Rita Allen clicks away at the computer in disbelief before she gasps, “No! T-This can’t be!”
Using the hacking device she bought, she finally got access to the information on Rick Hayes’ flash drive in the form of a photo album called ‘Objective 1’. It had a picture of Chad as the cover photo, which piqued her curiosity even more.
However when she double-clicks on the album, an unnerving picture of Rick’s head pops up on the computer screen that laughs evilly. His jaws open disproportionately. A blast of fire comes out that startles the school reporter before the screen simply goes black.
“It was booby-trapped with a virus! I should’ve expected that from someone as twisted as Rick was!”
She yanks the hacking device, with Rick’s flash drive in it, out of the USB port of the computer before she taps away desperately on her computer to get the screen back on. She had her stories and a plethora of important information for the school newspaper on the said computer. Thankfully, after a moment or two, the computer turns back on. As soon as it is loaded, she checks for all her of other information. It is still there. She sighs in relief. Unbeknownst to her, the hacking device has still managed to download a single photo from Rick’s flash drive and inadvertently placed it right into her ‘Ray and I’ photo album folder on her computer.
As her mind is on connections, she thinks about her relationship with Ray and decides to browse through the ‘Ray and I’ photo album. However, just before she can click on the album, there is a knock on her office door and someone peeks inside.
“Hey you,” Ray Torres says, with a towel over his shoulder and a smirk on his face, “Just washed up from practice and wanted to know if you wanted to help me pick out what I’m going to wear to the pre-game lunch that the team’s gonna be having tomorrow before the semi-finals. Unless you’re busy with one of your stories for the newspaper or something ...”
“Oh Ray, I’m gonna make sure you look as good at that lunch as you’re gonna play tomorrow at the game. Just let me wrap some things up here,” Rita Allen smiles, “Be with you in a minute.”
After Ray nods and waits for her outside, the school reporter clicks out of her photos and turns off her desktop before grabbing her things from the table and putting them in her handbag. She pauses briefly when she spots Rick’s flash drive still lying on the table.
Rita Allen picks up Rick’s flash drive in her hand and muses to herself, “After getting my hands on this flash drive, I still can’t prove Chad’s connection to Rick yet! Especially to Ray! I just hope at least my brother can somehow see Chad for who he is really is.”
= = =
Over at the far side of the park, Chad strolls by a lonesome bench with Dustin following behind.
Chad looks around and nervously says, “This is the same bench where you told me your secret about being framed for stealing that military code. I trust that you’ll somehow treat whatever I tell you with the same discretion as I did for you.”
Dustin shrugs and tells him, “You’ve got to take that chance and tell me the truth as I did for you.”
Chad kicks away some autumn leaves at his feet and sighs before saying, “Okay. Well speaking of being honest about things, had your roommate Aaron ever told you that he’s … you know, did he ever tell you about his um … personal interests?”
Dustin pauses before he remarks, “You mean do I know that Aaron’s bisexual? Yeah. Like you said, he’s my roommate back at military school and it’s hard to miss when you share the same room. But what is this about? Does he being bi make you uncomfortable? Omigod, did he hit on you at the fair or something?”
“Oh. It’s not about that,” Chad admits, “It’s really more about … whether you’re comfortable with it.”
“If I’m comfortable with Aaron hitting on you?” Dustin asks awkwardly.
“If you’re comfortable despite knowing he’s into guys too!” Chad states.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Dustin explains with a shrug, “He’s my friend and it’s really his business. Why?”
Chad gulps before he says softly, “Because … that was the nature of my business with Rick Hayes.”
Dustin frowns in a bit of confusion before he opens his eyes in shock, “Wait a minute! Are you trying to say that you’re … Chad, are you telling me that you’re gay?”
Chad gulps as he pauses nervously.
= = =
In an empty theater room of the auction gala, Josh and Eliza enter and close the door for some privacy.
Josh says, “Okay. Now tell me what’s been going on with you, Ellie! I know when we broke things off because you had to leave town, you were really leaving because you were on the run from someone all this time. There was someone disguised as a nun trying to throw us off your trail when we found out you were staying at a convent. Now you’re here at an auction trying to sell that Italian pendant to fund the rest of your getaway. Who’s been after you and what do they want?”
Eliza pauses nervously before she replies, “Okay! Look, I don’t know who they really are, but they’ve been after me from the time I was adopted from the orphanage in New York.”
Josh frowns worriedly and asks, “How did you find out these people were after you?”
Eliza gulps before she replies, “It all started with these two mysterious people following me. They framed my first foster parents into appearing unfit to the court and then posed as the next family I was gonna be sent to. And no one would listen to me because I was a little kid. So when I ran away before they could get their hands on me, they sent these strange people to track me down. I think it’s because these people all think I’m this lost ‘auranade’ or something that they kept calling me. And chances are they’re here at the auction gala looking for me as we speak.”
Josh looks up in surprise on hearing Eliza mention the word ‘auranade’ and wonders what is going on.
Could Evan’s cousin Eliza be an auranade? And if so, that meant the persons after her must be oscinades!
Meanwhile, the two mysterious girls in pink sunhats and shades are looking for them and they stop outside of the same auction theater room before they press their ears against the door to listen.
= = =
Trapped inside of the vault room by the redheaded auctioneer woman, Vitani and Evan exchange worried looks before stepping away from the sealed vault door and looking around.
“There’s no other way out,” Evan remarks, “And what was she talking about when she said ‘auranade’?”
Vitani swallows before she replies, “If she’s who I think she is, it means that we’re all in serious trouble.”
Back in the park, Chad pauses nervously and stares at the yellow and brown leaves at his feet, creating an awkward silence. Dustin turns to him on the bench and shakes his head.
“I need to hear your answer, Chad,” Dustin states with a serious look, “Are you or are you not –”
“Yes! I’m gay!” Chad blurts out, “I wasn’t always sure about it, but I came to accept that’s what it is.”
“And now you want me to accept the fact that you were also involved with a sociopath like Rick Hayes who manipulated a bunch of kids into attempted suicide?” Dustin retorts incredulously, “And let me guess, you knew nothing about all of that!”
Chad wraps his arms around himself and shakes his head, “Of course I knew!”
Dustin stands up and steps back as he mutters, “Omigod! Chad, you-”
Chad stands up and replies, “No, Dustin wait. What I mean is that I know about all of that. But you have to believe me; I didn’t know the kind of person Rick really was until-”
Dustin turns and folds his arms, “Until what?”
Chad’s eyes water and he softly says, “Until Rick tried to deal me the same ill fate as the other kids.”
Dustin looks up before he says, “You mean Rick tried to get you to commit suicide too? Or is this your way to buy me over-”
Chad cries as he explains, “Look, Rick used me and my insecurities to gain my trust. That’s how our relationship happened in the first place. But that was all so he could try to break what little spirit I had. After his father, Professor Hayes, tried to kill me and then disappeared, he convinced me that running away was the only way to get away from it all. Our leaving town together is what made your sister think I was more involved with Rick’s twisted plot. But I was his victim more than anything else!”
“If you were his boyfriend, the one person in town he seemed to care about, why would he victimize you too?” Dustin asks.
