Chapter 8

Dear Alice, I like this girl that I've known her for years. She's everything I want in a girlfriend but I think I've been "friend zoned". How do I tell her that I want to be more than "just friends?"

Dear Alice, My long-term boyfriend dumped me this summer for another girl. Of course he didn't say it was for another girl, but I have a feeling it was. I'm even more convinced because I saw him walk into school this year with his arm over another girl's shoulders. It's ripping me apart to see them together. Help?

Dear Alice, my chemistry teacher is an ass…

There was more to the last letter, but my already waning patience wasn't up for finishing it. Placing the letter in the Nope pile on my bedroom desk, I sighed.

My head ached. This week alone there had been a total of forty-six letters for me to read. Forty-six excruciatingly difficult letters with poor penmanship and overly dramatized questions. Closing my eyes, I brought my index and middle fingers together and began to massage my temples.

For a typical Ask Alice section, four questions had to be responded to.

But how on Earth was I supposed to choose from so many?

Opening my eyes, I focused on the letters piled on top of my desk until my eyes blurred and the words became unreadable. There were currently four stacks littering the surface. The categories cleverly ranged from Nope, Too emotional and Maybe, to Answerable? There were only three letters in the latter pile, which would mean that I would have to choose out of the twenty Maybe letters. But which one?

I groaned in frustration and firmly pushed my swivel chair into the center of my room. Idea forming in mind, I used my feet to slowly spin my chair in a circle. Around…around…. around…around. Faster and faster. Soon I was spinning so fast that my room was blurring together. Spinning, Spinning. My mind was all over the place. This was too much for me to handle. Too much for me to do. I couldn't. Spinning and spinning.

Suddenly feeling sick, I stuck my foot out on the ground and planted it in one spot. My chair came to an abrupt halt and almost jarred me out of my seat. With the room still swirling around me, I stood up and held my arms out wide. It didn't help much. My body tilted one way, then the other. With no small amount of effort, I made it to my bed and flopped onto my back.

The spinning hadn't helped my headache at all. "Of course it hadn't," I grumbled stupidly.

On the far side of my bed, my laptop was still open. On the screen, the official Asperger information site glared at me.

Tears springing to my eyes, I suddenly felt the urge to cry. Here I was, trying to give advice to students, but I couldn't even help myself. What about my questions? Someone I considered a good friend battled autism every single day. And the bitterest pill to swallow was, while my words could help my peers, there was nothing I could do for Clari. Words weren't capable of that.

By the time Monday morning rolled around, I had chosen four Ask Alice letters, replied to them, and sent them anonymously to the private Observer Crew website. In the end, I had selected two regarding applying to colleges, one about class trouble, and the "friend-zone" letter I had read yesterday. When I had read over my finished replies the night before, I sent them in without second thoughts and went straight to bed.

Students this morning didn't seem as excited as they had been the previous Monday. They walked in the building with slumped shoulders bearing the weight of heavy backpacks. Many students had bags under their eyes and the overall volume of the school was decibels lower than it had been last week. Outside, clouds had rolled in overnight. Their ominous dark grey color gave the warning of impending rain and the wind was crisp and cold. It was as if summer had ended overnight.

Clari wasn't at her locker, which was somewhat of a relief. I spent hours over the weekend tirelessly looking at different information sites for Asperger Syndrome. They had been completely helpful, but I needed some time to digest what I had learned. The last thing I wanted to do was treat Clari any differently. I was sure that wasn't what Ashley had wanted. After thinking about it, I decided that Ashley had probably told me about Clari purely for her own benefit. She didn't want to be alone in bearing this secret any longer. I couldn't blame her.

Opening my locker door, I furtively glanced around. The students that crowded the halls were absorbed in their own conversations. Believing it was safe, I pulled out the Ask Alice folder and hid it on the top shelf before stuffing my other textbooks in messily. Paper shot out the sides of my folders, and I was pretty sure I could see a plastic baggie containing an unidentifiable snack I had saved for myself last week. Grimacing, I pulled a pencil out of my messenger bag. On my locker door I had taped a notepad for my "Weekly To-Do" lists.

Clean out locker! I wrote messily, taking up three lines. Bending down, I placed my gnawed pencil between my teeth so I could have my hands free to stuff my backpack in the lower half of my locker.

