Piece by piece, it fell to the ground. The sound of rubbing blades sliced through every last length, causing more and more of him to drop to the vinyl-tiled floor below, and the man holding the sharp, glistening shears in his hand acted as if it were nothing.
Kyle Ladomere loved his hair. It was dark and feathery and danced with the sun's light on bright summer days. People envied his hair. It was perfect. Everyone told him so: his mother, his aunt, his sister's friends, the preppy girls back at Elden High, and even the mail lady, who would occasionally reach out and ruffle his perfectly trimmed, carefully styled jet black hair. But now those days were over. From his wonderful, perfect world, all the way to his exciting and brilliant social life.
No more than two months ago, Kyle's father had been awarded a great promotion, making him a partner to one of the world's largest publishing companies. Of course, then came the catch. They had to relocate to Canada's head office over in Edmonton, Alberta, and despite all protest from Kyle's mother, she eventually gave in. However, she refused to let her son grow up in such a busy place, and that's when it happened. Within thirty days of first receiving the news, and just before his parents began to pack for the move, Kyle was being sent away.
Shipped off to an all-boys private boarding school, Kyle had just spent eight hours on a plane puking his guts out and running to the lavatory, while travelling within a vessel that seemed to be incapable of doing anything other than spinning in circles. Or, at least, that's what it felt like to Kyle. He had been on planes before. Many times, actually. But this was different. It was like the pilot was purposely trying to disorient his passengers by flying like he only had one working engine.
Now, just over an hour off of the plane, Kyle was sitting in a chair, staring into an old, over-polished mirror, watching a psychotic old man take swipes at his head with scissors that probably hadn't been sharpened since the early 1960s. What's worse is that the moment he had arrived at the school, no one was there to greet him, just an old man wearing a worn suit and faded usher's hat. He hadn't said a word to him, either. Instead, he merely bent down and took Kyle's luggage, turned around, and then disappeared through the main doors.
By the time Kyle had entered the building, the man was gone, leaving him to wait in the foyer for almost an hour before another, equally as old a man came to fetch him. And that's when the real horror started. The butcher before him, disguised as a barber, had hacked away at his head until there was nothing left but a light dusting of uneven hairs that barely held on to Kyle's scalp.
"All set, young man," announced the butcher, through his deep and powerful voice. "Walk through those doors," he pointed in a slow, calculated manner, "and head straight up the stairs. Wait at the bench until someone comes for you."
Kyle scratched at his head and dusted his shoulders before climbing down from the tall, metal chair he'd been sitting in. Then, taking one last look at his hair, now discarded on the floor like dirt, as his blank expression displayed a somber frown, he turned around and walked out into the hall.
The hall was barren and the air was cool and damp, but it was the lack of noise that sent chills down Kyle's spine. No place on Earth that housed five hundred boys could ever possibly be so calm, he was sure of it. But there was nothing. Well, nothing more than a few creepy, old men that possibly hadn't bought a new suit since the school had first opened--back in 1766.
Looking up at the tall, vaulted ceilings, Kyle's eyes followed the old, wooden beams all the way down to the floor, which were then separated by rich, stained panels that decorated the walls. To both his left and right, the halls seemed to stretch on for an eternity, so far that eventually all that could be seen was black. Kyle slowly walked toward the stairs that the butcher had pointed him to, while attempting to tread as quietly as possible. However, regardless of his efforts, each and every step crashed against the hard, wooden floor and echoed louder and louder as the sound clumsily crashed from wall-to-wall, down into eternity.
Kyle slowly climbed the six steps that he had been instructed to follow and was relieved to discover that the bench was close to the landing. But just as he had sat down on the hard, stained-oak bench, a loud, echoing bell chimed throughout the building and a flood of identical males, differing only in height, poured out into halls.
Kyle watched in both wonder and fear. He had never seen such a large crowd of boys to behave in such an orderly fashion before, but watching it happening gave him the willies. The thought of becoming one of them surfaced the memory of at least a hundred grade B movies that had all ended badly, and not just low-budget badly, either.
