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Authors: Daisy Whitney

The Rivals (7 page)

BOOK: The Rivals
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“I won’t,” I say, reassuring her. I will protect her like the Mockingbirds protected me.

“If people ask why I’m talking to you, I’ll say I’m a runner or something. I’ll say I’m in the Mockingbirds. But if you’re going to press charges against him or anybody for this, it won’t be from me.”

“But you do want us to investigate him and see if we can figure out where it’s coming from and who’s behind it?” I ask, because I want to hear it from her. “Do you want us to help you?”

“Yes. I want you to help. And I want you to stop it, obviously.”

“Then I will. Look into it,” I say, and blow a long stream of air against the fingernails on my left hand. “Now, I have to ask you something.”

“What?”

“Are you involved?”

Her eyes go wide. “No!”

I hold up my hands. “I have to ask.”

“I would
never
do that. I thought that was clear.”

I give her a hard look. “I need to trust you. I need to know you’re not messing with us.”

“Alex, I did your nails.”

“And I love them. But I need to know you’re not playing with us. You want us to protect you, and we will. But we’re about to go out on a limb and investigate a far-reaching cheating ring because of what is effectively an anonymous tip. And I need to know we’re not being played.”

“I swear I’m not playing you.”

“Good. I’m glad,” I say. “You know, Delaney, I could give you a really good cover-up for being seen with me.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“What is it?” she asks warily.

“Come sing with us at the Faculty Club in two weeks. I thought we could do something,” I begin, then pause for effect, “
ironic
.”

She smiles. “Hell yeah.”

“Good. We’re going to practice this weekend. I’m thinking subversive songs.”

“How about protest songs?”

“How about songs that rage against the man?”

“How about ‘Another Brick in the Wall’?”

I smile, nodding a few times, then I think of something better, something apropos for many reasons. I tell her my idea.

“Perfect,” she says, and we shake hands.

THE SCENE OF THE CRIME

And so the investigation begins.

I spend the evening rereading notes on past investigations that the Mockingbirds have conducted. As I flip through pages in the notebook, it’s clear there’s not really a secret sauce to them, especially ones at such an early stage. The one rule—guideline, really—is to
be respectful
. Which means we aren’t supposed to cross lines. We aren’t supposed to trip people up or try to catch them on hidden cameras or go snooping through their things, their phones, their bags. If we did that stuff, then
we’d
be the bullies,
we’d
be the bad guys. So my job right now is just to find clues, and according to my sister’s own handwriting here in the Mockingbirds notebook, we’re supposed to do that simply by
keeping our eyes and ears open for clues
.

Not easy.

I shut the notebook and look at my watch. It’s eight at night, which means it’s way past midnight in Barcelona, where Casey is studying abroad for this semester. I want to call her and ask her what she meant by
keep our eyes and ears open for clues
. And could you be a
tad
more specific with this whole
be respectful
directive, big sis?

My sister founded the Mockingbirds when she was a student here four years ago. She was consumed with guilt over the suicide of a girl in her dorm who’d been bullied. That girl—Jen—had tried to talk to Ms. Merritt but was roundly blown off. Jen went to Casey too. She didn’t tell my sister she was thinking of shuffling off her mortal coil, but even so Casey felt like she didn’t do enough. She felt responsible. So she created the Mockingbirds to give students options.

Now it’s my job to live up to her legacy.

And since it’s too late to ask Casey what this all means, I give Amy a call. She’s a junior here, and lives a floor below me. Her advice is simple, but it makes sense. “Just keep an eye on Theo and look for clues, signs, evidence. That’s all you can do right now at this early stage. You can’t cross any lines,” she tells me.

“But what does that mean—cross a line?”

“It means you can’t start following him around until you have something concrete on him,” she says. “You don’t want him to freak out and think he’s being tracked or about to be tried or anything. Because he could very easily not be guilty, and we don’t want students thinking we’re out there following everyone without cause. You need to have a reason to follow someone. I mean, we’re not the government, wiretapping and profiling and all. So, for now, you have to keep it casual, observe him in class or in the caf or when you see him in public places.”

