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25

YOU HAPPY, EVERYBODY?

 

On the bus ride home, I talked to Mom for a couple of minutes. Father O’Brien had already driven her home. Thank God.

I had texts from Hayley, Susie, and Leslie…but not Veronica. Wait, was that normal? Yeah, I guess, though I had thought it was because she had better senior friends. A dark thought crossed my mind. What if Hayley, Susie, or Leslie was in league with her? Hmmm. I would have to maintain silence for at least a day or so.

I checked facebook and twitter on my phone. What a nightmare. My wall was the least of it; I checked around on the feeds of some of the sophomores and juniors who I knew were, ah, social strivers like myself. They were saying things like “I never liked her” and “she thinks she all that and she ain’t” and “she’s pathetic”.

I thought of answering these losers by showing them Jessica Chabot’s signature in my yearbook. It said, “Dear Riley, I wish I’d met you sooner! You are doing so well for a sophomore, seriously. When I was a sophomore, I was in love with a senior and would have done anything for him…anyway, I guess that’s the way the world works, someone is always you two years ago, someone is you two years from now…I know you’ll do a great job keeping the students of this school in line. Keep my spirit alive, will you? xoxoxo, Jessica”

Nah, posting that to anyone’s site would just make me look like an idiot.

Father O’Brien had some other dinner plans and was gone by the time I got home. Mom and I grilled chickens and commiserated for a while. Now, if you think that Mom would just love a nice relaxing dinner while we forgot about all the drama, well, you don’t know my mother. She grilled me harder than the chickens.

“I never liked that Veronica,” she finally said, us sitting in the living room. “Even when you knew her in middle school.”

“I barely knew her in middle school.”

“She was just the sort of person to pretend she was a mouse, watch two people kill a girl, and then grab the evidence and find a way to exploit it.”

“We don’t know that. If she did do that, then we should consider ourselves lucky. Otherwise we might never have learned what happened to Miley.”

“Riley! We would have found the phone.”

“Whatever.”

“Don’t you whatever me. I’m barely alive. Who does Anton think cut my brakes?”

“Uh, he doesn’t.”

“What’s his guess?”

“It didn’t come up.”

“It didn’t come up?!”

“He’s all about this locket thing now. I guess he thinks that will lead us to everything else.”

My mom said, “What about the bullying happening on twitter?”

“What do you mean?”

“Some people are tweeting things like ‘she’s marked for death’.”

I rubbed my forehead. “You’ve had time to check this?”

“Isn’t that a threat?”

“Those are the last people to suspect. They’re not gonna write something like that and then do something.”

“Isn’t that what you said about Kamran and Scott and Jessica?”

“I still say it.”

“Look at the way Kamran is treating you!”

“Mom, let’s get over it.”

“All right, fine. What are you going to do about Veronica’s locket?”

“Who says I’m going to do anything?”

“Riley Tyler! I’m going to rest. You’re going to think about how to help Anton, and then call him.”

She lay down on the sofa. I went to my room and immediately logged on. Facebook was a nightmare. Tumblrs were a nightmare. Twitter was a nightmare. No one was bothering anymore with “is she ok? heard about car crash, her sister” or anything like that. The afternoon was full of “bitch cunt whore slut fucker” sort of things.

Kamran had done it. As his final act before departing the school, he’d marshaled his resources and ruined the next two years of my life there. Thanks buddy.

I had said words don’t hurt. I wanted it to be true.

I lied. They hurt.

Fine, I got my comeuppance. You happy, everybody? Miley, you happy?

If Miley was watching from heaven, no, she wasn’t happy. She wouldn’t be happy until this was over and justice was done.

How I wanted it to be over. Could it be? Could I just miss school tomorrow, and end this stupid year?

No. Father O’Brien wouldn’t have it. Frankly, neither would I. That would be letting them off too easy.

Now I wanted the criminal to be Kamran. So I would be justified in taking revenge on him.

I rolled around on my bed for a while, fuming.

After forever, my phone rang. Anton. It was about time.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hi. I’ve been thinking, the locket probably has its own lock, so you may need to find a way to steal the little key as well. She probably keeps it on her keychain.”

“That sounds…elaborate.”

“Or just run fast. I found a 24-hour locksmith who can…”

“Why not just smash it?”

“Assuming its smashable, what if you broke the thumb drive inside? Then we have nothing.”

“We’re pretty close to nothing right now.”

“I was looking closer at her photos. I’m guessing that the chain she wears is actually deceptively strong. What I mean is, you couldn’t just snap it by pulling hard.”

“What are you suggesting?”

“Wire cutters, maybe?”

“Anton, let me get this straight. You want me to go to English class tomorrow, wait until Veronica’s not looking, then bust out a pair of wire cutters, grab her locket and her keys from her pocket and then run out the door to some locksmith?”

