08 | Suspect
After Calvin’s declaration, Gibson put the school on lockdown. All the professors were instructed to lock their doors after everyone returned to class (with the exception of me and my friends), and the students in Mr. Canty’s class were put in the gym. The blinds were drawn so no one could peek in, and, after he volunteered, Mr. Kingsley stayed with us as Gibson reviewed the tapes with the police. No one’s coming in or out.
Now that something’s being done, everyone decides to crowd around me on the couch. Nikki is sitting on Leon’s lap to my right, Calvin on the arm of the couch next to them. TJ and Trent are still on the loveseat across from me. The coffee table separating us has been moved against the wall, right under the window, so TJ can massage Nikki’s feet. On the left, Whit’s eyes are darting from us to Mr. Kingsley, who’s leaning against the wall—sizing him, I guess, making sure he’s not going to do anything.
He notices, though, and decides to say something about it. “I’m not a threat, Ms. Hall.”
She lifts her head a little, face stern. “We’ll see about that, Chase.”
He raises an amused eyebrow. “Don’t want to use my last name?”
“I don’t call any of the professors by their last names,” she answers. “Privilege of flunking a year.”
“You’re proud of flunking?” he questions, tilting his head. He’s mocking her. I can tell by the small curve of his mouth—he’s trying not to smirk.
“Yes,” she says, unfazed.
He’s smirking now. “I see.”
“Leave him alone, Whit,” Leon says. “He helped Cupcake; I don’t think he’s going to try anything now.”
“I just think it’s strange,” she defends, looking at Leon. “He suddenly comes to our school a day before Preston sends us that warning, and he’s already meeting up with her at odd hours of the night. We all know Circle K is anything but popular and yet he was there at two in the morning.”
Leon can’t say anything in return.
Mr. Kingsley looks more entertained than offended as he straightens up. “I was visiting a friend of mine. He ran out of cigarettes and asked me to run to the convenient store near his house on my way.”
“That’s just it: why were you visiting a friend at two in the morning?” she demands.
I sigh. “Whit, drop it. He’s not dangerous, okay?”
Mr. Kingsley shakes his head. “No, it’s okay. Ms. Hall is perfectly justified in her assumptions.”
I raise an eyebrow.
“My parents passed away recently,” he says, “and in an attempt to mix things up, I decided to move to the States. I have a friend that lives here in Silverstein, and he thought it would be a good change of pace. He said the people here were... interesting, and things were different. I taught for a year in Europe, so he knew someone who could get me a job if I was qualified. The same friend has a job on graveyard, however, and I haven’t seen him since I moved here, so I thought I’d sacrifice a night and visit him. Friday night was the first night he’s had off since I have been here.”
I blink a couple times, processing what he said.
“Holy shit,” Nikki mutters. “I’m sorry about your lost, man.”
“Second that,” TJ mumbles.
Mr. Kingsley is surprisingly easy-going as he shrugs. “It’s fine,” he says lightly. “Do I pass?”
“That still doesn’t explain why you keep helping Cupcake,” she says, standing up. “There’s no reason for you to give her a ride home, right? There’s no reason for you to worry—no one else does—so why do you?”
He stops this time, looking at each of us. Everyone is staring at him—I can see their curiosity in my peripheral—waiting for his reply.
“Because I’m a professor.” He says it like it’s an explanation in itself.
“That doesn’t mean anything.”
“You haven’t had many decent professors, have you?” He looks Whit in her eyes, the smile tilting one side of his mouth up. “It’s in my job description. A professor’s job is to help their students, whether it’s school-related or not. It’s a professor’s job to make sure their students are safe. Why do you think professors are required to report if we think a student is being abused or hurting themselves?” he asks. “It’s because it’s our job to take care of you when you’re here.”
“I can see why they gave him the job,” TJ whispers.
Whit doesn’t look convinced, though. If anything, she and the rest—excluding Trent, who has looked rather blank this entire time—have actually gotten more tense, on edge. “Alright, let’s say that you mean all of this, that you actually believe everything you just said. Does that mean you’d try to help any of us if you saw us in trouble?”
