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The Secrets of MapleWood

By AJPrice All Rights Reserved ©

Humor / Fantasy

Mission #682, Subject: Chase W. Adams

JESSE NOTICED ITS ABSENCE FIRST. He wasn’t sure what brought his attention towards it, whether it was because of the way the sunlight no longer caught it when he stretched his arms, if it was because he was constantly asking the time or if it was because of his sudden lack of communication with them all. Whatever brought his attention towards it, the fact still remained that Chase Adams was not wearing his W.A.T.C.H.

It was during gym class that Jesse decided to take action.

Gym class was hell, if the teacher, Coach Kraft was anything to go by. The short midget of a man wore squeaky clean white Nikes and a black whistle around a lanyard. Someone had to take that whistle away from him some day, after all, Jesse was sure it constituted as abuse to the ears.

Jesse could remember clearly the first day of gym class that year. Coach Kraft had commanded everyone to line up against the opposite wall of the gym and had randomly grabbed Jesse out of line, before promptly attempting to punch him in the face. Jesse dodged quickly.

“Fast reflexes,” Kraft had said. “The school has decided that they wish to replace seventh and eight grade gym class with a new program. One of self-defence.”

He made another jab at Jesse, kicking at his feet and Jesse, having thought the danger was over, was taken by surprise and fell over onto his face. The gym floor was freezing cold and he was sure if he squinted, there was a bug scurrying away with some lint on its back, almost laughing at him. Great, he was becoming delusional.

“Each term you’ll have a new partner and no, you cannot change them. First term, Warren and Wilder-”

“But,” Jesse cut in only to be glared at by the coach.

“What did I say, Warren?”

“No changing partners,” Jesse mumbled. “But Coach, she’ll kill me!”

“We’ll be sure to bury your corpse in the sunniest spot of the MapleWood Cemetery then,” Kraft had said with no hint of remorse in his tone.

“Why are we doing this?” asked Jayden, but his voice was timid and shy, obviously because of Kraft’s loud and commanding voice which clearly intimidated him more than he’d like.

“Oh yes,” said the coach, his eyes narrowing in on Jayden. “You’re the new kid, aren’t you? Jason?”

“Jackson,” Jayden corrected him. “Jayden Jackson.”

Kraft nodded, but it was clear that he didn’t care. “Yes well, Jason, did you ever hear about Taylor Larkins?”

Jayden stared at him, wondering whether or not it was a trick question. Slowly, he shook his head.

“Exactly.”

“But, what did he do?” asked Jayden and Jesse wanted to tell him to shut up if he knew what was good for him, but of course, Jayden wouldn’t and since Kraft already disliked Jesse enough, he figured it wasn’t a good idea to play with fire and try to get Jayden out of the predicament he had landed himself into.

“Larkins went into the woods one night and never came out. Three days later, they found him under a pile of leaves with bite marks and torn clothes. He was dead.” Kraft sounded far too gleeful when sharing his story in Jayden’s opinion. “Never go out into the woods without a weapon. Your body is your greatest weapon. Poor Larkins didn’t know that.”

And with that, the rest of the groups were made and both, Jesse and Jayden were unable to resist shivering at the scary story they had been told.

Of course this term Jesse’s partner was Jayden, which was about a thousand times better than being stuck with Carmen as a sparring buddy and since they were both horrible at this whole “self-defence” thing they ended up throwing lazy punches and talking most of the period.

“I think there’s something up with Adams. I wanna look into it. Can we?”

Jayden stared at him confused as he dodged a horribly thrown punch to his stomach. “Can we what?”

The topic had come out of nowhere in the first place, seeing as before, they had been discussing the probability of Stephen Harper resigning from office. But in general, Jesse didn’t like politiques to begin with since they made his head spin and he didn’t understand how each province could possibly be run by different people and yet the country itself was run by another person. It didn’t make sense to him and so he normally avoided political debates, which is why Jayden wasn’t the most surprised at his random change of topic, but even for Jesse, this was random. And Jesse was probably the most random person Jayden knew.

“Talk,” Jesse said, jumping out of the way of Jayden’s kick at his legs.

“About Chase?” Jayden dodged a mutation of a punch.

“Yeah. About his problem.” Jesse slid out of Jayden’s reach expertly.

“Chase doesn’t have any problems.” Jayden paused half-way through his attempt to flip Jesse over his shoulder. “Does he?”

