CHAPTER EIGHT: Maybe
"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." —Ernest Hemingway
It was a Monday. I was not a Monday person.
Six days had gone by since I had woken up in the infirmary. I was let out the next day, and Thursday I was back in class. It seemed as if everyone believed the flu story, but why wouldn't they? They didn't know anything else to believe otherwise. People still stared, but the reason remained with the ATV incident—which, now that I thought about it, happened almost exactly two weeks ago.
We were practicing our BEF (pronounced 'behf'; Balance, Endurance, and Focus) in P.E. by simulating bayonet fighting. We stood on lowered balance beams (a foot off the ground, the length and width remaining the same), and our pugil sticks were padded on the ends and middle with polyethylene foam (think: swimming noodles). They were relatively soft, and because we weren't trying to fight like the militia, we didn't need protective gear.
But I was really starting to rethink that.
"WHOOMPH!" I cried out as I took a hard blow to my side. The lack of falling space between the beam and the mat unfortunately forced me to trip on air before landing onto the mat with a loud SMACK.
He laughed. "You made that so easy."
"You didn't have to hit so hard," I gritted out, glaring.
Nicholas shrugged, a smug grin on his face. "It's foam," he said, as if that made it any better with the amount of force he had applied with it. He twirled his pugil stick around in one hand and offered me the other. I swatted his hand away with my own stick—which humorously resembled an oversized cotton swab—and swiftly got back on my feet, resuming my position on the beam.
I managed to swat him back in the stomach before he deflected my aim for his arm. I wobbled a little from his strong defense, and Nicholas took that chance to, yet again, send me off the beam.
"What are you doing?" I exclaimed, standing up. I didn't move to get back on the beam. "The point of this is—"
"—to practice BEF. And right now? You're lacking all three which is why my hits are knocking you off your feet, more so than my extremely good looks and the fact that you're always on the ground when I'm around."
With my face turning all sorts of red, I ignored him and his suggestive eyebrow. Focus.
"Does this have anything to do with being back on the balance beam?" he asked nonchalantly as I got back on. He was trying to find a way to rile me up so that I would fight back.
And it worked, because in a matter of seconds, my defensive instinct sent him face-first onto the mat, his pugil knocked right out of his hand and into mine.
"No," I said truthfully, even surprising myself a little. It had nothing to do with being on a balance beam, and everything to do with what Dani had told Kaci, Jake and I last night. The thought of being back on a balance beam again hadn't even occurred to me. Until now. And it somehow still didn't bother me. The remembrance of someone, however, did.
Coach Kenton raised an eyebrow at Nicholas and me before turning and looking away. No one else noticed—they were too busy demonstrating the F in BEF.
Nicholas got back on his feet, chuckling. "I was waiting for that."
I rolled my eyes.
"Is there something wrong?" he asked in all seriousness.
"I'm fine," I said before I could stop myself.
I promptly ducked as he made as swing for my head. He made a face telling me he didn't believe me.
I was about to swat him back when a loud sound echoed throughout the gymnasium.
Everyone turned towards the source of the noise.
"—ball pitching machines?" Nicholas muttered, confused, as a tennis ball soared right over his shoulder.
The nineteen of us immediately dropped to the ground, ducking for cover as tennis balls flew over our heads at lethal speeds. Coach Kenton was leaning casually against the wall behind the row of machines, arms crossed and very amused. His eyebrows were raised to almost his hairline, creating forehead wrinkles that only added to his rough and weathered face.
"If any of you continue to stay on the floor after five seconds, I'm sending you all out for twenty laps around the school!" he yelled, promptly turning off all the machines with a simple remote.
I stared at the ten now-harmless ball pitching machines up front as I stood up. However soft tennis balls were, compared to, say, baseballs or hockey pucks—at a hundred to a hundred and sixty miles per hour? Twenty laps around anything sounded a lot less harmful.
"Trust," Coach K said loudly, pausing to let the word echo and linger in the nicely conditioned gymnasium.
I noticed Oliver, who was standing next to James a few beams down, shoot Nicholas a pointed look.
"One of the things a secret operative must always do, but not actually do, is trust. It is absolutely vital to know when and who to trust, because it ultimately determines whether or not you live. This, I'm sure, you have all learned when you stepped foot in Carelton."
"Yes, sir," we answered in unison.