"Don't worry," a soft and friendly voice interrupted Kyle's thoughts, "you won't be assimilated."
Kyle turned his head to come face-to-face with a boy of about 14 years of age. The first thing he noticed, though, was his piercing green eyes. They were so bright and spectacular that Kyle couldn't just look--he had to stare. They were surrounded by long, dark lashes that curled upward toward two perfectly shaped, deep-drown eyebrows that seemed to frame his eyes like a work of art on display. The boy's skin looked soft and smooth, but it was pale and milky as if he hadn't seen the sun in months, but next to his short-cut and light brown hair, it only added to the lure of his incredible irises.
"I'm, uh... I'm Scott," said the boy in an awkward tone, and he offered out his hand. "You must be Kyle."
Kyle nodded just as he realized he was still staring and, in an attempt to hide the blush of red on his cheeks, forced himself to look away. "Yeah," he managed to reply, "How did you know?"
Scott chuckled as if Kyle's question was one of the stupidest ever asked. "Well, for starters, you're the only kid in this place not wearing a uniform. Then there's the bits of hair down your neck and on your shoulders, followed closely by one really freaked out look on your face. To me, that says 'new kid'," explained the boy. "Well, that, and I've been expecting you."
"Expecting me?" Kyle thought out loud.
"Yup. I'm your official Tyndle Falls' School for Boys tour guide, classmate, roommate, and tutor. For anything you need, want to know, or have to say, I'm the guy you're stuck with for the next eight months of your life."
"Well, for today maybe." Scott grinned and stood up from the bench. "We've got the entire day to get you settled, which means that I've got you to thank for getting me out of three wonderful classes!"
Kyle followed suit and stood up as well. "Oh. I'm sorry."
"For what?" Scott raised an eyebrow at Kyle. "It was a joke. Getting out of class here is next to impossible. Unless you're dead or dying, they'll drag you to your class kicking and screaming if they have to."
As the halls slowly emptied and the quietness returned to the building, Kyle stepped further out into the hall to survey his new-found home. "This place is creepy as hell."
"No shit," chuckled Scott, and he started to walk down the hall. "Did you see Lurch yet?"
"Lurch. He's the Taker of Luggage. No one ever sees him at any other time."
"Yeah, I saw him. But his name's not really Lurch, is it?"
Scott shrugged and continued down the hall. "I haven't the slightest, actually. Don't think anyone really does. But one thing we do know is that once Lurch gets your stuff, you won't be seeing it again until you leave."
Kyle's eyes widened and his jaw dropped to part his lips. "What?! Really? But my iPod's in there."
"No music. It's not allowed, except for on Sundays and assemblies," explained Scott in a harshly serious tone. "And even then, it's only choir-type music."
"That can't be legal..."
Scott smiled and looked down at floor as he slid his hands into his pockets. "Where, exactly, do you think we are?"
Kyle stopped to think but couldn't come up with an answer. He knew that the plane had taken him toward the Pacific, but beyond that his mind came up with nothing. "I, uh, I don't know."
"So..?" Kyle urged on for an answer.
"So, what? Where are we?" Scott shrugged his shoulders and curled his lower-lip. "I've no clue. None of us doâ€"not really, anyway. We know we're somewhere between North America and Japan... or maybe Australia. One thing we know for sure, though, is that we're on an island in international waters. That means the school makes the law."
Kyle felt his heart fall heavy in his chest as his stomach churned and knotted. "So how do we get home?"
"When the plane comes."
"And when's that?"
"Next June, on the twentieth."
"But, what if we're sick or have an accident?"
Scott shrugged again. "Then I guess you go see the school's doctor and hope he knows what he's doing? I dunno. No one's ever been that sick before... Anyway, enough of the gloom, let's get on with the tour. We've got an hour and fifteen before lunch, and if we're late we don't get any."
