No Questions Please

"The story you're about to read... not all of us want you to know about it. Please keep it to yourself. Don't let anyone know what you learn, okay? We could get in trouble. Or killed."
A seemingly normal high school student's life is turned upside down. Then so is another's. And another's. Everything weird that's happening- it's connected. Deeper than anyone would've ever thought.

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5. Dylan

I hated people.

I really did. It was the first day of school, and I’d already met so many assholes. Would it kill them just to be a little bit nicer than normal? Y’know what, probably.

Hannah wanted to introduce me to her friend. I said okay, even though I didn’t want to. So now we were here while Hannah flipped the hell out like girls generally seem to do when they see their friends.

“Carson!” she screeched. It took everything in my power not to roll my eyes.

“Hey, Hannah!” said a girl with short dark hair wearing a red tank top and shorts that just barely met the dress code. They hugged. Like, OMG.

“Carson, this is my brother, Dylan!” Hannah introduced us. She still sounded really excited.

I waved. “Hi.”

“Hey, nice to meet you,” Carson said.

Nope. “Yeah,” I responded.

We started to walk down the halls, and Carson and Hannah immediately fell in step next to each other, leaving me trailing behind them. As usual. But, I mean, I probably didn’t want to be up there with them anyway. They were gossiping in the fashion typical of fifteen year old girls, which was in fact the exact opposite of how I communicated. I preferred to learn by observation. For example, instead of trying to work my way up to them, I was looking around at people in the halls that we passed by. There was so much you could learn about a person just by looking at them. Dad says it’s never right to judge based on first impressions. But I’ve always heard that you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Which, in my mind, means it’s perfectly alright to decide whether or not you like someone purely based on what they look like.

I decided that since Hannah and Carson had kinda abandoned me, it was okay to just go ahead and get to my first period- advanced algebra- a few minutes before the bell rang. Yeah, go ahead and laugh. I was a math nerd, okay? It was always my thing, numbers. Because your answer was either right or wrong. It was never open for interpretation.

Anyway, I got to my class early, and apparently some dark haired kid had had the same idea as me, because he was sitting there, in the second row to the back, with a binder open in front of him that he was doodling in. I decided to sit kinda by him- not so close that he would try to talk to me and be my friend, but not so far away that I seemed rude. I chose a row behind him, one seat to the right. I caught a glimpse of the name on his binder- Landon Phillips.

Landon and I were perfectly content to ignore each other. He stuck to doodling, I pulled out my phone even though I knew no one was texting me. The teacher was preoccupied with her computer- she probably didn’t know either of us were even there.

And then it happened.

My phone buzzed, and the name which the notification came from was one I hadn’t seen for quite a while.

Ash Parker: First period?

I was never good at talking to people, especially when it wasn’t face to face. But this was an easy question. I could just go ahead and answer it.

Algebra. With Johnson.

I sat there waiting in anticipation. Ash and I hadn’t talked for almost two years. I wondered how he found out I was back at school. Had Hannah told him?

Ash Parker: Dammit. Second period?

What was the dammit about? That we had the same class? Or that we didn’t have the same class? Part of me hoped it was the former, because it was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that Ash actually wanted to be friends still. But the logical part of me hoped it was the latter, because I did want him to like me. As much as I preferred my own company, it had gotten quite lonely after six years.

I started to respond, answering that my second period was band- which, had Ash quit? But before I could answer, Ash actually took the risk of double texting.

Ash Parker: Wait u have band right

And triple texting.

Ash Parker: Or did u quit???

Three question marks. He must have been genuinely concerned. I responded.

No I didn’t. Did you?

I sat there staring, waiting for the bubbles to pop up. I’d never been so anxious for an answer to anything in my life.

Ash Parker: Lol no my dad would kill me

Double texting again. I decided it wasn’t just because he was comfortable with me, but because that’s how he was with everyone. Besides, why would we be comfortable with each other if we hadn’t talked since we were thirteen years old?

Ash Parker: Band is too fun to quit anyways

This was a weird block. I couldn’t ask a question here. So I just said,

Yeah

The bubbles came up. Ash actually had more to say.

