The Auranades

Episode 15



  It's career week at SyndAcad, and the school halls are bustling with excitement as the students are heading to and fro to set up their various career booths around the school for extra credit. Chad and Ray exit Bio class together and are talking about the upcoming week.

  “I know I just agreed to it and all,” Chad muses with a deep breath, “but I can’t believe I’m going to coordinate the SyndAcad science fair for career week. I’ve never even done something like this before.”

  “Well,” Ray says with a reassuring grin, “I can’t think of anyone better to do it than SyndAcad’s top science student. Besides, if you could get me into science like you did when you tutored me in Bio, I’m sure you can show anyone.”

  “Well you’re not just anyone,” Chad quips before he pauses awkwardly when he registers what he said.

   He looks over to gauge Ray’s reaction, where Ray just seems to smile at the comment.

  Ray tells him, “And you’re the someone our science teacher believes could pull off coordinating our science fair, even though this is your first year here. And I know better than anyone that you know how to make a big impression in a short space of time. You’re gonna be great with this, C.K.”

  With that, Ray touches Chad's shoulder reassuringly. Chad catches a breath when he realizes that Ray doesn’t move his hand from his shoulder. He gets a warm feeling under his skin and blushes to himself.

  “Aw, if it isn’t my favorite couple,” comes a voice that causes Chad and Ray to step apart.

  It’s none other than the football captain, Cameron Levine, with a devious grin on his face.

  “If it isn’t my favorite conniving captain,” Ray turns and quips in annoyance.

  “Look Torres,” Cameron Levine tugs on his jersey proudly as though it was a compliment, “I’m just here to tell you to save all of this ‘Chad-Ray love’ for Valentine’s Day next week because in the meantime, you and I have a football career booth to go run on for career week.”

  Ray looks at him in disbelief before he sneers, “No way!  You mean I have to run the booth with you?”

  Cameron Levine shrugs, “Those were my sentiments to Coach exactly. I mean just when I think I get a break from you cramping my style now that football season’s on break, I now have to work with you.”

  Meanwhile, Chad’s cellphone buzzes in his pocket. It’s a text from Aaron who wants to know if they can hang out after school. Chad texts him that he has to work on coordinating the science fair this week.

  “Well there’s more pleasure in Chad’s company than with my traitorous team captain so I think I’ll take my time on this one,” Ray remarks and turns back to face Chad.

Oh, I bet you ‘take your time’ with your girl Rita Allen too,” Cameron Levine muses, “It’s no wonder.”

And what’s that even supposed to mean?” Ray turns around and folds his arms.

I mean don’t be late or you’ll have to answer to me when football starts back,” the captain retorts.

  Ray shakes his head, “Don’t worry. At least I’ll show up, unlike you at our football practice!”

  “What can I say, Torres?” Cameron Levine smirks as he walks away, “I guess I’m just that good!”

  “You mean no good, that’s what,” Ray yells out before he turns back to Chad and shakes his head.

  “I can’t believe you have to work with him of all people for career week,” Chad comments.

  “Unfortunately,” Ray sighs, scratching his head, “But I guess he is the team captain and everything.”

  “You were always the captain in my eyes,” Chad says before he pauses awkwardly again. He thinks to himself that even though this is stuff he always says to Ray, it suddenly feels awkward because he is dating Aaron, who he bets would see this is as flirting. Chad wonders if he is really flirting.

  “And you were always there to see me through,” Ray then says, “… Maybe you were my captain.”

   Chad looks away when he feels himself blush. Was Ray flirting now? He isn’t sure and thinks he never was ever sure when it came to Ray – and that it shouldn’t even matter because not only is Ray still going out with Rita Allen ever since October last year but he’s now going out with someone else himself  …

  His cellphone buzzes again. It’s his boyfriend again asking if they can hang out Friday night instead.

  “Well, I mean that’s what ‘friends’ do for each other, right?” Chad clears his throat, “Real friends.”

  “Yeah. And ‘friends’ hang out right?” Ray then adds, “So I was thinking now that I have more time on my hands … we could, I dunno, maybe catch a movie or something Friday night. That is …. if you don’t have any plans or anything.”

  “Oh! Well um,” Chad pauses a bit taken by the suggestion. He ponders about Aaron’s text for the two of them to hang out on Friday night and decides to ask, “Do you plan on bringing your girlfriend along?”

  “Oh, well she’ll probably be super busy with the editor-in-chief campaign, especially now that it’s the last week before votes go in or whatever …  so it would probably just be the two of us,” Ray explains, “I mean … unless you want to bring someone?”

  “Oh no, no,” Chad corrects, he thinks a little too excitedly, “I guess Friday will be just you and me then.”

  “Great, then it’s a date,” Ray says with a wink of his eye before he starts to walk away, “Catch ya later.”

  Chad watches Ray walk away down the hall way before he looks back at his cell phone and ponders why he just made plans to ‘hang out’ with Ray over his own boyfriend Aaron on Friday night. He sighs.

Hey Chad!” Vitani and Josh walk up to him and greet him, “Just saw you with your ‘Ray of Sunshine’.”

  “Oh. We just came from Bio class, that’s all,” Chad explains while smiling from their looks.

  “Are you grinning like that because of Bio class?” Josh asks, “Or because of Ray Torres’ biology?”

  “I’m grinning because of the looks you guys are giving me about this, even though you guys know that I’m trying to move past that and I’m with someone else,” Chad retorts but adds, “Even though I just kinda agreed to hang with Ray on Friday over my own boyfriend.”

  “Sounds like ‘something’ is still there between you and Ray,” Vitani muses.

  “I dunno. Was I ever really sure what that ‘something’ was?” Chad shrugs, “What I do know is that Ray’s girlfriend Rita Allen wouldn’t want to hear that, especially after what Aaron and I got into on New Year’s. Neither would he, but that’s another story. So, you guys dressed up like that for career week?”

  “Yup, we’re actually doing a showcase for a lawyer firm,” Vitani says, twirling in her business suit.

  “I managed to get us side jobs as assistants there,” Josh tells him, “Or my last name did anyway.”

