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PART 24: UNDERSTANDINGS
“Chartreuse!” Mr. Veniti said in surprise. “We weren’t expecting you… I think Laurie’s upstairs, hold on.”
“I’m here to talk with Corry,” Chartreuse clarified.
Mr. Veniti blinked. “Corry?”
“Hello, yes?” Corry inquired, poking his head out into the hallway behind his father.
“Corry, we have to talk about what, like, happened today.”
“No, we don’t,” Corry refuted with a wave of his hand.
“Yes, we DO,” Chartreuse insisted. “But NOT, you know, here in the hallway.”
Corry sized her up. Then he nodded. “Okay, fine, come in. It’s a band thing,” Corry added for the benefit of his father. “Let’s go talk in my room, okay Chartreuse?”
Chartreuse nodded again and the two of them retreated upstairs. Once in Corry’s bedroom, with the door closed, the redhead leaned back up against the wall, hands behind his head. “All right,” he said. “You’ve got your serious look on, so I’ll give you thirty seconds to convince me not to toss you out of here. Go.”
“Corry, it’s important I know exactly what you saw and did with respect to Carrie’s locker.”
“Bzzzt. I’m sorry, that is an invalid statement. Twenty-five seconds.”
“Corry, look, there’s something sinister going on here involving you, Carrie and Julie! Julie went into Carrie’s locker after you. She saw what you did and yet she didn’t, like, stop you. Don’t you think that’s telling?”
Corry shrugged. “Tells me even Julie’s smart enough to yield to the inevitable. Fifteen seconds.”
“Come on, don’t you think Julie would have stopped you if she could have?? I mean, like, we’re not talking, you know, simple detention here. This was suspension, verging on expulsion!”
“Chartreuse, I didn’t think it was possible for you to make less sense than usual. But what do you know, here we have it.”
“Are you honestly telling me you don’t think those drugs could have gotten Carrie thrown out of school??”
“Time’s up,” Corry said. “Please take your insane mystic ravings elsewhere.” He reached for the doorknob.
“Corry, this isn’t me being mystic!” Chartreuse protested. “Those drugs you put in Carrie’s locker would have resulted in at least a real long suspension if I hadn’t stepped in!”
Corry paused with his hand on the doorknob, looking Chartreuse up and down. “Drugs,” he repeated. “Geez, Chartreuse. I admit, at times I can be a cruel son of a bitch. However, I like to think I’m ethical enough not to threaten anyone with jail time simply because they’re a shallow brat with no respect for people like my sister.”
Chartreuse pursed her lips. “Corry, a teacher found drugs in Carrie’s locker, last period of school today. You can, like, check the story out with whatever sources you have. It’s true.”
Corry’s hand fell away from the door. “Wait a minute. Is that why Carrie and Julie were called down to the office? Because I was hedging to see if I wanted to take the credit for that.” He frowned. “Maybe I don’t.”
“But – what?” Chartreuse said, shaking her head in confusion. “If the drugs weren’t, like, Carrie’s and you didn’t put them there either, how did they, you know, end up in her locker?”
There was a moment of silence. The answer came to both of them at once. “Julie!”
“No, wait,” Corry countered quickly. “Julie against CARRIE? Those two have been joined at the hip ever since Grade 9!”
“Not anymore,” Chartreuse asserted. “As I said, there’s, you know, something sinister going on. In fact, now I see what was wrong with my vision… Julie DID take out what you put in Carrie’s locker. But my vision shifted before I saw her put the drugs in!”
“Chartreuse, please, no mystic spacing on me now. You were down at the office when Carrie and Julie were there, right? Was Julie being blamed for these drugs at all?”
“Nuh-uh, Corry, not answering that. First I, you know, get to find out what you did do with respect to Carrie’s locker.”
“Oh, for crying out loud…”
“I’ve, like, given you quite a lot of information in the last few minutes!” Chartreuse said. “You owe me this!”
