The rest of the week was not fun. Aquadeus had made it known that my town was now his town and that he was here to stay. He moved into the biggest house in the uptown district and started attending my high school, just as he’d said. He was everywhere on the news. All anybody in town could talk about was him, even those who didn’t know who he was before he came here. According to a rumor I heard on the third day since he arrived here, the Mayor had even given Aquadeus a key to the city. But I just couldn’t get excited about it. Cameron “Aquadeus” just rubbed me in a wrong way that I just couldn’t understand. That cool demeanor that people were drawn to just chilled me and made me see nothing but arrogance. My feelings certainly didn’t improve when I heard him on the news one evening, when the over-eager reporter had asked him what his connection was to the little town that was his new home.
“I think that my cousin’s brother’s wife’s uncle’s mother’s dog’s previous owner’s stepbrother’s foster child’s sister’s great aunt’s step-nephew’s best friend’s second husband’s, great niece…stopped here for gas once,” he replied, looking playfully thoughtful and smirking.
School was becoming unbearable. It was impossible to get down a hallway if he was there because people were clambering around him in an attempt to get him to talk to them. Plus, every time I made contact with him, he was give me that penetrating, violet stare and flash me a grin or a wink. These gestures, though friendly, didn’t feel kind to me as they would have coming from someone else. It was like he was playing with me, like I was a toy for his amusement and it was just irritating me!
“I hope it won’t be long before people get used to the fact that he’s here and this all dies down,” I told Ria, glumly at lunchtime three days after Cameron’s appearance in our town.
“I doubt it,” said Ria. “This place is so boring we’re probably going to be hearing about Aquadeus’s exploits for a long time. Nothing else is that important.”
“Depressing thought,” I said, with a sigh.
“Oh, yes! Most depressing.”
I lifted my head. So did Ria. We’d been so busy talking that we hadn’t noticed that someone else was sitting next to us. It was the orange-haired girl who hadn’t rushed over to Cameron the other day in science. She was a slim, pale girl with large blue eyes and a tiny nose and little pink lips. If the look of her stare-too-long-and-I’ll-blind-you orange hair wasn’t enough to give you the idea that this girl was a little unusual, her sense of fashion was another clue pointing that way. She was dressed in a hot pink jacket over a piercing, neon yellow T-shirt and lime green short-shorts. She also had a maroon colored had pulled over her vibrant hair. As I looked at her, I did recognize her as someone I’d seen around school, but had never talked to.
“It is most sad,” she said, tearing open a ketchup packet as she spoke. “That all anybody has to talk about are pop singers and actors and things when there’s so much out there in the world to discuss.” She took off her had and pulled a white, plastic spoon from inside and poured the ketchup onto the spoon. “Why can’t people talk about the difference between the environment and the ecosystem or why they call it the “Milky Way” when it’s sparkly with stars and there’s no way anyone would drink sparkly milk!”
If her words weren’t enough to confuse me into silence it was her taking her spoonful of ketchup slipping it into her mouth and pulling it back out, completely clean.
“Um…” I said, but Ria grabbed my arm to stop me.
“Don’t talk to her!” she snapped under her breath. “You’ll encourage her.”
“I have homeroom with that girl!” she whispered, angrily. “She’s an absolute ditz!”
“Ria! She’s right here!” I snarled, looking pointedly at her, but she didn’t seem to notice us. She just kept on eating her ketchup.
“She was on the dance team with Ashley Ryan and Katie Grant!” Ria said. “But she got kicked out because she can’t follow direction.”
“Oh, I didn’t get kicked out,” the Girl With The Orange Hair said suddenly, making us jump. “I left of my own accord. The coach wanted me to tame my dancing to follow the style of the others but I refused to let myself be limited. So I walked out. I take my dancing seriously.”
“Oh…you’re a dancer?” I said, wanting to be friendly unlike Ria.
“Yeah,” she said, beaming. “I do so enjoy it. It’s my pride in life. You’re Gina Wellington and Honoria Amos, right?” she asked suddenly.
I nodded while Ria looked incredulously at me.
“I saw you in the talent show,” she said. “You’re very good. Well, I’ll see you later.” And just like that, she walked away.
Ria and I stared after her, unable to really believe what we’d seen. “Um…is she…always like that?”
