Shine 2: My Fair Shine (Part 4)
A Whateley Academy Adventure
Shine 2 - My Fair 'Shine
Wednesday, September 19, 2007 - Late
Devisor Labs, Whateley Academy
Bobby Earl glanced up and stretched when a chime sounded to announce a visitor to his lab, someone who did not have access. He glanced at his watch, surprised at the lateness of the hour. It hadn't seemed like it was almost ten! Stretching as he walked to the door, he looked to the side to a video monitor fed by a hidden camera near the door so he could tell who was calling on him. Surprisingly, it was Alexis.
A groan accompanied an even deeper stretch, his shoulders and back muscles and joints practically commanding him to take advantage of the break, even if short, to try to get some circulation back in them and ease their stiffness. Once the stretching was done, he pushed a button near the door casing then spun open a couple of locks. "Evenin', Alexis," he said, stifling a yawn induced by his stretching. "What are you doin' here?"
Alexis stepped into the lab, allowing Bobby Earl to close and resecure the door. "I didn't see you at dinner," she said, pulling a take-out bag from behind her back. "I figured you would be hungry, so I brought you some food."
The boy grinned. "That's might neighborly of ya'," he drawled, but then he saw the look of displeasure on the girl's face. "I mean, that was very polite, thank you. I am rather hungry."
Alexis smiled. "That's better."
"I'm tired," Bobby Earl said by way of an excuse, "and I'm not used to using such precise elocution." His nose captured all his attention as the smells wafting from the bag caught his nose. "What did you bring?"
"You'll see," Alexis replied with a coy smile. She pushed a few items on his lab bench out of the way, which made the boy cringe a bit, but Alexis didn't seem to notice. She put the bag in the now-vacant spot, then looked around the lab. A smaller table sat beside the main workbench; she took the few pieces of glassware and a stand off the table and found a spot to set it, and then she pulled the table away from the wall. "Ah, ah!" she scolded Bobby Earl, having noticed that he was about to open the bag. "No peeking!" Gently but firmly, she pushed the boy back from the dinner sack, then opened it. In short order, she laid a linen tablecloth across the lab table, then set out two complete place-settings and completed the setting with wine glasses and a pair of candles in fancy candlesticks.
"Where the heck did you put all of that?" Shine asked, his jaw hanging open in astonishment. "There's no way you could put all that in that little bag!"
"I borrowed the bag; it's like a 'bag of holding'." Seeing his puzzled expression, she decided to explain. "It's a devisor thing - the bag has some kind of dimensional thing going on, so it's bigger on the inside than on the outside."
Bobby Earl's eyes lit up. "Like the bag in Mary Poppins?" He smiled. "Ma loved that movie. We watched it quite frequently."
"Um, no," Alexis started to explain, "it's … it's … yeah. Like that." She pulled out some steaming hot food containers, and then began to arrange food on the two dinner plates.
"Yum - steak!" Bobby Earl was almost drooling. "Let's eat!"
Alexis shot him 'the look', silently admonishing him. "Presentation is just as important as the taste of the food," she chided him gently. "Since we will probably have at least one more formal meal during this trip, it's best to help you be prepared." She put one of the assembled plates on the table and began the second.
"When I was growing up in the hills, nobody I knew worried about how the vittles … er, food, appeared on the plate. What the food looked like didn't matter as much as whether it was tasty and filling."
"Well in France," Alexis said smugly and confidently, "presentation is very important. The French take their cooking seriously. Just like their wine." She set the other plate on the table. "Shall we?" she invited the boy to sit down on a lab stool Alexis had dragged to the table, while she sat on a second stool.
When Bobby Earl picked up a fork and knife, Alexis sighed heavily. "What?" he asked, puzzled as to what new point of etiquette she was going to bring up.
Secretly, Alexis was pleased - she was becoming his go-to resource for manners and etiquette, which put her in good standing as an aide. "It's just … in some parts of Europe, people hold their fork in the left hand and the knife in the right."
The boy's eyes nearly bugged out. "Say what?"
"It's considered to be finer manners in many parts of Europe." She smiled demurely. "And I figured you would want to be seen as a refined businessman and not just a backwoods hayseed …."
"If you think it would be helpful," he replied after a moment of thought, though with less than significant enthusiasm, "I can try." He awkwardly shifted his utensils and while getting a forkful of mashed potatoes wasn't too difficult, he was quite uncoordinated in his first attempt to cut a piece of steak.
"Since we don't leave until Saturday," Alexis continued with her assumption that she was going as well, helping cement the impression in the boy's mind that he had invited her, "we could go to a movie in Crystal Hall Friday evening."
Bobby Earl was about to take a bite, but he stopped, the fork near his mouth, and looked at the girl. "Sorry," he said, "but I have a lot of work to do before Saturday morning. I'll probably be working through the night! I thought I said that earlier." He didn't like to let his anger or frustration show in public, but Alexis was seriously testing that resolve.
"Well, when we get back we can make a movie night next Friday," she continued. A thought occurred to her. "Would you like me to bring you breakfast tomorrow morning?"
"Nope, Ah got it covered," he replied, then spied her giving him the gimlet eye over his diction and word choice. "No, thank you. Down here in the labs, we watch out for each other. The Tsukuda twins are getting me breakfast in the morning."
A frown creased Alexis' brow. "They ... the other devisors and gadgeteers - especially the girls - aren't exactly ... refined," she wrinkled her nose in distaste, "are they?" She suddenly realized that she might have inserted her foot in her mouth. "I mean, they don't have dealings in big business, do they?" She had no idea that she was digging herself in deeper.
"What do you mean?" the boy asked carefully, his eyes narrowing a tiny bit.
"Well, it's just ...," the girl recognized - too late - that she sounded snobbish about the other devisors, "well, they are nice and all, but ... but they're working on their own projects, and they could get distracted, but I can always help out."
"Oh," Bobby Earl replied, sounding unconvinced.
Wednesday, September 19, - Late
Lobby, Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
With a puzzled look on her face, Heather stepped hesitantly out of the elevator, looking around the lobby. Her gaze settled on two girls, blonde twins who were walking her way, their expressions carefree, almost stereotypical in their looks. Heather's frown deepened.
"Heather O'Neil?" the two spoke in almost perfect synchronization as they stopped in front of her.
"Yes," Heather answered, her frown and tone packed with suspicion. "Why did you call me down here? What do you want?"
The two shrugged. "That wasn't us who called. It was ...." One of the girls started to say.
"... Don Sebastiano," the other finished without missing a beat. "He's waiting ...."
"... for you in the Melville library." The pair glanced over their shoulder, gesturing toward the area behind a mostly-glass wall that was a combination study room and library.
"I don't have time for these kinds of games," Heather snapped, irritated by the bimbo twins. Indeed, she didn't, as she was trying to focus on her homework with her mind distracted by the need to figure out how to get Alexis out of the way. She was also slightly disconcerted by how the twins seemed to think and talk as if they had one mind.
"The Don thinks he can ...."
"... help you with your little problem. You do want to keep ...."
"... that other girl away from the boy, right?"
Heather's frown deepened considerably. Was it that well known that she and Alexis were in a feud over the hillbilly moonshiner? That wouldn't be a good thing to have public; even if the boy was a total moron, and Heather had some suspicion that he wasn't the brightest bulb in the fixture, he'd catch on himself or someone would warn him, and that would be the end of her plot. "Okay, I'm interested enough to hear what he has to say," she said cautiously.
The two bimbo twins fell in by her sides, guiding her toward the library - which, unsurprisingly, she hadn't used. In her peripheral vision, she could see the two girls moving; they seemed to be as synchronized in motion as they were in speaking, and perhaps in thinking as well. Heather barely managed to keep from smirking aloud at the thought that perhaps their mutation had essentially fused their brains into one, which meant that the two bimbo-ish girls had only one brain between them - which would be perfectly in keeping with them being total ditzes.
As the trio rounded a corner framed by a massive, high bookshelf in the back of the library, Heather gasped. At a corner table, sitting back in a chair, was a confident, good looking Latino student, with a friendly expression. There was a brief look in his eyes, though, which gave Heather a small chill, like she was looking at a narcissist or a psychopath.
The boy gestured at a chair on the opposite side of the table. "Charmed to meet you, Miss O'Neil. I'm Sebastiano Lorenz Valensuera y Ramirez."
"I ... I'm not," Heather found her palms sweating from suddenly feeling nervous, "I'm not that kind of girl."
"You're not exactly my type," the Don replied with a tiny downturn of the corners of his mouth, a tiny hint of distaste. "I have Staci and Traci, and there are other girls ...."
"Hey," one of the girls, possibly Staci, perked up, frowning at the Don. "I thought you said ..."
"... that there weren't any other girls!" the other one protested. If the first was Staci, this was Traci, not that it mattered much to Heather.
The Don reached out and took one of the girls' hands, drawing it near and kissing it gently. "And there aren't any." He smiled, and for a moment, Heather saw the wicked grin of a predator. "I can't help it if other girls throw themselves at me!" Through the entire process, he kept his eyes on Heather, watching her flush slightly at the display of gentlemanly yet passionate manners. Gently, carefully, he eased an empathic tendril into her mind, radiating calm and at the same time a hint of envy.
"As long as they don't ..."
"... do anything else!"
A tiny bit flustered, Heather focused her mind. "They said ... that you might be able to help me deal with ... the other girl."
"Alexis Scott." The Don smiled, "Yes, I may be able to help you. You see, she asked me if I could help her, since Bobby Earl and I are ... good friends."
"I ... I hadn't noticed you around," Heather was alert again, wondering what the Don's game was. 'Come into my parlor, said the spider to the fly,' went through her mind a few times, warning her to be cautious, but the suggestion of help getting Alexis out of the way and having the Don put in a good word for her ....
"Yes," the Don said with a smile, "well, he's a devisor, and you know how those types can be with their labs." It was time to throw the dice. "And since he has a second, less-known lab, he has a place that Alexis can't bother him. But of course, you knew that, didn't you?"
"Um," Heather was trying to keep ahead of this swarthy senior, but having a bit of difficulty juggling all that he was telling her. "Um, of course I know," she said, feigning confidence.
