PART 23: ROCK BOTTOM
Principal Dell Hunt rose, his gaze shifting away from Carrie and onto the new arrival in his office. “Excuse me…?” he said pointedly.
“It’s Chartreuse. Chartreuse Vermilion.”
“Yes, I am aware of who you are. Am I to understand that you are claiming responsibility for what was discovered?” The principal waved off the office staff member who was now standing uncertainly at the door. She nodded and left, closing the door again behind her.
“That’s correct, sir,” Chartreuse said. “Though in fact, I don’t own the drugs either. So, well, okay, like, you might want to take a seat, this is sort of complex what I’m about to say.”
Mr. Hunt slowly sank back down into his chair. “I had a feeling.” He gestured at the seat next to Carrie.
Chartreuse moved to sit down as she spoke. “See, I actually found the bag in question this morning on my way to school. I thought ‘whoa! I’d better, you know, turn these in somewhere’ so I put them in my bookbag.”
“In your bookbag.”
“Yes, sir, just temporarily. I figured I’d better get them out of the area lest the dealer, like, double back and retrieve them!”
“Indeed,” Mr. Hunt said dryly. “And where was it that you found this bag?”
“Yes, it was… well, Carrie do you remember where I said I’d found it?” Chartreuse said a bit desperately, turning to the blonde next to her.
Carrie simply blinked at Chartreuse in confusion. Chartreuse lifted an eyebrow, jerking her head in the direction of the principal. “Oh!” Carrie said at last, turning her gaze back to Mr. Hunt. “Well… sir, you of course remember how I said I had never seen that bag before? I’d forgotten that Chartreuse had given me a package to put in my locker. It contained something she said she’d found in the ravine earlier, that must have been the bag.”
“Right, I found it in the ravine,” Chartreuse confirmed. “I took a walk through the ravine before school. Part of a thigh building exercise.”
Carrie fired a pointed look back towards Chartreuse, who shrugged. Mr. Hunt folded his arms across his chest. “And why is it you never got around to reporting this until now?”
“Ah. Good question,” Chartreuse agreed. “In fact, I was… going to be late for class. Because of, you know, being in the ravine. I didn’t even have time to get to my locker. Which is why I, like, tossed my stuff into Carrie’s locker.”
“We both forget after that,” Carrie remarked.
“Totally,” Chartreuse affirmed.
The principal looked back and forth between the two girls. “Ms. Vermilion,” he finally stated, “I believe you missed my introductory remarks to the effect of telling the truth.” Chartreuse looked down at the floor, abashed. “However, I can recall no troubling incidents with you of late. Thus I must ask, how DID you know why Ms. Waterson was called down? And why the outburst on her behalf?”
“I can’t explain, sir,” Chartreuse murmured. “It all, like, relates to a personal matter.”
Mr. Hunt remained quiet for a time. “Perhaps I should simply suspend the both of you and let the authorities figure this out,” he remarked. Neither girl replied.
There was more to this than met the eye – but then, he’d known that after seeing the Waterson girl’s initial reaction. The real question was, would a suspension get them any closer to the truth? The principal steepled his fingers and turned his chair away to face the window.
“Two weeks detention for each of you,” he concluded. “Effective immediately, so you will both now report to the detention room. Don’t make me regret this decision. If, during these two weeks, I hear of any negative reports concerning either of you, there WILL be suspensions involved. Please use the opportunity to resolve your ‘personal matters’ – in the guidance office if necessary.”
In the reflection of the window glass, he saw Carrie’s look of surprise. “Understood, sir,” she said.
“Thank you, sir,” Chartreuse chimed in, looking relieved.
“Now then, one of you please tell Ms. LaMille to come in on your way out,” Mr. Hunt added, turning back towards them and opening his desk drawer.
The two girls departed his office.
Upon seeing Julie outside, Carrie immediately averted her gaze and walked out of the area. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Chartreuse jab her thumb at the principal’s door and remark, “You’re, like, up next.” The pink haired girl then hurried to catch up.
“Carrie!” Chartreuse whispered as they walked out the main office doors. “What was that about?”
Carrie spun. “Yes, what WAS that about??”
“I asked first.”
“Why did you jump in to my rescue?” Carrie said, ignoring Chartreuse’s comment. “I never asked you to do that!”
“I know. But when I found out, I just couldn’t, like, sit back and do nothing. Besides, we ended up an okay team, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, great. What exactly were you expecting from me in return?”