“You came to me, I don’t owe you anything!” Corry fired back. Chartreuse folded her arms and stood there obstinately. Corry finally sighed. “FINE,” he grumbled. “If you must know, I actually took into consideration some of what you said on the weekend. All I did was go into Carrie’s locker, pinch a bag of her gym clothes and recipe cards, then chuck it into the sink in the men’s washroom. I figured someone else would have some fun with that. I also left a threatening note behind, saying that if it even LOOKED like the blonde brat was crossing me or Laurie in the future, she’d get suspended so fast it would make her head spin.”
He cracked his knuckles. “A bit generous, I admit, but I’m pretty sure Julie was behind the actual recording. Carrie wouldn’t have had that kind of foresight.” He paused. “In fact, if what you say is true, Julie took my note away. I’m not comforted.”
Chartreuse nodded slowly. “Well then, in response to your earlier question, I, like, don’t think Julie was at the office for the drugs. She was seen separate from Carrie.”
Corry grunted. “Still, I bet she was the one to tip off the teacher who found them – actually, that could explain her summons.” His eyes narrowed. “She seems to be playing for keeps all of a sudden. What’s her game?”
“Apocalypse,” Chartreuse murmured in reply. “With us as her pawns.”
“No bloody way. I’ll die before I become a pawn of Julie’s,” Corry spat out. He then grimaced. “Still, hyperbole aside, the ante is rising alarmingly fast. I’d better make sure I’m keeping up.” He went over to his desk and flipped on a light. “You can go now, Chartreuse.”
Chartreuse blinked. “What are you going to do?”
Corry turned back to glare at Chartreuse. “You can go,” he repeated firmly.
Chartreuse opened her mouth to protest, but seeing his expression she thought better of it and simply backed out of his room. The mysteries behind the events of the day had been resolved to her satisfaction. And it was possible that her intervention in the office had been enough to derail the future vision she’d had. Yet at the same time… Chartreuse couldn’t help but wonder whether it had been a mistake, talking to Corry.
“This is a mistake,” Carrie whispered to herself even as she knocked on the door. “I shouldn’t have come here. I’m making it about me again.” She turned to go but it was too late, as the door was already opening.
“Oh! Carrie, isn’t it?” Mrs. Dijora said with a smile. “Did you need to pick up some notes from Frank or something?”
“I… no, I… wrong house, sorry!” Carrie fumbled. “Goodbye!” Mrs. Dijora watched in confusion as Carrie retreated back down the driveway and ran off down the street.
She couldn’t do it. Fellow time traveler or not, supposed friend or not, she couldn’t simply unload on her classmate, not again. “I’m sure he’s busy talking with Luci anyway,” she murmured.
Carrie’s steps ultimately took her to Willowdale Park. The one near her house, on the other side of the ravine. Where she had first found the time machine, and where she had blown up at Luci and Frank less than a week ago. She wasn’t sure why she’d come here, but she was here now at any rate. There was a swing set nearby, so she sat down on one of the swings, scuffing her shoes slightly in the dirt.
“I have nothing,” Carrie reiterated quietly to herself. Unable to hold back any longer, she buried her face in her hands. Yet the tears wouldn’t come. She’d held them back for too long – and now she couldn’t even cry properly. In the end, she didn’t even have that. Pathetic. God, she wanted to die.
The blonde stumbled to her feet. “Who’s there?” she choked out.
“Me,” came the quiet voice of Frank Dijora. He stepped closer, close enough for her to see him in the darkness. “My mom said you stopped by for some reason.”
A light wind started up, blowing through Carrie’s hair. As it had the last time they’d been here. She pulled the hair away from her face. “H-How did you find me?”
Frank shrugged. “A hunch. If you hadn’t been here, I suppose I would have tried your house.” The two teenagers stared silently at each other. “Hey,” Frank ventured at last, moving towards a patch of grass. “You know this spot right over here? Isn’t this about where we ended up, after coming back from those days trapped in the woods? Boy, that was some trip, wasn’t it. Good thing you had that first aid knowledge.”
