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Authors: Melody Carlson

Payback (17 page)

BOOK: Payback
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As I walk across campus, I sense that Fairmont is quite different from Brighton. For one thing, I am immediately aware that this is a very affluent school. Not just by the cars in the parking lot or the way kids are dressed, but by the way they act…and the way they treat me. They don’t snub me in a way that’s terribly obvious, but it’s clear I don’t measure up to whatever they measure people by. Mostly I am ignored, as if they are looking right over my head. I begin to feel almost nonexistent.

As I stand in line to get something to eat, I overhear a group of guys talking. I’m sure they don’t realize a girl is listening. Or maybe they don’t care. But what they’re saying totally disgusts me. Apparently these guys have shelled out big bucks for tomorrow night’s prom. They have rented their tuxedos, ordered flowers, reserved tables at the most elite restaurants, and even
rented a stretch Hummer limo. And now they are counting the hours until the grand finale, because they expect to be paid back for all this—
with sex.
They’ve already booked rooms at the Marriott, and they’re stealing liquor from their parents. And they expect their girlfriends to reward them. One guy actually brags about the fact that his girlfriend is still a virgin. Another guy offers him some nasty suggestions. As I put a chef salad on my tray, they erupt in laughter, and I feel like I want to throw up. All over them.

Instead, I pay for my food and get as far from them as I can. I sit near a table that’s filled with some very chatty girls. Maybe even some of those guys’ girlfriends. And I can tell by the way these girls talk and act that they consider themselves to be in the highest echelon of Fairmont High society. Whatever. Without looking too obvious, I try to watch and listen, hoping I’ll pick up on something or notice someone. As I poke at my salad, which looks totally unappetizing now, I pretend to be reading a book and taking notes. But I’m actually taking notes on their conversation.

“Can you believe those three?” says one girl in an overly loud voice, like she doesn’t care who listens or perhaps even wants them to hear her. “Those girls go off and book themselves for the entire day at Oak Springs and don’t tell the rest of us so we can get in on it too.”

“I wouldn’t have gone anyway,” says another girl in a flippant tone. “I mean, we’re talking about a prom here. It’s not like it’s your wedding. Get real.”

“Still…a whole day of pampering at Oak Springs. Who cares if it’s only for a prom?”

“Yeah,” says another girl. “I’d do it just for the fun of it. Although my mom would kill me if she found out. Last time I skipped I was in big trouble when I got home.”

“Leah’s parents don’t care,” says the first girl. “I know for a fact that they let her do whatever she wants.”

“How about Selena’s parents?”

“Well, they probably do care.”

“I think you’re getting way too worked up over it, Chelsea. I mean, get a life, girlfriend.”

And then the five-minute bell rings, and the little party breaks up. Still, I think I might have something here. I look at what I’ve written down. Oak Springs—I’m guessing that’s a day spa. I think I’ve seen ads for it. Leah and Selena and the nameless third girl must be the “it” girls, the ones the others look up to and envy and gossip about. And I suspect that one of those girls has a celadon green gown to wear tomorrow night.

I’m on my way to the counselor’s office with my new information when I see Brandon coming around a corner.

“Hey, Brandon,” I say, catching him totally off guard.

He squints and adjusts his glasses. “Who are you?”

“Remember last weekend…the arcade?”

“Oh yeah.” He comes closer and peers curiously at me. “What’s your name again?”

“Samantha.”

“So what are you doing here? I thought you went to Brighton.”

Without even batting an eyelash, I tell him a flat-out, bald-faced lie. “I just got transferred,” I say quietly. Then I glance around as if I’m embarrassed for anyone to overhear this.

“When?” he demands.

“I requested it earlier this week. Today is my first day. Right now I’m heading to the counseling center to set up my schedule with Mrs. Freeman.”

“Seriously?” He looks skeptical but interested. “Why are you transferring?”

“You know, it’s weird seeing you right now.” I shake my head as if trying to take this in. “But I think it hit me when I saw those bullies coming after you at the arcade. Like something in me just snapped—like I cannot take this anymore. Ever since the beginning of the school year, I’ve been bullied by this gang of girls. For some reason they totally hate my guts. And last weekend I thought,
Why do we take this crud?
I realized I’d had enough. And I thought,
Why not just switch schools?”