“Nope. It’s not always about you – see, there’s these powerful forces at work,” Chartreuse explained. “Meaning you should probably, you know, just take it easy for a few weeks, as the principal indicated. It might do you some good actually, your aura looks to be unbalancing.”
“My…” Carrie pressed a hand to her forehead. “Oh God, I’ve sunk so low I’m getting advice from the school psychic,” she realized.
“So what was the deal there?” Chartreuse pressed. “Corry?”
“Who else?” Carrie said bitterly. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m obviously at the point in my life where I need to go and crawl into a small hole and die. Give my regards to anyone who actually cares.”
“Wait, you’re not skipping detention, are you?” Chartreuse countered. “After Hunt was kind enough to give us that out?”
Carrie nearly said yes. Except… doing so might have repercussions for Chartreuse. Which seemed needlessly cruel. ‘So what?’ argued a small voice in her head. So – Chartreuse deserved better. Carrie fell back against the nearest wall, rolling her eyes heavenwards as she realized which voice in her head had become dominant. “Yeah, I’m going. I can always kill myself later.”
“Touchy, touchy,” Lee mumbled to himself as he ambled down the hall, hands in his pockets. It wasn’t like he’d purposely set out to trip Corry with his music stand. Hey, if the guy couldn’t look down and see what was lying right out in front of him, that was hardly Lee’s problem.
Oh well. As usual, Lee had some time to kill after school, before his job at the public library. He supposed he might as well hang out at the coffee shop again. However, he’d better check his image first. Pulling a comb out of his worn sports jacket, Lee headed for the men’s washroom. Entering and proceeding to the basin-like object that passed for a sink, he was briefly taken aback by the sight of a bag of wet clothing sitting inside.
“Odd place to do laundry,” Lee noted with a frown. He peered into the bag and fished out a sports bra. “Totally odd,” he concluded.
“I think it’s cause for concern,” Frank insisted.
Clarke shrugged. “I’m concerned in my own way.”
Frank ran a hand back through his hair. “Well… yes, all right. But come on, don’t you know ANYTHING about why Carrie and Julie were called to the office? Like, maybe Corry has lashed out at the two of them, a revenge tactic after the dance incident,” he said, thinking aloud. “Which means when I was calling Carrie this week about, ah, studying, she was ignoring me in order to keep me out of Corry’s line of fire. What do you think?”
Clarke leaned back against his locker, frowning. “I think it’s possible that Corry’s not involved.”
Frank shot a look at Clarke. “Okay, not helping. Don’t you care about what’s happened to Julie?”
Clarke glared back at him. “More than you probably realize. But why are you getting so concerned? I don’t recall you ever having this much interest in Julie or Carrie before.”
“It’s…” Frank stopped to gather his thoughts. “I happen to know that Carrie’s been under some strain lately. So I suppose I’d rather she not get in trouble on top of that. Look, sorry, I didn’t mean to sound judgemental, things all have been a bit confusing the last few weeks.”
The tall blonde’s expression became a wry smile. “You’re telling me.”
Frank adjusted his glasses. “Okay, Clarke, let me level with you. I have no quarrel with you, or Julie, but I’ve been kind of pulled into this situation… meaning, I just might be forced into taking firmer action. Last resort sort of thing of course, but, uh, well, look, can’t you get Julie to stop whatever’s going on before I have to do something?”
Clarke’s frown returned. “The thing is, Julie is as much a victim here as everyone else.”
“I know she got called to the office like Carrie, but…”
“Not like that,” Clarke interrupted. “It’s… it’s something I can’t really explain. Even to myself sometimes.”
Frank blinked. “You’re not making sense.”
“Yo, guys!” Lee said as he approached. “You want things that don’t make sense? How ’bout some of Carrie’s gym clothes and her home ec recipe cards drowning in the men’s washroom!” He tossed the wet bag at Frank. “Here, math whiz. You know her better then me, right? Give the stuff back to her, ‘k?”
“Whoa, what?” Frank protested. “Carrie and me, we’re not studying this week. We’re not even speaking!”
Lee turned away with a vague gesture. “Cool, that’ll give you something to speak about then. Sorry, can’t stay, places to be.”
Frank opened and closed his mouth a couple of times, but he was unable to find words before Lee had turned the next corner. He looked over at Clarke, who was now watching him with a slightly raised eyebrow. He then looked down into the bag he was holding. There was a bra sitting on top of the pile. He felt himself turning red.
