Of Thorns and Lightning

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Caught Red Handed

“Since when did you become a pickpocket, Maize?”

♦️

Peter had invited the pair of girls over to his apartment since it was his turn to host their study group. Maize and Meaghan went to the same school in Flushing, but Peter went to a different school near the center of Queens. Though they all had different teachers and different homework, it was more bearable, and the time passed faster when they were working together, though deep in thought and almost completely silent.

Their silence was interrupted when there was a confident knocking at the door, causing them to all jump out of their seats.

“You expecting anybody, Peter?”

“Yeah, Aunt Malorie should be back from the store.” He got up to open it for his aunt, poised and ready to grab a grocery bag, but the door swung open instead and his aunt wasn’t alone. She was laughing with William Townsend, who had half the grocery bags and the keys in his hand. He had taken them from May and opened the door instead of waiting for Peter. Peter stepped back and let them in.

“May! Why is William here?” He exclaimed.

“Oh, I caught him in the parking lot, ready to head up here and he was a great help. He’s a funny guy, Peter!”

“Oh, I’m sure he is,” Peter answered. He didn’t expect William to already be here, he was supposed to come after the girls left. Ever since they guessed something was going on, Peter wanted to keep them far away from it. He had to.

William helped May put away the groceries in the kitchen and Peter disappeared into his room, then into the kitchen. Everyone knew he was trying to hurry things along and keep his friends and Mr. Townsend on two separate timelines.

“It’s all on this flash drive, Mr. Townsend,” Peter said covertly, handing
Maize and Meaghan heard, their interests then piqued.

“What’s he getting into?” Maize wondered.

“I don’t know, maybe this is what he’s been working so hard on,” Meaghan suggested.

“Maybe. But I doubt William Townsend would have a plucky teen from Queens work on anything for him, not even at Peter’s level. William is even smarter than Peter, he’s programmed and designed and created things I can’t even fathom.”

They discussed while they were still alone in the room. May then suggested something that was exactly what Peter had wanted to avoid.

“Why don’t you all stay for dinner?” She asked pleasantly. William agreed seeing how Peter was rushing for him to leave. William figured out why, and it was because of the girls. He said he would love to stay for dinner.

He helped Aunt Malorie cook and set the table, taking his sweet old time and making Peter twitch, making William smile smugly. Meanwhile, Maize wasn’t acting completely like herself and was focused on other things, until she had her eyes locked on the prize she was looking for.

“Is that the flash drive?” Maize said in a text to Meaghan and she lifted an eyebrow when she saw that her friend had read the message. Meaghan nodded her head sternly but subtly no. The message was absolutely clear to Maize, but her curiosity still was getting the better of her.

“It’s on Peter’s dinosaur keychain. I can grab it.”

“We don’t steal stuff! Don’t even think about it, Maize. At least I respect Peter and his privacy more than that.”

“It’s not stealing if we return it.”

“Who’s this we?! This is on you, babes.”

“Who are you, Dike?!” She texted, and the conversation had to end due to dinner being ready. They all sat together; Maize next to Mr. Townsend on the long side of the rectangular table, Peter and Meaghan opposite them and May at the head of the table to William’s left. Their conversation was awkward only because Peter didn’t want this to be happening, but Maize and May were upbeat. Only Meaghan knew why Maize was so happy and was grumpy about it, not wanting her best friend to bring her down into some heavy trouble.

After dinner, they all helped clear the table and load the dishes into the dishwasher. Meaghan didn’t know Maize’s plan but soon figured it or when Maize had sneezed loudly and dropped all the silverware on the floor and made a scene. William bent down to help her clean up the mess, and it was all over in a few seconds. Maize and Meaghan made sure to leave before William so they could get far away from the house before anyone even noticed the flash drive was gone. They thanked Aunt Malorie for dinner, got their backpacks and left, Meaghan getting grumpier by the minute, not exactly knowing if her friend had robbed a millionaire.