"Then I can help keep Alexis away from him - and you - leaving you free to rendezvous with him in his 'secret' lab, where she can't interfere!" the Don promised.
"That ... that'd be ... appreciated," Heather replied cautiously. She was alert again. "What's this help going to cost me?"
The Don recoiled as if stung. "I'm hurt," he said with a tiny pout. "I'm doing this as a favor for him, not for you! I just don't see Alexis as his type, especially since she's quite obviously interested in him only for his money!" With a sigh, he shook his head, rolling his eyes. "I loathe such ... disgusting, greedy manipulation!"
"Yeah, she is a gold-digger," Heather agreed readily.
'As are you,' the Don thought silently to himself. "You seem more his type, and since he's a good friend, I'd like to help him in his romantic life. He deserves a nice girl without unseemly motives. Like you," he added with a warm smile. "And … perhaps we can find a way to expose Alexis for what she is - a money-grubbing gold-digger interested only in his wealth!"
A grin slowly spread across Heather's face. "I'd love to see that!"
Thursday, Sept 20, 2007 - Lunchtime
Melville Cottage, Whateley Academy
Bobby Earl was a bit lost in thought, so he was a bit surprised when he heard a voice from the open elevator doors. "Hey, Bobby Earl, you getting' on or not?"
The boy seemed to snap out of whatever world had occupied his thought and looked up, focusing for the first time on the open elevator and the occupants who were all staring at him. "Oh, hey, Harley," he replied. "Goin' down?"
"You're really out of it today, aren't you?" Harley chuckled. "Yeah, going down."
As Bobby Earl got on the elevator, he reddened a bit. "Sorry t' make y'all wait," he drawled. "Ah was just thinkin'."
"We 'adn't noticed," Harley's girlfriend Spark giggled.
"'e 'as the same look as you get when you get 'the big idea'," one of the other girls, who Bobby Earl knew as Adalie Vitesse, chuckled. Bobby Earl knew that Adalie's father owned a cognac distillery, and her father had politely but firmly declined when Mr. Easterbrook had approached him about Bobby Earl's inventions. Bobby Earl respected the elder Vitesse's opinion and decision, and had never mentioned distilleries and spirits to Adalie again, and she seemed to respect that he wasn't pestering her about it.
"Sorry," the boy apologized. "Ah'm just thinkin' about the trip this weekend. Ah still have a lot of work to do."
"You best not let those girls hear you talkin' like that," Adalie's roommate Alicia laughed. "They'd be all over you 'bout your diction and grammar."
Harley nodded her agreement. "Yeah. As one southerner to another, they are tryin' t' make you something you ain't."
Bobby Earl winced. "Alexis pointed out that it would help my image as a businessman," he replied, his Southern accent suddenly dropping as he became self-conscious about his speech when the subject came up. "Besides, my mother would certainly approve."
Harley shook her head, sighing. "Come on, Bobby Earl. You're not doing this for your ma, are you? Otherwise, you'd have been workin' on it a long time ago."
"Well," Bobby Earl shrugged, blushing a bit, "I'd be lying if I said it wasn't partly because both Alexis and Heather like it when I sound sophisticated."
All of the other occupants of the elevator frowned to one degree or another. "You ought t' be careful with girls like that," Alicia drawled.
"Well, they seem like nice girls, and they like me, so ...."
Harley shook her head. "They ain't necessarily nice girls," she said, trying to warn Bobby Earl.
"Yeah," Alicia agreed. "Some girls say that they've been talkin' 'bout what you've been givin' 'em and what they want you t' buy for 'em."
A scowl formed on the boy's face. "Do you know what you're implying?"
"Whoa," Harley held up her hands in front of herself, kind of a gesture of non-aggression. "We're all sayin' that you should be careful is all."
Alicia was less circumspect. "Have they done anythin' with you like teenagers shouldn't be doin?" She saw the boy's eyebrows raise. "You do know what Ah'm talkin' about, don't you?"
"Of course I do," Bobby Earl replied tartly. "Back home, there ...." His voice trailed off as he realized that the four girls were looking at him with significant interest at what tales he might tell. "My ma told me that a gentleman doesn't talk about his romantic affairs."
"So you are saying there were affaires physiques back home?" Adalie said, waggling her eyebrows suggestively.
"More importantly," Alicia chimed in, "are there affaires physiques with either of the two girls?"
The boy sighed heavily. These girls weren't going to let up on the topic. "If it'll keep you snoops from harassing me more, I'll admit that both of them are good kissers."
Friday, Sept 21, 2007 - Lunchtime
Devisor Labs, Whateley Academy
A chime interrupted Bobby Earl as he was carefully assembling yet another stage of the complicated and seemingly nonsensical aging devise. He sighed heavily that yet another student or faculty member felt the need to visit his lab. Ignoring the chime for the moment, he continued with the intricate fittings he had partially completed. After a few seconds, the chime sounded again, and then again a few seconds after that. Shaking his head and muttering under his breath, the boy set aside the devise, turned from the workbench, and pried himself up from his chair. After another momentary pause to swig down some extremely potent devisor coffee, he trudged to the lab door and pressed a button beneath a computer display beside the door.
An image snapped into being on the display, a girl standing at the door holding a bag and reaching for the lab's 'doorbell' button again. Surprisingly to Bobby Earl, it wasn't Heather or Alexis, but a girl he'd seen in the labs before. A bit baffled, he undid a couple of latches and swung the door open.
"Hi. My boyfriend asked me to bring lunch by here, because he said he knows what it's like when someone gets focused on a project and doesn't pay attention to eating or anything." The girl held up the bag for Bobby Earl. "Here. I got a burger and fries, because everyone likes burgers, I think, and French fries are like the favorite of everyone on the planet, I think, but maybe not in Japan or China, but everywhere else."
Bobby Earl took the bag. "Thanks, um ...."
The girl smiled. "I'm Anna. I'm down here a lot because Jerry has his own lab and works through lunch a lot, so I have to bring food or he wouldn't eat except drinking that super-strong coffee that all of you guys like. I mean, guys and girls, but you know, I meant both, but it's a lot shorter to just say you guys, and saying that is pretty common."
"Thanks," Bobby Earl repeated. "I seem to have forgotten what time it is, and to tell the truth, I wasn't really hungry."
"That's what Jerry says all the time, too, but if I don't bring him food and make him eat, I swear he'd starve to death when he's working on a big project," Anna said with a knowing smile. "He says you know a lot about making moonshine and stuff like that, and that you sell your projects all over the world."
"Yeah," Bobby Earl drawled, evidencing his fatigue. "I've got a big order for a distillery in France, and my flight leaves tomorrow. I've got to finish this before I go, or I'll be working on the plane - again."
Anna nodded. "I'll go now so I don't interrupt your work. When I bring food to Jerry, I sit and talk to make sure he really eats, but that would be awkward since you're not my boyfriend."
Bobby Earl smiled pleasantly. Her realization of the importance of his work was a nice change from Alexis and Heather; those two seemed to want to talk endlessly, even when he was busy. "If you don't mind," he asked meekly, "I'd be grateful if you could refill my coffee."
The girl's face brightened; she liked to feel useful, and if refilling coffee and delivering meals helped Jerry's friends in the labs, then she was glad to help out. "Sure, I can do that." She practically bounced to the workbench, trailed by the boy who was already digging into the bag for fries. Anna picked up a coffee cup that was still about half full. "Refill this?"
"No," Bobby Earl chuckled with a mouthful of fries. He pointed to a large insulated coffee dispenser. "If you could please fill that, it'll keep me going for several hours."
Anna picked up the dispenser by its handle. "Oh, sure. That won't be a problem. I know they make a few gallons of coffee at a time because everyone down in the labs seems to live on coffee. And donuts! Everyone loves donuts, but only when someone brings them, because no-one wants to try Monkeywrench's donuts again! I think the staff banned anyone making another automated donut maker!"
"I heard about that," Bobby Earl chuckled. Monkeywrench's creations were the stuff of lab legends. The donut maker was a good idea, but a little flawed in implementation. The first one he built made banana-shaped donuts with yellow banana-flavored icing. At least, it was supposed to be banana flavored, but no-one who was brave enough to sample one believed it. The second try made regular donuts, but his timing was wrong, so the donuts rose a little too much, and when cooked, they came out as browned spheres with a raw dough center. The third attempt was a little more successful, although it was hard to taste the donuts since they'd been nearly drowned in icing.
Undaunted, Monkeywrench tried again, and this time, the formula seemed right, as the donuts were at least marginally edible, but the timer to automatically turn the donut-maker on and off failed, and when the first lab denizens came into the tunnels early one morning, they were confronted with a huge pile of glazed donuts nearly blocking a tunnel, with the machine happily spitting out still more. If someone hadn't found the right breaker, it would have run until it ran out of ingredients. Even Monkeywrench had to admit it was a bad idea to load the donut-maker with enough flour and stuff to not need tending for two weeks.
It hadn't helped acceptance of the donut-maker when Princess Jobe offered to 'fix' both the donut maker and the recipe because she really like donuts; no-one wanted to risk that potential disaster, even though rumors abounded that Jobe paid Monkeywrench for the rights to build the donut-maker in Karedonia. And the suggestion that they refit the machine to use Bobby Earl's brandy in the icing to make the donuts more palatable was summarily shot down by the lab staff and the administration. A combination of pressure from the technical department staff, the janitorial staff, the combined gadgeteers and devisors, and the administration somehow convinced Monkeywrench to either seriously scale back his efforts at prototyping the donut maker, or give up the project completely.
"I'll be back in a few minutes," Anna said, carrying the coffee dispenser.
As the door shut behind her, Bobby Earl thoughtfully looked the way she'd gone. "Nice girl. Pretty, too. Reminds me of Becky some." A soft chuckle escaped him. "Jerry's a lucky guy."
