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Authors: Daisy Whitney

The Rivals (22 page)

BOOK: The Rivals
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Even unwritten ones. We’ve never expressly forbidden
entrapment
, but that’s probably because no Mockingbird would ever do that to a witness.

But I’m about to be the first. I’m wiretapping, I’m profiling, I’m demolishing every shred of our guidelines.

“I know you’re involved, Beat,” I begin, unspooling a lie. “I know Theo’s forcing you to share your supply with him for the Debate Club. He’s trying to mix it up, to get some from you, some from Jamie. I’m not going to let Jamie be the only one to take the fall for him. And I’ve got other students who’ll say all this on the record.”

I’m completely bluffing. But I have got to get the right guy on trial. The end justifies the means, I tell myself. This is the lesser of two evils. This is my only choice.

Beat’s face turns ashen. “You do? They will? They’re going to point fingers at me?”

It’s like weeds are twisting inside me, hooking into me, trying to stop me, but I push through them, stepping closer to the cliff, to the edge of the lie that could make this all worthwhile. “They are. And I know you’re not trying to hurt anyone. I know you’re just being victimized. So I think we’d all be better off if you just coughed up the information now. And then I really can protect you. I’m going to need you to testify. Because we know it’s Theo. We know he wants to win the Elite. So you can either corroborate that and testify or it might be hard to keep the immunity promise.”

I am sickened by what I’m doing. But what else can I do? Really, what else can I
possibly
do? This is what happens when no one will help.

He runs a hand through his tousled curls, closes his eyes, exhales. When he opens his eyes, he says, “Fine. I’ll tell you everything.”

Then the words spill out.

“You’re right. Well, almost right. It’s not Theo. But it is about the Elite. It’s Maia. Maia Tan is behind it all. And I will testify to that. I will tell you how she operates, how she supplies, when she distributes. And I will bring other witnesses too. I will call them right now before we all leave for Miami in the morning for our next debate competition,” he says.

I put my head in my hands, and the weeds shoot up, snaking around my whole body now, pinning me down in their grasp. I deserve this. I set him up. I lied to him. I am no different from the students we try.

An hour later Beat delivers two other Debate Club members to testify. He brings them to a board meeting that I hastily convene. They tell their stories. Not a single, solitary piece of data about my roommate’s supposed sick quest to win the Elite is left out.

I guess when you play with fire you get burned.

REASONABLE DOUBT

Nothing at this school stays secret very long. I’m reminded of this when I bump into Natalie on the quad the next day. This time, she pokes me in the chest, her right index finger banging into my sternum.

“Can you keep your hands off me?” I say, and I push her fingers away.

“But of course. I wouldn’t want to get in trouble with your little clubhouse there for inappropriate poking,” she says. “Because that’s what you’re running. A clubhouse.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Let’s see,” she begins, raising her index finger. “You run the group with your Goody Two-Shoes boyfriend.” She adds the middle finger. “He rooms with Senator Dickhead’s son, who also just so happens to be on your dumb board.” Ring finger now. “And to top it off, their
other
roommate is now the prosecutor.” The pinkie finger for the finale. “Who, natch, is practically engaged to that soccer bitch.”

“Watch it, Natalie,” I say.

“What are you going to do?” she asks, and leans in closer to me, her chest about to bump mine. I take a step back. “You going to sue me? You going to put me on the stand again? Because I would
love
to take you down again.”

“If memory serves, you didn’t take me down last time, because you defended the wrong guy,” I say, and my latent anger over her testimony rises up. “You defended a rapist.”

“Whatever,” she says, and then waves her hand in front of me. “And now I hear your
other
roommate is about to get what she deserves.” Then she starts cackling. “You know, I’m going to have to campaign to have your trials opened to the public. Just like on TV. Because that I would love to see. That I would love to be in the audience for.”

She snaps a finger, swivels around, and walks off.