The thought of food caused Kyle's stomach to rumble and groan. He wasn't able to eat on the plane, as he was too busy trying to choke-up his own stomach. "Okay. So where do we start?"
"Our room, of course," replied Scott. "We're in Corridor Five, in the south wing."
"Wing?" Kyle asked in surprise. "How big is this place?"
"Big," Scott replied simply, then noticed Kyle's unsatisfied look. "What? It's not like I've gone through the place with a measuring tape," he teased. "It's about five minutes from where we are now, and four minutes from the mess hall."
"And if you're running?" asked Kyle.
Kyle rolled his eyes. "Well, I guessed that one."
"No humour, either."
Scott glanced at Kyle with a grin on his face. "Just kidding. That's allowed... outside of classes, anyway."
Turning the corner, Scott began to climb a broad, dark staircase that echoed even louder than the halls, and then he turned his head to face Kyle, beside him. "So, if you don't mind me asking, what got you here?"
"What do you mean?" replied Kyle as he gripped onto the black, wooden rail leading up the stairs."
"Well," started Scott, "you only get here two different ways. Either your parents are rich and don't have time for you, or your parents became rich and didn't want to ruin you with luxuries and an easy, cushy life."
Kyle allowed himself to think for a moment. He wasn't sure if he fit in to either of the two, but the latter seemed the closest. "I guess option number two. When my dad got his new job, we had to move to Edmonton, but my mom didn't want me growing up in the city--so they sent me here."
"Ah, so you're a Canadian, eh? Nice," Scott smiled. "Sounds like she really cares for you."
Unable to decide if Scott was poking fun at him about his mother, Kyle shrugged and scratched his head. "If you want to call it that, I guess."
"Don't worry about it. If you've looked at the brochure, this place sounds and looks great. And the parents never actually get to visit us here. So, to them, they're making the right decision, and whatever we tell them about this place when we're on vacation is written off as teenage drama or an overactive imagination. It's genius, really."
Following Scott down yet another long and dark hall, all of which never really seemed to lead anywhere, Kyle decided to change the topic and learn something about Scott. "Yeah," he said in a slow and drawn out voice, as if preparing the boy for a change in conversation, "so, how long have you been here anyway?"
Scott randomly stopped, spun on his left heel, and then started walking down another hall. "Six years. I started back when I was eight," he answered. "After my mom died, my Dad had to make a decision. It was either he quit his job and look after me, or find an alternative."
"Oh geeze, I'm sorry," said Kyle, suddenly feeling like a jerk.
But Scott just grinned and shrugged his shoulders again. "For what? My mom dying or being stuck here half my life?"
"Both," decided Kyle. "I can't even imagine living here for so long."
"You will," Scott replied in all seriousness. "But don't worry. You get used to it after a while. And, actually, in a couple of years, you'll feel weirder going home for the summer."
"I don't know about that one," Kyle said in certainty as his eye caught a glimpse of a large, old-looking set of doors. They weren't old like the rest of the place was. They seemed older and creepier than anything else he had seen so far. Kyle could tell just by looking at them that they weren't your ordinary tall, creepy doors. They had a story behind them, and their mystery was even more luring than Scott's impossible eyes.
"You'd be surprised how much the outside world changes in a year, especially the people you used to know," Scott continued without noticing that Kyle had stopped at the doors a good thirty feet prior.
"What's in here?" Scott heard Kyle asking through a distant, echoing voice.
Scott turned back around to see Kyle approaching the door with his hand reaching toward the black, iron handle. A surge of dread burst from the deepest pit of his stomach, and he darted back down the hall. "Shit, Kyle!" shouted Scott in a panicked voice while throwing himself in the way of Kyle's hand. "What the hell are you doing?!"
"What?" Kyle stepped back, his curiosity steeping. "What's in there?"
Scott stepped forward with his hands out in front of him, guiding Kyle away from the doors. "That's off limits--that's what it is," he warned in a harsh tone that, to Kyle, seemed more scared than worried. "Come on, we're the next set of doors down, in Corridor Five."
