Queertet Revisited

Queertet Revisited – a different spin on the tale Vic and I once told to you.
Category: The Mighty Ducks (Movies)
Rating: Teen
Characters: Adam Banks, Anna Valentino, Charlie Conway, Dean Portman, Dwayne Robertson, Fulton Reed, Greg Goldberg, Lester Averman, Linda Chavez, Luis Mendoza, OCs – Multiple, Russ Tyler, Terri McDowell
Genre: Angst, Drama, Romance ? Het, Romance ? Slash
Pairing(s): Adam/Portman, Anna/Rai, Anna/Terri, Charlie/Fulton, Fulton/Terri
Date Published: 1 Jun 2005 • Date Updated: 19 Aug 2006 • Chapters: 10 • Words: 43,060
Notes on the fic: The prologue is kinda weird, the actual chapters will be written in proper fic format.
Notes on the Original Series: A Note from Vic & Star about the Original Queertet Series. You should really read the note before reading this fic, if you are or once were attached to the original Queertet series. This is to save me a lot of heartache—for months, the only feedback I got on this story was “why can’t you just finish the old one”. I revisited the original story because I started to hate the original, and got sick of people emailing me about why the original series was never finished—link above, if you still want an answer, if you want the short version: Vic and I aren’t talking.
However, Carla and I are no longer posting this online, we’re writing it, but not posting it. Why? Because nobody ever seems to read the fic for what it is, they just read it for what it isn’t and tend to flame because it’s not the original series. Why anyone would want more of that talentless drivel, I’ll never know—but the upshot is, Carla and I are enjoying writing this story, so we’re only writing it for ourselves, and not an online audience.
If you genuinely enjoy the story and want more, contact us, and I’ll see what we can do about letting you have a few more chapters.
Status: Abandoned


Prologue

Theresa Anne McDonald sits on a large brown leather-bound armchair, she’s wearing a red velvet dressing gown, a pair of wire-framed glasses that are a little too large for her small face, she’s wearing slippers that are obviously owned by a man but they match the dressing gown perfectly. On her lap is a large book, this is also bound in fine brown leather, the fact that the book matches the armchair conveys the grandeur of her surroundings. To her right is a small table holding a crystal glass containing the finest cognac in the state.

“Hello,” she says. “I’m here to set a few things straight. ‘What things?’ you ask? Well, let’s start with the Queertet.”

She opens the book on her lap, glances down at it, nods a few times, then looks back up again.

“Did you honestly believe all that drama came about because six teenagers came out at school? Honestly, how gullible can you get!”

She takes a sip of the cognac, winces and lets out a sound that’s very much like, “Bleeeuurah.”

“That’s it, Terri!” Adam shouts from the background. “Put the damned drink down, my dad is going to batter you when he finds out that not only are you wearing his favourite dressing gown and slippers, but you’ve stolen his special cognac! He only uses that when the boss comes to dinner!”

Terri pulls a face. “Back off, Banksie. I’m just putting the nice people straight. We’ve been lying to them for years.”

“Terri, that’s not even the Queertet manuscript you’re holding, it’s the Bible!”

“Not to sound like a complete fairy, but it does match the chair very nicely.” Fulton says.

Terri waves him off and addresses the people who aren’t in the room. “Look, I’m going to try and tell you what happened, you’re just going to have to ignore the anal guy in the background.”

Looking around the room, there is a bizarre lack of Maya, but weirdly enough, Linda is curled up on the sofa opposite Terri. Charlie is sitting next to her, letting Linda play with his hair.

Fulton gives Adam one of his scary looks. “You know it’s easier just to let her do these things. If you try to stop her it will only take her longer – and she’s more likely to get wound up and start getting silly.”

Terri frowns. “Thank you, I think.”

Adam grudgingly sits down next to Charlie, who rubs his arm sympathetically. “She won’t be long, just let her get it out in the open.”

Terri grins and starts again. “Just so you know, we wrote that at Adam’s beach house. We partied there after graduation – and since we’re being honest, we all took it in turns and we were all drunk as hell. In our defence, Portman makes a mean cocktail. I spent three weeks thinking I was a DVD after that.”

“In Portman’s defence,” Fulton speaks up, “Terri has always been a little slow on the uptake, it might not have been the fault of the alcohol.”

Terri pouts, things are obviously not going her way.

Portman gets up, picks her up and sits her on his lap. “Are you sulking, my little, Tezzie-wazzie?” He asks in a patronising voice, bouncing her on his knee like a toddler.

“Yes!” She snaps. “I just want to tell them how it was and you’re all being rotten!”

“Ah, poor baby.” He continues to use the same tone. “Come on, I’ll make them shut up, you just tell the nice people how it actually happened.”

“Really?”

“Yes.” Portman turns to the group. “You,” he points at Adam. “For the next five minutes I don’t want to hear another word about your father’s slippers, cognac or anything else. Linda, you’ll not encourage Terri to go off on a tangent. Charlie, you’ll not pull any of your weird faces that gets her giggling and Fulton, you will not intimidate her with that glare of yours.”

The group (which was already silent) looks at the floor nervously.

“Ok, Terri, the stage is all yours.”

Terri suddenly goes bashful. She takes another mouthful of the cognac, Charlie slaps a restraining hand over Adam’s mouth and Terri makes another bleeeuurah noise.

“Right. Ok. Yeah. So, we fictionalised a few things. Some things are true, some things did happen, but we changed the events to make the story funnier or angstier, apparently that’s what people like. For example, if you remember Adam eating the note that Charlie passed him, that did not happen exactly like that. What happened was, Charlie and Adam were in biology and it was pop-quiz day, Charlie hadn’t studied but he had a date that night, so didn’t want to be on detention. Adam passed him the answers and when Madigan caught them Charlie ate the paper. And just so you know, they got detention – but Maya and I weren’t there…”

“Which brings us to our next point,” Terri continues. “Two characters were entirely made up. The first is Maya. That’s because I’m single and I hate it, and the guys…” she sighs, “they felt sorry for me, so made me a girlfriend. The second is Damien, he does not exist either, his name is a play on my feelings towards a certain person. Damien is based on my friend’s sister, Shona. Shona is actually the devil, so that’s why we called her Damien – and she was always part of our lives. Annoyingly enough.”

“Some things are flat out B.S. I mean, could you really believe all that stuff about Connie? She’s evil, she’s good, she’s having –”

“TERRI!” Linda interjects loudly. “Remember, we never finished Sun?”

“Why was that again?” Portman asks, a smug smile on his face.

“Um, because after a week’s worth of your cocktails, Adam, Linda and I set off to buy some Lilt, even though you can’t get it in America, and then we convinced Adam to book us a mini-break in London on his credit card.”

“And what happened then?”

“We drank Lilt and vodka all day, then went to see Freddy vs Jason, then we drank some more.”

“And then I drank, and she drank, then we drank, then I drank some more.” Adam says with evident pride.

Charlie gives him a look. “We’re being far too smug here. The ‘I ran, then she ran, then I kissed her and we both ran’ jokes are used and abused too much.”

“Anyway, getting back to the absolute B.S…”

“Terri,” Linda interjects. “How do we know you’re not lying now? You could be about to spin another tale that is a fantastical leap of your imagination.”

Fulton nods. “I’ve see your bedroom walls, you’ve definitely got an imagination that’s not based in reality.”

Terri ignores them both. “Fulton and Portman are not now, nor have they ever been, a couple.” Terri says.

“We’re called The Bash Brothers for a reason.” Portman says. “We are like brothers, and dating would just be wrong.”

“But a couple of dodgy snogs under the influence of Portman’s cocktails are fine, are they?” Terri puts in.

“You be quiet, Theresa. It was a game of truth or dare and you kissed Charlie’s feet, so you’re in no position to pass judgement.”

“Ah, that was a good party.” Charlie grins.

“And Charlie and Adam are too volatile to ever date. They bicker like little old ladies. The kind that poison each other’s tea.” Linda adds. “And while we’re coming clean about relationships, Terri never had a girlfriend until the end of Freshman year – and we’ve already covered the fact that Maya doesn’t exist.”

“Thanks, Linda. Nice. Make me sound like a dateless loser, why don’t you?” Terri mumbles, then raises her voice. “And speaking of, what’s Linda doing here?” She turns to Linda. “What are you doing here, you snotty, freaky little activist, you?”

Linda shrugs. “I don’t know, I heard there was cognac.” She grins at Terri.

Terri grins back, and refuses to expand, so changes the subject slightly. “All of those people that you hated thanks to the story, they’re our best friends and the people that were our friends, they’re not so much. We thought it would be funny to write the homophobes as our best friends – if they ever saw our story, they’d be really upset – and our real friends thought the idea of them acting completely out of character was really funny, actually they helped us write it.”

“And we never even told you about Anna, she was also part of it.” Charlie says.

“So Terri, tell us what really happened.” Fulton asks with a smile.

“Well, if you’ll all shut up, I will…”


“You’re Going Back”

“Honey, phone!” Nancy Reed poked her head into the sitting room and gave her son a stern glare. She had gotten pretty good at condensing every single thing she wanted to say to Fulton into one facial expression. She had not been impressed that her son had only stuck at his new school for a matter of weeks before quitting, something he’d not intended telling her—but the determined look on her face had him spilling his guts in only a few minutes. The woman was incredible, a friend tipped her off that Fulton was in the mall during a school day and that was all it took. She had told him endlessly that he was a good boy, a bright boy and he would do much better at Eden Hall than at the local public school. Several arguments had broken out about it, but now she had just got it down to a grimace since words weren’t getting her anywhere. However, her tone had been light and friendly, this was because his mom was always conscious that some people had the idea that being poor and being a dysfunctional family went hand-in-hand.

Fulton got up and took the phone from her. “Yeah?” He muttered. His mom slapped his shoulder lightly. “Um, I mean, hello?”

“Dude, it’s me.” Portman’s voice came clearly over the line.

Fulton removed himself entirely from the sitting room, shut the door on his younger sister and brother who were watching The Smurfs, followed the phone cord all the way back to the hall and took a seat on the floor. “Hey.” Fulton said tonelessly.

“What’s up? And why are you at home? Were the dorms really that grim?”

“No, I quit.” Fulton replied, which wasn’t a lie—he just hadn’t bothered to tell anyone that he was going back tomorrow. The truth was, he was still considering hanging out with Charlie tomorrow, despite what he’d said.

“You quit? Why? Have you had a fight with the Ducks?”

“The Ducks are dead, Portman. Completely and utterly. If you had bothered to leave Chicago, you’d know that.”

“What do you mean, they’re dead?”

“I mean the team that was once the Ducks are now the Eden Hall Warriors, I mean Bombay isn’t around to make it feel like the Ducks, I mean the new coach, Orion, is a complete ass. Add to that Banksie isn’t even on the team any more, I’d say ‘dead’ sums us up just fine.” Fulton snapped, almost glad that Portman had called so he could take his anger out on someone who would understand. He was even almost glad Portman had ditched them because it meant that Fulton could offload on him completely guilt-free.

“Adam quit too?” Portman sounded very sceptical.

“No, Adam made Varsity. He’s the enemy now—apparently we’ve got to keep the healthy rivalry between JV and Varsity going.”

“He never said.” Portman said quietly.

“Yeah, because you guys were so close. Let me think back to your last conversation with him… ‘don’t tell me how to talk, rich boy’.” Fulton knew he was making this conversation unnecessarily difficult, but he couldn’t seem to help it. Everything seemed so new and different at Eden Hall, Portman wasn’t there, Adam was on another team, Charlie had a real attitude… Charlie was just a lot different, and Charlie had always been a constant in his life. Charlie was, for lack of a better way to put it, the nice one on the team. Now he was arrogant, stubborn and egotistical; he never used to lie, now he seemed exceptionally furtive.

“It’s not just you I keep in touch with.” Portman said defensively. “I talk to a few of the other Ducks.”

“You know, if you’d come to Eden Hall, it would really save on your phone bill.”

“The way you’re talking there’s no point, the Ducks are dead, aren’t they?” Portman said lightly.

“Yeah.” Fulton sighed tiredly. Offloading on Portman wasn’t actually doing him any good. Portman was taking anything Fulton threw at him with surprising good grace, and now Fulton was just tired. “Yeah, the day Charlie throws a punch at Adam, you know the team has died.”

“What?”

“And the day your team sells you out for a damned scholarship…” Fulton added.

“Stop. Rewind. Charlie hit Adam? Why?”

“It’s Varsity, man. They hate us, we hate them, and Adam’s one of them…”

“So you ditched your friend because he was good enough to make another team? I can’t believe you did that, Fult. I though you were…” Portman sighed, making a faint hrrr down the phone. “Varsity hates you—I bet they’re not fond of Adam and he’s enemies with the people who are supposed to be his friends? I can’t believe this. I just never thought I’d see you sell your friend out like that.”

“Sell out?” Fulton’s anger began to flow back. “I can’t believe you—of all damned people—are accusing me of selling out! You’re the one who couldn’t be bothered to come to Eden with us. You were the first sell out!”

“Is that what you think? Didn’t you even read that letter I sent?”

“Must have been real important if you couldn’t even call me to tell me.”

“Screw this, Fult. I don’t need this aggravation. I’ve got my reasons, but if you didn’t bother to find them out, then it’s your problem, not mine.” There was a click, then a dial tone.

Fulton sighed and replaced the handset.

Almost instantly it rang again. Fulton picked up. “I don’t need this aggravation either!” He snapped, forgoing any preamble.

There was a silence, then a small choked voice said, “Is that Fulton?”

Fulton blushed, cleared his throat and started again. “Yes it is. I’m sorry, I thought it was someone else. Who is this?”

“Fulton, it’s Casey, Charlie’s mom.”

“Hey, Mrs Conway, what can I do for you?” He asked in alarm, she sounded like she had been crying, and he couldn’t remember a time when any of his friend’s parents called for him. While it was true that his mother worked at the same diner as Casey, they didn’t call for social chit-chat, they were both too busy. This call was certainly for him. “Is Charlie ok?”

“I—I don’t know… I mean, yes. I think… No, it’s not Charlie, it’s Hans.”

Fulton took a deep shaky breath and waited for her to continue.

She composed herself and started again, her tone was no longer shaky, but it still wasn’t her usual voice. “Hans passed away this evening, when I told Charlie he went out for a walk. I let him, he’s an only child, he likes to figure things out for himself… even as a child he always liked to process… like the time when his mouse escaped and… I guess that’s not the point… but it’s been almost three hours and with you being his friend, I thought…”

“Would you like me to go look for him, Mrs Conway?” He offered, when he worked out the main points she was trying to express.

“I know he spend the day with you, so I thought… I could send Alan, but… well…”

Fulton understood immediately, Alan was Casey’s husband. He seemed a very nice guy, but Charlie had never quite forgiven Alan for not being Bombay. Given Charlie’s recent attitude, coupled with the loss of the Ducks and Hans in one day, he wouldn’t have wanted to send Alan after Charlie either. “I’m sure he’s fine, but I’ll go and find him.” He paused. “I’m very sorry about Hans. He was a real nice guy.” He winced, you weren’t supposed to call dead people a ‘real nice guy’, you were meant to use words like ‘wonderful’ or ‘inspirational’, but Fulton didn’t think it would have sounded sincere.

“He was, wasn’t he.” It wasn’t a question.

“I’ll bring Charlie home to you.”

A few minutes later he hung up the phone again. His mother was standing above him, a concerned expression on her face.

“You’re not having a good day, are you, son?”

Fulton shook his head. “Hans died.”

She pursed her lips and shook her head. “I’m sorry. I liked him.”

“We all did.”

“And now you have to go out and find your friend.” She offered her hand to him and pulled him up off the floor. For such a compact woman, her strength was impressive.

“Yeah.”

“You do that then.” She gave him a quick half-hug, leaning into him and patting his back. The gesture was appreciated as neither she nor Fulton were particularly demonstrative with their emotions.


It wasn’t really hard to find Charlie, but Fulton understood that Casey hadn’t sent him search for Charlie, he had been sent to keep him company and stop him from doing something stupid.

Charlie, naturally, was at the pond they used to skate on when they were District 5. Fulton always felt a little like he was intruding when he came here, he hadn’t been part of their team then, he was just a guy who lurked in the background and scared off the Hawks for them. Mostly without the team’s knowledge. He had always prided himself on being protector of the team, but had never really thought about joining. He saw himself more as their mascot.

He took a seat on the bench beside Charlie.

“Did my mother send you?” Charlie spat out.

“Yes. But I would have come even if she hadn’t.” Fulton replied mildly.

“Why bother? You’re just another thing I’m going to have to do without.”

“Says who?”

“You, for one. You’re going back to Eden Hall tomorrow. Don’t worry, I’m used to it by now, my dad, Bombay and all the guys in-between them, the Ducks, Hans… You’re just a name on a long list.”

Fulton took a deep breath. “I’m not going anywhere. Just because I want an education doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. The Ducks are there, no matter what they’re called.”

“Should’ve known about Bombay too. Look how he was over the summer, bit of fame and he ditches us. Even before that—he was getting famous playing hockey, couldn’t be bothered to call my mom. No wonder she found someone else. Alan’ll probably be the next to leave.”

“He will if you give him as much attitude as you’re giving everyone else at the moment!” Fulton snapped. “You’re acting like this is only about you. We all feel cheated by Bombay, we all resent Orion for taking away our jerseys and we’re all gonna miss Hans. So stop acting like you’re the only one in pain here, Charlie. I miss Portman, did you ever think of that?” He sighed and thought of Portman’s words. “And I bet Adam misses us—at least we stayed together against Varsity. He’s all by himself, against us and them! Everyone’s screwed up at the moment. It doesn’t make you special.”

“Thanks for the pep-talk, coach.” Charlie sneered.

Fulton sighed deeply.

“It’s just… things… it sucks, y’know? Everything just sucks!” Charlie exploded finally.

Charlie slumped forward on the bench, his face in his hands. Fulton moved a little closer and put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder, squeezing lightly. “Things do suck. The way my mom tells it, that’s life. Things happen, things suck, and every so often things are great. Apparently things need to suck so you can really appreciate it when they don’t.”

“That’s great.” Charlie said flatly, the fight gone from his voice.

“Do you want me to lie? Shall I tell you that this is just a blip, things are gonna be great from now on, ‘cos you’ve done your time. You’ve had the sucky phase and you’re done?”

“I want that to be the truth.”

Fulton moved closer and put his arm around Charlie. “Yeah, me too.”


Fulton delivered Charlie home at around 3am, he tried not to linger too long. Casey was making maternal noises and wanted to feed Fulton and give him a nice hot drink to warm him up. It wasn’t just that Casey’s parenting differed from the kind he was used to (if the positions had been reversed, Nancy would have told them that she had put the kettle on, but now she knew they were safe she was off to bed—if they were hungry there was probably something in the fridge), it was also he felt a little uncomfortable seeing Casey and her husband walking around the apartment in their robes.

He arrived home about twenty minutes later. Surprisingly, his mother had waited up and having seen him walk up to the door, she had made him a cup of tea.

“Sit.” She ordered when he poked his head around the door to let her know he was home and safe and going straight to bed.

He obligingly did so. Nancy made two cups of very strong tea with lots of sugar. “How are you, kid?”

“I’m tired, Ma.” He said pointedly.

“So am I, and I’ve got the breakfast shift tomorrow. At least you can doze in class.”

Fulton gave her a look.

“Believe it or not, I was a teenager once. And I meant how are you? Not physically.”

“I don’t know.” He replied.

She shook her head. “I just don’t know whether that’s the truth or whether you’re not going to tell me because I’m your mother.”

“I think it’s the truth.”

“Well, that’s better. Take your tea up to bed, try not to wake Liv and Barney.”

“Thanks, Ma.” He got up and made for the stairs.

“I’ll wake you an hour before the taxi gets here.”

Fulton stopped dead.

“Yes, my son. I am ordering a taxi to take you to school tomorrow. I will have no arguments. Aside from everything I have already said to you about your education, it’s far more practical for you to live on campus. Aunt Sarah is coming to stay with us on Tuesday, and even if she weren’t, the twins are going to need separate rooms soon, they’re almost five.”

“You’re booting me out because the house is too small?” Fulton asked, he was almost amused. Only his mother could remain so fantastically pragmatic at nearly four am. And also manipulative. A taxi was a luxury the Reed family did without, the buses were pretty good, if his mother was going to pay for a taxi ride she knew Fulton’s sense of guilt over the cost would keep him in school, even if everything else told him to run for the hills.

“Yes. Now, bed. And don’t slop your tea on the carpet on your way up.”

Fulton shook his head in weary defeat. “Ok, you win. I’ll go back.”

“Good. I took the liberty of packing your bags for you. Also, while I was tidying your room I found something that might be of interest to you, I left it on your bedside table. Now, scoot. Bed.”

Fulton made his way upstairs and collapsed on his bed. His mother had obviously vented her worry at Fulton’s lateness on his room because it was spotless. His bed was neatly made, all of his clothes (that he hadn’t taken to Eden Hall) were either put away neatly or in the laundry hamper in the corner, (except a black suit, white shirt and tie which were neatly pressed and hanging outside his closet), even his posters had been hung straight instead of their usual haphazard formation. She had even unfolded one of his bandanas and used it as a cover for his bedside table.

Sitting up proudly, propped against his lamp, was the famous letter from Portman. His mother had even done her best to flatten it. After hearing second-hand from Bombay that Portman wasn’t taking up his scholarship Fulton had crumpled the letter and flung it to a far corner of his room and done his best to forget about it.

He sighed, took another sip of his tea, and opened it. Portman’s penmanship was akin to the results if someone steamrollered a hundred spiders on a sheet of college-rule paper. He didn’t set up letters the way English teachers liked, and it started abruptly:

Dude, I gotta tell you why I’m not coming to Eden. I don’t want this going round the Ducks, but I figure we’re like brothers and I can trust you with this. Look, did I ever tell you what my mom’s philosophy about parenting is? I think she watched Lost Boys too many times, because it goes like this: boys need a family, a mom and a dad.

I think she’s waiting for that dude—what’s his name, Edward Herrman?—to put in an appearance (minus the teeth and that butt-ugly jacket of his). Anyway, after we got back from the Goodwill Games, she’d found another ‘father figure’ for me. He was nice, we liked him. Until we found out that he was a lush. He’d been on the wagon all the time he was with her, up until about two weeks after he moved in. I don’t know what set him off, but he picked up the bottle again—turns out he’s not a nice drunk. Mom and I made a couple of trips to the Emergency Room before we managed to get him out the house. We changed the locks and called the police and that was that.

Until he showed up again, he’d holler at mom and threaten to kick the door in, we called the police every time, but you gotta understand, I can’t leave Mom alone at the moment. It’s just her, and it’s a ground floor apartment. What if he actually kicks the door in before the police get there? He’s already hurled a rock through a window. Look, I’ll try and work things out, once this is all sorted I’ll come to Eden, but I just can’t at the moment.

I wanted to call you about this, but Mom’s proud, she doesn’t like people knowing about our business, she’d be real hurt if she heard me talking about this on the phone, so it was easier to write it all down and post it out to you. I hope you get this before Bombay calls—he’s working on a way to let me come to school a semester late. He’s a good guy. Too bad he couldn’t stick around, but you gotta see his point of view. That’s a great job offer, and you can’t really expect the guy to put his entire life on hold just to make us happy.

Call me when you get this. We can’t talk about it, but just call me anyway.

Later, bro.

Portman.

Fulton rubbed his forehead and sighed deeply. “I’m an ass.” He decided.


“You’re Gonna Wish Like Hell You Stuck With Us”

Fulton didn’t see Charlie for another day, until the day of Hans’ funeral. But as it turned out, he had his own problems to keep him busy at that point.

The trouble started at 8.57am on Tuesday, when instead of picking up his biology book with his math book, thus saving himself a stop-off at his locker in the break between morning classes, he only remember his math book. He was a little irritated with himself because he’d already missed breakfast and was hoping to hunt down Julie, who—since her minor feud with Goldberg—had a habit of having fruit with her at all times in case she got hungry. Instead, he had to make a stop at his locker, which meant doubling back on himself, the lockers were near the main assembly hall, math classes were on the floor above, biology, however, was in a separate building on the other side of the campus.

Fulton was just rummaging in his locker when someone literally fell on him, bags went flying, Fulton’s hand got a nasty scrape on the inside of the door and his locker spilled out pens, papers, books and folders in wild abandon. “What the…?” He grumbled as they fell.

“Ow, goddamnit!” An Irish voice squeaked indignantly. “Bloody Shona!” The owner of the voice was a small girl who, in all honesty, looked as if she should still be in middle school, but most interestingly, her hair was bright purple. The child got up, stepping on Fulton as she did so and launched herself forward. Fulton followed her trajectory, and watched in baffled bemusement as she brought down one of the JV cheerleaders.

“Would someone get this thing off me?” The cheerleader called in pained tones.

“That’s what you get for pushing me, you big bully.” The purple girl snapped, administering a strong slap to the cheerleader.

When it became clear that no help was coming, the cheerleader pushed the purple girl off. “You’ll regret that slap, Theresa.”

“The only regret I have is that it wasn’t one of many, Shona!” Theresa responded. “And besides, don’t start on me. If you hadn’t pushed me, I wouldn’t have hit you.” She paused and thought. “Well, I might’ve done. But no doubt you would have deserved it.”

“I didn’t push you, Theresa. You fell. Would I, captain of the JV cheerleaders, top of the class and general favourite sophomore, stoop so low as to pick on a cripple? It’s not my fault you’re a clumsy oaf.”

“What’s going on here?” A stern voice cut through the commotion. Fulton winced internally and picked himself up. It was Mrs Madigan, the scariest teacher in the world.

“Nothing.” Theresa said sullenly.

“Mrs Madigan, she hit me!” Shona wailed, clutching her face.

“She did, I saw her.” Another cheerleader appeared out of nowhere and helped Shona to her feet.

“That one wasn’t even here!” Theresa complained, pointing at the new cheerleader.

“Enough! You and—” she eyed Fulton’s long hair, his bandana and ripped jeans. “You! You’re both on detention. Run along, Shona.”

“Come on, Shona, I’ll get you some ice.” The other cheerleader offered, leading her away with a comforting arm around Shona’s shoulders.