Friday, Sept 21, 2007 - Lunchtime
Tunnels, Whateley Academy
The sound of quick-stepping heels behind her didn't cause Heather any concern until she realized it was more than one person because the sound, though unnaturally and almost perfectly synchronized, echoed differently, a barely-audible cue that Heather caught up on. The fact that the heels were getting closer, with her own near-paranoia about Alexis trying to get her out of the way, caused her to quicken her own step a bit. She had to fight the temptation to nervously and visibly check who was behind her, which she knew would be a very awkward and ungraceful move while walking.
Two figures came into her peripheral vision, one on each side of her, girls who Heather recognized as Staci and Traci, the Don's twin bimbos. "Hello," Heather said warily, turning her head slightly to either side to glance at the two girls.
"Hi," one of the pair said in a semi-ditzy voice. "We wondered …."
"… if you're planning on taking lunch …."
"… to Bobby Earl."
Heather frowned for a moment, then she realized that perhaps she was rather obvious. "Yes, as a matter of fact, I am."
"That might not be …"
"… a good idea right now."
Heather's wary expression hardened into a deep, angry frown. "I'll do what I damned-well please!" she snapped back. After a brief pause in which the twins simply walked beside her, Heather let her curiosity get the better of her. "Why not?" she asked.
"Because Alexis already …."
"… took him lunch."
Heather's frown returned with an icy 'if looks could kill' glare. "That … cunt! I'll go show her to not try to steal …"
"You don't want …"
"… to embarrass yourself, …."
"… do you?" The twins had a curious expression - kind of a smug 'we know something you don't' that annoyed Heather.
"No, but … but why would I embarrass myself?"
"One of the devisor's girlfriends already …"
"… took him lunch …"
"… and got there first."
"But …." Heather was confused by their warning and what they claimed was happening.
"To make it easy to understand, …."
"... it's very likely that Alexis will humiliate herself …"
"… trying to upstage the girl, and expose …."
"… herself for the greedy gold-digger that …"
"… she really is," Traci finished. Or it might have been Staci. It was extraordinarily difficult to tell the two apart, more-so than normal twins. "If you go there, …"
"… there's a chance she'd manage to turn it …"
"… against you."
Understanding dawned on Heather's features as she finally got the core of what the girls were trying to tell her. If she barged in, she might accidentally allow Alexis to weasel out of humiliating herself. "Um, thanks," Heather said as she stopped walking.
"Don't thank us," the twins said in perfect synchronization. "The Don is just keeping his end of the bargain." They sauntered off, and Heather puzzled over a number of things. This was more than the Don had suggested; what was he up to? And the twins - they were positively spooky. Their walk was perfectly coordinated; if someone measured their motions, she wouldn't have been surprised to find that they were identical to the fraction of an inch.
Friday, Sept 21, 2007 - Lunchtime
Devisor Labs, Whateley Academy
The sheer number of students in the rabbit-warren the devisors called lab space amazed Alexis as she walked quickly and with determination, albeit rather unladylike, toward her destination. Surely there weren't that many gadgeteers and devisors here! The damned place was overrun by them, or so it seemed. Not that Alexis and most other 'beautiful people' had time for the ones they considered beneath them. Except for Bobby Earl.
As she walked, glaring at any of the lab-coat crew who didn't get out of her way quickly enough, she couldn't help but contemplate what the future held - if she kept to her plan. Sure, they were only fourteen, but once she won him over, she'd do whatever it took to keep his attention until they were older. She certainly wasn't about to let any of those other hussies go after him. Even though the thought of sex with the hillbilly was a bit revolting, she knew she'd do it if needed - and then, once she had a ring and a solid claim on his fortune, she could play the field of more desirable, more attractive men - which she knew she deserved. Money first, then she could play.
As she turned the final corner, she spotted a moderately cute brown-haired girl carrying a large coffee dispenser toward the door to Bobby Earl's lab. She instantly forgot about seducing exemplar men because she saw a threat to deal with.
"Hey!" she called out angrily to the girl. "What do you think you're doing?"
The girl turned, startled by Alexis' hostile tone. "Oh, hi! I'm Anna."
"I don't care who you are," Alexis shot back. "What are you going here?"
"Here?" Anna smiled and shrugged. "It was my boyfriend's turn to take lunch to Bobby Earl, 'cuz that's what all the devisors and gadgeteers do, you know. If one of them is working on a big important project, all the others will make sure they get something to eat …."
"So what are you doing?" Alexis demanded again.
"… because when someone gets what they call 'the big idea', sometimes they forget about eating and sleeping and drinking - and sometimes they'll even use a 'stadium buddy' so they can pee without having to interrupt their work." Anna wrinkled her nose. "I think that's kind of gross, but some of them even wear an adult diaper so they can keep working. I don't think I'd ever wear an adult diaper! It's too gross!"
"So … you're refilling his coffee?" Alexis nodded to the coffee-pot/dispenser Anna was carrying.
"What? Oh, yeah. Because some of the guys down here - well, guys and girls, because there are a lot of devisors and gadgeteers who are girls, you know, like Reach's girlfriend Spark. She's French, and we all thought she was going to be a snob like some of the Beret Mafia are, because everyone says French people are, but she's kind of shy and really, really nice once you get to know her!"
The door opened, interrupting Anna's dialog on who-knows-what else. "I got your coffee," Anna said enthusiastically. "And your girlfriend came, too!" She practically bounced into the lab, carrying the coffee dispenser.
Alexis followed her, sauntering with a sexy sway to her derriere so the boy would be reminded of just how feminine she was. "Hi, Bobby Earl," she said seductively.
"Uh, hi," Bobby Earl said, unhappy that Alexis had shown up. "Ah didn't expect you."
"And that's what makes it more a surprise for you!" Alexis said with a smile. She turned to Anna, who had just set the coffee dispenser back on one of the lab benches. "Anna, thank you so much for getting the coffee for Bobby Earl," she said in a sweet voice, betraying none of the evil glare she was giving Anna for interfering with her intended boyfriend. "Now, I'm sure your boyfriend would rather you spent time with him …."
"Oh, no," Anna said cheerfully. "He's got one of his own big ideas, so he's busy, and since he's working with dangerous chemicals, only qualified people can go in his lab because it could be dangerous, so he wants me to stay away, as if he'd have to ask, because I'd really rather not get blown up or eaten by acid or something like that."
"Yes, yes," Alexis said, trying hard to not show her impatience. She wrapped one arm around Anna's back, with the other lightly holding her elbow, turning the girl toward the door and sort-of pushing her toward the door. "You know what would be nice? If you checked your other friends down here to see if they need coffee, too." She urged Anna out the door, then sighed as the door closed behind the brown-haired overly-cheerful girl. She recomposed herself and turned back to the boy. "I brought you lunch," she said as she walked back to the boy. Wrapping her arms around Bobby Earl, with the lunch bag dangling behind him, she proceeded to give him a big kiss.
It took the boy a moment to recover from her affectionate lip-lock. "I brought you a cheeseburger and some fries," she said, holding the lunch sack to him.
"Uh, thanks," he said, one eyebrow cocked and wearing a cautious expression. "But Anna brought me a cheeseburger before she made a coffee run."
For a brief moment, Alexis' eyes threatened to bug out of their sockets. "Uh," she stammered. "But … but … but this is a gourmet burger!" she replied. "I know you like cheese and bacon and mushrooms, so I got one of the girls who works with the chefs to make special Angus beef patties. It's got wine-braised morel mushrooms, caramelized onions, a nice smoky Gouda cheese, and a sauce she made from deglazing the pan with the wine and adding a little prosciutto to give it the bacon flavor you love! And I got some good British style potato wedges instead of plain, greasy French fries!"
"Ah'm not too hungry right now," Bobby Earl drawled, which caused Alexis to flinch visibly. "Ah already ate the burger Anna brought, and Ah don't think Ah could eat another bite."
Alexis' mouth dropped open. "But … but … I had it made special …."
"And Ah really appreciate it," Bobby Earl replied. "How 'bout this - Ah can put it the 'fridge, and then microwave it later for a snack."
"But …." Alexis felt the painful stab of defeat. Not only was his diction slipping, but he was eating such pedestrian food instead of a gourmet burger, and he was going to microwave it! Inside, she wanted to cry. She decided to start hating devisor girls.
Friday, Sept 21, 2007 - Evening
Devisor Labs, Whateley Academy
Confident that his distractions were keeping the two gold-diggers away, at least for the time being, the Don strode confidently through the tunnel. It would be long enough for him to accomplish what he needed to do. He smiled smugly as he passed several of the maze-rats, as he and a few others belittlingly called the denizens of the tunnels, because he knew that they were only worthy of being minions to someone like him, and as a general rule, they were trivial to influence and control. While several deep scowls were directed his way, he didn't deign any of the others worth any bother.
He stopped in front of the lab door, knowing full well that he was being observed by the tunnels' extensive surveillance systems. Given what some of the lab-coat crew worked on, one could hardly blame the administration and security for trying to control who had access to what. The operative word was 'trying'; it was easy to get access to anything one wanted if one had suitable blackmail material - like recordings of some less-than-scrupulous staff committing felonies with a minor girl.
Sebastiano frowned momentarily at that thought - he really missed having the two ex-Berets under Hekate's spell. Without Skybolt, he had no way to expand his network of compromised guards, nor did he have her and Cav to force into degrading and humiliating situations to give him a sadistic thrill. He would have to find some other way to control other victims so he could get his jollies. First, though, he needed to ingratiate himself with the hillbilly to get him access to the funding he'd need to expand his reach and influence.
An audible click from a tablet-like display set into the doorway shook him from those thoughts. "Who is ...," Bobby Earl's voice started, then it paused a moment. "Oh, it's you. Come in." Another sound came from the doorframe as multiple locks disengaged.
The Don strode in, letting the door close behind him. "Oh, it's me?" he asked, feigning being wounded by the boy's words.
Bobby Earl shook his head slowly, lifting his eyes from his workbench. "Sorry. It's just ... I figured it was Alexis or Heather coming to bother me again."
"They have been rather ... persistent," the Don chuckled in agreement.
"More like pests," the boy sighed. Then he sighed. "I don't mean that, but dammit, they don't seem to recognize when I'm working under a deadline!"
"So why do you put up with them?" the Don asked bluntly. "Surely there are other girls around. Like Staci and Traci, for example."
