The hallway ending with the double door main entrance to the cafeteria was empty as Tara Munson and Tim Collins walked towards the noise filled large room. Tara noticed Tim adjusting his jacket then quickly intertwined their arms before taking hold of his hand. She could tell he still wasn’t comfortable with what they were about to do and expected him to raise an objection once again. But with the cafeteria so close, Tara knew she would win the argument once again.
“Are you sure?” Tim started, “Really sure we should do this in public? Wouldn’t after school be better to do this?”
With a turning of her body and slight tilt of her head Tara looked into Tim’s rectangular face; bringing her free hand up she ran it through his dark blond hair. “We’ve been lying to them for over nine months, during Christmas Break we almost got caught several times. It’s just time and now is perfect.”
“Now that voting for King and Queen of Hearts ended 15 minutes ago.”
Tara checked her frustration, “I wasn’t the one who figured out how to rig it and besides doing this separately after school in private doesn’t mean people won’t know about it tomorrow. Remember what Coach Rowe says, ‘Ripping the band aide will hurt for a second, better to do it sooner than agonize to do it later.’”
Turning his green eyes away from her, Tim grimaced then sighed to concede. Tara led the way as they walked to the opened double doors of the cafeteria holding hands with arms entwined. Other students exited through the doors with food and some stopped upon seeing the two of them approach. A pudgy girl with short saggy blond hair came out of the cafeteria stuffing food into her mouth just as they reached the doors; she avoided looking at them as she headed down the intersecting hallway leaving the double doors open for their entrance.
The cafeteria was abuzz with plans for the Valentine Day Banquet in just a few days; Tara hadn’t expected the room to fall silent at their arrival but was rewarded by seeing several faces start to turn in their direction as they headed down the center aisle. Tara gained a little piece of satisfaction by seeing Alexia stop talking to give them a questioning look as they passed.
The table where Paul and Katie were sitting quickly drew closer. The first to spot them was Paul and with his attention turned towards them Katie turned to look. Spotting the muscles in Paul’s face changing Tara could tell that he knew something was up, but Katie’s doe-eyed expression meant she was in for a shock. Tim surprised her by breaking quickly developing chill in the air. “Paul, do you mind letting have your seat for a few minutes?”
Tim remained calm as Paul stared at him for longer than he had expected, finally Paul nodded while pushing his chair back. After watching Tara motion Paul off to the side, Tim turned his attention to Katie. Looking into her black eyes as he was sitting down, Tim felt his stomach jump. Suppressing his nerves like he did upon stepping into the batter’s box, he met Katie’s eyes and took a breath.
“I was bouncing around ideas about what the four of us can do Sunday with Paul,” Katie said preempting him.
For a moment Tim’s stomach jumped but an instant later he had regained control. “There won’t be a four of us on Sunday,” his voice’s sharp tone surprised him as well as Katie. “It’ll just be Tara and me going to the banquet together.”
A prolonged silenced lasted an eternity while Katie absorbed what he had said. “You’re breaking up with me?”
“I’m pretty sure that’s what was implied, but for your benefit I’ll make it clearer. Katie I’m breaking up with you, I’ve wanted to since before Fall Break.” He said the last sentence louder than he intended, but he continued keeping his nerves at bay.
“But,” she stammered.
Tim cut in, “Just return the dress and get your money back, it’s not like you’ve worn it yet. You can at least be grateful that I’m saving you some money. I’m just happy I don’t have to spend any more time with you!” He hadn’t realized how loud he had been nor that he was standing until a multitude of turned heads behind Katie’s shocked and hurt face were looking in his direction.
Tara led Paul barely out of ear shot of Tim’s voice when Paul spoke first. “What’s going on Tara?”
“We’re breaking up,” she replied noting Paul tense up as she did, “Honestly Tim and I have been sneaking off together since before the start of school.”
Suddenly Tim’s voice rose loudly making her glance over to the table. Then Paul asked, “What prompted the two of you to announce your relationship officially?”
“We’re just tired of acting.”
Paul’s lips parted to speak when Tim’s voice rang out, “Just return the dress and get your money back, it’s not like you’ve worn it yet,” Tara turned to see him rising from his seat, “You can at least be grateful that I’m saving you some money. I’m just happy I don’t have to spend any more time with you!”
The large cafeteria was nearly soundless as Tara noticed the attention of the student body was centered on them. She felt a smile growing on her face before whispering to her former boyfriend, “For the record, it was you not me.”
