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19

MY DINNER WITH KAMRAN

 

Anton denied everything. After about a minute of his denials, Detective Powell told me I could leave the room. I got right up, marched to the door, put my hand on the handle…and then turned around.

Anton said, “Riley, I’m innocent.”

My mind flashed. What expression should I give Anton here? Scowl? Smile? I didn’t really think he was guilty. But it wasn’t only about what I thought; it was about what I wanted him to think I thought. Maybe if I blew him a kiss, the real truth about Casey and Miley would come out sooner. Or maybe not.

Right, I only had half-a-second to process all this. I think I wound up giving him one of those tiny doll’s-head smiles, with my lips practically inside my mouth. He gave me an almost imperceptible nod.

In the hallway, I ran into Officer Tsui. He told me that they don’t believe I had anything to do with the faked photo. He said Anton was being charged with defamation of character – just like Casey and my mom. Anton was also being charged with interfering in a murder investigation.

I didn’t know what to believe. I took a taxi back to the hospital. When I got there, on my way to Mom’s room, who the frak should I find in the waiting room but Mr. Kamran Levi.

“Riley!” he said, standing up. “I am so, so sorry to hear what happened to you and your mom. Are you okay?” And he hugged me. Oh my google! I thought I would be apologizing to him for putting him in jail. Well, if he didn’t know about that, I wasn’t gonna tell him.

I will admit that his hug felt nice; under other circumstances, I might have started running my fingers down his biceps.

Finally, he finished. “Yeah, yeah, I’m okay,” I said. “I, uh, I can’t believe you’re here.”

“That photo was faked. I can actually explain everything if…”

“No, I mean I can’t believe you’re here in this hospital.”

“I was worried about you! Facebook and twitter are going nuts right now with speculation. I wanted to see the truth.”

I smiled wanly. “You’re looking at her.”

“Riley, have you had dinner yet? I’d love to take you out, tell you my side of the story. There’s a Thai restaurant across the street.”

Never heard of that. “You have to wear a tie?”

“No, like from Thailand.”

“Um, I don’t know. Let me check in with Father O’Brien.”

“Riley…it’s safe. There’s people everywhere.”

“I know, but, uh, just give me a minute.”

I walked past the desk, and grunted that I was family. The nurse recognized me and waved me by.

Oh my google, oh my google, oh my google. Kamran was asking me out to dinner! Eeeeeee! Now, I don’t know how long it is since you’ve been a teenager, but a dinner date is a way bigger deal than a hookup at a party. If a guy was suggesting that you might be seen with him at a restaurant, this was practically like he was already wearing your frakkin’ promise ring.

But could I really trust him? Well, could I trust Anton the accused forger? Who the heck knew? Why wasn’t I dressed better? These are my school clothes! And my hair looked like a haystack. Anyway, I breathed slowly and reminded myself, this was only dinner. I wasn’t exactly committing myself to dog-sitting for him.

Oh how I wanted to text Hayley. She would die. But then, think of the text later where I would get to blow her mind with “just finished my date with Kamran.” Oh yes, oh yes.

As I walked into Mom’s hospital room, Father O’Brien got up. “Father, one of my friends is here and wants to take me out to dinner. I’ll see you afterward.”

“Of course, Riley-smiley. See you soon.” I hugged him. Love that man.

Kamran and me sat down at the Long Life Thai restaurant. The waiter asked if he could get us started with anything.

“Two Thai ice teas,” said Kamran.

After the waiter left, I was like, “Iced tea?”

“Thai iced tea. You’ll love it.”

“So, what’s good here?”

“Do you like it spicy?” See, he could have said do I like spicy food. Was I over-reading?

“A little bit.”

“Get maybe a medium-spicy chicken and mixed vegetables. Or Pad Thai, that’s just noodles.” Some busboy left us some silverware.

“Uh oh,” I smiled at Kamran. “They don’t think we can handle chopsticks.”

“Nah, Thai people eat with knives and forks.”

“Really? I think I like it here.”

“You know, Riley, I never got your digits.”

“Oh yeah. Well, it’s 314…” He reached across the table to clasp his fingers between mine. My heart was beating like that guy from Foo Fighters was playing it.

“Riley, I have really wanted to talk to you, just so you know things from my perspective.”

“Okay.”

“That photo of me and Scott was photo-shopped. It’s not real.”

