It’s a crisp autumn weekend and the pep rally is underway for the semi-final game that marks the end of the first half of football season this year. Chad shows up at the football field and makes his way up to the bleachers through a moving crowd of other students finding their seats. He spots Vitani and Josh sitting in one row and heads over to sit next to them. He slides over and greets them.
“Hey guys,” Chad says, “All of the kids in my class say SyndAcad pep rallies are ones to remember.”
“Hey squirt!” Josh greets him, “And you heard right. I guess this is gonna be your first time at ours.”
“I’m so glad you decided to come on out today, Chad,” Vitani smiles, “We were all just about to watch the Milano sisters and the rest of the cheerleading squad ruin the pep rally. It happens almost every year. Trust me, you won’t wanna miss it.”
“C’mon, Vitani, I’m sure the girls practiced really hard for this year,” Josh remarks with a little grin.
“But they’ll always be Amber and Christy,” Vitani replies, “And since that will never change …”
Just then, the school band gives a drumroll and the cheerleaders all step toward the center of the field to start their routine. The main body of students in the bleachers falls silent to watch and listen. Chad, Vitani and Josh all watch curiously as the girls begin the school cheer with the co-cheer captains Amber and Christy in the middle of the group.
The girls then start to leap up onto each other’s shoulders to pose in the form of a pyramid. The Milano sisters leap up to the very top and strike a pose as they balance on the other girls’ shoulders. The crowd begins to cheer until a banner with the SyndAcad school crest suddenly pops loose from its post between two speaker poles. It blows right over to their cheerleading pyramid and starts to knock them over. Everyone stands from their seats and they scream in alarm.
Chad quickly leaps up and maneuvers his hands to let a few gusts of wind wrap the banner into a ball to cushion the girls’ fall. They all tumble back clumsily, but are not hurt, as the cheerleaders soon crawl out of the banner and try to regain their composure.
A few other students begin to laugh before taking their seats. Chad simply lets out a sigh of relief before he sits back down. Vitani and Josh cannot help but chuckle a bit at the events themselves. There is an announcement of a brief intermission of the rally.
“Meh. You got lucky this year,” Josh grumbles, as he hands Vitani a five dollar bill for their bet.
“I can’t say the same for Amber and Christy and their routine,” Vitani replies before she adds, “And now that the Milano sisters’ve provided me with my entertainment for the day, Josh and I should probably get going. We’ve gonna meet Evan today to try to find his long-lost cousin, Eliza. She’s a girl who used to be my best friend back when I was a kid.”
“And it turns out Eliza was also one of the girls I dated,” Josh adds, “She’s a really amazing person.”
“That’s great. Good luck, guys,” Chad nods and muses, “I bet it must be really amazing when you can finally unite with someone you share something that special with.”
Josh says, “Well after coming so close recently, we’re definitely not gonna give up hope on that.”
Vitani asks, “Chad, you haven’t given up hope for you and Ray Torres ever being more than friends, have you?”
Chad sighs and shrugs, “I dunno. But from what I’ve seen, Ray’s decided to move on from whatever it is we had between us and is getting more serious with his girlfriend, Rita Allen. So I guess maybe it’s time that … I try to move on too.”
Josh raises an eyebrow and says, “It almost sounds like you already have somebody in mind.”
Chad smirks before he muses, “If I even get my mind on something else.”
Vitani smiles reassuringly, “Who knows? Maybe something else interesting is in store for you.”
With that, Vitani and Josh stand up and head down the bleacher steps to leave once they all say goodbye.
Just after they have left, the emcee for the pep rally announces over the speakers that the football players were about to assemble on the field. Chad’s eyes immediately look around to spot Ray and his team. He soon notices him in line at the bottom of the bleachers. Chad decides he can make sure he shows that he is still there for Ray no matter what. The emcee begins to announce each of the players’ names in alphabetical order and as they walk onto the field, Chad gets up from his seat on the bleachers and begins to jog down the stairs.
However, none other than the school reporter, Rita Allen, is sitting at the very bottom of the bleachers to cheer on her boyfriend. She spots Chad coming down from the side and rolls her eyes. She grabs a small basket of oranges from beside her and runs over to Ray at the bottom of the bleachers before Chad can get there. Chad stops a few steps behind when he sees them.
Rita Allen tugs Ray’s shirt and says, “Hey Ray, before you go out there you should have a slice of these oranges I got from one of the health sponsors. You know it’s said that in Chinese culture the orange is a symbol of luck and it can bring you prosperity and good fortune.”
Ray smiles and says, “Hehe. I suppose I could use all of the good fortune I can get, huh?”
Rita Allen snickers, “Let’s see how prosperous our relationship will be after this kiss.”