Nicholas glanced at me for no longer than a millisecond before returning a pointed look to Oliver, who shook his head in what seemed like defeat, and turned his attention back to Coach K. I gave Nicholas a curious glance, but he wasn't looking at me anymore.
He took his interest to the wall behind Coach K's head.
"Good. Who—or better yet, what, should we always trust?"
"Instincts," we all responded together again, sounding kind of like kindergartners.
Coach K nodded, looking like he was momentarily proud before his game face was back on. He began making his way to each pair, handing out what looked like a strip of black fabric. "I hope ya'll had a good BEF warm-up because that is exactly what you'll need for this next drill, along with your partner."
I watched in stupor as Coach K placed the fabric in my hand. Jersey cotton. A thick strip of black, jersey cotton. I stared at it in my hand, and didn't look up until someone gently touched the small of my back.
I tried to not look at startled as I felt at the contact.
"A blindfold," Nicholas said simply, pointing to the wad of black in my hand. He wasn't being funny, or implying that I didn't know what it was. His voice was so indifferent, expression so blank, that I didn't know what to make of it. Which, I realized, seemed to happen often when I was around him.
I wasn't stupid; I could practically feel the wall he had up around himself.
I clenched my hand into a fist and took a deep breath.
"One partner will be blindfolded, and from one wall to another, the partner who isn't will guide the former through a series of obstacles. The wonderful and bright students of Professor E's ninth grade Chemistry class have volunteered to help create the roadblocks, for more of an…element of surprise," Coach K explained, even though everyone knew that a bunch of students had broken into the classroom over the weekend as a class dare. The alarm system went off, and it now reeked of isopropyl alcohol and bad chemical reactions. They were still in the process of ventilating it, which would take at least two more days. I was pretty sure some kids were still in the infirmary.
As if on cue, fifteen or so kids led by Professor E.—a tall, lanky woman in her late fifties who, as I seem to recall, loved to tell stories about her days back at Langley—arrived through the door in single file and got straight to work. We watched them at first, standing in the midst of them pushing around mats and beams and carrying around boxes of who-knows-whats, until Coach Kenton shouted at us to move to the other side of the gym, out of the way.
Have I ever mentioned how gargantuan our gym was? All twenty-thousand square feet of it was sort of reasonable—doubling as a training course during off-class hours and all, but we were supposed to go through a set of obstacles one wall to another, blindfolded? With ball pitching machines lined up dangerously facing us, ready to pummel us to our death? And during all this time, we were supposed to listen to our partners and what—trust them?
It sounded like suicide.
Nicholas seemed to agree from beside me, muttering under his breath words like "can't believe" and "ridiculous" and "food." Okay, so maybe the last word I caught had absolutely nothing to do with what was going on at the moment, but even I had to agree I was just a little hungry, too, however unsettled my stomach was with the upcoming task and all the other things on my mind.
"The one who got the blindfold from me goes first," Coach K yelled from the middle of the chaos that was the ninth graders setting up. No ears were strained to hear his booming voice—it could carry over the loudest construction site. "The other partner will stay where he or she is, and will give instructions in however way he or she wants—the clock or compass method, a simple left or right. To test whether or not you have strong instincts, each partner who is not blindfolded will be told by me if you should tell the truth and help your partner get across safely, or lie and sabotage them."
Oh, great. Now we had to figure out whether or not to trust our partners.
"Rest assured," Coach K said seriously, "that no one can actually get hurt through this drill. So I don't want people ignoring my directions and helping your partner when you should be sabotaging them. GOT IT?"
What Coach K was basically saying was that rest assured, we would receive minor injuries like bruises and cuts, but that we would still be able to walk out of class today alive. Maybe not walking properly, but alive.
And that was all that mattered.
"Yes, sir," we replied like soldiers. He then ordered us to turn around to emphasize the 'element of surprise', and that if he caught anyone looking, we'd be out for twenty laps.
What an appealing threat. I wondered to myself if twenty laps would take me the entire class—that maybe if I did it, I wouldn't have to do this drill.
"So, can I trust you?" I asked jokingly as Nicholas was tying my blindfold.
I had a feeling my subconscious mind was neither joking nor asking about the game.
I could feel his hand moving up and down in front of my face—but I couldn't see it. The blackness around my eyes suddenly gave me a chilling reminder of the trip to the detention centre in the same state. I balled my hands into fists and forced myself to believe I was just voluntarily closing my eyes. Resting.
