"You don't care about me, you only tolerate me
Because she thinks I should give you a change, yeah
I think you're childish and cruel, and maybe a bit of a fool
I think you're a tool"
I wanted her to be mad. Seething mad. Furious, beside herself, absolutely loathing everything in existence including herself. Including me. Heck, I wanted her to be mad at me. Mad at something, mad at anything. As long as she was mad. I knew how to weather her storms when she was mad. I knew how to cope, how to help her cope, how to calm her down in a way where she didn't even notice I was the one doing the calming. I could even keep her mad if I willed it. As backwards and fiendish as it sounds, I liked Diane when she was mad. She was honest. I will even go so far as to saying she was funnier when she was mad, despite risking a sock in the nose if she ever reads that.
But I was the one that was mad. All because I wasn't the center of her universe anymore.
I stormed away into the maelstrom of students, for once in an almost eager hurry to get to class. Anything to get away from her. Somewhere in the back of my heart where the world and my own self-projected image hadn't left their taint, I knew that something was very wrong. I wasn't supposed to want to get away from her at all, let alone more so than the other imbeciles at this school. I hadn't done so in years, since before she'd been my friend, way back when I dismissed her as another normal, boring human. I was treating her like she wasn't...special. Like she wasn't my friend.
Of course, none of this crossed my mind until I had finished my fuming. Which, I'm shamed to say, lasted throughout the day.
As luck would have it, while I had successfully avoided Diane despite our shared class next period, I was compelled to seek out the one who had incited our initial fallout in a subconscious quest for revenge. Even though I had never seen his face, it was almost comically easy to spot him. Almost. Knowing Diane, the only male specimen she could possibly fall for was that two-meter ruggedly handsome blonde carving his way through the crowd not far off, who was coincidentally a new student and an American by his accent and general swagger. My misgivings flared at the sight of him. I knew instantly that he had been hand-picked for the sole purpose of befriending Diane, if not worse. I was too well-informed in espionage to ignore it. I had to investigate further.
It wasn't hard with my small stature to get closer to him unnoticed. Butler had given me basic training in the art of stealth, which was more than enough for me to avoid unwanted attention from bored-to-tears students. Soon I was close enough to trip him if I had a mind to. He had the fervent attention of everyone he passed, but he pretended not to notice and they pretended not to be watching him. But they were. Judging, scrutinizing, justifying. And yet none of them saw what I did. They saw an added variable. I saw disaster.
Especially when I noticed he was mumbling.
He wasn't mad because he was mumbling. He was dangerous because he was doing it like an expert. Barely moving his mouth, hardly intelligible, hardly recognizable. He'd pair it with a flip of his hair or a feigned stumble to make it unnoticeable. Barely there. Sometimes he would even put it to a tune so it would seem like he was singing to himself, a perfectly normal thing to do for an American teenager. Either he was far too clever for my liking, or the person he worked for was. Diane was in danger.
Unfortunately, I realized too late that I was, too.
When I woke up, I couldn't fully open my right eye. I almost panicked, but then realized that I could move everything else normally and I was only mildly sore on my left shoulder. Evidently I had sustained no further injury. But from what?
"One would think that you would be wiser than to be caught off-guard by Icarus again."
I sat up groggily, blinking the blackness and spots from my eyes. I'm sitting on a medical table in one of the hemichambers of the medical office, Ms. Kyota raising her eyebrows at me through the glass window that separated her office proper from the workplace. Turning to examine myself in the mirror, I discovered the source of my visual obstruction: a swelling purplish-red bruise on my upper right cheek. I fingered it gingerly while Sakura went on.
"He only had the nerve to attack you again because Diane was not with you," she pointed out, casually filling in my injury form. I narrowed my eyes at her with the help of my new wound, demanding what she was implying.
"So?" I retorted, still too miffed to talk about Diane. "I'm not afraid of him. I may not be able to hurt him personally, but I happen to be very close to someone who can expertly."
"You mean the one you snubbed?" she inquired, looking up at me again with a neutral face. I glowered and walked over to the sink to get an ice pack.
"I was referring to Butler," I muttered to myself, pressing the soothingly cool packet to my cheek. "And how do you know that?"
"Diane stopped by to ask me if I'd seen you," she informed, finishing up the injury form and rising to put it in her mailbox by the door. "on her way to her third period class. It doubtless made her late, but she doubtless doesn't care. This was shortly before I had to drag your body away from Icarus. I'd like to add that if I had done so any later, you would have cracked ribs. You're lucky you were close enough to my office for me to see you-there were no other teachers around. What were you thinking, if at all?"
"Of course I was thinking!" I snapped, taking affront to the jab at my intelligence. I'm always thinking. "If you're implying that I'm letting my frustration with Diane cloud my judgement, you must not be as clever as I thought you were."
"Oh, I'm plenty clever," she replied with half a smile. "And on top of that, I have plenty more experience than you. Especially with girls and the fatuous things boys do because of them. For example, I know that you're being incredibly conceited in being offended just because she has a new heartthrob. Even if you do harbor affection for her, which I suspect you do because you would never allow your emotions to take control of you unless you didn't understand them fully, you haven't made a move, so how would she know? She's too innocent to connect the dots in that order."
I opened my mouth, closed it again when I realized I was growing red. I'd never been trumped by a school staff member before. She must not have been lying, because everything she'd said was correct to a degree I didn't appreciate. Of course I didn't want her to know this, but evidently she knew anyway. I hated it when I underestimated people like that. There was nothing more humbling.
"If that gets out of this office, you'll regret it." I blurted.
"Impressive," I blinked at her, not knowing to what she was referring. She smirked. "How fast you got that sentence out of your mouth."
