Ciera waited on the side of the road, the fog surrounding her as she shivered from both the cool fall air and the anxieties that rose within her. She worried if her mother told her the right time. What if she had started waiting too late and they had already passed her? What was she supposed to do if she had no ride? She couldn't walk all that way, especially not in this fog. Ciera already knew that she would have it hard enough today, being late would not help. And being that kid that didn't have a ride would make the already tough process of making friends just that much tougher. Although, perhaps she subconsciously was hoping for that.
She looked both ways along the street; there was not a set of headlights in sight. Ciera already felt alone enough at this point, but this fog was only making that feeling worse as time went on. Not a person for her to call her friend, not even the trees as they hid out of view. Her bag felt heavy, but nowhere near as heavy as she felt, nor as heavy as the tears that seemed to permeate around her eyes, desperately trying to get out into the world for all to see. Or, for none to see in this situation. She let out a single tear. And then another. And soon, her cheeks were wetter than the air.
There was a sudden screech. Ciera shot her watery gaze up the road and saw a single set of headlights and a flashing red light. She quickly went to rub away the tears in her eyes and the snot in her nose that seemed to always come with them. The red light stopped and the headlights began moving forward. Ciera began wiping her cheeks of the wetness that remained on them, only to remember that she still likely looked rather flushed and her eyes were red. She took several deep, not-actually-calming breaths in a vain attempt to regain her composure before–
The doors opened before her.
"Hello there," the female driver said with a sweet smile. "There should be a seat towards the back that you can sit in."
Ciera reluctantly climbed up the steps of the bus and made her way down the aisle. As she passed each seat, she saw many seats completely filled by other students, or simply taken up by one student who filled up the rest of the seat with their bag. There was not a single empty seat, nor a seat where the other person didn't try to take up the entire seat. The bus doors closed.
"You have to take a seat, Dear," the driver said.
Ciera frantically looked around until she saw a girl in a black hoodie sitting alone with her bag just taking up a little bit of the extra seat.
"Can I sit with you?" Ciera asked quietly.
The girl looked up at Ciera with wide eyes and nodded shyly. Ciera smiled softly as she watched the girl move her bag while Ciera sat down next to her and set her own bag in her lap. She looked at the girl, who had now lifted up her hood and was looking out the window. Ciera went to speak but found that her voice would not let her. The two sat in silence for the entire bus ride. Despite seemingly nobody wanting to talk to Ciera, she constantly felt like she was being watched.
When the bus finally arrived at the school, two others arrived right behind it. Students scrambled to get off the large vehicles and Ciera lost her busmate in the sea of people that were flooding into the school. Ciera made her way inside and looked around at the vast array of people that she had never met before. Many of them looked content with the friends they currently had, and the ones that didn't look that way seemed like the kinds of friends that Ciera was not interested in making. And so, Ciera set her bag down on the floor against the wall of the hallway and waited for the bell.
As Ciera walked down the hall and into her first class, she still felt as if she was being watched and now followed. She felt crazy the number of times she looked over her shoulder only to realize that it was just her classmates behind her, but she still didn't feel like that was the answer to what she was feeling. She had to shove the thought and feeling to the back of her mind as she struggled to find a seat. Every seat she saw was either taken already or was being reserved by another student for a person that Ciera wasn't even sure existed. It wasn't until she made it to the back of the classroom before she found a seat next to a girl in a black hoodie with the hood up. The teacher entered the classroom.
"Good morning class," the teacher said. "For those of you who don't know, I am Mr. Wendleton, and I will be your Algebra One teacher."
The entire class was quiet except for a few kids in the back not-so-subtly whispering to each other.
"If you look around you, then you'll see the same classmates you saw last year," Mr. Wendleton gestured outward. "Except for one. That's right, we've got a new student."
Everybody in the class looked directly at Ciera. She gave a half-hearted wave as she sunk deeper into her seat, wishing she could be anywhere else but here.
"Would you like to introduce yourself, Miss?" Mr. Wendleton asked.
"S-Sure," Ciera's voice trembled.
She rose to her feet. She realized quickly that most of the students weren't paying much attention to her, and the few that were paying her any attention were doing so because they had to and they were more focused on talking to their friends. Except for the girl in the hoodie who was cautiously watching Ciera.
"Hello," Ciera said quietly. "My name's Ciera Woodsworth, and I moved here from a small town called Trimont over the summer."
Ciera tried to talk about small facts about her old home, but by the time she had finished just her first sentence, just about everybody else had already stopped listening. Everybody, except for the girl in the black hoodie, who smiled up at Ciera as she sat down.
Mr. Wendleton then began giving an introduction of the course to the class and started his first lesson. He lectured about multi-step equations as a refresher from the previous year of math. Many of the students were either largely confused by the work that they had already learned or simply did not pay Wendleton any attention. Towards the end of the class, he wrote down an equation on the board and asked everybody to solve it. When he went around the room looking for the correct answer, he only got it from Ciera and the girl in the black hoodie. Wendleton praised the two, especially Ciera, which made her feel good about herself despite the rest of the class glaring at her.
The bell rang.
As the class left, everybody either ignored or shoved Ciera while they walked past her. Everybody, except for the hooded girl who simply smiled at Ciera.
The next three classes were much like the first. Ciera would have to introduce herself to a class that does not care and pays her little to no attention as she does so. She would then go through much of the class not interacting with anyone–both out of shyness, as well as knowing that her interaction was not wanted by anyone–and then getting glares and made fun of by her classmates when she would get questions right that nobody else did, except for the people wearing black hoodies. By the third class of the day, Ciera had noticed that each of her classes had at least one person wearing a black hoodie that would do just as well as she did. As well, these were the only people that seemed to at least acknowledge her existence in a way that didn't make her feel bad.
