Narrator: Cameron Jr. Archvale
"--and then she hands me my late slip without even answering my question."
"Hmm..." said Evelyn as she fiddled with her digital camera's settings. "That's unfortunate."
I gave Evelyn a puzzled look from across the lunch table, where I sat beside Vidal, my bag. We named my bassoon 'Vidal' some time ago, as a play-on-words about the salon brand-name Vidal Sassoon. It was a silly little inside-joke.
"How is that unfortunate, Ev?" asked Christina. "It means there's no reason for rocks to be thrown at the school, and that everything The Rogue has said about our friends is untrue. But you'd already known this, if you had bothered to come to the party."
"Joshua didn't invite me," she said with resounding apathy.
"Oh?" I was surprised. "Did he not want photos taken or something?"
She laughed awkwardly. "No, Joshua and I... we're just not good together, that's all. CJ, be a darling and hand me that story you and Chrisi are writing."
"Why the sudden interest in our collaboration?" asked Christina.
"Mmm... no reason."
"Well," I said, "if it's my turn to write a chapter, I have to pass today. I've got to write a reply to... a... umm... erm...--"
"Spit it out, or I'll do the heimlich!" said Evelyn.
Christina smiled, "Somebody got an anonymous looove letter."
"Oooh," said Evelyn, perking up over her twelve-grain bread vegetarian sandwich. "Do share."
I pulled it out of my binder, and passed it to Christina as she passed our story over to Evelyn. Then I looked up, and caught sight of someone in black at the end of one of the tables, sitting all alone. "Excuse me, I need to go grab Frith's attention."
"Who?" asked Evelyn, as Christina began to read aloud from the message.
I was thankful that they had already asked me about Crystal on the weekend, over MSN Messenger. I didn't want to discuss such things, especially in person. However, talking to them was easier than talking to Joshua. And then again, I did have an easy time teasing Brent with minor details...
Black hooded figure, slumped over a binder. Corner of my eye.
"One second, I think I see someone I want to introduce you all to," I said as I got up to walk away. One table down and three to the right, at the southwest corner of the cafeteria, I saw Frith.
"Frith?" I tried to get Frith's attention, as I moved into the nearby seat.
The black hood came down, and a broader face that wasn't quite Frith's stared back at me. He must have been wearing special contact lenses, because his eyes were all blank, like polished obsidian. Furthermore, the guy's hair was spiked. His head was a porcupine in the rain at midnight. Even his goatee bristled like a miniature of his head. His sideburns were spiked out over his ears in a curiously draconian way. And then for contrast, he smiled at me with pearly white teeth. They were the only thing paler than his skin.
I was gaping. This guy had style, and I was jealous behind my two stray strands of blond.
"Lookin' for Frith? Alas, not here yet, dude," his voice was calm, reassuring and deep. It put my tension at ease.
"Oh," I exclaimed, not sure how I could have been shocked any more than I already had been. "Someone who knows Frith. That's... different."
"Came out o' the same womb at the same time," this guy said casually, "and I don't even - truly know - Frith." Those words were spoken without disdain, just mild amusement. "I know my twin as well as you know the back of a stranger's hand. What I can tell you, though, is that she'll be here at any moment."
I stuck out my hand for a shake, "CJ."
He took my hand, and then pulled me into a half-hug with incredible strength. "Jankin Gryms, but you can call me Jack if you fancy it."
He quickly let go of me, but I had already felt the body of steel he hid beneath that baggy black sweater. That, and the intriguing way he spoke, gave me the urge to befriend him. If things were going to get any worse, I might need a powerful friend at my side. "My friends and I have been hanging out with Frith a bit today. Would you mind joining us as well?"
"What've I got to gain?" he asked with a crooked grin.
I pretended to look thoughtful for a moment, "Are pretty ladies your kind of thing?"
His smile gained symmetry, and his voice remained gentle, "Not if they're only pretty on the outside."
"Good call," I said, and turned my back with the expectation that I had caught the shark in my social net. And as I pulled back my chair, he took the one beside me.
Evelyn looked up with an intriguing look. Then, she nudged Christina.
Christina, however, looked up as if she'd seen a ghost. And that look of horror hung there in silence for a moment, before fading into a very warm smile which I assume his own had elicited.
Evelyn rolled her eye for a moment, and then leaned in closer to me and whispered, "This isn't Frith, is he? Leslie told me enough to know better."
"Frith is my fraternal twin," he said.
I closed my eyes and smiled with open chagrin. "I don't know how I could have possibly mistaken you for Frith."
Christina hysterically laughed at that for a moment. "He's definitely not effeminate in the least bit..."
A chair was pulled out next to Christina, as she nervously ran a hand through her curled dark brown hair.
"We were just talking about you, Frith," I said.
Christina looked beside her in surprise, as Lucas took his usual seat beside her.
Immediately, he blushed as red as his wavy hair, as if he'd done something wrong. Then he looked up at the broad-shouldered guy beside me. His mouth was quick to move, too quick, "Who's this?"
"Straight," I said, locking eyes briefly with Christina.
"Damn, yet another," said Lucas as he took out his lunch. I had no idea who else he was referring to. Then he looked optimistically down at the far end of the table where I was in the corner next to Vidal. "Or is 'Straight' just his name?"
"Eee... w-well, Lucas, we were just gettin' to that part, eh?" said Evelyn with her thick small-town northern Ontario accent.
"Jankin Gryms," he began.
I interjected, "But you can call him Jack if you fancy it."
"Is that some kind of innuendo?" asked Lucas, suspecting that we were toying with him.
"No," both Jack and I said at once.
"Your assumption is correct, CJ, though you neglected the possibility that I might swing as many ways as Frith does."