I was still struggling when someone tapped me on the shoulder. Looking up behind me, my eyes widened. Emily was standing over me…with Rachelle. Hastily pulling the pencil from my mouth and throwing it in the locker, I stood up.
Emily smiled, "Riley, this is Rachelle. You guys haven't really had the chance to meet, so I thought I'd introduce you."

Rachelle's eyes screamed boredom, but she plastered a false smile to her face. "Hi. Yeah…last week I thought you were just a freshman. That's why I didn't pay attention to you." Emily laughed and my lips quirked nervously.

Rachelle's shockingly pale blue eyes never left my face, but I could tell she was sizing me up. Her shoulders were back and rigid, her posture stiff. It was almost as if she was gauging whether or not I was a threat. Which was completely ridiculous. I'd never been a threat to anyone in my life, except maybe in the writing world.

I laughed hesitantly, "No, I'm a Senior actually."

Emily began talking about how I was a transfer from Drayton and how Clari had found me on the first day. Rachelle however, just continued to silently stare at me. She gave the impression that she was listening to Emily, but her eyes were locked on mine. Feeling completely intimidated, I broke the eye contact and looked down at my feet and then back up at her.

She smiled at this, having concluded I was harmless, "Interesting," was all she said.

The morning bell saved me from having to come up with a response.

Emily looked around the hall before tugging at Rachelle's elbow, mentioning that they should go if they didn't want to be late for English. I understood Emily's urgency. They weren't in AP English with Tom and I'd heard that the English IV teacher was a true curmudgeon, worse than Mr. Briggins because he couldn't even teach.

Rachelle completely ignored her for a few more moments before finally agreeing. She turned around with Emily, but before walking away though, she called over her shoulder in a sickly sugary tone, "It was so great to meet you!"

I turned back at my locker. Angry at myself for letting her intimidate me, I grabbed my ratty Physics textbook and violently slammed my locker door before making my way to Mr. Briggins class.

The morning couldn't pass soon enough. Sitting through my classes, I eagerly awaited lunchtime when the Observer would be released to the students. The issues would be available in front of the cafeteria when the bell rang. The thought of seeing my work in a newspaper again was enough to make me want to jump out of my skin.

When the bell for lunch rang, I bolted out of my seat and was out the door before any of the other students.

I didn't stay long enough to hear Tom calling after me.

There was a frenzy of students in front of the cafeteria door. Some of the sophomore editors tried desperately to get people to like up but with no success. Even though I was an editor myself, I received privileged access to the paper. I had to shove and elbow my own way to the front of the group live everyone else. It was no small feat. Students all around me were cursing and jabbing elbows. It was a miracle no one fell down; I was sure they would have been crushed.

Finally making to the table, I grabbed a paper and made a mad dash for the cafeteria.

"Success," I hissed under my breath.

For as long as I could remember, I had made a point not to look at something important until I was sitting down. Keeping my eyes trained ahead of me and off the paper, I made my way to the center of the cafeteria.

There, Daniel and a couple other guys were pushing two tables together while some younger girls stood idly by. When I reached them, I put my stuff on the ground and helped close the remaining gap between the two tables. Daniel looked up and smiled gratefully at me.

"Thanks for helping, it's Riley right?"

"Right!" I smiled at him. Daniel's hair was an odd mix between brunette and blonde and it covered his head in a matt of long curls. His eyes were a deep brown, and his skin was dark and tanned. His best feature though, at least in my opinion, was his adorably boyish button nose. In just a week I had learned that he got teased about it mercilessly. I however, found it endearing.

Turning around to grab the things I had left on the floor, I cursed under my breath. Startled, Daniel looked over at me. He lifted an eyebrow, "Something wrong?" He asked.

I was kneeling down on the floor where all my things were, everything but the newspaper.

Grumbling, I stood up. "Yeah, someone just stole my newspaper." I scanned my eyes over the cafeteria and looked for the perpetrator. Unfortunately, students were flooding into the cafeteria in droves and many of them had copies of the Observer in their hands. There was no way I was going to find my paper.

I scowled and turned back to Daniel who was laughing mirthfully at me. "If looks could kill," he grinned as my scowl deepened.

Making my way to the table to sit by him, I sat hard down into my seat and tossed my lunch bag onto the table. "I'm not mad at you. I'm mad at the lazy thief that stole my paper. I had to fight for that thing!"