With that, Ray eats some wedges of the orange Rita Allen feeds him before the two lean in and share a sweet kiss on the lips. Chad closes his eyes in angst and decides to go back up to his seat for now. Ray and Rita Allen break the kiss. She pats him on the back and tells him it is his time to go on after team captain Cameron Levine’s name is called. Rita Allen looks behind her and smiles when she sees Chad going back up to his seat.
The emcee then says, “And now, a player who has won the Best New Player medal as he went on to score two of the winning touchdowns out of the three games played so far, Ray Torres!”
Everyone cheers loudly as Ray jogs onto the field. Rita Allen claps and screams in cheer. Chad claps with a proud smile from back in his seat. As the girl students scream and the male students whistle, Ray proudly throws his hands in the air in acknowledgement before he turns around to look at the crowd.
However, the crowd seems to spiral around him faster and faster until Ray falls back and blacks out!
Outside of the student medical center on campus, some of Ray’s teammates are murmuring to each other as they stand around the waiting room for news on what happened to Ray on the field. Rita Allen is also sitting around anxiously when she sees Chad standing nearby.
Rita Allen goes over to him and quips, “It’s really sweet of you to try to be here Chad. It really is. But you’ve been doing such a good job of staying away from Ray so far, like we agreed. And everyone who truly cares about him is already here.”
Chad frowns and tells her, “I never agreed to stop caring about Ray, nor would I ever, whether you believe I do or not. I want to find out what happened to him just as much as everyone else here does.”
Just then, the nurse steps out of the room and everyone looks up. She says, “Ray is in perfect health.”
Everyone cheers in relief and the nurse steps inside as Ray exits the room. He is patted on the back by his teammates and Rita Allen moves over to hug him. Chad sighs.
Ray decides to explain. “It seems I just had some sort of anxiety attack. And it got me to realize … I can’t play in the game this weekend.”
His teammates gasp in disbelief and ask him why he would let one incident throw him off like this.
Rita Allen agrees with them and adds, “What? Why not, Ray? It was just one little -”
Ray tells them all, “I just don’t think I can keep all this up for much longer. Maybe it’s run its course.”
With that, Ray turns and asks Rita Allen to take him back to his dorm. Despite the protest of some of his teammates and a confused look from his girlfriend, Rita Allen grabs his hand and starts to lead him away from the waiting room. However, Chad steps in front of them.
Chad looks him in the eye, “Are you really telling me you’re giving up like this after everything, Ray?”
Ray tells him, “I can’t say I’ve never felt like I let go of something I feel so passionately about before.”
Chad pauses in his stance as Ray and Rita Allen walk past him and head down the hall. Some of the other players are ranting that they cannot believe Ray would back out like this after one little fainting spell, just as they were approaching semi-finals and coming one step closer to the championship. Chad honestly couldn’t believe it either; if there’s one thing he’s sure about it’s that Ray loves football.
He wonders to himself, 'Is it really this easy to let go of something you care about so much?'
= = =
The next day at an auction house gala uptown, Vitani and Josh arrive in formal wear at the entrance with their ‘invitations’. They take them out and hand them to Evan Ross, who is the doorman for the auction event. Evan takes them and checks their fake names off on the guest list.
“As you guys might’ve guessed, my PI’s investigations have led them to believe there’s a good chance that Eliza might be hiding out here at this auction gala,” Evan says, “So we need to get in there and find her before whoever she’s been running from does. I snagged this doorman job in hopes that I can catch her coming into the event. But you two need to go in as bidders and see if she’s already here.”
“Right. So first Eliza stayed at a convent and now she’s at an auction gala,” Vitani muses, “Our best bet is that she’s here to sell something for extra money to continue her getaway. She must be really using all of her resources to get away from these people who are after her.”
“Well let’s get inside and find her first,” Josh proclaims with a nod, just as some other bidders arrive.
With that, Evan steps aside and Josh escorts Vitani into the auction. Evan looks back at them and sighs deeply before he gets back to signing off the other guests.
As Vitani and Josh pass by the main area while looking around, a mysterious girl with a pink sunhat and wearing shades is in the lounge, watching them from behind a magazine. She calls someone on her cell phone and reports, “They’re both here.”
= = =
Meanwhile, inside the office for the SyndAcad school newspaper, Rita Allen packs up her things from her desk and prepares to leave. She wants to head back over to Ray’s dorm and find out why he wants to give up on football all of a sudden. She notes to herself that he was perfectly fine and hyped about the game before they had kissed at the bleachers yesterday.
As she opens the door to leave, she bumps into her brother, Dustin Allen, who is wearing his military school uniform. He had moved out of Ray’s dorm last week and back to the military school.
Rita Allen says, “Hey, bro. You should’ve called before you got here. I’ve got to go find Ray and –”
Dustin cuts in and says, “But we never got to finish our little conversation back at my party last week.”