“Well can we at least talk about it?” Jesse asked, his eyes scanning the room and falling on Carmen and a blonde girl, what was her name? Laker? The girl seemed to dodge all of Carmen’s attacks with grace. He’d have to talk to Carmen about this later too.

“I mean, if you think there’s something up about Chase, don’t you think it’d be smart to talk to Chase about it?”

“You know Adams, he doesn’t tell you anything,” Jesse pointed out. “Besides, I was kind of hoping you, Wilder and me could talk about it. You know, without Adams.”

“It’s you, Carmen and I,” Jayden corrected. “Man, Chase has been rubbing off on me.” He shook his head. “But if it concerns him, wouldn’t it make sense to talk to him?”

Jesse shook his head in response. “No, I’d prefer if we didn’t bring Adams into this. And if you didn’t correct my grammar.”

“So you don’t want to talk to Chase about something that has absolutely everything to do with Chase?” Jayden shook his head. “You’re crazy.”

“Look, will we talk or not?” Jesse asked, getting impatient. His ADHD mind was already going off into a thousand different places at once, from why the sun was getting into his eyes to the large pile of snow outside the gym to why the sidewalk was so grey.

“Yeah, okay,” Jayden said slowly. “If you really want to talk so badly, but I still think you should run it by Chase.”

Jesse nodded, though he had no intention of actually asking Chase. The whole point of this was to avoid talking to Chase about how suspicious Jesse was of him, the whole plan would fall apart if Chase was there.

“I’m going to take a water break,” Jesse told Jayden before crossing the length of the gym to Carmen who sat on a bench, taking a long drink out of her water bottle. He approached her slowly and looked both ways, as though crossing the street before taking a seat next to her.

Carmen made no indication that she recognized his presence.

“Psst,” Jesse whispered, “Wilder.”

Carmen didn’t even blink.

“Wilder,” he hissed, trying to get her attention without getting a detention from the coach. “Wilder, I know you can hear me!”

Slowly, Carmen turned her head and Jesse regretted ever trying to get her attention. Her green eyes were blazing with a dangerous fire that clawed at his insides, as though trying to kill him slowly before she got the change to wrap her hands around his neck and squeeze. Hard.

Her glare said everything. Shut up, there’s a reason I’m ignoring you.

Jesse had to wait until the bell rang and he was clear to leave before he could talk to her. After changing in the locker room faster than he thought humanly possible, he rushed out to catch her before she left for home.

“Wilder! Hey, Wilder!” he yelled after her retreating figure, tripping over his own feet in an attempt to catch up with her.

“What do you want Warren?” she snapped, finally turning around.

“Wow, I didn’t expect you to actually turn up . . .” Jesse was in awe for a few moments, long enough for Carmen to decide that whatever the hell he wanted to say was unimportant and therefore, she should just keep walking.

“Good bye Warren,” she told him, beginning to leave but he grabbed her arm.

Her arm was cold, freezing cold in fact. She glared at him and he recoiled from her touch. “Look, Wilder, I need you to come home with me.”

Carmen raised an eyebrow. “I hope you plan on explaining that, Warren.”

Jesse nodded, swallowing the lump in his throat. Nervously, his fingers tapped against his jeans, Carmen watching this action as he slowly tried to regroup himself enough to speak, still shivering from her touch. “I need to talk to you and Jackson. It’s important.”

“Define important because if this is about the AAA again, I swear I’ll-”

“The Azariath Apocalyptic Abduction is going to happen!”

Carmen rolled her eyes. “Yeah, sure. And we’ll all go into outer space one day to dance with leprechauns.”

“You really need to learn to stop being so sarcastic,” Jesse noted suddenly, as though he was in any position to tell her how to run her life.

“And you need to learn how to stop reading those Zombat books-”

Zorbat,” Jesse corrected sharply.

“Whatever, anyway, I’m going so if that was all-”

“I swear it’s important!” Jesse said, cutting her off. “And I won’t let you go until you come with me.”

Carmen raised an eyebrow at him. He had a defiant look in his eyes and yet still, you had to be blind not to notice his shaking knees as they shook against each other. His resolve was strong though, she could see it in his eyes. Carmen’s eyes widened in realization. ‘He’s really serious about this.’

“Fine, whatever,” she said with a sigh. “Do whatever you want, do you want me to get Adams?”

“No!”

Carmen stared at him strangely. His answer had come quickly. Too quickly. “Okaaaay?” Carmen stared at him quizzically and bit her bottom lip, thinking over his words before discarding them as having no meaning. “So, we gonna go?”