  “You guys think maybe I can make a name for myself; after I coordinate the science fair for the end of career week?” Chad asks with an unsure grin and takes a deep breath to shake some nervousness.

  “Omigod. That’s really great. And of course you can,” Vitani reassures him, “If we’ve seen anything with you, Chad, it’s that when you believe in yourself, you always manage to save the day.”

  “Like you did that day on the bridge with Rick Hayes,” Josh reminds him.

  “I hope you guys are right,” Chad muses, “I mean, in that case, I also want to believe that this Ray thing is something more but at the same time, we’re both dating other people and I do like Aaron, and Ray liked Rita Allen enough to sleep with her at least twice that I’ve had to see. Because despite all of that, this feeling of whatever won’t seem to go away.”

  “I guess you can’t escape some things sometimes,” Josh reasons and snips, “Well unless you’re Eliza, she ran from town to town to escape Deacon and Lyla and now she left the country and flew all the way to France to get away from me.”

  “It sucks that she had to leave like that … so um how is she handling college over there?” Chad muses.

  “We wouldn’t know. Eliza hasn’t really been returning either of our calls or emails,” Josh grumbles.

  “I mean she sorta replied to my emails, but they were really off,” Vitani sighs, “But she’s not talking to Josh at all. So we can all tell something is bothering her. Evan went to France with her to help her settle in and stuff for a few days so hopefully he might be able to get the answers out of her.”

  “Clearly everything just wasn’t as perfect as it seemed,” Josh retorts, “But, if she’s pulling whatever this is, even with Vitani, her childhood best friend, at least I can’t be the bad guy here, right?”

  Just as he says this, a security officer approaches them. He informs them that Josh is wanted in the principal’s office. Chad, Vitani and Josh exchange looks. Vitani tells Chad to go get started with his science fair preparations and they’ll see what this is about. Chad nods and leaves.

  Vitani and Josh, meanwhile, follow the security guard to the principal, Dean Levin’s, office. They stand out in the waiting room first.

  “It’s been a while since I was called in here,” Josh remarks, recalling his episode with the LTS beer.

  “We believe you were here just over the weekend,” comes a voice.

  Vitani and Josh look over to see two officers sitting in the waiting area seats before standing up.

  “I’m sorry. Why is that?” Josh asks with a frown.

  The two officers introduce themselves as Price and Marco who are looking into a crime here.

  “We found this in the principal’s office,” the policemen explain and hold up a ski mask.

  “My ski mask. I was wondering where it was,” Josh says, “But why was it in the principal’s office?”

  “We were hoping you can tell us that,” the cops say, “And also tell us why the office looks like this?”

  With that, they open the door to the principal’s office. Vitani and Josh gasp when they see the office has been completely ransacked and spray-painted with graffiti. The policemen look at Josh.

  “Wait. You guys think I did this?” Josh asks incredulously before looking at Vitani in a panic.

  Meanwhile, just outside the office, a mysterious man in a business suit is watching through the glass on the main door of the principal’s office. He presses an earpiece, “Everything is going according to plan.”

  The man then laughs again before his eyes apparently glow red in the reflection on the door.




  In the auditorium, the science teachers stop by to tell Chad that ,since this is his first time doing this, they thought he could use some help. They explain that they have an assistant volunteer coordinator to help him. They step aside and show him none other than Cassie. Chad sighs. The teachers assure them that they will do great and leave.

  “I’m not about any of your games today, Cassie,” Chad tells her, “So I dunno what you’re up to but-”

  “I’m up to helping you, Chad. That’s all,” Cassie vows, “I know this is your first year at SyndAcad and it’s your first time doing this sort of thing. I just want to make sure you get all the help you need.”

  “And in turn you can help Rita Allen get more info on me, right?” Chad quips.

  “This has nothing to do with her,” Cassie assures him, “I swear I have nothing to do with her anymore.”

  “Well we’ve got plenty to do here so I suggest we get started,” Chad grumbles, handing her a clipboard.

  “What better way to make it up to you than to help you make this the best science fair!” Cassie says.

  She lounges forward and hugs him around the neck. Chad rolls his eyes, but pats her back so that they do not catch too much attention from any of the other volunteer students walking around.

  However, it does catch Ray Torres’ attention just when he and his football captain Cameron Levine enter the auditorium to get some football supplies from the stockroom. Ray pauses when he sees them.

  “Hehe. Now would you look at that?” Cameron Levine says by Ray’s ear, “Chad’s cozying up to that wannabe model Cassie. And here I thought Chad only had a thing for show-stealing football players.”

  With that, he pats Ray on the back and heads out with a box of stuff. Ray picks up his box and follows.

= = =  Back at the principal’s ransacked office, the two officers, Price and Marco, explain to Vitani and Josh that someone vandalized the principal's office over the weekend while Dean Levine was away at a seminar, and the only clue they found so far was Josh’s ski mask.

  “Well yes, the ski mask is mine, but I’m telling you guys I didn’t do this,” Josh answers.

  “Anyone could have planted that ski mask in here,” Vitani points out.

  “Yeah? Who would have it out for your friend so bad that they’d risk being expelled themselves to get him expelled?” the two officers reckon with suspicious looks.

  “I don’t know! Maybe whoever’s really behind this just wanted to throw the suspicion off in another direction,” Josh proposes with a frown, “And they can’t expel me over something so circumstantial!”

   “Maybe. But your principal has issued a suspension while the investigation is ongoing,” Price says.

  Vitani and Josh exchange looks of disbelief. Price and Marco step around the office again.

  “If we find anything conclusive, you’re going to jail,” Marco adds, “No matter who your father is.”

  Josh rolls his eyes wondering why his father must always be an issue. Vitani has an issue with it all.

  “Suspending him still isn’t fair! Especially if a mask is all you have to go on!” Vitani retorts.

  “Like we said, the investigation is ongoing,” Price states firmly, “Your principal has requested that the school's reporters who are running for editor-in-chief be enlisted to help us get any info they can in regards to the vandalism. As students themselves, the other students might more easily open up and let something slip. But in the meantime, Mr. Trent must leave the school premises.”

  “What? No way! C’mon,” Josh exclaims, “You have got to be kidding me! And this is my future here! I can’t depend on a bunch of amateur school reporters for this!”

