TWENTY-FOUR

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Trying to find Louis was more difficult than I had anticipated it would be when I arrived at school the next day.

     I realized almost immediately that I had never actively sought him out for anything before and the only times we had really interacted with him were during the times we had class together. He had always been one of those people who crossed my mind minimally, if at all.

     But it felt like now that he was one of the only things I could think about, he was nowhere to be found. I was hoping at least one person on staff would be able to tell me what he was up to on a regular basis, but that wasn't guaranteed. He was on the quieter, more reserved side and was involved in the filmmaking club, which wasn't so much a club as it was a social hour for the three guys involved in it. Needless to say, the Weekly didn't generally overlap with any of his activities or social circles.

     Between the constant feeling of exhaustion and frustration, I was starting to think I might not make it to see the end of Nudegate. Something told me it was either going to have to wrap up soon, or I was going to have to check out from it completely. But thinking about Atticus' help and knowing that there were people who needed the Warrior to be there for them, I felt somewhat better.

     I decided to skip my first period and instead just go back to the office, a place I knew I'd have to face eventually. It still felt like home, like it probably always would, but it felt more daunting now. For the sake of my sanity, I walked to each whiteboard and erased all of the notes that were still up in relation to Nudegate. Ronnie's timeline, the scattered theories Kolton had written on the board, even just old unrelated notes from editors to reporters all disappeared and left me with blank white surfaces. Something about it felt borderline therapeutic. We still had almost an entire school year to get through and I refused to allow the newspaper to be taken down along with everything else that had happened. It wasn't going to be easy without Ronnie, but I was ready. I had been with her during every step she made. I could do it.

     I put the eraser back down and thought about the list that Atticus and I had made, that had barely felt like a list at all. We were down to only a few people and none of them felt entirely right. I knew it was personal bias on behalf of all three names, but my instincts were telling me we were missing something. Or maybe just someone.

     Instead of attending any of my other classes, I worked through and meticulously updated any documents related to the Warrior. I took down Nudegate as a possible story to work on. I changed the positions next to Ronnie's name, as well as my own. I sent out emails to editors to remind them about deadlines, and emailed the entire staff about the meeting after school.

     And, for the sake of the paper, I made a silent promise to entirely disconnect the Warrior from any sort of outside investigating that I might do. I knew I wasn't going to be able to let the issue go silently – not knowing what I knew about Violeta or after my conversation with Kai or knowing Atticus was there to help me – but I also knew there was a lot of risk associated. There was no doubt in my mind that Yanick would be watching my every move. And I also knew that, now more than ever, I had to tread lightly with Eros. Part of me wanted to be confident and say that the prospect of my picture being sent within the countdown emails wasn't that scary, but it was. It felt larger than life. It felt like a real, honest threat. And knowing Eros had my picture and was willing to share beyond just the original Nudegate email was enough to make my palms sweaty.

     As if on cue, my phone vibrated with an email update and the countdown was continued. It was another picture of Sloane, but I didn't bother to even really look at the picture. I just saw the dark, easily identifiable hair and immediately pressed delete on the email. I had felt empathy for Sloane during the entire Nudegate situation, but after the interview something had really stuck with me. I'd had a bad habit of always viewing people as subjects, but I knew it was time that I realized the human side, the way that people were really, genuinely impacted by what was happening.

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