“Okay.” His fingers were still on my hand. Felt like a mini-electric blanket.

“Do you know who did it?”

“Tell me.”

“The police tell me it was Anton Forster. Now, I also heard you’ve been working with him. Is that true?”

“Uh, a little bit. My Mom wanted me to.”

“I understand. But see, I think he’s got some vendetta against me and Scott and Jessica.”

“We, uh, found my sister in Jessica’s yard.”

“I don’t use the word vendetta lightly. Did you actually see Anton just before he found your sister?”

“No. I was with, well, I was with you.”

“So then, it’s possible that Anton planted her there?”

My hand pulled back automatically. “You’re kidding me, right?”

“I get it. He’s hurting over the loss of his girlfriend. I’d be hurt too. But I wouldn’t…plant fake evidence.”

“You really think he did that?”

“According to the cops, he did. At least with the photo.”

“And you trust them?”

The waiter showed up with our Thai iced teas. We ordered dinner, and he went away.

Kamran and I laughed uneasily, meaning the subject wasn’t done.

He said, “Riley, let’s look at the facts for a second. Your sister disappeared after a fight with me and Scott. I’d give anything if that weren’t true, but…”

“Why did you fight with her?” I wanted to hear him say it.

“As we told the D.A., it was over that ihatebullies site. Which had really become an I-hate-Kamran-and-Scott site. We wanted her to take it down.”

“Kinda ironic, that you guys were bothered by someone’s online comments.”

“I’ll grant that. Totally. But don’t a lot of people say that in that situation, you should stand up to the person making the online comments?”

“They don’t tell you to hit her.”

“As I’ve said many times, she hit first.” He sipped his tea.

“She was scared of two big football players!”

“Try your drink.” He couldn’t have spiked it, right? I tried it. Actually, it was delicious.

“Okay, here’s the problem,” said Kamran. “Because Scott and I were the last people seen with her, we’re always the first suspects. That’s why we’re like, the last people to want to cover up a murder. Do you know how much we’ve suffered over this?”

I shifted my lips to one side of my face. “I guess not.”

“Riley, I know you’ve suffered too. We’ve both suffered so much over all this, other people have no idea.” He took my little hand in his big one. I didn’t stop him. “Now after all that suffering, after all that attention from the police, what’s more likely, that we would try to hurt someone else – Casey Campbell – when we would obviously know that everyone would blame us? Or is it more likely that someone with another agenda would use us as easy scapegoats?”

“What other agenda?”

“How should I know? Did you see those comments on her facebook page supposedly from me and Scott and Jessica?”

“Uh, I may have.”

“Totally fake. Everyone knows they’re fake. It was reported in the school paper.” Yes, a reliable tribune of truth, there. “The point is that someone is out to get us. Do you have any idea who?”

“Uh, is this a rhetorical question?”

“I wish. I mean if it’s not Anton, then who could it be?” He let go of my hand.

I said, “LaQuisha?”

“It’s not LaQuisha. Funny you mention her. I actually texted her today. And she…was the one who eventually discovered that Anton had photo-shopped that photo.”

“Really?”

“She’s not working with him anymore.”

“You’re kidding me.”

“Text her yourself. Ask her.”

“Uh, maybe later.” I sipped my drink again. It was like ice cream with ice tea.

He said, “So if not Anton, then who?”

Suddenly I got where he was going. “Not me. No way.”

“But you were working with Anton.”

My face must have flushed. “Only cause of that video message from Casey. I mean, I still want to know what happened to her, and to my sister. But…I had no idea Anton was planting any evidence of any kind. And I…was solving little puzzles with him, but I was never totally open with him, I never fully trusted him.” This was true.

“How can I be sure?”

“Kamran, you have no idea…what I’ve been through with my family, because of you.”

“What do you mean?” he smiled, sipping.

“I have defended you so many frakkin’ times. I mean, I defended you way before Miley went missing. And afterwards, too. I thought…my sister was way too sensitive about cyber-bullying. And in the lawyer’s office, and in front of that judge, I…well, I believed you. And you have no idea what my Mom has put me through because of that. And what…” I couldn’t finish.

“And what?” he said.

“And what I put myself through. Because…to you, I was always going to be Miley’s sister. I was always going to be from this family that was making your life hell. You would never see me as…” Goddammit, why did I have to say that?

