PART 17: OBSERVER EFFECT
In a corner of the high school’s library sat a young girl with short, dark hair, alongside a slightly older, more heavyset girl with bright pink hair done up in braids and bows. Neither spoke. Until the former finally looked up from her book. “Maybe he’s not coming?”
“He’ll be here,” Chartreuse assured, holding a small crystal up to the light. Luci merely shook her head and resumed her reading. After all, there was still a good twenty minutes left in their lunch, it might as well be productive.
About five minutes later, a sad-looking blonde student entered the library, hesitated, then walked up to the two girls. Both looked up at him expectantly.
“I-I-I-It…” The boy paused to clear his throat. “It’s tonight. Julie’s making her move tonight at the d-dance.”
“Excellent,” Chartreuse declared, slapping her palm against the table with enough force to make Luci jump. “This means we can be, like, ready for her.”
“How so?” Luci objected. “I already speculated on Julie taking some action at the dance when you came to me last weekend. All Tim’s done is confirm it. We still don’t know WHAT she’s doing. Unless you have additional information?” she asked, looking back at the blonde boy.
Their newest companion dropped his gaze to the floor. “N-No. Clarke didn’t give d-details.”
Chartreuse sighed. “Luci, you’ve got to stop giving off these negative vibes,” she observed. “Otherwise it’ll be real difficult to function as a unit here, you know?”
“All I’m saying is there’s no way to be ready,” Luci said defensively. “I mean, we weren’t ready on Tuesday when Corry started up that rumour that Julie carries a teddy bear around with her.”
“But we couldn’t, like, anticipate that one,” Chartreuse protested. “I mean, who knew that Julie would leave a stuffed animal in her backpack where Corry could see it?”
“B-But isn’t that the kinda thing you normally foresee?” Tim broke in. “Using your, um, psychic abilities?”
Chartreuse shook her head, starting to absently roll the crystal she was holding around in her hand. “My visions don’t work like that,” she explained. “Not unless I, like, get into serious meditation. I usually just get impressions from people. Like how I did from Corry last Saturday.”
“An impression relating to an upcoming ‘war’,” Luci remarked dryly.
“Look, I was visiting Laurie, brushed by her brother in the hallway, and POW!” Chartreuse made an expressive hand gesture to demonstrate. “There it was, this, you know, real bad sensation relating to him, Julie and Carrie.”
“Corry and Julie have never gotten along.”
“Luci, this was more than that,” Chartreuse insisted, genuine fear creeping into her voice. “I mean, Julie and Carrie have NEVER been at odds, yet that was there too! I wish I could be more specific, but I can’t. It was like, whoa, we’re coming to a crossroads here, and if we don’t do anything, the consequences could be disastrous. War is, you know, the only way I can think to describe it.” She slapped the table again. “Trust me, it’s up to the three of us to do something to prevent that scenario!”
Luci took a moment to reflect. She would have written it off as stupid mystic mumbo-jumbo by Chartreuse – if it weren’t for the fact that, due to the time machine, she had been paying additional attention to Carrie. Some of what Chartreuse was saying had a ring of truth to it.
The Julie-Carrie relationship was being strained. Exactly the sort of thing that Corry Veniti would take advantage of. For that matter, the teddy bear situation this week had been uncharacteristically sloppy of Julie. Was it due to distraction? Had it been a harbinger of things to come? Would today’s dance truly be a turning point?
“W-Why us?” Tim asked, breaking Luci’s concentration.
“Oh, that was laid out in the stars,” said Chartreuse brightly, the fear in her voice vanishing. “After all, I’m friends with Laurie, who’s Corry’s sister. Tim, you’re friends with Clarke, who’s close to Julie, sorta. And Carrie, well, she never sticks around anyone for more than a month… but I heard last week that Frank was, you know, helping her with some math, and Luci, you’ve also studied with Frank, so you might come across something. That makes us the two degrees of separation group!”
Chartreuse paused. “Hey, that’s kind of a neat name. Maybe we should, like, make it an official club. Even create a logo?”
“B-But surely others would be a better choice.”
Chartreuse shook her head. “Tim, don’t look so worried. We can hang out naturally, because we’re all in the same homeroom. Also, you two are, you know, pretty inconspicuous normally, so…. Oh! How about 2DEGS as a passcode or something?”