“So what you’re saying is keep an eye on him without letting on we’re keeping an eye on him, and hope I happen to find a clue?”

Amy laughs. “Yeah, something like that.”

I shake my head. “This isn’t easy.”

“No, it’s not.”

I say good-bye and look up Theo McBride’s name in the school directory to see where he lives.

Richardson Hall.

The name itself makes me shudder.

Richardson Hall is where Carter lives. Richardson Hall is where Carter date-raped me. I haven’t been there since that night. I’ve barely even seen Carter since the trial. After he was found guilty, he practically went radio silent for the rest of last year. It was like he was the one walking the long way to class, he was the one staying as far away from me as he could, because I hardly saw him.

I like hardly seeing him. No. I
freaking
love it.

So there is no way I am going to that dorm to keep my eyes and ears open for clues. No way am I setting foot in that building ever again. If the memories come crashing down when my boyfriend touches me, I’m not going to walk into the combat zone and let the flashbacks unleash a full-scale assault.

Besides, I have boys for fellow board members. They can do it. They can stroll through Richardson Hall—dorms are open to all students—and keep their eyes and ears open. I’ll tell them in the morning.

But when morning rolls around, I rethink the decision to send the boys. I feel weak. I feel afraid. I feel like I’m right back where I was last year. Afraid to go anywhere. Afraid to leave my room. Afraid to walk around my school.

And I didn’t go to the Mockingbirds to be afraid.

Because this is
my
school. This is
my
senior year. This is
my
life, and I took it back last year and I plan to keep it.

So as I shower, I tell myself to snap out of it.

As I get dressed, I remind myself I can set foot at the scene of the crime without this feeling that everything’s a drive-by shooting and I’m left with bullet wounds on the side of the road.

As I grab my backpack and literally march across the quad to Richardson Hall, I repeat that I am not doing this for the Mockingbirds, for Delaney, for the greater good or anything like that. I am going to walk into Richardson Hall
for me
.

I open the doors to Richardson Hall. Theo is in room 103, just a few doors down. I grit my teeth and push ahead, turning down the hall. There are boys everywhere; the place is teeming with them, and I feel exposed again, as if they all see the crime against me, as if they all look at me and think,
There’s that girl who was date-raped.
Or maybe they think of me now as Martin’s girl, his damaged goods, and feel sorry for both of us.

It’s then that I see him.

Carter.

All the way at the other end. He doesn’t see me—not yet, at least. He’s walking with his head down, maybe toward the bathroom. I’m here and he’s here and there’s one long, looming hallway and many dorm rooms and many boys between us.

But I keep walking.

Then everything happens quickly. It’s not like in the movies, where it’s slow-motion. Here in real life, things happen in a snap. Carter looks up. He spots me. A door opens. It’s the bathroom. Theo steps out. Carter opens his mouth. Theo glances down the hall. Carter shouts, “Get out of here, whore.” Theo turns to Carter, then to me. He puts a hand on my back and nods to the open door to his room, guiding me inside.

“How about
you
get out of here, douche bag?” Theo shouts back down the hall to Carter.

Then to me, gently, “You okay?”

I nod because I can’t speak. Because my skin doesn’t feel like mine. My bones don’t feel like mine.

“He’s an ass,” Theo adds.

I still don’t say anything.

“Are you okay?” he asks again.

Then I realize Theo knows what Carter did. But he’s on my side, and I have to stop acting like a mute.

“Yeah, I’m fine,” I manage. “But thanks. Seriously.”

“Anytime. Are you going to class now?” he asks as he grabs his backpack from the floor and slings it over his shoulder. “Or did you need something here in Richardson? Are you meeting someone?”

“I have English,” I say, answering his first question, but not the second or third.

“Me too,” he says, and gestures to his door. But before we leave, he reaches to his desk and grabs something. I glance back, and when I do I see it’s a pill bottle and it’s full of little orange pills.

Now I feel dirty in a whole new way, because as we walk to class, I keep thinking I have a secret I don’t want to have, a clue I wish I hadn’t uncovered. Because now I’m spying on the guy who rescued me this morning.

And even though I didn’t cross a line, it
feels
like I did.

