Narrator: Cameron Jr. Archvale
I carefully disassembled every glistening piece, and blew the condensation out of the bocal. Every piece of my bassoon fit neatly into the fabric-covered spaces in the foam padding of my case. Each piece had its own place, and its own soft protection.
Whenever I was disassembled, this was something I lacked. And I could tell that there was a storm brewing, and that I would soon fall apart around the edges as I suffered its wrath.
In the calm eye of the storm, I knew there was someone standing calmly with every cloud at their command. They wanted to hurt me, and my friends. That was clear. All these lies, these rogue lies, had been spun by more than just faulty word of mouth. I knew it, in my gut. Every logical projection I could make pointed towards an intelligent orchestrator behind this, calling out a hit on us.
I had enemies: shallow and simple-minded bullies, for the most part. Most of them had long since given up antagonizing me. Only the occasional slanderous rumour about me would pass from one school to the next until it made its way here. And this was a place where rumours of such a nature bounced off my reputation without leaving a dent.
The Rogue had spun falsehoods of a greater variety. They resonated dramatically with the community, the expectations of seniors and in my case a preacher's kid, and they were all within the realm of plausibility.
Jolene was even mentioned. And that situation, had my Dad been a clergyman in almost any other denomination of the Christian faith, would have cost him his job.
If someone could prove it, if they were to frame me, I could go to jail, couldn't I? Date-rape was a crime. No wonder rocks the size of a person's head were being hurled at the school.
I shut the case, and slid it into the back of my bag, followed by my binder, my lunch and my music folder to fill it up around the edges.
How many small-minded lemmings have I passed today, that have looked or pointed at this bag and suggested in thought or voice that Crystal's gutted and raped body was filling it up?
The picture that formed in my mind sent a shiver down my spine. I knew I would never do such a thing, especially to someone like Crystal. However, I had long since learned of and become accustomed to the sinister nature of the lies that follow my footsteps through the halls.
I opened the door to leave the music room, and saw Brent across the hall, leaning back against a cluster of lockers. His eyes caught mine, and he was soon at my side.
Never before has he gone out of his way to be around me. Why the unfortunate difference now? I wondered. "Walk with me. Not all of us have a spare or a lunch or a class we can bear to skip right now."
"First of all," he spoke sternly over my left shoulder. "I need a word defined."
That was unlike anything I had expected him to say, as he stepped on the back of my heels. "Very well. Which word?"
"Polyamory," he said carefully, as if it was the formula for a highly combustible chemical.
For a moment, I stopped to consider the simplest way I could explain the concept to him. And for a brief moment, I weighed the amusing possibility of lying to him. "If you or Leslie were to give the other permission to see someone else in addition to each other, that would make your relationship polyamorous."
"Permission," he repeated under his breath as he stepped upon the heel of my right sneaker.
"Where'd it come up?" I asked, for the long-lost cause of being friendly. I knew better than to think it had come up in any of the courses he was taking.
"Nowhere," he said.
I knew that that lie was a cue to change the subject. And in the brief gap in the crowd, my nose caught a scent I wish I hadn't smelled. Once again, just like at the party, Brent smelled permeatingly of male ejaculate.
As I looked over my shoulder, he seemed thoughtful and grim.
"I take it that isn't the only reason why you're stepping on my heels?" I asked.
"No, it isn't, CJ."
"Then do what do I owe your presence to? I don't pimp out essays. And you know I'm not interested in buying the piercings you sell, as pretty as they may be. Same goes for any bootleg pornography. But if you want a tutor, then I expect money," I said as I kept pushing my way through the labyrinth of flowing bodies that filled the hall.
For a while, he didn't answer me. I almost thought he had left, or drowned in the current. And that was when he spoke, "There is no English assignment, is there?"
I chuckled to myself. "Would it make a difference if there was? A girl needs her friends at a time like this. Not that she doesn't need you as well."
"Are you... a friend?" he asked with contempt.
"Of hers? Yes. Heh, at least, in my mind." I wasn't afraid of him. I had a secure weight on my back that I wasn't afraid to use, even if I fell down in the process.
"Is that all you are?" Though I could not see his face, his voice was sneering.
"That's all I want to be," I told him. "After all, I believe in monogamy."
I snorted at how poetic it was that he wasn't familiar with that word. Then I explained, "An exclusive relationship between two people. No affairs, cheating, swinging, mistresses or cuckolding. And no polyamory. Not that I think it's a bad practice or anything. Just not for me."
"How the heck is that relevant?" he asked.
I was surprised to hear a word like 'relevant' come out of his mouth. Must've read the word 'revenant' in Warcraft. I cleared my throat, as I pushed open the door to walk into the south building via the outdoors since the ramp was still off limits. "It's relevant, because I'm not single."
"Hmph. How so?"
