Chapter 24:

Book 1, Ch. 24: Everybody Hates Mondays

ANNO DOMINI ~Allium~ [Beta version]


***THANKS FOR READING!!!***Bookmark here

BOOK 1, CHAPTER 24: EVERYBODY HATES MONDAYSBookmark here

Monday morning introduced a partly cloudy day with comfortable temperatures. The news headlines were already littered with coverage featuring heavy damage in a large plaza near downtown Chicago, and of signs of a wildfire with additional damage in Miller Meadows Forest Preserve.Bookmark here

Robbie trudged to school, flexing and stretching his right arm. After he had awoken in the middle of the previous night on his doorstep in miserable pain, he had noticed a strange crystal in his pocket containing his house key. Upon realizing it resembled the crystal Al had eaten to fix her battered hand, he had promptly consumed it, hesitating only for a moment.Bookmark here

Now, during the walk to school that following morning, Robbie’s arm showed no signs of being injured at all. In fact, all of his injuries and fatigue from the showdown with Erik had been completely erased. On top of that, not even a trace remained of the formidable illness he had contracted from Erik’s bio bomb.Bookmark here

All that had suffered from the fight was his phone, which was crushed beyond repair, and the clothes he had worn were now in the trash.Bookmark here

At the main gate of Lyonbole Public High School, a friendly nudge greeted him from behind. Tinashe Bronson appeared by his side, looking chipper and in a positive mood.Bookmark here

“Hey, boo,” she said sweetly with a smile.Bookmark here

“Hey, good mornin’,” Robbie replied.Bookmark here

“You didn’t answer my texts last night.” She wore a slightly pouty face. “I tried calling, but it went straight to voicemail. Is your phone off?”Bookmark here

“Oh,” Robbie chuckled, “my phone ain’t doing so good. I broke it by accident.”Bookmark here

“Broke it? What’d ya do, Robbie?”Bookmark here

“Uh, just horsing around, I guess.”Bookmark here

“You guess?”Bookmark here

Robbie stopped walking, doing his best to wear a playful expression to overwrite the memories of last night’s event.Bookmark here

“I do guess,” he said with a goofy grin.Bookmark here

Tinashe laughed.Bookmark here

“What’d I tell you? That careless nature would only cause you trouble.”Bookmark here

“Yup, you warned me.”Bookmark here

They continued walking, approaching the entrance to the school building, flowing with the herd of lazy students.Bookmark here

“What are you doing tonight?” Tinashe asked.Bookmark here

“Uh, studying?”Bookmark here

“Boring!”Bookmark here

“But also smart!”Bookmark here

She brushed his right arm with hers, making him thankful the pain no longer existed.Bookmark here

“Would you wanna study together?” she asked. “I got some terms to review for chemistry and some history stuff.”Bookmark here

To Robbie, school-related activities meant nothing at the moment, with the exception of basketball, although his mind was saturated with unpleasantness. Feeling that time spent with Tinashe would be his only remedy, no matter what the occasion was for spending time together, he readily agreed.Bookmark here

“I’m down with that,” he told her, “but on one condition.”Bookmark here

“Oh, one condition? What would that be, huh?”Bookmark here

Robbie smiled.Bookmark here

“Don’t expect me to climb that fire escape at your place today.”Bookmark here

“It’s been closed off for repairs, so you can’t anyway.”Bookmark here

“Then we have ourselves a deal.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Andrew Norris, Beth Sonnet, and Ned Jackson were in the teachers’ lounge before homeroom. Mrs. Sonnet was snacking on some grapes, a late breakfast due to a rushed morning involving an embarrassing curling iron incident. Mr. Jackson was sorting through the morning newspaper, curious about an article covering a wildfire; it was at a forest preserve he had forgotten about. Mr. Norris was standing at the counter, lamenting the assumed demise of the coffeemaker he couldn’t fix.Bookmark here

Principal Charles Stark stepped grumpily into the room. He immediately noticed Mr. Norris having problems with the coffeemaker and cleared his throat dismally.Bookmark here

“Charles, we have a crisis,” Mr. Norris stated.Bookmark here

“Coffeemaker being a hunk o’ junk?” Principal Stark grunted.Bookmark here

“That it is.”Bookmark here

There was a nonverbal trade of mutual despair between the two.Bookmark here

“I’ll be sure to add a new one to the school’s budget,” the principal said. “A nice, big one. With a percolator.”Bookmark here