As the school entered the cafeteria for lunch, Ciera found that there were very few spots open at any of the tables. When she did finally find a spot, it was at an almost full table that barely noticed her presence. Still, it was better than being shooed away as some of the other tables had done. Although, one of the boys secretly shot a snot-rocket onto his friend's burger patty when the friend wasn't paying attention, which relieved Ciera of any appetite that she had. She gave away her food and left to use the bathroom.
Ciera made her way down the hallway, which remained surprisingly empty; but she felt like she was being followed again. She could hear a set of footsteps down the hall behind her and feel a pair of eyes staring into the back of her head. She tried to ignore it, assuming it was just another student who needed to use the bathroom, but the steps sounded like they were getting closer as if the person was trying to catch up to Ciera. But who would do that? Seemingly nobody wanted anything to do with her today. The steps were fast and sounded like they were only a few feet away. Ciera had to look, just to be safe.
Ciera turned her head and realized it was the girl she had sat with on the bus. They both stopped and looked at each other, Ciera smiling before noticing that the girl had an orange envelope in her hands. The girl handed Ciera the envelope.
"What's this?" Ciera asked.
"Read it when you're alone in a safe spot," the girl said as she walked away.
"Wait, I don't think I caught your name," Ciera called.
The girl stopped.
"The name's Paulina," the girl replied.
The girl walked down one of the classroom hallways while Ciera walked into the bathroom. She opened the envelope and pulled out the piece of paper inside along with a wooden circle with a strange symbol on it. It looked like an 'X' with a 'V' going through it. Ciera looked at the paper.
The paper read: "Classroom 105, bring Crossvee for proof. Come alone."
Ciera folded the paper and put it in her front pocket, along with the wooden circle. She used the bathroom and searched the halls for classroom 105.
The classroom door was locked and the windows along it were covered. She knocked on the classroom door. It opened very slowly and a girl a year or two above Ciera looked through the opening and held out her hand.
"Do you have the Crossvee?" The girl asked.
"This?" Ciera asked.
She reached into her pocket, pulled out the wooden circle, and handed it to the girl who inspected it closely. Ciera noticed the girl was also wearing a black hoodie.
"Aight, you're legit," the girl said as she handed back the Crossvee.
The door opened more and Ciera was hurried in by the girl, who then shut the door very quietly behind them both. Ciera was met with the site of fourteen other people in the room, all of them wearing black hoodies. They were each working in groups of four or less, only looking up from their work to acknowledge Ciera's presence. The oldest girl of them all, a senior that Ciera had noticed in the halls when she got off the bus, stood up and walked to the middle of the room with her arms stretched out to her sides.
"Well, well, well, look who finally arrived," the girl said in a bombastic tone. She held out her hand. "Valorie."
"What is this?" Ciera asked, growing worried about what she had just walked into.
"This, is Spy Club," the girl said, gesturing to the room around her.
"Spy Club?" Ciera repeated.
"Yes. Well, technically it's labeled as Cipher Club, but that's just so we can get items we need to make or break encryption."
"I'm still confused," Ciera said.
"We are a small group of students, fifteen at any given time, that are bound by a pact to use our knowledge, and our skills at blending in and investigating to keep this school safe and fair."
"Safe from what?"
"The students themselves, as well as some of the staff."
Ciera looked around the room, specifically at the number of people in it.
"You said fifteen at a time, but there's only fourteen of you," she said. "Where's the fifteenth?"
"Well, that is where you come in," the girl said. "We've looked at your records from your last school and analyzed every detail about you we could find. We have interviewed the few people at your last school that knew you well enough to be useful. And finally, we have watched you with a close eye all day. We have come to a conclusion."
"And that is?" Ciera asked, believing she already knew the answer.
"We want you to join us."
"But why? I don't even know what this is."
The older girl stepped forward and placed her hand on Ciera's shoulder as she leaned down to match her sight.
"You have demonstrated that you are rather intelligent for your age; that, whether you mean to or not, you are good at being invisible and blending in; and that you are good at collecting and piecing together information. You also have a clean record. No detentions, no fights, not even so much as a tardy."
"But why do you need me?" Ciera questioned. "Is there not anybody else in this school that has all of those things outside of you guys?"
"You also have one more angle that we need for our next mission," she said.
Ciera listened intently.
"You're the new kid," the girl began. "It is easier for you to intercept groups with it seeming suspicious, and the staff is more willing to let you get away with things out of sympathy."
Ciera looked away, hesitant about joining these people.
"Ciera, please," Valorie said quietly. "You could help a lot of people."
Ciera sighed and looked up at the girl who towered over her.
"What's my first mission?" She asked.
Valorie smiled and backed away as she turned to the desk she was at originally, with her hands behind her back now.
"Have you ran into Bobby Brown or any of his gang yet?" The girl asked.
"I don't think so," Ciera replied quietly.
"Lucky. They are easily the worst students in the school. They bully and harass kids constantly, they destroy public property, they make the lives of teachers horrible, and some say that they've pushed several people to harm themselves..."
"Why haven't they been expelled yet?"
"Not enough proof, I'm afraid," Paulina cut in. "Other students can say that they do these things, but that's not enough to get them expelled. At best it merely gets them suspended for a few days. You need hard evidence like a video or a confession to prove such things."
