26. All fires, one fire

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26. All fires, one fire
Now

“I think David set Kent against you. Don’t you see?” Mr. Aschen asks.

“No,” I answer.

“David was feeling shamed because of Steven’s taunting. The only way he could repair this shame was to humiliate one of you, so he manipulated Kent to believe that if he got tagged, everything would be better. And since you were It, that meant Kent had to force you to tag him somehow. But in the end, this is still all David’s fault.”

“Just wait,” I say. “It gets better.”

*

I decided to give Kent what he wanted—then he’d have to see how wrong he was. I laid low until lunch, and managed to avoid being harassed too much between classes by staying within eyesight and earshot of teachers and principals. It wasn’t precisely preferable, but it was an existence.

When lunch came, I snuck away from my usual awkward find-a-chair-and-be-ignored ritual and found Cameron and Kent. Kent was surrounded by friends; stacks of muscle and fat cracking the same jokes to each other endlessly, laughing and guffawing, food in oily globs flying from wet lips.

I wasn’t a fan.

Cameron sat with him. They did seem to be closer than usual, even if it wasn’t the way Kent wanted. I only needed to prove to him Eureka wasn’t the answer—I expected it to cause it an explosion, but in the long run, he’d have to give up on chasing me.

I tried to look natural as I approached the table, but they spotted me coming. Two of Kent’s friends stood up immediately, looking as threatening as possible. Dogs barking at passing cars. Deciding to make this quick, I came up behind Cameron and put a hand on her shoulder. Kent turned, dangerously close, but let this occur.

“Tag,” I said.

Cameron stood, all knit jackets and blue jeans, hair a royal strawberry blonde, more red and gold than a Catholic cardinal. I knew what secret her clothes held: a hidden network of scars.

The troubled young woman lifted her leg over the bench and stepped around Kent. Myself and my audience of haters watched as she walked directly to the nearest fire alarm and pulled it, yanking her hand away as purple dye spat from the device.

We all met eyes for one, two, three seconds and briiiiiiiiiiiiiing. Flashing lights and sirens.

A gentle tide of students began slowly moving toward the exit, in no hurry to end the fire drill. Kent jumped up and began pressing against their current, arms directing the flow past him as he crossed the cafeteria to reach Cameron.

I took a few steps toward them. Kent stood before her, blinking lights like a strobe, and dropped to one knee. Repulsive, seriously. Trying to use Cameron’s tag as an excuse to make her get with him? No wonder David didn't want him to play: Kent was incapable.

Cameron looked suitably disgusted by the act. “I’m fucking David!” I heard her high-pitched voice even over the sirens. Kent quickly stood, dusted his jeans off, and stalked away, head down, tears coming.

Painful.

When school let out, I was actually happy. Now Cameron was It, and Kent wouldn’t have a reason to bug me. I knew he’d be angry at first—that there’d be some retribution—but it meant the war was almost over.

I spotted Nora carrying a large bundle of books and waddled up to her with my massive backpack. “May I?” I asked, arms extended.

“Knock yourself out,” she said, smiling.

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