xxx

I spent the night with Liv the night before the Halloween dance on campus. Ordinarily, I wouldn't have given the dance a second thought, but, seeing as James and I had been waiting for this night to come for nearly three weeks with hopes of uncovering more information about the door attached to the stadium, there was no other place I would rather be that evening. The universe worked in mysterious ways.

James and I had spoken both to Professor Dearing and Professor Jacobs about garnering the key to open the door we were both completely obsessed with but hadn't had any luck. We had been directed to talk with the dean to see if he would help us, which we had, three times, and still hadn't reaped any rewards from our attempts. It wasn't as though the dean was denying us access by any means, which would have definitely aroused suspicion. It was a matter of legality: students weren't to have access to the stadium, and the dean would need to get it cleared. The action, in my humble opinion, was taking forever.

So, with our fist mission on the backburner, we were now focused on my cozy one on one interview with Wes. James had interrogated me the day following my date to gather whether I had learned anything good. After a series of questions said in a tone to rival that of a televised cop drama, James sighed, ran a hand through his hair, and told me I had squandered away a perfect opportunity.

I made sure to inform James just how much I disagreed by assuming the role of an audacious lawyer and putting him into his place. His hair blew back from the shock of my verbal rampage.

Our plan, after the few hiccups, was now concrete: I would be attending the Halloween dance with Wes, whom I would get to show me inside the locker room at some point for an interview, while James waited outside and out of sight near the secretive door. By the end of the evening, we would hopefully have both information on what was inside Wes's locker and the mystery behind the door. What could possibly go wrong?

Liv and I were currently perched in front of the bathroom mirror, taking a sequence of brushes to our faces in order to apply makeup to complete our designated costumes. Liv was going as Jane Bennet from Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice, while I was going as Lucy from Charles M. Shluz's comic strip Peanuts.

Standing side by side, I marveled at the staggering differences between us, and how, even in costume, our personalities were reflected so wholly. Liv was pure and classic, while I was bossy and opinionated.

"You look great," Liv said as we finished the final touches of our costumes. "I'm glad you're going." She knew I was going in part – in total – to delve deeper into the mystery James and I were working on, but she had still smiled ear to ear when I mentioned I'd be attending.

"You look like a princess," I said with a side smile. "That guy you're trying to impress isn't going to know what do with himself."

This comment received an eye roll from Liv who then glanced back into the mirror. "His name is Lance."

I mock gagged. "He even has a prince's name."

"Lancelot – which is who I'm assuming you're referring to – wasn't a prince. He was a knight."

It was my turn to roll my eyes. "That's somehow a step worse."

Liv giggled and ran a few fingers through her wavy tresses. She and Lance had been in an on-again-off-again relationship spanning the last year. He was a typical Westlaker: rude, conceited, ego-centric. I couldn't understand what Liv saw in him, but with each break-up, and there had been many – she had completely lost sense of herself. My heart ached to see her so upset, but Liv – so kind and genuine – could never be with someone like Lance. How was it possible for people who were so void of everything human to always attract the complete opposite?

A plethora of compliments had been handed to us from Liv's parents who both wrapped us heartily in their arms before departing. Before we stepped into the crisp autumn air, Richard had shouted for us to not do anything he wouldn't do.

It was easy to appreciate the beauty of Liv's neighborhood during the holiday seasons, where each household decorated their front porches as if in a competition. Grand, festive wreathes flocked the front doors, carved pumpkins with intricate designs were placed pleasingly on the porch stairs, and pretty, rustic decorations littered the front lawns.

It was quite the contrast from my community, which didn't take part in the western holiday. Although, it had never deterred me from getting that warm feeling every fall when the leaves turned and fell, and the air grew brisk. It was my favorite season.

The Halloween dance was incredibly packed. Looking around at the array of students dressed in varying degrees of costumes – most notably, a guy dressed as Ace Ventura in a tutu, white button-up shirt, and boxer shorts from Ace Ventura and, least notably, someone in a ketchup costume – I had to pause and admire some of my fellow peers' creativity. While some took the typical route, other's surprised me, and I gazed in wonder at some of those more uniquely dressed.

The gymnasium was dimmed. A few glowing lights were set around the space, showcasing the many tacky Halloween decorations strung about. Jack-o-lanterns, ghosts in swaying cloth, and large, sparkly spiders hunkered around the room as people danced in time to the pounding, ear shattering music. A few booths for refreshments were set up near the edge of the gym, which was were Liv and I steered first.

Once we arrived, I scooped myself a cup of a foul looking punch – the exact color of death – and took a hefty dram.

"Wow, that's disgusting," I said, clicking my tongue to rid the flavor penetrating my mouth.

"Never drink the punch. Rule number one." Liv eyed me seriously.

"How many rules are there?"

"Too many to cover now." Liv's attention drifted towards the entrance of the gym. "Oh, there's Wes."

Wes and I had agreed to meet at the dance. He had offered to pick me up, but I explained I was already going with Liv, which was news to her, but, considering I wasn't actually interested in dating Wes, found it better to stick with the story of arriving and leaving with Liv.