“As what?”

“As…what I wanted you to see me. As.”

“Which is what?”

I paused to take a breath. “Where’s that food when you need it?”

“Riley, I really want to believe you.”

Want to?”

“Let’s say I believe everything you just said about the last two years. Does that disprove that you’re working with Anton against me? Maybe something changed your mind.”

“No. Nothing has.” It was true.

“What about your sister being found in Jessica’s yard?”

“That’s suspicious…suspiciously like someone was trying to frame you.”

“Yeah, perhaps someone who was keeping me distracted at that moment, with the most wonderful kisses.”

“No. I didn’t know. I was drunk.”

Oh, so either way, you didn’t mean those kisses.”

“I didn’t say that!”

“Riley, what if you were me? How could you be sure you could trust you?”

“Those kisses were real.”

“Prove it.”

In a motion quicker than a cheetah’s pounce, our lips were locked again. And it was so much nicer sober. I wanted to like, jump in his lap, but there were other customers.

After about ten of the best seconds of my life, we both slowed down and opened our eyes. He said, “I…could still be convinced…”

I laughed. “Oh shut up, you.” And we kissed again.

 

20

OBVIOUS TO EVERY PIGEON ON THE ROOF

 

Kamran and I managed to talk about other things while we ate. Mostly, he discussed being excited to enter Missouri State in the fall, and how he hoped to show his football coach that he could play as well as a first-stringer. Cosmo says guys like you better if you listen, especially on a first date.

But how could I consider this a date? After everything that had happened?

That’s exactly why I wanted it to be a date. Because I wanted to claim the life I would have had without all this Miley drama. And I felt like Kamran did too.

When we finished eating, Kamran’s hand went right for the check. He said, “So, what are you doing now?”

“I have to go back to the hospital.”

“Why?”

“I just do. I can’t leave Mom like that. But…I’d love to see you again.”

“Can I walk you back to the hospital?”

“Of course!” It was across the street, as you remember.

He held my hand in the crosswalk. That, I could get used to.

We got to the hospital entrance and I turned around. “Kamran, this has been…” He just kept walking inside and I laughed. “Where are you going?”

“I’ll take you up the elevator.”

“Uh, okay,” I said with a sideways expression that he caught.

As he pressed the call button, he said, “I guess you wouldn’t want Father O’Brien to see me, right?”

“He wouldn’t understand.”

We stepped into the elevator, which had a couple of other people in it. Kamran said, “How about I don’t get off on your floor?”

“Okay.”

He pressed the button for the fifth and top floor.

The elevator opened on the second floor, which was mine. The other people stepped off. As I started to follow them, Kamran held me in a way that was somehow both playful and forceful. “What are you doing?” I said in what I hoped was a joking tone.

“Nothing,” he laughed. “What are you doing? Hey, stop trying to keep me in this elevator!”

People barely raised their eyebrows. The elevator doors closed on us.

“How about a proper goodbye?” said Kamran.

You heard of tongue hockey? This was tongue-UFC. What I’m saying is that we made out like wild animals. I was worried that we might trigger some mechanism that stops the elevator if it feels too much shaking.

Somehow, I heard a very faint beep – it was the “ding” that meant we’d arrived at the fifth floor.

“Hey, Riley, can I show you something real quick?”

“Well…okay.”

Holding my hand, he took me into the hall and to a door to a small stairwell. He opened the door and we went up the stairs. What was up with all these open stairwells? I would have thought more of them would be locked. The door said EXIT. He popped it open and we were on the roof.

“We can’t go out here,” I said. “If that door closes, we won’t be able to get back in.”

“Then we can’t let that happen,” he said, peeling off his long-sleeved shirt to reveal…a naked upper body that made me think of Gerard Butler in 300. He used the shirt to keep the door ajar. “What do you think of the view?”

For a second, I misunderstood. Then I swiveled around in 360 degrees, taking in the lights of our little town at dusk. “Beautiful,” I said.

“I agree. But tonight, it’s got major competition.” I wanted him to enclose me in those arms. Sure enough, he did. As we kissed, I felt like a little ring surrounded by that firm, velvety cushion of the case.

He placed me gently on the rubbery roof. Now he was grinding, and I was making noises that…I won’t share.