Daniel smiled cheekily, "All the more reason for you not to let it out of your sight! That's just pure negligence." He tsked. "That must be such a loss for you though, considering you were practically drooling over Rachelle's paper last week."

"I was not!" I replied huffily. After a few moments of silent eating, I looked up. "I just met Rachelle today, she's nice." I didn't know what compelled me to bring that up. Perhaps I was just looking for someone to explain her to me? On the outside she was cordial, with a few backhanded compliments thrown in here and there. But I liked to pride myself on my intuition, and for some reason she gave off the persona of raging bitch to me?

Daniel smiled humorously, "Ha, she's a character. We don't particularly get along." He chuckled and shot me a sidelong glance, "But that's probably just because I turned her down for sex a couple years back. She hasn't really forgiven me since."

I took in a sharp intake of breath. Now, I wasn't a prude; I knew people had sex in high school. It was totally fine. Perhaps if I had had a boyfriend at Drayton, or even now… but I didn't, and I don't. I shook my head a little to clear it. I guess I just wasn't used to people talking about it so openly.

"Why'd you turn her down?" I asked, hoping I wasn't prying into things I shouldn't be prying into. Who was I kidding? I loved being nosey.

Daniel glared at someone sitting across the table, I didn't catch who, and then lowered his voice into a growl. "I guess I'm just not the type of guy makes a habit of having sex with girls who are shit-faced drunk." There was no trace of humor in his voice.

I was just about to probe him further on what he meant when Ashley came strolling up behind me. During my conversation with Daniel, the table had filled up to its normal overwhelmingly crowded size. I offered to squeeze so she could have a small amount of space, but she just smiled and looked at Daniel. She jutted her lip out in a pout and gave him her best puppy-dog look.

Daniel fake-groaned, "All right, all right, I guess you can sit on my lap. Honestly, I can't say no to you," He turned his body so she would have easier access to the seat.

Ashley beamed, hopped on his lap and then shuffled her legs under the table. Upon getting comfortable she looked up at him smiling, "Oh you just pity me because of my scar."

Daniel stiffened next to me and I looked up at Ashley, shocked. Daniel was quiet for a moment. "That's not true." He hissed after regaining his composure.

Ashley just laughed, "Okay… bad joke. Geez guys! So sensitive." She continued to smile as she unloaded her lunch bag. Daniel physically relaxed but I thought I could still spot a little patch of rosy red on his cheeks.

I had to stifle my envy every time I saw a person with an Observer paper. All throughout the cafeteria, students were searching furiously through the pages. Across the table, some girls dropped their papers in dismay. Rachelle tossed hers to the middle of the table, disgusted.

What's wrong? I thought to myself.

Ashley seemed to notice my observation. "You haven't heard?" I looked up to her as she cleared her throat of peanut butter and jelly, "I guess Alice is once again a no show. It's really too bad. You haven't even had the chance to read any of her work!"

"What?" Desperately, I looked around the table for the closest Observer. Some girls beside me offered me theirs having decided that it was useless. Ripping the paper open, I scanned over every article and photo looking for the Ask Alice column.

It wasn't there.

A wave of hurt washed over me. I was crushed. Lucky that Ashley hadn't seen my reaction, I abruptly stood out of my seat. Daniel glanced up at me and asked where I was going.

"I, uh, I have a meeting I forgot about." Offering no other explanation, I sped walked out of the cafeteria. I made it to the bathroom before my eyes started watering. Briefly checking each stall to make sure I was alone. I stood in front of the mirror. My hazel eyes looked back at me, becoming redder as the tears gathered in my eyes. I furiously blinked them back.

"Not here, Riley." I wiped my dripping nose on my sleeve. "Get ahold of yourself." Closing my eyes, I took a few deep breaths before opening them again. There were no more tears, but a hint of red remained. "Better." I mumbled.

The initial wave of hurt and disappointment had passed, I was furious. On my up the stairs to room 62, I worked to manage my anger.

No one can know I'm Alice. Control your anger Riley. People can't think you're overly upset by this.

When I reached the second floor, the bell rang. Bracing myself for the meeting, I walked into the room.