"That depends on what Coach K tells me," he said after a pause. Six seconds. He had to think about it.
I shook my head and made myself stop. Just closing my eyes. The light in here is too bright. Just closing my eyes.
I shook my head again, feeling my throat start to close in.
Anxiety was dancing around me.
I pushed him away. "I just don't like not seeing anything," I said stiffly.
"Well, I'm right here beside you," he said lightly, nudging me. He was smiling, I could sense it. "For a few more seconds, anyway."
"Until I'm pummeled to death by tennis balls," I said sardonically. I tried to think of lethal tennis balls instead of the fabric covering my eyes.
Nicholas chuckled. "Can you promise me something?" he asked quietly.
"That's a stupid question to ask," I said, nudging him back. Blind promises (no pun intended) were almost as no-no as trusting others. They almost went hand in hand.
"Fine. Can you promise to consider something instead?"
I thought about it. "Maybe."
There was another long pause. And then, barely above a whisper,
"Don't trust me, Jaymie."
I stumbled over the third pylon in a row. Switching to my right, I moved freely along, feeling my way through the orange cones I couldn't see but knew were scattered everywhere around me.
"Don't trust me, Jaymie."
I took a deep breath. One more, I thought to myself. I'll listen to him for one more time.
I felt out a beam in front of me and climbed on. I carefully maneuvered along it, stopping when he said to.
"There are two adjoining beams in front of you. Take the right one," Nicholas called out.
"HURRY UP, FOLKS! This is a race and so far, none of you have made it across HALF the distance yet!" came Coach K's booming voice through a megaphone. I didn't have to see to know that everyone, including myself, winced at the volume that probably shook the lining of the walls. Why Coach K ever thought he would need a megaphone was beyond me.
Reaching out my foot, I felt for the adjoining right beam. There was one, but for how long? Sure enough, after about three steps, there came a sudden cut-off which I just knew I wasn't supposed to jump off of. What could be awaiting me underneath was anyone's guess.
(Though, if I wanted to be less dramatic, it was probably just more pylons.)
I retreated and took another deep breath. I could do this—it wasn't as if I had never walked into a situation blindly before.
(Pun not intended. Who knew so many puns could be made while wearing a blindfold?)
"Don't trust me."
As I made my way cautiously along the adjoining left beam, it clicked.
It made sense. In a twisted way, it made complete sense.
So the next time Nicholas told me to jump off—I stayed on.
He told me to move left—I moved right.
He told me to keep my head up—I ducked.
He told me to be careful, go slowly—I ran.
He told me to ignore the distracting objects on the floor—I picked them up.
He told me to dodge a ball coming at me from the left—I deflected the ball coming at me from the right with the "distracting objects" I had picked up from the floor, which happened to be racket-gloves—a.k.a. circular, padded mittens roughly the size of my face. They were like baseball gloves and tennis rackets, meshed together.
(We regularly used them for hand-eye coordination drills.)
It wasn't long before a loud horn sounded, indicating that someone had finally reached the other wall. When Coach K ordered us all to remove our blindfolds, I couldn't believe it.
I had reached the other side first. People began to whoop and clap, dropping whatever they had in their hands or hopping off the beams. Jake had just made it to the cluster of racket-gloves, Anna sat sprawled on the mat after having fallen off the beam, and Holly had a tiny smirk on her face as she leaned against one of the foam cylinder roadblocks, clapping and seeming like she knew something I didn't.
I glanced at Nicholas, all the way on the other side. He winked at me. I smiled uncertainly back, a strange tingly feeling all over my body.
Coach K slapped me on the back good-heartedly. "Well done, Sommer. I see your instincts are in tip-top shape," he said, but the strange glint in his eyes told me he thought something was up. Like maybe I had cheated or something.
I felt like I had cheated somehow, too.
"Thank you, Sir," I beamed, because it felt great. It felt great that throughout the entirety of the course, my mind hadn't wandered, hadn't gone to places where I didn't want it to go.
"Alright, you bunch of wannabe operatives. Back to the other side of the room. Switch roles. GET A-MOVIN'!" In lightning speed everyone scrambled back to the starting point.
"So, can I trust you?" Nicholas mimicked playfully as I was tying his blindfold. It sounded like he was joking, but I had a feeling he really wasn't. Just like when I had asked him.
I waved my hand in front of his face.
"Maybe," I answered.
"Spoken like a true spy."
I really wasn't sure why I was here.