“Because Rick didn’t care about me at all,” Chad states, “The only person he cared about was himself. If there was one thing that your sister was right about during the whole thing, Dustin, it’s that Rick was a sociopath. Any emotion I thought he had was just a tool he was using to construct my demise.”
“Okay then, tell me how. How did that sociopath make you a victim?” Dustin asks.
“While we were out of town, he took me out on this bridge and asked me to stand on the edge if I trusted him. And I did,” Chad takes a deep breath and explains, “But once I stood on the edge of the bridge, he pushed me off. But it wasn’t so he could kill me. No. He wanted me to kill myself. So while I was hanging off the edge, he said all these cruel things that made me think more about letting go than saving myself.”
Dustin looks at him in disbelief, “Omigod …”
Chad snuffles, “While I was hanging on for dear life, he was telling me all of the reasons I should end it.”
Chad bursts out crying on the bench while holding onto himself. Dustin looks over at him in a stunned silence. He thinks about everything he’s been told thus far. If what his sister believes is true, for all he knows Chad may be faking emotions himself to buy his trust right now. But if not, Chad went through hell himself because of this Rick Hayes guy. Dustin feels his chest get heavy as Chad cries on the bench.
Dustin slowly seats himself next to Chad before slowly extending a hand towards Chad. He uses it to pull Chad up into a consoling hug. Chad simply cries into his shoulder. Dustin ponders to himself.
= = =
Over in the empty theater room, Josh looks down at Eliza as she is hugging him worriedly.
“Listen, Ellie, don’t worry.” Josh wraps his arms around her and comfortingly tells her, “I won’t let anything else happen to you. Today’s the last day you’ll ever have to run from those people.”
Eliza looks up and whispers, “Well there’s nowhere to run and I think someone’s outside that door.”
Josh and Eliza look around and over at the theater room doors. They hear the knob slowly jiggling. With that, the two quickly duck away to hide between the bidder seats. Just then, the doors open slightly. The two girls in pink sunhats peek in before entering.
“Like, there’s no one in here. But I’m sure I heard voices coming from in this room,” one girl whispers.
“The sounds were muffled through the doors. But they must be in here somewhere,” the other replies.
Josh sneaks closer from in his aisle. Eliza nervously watches from between chairs. The two girls in pink give up and turn to leave. However, before they exit, Josh jumps out and grabs their arms.
“Who the hell are you two and what do you want with-” Josh sneers before pulling them back.
When Josh grabs their arms, they quickly try to yank themselves away, causing their sunhats to drop off. It reveals long flowing blond hair. Josh grumbles to himself in disbelief before he snatches the shades off of their faces and folds his arms.
“Amber and Christy,” Josh looks at them incredulously, “I really wonder what you two are doing here!”
“Hey! Aren’t they the same two girls who were watching us in that restaurant where we had our goodbye dinner?” Eliza asks him before she looks back at both of them, “Omigosh. Do you two have some kind of thing for my boyfriend?”
“Like, how is he your boyfriend if you two broke up at that dinner?” Amber asks.
“I guess someone just doesn’t know how to, like, let go of things,” Christy adds.
Eliza blushes and looks away in embarrassment.
“You two are ones to talk!” Josh cuts in. “You think I don’t know why you two are really here?”
“I’m sure you didn’t know our dad, the profitable businessman that he is, has a bunch of stuff here for the auction,” Amber tells him, “Unlike what we hear about Trent’s Small Enterprises, or TSE if you prefer, we Milanos do everything for profits.”
“Yeah, we’re just, like, following business,” Christy states.
“And your profit is apparently my business!” Josh snaps, “What is it you two want anyway?”
Amber twirls a lock of her hair and says, “Oh Josh. We were just looking out for you… to make sure you didn’t make any choices we know you’d regret. Like dating a certain little café waitress.”
Christy giggles, “In any case, she seems to have found someone else to find trouble with.”
Josh frowns in concern, “What do you mean? Like who?”
“Like Evan Ross,” the Milano sisters chime. “They ran off in a room across the hall - together.”
“Evan?” Eliza’s eyes light up. “Omigosh. He’s here? Who else are they talking about?”
“Let’s go find out,” Josh tells her with a smile, “You’ll be in for a surprise.”
With that, Josh grabs Eliza by the hand and walks right past the Milano sisters and out of the theater room. Amber and Christy grumble to themselves that one day Josh will finally see Vitani differently.
Meanwhile, Josh and Eliza rush across the main area, through the crowd and over to the auctioneer’s office where Vitani and Evan had gone. However, when Josh pulls on the door to open it and go inside, it appears to be locked even though the handle is turning.
“The doors seem to somehow be stuck,” Josh remarks in confusion and pulls on them.
“Josh, hurry before anyone gets a good look at me,” Eliza says looking around warily.
“Right,” Josh nods before using her nervousness as a distraction to meanwhile turn one of his arms to steel, although still discreetly because of his suit jacket’s sleeves. He then uses his super strength to open the door. When his hand turns back to normal he says, “Quick inside.”
Eliza runs inside and he follows before closing the door. Eliza runs inside looking for her cousin, but there is no sign of him. With a frown, she turns back to Josh in time to see someone behind him.
“Josh watch out!” Eliza yells.
Before he can look back he is hit in the back of the head with a small vase by the mysterious man who had bid for the Italian pendant. Josh falls to the floor unconscious. Eliza gasps before looking at the man in shock as she recognizes him from before. “Omigosh! It’s you!”
As she is backing away, she is grabbed by the redheaded auctioneer lady, “Don’t forget me, Eliza!”
Eliza sees the woman has an antique knife to her throat so she says, “You two are the same two people who were after me since back in New York all those years ago. What was it you called yourselves when you were posing as my new foster parents? Deacon and Lyla? What the hell is it you want with me?”
Deacon and Lyla laugh evilly before they say, “You are about to find out right now!”
= = =
Meanwhile at Ray’s dorm, Ray has tried on his fifth suit for the night to wear to the pre-game lunch tomorrow, which is finally to Rita Allen’s approval.
“There. The perfect suit,” Rita Allen smiles before kissing him, “For the perfect boyfriend.”
“Hey. I’m not all perfect,” Ray muses with a small grin, “I did almost abandon my lifelong dream of football yesterday for no reason. I think it was just after our little good fortune kiss too. Ironic, huh?”
Rita Allen pauses, thrown off by hearing of their kiss thought of that way, “Maybe it was the oranges, heh.”
Ray grins as he checks his suit out in the mirror, “They must’ve had a little more than Vitamin C in ’em.”
“Um yeah,” Rita Allen says awkwardly before fixing his collar, “I know all about the Chinese culture behind them, but I guess I don’t really know the chemistry, hehe.”
Ray looks up on hearing the word ‘chemistry’ and has a little flashback:
“Well I know if anyone understands Chem, it’s you, C.K.,” Ray Torres says, appearing at the table. He takes a seat on the opposite side, “so I know it must be something else here you can’t understand.”
“Oh hey, Ray,” Chad replies as he sits up, “I guess sometimes things can seem so simple but turn out to be a lot more complicated. Besides, it’s hardly ever one-plus-one for me these days.”
“I get the feeling we aren’t exactly talking about chemistry,” Ray says with a curious grin.