"Well, how do we get that?" Ciera asked.
"That's where you come in," the older girl said with a grin. "Molly, tell her."
A short girl stood up from one of the tables holding a tiny circular device no bigger than the buttons on her shirt with a wire coming out.
"Every week, that gang gets together in the school locker rooms with their girlfriends and they all get high on whatever they can pull together," Molly explained. "You try to get in on this get together, where you will secretly have this camera attached to your shirt. You will have to get good shots of everything as this camera is not able to capture audio, but it will be enough to get these guys kicked out."
"I don't actually have to get high, do I?" Ciera asked, already shaking at the idea.
"Don't worry, you don't have to," the older girl reassured. "All you have to do is just show up, get a few good shots, and get out of there before they catch on."
"Okay," Ciera said meekly.
"But first, you actually have to get them to allow you to come with them," Paulina said.
"How do I do that?" She asked.
"Girl, you are a living creature with a set of lady parts," Valorie laughed. "You just have to speak to them and they'll let you go."
Ciera blushed and laughed with many of the other girls that had also joined in on the laughter. The rest of the meeting was spent instructing Ciera on what to do, where to find Bobby Brown, as well as how to work the tiny camera. The meeting finished up right as the bell rang, and the group made their way out into the hall, including Ciera, who made her way to her next class, English.
English went by much the same as the other classes, however this time Ciera felt slightly more comfortable in being ignored. She kept a close eye on the clock, waiting for the right moment. At exactly 12:45, Ciera asked if she could be excused to use the bathroom.
While in the halls, Ciera searched for the origin of the voices echoing throughout it. Eventually, she found it in front of the gymnasium doors: Bobby Brown and his gang. Ciera walked up to the group, who all immediately took notice of the small girl. They had to have been Juniors and Seniors, but the few girls with them certainly were not in the same grades as them. Ciera got worried when she thought she recognized one of the girls from the middle school end of the bus.
"What do you want?" One of the boys asked.
The boy was clearly the oldest, and was exactly how the group had described Bobby.
Ciera stood silently, staring at the boy as she struggled to find her voice.
"Looks like one of the new kids," another one of the boys said.
"Y-Yeah," Ciera stumbled. "I just moved here this summer."
"Why the hell would you wanna move to a town like this?" The oldest of the girls laughed.
"I mean, I didn't really have a choice in it," Ciera mumbled.
"You still haven't answered my question," Bobby said.
"You guys just seemed pretty cool and…" Ciera trailed off.
"And?" Bobby asked.
"I was wondering if I could hang out with you guys," she said into her chest.
Bobby smirked and looked around to his friends who grinned at him. He leaned in close to Ciera, looking her up and down.
"What's your name?" He asked softly, yet still remained intimidating.
"Ciera," she whispered.
"Well, Ciera," he stood tall and towered over the young girl. "If you think you can keep up with us, I see no reason why you can't tag along."
The boys split apart, giving Ciera room to join into the group. The girls made space between them for her to stand, although none of them seemed very happy about her joining them.
"Th-Thank you," Ciera said quietly.
The group stood around talking trash about the teachers at the school and telling Ciera, who didn't participate much in the conversation, about what teachers she had to stay away from, and what ones were cool and would let her do whatever she wanted. She ignored much of the conversation, having met only four of the teachers, who were each the only people outside of the Spy Club that had treated her in ways that didn't make her feel bad. She didn't wanna sour her thoughts on nice people because of the words of people she was tasked with stopping. However, that didn't stop her from laughing at a few of their jokes.
Things calmed down, and they started talking about random things that, while Ciera hadn't heard of, nor did she really understand, they didn't seem like very bad things. The guys didn't really seem to act all that bad either. They just acted like a couple of fun guys who happened to break a couple of the rules. At one point, Ciera had almost forgotten what she was told about them.
The conversation eventually turned into what they were planning to do after school that day, when one of the boys, Lenny, said that he just scored some "dank as fuck weed" as he put it. The rest of the boys got super excited and asked the girls if they would want to join them tonight at six, which all of the girls unenthusiastically said yes, with the youngest girl having a clear layer of sadness in her voice. Ciera looked down at the girl, who simply looked up at her with a really forced smile. Ciera noted to herself that when she left tonight, she had to get these girls, especially the youngest one, out with her.
The group asked Ciera if she wanted to come with them tonight. Everyone, even the girls, looked at her expantly as she tried her best to say yes as convincingly as she could, which likely came off as too enthusiastic. The boys seemed extra excited, whereas the girls seemed rather upset. Suddenly, a teacher appeared next to the group, startling everyone. It was Ciera's English teacher, Ms. Faun.
"Back to class, all of you," she said sternly.
The group groaned and reluctantly dispersed back to their respective classrooms, the youngest girl having to take a walk of shame down to the doors connecting the Middle School end of the building to the High School. Ciera stared at Ms. Faun, fear freezing her body in place.
"See you tonight Ciera," Lenny called from down the hall.
Ciera hung her head and began walking back to her class with Ms. Faun right behind her. Ms. Faun stopped Ciera just outside of the door to her class.
"Listen, Ciera," Ms. Faun said quietly and sternly. "I don't want you to go out with those guys tonight. I've seen your records and how you've acted in class today. You're not a bad kid. Those guys are bad news and I don't want them to influence you at all."
Ciera nodded and smiled up at Ms. Faun.
"I'll be okay," Ciera said softly.