  “But you can depend on me,” Vitani says, “Because I’m gonna see if I can get to the bottom of this!”

= = =  Afterschool, Chad is making sure the decorations are in order when Cassie comes over to him.

  “Um, Chad, there’s a school reporter who wants to interview you,” Cassie informs him.

  “You of all people should know I wouldn’t willingly put myself through that torture,” Chad snorts.

  “Hey now, not all school reporters are that bad,” comes a familiar voice.

  “And your proof not all Allens are either,” Chad turns around and smiles, “Hey Dustin. What’s up?”

  “Hey Chad. I’m just here to talk to you about –” Dustin begins.

  “How’s about we talk over there,” Chad says with a plastered grin, “Come with me.”

  With that, Chad holds Dustin by the arm and leads him away from Cassie. The bleachers are still left out in the auditorium, so they sit there to talk. Chad and Dustin look back to see Cassie still looking at them.

  “What’s up with her?” Dustin asks with a grin, “Is she yet another person to fall for the ‘Chad charms’?”

  “Haha. Oh please,” Chad retorts, “Look, I may have agreed to work with her on this science fair thing, but the one thing I won’t do is fall for any of her tricks ever again. She was more or less a ‘spy’ that your sister sent a while ago to pretend to be my friend; hoping to get some dirt on me.”

  “Wow! I guess my sister’s really determined to prove you’re connected to Rick Hayes,” Dustin remarks.

  “I’m surprised she sent you here to interview me,” Chad muses, “I thought for sure she’d want you as far away from me as possible.”

  “Oh she does. Not that I could resist those ‘Chad charms’,” Dustin nudges him with a wink, “So I doubt she even knows that you’re coordinating the science fair – or I’m pretty sure she would’ve taken the pleasure to do it herself. That, and she and Felicity Blake have both been assigned to finding out who vandalized your principal’s office recently as a top priority. So she asked me to cover career week.”

  “Well for once, ruining my life isn’t her top priority then,” Chad chuckles.

  “And remember, my top priority is to make sure she doesn’t do that,” Dustin assures him.

  Chad nods in understanding and Dustin wriggles his friendship bracelet tellingly. Chad smiles and Dustin puts a reassuring arm around his shoulder. Cassie sees them and seems worried.

  Meanwhile, Felicity secretly snaps a photo of them and grins, “Well, this is sure to ruffle his feathers.”

= = =

  At the law career stall, Vitani and Josh mull over what happened as Josh packs up his stuff.

  “Well I can’t help run the stall if I can’t be on the premises,” Josh grumbles, “And I might not even have the job much longer once our new boss at the firm, Lewis Suede, finds out about this.”

  “Hey, innocent until proven guilty - and a ski mask you lost is not proof enough,” Vitani tells him.

  “You know how I lost the ski mask?” Josh tells her, “I found it in my locker the other day; I remembered I had it because I had plans to take Eliza to a ski resort; the next weekend after she got back from the trip with you guys – but she had plans to take off for France. So I tossed it in the trash  and left.”

  “You left it in the locker rooms,” Vitani muses, “So anyone on the basketball team could’ve found it.”

  “Maybe a janitor found it cleaning up,” Josh muses, “Speaking of which, time for me to clear out.”

  “Wait, I’m coming with you,” Vitani says and starts packing up, “We have to get started on proving-”

  “Our boss is sponsoring this stall,” Josh reminds, “I’ll probably be fired for sure, but you don’t want -”

  “What I want is to help prove that my friend is innocent,” Vitani declares, “This so-called job is about justice, isn’t it? Besides, I have the waitress thing at the Libretta on the side. Not to mention that I can’t run this stall by myself.”

  “That’s why you’ve got two new partners,” Amber and Christy chime as they walk up to the stall.

  “What the heck are you two-” Vitani turns with a frown, “Oh, you have got to be kidding me.”

  “Our business law professor said that you guys would need some help since he was informed that Josh had other matters to resolve,” the two cheer co-captains explain, “And we resolved that, like, anything his washed-up waitress of a friend can do, we can, like, so do better.”

  Vitani turns back to Josh, “Having to work with these two instead is only more reason to leave here.”

  Josh takes her hand and says, “Don’t choose to lose an opportunity I had no choice but to lose, okay?”

  With that, Josh tells her he will see her later and gets his stuff before he walks off down the corridor.

  Vitani watches sadly before she turns, “And having to work with you two is hardly an opportunity.”

  “You might just disagree with that,” Amber and Christy retort, “Especially since we might just be able to prove that our Joshie didn’t, like, redecorate the principal’s office into Tornado Alley décor.”

  “How can you two do that?” Vitani asks, “And how do you two even know about any of that?”

  “We overheard the law professor talking to these two policemen,” the twins explain, “We are, like, the eyes and ears of this school, remember? And that’s all you really need to prove that Josh is, like, totally innocent. So are you, like, in for the insight too or not?”

  Amber and Christy look at her expectantly. Vitani looks at them skeptically before sighing.

= = =

  The next day in the auditorium, Chad and Cassie are doing some more organizing on the position of the stalls for the various science classes when they spot Dustin walking into the auditorium again.

  “Hey, that Dustin guy,” Cassie says, “Isn’t that Rita Allen’s brother? You two seem awfully friendly.”

  “That’s because Dustin and I are friends,” Chad replies casually, “Not that it’s any of your business.”

  “Look Chad, I just want you to be careful. We both know you can’t trust Rita Allen; which is the whole reason you can’t trust me now,” Cassie tells him, “Maybe you shouldn’t trust her brother either.”

  With that, Cassie walks off. Chad shakes his head before he walks over to greet Dustin.

  “Hey Chad, um so it turns out, I had just such a great time catching up with you yesterday, that I forgot about the actual interview.” Dustin explains with a grin before taking his notepad from his pocket.

  “Oh, yeah, well there’s not much to say anyway,” Chad shrugs, “I’m not that interesting.”

  “Oh, I can name plenty of people who’d disagree with that,” Dustin quips, “Namely sister dearest.”

  “Her interest in me has plagued me since last September,” Chad laughs.