“Maybe it’s what kind of chemistry we’re talking about,” Chad replies before an awkward pause.
Ray looks over at him as he ponders the comment.
“Maybe it’s what kind of chemistry we’re talking about,” Ray finds himself saying out loud.
“Huh?” Rita Allen frowns.
“Oh! I mean-” Ray snaps out of it.
“Like you could have better chemistry than this,” Rita Allen laughs and slinks her arms around him.
She pulls him into a hug and Ray muses to himself with a small smile, “One plus one.”
Rita Allen blushes at the comment and hugs him again. Ray ponders to himself.
= = =
At the park, Chad and Dustin are still hugging as Chad sniffles to himself. Dustin rubs his back.
“I can’t believe …” Dustin muses, “I mean, how could someone just be so demented like that?”
“I know … it seems almost unbelievable,” Chad sits back up and says. “And if I’d told Rita Allen the truth in the beginning she would have never believed me.”
Dustin claims, “But she was just trying to help the other kids. Why wouldn’t she have helped you too?”
Chad shakes his head, “She’s long convinced herself that I was working with Rick during the whole thing and threatened me too many times to get back at me for my association with him. If I ever tell her the truth, she’s free to think I’m lying and then use everything against me for her own sense of closure to that story. I would be risking surviving that whole ordeal just to give her the chance to destroy the rest of my life with it.”
Dustin frowns and asks, “But is it all really over, Chad? I mean, where is this Rick guy now?”
Chad replies, “My friends Vitani and Josh showed up in time to save me from Rick on the bridge. There was this huge fight and at the end of it all, Rick was … gone. I don’t even know where exactly, but I truly hope that he’s gone for good.”
Dustin pauses in thought before he says, “Well maybe if my sister knew the truth she would have realized she was wrong about you all along. I can try to convince her of that.”
Chad shrugs, “Maybe, as her brother, you know her better than I do and all, but it’s like you said, you can only try. But for you to ever do that, you’d have to believe in me and that I’m telling the truth.”
Dustin ponders in deep thought as though he had conflicted feelings. Chad looks on in hopefulness.
Chad turns to him and takes a deep breath before he asks, “Dustin, do you believe me?”
Dustin stands up and shakes his head, “Chad, I just … I don’t know what to believe right now!”
With that, Dustin runs off away from the bench. Chad calls for him to wait, but he doesn’t stop. Chad sits back on the park bench alone and wonders in worry about what Dustin will do with what he knows.
= = =
Back in the vault room at the auction gala, the vault door hisses a bellow of air before it begins to swing open. Vitani and Evan run towards the door before they see the auctioneer lady with the antique knife in hand as she shoves Eliza inside of the room.
Vitani and Evan gasp in surprise at the sight of her, “Eliza!”
Eliza looks up in disbelief, “Evan! Omigosh! Vitani! It can’t be!”
With that, the three run over to each other and embrace one another tightly. As the three are distracted, the auctioneer lady, Lyla, and the bidder man, Deacon, dressed in all black, also step into the vault room before closing the door. Eliza, Evan and Vitani meanwhile have a tearful reunion.
Evan says ecstatically, “I can’t believe we finally found you! I’ve been searching for you for years, Liza.”
Vitani nods with a grin, “Once Evan and I found each other here in Westpoint City, we teamed up to find his favorite cousin and my childhood best friend. The one and only Eliza Ross! Omigosh, it’s so good to see you again and to have the three of us back together.”
“We’re happy to have the three of you together too,” Lyla interjects.
“It’s really been too long, but now the time has come,” Deacon says, “to destroy you three!”
“We’re not these auranades that you think we are!” Eliza screams from beside her best friends.
“Do you think you can fool us? We know who you are because of that Italian pendant!” Lyla states.
Vitani looks up in surprise. They were following Eliza all along because of her Italian pendant!
“And we knew you’d lead us to the other two auranades when you fled,” Deacon admits with pride, “So we let you run for all these years until you found someone you knew and trusted.”
“It was - what do they call it - destiny for you three to reunite after all,” Lyla smiles, “But it was fate for us to destroy you.”
“You stay away from us!” Evan steps in front of Eliza and Vitani defensively. “You two are crazy!”
“Oh no. I’m just cheating,” Deacon states with a smirk.
“And I’m just lying,” Lyla snickers before the two both laugh.
Evan and Eliza frown in confusion. Meanwhile, Vitani looks at them in realization that they must be none other than the oscinades of lying and cheating. Since when do oscinades work together? Unless …
“After what you did to our unit of manipulation, you’ll all be coming with us to the cold dark depths of-”
Just then, they hear a creaking noise from the vault door. Deacon and Lyla whirl around to face the door in surprise. Evan and Eliza nod to each other before Eliza uses the distraction to elbow Lyla in the stomach causing her to drop the knife as Evan punches Deacon in the face.
The vault door opens to reveal Josh who had just used his super strength to open the door. Evan, Eliza and Vitani all run out to escape. Deacon and Lyla begin to get up. Josh tells Evan to take Eliza out of the office and to safety. Evan takes Eliza out of the room. Just after they leave, Vitani and Josh push the vault door shut before the oscinades can escape. There is a strong power behind the door beginning to force it back open. Vitani quickly uses her icy breath to seal the vault door shut in ice.
Josh asks her in confusion, “I found you guys inside because of the auctioneer’s security cameras wired inside the vault. I found the monitors behind her desk. But who the hell are those people?”
Vitani replies, “The oscinades of lying and cheating. And my guess – the two upper level oscinades.”
Josh then takes her to the security camera system behind the auctioneer’s desk, which he had used to discover them. He clicks on the computer and sees Deacon and Lyla looking directly at them through the cameras. They turn on the audio.
“So you’re the auranades we’re looking for,” Deacon states. “Your super strength contested our own. That must also be how you bypassed my cheat trick at the office doors.”
“And as the oscinade of lying, I saw the truth in both the Ross cousins’ eyes when they denied being auranades. But you didn’t even answer,” Lyla says as she stares up at Vitani, “You must be the one who froze the doors shut. Then you’re the auranade who incapacitated the Rat Man all those years ago!”
Vitani gulps and she and Josh exchange worried looks at how intelligent the oscinades appeared to be.
“That sewer-crawling, sorry excuse for an oscinade was right when he said he’d found one of you at the orphanage in New York,” Lyla muses. “Pity we didn’t believe him. But as Westpoint City is our constituency, we know he was eventually banished here a few months ago anyway.”
“You must have been the ones to do us the honors of preventing that rodent from getting the credit that we will get for destroying you,” Deacon smiles, “Although all of the other oscinades we’ve sent here were unsuccessful, your end is nigh once the Triad of Doom is reformed.”
“You’re the ones who signed Stella Monetti’s note to come after us,” Josh realizes.
“After Professor Hayes, you two joined Rick Hayes as this Triad of Doom,” Vitani deduces.
“As your polar opposites, we maintain the bad in this city, as you do the good. It’s all a balance we think should be shifted in our favor,” Lyla admits, “We are superior in every way, after all.”
“How about you check your superiority after we banish you?” Josh retorts.
