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01 - Graverobber

As I pulled into the student parking lot I already knew something else had gone wrong. Call it intuition. I looked up to see the frenetic jerking of anxiously gossiping teenagers. It wasn't something I'd normally notice – everyone was always gossiping about something. But I saw one girl giving her account to a serious but excited group, only to run off and retell it to another small audience. The deputy principle strode past, bald head downward. He looked glum but he walked quickly into the administration office.

Scone may have found itself another tragedy. How much shitty luck could one small town have? You'd think we were cursed or something.

I shut off the engine and pulled the door lever, swinging out the car and catching a glimpse of my clear blue eye in the rear-view mirror. There was a knowingness in that eye. I locked the car with my beeper, slung my bag over a shoulder and hopped up the curb. I paced quickly down the pavement to meet my friends. I needed to find out what everyone was talking about.

In the back of my mind, like a pulse, I couldn't fight the jarring concern that something had happened to him. Ever since the last tragedy I was thinking about how easy it would be for something like that to happen to him. He seemed the type. The thought had popped up randomly since last fortnight, and I'd squashed it each time. Now it pulsed in constant rhythm. Not settling into fear, but some kind of perverted urgency leading me to desperately find out I was wrong. Even though there was no chance. No chance it happened to him. I kept telling myself that.

My three closest friends had all beat me to school for once. Lazing around by our usual hangout, under the concrete staircase by English block. They looked bored, huddling into their jumpers on this cold winter morning. Fighting to keep out the crisp cold beneath leaveless trees. Misty breaths. From looking at them I got the impression they'd already heard the news and were unimpressed by it. I needed to hear them say it for this suspicion to fade.

"Melanie," I said, she was the first to notice me walk up. "Erin. Jane. Morning guys."

"Morning, Peter." Dark-haired Melanie answered, then went back to picking lint off her stockings. Definitely unimpressed.

"What's going on?"

"You heard the news?" Lighter-haired Erin was sitting on the metal bench.

"What is everybody talking about?" In my head I prayed. Don't tell me another student hung themself.

"It was on the news. Someone dug up Tommy Phelps." Melanie's eyebrows were raised, looking like she was very disappointed in whoever committed the grave-robbery.

"What?" Despite my confusion, I felt that other worry go away. Fading into its usual place in the background.

"Peter!" My other friend Jane, brown-haired like me, had the shameful excitement my other friends lacked. "Even the news crew was saying the coffin was dug out from the inside. There was a hole in the lid, like Tommy scratched his way out."

I looked at her blankly, feeling the same kind of illicit excitement but knowing to keep it off my face.

"Hasn't their family suffered enough." Melanie glared into the distance.

"He died like, two weeks ago." Erin agreed, gripping the bench and glaring at the concrete. "His funeral was Saturday."

"There's a police tape line around his grave at the cemetery." Jane continued with too much eagerness. "On TV there was just, like, this hole by his tombstone. Did you hear me, Peter? It looks like he dug himself out! Even the news crew thought so but they had to change their story cause of how crazy it sounds. But they did say that!"

Melanie grunted in response. I composed myself into a similarly moody mask, turned around to sit on the ground with my friends. Jane wasn't observant enough to notice that I was taking Melanie and Erin's stance. I wasn't going to join in lapping up the story currently being circulated through campus by sensationalist gossip-mongers: Tommy Phelps has come back from the dead.

Her eyes were still bright as she watched my face for something she could bounce back with. Maybe later I'd enjoy the novelty of it. But right now it didn't feel right – too soon.

"Who would be crazy enough to dig him up? And take the body? I mean that's really fucked up."

"Well it has to be a couple of guys from school." Erin answered me.

"They'd have to be so high. I mean… how else…?" I gesticulated without words.

"High and fucked up." Melanie agreed solemnly. "I mean, how'd they get him out of the graveyard? This would've taken planning."

I realised Melanie, Erin and I were doing the same thing. Acting disgusted but hiding our intrigue, we were all thinking through it. But we were too pious. The three of us dropped our gazes and stopped talking. Jane was still bouncing looks between our faces but we gave her nothing.

Tommy Phelps died two weeks ago – he hung himself with a belt, tied it to a ceiling fan.

Maybe if Tommy had been a bullied nerd, the zombie theory would be more credible. Poor dorky Tommy messed with until he killed himself and then… he came back for revenge. But Tommy Phelps had been a jock guy. Popular and sporty. So it was surprising news for everyone at Scone High School. Jane had said that someone had said his Mum had schizophrenia and it was hereditary or something.

The jock crew were known to do crazy things. I pondered the possibility that they'd dug out their old teammate. The popular dudes did drugs at raves. They did strange things: climb water towers naked, skateboard down the storm pipeline. They also did illegal things involving firecrackers and vandalism. Assaults, I remember hearing about a rape happening only a metre off some street after a drunken party.

All those things considered, I still couldn't picture them doing it. No matter how drunk or high. It was… grotesque. And Tommy Phelps had been one of them. A bro. So instead I thought about the druggie group at school. They were smaller in number but took crazier stuff. Meth, even shooting up heroine, I'd heard. They could've done it.

"I'm surprised you're not with the theatre club this morning." Erin broke our five-minute silence to look at me.

"Well rehearsals have been crazy. Ms Worrall wants to make sure we all have our lines down before the play, it's only a few weeks away."

"Hm. Remind me to buy a ticket. I've never seen you act." Erin often projected annoyance that I was spending more and more lunches in the theatre. It wasn't because she actually missed me, I think it was the principal of it.

"I have. He's nothing special." Melanie gave me a wry smile so I'd know she was joking. I'd been friends with her the longest, since primary school, but that didn't make her my closest friend.