“But she started it.” Theresa said petulantly, picking herself up off the floor.

Fulton winced again. Arguing with Madigan was one thing, arguing with Madigan using a five-year-old’s retort was another entirely. There was no way it would work.

“You, pick yourself up and get to class.” She turned to Fulton again. “I’ll see you both at four o’clock in room 14H.”

“But I have hockey practice.” Fulton protested.

Mrs Madigan intensified her ever-present glare. “You should have thought about that before jumping in the middle of a squabble then.”

Theresa suddenly ran out of steam, she turned awkwardly and began picking up her things. “Sorry about that,” Theresa said, in a quiet tone. “But she really did push me.”

Fulton grinned. “Yeah, but you got her back, that was a hell of a slap.” He said with genuine admiration.

“Are you going to get in trouble for missing hockey?” She asked.

He shrugged. “Probably. I’m used to it though.”

“Me too. Things like this are always happening to me.”

“In that case, I’m Fulton—just in case you need another crash pad, you can ask for me by name.”

She smiled back. “I’m Terri, only Satan calls me Theresa, so don’t go picking that habit up.”

“And Satan is…” he gestured in the direction the cheerleader had left in.

“Well, it says Shona on her birth certificate, but I figured it was just, y’know, a typo.”

“It should really be Satan?”

“She is evil. I’ve known her for years. She holds coven meetings and invites Beelzebub over for sleepovers. How do you think she got so popular? She traded her soul. I’ve heard she’s even been dating the Anti-Christ.”

“You did just say she was Satan, now she’s dating him?”

“I know, but I have two plausible arguments. The first is that she’s just a really big fan. There are girls out there who call themselves Axl and stuff like that—Satan’s probably got a pretty big following too, though I doubt he could wail like Axl during ‘Estranged’ or ‘November Rain’—

“Totally, he calls that his ‘demon voice’.” Fulton agreed.

“Ah, a fan. I like you.” Terri nodded approvingly. “Although the Illusions shirt was a big hint too—though you can never tell who’s just being trendy and who actually likes what they have on their tees.”

“Or the other reason?” Fulton asked.

“The other reason is that the Anti-Christ is like the actual Christ, father, son and unholy spirit. She’s the son. Or daughter. Whatever. Either way, that is the concrete proof that Shona is actually evil.”

“Well, be sure to bring that up in religious studies.”

Her eyes lit up. “Now there’s an idea. Does this school have its own priest? My last one did. He wouldn’t perform an exorcism on Shona though, she was in the bloody choir. He liked her. I tried to tell him that the devil has many guises and that he really should read Needful Things as research but… well, I got booted out of the choir after that conversation, so…”

“You know, I really have to get to class.” Fulton said. The girl was amusing, but he didn’t want her to go thinking that they were friends. She was a little strange.

“Oh, what’s your next class?”

“Biology.”

“Great, I’m going that way to the art block, I’ll walk you.”

 


Adam, too, was having problems. “No, Dad.” He muttered into the phone, scanning the halls for any potential eavesdroppers. He’d cut class in order to use the pay phone while nobody was around, but his instinctive self-protection was still working overtime. “The guys are fine, I’m not being bullied at all. It’s just tradition for Varsity to haze the freshmen, it’s put everyone in an awkward spot to have me in a Varsity dorm while I’m still a freshman. The Ducks think I’m in on the pranks and the Varsity guys are worried they’re letting me off too light.” Lying to his father was easy when he told the truth in a creative way.

“So you’re not being bullied.”

“No, Dad. I just want to room with a freshman.” He repeated for the umpteenth time. His voice lowered a little, he hated asking for this. “So please, can you make a call?”

“Are you sure—”

“Yes!”

“—this isn’t going to be like last year?”

Adam sighed. After the Ducks beat the Hawks in the Pee Wee championship, Larson and McGill had felt a certain amount of animosity towards Adam. Larson had gotten over his momentary pang of conscience after he heard that Adam didn’t even need to stay in hospital overnight after slamming neck-first into a goal post, and he and McGill made a habit of following Adam wherever he went, taunting him, slamming him into walls, messing him up a little. Nothing really bad, just enough to make every single day he saw them unpleasant. Eventually, Adam resigned himself to playing hockey on his own front drive, or only going out with his brother, Danny.

Danny had caught on pretty quickly and made a habit of inviting his younger brother out wherever he went. These offers were also peppered with threats of telling dad or suggestions that they go round and beat the crap out of Larson and McGill. It went on for quite awhile, but things finally came to a head after the Junior Goodwill Games when Adam, feeling confident with his recent success, waited outside one of their practices and started the biggest, bloodiest fist-fight the Hawks had seen since little Gordon Bombay called the captain of the opposing team a “stupid pansy” in 1973.

Philip Banks finally heard about this after Adam had been frog-marched home by Coach Reilly, nursing a black eye, a split lip and a big-ass smile.

Philip was still a little worried that his ignorance about this constituted parental neglect. It made things difficult for Adam when, once again, he was being hounded by morons and needed help without causing a fuss.

“Dad, I’m fine. I just want to room with someone my own age, y’know.” Adam decided that promising his father that he wasn’t being bullied was too big of a lie. It was the opposite of the truth. So he went back to his original plan, tell the truth. Creatively. “I just hate being different. When I joined the Ducks, they still thought of me as a Hawk, at the Goodwill Games everyone treated me like glass because of my wrist injury, now I’m the only freshman on Varsity. I just want something to be a little normal, ok?”

Philip Banks sighed. “If you’re sure that’s all it is. I’ll call Dean Buckley later.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

He hung up the phone and checked his watch. There was no point going back to lessons, there was only fifteen minutes before lunch. He might as well go up to his dorm and start packing. In fact, he might as well go up to his dorm and finish packing. The Ducks wouldn’t want him to eat with them and he couldn’t face sitting with Varsity.

The news about Hans’ death had filtered through to him by way of a note from Fulton pushed into his locker. He didn’t know whether to be thankful that at least one Duck had bothered to keep him in the loop or be fuming that none of the Ducks had thought to tell him personally. The situation was making him crazy, he felt like punching something. Julie told him that when Portman had been kicked out of the Iceland game she had entered the locker room to find him pounding his fists on anything that didn’t get out of the way. He hadn’t understood that amount of anger and frustration at the time, but he certainly felt that way now.

It wasn’t just one thing, it was the combination of everything. While it was true Adam wanted to be recognised as a good hockey player, he hadn’t wanted to be put on Varsity and taken away from his friends. He hadn’t wanted his friends to turn their backs on him because of it. He hadn’t wanted Varsity to resent him for being a freshman on their team. He hadn’t wanted to room with Jason Labine, who was fundamentally a nice guy, because it made life difficult for everyone. Varsity wanted Labine to prank Adam as much as possible, Labine didn’t want to, Adam didn’t want him to, but he didn’t want Labine to lose his team over it. He knew from personal experience that losing your team absolutely and unequivocally sucked.

And, more than anything, he hadn’t wanted Hans, the one person guaranteed to be able to see all sides of the equation, to pass away. It was just ridiculously unfair.

He sighed and made his way to his dorm to start packing.

 


Charlie was not an easy man to find, Fulton discovered as he set out on his lunch to find him. And neither was Adam. He had assumed that Casey would send Charlie back to school pronto, as his own mother had done. A couple of questions to the Ducks revealed that if Charlie was back at Eden Hall, nobody had seen him.

This set Fulton on his next mission. On reflection, a note in Banksie’s locker was probably the most insensitive tactic in the world. He decided to find Adam—take on Varsity single-handedly, if need be—and have a decent conversation with him. He was probably lonely as hell, getting the cold shoulder from both his team and his friends.

With only twenty minutes before class, he finally resigned himself to the fact he was going to have to ask Varsity if they’d seen him. Which was even less fun than it sounded. Cole nearly took his head off before he even spoke for having the audacity to approach the Varsity table without an invitation. When he eventually was allowed to speak, Varsity made it clear that: a) JV should leave Banksie alone, he was a Varsity Warrior now, not a “little Duckie”; and b) that they didn’t know where Banksie was, and what was more, he was in big trouble about it. Varsity were supposed to eat lunch together. Period.

Fulton realised dismally that now he had not only missed breakfast and a snack, but also lunch. Furthermore, he was on detention straight after his afternoon classes, which meant it was going to be a long time before he ate. Twice he had missed out on food on account of other people.

It was not a good day to be a nice guy.

 


Fulton was early to detention. Terri was twenty minutes late. Madigan was furious with both of them. She gave Terri a severe dressing-down that had Terri close to tears. Terri tried to explain herself several times, but after awhile it appeared she was only able to either respond or not cry, so she opted for the latter.

Eventually Madigan finished, gave their assignments (a letter of apology to Shona for Terri and lines for Fulton), and let Terri have a seat. Terri moved to take the seat next to Fulton and he realised that she was limping heavily. He assumed she’d hurt herself in the fight this morning and it had slowed her down and made her late.

Terri buried herself in her work, an arm curled protectively around her notepad. Fulton too turned to his lines, wondering if anyone in the world had actually successfully used the famous tie-lots-of-pens-together trick to get lines done quicker. Maybe someone like Portman might get away with it, his writing was terrible, even when he was trying his hardest to be neat, but Fulton had quite nice penmanship and anything like that would be easily noticeable.

About ten minutes into detention, Madigan sighed, announced that she had to run to the office to collect the next batch of pop quizzes she had to grade, and asked if she could trust them if she left them alone. The sight of Fulton obediently writing lines and Terri sniffling and snuffling into her notebook was probably more convincing than Fulton’s wary nod.

Not ten seconds after the door clicked shut, Terri began to cry. “I’m sorry.” She apologised. “I’ve just had a really bad day and I didn’t want to cry in front of her.”

Fulton could empathise.

Terri swiped at her tears and began to calm down almost as quickly as she’d started. “It’s just Shona being rotten, followed by double phys ed., I told Ms Joy that I can’t do cross-country running, but she wouldn’t listen and my best friend’s in the sick room—she usually stands up for me, and that stupid bitseach Madigan isn’t helping!”

“Bit search?”

Bitseach, it’s Irish.” She replied. “My dad hates it when I swear in English, so I keep it in a language he doesn’t understand.”

“And your mom doesn’t mind?” He asked lightly, trying to cheer her up. Fulton didn’t deal with girls, unless you counted his sister Liv, she was easy to please though. Brandish a chocolate chip cookie and she would forget any earlier mood, fit, or grudge. Teenage girls were different—and difficult, his mother said, give it eight or so years and Liv would be a terror—they needed to be talked to nicely. And that was a tricky thing, according to movies. Teenage guys were always messing something up by saying the wrong thing—

Terri started crying again.

—sort of like that.

“No, my Mum’s dead.” Terri wiped her eyes again, aggressively this time. “I’m sorry, I’m not usually such a girl, it’s just I’m a little stressed, and then you said that and…” She sniffed and wiped her nose on her sleeve.

Fulton was strangely pleased by the gesture, it said to him that she wasn’t that girly by nature. “It’s ok. I’m having a day like that myself. A friend of mine passed away a couple of days ago.”

Terri was instantly quiet and still. “I’m sorry.” She said in a low voice. “You’re probably sick of hearing it, but I am.” She opened her mouth to add more, then closed it again.

Fulton realised that he hadn’t heard anyone except his mother say they were sorry about Hans. Everyone who cared missed him too. Hans was a group loss, they all felt the pain. Nobody else at Eden Hall knew or cared about Hans. It was interesting (and kind of sweet) that an almost-stranger was genuinely moved by his loss.

Terri turned and reached in her bag. “Cookie?” She offered.

Fulton fell in love.

And that was how Terri integrated herself into Fulton’s life. Given that his life was already semi-dominated by a small woman who knew how to talk Fulton into anything, it wasn’t really surprising that his first and only girlfriend would be much the same.


“You Probably Want To Be Left Alone”

The day of Hans’ funeral was sunny and bright, and it struck Charlie that God—or whoever controlled the weather—had no respect for the dead. Funerals should be cold, nasty, wet affairs to reflect the emotion of the day—and to make anyone who didn’t really care for the deceased as miserable as those who did. In short, the whole world should feel as depressed as Charlie, and if that wasn’t possible then at least the thirty-odd people surrounding him should. He was convinced that nobody felt the loss of Hans quite so acutely as he did, he may have even been right, nobody else visited Hans after school, Bombay only got in touch with Hans when he was in town—which was less and less as his career took off—and those dumb nieces of his in their traditional Scandinavian dress, Charlie knew they hadn’t visited Hans in well over three years. He’d seen photos of them, but none of them were recent.

Fulton had tried to manoeuvre closer to him during the service, but he had carefully kept his mother between them. When Bombay had approached, he had walked away, it was much easier than dealing with whatever happy-crappy advice Bombay had to dish out. Every time you touch the ice, remember it was Hans who taught you to fly? Bull. Pretty words, perfect for a funeral, but not honest words. The Ducks who had joined for the Goodwill Games had barely met him (yet there was Julie, bawling her eyes out as was expected by a girl at a funeral), they had been taught to play by their own coaches. They had been made Ducks by Jan—and where was Jan? Where was he when his brother had needed him? None of the original District 5 team had bothered to show, he had taught them to fly, but they weren’t there. The only original Ducks present were now the Eden Hall Warriors. It stank of hypocrisy. Why didn’t they just go the whole hog and boycott the funeral? They didn’t care about being Ducks, they cared about the game more than the team, so why pretend?

“Charlie?”

Charlie sighed. He thought he’d picked the right time to make his exit while everyone was hugging and exchanging niceties such as ‘it was a lovely service’ and ‘he was a wonderful man’. Obviously one person had noticed the direction he’d left in and followed him. He hadn’t thought he’d be found; he’d walked along the river until he found a bridge under which he could sit. It was a little chilly in the shade, which reflected his mood perfectly. The discarded beer bottles and cigarette packets only added to it.

“My mother sent you again, didn’t she?”

“Actually, she told me not to bother you, that you’d probably want to be alone.” Fulton took a seat next to him.

“So why didn’t you do what she said?” Charlie asked.

“If it had been my mother, sure, I’d obey, but yours can be talked around.” When that got no response, Fulton sighed, a long-suffering expression on his face. “Because you look like you need a friend, and since I didn’t want to make nice with everyone any more than you do, I figured I’d come after you and see if you might actually talk to me.” He put his hand on Charlie’s arm. “I am your friend, you know. No matter what you say.”

“Everything’s falling apart.” Charlie said.

Fulton, as he had on the last occasion, put his arm around Charlie. “I think it just feels that way.”

Charlie shook his head, Fulton didn’t get it. How could he, when Charlie didn’t either? Everything was falling away, his team wasn’t around, Bombay wasn’t around and Hans would never be around ever again, but there was something wrong, beyond everything else. He wasn’t sure what it was, but the fact that Fulton had come after him twice made him try to verbalise it all. “I just feel so alone, like no matter how hard I cling to everything, it just falls away from me. Like Bombay, when he started playing hockey again, I used to call him all the time, tried to make him show as much interest in my Mom as he once did, but it didn’t work. Then when we were at the Goodwill Games, I tried to hold on to him long after he became Captain Blood, he came back, sure, but not because of me. Now the Ducks are gone, despite what I tried, Hans is gone, Adam’s gone to another team, Bombay’s not even in the same state as us any more.”

“My best friend’s in another state too.” Fulton said gently. “I kinda feel like he bailed on me too—or I did. Then I looked at things from his point of view, and he didn’t bail on me at all. Things just got in the way, you know.”

“I do see it from Bombay’s point of view, but then I see it from mine again and it really hurts. And it’s not just that…”

“I know,” Fulton nodded. “I think it’s everything at once. Everything seems difficult at the moment.”

Charlie sighed, frustrated with his inability to get to the bottom of the problem. There was far more that he hadn’t verbalised. To start with there was his insecurities about hockey which had resulted in his recent attitude. He felt like he had to remain captain of the Ducks. Bombay had given him the C, but now Bombay wasn’t here and Charlie felt that he had to prove to Orion that he was the Captain, maybe he wasn’t the best player, but he could lead them. Had Bombay been playing favourites when he made Charlie captain? Charlie didn’t know, and it made him all the more volatile around his new coach and even his old friends.

Then there was that illusive something else. It was a kind of lagging feeling in his stomach, the sinking sensation that he’d forgotten something important, but had no idea what it was. With his current list of woes, it perhaps wasn’t surprising that he’d forgotten something, but this was more of a feeling that he had never known what it was. He sighed again, he couldn’t even pinpoint the feeling inside of him, his brain couldn’t begin describe it, so how could he talk about it to Fulton?

Charlie rested his head on Fulton’s shoulder, his forehead was resting on Fulton’s neck, maybe it wasn’t comfortable for Fulton, but he didn’t seem to mind, so Charlie stayed that way.

“Charlie,” Fulton broke into his thoughts. “What can I do to help you? I worry about you.”

Charlie shrugged. He felt like nobody could help him. He just wanted to go back a few years to that amazing feeling he had when the Ducks won the Pee Wee Championship, the fantastic feeling that his team, a bunch of rag-tag losers, had just trounced the Hawks good and proper, then turning around and seeing Bombay kiss his mom. He wanted that feeling back.

“Why don’t I set up a game of schoolyard puck tomorrow? Just the Ducks—we’ll get Banksie back, it’ll be like old times.”

Charlie felt hot tears burning his eyes. Nothing would make it like old times again. Hans was dead, Mom had married Alan, Bombay was a big important guy with no time for his old team, the Ducks were JV Warriors and Adam wasn’t a Duck or a JV Warrior. Too much had gone to get that old feeling back.

Fulton turned to face Charlie, his eyes full of concern. “I don’t know if it will make you feel better, but I promise that no matter what, I’m not going to leave you. We’ll always be friends. I’m not going anywhere.”

Fulton squeezed Charlie’s shoulder, inadvertently pulling him a little closer. Charlie looked up at Fulton, they were close enough for him to feel Fulton’s breath on his lips, and suddenly that illusive thing suddenly snapped into focus. There was absolute clarity. He moved closer and pressed his lips to Fulton’s. Fulton flinched backwards initially, but then moved back towards Charlie, dropping his shoulder and turning slightly giving him easier access to Charlie’s mouth. For a few seconds. Before he broke away again.

Charlie didn’t know what happened after that. One moment Fulton was there, kissing him, the next he was walking away, muttering something about seeing Charlie at school.

Charlie watched his retreating figure sadly. Another name to add to the long list of people he had lost.

 


Fulton found Terri lurking outside his dorm room when he got back to Eden Hall. “I wasn’t going to be here when you got back,” she explained. “I was just going to leave cookies and go.”

He realised she was holding a package of Oreos, he blinked at it a few times, thinking of the way McGill called Terry, Guy and Jesse the Oreo line.

“You know, just in case you hadn’t eaten, like the other day.” She continued. On getting no response, she pressed them into his hand. “You probably want to be by yourself, which is why I wasn’t going to be here.” She gave him a quick nervous smile, then started off down the hall.

Fulton blinked a few more times, his head far too full of thoughts. “Terri, wait.”

She obediently came to a sudden stop and turned to face him.

“I don’t want to be by myself.”

“Ok then.”

He let her into his room, Luis, his roommate, was still out. Fulton supposed the wake would go on for some time. He put the cookies on the bed, and was suddenly aware of the silence. He moved to his CDs to find something to fill the silence. Terri took his hand as he reached for Illusions I. “I’ll find some music. No November Rain for you. Any decent music was written with actual emotions in mind, what you really need is some senseless dirge that just fills the space. Believe me. When my mum died I spent ages listening to The Living Years, it ripped me to pieces until my friend actually burned the tape.”

The Living Years?” He asked, sitting down on the bed.

Terri found some bland-but-popular-sounding music, and put it on at a low volume. It wasn’t his music, and it didn’t sound like Luis’ taste either. Then again, Fulton reflected, what he didn’t know about Luis could just about fit into the state of Texas.

“I think we should save that conversation for another day.” She sat on the edge of the bed. “Budge up a little.” She put her arm around his shoulders and pulled him back to lean against her chest. He wondered how ridiculous they must look, she was not just short, but proportionately small, whereas he was tall and, as his mother put it, still growing by the minute. An image from a movie he had watched with Portman popped into mind, the Great Child and the Dire Mother from Thirteen Ghosts. Without the blood and gore, it was probably how they looked. He let out a sharp laugh.

“What?” Terri asked.

“Just my thoughts.”

She didn’t reply, but her hand crept into his hair and began combing it with her fingers. It was nice, relaxing. It felt good to be held like this, he didn’t feel obligated to talk either, which was also nice. He felt tired from the amount of talking and comforting he had done over the past few days, it was good to be able to just shut down. He hoped that Charlie had been—Charlie!

For a few minutes he had been able to shut his mind down and not think of that bizarre kiss with Charlie. Strangely, he could rationalise the fact that he kissed Charlie back with more ease than the fact that Charlie had kissed him at all. He was fourteen, his emotions were all over the place, he had kissed back simply because it was his first kiss and he hadn’t really been expecting it. It had caught him unaware… but then, that hadn’t been his first reaction. His first reaction had been to jerk back, to kiss back had been his second reaction. He shook his head, trying to clear the thoughts in there and Terri giggled.

“What?” He asked, distractedly.

“Nothing, it just tickled.” She continued stroking his hair, and it soothed him once more, he felt a rush of warmth for Terri, who had taken a few minutes out of her life to see that he was ok. Maybe that’s all it had been with Charlie. Charlie had felt the same grateful feelings towards him, simply because he had made the effort to check on Charlie’s well-being. Tomorrow would probably be awkward, but it would be fine. There were no feelings involved in the kiss, or at least, none that were personal. They had both been overwhelmed by their situations, and somehow they had kissed. If it had been himself and Portman, they might well have ended up beating the tar out of each other. Things like that just happened at times of stress. Fulton relaxed again, throwing his arm around Terri’s midsection, feeling his eyes closing.

Tomorrow would be fine.

 


Fulton awoke to strong sunlight pouring through his window. He rubbed his eyes and groaned.

“Hey, man.” Luis said. He was already dressed, his hair still wet from the shower, or maybe just from the amount of gel on it, and sitting at the computer. “You were dead to the world, so I figured I’d let you sleep.”

Fulton groaned again and propped himself up on an elbow. “What time is it?”

“It’s a little after ten.”

Fulton flumped back on the pillows. “I need at least another two hours.”

“You do that. Try not to snore though, you’re wrecking my concentration.”

“Mendoza, it’s Saturday morning, what in the hell are you doing that requires concentration?”

“It’s called math, dude. You know, that subject with all those little things that aren’t letters.”

“Obviously you’ve not progressed to algebra then.” Fulton replied rather smugly. Witty put-downs weren’t his thing, especially before lunchtime.

“I’m more into the extra-curricular activities on offer at Eden Hall.” Luis replied easily. “Speaking of, your girlfriend said she’ll be on campus all weekend if you need her, she’s in room 217. She’s grounded apparently.”

“Do you mean Terri?” Fulton asked, deciding that if Luis was talking, then sleep wasn’t an option and he might as well get up.

“Purple hair, blue eyes, about yay high?” Luis held his hand up at desk level.

“That’s the one.” Fulton had noticed that Luis had referred to Terri as his girlfriend, but didn’t bother to correct him. First of all, denial only asked for more ribbing (Connie and Guy had been teased mercilessly until they finally admitted they were dating, then everyone got bored), second of all, Luis probably wouldn’t believe him. If he had come back to the dorm and found a girl lying on a bed with Luis, he wouldn’t believe him if he said it was innocent either. And finally, Fulton thought that maybe it wouldn’t be a bad idea if the Ducks did think he had a girlfriend.

Part of him hated himself for having these thoughts, but what if a Duck had seen the kiss? He knew it meant nothing, Charlie (probably) knew it meant nothing, but anyone who witnessed it might not. And if it did come up in conversation, Fulton would feel very much like denying that he and Charlie had a habit of locking lips—which would lead to teasing. And this was one thing that Fulton would certainly not nod and smile along with for the sake of peace and quiet.

Rather than keep thinking these strange thoughts, Fulton thought a subject change was in order. “Do you wanna play some hockey today? I think Charlie would really like to just play for the sake of playing with the Ducks. All of them, we’ll get Banksie in on it too.”

Luis looked up at the ceiling. “Thank you, Lord. I knew you were listening to my prayers.” He switched his gaze back to Fulton. “Anything to get out of math. It sucks.”

“Well, since you’re so eager to get away from your homework, you go round up the Ducks while I take a nice long shower.” Fulton said.

 


The game was fun, Adam thought, but it still wasn’t right. Bombay looked like he was having the time of his life, but then, that’s what he did. He walked in when there was a problem, gave some stupid advice and walked away happy that it was all resolved. He was never there for the aftermath, when the Ducks themselves picked up the pieces and actually dealt and moved on from whatever crisis had just gone by. Bombay wasn’t even the one who arranged this little get-together, it had been Fulton’s idea.

There was a weirdness in the group, and it wasn’t just about Adam, though he did notice a certain sense of unease from the rest of the Ducks. I made Varsity, he wanted to scream, it’s just a damned team. I haven’t grown horns and started sacrificing virgins to Beelzebub! But that wasn’t all that was wrong. Charlie was quite obviously still depressed, although he was managing to smile. Not that that meant anything. Charlie had smiled a heck of a lot at his mother’s wedding to Alan. Every picture showed a sunny grin on Conway’s face, it didn’t change the fact that he’d consumed half the contents of the free bar at the reception and Fulton had spent the whole evening looking after him when he got sick.

And there was another thing: what was up with Fulton? He and Charlie, who usually stuck together, had barely said two words to each other the whole time. Fulton had accidentally knocked Charlie over at one point, stopped, offered his hand, then appeared to think better of it and skated off.

Adam had a few bitter theories that Charlie had pissed Fulton off just one time too many and Fulton was having a hard time breaking his habit of baby-stepping Charlie through every goddamned emotion in his life. If that was the case, Adam was happy about it. It was about time that Charlie found out that the C Bombay had given him did not stand for Centre of the Universe. Adam could think of plenty of C-words that it might well stand for, but was too well-mannered to voice his thoughts.

Adam knocked Charlie to the ground, stole the puck and easily shot it into the trash can that was serving as the goal. There was some cheering, but nobody bothered to give him a celebratory hug or back-slap the way they did when anyone else scored. Not that he was bitter.