“You need your third auranade here for that,” Deacon laughs. “And besides, our time here in this realm is limited, as we’re always a liability up here. Now our time is up. Lyla and I just thought we had you where we wanted you this time, and chitchatting has bought us time to escape. But you’ll see plenty more friends of ours around really soon.”
“And the Triad of Doom will return too,” Lyla warms. “And when we do, it will be with a vengeance!”
With that, Deacon and Lyla begin to fade away, as do the walls of the vault room. Vitani and Josh watch in astonishment as the upper level oscinades fade away, along with the vault room. The auranades see the frozen vault door disappear from the wall as though it never existed. They step back in alarm as the cameras goes fuzzy before the computer malfunctions. Vitani and Josh sigh in wonder.
They run out of the auctioneer’s office where they bump into a frantic Evan before other security men go inside the room. Evan, Vitani and Josh look on as they search the auctioneer’s office.
“Deacon and Lyla escaped,” Vitani tells him, “But at least they are gone.”
“And something tells me they won’t be back anytime soon,” Josh adds.
Evan replies, “I’m helping Eliza draw up a police report on those creeps and what they did to her all these years. If Deacon and Lyla ever show their faces in this city, they won’t be able to hurt us or anyone else again.”
Vitani and Josh nod to each other, hoping to themselves that a police report on Deacon and Lyla’s characters would hamper their ability to get around, and delay their impending return to Westpoint City.
“I don’t know what I would’ve done if they had hurt Eliza,” Evan muses, “Or you, Vitani.”
Vitani is touched and smiles. She and Evan hug affectionately. Josh ponders on something.
Vitani breaks the hug and says, “Hey! How about we celebrate by throwing a little surprise party for Eliza at the Libretta tomorrow since she’s so special to all of us?”
Evan smiles, “That’s a great idea, Vitani. You know I just wish Josh knew her as well as we both do.”
Vitani pauses before she looks over at Josh. Josh shrugs, “There are gonna be some surprises alright.”
= = =
The next day, Chad has met up with Aaron, who is taking back the extra boxes of fruits from the ‘Mind & Health’ stall at the fair yesterday to its fairly discrete corner store. He explains that no one answered the phone to send a pickup truck for the produce. As Aaron is lifting some boxes from his car trunk, Chad is propped up against the car door checking his cell phone. Still no texts or calls from Dustin.
“And here I thought you wanted to hang with me today,” Aaron remarks with a smirk as he returns.
“Oh. I do. I was just kinda expecting a call or something about what Dustin and I had talked about yesterday,” Chad explains as he slips his cell phone back into his pocket. “Did Dustin talk to you about anything when he came home last night?”
“Nope. He came in really late and just said that he had needed some air. I figured maybe it was related to what you guys talked about, but he ignored all my attempts to charm him into telling me,” Aaron says as he takes out another box of oranges. “I didn’t mean to pry or anything, but Dustin looked like he was really struggling with something.”
“I didn’t even want to put either of us in this position,” Chad sighs, “Now we’re both just miserable.”
“I guess you didn’t do what I told you to when you needed a smile.” Aaron says with a raised eyebrow.
“Hehe. I didn’t forget, but I kinda wanted to see how this Dustin thing turns out first,” Chad admits.
Chad goes to help lift out another box of oranges, but Aaron steps in front of him and smirks, “What if I said I think it would put a smile on both our faces if you opened it soon.”
Chad smiles teasingly, “Fine Aaron. Maybe I will open it when I get back to my dorm later.”
Aaron smiles back, “Great. Then let’s finish returning these oranges so I can get you back to your dorm.”
As they both take the boxes inside the store, Chad asks, “Speaking of which, I know you said we were returning some oranges, but I didn’t think it would be this many. They look pretty good so I’m surprised they didn’t sell too well.”
“Oh they were selling well,” Aaron explains, “But they apparently weren’t sitting well. Some guys started to complain they didn’t want to continue the fair just after sharing a basket. So their friends thought maybe something was wrong with the fruit. I even heard later that a bunch of guys said they wanted to drop out of military school, isn’t that weird?”
Chad ponders the weird behavior from members of the football team and now some of the boys from the military school. Both places were selling these ‘Mind & Health’ oranges …
Just then, someone in a room behind the counter bumps into Chad as they rush out of the store. Chad almost stumbles back with the box of oranges, but Aaron catches him. Chad then puts down the box and they both look at the guy heading through the door in disbelief.
“Someone’s in a hurry,” Aaron sneers, “I wonder what that jerk is running off to so fast!”
“Or running from,” Chad muses as he notices the boy has dropped some kind of receipt on the floor.
Aaron goes to check the same room behind the counter before he asks, “What do you mean, Chad?”
Chad gasps as he looks at something on the receipt, “I mean something weird is definitely going on!”
Aaron turns to him and nods, “You’re right. The room behind the counter is totally cleared out!”
Chad looks at the receipt and muses, “Well we’re soon gonna find out why.”
= = =
Later that day, Chad arrives at the Libretta with Aaron following close behind. He had gotten a text from Vitani and Josh saying that they needed to talk. But he also had to find members of the football team to figure out what was going on.
He spots Vitani and Josh at their usual table and heads over. Vitani and Josh turn when they see him.
Chad greets them, “Hey guys! I want you to meet a friend of mine. His name is Aaron Scott.”
“Hey, Aaron, nice to meet you. My name’s Vitani,” Vitani says and extends her hand. Aaron kisses it.
“Hey, man, what’s up? The name’s Josh,” Josh says. He and Aaron shake hands.
“Well, Vitani and Josh, I hope you two know what an amazing friend you have here,” Aaron says, “Something about this boy never ceases to amaze me. Anyway, I’m gonna go grab me a latte or something to give you guys a chance to talk.”
Chad looks away from them to hide his blushing. Vitani and Josh exchange looks and wiggle their eyebrows as they all sit down at the table.
Vitani says with a big grin, “Well someone over there is certainly handsome.”
Josh adds teasingly, “And someone over here is blushing all over his face.”
“So anyway,” Chad cuts in with a little smirk, “What did you guys want to talk about?”
“The two upper level oscinades,” Vitani begins on a serious note, “We finally know who they are.”
“Don’t tell me it’s actually Amber and Christy!” Chad says incredulously.
“Oh c’mon, Chad. I’ve had that suspicion before and we found out those two are nothing but two upper level dingbats,” Vitani remarks before continuing, “But the upper level oscinades, they’re the reason Eliza was in hiding all this time. Their names are Deacon and Lyla and they are supposed to be the oscinades of cheating and lying respectively.”
“Along with Rick Hayes, they made up this trio, calling themselves the Triad of Doom,” Josh adds.
“Lying, cheating and manipulation,” Chad frowns, “Sound like a combination of doom, alright.”
“The doom is gone for now. But from our brief run-in with them, it seems that all the other oscinades are from a different realm or something,” Josh tells him, “But upper level oscinades don’t usually come to this realm and all these other oscinades we face are but mere pawns used in the meantime to try to destroy us.”
Vitani continues, “For the upper levels to come here is a bigger liability to the power of the Triad of Doom if one of them is banished.”
“Like what happened with Professor Hayes when he tried to take me on his own,” Chad muses.