Ms. Faun sighed as the two entered back into the room. Ciera sat in her seat while her teacher had to calm down the rowdy class. A boy from Spy Club looked over at Ciera and shot her a questioning thumb's up, who shot him back a confirming thumbs up and a smile. The boy grinned back before returning his gaze to the book before him.
The rest of the school day went by much the same as the morning had. However, like English class, Ciera felt better about the day despite being ignored.
At the end of the day, before Ciera could get on the bus, she bumped into Lenny, who looked overly excited to see her. Far more excited than she was to see him.
"You ready for tonight?" He asked.
"Yes I am," Ciera said, faking confidence.
"Awesome," he said loudly. "Alright, meet us here tonight at six o'clock. Make sure you're alone. Maybe bring something if you want."
With that, Lenny left down the hall, brushing his hand across Ciera's shoulder, filling her with fear and an intense feeling of worry. As she sat down next to Paulina on the bus, she told the girl what had happened, stirring up a rage in Paulina that Ciera then had to calm down. For the rest of the bus ride, things calmed down and the two got to know each other.
Ciera found out that Paulina had joined Spy Club the year before when she was a Freshman like Ciera. She is surprisingly good at hacking and working with computers, and so her first mission was to modify a flash drive into being able to steal files off of the laptops of several players on the football team. The files were then used to ruin the reputations of many of the jocks who had had everybody swooning over them, but committed horrible acts in secret. It was the first time that Spy Club had done anything that directly went to the public, leading to rumors around the school about who these vigilantes were and what else they were up to.
"And nobody's suspected you guys yet?" Ciera asked, surprised.
"That's the point about choosing us," Paulina smiled. "Nobody ever thinks about us. It's a blessing and a curse."
"You guys are all okay with being invisible to the world?" Ciera asked, sadness coating her tone.
"It's not like any of these people would really wanna be friends with us," Paulina sighed. "They're too focused on their parties and their sports to really wanna do stuff like you or I wanna do. In their eyes, we're just a couple of weirdos in a sea of normal people and should easily be avoided… Spy club gives us those good friends, though, once you get more integrated into it. People that have similar interests and that will always have your back."
"I guess you're right…" Ciera looked down at her knees. "Still just hurts a bit knowing that no one outside of the club wants to be my friend."
"I mean, think about it like this," Paulina started. "They might not wanna be friends with you, but you probably wouldn't like being friends with them either. Again, most of those people don't really care for our interests. That's not their fault, nor yours, it's just how it is. And so, odds are, neither you nor them would enjoy hanging out together anyway because there wouldn't be much that you can do together that you both like to do."
"I guess we'll see tonight."
"What do you mean?"
"When I go up with Bobby and his gang tonight. I'll see if I'd actually enjoy hanging out with those kinds of people."
"Ciera, those guys are monsters. You're only hanging out with them for a short while because you're on a mission."
"And I'll get the mission done. But it'd look a little suspicious if I don't at least try to enjoy my time there."
"I guess you're right, but just… please be careful." Paulina placed her arm around Ciera's shoulers, prompting Ciera to look up at her. "I know that you're a good girl, and so I don't want you to go down their path even if it means you'll make some new friends."
Ciera smiled and nodded as she rested her head on her bag. Paulina rubbed her hand all around on the girl's back until Ciera's stop came up. Ciera reluctantly climbed off the bus and entered her home. She dropped her bag off in one of the sitting chairs on her way through the living room while she traveled through the house and up into her room. There, she collapsed onto her bed and laid there, staring up at the ceiling as time went by.
As time ticked by, Ciera began thinking about what could happen tonight. The Spy Club said that these kids are bad, Ms. Faun said that too, but when she actually hung out with them and somewhat talked with them in the hall, they seemed like somewhat-chill guys. She actually found herself smiling and laughing with them a few times. They definitely weren't as bad as she was told, and they seemed like people that she could actually get along with. Perhaps she'd even have fun with them tonight.
Then Ciera thought about the looks those girls had. The younger one especially looked sad, probably even depressed, staying there with those guys. And the older ones seemed like they didn't want to be there either.
What could these guys have done that made these girls not want to be around them? Or maybe these guys didn't do anything and those girls were just having an off day. Or maybe it was Ciera that made them upset. They did glare at her when she joined them and did not seem happy that she was there, and especially not happy that she was going with them all to hang out tonight.
Ciera began to shed a tear at the thought that she wasn't wanted in that group either. The only place that seemed to be open to her was Spy Club, and that was only because they wanted her for missions. Outside of Paulina, they expressed little to no care for her throughout the day.
"That's all I am to them," Ciera whispered. "Just a pawn."
She pulled out her phone to check the time. It was already 3:30. She still had a few hours before she had to leave. She remained in her bed thinking about tonight and the people she was going to be hanging out with. A little after 5:20, she received a text from an unknown number.
The text read: "Hey Ciera, it's Valorie. I'm on my way now to pick you up for the meet."
Ciera reluctantly responded back with a simple, "Okay. I'll be here."
For a brief moment, Ciera wondered how Val knew where she lived, until she remembered that she probably saw that in Ciera's files, the only way the club knew anything about her.
They didn't know anything about her. All they knew was the stuff her last school decided to mark down. They didn't know the real her, and they barely tried to learn about the real her either. They simply collected the information about her that they needed and scooped her up, calling it a favor. The only one of them that seems to try to care is Paulina. Ciera continued sulking in her bed before she heard Valorie honking from the driveway.
Ciera silently climbed into Valorie's car, trying her best to ignore the obnoxious music blasting from the speakers. After the car took off, Val turned down the speakers and began to talk.