Rita Allen shrugs, “Oh um Ray and I couldn’t stay at the party because I had to let him get as much rest as possible before the semi-finals this weekend. In fact, he doesn’t seem to be totally ready yet and -”
Dustin nods, “Okay. So those are Ray’s big plans, but what are yours? And how does it involve Chad?”
Rita Allen turns away nervously and frowns, “What? I don’t even understand why you would ask me about Chad Blackman. What do you know about him?”
Dustin says, “If I tell you then you have to tell me what the real deal is with you and Chad Blackman.”
Rita Allen folds her arms and shrugs it off, “Okay! Fine. Why are you so interested in Chad anyway?”
Dustin tells her, “I actually ran into him while I was laying low here at your school. And he turned out to be the one who helped me exonerate myself from being framed for stealing that military code.”
Rita Allen gasps, “What? Omigod! Are you really saying it was Chad who helped you out of that mess?”
Dustin nods with a fond smile, “Yep. That boy, Chad, he’s quite the hero.”
Rita Allen scoffs and turns around, “Oh please, Dustin. Chad is far from being any kind of hero!”
Dustin frowns and asks, “Sis, do you even realize where I would be right now if it weren’t for him?”
Rita Allen whirls around and says, “Yes, but look, don’t be fooled by him, okay? You don’t know half of what there is to know about him.”
“I know that I’d still be in that mess if it weren’t for him,” Dustin says, “He really does seem like a pretty sweet guy through and through.”
Rita Allen sighs in frustration before she says, “Well through my investigations as a reporter on a story, I learned his background isn’t as sweet as you seem to think.”
Dustin folds his arms and asks, “And what does that even mean?”
When Dustin frowns in confusion, Rita Allen moves over to close the door to her office to give them more privacy. She pauses as she has a flashback from when she, Ray and Chad were at the first game of the season a few months ago:
Just then, the coach’s whistle blew and Ray quickly hands Chad the ticket before saying he had to go do his stuff. Chad and Rita Allen both wish him good luck with a smile before he jogs off onto the football field.
Chad turns to the reporter with a frown, “Why were you so convinced I wouldn’t show?”
Rita Allen folds her arms and replies, “I mean, you hadn’t shown up at any of your science classes for three weeks and any of your classes for the last two weeks, both you and Rick Hayes. That was around the time Professor Hayes disappeared and the school board here discovered he was involved with some kind of legion of evil or something. So with Professor Hayes and his son running and you following, I was convinced you wouldn’t be finished aiding and abetting those criminals in getting out of the country yet.”
“W-What?” Chad scoffs, “I didn’t help either of them do anything you think they might have done!”
“I know Rick Hayes was behind all those attempted suicide cases I was looking into in the very beginning. When I showed the victims a picture of him and that black leather jacket he gave you, the fear in their reactions were enough to tell me that he was, in fact, behind coaxing all those innocent girls to their demise like that,” Rita Allen states, “But you can still disregard all my thoughts that you were helping them out right now.”
“How?” Chad asks.
“Tell me where Rick Hayes is right now,” Rita Allen demands.
“I-I can’t,” Chad sighs, “I honestly don’t know where he is. You have to believe me.”
“No, you have to believe me when I say that I will not stop until I find out exactly how you’re really connected to Rick and all the other weird things that happen around SyndAcad,” she replies, “And when I do, I won’t hesitate to tell the whole school who you really are, Chad.”
Rita Allen sighs deeply before she turns to Dustin and continues, “He was closely associated with a sociopath named Rick Hayes who once attended this school. I found out this guy used some sort of psychological wordplay to manipulate a bunch of the students here into attempted suicide!”
Dustin gasps and says, “What? No way! I mean, does the school even know about something like this?”
Rita Allen explains, “Nope. All of the victims were much too scared to come forward and they eventually left the school. As for Rick Hayes, he disappeared from town before I could manage to prove anything. Although I think Chad was connected to Rick’s disappearance too.”
Dustin pauses and shakes his head in disbelief, “C’mon. There’s gotta be way more to the whole story!”
Rita Allen agrees and tells him, “Yes, I’m sure there is. And I believe all the answers we need lie on this little flash drive right here. It belonged to none other than Rick Hayes himself.”
She shows her brother Rick’s flash drive hung around her neck. Dustin looks at it curiously and ponders.
Then he raises an eyebrow and asks her, “So what exactly is on that flash drive?”
Rita Allen looks down at the flash drive and states, “I’m not sure yet. But I plan on finding out.”
= = =
Meanwhile, Chad stops by the Libretta for a bite to eat for lunch. As he enters, he spots Ray sitting at a table by himself, looking glum as he sips on a latte. Chad frowns and decides he has to find out the real answers behind why Ray is suddenly dropping out of football.
“Look,” Chad tells him, “the Ray Torres I know wouldn’t give up on football without a good reason.”
“Well maybe I have a good reason,” Ray muses with a sigh before he shrugs casually, “Maybe this is it.”