I am frakkin’ ashamed to admit this, but at that moment I thought of Casey Campbell. I had this nagging feeling – which I was only admitting to myself right then – that Casey chose me to put the pieces together because she knew I’d be trying to seduce Kamran, and then I could somehow get information from him. Well sorry Casey, but the joke’s on you. I had no intention of stabbing Kamran in the back.

In fact, our next step was sex. That was obvious to every pigeon on the roof.

I said, “Wait.”

He said, “It’s okay, I have something,” and reached into his pocket.

He brought a condom? What had he expected out of me? I said, “No, like, you don’t understand.”

He said, “No, you don’t understand, Riley. There’s something I want you to see first.”

He wasn’t reaching for a condom; he was reaching for his phone. He brought up something on it and handed it to me. It was some kind of text file or pdf. I said, “What is this?”

He said, “Just read it.”

As we both sat there, I started reading it. After maybe two sentences, I looked up again. “What is this?”

“It’s a document that I’m hoping you’ll sign. Basically, it’s sort of like an affidavit where you say that Anton Forster manipulated you into assisting with his various misdemeanors, like digging up the school, photo-shopping that picture, and helping with his other yearbook conspiracy theories.”

“What?”

“It’s to clear your good name. So that the police don’t arrest you next.”

“They just let me go. Today.”

“How do you know Anton isn’t going to turn on you while he’s there?”

I sat straight up. “You want me to sign this? Even if I wanted to, how would I even do it?”

“I’ll email or text it to you right now. There’s an auto-sign function that makes a digital signature on the bottom.”

What. The. Frak. “Let me get this straight. Are you asking me to sign this before we…go further?”

“Riley, I don’t know what you’ve heard but…I don’t do this very often.”

“Ask for affidavits?”

“No, I mean sex! Riley, I have to know that I can trust you.” Oh my google. I guess it’s true what they say, hot guys are like chicks. I handed him back his phone. He said, “Here, let me send it to you right now. What’s your number?”

Stunned, I brought up “Me” on my phone’s contact list and handed him my phone. He punched the info into his phone, and sent me the file. He handed me back my phone.

“Kamran, I can’t sign that right now.”

“I told you, all you have to do is…”

“No, I mean, that’s a crazy request. This is all happening way too fast.”

He touched my shoulder and hair. “For me too, Riley. But sometimes, when it’s real, it’s like that.”

I pushed his hand off of me. “It’s like that? When someone cuts my Mom’s brakes and nearly kills us both, and then I get taken to the police station for some other reason, and then you suddenly show up all hot for me? It’s like that? It’s never like that! For anyone!”

“What are you saying? You don’t believe me?”

“I need time to think if I’m gonna sign anything. I need tonight. How about I see you at lunch tomorrow?”

For just a second, his eyes blazed, but it might have been the sunset. He smiled. “Of course. No prob. I just…want to get all this business in my rearview mirror, you know? Get back to life. Maybe I’m over-eager because of that, and if so I’m sorry.”

“It’s nothing,” I said, standing. “I’m going back to Mom now.”

“Yep.”

We rode down together in the elevator with other people, leading to a very light kiss goodbye. He said, “Where will I see you tomorrow? I mean, at lunch?”

I smiled and said “I know where you hang out” just as the doors closed.

Seeing Father O’Brien again was a relief. I asked him about his dinner. He said he had picked up take-out from the Thai place. I thought, whoa, good thing he didn’t see me. Then I thought, what if he did see me and I didn’t even notice? And now he was waiting for me to say something?

I wasn’t trying to keep any secrets from Father O’Brien. It was just that I didn’t even know how I felt, and I didn’t want to present anything to him until I had a better grip on it myself. We sat there with Mom for a while before I even remembered my phone. That wasn’t like me at all.

Hayley and Susie and Leslie and Veronica had all texted “xoxoxox” and “<3 <3 <3” and even little “get well soon” gifs. I smiled. But I didn’t have time to write. They knew I was alive, they could hear the rest later.

The first step was to text Anton and LaQuisha. I sent the same text to both of them. It said, “why did u lie to me?”

LaQuisha got right back to me. She texted, “didnt know. files looked erased. got lucky on a password guess, then traced changes to anton. now dont know who to trust”

Anton never texted me back. Then again, if he was in police custody, even juvie, they’d have his phone.