Evelyn extended her hand palm down, "Name's Evelyn... Evelynn Crandell."
Jack smiled downwardly, eyebrows arched, as he brought his face down to kiss Evelyn's hand chivalrously and without a word.
That was precisely the moment when we all heard someone's foot squeal against the tile floor and then jab into the side of Evelyn's upper calf.
Christina smiled, passed Lucas my love letter, and then extended her hand for Jankin to shake.
He took it delicately in one hand, and turned it to face down. And then he bent down to kiss it.
"Chrisi, short for Christina."
Immediately, Evelyn's camera flashed.
"The pleasure is all..." he paused, "mutual," he finally said after a thoughtful moment of deliberation. Clearly, he was too smooth for clichés, and skirted above them.
"Making friendly with the friendlies, Jankin?" asked Frith, leaning over my shoulder. "Hello, strangers... and CJ and... oh, hello anonymous love letter!"
I drew my hand to my forehead and laughed awkwardly. Then, as Evelyn, Christina and Lucas introduced themselves, I remembered something: "Brent told me to tell you that he says 'hi'."
"Oh, is that so? I wonder why..." Frith said in a whimsical voice, parting the short curtains of black hair so as to see everyone clearly.
"'Cause he wants into your pants," muttered Evelyn, almost inaudibly.
"Is this everyone?" Frith asked, shoving a seat against the table between Jankin and I, thus causing him to shuffle down.
"No," I said, shaking my head. "The others are still in the caf line-up." Bastien. "Juliet and her fries. Edward in toe."
Lucas passed the letter to Jankin, so that it was everybody's business. I was not surprised.
Evelyn handed me the papers of the story Christina and I were writing, and said nothing about them. That was peculiar behaviour, for someone like her who loved to critique everything. "Lucas, have you seen what Bastien's wearing today?"
"Umm... no. Haven't seen Bass all day. Why do you ask?"
She smiled, and nearly rolled her eyes. "Oh... no reason."
Christina was mouthing words at me, and gesturously swinging one hand like a door.
I didn't understand any of it. I just continued to peel my banana part way, as I read, upside down, the words 'Christina Grims' on Evelyn's notebook.
Then, I realized that Frith was watching me with merciless intensity. But I just continued doing what I was doing. Took a bite of banana and chewed, then swallowed. And another. And then another.
By the time I was peeling it down even more, Frith spoke, "There's something very funny about the way you eat a banana, CJ. Heh heh."
"You see, that's precisely the kind of thing someone like you shouldn't say!" I cried out.
"What do you mean, someone like me?"
"Someone who keeps it a complete secret whether they're a guy or a girl!" I exclaimed, wrongfully assuming that she was playing dumb.
Jack began to chuckle incessantly, soft and deep.
Frith tilted their head really far to one side. "I honestly don't know why it matters to someone as open-minded as you seem to be."
"Oh?" I took the bait.
"Well, if I've profiled you accurately, you barely give a damn what a person looks like, so much as you care about your emotional, romantic and intellectual attraction to them. And against instinct, I bet you don't care if any children you raise are biologically your own. Therefore, why do you care if Crystal, or me, or the author of that love letter is male or female?"
It seemed as if all the other conversations at the table had come to a halt, and all eyes were on us.
"Not that my observation," Frith added, "was necessarily meant as sexual innuendo. Because if it were, that would suggest that I am male."
"These are the moments I like best," said Evelyn, "when this table manages to be more entertaining than my yaoi mangas."
I glared at Evelyn. "I am so glad that you weren't at the party."
"What, did Kieth hit on you?"
"He sure did," said Christina.
"Yeah," I said in annoyance. "Greg too. I'm almost tempted to cut my hair. Oh, and Jason."
"Hey," said Christina, "you led Kieth on."
"You misread me, my dear."
"Who's Jason?" Lucas asked.
"Errr... the twink who lives across the hall from Crystal's. Tried to seduce me, and in doing so made the mistake of admitting that, as I suspected, he had done so successfully to Greg. Or so he claims. That's still up in the air, but for good measure I kneed him in the groin."
"CJ..." said Evelyn.
"Was he hot?" Lucas butted in.
"I don't know," I said. "I guess he was, by your criteria. Obnoxiously effeminate, though. But I advise you to stay away from that cuckolding scumbag."
"Well, sounds like he's into the kind of relationship I'm not after," Lucas put in defensively. "The kind without innocence, romance or... abstinence."
"It's nice to know that relationships orchestrated by men can be that way," I told him.
Lucas rolled his eyes, "Maybe it's the reason I'm not in any relationship."
"Keepin' that insight to yourself, Evelyn?" Jack asked, making his very subtle English accent recognizable for the first time. That explained the interesting difference in Frith's voice as well... at least, partially.
"Have patience," said Christina, before spooning another mouthful of pasta and tomato soup into her mouth.
"If Jason lives across the hall from Crystal, is he roommates with Bass's older brother? Do you think kicking Jason in the nuts might have... precipitated today's circumstances?"
"I have no idea," and I'd rather not think about it. "Let's ask Bass when he gets here."
Just then, Jankin shed his hoody, which zippered down at the front. All he wore underneath was a tight, sleeveless, black shirt. Not a second later, he was the focal point of everyone.
"Vanity, thy name is brother;" Frith said in an overly pretentious and critical tone, as the first of Jack's muscles flexed. I could tell it was an ironic reference to the line in Hamlet, 'Frailty, thy name is woman;'
"Chauvinism, thy name is Hamlet;" I said.
Frith laughed, a beautiful and androgynous laugh somewhere between a chuckle and a giggle. That kept my thoughts from straying towards Ophelia... and thus to Crystal by extension.