crutch behind and was limping noticeably, but was still rapid in his movements and silent to a fault. Alex, despite the frenzied mood, was calm—he felt like Gladys had given him something…something special, even if it were just a memory. He was beginning to understand how important those really were, and it made the world that much more complete.
They had to pass a burning wall to reach the entrance that connected to the auditorium, which was completely on fire—and utterly empty. Morgan fell still in apparent indecision, his eyes darting around the room.
"Come on," Alex cried, but after another mouthful of smoke, he could barely contain the coughing fit that wanted to surface. Instead of speaking, he yanked Morgan's hand the other way, toward the hall's exit. Morgan followed readily, taking the lead and rushing the doors, but his effort only revealed that they, too, were locked.
"What is this?" he cried, running a nervous hand through his hair. "How did everybody get out?"
"Maybe," Alex whispered, stepping up close to him, "this was the door that was supposed to keep them all inside, and Gladys paid us one last favor." He fell silent, solemn, casting his eyes around.
This was the first time he'd ever seen a real fire, and, for as much as he'd always wanted to witness one, he found it almost ironic that he was trapped inside of it. He could see the flames of the auditorium licking their way underneath the doorway into this front entryway. His eyes flashed across the pictures and plaques that had been returned to their places on the wall. Plaques commemorating outstanding achievements, victories, lives. Calvin Gable's was there again, reframed with glass that reflected the fire that burned ever closer. Old photographs of sports teams and graduations, choirs, bands, tournaments—in every one, the people were smiling, their black and white faces brimming with confidence and excitement, happy with the past and looking forward to the future. Alex envied them.
"If not the whole school, then at least just we will be buried," he said softly, and nearly yelped when Morgan smacked him lightly on the shoulder.
"I told you not to give up," he chastised. "The past is important, but not important enough to sacrifice the future, right? Let it burn—we're getting out of here."
"And how do you propose we do that?" Alex asked, smiling with a cold resignation, blinking back and forth between the auditorium and the hallway that led to the rest of the hall, both of which were nearly collapsing under the blaze. They were surrounded and trapped.
"I don't know," Morgan hissed, "but we have to do something. We have to overcome the history of Southbrook, to dig up this grave of forgotten souls…"
Alex turned and stepped up to the doors, trying once again to find them still locked. He stared at them, and then glanced about—the fire was large and consuming, and they wouldn't be able to get past it.
His eyes focused now on the trophies in the display case. A golden soccer player on top of a colossal tower, frozen forever in time as he kicked his soccer ball, shimmered fantastically in the light of the fire. Morgan had won the school this trophy—Alex remembered that clearly.
Alex closed his eyes, trying to ignore the smoke that choked his lungs and the heat of the fire that had him in a sweat. He tried to ignore the panic of looming death, and the sadness of the thought that it may end here, now, of all places, turned to ashes like his predecessors that haunted Clarence Fishbourne. But, he didn't want that. It was a circle, a trail of ashes that led only to the beginning again.
Please, Alex thought desperately, Please, don't let it end like this…
No sooner had he finished his prayer did he feel Morgan tugging at his sleeve. His eyes shot open to reveal several figures, blurry and white, but clearly people, walking slowly toward the locked doors of the exit. He narrowed his eyes, trying to focus on the nearly translucent faces despite the blinding light of the fire in the background.
It was not the faces that he recognized, however, but the clothes these people were wearing. Green and red plaid uniforms, fading slowly as they approached the door, one after another, and stepped through it as if it were not there. As they disappeared, new figures reappeared at the other end of the room to follow in a silent progression, like a funeral. Everything seemed to quiet down to watch—even the noise of the fire, roaring and crackling though it had been, was muted. It was as though the world were paying one last tribute.
When the figures ran out—when the very last of them stepped through the closed doors—Morgan turned to Alex with a questioning look before following in their trail. At the doors, he paused, and then pushed the handles, but once again, they would not budge, and Morgan fell back, breathing a groan before catching a whiff of smoke and launching into a coughing fit. Alex stepped up to him, placing his hand on Morgan's shoulder as the taller boy's body was wracked with coughs, and Alex felt tears in his eyes again.
He opened his mouth to speak, but before he could, his voice froze. A shadow darted across his peripheral vision, and he turned, but saw nothing and assumed it was merely the flickering of the fire. But, then, once again, another flash of movement had him spinning again. He slid on his heel, following the dark shadow until it stopped, and his eyes focused on the smirking face of Ivory Johnson.