“We’re straying from the point,” Luci observed.
“Right,” Chartreuse said, switching tracks without missing a beat. “So, we now know positively that Julie’s gonna do something tonight at the dance. Which will involve Corry. Or Carrie. Actually, I bet both of them. To stop it, we’ll make casual inquiries while we’re there, keep an eye out, and above all keep calm so that we can head this thing off at the pass.”
Luci frowned. “I won’t be at the dance,” she objected. “They’re… not my thing.”
Besides, she’d had some hopes of being able to look more into the time machine situation at Frank’s house. She felt like they were making progress with the new circuitry.
“I wasn’t going to go either,” Tim chimed in quietly.
Chartreuse’s face fell. “Guys… I, like, totally need you there. The school needs you there! And I mean, how about your friends, Clarke, and Frank? You don’t want them getting, you know, dragged into the coming apocalypse, do you?”
Luci rolled her eyes up to the ceiling. Chartreuse was visibly overdramatizing. And yet… there was still that ring of truth. What was Julie really up to? For that matter, observing Julie a bit more at the dance might be helpful for Frank.
The short-haired girl bit her lower lip and exchanged a quick glance with Tim. His expression implied that he was leaving the decision up to her. “I… the dance starts at 8, right?” Luci said in resignation.
Chartreuse beamed. “That’s the spirit. Whatever Julie has in mind, she can’t have factored in the actions of the 2DEGS!”
She thrust her hand out enthusiastically towards her companions. Off of her expectant look, they placed their palms on top of hers. “Go team!” Chartreuse said cheerily.
“Go Team!” cheered Carrie along with others from her squad. “Defense, defense, take that ball away.”
The point was almost moot. Even if they could get the ball back, it was unlikely that they’d be able to score the necessary 10 points for a win in the last two minutes of the game. But hey, there was something to be said for enthusiasm, particularly on away games. Carrie even wagered that her handful of members was doing a better job than the home squad; certainly their uniforms were better.
“Will we be doing another lift?” inquired the boy next to her.
Carrie shook her head. “Nah, no point, Steve. Things are winding down and we don’t want to show up the home team TOO much, do we?” She winked.
Steve fired back a grin of his own. “I guess not. Good thing for their sake that we didn’t bring a full complement.”
Carrie nodded. It was fortunate that a couple of their guys had been able to make it out here, they were involved in a few of the best routines. ‘I wonder what their incentive was?’ Carrie thought to herself with a smirk, raising a hand to her hip and shifting her weight to make it jut out saucily.
She wondered if Steve was still watching her. It occurred to her that if he was, he was probably thinking that she was behaving like mere eye candy. That thought irritated her. She was more than that, right?
Sure. She was also egotistical, needing to have everything go her way. Carrie resumed her prior position, feeling betrayed by her own thoughts. What the hell was wrong with her lately? She had to stop talking with Frank. Except she couldn’t do that; she needed him.
It was a weird feeling, that need. Being popular, she’d seen people within cliques as being interchangeable. There had been no need to focus on the individuals, beyond what they could do for her. After all, no one had ever cared about her, so why should she do more than pretend to care about anyone else in turn?
Now, because of the time machine, it wasn’t like that any more. She needed Frank.
Carrie grimaced. The more she thought about her situation, the more she hated thinking about her situation. So when the final game whistle blew, she shunted those thoughts to the back of her mind.
Sure enough, their team had lost another one; Coach Masterson would be beside himself. As the players gathered together for a post-game briefing or whatever it was they did, Carrie motioned for her small squad to join the other spectators from their school, returning to their chartered bus.
Their bus was separate from the one the football team used; it was funded through selling tickets to interested fans and spectators, with the incentive being a chance to root for their team, as well as get out of last period class. Granted, the bus hadn’t been completely filled, however, Julie had indicated to both Carrie and the athletic department that she could pick up some of the slack, if necessary. It was handy having a rich friend on your side.
The voice in her head poked at her again. And what was the deal with Julie? She’d been acting different this past week. Their lunchtime conversations had changed in tone. Carrie was doing most of the talking, and that hadn’t always been the case. Had it?
