Tuesday, November 21, 2017
The L.A.O.S. Part 8
Catch up on Part 1!
(Or maybe Part 2?)
(How's about Part 3?)
(Ooo, Part 5...)
(6! It's Part 6!)
Inside, my new acquaintance gave me the nod as he split to join his team halfway down the room. I sauntered up to the top table and plunked down like to Megan like nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
I mean, comparatively, nothing had, right?
Megan shuffled her chair around to shoulder me out.
“What?” I said. “I came back.”
Greg’s gaze burned right through me, accompanied by a chill sense of dread as a hand landed on my shoulder.
“Chris Webb? A word, please.”
She was a stern-looking teacher, hair pulled back in a tight bun, heavy-rimmed glasses weighing down her nose.
My stomach twisted. I’d been in trouble before, obviously – though I wasn’t like some of the guys, I didn’t look for it deliberately – but this was different. I’d never been in trouble before when I’d been trying not to be. “I’m sorry,” I said, trying to forestall whatever might be coming.
Stern Teacher just raised an eyebrow at me and led me to the corner of the room. “Just stand here a minute with me, please.”
I leaned against the wall, arms crossed tight over my chest – and swallowed. Two other teachers stood at the table with the Losers, rummaging through their papers.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“You’re not supposed to leave the premises,” Stern Teacher said, echoing Megan’s words earlier. “This is a closed event. Who knows what you might have brought back with you.”
I jerked and nearly lost my balance against the wall. “Like what?” What did they think I might bring back? The plague? Ebola? Bird flu?
Stern Teacher pursed her lips and nodded towards the table. “If we find anything there that looks like it might be calculated to aid your team, any unpermitted materials…” She trailed off and relief flooded over me. I hadn’t brought a single thing back in with me; there was nothing to find.
Then one of the teachers frowned, staring at a sheet of paper in his hand. He passed it to the other teacher, who also frowned, before starting in my direction. It was Megan’s death glare though that really had me feeling queasy.
The first teacher waved the paper under my nose. “How did you get this?”
I stared. The paper was unfamiliar, thicker and creamier than regular paper, and more to the point, I’d never seen what was printed on it. I squinted. It looked like… I drew in a sharp breath.
“Yes,” the teacher said smugly. He handed the page to my stern babysitter. “A complete list of all the questions from the contest. All rounds. Verbatim.”
The Stern Teacher echoed my gasp. Perhaps she wasn’t so stern after all. But then – “Mr Webb, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I… I… Nothing! I didn’t bring it in! I’ve never seen it before!”
I’d been in trouble before. Plenty of times. Even sometimes when I hadn’t actually done anything wrong. But I’d never been in trouble in front of a crowd full of people containing not a single person who’d be impressed by it. And worse: Megan caught my eye, and the death stare had melted. Instead, sheer and abject horror widened her eyes, followed very quickly by such an intense loathing, I actually considered phasing through the floor right there in front of everyone.
See, Megan? I wanted to tell her. This is why I don’t care.
The teachers finished their murmured conference behind me and my stomach jolted as I caught the final words: “…disqualify them.”
I shook the teachers off and strode to Megan, heart pounding like it wanted to burst through my veins. “I didn’t do it,” I said, wishing that if I just stared hard enough into the depth of the ocean, it would believe me. I’ve been to the ocean twice. Both times, it was utterly merciless, dumping me over and over and over, grinding me into the sand until I coughed and choked and conceded defeat.
The oceans of Megan’s eyes were just as cold.
“I didn’t,” I said. “But I’ll find out who did.” And just as suddenly as that, I knew that I would: that despite their stupid dorky glasses and perfectly knotted ties and passion for a Maths trophy that mean exactly squat out there in the real world, I would find out who had done this to them, because even though caring hurt so much I couldn’t breathe, having Megan stare at me like I was dog crap she’d stepped in when she’d expected fresh, clean snow was worse. A million orders of magnitude worse.
And as I walked away, escorted to the staff room by a posse of excitedly concerned teachers buzzing like bees over the prospect of Real Discipline, Pubic Boy caught my eye and winked. And I remembered: we weren’t the only ones who could phase.
A stupid Maths competition was one thing. Someone who had every reason in history to hold grudge against us and could literally walk through walls, people, and anything else that stood in his way? I glanced back at Megan. She’d never let me protect her now. I’d never wanted to protect anyone before. Fights – real fights, not things staged and choreographed for show and reputation – they ended badly for me. But this time… I ground my teeth. Pubic Boy was going down.
[Continued next month...]