My facebook had a new friend request from Kamran Levi. I clicked “accept.” Too fast? I spent the next thirty minutes looking at all his pictures. Hey, isn’t that what everyone does after they add a new facebook friend?

I wanted to believe his version of events. I wanted to believe he was a victim of circumstantial evidence or even a smear campaign. It made sense because everyone envied him, right?

I texted back my girls, just saying that I would tell them more in the morning when I saw them. Susie wrote back: “YOU’RE coming in when u could call in sick? I’ll be there w bells on” She cracked me up. It was good to have something to smile about.

After a while, the doctor said we should just go home and get a good night’s sleep. I hugged Mom and she just went “uhhhhh.” Father O’Brien drove me home but wouldn’t leave me alone in the house. He slept on the couch, namely my mom’s bed.

I stared at my ceiling and turned over the facts in my mind. Casey had clearly asked for my help. Why didn’t she actually say “yearbook” on the tape? To keep everyone in school from trying to connect the dots, I had thought. Maybe there was another reason. Maybe Anton made up all that yearbook stuff, as Kamran’s document alleged.

I never actually checked Anton’s work on the GPS coordinates and the locker numbers. To be honest, I have no idea how GPS coordinates work. I wouldn’t know where the frak 11389765 meets 43076621 or whatever. I could have probably figured that out with like a half-hour of googling checked against the yearbook photos. But I didn’t feel like it.

If it was all a stunt, why would Anton have sent us under the school first? To make it look more convincing later? To draw me into his criminal web, so I would later look as guilty as him?

What about Mr. Studie? Why did he say he couldn’t say where the photo had come from? Like he knew, but couldn’t tell us. Was that because he and Anton were in on it and he wasn’t sure if I was? Or LaQuisha? Or maybe the three of them were all against me?

With Mom in the hospital, I was taking over her job of inventing conspiracy theories.

Let’s try another approach, I thought. Let’s say it wasn’t Anton or LaQuisha or Kamran or Scott or Jessica. Maybe Casey just committed suicide, or fell accidentally. Or maybe someone else killed her, someone we haven’t even thought about yet. Should I go on Leslie’s site and check the latest ravings?

How else was I supposed to figure out who did what?

Bottom line. Someone killed my sister. That happened. She would never have committed suicide. And…Casey was looking into Miley’s death. And she might have found something that I didn’t yet know. How would I learn it?

I could still feel Kamran’s biceps on my shoulders, but dammit my thoughts went back to Anton. Why would he want to frame them? Did he have information that he wasn’t sharing with me?

Frakkin-frakkin-frak.

Why did Casey have so much faith in me to put the pieces together? Was it because I was related to Miley? Didn’t Casey know me, at least as her friend’s kid sister? When had she seen me solve anything like this? I couldn’t solve a stupid Sudoku. The math is too hard!

 

21

180 DEGREES

 

The next day, I dressed in, like, my nicest outfit. I was lucky Mom wasn’t there to micromanage. Even without her, dressing was tricky because I had to find just the right balance between looking like I was trying too hard and looking like I just rolled out of bed. I must have checked my hair and makeup a hundred times. This would be a day like no other.

I walked into Mr. Studie’s English class, and all four of my girls gave me huge hugs like I had just come back from Afghanistan.

I said, “Okay, that’s enough, I’m still sore.”

Veronica went, “Oh my god, Riley, what happened? I want to hear everything.”

I said, “Kamran Levi took me out to dinner!”

Hayley said, “NO. WAY. Leslie’s site says someone cut the brakes in your car and you and your mom were almost killed.”

“Uh, actually, that happened too.”

“WHAT?”

I only had enough time to tell them about Mom’s current status. Then the bell rang.

When the perfunctory announcements about graduation were done, Hayley whispered, “Nobody in this school cared about that. I’m sure everyone wishes you had done the announcements.”

“Hayley!” said Mr. Studie crossly. “That’s quite enough.”

He was peeved because today was our stupid finals day for first period. I don’t know how your school does it, but at Kirksville High they don’t change the stupid schedule during finals week. If the class has a final exam, it can’t take longer than a normal class period. However the teachers can’t all give final exams on the same day. So it’s scheduled out where two classes can give a final on any one day of finals week. This year, Monday was assigned to 3rd and 4th period, Tuesday was 5th and 6th period, Wednesday was 7th and 8th, and now today, Thursday, was 1st and 2nd. I know it looks wrong but they rotate it every semester. Friday was make up day and time for teachers to make final remarks or something.