"I was the star of the Christmas Special!" I answered with mock indignation.

"What was that, four years ago?" Melanie scoffed.

We hit another conversation lull. Eyes drifting in separate directions. I checked my phone and saw the bell was about to ring any minute. Huddling into my green hoodie jumper, a thought occurred to me. I tensed and stopped myself, deciding to not say anything. But then it slipped out anyway.

"…I wonder if he likes acting."

The three girls cringed. I heard someone hissing under their breath and felt an eyeroll. Instantly I regretted it.

"Have you ever seen him show up to the theatre?" Erin said sarcastically. I felt a surge of gratitude toward her for being willing to talk to me about him. I could feel my whole face brightening as I started to gush.

"No. But I figure he's not a theatre kind of guy. He does chess club, so maybe he doesn't like loud situations like plays. That's probably why he's quiet in class."

I wait for them to either give me nothing or reprimand me. I can take the reprimanding with eagerness if it means they'll indulge my obsession and help me psych-analyse my crush. Even for a moment. I sat with baited breath. I knew I annoyed them, at this stage it's gone so far beyond annoying. That every day, in almost every conversation, my mind goes back to him. Sometimes in the middle of an unrelated discussion. I was grateful that the news of Tommy Phelps had distracted me for as long as it had. I'm a nuisance.

"Peter…" Jane began with exasperation. "He's probably not even gay."

"He's so cute though!"

It was a valid argument. One time I saw him wearing orange jeans. Frequently he sat with his legs crossed. He probably wasn't gay… but it'd about break my heart to accept that. I was in way over my head.

The bell rang and we started to stand. For a moment I thought that was the last they were going to say about it.

Erin faced me and spoke as if she were running out of breath "Just. Ask him." Then she took off for rollcall. Melanie and Jane followed, looking just as annoyed.

Just ask the new kid, Simon Chernosky, if he's gay. I tried to imagine it. Why was my gaydar so off-kilter? My own wishful thinking, would be one answer… In the six months he'd been at Scone High I'd never seen Simon show up to an LGBT club meeting. I didn't go regularly. I wasn't interested in their group activities, or being hit on by fat guys with weird haircuts. Completely androgynous-looking, but I think a few of them were genderqueer. I'd confided with one regular member and she'd assured me that Simon Chernosky had never shown up.

A lot of the LGBT club members were also in Theatre club anyway. The Theatre guys were cool, I had a lot of fun with them, even if I wasn't very close to any one of them. I wasn't close enough to tell them about my infatuation with Simon. Scared the information would somehow get leaked and spread around. I was too nervous to just talk to him, so the only people I could talk to were my friends. That courtesy had expired. Died. Maybe this decision was brought on by the fear that he'd hung himself too, that I'd been too late somehow, but it was time to talk to Simon.

My heart was pounding at the idea as I made my way to rollcall. I didn't have it with any of my friends, but he was in it. Front row, third desk from the left. Where that missing girl from last year used to sit. I'd only heard Simon speak a few times, and he wasn't particularly friendly. He was always serious and to-the-point. I didn't even know why his family moved to Scone in the first place.

The painted door was hanging open, up ahead, students spilling into the room. I wracked my brain for something to say to him. At lunch breaks he was either at chess club or somewhere else. I couldn't join up cause I had theatre. I could try talking to him in General Maths but he had a conjoined desk with two girls who I think are his friends, that was sure to be more awkward than the single-spaced desk situation in rollcall.

I couldn't think of anything. It was still early; I decided that if Simon wasn't seated in the room I'd say nothing and come up with a plan later. My drive and purpose was quickly eaten by nerves.

Turning around the door and stepping inside I saw Simon sitting at his desk. Shit. I froze in panic for a second before taking the two long steps toward him. Simon Chernosky was average in height, shorter than me and slim. He had olive skin, dark matted hair and dark, dark eyes. I couldn't guess where his darker tone came from, what heritage he was crossed with. Middle Eastern, European or maybe even Indian? Maybe several ethnicities mixed together; it made him exotic. He was good-looking – sweet-faced even with his rather serious disposition and penetrating eyes. Sitting in tight jeans and a jacket.

"Hey Simon," he looked up when I spoke, my heart beating while I ran along the haze of my impulse. "What chapter were we supposed to do- for maths homework?" My delivery stuttered, but not enough to give me away.

He shrugged out of his slouch, body tensing as I've seen him do. His thin eyebrows narrowed in thought, I could read annoyance in the edges of them.

"Um… six point four." He looked back at me while answering.

"Oh… crap." I did a show of smacking my forehead. "I did six point seven. Mind if I copy your work?" Students in that class are always letting each other copy, it's not a big deal.

"Shouldn't you do your own work?" He asked with the beginning of a smile. It wasn't a nice smile.

"If we're still doing algebraic fractions then six point five will be our homework tonight. What if I give you the answers to that tomorrow? Fair trade. You can do something else with your evening." I felt like I was navigating myself fairly well, must be the acting practice.

"No." Simon answered slowly, turning his head as he said it. "I'm going to do my own work. So should you."

Is he seriously that stuck-up about rules? Is he actually this unfriendly? Or is it me, does he not like me for some reason? He's so blunt. He doesn't even try make this conversation go smoothly. Get that stick out your ass. People were listening in.

"Well… thanks anyway." I ducked away from him and headed to my seat. No wonder he hasn't made many friends.

AN: I have just sorta rewatched Jamie Marks Is Dead and there's something so very enthralling about low-budget gay highschool romances. The kind that hot gay actors like Cameron Monaghan star in, series or movies. Even better with a spooky twist. Review, you can say anything!

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