Tara strode over to Tim quicker than she thought possible at a walk. Raising her hand and put it on Tim’s shoulder she encouraged him to turn in her direction. Just as she drew close to him, Tim turned and she brought her other hand around the back of his head and leaned forward. The electricity when their lips met was like nothing Tara had experienced, she couldn’t believe Tim had had it in him.
Tara saw motion out of the corner of her eye upon their parting. Katie hurriedly walked around them with tears rolling down her cheeks. Tara gave Tim’s former girlfriend credit for not making a big scene while wiping them away. Turning back to Tim, he had grabbed Paul’s backpack then tossed it over to her former boyfriend, “You don’t mind me keeping the seat?”
Paul caught the backpack turning away without saying a word. Tara sat down in the seat vacated by Katie. Tim remained standing for a bit before sitting back down then looking at her as he exhaled, but by then the noise in the cafeteria was starting up again and she didn’t care.
Watching Paul exit through a side set of doors, Scott took a bite of his sandwich. Students at nearby tables started talking, as Scott glanced around the table at some of his teammates, who were observing the rest of the cafeteria. Brandon shook his head, commenting that voting had ended at the beginning of lunch before grabbing an apple.
One of the younger wrestlers asked why Anna Marie and he hadn’t been on the ballot making the upperclassmen around the table snickered. Scott turned to the questioner, “Well Jay, being the King of Hearts has never been my ambition. Also Anna Marie dislikes being compared to her older sister, with Whitney being twice the Queen of Hearts, just winning it once would bring about a an unwanted comparison. Besides she doesn’t care about being the Queen of Hearts. And since you asked me about the Banquet as per the team agreement, do you have a date for Sunday?”
Jay stopped chewing as he recalled the team meeting the previous week while the other wrestlers looked on waiting with anticipation. “I hadn’t planned to go,” Jay replied making the table burst into laughter save Scott and Brandon.
Finishing his lunch Scott stood up. “Alright, I’ll see you guys after school.” Glancing back he observing Tara and Tim all smiles as they talked and ate before shaking his head and leaving the cafeteria.
The remainder of the lunch period and Calculus in third period passed uneventfully, saving the whispered conversations about what had occurred in the cafeteria. Scott walked into Ms. Applegate’s office, set down his book bag on the floor, and grabbed the nearest stack of World History quizzes. He was almost through recording the scores in the written grade book when Ms. Applegate walked in. The two conversed about Scott’s upcoming schedule the next few weeks due to the wrestling postseason as the teacher needed Scott to copy material for the World History classes for the next few weeks.
Just as the two agreed on a plan, Todd arrived at the open door and knocked. “I was wondering if I could check my grade and ask something about what’s coming up in class.”
Scott excused himself from the office as Ms. Applegate and Todd discussed Senior English, closing the door behind him. Minutes later the door open as Todd stepped out and Ms. Applegate informed Scott she’d be getting the first batch of material ready for him to copy. While waiting Todd asked, “Did you hear what happened at lunch?”
“If you mean the little spectacle Tara and Tim made, I saw it go down.”
Todd nodded. “Paul was getting asked about how he was doing, but wouldn’t answer. It wasn’t until after class that I learned what happened and how it was actually rougher on Katie.”
“Brandon thought the timing was interesting and I couldn’t disagree,” Scott replied.
“I hadn’t thought about that.”
Scott started to turn back towards the office when he noticed Marty Duke coming around the corner at the far end of the hallway and wave while hurrying towards them. As Marty approached, Scott noticed he had a worried look. “Marty you’re looking a little stressed.”
“Scott, Todd, I can’t believe I lucked out on the both of you being here. I need your help, there is a major problem and frankly I need some outside thoughts on solving it,” Marty said with the agitation clearly in his voice.
“I’m on the clock at the moment and have a list of things I need to get completed before heading to practice. I can hear you out afterwards.”
Scott’s reply alarmed Marty when Ms. Applegate came out of the office with a stack of papers that she handed to Scott. “The three of you can talk while Scott is doing copies. As SA President Marty is already allowed in administration and can let Todd have access based on SA business. It’s not like you’ll be cheating on World History, but no helping Scott with his work.”
The relief on Marty’s face and in his body language was evident. “Thank you Ms. Applegate, I wouldn’t be asking if it wasn’t urgent.”