"You excited for your first mission?" Val asked cheerfully.
"I guess so," Ciera mumbled.
"Butterflies in your stomach?"
"Something like that."
"Well, try to digest those little guys cause you'll do great. I know it."
The two remained silent for much of the car ride, only listening to the faint music that continued to come out of the speakers, only one of the two actually enjoying it. As they passed the school, Ciera looked at Valorie, confused.
"I just wanna talk for a bit," Val explained. "We've got time."
"What do you wanna talk about?" Ciera asked.
"What your experience was at your previous school." Valorie looked over at Ciera with a caring tint to her eyes and smile. "You can only learn so much about a person through their permanent records."
"What do you wanna know?" Ciera asked, touched at the thought yet worried about what the questions were going to be.
"I guess we'll start with what your friends were like."
"Oh…" Ciera's heart sank as she looked down at her lap in shame.
"Some wrong?" Val asked worriedly.
"It's just… I didn't really have a lot of friends," Ciera sighed.
"I'm sorry…" Valorie said sympathetically. "Nobody?"
"Well, there was one person…" Ciera reminisced, a sad smile forming on her lips. "There was this girl named Witney who was really the only person that would talk to me, and we really did talk a lot. We spent so much time together that some of the people at school thought we were together."
Ciera took a moment to chuckle to herself at the thought, returning a smile onto Valorie.
"Which, towards the end of seventh grade, we practically were together in every way except for officially saying it. We spent more time at each other's houses than we did at our own. We were basically all over each other any time we were together. We would finish each other's sentences and sense when the other is upset. We even kissed once. It was my first and I don't think I could've picked a better person to be my first kiss. But then in eighth grade she…"
Ciera's reminiscent smile turned into a sorrowful frown as tears quickly welled up in her eyes. She began shaking as her emotions threatened to explode out of her right next to Valorie who quickly found a spot to pull over so she could reach over and comfort Ciera.
"She… She… She…" was all Ciera could let out.
"Hey, it's okay," Valorie cooed. "You don't have to say any more."
Ciera began sobbing violently into Valorie's arms, who hugged the girl as tight as she could and softly ran her fingers Ciera's hair in an attempt to calm her down.
"I'm sorry," Valorie whispered softly. "Let it all out."
After several minutes of Ciera crying and Valorie hugging and cooing her, Ciera's sobbs eventually subsided and Valorie pulled away, leaving a hand remaining on Ciera's back, rubbing in circular motions.
"You don't have to tell me what happened if you're not ready yet, Ciera," Valorie said, her words as soft as pillows as she looked deep into Ciera's puffy, red eyes. "But, I don't need a degree in psychology to see that it was a super tough thing and that it still follows you almost a year later. I am sorry. I'm here for you if you want me to be."
Val reached over and wiped a couple of tears off of Ciera's cheek.
"I'm more than just your new club leader," Val smiled. "I'm also your friend if you want me to be. Which reminds me."
Valorie reached into her purse and retrieved her phone. She opened up her texting app and seconds later, Ciera felt her phone buzz in her pocket. She pulled out her phone and saw it was from Val; it was a phone number.
"That's Pauli's number if you ever wanna talk to her," Valorie said. "She was texting me after you got off the bus and it seems like she's taken quite a liking to you already. Plus, you'd probably enjoy talking to a girl close to your own age rather than some crazy senior girl."
Valorie laughed as she dropped her phone back into her purse, and put the car back into drive. Ciera let out a final tear as she stared down at her phone with a small smile on her face. Before Valorie could drive off, Ciera reached over and pulled her into a hug, which Val returned after a moment of shock.
"Thank you," Ciera whispered.
"You are very welcome," Valorie replied softly.
Ciera let go after what felt like an eternity and Val drove them both up to the driveway to the school. It was already almost 6:30.
"Fashionably late will probably seem like a compliment to these guys," Valorie chuckled. "I'd bring you up closer, but I think that'd seem a bit suspicious. They don't know me, and so seeing my car would be a red flag."
"Okay," Ciera gulped. "I just need a second."
"Hey, you'll be okay," Val said quietly. "You just gotta go in, catch them doing some definitely illegal things on video, then get out. If you feel like you need to get out of there early, just text me literally anything, even a single letter or number, and I'll be right in. I won't leave this spot unless it's to go in there for you. If you're there past seven-fifteen without saying anything, then I'll go in and grab you. I'll make sure that you're safe."
Ciera nodded before opening her door, only to be stopped by Valorie gently grabbing Ciera's shoulder.
"Be careful," Val said with a worried smile.
"I will," Ciera replied back with a plastered on smile.
Ciera shut the car door behind her and made her way up the long driveway to the school. She began to shake as she walked, fearing so many different things. What if she got caught breaking into the school after hours? What if the group lied and she's doing this all for no reason? What if they ended up doing something to hurt her?
She thought about everything everyone has said about these guys. She had dismissed everything before because these were remarks coming from people that Ciera thought were just using her, but now she's not so sure, especially as she inches closer to the front doors of the school with every step she takes. She then thought about the other girls that were with the boys. Surely they would've just left them already if they didn't actually wanna be there, right? That simple thought made Ciera feel a little less uneasy about the situation. Until she finally reached the doors.
Two of the doors flung open and Lenny appeared in the doorway.
"Took ya long enough," he laughed. "We were starting to think that you chickened out!"
Ciera glued on a smile as she silently traveled under Lenny's arm and into the empty school. She realized how she didn't get the best view of the halls in the morning, and now that she saw them now void of any people aside from her and Lenny, she felt even more uncomfortable about the situation.