“Well, when you put it that way…”

“It sounds completely insane. Which it is.”

“Does she sleep with it? Maybe we can sneak into her house tonight.”

“Do you realize what you sound like?”

“Again, I’m open to suggestions.”

“Anton, I’m tired. I need sleep. This has been, like, the worst day of my life.”

“Worst day of your life? Worse than…?”

“We’ll talk in the morning. Good night, Anton.” He said nothing. I knew he heard me. I hung up.

I still had hours before I would even want to go to sleep. I looked over at my textbooks in one corner of my room. They never got much love, but especially not since Casey Campbell died. For some reason, I almost missed them.

 

The next day, I showed up in Mr. Studie’s English class with the damn wire cutters in my backpack. I felt like an idiot. But Anton and my Mom made me promise.

Hayley greeted me, “What up, Rile?”

Susie enthused, “You look good!”

I could see Hayley and Susie and Leslie wanted the latest updates from me. I couldn’t be sure who to trust, though. I bit my lip and said, “Hey guys, I’m not feeling well, ok? I just want to get through class today without chatting.”

“Sure,” said Hayley.

“You got it,” said Susie.

Where was Veronica? She wasn’t there.

The final announcements of the year were mostly about the graduation ceremonies the next day, on the football field as usual. They reminded us about the program, with speakers, singers, video presentations, etc. In a late addition, Father O’Brien would be doing a benediction. I know it sounds like nothing, but he hadn’t been invited to the school since his coming-out. His parishioners had waged an online campaign more passionate than the one that put Betty White on Saturday Night Live. But I think what got the school was learning Miley’s fate. The school needed someone up there to speak about what Miley was really like, and they weren’t gonna ask a student.

Veronica didn’t show up during announcements.

I texted Anton: “shes not here”

Anton texted back: “ok”

Me: “do u think she knows?”

Anton: “unlikely”

Me: “what should i do if I dont see her today”

Anton: “not sure”

Mr. Studie came over and took the phone out of my hand. “Really, Riley. It’s the last day. You can at least show some courtesy by not texting the entire time.”

“Mr. Studie, can I take the exam?”

Mr. Studie finally lost his anime-mouth; his jaw dropped like Daffy Duck’s on a bad day. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah. I am.”

I had studied for it the night before. It was multiple-choice and covered the whole semester. Okay, fine, I didn’t do great. But I took it.

My whole day of classes was like that. I took all the finals that my teachers would let me take. Which was all of them. When I first got the idea to study the night before, I thought, well, if I focus on schoolwork I won’t have to think about Kamran and Jessica and the fact that my two years of working for popularity have gone down the drain. But doing my English and math and history and Spanish and biology finals was somehow more than a distraction. I actually enjoyed them! It was so frakkin’ weird. It was like I’d become my sister for a few hours.

The final lunch period of the year was a little strange. I sat eating my salad alone. I couldn’t really walk up to the popular kids or to my usual girls. But I didn’t exactly go unnoticed. Perhaps Kamran and DeShawn and some of those guys were concerned that I hadn’t been receiving their minions’ many comments online. As I sat eating, people literally walked by me saying “puta” and “piece of trash” and some other words I won’t write here.

One boy who I barely knew walked by saying, “I heard you’re so loose, doing you is like throwing a hot dog down a hallway.”

“You apologize to her,” someone else said, and I turned and saw Anton.

The first kid stopped. “I’m not apologizing to anyone.”

“It’s the last day of school,” said Anton. “You think I care about getting suspended? Again?” He brandished his fists, which looked pathetic, but also slightly adorable.

“You think I do either?” the kid said, throwing down his backpack.

One of the security guards was right there. “All right, all right, nice try, boys.” He separated them and laughed. “Last day of school, people try to get away with all kinds of nonsense.”

Anton sat next to me. “So what are we doing?”

I sighed. “She’s not here today.”

He said, “I don’t think I can wait until September. I think our perps will be long gone by then.”

Perps? What shows are you watching?”

“Never mind.”

I ate slowly, taking in the courtyard one last time before the year ended. “She’ll be at graduation. Her brother is graduating.”

“So we can do it tomorrow? Perfect.”

“It’s a long way from perfect. There’s security at graduation.”

“Minimal,” he said. “Well, anyway, I can cut the chain.”

“I really don’t like the idea.”

“As I have said many times, I’m open to suggestions.”

“Well, maybe I have one.”

He smiled at me conspiratorially. “Go ahead.”

“First, I have a question for you. Do you think we would have become friends if all this hadn’t happened?”

“Honestly? No.”

“Yeah, I don’t think so either. Are we gonna be friends afterward?”

“I hope so.”