I could smell the inviting aroma of minestrone soup and chicken salad sandwiches that was today's lunch all the way from the Dining Hall, but I had no appetite. In fact, the strawberry milkshake and slice of toast I had consumed in the morning was threatening to de-consume itself.
With the perfect end-of-summer weather, I watched as students made their way out of various different exits, towards various different places, carrying their lunches to eat outside. On the stone steps, by the pond, under the shade of one of the many trees—there were plenty of picturesque places to have your lunch on Carelton school grounds. Jake, Kaci, Dani and I liked to do that, though sometimes we got lazy and just ate inside.
I must have looked a bit strange, sitting all by myself at the top of the rows and rows of bleachers. It wasn't as if I was reading a book or doing homework; I was just sitting there, staring blankly into the air. I might have even looked a bit crazy.
But I guess nothing could have been as crazy as what we had discovered last night, or better yet, what I had realized. Pulling my legs up, I hugged my knees to my chest, and tried to push the quenching feeling in my stomach away.
At exactly eleven hours, fifty-nine minutes, and twenty seconds, there came four knocks on the door. The first one was quick, followed by three slower ones; it was Morse code for the letter 'J'.
Normally, everyone had a curfew of nine o'clock unless you had special permission from a teacher. Normally, even before curfew, boys were not allowed in girls' dorms, and likewise.
Normally, teenagers didn't go to a school for spies.
(So, you know, our actions were sort of justified.)
And it was important. Dani had found out more information about the defunct listening devices, and that wasn't something that could be publicly shared in the library or rec rooms.
Before Jake arrived, we had soundproofed the entire room and searched for any possible bugs. We came up clear, which was good, because if we had discovered any…well, it would have been a bad start to a very downhill night.
As Kaci and I took a seat on the couch and Jake a place on the floor, Dani rolled out a whiteboard on wheels that I didn't even knew we had. She turned it over to the other side, and already scribbled on with green marker was an overview:
'OPERATION: DEFUNCT BUGS (for the lack of a better name)
- incident occurred 8 August 2009
- once Operative entered location, bugs deactivated
- Control Centre discovered suspicious interfering frequencies
- limited amount of accessible resources restricted any further investigation
- strange leave of absence by April Holbrook, Student Counselor Carelton Academy'
Kaci leaned back against the couch and stretched her legs out, accidentally kicking Jake in the back. "So, Boss, what do ya have for us?"
"It wasn't easy figuring out where the frequencies came from or what was in that room that increased the intensity of them," Dani said indignantly, huffing.
"Of course not," I said, elbowing Kaci in the ribs. "What did you find out?"
Dani grabbed a six-page printout from her desk and taped them to the whiteboard, connecting each page like a puzzle piece that formed a large map of the United States. "Well, after downloading a Global Frequency Map from the Tech Lab, I narrowed it down to three possible cell towers that the frequencies could have came from."
With a red marker, she circled three areas for the cell towers. "This is where Jaymie was—" she drew a small X with a circle around it "—and this is where Carelton is—" she drew another X on the map "—does anyone see something strange?"
The three of us stared hard at the map. Finally, Jake said, "Why are two of the cell towers so close to the school? Isn't that kind of far?" He was looking skeptically at the distance between the cell towers and the detention centre, which was very, very big.
I was feeling more and more uncomfortable at knowing just where the detention centre was.
"Exactly," Dani said with a nod of her head, the curls of her ponytail bouncing up and down animatedly. "So then I backtracked and looked for where the frequencies initially came from…"
"And?" I prompted.
"A forest in the middle of nowhere."
There was silence. "Huh?" Kaci asked.
"It means that it's untraceable," Jake said a matter-of-factly.
"Well, you got that far; can't you go further back?"
"No," Dani sighed. "I tried figuring out if there was anything in the detention centre that set it off, too, because it definitely was a combo of things that burned the bugs—but it was just some state of the art security system that didn't mesh well with the interfering frequencies and listening devices together."
I thought about it. "Couldn't it all just be a security measure?"
The three of them shook their heads. "How do you know?" I asked again, narrowing my eyes. "Are you saying you've done this…?"
They all gave me a meek smile. "Don't be mad, Jayms. We were just worried about you," Kaci said, swinging her arm over my shoulder and giving me a squeeze.
"I think I'm madder at how I didn't know." Like I mentioned before, that was how spies did it—they showed their care through bugging your clothes. And I was fine with that. But I wasn't fine with how I was completely oblivious up until recently.