“Exactly. Deacon and Lyla only came this time because they mistakenly thought Eliza was a lone auranade that they could target and then use her to find the other two auranades. But we were able to put a stop to all of that and Eliza’s finally here safe,” Vitani tells him.
“That’s great. At least there was happy ending,” Chad remarks, “Well, for now anyway.”
“And in light of that happy ending,” Vitani says, “we’re throwing a little surprise party for Eliza later, which you’re invited to of course. Feel free to bring as many handsome boys as you want. Hint, hint.”
“Hehe. I’ll be there,” Chad replies before he adds, “But first I need a hint as to where I can find anyone from the football team today.”
“Oh, there’s a pre-game lunch for the team today, from what I heard those guys over at that table saying. Apparently they’re just the team reserves and their team captain was supposed to get them in or invited or something,” Josh says, “But why? Are you looking for star player Ray Torres?”
“Um no. I’m actually looking for someone who can tell me who Marisol Rose is,” Chad tells them.
“I remember her. She used to be a nutritionist for the SyndAcad sports department, and hence my basketball team, a few years ago,” Josh explains, “But then she got suspended over allegations of giving certain players performance enhancers to better in their game and others depressants to get them to drop out.”
“Omigod. And if I found this receipt at that store with both her name and his on it-” Chad realizes.
“Who?” Vitani asks.
“What are you talking about?” Josh adds in concern.
“Where is this pre-game lunch?” Chad asks, “I need to get to that pre-game lunch ASAP!”
= = =
Aaron’s car pulls to stop outside of a midtown restaurant where the pre-game lunch is being held.
With that, Chad and Aaron quickly hop out of the car and head to the entrance, but are soon stopped by a burly doorman who tells them they cannot enter unless they have reservations or are invited by the guests. Chad and Aaron step away from the entrance.
Meanwhile, on the inside, Ray is coming out of the bathroom to head back over to his table with his girlfriend Rita Allen. However, after he finishes drying his hands, he overhears none other than cheer captains Amber and Christy talking outside of the women’s bathroom just after they arrived.
Amber snickers, “We arrive fashionably late and who do we see outside? Vitani’s geek friend, Chad.”
Christy adds, “Like, did you see that amazingly hot contrast of a boy with him though? The blond hair, the blue eyes, that fit bod? He totally deserves a nod.”
The Milano sisters then laugh together before walking into the dining area.
Ray pauses and is red in the face, “Chad’s here? With some … guy?”
He quickly heads to the entrance to see what they’re talking about. Ray steps outside of the door to see Chad and Aaron talking about something. He feels weird when he sees Aaron affectionately put his arm around Chad’s shoulder before the two begin walking away.
“C.K.!” Ray calls out.
On hearing his voice, Chad turns around and smiles when he sees Ray at the door. Aaron notices how Chad’s face lights up when sees Ray. Aaron volunteers to go wait in the car and let them talk. However, if he’s not mistaken, he saw Ray’s face light up the same way …
Chad runs over to him while grinning. “Hey Ray, you’re just the person I wanted to see.”
Ray raises an eyebrow with a smile, “Oh really? And why is that?”
He turns and asks the doorman to let Chad in to talk to him. Chad and Ray go in the main area.
“After I wish you all the best on the game tonight first,” Chad begins, “I also have something else to tell you. I know why you fainted and almost quit the team yesterday and the reason is a lot bigger than we might think.”
“Hey Ray, what’s going on? Why are you-” Rita Allen stops on seeing Chad there.
“Hey, guess what? Chad seems to know why I almost quit football yesterday,” Ray explains to her.
“Oh really?” Rita Allen looks over at Chad in annoyance, “Well I’m just as interested to hear why.”
Chad ignores her looks and takes a deep breath before he says, “It’s the oranges.”
Ray and Rita Allen exchange weird looks. The school reporter interjects, “Chad, is this some joke?”
Chad simply replies, “Maybe it was to someone else, but I don’t think lacing those oranges with depressants is any joke. In fact, its other side effects can be quite dangerous, especially at our age.”
Ray looks up in surprise and turns to his girlfriend, “Lacing the oranges with depressants?”
Rita Allen covers her mouth and says, “Omigod …”
Ray turns to her, “You mean those oranges you gave me were the real reason I almost quit football?”
“Ray, I didn’t know,” Rita Allen shakes her head before facing Chad. “I mean, how do you even know about all of this, Chad?”
Chad pulls out the receipt from his pocket and replies, “Because of this receipt I found when I bumped into someone at the store where the oranges came from. It’s some kind of contract between the store owner and the person who purchased the oranges and obviously passed them off as being from some health sponsor.”
Rita Allen snatches the receipt and looks at it, “It’s signed by Marisol Rose? But isn’t she that crazy nutritionist who got fired from school years ago. Who the hell would ever buy fruits from someone like her? The other signature is …”
Ray looks at it and exclaims in shock, “Cameron Levine?? Our team captain!”
= = =
Back at the Libretta, Vitani and Josh are talking at the table after Chad left for the restaurant.
“So the captain of the football team has been busy making bad for his own team,” Josh muses.
“I hope Chad can handle that situation while we focus on getting busy making good for Eliza’s surprise party tonight,” Vitani replies before she reaches into her handbag, “Evan says she’s at his place taking a long rest, which gives him time to get some decorations. Let’s see what he’s gotten. Hey what’s this?”
Josh looks up curiously as Vitani pulls out her cell phone from her handbag, along with an envelope with a fancy pattern. After she puts her cell phone on the table, she looks at the envelope worriedly.
“Where’d you get that letter from?” Josh asks curiously.
“I dunno. It looks like - uh oh,” Vitani states, “It says ‘A Message from Deacon and Lyla’. I’m guessing that Deacon used some trick to get this in my bag while we were in the vault room.”
“What else could he have to say other than the usual threats to destroy the auranades?” Josh asks.
“Apparently he’s kindly inviting us to our destruction,” Vitani explains as she reads through. “He says that all the recent mysterious happenings in town are being caused by Marisol Rose as the oscinade of doubt.”
“I guess the nutritionist thing must’ve been a cover to get access to lots of people,” Josh realizes. “I’m still surprised they are telling us all this. Don’t they think we’ll just try to stop her? Unless of course that’s what Deacon and Lyla want.”
“Well they say she’s currently hiding out in a secluded greenhouse at the location written below, before she plans to wipe out all of her victims with doubt by six o’clock and move to the next city tomorrow. You must therefore go to the greenhouse where you have the chance to finally stop her… or she manages to stop you.” Vitani finishes reading. “I don’t know what they mean by ‘wipe out’, but that won’t be good for all the people who ate her fruit.”
“And I don’t think they’d tell us all that unless they think Marisol can actually defeat us,” Josh reckons.
“But we have to do this, don’t we? It’s our job as auranades to stop her,” Vitani replies, “I’m sure this is just Deacon and Lyla trying to place doubt in our minds already. But if we believe in the power of the auranades, we can always overcome the doubt, right?”
= = =
Back at the restaurant, Chad, Ray and Rita Allen turn when they hear a voice come from behind them.