"Were you just waiting there for me?" Ciera asked meekly as she followed Lenny down the hall.
"Nah, I just left to get a drink and saw ya through the window," Lenney explained. "First rule of hanging out with us: always stay hydrated cause you will pass out real quick if you don't."
Ciera felt her face go almost pale before she stopped at the nearby water fountain and took a long drink. She soon realized that because of the way she had to stand, her rear was pointed rather far outward into the hall. She cut her drink short as she valued her modesty higher, especially around someone like Lenny. As they continued down the hall Ciera clutched her phone in her pocket, ready to pull it out at a moment's notice.
Lenny made a sudden stop in front of the gymnasium and held the door open for Ciera, who reluctantly smiled as she walked into the massive room. Lenny led her into the boy's locker room where they were greeted by the sight of the 4 teenage boys sitting on the benches talking with each other, with the three girls sitting off to the corner talking amongst themselves.
Ciera instinctively sat with the girls, before being beckoned over by Bobby. Ciera's legs turned to jelly not only at the sound of Bobby's voice, but also by the look of the girls' faces. She watched as their faces turned from that of disgust when she had sat with them to that of fear and sympathy when they heard Bobby's voice as well.
"I'm so glad you could join us," Bobby said devilishly.
"Today, we celebrate the first day of our last year in this hell hole," Bobby said proudly.
"Wait, I'm only a Junior," one of the other boys said.
"Fine, my last year," Bobby repeated in annoyance. "Anyway, we were happy you joined us. We have something special planned. Lenny?"
Lenny came out of the bathroom with a bong, a bowl, and a set of joints. Enough for everyone, including Ciera, to have one. Ciera felt like she was going to pass out. She was sat down by one of the girls onto a bench away from everybody else. She was the oldest one, but still looked like she was only a Sophomore.
"First time?" She whispered.
Ciera nodded as she regained her composure.
"What are you doing here?" The girl asked, a hint of concern mixed into her words, which were lathered in disdain.
"I just wanted friends," Ciera said shyly. "I'm sorry."
A sympathetic smile shoved away the Sophomore girl's concerned scowl.
"We all did," she said quietly.
The girl turned around and nodded to the other girls, who were previously glaring at Ciera, but now they all smiled at her with varying degrees of sadness trapped within each set of lips.
"Well, now you've got them," the Sophomore said, her tone joyful but quiet. "I'm Isaiah."
Ciera, now feeling ready for anything again, smiled up at the girl before her grin collapsed into a look of fear and worry as she looked down.
"What's wrong?" Isaiah asked.
Ciera looked at the boys who were in the process of packing the bowl for Lenny and preparing the bong for Bobby. Ciera looked back up at Isaiah.
"I need to talk to you girls," Ciera said.
Ciera followed Isaiah back to the girls and sat down on one of the edges of their circle. She peaked back at the boys who were paying no attention to the girls in the room as they began blasting horrible music rather loudly. She looked back at the girls.
"Do you guys actually want to be here?" Ciera asked carefully.
The girls gave no answer, but their nervous and sorrowful looks around at each other told her all that she needed.
"I'm getting these guys busted," Ciera whispered.
"What?" Isaiah questioned, much louder than she meant to.
"'What' what?" Bobby asked from across the room.
"Just gossiping," one of the girls replied. "Nothing you'd be interested in."
That seemed to be enough for Bobby, who left it at that and went back to joking around with his friends.
"These guys are monsters, and I'm sure you've seen that," Ciera explained. "But, they haven't been caught as monsters yet, and so I'm here to catch them in the act of doing something illegal, like smoking weed in the school after hours. And I don't wanna get you guys in trouble so I need you guys to…"
"To what?" Questioned one of the girls who looked like a Freshman.
Ciera pulled out the camera that was disguised as one of her buttons and showed it to the girls.
"I need to find another way," Ciera said cryptically.
"What are you talking about?" Isaiah asked.
"I was going to use this to catch these guys on video," Ciera started. "But I don't want to get you guys in trouble because you seem like good people in a bad place, so I can't use this because now I've caught you all on video. I need to find another way."
The girls murmured and whispered about Ciera around her.
"Please," she said suddenly, causing them to cease their talking. "I can see you guys want to get out of this. That you don't want to be around these guys. So please, just help me get rid of them for good."
The girls all looked around at each other in the same motions as they had before, but now their mouths remained shut. It was as if they were talking to each other telepathically. They all then looked up at Isaiah, who patted Ciera on the shoulder.
"We'll do our best," she said with a soft smile.
Ciera squatted down with the girls.
"Okay, do any of you have some kind of hidden camera anywhere?" She asked.
All of the girls shook their heads in confusion.
"Why not just use your phone?" The youngest girl asked.
"I was told that'd be too risky," Ciera said. "They'd immediately know what I was doing."
"Not when they're baked and already filming themselves," Isaiah said.
"Huh?" Ciera asked.
"It's a teenage boy thing," Isaiah explained. "They get high, start doing stupid stuff, and record it all for themselves and their friends."
"And they still haven't been caught doing that stuff?" Ciera questioned.
Isaiah shrugged her shoulders as she giggled.
"Alright, well what's some stupid stuff we can get them to do while still clearly smoking?" Ciera asked.
The girls all thought of things they've seen the boys do before the Freshman girl got a lightbulb above her head.
"Beer chugging contest," she said enthusiastically.
"I don't see any beer," Ciera replied while looking around the room.