Mr. Norris’s eyes widened.Bookmark here

“Y-you mean it?”Bookmark here

“Sure.”Bookmark here

“Indeed, you are a saint!”Bookmark here

“No I’m not,” Principal Stark murmured with a slumped frown.Bookmark here

“It’s true, he’s no saint.” Leon Kampton was standing in the doorway. He walked over and placed a hand on the portly principal’s beefy shoulder, looking at him with a bright smile. “The man … is an angel.”Bookmark here

The principal felt the need to swear, so he simply walked out of the teachers’ lounge. When everyone else didn’t notice the chastising gestures between the principal and vice principal, Mr. Kampton exited the room as well.Bookmark here

“Lavi,” Principal Stark said in a low voice, “let’s chat in my office.”Bookmark here

“As you wish.”Bookmark here

Lavi and Baal entered the principal’s office. The demon closed the door and enchanted it so none could enter, channeling evil energy from his hand into the door. Holding his arms out in front of him, palms facing forward, he then effortlessly and quickly constructed a sound-blocking barrier to prevent the conversation from passing through the walls. That was a common practice whenever the two discussed their most secretive topics.Bookmark here

Baal stood with his arms crossed, staring at an abstract painting on his wall. He had no understanding of abstract visuals, and the painting was nothing more than garbage on a canvas to him, just a hodgepodge of colors and shapeless forms.Bookmark here

“What are you up to?” he asked the angel, not looking away from the pointless painting.Bookmark here

“A lot of things,” Lavi said casually.Bookmark here

“Like what?”Bookmark here

“Well, I plan to leave a review for a book I ordered off the Amazon website.” Lavi clasped his hands together and smiled. “It’s called American Kitsune, and it’s fascinating! Leaving book reviews on websites such as Amazon is a fantastic way of supporting the writer. If you enjoy the book, you should leave a review! Six stars out of five!”Bookmark here

“That’s not what I’m getting at,” Baal said darkly. “What are you really up to?”Bookmark here

“I’m not telling.” The tone of Lavi’s voice was almost playful, but definitely ill-mannered.Bookmark here

Not saying anything, Baal looked at the floor and took a rattled breath.Bookmark here

Lavi studied the demon. It was normal for him to appear impatient, always being suspicious of Lavi. In turn, Lavi had good reason to be suspicious of Baal as well. However, there was something different about Baal, as the undertones of his attitude suggested.Bookmark here

“Something wrong?” Lavi asked, not really feeling concerned, but merely prodding. “You always seem upset and short-tempered. Today, though, you seem rather … troubled, on a different level.”Bookmark here

Baal clenched his fists, spinning around to face Lavi. The veins in his neck and forehead bulged out as he grew redder.Bookmark here

“Don’t mess with me, you impudent weasel!” the principal spat, pointing his fat finger at Lavi.Bookmark here

“Hit a nerve, did I?”Bookmark here

“I know you’re up to something, Lavi!”Bookmark here

“Pfft, of course I am,” Lavi said with a grin, still clasping his hands together, “but that’s because you’re always plotting something too, Baal.”Bookmark here

Baal loosened his collar, attempting to cool himself off.Bookmark here

“It’s always like this, I know,” he said. “Fine, so be it. We’ll continue to play this game.”Bookmark here

“I’ve no idea what you’re referring to,” Lavi replied with an exaggerated shrug.Bookmark here

With a sputtering guffaw, Baal said, “Right, right. Let’s get this Monday over with. I hate Mondays.”Bookmark here

“Everybody hates Mondays.”Bookmark here

Baal cancelled the barrier in the office without any bodily movements or gestures. As Lavi opened the door to step out, Baal called to him.Bookmark here

“Oh, one more thing.”Bookmark here

“What is it?”Bookmark here

“Tell the accountant to add a coffeemaker to the school’s list of urgent expenses. And make sure it’s the best one, but for a budget.”Bookmark here

“Aye.”Bookmark here

When Lavi closed the door, Baal saw the smug expression he wore. Sinking into his luxurious office chair, which was bought for a magnificent bargain (only $349.99!), the demon gripped the sides of his desk in frustration.Bookmark here

He opened his desk drawer, removing a manila envelope and reading the letter contained within it. It was his third time reading it since he received it in the middle of the night just hours ago.Bookmark here