“Go where?” Jesse asked, a little dazed from the sudden raise of his voice which had shocked he and Carmen equally.

“Your house, stupid,” Carmen reminded him.

“Oh yeah. Right. Um, sure.” Jesse’s fingers continued to tap at his thigh before his wandering eyes spotted Jayden and called him over. Jayden followed with a sigh. Despite the cold air and the snow, there was a slick sheet of sweat on Jayden’s forehead from gym. Having P.E last period was tiring.

“Let’s get this over with,” Jayden sighed.

“Someone’s in a bad mood,” Carmen noted.

“Well someone got me kicked off the court,” Jayden said, eyeing Jesse in particular.

“Hey, you totally could’ve dodged that, but you didn’t, so don’t go blaming me for your inability to use your muscles properly!” Jesse defended himself. “Now, let us go! We’re off to see the wizard!”


“Mom! I’m home!”

Jesse dropped his schoolbag on the floor and motioned for Jayden and Carmen to follow him inside. Carmen and Jayden both wiped their feet across the welcome mat while Jesse went into the kitchen and got himself a Seven Up. Returning into the living room, he waiting for them to take off their coats. He had left his in the kitchen, dropped over a chair.

“Jesse, did you take off your boots? I don’t want you tracking in snow!”

Jesse froze. “Uh, yeah!” he lied horribly, racing over to the welcome mat and taking his boots off quickly, shoving them into the cupboard. There was already a trail of water leading from the vestibule to the kitchen though. Damn. Well, at least he hadn’t jumped on anything with his boots.

Carmen and Jayden both took off their boots and hung up their coats awkwardly in the closet before taking a seat in the living room, feeling out of place in Jesse’s rather large house.

“Um so, what did you want to talk about?” Jayden asked, rubbing his still cold hands together.

“We can turn up the heat if you want,” Jesse said, eyeing Jayden’s cold fingers which looked close to frozen. “You’re probably gonna get frost bite.”

“I’m fine,” Jayden replied. He shoved his hands into his sweatshirt pockets and instead eyed the black couch. Was it made out of velvet?

“You had something you wanted to tell us, Warren?” Carmen asked, raising an eyebrow. “Don’t tell me I’m wasting my time I could be spending doing homework to hear another ridiculous conspiracy story.”

“No, no, it’s about Adams,” Jesse said, getting his mind back on track. He could worry about his freezing companions later. If of course, they were still his companions after he told them his theory.

“Chase?” Jayden asked, curious. “What about him?”

“Well . . .” Jesse bit his bottom lip. ‘It’s now or never,’ he told himself. “I believe the Zorbateian race has descended onto Earth and has employed an agent of their super secret society to kidnap Chase and dissect his brain and then, realizing the fact that humans don’t usually just go disappearing, they realized they had to cover up what they did and therefore replaced him with some kind of crazy look-a-like.”

Jayden blinked.

Carmen blinked.

Jesse blinked.

Finally-

“I-”

“Jesse, you didn’t tell me you had guests!”

The three preteens heads’ whipped around to see Mrs. Warren walking down the staircase, looking at her son strangely. She wore a robe that reminded Jayden of nurses at a clinic and her long, dark hair was pulled up in a messy bun. Her ocean blue eyes sparkled with joy at the sight of her son talking to a group of people his own age.

“Oh, Mom I-”

“It’s a shame I’ve got my shift at the hospital soon, but I think I have enough time to make you a snack. Would you like anything?” she asked the group. Her eyes landed on Jayden suddenly. “Who’s this?”

Jayden stood up and cleared his throat, feeling rather awkward. “Um, Jayden Jackson, Mrs. Warren,” Jayden said, holding out a hand.

Surprised, Mrs. Warren took his hand gingerly. What was it with people and handshakes in this town? “You really are from out of town, aren’t you?” she asked as she slowly shook his hand before letting it go. “Never mind, but surely you’re hungry? Jesse always gets hungry after school-”

“Mom!”

“Oh shush, I’m allowed to embarrass my child, it’s part of the parent contract. I’ll make you some sandwiches and if you want them, they’ll be on the table. Also, when your father gets home, make sure he doesn’t touch them. We’ll be going out for dinner out of town tonight so I don’t want him to spoil his appetite,” Mrs. Warren added to Jesse.