Marty set their pace, Scott noted that while his fellow senior was relieved to talk with Todd and himself it was obvious whatever was troubling him was really important. Entering the front office they smiled and greeted Mrs. Fuller while signing in at her desk with why they were there before taking the door leading further into the administration offices.
The copy room was snug with the copier and a round table taking up most of the space. Scott went to the copier while Todd grabbed some folding chairs from against the wall. As Scott start the copier Marty walked in, closed the door, and put a laptop down on the table. Todd and Scott exchanged glances before sitting down opposite the open laptop as Marty opened a few documents.
“The only way to give you the whole picture is to start at the beginning,” Marty began. “Around a month out from the Banquet, the SA opens up nominations for the King and Queen of Hearts for two weeks. Over the ensuing week we select the top three-to-five names for voting, getting their permission based on the Hansen rule.”
“Really?” Scott asked.
“Your public proclamation two years ago necessitated it,” Marty shrugged, “It had to be called something.” Scott waved his hand to drop the matter allowing Marty to continue, “Then the voting takes place on the SA’s website, ending at the beginning of lunch the Thursday before the Banquet. Then just before the start of the dancing and fun we announce the winners.”
Marty clicked one of the opened documents showing a list of names in bold, italics, and plain letters in two columns including some with asterisks. “This year’s nominations,” Marty said, “Listed under the appropriate heading. The bold were those selected to be voted on, those in italics didn’t want to compete, and plain are those not selected. Finally the asterisks next to the names are those that nominated themselves so we can avoid the Han, er, permission rule and is easier to do since we switched to e-mailed nominations.”
The copier needing paper, Marty continued as Scott refilled the machine. “Overall we received nominations from just over three-quarters of the student body. This year it was pretty obvious who was going to be up for voting. Katie, Tara, Paul, and Tim each received around 30% of all nominations without nominating themselves. Next were Alexia and Jeremy with around 20% each. Of the remaining 20% in each category, around 12% went to both Anna Marie and yourself Scott. The rest were mainly self-nominations, though Hakeem had a solid 6% in nominations.”
The copier beeped again to announce a completed job. Todd examined the list while Scott gathered the copies and started a new job. “Bert was nominated by someone?”
“Yeah, as you can see it wasn’t a self-nomination. We only looked to see if the individual nominated themselves before deleting the e-mail.”
Scott sat back down as Marty produced a water bottle and took a drink. “Now we come to the problem, before I show you the second document I want you to keep in mind the nomination percentages.” Marty clicked on another tab to reveal the results of a poll, “Here are the totals at the end of voting with 80% of the student body participating. As you can see Tara and Tim won, easily with around 60% of the vote. Coming in second are Alexia and Jeremy at 25%. And in last at around 15% are Katie and Paul.”
“Wait Katie and Paul only got half as many votes as they did nominations. Are you sure these are correct?” Todd asked.
“I can show you a log of hour vote totals from beginning to end of voting. These numbers are correct.”
“Both Tara and Tim are seniors, while Paul is a senior, Katie is just a junior. The senior class could have, no,” Scott said, “If the senior class wanted to rally around a couple, it would have been Tara and Paul.”
Marty nodded. “What if I told you that the person who created the poll program this year was Xavier?”
Scott and Todd shared a look then the former said, “Tim’s best friend programmed the poll?”
“Best friend and baseball teammate with Tim,” Marty said, “As well as Jerry. Besides he’s the SA Social Secretary, it was his job to coordinate the nomination and voting process for our only social function. He had connections to two of the contenders so no one thought he’d rig the vote for one over the other.”
“Any way to prove he did something to the code?” Todd asked.
Marty shrugged and grabbed a folding chair. “I’ve talked to some of the really good tech guys in school and explained that I needed to know if there was a way that a vote meant for one person could be given to another.” He took another drink of water before continuing, “I didn’t go into specifics, though I could have since these guys don’t really socialize with other students. However I could have said the same with Bert before he joined your group and you set him up with Autumn.”
“We didn’t set him up,” Scott responded.
Todd cracked a smile, “He did that all on his own.”
Marty looked at them in disbelief when the copier beeped. Scott stood up from the partially stapled pile on the table to grab the second set of copies. As he set up another run he asked, “So why are you telling us?”
“I need to figure out what to do,” Marty stated, “It look like the vote was rigged based on the events at lunch and the data. Why they would do it for the King and Queen of Hearts I don’t know, it’s not like it’ll matter in ten years.”