He’s looking at me with suspicion now, and I remember this is a really smart kid. I wonder if he can see right through me. “Why Fairmont?” he asks.

“Because my aunt lives in the district,” I say casually. “My parents are split up, and my mom’s boyfriend is a total psycho. It just seemed like a good escape.”

“That
is
really weird.” He’s softening a little.

“I know. But I think no one will bug me here. It doesn’t seem like that kind of school.”

He scowls. “Don’t be too sure.”

“What do you mean? I figured these rich kids would think they were too cool to bother with something like bullying.”

“Every school has bullies.”

I shrug. “But no one knows me here…well, besides you.”

“Well, maybe if you keep it that way.”

The tardy bell rings now. “Do you need to go to class?”

“Nah.”

‘You could do this too, Brandon.”

“What?”

“You could transfer out of here to another school…to get away from the bullies.”

He sort of laughs now. “I’ve already tried that.”

I act surprised. “Really?”

“Yeah. I transferred from McKinley.”

“No way.”

He nods. “At first I thought this was better.

“But it’s not?”

He just shakes his head.

“Those kids at the arcade?” I ask. “Were they from here?”

“Yeah.”

“They didn’t really look like Fairmont types,” I point out.

“You’re right. They’re like the bottom feeders of the school.”

I let out a discouraged sigh. “So, was it a waste of time to transfer here?”

Now Brandon actually smiles. “Not as far as I’m concerned. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Well, thanks,” I tell him. Then I feel guilty…because I’m not really here. But maybe I can help him. “Have you ever told?” I ask in a quiet tone. “I mean, when you’ve been bullied?”

“Not here.”

“But at McKinley?”

“Yeah, and that backfired.”

I nod. “I know how that goes.”

“No place is safe.”

“I’ve heard that some schools have antibullying policies.”

“I’ve never seen one that worked.”

I nod. “Yeah, probably not.”

“I’d better get going, Samantha. But it was cool talking with you. I’m glad you’re here.”

“Same back at you.” But as I say this, I think I need to somehow straighten this out. But how can I tell him the truth without losing his trust?

One thing at a time
, I tell myself as I go to the counseling center. Concern number one is the terrorist threat at the prom. If I can somehow uncover that Fairmont is really the school at risk, we can either have a full-force security team there or perhaps even shut the prom down.

Once I’m in Mrs. Freeman’s office, I explain who I am and why I’m here.

“Yes…” She removes her reading glasses and frowns at me. “We’ve already heard about you.”

I can tell by her tone that she’s not taking this seriously. I am an aggravation she’s being forced to tolerate. “I have a couple of questions in regard to our investigation.”

“Yes?”

“I overheard the names of two girls, girls who are absent today—actually there are three, but I only got the names of two. My guess is these are fairly popular girls, and one of them might be a girl that we’re specifically concerned about.”

“Their names?”

“I only have first names: Leah and Selena.”

She nods. “Yes, that would probably be Leah Weis and Selena Moore.”

I jot down their last names. “I don’t want to get them into trouble, but I think they might be spending the day at Oak Springs.”

Her lips twist into what is almost a smile. “Getting a little pre-prom pampering.”

“Apparently.”

“That’s nothing new. We were actually surprised that more girls weren’t absent today. It’s been a problem in the past. Not that I blame the girls—I’d love a day at Oak Springs myself.” She pats her carefully styled platinum hair and sighs. Then she looks back at me. “And now that you know who the girls are, I suppose your work here is done?”

“Not quite.”

“Certainly the police don’t plan to intervene due to truancy, do they?”

“No, not at all. I just need to see the girls or their photos so we can identify them for future reference.”

She stands, goes to her shelf, and removes a yearbook. Then she opens it and flips through until she finds the student section. First she points to a beautiful dark-haired girl. “That’s Selena Moore,” she tells me.

I nod. “Okay.”

Then she flips a few pages, clear to the end and to a page I must’ve missed. She points to a strikingly pretty blond girl. “That’s Leah Weis.”