As I head to the caf, I notice a flyer on a tree. Something about it catches my eye, so I walk over to it, wrapping my arms around my chest because the October air is growing chilly. When I reach the tree, I place a hand on the flyer to smooth it out. It’s a drawing of a dog, a cartoonish-looking canine, but something about it bothers me. Maybe it’s the strange smile on the face that’s almost a sneer. Or the words I spot underneath it—
coming soon—
like a cold wind that just whipped by out of nowhere. It unnerves me, the message that’s like a warning, a stranger flitting through a dark alley at night. I glance around and see students streaming by but no one paying close attention, so I take it down, fold it up, and put it in my back pocket.

I head to the cafeteria and join Martin, Sandeep, and T.S. at a table.

“Do dogs in Brazil think in Portuguese?” T.S. is saying as I sit down.

“Dogs don’t think, T.S.,” Sandeep says in a deadpan voice.

“I know that,” she says, and rolls her eyes. “But if they could, would they think in Portuguese? Or maybe French? Or how about Russian? Does it depend where they live?”

“Actually,” Martin interjects, “there have been studies showing that apes and dolphins are able to process information and even consider several options before making a simple choice. So it’s possible we could learn that dogs can think.”

“Dude, you’re embarrassing me,” Sandeep jokes. “You’re like a walking encyclopedia of scientific studies.”

“Why are you guys talking about dogs?” I ask suspiciously.

“Because dogs rule,” T.S. says.

“Did you see that sign or something?” I ask.

“What sign?” she says.

I reach into my back pocket and smooth out the paper to show them.

T.S. wrinkles her nose. “Eww! That’s kind of a creepy Snoopy.”

“So is that why you’re talking about dogs?” I ask again as I put the paper back in my pocket. Maybe they saw the sign too. Maybe they know what it means.

“No. My mom just sent me pictures of our dogs from this morning. They’re catching Frisbees in tandem on the beach!” She takes out her cell phone and shows me a photo of her border collie/Lab mutts. “It’s like synchronized Frisbee-ing!”

“But what does that have to do with Brazil or Portuguese?” I press.

“Jesus, Alex. We’re just having fun. One thing led to the other, you know?”

“Yeah, okay,” I say, and try to shake it off. Obviously T.S.’s dogs have nothing to do with that freaky dog sign. Still, the words
coming soon
worry me.

I head to the food line. As I’m waiting for the pasta primavera, I overhear some students behind me.

“That’s how you qualify. You have to be in the
circle
of friends.”

“And if you’re not, they hunt you down. So don’t piss them off.”

“Yeah, but did you hear one of their own is selling her stash?”

I cringe at the words but keep moving through the line.

“I bet they won’t even try her. There are benefits to rooming with the leader, you know. Membership has its privileges, as they say,” the student says, scoffing.

I contemplate turning around to see who’s talking about me and maybe confront them too. But what can I say? Fact is, they’re right. Fact is, Natalie’s right.

I leave the line and return to the table. When I sit down, T.S. says, “For the record, I think dogs think in Sumerian.”

“No, they don’t. They think in Etruscan,” Martin says with a wry smile, and pushes a hand through his shaggy brown hair. He leans back in the chair, pleased with his contribution to the ancient-languages trivia match.

Sandeep shakes his head, then says with a straight face, “You’re both wrong. Dogs think in the Illyrian languages.”

T.S. lights up and smacks the table with both palms. “You
so
win!” Then she leans over and gives him a big kiss, pausing to linger on his lips for a moment before she pulls back. Then she looks at me. “That is, unless you can beat him.”

“No,” I say.

After lunch, I walk with Martin to Morgan-Young Hall, where I have advanced calculus and he has superstar biology, or something like that. We pass the bulletin board in front of McGregor Hall and there’s a new drawing hanging up. This one’s of a tree house, and it’s in the same style as the picture I took down. The tree house has a sign on the door drawn to look as if it was written by a child—
SECRET CLUBHOUSE
. A bird perches on top of the tree house.

I point to it. “Look. That’s us. Students are talking about us again,” I say. “Not
us
us. Us as in the Mockingbirds.”

“I know,” he says. His voice is oddly serious. “You can’t let it get to you.”

“Who said I was letting it get to me?”

“Maybe the fact that you were incredibly testy at lunch was the giveaway.”

“I wasn’t testy.”

“You were,” he says.

“Because I didn’t play
what obscure language do dogs think in ?
I don’t feel like talking about
dogs
right now.”