The boy's head snapped around toward the Don, shock showing on his face. "I figured those two are your girlfriends," he said. "Wouldn't be right to poach a girl from another guy," he explained, then he grinned. "Unless it was her idea and he was a total asshole."
Sebastiano chuckled. "How true. Anyway, I don't want to interrupt your work, since I know how important it is to you." He held out a tablet computer toward the moonshiner.
"What's this?" the boy asked, taking the device.
Sebastiano smiled inwardly. The hook was being nicely set. "Everyone knows you've been missing classes because of your work, or at least everyone who isn't self-centered and trying to take advantage of you."
Bobby Earl's expression turned through surprise to mild indignation. "That's not very nice ...."
The Don smiled disarmingly. "I wasn't implying that anyone in specific was planning to take advantage of you, especially Alexis or Heather," he defended himself. "Although one might wonder ...." He let his words trail off, pausing for a moment or two to let the moonshiner consider what he'd said. "Anyway, since you've been missing classes, I took the liberty of gathering up notes from the classes you've missed. They're all on the tablet."
It took a moment for the boy to get past the implied insult of the girls' motives and realize what the Don was giving him. "Oh, thanks! This'll help me catch up. Ma said that if I don't keep my grades up, I'll have to go home." He turned and grabbed a small bottle out of a drawer in his workbench. "Never let it be said that I don't appreciate it when someone does me a favor." He offered the bottle, about twice the size of an airline-style 'single' liquor bottle, to the Don.
"Well, thank you," the Don said graciously with a smile. Slowly, he was reeling the boy in, enticing him into following the Don, and eventually bankrolling him and his 'comfortable' lifestyle. He glanced around conspiratorially. "So, since it's just us guys here, do they?"
"Do they ... what?" the boy asked, mildly confused by the Don's abrupt change of the subject. "Oh, yeah." He shrugged. "A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell."
The Don nodded. "Certainly not," he smiled. "At least not in mixed company. But, well, among friends .... You know, locker-room talk." He saw the boy's resolve wavering. A tiny empathic push from the Don encouraged the boy.
"Well, they're both good kissers. And Heather has nice boobs. But ... Alexis is kind of conservative, so ... not even second base with her."
"You're kidding!" the Don gasped. "They won't even ...?" He shook his head. "We can't allow that! How about if you let me find you a girlfriend who'll treat you right?" There was a shadow of uncertainty in the boy's eyes. "Well, if you decide you want a girl who's 'friendlier', let me know." He started to turn. "I know you've got work to do instead of standing around talking, so I'll let myself out. But if you need anything, give me a call." By the time the door closed behind him, his grin was positively unsettling and thoroughly predatory, enough so that other lab-denizens were made nervous at his expression.
Friday, September 21 - Very Late Evening
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
From the way the security officer was escorting him, Bobby Earl figured he wasn't in serious trouble; otherwise, there would have been at least a pair of officers and possibly handcuffs. Still, he couldn't help but be curious, especially since he had five more aging tubes to finish. If this took too long - whatever it was - he was going to be working on the plane. Again.
The officer knocked on a door, opened it, and gestured for Bobby Earl to enter, closing the door behind him. It was yet another sign that this wasn't serious trouble. Then again ....
"Good evening, Bobby Earl," Alexis purred from one side of the table, her voice oozing sex appeal and charm.
"What's ... what's going on here?" the boy couldn't help but ask, looking around the room. Opposite Alexis was Heather, who looked none-too-happy, then there was a girl he didn't recognize, and finally, at the head of the table, Mrs. Shugendo, who had the dourest expression in the room.
"Just a little misunderstanding of who is going to be your translator for the trip tomorrow," Heather batted her eyes at 'Shine to show her desire to accompany the boy instead of Alexis. "You did promise me!"
"He did no such thing!" Alexis roared. "He promised me!"
Bobby Earl sighed, rolling his eyes. Maybe handcuffs and lockup would have been better after all.
Fortunately for him, Mrs. Shugendo came to the rescue. "We are not going to have a shouting match here, is that understood?" Glaring at each other, the two girls mumbled a positive response. "Now, let's get this all straight, because I am not going to spend this term being awakened at all hours of the night by a house mother on account of a cat fight about who does and who doesn't accompany Mr. Fields, or any other student, on an escorted off-campus trip!" She looked around the room, focusing specifically on the two girls, her gaze drilling her consideration of the seriousness of the matter into the girls' brains.
When she judged that they had been suitably cowed, Mrs. Shugendo continued. "One of the conditions of Mr. Fields attending school was that despite the odd business trip now and again, we would ensure that he would make satisfactory academic progress." She noted that Heather was about to speak, so she spoke quickly to keep the girl from interrupting. "That condition was set by his mother, and we agreed that we would provide a suitable upperclassman to tutor him on his trips. As neither of you are upperclassmen, you do not satisfy that requirement."
Mrs. Shugendo was having an epiphany about why Liz Carson sometimes enjoyed the milder disciplinary problems; she was enjoying watching the two trouble-makers squirm. "Second, Whateley has a long-standing rule that the only escorts permitted for off-campus trips are juniors or seniors. Again, you two are neither."
Alexis flapped her gums, trying to find something to say; Heather was a little quicker on the uptake. "But ... Bobby Earl doesn't speak French! He needs someone to translate for him!"
Mrs. Shugendo's grin, if anything, made the girls even more nervous. "Ah, yes. There is that." She paused to let the girls try to hash out what she had in mind. Eventually, the girls turned to stare suspiciously at the dark-haired girl with some Polynesian in her appearance. "Mr. Fields, I'd like to introduce Chloe Gagneux, your tutor and translator for this trip."
The girl nodded to Bobby Earl. "I am very pleased to meet you, Monsieur Fields. I 'ope you will find me an acceptable tutor and translator."
Bobby Earl smiled as he reached out to take the girl's hand. "There's no reason to be formal. It's simply Bobby Earl." The girl's eyes reflected a tiny bit of nervousness, but his insistence on being informal brought a little blush to her cheeks. No doubt she was a trifle shy. Bobby Earl discounted that. It wasn't her job to be a social butterfly, only to tutor, and translate if necessary.
Mrs. Shugendo felt the need to further demonstrate to the two girls that they were not in charge. "Ms. Gagneux grew up in New Caledonia in the southeast Pacific, then moved to Tours in France to live with her aunt. She is an outstanding student, and hopefully she will set a good example for you as to the behavior we expect of Whateley students."
The French girl nodded. "And I will not let you down, madam."
"Officer McTavish will be your security escort again," Mrs. Shugendo said. "I'd like a private word with Mr. Fields, please. The rest of you may go." She pretty bluntly dismissed the others. When they had gone, she gestured to a chair nearer her. "I assume you have some arrangement with Officer McTavish," she began.
Bobby Earl's eyes started to bug out. "I'm not sure what ...." he started to stammer.
"Let's drop the act, Bobby Earl," the dean of students said bluntly. "With your background, I'd be surprised if you didn't have some arrangements."
Bobby Earl sat, jaw open, stunned and wondering what he should do or say. Mrs. Shugendo relieved him of that need. "We operate a little differently here, if you hadn't noticed. We allow some students to take a few ... liberties, if you get my drift, as long as they don't cross any of a few lines."
"And those are ...?"
"If Officer McTavish finds some ... advantages ... of escorting you, then I don't mind, as long as these benefits don't spread to the student body. He's the type of officer who might bend or dent a rule or two, but he'd never do anything that would jeopardize a student, so I'm inclined to give him a little slack." She watched his face. "The same holds true for students. If you don't make me notice something that you do, then I will probably not 'officially' notice. But there is a line. For example, I know there are some older students with whom you might trade favors, such as Mr. Cody and Ms. Nalley. And exemplars would have special attraction for your products, since your products affect them even though normal alcohol doesn't."
Bobby Earl nodded slowly. "Ma'am," he started, "It's not my style to spike the punch at school parties. And if I were to share ... samples ... I would make certain it was a small quantity and that any recipient wasn't going to abuse any privilege."
Mrs. Shugendo nodded with a smile. "We might have these conversations from time to time, Bobby Earl, just to make sure we have a good understanding of what's out of bounds. Perhaps we can meet for an ... informal ... discussion of those limits with some of the faculty members with whom you'll deal. Like Ms. Imp?"
Bobby Earl's eyes bulged slightly as the dean revealed how much she already knew. "Yes, ma'am. Is that all? I have a lot of work to do before I leave, and at the rate it's going, I'm afraid I'll have to work on the flight instead of relaxing."
Mrs. Shugendo sat back. "No, Bobby Earl. That's all for now. Have a good flight."
Tuesday, September 25, 2007 - Very Late
Outside Kane Hall, Whateley Academy
Bobby Earl picked his bag from the back of Whateley van which had brought the boy and his companions from the airport, and then retrieved the bag for Chloe, his escort and tutor. "Thanks for the help," he said simply, holding out the girl's bag for her.
"I'm glad I could be of assistance," Chloe replied, wincing a little, even as her cheeks reddened enough to be visible in the dim light of the staff parking lot. She glanced to see the big Scots guard hauling a couple of cases of new armagnac, a product of the boy's modifications to the distillery, to his own car. "Um, you won't tell ...." she began, hesitating nervously.
"Nope," the boy smiled confidently. "And I have an understanding with Officer McTavish. I keep him supplied with duty-free booze, and he doesn't 'see' anything on these trips."
The girl's expression softened as she breathed a big sigh of relief. "I ... I think I had a bit too much armagnac," she said quickly by way of an excuse. "And ...."
"And we had a drink or two to celebrate getting the work done. I don't see any harm in that," the boy suggested with a grin. It was a perfectly bland, innocent-sounding story that told nothing of the precise details of whatever the two of them were talking about, details that the gossip grapevine at Whateley would have had a heyday with if only they knew.
Chloe nodded, then smiled. Before the boy could react, she gave him a quick kiss. "Per'aps if you 'ave work in France in the future?" She quick-stepped toward Dickinson Cottage, pausing once to glance over her shoulder and smile at the boy.