As I’ve said, I was excused from taking the English final. But Mr. Studie did expect me to be quiet while the other kids took it. He didn’t even want me texting. Okay, fiine.

Between classes, I texted my Mom to see if she was awake yet. No reply. I checked ihatebullies.com. Mom was always replying as “moderator” on there, and part of the site showed you “recent activity,” so this was one more way to see if she was awake. Bizarrely, it did look like she’d been on.

Or was it hacked? God, I hate not knowing who to trust. Well, all the more reason to just do what I want and let the chips fall where they may.

I should have seen the girls for lunch. But I wound up not going to our usual spot. I had the best possible reason. You see, this lunchtime was the fulfillment of, like, a two-year-old dream. I just walked up to the most popular kids in school and said, “Sup?”

Kamran was like, “Heyyy Riley. Let me introduce you to everyone.” And he did. I pretended I didn’t know them by reputation. I tried to act like you would try to act upon being introduced to the cast of the Ocean’s Eleven movies; oh, hey, George, Brad, Matt, Julia, how’s things?

I wanted to, like, scream with happiness. Yes, half of them were graduating, but several were juniors. We would be the top of the hierarchy when school started in September. I wanted us to roam the halls today while the other kids stared with envy and wished they knew how to become us. I pictured us in slow motion…

All right, Tyler, keep it together, I told myself. Just act casual. For example, don’t even think of trying to grab Kamran’s hand. Which was like not thinking of pink elephants. Or Casey Campbell.

They were getting out their lunches. Having studied them way closer than I ever studied any textbook, I knew that they tended to bring their own lunches and the girls usually had salads. So I brought my own salad too. Kamran ate a monster burrito. How did he make even that look good?

Jessica Chabot was eating her Caesar salad and even asked to try some of my garbanzo beans. That’s how you know you’re in!

Munching on a bean, Jessica said, “Riley, I can’t believe that Miley Tyler was your sister.”

Uh, what? I tried to smile as I said, “How do you mean?”

“Like, I’m looking for the resemblance. I see it, but you’re so much thinner and, I don’t know, better managed.”

“I make a little effort.”

“That’s what I mean. Miley made, like, no effort. Except when it came to being jealous of me.”

One of the other girls, probably the hottest black girl I’ve ever seen, named Stephanie, said, “Jessica, maybe bring it down a notch.”

Jessica said, “Hey Steph, it’s two days til graduation. When college starts I am way out of this town. I’m done apologizing.”

I said, “It’s all good, Jessica. I never really got why she was so threatened by you. Why she attacked you.”

“Thank you, Riley. You see, Steph?” She took another one of my garbanzo beans. “Riley, you know it’s not a secret. She saw that I was dating, like, the hottest boy in school, Scott, and she couldn’t deal with it. So she took all my comments out of context on that website of hers.”

“Seriously,” I said, “I don’t really see what’s the big deal about calling people fat or ugly or whatever. Everyone thinks it. Everyone was doing it before the internet.”

Jessica said, “Riley, I really wish I’d met you before now. You really have the right attitude. It’s like, you want popularity, you go out and get it, you know? You don’t hide behind a computer screen.” Was she baiting me? She caught my sideways look and smiled. “You remind me of me two years ago.”

“Thanks.” Or was I baiting her? The funny thing is that I wasn’t. I had had this conversation in my mind so many times, it was more like I was an actor who knew my lines perfectly and was only slightly improvising them on the day of the performance.

Jessica said, “Riley, do you want to sign my yearbook?”

WOW. Improv time! “Sure. Sign mine?”

“Sure.” We traded. I felt like an Olympian being passed a torch. Or at least a relay stick.

“Hey Riley,” said Kamran, “Did you get another chance to look at that thing?”

His affidavit? Yeah, like, during every class that morning. “Yeah, I want to tweak a couple of little things, and then I can get it to you.” This wasn’t entirely true. I certainly wasn’t gonna sign it without talking to Mom or at least Father O’Brien.

“When?”

“I don’t know. Tonight, I guess.”

Jessica and I finished with each other’s yearbooks; we all finished our lunches. Kamran wiped the guacamole off of his mouth and said, “Riley, can you take a walk with me?” I nodded as casually as I could, summoning the approximate body discipline of David Blaine.