“After how far you’ve made it to suddenly doubt yourself?” Chad states, “That’s not a good reason!”
Ray sits back with a slouch. “Look C.K., if it makes it any better, I’m not the only one who feels this way about things. Four more of the guys on our team have backed out because they realized they couldn’t handle any of this.”
Chad frowns and replies, “How does that make it any better? Especially when you stood in front of me the very day after I saved you from the cross that same team strung you up to and you vowed to do whatever it takes to become the best. If you hadn’t lost faith in yourself back then, at a time like that, why the hell would you now?”
Ray looks down and scratches his head, “I dunno, okay? I just …”
Chad says, “No, Ray. It’s not okay! Look at me and tell me you don’t still feel that way deep down.”
Ray takes a deep breath before he says, “Trust me when I say that I feel a lot of things with every day that passes,” and stammers, “But I don’t know what I want and what I need right now ...”
Chad tells him, “You just need to have as much faith in yourself as we all have in you,” and he pauses before he quietly adds, “As I have in you … if that means anything to you at all.”
Chad looks away in frustration over Ray’s sudden despondent behavior over football, which is something he knew had meant everything to Ray.
However, he soon hears Ray’s voice say, “Coming from you … it means everything to me.”
Chad looks back at him and smiles. He slowly starts to reach out to touch Ray’s hand as it lay on the table. He takes a deep breath before he puts his hand on top of Ray’s and touches it. Chad feels a warm feeling flow under his skin from the heat of their touch, causing him to let out a sigh. He then looks up to gauge Ray’s reaction. He is surprised when Ray grabs his hand in return and squeezes it in response. Chad looks up with a grin and blushes to himself. Ray looks back at him and smiles.
Ray then closes his eyes before he stands and exclaims, “Hey! What the hell am I doing?”
Chad looks up at him in surprise, “What do you mean –”
Ray grabs his things and states, “I dunno what got into me, but I need to go tell the coach I’m back in!”
Chad stands up and smiles widely, “Really? You’re gonna get back into the football game?”
“Yeah! You know you really opened my eyes, C.K.,” Ray smiles fondly, “What would I do without my hero?”
With that, Ray hugs him tightly before he says he has to go find the coach and apologize for his weird behavior. He runs out of the Libretta with a broad grin on his face. Chad watches him leave before he sighs quietly with a smile.
“Well there’s definitely something going on between you and that boy,” comes a familiar voice.
Chad turns around to see Aaron Scott, Dustin’s roommate from military school, coming towards him. He is handsomely decked out in his military school uniform. Chad looks around to make sure no one heard his little comment before they sit down.
“Oh hey, Aaron. Ray and I are just friends,” Chad tells him, “Anyway, what brings you to SyndAcad?”
“Apparently one of SyndAcad’s best attractions,” Aaron smirks with a wink of his blue eyes, “You.”
“W-What?” Chad stutters with a little blush.
“Well you know Dustin’s been coming to SyndAcad the entire week looking for you,” Aaron explains.
“Yeah, and I have been skillfully avoiding him,” Chad muses as he shifts awkwardly, “Just yesterday I almost ran into him in the hallways after class, but I got away just before he saw me. I guess I thought my ignoring his calls and texts every day would have sent the message by now.”
“You’re sending a message he doesn’t understand,” Aaron tells him, “I told you he said he has no idea what you meant by some plan that his sister has to get to you. He’s just sorry that whatever it is makes you so upset and he wants to talk with you about it.”
“Let’s just say I have to be careful who I talk to when it comes to his dear sister,” Chad muses, “After all, Rita Allen’s used people who I thought were my friend to get to me before. And if Dustin’s a part of that or even you for that matter -”
“Hey! I’ve never even met the girl,” Aaron admits, “But Dustin talks about her all the time and he told me he’d invited her to the party last week. I was as interested in meeting her as I'm now interested in what you mean by her 'trying to get to you'. What is it Rita Allen’s trying to do exactly?”
“It’s complicated,” Chad sighs, “But if she can , she’d use whatever’s necessary to ruin my life.”
“What could Dustin’s sister possibly have against you anyway?” Aaron asks with a confused look before he adds, “I mean, at least after what you did for her brother, she should finally realize what an amazing person you really are.”
Aaron then smiles at him. Chad smiles back weakly as he wonders how amazing they would think he is if any of them knew he had been boyfriends with Rick Hayes all along.
= = =
Back at the auction gala, Vitani and Josh browse around the gala amongst other bidders in hopes of spotting Eliza somewhere. They view displays of elaborate works of art such as paintings and carvings, urns and other pottery as well as other items such as porcelain tea sets, vintage wines, expensive timepieces and jewelry.
Josh is reading a brochure and comments, “There are even deals for yachts here. This is definitely no garage sale we’re at. Eliza must be hoping to make some big bucks before she skips town. I wonder what she could sell at such a high price.”
