Chapter 4: If You Can't Beat Them
The sound of Cyrus’s watch ticking rivaled the maniac beating of his heart. There were roughly three hours until he had to face Mike, and he was anything but ready. Cyrus had spent the past day psyching himself up, trying to figure out what he was going to say. So far, he had several possible scenarios planned out in his head. They all seemed inevitably to end with him getting punched. Many ended worse.
As if the blind panic wasn’t enough, there was still Hayden. Cyrus heard him come in sometime around midnight, quiet as a ghost. When he woke up in the morning, though, Hayden was already gone. Today he had come to class, but Cyrus didn’t make any attempt to speak with him. There really wasn’t anything to say.
Now, as the sun dipped below the horizon, Cyrus sat in the empty dorm room, wishing he had gone to any school but this one. He wondered if his mother would let him transfer, but it was doubtful, for she had handpicked this one, for once. Apparently, it was one of the best in terms of high acceptance rates to Ivy League colleges, and that was all she cared about. Whether or not Cyrus was happy was secondary to that beautiful acceptance letter that he would one day receive.
Over the soothing hum of a classical violin piece, Cyrus heard the outer door creak open, then shut. Hayden was back. Seconds later, there was a knock on the bedroom door.
“Come in,” Cyrus called. He stood up to turn off the record as Hayden stepped inside. He continued, “I’ll go, just give me a-“
“Don’t worry about it,” Hayden replied.
Cyrus looked up. Crossing the room towards him, Hayden shoved his hands in his pockets, looking uncomfortable. Cyrus waited, because it seemed like there was something Hayden wanted to say. Eventually, he did. “Okay, look. I know we got off on the wrong foot or something - I’m still not quite sure what I did - but I figure we’re going to have to make this work somehow. We’re freaking roommates; we’re going to be spending a lot of time together whether you like it or not.” Hayden ran his hand through his hair and continued, “I also figured it’ll be a heck of a lot harder to make this work if I have to deal with you getting beat up every day, so here.”
Hayden pulled something from his pocket and tossed it to Cyrus. He caught it in surprise. It was the silver flask. Brows pulling together, he looked at Hayden, “How did you…?”
With a shrug, Hayden sat down on his bed. “Stole it. No walk in the park either, trust me.”
Cyrus just blinked at him, completely lost for words. “Why?” he finally managed.
Rolling his eyes, Hayden replied, “I just told you. I don’t want my roommate coming in bloody every other day.” He paused, obviously not satisfied with Cyrus’s lingering skepticism. “You don’t want to be friends with me - I get that. Really, I do. But, listen, you giving them that keeps them off my back as much as yours.” When Cyrus still hesitated, Hayden added in exasperation, “Can’t you just accept that I’m trying to do something nice?”
“I…” Cyrus trailed off, his thoughts reeling. Hayden looked like he was getting legitimately irritated, and he did have a very good point. Why couldn’t Cyrus just accept it? Why was it so hard to consider the fact that this year could be different? That Hayden could be different?
Looking annoyed, Hayden shed his blazer and tossed it haphazardly onto his bed.
“I’m sorry,” Cyrus blurted. Hayden’s eyes snapped to him, and he repeated. “I’m sorry for being a jerk to you.” Realizing that he now had to explain himself, Cyrus reluctantly continued, “I just thought this year would be easier if I didn’t get attached. If I didn’t make friends.”
Hayden blinked at him. “When is anything ever easier without friends?”
Cyrus shrugged. “In my experience, friendship always falls apart at some point. I just thought I’d avoid getting hurt this year, okay?” he ended a bit sharply.
There was a tense moment of silence. Cyrus stared at the floor. Hayden stared at his hands. Only the soft music kept the quiet from being unbearable.
“I wouldn’t hurt you,” Hayden said eventually. Cyrus didn’t respond. After another beat, he added, “Actually, I’m insulted.”
At this, Cyrus looked up. “You’re insulted?” echoed Cyrus blankly.
“Yeah,” Hayden replied with exaggerated offense. “I didn’t even get a chance to hurt you, but now I’m being punished for it? That’s hardly fair.”
“It’s hardly a punishment.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Cyrus shrugged. “I mean, as far as friends go, I’m a pretty crappy one to have.” He didn’t honestly think that he was completely blameless for all the people who had hurt him over the years.
“How about you let me be the judge of that?” Hayden said firmly. “Come on, will you at least give me a chance?” He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “Look, give me a week. A week where you just be yourself, and so will I. After that, if you don’t want to be friends, fine. You can go back to this silent standoffish thing you have going. Decent deal?”
For a moment, Cyrus studied him in silence. He looked sincere, so open and welcoming. Would it really be so bad to at least try? He could be different, Cyrus reminded himself. After all, if it had been anyone else, they wouldn’t have even spared him a second thought after that crap he pulled the other day. “Alright,” Cyrus agreed. “Thanks.”
Hayden’s face split into a bright, genuine grin. “Awesome.” Cyrus couldn’t help but smile back, albeit tentatively. After a second, Hayden asked, “So you want to know how I did it?”
“Stole the flask, of course!” Hayden replied, rolling his eyes good naturedly.
Cyrus nodded, a hint of a smile on his face. “I thought it would be near impossible to do.”
“It was, for anyone but me, obviously. That’s probably why they told you to do it,” he replied. “They wanted to see you fail.”
“So how did you do it?”