“That’s me,” says none other than the tall, handsome football jock Cameron Levine himself, as he strolls into the main area. “Hey Torres, sorry to cut your little get-together here short, but the coach wants to talk to you about revising our strategy for tonight.”
Ray turns to him angrily, “Or maybe I should talk to him about how you tried to sabotage your own team by lacing the so-called health sponsor fruits with depressants!”
Cameron Levine frowns defensively, “W-What? What craziness are you talking about, Ray?”
Ray holds up the receipt, “I’m talking about this! This shows the little deal you made with Marisol so that you could get members of the team to drop out. But why would you do something like this?”
Cameron Levine replies, “Exactly. Why the hell would I sabotage my own team? Who gave you that?”
Chad then realizes and says, “Those guys over at the Libretta! Omigod. You were gonna have a bunch of your friends who are reserves replace all the guys that dropped out!”
Cameron Levin glares at Chad, “You! You’re the one who gave them that paper! I ought to just –”
He storms forward towards Chad. Chad looks up in shock, but Ray is quick to step in and stop him.
Ray sneers, “You touch one hair on Chad’s head and I’ll make sure you regret it, Levine! I can start right now by taking this receipt to the coach.”
Cameron Levine retorts with a smirk, “Go ahead, Torres! I can easily say you forged that receipt.”
Rita Allen chimes in, “He’s right Ray. It’s handwritten and informally so. Other than this, we have no proof, as I’m sure that nutritionist won’t speak to something that could get her thrown in jail this time.”
Cameron Levine adds, “And if you speak to it, you’ll just look like you’re jealous; I’m the team captain!”
Ray retorts, “Why would I be jealous of someone who only made one real score out of three games?”
Cameron Levine snaps, “Well unless you want to score from the bleachers, you better drop this!”
Ray glares at him and replies, “You sleazy bastard! First you drug me and now you threaten me?”
“Who knows what else I’m capable of?” Cameron Levine shrugs.
“Leaving me tied to a cross in the middle of a lightning storm,” Ray reminds him.
The football captain grins before he also glares at Chad, “And I should also tell you that no one crosses me and gets away with it.”
Chad gulps. Ray steps in front of him again. Cameron Levine smiles wickedly before walking away.
Rita Allen moves forward to hug her boyfriend just as Ray moves over to hug Chad instead. She stands with her mouth open in disbelief before looking over Chad in irritation.
Ray says, “Thank you so much C.K. I would’ve never found out the truth without you. If something like this were to happen again, I probably would end up falling victim again with no clue as to why it was happening.”
Rita Allen meanwhile lowers her head in her own embarrassment. Ray meanwhile looks at Chad.
Chad nods, “Well now you know the truth. So what are you gonna do about Cameron Levine?”
Ray replies, “There’s nothing else I can do except never let that mole get the best of me again.”
Chad smiles and tells him, “And you can make it three winning touchdowns out of four games. Show that guy who really deserves to be captain.”
Ray smiles, “Aw thanks, C.K.” Ray hugs him again before adding, “Say, you wanna join us for lunch?”
Chad is surprised by the offer and considers it. Rita Allen looks up in disbelief before glaring at him.
“I would love to Ray,” Chad says, when he suddenly gets a message on his cell phone from Vitani and Josh about meeting them again, which he reads and replies with a sigh, “But I kinda have to go. But you go eat everything you need for the game tonight - which I’ll be watching on TV. Good luck.”
“I think I’ve already had enough luck from Rita Allen here,” Ray jokes.
Chad muses, “Well, with talent like yours, Ray, who needs luck anyway?”
Ray bumps his shoulder and adds, “Or with a real team like you and me.”
With that, Chad and Ray smile and share a long look between each other, which Rita Allen sees and she feels her chest get heavy. Chad then shakes his head to remind himself that he’d supposedly seen Ray take the next step with Rita Allen and that his next step should now be to move on for his own good.
Chad nods before he turns and leaves the restaurant. Ray turns back to Rita Allen and they head in.
Ray looks back before he muses, “So where do you think Chad has to go in such a hurry?”
Rita Allen shrugs and spitefully lies, “Maybe he’s meeting Cassie. I heard they’re getting a lot closer.”
Ray guesses that he must have definitely been right about that; he saw Chad and Cassie after all. He sighs before he says he has to go talk to the coach about the strategy. After he walks away, Rita Allen sits alone at their table and muses to herself that there has to be some way to come between whatever this connection is between Chad and Ray somehow … and soon.
= = =
Chad, meanwhile, heads back to the car and gets in beside Aaron who is sitting waiting at the wheel.
“So, Mr. Save-the-Day, I take it everything went alright?” Aaron asks him.
“Sorta. But only time will tell,” Chad muses as he puts on his seatbelt.
“Speaking of time, you ready to head back for the cadet medal I gave you?” Aaron smiles, “I promise once you open it, it will make your night just as interesting.”
“Oh, not yet. I think I have one more thing to deal with,” Chad explains as he reads over Vitani and Josh’s message on his cell phone, but then adds with a little smile, “But if I can handle this last situation right now, then I’m all ready for an interesting night with you.”
Aaron smiles and starts the car. Chad takes a deep breath wondering what awaits him first.
= = =
Josh’s Jeep pulls to a stop outside an old greenhouse in the forest on the outskirts of town. Chad, Vitani and Josh step out of the car and look at the building in guardedness. They exchange wary looks as they all approach the doors to the greenhouse.
“This is it guys,” Josh warns as he looks around, “But I’m pretty sure we’re walking into a trap.”
“I know,” Vitani says worriedly, “And even expecting the unexpected doesn’t make this any easier.”
“But if what Deacon and Lyla say is true, then everyone in town who ate her fruit are in for trouble by six o’clock, which is just around the corner. Not to mention Ray ate some of the oranges compliments his girlfriend, and if something bad happens, that would affect Ray and the whole game. Not to mention that creep Cameron Levine would’ve won,” Chad states, “We have to go in and face this.”
With that, Chad opens the door cautiously before entering the greenhouse. Vitani and Josh follow.
They look around to see lots of rows of stands with plants in terra cotta pots all around them. They notice the plants are especially green. The auranades figure as well that this must be where Marisol taints her fruit with the spirit of doubt. As they slowly walk forward, something suddenly drops in front of their faces.
Chad, Vitani and Josh are all startled until they see it’s a rusty sign saying ‘Warning: High Pollen Count’.
Just then, the flowering plants start to produce a dense cloud of pollen all around them, which starts to get into their eyes. As Vitani and Josh crouch to cover their eyes, Chad covers his eyes with one hand and swishes the other hand around to cause a gust of wind to blow the pollen away.
“What the hell was that about?” Chad asks.
“That was to help you all see the truth,” comes an oddly familiar voice, “That we will destroy you.”
To Chad, Vitani and Josh’s surprise, they all look around to see none other than what appears to be Chad standing in front of them. Chad’s eyes bulge in disbelief. They however notice the other Chad’s eyes are deep green.
While they are stunned by seeing another Chad, the other Chad swings his hand and a gust of wind blows all three of them back into the middle of the greenhouse. Chad tries to get to his feet.
“Who the hell are you?” Chad asks before he adds, “Or should I say, what the hell are you?”