He doesn’t hesitate. “Of course.”
He says it so easily, Whit looks conflicted. It’s like he actually believes everything he’s saying, and she’s not used to it. I can’t blame her—most of the professors we have here are awful—but I’m not surprised. After all, he went out of his way to rinse the ricin off of me.
Gibson walks in as silence sets around us, eyes scanning Mr. Kingsley, probably making sure we haven’t done anything to him.
“We’ve finished reviewing the footage,” he says.
“That was fast,” Leon says, eyes hard as he looks at him.
Gibson looks scared as he meets his gaze.
Whatever they found, it isn’t good.
“You didn’t see anyone,” Mr. Kingsley states, interrupting the slow-growing tension.
He shakes his head. “No one has come into the school since this morning. And everyone who came in were legitimate students.”
“So it was someone who goes here.” Whit’s voice is dangerous.
Instead of trying to calm her, Nikki’s eyes darken. “Someone who knows Cupcake’s first class.”
Gibson clears his throat, eyes looking anywhere but the two of them as he nods. “Yes. The SPD believes it was someone who has class with Ms. Tyler.”
It’s silent. Nikki gnashes her teeth, face hard as she thinks. Leon closes his eyes, taking a hand off of Nikki’s thigh to rub his head. Whit’s eyes narrow, her jaw set, but she doesn’t send any accusing glances towards Mr. Kingsley. Calvin’s face is blank; matching Trent’s to a T. TJ simply looks worried as his eyes bounce from each of them.
“At any rate,” Gibson says, trying to keep from clearing his throat again, “the officers and I have agreed that it might be better if Ms. Tyler were to go home for the day. To keep from alerting any of the other students, a medical team is going to take care of the ricin before classes resume.”
“I’ll take Cupcake home,” Leon says, standing up.
“You have AP Physics,” I say, “and if you miss another class, what is your dad going to do?”
“Then I’ll take you,” Calvin decides, lazily getting off of the arm. “Anything to get out of Chemistry II.”
I roll my eyes. “After that kiss? My sister would have the cops at my house before we could even get out of the car.”
“Wait, you kissed Cassadee?” Nikki looks at him, tilting her head. “Without vomiting?”
Leon shakes his head. “You’re not walking home, not after what happened today.”
“They were inside the school, Leon. I’m sure I’ll be fine.” I wave him off, standing up. “See you guys tomorrow.”
“No, Mr. Reid is right,” Gibson says, interrupting our conversation with surprising ease. “Someone should see you home, just to be safe.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Oh, really? Then who?”
He looks over at Mr. Kingsley. “Will you take Ms. Tyler home? I’m sure she can give you directions.”
Mr. Kingsley shrugs. “I don’t mind.”
“Then it’s settled,” Gibson says, looking at me. “Get some rest, Ms. Tyler.”
I nod, furrowing my eyebrows as he leaves. “He’s so weird.”
“He’s just worried,” Leon explains.
“’Bout time,” Nikki joins. “It only took you almost killing him for him to get his shit together.”
Leon sighs. “I guess.” He pats Mr. Kingsley shoulder. “Thanks for taking Cupcake home, Chase,” he says, “It’s probably for the best.”
He raises a brow.
“Probably the only person we can trust,” Trent decides to insert.
“I don’t know,” Whit mutters.
Nikki wraps an arm around her shoulders. “Aw, come on, Whitler; let Chase take her home.”
“Yeah, Whit, don’t you think he’s earned our trust by now?” TJ says.
She sighs. “Whatever.”
Nikki grins. “Good girl.”
“But if he does anything to her, I’ll kill you three along with him,” she declares.
“Hear that?” Nikki says, nudging Mr. Kingsley with her elbow. “Don’t screw up or she’ll probably yank out your teeth and make us eat them.”
He simply chuckles. “I’ll try my best, Ms. Sutton.”