I said, “Anton, can you do something for me, and then I’ll tell you my idea?”

“Uh, what is it?”

“Sign my yearbook.”

His signature said: “Dear Riley, I’ll admit that from how little I knew of you from before, I wasn’t impressed. But…you’ve changed that. And I think you’ve changed a little bit yourself. You knew you were strong and independent, but I don’t think you knew just how moral you could be, how much you could choose to do the right thing, how much like…well, how much like Miley and Casey you could be. And now that you have all your pieces in place, I can’t wait to see what you do next. Fondly, Anton”

As I was reading his little message, I noticed a signature on the opposite page that hadn’t caught my eye before. It said “I know who cut your brakes – HAL 9000.” What the frak? Who had signed this thing? Oh, why hadn’t I paid more attention when I passed it around? I googled “HAL 9000” and it was the name of a renegade computer in some ancient movie. Great. And whatever. Right then, I couldn’t think about it because I was going over the plan in my mind.

At home that evening, Mom made some awesome quesadillas and we discussed my plan. Mom gave it her approval.

“Mom?” I said as we finished dinner. “I know I haven’t always been, like, great about this whole Miley thing. And you have. And I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, Riley. It hasn’t been fair to you either. And maybe after tomorrow you can get your life back. You deserve that.”

“Mom…is there anything else you want me to do for you? Anything?”

“Yes, Riley, there is. Watch Bully with me tonight.”

Bully is this documentary from 2011 about kids who are bullied at school – it says there are 13 million every year. I had steadfastly refused to watch it. I had left the room when Mom had just tried to “casually” leave it on. That night, finally, I watched it.

The very first ten minutes of the movie are about a high-school kid who was literally bullied to death. His parents are so open about it. He seemed like the nicest kid, and people just…took advantage. I don’t think I have ever cried in the first ten minutes of any film before. Right then, I was openly weeping, while Mom and I held each other on the couch.

Goddammit, I swore to myself, our story isn’t going to end that way.

 

26

GRADUATION

 

Graduation Day was a gorgeous June day marked by slight traces of clouds and a speaker system playing “Pomp and Circumstance.” The Kirksville High graduates, wearing their caps and gowns, filed into folding chairs that had been set up on the football field. The non-graduating audience sat behind them, in the seats between the 40-yard-hashes that are normally the best seats for a football game. A stage stood in the middle of the field, from where the principal and the other speakers would deliver their addresses. There was also a big white flag, or monitor, showing a massive live video image of the grads. The main building of the high school was about 200 feet behind one of the goalposts.

When I arrived, I managed to find Veronica in the crowd. Now that I was looking for it, that locket did make her easier to spot. I sat next to her.

“Hi Veronica!”

“Hi Riley! Where’s your mom?”

“Too sick to make it. Where’s your brother?”

“He’s that one, right there.” She pointed to her brother in the group of graduates. Her voice betrayed no hint of suspicion; I had dressed to avoid any hint of impropriety. I wore an orange tank-top and a mini-skirt with my comfy Skechers shoes. I didn’t bring my dumb backpack or even my purse; my phone was in my hand. It wasn’t like I could be holding wire cutters or any kind of weapon. This mattered not only because of Veronica, but because I didn’t want to get shot. Supposedly, the police can’t shoot you if they don’t see you carrying a weapon.

There had to be at least one cop here: Officer Dave Chabot, Jessica’s father, here to see her graduate. Sure enough, I spotted him in the audience. Was he the only cop here? I sure hoped not. As the principal welcomed everybody, I tried to find the ones that mattered. Kamran and Jessica were in the middle rows of the graduates. LaQuisha was in their second row; it was the first time I’d seen her since the car crash. I even noticed Scott Fassbinder in the crowd, I guess there to cheer Jessica. He was in your standard college-grey T-shirt and jeans. I would have preferred not to see him, but oh well. Mr. Studie sat in a folding chair onstage, flanked by a few other teachers.

Eventually, Father O’Brien came to the microphone. “Congratulations graduates!” he began, to predictable applause. “This is such an amazing day. A day to look back on your past accomplishments, to look forward to your future accomplishments, but also to simply honor and cherish your present very real accomplishment. Well done!”

“Hey Veronica?” I whispered.

“Yeah?”

“Do you have your iPad?”

“Yeah…”

“Can I check it out for a second?”

She looked at me. “Don’t you want to see what he’s going to say about your sister?”

“I was hoping you’d understand,” I lied sheepishly. I was really hoping she wouldn’t understand, and instead think that I meant to contact my mom in the hospital or something.

She took her iPad out of her purse and handed it to me. I played around a little with it.

Father O’Brien said a few things and then began to walk down the aisle. The camera followed him as he made it all the way to the audience where I was. The principal and the main teachers looked confused. Maybe they were thinking, uh, we hired him to talk about Miley and Casey, not to run around the bleachers!