“Well, well, well,” he muttered to himself before eating the letter greedily, along with the manila envelope. “Erik Hawthorne wasn’t a good contender … but what exactly happened to him?” He spit the envelope’s metal fastener into the trash and looked back up at the abstract painting on his wall. “Damn you, Lavi. If this isn’t your doing, then I don’t know what is. And I really mean that.”Bookmark here

On his way to the accountant’s office, Lavi couldn’t help but grin the entire time.Bookmark here

“Oh, Baal,” he said to himself. “I really hope you’re involved with these events. If not … then I might be a failure.” The grin gradually faded from his lips. “And that would not go over well.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Police were already buzzing at the plaza which was sealed off by the iconic yellow tape. When Detective Ulysses Townshend arrived, he observed the apparent damage and destruction. Taking a deep breath, he smirked at the sight. Something fun had just then presented itself to him.Bookmark here

Officer Duke Harrison noticed the enthusiastic detective. He pardoned himself from the small group of officers he was talking with and made his way over to Townshend.Bookmark here

“Detective,” he greeted with a simple wave.Bookmark here

Townshend looked at Harrison and shrugged.Bookmark here

“What in the blazes happened here, Harrison?” His curiosity was matched by his eagerness to get the case started.Bookmark here

“We’re still unsure,” Harrison replied. “A natural disaster seems unlikely, and the possibility of terrorism hasn’t been ruled out.”Bookmark here

“Any witnesses?”Bookmark here

“Not a single one so far. And there haven’t been any leads yet.”Bookmark here

“I find it unbelievable,” Townshend said, “that this level of damage could happen in a busy place like this without any witnesses.”Bookmark here

“It was an officer who noticed it,” Harrison explained. “No civilians reported it.”Bookmark here

The large crater in the stone-tiled ground was the first thing Townshend approached. Brandishing his notepad, he began to draw basic geometric shapes while examining the damage up close, kneeling down and checking the material of the debris.Bookmark here

“This looks like a blast happened,” Townshend said to Harrison. “The surrounding debris matches the stone that probably made up this part of the ground, and the trajectory of the debris indicates outward force, like from a bomb.”Bookmark here

“That’s what we’ve gathered,” Harrison said. “The forensics team should be here any moment now to take samples and do tests to determine what was used for the bomb … if it was a bomb.”Bookmark here

“Eh, it could’ve been.” Townshend looked at the damaged bits up close. “I don’t see any signs of scorching in this spot or on the debris, though.”Bookmark here

“Scorching on rock?” Harrison scratched his head.Bookmark here

“If there were any carbon deposits or ash from combustion, it could be indicated on the rock. I wonder if it’s a coincidence, though ….”Bookmark here

“A coincidence?”Bookmark here

Not looking up, Townshend said, “Just like at the medical lab we investigated on Friday, there’s evidence of mysterious explosions.”Bookmark here

A woman approached them. She wore a formal, gray dress and had short, reddish brown hair. Her name was Kendra Giles, and was a leader on the forensics team.Bookmark here

“You suspect an explosion as well?” Mrs. Giles asked Townshend.Bookmark here

“Ah, just in time, Mrs. Giles.” Townshend glanced at the crater. “Yes, an explosion. Don’t you agree?”Bookmark here

“That’s what it looks like,” Mrs. Giles replied. “We’ll begin taking samples now.”Bookmark here

A team of forensic investigators went to work, going over the site and gathering samples and evidence.Bookmark here

“The ground appears to be made of marble,” Townshend said, mostly speaking to himself. “I look forward to indications of scorching. However, we’ll need to determine if this marble is true marble, or cultured marble. Cultured marble may be easier to clean away any burn damage, and would have been much cheaper to use in an area this large.”Bookmark here

“Detective Townshend,” Harrison called from afar. “Look at this. I think this is evidence of high heat exposure.”Bookmark here

There were some stone structures several yards away from the crater. Although the structures and ground were mostly intact, there was discoloration on the stone, some of which looked misshapen like it had been molten for a short period of time. The nearby planted flora had been withered and burned to nothingness.Bookmark here

“Ooh, this looks like something really hot happened!” Townshend said joyously. He felt the stone structure with his hand. “This is most likely travertine, a commonly-used type of limestone for construction.”Bookmark here

“You know a lot about rocks, Detective,” Harrison said flatly with a grin.Bookmark here