Upon exiting detention an hour later, Carrie was surprised to find a damp bag of her possessions tied anonymously around the lock of her locker.
It didn’t make SENSE, Chartreuse reflected as she stared up at the ceiling of her room. Something about the drug affair felt WRONG. The thought had been bothering her right through her detention, right through her trip home, right through supper, right up until now. If only she could put her finger on what the problem was!
It related to Julie, Chartreuse knew that much. After all, while Carrie had been in trouble, Julie apparently hadn’t been… or at least they’d been seen separately. What was the connection? Why had Julie been called to the office? Carrie hadn’t seemed to know, having just wanted to get away from the brunette.
Folding her arms, Chartreuse sat up on her bed and looked over towards her dresser. Perhaps the trouble was that she was asking herself the wrong questions. After all, the discovery of that drug bag had been the central event. Okay – who knew it had been in Carrie’s locker? The principal, the teacher who’d searched the locker, presumably Corry, Tim, herself… and Julie. Yes, Julie HAD to have known – in her vision, Chartreuse had seen Julie taking something from the locker AFTER Corry had done his fiddling. Boy, that was cold, leaving the bag of pills there when Julie could have helped Carrie out.
Yet, in that case, what had Julie taken out of the locker? Chartreuse had thought it to be whatever Corry had put in, but Julie hadn’t removed the drugs. So it had to be something else. Right? Yet that meant that something else had to have been inside the locker too. Something that Corry would have seen, whether he realized it or not. Was there any way to find out the identity of that something? Of course there was.
Chartreuse sprang for a phone extension, only to discover that their land line was already in use. “Azure, get off the phone!” Chartreuse demanded.
“I don’t hafta, I’m asking questions about homework,” her younger sister replied.
“Sorry Ben, you need to excuse my sister,” Azure said. “She had detention today, it’s unsettled her karma and made her all cranky. Hang up now Chartreuse, or I’ll tell mom!”
Sighing helplessly, Chartreuse hung up and went to grab her jacket instead. Her family didn’t own cell phones, as their use tended to interfere with the abilities that they had. So she’d need to drop by in person… seeing as she had to know now, one way or the other. Otherwise her sacrifice on Carrie’s behalf could amount to nothing.
“Nothing. A whole lot of nothing.”
“What’s that?” Theresa asked leaning on the counter of the coffee shop.
Carrie lifted her head to look blearily at the red haired waitress. “Why do you care?” she shot back.
Theresa smiled disarmingly. “Part of my job is to help out the customers. There’s not too many people around right now and you look like you could use someone to talk to.”
“Well, I don’t need anyone. Never have. So take a hike,” Carrie said indignantly. Theresa nodded slowly and turned away. Carrie felt her grip on her glass tightening. “Wait,” she amended. “I… I’m sorry, that was rude. Maybe I do need someone. Because I don’t have anyone. Not anymore.” Her gaze dropped back down into her lemonade. “In fact I have nothing left.” She squeezed her eyes shut.
Theresa leaned back onto the counter. “I’m sure that’s an exaggeration.”
“It’s not,” Carrie said hollowly. “I don’t have my mom. I don’t have Julie. Without Julie, I don’t have friends. Not really. She’s the only one I ever…” Carrie reopened her eyes and banged her fist down on the café counter, hard enough to make dishes rattle. “How could I let this happen? Why the hell didn’t I see this coming? I should have been listening more to my instincts on Sunday! Why was I so blind?!”
“Sometimes truths can be painful to see,” Theresa remarked.
“Yeah, well, I wish I could go back a few days and beat some sense into my head,” Carrie asserted.
“You think you’d be better off then?”
“Hell yes,” Carrie affirmed. But even as she said it, she found herself considering the possibility.
If she WERE to time travel back a few days, if she were to stop herself from calling Julie on Sunday for instance, would her situation now be any better? Or would Julie just have found an even more devilish way of getting to her? Would Carrie have even BELIEVED her present day self? Probably not.
Carrie might be better off traveling back further and kicking the time machine into a really deep hole before discovering it! Except now, that would wipe out numerous events. Including any reason for her to travel back and do it in the first place! One of those damn paradoxes Frank loved to talk about.