A huge hand clasped on Bobby Earl's shoulder. "I think that lass has somethin' for ye, ladd," McTavish said with a chuckle.
Bobby Earl looked wistfully after the girl's retreating figure. "Maybe," he mused. "She's kind of cute, and pretty interesting." He grinned at the Scotsman. "A lot more fun to talk to than Becky from back home. Now Becky had things going for her, too - like her ma's huge ...," he held his hands way in front of his chest as if cupping enormous breasts, "hooters, and she had a real nice figure. But apart from sex, she was dumber than a fence post. Now take a girl like Chloe. A person could have a nice conversation with her about a lot of things. Not so much in the tits department as Becky, but nice figure nonetheless. She was a pleasant travel companion." He realized he might have said more than he'd intended. "How about you? You can't tell me you were just taken with that ... curvy ... barmaid. So, did you get any?"
McTavish roared with laughter. "What is it ye always say, lad? A gentleman doesn't kiss and tell? But ... she gave me her number in case we ever get back there." He reached out and shook the boy's hand. "Fun trip. Let me know when you're traveling again."
The boy chuckled aloud. "I certainly will."
"Don't stay out too late," McTavish called over his shoulder before climbing into his car. "The other officer should be around any time now, if I know him."
"He's already here," Bobby Earl laughed. "Been watching us since we pulled into the parking lot."
"Are you sure?"
The boy nodded. "And he'll stay there until you're gone."
"Well, I won't keep you from your other business. As long as it doesn't affect our deal...."
"Nope, I won't let it." Reassured by the boy's words, the big Scotsman drove off.
Bobby Earl was aware that someone was walking up silently behind him. "Glad you got here. I've had a very long day and I'm exhausted."
"What have you got for me today?" Jerry Mendez asked, getting right to the heart of the matter. He'd overheard Bobby Earl tell McTavish where he was located; the boy was almost uncanny with his senses. Maybe the two of them should organize a little contest to see who was better at sneaking and sniping.
"Three cases of Armagnac - each from a different distiller, and a case of brandy. I had enough time to stop by another customer that distills brandy and tune their rigs. Got the makers' labels on 'em, too, so no-one can tell the bottles from normal imports."
Mendez re-opened the back of the van and rummaged in one of the cases, whistling when he read the label. "You know what this sells for?"
"Yeah, they told me." The boy shrugged. "No big deal."
"I'll get this transferred to my pickup and get locked up. If you need anything, you know how to get ahold of me."
"Yup. And I appreciate your help with ... certain challenges. But for now, I'm going to spend a few hours studying the insides of my eyelids." Bobby Earl gathered his suitcase and his book bag, being careful with both, and slogged down the path toward the tower that was Melville Cottage.
Since it was after midnight, the boy had to use his school ID badge to open the door, and wearily, he trudged into the lobby. To his surprise, off to one side in a sitting area, a white-haired girl was reading a book, sitting in a chair that gave her an excellent view of the cottage entrance doors. As soon as she saw Bobby Earl, she slid a bookmark between some pages and stood, walking to intercept the boy at the elevators.
"Good evening, Bobby Earl," Jadis Diabolik said in a guardedly neutral voice as she stepped into the elevator car with him.
"Evening, Jadis," the boy countered. "Been waiting up for me?"
Jadis' smile was enigmatic. "I was having a little difficulty sleeping, so I figured I'd read, and since I didn't want to inconvenience my roommate ...."
"That's considerate of you." He eyed the white-haired girl, scrutinizing her expression which was annoyingly neutral. "Unless you had other reasons to want to read down here in the lobby."
Jadis reached to the control panel and stopped the elevator. When she turned to him, her features were etched with concern. "I heard about those two trying to get on the trip with you," she began.
"Yeah, Mrs. Shugendo straightened out that mess," Bobby Earl replied nonchalantly.
"Hmphhh!" Jadis snorted, giving a first hint of what they'd been up to. "You haven't been around to see what they've been up to the past few days. It's been ... pretty nasty," Jadis explained. "They were dragged to security after a screaming match in the lobby of Melville. If security hadn't showed up when they did, it would have been a full-on hair-pulling, nail-clawing cat fight."
The boy's eyes widened. "That sounds ... a bit exciting."
"Bobby Earl," Jadis said in a grim voice, turning to directly face him, "not everyone around here is what they appear to be. There are a lot of schemers and plotters who think nothing of using others for their own gain, taking from those they perceive weak. You really need to be careful with friends and acquaintances."
"I'm trying to be careful," he replied a little uneasily.
"Bobby Earl," Jadis repeated his name to underscore how serious she was, "as your cottage fixer, one of my responsibilities is to look out for fellow Melvillains. That technically doesn't include keeping them from being taken advantage of, but ... those two are giving our cottage a bad name." She tried to get a read of his emotions, but he was so obviously fatigued that she didn't know if she was getting through or not. "Tell me, what would happen if a seemingly nice girl who wasn't very wealthy, and there are a lot of them here, say such a girl decided you would be a good meal ticket."
The boy frowned. "I hadn't thought much about it," he admitted. "But ... high school romances ... they don't last, so I shouldn't have to worry ...."
"We're mutants, Bobby Earl," Jadis interrupted. "This is a very hostile world for mutants, so we have to stick together. What that means is that high-school romances at Whateley are over twenty times as likely to last into adulthood and marriage as those in a normal high school. Think of it this way - say some destitute girl decided that she wanted you as a meal ticket - she's got a much better chance of succeeding here, because we're mutants, than at any other school."
"Wow. I hadn't realized that."
"And once a woman sinks her hooks into you, if she decides to divorce later, you can kiss half or more of your earnings and assets goodbye, including your house, and quite probably custody of any kids. Divorce favors women. Heavily. So you can end up getting royally screwed - and not in a good way!"
"I hadn't realized that," Bobby Earl admitted, gulping as he slowly understood that the stakes might be far higher than he'd known.
"I can't prove it, but I have the very distinct feeling that Alexis and Heather see you as a meal ticket. Call it woman's intuition if you will, but it's a strong feeling."
Bobby Earl slowly nodded as he mentally digested the facts Jadis had given him. "That's a lot to think about. And I really appreciate having people ... friends, if I can be so bold ... who are genuinely trying to help." He reached around Jadis and punched the start button on the elevator. Since it was a short ride to his floor, the car stopped after mere moments. "Good night, and thanks for the advice." He reached out to shake Jadis' hand, which she extended, expecting a normal handshake. But to her surprise, the backwoods boy pressed his lips gently to the back of her hand, which caused her a tingle of excitement, and when he backed away and out of the elevator, she found a small silver flask pressed into her palm.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007 - Before Lunch
Crystal Hall, Whateley Academy
Drawn by the rumble in his stomach and the distant electronic chime of a bell signaling the end of a class period, Bobby Earl shut off his equipment, tore off his nitrile gloves, and took a moment to straighten out his workbench. Maybe he was a backwoods boy, but he'd learned early, at the knee of his grandpa, the value of having a neatly-organized workspace. After rinsing a distillation tube, he reached up to put it away on its shelf, when something struck him as odd. It took him a couple of minutes to mentally review what should be where. He was right - a small prototype lab distillation rig was missing.
With a heavy sigh, Bobby Earl decided that lunch had to wait - again. Given how seriously the administration was taking security in his lab - and he couldn't blame them for that - he had to report the missing equipment to security as quickly as possible. Slowly, methodically, he started to review every cabinet, workbench, and storage shelf in the room. In the end, enough equipment and supplies were missing that the thief would be able to ferment and distill about half a gallon of moonshine a week.
Around the first corner from his lab, he bumped into Heather, who had evidently timed her appearance to coincide with his schedule. "Hi," he said warily to her, wondering if she harbored some unfounded grudge that he hadn't somehow managed to get her on the trip. He couldn't suppress the yawn that suddenly made an appearance. "Sorry," he added. "I'm kind of tired from the trip."
Heather's brow wrinkled for a moment, then she pasted on a smile. "I wish I knew the feeling," she said, hinting that she was more than a bit upset about not going. "I know that if Mrs. Shugendo hadn't stuck her nose into it, you would have taken me. Right?"
"I wouldn't have mattered much what I said anyway. If it wasn't Mrs. Shugendo, Ms. Hartford or Mrs. Carson would've most likely overruled my choice." He cautiously avoided any mention of who he actually would have selected. In reality, he had wanted to take neither, but he'd have been willing to allow one or the other to accompany him if they made it worth his while - which so far they didn't seem willing to do. By not letting either of them go, Mrs. Shugendo had inadvertently done him a huge favor. He paused for a moment - perhaps that had been Mrs. Shugendo's point all along. He decided to revise his estimation of her upward.
Heather wrapped herself possessively around one of his arms. "I'm glad you're back. You know, I was tempted to slip out past curfew to properly greet you when you got back last night," she added in a conspiratorial tone designed, no doubt, to make the boy believe she was capable of being a 'bad girl' and would have given him a huge, special 'welcome home' present. "Um, Bobby Earl?" she asked hesitantly when they didn't turn down a side tunnel. "The cafeteria is that way." She pointed down one of the larger side tunnels that was currently heavily trafficked by students heading to Crystal Hall.
"I know," the boy said, half relieved and half frustrated. "While I was in France, someone broke into my lab and swiped some of my equipment and supplies." He could feel her head lift from leaning on his arm, and her surprised gasp said volumes about whether she was a candidate for the theft. "It wasn't much, but the agreement with Mrs. Carson and the ATF is that I have to report thefts immediately. That means I have to go to Kane Hall to fill out paperwork."
There was a moment of silence as the girl considered things, then she leaned back down on his arm. "Then I'll go with you. To keep you company," she added quickly.
Bobby Earl sighed. "I wish you could. But the rules of reporting and investigating and question and answer mean it wouldn't do me any good to have you with me. They wouldn't let you be in the interview room with me; in fact, they'd probably do an extensive interview with you to help investigate all the possible suspects."
"Oh, pooh!" Her face clouded. "You don't think that I …."