“People do things for stupid reasons all the time,” Todd said, “Or egotistical.”
Scott looked at Todd then turned to Marty as sat down to start stabling. “Alright, there is circumstantial evidence that the voting was rigged and you’re looking for a solution. Has anyone else seen the results?”
“No,” Marty said closing everything on the laptop’s screen, “I’m the only one who had access once the voting began. Why?”
Scott finished stabling the first pile in front of him then shifted his attention to the second set. “I’m going to need time to think of something, can we discuss this tomorrow?”
“I’ll let you know before first period,” Scott replied, “Most likely either at lunch or this time tomorrow.” Marty sighed with relief.
Scott finished his stabling the second pile of copies and cross-stacked them with the other two sets of copies. Picking up the stack Scott followed Marty out of the room. Marty turned the other direction towards the SA Office motioning for him to follow. Scott grabbed Todd’s attention and gestured towards where Marty seemed to be milling about. Arriving where Marty was standing, he motioned to look into small rectangular window.
Through the window was Karen Sager sitting on a cushioned bench, leaning towards the surface she was writing on. Scott had not seen either Sager in weeks and then at a distance, but looking through the window it appeared Karen was heavier than when he had gotten a good look at her. Scott moved over to allow Todd a better view.
After allowing them to have a good look, Marty continued towards the Student Association offices. Towards the end of the hallway he said, “I didn’t realize that I’d be passing the Sager’s classroom from the other side when I became president. It’s been weird after seeing the room from the hallway all these years.”
Nodding Scott glanced back to Todd who shrugged. Once in the SA office, Marty plugged up the laptop while sitting down at a desk. Scott turned towards the door out when Marty said, “It’s been hard the past few weeks because I keep on remembering our freshman year when a month after school began it was decided to place Karen in that room due to how hard it was for her to make it around the school fast enough.”
“Yeah,” Todd replied glancing uncertainly at Scott.
“I still think about when I attempted to be nice to Karen, remember she was around the size Monica is now during freshman year, and I asked if she wanted to go to the Banquet? She was genuinely surprised and could see I was just being nice, but the next morning I was called to Yates office and given an earful by Mrs. Sager about trying to tease Karen no matter what I said. Yates even had to calm her down, but the message was clear stay away and for the next few weeks obviously everyone had fun with me about getting ripped a new one by another student’s mother. I’ve avoided getting near either one since, especially when their mother is about.”
Scott and Todd exchanged a look when Marty stared down at the desk, but returned their attention to their friend just as he looked up towards them again. “I don’t know if you’ve seen, but Monica has started walking around the building turning in their homework. I’m sure you’ve seen her Scott.”
“Not really, she must come around the office when Ms. Applegate has a free period on Wednesday or Friday.”
“That makes sense, wanting to avoid meeting too many students. Still I feel really sorry for both of them; they’re basically stuck in that classroom together on top of being home. They never interact with other people.”
Scott was at a loss for words because of his responsibility for putting the Sagers in that room. Todd then rescued him, “To be honest and if Scott wants to disagree, I don’t think we’ve thought about it. Scott and I have seen them from a distance, but since we don’t see them every day or interact with them potentially like you do. Sorry if that sounds out we’re being jerks, but.”
“I understand,” Marty said, “It’s not like the two of you have anything against overweight students.”
A heavy silence descended in the room before Scott said he had to get back to the office. Todd grabbed the door for him and the two left the office as Marty thanked them for their help. Leaving the office the two breathed a sigh of relief when the door closed behind them.
Walking down the hallway, Todd glanced at Scott staring ahead of them. Taking a look at his watch, Todd grunted and told his friend he needed to leave to which Scott nodded. Todd went out the nearest exit and found himself in the chilly weather of early February and pulled up the hoody of his jacket.
The parking lot outside the school was quiet; anyone who didn’t have a class in the last period or any afterschool activity was long gone. Walking around the outside of the building, Todd thought about what Marty had said. He knew other people’s memories were changed to accept individuals always being fat, but the very personal change for Marty was something unexpected. Quickly Todd thought about what might have changed in other’s perceptions of him and the others in these alternated memories.
Before he could really delve into the thought, Todd noticed he had arrived in the section where he had parked that morning. Then Todd barely avoided a colliding with Sarah who had just come out of a stairwell exit looking at her mobile device. His sudden movement got her attention and she jumped back startled at how close they were.