"Hey," Wes said, his mouth cocked to the side. He was dressed as some superhero or another. "Who are you supposed to be?"

"Take a guess," I said playfully.

"Uh."

"I'm Lucy."

"Uh."

"From the Peanuts."

"Oh, right. Yeah. Nice!"

I exchanged a glance with Liv, who shook her head marignally as if telling me to ignore the fact Wes didn't know what the Peanuts were. I sighed, unworried Wes would be able to hear it over the blasting music, and I stepped beside him.

"Wanna dance?" he asked.

"Sure."

While dancing with Wes, I was preoccupied with the date inside the envelope James and I had found. Both of us had been so certain the date referred to tonight, as it was the Halloween dance and rather significant, we hadn't entertained the idea the date may have been in reference to another time during the day. There hadn't, after all, been a time. My eyes scanned the dance floor like lasers. It was dark, but I had good vision. If anything suspicious was going on, I was certain I would see it.

The doors to the gym burst open, and my eyes darted in response. James had just walked through. Our plan, as decided the previous day, went as followed: I was to ask Wes at nine o'clock sharp to give me a tour of the locker rooms. Meanwhile, James would be scouring the football stadium and surrounding areas on the lookout for any odd occurrences.

The fact he was now inside the gym gave me cause for concern, and, after telling Wes I needed to use the ladies room, I squeezed between couples stitched together and found James near the opposite side of the gym.

"What happened?" I asked.

James furrowed his brow. "Lucy. Really? Halloween's the time to dress up like someone you're not exactly like."

I forged a laugh. "Says the guy dressed a boring documentarian."

James, who was wearing jeans and a flannel, said, "I hate Halloween."

"So, what happened?"

"Nothing," James said.

"Nothing? Then why are you in here? You should be outside watching the stadium!" It amazed me how quickly the pitch of my voice escalated when I was speaking with James.

"That's why I'm here. Nothing's going on. I don't know – maybe it happened at it different time today."

The most frustrating part about this entire endeavor was not knowing what 'it' was. The date inside the envelope could have been in regards to anything, and we wouldn't be any the wiser. An emptying feeling of hopelessness suddenly plummeted in my stomach.

Sighing, I said, "Yeah, I was actually wondering the same thing."

For the first time in our long history, James looked to me with a softness cushioning his brown eyes. I knew then the same hollow feeling was sweeping through him.

"So, I say I grab Captain Wow over there and get on with the intimate interview in the locker room."

James scanned my face. "You know where to hit him if he gets too handsy, right?"

My mouth made a wide O. "Do you really think I don't know how to defend myself, James? I'm Asian! Of course, I know where to hit him – a swift kick to the balls."

"Great," James said through an inhale, his eyes growing wide in exasperation. "You're really breathing life into Lucy."

A granted him a single eye roll. "Just wait outside the stadium like we planned in case something happens outside the door."

James nodded and left the gym.

It was almost too easy to get Wes into the locker rooms. In fact, on our walk towards the stadium, his hands not the least bit shy, I wondered if I was going to have to kick him in crotch. I then imagined other scenarios and asked myself how far I was willing to go for the sake of sneaking a peek inside his locker. Kissing I could handle. Much more than that, I wasn't so sure. And, despite the vile nature of James, I knew he wasn't expecting me to sell my body for the cause. I'd be alright.

Once inside the locker room, Wes grabbed my hand. I smiled on cue and stepped into my big girl shoes.

"You trying to flirt with the interviewer. How scandalous." I removed my hand from his.

"She's too pretty not to flirt with." Wes's eyes looked hungry again, and a small, undisclosed part of me shuddered. "So, what questions do you have, Madam Journalist?"

"Oh, quite a few actually."

Wes quirked a brow. "Fire away."

I whipped a small notepad and pen out of a pocket of my blue dress. The act was met with a stunned look from Wes, who, apparently, thought I wouldn't be asking legitimate questions. The Joke was on him. I played serious.

I jumped right in. "Have you always had the same locker?"

Wes shook his head. "What? Oh – um – yeah, actually."

"It's got some special memories, does it?" I asked with the sweetest voice I could muster.

Wes lapped it up. "Oh, yeah. Extra special memories. This locker room does too. For more than one reason."

A chill ran down my spine. I needed to move things along. "I bet you have some extra special items in your locker. I would love to see."

"There's just sweaty football gear in there. Nothing exciting." Wes was scooting closer to me, his blue eyes drowning with eagerness.

"Oh, come on. Just a quick peek?"

Wes leaned forward, and I was forced to decide where I drew the line. I didn't want to kiss him, not at all, and although I could argue the sake of the story was worth it, in this moment, it wasn't. I backed away, but kept a smile on my face, and gave my efforts one last attempt.

"I think I might like the smell of your sweaty football jersey." The words sounded horrid out loud, but, the softening lines on Wes's face proved he thought just the opposite.

"You're a kinky one, aren't you?" He then leaned forward again, and I knew I had to evade.

