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chapter nine

Frances had really lost a lot of weight. Maureen gaped at her when she appeared at lunch, for two reasons. One, of course, was the weight loss. Another was the fact that Frances had shown up for lunch. She hadn't in weeks. It had finally gotten too cold outside to sit at their regular picnic table, so Maureen and Trevor had snagged another table inside, one of a few round ones in a corner. Trevor wasn't there that day. He had lunch detention, so Maureen was eating alone.

Frances sat down with Maureen. "Where's Trevor?" she said, as if it weren't strange that she was sitting down with Maureen at lunch.

"Lunch detention," Maureen said.

"Oh. What'd he do?"

"He talked back to Mr. Rayne or something."

"Weird. He did that to Ms. Trask the other day."


"Yeah. She sent him to the office."

"He never said anything to me about that," Maureen muttered.

Frances shrugged. "So how is Trevor? How are you guys?"

"Good," said Maureen. "Really good." She didn't want to burden Frances with her concerns. Wait. Frances was her best friend. If she was going to burden anyone, it ought to be Frances. "Actually," she said.

Frances almost brightened. "Yeah?"

"Things aren't so great."

"Oh, that's too bad. What's up?"

"He's just distant, I guess. He won't have sex with me. I don't know why. And he won't talk about it either. And the other night, he grabbed my arm really hard, and it scared me."

"Oh, Gosh, Maureen. Did he hurt you?"

"No. Not really. But it wasn't cool, you know."

"Don't let him hurt you. I mean it. If he does anything else like that, dump him."

"The way things are going, he might beat me to it," Maureen said. "Frances, I miss you. We never hang out anymore. We should get together and do something."

"Absolutely," said Frances.

"What are you doing tonight?"

"Tonight? Oh. Tonight's really not good. Maybe sometime next week?"

"Okay," said Maureen. "You know, you look good."

"Thanks," said Frances. "Look, I've got to run. I have to talk to Jessica before sixth period."

"Jessica? Jessica Walker? Since when do you two talk?"

"Since a few weeks ago. You haven't been around much, Maureen."

"She hates you. You hate her."

"Things change. I'll see you around."

Frances got up and walked her shrunken body across the cafeteria to the door. Maureen stared after her. Frances and Jessica? Had she jumped into a parallel universe?

* * *

Trevor couldn't stop thinking about the way Ms. Trask had treated Jared. Jared was strange. Jared was weird. Jared knew things. Jared might very well be Simon Finch. Of course, Trevor was the only person who seemed to notice these kinds of things about Jared. But he wondered... The way Ms. Trask had treated Jared, ignoring him like that, was so unlike Ms. Trask. She was a really cool teacher. She usually treated all her students with respect. She listened to their ideas. She was excited about teaching. So maybe... Maybe Ms. Trask had noticed something strange about Jared too. Maybe that was why she'd treated him the way she had.

He couldn't stop thinking about it. Couldn't stop wondering. He decided that if he ever really wanted to know, he'd have to ask Ms. Trask. Sure, she might think he was nuts, but that was a risk he'd have to take. He waited until after school was out. He didn't go to his car, even though there was a good chance Maureen would wait for him there. If he didn't show up, she could still catch the bus. He wasn't too worried about her. For about half an hour, he lingered in the halls outside Ms. Trask's classroom, waiting to see if she came out. He was working up his nerve. He figured if she left before he worked it up, it was a sign that he wasn't meant to ask her.

She didn't leave her room, but Trevor was beginning to have second thoughts. Why did he think Jared was, well, evil? He hadn't liked him the first time he met him, but that didn't prove much of anything. There was the incident with the spitballs and Frances, but that wasn't odd for a guy his age. There was the thing he'd said about bombs, but that could have been a coincidence. Then there was the stuff he'd said after class, but none of that really proved anything either. He was beginning to feel like his suspicions about Jared were nothing more than suspicions. And hell, maybe Maureen was right. Maybe he needed to go back on his meds. He sure hadn't felt like this when he was on them.

Maybe it was just easier to blame Jared than to own up to the truth. He had issues. He was quite probably pretty messed up in the head. He should take the pills again. In fact, he would. As soon as he got home, he'd start taking them again. Maybe if he did, all of this would go back to normal. He wouldn't be paranoid. He and Maureen could have a normal high school relationship. Maybe he'd even bring his grades up. He started to turn and leave when a loud sound, like an explosion, burst out of Ms. Trask's room.

Startled, Trevor rushed into her classroom. What he saw made him feel sick to his stomach.

Ms. Trask sat in her desk, a shotgun wedged between her knees. Her head slumped forward, resting on the barrel, which was in her mouth. Her bottom jaw hung slack from her face in an inhuman position. There were blood and bits of brain matter spattered against the wall behind her and on a poster that read, "Reading is the window to adventures in the mind."

Trevor yelled. He stood staring at Ms. Trask, unable to move. He wanted to run. He wanted to tear out of the school and into the surrounding lawn and vomit. But he was frozen, rooted to the spot. He stood there, not moving, for what seemed like the span of several eternities.

Finally, someone else came into the room. It was the principal, Mr. Norris. He looked back and forth from Trevor to Ms. Trask. "What happened in here?" he said.

Mr. Norris usually had a deep, booming voice. His rich baritone echoed throughout the school when he read the morning announcements. But when he spoke to Trevor, his voice came out high and tinny, like the voice of Mighty Mouse.

Trevor couldn't help it. He giggled.

Mr. Norris crossed the space between the two of them in two long strides. He grabbed Trevor by the collar and pulled him close. "What have you done?" he said.

Trevor shook his head wordlessly, eyes wide. Mr. Norris thought that he'd killed Ms. Trask. How could he? Anyone could see she'd done it to herself.

chapter ten

Copyright (c) 2010 Valerie Chambers