"No, of course not," he immediately shot back a reply to reassure her. Granted, she was smart, intelligent enough to understand in principle how his basic stills worked, but she wasn't dumb enough to steal distilling equipment from his lab when flashing a little breast would get her some of his good alcohol ready-made. "Why don't you just go to the cafeteria and eat, and when I get done, I'll come over and grab something. Since it's so nice outside today, we can eat out on the patio - like a picnic," he suggested.
"Why Bobby Earl, you're such a romantic!" Heather cooed. "Call me when you're done, and I can grab lunch, but I'll meet you behind Kane! There's a little spot near that's nice and quiet and peaceful." Left unspoken was the thought that Alexis would be nowhere near the two of them, so she couldn't horn in somehow.
"That'd be nice. I'll call when I'm done." Bobby Earl paused when the girl pulled his head closer and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
She watched the boy turn back toward Kane Hall, then she set off for the cafeteria. She had to make sure that her rival Alexis didn't get any private time with the boy before she could meet him for a private 'picnic'. With her luck, however, somehow Alexis would get a chance to poke her nose into things and gum up the works for Heather. She was certain that her chances would get messed up - somehow.
So distracted was she that many students passed her by in the tunnels without her really noticing. It wasn't until someone was walking beside her that she realized she wasn't alone. Somewhat startled, she turned, relaxing slightly when she recognized the Don. "Hi," she said without enthusiasm.
"Obviously, you have something on your mind," the Don chuckled.
"Why do you say that?" Heather asked cautiously.
"I've been beside you for at least a dozen meters before you even noticed," the Don said with a knowing smile. "Thinking about Bobby Earl again?"
Heather shook her head, frowning. "More like how to keep that money-grubbing cunt Alexis the hell away from him!" she cursed angrily.
"Such language!" the Don said in mock horror, but then he chuckled as he was unable to stay serious. "What has she done now?"
"Nothing new - yet," the girl grumbled. "It's just … she really screwed up the trip to France!"
The Don smiled inwardly; in her state of mind, playing the emotions of these two arrogant, greedy girls was almost trivial. Kind words of support, a little psychic nudge here, a psychic nudge there, backed up by 'rumors' fed by Staci and Traci - it was like shooting fish in a barrel. "I heard about that. Staci … or Traci … whichever, said they'd heard her bragging that since Bobby Earl wouldn't promise to take her, she was going to make damned sure that you couldn't go, either!"
"That'd be just like that lying bitch!" Heather swore, before a thought pierced the cloud of anger. "But … how could she …?"
"Stop you?" the Don finished. He shook his head, sighing as if to signal that the answer should be obvious. "Simple. She makes a few suggestions to people like the house parents, the fixers that she can't believe he'd take you, a mere freshman, on an important trip during days he should be in class."
"But she was arguing that she should be the one to go!" Heather objected to his line of reasoning.
"Oh, you poor naïve dear," the Don clucked. "Alexis had to have known that he picked you! But she still had to plead her case to make sure our friend knew she was very much interested, and to cover up her sabotage!" Inwardly, he was delighting in the ease with which he was playing her emotions. "And by arguing emotionally rather than with facts, she made it easier for the administration to discount your arguments and agreement with Bobby Earl as just more teenage emotion!"
"When I see Bobby Earl at lunch today, I'll have to tell him what kind of games she's playing! When he figures that out …."
"Oh, no, no, no, no," the Don chided her like a parent scolding an errant four-year-old. "You can't just tell him what she's up to! Do you think he's thinking with his brain, or with his … heart?"
"His …." The girl blushed intensely, highlighting that she knew exactly what the Don was implying. "His heart."
"And if you try to tell him what Alexis is doing, what might he do? He'd ask her, that's what. And of course, she'd act indignant and wounded, and play it for sympathy - and you'd lose that battle. No, my dear, what I'd do if I were you would be to set up a confrontation. In a nice public place that will embarrass the hell out of her. Hit her with the facts, and she'll have to respond. But she'll be off-balance from the accusation that she's a gold-digger, and you could keep on the attack until she flees in tears, having exposed her real interest." the Don said sagely. "And in public, like in Crystal Hall during dinner, perhaps?"
Slowly, a smile broke on Heather's features, broadening until with an evil glint in her eyes, she looked positively malicious. Then she had a thought. "But … all I've got is that she's mooching off him! I'd need evidence."
"And you shall have it, my dear," the Don said smoothly. "For a small fee, I can arrange to have a very thorough investigation into her family, her childhood, her friends, and so on. Facts she won't be able to deny, surprises of what you know that'll keep her confused."
Heather looked warily at the Don. "How much?"
The Don smiled wickedly. "For you, my dear, I think I can dig up a lot of juicy tidbits for about fifty dollars."
"Now, remember, you can't let yourself be dragged into a debate or argument until you're ready and have all the data." The Don's smile was genuine - he loved these games of intrigue and double-dealing, especially when he was puppet master to the players. Not only was there a good payoff in him coming through for the boy, and thus befriending him, but the girls cat-fight was going to be quite entertaining as a bonus.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007 - Before Dinner
Devisor Tunnels, Whateley Academy
Wearing a frown that promised horrible ruination or even death on any mere mortal devisor or gadgeteer who got in her way, Alexis stormed through the tunnels on a mission, fuming at how lunch had gone. Or to be more precise, how lunch had not gone according to plan. That bitch with her fancy picnic plans had snagged Bobby Earl the moment he set foot in Crystal Hall and guided him away from the usual checkout lanes, leading him instead to a 'special' table where the cafeteria staff pre-packaged 'to go' picnic lunches complete with basket, blanket, piping-hot food, iced drinks, desserts - in short, everything any student might want to take on a romantic picnic with some sweetie on a gorgeous autumn day like that day had been. She should have thought of that romantic angle, not Heather, and she should have been the one enjoying the warm sunny day with the boy, not Heather. Vicious rumors were also circulating that Heather was 'giving it away' to keep the boy's interest piqued - most of which Alexis had some hand in spreading.
"I take it things aren't going well?" the familiar voice drilled through her dark thoughts, and if not for a soothing, sympathetic 'feel' to the voice, would have caused her to lash out. Instead, Sebastiano's familiar voice was a beacon of comfort, a haven from the storm-tossed waters of high school romances. "If I were to guess, Heather keeps poking her nose in, arranging dates first, arranging lunches and dinners together before you can."
"Worse than that!" Alexis half-sniffed, as distraught as she was. "She's always getting to him first, with her 'private dining' plans. Let me tell you something - they're doing a lot more than 'dining' on those dates!" Her face wrinkled with rage. "Filthy whore!"
"And yet, according to our beloved Headmistress, such behavior is patently against the rules. Imagine, just imagine, if she were to get caught in flagrante delicto with the boy."
"They'd be kicked out!" Alexis stammered slowly, not quite following the Don's twisted logic.
"Ah, ah, ah," the Don clucked. "That's a wonderful-sounding and lofty egalitarian standard, but not how it actually plays out."
The Don knew he had her interest. "In reality, it's much easier to blame the girl, except in cases of blatant rape, so the guy is seldom expelled. It's so much easier, in today's society, to blame the girl and push her aside." He shrugged. "It's always been like that - if there's any hint that the girl was the aggressor, sacrifice her on the altar of moral indignation while letting the boy off with a stern warning."
"So what can I do, then?"
"You're going to have to go on the offensive against Heather," the Don advised confidently. "You're going to have to attack her motivations, mercilessly, relentlessly. That, of course, includes bringing to light her family's actual financial situation as opposed to the fiction she would have everyone believe. You'll have to show that her family is not nearly so well off as she'd have people believe, and that she needs a 'sugar daddy' to keep her in the lifestyle to which she's become accustomed."
"I can see that," Alexis said hesitantly, not quite accepting all the Don had told her. "But …."
"But nothing," the Don replied with a flourish. "Once it's pointed out that she's a cheap whore, spending her evenings in Twain and Emerson in exchange for spending money, it'll be painfully obvious to even the most naïve that she's just an opportunistic whore, and that all she sees in the boy is money."
A few more minutes of subtle psychological pressure had Alexis convinced of a course of action that she knew would knock Heather out of the running, and it'd only cost her a few dollars for information the Don said he could get through his network, data which would be devastating to Heather. After thanking the Don for listening, Alexis sauntered away, her step and countenance a lot lighter and brighter thanks to the plan 'she' was forming to eliminate Heather as competition.
Thursday, September 27, 2007 - After Classes
Devisor Tunnels, Whateley Academy
"Are you the one called Monkeywrench?" the Don asked from the door of the general lab, staring at a chimpanzee-shaped boy in a loud tropical print shirt. "One of 'Shine's friends?"
The devisor paused what he was doing and turned toward the Don. "So they say. What of it?
The Don stepped across the lab to speak directly with the devisor. "I've heard some … unpleasant … rumors going around that a certain pair of Melville girls are trying to take advantage of 'Shine," he explained simply. "In their lust for his money, I fear that they're going to humiliate the boy as they try to take him for everything he's got."
"Yeah," Monkeywrench grumbled, his tone betraying a ton of negative emotion about the two girls. "It's obvious to us that they're just using him, persuading him to buy them expensive jewelry, dresses, and such." Monkeywrench's countenance scowled. "What's it to you?"
The Don ignored the implied insult. "I'm … fond … of the boy. He reminds me of the innocence I had when I first came here. I … I'd just hate to see him go through some of the nastiness that some of the older girls pulled on me."
The monkey-boy looked with caution at the Don. "You'll have to pardon my skepticism, but I've never been big on 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend'."
"I'm not …." the Don started to protest.
"Maybe you don't like the way the girls are trying to play 'Shine, or maybe you have some other motive for messing with them," Monkeywrench began, "but you don't have a stellar reputation when it comes to the 'using people for your own ends' department."
Sebastiano actually chuckled at the comment. "Fair enough." A faint smile faded from his features. "Okay, cards on the table. Those two have already made my list of … not-favorite people. I have my reasons for wanting to see them both exposed as gold-digging whores!"
"At least we agree on that point," the devisor snorted his disgust at the two girls.
"In as humiliating and miserable a fashion as possible," the Don concluded. "But for that to happen, the girls need to first become uncomfortable, perhaps even desperate to get his attention, while you and the other devisors keep him safely away from them."