Note to self: always check clothes for listening devices friends may have implanted. Then double check. A triple-check may also be necessary.
Jake grinned. "Don't be. That was the point."
I laughed. "So there isn't anything else on the frequencies?"
Dani smirked. "Now, I didn't say that. After I got the dead-end, I decided to run the suspicious frequencies through a couple of databases to see if I could find out anything more about them. The best I got was that it came from a secured computer system—and anyone want to say what that implies?"
"Purposely done," Kaci, Jake and I all said at once.
My head started hurting.
"They couldn't have known there would be bugs, right?" I asked slowly.
Dani tapped her chin in thought. "No—at least, I highly doubt it. I think the airwaves were meant for something else, and it just got in the way. But here's what I don't understand: there was also some activity going on in the room beside you, Jayms. Like, the room on the other side of the two-way mirror. I can't pinpoint it no matter how much I try, but it was definitely something electronic…" She hesitated for a moment.
"What is it?" Kaci asked. "Everything has to be said."
My stomach churned with that night's dinner. Garden salad and veggie pasta.
"Well…whatever it was, it seemed to be attracting the airwaves. It had like, some sort of special ward which, for the life of me, I couldn't get into. I almost made it past the security system before it kicked me right back out."
"Do you think it has anything to do with…" Jake pointedly looked at me.
I glared at him.
"Jaymie, do you think it has anything to do with that?" Kaci asked tentatively.
I looked at all three of them, knowing their thoughts already. I thought about the way Seth acted. He had no recollection of who I was, then told me he loved me, and then tried to kill me (for the second time, no less). Even I had some bipolar-y moments myself.
And I was given no bracelet.
And then it all made sense.
"Guys…I think it was some kind of experiment."
I sucked in a breath when I snapped back to reality. Nothing changed. The problem still remained at hand: what to do now? Do some more snooping? Confront Headmistress Finley? Drive all the way back to the detention centre and demand answers?
Especially now that I knew where it was.
All three—well, maybe not so much the first one—would be stupid. It was asking for more trouble.
So the four of us decided that we would do nothing, at least not now. We would keep an eye out, of course, but no plan(s) of action would take place until further notice. We had wiped the whiteboard clean to the point where it looked brand new and burned the maps. The defunct bugs were handed over to Dani for disposal, and unless new information found its way to us, we would speak no more of the matter.
Which was fine with me. I was perfectly okay with pretending none of this happened—only I couldn't stop thinking about it. It wasn't that easy. How was I supposed to sleep at night knowing that I had been used as a guinea pig for the very school I went to, for the very organization I would (potentially) work for in the future? I felt used, very abused, and even more so confused. What did they think they could get out of what had happened, that they didn't already know? It made me angry thinking about what they hadn't done in the first place, a summer ago, and that I might as well be a pawn for the rest of my life. Only unlike Seth, it would be unwillingly.
My stomach growled and grumbled, but my appetite remained missing. I thought about maybe going inside, lingering around the Dining Hall, inhaling the scent of food to help get my appetite back. I had even stood up, until a set of doors pushed opened and Nicholas stepped out, holding his head up as if to bask in the afternoon sunlight.
I fell numbly back into my seat.
Out of the corner of my eye, I watched him make his way towards Oliver, who was sitting with a couple other guys in the shade. Then I looked away altogether, because all I could think of was how good he looked in his white button down, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, dark khaki pants, and his tie undone and hung loosely around his neck. And what he had said to me in class—I was thinking about that, too.
"Don't trust me, Jaymie."
It didn't take a genius to figure out that Nicholas had gotten the Sabotage card for me. What I didn't understand was why he'd told me. Indirectly. He had indirectly told me he was going to sabotage me. Why? That went against the point of the drill.
It was also half cheating (because I didn't know he was cheating in the first place).
But had he told me before or after he'd received the card from Coach K? Did he somehow know he was going to be sabotaging me, and decided to warn me beforehand? Or did he actually mean it, in a general sense?
I all but screamed in agitation. Why did I even care?!
This was trivial. It shouldn't matter as much as it was mattering to me.
As I replayed P.E. class over and over in my head, I found that it wasn't hard to pick out Nicholas' voice amongst the other players who were also shouting instructions to their partner. From the moment he had told me to move out of the way of a roadblock, it had somehow settled in my brain that that was his voice. A little rough around the edges, a little husky. Kind of like what a smoker's voice would sound like.
