Authors: Michelle Knudsen
“I gotta run, Cyn!” she calls back to me before she disappears. “I’ll see you later!”
I stand there, watching the space where she was standing. The students around me continue to mill about, not making much progress toward wherever they should be going.
The bell rings, and all of us are late, but no one seems to even notice this but me.
If I were to make a little list of all the things I most want to do at this moment, I can pretty much guarantee that this would not be on it: walking back down the hall toward Signor De Luca’s classroom.
I don’t like him. He never smiles and he wears strangely irritating ties and he always grades me just a little lower than I think I deserve. I shouldn’t care that he’s standing there looking as lost and vacant as the students who still remain in the hall. Plenty of kids moved from class to class just like normal between the bells, talking and laughing and walking and running and dropping things and picking them up and pushing each other playfully, and less playfully, and whispering and wishing and everything else. It’s not like
was doing what they’re supposed to be doing. But you rarely saw even one or two students standing around after the bell. There have to be at least fifteen or so that I can see. And something is wrong with them. That is clear. And I know what it is. Or at least, I know who is responsible. My brain makes little noises of objection at this thought, but I don’t listen. I know what I know. Not that I have the faintest idea how or why.
But Signor De Luca had not been anywhere near the librarian when he became wrong. Signor De Luca had seemed totally fine until Annie went up to talk to him after class. And then
had been fine, and Signor De Luca had been — like he is now. Not fine.
I take a breath and walk back toward the classroom. Around me, most of the lingering students seem to be drifting slowly off, beginning to move with a slightly more purposeful sense about them. But only slightly. Signor De Luca is still looking down the hall, toward the stairwell where Annie disappeared.
He doesn’t seem to hear me. I think for a moment, and then I say, slowly and clearly, “Hey! Mr. De Luca!”
Now he blinks and turns toward me, seeming to notice me for the first time. “
De Luca,” he says, but without his usual snarkiness. Usually he bites our heads off if we forget to use the Italian form of address.
“Yes, sorry, signore. Um, are you okay?”
“I don’t —” He peers at me as though he’s trying to make out some cryptic message written across my face. “Yes. I’m — I’m fine. For a second, I just —”
He looks around at the now nearly empty hallway, then back at me. His eyes narrow into suspicious slits. “Shouldn’t you be in class, signorina?”
I sigh and walk away. He seems to be recovering.
Without giving myself too much time to think about it, I march downstairs to Annie’s economics class. I can see her through the open doorway, sitting attentively, notebook open before her on her desk. Before I can chicken out, I knock on the door and step inside. The teacher turns to look at me, eyebrows raised.
“I’m sorry to interrupt, Ms. Bennett, but Principal Morse sent me to ask Annie Gibson to come to the office. She —” I pause for the slightest instant. “She has a phone call.”
Ms. Bennett looks instantly concerned. Her worry about what sort of emergency might involve a phone call in the middle of class conveniently distracts her from asking if I have a pass from the principal’s secretary, or anything like that. Annie gives me a
what are you doing?
kind of look but obediently gathers up her things and follows me out.
I lead us down the hall toward the office but then continue past it, ducking into the first empty classroom we come to. I close the door as soon as Annie comes in behind me.
“Cyn, what —?”
“Annie, what is going on?”
“What are you talking about?
out of class, remember? I’m assuming I don’t actually have a phone call. Unless it’s from the insane asylum, warning me that my best friend is a crazy person.” She looks at me expectantly.
Not letting myself think too much about getting to this moment has had the unfortunate side effect of leaving me somewhat unprepared in terms of what to say next. Annie’s not really mad, not yet, but she’s going to be.
I hate when she’s mad at me.
I force myself to take another deep breath and look her in the eyes.
“Annie, what happened with De Luca after class?”
She stares at me like I’ve just asked her why the ceiling is made of bees. “What?”
“What did you go up to talk to him about?”
“I had to ask him about the homework assignment for tomorrow. Why?”
“Ask him what, exactly?”
She crosses her arms and continues to stare at me incredulously. “Cyn, what is this about?”
“Do you remember touching him?”
“You touched his hand, when you were talking, and then —”
She laughs, a mean
I can’t even believe you
laugh. “What are you, spying on me now? Are you suggesting I have a thing for icky Italian teachers? I don’t know what’s up with you lately, Cyn, but I don’t like it.”
“Annie, listen to me. Please.” I then proceed to not say anything for several seconds while she stares at me with growing impatience. How the hell do I say this?
The evil librarian did something bad to you! I think he’s made you a danger to yourself and others!
“Okay. This is going to sound a little, uh, nuts.”
“I believe you.”
I take yet another deep breath. “Mr. Gabriel —”
She practically explodes. “I
it! I knew this had something to do with him! You can’t stand that I’m spending time with someone other than you, and now you’re making up excuses to get me out of class and accuse me of — of — of whatever it is you’re trying to accuse me of — I don’t even
“Annie, shut up and listen to me!”
That was actual screaming just then. We both glance nervously at the door. Then she crosses her arms again and goes back to staring at me, but at least she’s staring at me silently. Her face is blotchy with anger.
“There is something going on with Mr. Gabriel. It’s not about me being jealous. I mean, yes, I miss having more of you to myself, and I get that that makes me a selfish jerk, and I will work on that, but that’s not why I’m worried. You’re different around him. He makes you — weird. And whenever you start to realize how weird, he touches you and you forget. You’ve been skipping class and going in early and staying late and acting so
. . . What was wrong with you in Italian today? You were all spacey and not-there, just like those other kids in the hall afterward, and then —”
Annie holds up her hands and shakes her head, apparently unable to even speak to me. Her face has gotten even redder and blotchier.