He just wished Portman was around. Portman might look like a goon, sound like a goon and act like a goon, but he wasn’t one. Acting was all it really was, Adam had come to realise. What Portman really did was distract whoever was around him. He made himself offensive so nobody would ask about his life, he made himself noisy and irritating so that nobody beat the crap out of each other when they were stressed—they would beat the crap out of Portman himself. The weird thing was, nobody else seemed to notice, not even Fulton. Portman had known how dejected everyone had felt when Bombay transformed himself into Captain Blood, so suggested they train, then started a fight with Julie over a stupid remark she made. It was only after the event that Adam noticed it had been Portman’s idea, and yet he had told Julie that he didn’t need the conditioning. Portman understood people, it was as simple as that.

Maybe with Portman here this crazy situation could be resolved. Or maybe it would just be a further distraction. Adam realised he didn’t care either way, just a change would be nice.

It looked like the game was wrapping up, most of the Ducks were sitting on the sidelines guzzling water, so Adam thought it was probably time to make a move back to the dorms. He didn’t feel like walking back with the Ducks, today had been weird and it would be nice to get away from the weirdness. Admittedly he would be faced with resentment from Jason Labine, his roommate, but that would be better. These people were meant to be his friends, but they had ditched him the minute he made Varsity—and they didn’t seem to realise that Adam was suffering on two counts every time the Ducks pranked Varsity. First he’d get pranked by them along with the rest of Varsity, then Varsity would knock him around a little, as it had been with Larson and McGill, these weren’t particularly violent incidents, certainly nothing that would keep him off the ice, but they were unpleasant, and more importantly they were unnecessary. It wasn’t Adam’s fault he made Varsity, but nobody seemed to care about that. At least with Labine he had never expected any better treatment. The Ducks were supposedly his friends, Labine owed him nothing.

He had made a habit of becoming invisible recently, he had read about it in a book by Philip Pullman, where a character concentrated on making himself seem small and uninteresting just by changing his body language. It seemed to work quite well. If he wasn’t wearing his Warrior jacket, Varsity would often overlook him—as would the Ducks. He sat down on the outskirts of the group and removed his skates, he flexed his toes a little and pretended to listen to the general conversation around him. He felt fairly certain that nobody would talk to him, so he could edge out gently. While skating off would get him away quicker, it would also be more noticeable.

He waited until Bombay started with some fantastically hilarious tale from work involving a pair of skis, a misdialled fax, a slightly lost glamour model and Don Tibbles before making his move away from the group. As predicted, nobody noticed. He walked away from the playground in his socks and waited until he was out of sight before putting his skates back on.

“What is it with people sneaking off at the moment?”

Adam turned to face Fulton. He should probably feel something other than anger at Fulton, because at least he had taken the time to push a note through the vents in Adam’s locker to tell him about Hans, but at the same time, Fulton had unquestioningly followed Charlie after his little hissy fit (Riley had overheard it all and retold it to Varsity, it was one of the few times Adam had genuinely laughed along with them as Riley mocked Charlie’s tone and words), but had not said a word to Adam since he made Varsity.

“I’ll go out on a limb and guess that people are avoiding you, Fulton.” Adam replied flatly. “It’s ok, once you get used to it.” He finished lacing his skates and stood up. As he pushed off, Fulton grabbed his arm and dragged him to a halt. “What?” Adam snapped, idly wondering if he hit Fulton would Fulton hit back.

“I thought we could talk.” Fulton said.

Adam felt his temper rising, something that was becoming a daily occurrence for him since Charlie had hit him. “Well, Fulton, I know you’re not exactly the brightest Duck in the pond, but here’s how it works: we both said something out loud. We talked. You’re done. Now go back to your little friends and tell them that you tried your hardest to reason with me, but I’ve gone and got myself an attitude problem. Break it to Charlie gently, I know attitudes are Charlie’s signature at the moment.”

Whatever response Fulton had died on his lips. Adam gave him a bland smile, shook his arm free and skated off.

In books, when someone said something nasty to an estranged friend they tended to have guilt over it. It had to be a dark victory for them in order to convey a moral message. Adam felt no such guilt, instead he felt rather elated that he had let loose a few things that had been on his mind. Of course, it was only the tip of the iceberg, but it was a start. He was officially through playing nice.

When he got back, Mr Stiles, the dorm supervisor was waiting for him. Adam always thought that Mr Stiles’ school guidance councillor hadn’t done a brilliant job with him. Given that Mr Stiles was a short, scruffy, unfriendly-looking man, Adam always thought he would be more suited to a different job. Specifically an archivist in a basement of an old (and preferably haunted) library, the kind that featured in horror movies and creeped out the teenagers when they went down there to research local history.

He was a surly man who seemed to exist only to find some kind of rule-breaking and punish the rule-breaker in horrible ways. He never spoke unless it was to reprimand or go sneaking to the Dean about behaviour. He was not the most popular faculty member. However, when he opened his mouth and spoke, Adam almost loved him.

“Get your stuff together, do it quickly and quietly unless you want a detention. You’re moving dorms.”


“There’s A Monster In My Closet”

Charlie walked back to the dorms with Averman, his roommate. “Glad you’re back, man.” Averman said. “There’s a monster in my closet. I swear to God it’s gonna eat me. Now you’re back it can eat you, giving me ample time to run away screaming like a girl.”

Charlie decided that Averman was probably the best person to be around at the moment. Charlie was feeling a little strange, his emotions couldn’t seem to settle, one minute he was happy—Bombay had come to see him, Bombay did still care about him—the next he was completely screwed up—Bombay wasn’t staying, it was just a quick-fix visit, Fulton seemed to be avoiding him—made especially apparent by the way he had skated off at the speed of light while Bombay was still talking. Averman’s bizarre way of talking would work well to keep him happy for a bit longer. It was just that…

He wanted to talk to Fulton. If it had been anyone else, he would have just resigned himself to the fact that he had lost faith in another supposed constant in his life, but Fulton was different. He had come after him repeatedly, unlike Bombay who turned up when the crisis was reaching fever pitch, “fixed” everything and left again without bothering to check if everyone really was fixed. And the whole reason that things were awkward probably needed some addressing. He hadn’t meant to kiss Fulton, he wasn’t sure why he had, he wasn’t into guys. Or at least, he didn’t think so. God, there was a scary thought: if it got around the Ducks that he was into guys, his whole friendship with Bombay would be called into question. At the moment they had all privately psychologised him and decided that he wanted a father figure, but if the Ducks found out that he had kissed a guy they might start thinking differently.

But he wasn’t into guys. Was he? He wasn’t sure. He liked Fulton, sure. But in a guy way, hanging out together, eating junk food, playing hockey, not in a girly way, holding hands, kissing… but he had liked the kiss.

“Can you like a kiss, but not the person in question?” He asked, then was a little shocked that he’d said it out loud.

Averman gave him an odd look, thought awhile, then swatted him lightly around the head. “I’m the random one, not you.” Averman turned to a clump of Ducks further ahead. “Mendoza! Shimmy your Latin butt over here. Conway’s getting romantic with me!”

Charlie was mortified by Averman’s casual words.

Luis dropped back from the group. “What are we talking about?”

“Charlie just asked a very philosophical question and I think you’re the best person to redirect it to.” Averman responded. When it became apparent to him that Charlie was incapable of speech, he added, “he wants to know if you can enjoy making out, even if you don’t particularly lust after the person in question.”

Luis nodded. “That’s a resounding hell yes. A friend of mine threw an end of summer party just before I came to Eden, it got a little silly and we started playing spin the bottle. I had to make out with this horrible girl from my old school, you know the type, absolute bubble-head, nothing between her ears except vast space and the odd tumbleweed. But wow! That girl could certainly kiss.” He turned to Charlie, “Why do you ask?”

Charlie thought for a moment. “Well, Averman’s into drama, I was really asking him if he enjoyed making out with Cassie in Romeo and Juliet last year.”

“Uck, no. Too much spit.” Averman replied.

This spawned a conversation between Averman and Luis, evaluating all kisses to date. Naturally, Luis’ kiss-list was a lot longer than Averman’s. Charlie didn’t bother to participate, just nodded and smiled at the right places while his thoughts whirled on.

Well, that was ok then, Luis—who seemed to be an expert in this department—said that you could enjoy a kiss without lusting after the person in question. That meant that the kiss probably didn’t mean much. He wasn’t sure why it had seemed like such a good idea at the time. It had felt right then, all crystal clear and shiny-like, but now it seemed like a very stupid thing to do. There were too many repercussions to go kissing someone just because it made sense at that particular moment in time. Especially when that person was a guy.

What he ought to do was get a girlfriend. That way he could kiss her any time he wanted with none of this swirling confusion. And the key syllable there was girl. He wasn’t into guys, he really wasn’t into Fulton, they were just friends. Friends who had accidentally kissed. With no feelings in there at all. It was fine.

“I thought Conway might be getting lusted up over someone,” Luis was saying when Charlie shut his brain down and rejoined the conversation. “Seems quite a few people are pairing up now. Connie and Guy are giving it ‘one last try’—” at this point, all three of them snickered. Connie and Guy broke up often, sometimes more than once a week, and then a few days later, when the injured party had cooled down, they would agree to give it ‘one last try’. “—I’m seriously considering actually dating someone, rather than just fooling around, and Fulton’s gone and got himself a girlfriend.”

“You’re considering settling down?” Averman asked in outrage, but Charlie wasn’t listening. His heart had leapt into his throat when he heard that Fulton was dating a girl. No feelings about that kiss, eh? His mind mocked him. It was guilt, he told himself. Guilt that he had kissed someone that was already dating someone else. That was all.

Averman was begging Luis to tell him who this mystery girl was who had had such an impact on Luis as to make him consider steady dating rather than quick flings, but Luis was refusing to say.

“Who’s Fulton dating?” He asked over the din of Averman’s melodramatic pleadings.

“Tiny girl, very tiny. Looks like she should still be in middle school, purple hair, blue eyes, Irish accent. Cute, if you like dating anime characters. I think he called her Terri.” Luis replied. “He said they met in the hallway and got into detention together some time last week. She brings him cookies, it’s disgustingly sweet.”

“That is sweet.” Averman agreed. “We should put a stop to it immediately. We are manly men!”

Luis gave him a look. “Well, I am. Not sure about you two.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Averman asked in mock-outrage. “I’m very manly, I’ll have you know.”

“Averman, you like drama and poetry. You’re such a girl.”

“I am not!” Averman responded. “But I’ve been meaning to ask, does my ass look big in these pants?”

 


“Russ Tyler, please stay a moment,” Miss Biggs, Russ’s English teacher, called out just as everyone else jumped to their feet to head out. It was the last class of the day and he groaned to himself and took his time shoving his books into his backpack. He didn’t have any plans that afternoon and he wanted to spend it anywhere but stuck inside a stuffy (and pretentious, good use of a vocabulary word) classroom.

He didn’t even know what he’d done wrong.

Miss Biggs tapped a handful of papers on the desk and motioned for Russ to hurry up. He swung his bag over one shoulder and slumped up the aisle. He tried hard to figure out what he’d done this time. He didn’t think anyone knew about the pranks the team had played on Varsity, and even if they were busted, Miss Biggs wasn’t his advisor nor in charge of any of the dorms.

“Don’t look so worried,” Miss Biggs said and laughed. “You’re not in trouble.” Russ breathed a sigh of relief; when he relaxed, he realized how tense he’d been.

“What’s up then?”

She tapped the papers again, placed them on the centre of her desk, and pulled off the top sheet. “Your mock article was very good,” she said. “You packed in a lot of information and made it interesting. When the teachers met with the Board to discuss giving an entire hockey team scholarships, I don’t think anyone thought about how awkward it would be for both the new team and the old. You did a good job making me see your point of view.”

“Thanks.” Russ frowned and shifted his weight. He didn’t mind a compliment, but English wasn’t his best subject—if he was honest, he didn’t really have a best subject and he didn’t care.

“You need technical work,” Miss Biggs continued, but she was still smiling. “Your grammar and punctuation are sloppy. You’re a smart boy, you should be able to clean that up without a problem.”

“Thanks?” Russ said again, even more confused. If she didn’t like his work, why was she complimenting him? And no matter what she was doing, why didn’t she just write a long note on his assignment, like she had every other time.

“You’re welcome,” she said, “but I’m not done. I think, with some practice, you could be an excellent editorial writer. Why don’t you write some more this fall, along with at least one regular article; when you’re done, we’ll work on the technical details and put together a writing portfolio.”

At first Russ automatically nodded—agreeing with teachers made it easier to get away fast—but stopped as soon as he realized he didn’t really understand what she was saying. “Why would I want to do that?” he asked.

Miss Biggs placed his article back on her pile of papers and sat on the corner of the desk. “I know graduation seems a long time away right now, but have you thought at all about what you’ll do after high school?”

Russ shrugged. He really hadn’t and didn’t plan on doing it any time soon.

“Do you want to play hockey professionally?” she pressed.

He shrugged again. Russ had no illusions about his hockey career. The highlight was the scholarship to Eden Hall; sure, he’d been there to help win the Junior Goodwill Games, but he’d just been a last minute replacement. It didn’t bother him.

Hockey wasn’t life, it was just plain fun. His mom had been proud when he’d been offered the chance to go to a private high school and hadn’t given him the chance to think about it when she accepted it for him.

Before all this luck, before the Ducks, he still hadn’t thought much about the future. He’d make it through high school, get a job somewhere, and help out at home just like his big brother.

“Russ.” Miss Biggs’ voice dragged him back to the present. “I know what it’s like to get lucky in your education. I grew up in St. Louis and my high school was horrible. We never had any money, we were rated lowest in the state—I never thought I’d get to go to college. When I was a junior, one of my teachers made it her goal to help me. She encouraged me, taught me how to study, helped me get scholarships. She’s why I became a teacher.

“I’m not saying you should follow in my footsteps, but you do need to start thinking about what you’re going to do when you leave here. I see something in you, in your writing. Maybe it won’t amount to anything, but maybe it will.

“I’m the advisor for the school newspaper. Next semester, we’ll accept applications for new staff writers. I know you’re busy because of hockey, but I think you’d be good at this. I think you’d enjoy it. So, if you’re interested, I’m willing to help you give it a try.”

Russ nodded again, but this time he thought about what she’d said. He had enjoyed talking to the rest of the team and compiling their quotes and experiences, without giving away too much information about the ongoing war between the teams. He didn’t really know what it would take to write a real article, but the opinion pieces sounded fun, at least. He always made up big rants in his head when he couldn’t sleep. Maybe he’d have the chance to let other people read them, too.

“All right, what do I need to do?” he asked. Miss Biggs grinned at him, clapped her hands, and hopped off the desk. She pulled a small pile of papers out of her briefcase; the individual pages were all held together with a large paperclip.

“These are the areas we’ll be looking to fill,” she said, “and the style requirements for each section of the paper. Look them over, start writing, and we’ll talk about it more once you have a beginning portfolio.”

Russ grabbed the papers and turned to go. Before he reached the door, he looked back at her. “Miss Biggs?” he asked. She put away the pile of articles she’d pulled his from and looked up at him. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” Miss Biggs said with another grin.

 


Fulton sneaked past Ms Harper, the girls’ dorm supervisor, which was easier than he thought it would be given his size, and walked up to Terri’s dorm room. He knocked on the door and it was opened by Terri, she grinned at him. “Hey, you wanna come in before someone realises there’s a boy on the floor?”

Terri’s room was a nice spacious room that caught the afternoon sun. It was done in a light girlish shade of pink. One half was shockingly neat; it contained a bed with a blue bedspread and the walls were clear except for two framed pictures, one an Escher print, the other had a hand-drawn picture of a rather stern-looking family of four. The other half was covered in junk that threatened to spill over to the other side, the walls were covered in scribbles and doodles and a poster of Guns N’ Roses, the bed had a purple cover, speckled liberally with splatters of ink and paint.

Standing in the room was a tall girl with long curly blonde hair, she looked very familiar. Then he managed to place her, it was Shona, the cheerleader who had pushed Terri over. “Oh, it’s the boyfriend.” She sneered. “Don’t let me intrude.” She slammed the door hard enough to crack the moulding on her exit.

Fulton frowned, he wasn’t sure what he’d done to deserve that tone, he hadn’t even been in the fight between Terri and Shona, he had just been on the outskirts. “You didn’t tell me you roomed with Shona, that must suck.”

Terri laughed bitterly. “That wasn’t Shona, that’s Anna. They’re sisters. See?” She pointed to the framed picture of the family on the wall. On closer inspection, the two girls in it were very similar in looks.

“Oh.” He said.

Terri sat down on the purple bed and patted the space next to her. “Have a seat.”

“If that wasn’t Shona, why did I get the feeling she didn’t like me?” He sat down next to Terri.

“You just walked in at the wrong time. Anna and I were having a big fight.” She said.

“Do you want to talk about it?” He offered. He wasn’t really sure why he’d come to see Terri, he supposed it was mostly because she seemed to let him turn his brain off. There always seemed to be something going on in her life and it served as a good distraction from his own. Once more the horrible thoughts danced back into his brain, boyfriends went to see their girlfriends. It was just something they did. Guy often snuck in to see Connie. He was acting like a boyfriend. Which just proved that he hadn’t wanted to kiss Charlie.

Terri sighed and leant back against the headboard. “Dunno. The fight just came out of nowhere. One minute we’re talking, the next Anna’s yelling at me about the mess—which she’s lived with every day of her life since we were nine—the next…” Terri broke off. “Never mind, it’s stupid. It’s probably girly things. And it didn’t help that Shona popped round to raid my music.”

“I thought you hated Shona?”

“I do. Passionately. And she hates me. It doesn’t stop her coming by every single day so that we can exchange insults, sometimes while she’s here she nicks a load of my CDs. She’s a head cheerleader, you know. She’s not really into pop music, so she grabs a handful of my stuff, listens to it, and decides what might work well for their next routine. I think she’s under the impression that we don’t notice, and we don’t bother to disenchant her on that part, it would only wind her up and make her worse.”

“I thought you were a Guns N’ Roses fan.” Fulton said, a little disillusioned by the admission that Terri owned pop.

“I am, but every so often, you just need pop to make you stop feeling stuff. Rock’s great, but it makes you feel. Pop’s just dirge, doesn’t make you feel anything—like I told you last night. Sometimes I just need that. And Shona needs it to do routines to.”

“So you’re friends with her?” Fulton asked in confusion. His instincts had been right, Terri’s life was certainly proving a good distraction.

“No, she’s like an older sister. I hate her, she hates me. Anna’s wonderful though.” There was a slight hint of hero worship in her tone then. “Anna’s got the easiest summary for how we know each other. It simply goes: when I was nine her dad took over my dad’s company, and I took over Anna’s life.”

The door opened and Shona walked in. Fulton was sure that this one was Shona because she was wearing a cheerleader uniform. “Theresa, I think that I—” She broke off when she spotted Fulton sitting on the bed next to Terri. She smiled widely, and Fulton felt slightly alarmed. It wasn’t a friendly smile. “This must be Fulton then. I’ll just leave you guys to it.” She left quickly.

“Is that family allergic to me?” Fulton asked.

“You’ve got to go now.” Terri told him, making shooing motions with her hands. “Go. Back to your dorm. Now.” She got up from the bed and stepped on a magazine, which slipped out from under her. She slammed into the bed, muttering pained curses as she went, and fell to the floor.

“Are you ok?” Fulton looked down and saw that she was crying, even though it hadn’t looked like a bad fall to him.

“No.” She said in a tight voice. “I’ve hurt my hip.”

“Your hip?” He asked, getting up to help her.

“It’s buggered.” She told him shortly. “Just get out of my dorm, I’ll be fine.”

“Let me help you up.”

“No, Shona’s gone running to Ms Harper, we’ll be in big trouble if she catches you here. Just go, will you?” She used the bed frame to haul herself up and let out another cry, her knuckles were white where she gripped.

“Screw that. Let me help you up, then I’ll go.” Fulton replied, moving to her side. “Which hip hurts?”

“The right.”

“Ok, then.” He crouched down behind her and put his hands firmly on her hips. “Excuse familiarity.” He mumbled. “I’ll try and keep your hips still while pulling you up.”

“Thanks. That’s what Anna does when things like this happen.”

He pulled her to her feet, she let out another cry of pain and turned her face to his. “Thanks.”

“Did I hurt you?”

“No, my hips hurt me. It would have been worse without your help. I think I should lie down, keeping my body straight usually helps.”

“I’ll help you.”

“You should go, Shona won’t be long at all.” She said, but her hand was tightly gripping his wrist to take the weight off her right side. Later when Fulton took off his shirt he would find a small hand-shaped bruise from Terri’s fingers.

“You’re not good at letting people help you.” He said.

“I am.” She responded in a quiet tone. “If you knew me, you’d know I’ve got no pride whatsoever, it’s just Shona’s going to get us in trouble.”

Which is when Shona and Ms Harper walked in. It was hardly a shocking scene, Fulton and Terri standing in the middle of the room, even if his hands were still on her hips, Terri was quite clearly still in a fair amount of pain, but it didn’t matter how innocent they looked.

What mattered was that Fulton was a boy and Terri was a girl and they had been alone together in a bedroom. What also mattered was that Shona was heard by many people when she said in a very innocent tone of voice, “I was worried Ms Harper, Terri is like a sister to me, I’d never let anything happen to her. But the door wouldn’t open and I heard all this thumping and moaning. I didn’t know what to think.”

That’s all that mattered.

The gossip took care of the rest.

 


Adam liked his new room. It was clean, it was far away from the other Ducks, and most importantly, he didn’t have to share it with anyone else. There was another bed in there, but the room had not been assigned to anyone yet. He was also feeling a great amount of fondness mingled with resentment for his brother, Danny, who had sent him a cell phone by courier. In the box with the charger (but no instructions) was a note, it simply read: I have no idea what’s going on in your life. How about you tell me?

He was now simply working up the courage to call his brother. The problem with Danny was that he was a fantastic older brother. There had been no time in his life when Adam had wished he was an only child, Danny had always stood up for him, always taken him out if Adam had nothing else to do, always fixed his problems. He was irritatingly perfect. Which made it impossible to lie to him. So when Danny would casually ask Adam how life was going for him, there would be no choice but to tell him everything. Especially since Danny already seemed to have a good idea of how life was going. The cell phone was almost brand new, Danny had been given it for his birthday, but he had sent it by courier to Adam so Adam would have no choice but to call him, tell him everything and have Danny fix his problems again.

What he wouldn’t give for a slightly abusive older brother right now.

He found Danny’s name in the phone book and pressed the green button.

“Spill it.” Danny said, foregoing any preamble.

“Hey, Danny. How’s life?” Adam said keeping his tone light.

“I got a phone call from Dad asking if you were having problems at school. He’s labouring under a happy delusion that you actually tell me your problems willingly. I said you were fine, then I bundled up my brand new cell phone and wasted a ton of money sending it by courier, then I cut class so I could sit in my dorm room all day by the phone. Cut the crap, Ads.”

“How mad would you be if I said I was fine?” Adam asked, very little hope in his voice.

“Very. So spill.”

Adam took a deep breath and wondered where to begin. Did it start with Charlie’s attitude? His own? How about the fact that Portman wasn’t here? No, it probably started with Charlie. Everything in the whole damned world was about Charlie, wasn’t? He thought about how tightly he had held on to Charlie earlier when they had tried to throw him in the trash can. He had tried to recapture the way he had felt for Charlie the day Charlie had given up his spot in the game against Iceland, simply because he knew it was more important to Adam to be able to play. When the feeling hadn’t come back, his anger and resentment seemed to bubble up tenfold.

“Adam,” Danny said warningly. “The contract for that phone is still in my name, I’m not wasting good money on listening to you breathe.”

“I hate everything.” Adam snapped. He had wanted to tell Danny to shut up, but he could never say anything like that to Danny, who always knew how to solve the problem—and more importantly, noticed that there was a problem when nobody else did.

“It’s a good start.” Danny said. “What do you hate most?”

“Charlie.” Adam replied without hesitation.

“Charlie?” Danny repeated in genuine surprise. “I always thought you two were…”

“Were what?” Adam prompted, when Danny didn’t finish.

There was a period of silence. “Good friends,” Danny said finally.

Adam’s heart gave a worried lurch. No. Please say this wasn’t one of Danny’s insightful moments. That would be incredibly bad, because if Danny had insight it meant that he’d grown accustomed to the idea, which meant that Adam should have no fear. Then Adam would have to confirm Danny’s insight. He wasn’t sure whether he was ready for that. Maybe he should just say something light (or at least, lighter), like ‘yeah, me too, but not now’ or something like that.

“That’s not what you were going to say.” Adam said, hating his brother’s ability to never get anything but the truth from him.

“Ok, it wasn’t.” Danny said agreeably.

“What were you going to say?” Adam wondered if Danny would be angry if he threw the phone out of the window in order to get out of having this conversation. He suspected that he might be, but only momentarily. Then, proving his perfection, he would hop on a plane, turn up on Adam’s doorstep and get confirmation of insight in person.

“I wasn’t actually going to say it out loud. I was just going to let you know that I knew.” Danny replied.

“Well, you’re wrong.” Adam said, a hint of smugness in his tone. “At least, with Charlie. It’s not Charlie.”

“Well done, baby bro.” Adam could hear the smile in his brother’s voice. “I’m glad you admitted it. I won’t ask who, unless you want to tell me.”

“I hate you.” Adam said with feeling, but underneath it all, he was relieved. Adam didn’t really feel comfortable talking to anyone, not even the people he called his friends. There was no-one but Danny who was really easy to talk to. “How long have you known?”

“When you got back from the Goodwill Games you were different, more confident. You know my friend, Ashley? Well, he was really quiet and reserved until he first got a girlfriend. I figured you’d fallen in love at some point while you were away. It was a matter of deduction after that, Connie’s dating Guy—and I know you’re too nice to steal another guy’s girl. And I don’t think you even mentioned the other girl.”

“Julie.”

“Yeah, her. There were a few you didn’t mention, so I figured that you weren’t deliberately not mentioning her.”

“That brain is wasted in law school. Why don’t you see if the FBI is recruiting?”