Carrie stared. “Why? Why are you being so nice?” she whispered.
Frank turned back towards her. “Because I’m guessing that things went badly for you in the principal’s office today. With that on top of everything else, uh, I’m thinking you could use a bit of cheering up.”
Carrie shook her head. “I haven’t spoken to you since I… look, you have no reason to do this. I’m hardly in a position to be able to grant you any favours.”
“I know.” Frank rubbed the back of his neck. “But you realize it’s never been about favours, yeah? And the Carrie I know – she tends to lash out at bad news. So I’d hate to see her lose control tomorrow and do even more stuff to people that she’d regret later.”
The wind blew more hair in front of Carrie’s face but this time she ignored it, her eyes fixated on Frank. “I really don’t understand people, do I,” she realized. A pause. “I am sorry for some of the things I’ve said and done to you. Really sorry.”
“I wasn’t actually looking for an apology.”
“You still deserve one.” Carrie paused again before gazing skyward. “It’s more than me not getting close to people, you know? I avoid it whenever I can.” She bit down on her lip. “Maybe it’s because, by keeping one’s distance, it never matters much when a person goes away. Or… disappears entirely.” She began digging her fingers into her palms. “It’s also easier to manipulate people for one’s own benefit when feelings don’t enter into it. But now that I’m on this side of the exchange – it hurts, Frank. Gods, I never thought I was hurting people like this.”
Frank shook his head slowly. “I don’t understand.”
Carrie shifted her gaze from the sky to the ground. “Julie’s cast me aside, Frank. You and Luci were right about her. And with both Julie and Corry set against me now, by the weekend, I’m going to become a social outcast.” She swallowed, and only now felt a tear forming at the corner of her eye. “It’s been so long – I’m not sure I can live that way.”
Frank stepped towards her and reached out, tentatively taking hold of Carrie’s hands and uncurling her fingers. “I don’t know,” he said softly. “You may be underestimating your own strength.”
Carrie took in a deep, shuddering breath, shaking her head. “I don’t think so. I… I’m scared, Frank! Worse than when you saw me two years ago,” she admitted, clutching back at his hands as he succeeded in prying her fingers loose from her palms. “Back then I could attribute the problem to being in the wrong time period. Now… now it’s the PRESENT I have no control over. And I can only imagine how many people at school have been waiting for this day to arrive.”
Frank released a hand in order to brush the errant strands of hair away from Carrie’s face. She finally met his gaze once again. “There’s at least one person who won’t be celebrating.”
Carrie choked back a sob. “Damn it, Frank! STOP being so nice to me, I don’t deserve it!”
Frank smiled. “Maybe. Maybe not. People change. I don’t think you’re half as bad now as you used to be.”
His image began to blur in front of Carrie’s eyes. “Oh God, I’m about to cry,” Carrie realized. “Promise not to tell–” She cut herself off. “No. You wouldn’t say anything. Thank you.”
Carrie buried her face into Frank’s shoulder, allowing the tears to flow freely at last. Feeling Carrie’s arms encircle him, Frank instinctively imitated the gesture, holding Carrie close as she shook and sobbed uncontrollably. There was no way to tell exactly how long they remained like that, but eventually Carrie’s tears had run their course and she pulled away again.
“Feel better?” Frank murmured.
“Kinda,” Carrie said, sniffling and wiping her eyes. “Except now I’m sure I’ve been out past ten, so dad’s gonna be ticked.” She blinked a few times. “And geez, I’ve totally messed up your jacket.”
Frank glanced down. “Eh, it’ll wash.”
Carrie smiled halfheartedly. “I guess.” She reached up to loop a strand of hair back around her finger. “And don’t get the wrong idea here. If this is a… a friendship of sorts forming… it’s going to take some getting used to. At least for me. Probably for Luci too, come to think.”