“I indulge in home improvement from time to time,” Townshend said. “Mrs. Giles, have your team take a sample of this structure. Also, I’d like to learn more about the chemical properties of all these materials. If there was a lot of heat or explosives, I wanna know.”Bookmark here

“Yes, Detective.”Bookmark here

A man on the forensics team approached Mrs. Giles. He presented a small object he had placed in a bag, holding it with a nitrile glove. Mrs. Giles and Townshend both put on nitrile gloves as well before taking the sample.Bookmark here

“What is this?” Kendra Giles examined the small piece of plastic fitted to a chintzy chain.Bookmark here

Townshend took the sample and looked at it closely.Bookmark here

“A necklace, it seems. And this pendant … hmm.”Bookmark here

“You notice something?” Mrs. Giles asked.Bookmark here

“This pendant is the shape of a mathematical symbol known as aleph-null, sometimes called aleph-naught or aleph-zero.” He continued to look at the necklace through the plastic. “‘Aleph’ is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, which is this symbol. However, the subscripted zero associated with it represents a mathematical symbol. In mathematics, aleph represents sets of infinity. Aleph-null refers to the smallest sets of infinity, which includes the numerical integers and their negatives. The higher the aleph number, the larger the cardinality of the infinite set.” With a cheesy grin, he concluded, “For you see, not all infinities are equal. That is, to say, according to the theories defined by the German mathematician Georg Cantor.”Bookmark here

Kendra Giles chuckled.Bookmark here

“I forgot about your intimate fascination with math, Detective.”Bookmark here

“Eh, blame it on my numerous late-night affairs with Wikipedia,” Townshend replied. “But still,” he held the item up to the light as he stared at it with deep interest, “why would somebody want this for a necklace? Do they actually understand what this symbol represents? I wonder ….”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Tranquility resonated throughout the corridors of St. Baptiste Monastery, touching the highest reaches of the ceilings and permeating its stillness in every courtyard.Bookmark here

In his quiet, minimally furnished office, Father Buck Dood engaged in conversation with Sister Farrah Elaina. The steady ticking of the clock on the wall ceaselessly set the room’s tempo at the never-changing sixty beats per minute, an ambient heartbeat Father Dood had adjusted himself to long ago.Bookmark here

Father Dood stood in front of his bookshelf, glancing at the limited number of books he had nearly memorized over the years.Bookmark here

“I’ve been thinking about your words with deep consideration,” the sturdy priest said to Sister Farrah. “This ‘ultimate truth’ you spoke of concerns me. However, choosing to embrace it may be in our best interests.”Bookmark here

“If you believe so,” the young nun replied. “I’ll admit that I, too, am unnerved by the events I have witnessed.”Bookmark here

The priest approached the nun and offered a reassuring smile.Bookmark here

“Have faith, Sister,” he told her warmly. “We have overcome many trials in the past.”Bookmark here

Not wanting to speak right away, Sister Farrah said, “For so long, I have had unwavering faith in the abilities of my prayers. I feel like I have nothing to turn to.”Bookmark here

“I understand how you must feel right now,” Father Buck Dood walked behind his desk, eyeing his chair and unable to decide to sit or stand, “but I believe this is a mere trial, and one I trust you are capable of passing.”Bookmark here

“Thank you, Father.”Bookmark here

He decided not to sit.Bookmark here

“Regarding the boy,” he continued, “he must be a key figure behind these current events. If I am interpreting your explanations correctly, his actions are the one and only instance of your powers being disregarded. That leads me to believe he must be taken into consideration.”Bookmark here

“I agree.”Bookmark here

“What was his name?”Bookmark here

“Christopher Joshua Findale,” Sister Farrah said. “That is according to our informant, Aleph-Naught.”Bookmark here

“Yes, but I am concerned about Aleph-Naught. We have been unsuccessful in contacting her since yesterday afternoon. Her whereabouts are unknown. This lack of feedback from her goes against her orders issued by her superiors. Very troublesome.”Bookmark here

“My prayers have not returned any information on Aleph-Naught.” The young nun looked away, feeling ashamed. “I’m sorry, but I don’t know if my prayers are failing me again, or if she is truly no longer within my prayers’ range, which would place her outside the city.”Bookmark here

“As I said, you must continue to have faith.” Father Dood spoke sternly. “I am still waiting to hear back from Aleph-One. Until then, we must remain patient and not let our fears shake us.”Bookmark here