"Coach Practle always keeps a case of beers in his office to drink in case his team loses a game," the Freshman explained.
"If we can get them to start a beer chugging contest, they will definitely film that and won't bat an eye if we do too," Isaiah explicated excitedly.
"Perfect," Ciera exclaimed. "Now, how do we get them to start the contest on their own?"
"That's the easy part," Isaiah said with a smile. "Hey boys!"
Bobby and the rest of his gang cut the music and stared at Isaiah with confusion and annoyance aimed for her eyes.
"I think Mr. Practle still has a case of beer left." Ciera watched as the boys' faces lit up brighter than the lights above. "How about we have a little contest? Whoever chugs the most in one go wins what I brought for the girls and I!"
The boys wasted no time even trying to figure out what the prize actually was before they were out of the locker room and into the Gymnasium, looking for Mr. Practle's office. Ciera, however, had nowhere else to be and allowed her curiosity to run wild.
"What'd you bring?" She asked worriedly.
"Nothing," Isaiah said nonchalantly. "Just needed something to entice them."
Ciera smiled at Isaiah's cleverness. Within minutes, the boys flooded back into the locker room and spent no effort into setting any rules or even deciding who goes first. Bobby and another boy both grabbed a beer and started chugging as quickly as they could. Lenny and the other three boys pulled out their phones and started recording the whole thing.
Ciera grinned as she pulled out her phone.
She lined up next to Lenny and began recording the two boys drinking. She focused on them for several seconds before casually turning her camera around the room to show off where they were. She also caught the bong and bowl on video, the rest of the beer case, as well as Lenny and one of the other boys with joints still in their mouths as they recorded.
Ciera almost gagged when she saw the other boy with a joint in his mouth drop it on the disgusting locker room floor and then stuck it in his mouth again and took a long hit from it. She looked back at the other girls who had grossed out and confused smiles naturally on their faces. Ciera laughed when she realised she had caught the boy doing that on video.
She turned her camera back to Bobby and the other boy still drinking when she saw the other boy drop the can of beer and begin vomiting on the floor, sparking a series of laughs from the other boys who continued watching. The boy who puked realised that he lost and, in a fit of rage, turned around and punched the locker behind him as hard as he could, leaving a large dent in it.
Bobby finished his beer and raised his hands victoriously. Ciera continued filming as the next three boys took their turns chugging their beers. Lenny was the only other one to finish his beer without puking or having to stop, and so him and Bobby went head to head, where Bobby won after knocking Lenny upside the head and causing him to stop drinking. Ciera also managed to catch the boys as they continued to take hits from their joints and even take hits from the bong and bowl. The whole video was over 18 minutes long and was more than enough evidence to get all of the boys expelled.
Ciera smiled deeply as she texted the video to Valorie who responded in seconds with a thumbs up emoji with the text: "Awesome job! Now get out here before they catch on!"
Ciera snuck back over to the girls while the boys were focused on each other.
"Okay, so now we need a distraction so we can leave," Ciera whispered.
"We?" The youngest girl asked.
"Yes, 'we,'" Ciera repeated with a smirk. "I'm not leaving any of you alone with these guys, especially now that they're drunk. My friend is waiting in a car outside for me, but she has enough room for all of you too."
"What makes you think she'd be willing to take all of us without a warning first?" The Freshman girl asked.
"Her whole thing is about helping people," Ciera smiled. "She'd want me to take you guys with me."
The girls all looked at each other before finally looking up at Isaiah, who clearly had already made the decision for them.
"I don't think we're gonna need a distraction," Isaiah said, pointing to the boys.
Two of the boys were puking again, Lenny and another one of them were fighting, and Bobby was busy recording it all. Ciera looked back to the girls and nodded. Going as quickly yet quietly as they could, all 4 girls tried to sneak out through the locker room doors, with Ciera following slowly behind the rest.
Ciera was just about out of the room before she felt a hand roughly grabbing her arm. She turned around quickly and to her horror it was Bobby who had grabbed her. He stared down at her, not a sense of his false-cheerfulness was in sight. His eyes were blank, yet his nostrils flared and his eyebrows furrowed slightly.
"Where do you think you're going," he asked, his voice layered in large amounts of distrust and menace. "We invited you to hang out with us, not them. And the rest of you."
The other girls looked at Bobby with fear smeared all over their faces.
"I thought you all were better than this," he said calmly.
Lenny and the boy he was fighting both came out from behind Bobby and moved towards the other girls, bruises still covered both boys. Ciera watched as the boys grabbed ahold of each girl's arms and began trying to drag them, overpowering what little force the girls could muster to pull back. She looked back up at Bobby with wide eyes as he stared down at her with a newfound devilish grin as he chuckled at whatever evil idea he had thought of. Ciera tried to scream, she tried to shout, she tried to whimper, but none of it was aloud as her vocal cords would not permit her. She simply watched as the scene before her took place and she was helpless to do anything to stop it.
Ciera watched as Lenney grabbed Isaiah, who had tried to hit Lenny away, but instead received Lenny's hand across her face, knocking her to the ground. Ciera looked back up at Bobby with hellfire in her eyes and her face contorted into that of a being of pure anger. Bobby towered over the girl, his grin only growing larger. Ciera clutched her fist and in no more than a second, it was gone and back to her side. Bobby let go of Ciera as he began coughing violently and grasping at his throat. Lenny and the other boy let go of the girls out of shock, who took advantage of the situation by elbowing, punching, and kicking the boys wherever they could reach, taking both boys to the ground with their ring leader.