Vitani passes by a glass case of jewelry and muses, “Omigod! Isn’t that my ... Eliza’s … it can’t be!”
Josh looks around at the jewelry inside the glass case, “What’s wrong Vitani? What is it?”
Vitani frowns before she points at something behind the glass frame and replies, “You see there? That necklace with the pendant shaped like half of a broken heart? That looks so much like a necklace I gave to Eliza at the orphanage. We were best friends and I wanted her to have something to remember me by in case we’d ever get separated. I gave it to her to show her how special it was to me because … it was actually my mother’s.”
Josh looks up, “Omigod! Do you mean that you knew your mom before she gave you up for –”
Vitani shakes her head and sighs. “No. They found out later that she used an alias, but it seems she left the necklace with my things the day she dropped me off at the orphanage in Italy all those years ago. They told me it was worth more than I could imagine. When I saw ‘with love’ written on the back, I thought of it as worth whatever love my mother had for me and worth how much I cared about Eliza. Now it’s being sold as I’ve lost both of them.”
Josh turns to her, “Wait. Are you sure that’s the same necklace as the one you gave Eliza?”
Vitani replies, “No. I can’t tell unless I look at the back. But if Eliza’s supposed to be here and she’s really auctioning something, it would make sense for it to be. I wouldn’t want to believe she would just sell something that sentimental … but maybe she really needs the money with the situation she’s in.”
Josh sighs and holds her by the shoulder, “Well there’s only one way to find out. We’re going to the auction theatre for this jewelry set and find out who’s offering it up for bid. If it’s really Eliza and she’s here, we’ll finally find her and find out why she’s in this whole situation.”
Vitani takes one last look at the necklace and nods, “Maybe we’ll get some part of my life back today.”
= = =
Later, at a fair being held at the military school, Chad and Aaron have been at a bunch of tents and are now playing a game of ring toss on a bottle at one of the carnival stands. Aaron scores three in a row and wins a prize. He opens it and it’s a pendant shaped like a cadet medal. He shows it to Chad.
“This is so cool. A nerd like me could never get a real one of these,” Chad muses, as he holds the medal pendant in his hand, “Do you mind if I have this, Aaron?”
“Nerd or not, Chad, I’d totally give you one for how brave you were back when we took down Commander Davenport and his boys last week,” Aaron states before he takes it back and sticks out his tongue, “But I recall winning this fair and square.”
“But you probably have a bunch of real ones from here at military school,” Chad whines playfully, “Fine. If I win my turn, can I have it then?”
Aaron steps back to give him room. Chad steps forward before buying his rings for the toss. He tosses his but easily misses with the first two rings. Aaron teasingly pats him on the back. So Chad, a little embarrassed, tosses the third one, but then discreetly flicks his wrist for a breeze to guide the ring over the bottle for at least one score. Chad and Aaron turn to each other and laugh.
They head off and Aaron drags him to a photo booth where they take a bunch of silly photos together. Aaron tousles Chad’s hair during the pictures, so Chad reaches over to mess with his, but Aaron grabs him and gives him a ‘noogie’ on the head. After they come out, Chad and Aaron stroll through the crowd together laughing at some of the funny pictures they had taken together.
Aaron quickly buys some balloons and says “I knew the photos would look totally crazy! Hehe!”
Chad looks at the photo strips and nods, “Haha. You know, I think this entire day was crazy.”
They come to a stop near a fruit stall. Aaron raises an eyebrow and asks, “Crazy good, right?”
Chad turns and says, “Hey, thanks for inviting me to the fair to get my mind off all of that other stuff.”
Aaron nods and tells him, “I know it’s only temporary since you’re gonna have to go back and face whatever the situation is eventually. But I thought it would be good to at least get a smile on your face and show you that there’s always something to smile about.”
With that, Aaron hands Chad a balloon with a smiley face on it. Chad giggles softly as he takes it.
Chad looks at it before he sighs, “Well I’m not so sure if it’s possible to come out of this situation with something to smile about. It’s like… well, if I were to let go of this balloon it would just go away, but I’m not so sure my problem can ever go away that easily.”
Aaron replies, “It’s times like that you should try to remember the reasons you still have to smile.”
Chad fiddles with the string of the balloon and replies with a grin, “Maybe I’ll think about today.”
He looks up and sees Aaron smiling over at him fondly. Chad and Aaron exchange looks until a group of boys from the military school pass by. One of the boys makes a comment that it looks like this one might be serious before they walk away. Chad shifts awkwardly before he turns to Aaron.
Chad raises an eyebrow and asks, “What do those boys mean exactly by ‘this one’?”
Aaron shrugs with his hands in his pockets, “I guess they mean out of all the people I’ve dated here, it never seemed to them as I seem to be with you. And you and I aren’t even dating.”