I try to tell myself the pill bottle proves nothing. That this is not a clue whatsoever. That everything is totally circumstantial, coincidental, and happenstance.

But I can’t shake the feeling, especially when he stops at the water fountain outside class, roots around for something in his pocket, then takes a drink.

 

*

Mr. Baumann begins English class with a statement. “When you are sixteen, adults are slightly impressed and almost intimidated by you.”

He’s seated on the edge of the desk at the front of the classroom. Perched, really. He’s one of the younger teachers here, though
young
is a relative word, because I’m pretty sure he’s in his mid-thirties, which makes him twice as old as us. His hair is blondish, or it had been, at least, but last year it started to turn gray, and now you can see more streaks creeping in every day. I wonder if that means this job is wearing him down already or if he was always going to go gray now.

“Do you think adults are impressed or intimidated, or both, by you?” he asks, then gestures with an open palm to us.

I look around and notice Theo is eager to answer the question. His hand is straight up in the air. But Maia’s hand juts up too. Mr. Baumann nods at her.

“But we’re not sixteen. We’re seniors, so we’re seventeen, and some of us are even eighteen.”

“But of course. Let us never forget the facts,” he says with a grin, and then taps the cover of a paperback book on his desk. I can’t see the title. “However, what I am more interested in are not just the facts but how we exist with them, especially when the facts are bent and shifted. In this case, the question is not so much about the age or the number but about the experience of being a teenager and how adults see you. To that end, perhaps I will rephrase the question. Are adults slightly impressed and almost intimidated by the likes of you?”

Theo’s practically waving his hand back and forth like a flag. But another hand shoots up. I turn around and notice Anjali Durand, the New Nine member I passed over for appointment to the Mockingbirds board. She’s no longer on the council—she served her one-year term, but she did choose to stay on as a tier-two runner this year. A wispy red scarf is wrapped stylishly around her neck, her dark blond hair clipped back, her straight bangs falling just above her eyes. The effect is striking—both youthful, with the bangs, and sophisticated, with the scarf.

“I think they are intimidated by what they have lost and what we still have,” Anjali says. She has the slightest trace of a French accent, just enough to be interesting, not enough to be overly distracting.

“And by that, presumably, you mean youth?” Mr. Baumann asks.

Anjali nods. “Yes, but also an openness about the world, right? We’re still malleable and receptive to new views and new opinions. We can change more easily than adults, without as much moaning and creaking of the joints.”

A smile lights up his face. “Moaning and creaking of the joints. Very nice, Anjali.” Then he adds, “Are we impressed too?”

Theo’s still going at it, raising his arm higher and farther than anyone, almost like he could touch the ceiling—and even like that, with his arm lifted in class, he has a natural grace and fluidity to him. Now that I’m out of Richardson and removed from the shock of seeing Carter, I feel as if I can see things clearly again. Like Theo and how he moves—like water; his long, lean frame flows in and out of space like he’s one with the air around him. Even his hair looks as though it’s dancing—it’s caramel brown and wavy, and I would swear a breeze is blowing through it just so, just around him.

“Theo. It seems you have something to say,” Mr. Baumann says, inviting the eager boy to answer.

“Why would adults
not
be impressed with the accomplishments of the young? The way we balance a million different things, the way we must navigate between being no longer a child but not quite an adult. The way we often have to figure this all out on our own,” Theo says, in an astonishing fit of eloquence. It’s not surprising to hear eloquence from a student, nor from Theo. But he doesn’t sound like the Theo of thirty minutes ago. He sounds like an adult. He sounds like he’s giving a speech. It sounds like the orange pill he just took has kicked in.

But why would he be using Anderin for an advantage? The advantage he wants is the one he evidently can’t have yet—to dance again. Anderin doesn’t restore an ACL. Anderin doesn’t help you compete in dance competitions or ace auditions for Alvin Ailey or Martha Graham.

“Well said, Theo. Well said.” Mr. Baumann nods. Then he picks up the book on his desk, but he’s holding it on his lap so I still can’t see it. “As some of you know, I also advise the debate team, so you can expect that we’ll be enjoying many hearty debates in this class this semester.”

BOOK: The Rivals
5.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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