“I am the better version of you, Chad-1000,” the doppelganger replies, “the ‘you’ that you’ll never be.”
As the three auranades stand up in confusion, two people appear from behind Chad-1000. Vitani and Josh gasp when they see spitting images of themselves staring back at them. Another Vitani and Josh!
“Let me guess, you two must be Vitani-1000 and Josh-1000,” Vitani quips in disbelief.
“Well you’re smart,” Vitani-1000 replies with a twinkle of her green eyes.
“But we’re smarter,” Josh-1000 brags, revealing his own green eyes as well.
Vitani-1000 blows her icy breath at them, before Chad-1000 uses his wind powers to guide the icy mist around the auranades in two directions. Chad is quick to act, swiping both hands upwards and sending the icy mist onto a hanging metal sprinkler which breaks. When the sprinkler head drops, Chad quickly swipes it at them with a gust of wind. The green-eyed trio duck out of the way in surprise.
While they are distracted, Chad, Vitani and Josh split up and run. When the others notice, they split and follow. Each follows their respective counterpart.
First, Chad-1000 confidently follows Chad as he flees through an aisle of garden roses. He simply swings his hand and a large gust of wind blast surges forward, knocking down all pots of roses that it passes. Chad hears the howling wind coming and barely turns to swipe a gust of wind in return. A wall of air pressure builds up between them, which Chad struggles to push off of him.
Chad-1000 smiles as he keeps his gust blowing before he simply says, “Ray Torres?”
Chad looks around behind him in surprise and Chad-1000 uses the opportunity to send the air pressure surging back at him. Chad is hit with the blast and sent flying back down the aisle with a crash.
Chad-1000 says, “Oh Chad, as you, I know your passion, which now seems to be your weakness.”
Before Chad can get on his feet, Chad-1000 swings his hand to make a gust of wind swipe some terra cotta pots off the shelves and crash into Chad’s back. Chad falls back down. Chad-1000 laughs evilly.
= = =
In the locker rooms before the game, Cameron Levine is at his locker putting away his things as he tries to spy on Ray at his own locker nearby. He smiles when he sees Ray start to catch his breath and muses to himself, “My old nutritionist said there’d be some after effects any minute. And just in time. Your glory days are over, Torres.”
Meanwhile, Ray starts to breath heavily at his locker and cannot understand why he feels so uneasy all of a sudden, and now of all times. He runs out of the locker room before any other players notice his weird behavior. Cameron Levine smiles to himself from nearby.
= = =
Back at the greenhouse, Vitani and Vitani-1000 are fighting each other with their martial arts skills, but unfortunately, both meet each other with the exact combat moves each time. Vitani begins to get exhausted, but Vitani-1000 seems to have more energy as they fight.
Vitani-1000 muses, “Aw, you are easy to wear down. No wonder the Milano sisters walk all over you.”
That comment gets Vitani angry and she blows her icy mist. Vitani-1000 simply puts her hand out to let it cover her fist with ice before she uses her frozen fist to throw punches. Vitani barely dodges them, thankfully, as the ice still makes her doppelganger’s hand harder to swing. But she knows it would pack quite the punch.
As she backs away each time, Vitani then bumps into a water tank. She barely moves to the side just as Vitani-1000 swings her frozen fist, hitting the tank. Water forcefully gushes out of the hole. Vitani, from the side, quickly freezes her solid with a dense sheet of ice from the spouting water.
Vitani remarks with a smile, “I had to stop you in your tracks before you said something else stupid.”
However, the ice around Vitani-1000 starts to crack because of her unforeseen strength. Vitani runs off.
= = =
Meanwhile, Chad-1000 menacingly approaches Chad, who is crumpled on the floor. Just as he arrives to grab him, Chad turns and swipes a small gust of wind to blow dirt from the broken pots into Chad-1000’s eyes. As he is disoriented by the surprise attack, Chad runs off to escape.
Chad and Vitani then run into one another just in time to see Josh and Josh-1000 wrestling with their hands turned to steel for super strength, knocking over things all around them in the process. When Josh sees his friends, his distraction allows Josh-1000 to grab a shovel from nearby.
“Watch out!” Chad and Vitani yell to warm him.
However, Josh-1000 manages to swipe with the shovel, knocking Josh over to the side. Chad quickly blows the shovel upward in Josh-1000’s grip to clank him in the head. As he staggers dazed, Vitani blows her icy mist to freeze him solid. Chad and Vitani then rush to attend to Josh, helping him to his feet.
They all express worried looks when they realize they are equally matched in this situation. They turn in surprise, to see a giant urn in front at the end of their aisle. From it, a giant plant in the shape of the woman is growing and thrashing wildly.
“Marisol Rose?” Josh exclaims.
Chad and Vitani look at each other in shock before they watch in disbelief then when Marisol loses her green coating and develops legs of her own again. She steps out of the plant pot in human form.
“I lose human form in the face of courage. So I spread doubt all around me to gain the privilege of a form people like you take for granted,” Marisol says as she caresses her skin, “But as the leaves fall this autumn I shall rise now that you three realize you are no match for my three creations. My form will be as permanent as your destruction.”
Chad, Vitani and Josh turn to see the green-eyed doppelgangers surround them menacingly with devious smiles. The three move closer to each other and hold each other’s hand as our friends wonder if this could really be the end of them.
However, Chad shakes his head and whispers, “You know in science, there’s something you can do to change the state of the system in equilibrium. And if you can’t change what goes in since this is three versus three, you change the conditions at which this three versus three.”
The oscinades-1000 have them cornered. The auranades look at each other and nod in understanding.
Vitani starts by teasing Vitani-1000, “I can so best your ass, just like I always best the Milano sisters.”
Vitani-1000 is offended and immediately responds by forcefully blowing out a cloud of icy mist. The auranades all duck. Chad then swishes his hands towards his own double, using his wind powers to blow the icy mist towards Chad-1000, freezing him solid.
Josh-1000 then charges towards them with balled steel fists but Vitani blows ice on the floor to cause him to slip. Josh grabs him off the floor with his own super strength and tosses him into Vitani-1000. She catches him and they look into each other’s eyes and blush. Vitani and Josh frown awkwardly. Chad intervenes as he blows a hydroponics stand over at them, knocking both Vitani-1000 and Josh-1000 back onto the floor unconscious. Chad-1000, Vitani-1000 and Josh-1000 burst into pollen dust and fade.
Marisol screams in dismay when she sees her skin turning green with chlorophyll again. Her legs turn into roots and she falls to the floor. She struggles to crawl away uselessly.
Chad, Vitani and Josh look at each other and with a nod they repeat the banishment verse together:
“Evil spawned from darkness core,
Walk this land you shall no more,
Wickedness be rectified,
Let your face be now denied!”
A vibrant light emerges from the urn, where blasts of energy cause it to shatter and roses to go swirling into the air from the opening portal. The auranades watch as a vortex begins to draw Marisol Rose inside. She screams in despair as her green body distorts.
“I guess growing courage is the light that always overcomes the shadow of doubt.” Chad states.
It is then that the vile nutritionist stretches and distorts as she is finally drawn inside of the whirling portal, leaving the echo of her voice in the greenhouse before it seals shut and fades away.