Ash Parker: Just send a pic of ur schedule so I don’t have to keep asking u ur classes

Double texting again.

Ash Parker: It feels like counterproductive

And triple. Again.

Ash Parker: Lol

I responded.

Okay.

I pulled my schedule out of my backpack and set it on the desk in front of me. I didn’t want to stand up to get a picture of it because I was worried it would attract too much attention. I really wasn’t a fan of people looking at me. So I just scooted my chair back, farther away from the desk, and hoped that my arms were long enough to reach over to get a picture that you could actually read. They were.

I sent the picture to Ash and waited for his response. And that’s when I saw her walk in.

She looked almost exactly like she had in third grade when her brother had disappeared. That’s all Tabby was ever known for. Sure, she had a few friends- but what were friends really when you were nine years old? Our third grade asses had been so thirsty for gossip that there was always the possibility we had blown the story out of proportion. But the facts were- this girl, Tabby Allen, had shown up to school one day without her brother, who was a year older than us. And then the next day, he was gone. And the next. And the next. He never came back. We all assumed he was dead. The teachers never shared with us, and, as far as I know, no one dared to approach Tabby and confront her about it. And that had been my last year of public school before I had gotten too sick and become bedridden. Now, here she was, and I recognized her. I didn’t know much about her, obviously. It had been six years since I’d even seen her, and God knows if I actually talked to her back in elementary school. I wondered what was up with her brother. I wondered if anyone who hadn’t been an overly observant third grader who had been confined to only their thoughts for six years remembered what happened.

She had quite the winning smile that she flashed at Landon and I before picking a seat a row in front of me, right next to Landon. He looked up and her and gave an acknowledgement, then bent down and focused on his binder again. I wished Ash would text me back. I pretended like he had so she didn’t try to talk to me. I wondered if she knew I remembered her. I wondered if she remembered me.

The bell rang and more kids trickled into the room. The teacher finally looked up from her computer and greeted each one. It was nice, I guess. The spots on either side of me remained empty for a quite some time. Part of me hoped that they stayed empty. I stayed focused on my phone. Ash hadn’t texted me back. I hoped it was because he had gone to class, not because he was tired of talking to me.

The desk to my right was eventually claimed by a kid with dark hair and freckles wearing a Nirvana t-shirt. I knew I shouldn’t make judgments right away, but I knew for a fact he either had just discovered classic rock and thought he was better than everyone because of it, or he had never listened to Nirvana in his life and thought the shirt was cool. He noticed me looking at him and gave a close-lipped smile. I didn’t think he was too keen on talking either. Good. I didn’t want him to inform me about his classic rock superiority complex. And then tardy bell rang and the teacher started to take roll.

Tabby of course was called first- I hadn’t known her full name was Tabitha- and then a bunch of other names I didn’t really pay attention to. The kid next to me responded to the name Jacob Marquis- Jake for short.

“Dylan Sparks.”

“Here,” I said. The glances went around, more than usual because of last night’s news. Raised eyebrows asking, Is that Rico Sparks’s kid? Round eyed exchanges saying, Wow, no wonder he’s so smart. Skeptical glances that pondered, He’s not what I thought he would look like. Except for Jake next to me- he just seemed a little nervous. I wondered if he knew something. Then I realized I was just being stupid. What would he know? He was only my age. Still, I kept an eye on him. My dad was so much more stressed than normal, and I hated it. We never got much time together to begin with.

Anyway, the class ended up going by. And more classes, with more uneventful people. I kept an eye out for Tabby and Jake. For some reason, they seemed suspicious- Tabby with her whole brother thing, and Jake just because of the way he looked. Next thing I knew, it was time for me to catch a bus and get home.

I flopped into a seat by myself since I was lucky enough to get on the bus early. The bus driver was the friendliest person I’d encountered all day. He seemed to really enjoy his job.

I kept an eye out for Hannah as I put my earbuds in, hoping no one except her would try to sit with me. Hannah and I didn’t have any classes together except band, so I hadn’t seen her since second period. It was the hardest part of the day- being away from my sister. She and I had done everything together, especially after I had gotten sick.