  “And then there’s yours truly,” Dustin nudges him with a wink.

  “Haha. Yup,” Chad notes with a little grin, “But for totally different reasons.”

  You have no idea Chad, Dustin thinks to himself about how he has feelings for Chad which he can’t get into because of who happens to be Chad’s boyfriend. “There’s also my good old roomie Aaron,” Dustin nods before sighing, “And there’s that Cassie girl who still keeps staring daggers into my back.”

  “Well Cassie and I had, thankfully, only barely gotten to know each other before she could really stab me in my back,” Chad explains, “And now, oddly enough, she’s the one who thinks I shouldn’t trust you.”

  “I’m guessing because of sister dearest?” Dustin nods, “But you trust that you’re in good hands, right?”

  “Of course, or I wouldn’t have gotten us these,” Chad flashes his bracelet, “No complaints here.”

  “You might get some complaints from me,” comes none other than Aaron’s voice.

  Chad and Dustin turn around. Chad asks, “Aaron, hey, what are you doing here at SyndAcad?”

Well when you told me you were helping coordinate your school’s science fair, and I know how much you like science stuff, I decided I wanted to come see you in your element, so I signed up over there to lend an extra hand,” Aaron explains with a telling grin, “So now I’m all yours just like you’re all mine.”

  Aaron flashes Dustin a look before he puts an arm around Chad’s waist possessively. Dustin sighs.

  “Aw, that’s really sweet,” Chad looks down at the arm around his waist, “But I’m not going anywhere.”

  “Oh yeah. Hehe. Don’t worry, I won’t smother you,” Aaron says, moving his arm, “Although I can’t say the same for Dustin here, who always seems to be around every time I turn my back.”

  “I was around before you even met Chad,” Dustin quips followed by a cheeky cough.

  “You were on the run then. So what exactly are you doing here now?” Aaron asks quite forwardly.

  “I am doing my job,” Dustin retorts coyly, “I am the assistant editor for the school newspaper here and I’m reporting on the science fair. So I’m about to interview the coordinator of said fair. Meanwhile, you should probably go do your job and go help out over there.”

  “There’s actually some stuff they could use your help with,” Chad mentions in realization, “There’s a lot to do and the fair’s tomorrow. So I guess you can get started on that while Dustin and I get started with this interview thing. That means the sooner I can get back to you.”

Okay. I guess I’ll be right over there,” Aaron says, shooting Dustin a look before backing away.

  Chad and Dustin watch him go over to help with moving some stuff and they turn back to each other.

  Chad squints in thought, “I really get the feeling Aaron’s convinced that there’s something more to our friendship. I mean I already told him the only reason you kissed me on Christmas was because you were messing around, you know, because of the mistletoe or whatever.”

Maybe we just have something worth being jealous about altogether,” Dustin comments with a wink.

  Meanwhile, over where the boxes are being moved, Aaron looks down at his cell phone at a picture of Chad and Dustin hugging that his ex-girlfriend Felicity had sent him yesterday. He grumbles jealously.

  “If it’s a game you want to play, Dustin,” Aaron muses to himself, “Trust me that I’ll win this time!”

= = =

  Meanwhile, out in the hallway, Cassie spots Rita Allen going through some notes and storms over.

  “So what are you representing for career week? How vile reporters can really be?” Cassie snaps.

  “Well I dunno, Cassie. Maybe I represent actually having a semblance of a career already. Where’s your teen modeling contract again?” Rita Allen retorts sarcastically with a confused look, “And where’s the attitude coming from now anyway?”

  “And where’s the point that you will leave Chad alone? Bargaining with me for some kind of info he has on that creep Rick Hayes was one thing,” Cassie sneers, “But to set your own brother up on the same agenda of playing Chad - just so you can keep him away from Ray Torres?”

  “I-I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Rita Allen claims and adds, “And I don’t want my brother anywhere near Chad either! Chad’s connection to that sociopath Rick Hayes can mean nothing but trouble to everyone I care about! And that includes both my boyfriend and my brother for that matter.”

  “Is that why Dustin has been ‘interviewing’ Chad for the past two days?” Cassie quips and walks off.

  “Dustin has been what? He’s supposed to-” Rita Allen muses before shaking her head, “So of course Chad is the one coordinating the SyndAcad science fair. As usual, he has to put on a ‘show’ for everyone else. But don’t worry Cassie, I’ll get my brother away from him right now.”

  With that, Rita Allen pulls out her cell phone and starts texting something before she walks away.

= = =

  Back in the redecorated auditorium, Aaron is jealously watching Chad and Dustin laugh with each other before it looks like Dustin apparently has to leave. He sees them have hug before Dustin leaves the auditorium. Aaron is about to head over when he is stopped by Amber and Christy.

  “Hey, you look familiar!” Amber and Christy tell him, “Wait, you’re like that guy who was with the SyndAcad geek-of-the-week Chad Blackman when he tried to crash at the pre-game lunch. Don’t tell us that you’re here too because of him? I mean like how does that geek Chad always have such hot friends? By the way, like, don’t tell Vitani we said that, okay? But -”

  “Um, may I help you girls with something?” Aaron interrupts with a clearing of his throat.

  “Oh, you like certainly can,” the cheerleading twins explain, “You can help increase the hot guy ratio at our party tonight exponentially. Did we, like, use that word right? If you like Chad you must like geeky words. Anyway, the theme is ‘True Colors’ so prepare to have your eyes opened tonight!”

  With that, Amber and Christy hand him a flyer for the ‘True Colors’ party before skipping along.

  “Oh, I think a few eyes will be opened tonight,” Aaron smirks to himself with a glimmer in his eye.

  “Hey there, Aaron,” Chad says with a grin, coming over to him, “I see you just had the pleasure of meeting Amber and Christy. What did those two want with you?”

   “Hehe. I know what I want with you,” Aaron smirks, hiding away the flyer in his jacket pocket, “I want us to celebrate how well you managed to pulled off this coordinating thing – tonight.”

  “Hehe. But all of this means nothing if tomorrow doesn’t go as planned,” Chad tells him.

  “Well we can have a little toast to everything going according to plan then,” Aaron offers.

