After Conrad leaves with Mrs. Gallagher, the curtain on stage closes. I’m standing where Conrad left me with Desiree and Hailey, and Dane has slinked off somewhere. Some of the girls in our class approach me.
“Oh my god Sydney, you’re sleeping with Mr. Riley? We never took you for that type of girl,” the one named Kelly says.
“What type of girl?” Desiree asks, narrowing her eyes at them.
“Oh I don’t mean anything by it,” Kelly says, “ but wow, lucky girl. At least now we know why your grades are so good.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about. Why don’t you bitches take off before I smack you,” Desiree hisses.
I don’t even care, though. I know the truth, and I’m more concerned about what’s going to happen to Conrad.
Harrison joins us then.
“Hey, you girls want to get the fuck out of here? The guys are just packing up the rest of our equipment. Let’s blow this joint,” he says.
“I can’t leave without Conrad,” I fret.
“He’s probably going to be a while, Sydney,” Desiree says.
Harrison looks around us and then leans in.
“Well, in the meantime, how about we remove ourselves from the center of attention? I doubt Sydney needs this bullshit right now.”
Desiree and I nod, and Harrison wraps a comforting arm around my shoulders and starts leading us away.
“Wait, my sister,” I say, remembering Hailey, and searching around for her.
“I’m here,” she says from behind me, “I’m coming with you guys if that’s okay?”
“It’s cool,” Harrison says.
The four of us leave the gymnasium just as we hear music start playing over the speakers. Someone must have just plugged his or her phone into the sound system.
We head out to the parking lot towards the guy's van. We see Jake and Kevin loading the last few cases into the back. When we approach them, Kevin and Jake give me sympathetic stares.
“That was heavy,” Jake says, “what do you think is going to happen to Conrad?”
“He’s getting fired for sure,” Kevin says, “what do you think happens when you date the student body?”
“Come on Kev,” Harrison scolds him, “I think Conrad was well aware this could happen. He’s no dummy. He knows it’s worth it.”
“Awe, that’s so sweet of you to say,” Desiree croons, reaching for Harrison's arm.
“I’m a sweet guy, I tried to tell you before,” he says with a cocky grin.
“So, are we going to sit here and wait?” Jake asks.
“It’s okay, you guys can go,” I insist, “who knows how long he’ll be.”
“Nope. We’re not leaving you here by yourself,” Harrison says, “Not with that Dane guy running around here somewhere. He’s clearly not quite right, yeah?”
I realize my sister is here with us, but she has remained quiet the whole time standing behind me.
“And who is this pretty Lil’ thing?” Kevin asks.
Harrison laughs, “Easy big guy. She’s much too young for you or any of us.”
“Well shoot,” Jake says in a teasing tone.
“Yeah,” my sister says, “I’ve got another two years before I can date any of you guys, but keep me in mind once you’re rich and famous?”
Everyone bursts out laughing then, including me. It feels nice to let out a little bit of the growing tension in my chest. It’s all I can do not to break down and cry right now.
“So what is the deal with that Dane kid anyway?” Jake asks, “Conrad said he had an awful feeling about him, like a dangerous feeling?”
“He may be a little out there, but Dane’s not dangerous,” I counter, and I hear a weird noise come from my sister. I turn to look at her in question.
“What?” I ask her.
“Uh…” she stammers and the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
“What?” I ask more forcefully, “What did he do to you, Hailey?”
“He didn’t hurt me or anything if that’s what you’re thinking, but Dane could be a little intense sometimes, like really clingy and territorial. If this hadn’t gone down, I was still planning on ending things with him tonight. Also, he was always asking about you, wondering where you were, who you were with…”
“Then why’d you keep seeing him? I thought you said he was sweet?” I ask.
“Because I was trying to help him move on from you, Sydney. I figured if I could shift his focus, he’d leave you and Conrad alone.”
I’m stunned by her confession. She did that for me? I reach for her and pull her in for a hug.
“You didn’t have to do that Hailey. I appreciate it, but you didn’t have to do it, especially if you felt uneasy in the relationship.”
“That’s not all…” she adds, “one night I was at his house and we were kind of making out on his couch,” Hailey pauses and shrugs her shoulders, “he’s weird, but he’s still hot- call me shallow but whatever. Anyway, I went to go to the bathroom, but I ended up in his room instead. I couldn’t help it, and I snooped around a little bit.”