“Yes!” Ria said. “I told you she was ditzy!”
“What’s her name?” I asked. “She didn’t say.”
“Nobody knows!” said Ria, throwing up her hands. “Every time someone asks her, she says something different. Even the teachers all call her different things. Y’know how on the first day of school that the teachers ask you that if there’s something else you’d rather be called than your name on the list? Well, she goes to see them before the rest of the class come in and asks that they change her name to something else. In homeroom, the teacher calls her “Slinky” and in science the teacher calls her “Maspeth” and in gym class the coach calls her “January”. Nobody knows her real name.”
I stared after the unusual girl. Somehow I found her funny rather than annoying like Ria did. It’s not like she was hurting anyone, was she?
“Well, forgetting about Whatever-Her-Name-Is,” said Ria. “Why didn’t you go to Aquadeus’s house the other day when he asked us to?”
“You could have gone yourself,” I told her.
“No way!” said Ria, looking like the very idea of going to a celebrity’s house unaccompanied was alarming. “I need someone with me to make sure that I don’t act like an idiot in front of him like I did at Venn’s!”
“I’m sorry, Ria, but I can’t make myself like that guy,” I told her, moodily. “The way he looks at people…it’s like…like…like he’s not looking at them like people. It’s like we’re all objects…toys for his amusement.”
“You’ll feel that way if you ever become as famous as him,” Ria insisted. “You can’t blame him for that. Besides, I don’t think he knows anything other than wealth and fame. He grew up with it.”
“Huh?” I said, confused. “But I thought he only became popular a couple of years ago.”
“Gina, you’re killing me!” said Ria, looking completely exasperated. “Haven’t you even Googled him or anything?”
“No,” I admitted.
“His parents were both really rich and famous too,” Ria explained. “His dad is, like, the CEO of some humongous company in LA and his mother was a really famous opera singer.”
“Yeah, she won a rack of awards and stuff,” said Ria, unhelpfully. “But don’t mention her to him.”
“Because she died when he was a little kid,” Ria said seriously.
I dropped my plastic fork onto my tray, no longer interested in my lunch. “She died?”
“Yeah,” said Ria. “So don’t bring it up, whatever you do.”
The bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. I had science class next and that was one of the classes that I had to endure along with Cameron. As I approached the classroom, I saw that girl that I’d mistaken for a ghost, Corrine Mathis, leaving the room, looking tired. I watched her go, keeping my eye on her the entire time. She did not, however, walk through any walls today. I became even more embarrassingly convinced that I’d imagined her the other day. There was no way I could have seen what I thought I saw.
Mr. Fisher had set up the classroom for our lab experiment today. He’d set up long tables with Bunsen burners and phials and goggles set up for everyone in the class.
“Everyone, divide up,” Mr. Fisher told the class. “Only two people per group. “
I turned to Ria and was about to suggest the two of us pairing up, when a hand tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and felt my insides plummet. It was Cameron.
“Hello Gina,” he said with his usual smug grin. “Did you want to be my partner?”
“Um…” I was seconds from saying no, when he moved in a little closer.
“Personally, I’d like a partner who won’t be goggling at me the whole time and would actually get things done,” he said, calmly. “I’m sorry to say that almost nobody else in this classroom would do that except you. What do you say?”
I was so taken aback by this that I heard myself say, “Okay,” before I’d even realized what I was committing myself to.
“Atta girl!” said Cameron, grabbing my arm and pulling me over to a free work space. There was an immediate groan of disappointment amongst the other girls in the classroom. As we were getting out the equipment for the project, I shot an apologetic look over at Ria. She was looking very sour indeed both at missing her chance to work with Cameron and also the fact that she’d been stuck with the Girl with the Orange Hair for a partner.
“I’m going to start handing out the match books,” Mr. Fisher announced. “Everybody turn on the gas for your burners and get your beakers ready.”
I turned the little dial on the side of the Bunsen burner we were using, glaring over at Cameron, who was grinning cheekily at a few of the football players across the room who were glaring at him jealously. I was starting to think the reason Cameron wanted me was that I was sure to do the work in the project with or without his help, and we’d both get the credit for it. Well, not if I could help it.