“Yes, Father.”Bookmark here

“Get some rest. You’ll feel better.”Bookmark here

After the young nun exited the office, Father Dood opened the drawer to his desk containing the meteorite-carved cubit rod. Running his finger over it and feeling the engravings, he sighed.Bookmark here

“Stay strong, Sister Farrah Elaina,” he said. “You are much stronger than you may know. Until you realize that you are more than worthy of surpassing even myself, you will continue to be weighed down by your youthfulness and naiveté.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

Bret was sitting on an old, saggy couch in his living room with a blanket over his head and wrapped around him. He was shivering with a thin film of perspiration on his face, nervously fidgeting with a PlayStation 2 controller which had its cord chewed through by something that was never caught. While grinding his teeth together, he stared at the CRT television, turned off. His heavy eyes were dry and burning, but he never thought to blink, not daring to look away from his surroundings.Bookmark here

His mind was occupied by the memory of Erik Hawthorne and the white-furred, bulky quadrupedal monster. He pressed his fingers into the useless video game controller buttons, not noticing the tremors running up and down his arms and legs.Bookmark here

The last of the Nikolai vodka and Tanqueray was squeezing its way out of his pores, and the need to sleep was a mythical endeavor and a hapless farce. Sleep had eluded him, and he wanted nothing more than to erase the knowledge of the inhuman world he now found himself in.Bookmark here

Surely, he thought, there were things which knew of him, out of his sight, observing him for a chance to swoop in and whisk him away.Bookmark here

If he could only score some cocaine, then everything would be fine, tolerable, perfect … but he had no way of contacting Guy, as his phone was dead because something had chewed through the charging cable he had recently stolen. However, just before his phone’s battery had drained, Bret had received a text message from an unknown number explaining Vixen was in the hospital due to a drug overdose. The grinding of his teeth was audible.Bookmark here

Footsteps grew louder and closer, and his heartrate soared as he snapped his attention toward the kitchen, letting the game controller fall to the floor.Bookmark here

Bridge Snow entered the living room carrying a glass of water. Bret realized he must’ve been paranoid to have noticed her soft footsteps; her movements and mannerisms were like window curtains overlooking a sunbathed valley. Her simplest motions were always done with such grace and elegance that she appeared, by illusion, to sashay at all times, as if in a constant state of slow dancing with the world, with her every activity. Bret’s oversensitive ears overrode that universal fact, even with the colorful, striped cotton socks on her feet muffling her already silent approach.Bookmark here

“Bridge Snow?” Bret could practically feel the dust in his throat while speaking. “When … did you get here?”Bookmark here

With a gentle, mesmerizing smile, Bridge Snow delicately handed the glass of water to Bret. He gripped it, watching the beads of water drip down the outside of the glass, much like the sweat on his face. Water was what he needed most at that point, but it wasn’t very appealing to him in the least. He stared at it the way a child stares at a bitter medicine, letting some of it spill out because his hands couldn’t remain steady, and because Bridge Snow had filled it to the brim. How did she carry it without spilling a drop?Bookmark here

“I wrote a new poem today.” Her smile was small, but her dazzling blue eyes were full of vitality, and her enticing voice and French accent made her impossible to ignore.Bookmark here

“Oh ….” Bret sipped from the top of the glass, spilling some of the water on his blanket. The imaginary tastes in the water were strange, acrid, and possessed chlorine characteristics.
Bridge Snow watched him sip the water, the blanket over his head and wrapped around his body. She stared, seeing his trembling. She caught glimpses of the sweaty sheen on his face. In her mouth, she rubbed her tongue ring against her top incisors.Bookmark here

“Would you like to hear it?” she asked.Bookmark here

“Huh? Oh, y-yeah … sure, sure.”Bookmark here

Her frilly, red and black plaid skirt had straps and leather pockets she had made and added herself. She unfastened the snap button to her custom-made, leather pouch pocket and removed a folded piece of notebook paper. Looking at the page after unfolding it, her pupils dilated as her smile almost extended to her eyes, and she recited the poem aloud:Bookmark here

“They present themselves.
To the masses, they present themselves,
Barreling from the celestial sect,
To attack the anomalies we protect,
Will come a slate soon washed anew,
And man replaced with what is true.Bookmark here