He was not like the other ghosts. He looked as though he were really there. His body was shaped and finite, the shadows across his face flickering in rhythm with the burning fire. He eyes twinkled against the light, and, though he did not say anything, Alex knew clearly what he was feeling.
It was time to go. It was over. Everything was over.
Ivory stepped through the doors, just as the other ghosts had before him. This time, when Alex followed and pushed at them, they came open easily, and the scene behind them revealed Nikki Madeline, looking worse for the wear in Gladys's torn uniform, dirty and scratched up and missing her eyeglasses, standing exhaustedly in front of a display of practically the entire student body, as they all stared in utter silence at the two boys, their rumors and gossip finally halted on their tongues.
Sound began flooding back; the crackling of the fire, the noise of sirens, the words of the students—everything returned, and the two boys exited the burning building but stopped just beyond its threshold, sending it one last backward glance, engraving the image in their minds, before escaping to safety with everyone else.
Alex had never been in a situation in which the entire senior class was alphabetized together until graduation, and at that point he was very surprised that he was seated directly beside Morgan, as the only kids in the school whose names came between theirs were underclassmen. Therefore, throughout the whole ceremony, Alex was practically bursting with excitement, since the whole time (much to his parents' displeasure), Morgan's hand was laced with his. He was glad he had gotten the cast off his left arm in time for this.
Lori, unfortunately, was seated far up to the front, but Nikki was almost directly behind him, merely a row apart, and every once in a while he would turn to smile at her, and she would smile reservedly back.
The ceremony went without a hitch, but come the end of it, Alex was starting to feel dread rise up in him again. At the end, when Alex's parents came down to drag him away and perform the bare minimum of parental duties that were expected of them, Morgan merely leaned over and whispered into his ear, "Meet you at the grave," before parting with him and meandering off, quickly disappearing in the crowd of similarly gowned students.
Renee was absolutely ecstatic about his graduation, and Alex had the passing thought that she might have once worried he wouldn't make it, but he shook it off, deciding it didn't really matter much anyway. Instead, he catered to her motherly nature, playing a better son to her than he did his actual mother. Renee offered him a ride home, but he shook his head with the explanation, "I have to say goodbye," and left it with that.
He ran into Nikki almost immediately after separating with his family. She was standing quite alone and looking still as forlorn and quiet as she had since the incident. When he came up to her with one of his brightest smiles, however, she quickly crumbled and joined in with a little laugh.
"I saw your new hot chart," Nikki started. "Morgan didn't win."
"Didn't even make it to the top six," Alex added, smiling and shaking his head incredulously.
"It's not because he's not hot," Alex said, rolling his eyes. "Believe me, it's anything but that."
"It's because he's gay," Nikki suggested, drawing a nod out of Alex.
"Of course. No one would ever consider faggots like us hot."
"I don't care," Alex said quickly, smiling. "I got what I wanted, after all. Not exactly how I imagined it, but in the end, it was exactly what I wanted."
"I guess so."
A brief pause settled over them, but Alex quickly broke it by forcing a laugh and holding his arms out, gesturing to everything around them. "Well, here we are."
"You're right. At a few points in time, I honestly didn't believe we'd make it here."
"But we have. And so it ends," Alex said, blowing an over-exaggerated kiss to the schoolyard around them, but especially to what still remained of the two grand halls that were now all but gone.
"So it does," Nikki agreed, cocking her head slightly to the side as if to catch the humid breeze that blew their way. "I'm just glad they've put the principal away along with Winterton, even though they couldn't prove he had anything to do with Ivory and I'm sure they didn't believe my testimony. I wonder if it's because that dirty Clarkson money is still supporting the Academy, and I'm the Clarksons' last descendant. Corruption never ends."
"Works out well sometimes, though," Alex pointed out.
"You're right. Anyway, I guess seeing them beating you was enough, right?"
"Yeah. They labeled it a hate crime, too," Alex said, grinning, "because I'm gay, of course. I think that extended their sentence a bit, but I'm glad to hear it. Sure, being gay will knock us off the hot charts, but at least it gets us a few benefits in the end."
"You know," Nikki responded, a humorous lilt to her tone, "if you tried to better understand why they hate you because you're gay, they might seem more human."
Alex rolled his eyes and scratched his head sheepishly. "I've had enough of trying to understand people. You try understanding a girl who murdered fifty-five people and then died half a century before you were born, eh?"
