Author's note: I am polishing off the last scene of the first draft now, so this is the last chapter that I will be publishing until chapter one is republished as draft two. It's going to be a lot different from how it is now. I'm going to spend the next month or so ironing out the details and then I'm gonna start working on the second draft. It will hopefully be more concise and well-written than this one. However, I hope you can still enjoy this. I'm quite proud of some of the humor:)
The next few days had little to offer in terms of excitement. Charles went to Spanish, math, science, and keyboarding on Tuesday. The only really notable thing that happened was Mr. Buckley accidently blasting rock music to the whole class while they were supposed to be reading a chapter from the textbook. He was one of Charles's favorite teachers, even though he was lazy and gave boring assignments. He told them that the content got more interesting after third year. The Spanish teacher was kind of hard to understand because she was actually from a Spanish speaking country, Colombia, and had a very thick accent. Math was math and keyboarding was monotonous.
He took the Flesheater History test first thing Wednesday morning. After studying with Cory's flashcards several times and discussing Ewan Butler with him, Charles was certain he had enough down to achieve at least a C on the test. He got new assignments in the rest of his classes that day, including physical training. They were supposed to write a two page report on how the school meals contributed to physical fitness. Charles wasn't looking forward to it. Detention was nothing new either; it was pretty straight forward and generally boring after the first time.
Friday presented several new things, including Charles's very first strategy class. They shared the class with Team Blue, which Charles was glad of, since it gave him an opportunity to talk to Louis, and with Team Green. The first part of class was a lecture on the importance of communication. The rest of the class time was spent beginning a project on effective communication among diverse groups of people. Their teacher explained that it would help them in the first training exercise. He also told the class what they would be doing the next week; they would present their projects, then participate in an obstacle course designed to test their new skills.
Charles really enjoyed the class; the lecture was amazing and the teacher, Mr. Kassady, was phenomenal. He was really world aware and knowledgeable. At one point a student from Team Green made a snarky comment about how the school's technology ban didn't exactly encourage communication and Mr. Kassady had simply replied that he shouldn't talk about things that he didn't understand. His teammates who had initially laughed and patted him on the back jumped right onto Mr. Kassady's comeback bandwagon. Charles was just amused by his teacher's matter-of-fact attitude towards the situation.
The day before, Charles had asked permission from Ross to add Louis to the band of Halloween booby trappers and Ross had given it, with a catch. Well, with three catches. First, Louis had to promise not to so much as hint anything to his team or any of the others. Second, he had to help them build the traps, and third, he had to do some detention with them. Charles said he didn't know how to ask him about the last two catches, so Ross gave in to just the first. Charles and Louis paired up for the strategy project and it was then that Charles recruited Louis.
Charles had stopped working suddenly and asked, "If I tell you a secret, will you promise not to tell anyone? Not even your teammates."
Louis had acquiesced and Charles had proceeded to explain the entire plan for Halloween. It had developed a bit since Ross had first presented it to them, but there was still one thing missing, something that Charles hoped Louis would be able to help them figure out. They were not sure how they would manage to pin the blame on Team Maroon. As it turned out, Louis did have a pretty good idea, although Charles wasn't sure how Ross would react to it. They agreed that Louis should come to detention with them that night and suggest it then.
The subject was brought up by Adam. He thought it was about time they actually come up with a plan, not just a sort of outline.
"We've still got a few weeks," Ross said, dismissing Adam's concerns.
"I have an idea," Louis said.
Everyone looked at him, waiting for him to explain.
"What if we don't actually booby trap Team Maroon?" Louis said. His words were met mostly with confusion, so he continued. "What if we do all the other teams, including our own, but not Team Maroon. How are they supposed to accuse us if we're the victims and they're not?"
Ross folded his arms. "I'd almost rather go to detention than prank everyone besides those that actually deserve it."
Louis bit his lip. "Okay. So what if we booby trap everyone then? I mean, they'd probably say that we set them up anyway, by making ourselves look like the victims."