The two looked at one another for a moment before Sarah spoke. “Sorry, I was a bit distracted.”
“I could tell, anything the matter?”
Sarah shrugged and started down a row of cars with Todd following after. “My mother doesn’t think I should go to Banquet.”
“Ah,” Todd replied, “Doesn’t like a bunch of teens getting together even with chaperones or doesn’t like your date?”
“Neither,” Sarah said, “I don’t think she cares if it’s chaperoned or not, it’s just a waste of time to her especially since I haven’t gone before. Then add that I’m going stag, maybe carpooling with Rosa and Isabel.”
Todd saw his car getting closer as he thought about what Sarah had said. “If you said you had a date and it would be rude to have accepted then refuse days before would that make a difference?”
“But then she would ask who and when he was picking me up, all that stuff.”
“You could tell her it’s me,” he said and took a step back when she turned suddenly. “I’m going stag as well and can pick you up since you were planning on carpooling anyways.”
“You’re asking me out on a date?”
Todd shrugged. “It can be a date to your parents, but it’ll just be two friends going to their last Banquet together. If the only time you want to spend with me the entire evening is when I pick you up, the drive over, and then the drive back that’s fine.”
Sarah silently continued to give him a queer look for a long, silent stretch of time. “You’re serious?”
“Why wouldn’t I be?” Todd asked in reply, “I’m helping out a friend out for a night. What’s so strange about that? Or is this still about what I did to Rosa with the notebook?” He waited for a reply though Sarah face betrayed her. “If I was offering to do this any of the previous three years, would you have said yes?” Sarah nodded. “Granted I made a dumb decision when I wrote Rosa in the notebook and she has every right to dislike my guts, but do you have to do it for her as well?”
Sarah remained silent before nodding. “I might not like what you did, but it isn’t like you haven’t been remorseful. Okay, it’s a date. But don’t say anything until I’ve told Rosa, I’ll let you know when to pick me up.”
“No problem,” Todd replied as the period bell rang. Both he and Sarah ran to their cars to avoid the end of school traffic.
Nothing the clock in the hallway, Monica Sager opened the stairwell door and slowly proceeded up the first flight of stairs. According to the clock she was still on schedule to get through with her first trip of the day before first period let out. Grabbing the hand rail as she went up Monica realized how easier it was to climb the stairs than at the beginning of the semester. The fact made her glad that she had spent all of Christmas Break arguing with her mother about personally handing in the finished school work of both Karen and herself to teacher’s offices.
Upon reaching the first landing, Monica rested a moment before continuing up the second flight. While ascending, Monica took stock of how things had changed in a month and a half. The first was that she had worked off the 15 pounds she had gained between Thanksgiving and the beginning of the semester, though she couldn’t get below the 450 pound mark she had suddenly found herself weighing three months before.
The second was that her successful weight loss and increased activity had caused Karen’s mood to further darken making her withdrawn. Monica had been hoping that by losing her own accrued weight she would inspire Karen to join her and lose the nearly 20 pounds she had gained. However, Karen was only getting heavier as indicated by the tightness of her clothing. Monica was starting to worry that if her sister continued to gain at her current rate then not only would Karen find it more difficult to walk, but eventually might not care.
Reaching the second floor landing, Monica caught her breath before walking into the hallway. Proceeding towards Mr. Hick’s office, Monica noticed something out of the corner of her eye. Turning her head, she saw another student coming out of an alcove staring at her while holding a mobile device. The other student quickly turned and left the alcove in the opposite direction, but the rest of the way Monica subconsciously felt eyes on her backside.
After her visit with Mr. Hicks, Monica walked to the nearest stairwell and past her former alcove. Turning back, she looked in at the bank of lockers and suddenly came face-to-face with a tear-streaked Katie Hahn. The two juniors looked at one another before Katie excused herself, circled around Monica, and quickly disappeared from view. As she walked to the stairwell door, Monica’s thoughts turned to what she had heard the day before.
Descending the stairwell, Monica thought about how the news would have broken in The Bear Truth. She had discovered something intriguing just before her sudden physical enlargement and thought it was evidence of cheating. Unfortunately she couldn’t check for evidence because once she had finally gotten down to the basement Monica had discovered the computer had been wiped from an external source. But it would not have mattered if she had prior evidence since no one remembered The Bear Truth; it was like it had never happened except for Google cached pages. Even if she had wanted to restart the site, all the recording devices had been systematically removed by someone taking away all her sources of information.