"Hmm, nope, I was completely out of it that whole time. I don't think I understood anything," Nikki answered with a laugh. Immediately, however, her expression sobered and she sighed. "For some reason, I couldn't mention anything about Gladys to you. I tried to give you that diary and I told Winterton my name was Gladys when I dropped that textbook off, but other than that, it was like I was on her side. Though, I was wondering why Gladys chose me as a vessel, of all people. Is it really because I found the chest…because I'm her descendent? I wonder…"
"You wonder?" Alex pressed.
"Well, I had lied to you. I did have a crush on Gallagher, and I only gave my consent because I thought you had no chance. When…when you actually got him, I was so jealous. That was about when I stopped remembering things, so I guess that was when Gladys really took over. Because, to me, Gallagher was the same as her Calvin Gable."
Alex thought back to the trial suddenly, with Winterton and the principal as the defendants. By that point, the principal had given up. He was tight-lipped but barely denying any of the claims. It was Winterton who adamantly claimed his innocence. It was Winterton who begged and cried and pleaded. It was Winterton against which they had hard evidence—videotapes, testimonies, fingerprints and countless DNA samples.
Yet, Winterton's guilt was the only thing Alex really doubted, for Winterton was the only one at the whole trial who mentioned anything about ghosts. Winterton screamed about a man named Kribb and his lover, both of whom forced him to do what he did. It was the girl, he said, the girl who was behind everything. The girl made him do everything. He was the victim, he said. He was possessed and framed so that this man Kribb could do what he wanted, he said.
He had pointed at Nikki, called her an evil conniving bitch, a little whore, a spawn of Satan determined to destroy all innocent lives. The jury, of course, didn't believe a word he had said. Everyone had been taken aback with his outbursts. The bailiff had tackled him. He was led away in handcuffs, and his lawyer had changed his plea to one of insanity, but it didn't take. The jury figured he was a liar, not a loon.
Afterward, when all was said and done, Alex had looked up information about this Kribb, but all he found was a single record, a name on a staff list of Southbrook Academy that included no dates and no descriptions. Just a name—Kribb, Robert—set between Kreiland, Linda and Kumpter, Kyle. It could have been the wrong name, even. A coincidence.
Still, he felt guilty thinking about it.
Alex looked down at his feet, struggling to find words. "Well," he started awkwardly, watching Nikki in his peripheral vision, "it all ended well because you're a better person than Gladys was. Right?"
Nikki smiled again. "Right," she said, but soon her smile faded. "There is something I've never told you."
Alex blinked, frowning in interest.
"When I first opened that chest, it wasn't the diary that I read first. It was Trenton Clarkson's suicide note."
Alex narrowed his eyes, silently begging her to continue. She glanced at him sheepishly.
"That was…how I knew how he died. I didn't even really know he existed, other than the fact that I had a great grandfather," she explained. "He mentioned Gladys as a ghost himself in that note. He said that he had to forget what had happened, but he just couldn't, and that was why he had to die. Till the very end, he thought that."
"What happened to the note?" Alex asked, and Nikki shook her head.
"When Gladys took control I just…lost it," she said softly. "I don't know where it is. I've looked for it everywhere, but, it's just…nowhere. I like to think that maybe…maybe Trenton finally took it back. That he finally got over his own death. His was the ghost that none of us ever saw, but… In the end, I think he was the most tortured." She paused, and then said, "But, the history of Southbrook Academy is once again just history," and a smile lit up her face.
Alex nodded with a sigh. "Well, when all's said and done, I have to admit it was fun. In retrospect, at least. If back then I heard what I'm saying now, I'm sure I would disagree with myself."
"Boy, I think you disagree with yourself anyway."
Alex shrugged. "Sounds like it, huh? Well, anyway, I'm glad it's over. The bad stuff, at least. I'm sure I'll be missing the good stuff." His smile faded slightly, and he glanced over to the rubble where Red River Hall had once stood.
"He's leaving?" Nikki guessed with a soft, careful tone, and Alex nodded. Nikki paused, glancing toward the empty space at which Alex stared, before saying, "Well, such is the nature of college. It doesn't mean it has to completely end—just change a little bit. And, they say distance makes the heart grow fonder; by the end, you'll be so in love, it'll last you a lifetime."
Alex turned to her and forced a smile, as by now his cheer was all but gone. "I hope so."