"But..." Kyle attempted to ask again, but Scott was already walking away. And, after taking one last look at doors, he rushed to catch up. "So what's the big deal?"
Scott shook his head. "I can't tell you."
"It's against the rules," replied Scott, and he stopped in front of another set of tall, but far less creepy doors. "This is us," he announced and reached for the handle.
"I don't get it. Why would that be a rule?"
Scott sighed and let go of the door. "It just is, okay?"
"Oh, come on. I won't tell anyone you told me," Kyle begged.
"No way. They'd be able to tell," Scott refused without a second's thought then turned and opened the door. "Come on, I'll show you to your bed."
Kyle followed Scott down a long, dimly lit corridor, passing door after door, each spaced twenty feet apart. "How many rooms are there?" Kyle asked in bewilderment. "This is getting ridiculous."
"Twenty-one. Ten on each side, and the one at the end's the bathroom," explained Scott. We're number 16, which is pretty lucky, actually."
"How's that?" asked Kyle, feigning interest, as his mind still pondered the doors he wasn't allowed to know about.
"Because we're close to the bathroom." Scott stopped outside their door. "If you've ever gone to a ball game and tried to use the facilities, well, that's what it's like here every morning and every night. There's between two and four kids in each one of these rooms, and only one way in and out of that bathroom. Now come on, let's show you our room."
Kyle followed Scott into their room. His mind had now been fully torn from the tall, mysterious doors and was obsessing over the fact that he'd have to shower with, what could be, as much as 79 other boys. Suddenly, for the first time in his entire life, Kyle understood what it was like to feel insecure.
"What's the matter? Still freaking out over me not telling you about those doors?" asked Scott, after realizing Kyle had spaced out. "Don't worry about it. The guys will tell you later."
Kyle was suddenly brought back to Earth. "What? I thought you said it was against the rules?"
"Yeah," Scott confirmed. "But I didn't say it was the school's rules."
"I don't get it."
"It's tradition to tell newbies about the doors after lights out on their first night," Scott finally explained. "Besides, Rick tells the story best. You'll be glad I didn't ruin it for you later. Now shut up for a while, you're messing up the tour."
Kyle laughed and apologized as Scott walked across the room toward a small window and pulled a thick, red curtain to the side. Light immediately flooded into the room through the thin, single-paned glass, revealing every wall, nook, and cranny in all of its glory, which was when Kyle's momentary intrigue drowned and washed away.
The room seemed to have shrunk the moment the light had touched it, and all that was left was two metal bunk beds on either side of the window, a small wooden side table below the window, and two large, old trunks at the foot of the beds. As Kyle walked further into the room, adjacent to either trunk, he saw two small desks with wooden chairs, all with several neatly stacked books and a small journal positioned precisely in the centre. All, of course, except one.
"Wow," Kyle said in a groan. "They really went all out, huh?"
Scott chuckled and walked over to the empty desk in the corner. "This one's yours, right next to mine. The other two belong to our roommates, Sean and Allan," he explained. "You don't mind the top bunk, do you? I'm like a zombie in the morning and always forget I'm six feet up in the air."
Kyle giggled at the instant visual and shook his head. "No, I'm cool with that," he agreed and looked over at the beds. "When I was younger, I always wanted a bunk bed, but my parents never had another kid, and my sister's like six years older than me--so that just would've been weird."
"Oh?" Scott looked interested. "What did your parents do with her?"
Kyle raised an eyebrow at Scott as he walked over to the bunks. "She's like 20, dude. Been at university for a couple years now."
"Oh yeah, that's right." Scott blushed and followed Kyle to the beds. "What's her name?"
Sitting down on the bed, Kyle bounced a few times to gauge its comfort level, and was immediately disappointed. Then, looking up at Scott, he gave him an awkward grin. "Okay, if you ask if I brought a picture next, I'm transferring rooms."
Scott's face reddened even more. "No, uh... it's not like that. I mean--I was just curious."