Jayden felt envious. Sure, his mother was a nice lady. She was smart, sophisticated and polite. But his family life had never been the best. Here was Jesse, with his mother doting on him, pinching his cheeks and embarrassing him in front of his friends, speaking about a family dinner and her husband as though she was as in love with him as when she had first married him. ‘This,’ Jayden thought, ‘is the perfect family.’

Despite the fact that Jesse was blushing profoundly, he still smiled at his mother. True, he was embarrassed, but he loved his mother dearly. “Okay Mom, but I’m kinda with my friends now, so . . .”

Mrs. Warren nodded and rushed into the kitchen, silent as a mouse as she made sandwiches for Jesse and his guests.

“Okay, now that that’s over,” Carmen said, her voice sounding a little off as though she had been caught off guard. “W-”

“What’s with that look on your face, Wilder?” Jesse asked, raising an eyebrow.

“It’s just . . . your family’s like . . . the perfect All-American family,” Carmen said, rolling her shoulders back. “It’s disgusting.” And yet Jayden could find traces of envy in her voice as well.

“Yeah well, some people in this town actually like me, astonishing, I know,” Jesse snapped.

“Back to the point,” Jayden cut him off before the Atomic Bomb could fight much longer. “What was this about a secret society?”

“Um, right, I was talking about that, wasn’t I?” Jesse rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly, his fingers tapping on the coffee table before him.

“Clearly, this is another insane conspiracy theory so I’m going-”

“What happened to being friends?” Jayden asked. “I thought we had cleared this up and said we were all happily friends again!”

“Yeah and then Warren proved to be a complete whacko and therefore I’m leaving,” Carmen said, standing up and heading towards the door.

“Carmen, come on, why can’t you stay? I mean what’s the worst that’ll happen if you don’t go home right now? Your dad’ll get mad at you?”

Carmen bit her bottom lip and looked away. “That’s not the point.”

“Look, just hear him out, alright?”

Carmen sighed and sat back down. She kicked her feet up onto the coffee table and crossed her legs at the ankles. “Get me a sandwich and I’ll stay.”

“Could you um . . .” Jesse gestured towards the table, his mother’s gardening magazines kept underneath Carmen’s socks which were, in no means dirty, but rather unflattering. “The table- if you could uh-”

“Warren?”

“Yes?” he croaked.

“Sandwich.”

“Yes m’am!”

Jesse bolted up and ran into the kitchen where he grabbed one of the many sandwiches his mother was making. His mother stared at him in confusion at his rushed attitude and his deer in the headlights expression.

“Everything alright Jesse?”

“Yeah,” Jesse replied, filling his arms with sandwiches. Under his breath, he was muttering, “Scary woman . . . Don’t wanna die . . .”

Mrs. Warren grinned at her son. “Why don’t you take the whole plate? I was going to make another anyway.”

“Thanks,” he said, piling the sandwiches from his hands onto the plate and giving his mother a quick kiss on the cheek. “You’re a life saver! Love you!”

As he dashed out the kitchen door, Mrs. Warren chuckled to herself. “Just like his father . . .”


Jesse placed the plate of sandwiches on the table and bit his bottom lip as Carmen picked one up. She took a bite and chewed for a moment before nodding slowly. “Alright, you were saying?”

Jesse relaxed visibly, knowing that Carmen wouldn’t be eating him today. “You see, the thing is, I think that Adams’ is an imposture.”

“How do you even know?”

“What, you’ve never seen Invasion of the Body Snatchers?”

Carmen shook her head. She wasn’t even going to bother asking how Jesse got his hands on a film from 1956 and instead opted to roll her eyes at him and punch him in the gut. He keeled over, wincing in pain. “Don’t be a baby,” she snapped. “Not why don’t you tell me why your strange abduction story makes sense to you so I don’t punch you again?”

Jesse sat back up and rubbed his sore stomach. “Look, I just need you guys to do me a favour and cooperate with me, alright? It’s not that complicated, I just need to stage an event that’ll expose the fraud for who he is.”

“Look, Jesse, I don’t want to sound like I don’t believe you, but you’ve gotta admit, that’s a pretty far out assumption,” Jayden said. He bit his bottom lip and didn’t look at him.

“You said you were my friend, right? But I’m trying to depend on you and you’re backing away! How the hell am I supposed to believe you if you can’t even believe me?” Jesse demanded. He stood up with a sigh and shook his head. “Never mind, sorry for wasting your time.”