I scowled a little, but at least we appeared to be on the same side now. It then occurred to me that Kyota was Diane's best friend. Perhaps if I told her why I mistrusted Devon so (and made it abundantly clear that it had nothing to do with whatever romantic delusions I may or may not have), she could put in a word for me to Diane? Tell her that I was completely justified in my irritation and that I deserve an apology?
"I'll have you know that I'm not being 'incredibly conceited,'" I began, narrowing my eyes slightly but not daring to be overtly rude. That's a first. "and that Diane does not just have a 'new heartthrob.' I'm intelligent enough to recognize foul play when I see it. This character from whom she has taken hook, line, and sinker-"
"Devon." input Kyota with a lazy eyebrow twitch.
"This Devon," I revised, saturating the accursed name with as much venom as I could muster. "means no goodwill towards her. As a good friend, it is my duty to investigate and apprehend this scoundrel before he can do her further harm."
"Further?" echoed Sakura incredulously. I gave her the look that I normally reserve for insufferable idiots on my bad days.
"Yes! Further!" I exclaimed, brows creasing at the apparent thickness of the nurse. "If you had seen her during Philosophy, you would understand! She walked in dazed, like a cow that was hit by a car!"
The way she was rolling her eyes, I knew she wasn't taking me seriously, but she didn't acknowledge the fact verbally. "I'd better send you off to class now. Diane will be wondering where you are. But before you leave, let me tell you something. Diane's a strong girl, one of the strongest I've ever met. Physically and emotionally. She can take care of herself. So you must forgive me if I come to the conclusion that you're not doing this to protect her. I've been in this business long enough to recognize the folly of man pride when I see it. I honestly don't think this is as complicated as you're making it out to be. But that's all I'm saying. Off you go."
"About that," I began, taking on a humble guise for what I was about to ask of her. "Do you think that I could, perhaps...stay? My shoulder hurts…."
If anybody else had given me the look that Ms. Kyota gave me just then, I would have had them assassinated on the spot. But for Diane, I would endure a thousand of those dreadful looks.
"Fine. There's a school computer in the other room."
Before I could get any redder, I brisked out and began my work.
I would love to say that I was right, but that would be a disgusting half-truth.
During my perusing of the infinite internet and what other utilities were at my disposal, I had found woefully little evidence in comparison to what I had wanted to find. If I were to convince Diane that Devon was no do-gooder, I would have to be very precise with my argument and my weaving of fact into theory. That or I just needed more evidence. The latter didn't seem probable, as I had scoured the over- and underworlds for anything on Devon Mallard and hadn't come up with nearly enough information to convict him. The former would either be deceptively effortless or agonizingly arduous. Well, when you rule out the impossible, whatever remains, however tedious, is your only option. My only option. Diane's only option. Ugh, the things I do for friendship.
I had been dished up with my lunch when I heard a mortifyingly familiar laugh. Diane.
Putting my outrage at the mirth instilled in Diane by Devon away for the time being, I frantically searched for a hiding place. Identifying one behind the salad bar, I made for it with my head kept well underneath the sea of scalps. That part wasn't hard, me being one of the shortest students in the school, but that didn't help my nerves. I had to hold myself back from sprinting. If I moved faster than a stroll (which felt like a crawl in the heat of the moment), I would expose myself by drawing attention to my movement. Using the prodigious girth of an exiting lunch lady as cover, I slipped into the kitchen and ducked behind the steel bar. It was only as I heard the doomsaying footsteps that I realized my mistake.
The only thing Diane consented to eat at this school was salad.
"Yeah, I don't know where he is," sighed Diane. It must have been the first time in my memory that I had heard her speaking in that casual tone to someone else. "which is really weird because he's always at our table. I'm sorry you couldn't meet him, I don't know where else he would be. I checked the broom closet, and he wasn't in Po's office…."
"Maybe he's just moping," thought Devon out loud. If I were a man of lesser caliber I would have vaulted over the salad bar and punched him out. "Does he mope?"
"Ugh, yeah," groaned Diane. I could imagine her eyeroll in my head with a sick feeling in my stomach. "but it's never been for this long. And he hasn't moped at all in ages. I really hope he's okay. We sort of...fought, I guess, earlier today, and I haven't seen him since. I wish I knew what I said that set him off. I just…don't know what went wrong."
I didn't dare breathe. The rustle of fabric told me that Devon was making a move.
"Don't worry about him," he soothed, his voice honeyed like the scent of a flytrap's jaws. "He'll turn up eventually. You did the right thing."
I felt several things just then that couldn't have been explained by any amount of ESP jargon. I could've sworn he knew I was there by some demonic sixth sense. I could feel Diane's countenance imprinted in my mind's eye, sick with worry, rife with guilt. But still gorgeously merciful. I knew she would have forgiven me right then if I had had the guts to appear. Then everything would be all right again, and we needn't fret about it ever again. We could get over ourselves and forgive each other if only we had the courage to come out into the open.
But I couldn't. Because he was there. What would he say if I appeared so suddenly? Wouldn't he plant doubts in Diane's mind about my loyalty and integrity? Wouldn't I retaliate and prove those doubts? Wouldn't he make the rift between us wider? If I could manipulate her, couldn't he?
Diane and Devon began to walk away. Devon asked her about her parents. I didn't move. Their footsteps faded away into the lulling, idle hubbub of the cafeteria. She left me to wallow in my sorrow, and I left her to hers. But she had Devon to taint her perceptions against me. I only had my own inhibitions...and her voice echoing in my head.
"I just...don't know what went wrong."
Neither do I, Diane. Neither do I.