I control myself from jumping up and down. But I know that’s her. That’s the girl with the pale green dress. This is the right school—the one in my dream! “Thank you,” I say calmly.

“Is that all?”

Now I remember Brandon. “No, that’s not all,” I say. “I’m curious as to whether your school has an antibullying policy.”

She laughs. “Are you suggesting we need one?”

“Actually, I am.”

She shakes her head. “Look, I know that your little city police department thinks highly of you, dear, and I’m sure you’re having a lot of fun skipping school and playing Nancy Drew, but you clearly don’t have a clue about our school.”

“What do you mean?”

“Fairmont is not the kind of school where bullies and gangs exist. Oh, I’m not saying we don’t have our problems. But I think our student body is a bit more sophisticated than what you may be used to over on your side of town.”

“So you really don’t believe bullying occurs here.”

She shakes her head. “No, I do not.”

I refrain from rolling my eyes and simply excuse myself. The main thing is that I have the information I need regarding the prom. I can’t wait to tell Ebony. The school day’s not over, but my work here is done. And to be honest, this place is creeping me out. Okay, I know these rich kids aren’t that different from me and my friends. And I just got a sample of something that’s probably the worst of the worst. But just the same, they make me sick.

And here’s the really sad thing: I think I almost understand why an Islamic terrorist might justify an attack on these kids. Of course, something like that would be wrong and horrible and tragic. But for a split second I almost see American culture in a way that’s similar to their twisted perspective, and it scares me. All that immorality, selfishness, and materialistic, self-absorbed godlessness is truly sickening.

I try to shake these thoughts as I get in my car. I know I’m being totally judgmental and critical, and God does not think like that. I take a moment, asking God to clear my head of all this…to give me, once again, His perspective. And then I pray
for the students at Fairmont. I pray that they might recognize their shallowness…and see their need for God.

Then I start my car, and as I pause before exiting the parking lot, glancing over at the decorative stone wall in front of the school, I experience that familiar flash of light. But instead of seeing the shiny brass letters that spell out Fairmont High illuminated in the sunlight as it was when I arrived about an hour ago, the sky is now cloudy, and I see bouquets of flowers and wreaths and stuffed animals and enlarged photos and posters and a big black ribbon tied loosely around the whole thing…and some students are standing alone, others are huddled or embracing, but almost everyone is crying.

With cold clarity, I realize that the school sign has been transformed into a memorial of sorts. The students are paying tribute to friends who were slain…shot down in cold blood at their high school prom. That’s when I know I will do everything humanly possible to stop this. And I believe that God will do the rest.

Seventeen

I
am certain,” I tell Ebony. “It’s Fairmont.”

She nods as she finishes her notes, recording what I’ve just told her, how I’ve identified Leah Weis as the blonde in the pale green dress and then my vision of the mourners at the school sign. She looks at me, puts down her pen, and sighs. “It’s such a huge relief to have it pinned down. But that means our work is about to seriously begin, Samantha. No more playing around.”

“Pulling in the forces?”

“Absolutely.”

“You don’t think they’ll want to cancel the prom altogether?” I ask as I remember that last disturbing vision. If it were up to me, I would rather cancel the prom than risk something like that.

“We’ll definitely make that recommendation to the school, although I doubt they’ll take us too seriously. So far no one else has, and I have to admit it would be great to catch these terrorists red-handed. I know we’d all like to lock them up before they get a chance to strike someplace else.”

“I agree.”

“The best plan might be to allow the prom to go as planned, but the hotel will be crawling with security.”

“Will the FBI be involved now?”

“Yes. Since we have this nailed, I don’t know that you need to be part of the action.” She picks up her phone. “Excuse me. I have a lot of calls to make.”

“So I don’t get to work undercover at the prom?”

“How do you feel about it?”

I consider this. “To be honest, I would’ve been glad to be excused just a couple of hours ago, but now I don’t want to miss out.”

“What changed your thinking?”

“Mostly that last vision. Before that, I was a little fed up with those Fairmont students…I kind of didn’t care.”

BOOK: Payback
12.32Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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