  Chad eyes him before shrugging, “Okay, why not? Where are we going?”

  Aaron smiles and replies, “You’ll see. Tonight is gonna be full of surprises. Hehe.”

= = =

   The school bell rings for the end of classes for the day, and the students burst out of their classes mostly talking about Amber and Christy’s party tonight. Rita Allen is walking around looking for Ray.

  “Hey Rita,” Ray greets her, football under arm, “Any luck on this story the principal assigned to you?”

  “I’ve got an idea I’m about to check out,” Rita Allen muses, “But I’ve also got a back-up idea. I was actually thinking I could take my investigation and my boyfriend to this little party Amber and Christy Milano are hosting tonight. What do you say? I’m sure a lot of big fish are gonna be there in their element. Speaking of which, why are you still dressed in football gear? The school bell just rang.”

  “I know. And football season’s on break,” Ray explains, “But there’s a students versus teachers’ football game tonight. I’m kinda obligated to be there - as is that weasel Cameron Levine. Sorry.”

  “Aw, don’t worry about your little girlfriend, Torres,” Cameron Levine walks by, “I’m more than sure that our school reporter knows how to keep herself busy while you handle your stuff. Isn’t that right?”

  Cameron Levine winks at Rita Allen before he skips off for the field. Rita Allen gulps to herself.

  “What is that bozo on about?” Ray asks curiously, “Come to think of it, he said something earlier – “

  Pheep! goes the whistle from the field. Ray apologizes for not being able to make the party and says he has to go and that they will catch up later, jogging off down the corridor. Rita Allen sighs to herself.

  She groans that she wishes that creep Cameron Levine would just leave her alone. It’s about then that she spots Chad and Aaron hugging outside the doors to the auditorium where they plan that Aaron will pick him up from his dorm later. Aaron leaves. The curious reporter smirks and saunters over.

  Chad turns around when Rita Allen walks up to him.  Rita Allen asks, “So Chad, who’s your new friend?”

  “He’s, uh, what’s his name?” Chad muses sarcastically, “Oh that’s right - none of your business!”

  “Oh, the friends you keep are plenty my business,” Rita Allen retorts, “Because not only was your getting close to my boyfriend enough, you’re now onto my brother!”

  Chad shakes his head and muses, “Dustin and I are just … You called Dustin earlier, didn’t you?”

  Rita Allen shrugs, “I’ll do what I have to, to keep him away from the trouble that you and maybe all your little friends are. After all, I’m currently on the case to find out why your friend Josh Trent might have vandalized the principal’s office!”

  “What? I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Chad replies, “But I do know that Josh would never do something like that!”

  “Is that so?” comes from none other than Felicity Blake, who walks over to them, “It says on file here that Josh once destroyed a cheerleading prop while he was high on some kind of doped-up beer called LTS. And that’s not surprising given all the kids here say he’s a popular face at all the school parties.”

  “What is this?” Chad frowns in confusion, “Some kind of ‘ravage-me’ reporters’ ambush?”

  “Well, Felicity and I are interviewing students to help the investigation into the vandalism and I thought, who better to start with than Josh's good friend, and my person of interest, Chad,” Rita Allen tells him, “I guess Felicity used whatever ounce of brain function she has to find out you and Josh were friends too.”

  Felicity recalls seeing Chad and Aaron kissing and says, “Oh, Chad is a person of interest of mine too.”

  Chad shakes his head and interjects, “Well I’m not interested in answering either of the two of you - other than to say I don’t know what’s going on and I’m just as much interested in the truth as you two are.”

  Felicity giggles, “It will be the truth about a lot of things that will get me the editor-in-chief position.”

  Rita Allen retorts, “The only truth people believe when it comes to you is that you’re an easy piece.”

  Felicity says, “I’m more than the cheap pieces you put in the school newspaper every week.”

  Chad rolls his eyes at their bickering. Rita Allen turns to face Felicity with a nasty glare.

  “If you’re after the truth, how’s about you start with how your boyfriend conspired to sabotage his own football team once,” Rita Allen tells her, “Not to mention, he headed an illegal drag racing ring.”

  Felicity laughs it off, “Or I can start with things I knows about your dear brother, Dustin.”

  Chad looks up when she says this. So does Felicity know Dustin too? He wonders.

  Rita Allen snaps, “Leave my brother out of this!”

  “Why? He’s hardly innocent,” Felicity chuckles, “And neither are you after what you did behind Ray Torres' back.”

  Chad pauses and looks over at Rita Allen. Rita Allen gets antsy and shakes her head.

  “You’re just talking the same trash you would put in our newspaper!” Rita Allen says defensively.

   Felicity is about to reply when her cell phone goes off. It’s her boyfriend Cameron Levine, who invites her to get something to eat. She hangs up and says, “He’s surprising me with dinner. Isn’t he sweet?”

  “Hardly,” Rita Allen groans with a roll of her eyes.

  “Don’t worry Ms. Allen, I have a surprise in store for you too,” Felicity remarks, “And it won’t be sweet.”

  With that, the opposing editor-in-chief candidate skips off down the corridor with a laugh. Rita Allen scowls at her before she turns to see Chad giving her a telling look.

  “Well finally, someone else sees you’re not so ‘sweet’ either,” Chad says with a smirk, “I mean to be accusing me day in and day out of having some sort of agenda when it comes to Ray – when all along you apparently already did something behind his back!”

  “W-What? C’mon Chad,” Rita Allen retorts, “You’d really believe anything that libidinous louse says?”

  Chad tells her, “I believe you must have done something pretty serious for Felicity to be throwing it in your face like that.”

  “Oh really? And why hasn’t she said what ‘whatever this is’ is?” Rita Allen asks defensively.

  “I dunno,” Chad shrugs before looking up in realization, “Maybe leverage. You know, just like what you tried to get on her boyfriend Cameron Levine by sending Dustin to investigate the drag racing ring!”

  “Omigod, Dustin told you about that?” Rita Allen scoffs.

  “That’s not what matters so much as the fact that Cameron Levine is involved in this too!” Chad adds.

  Rita Allen shakes her head in denial. Chad eyes and sees that he is really onto something here.