"Sure you were," teased Kyle. "Her name's Sammy."
"Really? That's a weird name. Your parents are kinda mean."
"Short for Samantha, dude," said Kyle as he stood back up to take a look at where he'd be sleeping all year. "When's the last time you saw a girl?"
"It's not like that," Scott repeated defensively, "just making small talk."
"Say," Kyle bent down and looked under the bed then stood back up and spun around, "where are the ladders?"
"The ladders, you know? Those things you use to climb up stuff?"
"Oh, right, uh... we don't have any." Scott looked up at Kyle, worried that he'd get stuck with the top bunk. "You can climb it though, right?"
Stepping up onto the edge of Scott's bed, Kyle bent his knees and then thrust his weight upward before turning around and landing on the top bunk. "Yeah, I can manage," he decided. "Guess I should've expected not to have a ladder. This place doesn't seem to stick with the usual norms."
"It's not that, actually. A couple years back, one of the third-year kids slipped when he was climbing, right between the steps, and ended up breaking his neck."
"Holy shit," Kyle whispered, as if being told a dirty secret. "How'd that happen?"
Scott shrugged his shoulders and looked down at the floor. "Dunno. It was a freak accident, really. But the kid's parents ended up suing for negligence and won," he explained. "It cost the school a boatload of cash, so ever since then no one's had a ladder."
"I thought you said no one's been that sick before?" Kyle remembered, leaning forward and looking down at Scott.
"No one has. Breaking a neck doesn't count as sick, and I'm pretty sure if that happens you're pretty much screwed no matter how close you are to a hospital."
"But how do the smaller kids get into their bed?"
"They don't have bunks anymore. Only the older kids get them. Now they just have smaller beds crammed into the same sized rooms."
Kyle looked around at the space they had and was instantly grateful for the bunks. "God, that's gotta make things awkward."
"Anyway," Scott jumped up from the bed and walked across the room to one of the trunks, "get down here for a second. We need to get you suited up."
"Huh?" Kyle stared down at Scott, knowing exactly what he was talking about.
Sure enough, just as Kyle's feet hit the floor, Scott pulled out a parcel, wrapped in a brown sheet of paper and held together by woven string. "Here, put this on and see if it fits," he instructed and tossed it over to Kyle.
"What is it?" asked Kyle, staring down at the package in his hands.
"The last suit you'll ever wear."
Kyle registered the borrowed quote immediately and started to laugh. "Oh joy of joys," he said as sarcastically as possible. Can't wait to put on that itchy looking vest you're wearing."
"Well that's good," said Scott as he walked toward the door, "but you're not wearing mine," he teased. "Now come on, let's go."
"What? Where are we going?"
Scott looked at Kyle as if he were crazy. "Where do you think? You can't put on brand new clothes with bits of hair all over you. Besides, you have to shower before changing clothes. It's another rule: you don't put something clean over something dirty."
"Seriously?" Kyle swiped his hand across his shoulders to remove the remaining hairs. "I'm not that bad, am I?" he asked jokingly, but more in dismay over having to shower with someone else in the room.
"Yeah... That's one of the few rules that I never questioned," replied Scott, who was already walking out of the room. "Don't worry. You'll get your old clothes back in June--if they still fit."
Kyle gripped the parcel close to his chest, exhaled a deep and heavy sigh, and then nervously hurried to catch up with Scott. "So what's with all the weird rules here, anyway?"
Scott approached the bathroom door and reached for the handle before stopping and looking back at Kyle. "They're not all that weird when you think about it, really. The easiest way to remember most of them is to remember the one, key rule."
"And that is...?"
"No outside influence," said Scott, as if reciting a quote. "If it's from, related to, or something to do with the outside world, then it's not allowed here."
Kyle's shoulders slouched, his eyebrows rose, and his forehead wrinkled in confusion. "Yeah, that doesn't really help much."