"I'll talk to the others and let you know," Monkeywrench replied. "But remember one thing - 'Shine is one of ours. You mess with him, you're messing with all of us. We'll be watching you to make sure you don't pull any funny crap with him. You're an upperclassman - you should know just how well us labcoat-types take care of our own." The threat wasn't veiled, nor was it lost on the Don.
"Fair enough." The Don turned and strode toward the elevators up to Kane. He still had a lot of work to do, but things were coming together neatly. Neither of the girls had any clue what he was up to.
Thursday, September 27, 2007 - After Classes
Schuster Hall, Whateley Academy
"Ma'am?" Bobby Earl asked meekly, stepping in front of the desk of the main administrative secretary, Elaine Claire, who was so occupied with paperwork that she hadn't even glanced up from her computer.
"Yes?" Ms. Claire said as she glanced up. "Oh, Mr. Fields. Mrs. Shugendo is waiting for you in her office. She's down the hall in …."
"I know where her office is," Bobby Earl replied casually and smiling, trying not to sound like a smart-ass. "I've been there … a few times." He started to turn, but looked back, a worried wrinkle across his brow. "Um, am I in trouble for something?"
"Not that I'm aware of," Ms. Claire replied easily. "If you were, you'd probably have a security escort."
Shrugging since there was nothing he could do anyway whether he was in trouble or not, Bobby Earl walked to the Dean of Students' office, pausing to knock on the door frame. "Ma'am?" He poked his head around the doorway to look in - and his jaw dropped in shock. "Ma? What … are you doing here?"
Mrs. Fields rose and practically dashed to her son, wrapping her arms around him in a warm hug. "Ah come all the way up here from Tennessee," she said in a chiding tone, "and this is the welcome Ah get?"
"I'm glad to see you," Bobby Earl replied uncertainly, "but I … I'm confused. Why are you here?"
"What, a woman cain't miss her baby boy?" Mrs. Fields retorted quickly.
"But … I figured you'd be up for Parents' Day, but that's not for another month!" He scowled. "And I'm not a baby boy!"
"And look at you!" Mrs. Fields stepped back a half-step, still holding Bobby Earl's hands. "Ah always told folk you'd clean up right nice, but … dangit, boy, y'all look like a movie star or somethin'!" The boy blushed. "And listen to you - y'all sound like a professional businessman, not a backwoods Tennessee boy!" She wiped at a non-existent tear as she said with a grin, "Makes a woman right proud o' how her boy is growin' up!"
Mrs. Shugendo's smile reflected a bit of sadness. "I wish we could say that it's all Whateley's doing," she reported. "But teenage boys are usually only motivated by one thing."
"Teenage girls," Mrs. Fields said, nodding in agreement. "Which brings us back to why Ah'm here. Ah've been looking at how much money y'all are spending," her expression became stern, "and for the life of me, Ah cain't figger out why a teenage boy would need some fancy dresses or an evening gown! Or pricey perfume! Or jewelry! Less'n y'all got some little hobby y'all ain't never told me 'bout!"
Bobby Earl's cheeks were nearly incandescent from blushing. "Ma, it's not like that! I just got a couple of little gifts …."
"Little?" Mrs. Fields' mouth dropped open. "Y'all call a seven hundred dollar dress little?"
"It's not like I can't afford it if I want to give a small gift to a girl!" Bobby Earl protested.
"Y'all keep spendin' money like that, and one day y'all are gonna wake up and find yer money's gone and ya cain't afford it no more!" his mom shot back. "The way Ah see it, them gals are takin' advantage of you!"
Bobby Earl started to protest, but from the corner of his eye, he saw Mrs. Shugendo nod her agreement. "There are … rumors," Mrs. Shugendo added, "and while you were in France, there was a lot of name-calling and fighting between the two of them. Unfortunately, their squabbles never rose to anything where administration or security had to intervene, and the accusations weren't specific enough that any of us in administration could … investigate, but that doesn't mean we aren't still watching." She glanced at a clock on the wall. "Why don't we go to the cafeteria, where we can talk more about how your son is doing over dinner?" she suggested.
Mrs. Shugendo and Shine's mom made small talk as they walked through Schuster toward the cafeteria; he was content to hang a step back and try to be invisible, lest one woman or the other thought of some anecdote or incident regarding him to relate to the other woman.
Bobby Earl was surprised when Mrs. Shugendo turned away from the main student serving line, which was already quite backed up as the evening dinner rush was well under way. Instead, she led the boy and his mom around a corner, and they came to a much smaller serving line.
"So it's true that the faculty gets the good food," Bobby Earl said with a twinkle in his eye.
"Yes," Mrs. Shugendo answered with a wry smile. "I'm told the cooks practice and practice their new dishes, and only when they get them right do they serve the staff. The results of the practicing - that goes in the student line!"
Mrs. Fields was holding her tray on the serving line, gawking at the food. "Ah cain't afford none of this!" she declared softly, trying to read the placards that named the various dishes. Most of them had fancy names; she doubted there'd be one that said simply 'Meatloaf' or 'Mashed Potatoes'. "And Ah cain't pronounce most of it neither!"
"Ma," Bobby Earl said, half-rolling his eyes, "you can't play that game with me. I know Mr. Easterbrook takes you out to fancy restaurants often enough, especially when you travel with us."
"Besides, Mrs. Fields," Mrs. Shugendo added with a smile, "the cafeteria accommodates our guests without charge."
A few minutes and some judicious dining suggestions later, the trio ascended the elevator to the staff dais at the top level of Crystal Hall. There was another faculty and staff dining area out of sight of the students, but most of the time, having a few staff members at the top level quelled unrest and tensions among the students.
"Bobby Earl," Mrs. Fields said after sitting and then saying a silent prayer over her food, "do y'all remember what your grandpappy said 'bout women?"
The boy hung his head. "Yes'm," he said, blushing furiously. "He said the only two kinds of women you spent lots of money on were a wife, to keep her from running off with someone else, or a …," his voice softened considerably, "or a whore."
"And if you spent a lot of money on a whore, she'd better be damned good at her trade," he finished softly, embarrassment in his voice at being pressured to speak like that in front of Mrs. Shugendo. He scowled deeply. "I don't think it's fair to imply that Alexis or Heather are whores!" he defended the two girls.
Mrs. Shugendo put her hand gently on the boy's arm. "I don't think your mother is implying that the girls are … um … shall we say extra-friendly types. It's just that, well, in the lead up to your trip to France, they were both acting a little … possessive might be the best word."
"And they was getting' y'all to buy them fancy stuff. Expensive stuff," Mrs. Fields added before scowling. "The question is, are yah getting' anythin' in return?"
Bobby Earl nearly choked on a piece of scallop he'd just started to chew. After managing to avoid choking and getting the seafood down his gullet, coughing, he gawked in shocked disbelief at his mom. "Ma!" he whined in protest, hoping that she'd catch on to how embarrassing the conversation was for him. "We can talk later," he hissed sharply. "In private!"
"No, we'll talk here with Mrs. Shugendo, since she is the dean of students. Or if'n you'd like, we can get your house parents here, too."
"But ma," Bobby Earl objected, "this is my private life! It'd be bad enough to talk about girls and … stuff … with just you, without you dragging half the adults on campus into the conversation!"
Mrs. Shugendo somehow managed an empathetic look of support and understanding. "Bobby Earl, while you're at Whateley, we are acting as your parents, and are legally and morally responsible for you. It's a principle called in loco parentis," she shot a smile to Mrs. Fields, "and no, it doesn't mean crazy parents! What it does mean is that some of the Whateley staff, including me, your house parents, possibly the counseling staff if you were receiving counseling - a bunch of Whateley adults are legally obligated to have such conversations with you if necessary."
"And your Ma has decided it's necessary," Mrs. Fields said emphatically. "So, in exchange for some pretty pricey gifts, are you getting' any?" she asked bluntly.
It took a second for Bobby Earl to pick his jaw up off his plate. "Ma!" he protested strongly. "That's kinda personal!"
"If y'all are spendin' money on gals and getting sex in exchange, then they're whores."
"And if you are spending money getting gifts for said girls and getting nothing in exchange," Mrs. Shugendo continued without missing a beat, "then it's highly probable that they're using you to get access to your money."
"But it's my money!"
"Well, Larry had a look at the law, and as he's your agent and you're under eighteen, technically he and I are joint custodians of your accounts until you reach the age of maturity."
Mrs. Shugendo nodded. "Most states set up such conditions for earnings from minors in order to prevent the minor from frivolously dissipating the funds while also providing a full audit trail in case a state's Child Protective Services wished to verify that your custodians weren't robbing you blind."
"So while it's your money, Larry and Ah are watching it, and Tennessee Department of Children's Services is watching us to make sure we don't allow you to squander your money."
Mrs. Shugendo nodded. "And as you're at Whateley and we're serving in loco parentis, the New Hampshire Child Protection Services monitors us to ensure that any of your funds that we oversee in the state of New Hampshire - such as an allowance for lab fees and books and supplies - is similarly safeguarded."
The boy frowned deeply. "So are you saying that if I want to buy an ice cream for a girl, I need to get permission from Ma, the staff here at Whateley, and the children's' services bureaucrats from Tennessee and New Hampshire?"
Mrs. Shugendo put her hand back on the arm of the now-agitated boy. "I see you're doing quite well with the fine arts of hyperbole and sarcasm in your English classes!" She let her smile fade. "It's not that petty. There's broad discretion of how you spend money for things a normal boy, or in our case, a normal Whateley student, would buy."
"And Ah'm pretty certain evening gowns and makeup are not considered normal expenses for a normal boy," Mrs. Fields interjected.
"I … see," Bobby Earl said slowly. Though he was a multi-millionaire, he really couldn't spend his money however he wanted, at least not until he turned eighteen. He was formulating a response when there was a disturbance on the lower levels of the cafeteria.
"Where is he?" a shrill agitated girl's voice echoed through Crystal Hall. "What kind of lies did you tell him to get him to break his dinner date with me?"
The trio at the table on the top dais looked toward the sound, coming as it did from the student serving area. Two girls were toe-to-toe, and both looked highly angry.