“I got the flash drive, Meaghan.” Maize said, dangling it up in front of their faces as they were waiting for the subway back home. Meaghan was instantly angry, but also curious as to what Peter was working on with Mr. Townsend. Meaghan was bewildered.

“How did you do that?! How did you get into his pocket without him noticing?”

“The same way the robbers do it in the city here; distraction.” She gloated. “Remember when I dropped all the silverware? It was at the same time William had his hands in his pockets. When he bent down to help me pick up the forks off the floor, he had pushed the keychain to the outside of his pocket when he took his hand out, and the end was dangling over the side. It happened by chance, but I got the timing perfect.” She explained, sounding a little bit crazy.

“There is nothing stopping me from taking that and running back to Peter with it. But I doubt there’s anything really bad on there, probably just geek stuff. Still, you’re the one who stole it, you’re the one who’s going to touch it- my fingerprints aren’t getting on that- and you’re the one who’s going to return it to William Townsend himself without being caught. I hope to God you have a plan, Maize.”

She did, but she didn’t have a backup plan. She didn’t think of the things Peter may have done to the flash drive to protect it.

It wasn’t long before William realized he didn’t have the flash drive. He searched for it endlessly until he really couldn’t find it anywhere, then he contacted Peter the next day by showing up at his apartment.

“Peter, I don’t know what happened, but I don’t have the flash drive anymore. I hope you coded it well, I don’t know what you put on there and if it gets into the wrong hands-” William mentioned.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Townsend. I put a tracking device on it, let’s go see where it is.” He said, waving William in and sitting down next to him on the couch with his laptop, the program pulled up. In a matter of seconds, Peter discovered where it was and it took him a moment to process before he apologized, told William not to worry and stormed out, heading to Flushing as fast as he could.

Meaghan invited Maize to her house to investigate the drive the next day. Peter had made sure that her laptop had the top-notch virus protectant software installed and even though it didn’t compare to his system, it was on a way higher level than it was when she bought it in the store. The flash drive was bound to work on her laptop. The processors could more than handle it, and she was right. Everything was going well until she hit a roadblock, a password entry box.

Meaghan was concerned.
“Do we know the password? No. Do I know what to do? Yes. I’ve seen Peter put in this administrator override code a thousand times. I sit there and watch him code for hours on end, sometimes. Even though I don’t understand most of it at all, I know his system and his encryption style. See? We’re in.”

Meaghan sat down next to Maize to get a better view of the documents displayed. It was mostly boring geek stuff they didn’t understand as Maize had predicted. Then, they ran into blueprints made by William for an Arachne suit of armor, but Peter wasn’t Arachne, so it didn’t seem important.

The next file brought up was a folder with information on something called “The Youngblood Project” but neither could get a single look at its contents due to an unexpected visitor bursting in her room.

“Maize!” Peter barked, startling her and causing her to drop her apple onto her bedroom floor, knocking over her water bottle in the process. She slammed her laptop lid closed the instant she realized it was Peter.

“Peter! Hi!” She greeted awkwardly, trying to gather herself. She could immediately tell Peter wasn’t here for fun and he meant business. Her stomach dropped, knowing that he knew what she had done.

“The flash drive.” He commanded mercilessly. “I’m not leaving here without it, but you shouldn’t even have it in the first place!”

Maize tried to establish her cover story and failed.

“I needed a flash drive for my senior project, and this was on the counter in your house-”

“Don’t fucking lie to me! I gave that flash drive to William and you lifted it off him! You stole it! You invaded my privacy and broke my trust!” Peter yelled, feeling hurt and betrayed. Maize was silent, knowing his words rang true. She hung her head low as if she were a dog with his tail between his legs.

Meaghan ejected it from the laptop and pulled it out, replacing the cover and handing it out to him. He snatched it up quicker than she could seemingly blink. He left wordlessly.

This wasn’t an argument.
There was nothing to argue.
Maize and Meaghan knew what they had done and how it hurt Peter. Heated silence hurt so much more, it seemed.

Especially because Maize knew the destruction of her best relationship was caused by her own hand because she got caught red handed.

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