Danny laughed, but it had a slight hollow quality.

“Have you told Dad you don’t want to be a lawyer yet?” Adam asked.

“Oh, we’re dealing with all of the big problems in this call, aren’t we?”

“You’re avoiding the question.”

“I’m the older brother, I get to fix your problems, you don’t have to fix mine.”

“I want to. Look, maybe he won’t mind. Remember how he was after the Pee Wee playoffs? He didn’t care that I was a Duck not a Hawk, he said he just wanted me to be happy.” They had gone through this several times, but it didn’t diminish Adam’s determination to help Danny the way he had always helped him.

“I think he’ll be more mad about this, Ads. Hockey isn’t life—or at least, what team you played for in the Pee Wees really doesn’t make much difference when the NHL teams are signing you up.”

“Why don’t you tell him anyway? Sure, he might get mad, but at least he’ll know. It’s going to kill you trying to please him. After you graduate it will be much harder to tell him—you know he’s talking to Ducksworth Saver & Gross about getting you a trainee position.”

Danny sighed. “I know that. I know. And you’re right, of course you are, I didn’t get all the brains in this family. It’s just hard.”

“It’ll be harder lying to him.”

“You gonna tell him what you told me today?” Danny asked. He wasn’t malicious, he never was. It was just the simplest way to put things into context.

Adam shook his head, even though Danny couldn’t see it. “I get it.”

“Now we’re depressed, aren’t we?” Danny said, though he sounded as if he was already regaining his cheer. “Let’s talk about your problems, they’re much easier to fix than my own.”

“I’m ok.” Adam told him.

“Me too.”

Adam hoped it was true.


“We’ll Be Weird Together”

Fulton sat at the back of the bus sulking. He was in a generally crabby mood and didn’t really want to sit with anyone. The day hadn’t started that well and it had got progressively worse. He and Terri were grounded (hockey games aside). A grounding at Eden Hall was quite comprehensive. He was given a pink photocopy of his timetable, every teacher had to initial it to prove he had been at class, he had to get it signed at lunch—where he wasn’t allowed to sit with the Ducks, but had to sit alone on a table to the side of the long teacher’s table, Terri was on another table on the other side of them—then at the end of the day he had to be checked into his dorm, which meant the 9pm curfew had to be obeyed to the letter. This had annoyed Luis no end, because it meant that he too had to be present at the check-in, even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. They had both been given demerits for having a messy room—another thing that Luis wasn’t going to forgive him for any time soon.

The gossip had done the rounds at an amazing speed. In the time it took between leaving Terri’s dorm, being yelled at by Dean Buckley and getting back to his own room, the news had already reached Luis, who had heard that Fulton and Terri had been caught doing the naked and nasty. Trying to explain to Luis had only made the problem worse. On reflection, the words, “No, see, her hips were hurting so I had to pick her up,” weren’t really the most impressive or intelligent line of defence.

Luis had actually been suitably impressed with Fulton, given that Fulton had only known Terri less than a week; as a couple, Fulton and Terri had moved with a lot of speed. If the gossip was true. And who cared if it wasn’t?

That was, he was impressed until he heard about the grounding and realised that the punishment was going to rebound on him. So now he was furious with Fulton and was refusing to have anything to do with him. Luis had, foolishly, chosen to sit with Guy, Connie was sitting with Ken. Fulton wasn’t sure whether this was a choice they had made because they had broken up again, or was it because they were together again, and they were just trying to prove that they weren’t all over each other. Either way, Luis was getting his ear chewed off by Guy, so he wouldn’t be in a particularly friendly mood this evening—that’s if Luis would even talk to him. Fulton suspected that as soon as he was un-grounded, Luis would be pleasant again. So already his grounding was wearing thin.

Then, less than ten minutes ago, Orion had taken him to a side and shouted at him for indulging his hormones and making life difficult. Apparently Orion had spent most of Sunday in the Dean’s office, trying to convince Dean Buckley that Fulton shouldn’t be benched as punishment. Luckily he had succeeded, but all the same, it wasn’t how he had wanted to spend his weekend. Then, to make matters worse, Orion had said (in a very embarrassed tone of voice) that his door was always open, and if Fulton wanted to talk about anything he was available. And the very worst was when Orion had lowered his voice to an almost-whisper and muttered that Fulton should be “careful” and added something about “responsibilities”. It took a few seconds of confusion before he figured out that Orion was telling him to use contraception, then he felt thoroughly humiliated. It almost made Fulton want to say, “I kissed a guy a few days ago, how do you feel about that?” just to convey his lack of interest in doing anything remotely like that with Terri.

And now, as he sat, he was beginning to wonder why he didn’t want to do things like that with Terri. She was nice, she was pretty, her hair was strange but it smelt pleasantly of coconuts, and they got on well. Why didn’t he want to do things like that with her? Why had he never even considered making out with her until now? If Luis’ standards were anything to go by, he really should want to. But he didn’t. There was something comforting about Terri, something friendly, and not really particularly girlish about her. He didn’t really see her as someone he could date, he saw her only as a friend, and his brain almost went into meltdown as he tried to push himself into seeing her as something more. He liked her, that was true, but that’s all it was. He was fond of her, and he thought that one day he might possibly love her, but again, only as a friend.

“Conway?”

Fulton’s head automatically jerked up on hearing Coach Orion say Charlie’s name, a hint of surprise in his voice. Fulton heard Charlie say that he wanted to come back, his tone was sincere and apologetic, then Charlie boarded the bus. There were grins and high-fives all round, then finally Charlie looked to the back of the bus and met Fulton’s eyes. Sit with me, Fulton said mentally, sit with me and we can be friends again. I’m sorry I knocked you down, then skated off. I’m sorry for that kiss, whatever it meant, I’m sorry I walked away when I promised I wouldn’t. Sit with me, be my friend.

Charlie held his gaze for a few seconds, his expression blandly pleasant. He took another step.

Then he sat down next to Russ.

Fulton sighed. Who needs you anyway, Conway, he thought, trying to ignore the crushing disappointment of Charlie’s simple action of sitting with someone else. I don’t. I don’t need you, I don’t need to be your best friend, I don’t need your stupid kisses that ruin our friendship, I don’t need your sulks and moods. What I need is a girlfriend. And I’m going to get one.

 


“I hope you don’t think this means I will spend more time with you.” Shona spoke in a low voice and smiled so bright anyone watching from a distance—and Anna was willing to bet many people were watching, because everyone always watched whatever Shona did—would think she greeted her younger sister with more kindness than was deserved.

Anna, unwilling to keep up the charade, shrugged.

“I didn’t exactly ask for this assignment,” she said, but there was no heat behind her words. She didn’t mind confrontation on a normal basis; she usually craved it, especially when it came to Shona, because too often it was the only way to release her emotions without appearing weak.

She was just too tired to fight anymore, too sick of school, too lonely ever since Terri had got herself a boyfriend.

Shona pulled out a chair, carelessly dropped her bag on the table, knocking over Anna’s neat stack of books, and slid into her seat. She moved with such grace and never looked uncomfortable.

Anna knew some of it was probably a mask, because the last time she’d thought Shona was perfect, she’d been five and Shona, six and tired of a younger sister who adored her—whose first damn word had been Shona’s name—had knocked her into the pool while wearing her brand new party dress.

When their mother found her, she’d been furious, not with Shona, who proclaimed innocence and was, in fact, trying to pull Anna out when they were discovered, but with Anna for ruining her beautiful and highly expensive new clothes.

Shona pulled a compact from her purse, flipped it open, and checked her makeup. She glanced at it for the briefest of moments and Anna made a face. Shona only did things like that because it was expected of a head cheerleader. At home, she always knew she looked perfect and didn’t care to pretend.

“I’ve already spoken to Madmoiselle Tode,” Shona said, loud enough for anyone to overhear if they cared to listen. “I will be focusing on the fashion trends of France. She wants to see samples of my wardrobe. I may have to send off for the newest styles, though. It always takes so long for them to cross the Atlantic.”

Anna refrained from rolling her eyes, but only because she didn’t want to join in a verbal battle. Of course Tode had given in to Shona’s request; Tode was one of the two French teachers overseeing their advanced project and one of the cheerleading coaches. Like nearly every other teacher at all the schools they’d attended, Tode adored Shona.

Tode also had the most atrocious French accent Anna had ever heard, and a weak grasp on the slang form of a language she taught. Maybe she wouldn’t have sided with Shona as often if Anna hadn’t shown her up so badly at the beginning of the year, but Anna had been grumpy because she had hardly any classes with Terri and she was angry at being stuck in beginning French even though she was fluent.

She couldn’t help showing off a little, but unlike Shona, she could never make it work.

“That leaves economics, language, politics, and history for me,” Anna said. She didn’t even look up, but continued to restack the books she’d thought might help their project.

Shona waited and Anna knew she was being watched, but she couldn’t drag any sort of energy together in order to actually push the attack, as she should have done.

When Shona leaned forward and placed one hand on Anna’s arm, Anna had to look at her. The Valentino family didn’t touch except for show when they were in public or to drive home a particular point. She doubted this was the first and feared the second; she shouldn’t have met with Shona while in such a mood, but Tode had been adamant they begin their project sooner rather than later.

“Whatever is wrong with you, dear sister?” Shona asked. She sounded sincere, but Anna recognized the cold glint in her eyes. “You’ve hardly said a word to me when normally you absolutely gush.”

A lie, but believable to anyone who didn’t know Anna, which was almost everyone in the school.

Anna pasted on a fake smile. “I’m fine, Shona,” she said and pulled her arm away. “Absolutely wonderful.”

“Oh Angela, you don’t have to be brave with me, you know I’m always here to listen.” Another syrup-sweet smile. “Is something wrong with your little friend?”

Anna snorted, unladylike and sure to annoy Shona. “Terri is fine. Terri and her stupid little boyfriend and her whole damn world, just fine.” Immediately, she regretted her words. Shona’s grin became honest and dangerous. It made Anna go cold.

“Of course, just fine,” Shona said. “Except for that pesky grounding of hers. It’s such a shame she’s already fallen so far, but you know how it is to get caught up in sport fever. Theresa must have hidden talents, to snare a hockey player, even one on such an unpopular team. Of course, I should know, shouldn’t I? It was very disturbing to see such a sweet girl so… exposed.” She patted Anna’s arm again, gathered her things, and swept away, leaving Anna with three-quarters of a project to begin and a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach.

 


Adam lay flat on his bed, exhausted after another gruelling practice with Coach Wilson, his hair was still wet from the shower. Ordinarily he would have put a towel down to stop his pillow getting damp, but he was too tired to bother. Emotionally as well as physically. He was sick of being piggy in the middle. The Ducks, despite the informal game on Saturday, had not spoken to him since, not even Fulton, who he thought might have tried to speak to him again. Adam had not heard the rumours about Fulton and Terri, and was unaware of Fulton’s grounding.

Varsity had taken Adam’s dorm move exceptionally personally. They weren’t stupid enough to do anything to him that couldn’t be explained. On the ice it was different. There were so many legal ways to flatten someone you didn’t like—especially if that person was pretty good at stealing the puck. Then there were plenty of times when Wilson was looking the other way and the not-so-legal checks came into play.

He felt sore all over, as if the practice had been harder than usual, but there was no real specific pain like there would be from a beating. Well, except for his cheekbone, and he genuinely believed that injury had been an accident. Coach Wilson had called for everyone to take a knee and Adam had taken his helmet off before making a move towards Wilson. Cole had playfully pushed Labine, who hadn’t been expecting it, Labine had shot forwards, clutching Adam for balance and Adam had fallen head first toward the ice. Unluckily his hockey stick had broken his fall. His fingers got a little flattened but were mostly protected by his glove; it was his face that had caught the most of it.

He stretched a little, trying to get comfortable, but it wasn’t any good. He felt as if he’d… well, done a whole practice single-handedly against Cole. He was tired, but too uncomfortable to sleep, which was a bad thing. It gave his mind chance to wander. At least being flattened by Cole for two hours straight had made his mind focus only on avoiding as much pain as possible.

Now that he was lying down, doing nothing, he was beginning to feel a little bad at snapping at Fulton. Maybe it had been wrong to take his anger at Charlie out on Fulton. While Fulton did make a habit of baby-stepping Charlie through life, at the time when Adam had yelled at him, he seemed to be in some kind of fight with Charlie himself. What he should have done was entice Fulton over to the dark side and they could have complained about Charlie together.

Adam shook his head. That was dumb, really shockingly dumb. He and Fulton weren’t particularly good friends, and even if they were, the idea of Fulton saying anything derogatory about Charlie, openly or behind his back, was simply impossible to picture, no matter how mad Fulton might be with Charlie at the time.

Adam sighed. What he really wanted was someone on his side. Just for a little while. Someone who wasn’t bound by blood to agree with him. Danny was great, but as an older brother he was contractually obligated to take Adam’s side. He rolled over on his side and picked up the cell phone that Danny had given him.

“Emergencies only, Ads. That thing costs me a fortune—and I will be getting it back off you.” Had been Danny’s final words on the subject of the cell phone on their last conversation.

“This is an emergency.” Adam mumbled. “I’m tired, I’m sore and I’m—” he paused and thought about what else he was that necessitated his use of the phone. Finally his brain delivered an answer that was both true and argument-winning. “I’m lonely.” Adam said.

He dialled Portman’s number. Though he had only called Portman’s house once, he knew the number by heart from all the other times that he had dialled it and hung up before it could connect.

“Hello?” A female voice answered.

“Hello, Mrs Portman. Is Dean available to speak?” Adam asked politely.

“Of course.” He heard Portman’s mom call to her son, followed by, “It’s your friend, the nice one.”

He heard Portman’s chuckle. “You hear that, you’re the nice one!” Portman said.

“Apparently.” Adam said flatly.

“Oh god, another Duck’s been shot. Let me get comfortable.” There were some muffled clucks and rustling as Portman moved around. “Ok, I’m ready, I’ve got my soda, I’m sitting on the stairs, I’m good for at least twenty minutes before my butt goes to sleep.”

Portman’s slightly flippant tone annoyed Adam and he found himself snapping in return. “I’m glad, because I’d hate for my life to get in the way of your comfort.”

“Adam,” Portman said with ponderous patience, “I’ve been waiting for your life to get in the way of mine. Exactly when were you going to tell me you made Varsity?”

Busted.

“Did you get a nice shiner when Charlie hit you? How have you been doing stuck in the middle of the Ducks—who have apparently drowned and been reborn as dysfunctional JV Warriors—and their feud with Varsity? And while we’re at it, how many messages do I have to leave before you return my calls? Ten, twenty?”

In the background he heard Portman’s mom interject, “Don’t you be mean to him, Dean. He has manners, you could learn a lot from that boy—I bet he never had to take anger management courses aged twelve.”

“Your mom’s on my side, at least.” Adam said half-heartedly, but it broke the tension.

Portman chuckled. “Ok, she is. But seriously, are you going to answer my questions?”

“I guess I should have called you back.” Adam said. The messages from Portman had been piling up in his pigeonhole in the main entrance to the dorm block, but something had stopped him calling him back. It wasn’t just that calling Chicago ate money like nobody’s business, or even that calling Portman wasn’t something he wanted to do with a large audience of people who were patiently waiting to use the pay phone. It was more that calling Portman would be great. It really genuinely would. But then they’d have to say goodbye, and Adam would realise that he probably wouldn’t see Portman again.

Maybe he could fly out to Chicago at some point, but he doubted it. Portman couldn’t afford to fly to Minnesota, and if Adam was honest, it would most likely be Portman who made the effort. It wasn’t that he didn’t want to see Portman, he was just worried that in the time between now and that distant time in the future would diminish their relationship. He couldn’t imagine anything more disappointing to fly out to Chicago and simply have an alright time with Portman. Towards the end of the summer, after the Goodwill Games, he and Portman had great times together. Anything less than that would hurt. So it was probably best not to go and just remember how good it had been, rather than how mediocre it might become. That was the difference between them, Portman would make the effort, he would want to know for sure.

“And he tries to avoid the bigger questions. Honestly, what is it about you Ducks? You’re all crazy. It must be the water in Minnesota.” Portman said.

“What makes you say that?”

Portman sighed. “I may have fallen out with Fulton recently.”

“Yeah?” Adam asked in amazement. “Guess we have that in common.”

“You go first.” Portman said.

“No, I get the feeling that anything I say will lead us off on a tangent, you talk.” Adam was delaying, but there was logic to his tactic.

“Fine. I called Fulton on Tuesday, and we didn’t seem to be able to say anything nice to each other. He’s pissed that I didn’t come to Eden Hall—not that it matters, because he’s quit now.”

Adam did a quick count of the days. “Portman, Tuesday was the day Hans’ died. I heard that he came back to Eden the next day. Hans’ funeral was on Friday, Charlie came back to the team on Saturday.”

Portman’s sigh caused a loud hrrr-ing noise in Adam’s ear. “I have no sense of timing, do I?”

“I don’t know about that, everyone has off days. Remember when you wound everyone up during Bombay’s Captain Blood phase? That was great timing, better we rip each other to shreds in our free time rather than during a qualifying game.”

“Ah yes, the infamous moment when you thought I was a big goon.” Adam could hear that Portman was regaining his usual cheer.

“And about twenty minutes later I figured out you were a genius instead.”

“Well then, tell this genius what you said to Fulton, and follow that by everything else that has happened to you since I last saw you.”

So, strangely enough, Adam did. He told Portman absolutely everything that had gone on since the start of term, that he made Varsity, the pranks between the teams, his estrangement from the Ducks, his almost painful anger towards Charlie, what he had said to Fulton, and he finished with getting flattened in practice earlier by a “big lugnut on the Varsity team”.

Sometimes Portman asked questions, but mostly he listened. When Adam finished, there was a long silence, followed by, “Who was it who was gunning for you?”

“What does it matter?” Adam asked. “It was mostly legal checks, and it’s not like it matters exactly who it was. It’s not like you know any of these people.”

“Adam, just tell me who it was. It doesn’t make you a bad person or a weak person to tell me, it just makes you a person. It’s not like I’m going to hop a plan and flatten the guy. And aside from anything, if you call me in two weeks and tell me that you and Bob worked out your difference over a harsh game of checkers, I don’t want to ruin the moment by asking who the heck Bob is.”

Adam laughed. “That’s got to be the dumbest reason ever.”

“Shut up, I’m a genius. Tell me.”

Adam shrugged, even though the gesture was lost on Portman who was over three hundred miles away. “Fine, the goon’s called Cole, even though I can’t see us working out our differences, especially not over checkers.”

“Are you sure? How about Monopoly? That’s a nice long game, plenty of time for you guys to get talking.”

“I can’t believe I called you a genius.”

 


Fulton made sure he sat next Julie on the bus home so he could ask her for a favour. Now was a good time to ask Jules, she was feeling suitably dejected and a little devil-may-care about the rules, given Dean Buckley’s announcement that the Ducks’ scholarships may be revoked. Fulton himself was feeling indifferent to the news, if they were revoked it meant that he could go home. Maybe his mom was a bossy woman, but she was reasonable, and if Fulton had told her the truth about what he was doing in Terri’s room she would have believed him. She knew enough about her son to know when he was telling the truth. Or maybe, she knew plenty of ways to get him to talk, if she tried them all and the story remained the same, she knew he was not lying.

In theory, as a grounded person, Fulton should really go back to his dorm immediately, he wouldn’t be checked in until 9pm, but the school trusted that he would do as they told him. Instead, he asked Julie to go to Terri’s dorm and ask her to come outside and talk to him. Nobody would really check up, and if they did, both Fulton and Terri could get their roommates to say they were in the shower. Fulton had already run this by Luis, who had curtly informed him that he was going to see his love interest and, if someone checked up on Fulton, Luis would not be around to cover for him. That was good enough for Fulton.

Julie had agreed then ranted that she hated the alumni. When Fulton had responded with, “Damn the man! Save the Empire!” she had rolled her eyes and spent the rest of the journey staring out of the window.

All the same, she had gone to collect Terri who was now walking towards him.

“Hey.” She said, joining him. “This is getting like stalking, you know. Most people don’t like seeing me twice in as many days, even Anna, and she has to live with me.” Her tone was light, but her eyes were a little dull.

“Another fight?” He asked. When she didn’t answer, he tried again. “If it’s any consolation, my roommate won’t talk to me either. He’s really pissed that he has to be checked in at curfew, even though he didn’t do anything wrong.”

“That kinda makes me feel better.” She said. “Come on, let’s go.”

“Go where?”

“I think us standing around in plain view of everyone is pushing our luck, given the reasons why we’re grounded. I know a place nobody goes. Come with me.”

She took his hand and began to lead him to the back of the school, behind some buildings that weren’t used for anything, as far as Fulton could tell. Eventually he found himself standing in a neatly kept courtyard that caught the afternoon sun nicely, surrounded by beds of immaculately kept roses and other more exotic blooms.

“What is this place?” He asked.

“It’s called the ‘Ornamental Garden’.” Terri told him. “Nobody comes here, most people don’t know about it and those who do are scared of killing the flowers. If you do any damage here, you have to nurse the flowers back to life—and if you can’t do that, and this is only as a last resort, you must pay for a replacement—then nurse that up to the standard of the rest of the flowers. And these flowers are pretty rare, so you’re looking at a lot of time and money. Pretty scary, huh?”

She lead him to the one bench there, on the backrest there was an inscribed plaque with a name and some dates on it. “The last Dean of Eden Hall and founder of the school, he died at the age of ninety-eight. He was also Dean Buckley’s uncle. No nepotism here.”

“How do you know all this?” Fulton asked.

“Anna and I explored a lot during our first week. We found this place while a gardener was tending to the flowers. Anna was genuinely interested and asked a lot of questions, I wasn’t really listening, but Anna was quite enthusiastic and kept talking about it.” She smiled at him, glanced at their linked hands and immediately let go. “But I’m guessing you didn’t want to see me for a game of Eden Hall Trivial Pursuit, so what’s on your mind?”

Fulton paused and thought. Now that Terri was here, he wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to say. Really, he should have asked Luis, but that would have been difficult to do, since Luis was barely talking to him. Guy might have been worth asking, but then again, Guy had started dating Connie aged ten, all he had to do was hold Connie’s hand and the rest of the Ducks worked out that they were a couple. There should be handbooks on dating, Fulton decided. Handbooks that told you what to say and how to act. Finally, he shrugged and glanced around the courtyard.

When it became clear that Fulton wasn’t able to speak, Terri opened her mouth again. “Fulton, why do you let people think I’m your girlfriend?” She asked in a quiet tone.

He met her eyes. “Do you want to be?” He blurted nervously.

She looked shocked, as if he had suddenly slapped her without warning. “What?”

“I mean, do you want to…” he shrugged, “go out on a date with me?”

She laughed tensely. “You’re not serious, are you?”

His mind was quick to point out that he should feel crushing disappointment over this, but instead he felt defensive. That was all wrong, he should have felt defensive that Charlie didn’t want to sit with him, and hurt that Terri wasn’t taking him seriously, but it was all backwards. “No, I am serious. Why not? We get on well.”

“Fulton…” she shook her head in confusion.

“Don’t you like me? We’re friends, right?”

She put her fingers to his lips, effectively silencing him. “You’re actually asking me to be your girlfriend?” She asked, her tone was one of honest confusion. She took her hands away, stood up, and paced around, hands in her pockets.

“Yes.”

She turned to face him. “You don’t want to date me, Fulton. I know you don’t. You’re too friendly to like me like that.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that nobody usually wants to be friends with someone like me because they’re scared I might wind up falling for them and they’ll be stuck with a freak like me lusting after them ‘til kingdom come. I could tell it never crossed your mind. You don’t even know I’m a girl.”

Fulton shook his head. “Those sound like your worries, not actual reasons.” But she was making sense. She was making far too much sense. It had never crossed his mind that Terri might fall for him, just like it hadn’t crossed his mind that he could date her. It just didn’t seem like an option.

She knelt down in front of him, resting her hands on his knees, looking up at him with big blue eyes. “Tell me honestly, do you really want to date me? I mean, not just taking me out, I mean do you want to make out with me, do you really want to…” she blushed and lowered her tone, “do those things that the whole school thinks we’re already doing?”

Fulton blushed furiously, shocked by her question. He remembered his second conversation with Terri, and how he had known that girls were tricky to talk to. This was a prime example. No answer would be right. Yes would make him sound like a fiend, no would prove her point.

“I won’t make you answer.” She decided, getting to her feet and walking a few steps away, her back to him. “But don’t ask me out and pretend you mean it when you don’t.”

Fulton looked at the floor, slightly ashamed. It really hadn’t been nice to convince himself that he wanted to date Terri. Using her to prove that he wasn’t bothered by Charlie was kind of dumb. “I’m sorry.”

She looked over her shoulder. “But the answer’s yes.”

He stared at her, absolutely baffled by the way her mind was working. “What?”

She turned to face him and shrugged. “Tell me why you’re so determined to date all of a sudden.”

He was absolutely not going to tell her that.

“If you don’t, I’ll assume it’s for the same reason as me. If you do, I’ll tell you my reason.” Terri took a seat next to him again, she started speaking quietly to him. “Shona thinks there’s something wrong with me. I think she might be right. She says she’s going to tell my dad.” She took his hand. “If I had a boyfriend, he wouldn’t believe her. I trust you, and a lot of that is because I think that you’re a bit like me in that respect.”

Fulton rested his head on her shoulder, his worries, not falling away, but lessening slightly. Terri would understand. “There’s a guy.” He said, his voice dropping down just above a whisper. “He kissed me, and… I kissed him back, and it’s all… it’s all really weird.” Weird didn’t do it justice, but Terri knew.

“Well, we’ll be weird together, and let people think we’re not.”


“I Was Trying To Be Mysterious”

Anna stared down at her history book, but the words swam before her eyes. Across the room Terri hummed and painted; even the sound of the brush moving across the canvas was too loud. Anna suspected she was painting something Guns N’ Roses inspired for the boyfriend.

On more logical days, Anna knew she shouldn’t blame him, Fulton Reed, junior varsity hockey Warrior, scholarship student, and bruiser. It was no wonder he wanted to date Terri; she was well aware of how terrific her best friend was.

Signs of him were all over her room, he was always with Terri, pushing Anna out of the way, and Anna rarely had logical days.