"Don't trust me."
I could still hear it in my head, like a broken record.
"So, can I trust you?"
No matter that the ninth grade Chemistry class had rearranged the entire obstacle course again—Nicholas had gone through with the absolute instinctive ease that was of a natural-born spy. Blindfolded. He had been the perfect exemplar of what Coach K had tried to enforce on us—always trust your own instincts before you trust others. For one reason or another, his instincts had told him I was not to be trusted, which, honestly, I felt a little offended at. He did the opposite of what I'd told him nine times in a row before realizing that I wasn't trying to sabotage him; but I had trusted him first, then switched tactics when I realized he had got the S card for me.
That either said something about his trust issues, or my strange lack of.
I leaned forward and dropped my head in my heads, shaking it in hopes that I could maybe just empty out everything that was in there. At least for a moment. A minute, even. I just didn't want to think. Not about crazy experiments, not about Seth or the detention centre, not about anything that had to do with trust, not about a certain someone who made generic prep school uniforms look like it could worn down the runway at Milan Fashion Week, not about—
"Sour strawberry belts?"
"Go away," I snapped, recognizing the voice immediately.
Nicholas sat down next to me. I could smell the tempting scent of the candy, and my mouth watered at the mere thought of them. I pulled my head out of my hands and sat up a little, staring straight ahead. "You didn't go away."
"Nah," he said as he munched on a sour belt.
My stomach growled. The smell of sweetly soured strawberries suddenly appeared right under my nose—literally. I begrudgingly reached for one in the pack, finishing it in seconds.
"No thank you," I muttered, pushing his still-offering hand away. I leaned back against the fence, feeling tired. Where was the sugar rush?
Nicholas settled his forearms on his knees. Neither of us were looking at each other. "We make quite the team, don't you think?"
"I guess so."
"We might even get to work together in the future," he remarked offhandedly.
I glanced over, but didn't comment. We were silent for a few seconds, which eventually turned into four minutes. I watched as some sophomores walked by—the same ones that had been in our mixed P.E. class about two weeks ago. They all nudged each other and in a not-so-subtle way looked up to where Nicholas and I were sitting.
I narrowed my eyes at them. They hurried away, whispering and giggling.
More silence. I stared hard at the field down below, counting off the months before the lush, green grass would be covered in snow.
"You saved my life," I said suddenly, like maybe it hadn't exactly occurred to me until then just what he'd done by getting me off the ATV in time.
He shifted his gaze to the field. "I won't always be there to save your life."
"You told me not to trust you," I said quietly, referring to today's P.E. class.
"You did anyway," he pointed out, a little annoyed. "Why?"
I looked away.
Nicholas leaned back, and I felt the fence give at the addition of weight. "The bruise on your stomach? Wouldn't have gotten it if you didn't listen to me."
I gave no indication that I was surprised he knew, but I was. I thought about the patch of red, freshly punctured skin I had discovered whilst changing after P.E. It was roughly about the size of my hand, and came from walking into an end of a balance beam. It definitely looked worse than it felt—I could hardly feel a thing besides that it sporadically tinged and was sort of itchy. But it wasn't as if I'd never gotten bruises before. Bruises were basically another skin in Coach K's P.E. classes.
"Maybe my instincts are just off."
"You hesitated—I saw you hesitate. But no, listened to me anyway and walked straight into it."
I shrugged, like it was no big deal. And it really wasn't.
"Do you trust me, Nick?" I asked quietly. I watched as his green eyes scoured over the school grounds, his hair dancing playfully in the soft breeze. When he didn't say anything for five seconds, I knew he wasn't going to answer me.
His trust issues or my lack of? I was still wondering.
He turned and looked down at me, our height differences evident even though we were sitting. "Be my date for the Awards Ceremony on Thursday."
"That's kind of demanding," I joked, trying to cover how caught off guard I was.
"Will you be my date for the Awards Ceremony?" he asked again after a pause, tilting his head and grinning at me. "The dance thing afterwards."
"The…dance?" I repeated, suddenly unable to think of my own words.
"Let me guess," he said, nudging me like he had done while I was blindfolded. "You're already going with someone?"
Well, no, I wasn't. But I couldn't find my voice to tell him that.
"So, am I being reject—"
The words came out before I could stop them: "Why do you even want to go with me?"