He said, “…I want you to think about that, think about how one tiny person can make a difference. I know some of you have little ideas and you think, well, they can’t amount to much. But they can. Even little objects have more power than we sometimes think. Think what our Lord and Savior did with loaves and fishes. A little seed grows into the sturdiest oak.” He walked right up to me and Veronica. He’d found my unmissable tank-top in the crowd. But oh, how nicely he’d timed his remarks. He said, “A small egg can grow into the largest creature on earth…you know, there’s a lovely young woman wearing something that I want to show you…may I?” So slick. The whole crowd was watching. She was even on the giant monitor. How could she say no?

Father O’Brien gently took the necklace off of her neck and held it up so that the crowd could see it. “From a tiny egg like this, we can see the most amazing lives develop. In fact, an egg like this may reveal secrets of life and death. Us Catholics, we do believe in forgiveness. So I hope you’ll all forgive me as I do this.”

He put the necklace firmly in my hand and said, “Run!”

I bounded out of my chair like a rocket, and rushed down the aisle as half the crowd stood up in amazement. Veronica wore $300 heels, so she wasn’t going anywhere. But she wasn’t all I had to worry about. Somehow, even with everyone standing, I managed to glimpse Kamran amongst the graduates, who narrowed his eyes in a way that meant he’d figured me out immediately.

Kamran yelled, “Scott! Stop her!”

With the element of surprise, I was able to fly out of the bleachers before anyone touched me. I saw Anton there at the entrance.

He said, “Great job Riley! Oh crap!” He and I could see that Scott was already making his way out of the bleachers. A couple of security guards were coming as well.

“Come on!” said Anton. We ran in the direction of the main building of the school, about sixty yards away.

Now, look, we weren’t gonna run forever. All we needed was a few minutes to find the correct file on her thumb drive. But where to get those minutes? A car would have been perfect – one of us could have checked the thumb drive in a laptop while the other drove – but neither of us had a driver’s license. Bikes were a possibility, but we figured a car would chase us down before we could get anywhere. No, while security was chasing us, the only place to take those minutes was the school.

As we bounded up the steps to the entrance, I looked back at the football field. It was in near-chaos, like bacteria swimming around a microscope image. The principal was calling people back to order. Oddly, that was beginning to work.

Sort of. Scott was like fifty feet behind us, with a security guard after him, and Kamran and Jessica, in their flowing robes, after them. I didn’t see Officer Chabot. That was good. He wouldn’t shoot us from the audience, would he?

Anton swiped Mr. Studie’s card as quick as he could. Thank God it beeped green on the first try. We opened the door and quickly shut it behind us, like, seconds before Scott got there.

WHAM! I could hear his body hit the door from the other side.

“Open this door you bastards!!” we heard Scott’s muffled shouts.

I was out of breath. “Where’s the locksmith?”

Anton said, “He couldn’t make it. We have to smash the thing open.”

“I…wonder if Mr. Studie still thinks your theories are outlandish?”

“Come on, Riley, let’s keep going.”

On mouse feet, we hustled to Mr. Studie’s room. All we needed were a few minutes. We used Mr. Studie’s key to open his room. We ran into it and closed and locked the door oh-so-quietly behind us. We did not turn on the lights.

I said, “I have Veronica’s iPad.” I handed it to him at the same time that he took it.

“Perfect,” said Anton. He brought out some gidget from his pocket. “With this adaptor, I can plug any thumb drive into the power socket. Veronica’s machine is less likely than my phone to be corrupted by LaQuisha. And just to be sure…” He went into the iPad’s settings and changed it to airplane mode, to keep it offline for now.

I held the egg-locket in my hand. “Ready?”

Anton said, “Maybe you should let me…”

I smashed it against Mr. Studie’s desk. The shell shattered; inside, left intact, indeed, was a thumb drive. Worth a million billion dollars.

Anton plugged the thumb drive into the gizmo that plugged into the iPad. “Okay, come on, I want to see that list of files.”

Now Anton went into nerd mode and scanned the file folders. Lucky for us Mr. Studie’s room was in the back of the school, facing the football field. I went to the window to observe and listen. Mr. Studie’s windows on a Saturday were sealed tight; I couldn’t open them, but I didn’t want to. From a few rooms distant, I heard what sounded like Scott and Kamran outside the building, shouting. That meant we had been lucky and the security guard wouldn’t let them in just to chase a necklace. However, it would only be a matter of time before they found their way into the building, probably through a bathroom window.

Would they know we were in Mr. Studie’s room?

“Come on,” I said to Anton, taking his hand. “Let’s get under Mr. Studie’s desk.”