A dark haired girl fell into the spot next to me, and I assumed it was Hannah until I looked up. This girl seemed a bit younger than Hannah and I, and her hair was wavy- unlike Hannah’s, which was naturally straight. She was focused on her phone, texting someone intently. I looked away because my eyes had been wandering to her conversation, and I knew that was in no way right. But then the girl looked up at me, and she said, “Oh, you’re here.”

“Yep,” I said.

The girl shook her head, blushing a little bit. “Sorry. Out of the corner of my eye, it didn’t seem like anyone was there.”

I shrugged. “It’s okay. I get that a lot.”

“What a weird coincidence,” the girl said thoughtfully. She was a chipper girl, her eyes bright and untainted by the tiredness that school generally wore upon people. I had no idea how. Everyone on the bus that I looked around at- with the exception of the bus driver- seemed to be melting into the seats.

“I’m McKinley,” she said, shifting in her seat to face me. “What do they call you?”

That was an odd way of asking someone for their name. “I’m Dylan-”

As I was talking, I noticed Tabby boarding the bus. McKinley seemed to notice too, and she perked up even more than she already had been. Tabby flopped into the seat across from us, and McKinley looked at me and said, “It’s okay if I go sit with my sister, right Dylan?”

I nodded, and McKinley slid across the aisle into the seat next to Tabby. Wait. Tabby had never had a sister back in third grade, and she definitely hadn’t ever had one that would be in the age group of kids at our school. Now I knew for sure something was up.

Hannah eventually took McKinley’s place in the seat next to me, while I thought about what I was learning about Tabby. First her brother disappeared, and now she had a sister that had never existed up until this point.

I didn’t say anything to Hannah. She was normal, she wanted to be like other girls and not have to worry about her dad’s business. I knew I shouldn’t worry about it either, but I could never stop my thoughts.

I closed my eyes and leaned against the window of the bus, letting my eyes wander to the kids hurrying to their buses outside. I searched for anyone I might know. That shady kid Jake from my advanced algebra class. Hannah’s friend Carson. Ash, even, although I wasn’t sure if he looked different than he had two years ago. Then the sidewalk pretty much cleared and the bus started rolling out. I couldn’t wait to get home.

 

It was dark. The digital clock on my nightstand said 2:12 AM. I thought I would actually get some good sleep for once, considering how drained school had made me, but here I was, waking up in the middle of the night again. I decided the best thing to do would be to go downstairs and get some water, like I normally did.

I started down the stairs, trying to stay quiet so I didn’t wake up Dad or Hannah or Trisha, my stepmom. As I neared the bottom, however, I heard someone talking. Trisha, I realized. And I knew I shouldn’t listen to her conversation, but she sounded suspicious. Why hadn’t I thought of her until now? She was so close to my dad. She could so easily be in on something.

“...and the bombing?” I heard her say as I tapped into her voice. I stayed frozen on the staircase, hoping she wouldn’t look over and see me or hear me on the stairs.

There was a pause. I realized she was on the phone as I peered over the railing.

“He’s framed, easily,” she continued. “They really should protect their databases better. I mean, they are supposed to be an undercover organization. We’ve been doing better than them.”

Silence again. I was sweating. This was insane.

“Trevor Barnes was such an easy target,” she said, and it almost sounded like there was laughter in her voice. “With all of his activity. How he lost his girlfriend after having two kids- which, by the way, they were never married through all that. And then, with his recent adoption of those kids from Hawaii- he was so out there.”

Trevor Barnes. The guy that bombed my dad’s warehouse. Except he didn’t. Trisha had framed him to make it seem as if he had. And the Hawaiian kids that were adopted- it was starting to add up. Jake from my math class had definitely looked Hawaiian. He had been adopted by Trevor. And he’d seen it on the news. He had gotten nervous because my dad was upset with his adoptive father. Except his adoptive father hadn’t done anything. It was all a scam. That Trisha was behind.

The only remaining question- why?

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