  Chad continues, “You know, yesterday our football captain had something to say about the time that you and Ray spend together. Now why is it that he has an opinion about your relationship with Ray?”

  “Everybody knows his relationship with Felicity is just a convenient mismatch for the campaign so he must just be jealous of what Ray and I have,” Rita Allen claims, “I mean, that’s something you should recognize easily, given he’s taking a page out of your book in that department!”

  “Oh. I think I’m more ‘concerned’ now,” Chad comments, “Now we know you’re guilty of something.”

  Rita Allen keeps shaking her head before she sneers, “That’s funny coming from you. But why are you here wondering about me instead of your friend Josh – who, by the way, got suspended for vandalizing the principal’s office?”

What? Omigod,” Chad remarks, “I have to go check this out. I know there has to be more to this than that - just like there is a lot more going on here between you, Felicity and Cameron Levine.”

  With that, Chad grabs his stuff and leaves. Rita Allen takes a deep breath before she storms off.

= = =

  Later that evening, Aaron’s car pulls up outside the Josh’s condo on the way to the party. Chad heads inside to catch up with Vitani and Josh over Josh’s suspension and the vandalism.

  When he knocks, Vitani opens the door wearing an evening dress. Josh is in a suit and tie sulking about.

  “What’s this whole thing I hear about Josh vandalizing the principal’s office?” Chad asks them.

  “It’s not true of course,” Vitani assures him as she goes back to fixing her hair in the mirror.

  “Did word get out about the accusation with the kids at school?” Josh looks up and asks.

  Chad shakes his head, “I don’t think so. But I heard it from Ray’s girlfriend, the school reporter.”

  Vitani nods and explains, “Yeah. Both she and Felicity Blake are supposed to be on the case of getting more information as to who really did this. Did she seem like she had anything when you spoke to her?”

  “I think she might be guilty of something unrelated,” Chad shakes his head, “But the way she came at me fishing for information today, I’d say she pretty much has nothing.”

  Josh huffs in frustration, “Great. Still nothing to vindicate me.”

  Vitani reminds him, “That means there’s nothing more to implicate you either. At least until tonight.”

  Josh shakes his head, “I’m not as relieved by that as I should be. Not when my fate lies in Amber and Christy’s hands.”

  “What are those two up to now?” Chad asks with a raised eyebrow.

  “They have a plan to help find out whoever is behind this,” Vitani explains with a sigh, “And with their resources, I guess it’s our best chance right now.”

  “Well we know they worship the ground Josh walks on,” Chad muses, “I’m sure in their own way they have Josh’s best interest at heart here. I just wish there was something I could do to help too.”

  “You could pray for me,” Josh tells him, “And you can go enjoy yourself with Aaron. I’ll be fine.”

  “You sure?” Chad says unsure.

  “Well I’m taking Josh to dinner anyway,” Vitani explains, “To make sure he’s as far away from whatever goes down tonight as possible… with an alibi. And maybe it’ll even cheer him up.”

  “I don’t even know how much more of this I can swallow,” Josh quips, “It can’t get any worse, can it?”

= = =

  At Amber and Christy’s mansion, Chad and his boyfriend Aaron Scott arrive together and enter once they flash their special tickets. They look around to see a living room crowded with mostly SyndAcad students and a few others hanging around chatting with plastic cups in hand.

  “Well I know I’m not much of a party person,” Chad muses, “But now I feel even more awkward being here to celebrate anything when my friend Josh is being wrongfully punished for something he didn’t even do.”

  “Hmm. I guess I will just have to work extra hard to cheer you up tonight then,” Aaron suggests.

  Chad sighs deeply. Aaron says he will get started by getting them both something to drink from the kitchen before excusing himself. Chad stands around aimlessly waiting when someone approaches him.

  “Hey, you’re Chad Blackman, right?” the guy asks.

Yeah, who’s asking?” Chad turns around curiously.

  “Someone who thought you should know that your ‘friend’ Dustin Allen plans to get more than a little friendly with you,” the guy tells him, “He’s been telling the rest of the guys at our school that he’s gonna enjoy you more than he did Aaron’s ex Felicity Blake – once Aaron is out of the way.”

  Chad squirms uneasily and frowns before he folds his arms, “Oh … is that so? He’s been telling his friends that? Well if you’re supposed to be his ‘friend’, why would you be telling me all of this?”

  “Because … I don’t enjoy watching innocent people being hurt,” the guy says before walking off.

  Chad pauses in disbelief at the mysterious boy’s warning just as Aaron comes back with the drinks.

  “Hey, you okay there?” Aaron asks him.

  “No, not if what I just heard is true,” Chad grumbles, “Hey, do you know that guy over there?”

  “Oh, that’s one of Dustin’s close friends from school,” Aaron tells him, “Why do you ask?”

  “Well Dustin’s ‘close friend’ just disclosed to me something about Dustin planning to enjoy me more than he did your ex Felicity,” Chad explains in bewilderment, “Aaron, is Dustin the friend that slept with Felicity right after you guys broke up? Is Dustin the reason you were drinking on New Year’s?”

  Aaron sighs deeply before he pulls Chad to a side, “Look Chad, the reason I get so riled up all the time by seeing Dustin with you … is because he’s nothing but a sleaze who preys on anyone who he thinks can give him a good time in the moment. He did just that with Felicity. And I’m more than convinced now that Dustin is just waiting for the moment he thinks he can have his way with you too.”

  Chad shakes his head in disbelief, “No! I mean I don’t believe Dustin can really be like that-”

  Aaron shakes his head and quips, “Tell me that Dustin has never come onto you in any way.”

  Chad pauses in thought. He knows that Dustin has way of saying things, “Maybe Dustin’s just a flirt.”

  Aaron retorts, “Was sleeping with Felicity the second she and I broke up just another flirt?”

  Chad gulps. He recalls Felicity telling Rita Allen that she knows ‘things’ about her brother earlier today at school. He wonders, could it be the fact that she had slept with the Rita Allen’s brother, who she had appointed her assistant editor for the editor-in-chief campaign?

  “Dustin was the person Felicity slept with while she was trying to get back at you,” Chad realizes.