First is proclaimer,
A messenger bereft of empathy,
With words as wings,
And wings as swords,
Bloodshed they invoke,
And nightfall they convey.
Offer us no recompense —
The messages have long been sent.Bookmark here

Secondly and leisurely,
Patrons borne of crass conviction.
Gavel-wielding punishers,
Architects of jurisdiction.
Voracity for sentences.
Our cage, our pit.
Resound! Lament!Bookmark here

They know but one life:
To expunge.Bookmark here

Suddenly numberly risings took reign;
Another perversion is ready to aim.
Blazingly brass-colored polished attire;
Aberrance branding with means besting fire.
Dastardly juggernauts dripping with wrath;
Bestial wardrobes of satchel and sash.
Cross-stitching crosshairs, acrylic approach;
Tear down the fourth wall dividing us both …”Bookmark here

Bridge Snow paused. Bret looked up at her, feeling the quakes in his stiff neck before falling victim to the magnetic gaze peering at him over the top of the page she held. She locked his eyes into hers for a few unending seconds, and then recited the final line of the poem:Bookmark here

“… and they present themselves.”Bookmark here

*******Bookmark here

“What happened to your face?” was the first thing Marilyn said to Chris as they entered their homeroom class.Bookmark here

There were two large adhesive bandages, one on Chris’s cheek and one just above his eye. The other cuts and bruises on his body were covered by his jeans and long sleeve shirt.Bookmark here

“Uh, skateboarding accident,” Chris lied.Bookmark here

“I didn’t know you skateboarded.”Bookmark here

“Well, I don’t. That’s why I look like this.”Bookmark here

Marilyn reached into her pocket, removed a sandwich bag, and handed it to Chris.Bookmark here

“I made some oatmeal raisin cookies last night,” she said cutely. “Those are for you.”Bookmark here

Chris didn’t know what to say.Bookmark here

“Oh … uh, thank you!” He smiled, looking at the three cookies of baked goodness in the plastic bag. “You make the best baked stuff, Marilyn.”Bookmark here

“Better eat ‘em quick before Mr. Jackson gets here,” she whispered. “We can’t have food in the classrooms.”Bookmark here

Promptly, Chris shoved the first two cookies into his mouth, and Marilyn giggled as she watched him. The soft, crumbly, mildly chewy texture, sweet tartness of the raisins, molasses-imbued brown sugar, and hints of vanilla with cinnamon careened across his palate. With his mouth full, he handed the last cookie to Marilyn.Bookmark here

“No, they’re all yours,” she said. When Chris waved it in her face, she remembered its decadent, buttery, oaty, raisiny flavor. She loved oatmeal raisin cookies. “Okay, if you insist.” She took the cookie, smiling blissfully as she took a bite. “I thought about making a maple glaze for them, but I didn’t have any syrup.”Bookmark here

Much of the class was utilized studying and working on assignments. However, Chris wasn’t focused on his schoolwork, and spent the entire period thinking about his current life situation. As Lavi had told him, he was in for a very long school year.Bookmark here

“Erik is absent again,” Marilyn said during the last several minutes of homeroom. While standing next to Chris’s desk, she looked at the empty seat where Erik typically sat during the few occasions he attended school.Bookmark here

Chris had prepared himself for any mention of Erik.Bookmark here

“Are you surprised?” he asked, forcing a chuckle.Bookmark here

“Mmm, no. I just feel really bad for him. Like last night, I think I caught some kind of bug, or something. I thought I’d have to take today off from school, but I’m totally fine!” Marilyn looked at Chris with a sympathetic dullness on her face. “Poor guy. I can’t imagine being so sick all the time that you have to miss so much school.”Bookmark here

Chris wondered what Erik had meant when he talked about “the deal” to obtain his powers — he could only speculate Erik must have been desperate to pay such a price, and had to have been hurting greatly to wish his suffering to be pushed onto the world.Bookmark here

“Must be tough for him,” he said quietly.Bookmark here

“So, anyway,” Marilyn smiled brightly, turning the mood around, “I submitted my photo today.”Bookmark here

Chris perked up.Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s great.”Bookmark here

“I chose the one Drake picked out,” she said, “but I still used your name suggestion, ‘Eden’s Lance’, because I love it. Where did you come up with that?”Bookmark here

“It just sorta popped into my head.”Bookmark here

The bell rang, dismissing the students. Chris and Marilyn kept talking with each other as they walked down the polished hallway. Her naturally burnt-orange hair flowed behind her, and the smell of cinnamon radiated from her and met Chris’s nose.Bookmark here

