“Hey, Quentin!” Sally called out, the next day, in the school hallway. “How are you?”
“Fine,” he replied warmly, flashing his heart-throbbing smile. “You wanted to talk about tomorrow?”
“Don't worry, I told all the boys, we're all gonna keep an eye on Cass during the game. So, just go out there and do your best!”
“Thanks, Quentin... I owe you one...”
“Don't mention it... you know, to be honest I felt indebted to you, about what happened with Tommy.”
“But it wasn't your fault at all...”
“I know, but Tommy's a friend, you see, and to see how he acted with you... well, it made me feel bad.”
“Quentin, you'll never have to feel bad about how other people are, you're a great guy and it's all that matters. Again, thank you.”
She had butterflies in her stomach when she left him, but her happiness was cut short when she arrived at her locker and opened it. She yelled in terror and stood paralyzed: a message had been spray-painted inside her locker, in a red paint she first mistook for blood: DON'T FOLLOW ME.
“Counseling,” a voice as cutting as a blade said behind her. “Bet this was your idea, Yuppie?”
She turned round to face Cass, trying to shift her attention away from the message. Too many things were happening right now! Okay, calm down, after all she's not gonna kill you in this crowded hallway. “Em, what are you talking about?”
“Just got out of the headmaster's office. Apparently someone told them about my... violence issues, and I got three hours of counseling a week. So I guess I should thank you?”
“Em, well, uh...”
“No, save your breath, I know it's you. And don't worry, I won't kill you just yet. But watch your back, Yuppie, you want war, you'll get war.”
After lunch, she met Billy in the chemistry room, as usual. The boy wasn't looking at her, and he seemed in a somber mood.
“Billy? Are you okay?” No answer. “You still feel bad about what happened last time? Billy, it wasn't your fault...”
“She was holding you down and threatening you, and I couldn't do anything.”
“But that's okay, I never asked you to be my bodyguard. What I need is a friend.”
“I told you I couldn't protect you. What good could I be?”
“Support me! Help me, advise me, that's all I need! Listen... I know you won't like it, but I did it. I went to the Projects last night...” She told him everything about her encounter, and then she showed him her locker with the message. The boy was astonished.
“This is getting real creepy,” he said. “At least now it's clear, he doesn't want you to follow him around. Sal, I think you should stop, now. I have a feeling all of this is not going to end well.”
“Actually,” she replied, “what buggers me the most is not the message... it's how he managed to paint it here.”
“What do you mean?”
“Should be obvious. He knew in which school I was, where my locker was... there's only one explanation: it's someone from the school.”
They turned around to behold the hallway, with all the students walking by, going to their respective classes, talking to their respective friends, and realized the task was near impossible: the vigilante could be anyone, that guy over there, or this one over there, there was not a clue as to who it could really be. Or maybe there was, Sally thought. He had to be strong. Tommy DaSilva was strong, but with his self-centered attitude, she could hardly see him as a hero. Quentin was a better pick, he was genuinely kind and selfless, always willing to help... or maybe she was looking in the wrong direction. What if he was a woman, for instance? How about Miss Kraczinski? She had always showed a real concern for her students, like when she talked to Sally the day before, and a strong disgust for injustice. Or maybe it was someone she didn't know at all, she couldn't know all the students and teachers, after all. But no matter which way she looked at it, there was one idea that always came back to her: Billy. It seemed ridiculous at first, but the more she thought about it, the more likely it seemed. He could very well be just pretending to be weak, after all. That was even the best possible disguise! His dad was a cop, so he might know things about the criminal world. And if he didn't want to come with her in the Projects to find the vigilante... what if it was because he was the vigilante? He knew her locker, he might have found the code to open it and paint the message... and if he was so reluctant in pursuing the investigation, it was... to protect his identity?
“What's wrong?” he asked as he noticed she was staring at him like he was a ghost or something.
“Nothing!” she said hastily. “Nothing...”