Jayden felt his insides eat at him with guilt. God, was he going to keep upsetting everyone? First Chase, now Jesse. Who was next, Carmen? Or would she even come close to thinking about confiding in him? ‘Houston never had this complications.’

Jayden had always had friends. He hadn’t been immensely popular at his old school but he had a fair amount of friends who he counted on and who counted on him. Moving had to have been the worst thing that had ever happened to him, not to mention the fact that out of all the places he had to land, he was in some loony bin of a town that had freezing cold winters despite the threat of global warming. He didn’t like being alone. He didn’t like being an outsider. And yet as he tried to figure out a way to make himself fit in, he was doing the least productive thing he ever could if he honestly wanted friends. If Chase and Jesse chose to speak to him and all he told them was that they were perhaps imagining things, what good of a friend was he? He’d be all alone.

“Jesse, wait.”

The brunet paused, slowly turning around at the sound of his name. He was guarded. His eyes had lost some of their sparkle and his posture was tense. Whatever trust he had in Jayden was gone and Jayden knew it would take time to build it back up.

Jayden closed his eyes and silently called himself an idiot, knowing he was going to regret the words that were about to come out of his mouth.

“What’s the plan?”


“I so regret this.”

“Too late to back out now Jackson,” Jesse reminded him.

The three preteens were hiding in the bushes outside of Chase’s house. They were on their knees and Jayden’s legs were beginning to numb and it wasn’t from the cold. The idea was crazy and that Jesse thought that above anyone else in this insane group, Jayden was the best to persuade Chase out of his house was insane.

“Why did I agree to this?” Carmen asked to no one in particular.

“Shut up Wilder, we’ve got work to do,” Jesse snapped. “Now go!” He motioned towards the front door, looking old and rusted. Jayden didn’t trust the boards not to give out under his weight.

“But-”

“Do it Jackson,” Jesse urged, giving Jayden a weak push in the back, forcing him forward. It wasn’t that Jesse was forceful, more that Jayden hadn’t expected a sudden bout of violence from the ADHD child.

Jayden was forced to stand up straight on Chase’s front lawn and put himself together. He dusted off his jeans. The fall in the snow had successfully managed to rid him of all feeling below the waist. Taking a deep breath, he was prepared to set aside his pride and knock on the Adams’ front door when something occurred to him.

Turning around sharply, Jayden pointed an accusing gloved finger at Jesse. “Why aren’t you doing this? It’s your plan, your scheme, your goal. Why am I the one walking up to Chase’s front door? Why not you, Mr. 007?”

Jesse shook his head. “I am underserving of the title 007,” Jesse said almost disappointed. “But that’s not the point. The point is that you have better social skills and it’s less likely that you’ll be kicked out should you be the one at the door.”

“How do you know Mrs. Adams’ll kick you out?” Jayden asked, raising an eyebrow. “You’re a good kid!”

“Who are you, my mother?” Jesse shook his head. “Good kid,” he muttered. “Try telling them that.”

“Look, I don’t want to do this-”

“Yeah, but if Wilder knocks on the door, she’ll rip out Adams’ throat before we get any answers!” Jesse sighed. “Look, can’t you just do it? It won’t take long and all you’ve gotta do is ask his mother if he’ll come out. After that, leave it all to me.”

Jayden eyed him curiously. Jesse didn’t really strike him as the organized type, nor was he the calm, cool collected type. He was the kind who caused hectic chaos everywhere he went. He could imagine Jesse in a grocery store and pulling out the can of beans from the bottom of the pile. He didn’t seem like the kind to come up with a well thought-out plan to find out whatever “answers” he thought were vitally important to the human race.

“Just go, will you?” Jesse demanded. “I wanna get this done before it gets dark out and it’s freezing here.”

“Fine, fine,” Jayden sighed, holding up his hands in surrender. “Just give me a sec, alright?”

Turning back towards Chase’s house, Jayden was struck by the beauty of winter. The way the snow hung onto the evergreens, the ice crystals that hung from the front porch’s roof. Despite the fact that each snowflake brought him one step closer to being numbingly cold, Jayden had to appreciate the scenery.

“Jackson!”

Jayden sighed and stumbled his way to the door, tripping in the large boots that his mother had bought him. They were half-way through winter and yet he still hadn’t gotten the hang of walking in them. He stopped in front of the door, painted a nice white colour and looked for the doorbell. The boards underneath him creaked in protest of his weight but finally, his eyes landed on the small button, screwed into the side of the doorframe.