“Did you see Drake this morning?” Marilyn asked.Bookmark here

“No, I didn’t.”Bookmark here

“He was in a really bad mood. When I told him that I submitted the photo he picked, it made him happy, but he still seemed pretty upset.”Bookmark here

Chris thought about it.Bookmark here

“I don’t blame him, though,” he said. “You know about his parents, right?”Bookmark here

“Yeah,” Marilyn replied with a slow nod. “It’s only been three months since his mother passed. You’ve known him longer than me. Would you say that he’s … changed since then?”Bookmark here

“For the most part, he’s the same,” Chris said, “but yeah, has been much moodier. Um, he’s always been kinda moody, though.”Bookmark here

“I want to do something for him.” Marilyn looked at Chris with her hazel eyes. “Something to make him feel better, you know?”Bookmark here

“That’s a good idea, but what should we do?”Bookmark here

“I don’t know,” she said with a smile, “he’s your best friend, so I’ll let you decide.”Bookmark here

From behind, Katie Vickers called out to Marilyn and rushed over with sparkling excitement all over her face.Bookmark here

“Mary! Come quick! Mont Blanc is back!”Bookmark here

Marilyn’s eyes lit up.Bookmark here

“Really? He came back?”Bookmark here

“Really for reals! He and Garret have been reunited!”Bookmark here

“Aw, I gotta see this!” As she and Katie took off, she turned around and waved to Chris. “Later, Chris! See ya around!”Bookmark here

Chris waved back at Marilyn and watched her disappear into the crowd of students, then he headed to his locker. After quickly organizing his books, he took out his phone and synched it to his Bluetooth earpiece.Bookmark here

“Hey, Excalibur.”Bookmark here

“Hello, Christopher.”Bookmark here

“Are there any threats nearby?”Bookmark here

“I am not detecting any threats.”Bookmark here

Breathing a sigh of relief, Chris added, “One more thing.”Bookmark here

“Yes?”Bookmark here

“Do an internet search for Chicago Cubs baseball tickets. I have a friend who needs to be cheered up.”Bookmark here

“I thought your friend is a White Sox fan,” Excalibur said.Bookmark here

“Huh? W-what are you talking about?”Bookmark here

“It was a joke.”Bookmark here

“It wasn’t a funny joke. You can tell me the search results after next class.”Bookmark here

He put the earpiece away and closed his locker, ready for his next class. When he turned around, he saw none other than his best friend walking up to him, well-dressed with a gray polo shirt, tight-fitting blue jeans, and white trainers.Bookmark here

“What’s up, bud?” Drake greeted.Bookmark here

“Hey.”Bookmark here

They bumped fists.Bookmark here

“What happened to your face?”Bookmark here

“Skateboarding accident.”Bookmark here

“You skateboard?”Bookmark here

“Not really.”Bookmark here

“Oh. Did Mary tell you?” Drake asked. “She submitted her photo. The one I picked out.”Bookmark here

“That’s what she told me,” Chris said with a smile. “I wish her luck.”Bookmark here

“Me too,” Drake said. “She’s … very talented. And I think she deserves to win.”Bookmark here

“Yeah.” Chris couldn’t help but bring up the subject. “So, she told me that you were down in the dumps today.”Bookmark here

With a sigh, Drake shrugged and said, “Kinda.”Bookmark here

Chris playfully punched Drake’s shoulder.Bookmark here

“Dude, I’ve got your back. If there’s anything I can do, just let me know.”Bookmark here

“Thanks, man.”Bookmark here

“What are you doing tonight?” Chris asked. “Wanna hang out? Get some tacos? Play video games? Drive through Aurora and listen to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’?”Bookmark here

The solemn expression Drake wore was hard to miss.Bookmark here

“I would,” he said, avoiding eye contact, “but I don’t have a lot of free time. It’s been hard.”Bookmark here

“Oh, okay.”Bookmark here

“But when I get some free time,” Drake said, perking up. “I’ll definitely let you know. Maybe catch a baseball game again. It’s been too long, man!”Bookmark here

Chris grinned.Bookmark here

“And that’s why I know you’re my best buddy,” he said happily.Bookmark here

Drake was confused, but Chris didn’t bother explaining. He didn’t want to ruin the surprise.Bookmark here

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