Frank. The guy who would probably benefit the most from having the time machine removed from their past. She’d really done a number on him, hadn’t she. Two years worth of a number! God, what might he have been able to accomplish without her messing up his past for her own selfish ends? She couldn’t even begin to imagine.
Ironically enough, Carrie abruptly recalled a time before Julie’s party, when she’d thought a time machine would solve everything. Instead, it had merely caused all sorts of new problems. There really was no quick fix for anything, was there? Especially not for the thing she most wanted to fix…
Carrie flexed her fingers, then took a long draught of lemonade. Theresa was still there. “You know what?” Carrie decided at last. “Life simply sucks.”
The red haired waitress smiled. “I dare say that’s the most common problem I see around here. And while the cause is often different, talking about it usually does help people. So, anything else on your mind?”
Carrie shook her head slowly. “Nothing you’d understand. Heck, I’ve said too much already,” she sighed, pressing her forehead into the palm of her hand.
Theresa leaned in closer. “If it’s not something you can tell me, is there someone else…?”
Carrie let out a quick burst of laughter. “No way! I’ve scared everyone else off! I have nothing left, nobody, nothing…” Her voice trailed off. The more she said it, the more she realized how true it was.
Theresa pursed her lips. “That sort of statement is rarely accurate,” the waitress countered. “Don’t do anything drastic, all right? Take some time to put things into perspective. It’s probably not as bad as you think it is.”
With that, the waitress moved off to another section of the coffee shop where a customer was waving. Carrie was left sitting and staring into her drink, contemplating Theresa’s words. Okay, so she obviously couldn’t talk to Julie – but there was only one other person who knew as much about her. About her past, her present, her triggers and idiosyncrasies – and that one guy, the individual who had been subjected to more “Carrie” than anyone else in the whole high school? He was better off without her. She squeezed her eyes shut again.
She wasn’t sure how much more time passed before she heard someone addressing her. “What?” she inquired, opening her eyes and looking up.
“I said hey, track tease, have you talked to the math whiz yet?” Lee repeated.
“To Frank?? Why the hell would I talk to Frank?” she snapped back, her thoughts spilling out unbidden from between her lips. “I mean, sure, he’s the only other one who knows about what’s been going on of late. And all right, so he’s someone who knows a good deal about me now. The trouble is, I’m so short sighted that the lines of communication have become completely screwed up between us! To the point where I really doubt there’s a chance of ever restoring whatever small rapport there might have previously been, assuming he’s even willing to do so!”
Lee rubbed the back of his head. “Wow, okay, if you say so. I only ask because I found a bunch of your clothes and stuff. Gave it to him to give to you. Guess you haven’t got it from him yet?”
Carrie felt her cheeks warming and quickly turned away. “Oh. No, I…” She was reminded of the bag tied to her locker. “Actually maybe… but I haven’t seen Frank since class,” she mumbled.
“Lee?” Theresa said, approaching. “You were right, you did leave your drafting assignment here. It fell behind one of the booths.”
“Cool,” Lee remarked, taking the papers from her. He saluted. “Thanks, speedy service sweetheart.” He turned back to Carrie. “And hey, track tease, a final word of advice?”
“Why is everybody a psychologist today?” Carrie muttered under her breath.
“Just wanted to say, an aluminum foil hat’ll help you block out those alien mind control rays.”
She couldn’t help herself. “What does THAT mean?” she demanded.
Lee shrugged. “I figure something’s messing with your mind. Otherwise you wouldn’t have such a warped opinion of how people like the math whiz view friendship. Anyway, see ya in class tomorrow!” Carrie found she could only gape as Lee waved and headed back out of the shop.
“Interesting character, that one,” Theresa remarked idly.
Carrie nodded slowly as her fingers snared a lock of her hair. She yanked it. Hard. “Theresa, what defines a friend?”
The waitress turned back and cocked her head to the side. “That’s an unusual question. I suppose answers will vary. Why do you ask?”
Carrie bit her lip. “I’m not sure,” she murmured. Had Julie ever truly been her friend? Conversely, over the last few weeks, had she actually been becoming friends with Frank? No… now she was grasping at straws. But still. The time with Frank – it hadn’t been like her previous social encounters, that was for sure. And who else was there, if not Frank? I mean really, who else? “What time is it?”
“Coming up on 9:30,” Theresa said.
Carrie pulled her fingers free from her hair. “There’s still time before my curfew then,” she said softly. She turned to the waitress. “I’ll settle up my bill now.”