There were already a couple kids gathered there. They whispered in hushed voices. I could distinctly make out the words Alice, Lucas, and pissed. Recognizing that I was their age, they offered me a spot next to them as the room started filling up with the crew. Instead of getting ready to work on articles like a normal Monday, everyone glanced at the words "Meeting" on the board, and gathered chairs to the front of the room like they'd done on Friday.

Students were still setting up when Lucas walked in. A hush fell over the room like a blanket when they took in the expression on his face.


Sitting nervously, I silently begged the straggling students to set up their chairs. Lucas seemed to get more pissed with every second that passed by. When they finally settled, Lucas looked up at the group. He shot every student a venomous glare, his eyes settling on mine for a moment before darting to the next person. By the end, everyone sat hunkered down in their chairs, bracing for what was about to come next.

"Well everyone," his voice was dangerously low and he spoke at a painfully slow pace. It was as if he wanted every word to sink in and spread its poison, "By now it's no secret that the Ask Alice section wasn't published today…And because I don't know who exactly Alice is, I guess every single one of you's going to have to take the blame for this one. It's only fair." His mouth was set in a hard line as he pulled a piece of paper out of his back pocket. "Today, our readers are upset because they didn't have a chance to read their favorite section of this newspaper… well I am giving that honor you. Or maybe, it's a punishment." He looked up at the ceiling, contemplating, before returning his scowl back to us. "It was certainly a punishment for me, as I stayed up for hours and hours last night working on your guy's articles, which despite the huge number of editors in this room, were still filled with fucking. spelling. errors!" His voice had risen to a yell, and the whole room flinched. Lowering his voice he continued, "So after, finally, editing all of your poorly written articles, that were sent to me at the last. possible. minute." He waved the paper in the air. "Getting to read this, was the fucking cherry on top."

The younger girls in front of me looked like they wanted to cry. Some of the guys were looking down at their hand shamefully. The girl beside me was chewing her nails down to raw pink stubs.

Lucas didn't care, He was letting the words soak in. I cringed when he began again. "I've decided to read to you one particular gem that stood out last night." Sarcasm riddled his voice, "What, with the truly inspiring collection of college questions and problem's with understanding a math class. This one. This one just really stood out to me. You know?"

Holding the letter out in front of his face, he read the boy in the friend zone's question. Changing his voice to a more sarcastic and theatrical tone, he then began to read my response.

"'Dear Friend-zoned,' clever name by the way, I applaud your creativity… 'I understand that you may have romantic feelings towards this girl now, but those emotions can change.'" He paused. "'Considering you liked this girl just as a friend before, maybe you will only see her that way again. Or perhaps, those feelings will not go away. In that case I say, stay true to your heart. It will lead the way.'" Lucas began to slowly clap, "Wow, truly inspiring Alice. I don't think I have ever heard words sound so hopelessly boring. A true accomplishment."

Had I really written that? Coming from Lucas's mouth, my letter sounded exactly as he described…hopeless and horribly written. Cringing, I looked down at my hands, wishing I had a pencil that I could nervously chew on. I really needed to re-consider how seriously I was taking writing these replies. Maybe I could have written a bit more emotionally. The letter he'd read sounded so empty. Heartless.

Lucas's voice changed into a firm monotonous tone. "No more waiting to send your articles in the last minute on Sunday. No more spelling errors. You should know the difference between their and they're. And Alice?" He paused, once again scanning his eyes over the room, unsuccessfully searching for the person he was addressing. "Get your fucking act together. That's all." With that he stormed out of the room and slammed the door, leaving stunned silence in his wake.

In the corner, one girl burst out crying. She was urgently wiping her nose, trying to stop while the rest of the students sat still in their chairs. Finally another girl stood up. Her name was Jessica Freed. She was the Specialized Editor for the news section.

She cleared her throat before speaking. She was obviously shaken but was trying not to show it. "Well everyone… let's get back to work."

With bent heads, the reporters went to their computers. The young editors followed and began offering whatever help they could over the shoulders of the typists. They took Lucas's words to heart. He had shamed them, and they began working furiously again to make him proud. It was out of both fear and staunch loyalty. They hadn't fought Lucas because they knew what he had said was truth. Pure and bitter truth. They were ashamed and now worked to be better.

None of them however, were as ashamed or as determined as me.

Hello Readers! I really hope you enjoyed this chapter. I can't thank you enough for all the support I have been receiving for this story! I hope you know that every follower, favorite, and review doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated by me! Happy Reading : )