Turning a corner into the hallway in front of the front office, Monica turned her thoughts away from the past to more pressing matters like her upcoming English III paper. Reaching the door, Monica noticed a ghostly reflection of her fat face in the small window looking into the room and saw Karen in profile, her older sister’s immense forefront straining the overalls she wore while she typed slowly on the keyboard in front of her. The first period bell rang and Monica opened the door.
Arriving in Mr. Hick’s empty classroom Scott began rearranging some of the chairs into a circle. Anna Marie walked in as he finished followed by Bert, the former selected a seat while the latter handed the notebook to Scott while sitting down next to his girlfriend. Todd appeared next sitting next to Anna Marie while Bert settled next to Scott.
“If you’re calling the meeting, it must be important,” Bert said in a low voice.
“Hopefully it didn’t take you away from Autumn.”
Bert shook his head, “She wanted to talk with me after classes today. I presume it is Banquet related.”
Rosa and Sarah entered the room in a heated, yet whispered conversation. Arriving at the circle of chairs Rosa motioned to the chair next to Todd and said, “Couples should sit next to one another,” before taking the seat next to Bert and turned away from Sarah as she sat down.
Scott looked from the testy Rosa to miffed Sarah and then at an uneasy Todd all the time trying to figure out what was happening. Feeling a nudge in his ribs from Anna Marie and noticed everyone was starting to look in his direction. Displaying the notebook he began, “Sorry to call this meeting on short notice, but since Todd and I were given this information in confidence I debated on what I could and couldn’t tell you until I talked with Marty about a possible solution. Since I won’t be able to do so until later, I’m going to say that we might have to think about writing two individuals into the notebook depending on circumstances. But right now we need to make sure Katie and Paul get to the Banquet, no matter what. I’ve talked to friends close to Paul, they say he’s pretty pissed off and coming Sunday no matter what. However persuading Katie might be a more problematic, so I’m looking for some ideas about how to get her to attend.” He looked around the circle to Anna Marie, then Sarah, and finally Rosa.
“Subtle,” Anna Marie quipped.
“I know my limitations.”
Rosa cleared her throat and said, “While I might not personally have any contact with Katie, my mother is very well connected. If she doesn’t know Mrs. Hahn personally she’ll know someone who does. A seat recently opened up in my car,” Rosa glanced at Sarah, “so Katie can come with Isabel and me.”
Scott looked from Rosa to a perturbed looking Sarah then back. “Okay, let me know if there’s a problem and we’ll come up with plan B. As for the individuals to be proposed for the notebook, you’ve probably figured out who they are by now. However there’s possibly more to it and that’s what I have to talk with Marty about, including the possibility of having Sarah look at something. That’s all I have for the moment, is there anything someone else wants to discuss?”
The sound of lockers opening and closing greeted Bert as he entered the alcove and proceed to his own. As he organized his backpack, his name was spoken behind him. Glancing back, Bert saw some of his fellow nerds grouped around the entrance to the alcove. “Hi guys, what’s going on?”
“We’re having a Rook tournament Sunday, you in?”
Bert paused and looked up from his backpack. “I’m going to the Banquet with Autumn. We’ll probably come the next time you have one.”
“Really?” a tall, lanky black haired nerd asked incredulously, “Don’t you find it strange that a girl like Autumn asked you out to the Banquet?”
Closing his locker Bert sighed. “I thought it was strange she attended the tournament in November, I thought it was a little strange when she kept on giving me food months afterwards, and finally I decided to ask if she wanted to go to the Banquet. I was thrilled she said yes, what are the odds?”
The group started whispering to one another when one of the younger and shorter members of the group blurted out, “It’s a trick! You’re getting set up!”
“What are you talking about Malachi?” Bert asked an edge to his voice.
The younger nerd looked down at the floor, though by his body language he seemed to be gearing up for an argument than feeling chastised. Pushing up his glasses as he brought his head up Malachi said, “Marty asked us to examine the code for the Banquet poll. We found an issue. I won’t get into the details, but basically it’ll invalidate the previous result which means a new vote will take place. Considering the unlikelihood of your relationship, it’s shaping up to be set up in which you’re going to be embarrassed thanks to your supposed friends.”