Frank smiled back. “Makes sense, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. All in good time.” He snapped his fingers. “Oh! Which reminds me. I’ve been wanting to tell you since Monday… the time machine IS reparable. But we’ll need parts and stuff, so we won’t be good to go until November. At the earliest.”
Carrie opened her mouth, then closed it again. “I see,” she said at last. “Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help then. I… I promise I’ll be more patient. You’re allowed to hit me if I’m not, all right?”
“I trust it won’t come to that.”
“No, seriously, hit me, you need to get more assertive,” Carrie insisted. “It was bad enough when I was walking all over you – if you’re not careful, Luci’s going to end up doing the same thing.”
“Um… I’ll keep it in mind then.”
The two of them stood silently for another long moment. “Okay. Well, I should get back home,” Carrie said at last. “I’m late for curfew as it is.”
“Yeah, I should go too,” Frank agreed. He ran a hand back through his hair. “See you tomorrow then?”
“See you then,” Carrie affirmed. “And Frank… thanks. Really.” They exchanged one last smile before going their separate ways.
The rumours had already started to fly by Friday lunchtime. Not all of them compatible. Some said Corry had managed to break up the friendship between Julie and Carrie, by getting them in trouble. Another story went that Julie had broken it off with Carrie, because of something Frank had done to them. Others believed Carrie had broken it off with Julie, related to something Corry had done to her and Chartreuse. There was even a rumour that the breakup was a ruse, devised by Carrie, to pair off Corry and Julie, so that Clarke could date Laurie and Chartreuse could date Frank. It was all very confusing.
Naturally, no one was confessing to anything. However, none of the big names were officially denying anything either, which made it even more difficult to figure out what was really going on. After all, you could never truly believe anything until it had been officially denied by Julie or Corry.
By the end of the day, Carrie was so tired of all the questions she was getting that she was actually looking forward to the solitude of detention. She did take some small consolation in that her own changing social status was being lost in the shuffle, but she knew that wouldn’t last. The people staring and whispering around her, that was just the beginning.
Worse, her father had indeed been upset with her arriving home late – and admitting to her detention hadn’t helped matters – such that she wouldn’t be able to socialize in the evenings for a while anyway. At this rate, Carrie rather hoped she was due for a run of good luck.
She opened her locker door to toss in her books, only to have it immediately slammed shut again. Carrie blinked over in surprise at Corry, who was now leaning against the locker in question. “We have to talk,” Corry stated.
“I have to get to detention,” Carrie retorted. “Big surprise for you there, I’m sure.”
“What happened to you in the office yesterday was not my doing,” Corry asserted, lowering his voice. Perhaps he need not have bothered, as people were again making a point of avoiding them. “And I really don’t care whether you believe that or not, my point is how we seem to have a common enemy.”
Carrie crossed her arms. “What, the enemy of my enemy is my friend? I don’t think so.”
Corry grimaced. “Thank heaven for that! Don’t get me wrong here, Waterson. I don’t like you. I think you’re shallow, self-serving and a terrible influence on my sister. After what happened at the dance, it’s taking a lot of willpower not to simply walk away and let you swing in the breeze.”
“Nice talking with you, too.”
“But I’m not going to listen to that voice in my head,” Corry said, narrowing his eyes. “Because that’s exactly what Julie would expect of me!”
Carrie paused. “Okay, I’ll bite. Huh?”
“It’s becoming obvious that Julie’s manipulating us. And I hate being manipulated even worse than I hate you. So here’s the deal. You help me out in dealing with Julie, I see that you don’t become a social pariah at school. Subject to a few conditions up front, with the understanding that my offer may be terminated at any time.”
“How nice. Doesn’t sound like I’m getting a lot out of this deal, does it,” Carrie said dryly.
Corry shrugged. “Assuming you don’t break the terms of our agreement, you’ll get immunity from me for the rest of the semester. Julie won’t be able to touch you either, assuming I know she’s going to. I’m even willing to exert some authority to help you out at times. Within reason.”