“Look, Riley, I like you, but…”

“Oh, shut up. So Kamran and Scott don’t see us when they peer in through the window.” Like he didn’t know that. I owed him a punch in the mouth. Later. We scrunched under the middle of Studie’s desk, right under that drawer that LaQuisha had once unlocked. The iPad made noise when Anton checked the files. I turned down the volume on it.

I looked at Anton. “Come on, come on!”

He opened one video file that was clearly Veronica’s quince. I remembered being there, and thanks a lot Anton for the reminder of what she had that I didn’t.

I looked at Anton and whispered, “Come the frak on!!”

Anton whispered, “It’s playing!” He turned up the volume a little.

I asked, “Then why don’t I see anything?”

“Is that your sister’s breathing?”

The video on the iPad was all muffled. Not only was the picture, like, black with occasional flashes of what might be Miley’s pocket, but the sound was constantly clipping, perhaps from rubbing against that same pocket. The timer said the full length was almost twelve minutes.

I whispered, “We’re going to watch eleven more minutes of this? While those guys are trying to find us?”

Anton whispered, “When this video started, there were street noises. Now there’s, like, none. Isn’t that what it would sound like if she started it right when she walked into the Pine Barrens?”

“Or,” I suggested, “This is just some tape Veronica made by accidentally leaving her video phone on for more than ten minutes.”

“Goddamn, you’re stupid, Tyler,” said a voice from the tape. Anton and I caught our breath. The voice continued: “Just remember that we could have snuck up on you. Instead we’re giving you a chance to walk out of here unhurt. All you have to do is post a big apology, erase the parts of your blog about us, and promise to stop getting in our way.” I knew at once it was Kamran, and my body temperature must have dropped twenty degrees.

Miley on the tape said, “This is bullshit.” Oh my google oh my google. My sister’s voice. After two years. Every hair on my body stood straight up.

Another voice on the tape said, “Did that sound like an apology to you, Kamran? It didn’t to me.” By now, I recognized that as Scott.

Miley said, “I have nothing to apologize for. You’re the ones treating your fellow students like mutants or something. I’m just the one pointing it out.”

“We’re teasing, all right? Just teasing! You’re the one who’s making it into something it isn’t.” Had to be Scott.

Anton and I heard a banging at Mr. Studie’s door. “Are you in here?” Kamran called from outside the door. “If you’re in here, open up.” Anton and I shared a look. They didn’t know we were under the desk. Or maybe they just wanted us to think that so that we would let our guard down. Dammit, why hadn’t we brought headphones?

“Words hurt people,” my sister answered on the tape. “What makes you think hurting people is okay?”

“This happens at every single high school in America!” I think it was Scott’s voice on the tape. “Everywhere there are popular kids, and there are freaks and geeks. You just don’t like it because you’re on the wrong side.”

“You just don’t like your own most venal comments being aggregated onto a blog.” Oh my frakkin’ google, my sister was being physically threatened, and she was using words like “venal” and “aggregated.”

At that moment, Anton and I heard the school fire alarm begin. A very annoying sound.

Was there a fire? We weren’t moving.

“Take down the blog, now.” It was Kamran’s voice on the tape, dammit. “I want you to do it from your phone, right now.”

On the tape, Miley said: “Why don’t you just use a hacker to do it again?”

“Because you’ll just put it back up, again, duh!” said Kamran.

Anton and I heard more banging at Mr. Studie’s door. “Open this now,” Scott yelled from behind the door.

I whispered to Anton, “Put this on youtube.”

Anton whispered, “We can’t yet. We don’t know if it’s got the proof. We won’t have time to upload two different files. However, I can get ready.”

He put the video, such as it was, on half the iPad’s screen while he created a file on youtube he called “Proof of What Happened to Miley Tyler.” But he waited to hit the “upload” button until we were sure this was the proof.

“I am not a threat to you,” said my sister on the tape. “You are a threat to you. Just stop cyber-bullying, and you’ll eliminate your problem.”

“I knew you would say some stupid shit like that,” replied Scott. “I knew you’d try to twist our own words against us.”

My sister said, “Well, if the forked tongue fits…” Then came a backpack-unzipping sound from the tape, even though we still had no visual.

“That’s why I brought this,” answered Scott. “So you could find out what it’s like to have your words used against you.” Miley gasped. She must have been looking at the trophy.

Anton and I heard Kamran banging on Mr. Studie’s door. “Open this now!” he shouted.

I whispered to Anton, “How long will it take once you press upload?”

Anton whispered, “I don’t know, you ever upload a 12-minute video to youtube?”

“Don’t do this,” my sister said on the tape. “Don’t prove me right. I said online threats lead to real physical threats. Don’t make me right.”

“You do as you’re told. You take down the blog, right now,” said Scott.