When she had tried to read the same paragraph on the history of France six times without comprehending any of it, Anna slammed her book closed.

“Could you be any louder?” she snapped. Immediately she forced herself to turn her back on Terri so she wouldn’t see the hurt expression slide across Terri’s face.

“I wasn’t making any noise,” Terri defended herself, “or at least not hardly any. Anna what’s wrong with you? Lately you’ve been so…”

Anna could fill in the blank with a variety of words, each more unpleasant than the last.

“Busy. I’ve been so busy lately. Now I have to go be busy elsewhere, so I can get something done.”

Anna left her books on the desk and headed out of the room. She hesitated right at the door, unable to look at Terri, but not ready to leave her company. “I bought a horse,” she said, her voice light and conversational. “It should arrive this afternoon.”

“Anna, you already have a horse!” Terri burst out. The volume of her words startled Anna completely. “You already have a couple of horses. You can’t just go out and buy a new one because you’re bored with the ones you have!”

Anna’s back snapped steel-frame straight. She wasn’t bored, she was lonely, and she’d heard Terri say those exact same words about Shona a hundred times or more. It just wasn’t fair; now that Terri had a boyfriend, she kept lumping the Valentinos together.

Anna looked back over her shoulder at Terri, her face twisted into a sneer. “No, Theresa, you can’t go out and buy one. I can do whatever the hell I want.”

She left the room in a huff, slammed the door behind her, and tried to stay away from the decorative mirrors hanging on the walls. She didn’t need to see her reflection to know she looked exactly like Shona at her worst; she certainly sounded like her.


The Eden Hall stables didn’t have as an elaborate a set-up as the Valentinos had at home in Virginia, nor were they as clean, but they smelled of hay, horse flesh, and well-worked leather. The equestrian instructors were smart and friendly, if a little put off by Anna’s closed demeanor.

She missed her own horses, but knew why they’d been left behind. One was a stud and couldn’t be wasted at boarding school; the other was a broodmare and should be in foal in the spring. Anna had plans to spend as much time as possible with the new colt or filly over the summer.

When Anna had received permission to board her new horse, the head of the department, Mr. Tonga, had assigned her a stall near the double doors at the very back of the last building. The riding trails started just outside and Anna would be able to head out without dealing with any of the less experienced riders.

Mr. Tonga was the best riding instructor she’d had, in part because he let her set her own pace and in part because he saw straight through Shona and was one of the first teachers Anna had to known who actually disliked her sister.

He showed Anna ways to tease out extra bursts of speed at the end of a run and told her stories about his years as a jockey before he became a trainer and then an instructor. She’d noticed he rarely talked to any of the other students outside of class, but didn’t think anything of it.

When she found the stall he’d assigned her, she thought Shona had finally gotten through to him and convinced him to play a trick on her. The stall was old and worn-out; manure-stained hay was still stuck in the corners and the feeding trough was thick with dust. Boards dangled along the door and the latch was half torn away from the wood.

Anna didn’t understand why it was such a mess. The stables were kept in decent, if not excellent, condition and all of the riders had to help with the maintenance. Most of the stalls at this end of the building had been turned into storage units and held boxes of unused helmets, blankets, and tack.

There was a small bar on the corner of the door. It was smeared with dirt and she wiped it clean with one hand. Bronze reflected the overhead lights and she could see the one word engraved in it: Finito.

Anna was intrigued. The bar was obviously a nameplate, but smaller than any of the others in the stable. She’d listened to the equestrian staff talk about their former horses and she’d never heard one of them so much as allude to a horse named Finito.

It was a small mystery, but it could be a good distraction from the problem with Terri. Anna immediately amended her thoughts; the problem wasn’t Terri, but the strange resentment she felt for the boyfriend. Anna knew she was the one pushing Terri away, but she couldn’t seem to stop.

Before she could do anything about the mystery or Terri, she had to get the stall ready for her new horse.

Anna quickly changed into old riding clothes, boots, and gloves and gathered together a broom, hammer, and nails. She wasn’t quite sure what to do with the latter two, but she was certain she’d be able to figure it out, once she’d swept the stall clean.

It took longer than she expected to get the dust out of the feeding trough and the bits of old hay away from the corners. She swept hard and scooted most of it out the nearby door, but the trips back and forth to it and the time necessary to dig around at the back of the stall wore her out. She was actually sweating when she set the broom down and turned to the broken door.

Anna wished she had a friend who could help with the physical labor, especially now, because she’d never had to rebuild anything in her life. Normally she did her work and part of Terri’s too, but for once she wanted to be the one who got away with doing less.

She regretted the wish as soon as it slid through her mind, watering the seeds of doubt she’d been feeling about her friendship with Terri. They had sprang into existence the first time she heard everyone whispering about Terri and Fulton in the halls and they were like burrs, stuck too strong and painful to extract.

Anna tried to ignore her fears. Terri wasn’t sleeping with him, she couldn’t have passed such a milestone without telling Anna all about it, whether she wanted to hear or not. Terri couldn’t even brush her teeth without saying something.

Anna regretted the uncharitable thoughts, too, but they ran on a loop in her head, peppered through her doubts and fears.

“Hi.”

Anna was so startled she almost threw the hammer at the speaker when she turned to face him. He lifted thick, dark eyebrows at her and she dropped her hands to her sides. He was about an inch shorter than she was and reed skinny. His clothes were loose and dark, except for the bright orange words on the front of his shirt. The color was so bright in contrast the words blurred together. It clashed with his neon-green hair, too, and Anna squinted at him.

“Don’t I know you? Aren’t you—” he continued, but Anna crossed her arms, glared at him, and cut him off. She’d heard this question once an hour every day during the first week of class.

Yes, I’m Shona’s sister. Yes, she’s head of the JV cheerleaders, but I wouldn’t join the squad to save my life. No, I can’t help you get a date. You’re not her style.” Anna sneered.

He shook his head and grinned. “Not what I was going to say. Your horse arrives today, doesn’t he? I heard we had a new arrival soon.”

“Oh.” Anna pressed her lips together, transferred the hammer to her left hand, and thrust her right in his direction. “Sorry. I’m Anna Valentino.”

“Raymond Sinclair. Most people call me Rai,” he said, and returned her handshake with one just as firm. “Need some help with the door?”

“I know how to take care of a stall myself,” Anna said, her voice hard. She snatched her hand away, grabbed a nail, and turned toward the door, but immediately hesitated. She didn’t want to make it worse, but she also didn’t want to lose face.

“You certainly are high strung,” Rai teased. “I’m well aware you know what you’re doing. I’ve seen you ride and you look really good.” Anna blushed and couldn’t meet his eyes.

“Thank you.” She placed the end of the nail against one of the sagging boards, lifted the hammer, and hesitated again.

“I can still help, you know. I do a lot of carpentry work around here. Horses deserve a safe home.”

This time, Anna turned and smiled at him. “Yes, please, thank you.” She willingly handed over the hammer and nails and he set to work. After only a few minutes of silence, she couldn’t stand it any longer, and asked him to explain what he was doing.

He grinned at her, helped her position the next board in place, and walked her through the steps.


Greg Goldberg shoved the last Snickers bar he could find into the plastic bag. It already bulged with other confiscated candies, but he’d been ruthless and scoured his room clean. Russ wouldn’t know what hit him when he got back.

If he noticed at all. He’d been distracted lately, always reading newspapers. He’d even stopped playing the Sims, leaving Goldberg to take care of the Mighty Ducks Sims family they’d created.

He carried the bag down to Averman’s room and hanged it on the door handle. He didn’t know why he bothered. They’d probably be out of the school by Christmas, no matter what great plan Charlie cooked up.

If they weren’t, if Charlie pulled off another miracle—they’d had plenty of miracles, what could one more cost?—he was going to be ready.

Fattening up Julie didn’t work. She was still flexible and fast, a furless cat. She’d taken his spot, and he wanted it back. He’d always been goalie; he didn’t know how to be anything else.

Big, fat Goldberg, clumsy comic relief, he fit in the goal. When he was in pads and the whole team was in pads, he wasn’t the fat one anymore. Sure, he still got to suit up, but he rode the pine pony and looked like a big fat failure.

He couldn’t make Julie bulk up and out, couldn’t slow her down. He’d just have to speed up. And that meant shrinking and learning to skate better. Right now, both of those looked impossible.

He didn’t want the rest of the team to know, either, so he’d have to be sneaky. They’d laugh a little, or tell him it was too much work. They’d mean well, but he knew they all saw him as Goldberg, same old same old.

It wouldn’t hurt to wait until he’d shed some pounds. Maybe… ten. Twenty at the most. He could do that, just stop eating candy and work out more. He’d have to fake it at meals, but he could cut back then, too. There was a nice weight room for the sports teams and he could always ask Luis for speed skating lessons, combining both his goals.

He’d be goalie again yet. He just had to change a little. Be less—Goldberg.


Anna tightened the reins as she steered Aprilo into the last turn. He’d run the course well, and she was exhausted from their training, but ecstatic. They approached the jump, Anna’s heartbeat a match for the staccato rhythm of his hooves.

A flash of bright red caught her attention. Anna jerked her head to look at it just as Aprilo gathered himself and leapt. She clutched the reins and clamped her legs against his side, but her balance was gone. He landed, as smooth as he’d ever been, but the jolt still sent Anna flying.

She rolled in midair and tried to take the fall properly, but it still knocked all the air out of her lungs.

A wide, friendly face filled her vision; lines crinkled around his eyes and mouth and he frowned down at her.

“Are you all right?” he asked. His voice was a slow drawl. “That looked like a mighty nasty fall.”

Anna opened her mouth, but still couldn’t swallow any air. He checked her pulse and by the time he was done, she could gasp and start to form sounds something like words.

“How’s Aprilo?” she muttered. He didn’t have to ask to whom she referred nor did he seem surprised she was worried about her horse first. Instead he turned to look at something along the far side of the ring. Anna tried to remember how to breathe.

“He’s fine, not limping at all. I think you just spooked him good when you fell off.”

He held out his hand, helped her sit up, and then stand. Anna’s back hurt and when she moved, her eyes crossed from the dizziness. When she could focus again, she swore under her breath.

Raymond “Rai” Sinclair led Aprilo toward her. He kept up a steady stream of talk, but she couldn’t hear a word he said. His hair glowed in the sunlight, a bright, obnoxious red. Anna tried to cross her arms over her chest, failed, and glared at him.

“High strung,” Rai said without preamble.

“Nah, he don’t look so bad.” The other boy’s twang thickened. He took the reins and looped them over his arm. His hands roamed along Aprilo’s face and neck, and he made low sounds in the back of his throat. Aprilo’s shudders slowed and, after a minute, stopped.

“I didn’t mean the horse.” Rai sounded amused, but his face was creased with worry. “You ok, Anna Valentino?”

Anna made a face. She wanted to slap him, but she had no reason to blame him, even though his hair distracted her. She should have been focused, she shouldn’t have looked away in the middle of a jump. She’d been stupid and careless; her embarrassment was no reason to lash out at him.

She’d performed in front of hundreds of people in three day events. Why had the presence of one dyed head made a difference?

Rai watched her face for a long moment before he spoke again. “Dwayne, this is Anna Valentino and your new friend is Aprilo. Anna, the very distracted young man is Dwayne Robertson. He’s the best person I know to calm a horse.”

“Pleasure,” Anna said. She didn’t mean it, but it wasn’t his fault. Anyone so kind to her horse deserved a chance.

“You can call me Cowboy,” Dwayne said, but he didn’t look away from Aprilo.

“I think it’s love,” Rai said. Dwayne grinned and ran one hand along the horse’s withers.

“He’s great,” Dwayne said. “Coulda used one like him out at the ranch.”

“He is great,” Rai agreed. He slid his hands into his pockets and faced Dwayne, even when he talked to Anna. “You’re both great, in fine form. Are you going to ride in the spring competitions?”

Anna lifted one shoulder in a slow shrug and immediately regretted it. “Maybe. If I take another fall that bad, I’ll be out for the rest of the year.”

“Sorry.” Anna swung around to face him. She wasn’t sure if he apologized for distracting her or if it was just a polite comment. If the former, she wanted to know how the hell he’d read her thoughts.

Pain flashed from her back down her legs and she bit back a scream.

“You’re really hurt,” Raymond said. He faced her at last, and it was Anna’s turn to look away. “Come on, we’ll help get you two back to the stables.”

Anna didn’t bother arguing with him. She grabbed for the reins, and caught them around one hand, but the pain was so intense she couldn’t close her fingers.

Damn,” she hissed and dropped her hand back to her side.

“I’d be glad to help untack him,” Dwayne said. He smiled and it lit up his entire face. “He’s a might fine horse and I wouldn’t mind spending more time with him at all.”

Anna nodded. When Rai reached for her arm, she shook him off and tried to walk on her own. Two steps later, she staggered, but didn’t fall, because Rai was immediately there, stronger than he looked. He held her upright without a problem.

She let him help her, ashamed at her weakness or not.

“Still stubborn,” Rai said. “Good to know it wasn’t a phase.”

“Still butting in where you’re not invited, Raymond,” Anna snapped. “Too bad that wasn’t a phase.” She would have said more, but Dwayne laughed at them. Rai joined in a second later, and she rolled her eyes, but the angry tension was gone.

Rai left her alone long enough to drag a few bales of hay together. He helped her lay down on it on her stomach while Dwayne cross-tied Aprilo in the aisle and groomed him.

“He picked up a rock,” Dwayne said. “I’ll get that out in a jiffy.”

Raymond knelt next to her and massaged the back of her neck. His touch was light, tentative, and when she didn’t fight him, he moved to her shoulders. It hurt, but he manipulated the muscles until the pain faded.

Anna only half-listened to the their conversation. It covered a wide variety of topics and she was surprised to hear them move from horses to music to the necessity of sports in schools. Both were in favor and she thought about walking away, especially when Dwayne told her he was on the hated hockey team, but she was comfortable and they were interesting.

They included her at odd moments, too, and that was a nice change.

“I gotta go, I have a pile of homework,” Dwayne said after he put Aprilo in the stall, watered him, and fed him carrot sticks from the bag Anna brought with her every time she rode. “Don’t know if we’ll even get our scholarships back, but if we do, I’d better be ready for class Monday.”

For the first time, Anna didn’t feel one hundred percent happy about the revoked scholarships. “I hope you do get them back,” she said and surprised herself.

“Thanks.” Dwayne grinned again, his short, bitter mood already gone. “And thanks for letting me take care of Aprilo. I really miss the horses at home.”

“Thank you, Anna said. “Anytime you get homesick, feel free to take him for a ride. I don’t get to spend a lot of time here, and I know what it’s like to miss familiar things.”

“Gee, thanks!” Dwayne said. He clapped Rai on the shoulder, gave Aprilo one last pat, and waved goodbye to Anna before he took off for the dorms at a run.

After a few minutes of silence and massage, Rai asked, “How long have you known Terri?”

Anna immediately tensed. “How the hell do you know Terri?” She could feel his shrug.

“Mutual friends. I know some people in the art department.”

At that, Anna relaxed and some of the pain drained out of her body along with the tension. Rai continued the massage and worked his way down her back before she spoke again.

“I’ve known her since I was nine,” Anna said. She was surprised at herself, but couldn’t sit in silence with him for another minute; she began to understand why Terri babbled so much around her. “My father acquires floundering companies and makes them turn a profit. He took over the company Terri’s father owned and she took over my life.”

Rai returned his hands to her neck. “Sounds serious.”

“She’s been my best friend ever since.” Anna pulled a face. “Or she was until some stupid jock came along.”

If he’d asked her a question, she would have refused to answer. Rai remained silent and attentive. The temptation to finally spill her emotions to someone who would listen, to someone who gave a damn, was too much.

“Shona, my sister, she’s a real bitch. She’s always been that way and I used to defend Terri all the time. Shona hates her because she’s not rich.” Anna stretched her arms over her head and the movement didn’t hurt at all. “I don’t like rich people.”

She stopped, surprised. She’d never admitted that to anyone, not even Terri. “I don’t,” she repeated, voice stronger. “They only care about stupid things and their lives are so fake. Maybe that’s what I like best about Terri. She’s always real and she always tells the truth. My family lies all the time. It’s what they do, it’s the business they’re in. You have to lie, to smile at people you hate so they continue to invest in your projects.

Terri never lies. It is what I like best about her.”

“It sounds like a good friendship.” Rai’s voice blended well with the faded sounds of the horses and other riders. “You ended it because she has a boyfriend?”

“I didn’t end anything!” Anna yelled. She sat up, knocked his hands away, and turned to face him. “She’s the one who stopped spending any time with me.”

“Hey, it’s ok,” Rai said. He held his hands out, palms toward her, and kept his tone low. He sounded exactly as he had when he’d soothed Aprilo. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I just wanted to know if the boyfriend caused all the problems, or if you’d had fights before him.”

Anna shook her head. “Not that I noticed. She would have told me if I’d done something wrong.

“I don’t want to talk about Terri anymore. Tell me about yourself instead. All I know is you have a weird nickname and you like horses.”

Rai nodded. “I’m a junior, I don’t drink, I play guitar—bass in a band. I’ve lived around here my whole life, but I want to move to California after graduation—Santa Cruz, really, because The Lost Boys is my favorite movie and it’s just a laid-back, fun town. I’d really like my own horse. They call me Rai because no one likes to say long names and because I’m a terrible influence, a ‘Raiebel’ my friends say.”

“Why do you dye your hair? Terri does it so people will notice it first and not her hi—” She cut herself off when she realized the confidence she was about to break. Rai ignored the awkward moment, to her relief.

“I like color. I don’t want to be like everyone else, especially here.”

Anna nodded. “Makes sense. Did you go here all through high school?”

“My dad, too. Family tradition, which includes going to college around here, too, but I’m going to ignore that one.”

“He’ll let you go to California?”

“He can’t stand the idea, but it doesn’t matter. I do lots of things he hates.”

Anna raised one eyebrow and couldn’t hide her skepticism. “Like what? Dye your hair for attention?”

“Take music classes, not business management, perform in a band, and date guys,” Rai said calmly.

Anna froze, one hand halfway lifted to pull a strand of hair out of her eyes. She’d never known anyone was homosexual, or at least not openly, and she didn’t know quite what to say.

“Is that hard?” she heard herself ask.

“Dating guys? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s no different than with girls. Dating can be tough, period. You should know that.”

“I don’t date,” Anna replied automatically. “How do you know what it’s like to date girls?”

Rai laughed. Even though he laughed at her, she liked how it sounded. “I’m bisexual. I like guys and girls.”

Anna chewed on the inside of her lip while she thought about his words. “Are you dating a guy now?” she asked.

“I’m not dating anyone,” Rai assured her. “The only guy I’m interested in doesn’t swing that way, so I’m content to be his friend and introduce him to nice people who own beautiful horses.”

It took a minute before his words made sense. “Dwayne?” she burst out, and then lowered her voice conspiratorially. “You want to date him?”

Rai tensed for the first time; even his face tightened. “Is that a problem?”

“No!” Anna said immediately. “I didn’t mean it like that. I don’t care if you want to date one guy or a hundred guys.” She paused. “Well, I might care if it was a hundred guys, but just because that’s an impressive number. I meant he didn’t seem like your type. People like you always date someone who also dyes their hair, is in a band, rebels, not a clean-cut jock.” She couldn’t stem the flow of babble.

“That’s very judgmental of you,” Rai told her. He didn’t sound angry, just honest. “It’s fine if I want to date a guy, but I have to date a clone?”

“Not what I said at all!” Anna grabbed his arm when he turned away and dragged his attention back to her. “I was just surprised. Pleased! It’s nice to see someone who doesn’t conform even to the rules of nonconformity!”

Rai laughed again, full, loud, and sudden. Anna self-consciously released him and touched one finger to the corner of her mouth.

“I’m babbling. I’m sorry. I don’t normally talk so much.”

“I like it when you talk,” he said. “We just need another topic.”

Many topics later and a missed dinner, they stopped talking just in time to hurry back to the dorms so they didn’t break curfew.


A private room was the greatest thing in the world.

Adam didn’t have to see anyone he didn’t want to see. He’d come in after class and practice, lock his door, and ignore everyone else. He didn’t even have to leave to use the phone, even though he hadn’t called anyone since he’d talked to Portman. He didn’t want to talk to anyone else; he didn’t need to, not yet.

Even if he did, he wouldn’t choose anyone here. Danny was great, but Portman was the one who got it, everything he said, because he took the time to listen and because he knew everyone involved. Almost everyone, not varsity, but close enough.

Portman was smart, too. One of the many things Adam was tired of with the Ducks was their perpetual inability to see Portman as anything but a mindless mean machine. He was big, but he wasn’t stupid, he just knew what people needed to hear, and when, and he wasn’t afraid to tell them the truth, good or bad.

Adam’d had an idea Portman wasn’t the one-sided tough guy he’d acted like when he spoke up for the first time during class with Ms MacKay. Looking back, Adam wondered why he didn’t see everything clearly then.

Fulton had asked a dumb question and when they laughed—Adam knew it was wrong, mean, but it was so hard sometimes—Portman stood up for his new friend in the only way Fulton would have handled. He’d agreed, acted dumb, because he didn’t care what people thought.

He’d not believed it at first, but by the end of the Goodwill Games, he’d seen enough to know Portman was a great guy, smart and talented. He’d been the one who suggested they practice even though Bombay hadn’t shown up yet. Then, when the team started arguing with each other, he’d picked a fight so everyone, even Fulton, could focus their anger on him instead of on tearing the team apart.

Ever since, Adam had tried to figure out why he’d done it and why Portman let people think he was stupid when he wasn’t.

Right before he’d started Eden Hall, he thought he’d figured it out. Portman just didn’t care what people thought about him. Maybe it was partly because he was so big he could handle himself in any situation, but Adam was sure most of it was Portman was just that confident and secure in his self-worth. He didn’t have to be validated from the outside.

Adam wanted to be like him.

He’d thought a new school was a good place to start over, to act like that. Maybe if he pretended long enough, he’d really be it.

Maybe it was working. The old Adam wouldn’t have hit Charlie. The old Adam put up with too many things, and he wasn’t doing that anymore. He still worried too much and he was willing to bet Portman didn’t sit around at night, think about what he’d done during the day, and wonder what would change if he did just one thing different.

Adam thought too much and he knew it, worried too often. He started to reach for the cell phone, but stopped himself before he could grab it. He couldn’t rely on Portman to fix everything for him, especially when he wasn’t even here.

Adam flopped back on the bed. Rumors were flying, the Ducks had lost their scholarships and would be out at the end of the semester. He didn’t know where he stood. Yeah, he was here on scholarship, but that was to play on the JV team. He was varsity. The Ducks didn’t talk to him, varsity didn’t talk to him, and he could be screwed too or he could be staying or… he didn’t know what else might happen.

Part of him thought it would be better if he got to stay and the others left. He tried to squelch the thought, and then asked himself why. They didn’t care about him, why should he want to be nice anymore, especially just in his own head?

He missed them though, some of them, the old them. The way they’d been a team.

A private room was the greatest thing in the world, and the worst. It gave him too much time to think.


Terri was drawing when Anna let herself into the room. Anna grinned; not even Terri’s uncharacteristic silence brought her down.

“Do you want to watch a movie?” Anna asked. “I’ll even feed you popcorn if you’re hungry.”

Terri looked up, startled, and then agreed.

Halfway through the movie, Anna couldn’t keep her thoughts to herself. “Terri, have you ever known anyone bisexual? Or homosexual?”

“No!” Terri said immediately. She continued, but made a sound close to a stutter over the next word. “M-maybe. Not bisexual, but… maybe? Why?” Her eyes were so wide Anna started to worry.

“I met this guy today. He’s bisexual. Are you ok?”

“I’m fine,” Terri said, and laughed. It sounded fake, but Anna didn’t want to argue with her when they’d got along so well.

“It’s weird, isn’t it. I mean, I’ve never met anyone not strictly heterosexual.” Anna pressed her lips together and stared at Terri’s side of the room and all its distracting decorations.

“Did you… have a problem with him?” Terri asked, her voice soft.

“No. It shocked me but…. He was really nice. It shouldn’t matter if he dates guys.” She hesitated, gave it more thought. “It doesn’t matter.”

Terri nodded, an unreadable expression on her face. Anna held up a piece of popcorn and, after a second, Terri opened her mouth and let Anna slip it inside. Anna grinned at her, pleased at their renewed closeness.

A commercial came on, too loud and obnoxious, and the moment was gone.


Dwayne looked up and down the hall. Rai didn’t seem worried about sneaking into one of the girl’s dorm, but Dwayne was sure they’d be caught at any moment. He shoved his thumbs into his belt and waited.

Rai knocked on the door again. After a moment, it opened, and Anna stared at them and frowned.

“Come on,” Rai said. He grabbed Anna’s hand and pulled her forward out of her room. She stopped long enough to shut the door and then they were headed for the stairs, and Dwayne relaxed.

No one said anything until they were outside and headed toward the classroom buildings.

“What’s going on?” Anna asked. Rai didn’t say anything and she looked back at Dwayne. He grinned, pulled his hat low over his eyes, and tried to look mysterious.

“Raymond found something you should see.”

Anna tilted her head. “Are you all right?”

“Yeah.” Dwayne knocked his hat back into place and sighed. “I was trying to be mysterious,” he explained. “This is going to be a good yarn to tell around the campfire and I just wanted to practice.”

“I don’t really spend much time around campfires,” Anna said. Dwayne nodded and looked away, disappointed. He’d been so excited when Rai showed him what he’d found and he wanted her to feel the same.

Anna dropped Rai’s hand and fell back to walk next to Dwayne. “Sorry,” she said. “Tell me about it?”

“Yeah!” Dwayne’s mood shifted immediately. “Rai told me about the name bar and said he’d never heard of a ‘Finito’ in the stables. He asked some of the staff, but no one will talk about it. It’s a mystery!”

“So what did Raymond find?” Anna asked. Before Dwayne could tell her, Rai stopped him. They’d reached the main building, but Rai led them around to a side entrance instead of through the front doors.

Once they were in a small hallway, Rai pulled two small pieces of metal out of his pocket.