Adam nodded. "It could work. But how would we prove it was them?"
Charles stepped in. "We could plant something. We could plant a piece of evidence, like a possession of one of the Team Maroon members, to make it seem like they were at one of the scenes."
"That's a good idea," Cory said. "But we should plant it somewhere besides our dormitory, that way we're not the only ones accusing Maroon. I suggest the Team Green dormitory. They're not scared of Team Maroon and they are cocky enough to approach them about it. In fact, I think it's likely that they'll want to make a scene, in order to kind of humiliate the Maroon kids."
Almost everyone seemed to be agreeing with the plan, but Ross was just upset that it had pretty much been taken over by a random kid from Team Navy, who he was sure didn't even like him. He frowned at Louis and did the only thing he could think of.
"How do we know you're on our side?" he asked. "How do we know you're not loyal to your team? Everyone knows that Team Navy is basically under Maroon's control. Team Brown has called you guys 'the sidekicks' for years. How do we know we can trust you?"
"Louis is a good guy and he's my friend," Charles said. "How do you know we can trust Sammy?"
Ross clenched his hands into fists. "Sammy is one of us. We've always been able to trust him. He's more a part of Team Brown than some people who are actually on this team."
Lennon glared at him. "You missed one, Charles," she said.
"What?" asked Charles.
"I know you gave Cory a lecture or something. There's no other way to explain the lack of insults this week. I guess you never got around to Ross."
"Well, it's true, isn't it?" Ross said. You don't belong here, Lennon. You should be on Team Maroon with your stupid friends and Sammy should be here with us."
Charles's eyes and mouth were all wide open. He wasn't sure what to do. It seemed all he had done was make a bigger mess. He could see Lennon turning pale and Ross didn't seem to be backing off. It was all his fault. How was he supposed to fix it? How could he expect any of them to be his friends when he had caused this great rift between them?Cory squeezed his shoulder, somehow sensing what Charles was thinking. It gave Charles a little bit of strength, but he was a little too late. He started to walk in between them to stop the fight that was likely coming. After one step he saw Lennon break out in tears and dash out of the cafeteria. Mary glared at Ross, called him an idiot, and followed Lennon out of the cafeteria.
Just like that, it was all over. Ross relaxed, looking childish and embarrassed. Everyone watched him for a few seconds, then most of them went back to their various cleaning tasks. Charles, Louis, Ross, and Sammy were left alone in the middle of the room. Ross avoided Louis's eyes, but reached out to shake his hand. Charles shook Sammy's hand.
"I'm sorry," Ross said. "That was really stupid of me."
Louis smiled. "It's fine. I've been on Team Navy all week and I've noticed. They make out Eric to be some sort of hero and Charles is basically the new villain. The problem was, I knew Charles before I knew any of them. First of all, Charles is not the villain type, he's more of a mediator. Second of all, I'm not ruining my chances with his sister."
Ross looked confused. "His sister?"
Louis just smiled. "Ask him to show you a picture some time."
Charles rolled his eyes, then looked at Sammy. "I'm sorry, Sammy. I was just trying to get Ross to understand."
Sammy nodded. "I know. Ross can be kind of slow sometimes. He gets offended first, thinks later. No offense, Ross."
Ross shook his head. "No, that pretty much sums up what just happened. I feel like such a jerk. I didn’t really mean to say all that to Lennon. And now I'm going to be getting the stink eye from Mary for the rest of my life."
"What was that all about, by the way? I thought Mary was the nice one?" Charles said.
Rossraised his eyebrows. "She's not exactly nice. I mean, usually she is nice and happy, but sometimes she's like that. She's more like the mother around here. And she's been really protective of Lennon lately, but I'm not sure why. I thought she felt the same thing as the rest of us when Lennon got onto Team Brown, especially because of what happened with Cory. I guess things have changed in some way or another."
"I told Cory that we need to give Lennon a chance because we don't know if she's changed," Charles said. "She could hate Eric just as much as the rest of us do."