Pushing a doorbell with gloves on is very hard. Jayden’s gloves were a little too big on him so that when he tried to press the damn small button, the tips of his gloves were empty of any fingers and it didn’t work.

“Knock, idiot!” Jesse called from the bushes and when Jayden turned around he realized just how stupid Jesse and Carmen looked, crouched in the snow with bright winter jackets on, it would’ve been more subtle if they had stood in the middle of the yard. Had he really looked that stupid before? God, Jesse was forcing him to throw away his dignity.

He watched for a moment as Carmen smacked Jesse with a snowball and he retaliated by weakly attempting to hit her, but he recoiled. ‘Such kids.’

Jayden turned back to the door and knocked quickly and softly. He waited.

‘One Mississippi- yeah, that’s enough.’

He turned back to Jesse and Carmen and shrugged his shoulders when he heard the front door open. Wincing, he turned around to see a woman wrapped in a house coat. She had long light brown curls and piercing sapphire blue eyes- Chase’s eyes.

“Can I help you?” she asked, shivering visibly from the cold.

“Uh yeah, um, I’m Jayden Jackson, I’m new in town,” Jayden explained. “Is this um, the Adams house?”

“Yes,” the woman said slowly. “Do you want to speak to my son?”

“Um, yes,” Jayden muttered, trying his hardest not to seem too awkward.

“Chase!”

It took a few seconds before the blond appeared before him, shaking, rubbing his pale arms in an attempt to stay warm. “What’s up?” he asked, looking at Jayden who looked ridiculous in winter gear. “You wanna come in?”

“Um, see I uh . . .” Jayden wasn’t sure what to tell Chase. Had Chase looked behind him and seen Jesse and Carmen? Was there any point in hiding them? They stuck out like a sore thumb anyway.

“You guys wanna come in too?” Chase asked, nodding towards Jesse and Carmen. Jayden turned around to see Jesse sigh, as though disappointed Chase could see through his horrible disguise. “Come on, we have a fireplace.”

Jesse and Carmen stood up and from what Jayden could see, were still bickering. She shoved him in the stomach and he hobbled over in an attempt to get away from her. Jayden rolled his eyes at their childishness. This was kind of ridiculous.

“You’ve got friends?” Mrs. Adams asked, looking at Jayden and the approaching two preteens.

“Um, yeah,” Chase replied with a dry throat. “You’re going to turn into a popsicle Jackson. Warren, Wilder, get your butts in here!”

Jesse and Carmen ran onto the porch, deciding to forget their useless banter for a moment in order to become warm. They both tried to get through the door at the same time, shoving each other against the frame, rubbing their backs against it as they tried to get in first.

“Um, do you guys want hot chocolate or coffee?” Mrs. Adams asked when all three preteens were inside the house.

Carmen wiped her boots against the carpet before taking off her jacket and scarf. She took off her boots next, using Jesse’s shoulder as means of support. Jesse toppled over and the two tumbled to the ground.

“Hot chocolate,” Jesse said from underneath Carmen who seemed to be pushing her elbow into his ribs. “She’ll probably want that disgustingly vile liquid that looks like poo-”

“You mean coffee?” Mrs. Adams asked.

“That too,” Jesse said with a shrug. “Wilder, can you get off me? I’m close to suffocating!”

“Nah, I’m rather comfortable here,” Carmen replied with a smug look on her face. “Deal with it Warren.”

“Carmen, get off of him before he starts choking,” Jayden instructed. True, he’d consider Carmen and Jesse his friends, but they were a handful and sometimes it felt more like babysitting than hanging out.

“Too late,” Jesse croaked.

Jayden sighed and grabbed Carmen’s arm, trying to pry her off of him. “Come on Carmen, going to jail at your age isn’t going to look good on your permanent record,” he chided her.

Carmen finally got off of Jesse who took in a deep lungful of air, happy to be breathing. “So, Adams,” Jesse said, sitting up straight in the vestibule. “How’ve you been?”

“Uh, fine and you?” Chase asked, raising an eyebrow. “You okay? You’re acting kind of weird Warren.”

“Well, I saw my life flash before my eyes but other than that? Never been better,” Jesse said in a chirpy tone. Standing up, he dusted off his pants and took off his jacket. “Can I hang this in your closet? I’ll get it before I leave, alright?”