“Keep watch, would you Dwayne?” Rai asked. Dwayne nodded and headed down the corridor toward where it connected to the main hall. He leaned back against the wall and tried to look casual. No one glanced his way.

He heard a door open behind him, but he didn’t turn to look. When a hand landed on his shoulder, he leapt into the air.

“Come on,” Anna whispered. He followed her back down the hall and into the room. It was a storage room full of boxes and old junk. Everything was covered in a layer of dust and Dwayne sneezed.

Rai followed a zig-zag path to the back of the room. A display case was shoved sideways into the corner, and the three of them could just squeeze in together. It was locked, but one of the glass panes was broken and Rai reached in to pull a photo off of the bottom.

It had been clipped from a newspaper, but the name and date were cut off of the top. The black and white photo was grainy and the newsprint faded. He could still read the words under it.

Trainer’s horse, Finito Linea, is the first to be housed in the new stables on the prestigious Eden Hall campus.

“Who’s the trainer?” Dwayne asked.

Anna pointed to the man standing in front of the stables. They were smaller than the present day buildings, but still familiar. “It looks like Mr Tonga, but he looks a lot younger. I wonder how old this is.”

“That’s the next step,” Rai said. He put the picture back on the shelf and herded them toward the door. “We need to check the newspaper collection, see what we can find.”

“I’ll do that,” Anna offered. “I have to work on my French project anyway.”

“I’ll find out if my father remembers anything,” Rai said.

Dwayne was the first one out in the hall, but he turned back to the others. “What can I do?” he asked.

Anna shrugged, but Rai hooked his arms through both of theirs. “You need to focus on finding a way to keep your scholarships,” he said. “Once you guys get that worked out, we’ll talk about this more.”

“Are you sure?” Dwayne asked. Rai and Anna both nodded and put his worry to rest. They walked out into the main hall and headed toward the front door, blending in with the other students.

“Out of my way, punk!” Cole barreled through people, shoved Dwayne, and tried to bounce him into the lockers, but Rai tightened his arm and pulled Dwayne out of the way. “Good thing your fag boyfriend saved you!”

Anna whirled, spitting a curse, but Rai pulled both of them toward the door.

“It’s not worth it,” he murmured and let the tide of people carry them away from Cole.

“Why’d you do that?” Anna burst out. She jerked away and stepped in front of Rai and Dwayne. “You can’t let him say that shit!”

“Why not?” Rai shrugged. “He can’t hurt me, and what he says doesn’t matter. Why fight when there’s no reason?”

Dwayne frowned. He’d heard other people say things about Rai, but he wasn’t always sure what they meant. Now he was beginning to understand. Rai looked at him and immediately dropped his arm.

“Sorry,” Dwayne said suddenly. “He’s just got it in for me. He shouldn’t hate you guys, too.”

Rai smiled and patted his arm. “He’s never liked me, it’s not your fault. I’ve got band practice, I have to go. Unless you guys want to watch?”

“Why not?” Anna said, but Dwayne shook his head.

“Can’t, hockey,” Dwayne said. “Let me know when I can help.”

“Of course we will,” Anna said. “If you have any free time, I’m sure Aprilo would like to see you. I’ve not been able to ride him much.”

“Thanks!” Dwayne said. Ahead of them, he saw Luis and Averman cutting across the lawn and took off running toward them, yelling a good-bye over his shoulder.


Russ rearranged his backpack on his shoulders. When he’d first started Eden Hall, he’d made fun of the fact they had lockers even though almost everyone lived right on campus. Now, with his bag weighed down by thick textbooks and too many notebooks, he wished he had a suitcase on wheels to carry the load.

His stomach grumbled; it was almost dinnertime, and he’d spent the entire afternoon looking for one very hard to find girl. Dwayne had given him specific places to check, but so far he hadn’t had any luck in the band room (though the group practicing really needed a better drummer and he wished his brother was around to show them how it was done), the stables, or the dining hall.

He decided to check the library and give up for the night. When the front of the library didn’t reveal any potential suspects, he made his way toward the back.

Jackpot.

In the farthest corner, a young blonde woman had a newspaper spread out in front of her. She turned pages slowly and every so often she’d make a note in a notebook she’d shoved to one side.

“Anna Valentino?” he asked, and stumbled over her last name.

She immediately flipped the notebook closed and glared up at him. He waited, but she didn’t say anything to acknowledge his presence.

“You’re Anna?” he asked again.

“And you’re a hockey player,” she snapped. “Go away.”

Dwayne hadn’t warned him about this. Russ sighed, grabbed one of the chairs from a nearby table, and dragged it up until he could sit across from her, straddling the chair backward.

“Sorry, not from around here, don’t understand,” he quipped.

Anna’s frown deepened. “So where does ‘go away’ mean ‘pull up a chair and make yourself at home?’”

“L.A.,” Russ said. “Probably New York, too, but I’ve never been. I’m Russ. Dwayne sent me to talk to you.”

At Dwayne’s name, she relaxed a little. “He told me a friend of his wanted to talk to me,” she said, half to herself. She raised her voice. “He didn’t say he’s send a jock.”

“Dwayne’s a jock, too,” Russ said, his temper warming. “And there’s nothing wrong with being a jock!”

Anna snorted. “Sure. Dwayne’s only a little bit a hockey player. Mostly he’s an equestrian.”

“Riding a horse is a sport. That means you’re a jock, too.”

Anna’s face shut down. He’d never seen someone go so cold so fast. “Go away,” she said and the anger he’d heard was gone, replaced by indifference. She opened her notebook again, picked up her pen, and went back to work.

He crossed his arms over his chest and rested them on the back of the chair.

She ignored him for ten minutes. His stomach growled again, he sighed, and stood. This time, he was able to see what the books and articles were about. Mysteries of Minnesota read one, spineless and only thin paper stapled together. He glanced at the newspaper she read and the headline caught his attention, despite its small size and spot at the bottom of the page: “Mysterious Thefts In New Stables.”

“Is that about Finito?” Russ asked. Anna’s head came up, but this time she just watched his face. Her expression looked curious. “I checked old editions of the school paper, but I couldn’t find anything.”

“Neither could I,” Anna said. She stared at him for another minute and then shoved the newspaper in his direction. He immediately spun the chair and sat back down. His backpack landed at his feet with a loud thump. “It isn’t about Finito directly, but it’s still pretty interesting.”

Russ read through it as fast as he could. It didn’t mention any of the horses by name, but tack had disappeared from three or four different storage areas and a significant amount of money had been stole from the equestrian team’s headquarters, money they had planned on donating to the new city hall.

“It doesn’t have anything to do with the mystery horse,” Russ sighed and pushed the paper away. His chin dropped toward his chest; he couldn’t believe he was missing dinner for this failure.

Anna looked smug and smoothed her fingers through her hair. “Not entirely true,” she said. She glanced around, leaned forward, and lowered her voice. “Dwayne said I could trust you with this. Can I?”

He nodded, intrigued by the conspiratorial atmosphere.

“I think someone was trying to sabotage the stables,” she whispered. “I just don’t know who or why, but if you read the small articles in the local papers, avoid the main pages, there are quite a few strange incidents on campus. Too many to be coincidence.”

“Do you have any theory on who it was?” Russ matched her tone. His mind whirled with questions, but he didn’t want to break the fragile camaraderie between them. Dwayne had warned him Anna was touchy.

She shook her head, but her blue eyes sparkled. “No.” She grinned at him, a quick expression that made her face suddenly beautiful. “Not yet. I think it’s time to start talking to people.

“Dwayne said you had to write an article. Do you want to help us figure out what happened and use this as your story?”

“Damn straight,” Russ said.

“Come on.” Anna stood so fast he was startled by the movement. She refolded the paper carefully and left it on another table. She shoved her notes into her carrier bag and headed for the front door. He had to hurry to catch up.

“I’m starving, aren’t you?” she asked, her voice too loud. The librarian shushed her, but Anna smiled at her brightly and held the door for Russ. As he passed by her, she whispered, “We’ll talk in the cafeteria where no one will be able to hear us.”

He was surprised again by her efficiency. Normally getting any food meant spending a lot of time standing around in lines, but somehow Anna swept through them. People parted for her and he didn’t know why, but followed dutifully in her wake, most of his mind turning over the mystery.

She steered him toward a table along the back wall. There was an empty table between them and the next group of people, creating a buffer zone, and the mash of conversations was loud enough to make it difficult for anyone to overhear if they talked quietly.

On the way, Russ saw Goldberg sitting next to Fulton and his girlfriend—she had purple hair, which was a little weird here, but not back home. They weren’t sitting with the Ducks, and though Goldberg’s tray was piled with food, he didn’t seem to be eating any of it. Goldberg waved at him and pointed to one of the chairs, but Russ balanced his tray precariously and shook his head.

Over at the Ducks’ table, Dwayne saw the commotion and popped to his feet. He snagged his tray and met them at the new table.

Anna seated herself with her back to the wall, at the edge of the table. She placed her bag at her feet and began to methodically take small bites from her food, moving in a circle around her plate.

For the first few minutes, they remained quiet as they ate. Then a guy walked over and sat down without saying anything; his hair was pink and streaked through with strands of bright red. In the sea of brunettes and blondes, both he and Fulton’s girlfriend stood out.

“Hey, Rai,” Dwayne said.

“Cowboy,” Rai replied. He nudged Anna and she pushed her tray in his direction, pulled out her notes, and placed them on the table in front of her. Rai started to eat the food Anna’d left untouched and Dwayne introduced him to Russ.

It took a second, but Russ recognized him as one of the guys who’d been in the band room practicing. He’d been on bass and hadn’t sounded bad, but the drummer really ruined good music.

“Here’s what I’ve learned so far,” she said. She leaned forward and her voice was so quiet everyone else had to lean toward her to hear. “There was opposition from the board about opening stables in the first place. They didn’t want to divert the money from the sports they already had—the “male” sports.” She made a face. “Trouble started before the stables were even built. Tools disappeared, wood was broken, the ground was torn up. No one was ever charged.”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with Finito,” Russ said. He didn’t hide his disappointment.

“Not yet,” Anna admitted. “The articles disappear for awhile, but then there was a big fire. The stable itself—it was only one building back then—was saved and most of the horses, but one died. He wasn’t caught in the fire itself, he was sick and they couldn’t get him out in time.”

“Smoke damage?” Rai asked.

“Colic,” Anna said. “But that’s where it gets weird. He shouldn’t have been sick, he was on a strict diet and Mr Tonga had him in a training regime. He would have kept a close eye on Finito, so I don’t know how he could have gotten into anything to make him ill.”

“Tonga won’t talk to me about it,” Rai said. “Not Dwayne either. My father was here then, but he said he doesn’t remember anything. I don’t believe him, but I haven’t had time to talk to him about it much.”

“So what are we going to do now?” Russ asked. He took a drink from his soda and realized he’d finished his food without noticing. “If no one will talk about it and that’s all you’ve found in the articles….”

“We need to find out what Finito was training for,” Anna said. “I think he was sabotaged and as soon as we find a motive, we’ll be better able to figure out who would do it. I know people were upset about the new program, but Mr Tonga didn’t have any say in it. Hurting Finito wouldn’t do much, as far as I can tell, so I don’t know why it happened.”

“Maybe he really was just sick,” Russ suggested.

Anna looked skeptical, but Rai broke in before she could say anything else. “Maybe, but I want to know for sure. Anna, Tonga might talk to you, he likes you. I’ll try my father again. Russ and Dwayne, come up with a list of staff who would have been here then and who are likely to talk to us.”

Lunch ended and all around them, students headed toward the doors back to the classrooms. “I don’t want people to know we’re researching this,” Anna said, even quieter than before. “It caused a lot of problems then and no one wants to talk about it now. It could stir up trouble and we don’t want that. Not yet.”


In the following chapter we take a jump forward to the end of the JV vs Varsity game. Everything past Hans’ funeral was covered. We decided not to cover the scholarships or the final game because, first off, you guys already know what happened, in this series, those events happened as they did in the film, if we wrote it, we’d just be transcribing the movie; and secondly, it doesn’t really have any bearing on the story we want to tell.


“The Fragmented Team”

Russ finished a glass of Dr. Pepper and shook the glass so the ice cubes spun around the bottom. He hadn’t expected the Bar None to be anything like the clubs and bars back home, but he was more bored than he ever thought he could be.

He didn’t even have Goldberg for company. Sure, his roommate sat next to him, a huge basket of french fries on the table in front of them, but as far as Russ could tell, Goldberg hadn’t touched a single fry. Probably better anyway; they were greasy and Russ’s stomach rolled from the handfuls he’d eaten just to pass the time.

The club was crowded, mostly filled with his teammates and the people they’d dragged with them. Russ hadn’t realized the team had fragmented so much. When he’d first met the Ducks, they were insular and closed off to outsiders. Once he’d earned his place, he learned why: they were friends, good friends, and they didn’t need anyone else.

Just a few months into freshman year and those friendships were falling apart. Russ shook his head and slammed his glass down on the table. Maybe it wasn’t that bad, maybe all the new people would just make the team stronger. After all, they’d just won a huge game—not as important as the Goodwill Games, but still a big one—and now they were all celebrating together.

Boisterous laughter rang out from one corner of the room. Russ half-stood to see better; Dwayne was surrounded by people. As he watched, Rai stood and made his way to the food counter; his hair was striped with black and red and easy to track across the crowded room.

“I’m gonna go say hi,” Russ told Goldberg. “Do you want to come meet Dwayne’s friends?”

Goldberg didn’t say anything, just shrugged. Russ rolled his eyes and left him to his brooding. He didn’t know what was wrong, but Goldberg never wanted to talk anymore. All he did was play on the computer. Half the time he wasn’t in the room when Russ came back after class, but he wouldn’t say where he’d been.

Russ had seen the signs before. Goldberg didn’t want to be friends, and Russ would miss him, but it happened. One day you think you know a guy and the next he’s the world’s biggest ass. Life sucked, but you made do.

By the time Russ made it to Dwayne’s table, Rai was back with drinks for everyone else. He passed them out while Russ dragged up a chair. Everyone had to scoot around to make room for him, but he noticed Rai didn’t look too unhappy to move closer to Anna.

“Good game,” Rai said. “You guys really showed them up.”

“Thanks,” Russ replied. He shifted his weight in the chair, uncomfortable. He wanted to talk about Finito and the article, but there were too many strangers around everywhere. Half the table had started talking again, something about three day competitions, whatever that was, but Anna and Rai were both paying attention to him instead.

“It wasn’t horrible,” Anna said after he’d been quiet a moment. “Everyone always says it’s unnecessarily rough, but it didn’t look as bad as I expected.” She grinned, sudden and surprising. “Bet it feels worse when you’re on the ice, though.” She hadn’t taken a drink yet, and she shoved her glass in his direction.

Russ nodded and accepted the soda. He was pretty sure it was as much of an apology as he’d ever hear from Anna Valentino, but he was used to sideways communication, too. “Yeah, it gets painful sometimes, but it’s a great game. Especially when we win.”

He lifted the glass in silent salute; Rai touched his glass against Russ’s.

“Your band sounds pretty good,” Russ said. He decided music would be a comfortable topic, and easier to understand than the horse talk.

“Thanks.” Rai passed his drink to Anna; she took a quick swallow and set it back on the table. “We just lost our Homecoming gig, though. Our drummer decided he had ‘better’ things to do with his time. The school will probably never hire us again, because now we look unorganized.”

“It’s no big loss,” Russ said. He hadn’t planned on actually saying anything, but the opportunity was too perfect. “I’ve only heard you practice a couple times, but he never sounded very good.”

Rai laughed. “Yeah, but a bad drummer is better than no drummer at all. For some reason there aren’t many people here interested in joining a rock band.”

“My brother would be great,” Russ said. “I wish he could have come here, too. He showed me some of his tricks, but he’s the best performer I’ve ever heard.”

Rai rocked his chair back onto two legs. “It sounds like a real shame he can’t be here, but as long as he taught you some tricks… why don’t you sit in for awhile? You’ll at least give us the chance to find a permanent replacement and if you like it, maybe it’ll all work out for the best.”

Anna smiled. “Better a musician than a jock,” she said, laughter threaded through her words.

Russ grinned back. She was more relaxed than he’d seen her, and though he found her tough-girl persona annoying most of the time, he realized he liked her a lot when she calmed down.

“You’re just jealous,” Russ teased. “You wish you could be a hockey player and a rock star, but you’re just going to have to be happy being a detective.”

Anna laughed again and reached for Rai’s drink. Just then, a group of cheerleaders walked past the table. One of them stumbled, bumped Rai’s chair, and sent him to the floor.

“Watch it, weirdo!” she snapped. Another cheerleader stopped at her side; the second had long blonde hair and looked so much like Anna Russ had to do a double take.

“Really, Angela, can’t you reign in your freaks?” the second one asked. She smiled sweetly, but it didn’t match her words and Russ immediately took a dislike to her.

Anna didn’t say anything. Instead she stood and flung the contents of the glass down the front of the cheerleader’s pristine sweater.

The cheerleader stood there, soda dripping from her top, staining it dark brown. After a minute, Anna placed the glass back on the table and deadpanned, “Sorry, Shona, I slipped.”

Shona shrieked and lunged toward Anna, but the other cheerleaders had returned and she stopped herself. As Russ watched, her features transformed and settled back into a calm mask.

“You always were clumsy,” Shona said and laughed, high-pitched and fake. “Come on, I need to get cleaned up.” She headed toward the bathrooms and most of the other cheerleaders trailed along behind.

“You ok?” Anna asked. She offered Rai a hand up; he let her pull him to his feet and then righted his chair. Once he was seated again, Anna offered to buy the next round of drinks.

Russ looked around while she collected everyone’s order. Life certainly wasn’t boring now.

 


Charlie hadn’t really considered bringing Linda with him to the team celebration, he had intended on taking her out for that coke he’d promised, then going on to Bar None, a club which wasn’t actually as cool as it wanted to be. Bar None catered to the under-agers, which meant some parents dropped their eight year olds off there as a free babysitting service while they went out to work—or on dates. There was no alcohol, the music was about ten years out of date (and not in a cool retro way), and the floor that was supposedly for dancing was usually filled with ten-year-old boys who would take a run up then skid along on their knees. All the same, it was just about the only place a group of twenty teenagers could hang out without someone’s mom getting in a mood, or the dorm supervisor grounding the lot of them.

He thought it would be a Duck-only celebration, but Luis had brought his cheerleader along, who in turn had brought some of her friends, Fulton had brought his girlfriend, who seemed to be in the middle of a war against a JV cheerleader, Averman had brought a couple of people from his drama class, and even Dwayne had come with a bunch of a non-Ducks, so Charlie had decided that he might as well skip the coke alone with Linda and go straight to Bar None with the group.

He glanced around, it was a weird looking group. Fulton leaning against a wall talking to his girlfriend, to Terri—his mind sneered at her name, who would be cruel enough to name their child that?—instead of next to Portman. Portman himself was headed outside with Adam, a cheerful look on his face. Luis was away in a corner, making out with Mindy, instead of surrounded by his usual flock of girls—it was Averman who had a harem. About five girls were crowded around him listening to his jokes.

“Charlie, are you listening to me?” Linda asked quietly from across the table.

He blinked a couple of times. “I’m sorry,” he said sincerely. “I guess my concentration’s little shot from the game.”

She smiled. “It’s ok, I was probably boring you anyway. I get that a lot.”

“No, no, you weren’t—”

“Hey guys, can we sit?”

Charlie looked up and Fulton and Terri were standing by their table. “It’s just this place is filling up quick and I’d rather die than sit with Satan.”

Fulton gently nudged Terri towards the seat next to Charlie, while he sat next to Linda. The gesture was not lost on Charlie. Fulton seemed very conscious about putting a fair amount of distance between himself and Charlie since that Kiss. It had got to the point where Kiss needed a capital letter, in Charlie’s mind. It had been a small thing at first, but now it seemed to be the whole reason that he no longer had a best friend, and such an event was worthy of a capital letter.

“She means Shona,” Fulton explained. “The head of the JV cheerleaders. They don’t get on.”

This was followed by an awkward silence. Charlie stared at the table, refusing to meet Fulton’s eyes, he really wanted to talk to him, but not here, not with an audience. He stared resentfully at Terri. She shouldn’t be here, what was she doing with Fulton? And why the hell was she wearing Fulton’s Use Your Illusions shirt? Fulton had washed and worn that shirt almost daily over the summer, it was his favourite. He had told Charlie that he had done a month’s worth of hard chores for his mother before she gave him the money to buy it and it had been worth every penny. And now he’d given it to some girl? What was he thinking? How could he like a girl he barely knew enough to give her his favourite shirt?

“I’m gonna get a drink.” Fulton said at length. “Can I get you guys anything?”

“OJ would be nice.” Linda said politely.

“No thanks.” Charlie grunted, still refusing to meet his eyes.

“OJ for me too, please.” Terri said. “I get sugar-highed on soda, I annoy people then.”

You annoy people now, Charlie thought.

Again, there was silence. This time Terri broke it. “So, uh, what were you guys talking about before we rudely interrupted? Or was it some couple thing and I’m really getting in the way.” She exhaled loudly. “Boy, do I feel like a third wheel.”

Linda shifted in her seat, then smiled at Terri. “I was chewing Charlie’s ear off about Homecoming next month. I was thinking of boycotting.”

“Not going?” Terri sounded interested. “I’d love to, but I thought we had to go if we were living the dorm life.”

“No, I’m going, I was thinking more of boycotting the Homecoming King and Queen and I’ll look far more innocent if I’m present and being shocked by the boycott.”

“I’d love to pelt them with eggs,” Terri said. “That would take the smug smiles off their faces.”

“I’ve got something a little more elaborate in mind. This school is all about snobbery, it’s about rewarding the most popular and stomping on those who aren’t. Take Homecoming King and Queen for example, the prettiest and most popular are nominated—not those people who actually contribute to the community, and I would like to see some less shallow people made King and Queen.”

Terri got up from her seat and sat down next to Linda. “Tell me more about this, I’m interested, and I’m happy to volunteer my services.”

Charlie glanced up. Linda’s face with lit up with excitement that she’d found another devotee to her cause, Terri looked happy about the plan Linda was laying out. Charlie felt like punching something. He went back to moodily staring at the table top.

 


Adam leant against the exterior wall of Bar None, breathed in the fresh air, and gazed at Portman levelly. “You hopped a plane and flattened Cole.” He said accusingly.

“I did.” Portman agreed.

“You said, and I quote, ‘it’s not like I’m gonna hop a plane and flatten the guy’.”

Portman held up a hand, “At the time, that was the truth. Bombay turned up a couple of days after that call. Then, when it turned out that I could go to Eden Hall, it began to seem like a good idea.”

Adam sighed, the corners of his mouth twitching as he fought a smile.

“I’ll have you know that I had to take anger management classes when I was twelve. I thought I was very restrained.” Portman added.

Adam gave up fighting the smile. “I’m sure you mom would be very proud.” He said finally.

“I did it for you, you know.” Portman said, his tone suddenly serious.

“I know.”

“No, I mean, the fact the check was legal. That’s what I did for you.”

Adam met Portman’s eyes and smiled at him, understanding what Portman was saying. I played nice because I didn’t want you to be ashamed of me. “I’ve really missed you.” It wasn’t quite what he meant, but it was as near as he could get at the moment.

Portman nodded. “I know.”

And he did. He knew it wasn’t what Adam meant at all, but all the same, he knew.

 


Fulton returned to the booth, a little surprised by the change in seating. Now he’d have to sit next to Charlie. Charlie glanced up at him, then back to Linda. “Linda, do you want to choose some songs on the jukebox with me?”

Linda barely turned away from Terri. “In a minute, I’m just telling Terri about my plan. After that, sure.”

Fulton handed out the drinks and took a seat. Terri was half turned, facing Linda, listening with rapt attention to what Linda was saying. Fulton picked up one of Terri’s hands. She gave him a brief but brilliant smile, then turned back to Linda, though she did scoot around a little so holding hands wasn’t so uncomfortable.

Over the past couple of weeks, Fulton had become very good at being a boyfriend, and Terri had become very good at being a girlfriend. He walked her between classes when he could, they ate together, except when he was with the Ducks or she was with Anna. He had learnt that Anna didn’t seem to like him permanently, it had nothing to do with her mood with Terri, and Terri was intimidated by the Ducks. He carried her books when her hip hurt. They always remembered to hold hands. Terri had raided his closet, taking a few shirts, including his most cherished Illusions shirt—he had fought her kicking and screaming over that, but she had told him that boys always let their girlfriends wear their clothes. He suspected that, while that was true, she had stolen that particular shirt because she was a fan too. Finally he had let her have it, throwing an off-hand comment at her, “Fine, everyone knows that Appetite is the superior album anyway.”

That was the day of their first row, with Terri rallying hard for Illusion II. They had nearly made up, but Terri had stopped him, and told him to go ask his friends how he should make up with his girlfriend. He had given her a hug for her brilliance. Then told her she was evil and rotten. She was proud of him. She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek, then flounced off, shirt in hand, slamming the door behind her.

Fulton had sought Luis’ counsel over how to win Terri’s affections back. Luis, who was talking to him again at that point, had suggested flowers, and maybe poetry. Fulton didn’t go for poetry, so he tried flowers instead. He got her a bunch of roses. She accepted them, then said in a quiet tone that she always felt sorry for bunches of flowers, because they were dying in front of her eyes. She liked potted plants that had a chance to live better. Fulton told her they should continue the row. She said that he was a genius.

He went back to Luis, telling him what Terri had said, only dramatising it to make it more of a fight and less of a strategic discussion. Luis suggested poetry again, apparently quoting Shakespeare’s sonnets was a key part of his (very successful) bid to win his girl. Luis was now officially a fan of romantic gestures, because in his words, “Let’s face it, they work”. Despite this, Fulton still wasn’t a fan of poetry and he knew that Terri wasn’t. Instead he translated Luis’ advice slightly and went into town and bought a poster of Axl Rose with his then-girlfriend Stephanie Seymour, a still from the November Rain video, and the lyrics from Estranged on it. Terri was suitably won over (and confided in a low tone that she adored Stephanie Seymour). She found some girls to tell about it, making a point to coo over how thoughtful her boyfriend was.