Ross flashed a small grin. "So she was right about the lecture thing. Well, she's smart. I guess she probably only really knew Eric for a week and she decided she'd better get out of there. Maybe that's what it was."
"It could be. One day we may find out."
The next week was almost a blur. Between schoolwork, detention, and building traps, Charles was too busy for anything else. The rest of Team Brown was completely unaware of Ross's grand Halloween scheme. Ross was excited and buzzing around everywhere. He had gone to Headmaster Perkins's office on Wednesday to ask for permission to use the fire pit, committing Mr. Buckley to fire duty. They needed an adult to start and supervise the fire. On the condition that Team F didn't step out of line in the next two weeks, he agreed to lend them the pit on Halloween.
Ross had spread the headmaster's parting words around the whole team. He had asked Ross to keep their agreement to himself and his teammates if he actually wanted to use the fire pit. He warned him that some teachers and students wouldn't appreciate it. Ross was sure he was referring to Miss Perry and he thought it was hilarious. The rest of them thought it was pretty funny too.
Lennon had isolated herself from the rest of the team ever since detention on Friday. She sat by Mary and ignored any contact everyone else attempted to make with her. She seemed really upset by what Ross had said. On his part, Ross steered clear of her, believing that the only way to get along was to give her some space. Charles thought it was a bit cowardly of him, but he didn't argue with him about it. Lennon wasn't talking to him or Cory either, and the only time Louis had tried talking to her, she'd only shrugged in response. Louis had come back to Charles basically agreeing with Ross.
"I'm giving her some space," he'd said, shaking his head. "I'm not on her bad side yet, but I have a feeling that it wouldn't be so hard for me to get there. I don't want her to hate me."
"You know, someday you're going to have to choose between her and Veronica," Charles had joked.
Louis had looked confused for a short time, but realization finally dawned. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Veronica is your sister."
Lennon helped out with detention, but she stayed away from everyone. The cook had asked Cory what was wrong on Tuesday night and he'd shrugged and told her he thought Lennon was having a bad week. The time flew by so quickly that Charles had almost forgotten the training exercise that was scheduled for Saturday. Cory reminded him of it on Friday, as did their strategy teacher, who turned out to be an excellent obstacle course creator.
Team Brown was to meet in the cafeteria at five minutes before six o'clock. Charles was excited, a little too excited, he imagined. The others on Team Brown F were just as excited as he was. Since they were first years, they hadn't experienced a training exercise yet and they were all ready for some action that didn't involve Team Maroon picking on them. They would have more of that in the next twelve days, but most of them believed the training exercise would jumpstart their adrenaline and prepare them for Halloween. Charles was hoping the team would be able to bandage things before then so they could actually get along well enough to pull off their conspiracy.
Charles wrote a letter to Veronica before he went to bed on Friday night, telling her all that had happened in the last two weeks. He missed her, but he admitted that he was having a great time and was glad he'd taken the opportunity. He planned to post the letter the next morning.
On Saturday, they decided to relax. They'd been working hard all week, on homework and various preparations for Halloween. They would start setting up traps the night before, Sammy would find a valuable Team Maroon identifier laying around somewhere in his dormitory, and they would plant that item in the dormitory of one of the green teams. They had simple snares, tripwires, actual real trapping devices, and even some minor pranks, including fake stair steps, honey for the door handles, and bags of confetti designed to spill all over unsuspecting students when triggered. They were ready to wreak havoc on Halloween already, but they still needed to polish off their preparations. After lunch Charles did a bit of homework, but he couldn't concentrate and remembering that he hadn't yet posted his letter, he decided to do that instead. He and Cory went to the library after he'd dropped the letter I to the metal box in the entrance hall.
As six o'clock slowly approached, Team Brown members filtered out of their rooms and began to plod towards the cafeteria. It was already dark outside, with the top of the sun hang onto the horizon. The windows they passed glowed with the fading light and for the first time, Charles wondered what was really going to happen during "The Messenger." Most of the team was already in the cafeteria, gathered around their tables when Cory, Charles, Ross, Parker, Adam, and Lewis entered.