“Yeah, sure,” Chase said somewhat distractedly. “Um, so what are you guys doing here?”

“Well, I was just curious if you had a manual?” Jesse asked, pulling off his boots.

“A manual?”

“Yeah, you know, for my W.A.T.C.H,” Jesse reminded him.

Chase stared at him blankly. “Um, don’t watches come with manuals already? And surely you’re not that stupid that you can’t figure out how a watch works, right?”

Jesse stared at him and found that there were no traces of lies in his eyes. He was genuinely confused. ‘Strike one.’

“So uh Chase, how’s class been?” Jayden asked, leaving his boots in the closet and hanging up his jacket. He walked into the living room and took a seat on the couch gingerly, feeling like an intruder despite the fact that Mrs. Adams had already volunteered to make hot chocolate and coffee.

“Boring as usual, Professor J’s got to be the most uninteresting person I’ve ever had the displeasure of knowing,” Chase replied. Jayden could see contempt in his eyes, something he had never before seen in Chase. Jayden shook it off as merely an illusion since the look came and went as fast as it had come.

“Speaking of school,” Carmen cut in, “I thought about it and as much as it pains me to say it, I think you were right.” Taking a seat in the large reclining chair, Carmen propped her feet up on the foot stool.

“Of course I was right, I’m always right.” Chase snorted, taking a mug of hot chocolate from his mother’s plate which she placed for them. Taking a sip from the mug, he let the warm liquid travel down his throat, slowly heating up his whole body. “What was I right about?”

“The midterm,” Carmen replied, taking the mug of coffee into her hands. “Hey, can I get some sweetener?”

Mrs. Adams nodded and went off to get it for her as Jesse drained his glass of hot chocolate rapidly. Jayden merely stared at the mugs as though they were china and would break the moment he touched them.

“The midterm?” Chase echoed, confused.

“Yeah, the midterm,” Carmen repeated. “You alright Adams? You’re not usually this slow at things.”

“Oh right,” Chase hit himself lightly with the palm of his hand on his forehead. “The midterm! Sorry, I’ve been half asleep lately. Seasonal depression, that sort of thing you know?”

“I hear ya,” Jayden said, finally deciding it was okay to take a sip of the hot chocolate. It was delicious.

Jesse looked over at Chase. Despite his nonchalant way of handling Carmen, he could tell that Chase was still lost. It was evident in his eyes, there was no sign of recognition, not even a glimmer of reflection. ‘Strike two.’

“Out of curiosity, do you know what the formula for discovering the force of gravity?”

Chase stared at Jesse as though he had just dropped from outer space.

“What?”

“Do. You. Know. The formula. For discovering. The force. Of gravity?” Jesse repeated more slowly as though Chase were stupid.

Taken aback, Chase blinked once. Twice. Thrice. Then, he replied, “Why would I know that? I mean, sure, I know it, but what kind of a question is that?”

“A good one. So what’s the answer?”

Carmen turned to Jesse, confused. “Are you crazy Warren? Why would he tell you?”

“Because I want to know,” Jesse replied simply. “C’mon dude, you’ve already saved me from death by suffocating trees, slammed into a forcefield, put up with your teacher’s lessons, given us W.A.T.C.Hs, let me into your house and given me hot chocolate. This will be the least painful thing you’ll probably ever do in your life.”

Chase nodded. “I suppose . . .” He tugged at the sleeve of his baggy Harvard sweatshirt for a moment, rolling the material under his fingers. “The formula for discovering the force of gravity?”

“Yeah, you gonna tell me?”

Chase snorted. “Impatient as ever, eh Warren? You never change.” He pulled his knees up to his chest, resting his head on his grey sweatpants covered legs. “The formula for discovering the force of gravity. Force equals mass times gravity, gravity equals ten neutrons per kilogram. Happy?”

Jesse nodded.

‘Strike three. You’re out.’

“Well, I feel like an intruder,” Jesse declared, standing up and dusting off his pants.

“Oh, now you decided to be a thoughtful house guest?” Carmen asked, raising an eyebrow in his direction.

“I just realized it’s five and pitch black outside. My mom’s gonna be worried so I’d best get going,” Jesse said. “Tell you mother it was great hot chocolate,” he added. Slipping into his jacket and sliding on his boots, Jesse opened the front door and ran down the old stairs two at a time, his hands shoved in his pocket.

Jesse had all the answers he needed, thanks to Chase. No, not Chase. Fake Chase.


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