We walked to a slightly more private part of the courtyard, not to say isolated. People couldn’t hear us, but they could see us. Eat your heart out, ladies.

“Riley, I sort of need you to sign that thing now.”

“Why?”

“Here’s the thing. Anton Forster – who has put us both through hell – is in 24-hour custody in the juvie division. The police may release him in a few hours. If I’ve got you on record, a big part of his defense falls apart.”

“You…want him to be in custody longer?”

“Yeah. I want him to know what he did to me. And to us, right?”

“I hardly believe that my word is gonna matter that much to the police.”

He put my fingers in his. “Riley, you matter more than you think you do.”

If I said what I wanted to say, would he pull his hand away? In front of the whole school? Grrrrrr…frak it. “Kamran, look. I don’t know that he did the things that this document says he did.”

“What’s the problem?”

“You’re saying he’s ‘taking advantage of his girlfriend’s tragic suicide to lash out’ – how do I know it was a suicide?”

“Riley, you’re sixteen. This can’t come back to haunt you. You can always later say you weren’t sure about the fine print.”

“So, wait, I’m too young for this to haunt me, but I’m old enough to affect how long he stays in custody?” We both pulled back our hands at the same time.

“Riley, are you gonna sign this or not?”

I felt a pit suddenly growing in my stomach. “Kamran, you really know how to turn a girl’s head.”

“What does that mean?”

“Right now…it feels like you hooked up with me just to get me to do this.”

If he was faking his shock, he was a better actor than me. “I can’t believe you would say that. I’m hurt.” He turned on his heel, going back to the popular people.

“Kamran, are you joking?”

“No. Don’t come near us until you’re really ready.”

I was stunned. A few people were close enough to hear, and started giggling. I automatically put my phone on my ear, as a distraction, and took a long walk in another direction.

During classes that afternoon, I thought about nothing else but Kamran’s request. I emailed the pdf it to Father O’Brien to ask for his opinion. He emailed me like a half-hour later. He was unequivocal: don’t sign it. He said to wait for God to reveal more truth.

Nothing against God, but some people have been waiting for God to reveal truth for, uh, 2000 years. I did not have that long before losing my chance with Kamran forever.

What was the worst that could happen? Anton stayed in juvie another day? Big whoop. I might have to contradict myself later? I did that all the time.

Just before gym class, I got a text from Anton. He had his phone and he had taken this long to text me? Whatever, I didn’t want to talk to him. I didn’t even read it.

As gym class began, Ms. Rodriguez gave us all free time on the equipment. Thanks to our fine local police, there was no sandwich-board-style T-shirt of Anton’s to annoy me. I walked over to Kamran.

“Hi Kamran, did you get my email?”

“Uh…no, I haven’t checked it.”

“I signed it,” I said quickly.

“Oh sweet.” He kissed me very briefly on the lips.

I did some uneven bars and pretended not to notice that Kamran was messing around with his phone. I was hanging loosely by the back of my knees when he came over.

“Hey Riley?” said Kamran. “Can I show you something?”

I hopped off the bars and flipped 180 degrees onto my feet. Come on, that’s an impressive move. For whatever random reason, there was a massive tarp covering almost half the bleachers. With a quick look to make sure Ms. Rodriguez wasn’t watching, Kamran walked me under there.

We were nose to nose. Kamran whispered, “Riley, I am thrilled that we trust each other.”

“Me too,” I said, hoping I meant it.

“Do you want to…pick up where we left off?”

“Here?”

“You’ve been driving me crazy in these tiny shorts all semester.”

“Really?”

“There’s so much power under them…”

We kissed, with his hand firmly on my butt-cheek. Oh my google, what if somebody saw?

He began to bring his hand around…to a more intimate place. Now wait, we could not do this here…could we?

BANG! At first I didn’t know what the frak I’d heard. Then I realized that a basketball had just bounced hard off of Kamran’s face. Ouch.

“You get away from her!” a boy’s voice said. We both looked to see a figure just outside the bleachers. It was Anton, wearing a shirt that said “THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE.”

“Forster!” said Kamran. “You’re dead!”

He ran out from under the bleachers, but Ms. Rodriguez was there. “That’s quite enough, all of you.”