“Stop it,” she whispers finally. “Just stop it. You
crazy. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m going back to class.”
I grab her arm before she can open the door.
me!” She tries to pull away but I don’t let go. I can’t try to start this conversation over again some other time. This is it, right now. I have to make her listen.
“No, Annie. Goddammit, listen to me. You did something to De Luca, do you even know that? You touched him and he got that same spacey thing that you’d had earlier. You touched him and then
were fine and he was messed up. What was that? Do you even know? Did you even know you did it?”
She keeps shaking her head at me, not saying anything. She backs into the door and I move with her, not releasing her arm.
“And all those kids in the hall, just standing around? I
him, Annie. I saw Mr. Gabriel doing that to other kids in the library. He’s
something. I don’t understand it, but I know it’s something bad. And you spend all that time with him, and now he’s got you doing things I don’t even think you know that you’re doing, and I’m so
Annie finally manages to rip her arm free and then uses it to push me away from her. I stumble back, looking at her helplessly. She’s not listening. She’s not hearing me at all.
“Fuck you, Cyn,” she says, which is kind of a shock because Annie hardly ever swears like that. And never at me. “I can’t believe you. I really can’t. For once I have something good happening, something fun and exciting, and you have to try to mess it up for me. You suck as a friend sometimes, you know that? I’m always there for you,
and you —”
I realize suddenly that she is close to crying. I reach out to her. “Annie, no, I’m not —”
She smacks my hand away. “Don’t talk to me. Just leave me alone.”
This time when she goes for the door, I let her.
At lunch, I find Leticia and Diane at our usual table near the last set of windows. They move their stuff to make room, then look behind me for Annie.
“Where’s your better half, Cyn?” Diane asks.
“She’s probably at the
” Leticia drawls, rolling her eyes. “That girl is crazy.”
“Yeah,” I say. Although they don’t know the half of it.
“Mr. Gabriel is pretty damn hot,” Diane says. Leticia rolls her eyes again, and Diane leans forward across the table. “No, really — have you seen that man close up? Seriously L, he’s like,
looking. Like once you start looking it’s hard to stop. We went to the library in English today to start working on thesis outlines, and I don’t think any of us managed to get anything done.”
I am on this instantly. “You went to the library? Are you okay?”
Leticia and Diane both turn to stare at me with identical
what the hell are you talking about?
“I mean, did anything weird happen? I heard — I heard some weird stuff about him, that’s all. The librarian.”
“Oooh, like what?” Leticia’s eyes go wide. “Is he a
librarian? Has he been reading aloud from the sexy parts of the books or something?”
Diane snickers. “He could read the frickin’ dictionary and make it sound sexy. He makes me want to do lots and lots of research. I think I’m going to write my paper on sex scenes. Do you think Mrs. Stiller would go for that?”
Leticia pretends to think about this. “You’d have to include a lot of footnotes with explanations. She probably wouldn’t understand a lot of it.”
“I could include some helpful diagrams.”
“Maybe you could get your sexy librarian to help you.”
“Ha! Annie would scratch my eyes out. You know she wants him all for herself.”
They’re both laughing now, but it’s not funny.
Leticia finally notices my lack of amusement. “What’s up, Cyn? You okay?”
No, I want to tell her. I’m not okay. And neither is Annie. And Mr. Gabriel is . . . is . . . what? How can I try to explain when I don’t even know what I mean myself?
“It’s just — Annie and I had a fight. She’s really pissed at me.”
Leticia and Diane exchange a startled glance. They know Annie and I hardly ever fight. “What happened?”
“I — I tried to talk to her about Mr. Gabriel. I mean, I think she’s going a little too far with all the time she’s spending with him, you know? Having a harmless crush is one thing, but she’s skipping classes to go to the library, and she’s acting all — different. Haven’t you noticed it?”
Diane picks at the crust of her sandwich. “You don’t really think she’d — you know —
anything, do you? Or that he would? I mean, I don’t think it’s such a big deal if he flirts with her a little, but he wouldn’t . . .”
“I don’t know. It just seems . . . wrong. I’m worried about her. And when I tried to finally talk to her about it, she went totally nuts. She won’t even talk to me now.”
“That is kind of weird for Annie,” Diane allows. “She never stays mad like that.”
Leticia pulls out her phone. “Here. Let me text her and see if she wants to meet up after school today. Maybe we can try to talk to her together.”
She sends her text and we wait, watching her phone. When it finally chimes, she picks it up and reads it. Her mouth twists to the side, and then she reads aloud, “Can’t. Library. And tell Cyn to mind her own fucking business.”
There’s an awkward pause, and then Diane touches my arm. “She’ll calm down again, Cyn. You’ll see.”
“Yeah,” Leticia says, pocketing her phone. “She probably only got so mad because deep down, she knows you’re right to be worried. She just needs a little time to realize it.”
I nod, trying to hope that this might be true. Maybe Annie’s insanity is only temporary. Maybe she’ll come to her senses once she has a chance to think about things. Maybe we’ll be okay again by the end of the day.
But the honest part of me inside my brain knows all of that is crap.
Something has changed in her, and she’s not going to suddenly snap back to herself. I know that nothing has really happened that I can point to. I know that I have nothing other than my own creeped-out feelings about Mr. Gabriel to go on. But I also know, I
that there is something wrong about him. And that he’s doing something to my friend.