The phone-camera emerged from Miley’s pocket and suddenly, for me and Anton, it was like a blind man had been instantly cured. We saw Kamran and Scott in the late-afternoon shadows. Scott was holding the trophy like it was a baseball bat. If my blood felt cold before, now it turned into an ice slushie. My sister said, “Th-this blog gives hope to every unpopular kid at this school.” For the record, I doubt she meant something so grandiose; she, like, probably just said that to keep them distracted for another dumb second while she filmed them without them knowing.

“Upload it!” I sotto-voced to Anton.

“There’s still time!” he breathed back.

“Take it down,” said Scott on the tape.

“N-no. Never,” said my sister.

“Come on, Scott,” said Kamran on the tape. “Someone could show up here any second.”

CRASH-SHATTER!

Anton and I heard the sudden sound of shattering glass – not from the video, but from right behind us. I later learned that Scott had set off the fire alarm by stealing the axe from the emergency panel. He had just taken the axe to the long window-slit of Mr. Studie’s door.

“NO!” said the voice of my sister.

Scott and Jessica burst into Mr. Studie’s room. Scott said, “Come out now before I throw this axe into the desk.”

I said “Time’s up!!” as we both jumped out from under the desk. Anton pressed the “upload” button.

 

27

HORRIBLE PEOPLE

 

Scott and Jessica stood in Mr. Studie’s room. Kamran stood at the door, guarding it. Scott held the axe high above his head. He said, “Give me that iPad. Right now.”

On the iPad’s video, everything went blurry. They must have been swinging at her or something and she must have been trying to run.

Anton said, “No way.” Holding the iPad as it played the video, Anton scrambled around the far side of the desks to the other side of the room.

I thought, sincerely, that it was nice of Anton to lure them away from me. Then, just as Scott and Jessica were almost caught up to him, he yelled, “Riley, here!”

Just before Anton threw me the iPad, its video showed what appeared to be the boys catching my sister’s shirt or whatever. As the iPad flew to me, its image was a blur, taken from a camera-phone flying through the air. Somehow I caught the iPad even while Scott and Jessica were running back to me.

The image now on the video was just a green tangle of leaves and branches; it would only make sense that Miley would choose to throw it into the bushiest bramble she could. All five of us heard a scuffle coming from the iPad, and then a loud WHACK that I felt in my bones.

“Did you just kill her?” asked Kamran on the tape.

“Oh, F me,” said Scott on the tape.

In Mr. Studie’s room, Scott and Jessica were now on either side of me. Where was Anton? No time to look. I ran around a big stack of leftover yearbooks. I pushed them into Scott, buying myself about two seconds while Jessica went around.

“Come on, Miley, get up.” said Kamran on the tape.

Jessica dared me, “Come on, Riley. Throw it again.”

“She cannot be dead. No one dies from a single blow to the head,” said Scott on the video.

“All right, little girl, that’s enough,” said Scott in real life. He and Jessica were on either side of me. Scott brandished the axe. “Hand her the iPad, or I cut you down like a Christmas tree.” Was there a way to make him swing and hit her? How hard could it be to accidentally hit those boobs?

How many movies had I seen?

From Mr. Studie’s door, Kamran yelled, “Scott, look out!”

Anton had found the shovel in the corner of the room. He swung it at Scott’s axe, knocking it out of his hand. That gave me a respite to scamper a few desks away.

Scott said, “Wrong move, Forster. You should have used your only shot to hit me.”

On the tape, Scott said, “Why did you have to hit her so hard? You dented the goddamn trophy.”

On the tape, Kamran answered him, “You moved her!”

In Mr. Studie’s room, Scott swung at Anton. Anton used the shovel handle to deflect his axe. Scott grabbed the shovel handle. They tussled over it while Jessica chased me around desks to get the iPad.

On the tape, Scott said, “She’s gonna breathe. Come on, Miley.”

All of us in Mr. Studie’s room could hear them on the tape doing, like, mouth-to-mouth and pushing on her sternum or whatever.

Kamran at the door yelled, “Come on, guys, stop playing around.”

Scott answered, “Get over here, then!”

“No, not with security on its way here. Guys, I saw youtube open on the iPad. They’re uploading Miley’s video to the internet.”

Struggling over the handles, Anton said to Scott, “You’re already too late.”

Scott eyed Anton. “I don’t think so. I think we’ve got time, or else you wouldn’t be working this hard.”

Jessica said to me, “Riley, I meant what I said in your yearbook. We have so much in common, I know we can work this out.”

I said, “Then stop frakkin’ chasing me!”

She answered, “I will. Just give me the iPad.”

I muttered, “We have nothing in common.”

Jessica said, “Come on, Riley, give it to me!”