  “Look Chad, the reason I didn’t tell you all of this before is because we were just getting to know each other,” Aaron tells him, “But now that I feel like I know you, I really only want what is good for you. So I thought you should know that Dustin Allen is far from good.”

  Chad recalls Cassie’s warning about trusting Rita Allen’s brother. Maybe she was right after all …

  “Speak of the devil,” Aaron grunts and Chad looks around at the entrance to the party.

  Dustin walks in and casually greets the same guy who had just warned Chad about Dustin’s ‘plans’.

  “How about we get out of here?” Aaron tells Chad, “We can probably ‘celebrate’ back at my place. At least we know he won’t be there tonight. He’ll probably be busy with his next victim here at the party.”

  “Okay, let’s go,” Chad agrees, “I just, uh, gotta go to the bathroom first. I’ll meet you outside.”

   Aaron nods and walks off to the door. Chad heads around the corner, but stops still in a bit of shock over everything. He peeks around the corner to see Aaron harshly brush Dustin on his way out.

  “I can’t believe Dustin is really like this,” Chad muses, “I have to see this side of Dustin for myself.”

  With that, Chad saunters over to Dustin who had since made his way to the counter for a drink.

  “Can I have another drink there please?” Chad calls out purposely before smiling at Dustin.

  “Hey Chad, what are you doing here?” Dustin asks, “I thought partying wasn’t your thing?”

  “You know what’s my thing?” Chad whispers in Dustin’s ear, “Meet me upstairs to find out, hehe!”

  With that, Chad quickly walks off before Dustin can question him. Meanwhile, Dustin pauses in surprise and confusion. He looks around before he follows Chad and makes his way upstairs.

= = =

   Dustin enters an empty bedroom upstairs in Amber and Christy’s mansion. He looks around in confusion when Chad shuts the door and locks it with them both inside. The room is dark and filled with the bass of Lady Gaga’s ‘Poker Face’. Dustin frowns in confusion before Chad steps closer.

  “Finally, it’s just you and me,” Chad whispers in Dustin’s ear, sliding his hands up Dustin’s arms.

  “A-Are you sure about this?” Dustin asks, still a bit taken by Chad’s sudden ‘extra-friendly’ behavior.

  Chad grabs the sides of Dustin’s face and looks up at Dustin from under his eyebrows, “Yes.”

  “W-What about um … you know … Aaron?” Dustin manages to ask, after swallowing on his tongue.

  “What about him?” Chad quips, lightly brushing his fingers over Dustin’s neck, “We broke up.”

  There is an awkward silence between them when Dustin seems to be trying to calculate something in his head. Chad raises his eyebrows expectantly. Dustin shakes his head with furrowed eyebrows. Chad begins to slowly back away when Dustin suddenly grabs onto him and pulls him back in with a strong arm around his back. Chad gasps in surprise. Dustin’s eyes flicker to Chad’s lips before he inhales.

  With that, Chad is unable to say anything before Dustin smashes their lips together. Chad is taken by how passionate the kiss is as Dustin pulls Chad closer into his space. Chad is guided backward as one of Dustin’s arm cradles his back and the other cups the side of his face to pull him into the kiss. Chad only manages to hum, which Dustin seems to take as an incentive to continue.

  He feels the back of his knees hit the edge of the bed in the room and they fall back on it. Dustin leans over him. Chad sits up before he reaches across and helps pull Dustin’s shirt over his head. Chad gulps when he lays eyes on a well-defined torso shimmering in a thin layer of sweat. He pauses with a gulp.

  “Is e-everything alright, Chad?” Dustin asks, in a very husky but concerned voice.

  “Uh yeah,” Chad replies shakily, “Just wondering when … you’ll help me t-take off my shirt …”

  Chad tries his best not to give away his nervousness. Dustin pauses before a little smile appears on his face. Dustin reaches for the bottom of Chad’s shirt when Chad suddenly grabs his hands. He then slips Dustin’s hands under the shirt to feel his body. He briefly jumps at the feel of Dustin’s hands on him.

  “Is this what you want, Dustin?” Chad asks, looking up at him.

  “More than anything,” Dustin replies with a sexy grin, leaning over him.

  Chad then pushes him off of him and stands up. Dustin turns around in confusion.

  “Omigod. It’s true!” Chad exclaims as gets his shirt off the floor, “I mean I was so sure this wasn’t you!”

  “You were so sure that what wasn’t me?” Dustin asks him, standing up in concern and confusion.

  Chad turns around with a sneer, “I was sure you weren’t only getting close to me to get me into bed!”

  “Excuse me?” Dustin retorts with a frown, “That’s not true at all. And it’s a little cocky on your part.”

  “I asked you if ‘this’ is what you wanted and you said you wanted ‘this’ more than anything,” Chad says.

  “I do,” Dustin nods before he sees Chad’s expression of disbelief, “Wait, isn’t ‘this’ what you wanted?”

  Chad simply shakes head as he puts on his shirt, walking away from him. Dustin walks up and turns him around.

  “I’m sorry, were you not the one who whispered in my ear to come up here with you? Were you not the one who was touching me and feeling me?” Dustin asks incredulously, “I didn’t hear you protest when I started to kiss you either. In fact, I could feel you return it when –”

  “I was –” Chad tries to retort.

  “You’re the one who came on to me out of the blue!” Dustin reminds him.

  “Exactly!” Chad exclaims, “I was being different with you. As my ‘friend’; weren’t you supposed to ask why I was acting so strangely all of a sudden? Weren’t you supposed to ask, I dunno, how much I had to drink seeing me with that cup downstairs?”

  “You told me you and Aaron broke up. I would assume it was here at the party since he was here with you earlier,” Dustin tells him, holding his arm, “Maybe you thought you could drown out how that left you feeling with alcohol but realized you couldn’t. After all, I know you’re not a drinker. Unlike Aaron-”

Oh, and you thought I wanted to drown out my feelings with you instead?” Chad asks him, “So why didn’t you, as my ‘friend’, ask me what really happened between Aaron and me? Where was your telling me that regardless of whatever happened, that drinking or hooking up with his roommate wasn’t the way do deal with it?”