Scott easily sympathized and smiled to express his understanding. "Okay, so no music, outside clothes, slang, swears, rudeness, tardiness, or excuses. No electronics, no shouting, no running, no slouching, no talking up, no talking down, no bullying, no play fighting, no sleeping in, no sleeping over, no staying up late, no missing class." Scott stopped to think, and catch his breath, and started counting his fingers as his lips silently sorted through the list. "Oh yeah: no pets, no secrets, no rumours, no lying, no food or water in your rooms, no switching beds, no sharing clothes, no doing someone else's work, no talking after lights out, no lights after lights out, no getting out of bed after lights out, and no staying in bed after they're on..."
"Okay, okay," begged Kyle. "Stop, please. I get it. No nothing," he promised. "I'm a total zombie."
Scott grinned and swung open the bathroom door. "Good. Welcome to Tyndle Falls' School for Boys," he said and bent down into a gentleman's bow while pointing his left, outstretched arm inside the bathroom. "Enjoy your stay."
Kyle stared at Scott awkwardly and grinned. "How many rules did you just break?"
"Not a one," Scott assured him. "I've read the rules a thousand times, and nowhere in all the pages does it say 'no resentment'."
At this point, there was no avoiding it. The door was open, Scott was waiting, and anymore delays would trigger suspicion, which in turn would alert Scott to Kyle's new-found shyness. And, after swallowing a large, dry lump of nerves, Kyle stepped inside.
The room smelled of bleach and harsh cleaners that burned at the insides of Kyle's nostrils, all the way down to his lungs. Directly in front of him was an army of sinks, mirrors, and stools. Each one was spotless, smudge-less, and in place. To his left he saw a long, metal trough that was disguised as a urinal and looked as if it had been taken right out of a barnyard's pigpen. Opposite to this was a row of toilets that had been boxed in four-foot tall stalls, to which Kyle found to be quite fitting. Then, looking to his right was a large, tiled room. Mounted along its walls was a row of showerheads, placed precisely three feet apart and six feet from the drain, and in the centre of the room was thick, metal posts that sprung up from the floor and disappeared into the ceiling, three showerhead per post and three rows of three.
Kyle had hoped for a curtain or even a door, but the room's amenities seemed to stop at hot water. "Um..." he said awkwardly, looking back at Scott, standing behind him. "Is there any..."
"Soap!" blurted Scott. "Sorry, I totally forgot," he explained and hurried back out into the hall."
"Great," Kyle muttered to himself and moved to close the door before kicking his heel to the toe of his right shoe to remove his favourite Treads for the last time until June the twentieth of next year.
Through shaky nerves, Kyle approached a sink and bent down to peel off his socks, which he tossed toward his discarded shoes, then grabbed at the hem of his shirt's bottom and slowly pulled it up and over his head. Taking a moment to look at his reflection in the mirror, his deep brown eyes were drawn to his stubbly head. The butcher had done a terrible job. Small strands of lonely hairs poked out over his ears, while others gently waved back and forth atop his almost-visible scalp, looking for some place to hide.
He was cold, and his skin wasted no time in telling him so. Ripples of goose-bumps consumed his torso and quickly spread all the way down to his ankles. For but a moment, Kyle could have sworn he had seen his breath trail out of his mouth and reach for the mirror. But as a small cloud of fog spread across the glass and disappeared just as quickly, he decided it must have been his imagination.
In one last deep breath, Kyle sucked in, reached for the button of his jeans, and exhaled. In the mirror, he could see the bumps of shivers on his skin slowly fade away against his thin, perfectly tanned stomach, and he wondered how long it would take until he was just as pasty-white as everyone else.
With his heart pounding, while stealing glances at the door through the mirror, Kyle lowered his thumb and forefinger to the tab of his fly and slowly slid it down. By now he needed the moment to be over more than anything. He felt awful and nervous and shy and even a little sick to his stomach. It wasn't just here. Even back at Elden High, he had planned his locker-room escape as inconspicuously as possible to avoid changing and showering in front of anyone else. He didn't have a real reason for it. It wasn't like he was fat or ugly in any way. He just didn't like it. They were his private bits, after all. Why should anyone else get to see them?