"It will," Nikki reassured. "But don't let me take up your time. Go spend what time you have left together."
Alex bit his lip, feeling a rush of tears trying to surface, before nodding quickly and, with a wave, swinging around her and making his way over to the chain-link fence that stood forlornly to the side.
He found Morgan easily; the latter was leaning against the fence, his brown streaked hair blowing, silky and shiny, in the breeze, and his eyes upturned intently at the sky as if trying to see what was past it. When Alex drew closer, Morgan noticed his approach and quickly turned his attention toward him instead.
"I was thinking," Morgan started, brushing a few strands of hair out of his face. "All this time, we were digging up this grave of forgotten people, right? But, if you think about it, in a way, graves are created to remember, not to forget."
"Marked graves are," Alex said.
"And we've marked theirs."
Alex grinned sadly and nodded, stepping closer to Morgan and halting beside him. "I guess you're right."
"Of course I am."
The wind blew, carrying the voices of the crowd in the courtyard away from them and leaving them in their own silence.
"When are you leaving?" Alex finally asked, but his voice was laden with dread.
"You're not waiting any longer than you absolutely have to, huh?" Alex muttered, trying to force cheer into his voice, but he was certain his somberness leaked into it anyway. It didn't help that he couldn't meet Morgan's eye, lest he start crying, as the tears were already threatening to spill anyway. Instead, he focused on his graduation tassel that dangled listlessly in front of the right side of his face, occasionally pawing at it like a cat in a sort of nervous habit.
"I start my new job tomorrow, so I have to get there tonight," Morgan answered, sporting a sweet smile, but it was obviously forced. Such was another reason Alex couldn't bear to look at him. "I need to support my own existence somehow, right, and in this capitalist society, I'm afraid money is the only way how."
"You can…live with me over the summer," Alex persisted miserably, watching his tassel—red and green, Southbrook's colors—dance around limply as he swatted and twisted it.
"Oh, I'm sure your father would just love that."
Alex pouted and moved his eyes to the ground. "But…we can figure something out. Or else…else I'll never see you again." He quickly wiped at his eye when a single tear finally made it past his eyelids, and he held his breath, trying to keep back the rest. It worked for the moment.
"Lex, I'm one town over. Seriously, not even an hour away, okay?"
"No, it's not okay!" Alex cried as yet a few more tears escaped the barrier of his eyelids. He shook his head back and forth as he rushed to wipe them away and barely caught Morgan's dejected sigh.
"Look, as soon as I get my new phone number, I'll call you with it, all right?" Morgan persisted, but his words only made Alex's dam against his tears break down even further.
"That's exactly what Scott said to me."
"Alex, I promise. And if I break that promise, you can drive over to the university and punch me for it," Morgan said, reaching forward to steady Alex. Alex finally caught his eye, looking miserably up through his black bangs at him.
"I can't drive," Alex answered softly, frowning even more, but Morgan chuckled.
"Well, you'll have to learn anyway so you can come visit me, right? I'll be lonely without you."
"You mean it?"
"Of course I do."
Alex smiled past the tears that blurred his vision, looking up at his boyfriend with every emotion he had ever felt all mixed into one, giant feeling. And he was grateful—truly he was, to God, to Morgan, to anyone who cared.
"I love you," Alex whispered, and, though he had said it many times before, it was the first time he had ever meant it. He had been told, once, that saying it so often would diminish the importance of the words, but he knew now that wasn't the case. It wasn't the words that were important, after all.
"Love you too," Morgan answered with a smile. He stared at Alex for a moment, his feelings hidden beneath that smile, but then he pushed himself off the fence and stepped up to Alex, looking down at him with such tenderness Alex wanted to cry for a whole different reason. "I won't ever forget about you," Morgan whispered, and then leaned down to kiss him softly, but Alex pulled away.
"Oh, I won't let you," he promised, grinned, and then leaned forward, rolling up to his tiptoes to finish that kiss that Morgan had started.
Thanks to Kyobouryuu Arashi, diebyownhands, Bansira, Amindaya, magalina, ddz008, Hell's first Icicle, Keterah, i8ursocks ha, surreal demon, EternalBreeze, Liz919, Vengeful Black Dreamz, Witherto Anonymous, Static Crackle, Casey. Clearly., Liviania, harpy q, Sirivinda, Lollymeg, ks darkstorm, and everyone else for your reviews and support. And everything.
With all my cyber-love,
The American Daydream…