Gil and the Group
GIL DORNEY WAS, as usual, on the outside looking in, with no idea just how soon he would be jumping, quite literally, into the spotlight.
As well as being an outsider to life in general at Slaughter’s Hall High, he most keenly felt himself an outsider to The Group - for that is how he thought of them - that band of borderline misfits he liked to think of as
(though he knew they weren’t really his)
friends. There was Thaddeus Bland II - known as Bub, as much for his junior status in the family as his general likeness to a big pink baby. Round and short, he resembled Humpty Dumpty
(crossed with a noisy parrot)
and had small piggy eyes and a wide hungry mouth which always seemed to be in motion. Bub was assistant editor of the school newspaper, The Chimes; Gil was the editor. And Gil always knew when he’d done something especially well - because Bub was bound to be first in line, shooting his mouth off, hogging all the credit.
He was shooting his mouth off right now to Brad Whitbread, whom Gil knew from the school basketball team, and who always reminded him of an overly cautious hedgehog. He even looked a little like a hedgehog, with bristly brown hair he brushed straight back from his pale, broad face, lightly daubed with freckles. If Bub was all bluff and bluster, Brad was all analysis - borderline timidity - thinking twice before he did anything. Except maybe where Fleur was concerned. No - especially where Fleur was concerned.
Gil’s big blue eyes, as watery as they were watchful, were distracted by a bustling movement off to his left---
---the headmistress, striding around with her usual energy - five feet two of coiled danger that looked like nothing so much as a skinned rabbit crammed into a baggy brown suit. There went the voice of reason
(at least her version of it)
no imagination, just pure, ticking efficiency.
When the tragedy had happened in Carfax Cove
(less than twenty miles away)
Gil’s heart had kicked over as he envisioned a huge cover story for The Chimes - no, more than huge, a colossal story. Then Miss Bulstrode had strode into the picture.
No way would she allow the most
(or even least)
lurid of Gil’s fantasy headlines
(Frankie Wall in Tower Terror!)
to see print. Which meant there would be no front-page picture of the straight-A student, head shaved, once-innocent eyes blankly staring, his cupid’s-bow mouth frozen in an infuriating smirk that said: You can’t touch me)
and no blazing byline panting Gil’s name.
In the end, no mention at all of Frankie had been made in The Chimes.
And as his expression had suggested, they hadn’t been able to touch him. Not really.
Only to move him
(don’t bump you head, sir, getting in the paddy wagon)
to a hospital for the criminally insane. Paranoid schizophrenic was the diagnosis. But Gil had often wondered. Maybe Just Plain Evil would have been a better description. It was as if something had gotten into Frankie overnight, like something had just gotten at him. But what could turn a good boy bad so quickly, so dramatically?
Speaking of all things dramatic, The Group’s reigning drama queen, Zoe Strange, had arrived. She said something to Brad
(Gil couldn’t hear what)
Brad studied his polished brown oxfords and went back to talking to Bub.
Zoe stood there, arms crossed, smarting with the sting of Brad’s disdain, waiting for a chance to break in and steal the limelight. Up yours, hedgehog, she seemed to be thinking.
Amazing, Gil thought. Even standing stock-still, more or less expressionless, Zoe held his eye. He’d seen her in the school play last year. She’d had a small part and been sensational. Next to her, the star had looked limp. This year, Zoe was up for the lead. If she got it, she’d be playing an impossibly romantic woman who goes mad, murders her lover, writes a wrenching confession, then shoots herself - onstage. Curtain.
It was a terrific part, and Zoe, with her interesting
face, bouncing red curls, ramrod posture and full-throttle personality, would make the part her own, full of extravagant gestures, crackling with nervous energy.
Zoe was rescued. Fleur Winter had arrived.
Slim and pale, soft and considerate, she was - against all odds - Zoe’s best friend. And Gil had good reason to think that Brad would very much like to get rid of Zoe and make Fleur his best friend. Not that he’d ever let that cool, considerate head on his shoulders be overruled by the muscle that went pump-pump-pump in his chest. Except, it seemed to pump a whole lot faster when Fleur was around.
Zoe was smiling, listening to some story her friend was telling, while Bub yacked on and on to Brad
(who suddenly looked like he’d prefer to be on Zoe’s side of the house)
until Zoe stopped smiling -
- frowned a little -
- and started to shout in her best friend’s face.
"Props? You should have at least made Farmer let you try out for the understudy. What if something happens to me?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” sneered Brad. “Who do you think you are, some big star like Tonney Grammer?”
“No,” said Zoe coldly. “I am not a bit like Tonney Grammer. I can act. Tonney eats my dust!”
Bub muttered something as Zoe did a vapid impression of the popular soap diva who played the lovelorn Mink on Larger Than Love.
“I’m telling you, Brad, if I ever got to play a love scene with that gorgeous Brick Cameron, you can bet your big brown boots I’d make it convincing!” Her eyes flashed. Brad backed away, looking more like a hedgehog than ever.
Brad elbowed him. “I hope you’ll be more use than this in the lighting box.”
“Just remember who the star is and you’ll be fine,” Zoe told him. “Remember - keep the spotlight on me.”
“Not our job,” said Brad with a shrug. “You’ll have to bark your orders at the spotlight guy. And tough toenails - we don’t have one yet.”
“I’m gonna ask Gil,” said Bub. “Maybe he’ll do it. He oughta. He owes me one for all the work I did on the last edition. You see that pitcher o’ the new volleyball court? I took that.”
“My hero!” said Zoe, swooning.
Fleur looked shocked, but said nothing.
“A true artist!” Zoe raved.
“Yeah, well, you know ...” Bub looked almost shy. “I guess I got the gift.”
Fleur smiled at Zoe. Then grinned over her friend’s shoulder. Then looked stricken -
- as the best-looking guy she’d ever seen came sauntering over.
He was tall and lean with piercing brown eyes; a cap of sleek black hair surrounded his lean, square-jawed face. His mouth was full, his smile lazily mocking. And he had a bod that was made for T-shirts and jeans. A young Brando, thought Zoe, who had just watched Streetcar
(she thought the character in the play was a bit like Blanche, torn between reality and fantasy)
for the umpteenth time last night---
---or maybe a teen Jimmy Dean ...
... all he needed was a black leather jacket.
“Hi,” he drawled, eyes flashing at Fleur.
Brad’s eyes narrowed.
Fleur felt her knees start to unlock. She was amazed she was able to stay in an upright position, let alone form words. “H-hi. I’m Friend, and these are all my fleurs.”