He laughed. "Why would I not want to go with you?" he countered, arching a perfect eyebrow. He turned to face me, his face so close to mine that, if he wanted to, he could lean down and kiss me like in some of Kaci's ridiculous chick-lit novels that I definitely spend too much time reading and thinking about. Instead, Nicholas just looked at me expectantly. "This is just like me trying to be friends with you. You get all defensive about it, like I want something from you."
"Is it so hard to understand that I'm just trying to be friends with you?"
Didn't asking someone to a dance generate more-than-friend feelings? And for the record, yes, it was hard to understand. Because the last time someone wanted to be friends with me and asked me out on a date (which was sort of equivalent to a dance, right?), the same person also ended up ambushing and trying to almost-kill me. So, you know, it was natural to be just a little bit cautious.
But my voice still hadn't returned.
"Look, you can just say—"
The bell rang. Lunch was over.
I stood up and turned to look at him. Sitting there with a small smirk playing on his lips, his demeanour so inviting—yet so closed off—it wasn't hard to tell him my answer. Because it was just the same, vague.
And then I left.
The Awards Ceremony was in T-minus fifteen thousand and three hundred seconds, or four hours and fifteen minutes, and everyone was pumped.
When the last bell of the day rang, the student body erupted into louder-than-normal chatter ("When are we meeting up?" "Your dorm or mine?" "Are you two going to be matching?" "Will they be serving those cute, little flower cupcakes again this year?!"). I couldn't but feel a surge of anxiousness when Nicholas winked at me from across the hallway.
Right. I was still maybe his date for this thing.
What did that even imply, anyway?
Suddenly, my little knowledge of relationships and how they potentially worked diminished to absolutely nothing. What was I even thinking when I had answered him?
Kaci had prearranged for both Dani and I to meet her back up in the dorms after classes, so she could show us the dresses she'd made for us to wear. I was about ten feet away when I noticed something in front of the door. As I got closer, a sweet scent that could only be from a fresh rose wafted up my nose and I couldn't help but smile, gingerly picking up the single rose off the ground. I figured since it was the day of the Ceremony, and the fact that Jake had cutely asked Dani to be his date through a binary message on her computer (Kaci and I had initially thought we were getting hacked until Dani shoved us aside and took control), they were from him, for her.
I was wrong.
Upon closer examination—because you never know when you're holding a beautiful poisoned rose—the small card that was attached to the thorn-less stem didn't bear the name of one of my roommates, it had mine. And it didn't take a genius to figure who it was from.
Scrawled in messy print that was easily distinguished as a boy's writing, the inside of the card read:
"I've turned your 'maybe' into a 'yes.'
And then, squished underneath, the letters rubbing shoulders against one another:
"If there's anyone I need to take care of in order to be your date for the night, let me know in advance."
I quietly laughed, twirling the rose around in my hand. That same weird tingly sensation crept up my arms, but it was probably just from the powerful rosey scent that, for some reason, I couldn't help but to continuously inhale and relish in. I lingered outside the door for a few more seconds before slipping the rose and note into my bag.
Taking a deep breath, I entered the room and braced myself for the hectic pre-Ceremony preparation that Dani, Kaci and I always went through. I grinned just at the thought of flying shoes and running around pointlessly screaming in the dramatic way girls do when they're excited about something.
And maybe I was truly, very excited about the Awards Ceremony, and Nicholas, and the start of a brand new school year—because they were exciting things. I just hoped that nothing like the ATV Rally or the detention centre incident would happen again.
If only I had known what was in store for me in the next few months.
HERE'S TO THE SUMMER! This chapter was so difficult to write; I apologize for it being so long since I last updated, and the lack of anything super exciting that happens. Next chapter, I promise!
**NOTEY NOTE**: Who noticed the quote at the top of the page? In the past months I had been neglecting to really work on this story, I indulged in countless hours of the amazing show, Criminal Minds, and decided it would be fun to throw in quotes for the story! For hours I scoured the interwebz for suitable ones that matched each chapter to kind of give it more depth and a sort of "third-person" perspective into what happens. So please, please go back to the previous chapters-- not to read the chapters again (but feel free to...sometimes I can't even remember what happened!) but to take a look at the quotes, because I feel like they really add something. Tell me what you think!
As per usual, let me know what you thought of this chapter! Comments/questions/grammatical and spelling errors are all very welcomed and super duper appreciated! Thanks for reading! xoxo