As hard as we tried to keep the news of Alex's Banishment from spreading, it was useless. The Gladers knew exactly what was happening as soon as Alby hauled the boy off to the Slammer in the morning. He was the center of all gossip, and soon absurd rumors started to spread as people tried to guess exactly why he was being sent out.

One, he used up all the soap in the shower at once. Supplies were precious here, and boys were drama queens. Two, Alex had killed someone. Not true. Three, he got on Gally's bad side. That one was correct but not the reason for his Banishing. Lastly, he had tried to make a move on me.

The last became the most popular, probably because it was the easiest to believe, and everyone latched onto the "news" like leeches. Eyes and whispers followed me everywhere I went until it was almost unbearable.

I wasn't even aware of the rumor until I had passed by a group of fidgeting thirteen and fourteen-year-old Builders. One of them - a short, stick-thin boy with black hair named Quincy - asked tentatively, "What did Alex do to you?"

I stopped short, my eyebrows creasing as I looked down at him. "What?"

Quincy turned pink in the cheeks. He looked like he wanted to run away, but his friends stared him down from behind and silently urged him to go on. "Um, people are saying he did something to you and that's why he's being Banished. Since, you know, nobody does that..."

"You can tell everyone who's spreading that rumor that it isn't true," I told him calmly. "That's not why he's being Banished, Quincy."

The small boy nodded and darted off to the others, who immediately started interrogating him. Their eyes occasionally darted to me as they whispered amongst themselves. I tried to ignore it as best as I could, but Quincy's question dug under my skin.

"Get back to work!" Gally instructed as he strolled past the small group of younger kids. His eyes followed them until they darted toward their appropriate stations. Then, surprisingly, he stopped beside me and folded his arms across his chest as he surveyed his Builders.

"Did you hear about the rumor?" I asked him casually.

"The one where Alex mooned someone?" Gally questioned with a snort. "Yeah."

Okay, well, I hadn't heard of that one before. "Um, no."

"The stripping one, then?"

"What? No!"

"Table dancing--"

"No."

"Getting all the little kids drunk?"

"Would you just listen?" I exclaimed in an exasperated tone. I wasn't sure if half of the things Gally had just said were actual rumors, but considering the ones I had heard, it wouldn't surprise me. "I meant the one where Alex did something to me."

Gally whistled lowly. Before I could shoot a glare at him, he replied, "Can't say I'd heard that one yet."

"Quincy just told me," I explained with a sigh. "It just makes me wonder what else is floating around. What are people saying about me? Do they really think I'd..." I found myself unable to continue, the words blocking my throat in embarrassment.

"Who cares what people think?" Gally chortled with a shrug. He looked at me with one eyebrow raised. "People say stuff about me all the time and I don't care. What matters is what's true. Then you can care."

"THE SHUCK DID YOU JUST SAY, YOU PIECE OF KLUNK? I WILL BEAT YOUR SORRY BUTT INTO NEXT GREENIE DAY, YOU SHUCK-FACED SLINTHEAD!"

Gally and I turned in sync to see Clark screaming at an older boy who was laughing at him while two others held the tempered redhead back. The Keeper was red in the face; I couldn't tell if it was from anger or embarrassment. Either way, it was enough for him to scream and disturb half the Glade.

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