“Case in point,” Martin says.

“Anyway, people were talking about us in line.”

“Saying we’re all clubby, right?” Martin says, and it’s like he’s reading my mind.

“Exactly.”

“People always talk about the Mockingbirds, Alex. There’s always something they don’t like.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think it was ever like this.”

“You’re noticing the talk now because you’re in it.”

“No, that’s not it. There’s more chatter now than there’s been before,” I say, and tell him what I overheard in the line, then what Natalie said.

“You can’t let Natalie get to you.”

“But what about the others? Those students I don’t even know?”

“Same thing. Same advice.”

I stop before we reach the steps to Morgan-Young Hall. “Actually I’m not looking for advice.”

“Okay.”

“I was telling you, and then you started offering advice, and I didn’t ask for advice.”

“Okay. Gotcha,” he says. “Why don’t we go to class now and I’ll catch you later?”

“What does that mean? Are you blowing me off?”

He laughs, and I feel small. “Alex, I’m just following your lead.”

“Fine. Go, then.”

“Okay, I will,” he says, and gives me some sort of tip-of-the-hat gesture. It irks me, the way he’s so casual, so been there, done that.

I grab his arm before he can leave and pull him to the side of the building.

“If you want to skip class with me, all you have to do is ask,” he says, and runs his hand down my arm and to my waist. He tries to pull me close to him as he says, “I’m always up for skipping for the right reasons.”

But I resist. “Martin, listen to me. I’m not going to try Maia. I don’t care about the evidence. I don’t care what people are saying. I don’t care what Beat and his friends said last night. I’m not going to do it.”

“Alex, there’s a lot of evidence.”

“You think she did it?”

“I think there are a lot of students who say she did.”

“They’re setting us up. I know they’re setting us up, Martin. They’re liars,” I say, even though I started the lies.

He sighs heavily. “Be that as it may, there are three of them.”

“But you know she didn’t do it, right? Please tell me you know she didn’t do it.”

“What I think doesn’t matter, Alex. Don’t you get it? The Mockingbirds aren’t about you or me. They’re about something much bigger. They’re about all of us. And they’re about us—you and me and Parker—not inserting our own opinions or feelings onto a case.”

“So now you’re accusing me of favoritism too, just like those students in line.”

“Right. Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m just like everyone else. Just like the guys down the hall who say it to me. Or the people in bio who whisper behind my back. Or the people who come up to me face-to-face and say it too. You’re not the only one people say crap to. They say it to Parker. They say it to me.”

“And now you’re letting them get to you, aren’t you?”

“No,” he says emphatically. “I’m not. I’m used to it. Every year it’s been something. This is what they’re saying now. I saw the sign on the bulletin board. I know what it means. I hear people say stuff too. That’s why I said you can’t let it get to you.”

“You keep saying that, Martin! Like you’re the expert and I’m just the new kid on the block,” I say, even though I am the new kid and Martin would never have backed a student into a lie.

“You know that’s not how I feel or how I think, so don’t try to put that on me.”

“So stop saying it, then. Stop telling me not to let them get to me.”

“Fine. I won’t say it,” he says. “May I go to class now?”

I’m not ready to let this end. “I’m not going to try Maia,” I say again. “And it’s not because of what people are saying.”

“And this is where I disagree with you, Alex. And it’s not because of what people are saying either. But I think we need to try her. The evidence against her is no less compelling than against Jamie.”

“There’s physical evidence against Jamie!” I point out.

“And there are
three
students who are saying Maia’s involved.”

“And one of those students is someone you don’t trust—Beat. You said not to trust him from the start.”

“You’re missing the point. The point is, this is when you have to be objective. This is when you have to move beyond you and your world and your friends and your feelings. It’s about the group having integrity and doing the right thing. It’s about the whole student body, not our favorites. It’s not a personal decision. We don’t get to pick and choose who’s potentially guilty or innocent based on who we’re friends with. If we do that, we might as well be the little clubhouse they all think we are,” he says, and pauses to look straight at me, his gaze sharp and fierce, his eyes full of steady quiet. “And now I am going to class.”

BOOK: The Rivals
13.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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