I ran to Mr. Studie’s windows. Now the fact that they were sealed seemed a lot less lucky. I could see the graduation ceremonies way off in the distance. Everything was back under control again; I could even see Anna Nomura, the valedictorian, speaking on the video screen. Had they forgotten about us?

“Help!” I yelled. I tried to smash a window. Ever try to smash a school window with your hands? You’re kinda wasting your time against this weird rubbery glass.

Anton and Scott were still tussling over the shovel when Jessica grabbed my hair and pulled it back. Oh, no she didn’t.

I grabbed one of her boobs and twisted her nipple. She screamed and let go of my hair.

Anton, Scott, and Kamran all paused to look at us. Creeps.

I ran away from Jessica again. Staying away from her and all the boys was getting exhausting.

Scott managed to knock the shovel away. Now he was just holding Anton’s arms down. Scott said, “Come on, Kamran, help Jessica. End this!”

Anton said, “How long do you really think you can keep this information hidden? I mean, did you really think you could use the internet but not be used by the internet?” He sounded silly, but I knew the idea was to keep them talking until the upload finished. I checked it: about 70% complete.

On the tape, we could hear Kamran say, “Scott – she’s dead. You killed her.”

We killed her, dick-head. Don’t put this on me.”

“I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it.”

In Mr. Studie’s room, Kamran and Jessica descended on me. I couldn’t fight them off and hold the iPad. I just rolled into a fetal position on the floor, curling my body around the iPad.

Kamran tried to pull my body free. Jessica just pummeled me. She said, “Give it up bitch!”

I cried, “Never!”

We could still hear the audio coming from the iPad. On there, Scott said, “Run. We gotta bounce. Before someone shows.”

Kamran answered on tape, “No. We gotta take her with us.”

Scott on tape said, “Are you out of your mind?”

Anton managed to break free of Scott. “Get your hands off of her!” About time, I thought.

Kamran stood up in Mr. Studie’s room and punched Anton right in the face, knocking him out. Oh frak, I thought.

On the tape, Kamran said, “The car is right over here. Come on, help me carry her.”

On tape Scott answered, “I’m not putting her in my car!”

Now all three of these idiots were prying at me. My whole body must have been turning black and blue. I couldn’t resist much longer.

“Dude, if they find her,” tape-Kamran was breathing hard, presumably dragging Miley’s body, “We’re dead. They’ll know it was us.”

“No, they’ll know it’s us if we have her in my trunk!”

“She’s only going as far as Jessica’s house. Remember what she said about gardening for her mom? She said she’s dug so much, she’s afraid they’re gonna find a body.” I couldn’t tell if the grunting was coming from Kamran on the tape or me resisting them.

On the tape, we heard, “Kamran, you want to put her in a police officer’s backyard?”

Kamran replied on the tape, “It’s the perfect place. No one will ever search it.”

Everything swirled. My whole body was wracked with excruciating pain. In the midst of this cacophony of negative sensations, somehow, someway, I heard a very faint beep. It could have been anyone receiving a text or email or anything, but I thought it was the sound that youtube makes when you finish an upload. I was done no matter what. I relaxed my grip, and Scott managed to pry the iPad away from me.

Scott answered on tape, “Dude, just leave her!”

In Mr. Studie’s room, Scott yelled, “And if you’d just taken my advice, we might have avoided all this.” He smashed the iPad over a desk.

The iPad took a licking but kept on ticking. On the tape, we heard Kamran ask, “Where are you going?”

Scott answered him, “To find that phone.”

In Mr, Studie’s room, Jessica shrieked, “Just take off that stupid thumb drive!”

Kamran ignored her and grabbed the axe. He put the iPad on a desk and swung the axe high above his head.

Kamran’s tape-voice said, “We don’t have time for that. It’s practically dark…” And the axe came down, ending the audio and video. Veronica’s new iPad was dead.

I lay on the floor, sorer than I’d ever felt in my life. I managed to whisper, barely able to speak, “O-o-okay, g-guys, it’s over. You won. W-we have no evidence now. No one will believe us.”

Kamran said, “Nice try, Riley.” He pulled the thumb drive off of the broken iPad. He put it on the floor and stomped his foot on it. The casing split. He said, “Ahhhhhhhhhhh. I’ve been waiting to do that for two years.”

Jessica said, “Are you sure you got it?”

Scott said, “We need to put it in water to be sure.”

Kamran said, “Or just hold on to it.”

Suddenly, the door opened. It was Anton. He’d woken up and managed to sneak to the door and push it open. He ran out.

Scott said, “Where is he…?”

Jessica screamed, “Just stop him!”

Kamran and Scott ran into the hall. I could hear the sounds of footsteps running. Then I heard what sounded like a tackle.