"What if he doesn't want to be with a tramp like you, hmm?" Alexis screamed right back at Heather. "Did that thought ever penetrate your thick skull?"
"Tramp?" Heather countered sharply. "That's precious coming from a whore with a reputation of doing anything for twenty bucks!"
Mrs. Shugendo hastily picked up her cell phone and rapidly dialed. "Security, Mrs. Shugendo. Tell your teams in the cafeteria to hold back until I give the okay." There was a moment of silence. "Yeah, I know. Let them fight, unless one of them gets a serious injury." A wicked grin spread on her face. "It'll be a good dinner show. And hold back the Betas and any other auxiliaries. Got it?" Another pause. "Good. I'm watching from up top. I'll signal if I think it's getting out of hand."
Downstairs, the arguing girls were rapidly gaining the attention of everyone in the caf, including one upperclassman who sat back and watched with a grin. This was playing out almost perfectly; the two had been needled and emotionally prodded until they were like bombs ready to detonate, and having seen Bobby Earl go upstairs with Mrs. Shugendo and a woman who was probably his mother, the Don intercepted the first girl he saw - Heather - and gave her the last little psychic nudge, effectively lighting the fuse. Then he sat back with Staci and Traci to watch the show.
"You lying cunt!" Alexis snarled. "I'm not a cheap lay, unlike you!"
"No," Heather agreed. "What I heard is that you've been making money as a hooker after your alcoholic dad pissed away your family's money and businesses!"
Alexis gave Heather a shove, which caused Heather to drop her tray noisily. Neither girl noticed how deathly quiet it was in the Caf, as everyone was fixated on the girls' little spat. "That's bold talk from a girl who spends her evenings banging any random guy in Twain!" Heather's jaw dropped in disbelief at the lie Alexis was telling, giving Alexis a chance for another verbal shot. "Hint, dearie - charge more for your services so you can keep up the pretense of family wealth!"
"What would you call a girl who mooches a six-hundred-dollar dress from her so-called love interest while banging other guys?" Heather challenged as she made an attempt to slap Alexis.
Alexis dodged and grabbed Heather's arm, pulling her forward since she was slightly off-balance, and raked at her rival's face with her fingernails. "At least I didn't have or trade sex for presents!"
"No, you just begged and promised future sex," Heather screamed as she grabbed Alexis' hair to get a handhold. "That makes you a cheap lying whore!"
"Admit it - you only want his money!" Alexis shot back, trying to pull away from her rival and being rewarded with pain in her scalp. She changed tactics instantly, trying to grapple Heather so the hair pulling would be less painful.
"At least I'm not a gold-digging whore! Did your mommy and daddy tell you to find a rich boy to sink your claws into to help with their money problems?" Heather taunted, scratching at Alexis' arm hard enough to draw a little blood.
"I don't need my parents telling me what to do!" Alexis shouted back. She managed to get her arms around her rival, and immediately tried unsuccessfully to throw the girl to the floor.
"Are you sure mommy and daddy didn't tell you how to change him, to make him more acceptable to your so-called upper-class snobby social groups?" Heather lurched, and got the girls off balance, tumbling to the floor in a flailing mass of arms and legs.
As the two rolled around, trying to gain an advantage to hit, claw, or pull the hair of the opponent, Alexis screamed at Heather, "Did you give him a thank-you fuck for the necklace you wheedled out of him?"
"What the fuck difference does it make to you? You don't care about him! All you care about is his money!" Heather screamed angrily.
"And you do care?" Alexis snorted. "You'd probably be banging the pool boy while he was at work! And the mailman, too. You're such a slut!""
"Like you'd be faithful, you low-rent hooker!" Trading jabs, scratches, and hair pulls, the two continued their fight as they rolled around the floor, screaming insults at each other in loud, explicit, profane, and quite revealing language as if they'd completely forgotten that they were in public, not that they hadn't already said more than enough.
Up on the staff tier, Mrs. Shugendo and Mrs. Fields watched and listened silently, their countenances both guardedly neutral to avoid even a hint of an 'I told you so' expression. Without taking her eyes off the boy, Mrs. Shugendo picked up her cell phone and pressed a couple of buttons. "The dinner show is over. Break up the fight and take them to Kane."
Bobby Earl's expression flashed disbelief, and then slowly, a resigned look took over, his eyes lowering as if in surrender to the fact that others had warned him and that they'd been right. "Ah've been a fool, haven't Ah?" he said slowly to his mother, his polished accent vanishing instantly in a subconscious rebuff to the two girls who'd been trying to manipulate him.
Mrs. Fields put her hands on her son's. "Bobby Earl, when it comes to women, there ain't a man alive who can avoid havin' a woman make a monkey out of him."
"Listen to your mother," Mrs. Shugendo said softly. "You're not the first boy who's fallen for some devious girl's plots and machinations, and you won't be the last."
Bobby Earl picked at his food for a bit, then paused, his fork stabbed into a piece of meatloaf that was still on his plate. "Well, Ah still got mah labs, and Ah got a whole mess o' friends who was tryin' t' warn me about them two."
Mrs. Shugendo nodded. "Why don't you and your mom go down and finish dinner with your devisor friends?" she suggested. "And then maybe you and your friends can show her around the labs."
Thursday, September 27, 2007 - Late
Devisor Tunnels, Whateley Academy
"Y'all ain't gonna get in trouble for sharing some … with your friends?" Mrs. Fields asked as she and Bobby Earl walked through the tunnels from his lab.
The boy shrugged. "Weren't but a tiny taste of a couple o' batches," he replied. "'Sides, Mrs. Shugendo knows Ah was distraught over them two gals and such, so she'll probably cut me a little slack. Nobody got drunk or nothin' either."
"That … uh … monkey boy …"
"Monkeywrench," Bobby Earl interjected. "Least wise, that's his code name."
"Ah, okay. Monkeywrench. He's kind of a hoot, ain't he?"
"Yeah. Ah'm gonna have t' figger out a way t' make him some banana liqueur for him," Bobby Earl said nonchalantly. "He kinda' takes the whole monkey-banana thing as a signature thing, so no-one can make fun of him for it."
"And since they's watchin' you so close, Ah assume y'all have a secret still somewhere?" She heard a small gasp and sensed rather than saw a slight stutter to his step. "Aw, don't go tryin' t' deny it. We's moonshiners, goin' back t' before prohibition. Ah'd be surprised if y' didn't have a secret still somewhere!" she laughed.
"Well, maybe Ah'll find time t' set one up," Bobby Earl replied. "It's been kinda busy." It was time to change the subject - just in case there were unwanted ears - or devises - listening in. "Are y' goin' t' stay thru tomorrow, like Mrs. Shugendo suggested, and go t' mah classes?"
A guffaw escaped from Mrs. Fields. "Anythin' that your teachers was talkin' 'bout would be over man head! Ah didn't get no schoolin' past eighth grade, remember?" She smiled. "Yeah, that sounds like it'd be fun," she said before a worry wrinkle showed on her forehead. "As long as Ah won't embarrass you!" she added hastily. "Ah know they say some kids get embarrassed by their folks."
"Why would Ah be embarrassed?" the boy asked, astonished. "Ah know you could out-shoot, out-drink, and out-cuss any of 'em, and out-fight most of 'em! How could that embarrass me?"
The two chatted more about school as they walked toward the surface and then the guest cottage. Bobby Earl didn't even flinch when his mom gave him a hug and told him to 'sleep tight', quite unlike most teens would have reacted. With a strange lightness to his step that he suddenly realized came from feeling quite free from Alexis' and Heather's plots and schemes and constant whining for favors, and their efforts to 'improve' him, the boy turned down the walk toward Melville Cottage.
As he stepped into the elevator in Melville, instead of pushing the button for his floor, he selected a higher floor. He strode down the hall, ignoring the girls walking around, some of whom tittered when they saw him, and knocked firmly on one specific door.
"Good evenin'," he said when the door opened and a head peeked out. "Ah hope Ah'm not interruptin' anythin'."
Jadis smiled. "Somehow, I expected you to visit sometime this evening or tomorrow."
The boy winced, blushing a tiny bit. "Ah … Ah feel like Ah need t' apologize."
An eyebrow crept up Jadis' forehead. "Oh? Why would you need to apologize? I don't recall you doing anything that would have offended me."
"You tried t' warn me 'bout Alexis and Heather," Bobby Earl confessed. "Ah ignored you, but you were right. Next time, Ah'll know t' listen better."
"Well, I'm glad you didn't get hurt worse or get taken too badly." She tried to be compassionate, but after a moment, her expression broke and she couldn't help guffawing. "I should thank you for enabling the very amusing dinner theater tonight. That was quite … interesting."
"Ah'm glad everyone enjoyed it. To be honest, it would have been better if it was someone else, though. It was kind of embarrassin' to have it come out in public that they was usin' me like that."
"I'm sure there will be many other romantic incidents with other students that have at least as much entertainment value. This is a high school, after all," Jadis chuckled. She carefully omitted mentioning that most of the school had already known of the two girls' schemes, lest it embarrass him even more.
"Well, thanks again, and 'nite." Bobby Earl started to turn, but stopped. "By the way, y'all wouldn't have had anythin' t' do with Mrs. Shugendo lettin' that little … discussion ... happen, or with mah Ma comin' today, would you?"
"I'm not one to interfere in family affairs," Jadis said with a shrug. "Now, it's my turn for a question."
"I noticed that your speech pattern changed pretty drastically and pretty quickly after the fight back to what it was when you first got here."
The boy blushed a bit. "Ah know mah Ma would like it if'n Ah kept talkin' like a fancy businessman, but t' be honest, it was pretty hard t' keep it up. 'Sides, all mah friends in the labs said Ah sound better bein' mahself."
"I tend to agree. Good night, Bobby Earl."
"Nite." As the door closed, Bobby Earl strode toward the elevator. It had been an interesting day, and despite the disappointment with the girls, he felt kind of relieved that it was all over. In the elevator, he slipped a small silver flask from his trouser pocket and took a long sip to celebrate his freedom from the two manipulative girls.