It was then that it hit him. If he were to hurry, he could be in and out of the shower before Scott even made it back. And with this new-found incentive, Kyle dropped his pants to the floor, hesitated for only a moment as his thumbs dipped behind the elastic of his black boxer-briefs, and in one fell swoop he slid them down to his ankles.
But just as he did, his eye caught the shadow of something moving behind him, causing Kyle to yelp and snatch his underwear back up around his waist before spinning himself around.
The door was still closed and looked undisturbed, and there was no sign of Scott anywhere. His eyes then followed the wall toward the urinals as his head slowly turned itself to the right. But nothing was there, so he turned back around and peeked inside the shower room, only to discover that he was definitely alone.
His heart was pounding hard against his chest as the silence of the room began to creak and hiss through old pipes and loose duct vents. He knew he was being silly, that his mind was playing tricks on him, but he couldn't shake the feeling that he was being watched.
He turned around and placed his palms on either side of the cool porcelain sink and stared down into the darkness of the drain, trying to calm himself before Scott returned. There was no way he was going to be branded as the school Chicken-shit on his first day. Fortunately, a sudden warmth blew against the back of his neck. It was hot and comforting and tickled the uneven hairs against his skin, which in turn allowed his mind to settle. And just as quickly as he began to feel better, he noticed a ribbon that had been tied to a vent above a mirror--ten feet away-- lying dormant against the grill. His eyes slowly trailed back along the wall until they reached the sink below his hands. Then, holding his breath, he followed his reflection upward. "Free me."
A voice echoed in Kyle's head, over and over again, until gradually fading into nothingness. Kyle spun back around, feeling his throat catch against his heart, and stumbled back against the wall. He could hear footsteps out in the hall. They were getting louder by the second, and he scrambled to find some place to hide.
Settling for the nearest stall, Kyle crouched down beside the toilet and held his head against the tile floor, just as the door swung open.
Scott stepped into the bathroom and immediately noticed the pile of clothes on the floor. "Kyle?!" he called out but didn't receive a reply. "Where'd you go?"
First peeking around the corner into the shower room, Scott turned around and walked toward the toilets. "Kyle?" he asked after noticing Kyle's foot sticking out from under the stall. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Ummm," Kyle slithered out from beside the toilet and climbed to his feet. "Nothing. I, uh, thought I saw a nickel."
A crooked smile inched its way to the corner of Scott's cheek as his eyebrows raised against his forehead. "Okay... because everyone here has money, right?" he teased. "You do realize that, being in the middle of nowhere, money doesn't mean a thing?"
Standing in the middle of the floor, Kyle stood up straight and swung his hands at his sides. "Yeah--I think I'm getting that," he said sheepishly when he realized he was barely half dressed. "So, you found the soap?"
Scott nodded. "Uh-huh," he said suspiciously. "So what were you really doing?"
"Nothing," Kyle replied without hesitation. "Just being random."
"Right. Okay. Well, here's your soap, a towel, some shampoo, and I put your toothbrush on your desk back in the room. Did you want me to come back in five?"
"No!" Kyle blurted, alarming even himself. "I mean, it's fine. You can stay."
Scott crossed his arms and looked at Kyle with intrigue. "So what did you really see?"
Kyle shrugged and walked past him toward showers. "Nothing. Honest."
"Okay, so, a while ago you looked like you were going to mess your pants when I mentioned a showerâ€"which obviously means you're freaked about it, but now you want me to stay?"
Kyle looked stunned. "Was I really that obvious?"
Scott shrugged and half-shook his head. "No. But everyone's freaked about showering when they first get here--you saw something, didn't you."
"What? What are you talking about?"
"Okay fine," Scott gave a flustered sigh and stepped back toward the door. "Hurry up and take a shower. Lunch time's in thirty minutes."