Carrie hesitated. It seemed like he was serious. “Tempting,” she admitted. “But let me be honest with you. I never paid that much attention to Julie’s plans. I doubt I’ll be of much help.”
Corry shook his head. “Don’t kid yourself. You know things, even if you don’t think you do. For instance, in all your time with her, have you ever known Julie to self harm?”
Carrie flinched. “What? No. Where the hell did that come from?”
“Nowhere, I’m simply making a point. There’s also the fact that you have your own supporters around the school – primarily in athletic circles – and while they’d probably drift to Julie in time, for now they’re still with you. Meaning they’re a potential asset to me. Now, can you honestly say you have no interest whatsoever in getting back at Julie?”
Carrie weighed her options. Going it alone, they didn’t look good. “All right,” she admitted warily. “All right, I’m interested. What exactly are you proposing?”
Corry smiled. “After making me look like the villain in breaking you two up, Julie has to know I’m gunning for her now, even more so than before. She’s going to be on her guard, using every possible resource to try and head me off at the pass,” Corry explained. His smile became another grimace. “So, we wait. My next move will be dictated by her response.”
“Wait?!” Carrie said in surprise. “You?”
“Yes. Much like approaching you, she’ll never expect it.” Corry turned away. “I’ll be in touch.”
“Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”
“Hurry up Carrie, you’ll be late for detention,” was Corry’s only reply as he walked off down the hall.
Clarke shook his head sadly as he paced back and forth in front of the filing cabinets in the room. “Jewels, I don’t understand,” he murmured. “You let Carrie take a fall like that? Why?”
Julie leaned back in her chair tiredly, staring at the ceiling of her ‘play room’. “I saw the signs. Fool me twice, shame on me and all that,” she explained in a detached voice. “Carrie was no longer willing to act against people who had wronged her. I couldn’t risk that becoming a betrayal, thus decided it was better to help Carrie see whose side she was really on. It will be better for her in the long run. Better I do it now, while events are still highly predictable.”
“So, what, am I next?”
Julie sat back up, eyes widening. “Oh, Phil, no,” she gasped. “You’re not like Carrie. I wouldn’t do that to you. Even when you say things I don’t like, you’re always still so honest with me!”
“I’d like to believe you mean that,” Clarke said slowly. “But frankly Jewels, you’re worrying me more and more with every passing day. For instance, this whole time machine thing – by your own admission, you blew it way out of proportion. It must be obvious now that you’re wearing yourself out, and that leads to mistakes. And while I want to understand, and want to help you out… you’re not making it easy.”
She stared back at him for a moment before looking away. “Okay. In that case, perhaps you will take some comfort in the fact that, for the moment, I’m finished. The time machine is no longer a factor, and I’ve reached an understanding with Mr. Hunt. Meanwhile, Corry has to have an inkling of how I’ve been manipulating things by now. Thus the ball is firmly in his court.” She let out a long breath. “He’s sure to do something. My next move will be dictated by his response.”
Clarke sighed. “And what if Corry does something to get you suspended or expelled? Where will this end, Jewels? Is it really worth all the trouble?”
“What, victory over Corry? Look, he could do serious damage to you! How can you be so sure you’ll come out on top here?”
Julie smiled sadly, as realization hit. “Oh Phil, I’m sorry. You really don’t understand, do you. Ever since I started this chain of events, back when I set myself up with that teddy bear? I’ve known that I wouldn’t be able to emerge intact. In fact, most of my plans haven’t even been tailored with a victory against him in mind.”
Her gaze fell upon her map of the school, hanging on the wall. “No,” she finished quietly. “No, if things go as I anticipate… I fully expect to lose against Corry Veniti.”
END BOOK ONE
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There have been “Author Aside” commentaries every couple parts; if you’ve missed those, I’m linking to the upcoming one here.