Then there was the whole teddy bear thing. Carrie was certain that Julie had never carried such a stuffed animal with her, and had decried Corry’s claims of such. Yet Julie had hardly reacted at all to the accusation, and she’d only allowed a visible inspection of her backpack the day AFTER the incident. What was the deal? Was Julie up to something?
‘Stop overreacting,’ Carrie ordered herself. ‘Anyway, Julie’s mood will improve after I’ve passed on her suggestion.’
Taking a seat near the front of the bus, Carrie waved off a couple of requests by people to sit next to her, instead motioning to a member of her cheerleading squad who was the same age.
The girl with shoulder-length red hair and freckles turned to look behind herself in confusion as Carrie beckoned. It took another few seconds for Laurie to realize that, yes, Carrie had indeed meant her. The redhead finally slid into the seat next to the head cheerleader.
“You really want me to sit here next to you?” Laurie asked in breathless excitement. “Golly. I mean this is… golly.” She paused. “Wait, this isn’t about my brother and the teddy bear thing, is it? Because I don’t have any control over what Corry does he’s only my brother and besides he’s nice, he helps me out in school since as you well know I can’t wrap my head around math, especially when we get into those fractions I mean that stuff is so hard that I can’t…”
“Laurie, you’re babbling.”
Laurie blushed lightly. “Yes Captain, sorry Captain, I’ll shut up now,” she said quickly, dropping her eyes down to the floor. Her hands moved to play with the hem of her cheerleading skirt.
Carrie suppressed a sigh. In some sense, Laurie’s irritatingly perky and innocent demeanour was the perfect complement to her fraternal twin’s more sour, jaded outlook on life. Yet in another sense, Carrie couldn’t understand how the two siblings managed to live in the same house together.
“Laurie, I don’t want to talk to you about the whole bear thing,” Carrie assured. “But I do want to talk briefly about your brother.”
Laurie raised her eyes back up. “What about him?”
“I’ve heard that Corry’s been trying to start up some little ensemble band at school,” Carrie prompted.
“Oh, good golly, yes,” Laurie said, now nodding eagerly. “Of course he’s already in the regular band and the choir too but you don’t get to sing in the band or play in the choir, so he was thinking of trying to get some people interested in a small ensemble only there hasn’t been enough interest yet or not enough for Mrs. Willis to shell out any money for music, besides my brother mostly plays flute and keyboards so he obviously can’t be a one man band which is sort of a shame because I think it’s a really great idea, don’t you?”
Carrie could swear that, despite a semblance of commas, Laurie had never taken a breath through all that. The blonde stopped biting her tongue long enough to speak up again.
“Sure. In fact, hey, we’re having a dance tonight, right? Corry could use it to spark more interest in his ensemble, by singing a song or two.”
Laurie blinked. “Huh? I don’t follow.”
Carrie mentally added another checkmark next to the times she’d felt like physically shoving someone, but was able to resist. Fortunately, only a few choice people tended to bother her to that degree.
”If Corry were to sing a few songs at the dance,” Carrie explained patiently, “Others might be more interested in joining a band with him. Right?”
“Oh!” Laurie seemed to reflect on that. “That’s a pretty good idea,” she decided.
“Yes,” Carrie concluded, leaning back in her seat with a sigh. “I thought so.” Or rather, Julie had thought so, being the one to propose the plan.
Julie had indicated that, if Corry pulled off his whole ensemble thing, he would probably be too busy to bother her. Plus it would take attention away from the teddy bear rumours now circulating. That last seemed a bit optimistic, but Julie always seemed to know what she was doing, so Carrie wasn’t about to start second guessing now.
“I think I’ll mention that to my brother,” Laurie added brightly.
“You do that,” Carrie indicated.
“You’re all right, you know that?” Laurie continued. “I mean, sure, things got off to a rocky start between us, and some people around the school say nasty things, but golly, stories like that always get blown out of proportion, plus lots of the people are Corry’s friends so they only say mean things about you because you hang around with Julie so you can’t totally believe them. What I mean to say is I always knew that deep down you were an okay gal and I just want to say again I’m really pleased that you’re letting me sit next to you here, don’t think that I’m unaware of the honour involved!”
“PLEASE stop babbling,” Carrie said, flexing her hands in restraint.
“Golly, sorry again, you’re right, I’ll do that, definitely I will, you just watch me now, here I go,” she affirmed, reaching once more for the hem of her skirt.