I lay there in the fetal position. Everything hurt. Jessica came over to me. “Well Riley, you just saved me 500 dollars a month. I don’t know if I should thank you, or kill you.”

I whispered, “I know…what.”

She leaned in. “What?”

I moved like a panther and grabbed her hair. “You can frak off and die!!” I slammed her head into the wall. She fell down limply, and looked unconscious.

The shovel was right next to me, so I grabbed it and got up. I meant to run into the hallway, but I actually stumbled; the parts weren’t working right. Still, I managed to get there in time to see Scott and Kamran taking turns kicking Anton while he was down. I was about fifty feet from them. What the frak could I do, realistically?

I said, “You’re horrible people, you know that?”

Kamran said, “At least we’re not hypocrites like you. You’d do the same in our position. You wanted to, you just never had the chance.”

Scott pulled out his phone and said, “I’m calling LaQuisha. She needs to take care of this for us.”

Kamran said, “You think she’s gonna answer her phone while she’s sitting there in her graduation outfit?”

Scott said, “She better, if she wants her next payment.” Scott raised his eyebrows in a way that communicated that she’d picked up her phone. “LaQuisha, I need you to go to youtube, log in as Anton, and delete whatever he just posted. Uh huh. Uh huh.” He looked at Kamran. “She said she can try hacking, but it’s faster if he gives us the password.”

Kamran said, “What’s the password, Anton? What’s the password?” He kicked him in the face and in the stomach. My heart sank to the pit under the school; I felt helpless and furious all at once.

Anton barely said, “It’s…in…my…phone. Let…me…get it.”

Moving like a wet kitten, Anton withdrew his phone from his pocket.

Kamran yanked Anton’s phone from him. Or so it appeared. After a moment, Kamran looked at his hand to see that he was holding only the rubber case.

Anton slid his iPhone on the floor, and it moved like a hockey puck all the way to me. Anton yelled, “Run!”

I ran all right, to the entrance we’d come in. All I needed was a security guard. Kamran and Scott had locked the entrance with a kryptonite lock! Unbelievable. Nobody was coming in or out, I guess. Scott was coming right after me. I saw the impossibility of the lock situation and managed to stay ahead of him by running down the hall the other way. How was I gonna get out of the building? I could try to wriggle out of a bathroom window, but by the time I was halfway through it, Scott would be on me.

If I could just get into one of the rooms that directly overlooked the football field, I planned to use the shovel to smash a window and then yell for help.

Then again, none of that mattered if LaQuisha succeeded in deleting the file.

I managed to get to the small staircase that we’d once used to go to the basement. Scott was, like, ten feet behind me. I used the shovel’s handle to stop up the door. Just in time, too. He threw himself at the door but it didn’t budge. He screamed.

“You’re trapped there, Tyler,” he said.

I heard his footsteps walk away. Did he think I was stupid? I knew he was going to get the axe.

Well, I had a few moments now. I looked at Anton’s phone to see what he had been doing. There was an open email to Mr. Studie, Hayley, Leslie, and Susie. How did he get all their email addresses? Or more importantly, could I be sure he had them right? In the body of the email, it said “fast forward video to 6:00.” Ah, probably Anton was just about to send the youtube link. I took a chance and just clicked “paste.” A youtube link popped into the body of the email. That had to be it. I clicked “send to all.”

I ran down the stairs to the ground floor, only to see Kamran on the other end of the hallway. He had come down the main staircase and was ready for me. No way was I getting out of the building the normal way.

What about going one more flight down to the basement where we had dug that hole?

Stupid idea, that would be a trap, I told myself. I ran back up the stairs.

Had LaQuisha deleted the file off of youtube already? If so it was game over. My friends and Mr. Studie would be looking at nothing. I had to act as if it wasn’t too late. I had to stop her. I tried to call Hayley. It went straight to voice mail. Of course she had her phone turned off for the graduation ceremony. They’d asked for cell phones off. I wouldn’t be able to reach anyone there by calling.

How the frak would I get their attention? The rooms facing the football field were all locked. The shovel wasn’t gonna get me into them.

Only one way, I realized. I had to pull a goddamn Casey Campbell.

I ran to the roof.

I figured I had about twenty seconds before Kamran or Scott caught up to me. I ran along the gravel to the part of the roof that’s closest to the football field. I could see the graduation ceremony, but they looked at least 300 feet away. Would they hear me?

“HELP!” I yelled! “HELP! FIRE! RAPE!”

Yes, they turned. I could see on the giant monitor that Anna Nomura had stopped her speech as they all looked up. And now came the strangest call for help ever shouted:

“STOP LAQUISHA! STOP LAQUISHA! GET HER AWAY FROM HER PHONE! CHECK YOUR EMAIL!” As I got out that last word, Kamran tackled me.

Final entry