Kamran said to Anton, “You want to go back to jail?”

Anton said, “You want to come with?”

Ms. Rodriguez said, “That’s enough, I said.”

DeShawn said, “Ms. R, what about that basketball?”

She said, “I saw everything, and it’s all enough, now. Everyone go back to using the equipment. Anton, Kamran. I’m calling security. They will ensure you both leave this campus peacefully.”

Kamran said, “Off-campus, then, Forster.”

Anton said, “You’ll be waiting a while. I’ll be on campus for hours, and when I leave, you’re gonna have a lot more to worry about than punching my face.”

Ms. Rodriguez said, “I said that’s enough.”

Everyone went back to whatever they were doing, which was mostly signing yearbooks. The uneven bars were taken, so I went over to the horse. I was riding it when Anton walked over. “Riley, did you get my text? Well, I can explain everything.”

“I don’t want to hear it.”

“The reason I’m out of custody early is that the police made a mistake.”

“What part of ‘I don’t want to hear it’ was unclear?”

“I didn’t photo-shop that photo.”

Frakkin’ sigh. “Who did?”

“I’m not sure, but Mr. Studie is. He’s going to explain it to us after class.”

“Us? Anton, there is no us.”

Anton surprised me by walking away.

Ten minutes later, the bell rang. I went to the girls’ changing room and changed back into those snappy clothes I’ve been telling you about.

When I stepped out of the gym, it was like I had wandered into a frakkin’ 19th-century novel. Two “suitors” were waiting for me – Kamran and Anton – with two chaperones in the form of our school’s only two security guards.

Anton, ever annoying, was first to talk. “We’re close, Riley, very close. Ask yourself, why would they put me in jail and sabotage your car?”

Kamran said, “I was hoping we could spend the afternoon doing…whatever you want.” Oh, my, google.

Anton said, “You can’t trust him! What would your mom say?”

Kamran looked at Anton. “This is your last warning, Forster. Leave me alone. Stop interfering in my life, or there will be consequences.” One of the security guards kinda breathed in hard.

Anton’s eyes didn’t leave mine. He said, “Come on. You know we have to finish this. Let’s go to Mr. Studie’s room.”

Kamran said, “Riley, if you go with him, not only will I never speak to you again, I will do what I can to ruin your reputation at this school.”

Anton said, “Look at these threats!”

Kamran answered, “Yeah, you cage a tiger, he might start making threats!”

Anton blurted, “Enough. Decide. Mr. Studie’s room, or…”

“…or picking up where we left off,” said Kamran.

Okay, look. If I knew that Anton or Mr. Studie had all the answers about Miley and Casey, there would be no choice. I’m not that shallow. But see, I didn’t know that. I had worked for years to get to this point with Kamran and with the popular kids. It was not fair to ask me to throw all that away just for more rabbit chasing. It was not fair!

Anton said, “Fine. I’m going. See you there.”

Anton and his security chaperone walked out of earshot.

Kamran smiled. “You made the right decision.”

“I haven’t decided anything,” I said.

“Well, let’s go.”

“It’s really not fair of you to put me in this position.”

“What position?”

“How could I not want to know what happened to my sister?”

“From him? A proven liar?”

“Kamran, didn’t you say we trust each other now?”

“What’s your point?”

I sighed. “I’m not going with you right now.”

“Are you kidding?”

“Nope. You’re gonna walk away, and I’m gonna sit here for a few minutes.”

“Are you gonna meet me after?”

“I don’t know.”

The security guard, a beefy woman, said, “Do you want me to walk him away, Riley?”

Kamran said, “I’ll be at Starbucks for the next fifteen minutes. If you’re not there by then, I’ll assume you’re with Anton.”

“You shouldn’t assume that. I might not feel like joining either of you.”

“Fifteen minutes.” He and the guard ghosted. He didn’t look back. But I thought I caught him firming up his butt-cheeks as he sauntered away.

I literally sat down on the asphalt. I considered just taking the bus home. But then I would get the worst of both worlds. No new info from Mr. Studie, and no Kamran, and probably a ruined reputation.

I pictured my life as a movie. In this scene, we cut between Anton in Mr. Studie’s room and Kamran at Starbucks. They’re both waiting for me to show up. The editing misdirects the viewer. Then…

I show up.

At goddamn stupid frakkin’ Mr. Studie’s room.

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