“And I’m a boy,” Chad adds with a somewhat awkward chuckle as he twists the balloon string.
“You know there aren’t that many girls at an all-male military school, right?” Aaron states.
Chad looks up in realization and stutters, “Omigod! Are you saying that … you’re … you know …”
Aaron laughs and replies, “I’m saying that I date whoever I like. Is that a problem with you, Chad?”
Chad shakes his head, “Um, no! I just … didn’t know. I mean … does Dustin know? That you’re …”
Aaron explains to him, “That I’m bi? Dustin’s my roommate, Chad. Okay, let me put it this way, there’re not that many things about me that I have to be ashamed of or to keep secret. How about you?”
Chad hesitates to answer nervously. Just about then, the same group of boys from before pass back and call out for Aaron. He excuses himself to go talk with them for a bit. Chad sighs loudly when he leaves and wonders what he would have said. As he is lost in thought, he hears a girl shriek behind him.
He turns to see the stall attendant on a small two-way ladder step trying to hang a fruit basket of apples on the edge of her stall frame. Chad comes over and offers to do it for. She thanks him before she tells him she has to bring in the rest of the fruit shipment order and will be right back. As Chad is busy hanging the fruit basket, he soon notices this was the exact type of fruit basket Rita Allen had for the oranges she gave Ray at the pep rally. He figures this ‘Mind & Health’ fruit stall was from the same health sponsor as for the football game.
As he steps back down, his foot misses a ladder rung and he falls back. However, someone catches him from behind. Chad thanks them before he looks back to see he is in none other than Dustin’s arms.
“Oh, it’s you,” Chad sneers after regaining his composure and stepping back, “I didn’t think you were coming to the fair. After all, I heard you were back at SyndAcad spending quality time with your sister.”
“I was. And she sure had a lot to say about you, Chad,” Dustin tells him when he begins walking away.
Chad pauses before he turns around. “Trust me, Dustin. I can say quite a lot of things about her too.”
Dustin raises an eyebrow and continues, “Okay. Well since you have so much to say, what can you say about a certain someone named … Rick Hayes?”
Chad gulps as his heart begins to race nervously at the mention of the name, “Look Dustin … I don’t …”
Dustin adds, “And whatever you say, it better be the truth. Because if what my sister says about you and Rick is true … as I told myself, the Chad I know wouldn’t be involved in something so evil and that there must be more to the story. What I’m doing here is choosing to believe in your innocence the same way you believed in mine before. So if you don’t tell me anything Chad, I’ll have no choice but to believe what my sister says – that you and Rick Hayes were a lot more involved than we all think.”
Chad pauses nervously as he ponders what to say, while Dustin simply stares at him expectantly, waiting for an answer.
= = =
Back at the auction gala, Vitani and Josh are seated in the auction theatre where the necklace and rest of the jewelry is being auctioned off. The auctioneer, who is a slender redheaded woman, gets the auction going in no time, with socialite women and fairly high profile men placing various high priced bids on most of the items there.
When she gets to the necklace, Vitani and Josh look around the theatre cautiously for any sign of Eliza.
The auctioneer continues, “Well this beautiful Italian silver pendant we have here already has a proxy bid on it. So place your bids now!”
Vitani frowns and leans over with a whisper, “Huh? What does that mean?”
Josh explains in a whisper, “I think I heard this in business studies before. It means a bid was submitted in writing by someone prior to the item being auctioned. I’m guessing this could be Eliza’s way not only to be discreet with her identity, but also to raise the potential selling price. The auctioneer can bid on the proxy bidder's behalf up to the maximum amount in the proxy and that might encourage someone here, who really wants that necklace, to bid higher.”
Vitani looks around, “Well if she’s not here and that’s really the necklace then I’ve gotta get it back.”
About that moment, the auctioneer says, “Okay. So we just had a bid of $700. However, the proxy bid on this necklace is $800. Do we have another bid on the necklace? Going at $800?”
“$900!” Vitani stands up and announces. The other bidders look around before murmuring other prices.
“$900?” Josh whispers in an exasperated voice, “Do you even have that kind of money?”
“I’ll use my savings from working at the Libretta if I have to,” Vitani sits down and explains, “But I’ve got to get back the last trace I have of my mother before some random stranger gets it. That and paying it off might lead us to Eliza.”
The auctioneer states, “So we have $900. Do we have another bid on the necklace? Going at $900?”
“$1000!” comes a voice from the crowd.
Vitani and Josh look around in surprise to see a handsome young man dressed in all black standing up.
The auctioneer smiles, “So we have $1000. Do we have another bid on the necklace? Going at $1000?”
Vitani frowns sadly and sighs deeply, “That’s about all I have in my savings. I can’t afford to keep this up at this rate. I guess I have to let -”
Josh stands up and announces, “I bid $1500!”