  “That’s not why I … wait a minute. So what?” Dustin frowns as he looks up, “You’re telling me that what? Was ‘this’ all just supposed to be some kind of morality test?”

  “One you failed in case you didn’t notice,” Chad pulls his arm away, “And in case you’re not with the program yet, Aaron and I are still very much together. I just fed you the prospect of getting what you wanted and you ate it all up – with no consideration for me as a friend!”

  “Don’t be ridiculous, Chad,” Dustin shakes his head, “Of course I care about you and I consider you as a friend more than anybody else right now. After all we’ve been through –”

  “Oh, you sure showed that me tonight alright, didn’t you?” Chad remarks, “And you showed me how little you care for Aaron too.”

  “I do care-” Dustin says with a sigh, “Look, the truth is Aaron and I aren’t on the best terms right now.”

  “Why is that?” Chad asks folding his arms, “Because you slept with his ex-girlfriend Felicity? And what was it - like no more than two seconds after they’d broken up?”

  Dustin pauses before sighing, “I … I did. But Chad, look, you don’t know the whole story!”

  Chad raises an eyebrow, “I don’t? Then fill me in. Did you not sleep with Felicity Blake right after Aaron broke up with her and pretty much ruined their chances of working things out? I bet sister dearest of yours doesn’t even know you slept with her new sworn enemy, does she? But I guess that’s why I was your next target, huh? After all, I’m in a relationship with Aaron and your sister always hated me.”

  “Oh c’mon, Chad!” Dustin exclaims, “I know how this all looks. But the Felicity thing is complicated!”

  “Well the simple fact is that you did sleep with her even though she was involved with Aaron, who was supposed to be your friend - at least back then,” Chad explains, “But why stop there? Aaron moved on with me, so maybe I’m just as easy as his ex to get in the sack, and that’s score two for Dustin Allen! All you’ve shown me tonight is that had Aaron and I just broken up, you would have taken advantage of me the same way!”

  “I didn’t take advantage of Felicity any more than she took advantage of me that night! And ‘this’ wasn’t me trying to take advantage of you. I really just thought that maybe you felt … I didn’t think that … ugh!” Dustin pleads to him with a sulk, “Chad, just let me explain everything!”

  “There’s no need. I think I’ve seen it all now,” Chad retorts before he storms out of the bedroom.

  “Chad, wait!” Dustin yells and is about to follow, but realizes he is still shirtless from his ‘test’.

  He runs back to get his shirt from off the bedroom floor.  Meanwhile, Chad storms downstairs.

  “I trusted him with things about Rick Hayes,” Chad mopes, “Who knows what he’ll do with that now that he didn’t get his way with me? Maybe he’ll blackmail me with it – that’s if he’s like his sister too.”

  Downstairs, Chad shakes his head in frustration that Aaron was indeed right about Dustin’s agenda and Cassie seems to have been right in warning him not to trust someone who is Rita Allen’s brother. He thinks to himself that he might actually need another ‘drink’ to wash that down before he leaves.

  However, just after Chad gets a cup and tries to head the door to meet up with Aaron by his car, he turns to see none other than Ray and Rita Allen entering the party together. Chad sighs deeply.

= = =

  At the restaurant upstate, Vitani and Josh sign in for their reservations and then take a photo near a large clock on the wall. Afterwards, a waiter escorts them both to a table and hands them each a menu.

  “Good,” Vitani nods, “We’ve got our signatures in the reservations book and we have a photo together with the clock behind us. This whole restaurant is officially our alibi. Now we can relax for a bit.”

  “Relax? Try that when your future is Amber and Christy’s hands,” Josh moans with a deep sigh.

  “I know. Let’s just hope this is all over soon,” Vitani tells him, “Maybe after tonight, we will know what is really behind this and what was really behind Eliza’s running off to college all of a sudden.”

  “It’s starting to feel like the universe is out to get me,” Josh sighs, “I mean first, there’s all of the times my father and his business have been connected to an oscinade. Then my girlfriend leaves me out of the blue. Now I may be kicked out of school forever. It’s really hard to have faith in a world where everything is always pulled right out from under your feet.”

  “Hey now. I’m still here,” Vitani tells him, “And I was there through all of that. So I know you have the strength to keep standing, even when it feels like the world is against you.”

  “I’m glad I have you to stand beside me,” Josh puts his hands over hers, “I’m lucky to have that.”

  “Here’s to hoping all your luck changes for the better tonight,” Vitani smiles, moving to pour a toast.

  Just then, some violinists come by their table before some assistants bring decorative flowers to and place them around the table. Vitani and Josh put down their toasts glasses in confusion.

  “Um excuse me,” Vitani tries to interrupt, “But what is all this about?”

  The waiter explains that ‘a friend of theirs’ requested they receive the romantic couples’ treatment.

  “Is that so?” Josh asks getting up, “And where is this friend of ours now?”

  After the waiter points to the back door, Josh tells Vitani to sit tight while he finds out what is going on.

  Josh heads out the back door which leads to a back alley. He doesn’t see anyone, but he hears a voice.

  “So the very moment your last girlfriend dumps you, it’s back to Vitani, huh? Never mind you were just dating her childhood best friend or anything. Wasn’t she also Vitani’s boyfriend’s cousin? And they say I’m messed up. I’m supposed to be such a bad person.”

  “You have no idea what you’re talking about -” Josh turns out, “It’s you! It doesn’t get worse than you!”

= = =

  Meanwhile, back inside the restaurant, Vitani is waiting for Josh to get back when a whole fifteen minutes pass since he left. She decides to go find out what is keeping him so long and who is the person who sent them the flowers and music. She heads to the back door.

  Vitani steps outside before she gasps when she sees someone she knows badly beaten in the alley.

  “Brett Klein? What the heck are you doing here?” Vitani asks incredulously, “What happened to you?”

  With that, her shady ex-boyfriend Brett Klein wipes some blood from his mouth before he points to the end of the alley. Vitani looks over only to see Price and Marco putting handcuffs on Josh.

  “Joshua Trent, you are under arrest for assault on Brett Klein!” the policemen declare.



= = =

Copyright © 2015 Chad Blackman

= = =

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