“What?!” Bert exclaimed with irritation in a higher-pitched voice that surprised him. After a few moments to calm down Bert resumed, “First off, you just inadvertently solved a question the rest of my friends and I have had since lunch when Scott told us about a problem with details he couldn’t disclose yet. Now that I know and he’ll obviously confirm it, he can be more open about a possible solution. Secondly, your Carrie-like theory is pretty thin as it supposes that Scott is exactly some individuals I need not mention, but worse since he’s been hiding this Machiavellian personality for nearly all of high school. Not only has he decided to show his true colors by supposedly building me up just for humiliation, but decided that persons who were more well-known than myself needed to be crushed as a consequence of his master plan. Malachi did you really come up with is?”
As Malachi and the rest of the group fell silent, the tall and lanky conversation initiator opened his mouth only to be beaten to verbalization. “There you are,” Autumn said as she entered the alcove with a smile, “I was wondering what was taking you so long. I hope I’m not interrupting anything important.”
“No we just finished,” Bert replied as he starting around the group awed at Autumn’s sudden presence next to them.
With her smile not wavering Autumn took a hold of Bert’s hand while looking at the group. “If you guys ever have another Rook tournament let us know,” she continued by acknowledging a few of the group, “Malachi,” making the younger student panicked, “George,” which made the tall, lanky nerd look humbled.
Bert waved then stepped away mimicked by Autumn, they were soon around the corner making him relaxed. “Sorry about that, they all ganged up at once on me about, well it doesn’t matter much.”
They continued walking down the hallway when Autumn asked, “Do you have a ride home?”
“Well I thinking about staying around until Scott was done with practice, why?”
Autumn gripped his hand a little more tightly then started to guide their walk, taking them down another hallway before going to a stairwell. “Well, I need to remember how to get to your house for when I pick you up on Sunday. So why don’t you tell me if going the right direction or not?”
As they left the parking lot in Autumn’s truck, Bert asked, “So you want to pick me up Sunday? And not meet up here?”
“Yeah, it might be time I meet your dad. That’s not a problem is it?”
Bert shrugged. “Well, social convention says I’m supposed to meet your father first not the other way around.”
Autumn laughed, “Supposedly that’s how it’s normally done, but you don’t want that to happen this weekend. Trust me on that.”
“Any special reason?”
“Both of my older brothers decided to crash at home this the weekend. I think my dad mentioned that I was going to the Banquet with a guy this year.”
Bert looked at her then returned his attention back to the road. As the silence went on, he blurted out, “I don’t know how to respond to that.”
Autumn could not resist bursting out in laughter, even as she forced herself to concentrate on the road. “Let’s say I come around 5, meet your dad, and then we can make it to school early enough so we have some time to socialize before the meal, then after they do the crowning we can catch an early ride back to the school. And we can have some time for ourselves before getting back home.”
Bert’s mind was racing as he repeated, “Time for ourselves,” before realizing it had been audible.
Autumn looked over at him. “Yeah, while I don’t mind talking to other people or eating, we haven’t had time to talk much or anything else for that matter.”
Bert felt the world stop while registering the last phrase and tried to think of how to respond before realizing that they had stopped. Looking out the window noticed they were in front of his home. His mind started racing through everything that had been going on when he realized that he hadn’t said anything for a while. He turned to see Autumn looking at him calmly with a slight smile and suddenly didn’t know what to do. Eventually he stammered out, “Well, I, uh, can’t wait to, ah, for Sunday to come around, er, come.”
“I have the feeling you haven’t been on a date before, or something even approaching one not even with a friend. Don’t worry, I’m nervous too. This is the first time I’m going with a guy in more than a friend capacity. Sunday we’re both going to be very nervous,” she said in a reassuring voice then her eyes shifted slightly away from him before returning, “I think I just saw your dad looking through the window, he’s probably wondering why we’ve been parked here for a while. Before you go, here’s something to tide you over until Sunday,” she handed him a small square plastic box filled with cookies.
Taking the box, Bert smiled. “You might be getting this back empty on Sunday.”
Autumn’s lips part into a big smile, “Exactly what I want to hear,” before leaning over and giving him a quick peck on the cheek while clicking open his seat belt.
Bert exited the truck and headed to the front door. Only when he had opened it did he hear the truck slowly drive off. Closing the door behind him his dad asked why he had been sitting in the truck for so long. “Oh, Autumn and I were talking about when she’s picking me up on Sunday to go to the Valentine’s Day Banquet.” His dad nodded, glanced down at the clear plastic box in his hands and turned to go into his study.