The man looks over at him with a curious glance. Vitani pulls Josh to sit, “Josh, you don’t have to-”
“I would never let you lose something so important to you,” Josh tells her, “Because you’re just as important to me and I know I wouldn’t want to lose you.”
Vitani smiles fondly as she wipes away her tears before she pulls him into a hug. Vitani and Josh smile at each other before they look back to the front of the auction theatre. Their fellow bidder scowls as he stares at them.
The auctioneer grins, “So we have $1500. Do we have another bid on the necklace? Going at $1500?”
The other bidder turns and leaves the room. The auctioneer nods, “Sold for 1500!”
Vitani and Josh cheer and hug each other again. It’s the end of the jewelry auction and the bidders line up to deal with collection of the items, while the others leave for refreshments in the main area. Vitani and Josh join the line.
Seated discreetly in the back of the auction theatre, another mysterious girl wearing a pink sunhat and shades is watching them. She's hiding her face with a paper hand fan. She calls someone on her cell phone before she whispers, “He’s buying an expensive necklace for her. You know what this probably means.”
Vitani sighs happily before she says again, “Josh, I can’t tell you how much this means to me that you-”
Josh simply nods, “It means we might have Eliza back in our lives and maybe even more. I’m sure all of this is also kind of overwhelming for you. How about I go get you a glass of water while we wait?”
Vitani nods, “I’d appreciate that just as much as I appreciate what you did today.”
Vitani hugs him gratefully one more time before he leaves the theater to get her some water. He doesn’t notice the girl in the pink outfit as he walks past her.
Just after that, two couples are escorted out to receive their items and she finds herself at the front of the line.
“Um hi. I’m here with the other bidder who won the Italian pendent,” Vitani explains.
“Ah yes,” the auctioneer smiles at her as she takes up some papers, “You two will have your necklace as soon as we tie up some paperwork in my office. Right this way.”
The auctioneer heads out of the theater as Vitani follows behind with a hopeful look on her face. Just after they exit into the main area, Vitani bumps into Evan. The auctioneer stops nearby when she notices them stop.
“Hey, Vitani, you look really happy! Did you finally find Eliza?” Evan asks as he holds her by the hands.
“No. But I found something else that might lead us to her. C’mon,” Vitani says and drags Evan along.
The girl wearing a pink sunhat and shades watches as Vitani and Evan follow the auctioneer into her office. The girl makes a brief call, “Evan’s here too. What do you think is really going on here? Meet me near the refreshment table. Josh is over here as we speak.”
At the refreshments table, Josh is pouring a cold glass of water from a crystal pitcher. Just as he turns, he bumps into someone who runs into him from behind.
“I’m so sorry I ran into you like that,” the familiar voice apologizes.
“Well I’m not sorry I ran into you at all!” Josh declares once he sees who it is.
“Omigod!” Eliza exclaims in surprise, “Josh?”
= = =
Back at SyndAcad that evening, Rita Allen is busy searching the hallways for her boyfriend. She wants to find out why he lost the spirit to continue football just after their kiss at the pep rally. She finally decides to pass by the bleachers and see if he is sitting it out to reconsider his decision.
However, to her surprise, Ray is out on the field practicing with the other players for tomorrow night’s game. She smiles happily that he has apparently changed his mind, but wonders what brought that on. After the whistle blows for a break, Rita Allen waves him over. Ray spots her and comes jogging over to the bleachers. She hugs him tightly before they both sit down to talk.
Rita Allen exclaims, “Omigod! Ray, I’m so happy you decided to get back into the game after all!”
Ray catches his breath and nods, “Me too. For a while I really thought that was it for me and football.”
Rita Allen holds his hand and frowns, “It wasn’t like you to let one little fainting spell put you out of it.”
“I know. I don’t even know what came over me,” Ray looks over at her before he grins, “But thankfully someone was there to put me out of it.”
Rita Allen leans on his shoulder and blushes as she smiles, “Oh really? Like who?”
Ray smiles fondly as he says, “Chad.”
Rita Allen’s eyes bulge in embarrassment, as though she’d been slapped. “D-Did you just say ...”
Ray nods as he explains, “You know Chad always has this way of being there to remind me of what’s really important. Sometimes I don’t think I know what I’d do without him in my life.”
Just then, the coach’s whistle blows for the players to get back on the field. Rita Allen stands up and Ray gives her a peck on the cheek before he jogs away, telling her he has to get back to practice. The school reporter, meanwhile, stands up and scoffs in dismay at being edged out by Chad.
“It feels like every time I turn my back, Chad worms his way even closer to Ray,” Rita Allen sneers to herself before she takes out the flash drive and muses, “I’ve got to find out what’s on this flash drive as soon as possible. Hopefully I’ve talked some sense into my brother as to who Chad really is.”