Charlesseemed to always forget about Lewis's existence. He was quiet and difficult to notice, even though they shared a room. The rest of the Team Brown F boys were so rowdy, Charles thought that if Miss Perry had wanted to trade Lennon out of her team, the best one to trade her for was Lewis. Why would she want a rambunctious friend of Team Brown spoiling her group of students? It seemed more probable that she would pick the quiet kid who wouldn't bother Team Maroon's reputation. Or was it possible she thought she could mold Sammy into someone like Eric? Maybe she'd thought he'd had the right type of personality.
Whatever Miss Perry had thought, she had been wrong. Sammy was completely loyal to Team Brown and Charles was sure he would remain so. It made him believe that it couldn't have been Miss Perry who chose Sammy for her team. If so, she was probably either regretting that choice, or she was lending false hope to the idea that Sammy would, with enough pressure, bend to her will. It was really no good to speculate because he might never find out why Lennon and Sammy seemed to have been placed on the wrong teams.
By six o'clock, all 65 people on Team Brown had arrived, which included the five seniors who were not participating in any programs or internships that semester. They would be included in the Team A exercise, the Juniors. Mr. Buckley gathered them all into the middle of the room and began to explain the rules and objectives of "The Messenger."In theory, the challenge was relatively simple. The teams got two rectangles of territory laid out in a single row and separated by the territories of the other four teams. Each team had two objectives: to deliver two specific messages across the other teams' territories and to intercept messengers from other teams to keep them from getting their messages. Each team in the first territory would have a different question for their first message, which the messenger had to carry, sealed to their teammates in the second area. That team had to answer the question without saying a word, seal the answer in a new envelope, then the messenger had to carry their answer to the original group. The first team to answer correctly, following all of the rules, would win the game.
Charles wasn't sure they could pull it off, especially after all that had occurred in the last week. Everyone had stressed so far the need for effective communication, and even while they had discussed contributing factors in Strategy, if there was one thing the team had not done much of that week, it was communicate. One of the members literally hadn't said a word to him in the past week and both Lewis and Mary were close behind. He knew that if they did win, it would probably salvage the team bond they were supposed to have and that they did have for a couple of days. But he also realized how impossible it was for them to win under this pressure when they were already falling apart without it.
The rules amounted to not looking into the sealed envelopes unless given permission by unbiased judges who would be accompanying the teams. The only other defined rule was no maiming or injuring in any way. There were a few others, like staying inside the boundaries, but that had seemed obvious anyway and the messengers would have to be trusted to follow that rule because it would be hard to enforce.
The list of rules ended abruptly and the Team Brown students were herded outside to buses where they would be riding with the other grade level teams. All teams F squeezed themselves onto a bright yellow, not quite big enough school bus, with no idea of their destination. They rode for several minutes, then stopped in a clearing a few miles away from the academy. Team territories were divided equally and marked by safety tape in the color of the team whose territory it was. Eric complained almost immediately that he couldn't be expected to remain within the boundaries when in Team Brown's territory because the tape apparently blended in too well with the dirt at his feet. Charles rolled his eyes at the absurd comment. The tape was much darker than the dirt below and easily distinguishable from it.
Once the complaints had been resolved, Mr. Buckley welcomed them all to the first training exercise, briefly wished them luck, advised them to choose their messenger immediately, and finally he bid them farewell and sent them off to " begin the games." In no more than two seconds, the large group of first years set off running into the training area, shouting as they went. Charles looked back as he followed his team into the forest and saw Mr. Buckley watching him. He nodded stiffly and turned towards the buses. Charles wondered how Mr. Buckley managed to put up with Team Brown. He had been doing for so long. Maybe that's why he just didn't care anymore; this role had worn him out. Was it Team Maroon's fault or Miss Perry's? Or was it perhaps their fault all along?