“Enough with the formalities,” Nikki says, rolling her eyes. “My name’s Nikki; Ms. Sutton is the bitch who had me.”
“Technically, your name’s Nicole,” TJ chirps, “just saying.”
“Don’t make me rip out your tongue, Taylor,” she says sweetly, “just saying.”
“Oh, you’re on, Nicole Maxine.”
“You’re dead, pretty boy.” Nikki launches herself at him, tackling him to the ground with scary force. He laughs the entire way down, cringing only when his head hit the hardwood floor. She wraps her fingers around his neck, but he flips them over, straddling her as he pins her arms above her head.
“Not in front of Trent,” she says playfully. “What will you do if he questions your sexuality? Coming to the dark side, baby?”
They continue rolling around, nearly knocking over the coffee table when Nikki rams him against it.
I smile, shaking my head.
“Nikki has a point, though,” Leon says, looking at Mr. Kingsley. “You might as well call us by our names.”
He tilts his head, amused. “Why?”
“Because it’d be like one of us calling us by our last names,” he explains, “It’d be strange.”
“Trent! Get your lover off of me!” Nikki shrieks, laughing.
“Oh my god, you are so lucky I haven’t murdered you yet.” TJ’s face is red—whether it’s from embarrassment or anger, I’m not sure, though I think its more than likely a mixture of the two.
With a straight face, Trent grabs TJ’s arms, which are effectively keeping Nik from scratching him, and pulls him away from her, holding his arms behind his back.
“No fair, Trent!” TJ whines. “Why are you taking her side!?”
“There aren’t any sides,” he says easily.
“Whatever,” he grumbles, relaxing.
Leon shakes his head as Whit takes this moment to snatch Mr. Kingsley wrist, pulling him out into the hallway.
“Shit,” Nikki says.
Leon stops her from heading after them. “Let her talk to him; she’ll never feel better if she doesn’t.”
“But, Leon, what if she—”
“Chase won’t do anything,” Leon says. “You and TJ both said he didn’t do anything when Cupcake hit him; I don’t see why now would be any different.”
She relents, but I’m not as sure.
“Still, Trent and TJ? When did this happen?” Calvin comments, grinning.
TJ groans. “I told you! It’s nothing!”
Just as another fight breaks out, I slip out of the room, being sure to close the door as quietly as possible before looking around. Besides the rough-housing going on in the teachers’ lounge, I can hear Whit talking down the hall.
“So you’re telling me you’re different?” she demands.
I peek around the corner.
Whit is facing away from me, arms crossed as she waits for an answer. Mr. Kingsley is looking at her, head tilted innocently.
“Depends,” he says. “Different from what?”
I can practically see her roll her eyes. “Don’t play coy with me,” she snaps. “Different from those other professors in this building. Different from that trash-talking piece of shit Canty and that bitch Kaiser. Don’t think I don’t know the bullshit they spit about Cupcake; they’ve probably already told you a thing or two in warning.”
I shake my head. I’ve told her countless times that it doesn’t bother me, but she never listens.
He doesn’t say anything, face patient, as he waits for her to finish.
She gets closer to him, threatening his personal space. “Look. I’ve been at this place for five years now; I know how things work. All of the professors, with the possible exception of Dr. Sandy, absolutely hate us. They gather in their little lounge, drinking coffee spiked with vodka, and plot ways to make it harder for us. Call it paranoid, call it self-centered, call it whatever you want, but it’s true, and I’m sure you’ve already figured that out by now.”
He’s still waiting.
She sighs, rubbing her temples. “We don’t trust anyone, alright? It’s rare for someone like Cupcake to actually join the group; a professor suddenly in the loop has never been heard of before. Professors are our number one enemy, with good reason, so don’t make us regret trusting you.”
He smirks, the corners of his lips turning up a little as he ruffles her hair. “I’m not going to do anything to Vixen,” he says reassuringly. “You have my word.”
She swats his hand away, and I picture her rolling her eyes again. “I’m holding you to that.”