They were a very good couple. And the weird thing was, it was kind of fun. It was nice to have someone know his secret, but cover for him. Terri was like a comfort blanket that he liked to keep close by. He had also learnt lots of things about Terri, like more details about her hips (she had CHD—congenital hip dislocation—which meant she was born with dislocated hips, they operated on her when she was eighteen months of age, since then she had a prominent limp because of the 4cm difference in the length of her legs, she had pain on a very random basis and one day would have to have a double hip replacement), she liked to draw, she smelt of vanilla and coconuts, and was allergic to touching, but not eating, popcorn. Things that boyfriends would know. They were good together. They just didn’t lust after each other.

Charlie made a move to take Linda’s hand, after he saw Fulton playing with Terri’s rings. Linda looked surprised but pleased, and Charlie flashed Fulton an odd, almost triumphant, look.

Just as Fulton was wondering whether he should try and make conversation with Charlie while the girls talked, or continue to pretend to listen to Linda, they were interrupted once more. This time by Adam and Portman. Neither of them looked entirely enthused about joining the group, and it was hard to tell who had forced who to come over.

“Can we join you?” Portman asked, looking straight at Fulton.

Fulton grinned, if Portman was asking him, it meant that he was well on the way to forgiving Fulton for his snotty behaviour towards him recently. Forgiveness was something Portman had in abundance and something he offered frequently, which was a good thing, because nobody else in the team seemed particularly good at seeking it. “Sure, let’s grab some chairs.” Fulton replied.

Adam looked around and quickly nabbed the nearest empty chair. A further scan of the room proved that all other chairs were taken.

“Terri, come here.” Fulton said, suddenly filled with cheer. “If you sit on my lap, someone can sit where you are—and I think Charlie might like to talk to his girlfriend at some point tonight, which he can’t do with you hogging her.”

Terri smiled at him and moved around to sit on his lap, Portman took her seat and Adam shunted the chair closer to the table. Once everyone was seated and Portman had introduced himself and Adam to Linda and Terri, there was an awkward silence once more. It was strange that it had only taken the past few weeks for this cluster of Ducks to lose the ability to communicate.

“Right,” Portman said, taking charge. “Not to go all AA-meeting style on you, but I think everyone here, bar the ladies, owes someone an apology, and I think we should all get it out of the way and get back to being friends, because I, for one, am sick of getting calls and getting someone yelling at me because they’re pissed at someone else and have decided to offload on me. I’ll go first. Fulton, I’m sorry for the things I said, I had no idea that Hans died that day, and even so, I should have told you what I had to tell you before Bombay did.”

Fulton looked at the table, he’d never felt so pathetic. Portman was apologising, in front of everyone, for being unreasonable, when really all he’d done is be a friend. “No, it was my fault. I hadn’t even heard about Hans when we talked. I read the letter that night. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry I yelled at you, Fulton.” Adam added.

“No problem. I meant to talk to you instead of pushing that note through your locker, I just couldn’t find you.”

All at the table seemed to turn towards Charlie, except the girls who were looking at each other in mild bafflement. Charlie continued staring at the table top. “I’m sorry about the way I’ve been acting.” He glanced at Fulton, then Adam. “Sorry, Adam.”

“Forget it,” Adam replied.

“God, I wish I had a sin to confess or an apology to make, I feel really left out here.” Terri said.

“You could apologise for you lousy judgement. Everyone knows that Appetite rocks so much harder than both of the Illusions together.” Fulton replied, and most of the tension at the table seemed to float away. Though Fulton was still getting some strange vibes from Charlie.

“Oh, Fulton, don’t tell me your girlfriend is a newbie.” Portman groaned. “Otherwise I will have to revoke my apology.”

“I’m not a newbie,” Terri responded heatedly. “I just think that Estranged is a work of genius and that song, especially when it’s with the rest of the trilogy, takes the Illusions albums to heights that Appetite could not reach.”

“Well,” Portman said. “At least she knows about the trilogy. Quick quiz: better drummer, Sorum or Adler?”

“Sorum, at least they didn’t have to dumb the Illusions songs down for him. Adler was stoned off his face so bad they had to make Appetite simpler for him.”

“Gilby or Izzy?”

“Gilby. And Axl’s a twat for firing him so often.”

Fulton shook his head. “If that’s true, why haven’t we seen Duff wearing a ‘Where’s Gilby?’ sign on his ass?”

“At least Gilby wasn’t the one who bailed out the day that the Don’t Cry video was being shot!” She replied hotly.

Portman pulled a face. “Well, she’s wrong, but she knows the answers. One final question, and your entire relationship hinges on this, so answer well. Fill in the blank, Slash is…”

“God.”

Portman nodded. “I’ll let you keep her.”

“Thanks, man.” Fulton replied with a grin. Terri might be a flake at times, but she knew her GN’R. “So, who are you rooming with?”

“Adam, he’s got a room to himself at the moment, and they like us hockey players rooming together, it means that we’re less likely to wake up the entire floor when we’re getting ready in the morning.”

The rest of the evening passed pleasantly enough, with Portman’s cheerful presence, even Charlie and Fulton were able to talk to each other occasionally. Linda and Adam found they had a shared interest in history and, more importantly, a shared fear of Mr Barber, and his strange fascination with squashing the dwarf to make a point.

Terri brought up Homecoming again, eager to get more involved with Linda’s plan, then she casually turned to Fulton and said, “You’re taking me, right?” Fulton had nodded agreeably, like a good boyfriend, and turned back to his conversation with Portman. After that, Charlie asked Linda if she wanted to go with him. She also agreed.

The six of them walked back to Eden Hall together. It wasn’t far and Terri seemed to be having a good day with her hips. However, she was cold, so Fulton gave her his jacket, with the stern words, “That you can’t keep. I am serious on this.” She had replied, “Of course you are, darling,” complete with a very patronising pat on the shoulder, then resumed her chat with Linda.

At this point Charlie offered Linda his jacket. She gave him a strange look, and pointed out that, unlike Terri, she had remembered to bring her own.

Terri and Linda were in separate dorm blocks, so Charlie and Fulton walked their respective girlfriends together towards the girls’ dorms, while Portman and Adam headed back to the boys’ blocks. Linda’s block was behind Terri’s, so they split up at Terri’s, Charlie and Linda continuing along the path, while Fulton walked Terri to the main entrance.

Terri and Fulton made show of canoodling in the alcove of the doorway to her block until they were sure Charlie and Linda were gone, then broke apart feeling slightly foolish. They had laid a ground rule of no making out; when called for, they would only peck on the cheek, but neither had wanted to fake that aspect of their relationship. While there were plenty of real couples who were happy to make out with an audience, there were also plenty who weren’t. Terri and Fulton had decided to pretend to be one of the latter. Canoodling simply consisted of hugs and giggles. It always made them feel very stupid that they were going to such great lengths to fool the world, themselves included, that they were normal. The rest of what they did wasn’t so bad, it was just an extension of their friendship.

Terri glanced around the edge of the alcove, making sure Linda and Charlie were out of earshot. She looked up at Fulton. “It’s Charlie, isn’t it?” She said softly.

He knew what she meant immediately. He was almost sure that hers was Anna. The reason for this stupid charade. He nodded. “But how did you know?”

“Well, not that Charlie’s behaviour wasn’t a big flashing neon sign, but I was watching you too. His behaviour could be explained, I don’t know the guy. Maybe he’s shy, maybe that’s why he was copying you. But I do know you. You were weird, vibey. You two barely said two words to each other all night.” She glanced out into the night. “It’s a shame, because Linda has no idea. I like her, she’s going to get hurt if he keeps on with her.”

“What about us, will we get hurt?” Fulton asked.

“No, we won’t. We made the rules, we both know where we stand. It’s a shame about us too, because if we liked each other like that, we’d be great together.” She stood on her toes and kissed his cheek. “Night.”

“Night.” He echoed, then turned to walk back to his dorm. He shivered in the cold, and realised that Terri had successfully walked away with another of his items of clothing. He shook his head, smiling a little. They really were faking it well.

He noticed that Terri had spoken as if Fulton had admitted that he really had feelings for Charlie. He thought back over all of their conversations and realised that he had never told her otherwise. And Terri had also implied that Charlie was playing the same game as Fulton was. Pretending to like a girl to get away from his feelings of confusion. Maybe since Fulton had admitted it to Terri, it was about time he admitted it to himself. He did seem to have feelings for Charlie, what they were, he wasn’t sure, but he should really find out. And that would only happen if he actually got to talk to him.

As luck would have it, he could see Charlie making his way back down the path, so Fulton stopped and waited for Charlie to catch up. Charlie seemed to be taking his time, so Fulton waved, making it clear that he was not going to get bored and walk back by himself. Charlie obligingly sped up.

Before Fulton could speak, Charlie jumped in. “You know, I was thinking about what Portman said, and I think I owe you an apology.” He finally met Fulton’s eyes for longer than three seconds, something that hadn’t happened for a long time. “I’m sorry about… you know. I miss us being friends, and that… incident, well, it didn’t mean anything. We can be friends again, can’t we?” He didn’t wait for confirmation, he just kept going, his words coming out in a rush. “We could even double-date, since Terri and Linda seem to get along. And this Homecoming thing, I hear you have to buy the girls flowers, I’m not so good at that. Maybe we could go into town to buy them together. What do you think?”

What did he think? Well, he didn’t know what to think, since his heart was too busy being crushed between two steel hands after hearing that the kiss—no, “that incident”—had meant nothing. He didn’t want to double-date with Charlie, he didn’t want to have to watch Charlie be with a girl—a girl that maybe he genuinely did like after all—he didn’t want to go shopping for stupid flowers for the girls (especially since Terri was morally opposed to dying flowers and would rather have a potted plant). He wanted to understand what he was feeling, now instead it was all being swept away under the rug because Charlie had already processed and moved on.

But what did he say?

“That sounds great to me.”


“It’s Not Lying, It’s Embellishing”

There was a knock on the door, and Anna glared at Terri, who was still in her pyjamas, dozing in bed. “I’ll get it then!” She snapped, got up from the desk and opened the door.

Terri frowned. Anna had been impossible to live with recently. As a person who was always impossible to live with, it was a shock that after all this time Anna was becoming one too. Her moods swung viciously, sometimes she was in a great mood, and she and Terri would curl up on Terri’s bed, watch dumb films, throw popcorn at the screen and hurl abuse at the contrived plots about “ugly” girls (girls in glasses and brown dungarees) getting makeovers (taking off the glasses, using a little mascara and lip gloss and changing into skimpy dresses) and winning the stud of the school, who secretly had a heart of gold underneath his Mr Popular exterior.

And sometimes Anna was unreasonably snappish. Like this morning.

Of course, Anna was probably still sore about the fight they’d had last night when Terri had wandered in wearing Fulton’s jacket. Anna had sneered something about Terri turning into a simpering airhead over some stupid jock, and Terri had rallied to Fulton’s defence, twisting reality into romance, turning their strange meeting that laid out the rules of their “relationship” into a rather romantic scene, where Fulton had asked her out in the prettiest part of the school. Anna had hit the roof when she found out that Terri had taken Fulton to the Ornamental Garden, but refused to expand on why this was such a bad thing.

Impossible.

“Oh. Well, you get points for not being the boyfriend.” Anna said in an almost pleasant tone, then went back to her desk, where she started gathering up books. “However, I’m going to the library. I need peace and quiet to study. See you later.”

She ducked past Linda Chavez and disappeared into the hallway. Terri indicated that Linda should come in and shut the door. “Have a seat, Linda.” She sat up and pulled her legs up to her chest. Linda took a seat on the end of Terri’s bed.

Linda glanced at her watch. “You do realise it’s almost midday?”

“Yep.” Terri nodded cheerfully. “But I didn’t have plans today, so I didn’t see the point in getting dressed.”

“Fair enough.”

“So, have you come over to make more evil plans to boycott the Homecoming dance? Because if you have, then I have a couple of ideas.”

“Actually,” Linda looked worried. “I came to ask about last night.” She paused again. “It was weird, wasn’t it?”

Terri thought about how best to answer the question. Tact wasn’t her strong point. And neither was lying—romantic charade aside, and that was more like acting or embellishing than lying. “Yeah.” She said finally coming up with a response. “It was weird. And I think it was because we were there.” She decided not to go with lying. Embellishing was something she was good at, as well as creatively telling the truth. Outright lies were definitely Shauna’s forte. “I mean, you saw how that Portman guy got everyone to apologise to each other. I think that’s where the weirdness came from. Apologising in front of a girl you’re trying to impress must be pretty hard, so after that he was probably going double-time at treating you nicely—taking his cues from Fulton. I think Fulton told me you’re Charlie’s first girlfriend. He was probably nervous as hell.”

“You really think that?” Linda looked relieved.

“Sure.” Terri replied. One-word outright lies weren’t as bad as the lies Shauna told, she told herself. She wasn’t a bad person, she was just protecting her friend.

“Oh good, I was worried I was some sort of challenge.”

“No, I don’t think that’s the case.”

Linda smiled and the frown lines fell away from her face.

“So, Charlie asked you to Homecoming, that’s a good sign. You’ve got your alibi. Now, I’ve got some ideas about that, like I said. You’re known as quite the little activist around here, I didn’t place you right away, but you were the one who got me to sign the petition about changing the name of the Warriors, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, that’s me.”

“Well, I also remember that the Dean’s head spun round when you submitted it. Then you followed up with a couple of editorials in the school newspaper. That’s when the Dean started plotting your death.” Terri continued. “Am I right?”

Linda nodded again.

“Well, you’re going to need a back-up plan in case they find out that you’re planning something. And I have had a brilliant flash of insight.”

“Which is?”

Terri leant forward. “You’re going to love this.”


Charlie hadn’t been kidding when he said he wanted to go into town with Fulton and choose the corsages for the girls. He turned up at Fulton’s door at midday, knowing enough to let Fulton sleep until then. But now he was absolutely set on dragging Fulton into town. Fulton dressed hurriedly, then realised that he was minus a jacket. “We’re going to have to swing by Terri’s dorm.” He said. “I’m not going outside without my jacket.”

Charlie looked thoughtful. “Should I say hi to Linda while we’re headed in that direction?” He wasn’t sure whether he should or not, but he was trying to copy how Fulton acted with Terri. The rules of dating were new and complex to him. He didn’t want to hurt Linda’s feelings by seeming disinterested, neither did he want to overdo it.

Fulton gave him a bland smile. “I think probably not. I think you might have made her a little nervous last night.”

“Yeah,” Charlie smiled sheepishly. “I think I probably did.” He had been so busy trying to keep up with what Fulton was doing, he wasn’t really paying attention to what it was he was copying. He had felt so foolish when Linda had pointed out that she had her own jacket. Fulton had a girlfriend now, and they looked good together. Charlie just felt like he should have one too.

Especially since Bombay’s visit. Before he left, he had said, “Call me, if you need a friend, if you need anything. Call me.” It was like he had noticed that there was something more than hockey and Hans bothering Charlie. It made him nervous. If Bombay could see it, Bombay who was away so often and for so long, then maybe it wouldn’t be long before everyone else started noticing too. A girlfriend would fix those problems, he was hoping that Linda could make him forget the Kiss, and if not, at least people would blame his distraction on healthy normal hormones instead of slightly wrong hormones.

They made their way over to the girls’ block. As always, Ms Harper, the dorm supervisor was thoroughly engrossed in her book and cheerfully oblivious as they snuck past her and up to Terri’s floor. Fulton knocked, and heard an, “It’s open,” in return. He and Charlie entered the room, and shut the door quickly.

Inside, they found Terri and Linda sat on Terri’s bed, eagerly looking over a laptop. Interestingly enough, Terri was still in her pyjamas, complete with fluffy bunny slippers.

“Nice outfit, Terri.” Fulton commented. He bent over and kissed her on the top of the head, then retrieved his jacket from the floor next to her bed.

She grinned at him. “We didn’t make plans, jammies make good weekend attire. What are you doing here?”

“Jacket.” He said sternly. “What did I tell you about not stealing it?”

While Fulton and Terri exchanged a few good-natured insults about the give and take in a relationship, Charlie turned his attention to Linda. “Hey,” he said a little shyly.

“Hey, yourself.” She smiled back. It felt good to be smiled at, but not good enough to cancel out that little tug on his heart every time Fulton smiled at Terri or said something nice to her.

“Sorry I was little weird last night. I was really zoned from the game, then I tried to over-compensate. I’m not usually that odd.”

“I know. I’ve talked to you before and you weren’t crazy then.” Linda said.

“So,” he shuffled awkwardly. “Fulton and I are going into town to buy corsages, I’d hate to make a wasted trip, so will you still go to Homecoming with me?”

“I said I would.” She smiled. “Besides, I need an alibi. Dating a jock will only help. By the way, Terri and I will be drafting you two for part of our plan.”

“It’s The Great Plan.” Terri interjected. Charlie could hear capital letters in her voice.

“The Great Plan, then.” Linda agreed. “You guys are drafted. So go, buy us flowers.”

“Fulton….” Terri said.

“I know. I haven’t forgotten.” He dropped another kiss on her forehead, and he and Charlie left the room. Charlie’s heart may well have been left behind. He wasn’t sure what it was, the kiss or the fact that Terri had only said Fulton’s name, but Fulton had understood the full meaning. It wasn’t fair. He wanted their friendship to get back to the level where he could say one word and have Fulton understood.

Or maybe he wanted another Kiss.

It could go either way.


Terri and Linda were still scheming when Anna returned from the library. “You!” Terri shouted excitedly. “You’re perfect!”

Anna frowned. “Is that my laptop?”


“Have you heard about this stupid Homecoming dance?” Adam asked, from his place in Portman’s arms.

“Yeah, I think the troubled quartet mentioned it last night.”

“Troubled?” Adam asked. He hadn’t paid much attention to anyone last night. His mind had been taken up entirely with trying to understand that Portman was no longer in Chicago and, what was more, he was going to be living in Adam’s room for the rest of the school year.

“You didn’t notice?”

“Nope.” Adam dozily plucked at one of the hairs on Portman’s arms eliciting a surprised yelp from his boyfriend.

“Stop that.” Portman swatted Adam’s hands away. “And yes, troubled. Weren’t you paying attention?”

“Nope.” Adam repeated. “I have very little interest in Charlie’s little hissy fits. I’m usually on the receiving end and nobody but you has bothered to step in and back me up so far, so I’m not getting involved.”

“So, when Charlie said he was sorry and….”

“I told him to forget it, because I meant it. He should forget it. I’m going to try to.”

“But you didn’t forgive him?”

“Nope.”

“Would you stop saying that?”

Adam briefly wondered whether a final nope would get a laugh or cause an argument. He suspected the latter. “Why should I, Portman?” He asked. “Honestly, why? Because he feels bad? If that’s the reason, then no way, Charlie doesn’t feel bad about it. Charlie’s preoccupied with something else at the moment, he hasn’t even realised….” Adam tailed off, surprised to find himself close to tears.

“He hasn’t even noticed how much he hurt you?” Portman said gently.

“They were my friends, and they turned their backs on me because I had the misfortune to be good at something.” Adam said. “I had two groups of people against me and no-one for me. I don’t think I can just hear two un-felt words and let go of that. Maybe you can, but you’re a better person than me. I’m not that nice.”

“What’s the point of holding on to such a bad feeling?”

Adam sighed. “You know I don’t have an answer to that. It’s not like I want to feel this way, but I can’t just let go of it either.”

“It’s ok, it doesn’t make you a bad person.” Portman linked his fingers with Adam’s.

“Yeah, it does. I know it does.”

“No it doesn’t. I’m just a lot less involved than most in what went on here. So tell me about this stupid dance.”

“Mandatory attendance. I want to boycott.” Adam said.

“So boycott, we’ll stay here, being rebellious.”

“We can’t, they do random dorm checks to make sure nobody has stayed behind and is having their own parties. However, I am not going with a girl. That much I am boycotting.”

“Are you asking, in your usual meandering way, if I want to be a dateless loser with you at this stupid dance?”

“Yes.” Adam replied.

“Ok, you’re on, loser.”


Terri looked up from her sketchbook at Anna’s third huff of annoyance in as many minutes. “Are you ok?” She asked.

Anna pushed her hair out of her face and sighed when it fell back the minute she moved her hands. Terri put down her sketchbook and picked up a scrunchie from her bedside table and moved over to Anna.

“Seriously, what’s up?” Terri said.

“Nothing, I’m just busy.”

Anna’s tone was curt, and made Terri wince. She didn’t know what had brought this on. She had assumed that Anna was a little cross about her use of the laptop (there had been strict instructions that Terri could only use it while Anna was in the room), and Linda’s invasion of their room (Anna didn’t like people in her space, she preferred Terri to go out and invade other spaces with her friends), but Anna had made little comment about either.

“You say that, but you don’t tell me what you’re doing.” Terri moved to stroke Anna’s hair into a pony tail, but as soon as she touched Anna’s hair, Anna jumped several feet in the air.

“I’ll do it, Terri.” Anna snapped, grabbing the scrunchie from Terri’s wrist.

“Fine.” Terri was deflated, she moved back to her bed and picked up the sketchbook again. On reflection, her depiction of Buffy was all wrong, her nose was too wide, her eyes a little skewed, her hair was fundamentally wrong in some way that she couldn’t place. She shut the book with a snap and flung it on the floor in frustration.

Anna glanced at the shiny cover of the sketchbook and sighed.

“What?” Terri demanded. “What was that long-suffering sigh about?”

“Either I’ll pick it up or you won’t, and if I don’t and you won’t, you’ll probably fall over it and damage yourself. Then you’ll be out of classes, resting your hip, and I’ll have to take notes for you and contact all your stupid friends in the classes that I don’t take for their notes, and it just takes up so much time when I’m busy!”

“Well, don’t go out of your way for me, Angela.” Terri snapped back, not really sure why she was using Anna’s full name. “And what are you so busy on anyway? Your French project? You could do that standing on your head. And it’s not your new horse, because otherwise you’d be out sharing your bad mood with the poor equestrian bods, instead of me.”

“Well, forgive me, it’s just a little hard to be sunshine and roses when your roommate is a complete mess and brings her silly friends and boyfriends into our room. I live here too, you know, and I’m sick of the influx of people. I can’t concentrate.”

“Concentrate on what?”

“Oh, you wouldn’t be interested.” Anna replied quietly.

“I get it, don’t tell Terri, she’s too stupid. She won’t understand.” Terri snapped.

“No, don’t tell Terri because she doesn’t listen. She’s too preoccupied with her new boyfriend who’s become her new best friend.” Anna’s face caved when she realised what she had said, then smoothed to an impenetrable mask.

“Anna, it’s not like that.” Terri said, wounded. How on earth could she respond to that without explaining to Anna that the whole reason she was hanging around with a new crowd was to prove that she wasn’t in love with Anna. “It’s just that Fulton’s best friend is Charlie, and Charlie’s taking Linda to the dance, and with Fulton taking me… well, it’s a good thing that I get on with Linda. It would be awkward if we double-dated and Linda and I had to make polite small talk the whole time.”

Anna took a deep breath. “Forget it, Terri. It doesn’t matter. I just don’t want your stupid friends coming into my room.”

“It’s my room too!” Terri yelled. “And Linda’s not stupid—none of my friends are. Just because we weren’t all brought up surrounded by the amount of poncey bloody antiques and first edition leather-bound books that you and Shauna were, doesn’t mean that we were dragged up by apes!”

“I didn’t say that!”

“Yes, you did. You keep saying that my friends are stupid, and I hate it. In case you hadn’t noticed, you’re my friend too. So, does this mean you think of yourself as stupid, or do you just not think of yourself as my friend?”

Anna made no answer. After a few long and painful seconds, she gathered her books together. “I’m going to the library, some of us actually care about studying, not just fooling around with the boys here.”

The door slammed behind her.

“Guess you don’t think you’re stupid then.” Terri said softly.


After forty minutes and three sets of very bad directions, Fulton and Charlie managed to find a florist that actually still stocked corsages and boutonnieres two weeks before the dance. It was pointless for Fulton, since he wasn’t going to be buying a wrist corsage for Terri. He’d already seen what he was going to get her. While Charlie had been talking to Linda, Terri had given him some money and begged him to buy a boutonniere for himself. She was thoroughly involved in the planning stage of the boycott, and if she was caught she would probably be grounded and unable to get into town to order it for him. If nothing else, he and Terri were a pragmatic couple.

“What do you think Linda will like?” Charlie asked, looking thoroughly baffled by the vast array of flowers surrounding him.

“I have no idea.” Fulton replied flatly. While not as bad as double-dating, helping Charlie pick out a corsage for his date with Linda was not his idea of heaven.

“Well, what are you buying Terri?”

“I’m not.”

Charlie’s eyes bugged and the woman behind the counter couldn’t conceal her gasp of surprise. She hurriedly grabbed a book from beneath the counter, “Now I know it’s a little late and your selection may be somewhat limited, but I’m sure you’ll find something perfect for your date.” She shoved the book under his nose, and her eyes begged him to make a purchase.

Fulton slid the book over to Charlie. “I think maybe white might be an idea, that way it will go with everything. And Terri doesn’t like cut flowers. She likes potted plants.”

The woman mumbled something about how it wasn’t appropriate to give a girl a potted plant for an upcoming dance, and how a girl’s outfit wouldn’t be complete without a corsage. Fulton shrugged it off, he knew Terri, and she couldn’t care less whether she might be incomplete without a dying flower attached to her wrist.

Leaning against the counter, while Charlie poured over the book, taking the woman’s words as gospel, something caught Fulton’s eye. “Maybe I will buy something. How much are those?” He pointed and the woman followed his gaze.

She gave him a doubtful look. “The silk roses? Those are mainly for decoration, we sell them mostly to the art and drama students.”

“Terri is an art student, can I buy one?” Fulton was not budging on this. He was not buying some dumb corsage that would be dead by the next morning. However, Terri would like the silk rose. Everyone should be happy with that.

Finally he and Charlie left the shop, any further protests about the appropriateness of buying a girl a silk rose for a dance were cut off when Charlie’s hay fever began to act up, something that Fulton would be eternally grateful. This was not his idea of fun. Fun would be slicing off his own fingers if the comparison was watching Charlie pour over a book and having to listen to comments such as, “She’s got beautiful brown hair and pale skin, what do you think would suit her best?” which would be followed by, “Then again, anything will pale against her. She’s so pretty.” It made Fulton want to hurl.