"Crystal," I said, though I wasn't sure if that relationship was still intact. And furthermore, I had the anonymous love letter tucked in the front of my binder.
"Yeah, you and me both," he said with an edge of sarcasm.
"Oh, I heard about that. So, next time you call anyone other than yourself 'small dick' or anything along those lines, I won't hesitate to tell everyone what she told me." And as I pulled open the door that lead inside, I got a view of just how flushed his face had become, in the reflection on the glass.
"You wouldn't dare..."
"I won't dare if you don't dare."
"So it's true?"
I frowned. "So what's true?"
"You and Crystal hooked up."
"Err... what do you mean by 'hooked up'?" I asked for clarity's sake, even though I was pretty darn sure he was alluding to sex.
He followed me down the stairs, "Sex, CJ."
"I didn't date-rape her, if that's what you're asking. I'm a preacher's kid. I don't even drink. The only drugs I do are the ones my doctor tells me to do. And besides, I was the one wearing the handcuffs." And so I turned to examine the look on his face.
It was envious and disbelieving.
I did not bother to give a sly grin. I just looked at him, to see if he was done talking to me. After all, when I came from the opposite end of the school with a bassoon to pack up, the teachers let me be a little late if I needed to be.
"So none of it is true?" he queried.
"Well, I heard the first version they put up said some pretty accurate things about Kieth's behaviour. But other than that, no. None of it is true. We both know you didn't spike the punch."
"Joshua Penningway to the Guidance Office, Joshua Penningway to the Guidance Office."
We both looked up at the PA system with a look of horror.
"How on earth do they justify interrogating us about a private party, off school grounds?"
Brent looked at me sourly, "We're next, CJ. And the school has a police officer on staff. So tell me... did Leslie get stoned in the bathroom? And why was Crystal trying to distract me?"
Holy shit. How much was in the original version of The Rogue's article? I lied a half-truth, "I asked Crystal to distract you, so that you wouldn't learn that Leslie was into pot."
He smiled at me, either because he had enjoyed the distraction or because he was glad I seemed to have had good intentions. "Do you know anything about a ring?"
I shook my head. "Nope."
"Were you getting stoned?"
I laughed at that, I couldn't help it. "I'm not the one you should be worried about, Brent."
His eyes widened. "So there is someone!"
I shrugged. "If and when I'm called down, I'm going to clear up our reputations, because they are at stake. Anything else, any personal details of me or anyone else that aren't relevant, aren't going to be mentioned."
"How are you going to clear things up for yourself, CJ? You can't, not without lying. No matter what you say, you went to her dorm room, didn't you? That explains why I got a phone call from Henry Barlow yesterday, wanting to call in a favour."
"Who's Henry Barlow?"
"The older brother of the twins, Bastien & Byron Barlow."
"I sit with Bass at lunch, and Byron is in my English class. Always has his eyes on Leslie like she's some kind of cupcake, as if her pink hair is frosting," I said, without exaggerating, in hopes of distracting him from the threat known as 'Adam'.
His eyes narrowed suspiciously, "One of them was at the party."
"Which one?" I asked. Oh, how lucky...
"I dunno. Maybe Leslie will remember," he said, with a hint of dread in his voice. "Leslie said that Byron is the only one with marks as high as her in English class."
"Well, I did outperform her once, but the moon was rather blue."
"Huh?" he said.
"Nevermind. Provebial phrase. Umm... is that everything?" I asked, knowing the bell was going to ring at any second, and I was one hall from my class because I'd let him stall me.
"On your lunch, CJ, you'll see Frith?"
"Tell her I said hi."
I raised my eyebrows, "Her?"
Brent made a curious gesture. First, he tilted his head to one side. Then, his face contorted in shock. Not a moment later, he was running off, cursing under his breath.
I had no idea what to make of it. All in all, his behaviour had been quite peculiar today. It seemed to be getting stranger by the moment. This morning, he had seemed stressed. And now he was as disturbed as a cat in a puppy mill.
Maybe I was not the one who was falling apart.
But the presence of a police officer scared me. I was used to dealing with staff, especially about gossip. They knew I never hurt more than a fly. Was this the long arm of the law reaching out too far? Or was this the even longer arm of the maw, word of mouth that would have us mauled?
I ran into the nearest bathroom, just as the bell rang. I didn't want to be walking into class just after Joshua was called down to the office, knowing that I might join him at any minute.
If Joshua sticks to Crystal's lie that Brent spiked the punch, and Brent found out, he would likely react by telling them a lie: that I had put a pill in Crystal's drink. And no matter what didn't happen, I left that night in her red porsche.
Which story will Joshua stick to about where I was that night? Downstairs in his guest room, or wherever Crystal's car presumably took me? Would he mention my father's visit? No, that would involve explaining Kieth & Greg, which was another stain on the canvas. Damn.