Carrie found herself praying that they would manage the rest of the trip home without further outbursts. ‘I think Julie owes me for this favour,’ she reflected. ‘She reeeeeeeally owes me for this one.’
The dart flew through the air, striking Julie between the eyes. Or that’s where it hit in Corry’s mind anyway, as he’d mentally projected her smirking face onto the dart board.
“What. Is. Your. Deal?” he muttered for what felt like the thousandth time since their first encounter.
Corry reached up to brush some of his shoulder-length red hair back off his ear. He preferred to keep it the same length and style as his sister, not because of any real concession to them being twins, so much as the occasional confusion (and amusement) it afforded him when one of them was viewed from behind.
He could still remember the time last year when that football player had been incessantly hitting on Laurie. No one did that to his sister. So, Corry had given the guy the opportunity to corner her for a date – only to discover in the moment that he’d cornered Corry instead.
Corry smiled. He had engineered that flawlessly, and the expression on the guy’s face when he’d discovered the switch had been priceless. The date hadn’t been bad either, if you liked that sort of thing. Not that Corry swung that way, but a deal was a deal – he hadn’t let the guy squirm his way out of the invitation.
If only Julie was as easy to manipulate.
Julie. Corry flung another dart at the board. The girl who required that everything work out HER way. Such arrogance! Of course, the real annoying thing was how Corry rather preferred to have things go HIS way. But not all the time, like her. Only half the time. Maybe up to three quarters of the time. Then occasionally 90% of the time.
Corry grimaced. Fine. Maybe he’d taken that initial dislike to Julie because he’d sensed some of his more questionable qualities in her. He threw his final dart.
His bedroom door opened and his sister stuck her head in, knocking as she did so. “Laurie!” Corry shouted out in warning.
The redheaded girl flinched as the dart whistled by her face and embedded itself in the dartboard hanging by the doorframe. “Golly,” she remarked, peering at the dart’s final resting place with a stunned look.
Corry exhaled. “Damn it little sis, how many times do I have to tell you, knock first, THEN open the door, not both at the same time?”
Laurie looked back at her brother. “It wasn’t locked,” she replied petulantly. “And don’t get into the little sister thing with me again. You’re only two minutes older.”
Corry rolled his eyes. “Fine, fine,” he grumbled. He didn’t really feel like arguing. He moved to retrieve his darts, deciding to find a better place for the board. “Then what’s so all fired important that you felt it risked putting an eye out?”
“Oh, it’s a great idea concerning the dance and your proposed band ensemble,” Laurie said, clasping her hands. She briefly – or briefly for his sister – outlined the idea, and it’s origins.
“I see,” Corry responded dubiously. “So Carrie mentioned this, did she? She wouldn’t do that for no reason. Did Julie factor into it?”
“I didn’t think to ask,” Laurie realized. She frowned marginally. “Julie can’t be up to something involving you again, can she?”
“I don’t know,” Corry admitted. The main reason Julie was on his mind now was due to the ‘teddy bear affair’; she might want to get back at him for it. Corry supposed he could have employed a little more tact and restraint in his remarks. But damn, taking Julie down a peg or two this week had sure felt good.
“Maybe you shouldn’t come to the dance tonight,” Corry decided. “If she is up to anything, I don’t want you involved.”
“Aw, geez, Corryyyyyy,” Laurie protested. “It’s the first dance of the school year and the first major social event not counting Julie’s party which we can’t really count seeing as we weren’t invited, plus Chartreuse is expecting me there and I recently got this cool new pair of shoes that I was planning to wear, besides I can take care of myself so just because YOUR silly feuds are hinting at trouble it doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be able to go and have a good time.”
“Okay, okay, enough already,” Corry said, raising his hands in resignation. “Do whatever you like then, see if I care!” Julie wouldn’t stoop so low as to use his sister against him anyway. He was getting paranoid.
Laurie hmmphed and turned away, though she turned back a moment later. “So, will you sing at tonight’s dance?”
Corry pursed his lips. “I’m not sure,” he concluded, looking down at the dart in his fingers. “I’ll decide when I get there.”
In a dark basement room, the final touches were put on a small device, before it was slipped into a jacket pocket. The device’s owner smiled. So far, everything seemed to be going according to plan.