But it wasn’t as bad as it could be. If Linda were here, then things would really be bad. He would have to watch as Charlie fawned all over Linda, safe in the knowledge that he was a perfectly normal boy with his perfectly normal girlfriend, and cheerfully unaware that his perfectly abnormal best friend was faking a relationship with an equally abnormal girl in the vague hope of trying to get past all of these abnormal feelings.

If Terri wasn’t on his side he didn’t know what he would have done. Which is why he dragged Charlie over to the other side of the mall to the jewellers. He had seen the necklace in the window when he and Charlie had been playing hooky, he didn’t know why it had caught his eye, but it had. It was a simple silver necklace, with a small flower shape made out of stones, lilac in the centre, clear on the outside. The stones were fake, but sparkly. He knew Terri wouldn’t care whether they were real or not. Besides, their relationship was a fake, but that still seemed to fool the casual observer.

He pointed it out to Charlie, part of him smugly thinking, take that, Conway! My relationship is better than yours, and it’s not even real. If Charlie had decided to live a happy normal life, that was something Fulton was going to have to get used to, but it didn’t mean he was going to pull his punches. Charlie seemed out of his depth with dating, and this was another way to unnerve him. Maybe if Fulton kept this up, Charlie would be so thrown that he’d blow it with Linda. Which may lead him to reconsidering whether or not that Kiss meant nothing.

Hopefully.

“Do guys have to buy girls jewellery for dances?” Charlie asked; he had a strange look in his eyes.

“No,” Fulton replied, pulling out his wallet. “I’m just getting it for her.”

“Is it an anniversary?”

“No, I just think she’ll like it.”

Fulton paid and they left the shop together. They walked in silence for awhile, as they approached the bus stop to go back to school, Charlie suddenly grabbed his arm. “Fulton,” his voice was tight and his eyes hard. “Do you love her?”

Fulton thought about the question. He suddenly realised that his brilliant plan may have backfired, because he suddenly understood the look in Charlie’s eyes when he had been asking why Fulton was buying Terri the necklace. It had been hope. Hope that Fulton was somehow obligated to buy Terri something pretty, that he hadn’t wanted to, and that he wanted to maybe have a talk with Charlie that didn’t involve their girlfriends. They were nowhere near friends at the moment, it was simply that they had girlfriends now, and felt it safe to interact without the other one misunderstanding—or worse, as Fulton was beginning to realise, understanding—the other’s intentions.

But the truth was, he did love Terri. He just wasn’t in love with her, and he certainly didn’t want to do any of those things that the whole school thought they were already doing (as she had so rightly understood from the start). To say that he didn’t would be an insult to her, even if she never heard about it. She was the only person he whole-heartedly trusted at the moment and he did need her in his life.

“Hey man!” Averman suddenly leapt on Charlie’s back. “Corsage hunting, too?” Luis appeared at a more sedate pace behind him.

Fulton expected Charlie to drop the subject, but Charlie ignored Averman dangling on his back, and continued to hold on to Fulton’s arm with an almost painful intensity. “Do you?”

Anything Fulton might have wanted to say, anything he could have clarified, was not fit for the ears of Luis and Averman. Fulton’s feelings were private. Had Luis and Averman not shown up, maybe he might have found the courage to explain that yes, he did love Terri, but not that way. Instead, he simply answered, “Yes, I do.”

Charlie let go of his arm abruptly, and shook off Averman, depositing him neatly on his butt on the sidewalk, before walking away quickly.

“What was that about?” Averman asked, as Luis helped him to his feet.

Fulton shook his head. “It’s this dance, it’s making people crazy.”

“Tell me about it.” Averman agreed. “I’ve had to kill three people, just to ensure my date is not allergic to her corsage. Of course, Mr Romance over there has known about this dance for ages and is all set.” Averman nodded in Luis’ direction.

“Girls like flowers.”

“Terri doesn’t.” Fulton replied automatically. It was so easy to slip into Boyfriend Mode now that he barely even noticed. “So, who’s your date?” He asked Averman.

“Chloe from drama. She’s also a cheerleader, Luis set me up with her. I’m terrified. She’s pretty and she knows it.”

“There’s nothing wrong with a confident girl.” Luis said.

“Yeah, but you know what I mean.”

Fulton followed Luis and Averman to the bus stop, listening (but not really) to them bicker over the merits of taking Chloe to Homecoming. He just wanted to get back to the dorms and turn his brain off for awhile.


Adam finally moved from his place in Portman’s arms to answer a buzzing from his phone. He was grateful for the distraction, because it seemed that Portman was thinking deeply about what he was going to say next. Something that filled Adam with alarm. Portman could talk cheerfully about nothing for hours, but after periods of protracted silence, there was usually a deep revelation to follow. As they had already covered the whole reason why Portman didn’t come to Eden Hall immediately, that wasn’t going to be this revelation. Portman seemed very intent on letting Adam know that his delay in coming to school was no reflection on their relationship. Which made Adam believe that the L-word might be looming over them. And right now, he did not want to hear that word.

So he was glad to receive the text. It was a message from an unknown number.

“Phone bill came in. Chicago? 2 hrs? Emergency? Ur dead! Danny.”


Fulton returned to the dorms to find a message in his pigeon hole to call his mother, which he did with great trepidation. It turned out that Charlie’s mom had told her that Fulton had a girlfriend. She was now demanding to meet the girl in question the following weekend, before Homecoming. Try as he might, he couldn’t seem to dissuade her from the idea.

Fulton hung up and sighed. It was one thing lying to an entire school.

It was entirely another to lie to his mother.



End Notes:

It killed me to put “txt spk” in Danny’s text message.

“The Great Plan”

On Monday Terri and Linda began phase one of their Great Plan. It was pretty simple. The hook was to convince a majority of the students to nominate and vote for fictional characters to be Homecoming King and Queen. The reasoning was that since Eden Hall only seemed to vote for the prettiest and most popular for such titles, then why not vote for fictional characters, whose popularity far surpassed anyone in the school?

Using their influence over Charlie and Fulton, they had managed to get a fair amount of Ducks involved in the Great Plan.

Terri had spent the weekend with Linda hand-drawing cartoon icons, such as Homer Simpson, and the cast of Friends and Buffy on to flyers. Linda had dealt with the best way to word the text. As Terri had a study period first thing on Monday morning, she was elected to go to the school office and somehow photocopy at least a hundred of them. This was easy enough, because Fulton had been made to be the decoy, he borrowed Portman to help him. Together they skated down the hallway outside the school office, whooping and yelling loudly. The entire faculty set off in a chase after them.

With such a fantastic distraction, she was able to get several hundred of each variation of the flyers. It was just unfortunate that Terri left an original on the photocopier.

Later, the Bash Brothers would give the excuse that they were still hyped up over the JV Ducks’ win against Varsity. They were on detention for the rest of the week. They weren’t given simple detentions either, they were given more gruelling punishments. They were sent to the stables each evening to muck out the horses and fix and repaint anything that needed doing. It was strange though, they managed to get their jobs done in record time. It was almost as if they had a team helping them.

Terri made it to study hall only a few minutes late. Since this was custom for her, nobody really batted an eyelid. She took a seat next to Connie Moreau, a girl she had only met the day before and nervously handed her a sheaf of papers.

“They look good.” Connie said. “So, who am I supposed to give these to?”

“Anyone.” Terri said. “We want as many people as possible to at least consider the possibility of nominating a fictional character. Not everyone at this school is a complete preppy. Some people will think this is a good idea—and some people will just find it funny and go along with it. Feel free to give them to other people you think might be happy to hand them out.”

“Will do.” Connie gave her a grin. Then awkward silence descended. Terri mentally hit Linda. It was all fine and well campaigning for a better school, but she hated sitting with people she barely knew. It was ok if she didn’t know them at all, no talking was required, but a short conversation was meant to be followed with polite chit-chat and Terri was no good at that.

“Hey, you drew these?” Connie asked, indicating the Buffy flyer.

“Yeah.” Terri replied. “I like to draw.”

Connie looked almost shy. “I don’t suppose you’d draw me Harry Potter to go on my folder, would you?”

Terri smiled. Maybe it wasn’t so bad.


Terri, Linda and their band of merry helpers spent the morning break handing out flyers and talking to people, dodging any teachers they saw, and it seemed to be going pretty well. Though they did see several students who were carrying the flyers being interrogated by the teachers, most probably on where they had gotten them.

Halfway through the lesson after break there was an announcement over the tannoy system.

“Linda Chavez, Connie Moreau and Theresa McDonald report to Dean Buckley’s office immediately.” It wasn’t a question.

Connie gathered her things and got to her feet, her face burning. Why was she being dragged into this? It wasn’t her idea, she had merely offered her services. Admittedly, she had found that she actually really liked talking to people and trying to change their minds about the school mindset of electing beautiful people to be King and Queen. And she probably had thrown herself into the plan with a little more gusto than most, because she felt it would repay Terri for the drawing she had requested. All the same, surely Charlie and Fulton should be on the list. They were responsible for dragging the rest of the Ducks into it.

She found Terri and Linda lurking outside the Dean’s office, waiting for her. They were glaring fiercely at each other and talking in low tones. As she approached they both gave her guilty looks. “We’re sorry.” Terri said.

“Yeah.” Linda said. “We are. Just act outraged. We’ll get you out of this.”

Before Connie could respond, Dean Buckley’s secretary popped her head around the door. “The Dean will see you now.” She said formally.

It was Connie’s second time in his office, the first was when the Ducks had been after the assembly on the first day of school. She glanced at the ant farm, wondering if the Dean had noticed that it had been tampered with. She supposed that he hadn’t otherwise she would have been called back in here before now.

“Have a seat.” The Dean said.

They obligingly did so.

“So, do you want to tell me about these flyers that everyone seems to have at the moment?”

“The artwork is impressive.” Linda replied simply. “I’m very taken with the artwork.”

“And the text is very convincing.” Terri added, also a picture of wide-eyed innocence.

Connie fought hard to fight a smile. They were fooling no-one. “I don’t know why I’m here.” She said when Linda gave her a look.

“Girls,” Dean Buckley leant forward over his desk, resting his weight on his hands. “I know you all are involved.” He looked at them in turn. “Linda, this is clearly your work, you are well known for your stance on school tradition. Theresa, I’ve spoken to your art teacher, and she has confirmed that you are able to draw to this standard—she also mentioned that your signature is a butterfly. If you look closely there is a butterfly on each of the flyers.”

“It’s a frame job.”

He ignored her. “Connie, you were seen handing these flyers out.”

Terri gave her a ‘go ahead’ look. Connie didn’t know what to say, it seemed so cowardly to let the other two take the blame.

“I don’t know why Connie’s here.” Linda said. “Why would a jock want to boycott the Homecoming poll?”

“I gave a flyer to her,” Terri added. “She ripped it up and told me she was actually running for Homecoming Queen. Does that sound like someone who is on our side….” She tailed off, noticing that everyone was staring at her.

You gave her a flyer?” Dean Buckley asked.

Terri, obviously realising her mistake, quickly covered. “I mean, I passed one on. I thought it was a brilliant idea.”

Linda turned a furious glare on Terri.

Dean Buckley smiled at Connie. “You may go, Miss Moreau. But might I suggest that next time one of these two approach you—especially if they look like they’ve had a brilliant idea—you turn and walk away quickly?”

Connie got to her feet, taking one last look at Linda and Terri. Dean Buckley looked furious. Linda was still glaring and Terri looked almost amused. Connie shook her head. She wouldn’t like to be either of them at this moment in time.


Charlie met up with Linda at lunch. “So,” he asked. “How much trouble are you in?”

She smiled. “Detention, to be honest, they couldn’t do much to us. All we were doing was asking some students to think outside the box.”

“What about the dance?”

“Oh, we’re going. It’s part of our punishment.” Her smiled widened. “I thought it was a risk, but Terri was brilliant. She sat in his office, saying that she wasn’t going to the dumb dance and how it was horribly unfair that attendance was mandatory. The Dean got really annoyed with her and told her that we have to attend.”

Charlie frowned. He didn’t want to hear how brilliant Terri was. He got it from Fulton, now he was getting it from Linda. Even Connie had mentioned that Terri was going to do some artwork for her folder. What was the deal with Terri? Did she have to take over the lives of all of his friends?

“Are you ok?” Linda asked, noticing his expression.

“I’m fine. It’s just been ‘Terri this, Terri that’ recently, everyone’s going on about her. I’m so sick of it, what’s so great about her?”

Linda looked slightly offended. “Well, she did all the artwork on the flyers, her strategy was great—even if the plan didn’t really work out so well. And I haven’t been going on about her. You asked how it went. Why don’t you like her? She’s nice.”

“Forget it.” He snapped, then got to his feet and walked away.

Fulton was in love with Terri, he didn’t need to be hanging around with another member of her fan club.


“Shona,” Anna plopped her tray down next to her sister’s.

“Anna-Maria,” Shona replied in an icy tone. “This section is for cheerleaders only. You are not a cheerleader.”

What you are is a pain in the ass, Anna heard the unspoken addition to her sister’s statement. “I hate sitting here as much as you hate me here.” Anna replied.

“Then please, don’t let me detain you.”

“In a minute. I need a favour.” Those words had nearly killed Anna. She’d spent the entire morning practicing them in her head, trying to find the right casual tone to use. She doubted she had found it, she wasn’t Shona, after all. However, the key word had been favour and that was all that was needed.

Shona’s eyes lit up. “You need a favour from me?”

“Yes. You’re on office duty next week, aren’t you?” Office duty was an option that students could take. It won them extra credit to sit outside the Dean’s office, help his secretary, run errands, and study when they weren’t busy. Even though it bit into an hour of free time after school, it did get the student in question out of lessons all week, so there were many takers for the position, but only the favoured were chosen. Shona, naturally, was a very favoured student.

“I am. Which you know, because this involves the favour, and you would never go to all the trouble of asking me without checking your facts. So why not just ask the actual question?” Shona replied.

“I need to take office duty next week. I’m on the list, but not until next term. Will you trade with me?”

Shona gave her an appraising look. “Do tell me, because I’m very interested to know, why on earth would I want to do that? Why do you need to take office duty?”

Anna paused. A lie would not work, Shona was the master of schemes, manipulations and untruths, she could spot a lie a mile off. A lie, no matter how elaborate, would not convince her. But the truth would be worse, it would certainly convince her, but it would give her plenty of ammunition to rip Terri to shreds. Shona already had plenty of that, but anything new would make her day.

Anna sighed. It would have to be the truth. “I need a break from Terri. She’s driving me crazy. I’d really rather it was this week, but you’re the only person I know on the list before it’s my turn. So will you switch with me?”

Shona smiled widely, showing beautiful pearly white teeth. “Of course, my dear sister. Anything to help you.”


Terri glanced around the cafeteria. Fulton was sitting with the Ducks, Anna was—sitting with Shona? What was going on there? Since when did Anna deliberately spend time with her sister? She supposed it began around the same time that she and Anna started fighting. Despite their very obvious differences, the two had never fought before coming to Eden Hall. They would disagree often, but they managed to get around that with good-natured teasing and discussion, rather than vicious insults and raised voices.

She and Anna had not managed to patch up their most recent argument; before there had been half-hearted apologies, or at least the standard excuse of PMS brought forth, but this time there had been nothing. No further fights, no mention of the last one, no apologies, it was as if it hadn’t happened.

She had hoped to corner Anna at lunch and have a quick word, the public setting would keep both their tempers in check and force them to be polite. That was, if Anna could be forced to discuss it, it was entirely possible that she would just leave, citing an excuse about needing to go to the library again.

Not that it mattered, because Anna was sitting with Shona, and what was worse, they seemed to be getting along just fine, smiling at each other, no hint of the usual animosity. Despite that, there was no way in hell Terri was going to join them. Shona would have a field day if she knew that Anna and Terri were not getting along. She’d find the reason (for Shona was far better at that than Terri, and would actually succeed), and then magnify it, she’d find an angle to keep the two of them far apart, and then drive a wedge between them. Or at least, make the existing wedge a heck of a lot bigger. And she’d do it for fun. Simply because she could.

Her situation with Anna would just have to wait for its resolve.

Terri caught sight of Linda sitting alone and made her way towards her. Linda looked a little downcast. There’s a lot of that going around, love, better get used to it, she thought as she put her tray down next to Linda’s. “Hey, dudette. What’s happening?”

Linda sighed and pushed her plate away. “I don’t think Charlie likes me.”

Terri’s insides clenched up again. By this point, she would certainly call Linda a friend, and this was not a conversation she wanted to have with her friend. It would involve lying. Maybe she didn’t know the truth about Charlie, but she had a fair idea, an educated guess at least, and pretending that she didn’t wasn’t something she was proud of.

“I’m sure he does.” Terri said lamely.

“Really? Because I spend more time with him than you do, and I’m not sure at all.”

Terri looked down at the table. “You’re right, I don’t know him. But I know you, and I like spending time with you, so I can’t understand why anyone else wouldn’t. He asked you out, he’s been the one pursuing you all this time. I can’t imagine why anyone would do that if they didn’t really want to.” At least, not without laying out some ground rules first, she mentally added.

She hoped Charlie was going to get his act together soon, it didn’t matter whether he liked guys or girls, if he kept on this way, Linda was going to end up with a bruised and battered, maybe even broken, heart.

“I just don’t get why it can’t be easy. I wish we were like you and Fulton.”

“Oh, you don’t want to be like us.” Terri replied without thinking.

“What’s wrong with you guys then?” Linda looked interested, hopeful even.

Terri had no idea what to say. She knew Linda wanted to hear that she and Fulton weren’t perfect either, but she didn’t have any problems with Fulton, except that he wasn’t the person she was in love with. She shook her head finally, “It’s complicated.”

Linda was still looking imploringly at her, and Terri felt obligated to say something else. “I think we lie too much.” She glanced around the cafeteria, looking at Anna and Shona in their intense conversation, Fulton sitting with the Ducks, not seeming to be interested in anything anyone was saying. “Everyone does though, don’t they? I expect we’ll all get found out some day.”


Portman had the red paint, Fulton had white. Monday’s punishment was to repaint the jumps on the outdoor equestrian school—the indoor ones were being used at the moment, but they would have to get them finished by the end of the week.

“Sorry about this.” Fulton said.

“It’s not so bad, it’s the mucking out the horses I’m not looking forward to.” Portman replied, prising the lid of his paint can.

“Well, try and get out of it. I’ll do your share.” Fulton started painting the bars, while Portman worked on the wings of the jump. “I’m really sorry, it’s just that Terri and Linda need a distraction, and what’s more distracting than us?”

Portman smiled at him. “You know what bugs me? The fact that you—and by you, I do mean all of the Ducks—beat yourselves up over the smallest of things, yet you’re completely clueless about the really bad things you do.”

Fulton didn’t look at him, but he did reply, then again, Portman had expected him to. He wasn’t like Charlie who just stuck his head in the ground and ignored the bad things.

“What’ve I done that’s so wrong?”

Portman sloshed some paint on the wing, it ran downwards and trickled over the metal bit that held the bar in place, he thought the Cowboy had told him the metal thing was called a cup. Not that Dwayne had a habit of talking about insignificant things, but last week the Ducks had been recounting their worst injuries, and Dwayne, having no stories about grave injury of his own, had told them about the time his friend, Will, from the equestrian department, nearly broke his back. Will had been practicing show jumping in the indoor arena a couple of weeks ago. Apparently a plastic carrier bag had blown into the arena just as he had been approaching a jump. The bag flew straight in front of the horse’s eyes and it refused. Will, who had been completely unprepared for a refusal, had shot over the horse’s head, and landed on the wing of the jump, the metal cup digging into the small of his back. He passed out and was carried off in an ambulance. Dwayne had finished the tale saying that he would have preferred to have been Will at the time, because watching Will fall was pretty much the scariest thing he had seen.

Portman realised that his mind had wandered, probably deliberately, because there was no way he could tell Fulton that what was really bothering him was Charlie’s treatment of Adam.

“You mean Adam, don’t you?” Fulton said with a sigh, neatly painting his bar with none of the haphazard disregard Portman was showing. “You know, I think about how we were to him then, and now when I look back, I wonder why I never stopped to think about Adam. I also think it’s easier for you to be objective because you weren’t there at the time.”

“The way I hear it, Charlie launched a vendetta against Adam and everyone followed unquestioningly until Charlie quit. Except you, who followed even after—because you walked out too.” Portman realised that their roles had been reversed. Now he was venting to Fulton about life, instead of the other way around.

Fulton didn’t look up from his painting. “You’re not wrong.”

He expected Fulton to continue, to say something in defence of Charlie, but there was nothing to follow.

“Are you ok, man?” Portman asked at length.

“About as good as I get.”

“That’s not really an answer.” There was a long pause of silence. “But I guess that’s as much as I’m getting. We’re friends, Fult. Why won’t you talk to me?”

Fulton glanced over his shoulder at Portman, then returned his attention to his painting. “I just can’t, not to anyone.”

Portman sighed. “Well, if you change your mind, my door is always open. Or I could make a great Rocket Queen reference here.”

Fulton turned and smiled at him. “Maybe at some point.” He said eventually.


“Yeah, kid, I remember the fire.”

Russ leaned forward, too eager to try to appear nonchalant. “You do? Can you tell me what happened?”

George Wile, editor of the Star Tribune, was tilted back in his chair already; after a second, he kicked his feet up on the desk, folded his hands across his stomach, and shrugged. “Sure, why not. What do you want to know?”

“Everything. How did it happen? Why wasn’t there an investigation?”

Mr Wile shrugged again. “They investigated, didn’t find anything, called it an accident. End of story.”

“But that can’t be it!” Russ slammed the tip of his pen against his notebook. “It’s just too easy, people stealing tools and the opposition from the school about the stables and then a big fire? I don’t believe in coincidences.”

“Official report, kid, was it was an accident.”

Russ groaned and slumped in his chair. It had taken days, and dozens of phone calls before he convinced Mr Wile to talk to him about a school project on journalism. It had been a little white lie, almost a technical truth. He was starting to care about it a lot more than he’d expected though. He loved a good mystery.

Then he sat up straight.

“So what was the unofficial report?”

Mr Wile grinned, dropped his feet to the ground, and leaned forward, his arms on his desk. “Good for you—what’d you say your name was?”

“Russ Tyler, sir.”

“Don’t sir me, I’m not that old. Why do you think the unofficial report would be different?”

“It has to be, there was vandalism and theft, and a prize horse trapped in the barn—it just doesn’t add up.”

“You’ve done your homework.” He narrowed his eyes. “Why are you so interested in all this? Trying to settle an old score?”

“What?”

Another shrug. Russ was getting tired of everyone using their shoulders to express themselves. They could speak, they needed to use their damn words. When he didn’t say anything, Russ sighed.

“Look, a friend of mine heard about Finito and just asked a few questions. No one would talk about him, and it made me curious. I love mysteries, but I like solving them even more. Can you help me or not?”

“I started at this paper when I was eight, working as a paper boy. I worked hard to get here.” He grabbed his coffee cup, swirled the liquid inside, made a face, and set it back down.

“I’m sure you did, s—Mr Wile. That’s why I came here for your help.”

“Okay, kid. Listen up, I’m only going to say this once.”

He was quiet for a second, let Russ scramble to get his notebook ready.

“I was a cub reporter back when Eden Hall announced they were hiring an ex-trainer to build their equestrian program. I got the catch-all assignments, anything anyone else didn’t want to do. One of those things was the social pages, including Eden Hall.

“I started looking for interviews when the tools disappeared. None of the administrators wanted to talk to me, but the builders, they were a different story. Some of them received threats, you know, phone calls at night, notes that would then vanish, nothing to show the police.

“I didn’t know what the big deal was, the unofficial official statement was it was about money for the different programs, but that didn’t sound right to me. Just a feeling I had. So I kept digging, and that’s where the trainer, Mr Tonga, came in. He had this scholarship idea, you see, and back then scholarships just weren’t done, especially not like he wanted.”

He stopped, frowned at Russ.

“What did he want?”

“Look, it was a different time, kid, just keep that in mind. This next part isn’t so nice. Tonga wanted to bring in this student he’d worked with at his last stable, the boy worked as a stable hand after public school let out, and Tonga thought he was a good rider, too good to waste mucking out stalls. I don’t know why it was such a big deal for him, but one of the things in Tonga’s contract was he got to give out one scholarship a year.”

“What’s the problem? The whole JV hockey team’s there on a scholarship right now.”

“Like I said, different time. Before they started the new stables, Tonga told the board of directors about the kid, and things all went to hell. Not only was he poor, way too poor for private school—he was black. And the rich white parents hated it, and threatened to pull their contributions. No one was happy, but Tonga insisted, he brought in the kid, along with a horse they’d been training together, and—”

“And then they burned the barn.”

“You got it.”

Russ tried to swallow, his mouth was cotton, his breath rasped in his throat. Deep inside, his stomach twisted, and then began to burn. He was mad, first, and then deeply, completely furious.

No wonder they wanted a cover up. No wonder he got dirty looks. No wonder he was one of only a handful of non-white students.

He snapped his notebook closed. The mystery wasn’t solved yet, he didn’t care what happened, now he wanted to know who. He was gonna bring them down, and he knew just who would help.


On Tuesday there was another public announcement over the intercom.

“The school administration have decided to discount all nominations for fictional characters, despite an overwhelming number of nominations for Homer Simpson for Homecoming King.”


On Thursday the next part of the Great Plan went into action. This was the riskiest part of the plan, and the place it was most likely to fail. However, Terri had talked Anna into playing this part. Anna had “borrowed” Shona’s spare cheerleading uniform, changed her hair and affected her sister’s way of talking. She managed to successfully intercept Cheryl, the girl on office duty that week, and swap Linda and Terri’s new and improved ballot papers with the originals that Cheryl was about to distribute among the classrooms, under the pretence that she was Shona. After all, who would suspect the captain of the JV Cheerleaders of foul play?


Friday lunchtime brought about an announcement. “The Homecoming King and Queen this year will be Xander Harris and Willow Rosenburg.”


Half an hour later, there was another announcement.

“Theresa McDonald and Linda Chavez are to report to Dean Buckley’s office immediately.”

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