Mr. Fisher handed us a cheap little match book and walked on. I immediately handed the matches to Cameron, who returned his attention to me at once. “You light it,” I insisted.
Cameron grinned. “Not afraid of fire, are you?”
“No,” I snapped. “But you still get to light it! I’m not going to just stand here and do all the work while you show off!”
Cameron’s grin faded to a look of slight surprise but then went right back. “Right you are, Gina,” he said. He took the matches from me, tore one out of the book, and then made to strike it.
In that instant, I felt yet another chill down my back and, almost without meaning to, I glanced down at the burner on our table…
“Wait!” I cried, suddenly.
“What?” said Cameron. “Don’t tell me that you’re worried that I’m going to burn…”
“No! Look!” I said, pointing to our burner. The hose that connected our burner to the tank of gas was sliced open, pouring gas into the room.
“Mr. Fisher!” I called suddenly. “Come look at our burner!”
Mr. Fisher came over to us, looking annoyed, but when he saw the hose his expression looked alarmed. “Nobody light your burners just yet!” he shouted at once. People who were in the midst of striking their matches stopped dead, looking confused.
Mr. Fisher examined the hose. “This has been cut,” he said in a low voice. He looked up and glared at Cameron and I. “Did either of you do this?”
“No,” I said, seriously.
“We just found it like this,” Cameron said, backing me up.
“Hm,” said Mr. Fisher. “Well, turn the gas off at once. Everyone, we’re going to have to exit the classroom for a little bit to let the air clear out. If I find out how this happened…” he grumbled.
The whole class was made to wait outside the classroom while Mr. Fisher went off to tell the principal what had happened. Everybody was chattering in the hallway, looking both confused and some quite happy at getting out of class early.
“That could have been really bad!” said Samantha Scully. “What if the fire and the gas had caused an explosion or something?”
“That wouldn’t have happened,” said Tyler Write, a football player.
“It was at Aquadeus’s station!” cried another girl I didn’t know. “Something awful could have happened to him! To his face!”
Cameron was saying nothing while the girls bickered over him, but leaned against the wall, his arms folded and his eyes closed thoughtfully.
“That gas leak could have been really bad,” I told Ria, after we’d found each other.
“I wonder how it got cut open like that,” said Ria. “Do you think it happened in the class before lunch? They would have spotted it sooner if it had happened then.”
“You’d think someone would have told the teacher,” I said. “If they accidentally slashed open a hose and was letting gas in all over the room.”
“Not if they didn’t want to get into trouble,” Ria countered.
“What’s worse? Accidentally cutting it or burning an entire class to the ground?” I countered.
“Oh, definitely the latter,” said the Girl with the Orange Hair, making us jump. “Burning is one of the most grotesque was to die, y’know. That’s why I’m against cremation. I say never do something to a dead person you would never do to a living person!”
Ria and I both stared at her for a moment. “We were having a private conversation,” Ria began, rudely.
“Yes,” said the Girl. “About the same thing that everyone else was talking about anyway.”
“She has a point,” I said quietly while Ria looked affronted.
“Well, that and the fact that everyone’s gushing over that rock singer person,” said the Girl, looking suddenly thoughtful. “I don’t see how a fire in our classroom could have affected him, though.”
“Huh?” I said, confused. “He was standing right there!”
“Cameron was working at our table,” I said. “You didn’t even notice?”
The Girl with the Orange Hair stared at me for a moment, expressionless, then…
“REALLY!?” she gasped. “Oh goodness! To think that there was a rock star in the room and I didn’t even notice! What was he there for?”
Ria looked like she couldn’t believe her eyes. “You’re kidding, right? Cameron Aquadeus goes to this school now! It’s only what everyone’s been talking about for the past week.”
“Really!?” the Girl gasped again. “My goodness! I didn’t even notice!”
Ria looked more offended at the idea of a person not notice Cameron’s presence in our town than at the idea of a gas leak in our school. I laughed quietly at the priceless look on her face but then something caught my eye.
Corrine was standing across the hall, looking at my class standing around our off-limits classroom. There was a strange look in her eyes, a kind of cold disappointment, before she turned and walked away.It was then that I remembered Corrine leaving the science room as we went in and how she had been in there while everyone else was at lunch…