Chad, Vitani and Josh sigh in relief before giving each other high fives as they leave the greenhouse.
“You know, I don’t think the oscinades-1000 were even real to begin with. They were just conjured from Marisol’s wacky pollen dust,” Josh muses.
“And they were just powered by us doubting ourselves,” Vitani adds.
Chad turns to them and muses, “I guess us facing ourselves like that and winning means that we just need to believe in ourselves no matter what. No doubts; all faith and we win the game.”
“And we the game! The SyndAcad team is officially made it through to the semi-finals!” says the television sports announcer.
With that, everybody at Eliza’s surprise party at the Libretta café screams and cheers as they watch the game on the TV. Ray had just made the winning touchdown after Cameron Levine was forced to pass to him after being surrounded by the opposing team. Thankfully, they had stopped Marisol in time …
As Chad is smiling proudly, Vitani leans over and tells him, “You know, Chad, look how you saved Ray and now Ray saved the game. The way you’re there for him when he needs it, that’s a really special connection right there. One which I think Ray more than realizes.”
Chad ponders, “I still wonder if Ray thinks about us that way. But I don’t want to wonder forever.”
Vitani rubs his back sympathetically, “Who knows? Maybe things will change sooner than you think.”
About then, Josh and Eliza come over towards them laughing, each with a glass of punch in hand.
“I mean hey, look at me,” Vitani smiles as she shows him the Italian pendant around her neck, “This was my mother’s, which I gave to Eliza when we were kids. She was selling a fake one at the auction hoping it would throw Deacon and Lyla off her trail. But with them gone, we have both the real Italian pendant and Eliza back. Hopefully for good.”
Vitani and Eliza smile fondly at each other before hugging again. Josh smiles at them.
“It’s nice having her back. That way I get to tell her that I really want us pick back up where we left off, if that’s possible,” Josh then adds, turning Eliza to face him instead and putting her hands in his, “What do you say, Ellie?”
“I say I’ve never been happier than right now,” Eliza replies to him.
With that, Josh and Eliza lean in and share a kiss. Chad and Vitani smile at each other, happy for them. However, a sound of glass breaking is suddenly heard behind them. They look to see Evan staring at them with the cider bottle shattered at his feet.
Evan goes forward and pulls Eliza away, “W-What the hell are you two doing? Like hell if I’ll sit back and watch you treat my own cousin the way that Brett guy treated Vitani!”
Eliza says, “We are giving something another chance. Something we had before I left Westpoint City.”
Vitani frowns with folded arms, “Evan, how can you even say that? Josh is nothing like Brett!”
Evan says, “Isn’t he? I heard all about his shenanigans with both Amber and Christy, who are sisters by the way, Melanie and Melody who were best friends, Stella Monetti who was at your school for like a week. Then there was that girl Vanessa, and now he’s on to my cousin!”
Eliza frowns and replies, “Well I don’t want to ruin what’s been the best night I’ve had in a long time, so I’m going to give Josh the benefit of the doubt. The Josh I know is not that kind of guy.”
Josh hangs his head guiltily, “Ellie, I …”
Eliza cuts in, “Not tonight. I just want one night of knowing I’m back with the people I know who care about me. And I know Josh cares about me. Can you take me for a walk please, Josh?”
With that, Josh and Eliza head out of the bookshop café. Vitani shakes her head and turns to Evan.
Vitani says offended, “What are you trying to say, Evan? Josh is my best friend too. I know him, no matter how things might look. But do you think if Josh was gonna hurt Eliza that I would sit back and let it happen? Do you think she and I are so similar that I wanted to add ‘taken advantage of’ to that list?”
Evan frowns, “I didn’t say that! I just –”
Vitani replies, “You just ruined your cousin’s surprise party. I wonder if you are happy now!”
Vitani storms off with Evan following her. Chad lets out an exasperated sigh and sits awkwardly at their table, all by himself. He looks at his watch again as he is expecting someone to be arriving any minute.
“Hey,” comes a familiar voice.
“Hey!” Chad turns to see his face, “Dustin, I’m really glad you decided not to avoid me forever.”
“It’s only been a day, Chad,” Dustin smirks, “But I was just waiting outside until you were more alone.”
“All the happiness in the place kinda just left,” Chad muses, “But I’m hoping the fact that you’re smiling is some kind of indicator of what you’ve decided about my situation. Something I can smile about.”
Dustin pauses a bit before he nods, “Yeah. I’ve decided … I believe in you, Chad. And I won’t be the one to tell my sister what is no one’s business but yours.”
Chad exclaims as he hugs him, “Omigod, Dustin! Thank you so much for believing in me like that!”
Dustin gets a warm feeling when he feels Chad’s arms around him and sighs, “As you believed in me.”
Chad then tells him, “You know, you’re the first person I ever told about that stuff voluntarily so … I think that might put you in a really special place in my heart. This really means a lot to me, Dustin.”
Dustin blushes and looks around at the party lights before he says, “Speaking of, um, telling the truth and hearts and stuff … I think I have something to tell you, Chad. I’ve really felt this way for a while, but I’ve never had the courage to say it until you had the courage to tell me the truth so … I guess you have a special place in my heart too.”
Chad smiles appreciatively and softly touches his hand, “Then you know you can tell me anything.”
Dustin nods and stutters, “Okay. I think … I think that I … I think that I might also be … gay.”
“Oh man, Dustin,” Chad opens his eyes in shock before he says, “I’m so touched and so honored that you trusted me with something that important about yourself. It’s like I suddenly feel so connected to you right now. But you know you didn’t have to tell me unless you were absolutely ready to.”
Dustin laughs off some nervousness, “Don’t worry. I felt like I was ready … just because it was you.”
Chad just moves over to hug him again and says, “You’re being so sweet tonight. I almost feel like …”
Dustin looks up in hopefulness, “You feel like what?”
“Hey guys!” comes Aaron as he walks over to them.
“Aaron, what are you doing here?” Dustin asks through a fake smile as he is annoyed.
“I’m here for my date with my new boyfriend,” Aaron says, slinking an arm around Chad’s shoulder.
Dustin’s eyes bulge before looking at both of them, “Wait … what?”
“Check this out,” Chad shows Dustin the cadet medal pendant and explains, “Aaron gave this to me at the fair to open when I needed a smile. So when I was really down about not hearing from you, I finally opened it. And guess what it said? It said ‘I have to say, no lies, no tricks, I charm you now with words of six’ which apparently were ‘Will You Go Out With Me?’ Hehe. And I took a chance – and said yes!”
Dustin bellows, “You what??”
Aaron nods, “He said yes. That’s one word I like to hear from someone that I want to see more often.”
He looks over at Chad, who blushes at the compliment. Dustin makes himself look away in utter disbelief and heartbreak. Meanwhile, Chad gets up and Aaron cordially helps him slip his jacket over his shoulders. They turn back to Dustin.
“I’m picking him up to take him on our first date,” Aaron adds, “But where we’re going is a surprise!”
Chad smiles and remarks, “Who doesn’t love a good surprise?”
After they say goodbye and turn to leave the Libretta, Dustin looks at them together and sighs to himself.
Copyright © 2014 Chad Blackman
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