But, just in that moment, I heard something. It was coming from outside – no, the bathroom, maybe? It sounded like it was all around me. Voices. I heard voices. Stepping back from Wes's pursed mouth, I asked, "Do you hear that?"

His eyes snapped open. "What."

I didn't say anything as I fled the locker room. The cold air was biting, but my insides were on fire. I had heard voices, and I needed to know where they were coming from. Flying around the side of the stadium with Wes calling after me, I glanced towards the side door, expecting to see something – what, I wasn't sure – to explain the source of the voices. But it was empty. No one was there.

James then appeared from the dark, his eyes clouded and searching. They landed on me first, but swiftly traveled to Wes, and his expression grew cross.

"What's he doing here?" Wes asked, his voice husky.

James didn't remove his attention until I said, "I heard voices."

"What?"

"Like whispers, I think. I don't know – but definitely something."

James and I then headed back towards the front of the stadium and delved into the locker room. Wes was still calling after me, his voice mounting with aggression.

"Margaret – what the hell – what's going on?"

I didn't have time to answer. Instead, I placed my ear up to the exposed wall in the locker room and listened intently.

"Margaret, what's going on. I thought – I thought we –"

"Shut up!" James and I both exclaimed in unison with our ears glued to the wall.

Wes was physically impacted by the words and stumbled backwards, mouth gaping. "Fine. Fine! You know what, if you want to be a bitch, go ahead!" He then threw his arms in the arm and left the room, but not before James cast him a signature scowl.

Now immersed in the quiet, James and I focused solely on listening. Seconds passed, but I heard nothing. Minutes passed, and still, I heard nothing.

I exhaled sharply. "I swear I heard something. It was voices, at least I think it was. It definitely sounded like voices."

"I believe you, Ren. Relax." James still hadn't removed his ear.

I crossed my arms and huffed. "So, what now?"

James rolled his shoulders, his mind wandering. "I don't know."

We ended up staying inside the locker room for another fifteen minutes, both of us figuratively crossing our fingers for a sign of life. But nothing happened. We left, our hopes sunk lower than ever before, until we spotted something on the opposing side of the field. It was a white semi-truck with a wholesale grocery logo stenciled on its side.

"Was that here before?" I asked.

James's eyes narrowed onto the truck. "I honestly don't know." A beat of silence. "They must be here to restock the concession stand."

With a side glance towards James, I marched full steam ahead, determined to get to the bottom of the mysterious voices. I heard James's feet slapping against the sidewalk after mine. When we rounded the corner, we were met with a few men hauling boxes up the stairs and into the stadium on path towards the concession stand. My heart sank.

"I found the source of the voices," I said dully.

James sighed beside me, his attention on the men with large containers of supplies. "Come on, let's go back to the dance." On our quiet walk back, he asked, "Did he let you see inside his locker?"

I shook my head, feeling even more defeated. "No, but he was really weird about it. I was persuasive, James, you know me, and he still wouldn't budge. I think he's hiding something."

James stopped before the entrance doors to the main building housing the dance. He then looked to the sky before lamdinf directly on me. "We need to get the key to that door." His words sunk into my skin. I couldn't have agreed with him more.

Once back inside the dance, my spirits completely decimated, I hung back alongside the wall and watched the mass of students dance to music that made my head spin madly. I wanted to go home. Glancing to my left, I found James chatting with another guy I recognized, his single friend on this campus: Paul. He was also on the media club and was a fair sight more pleasant than James. Currently, Paul was nodding enthusiastically at James as if James had said something entirely agreeable. Paul was a little too pleasant for his own good.

I hadn't seen Liv since I arrived, and imagined she was out dancing in the center of with her night and shining armor. Though my lips quivered into a smile first at the thought, they readily dropped along with my stomach. I really disliked Lance.

As if on cue, Liv emerged from the throng of people, her face warped into something very un-Liv-like: aggravation. She stormed from the group, long hair flying like a flame behind her. Lance, I noticed, was trailing closely behind. Stomach now in my throat, I threw myself off the wall and ran towards them.

"Liv, what happened."

Liv turned a heel and pointed an arm straight as an arrow at Lance. "He's what's happened. He's a dick!"

My mouth formed a rigid line, and my eyes fixated on Lance. I needed no further explanation from Liv. If she was this close to tears, the person who caused them deserved an immediate death. Marching up to Lance, I lifted my leg and jammed my knee into his crotch. Lance recoiled in agony, his legs shaking, and I felt the hopeless feeling evaporating with each of his groans.

"You think you can mess with Liv, huh? Think again! I've been waiting an entire year to do that."

Because the dance was so loud, no one really noticed the scene. Those who did simply shrugged it off, as if fully aware whatever actions Lance had taken against Liv entirely warranted my maneuver.

James suddenly appeared beside me and watched Lance still cupping his groin. After asking Liv, who was halfway between tears and shock, if she was alright, he then turned to me and said, "Guess you do know how to defend yourself after all."

I smiled.

xxx

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