= = =
Over at the military school fair, Chad and Dustin stare at each other with Dustin awaiting an answer from him. Just then, Aaron comes back over and sees the tension growing between them. Aaron puts a comforting arm around Chad’s shoulder.
Aaron snaps, “Hey Dustin, don’t you get that you’re upsetting him? Just back the hell off!”
Dustin retorts, “You need to butt out, Aaron! This is between me and Chad! Isn’t that right, Chad?”
Chad gulps and turns before he nods, “Um, Aaron ... Dustin and I need to talk … about a few things.”
Aaron looks at the two of them curiously before he digs into his jacket and takes out the medal pendant and says, “Fine. I’ll go. But I want you take this, Chad. And I want you to open it only when you really need to put on smile on your face, okay?”
Chad looks at the medal pendant with a weak smile and says, “Thanks, Aaron. I will.”
Aaron pats him on the shoulder and tells him he’ll see him later before walking away. Chad slips the medal into his jacket pocket and turns around to see Dustin staring at him expectantly.
Dustin states, “Hey, don’t keep me waiting for an answer my sister would otherwise happily provide.”
Chad swallows before he snaps, “Fine! But can we talk about this somewhere more private?”
Dustin folds his arms, “Sure. I want you to be comfortable enough to tell me the whole truth.”
Chad nods and walks off with Dustin following behind. Aaron watches from the distance curiously.
= = =
At the auction gala over at the refreshments table, Eliza tries to run off but Josh grabs her arm.
He tells her, “Hey wait, a hell of a lot of people have been looking for you, Ellie … or should I say Eliza?”
Eliza turns and replies, “I know! And they can’t find me here! At least let’s talk somewhere more private!”
With that, she turns and storms off out of the main area and down a corridor. Josh quickly follows her.
Meanwhile, the mysterious girl with a pink sunhat and shades, holding the paper hand fan, is not too far away and looks around anxiously. When the other girl with a pink sunhat and shades holding a magazine arrives, the first girl points in the direction Josh and Eliza went and they soon follow them.
= = =
Inside the auctioneer’s office, Vitani excitedly completes the signing of the papers, in place of Josh, as the bidder and hands it to the redheaded auctioneer. The auctioneer smiles at her signature.
“Excellent,” the auctioneer tells them, “I had the necklace returned for safekeeping until the buyers arrive. We have a vault just behind the office. Right this way.”
She leads Evan and Vitani to the door of a giant bank vault. She presses in a password and, after a small bellow of cold air comes out, the large armored door slides opens. Vitani takes a deep breath and Evan reaches over to hold her hand supportively. Vitani smiles at him.
The auctioneer steps aside, “Straight ahead in Drawer 49. Here’s the key.”
Vitani takes it before she nods and tells Evan, “This is it. This might be our key to finding Eliza.”
Evan looks around in awe, “Well there’s only one way to find out, huh?”
Vitani and Evan look at each other reassuringly before stepping inside of the vault room with the auction goods and valuables. They head to the back of the room where a wall of drawer safes is located. Vitani finds Drawer 49 and opens it. Evan looks on expectantly.
Vitani looks inside the drawer and frowns, “Hey! This is empty!”
Just as Evan and Vitani turn around, the vault door slams shut and locks. They look up in shock before they run to the door and pound on it to no available.
“She locked us in,” Vitani realizes after looking around them, “But why?”
“Hey! What’s the meaning of this?” Evan yells out as he presses against the door.
“We were after that runaway auranade for all these years!” the auctioneer laughs evilly and replies through the other side of the door, “But what she has led us to now is even better! Have we got plans for all of you!”
Inside the vault room, Evan frowns in confusion. Vitani’s eyes open in a panic.
= = =
At the empty office of the SyndAcad school newspaper that night, the door opens as Rita Allen arrives from a desperate visit to a local computer store. She switches on her desktop before slipping Rick’s flash drive into a USB port. A password entry page pops up once again.
With that, Rita Allen removes Rick’s flash drive. Next she reaches into her handbag and pulls out a small device, “If what my media and electronics contacts say is true, this is one of the best password hackers available at this price. But we’re about to see how true that is – if I finally see what sweet little Chad has been hiding!”
She places the device into a USB port before placing Rick’s flash drive into the device. She then stares at the computer screen intently. A few minutes of uneventfulness pass. She sighs heavily in disappointment. However, when a green light flashes, she cheers in relief.
“I can’t believe it worked!” Rita Allen smiles, “Now let’s find out what Chad and Rick were really up to!”
The school reporter clicks into the files to see a lone album called ‘Objective 1’ with a picture of Chad on the cover icon. She leans forward in intrigue before she double clicks on the album.
When something pops up onscreen, Rita Allen jumps back in surprise and exclaims, “Omigod!”
To be continued…
Copyright © 2013 Chad Blackman
= = =
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