"Run," Ciera screamed as she finally found her voice again.
The other girls sprinted to the gym doors Ciera following behind them, leaving behind the boys to deal with their pain alone. The girls made their way out of the school and up the long driveway where they spotted Valorie sitting on top of the hood of her car, scrolling through her phone. The girls all screamed to her, causing her to almost fall off of the vehicle out of shock before she purposefully slid off the edge and onto her feet. She ripped the driver's side door open and unlocked all of the other doors just in time for the girls to flood into the car.
Valorie started up the car just as she saw two boys sprinting up the driveway. She sped off, leaving anyone following long in the dust before they could even get a look at her licence plate.
"Not that I mind or anything, but who are these girls?" Valorie asked, her tone coming off as more annoyed than she had intended.
"These guys are good people that I couldn't just leave behind with those monsters," Ciera said quietly yet proudly as she looked back at the three girls who were smiling at her. "They didn't deserve to be stuck with those guys or expelled with them."
Ciera looked up at Valorie with a bit of fear before Val gave her a reassuring smile.
"I knew you'd be a good addition to the club," she said sweetly.
Ciera smiled to herself as she felt all giddy.
"Who wants ice cream?" Valorie announced to the car with a smile, receiving happy yelling and pleading from the 3 girls in the back, and a bright grin from Ciera.
Valorie chuckled to herself as she pulled into the local ice cream shop. She paid for the ice creams that each girl wanted, getting a discount on all of it because she was good friends with the owner and the guy working behind the counter. Valorie sat off to the side on one of the decorative rocks while Ciera sat with the other girls. She felt happy that these girls were so grateful for her and wanted to be her friend, but she still didn't feel right. Something was still off. She excused herself from the table and sat on one of the rocks with Valorie.
"You did good today," Valorie smiled. "Not a lot of first time spies could've done what you did today."
"Thank you," Ciera whispered, her face flushing red.
Valorie patted Ciera on the back while they watched the girls at the table talk about stuff that neither of them had heard of before.
"Interesting friends you've made," Val chuckled as one of the girls scooped a bit of all three ice creams and ate it.
"Yeah," Ciera forced a soft laugh. "I'm glad that they want to be my friends but it's just…"
"Just what?" Val asked, her voice as caring as a mother's.
Ciera remained silent, unable to form what she felt into words. Valorie went to speak before Ciera cut her off.
"She killed herself," she said in a monotone voice. "Witney. She did it in the middle of eighth grade."
Val wanted to speak but lost her voice in shock.
"She told me that I'll make other friends," Ciera continued. "That she knows me well enough to know how lovable I can be. But…"
Valorie nodded, telling Ciera that it's okay to keep going.
"I don't want to go through that again," Ciera said, tearing up.
The young girl wrapped her arms around Valorie and clung to her as tightly as she could. The other girls stood up to see what was going on before Val motioned for them to sit down. She had to handle this. The other girls listened and awkwardly tried to go back to whatever they were talking about. Valorie rubbed her hands up and down Ciera's back as she rocked them both back and forth on the boulder.
"I'm so sorry," Val whispered. "You shouldn't have had to go through that at all."
Ciera's crying seemed to only grow worse.
"Y'know, I went through something similar at your age," Val said softly.
Ciera looked up at her caretaker, tears still dripping down her face.
"His name was Henry," Val started. "He was my best friend in the world. He and I used to do everything together and I talked to him far more than I did any of my other friends at the time."
A tear escaped from Valorie's eye and traveled down her cheek onto her lap.
"But during the start of my Freshman year, he started to get super depressed and wouldn't tell me why. Then one day when he didn't come to school, they pulled his body out of the river. The police said he had jumped. I wouldn't talk to anybody for much of the year and lost all of my other friends. I was lonely as fuck and was feeling like I was in the same headspace he was in when he did it."
Ciera latched onto Valorie even tighter than before as they both cried in each other's arms.
"Towards the end of the year, I got caught breaking into the school office to read his files as well as change my own," Valorie whispered. "The next day, I was recruited for Spy Club, where my first mission was to sneak into the school and steal files proving how corrupt our principal was at the time. A week later, she was fired and everyone she had suspended, including me, were let back."
Ciera lessened her grip and her sobs began to subside.
"I've been in the club ever since," Valorie said, her tone turning happier. "I've made lots of new friends since then and I've never felt lonely since. And you know what?"
Ciera looked up at Valorie again.
"I know that that'll happen for you too," Valorie said sweetly. "We're here for you. We're more than just spies, we're also a club of people that are either already friends, or will be friends. And we'll be yours if you want us to be. I promise, you won't have to feel scared of losing us like that. We're your chance to begin something new yet familiar."
Valorie hugged Ciera tightly, before she stood up.
"I'm going to get some chips," she said softly. "Do you want anything?"
Ciera half-heartedly shook her head. Valorie walked to the ice cream stand, past the girls who had resumed their conversation, but with a much more serious tone. Ciera felt her phone buzz; she smiled when she saw it was Paulina.
The text said: "I heard you did amazing on your first day! Hopefully you continue to do that amazing on every mission. Here's to the beginning of your new thrilling career!"
Ciera grinned as she responded back with, "Thank you so much! I might need more help next time though so things go a bit more smoothly, haha."
She looked at Paulina's name, then at Valorie, who had stopped to talk with the girls at the table a bit and quickly got sucked into their conversation about recent movies.
"And here's to the beginning of new and amazing friendships," Ciera whispered with a smile.