Hayden laced his fingers behind his head and sunk back onto his bed, settling into a comfortable position. “Well, I know this place inside and out, so I know where McMillan’s private rooms are. And I’m a pretty friendly guy, you know, so I’ve been friends with the staff for a while now. I know where the maintenance guy keeps his master keys when he’s off duty. So I thought it’d be a simple matter of nipping in the store room, grabbing the keys, then waiting ’til McMillan was asleep and breaking into her room-“
“Right. Simple,” Cyrus interjected sarcastically.
Hayden grinned, but kept going, “But the problem was, I forgot that the store room got locked at night. That put a wrench in the gears, ’cause then I couldn’t take the keys without someone noticing.”
By this point, Hayden had pulled one of his hands free and was using it to gesture animatedly. Cyrus leaned forward, raising a brow. “So what’d you do?”
“I let myself get locked in the store room,” Hayden tossed out casually with a little shrug.
“You what?” Cyrus responded in surprise.
“Yep.” He looked proud of himself. “So, I waited until they’d locked the room, then took the master key and let myself out. Breaking into McMillan’s was the easy part, actually. She goes to sleep early, and, apparently, when she’s out, she’s out.” Hayden continued, “The real conundrum came when I went to put the keys back, because the staff would get suspicious if the store room wasn’t locked when they came in in the morning, but I wasn’t going to lock myself in.”
Cyrus suggested, “Couldn’t you twist the lock, then pull the door closed?”
Hayden shook his head. “It was one of those old deadbolt kinds. So, I took a chance and locked it from the outside, and kept the key, figuring I’d slip in and put it back in the morning.”
“And don’t you think it’d be more suspicious if they found the key missing than the door unlocked?” Cyrus interrupted. “They might have just thought they forgot to lock it, but the master key? That can unlock any door in the building?”
After thinking for a moment, Hayden conceded, “You know what, you’re probably right. I should consult you before planning any future criminal activity.” He chuckled. “No, but really - it was midnight. Can you blame me for the lack of logic? I think it was pretty brilliant that I managed to pull it off so seamlessly as it is. I should get a medal.”
Cyrus ignored that part. “So you did manage to pull it off, then? You got the key back without being noticed?”
“Yeah,” Hayden replied. “I just waited until they unlocked the door and got their supplies, then slipped in, hung up the key, and ran like hell. I had to get up annoyingly early for that, though.”
“Wow,” Cyrus breathed. “I have to say, I’m kind of impressed.” He wasn’t about to admit it, but it wasn’t the thievery that impressed him; instead, it was the fact that Hayden was willing to go through such effort and put himself at such risk for a kid whom he’d known for only a day.
Hayden grinned again. “I have that effect on people.” He glanced at the clock. “We’ve still got two hours before they come and kidnap you; want to watch a movie?” When Cyrus hesitated, he added, “Come on, it’s better than sitting in here getting all worked up. Besides, you have the flask now. All you’ll have to do is hand it over, nothing to worry about.”
“Alright,” Cyrus agreed. “What movie?”
He thought for a minute. “Ever seen Red Dawn?”
“No,” Cyrus replied.
Hayden stared at him. “What?” he demanded. “That’s a crime. A crime. What have you been doing with your life?”
“Uh…trying to get into college?”
Hayden waved him off. “Who needs college when you could watch badass kids with guns? Come on,” he said, leading the way to the other room. “Please tell me you’ve seen other classics, though.”
“Like what?” Cyrus asked.
“Like… The Breakfast Club, Braveheart, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Psycho…” Hayden trailed off, searching Cyrus’s face for any trace of recognition.
Cyrus stalled for a minute. “Uh… never had the occasion?”
Hayden let out an exasperated groan. “Man, be happy that this place is hooked up to Netflix and other, uh, less legal sites. You’ve got some watching to do.”
Cyrus sat down on the couch as Hayden flipped open his laptop and connected it to the projector. As he typed, Cyrus asked, “So, why don’t they allow cell phones here?”
“They think they’re a distraction, a bad influence. They figure traditional phones in the rooms are enough to contact relatives, and what else do you need?” Hayden rolled his eyes. “Also, they shut the wifi off at midnight everywhere but the library. Just a heads up.”
“Oh,” Cyrus replied. It was a good thing he didn’t talk to his mother anyway, and didn’t have any friends. Not having cellphone didn’t even matter to him.
Hayden pressed play on the movie, and it was projected against the blank white wall across from the couch. No traditional TVs either, apparently. Sitting down opposite Cyrus, Hayden said, “This movie is so awesome. It was back when Charlie Sheen was still cool.”
Cyrus just nodded blankly as he watched the opening, relieved to be able to lose himself in the movie. Slowly, the tension that had been plaguing him all day eased, and it felt good. Here he was, sitting with someone who actually might want to be his friend, watching a movie like a normal person. Maybe he had just gotten off to a bad start, and things would get better at this school.
When at last the credits faded, Cyrus admitted, “That was awesome.”
“I told you,” Hayden replied enthusiastically. “The remake doesn’t do the original justice, though.”
Cyrus was about to reply when a pound on the door interrupted him. He sighed, knowing it was Mike. Hayden leaned over and punched him lightly on the arm. He gave Cyrus an encouraging look and said, “Good luck.”
“Thanks,” Cyrus replied, picking up the flask and heading for the door. Just before he wrenched it open, he looked down at the cold metal object in his hand and reminded himself that whatever happened, there was still the offer of Hayden’s friendship. At least something good might come of this.
Cyrus twisted the knob and greeted Mike with a smile that was only half forced.