This isn’t a song, I’m familiar with. If I’m listening to Alanis, it’s gonna be the angry Jagged Little Pill variety. But I’ll give it a go. If you’re also unfamiliar with this song, here are the lyrics.
Well…listened to the song. I was hoping for something that would somehow fall in line with the last bit of Flash Fiction, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen. Oh well, such is the way of things.
Okay…so story time. I’ll definitely be continuing this one.
“Would the following people please report to the office…Jasmine Alexander, Cooper Drummond…”
No surprise there. My brother’s jerk friend was constantly getting into trouble and called to the office because of it. I tuned out the rest of the morning announcements like usual, and focused on a little last minute studying for my English quiz.
Sasha Mickey, the girl who sat behind me, poked me in the shoulder. “You got called to the office.”
I looked up. Everyone in the class was staring at me. Including the teacher. I turned to face Sasha. “What?”
“The secretary just called Toby Michaels.”
I grabbed my backpack, aware of the stares and whispers flying around the room. No one ever got called to the office for anything other than a disciplinary issue or something awful like a death in the family. And I hadn’t done anything to get in trouble. Panic settled in my stomach, and I walked more quickly.
Cooper was already waiting, slouched in one of the plastic molded chairs as if this was just business as usual. And for him, it clearly was. Ms. Kolenda, the secretary looked frazzled—also as usual. Maybe she’d gotten me mixed up with my brother. Toby Michaels. Tyler Michaels. It could happen.
My hope died when I saw my Aunt Liz standing by the front desk looking like she hadn’t slept in days. She whirled around as I opened the door. “There you are,” she said with a huge, not particularly convincing smile on her face. “I tried to explain to the office staff that you spent the night at my house last night and you’d forgotten your lunch.”
I hadn’t spent the night at might aunt’s last night. I opened my mouth and closed it just as quickly at the widening of my aunt’s eyes and the slight shake of her head.
“You could have just left it with us,” Ms. Kolenda muttered. “There was no need to yank her out of class.”
“There are very specific reheating instructions,” Liz said, clearly ignoring the other woman. “Make sure you follow them to the letter.”
I nodded, not sure what to make of my aunt’s bizarre behavior. Not to mention her bizarre dress. Well, yoga pants and a messy ponytail could hardly be considered bizarre by most people’s standards, but considering my aunt wore a lab coat like it was a suit of armor, and I’d never seen her dressed in anything less formal than a skirt and sensible pumps with her hair in a tasteful up do. At least, I could let go of my worry about a death in the family. Of course, that fear had been replaced with the new one that Liz had lost her mind.
“Okay,” I nodded. I had so many questions, but when she hugged me awkwardly, I forgot every last one. My aunt never hugged—awkwardly or otherwise.
“Follow the reheating instructions,” she said while checking her watch. “I should go. I’m going to be late…for zumba.”
If there was one thing I knew for sure, it was that my aunt had never zumba-ed in her life, and I seriously doubted she was starting now. She glanced at the bag then met my gaze before dropping hers to the bag, again.
Walking backward, she waved at me, her eyes full of some emotion I couldn’t identify, then opened the office door and practically race-walked to the exit.
I looked around wondering if anyone else had noticed her odd behavior, but then, no one else knew her. To them, she probably just looked like a flighty suburban housewife. From the window, I saw my aunt get into a car I’d never seen before and peel out of the parking lot.
Pretending I didn’t hear the squealing tires, I smiled at Ms. Kolenda. “Sorry, she’s a little ditzy.”
Ms. Kolenda just raised her eyebrows in a way that implied she completely agreed and handed me a hall pass back to class. I added a little extra time on there so you can go put your lunch in your locker.”
“Thanks.” I smiled at her and turned toward the door, still clutching the lunch bag. My smile faded as I made eye contact with Cooper.
He nodded at me, and I could see the curiosity in his eyes. “We still on for tutoring later?”
I stifled my sigh. I wanted to get out of here and see what I was carrying around and what was important enough to lie about, because there was no way this was food. “Yeah. Meet me in the lab after school.”
He nodded but said nothing else, just watched me as I nearly ran into the door frame trying to get out of the office.
I wasn’t positive, but I think I heard him chuckle. The ass. I wished he’d just get kicked out of school already. But until he did, I was stuck with the arrogant jerk.
His father had hired me to tutor Cooper in math and science since he was failing both classes. We were spending far more time together than I wanted—but whatever—it was money. College wasn’t going to pay for itself. And while I was pretty sure I’d get at least some scholarships, I wanted to be sure I had enough money to get as far away from this town as possible. And universities that that had reputable biochemistry programs were extremely expensive. But right now I had more pressing things to worry about—like what was going on with my aunt, and what was really in this brown paper bag.
Ducking into the nearest bathroom, I hoped it would be empty. Someone was in the farthest stall, so I locked myself into the one closest to the door and tried to quietly open the bag. Pulling out a folded piece of paper I read it. Then I read it again. I didn’t know if I should be terrified that Aunt Liz really had lost her mind or terrified that she hadn’t, and this was real. I scanned her note one more time, goose bumps racing over my skin.
Dear Toby – I’m sorry to have to ask you to do this, but, at this point, you’re the only one I can trust. Please run these vials and isolate and (if you can) identify the compounds. Slides are fine. You can text me whatever you find at the number listed below. Do not, under any circumstances, use my regular cell phone. Only the number I’ve provided below.
Should anyone contact you asking questions about me, you’re to tell them we’re not close. You’ve never helped me with my work. You have no idea where I am or how to contact me. Don’t mention this to anyone—not even your parents. It’s safer for everyone.
I’m so sorry to have to drag you into this, but this may be our only opportunity to find a way to fight Guardian. It’s spreading and it’s closer than anyone knows.
Be safe. Keep your head down. Play dumb if you have to. I love you. – Aunt Liz
Fear twisted my stomach as I carefully peered through the rest of the contents. Eight, sealed, plastic culture tubes sat in a portable rack in the bottom of the bag along with a pile of microscopic graticule slides and cover slips.
How the hell had she gotten herself involved with anything to do with Guardian? And more importantly, how was I going to get her out? I gingerly placed the bag inside my backpack and checked the time on my phone. We had shortened classes today which didn’t leave me a ton of time in the lab before I had to tutor Cooper. Maybe today would be one of those days he blew off tutoring in favor of being a delinquent ass. I didn’t want to count on it, though. I had a feeling he’d show up just to find out what was up with Liz.
Besides, the sooner I got these tubes in the centrifuge, the sooner I could get the results to my aunt. The unsettled feeling in my stomach told me it couldn’t possibly be quickly enough.