“And?” Desiree waves her hand impatiently.
“And I kind of found a freaky shrine to Sydney in his closet. It had pictures of her since she was a kid until now, and some were definitely not taken with Sydney’s knowledge.”
“Whoa,” Harrison murmurs under his breath.
“And you didn’t think this could be useful information for me?” I ask. I can’t help but feel annoyed and a bit angry by the fact that I’m the last to know that Dane isn’t all right in the head, “If I had known, then I would have never defended him, I would have been able to call him out on it before it came to this.”
“I’m sorry, Sydney. I thought it was best if you didn’t know about it, though I’m not sure why now. I guess I thought it’d all blow over eventually.”
“Obviously not,” I snap.
“Dane needs serious therapy,” Desiree says, shaking her head.
“And to think that I thought it was Violet, or maybe that’s what I was hoping for,” I mutter.
Jake clears his throat then.
“Violet isn’t a very nice person, but she knows now that Conrad’s feelings are far from mutual for her. She’s got a little bit of pride to know when to back off.
“You’ve got that right, Jake, baby, but I still know how to hold a grudge.”
All of us stop and turn towards the voice, and our eyes land on Violet, who is standing a few feet away from us.
“What the fuck, Violet?” Jake yells.
She walks closer to us, and she’s holding up a small USB stick.
“Who do you think took the video?”
“Dane?” Desiree says, glaring daggers at her.
“No, his alibi was Sydney’s sister, but he gave me all the information I needed. I also got the honor of pressing play tonight. I loved watching the look on everyone’s faces.”
“How do you know Dane?” I finally ask, more confused than ever.
Violet comes over and stands in front of me, her face full of contempt and disgust at me.
“Well, I remembered seeing him talking to you at the club that one night, and then I saw him again a few weeks later. We started talking about you and agreed to help each other out. I don’t know what all the fuss is about really. You’re so fucking boring,” she sneers.
Jake strides over to her and turns her around to face him.
“Violet, how could you do this? I thought you were better than this? Why do you have to hurt people?”
“We were all happy until this little bitch came and destroyed everything!” she yells back.
“Okay, now you might be the crazy one, Violet, because the only one happy before, was you. Don't you think I knew the way you stared at Conrad and fawned over him all the time? You don’t think that I noticed how you always took a special interest in scaring away any female he brought near the house? Sure, you tried to give the odd courtesy scare to Kevin and Harrisons girls, but it was so transparent.”
“You and your attitude made everyone around you miserable,” Kevin chimed in.
“Until Sydney came along, we were all just kind of putting up with you for Jake’s sake, because he was in love with you. But we all knew he could do so much better than a purple-haired little brat like you,” Harrison adds, “We much prefer Sydney’s company than we ever did yours.”
“I don’t know why it took me so long to be done with you,” Jake speaks again, “I guess I had hoped that your infatuation with Conrad was all in my head.”
Violets' eyes are now filled with tears as she gets it from every side. I hate and feel bad for her at the same time.
“Okay guys, I think she’s had enough,” I offer.
“I don’t need your help,” she cries, but when she looks at me, I can see a glimmer of gratitude there.
“I don’t need this bullshit,” Violet wipes at her face, smearing her makeup under her eyes. She tosses the USB at me then.
“Here, take it. It’s done what I needed it to. I hope you’re happy.”
“Is this the only one?” I confirm.
“Aside from the one on my computer, and the one I sent to your parents. Though I don’t know why you’re worried anymore, Conrad can’t go to jail for what’s on there anyway. I was hoping you guys would do something more interesting, but again it was just boring.”
“Yeah, we saved the good stuff for afterward,” I quip.
Violet rolls her eyes and storms away from us. We can hear her swearing under her breath as she disappears.
“So that was unexpected,” Jake says when nobody speaks after a minute.
“So I guess this means that both you and Conrad were right,” Desiree comments.
We wait for another hour when finally we see Conrad leaving the building. He spots us and makes his way over. I run up to him and wrap my arms around him.
“What happened?” I ask.
“Yeah, give us the news,” Kevin says.
“You guys didn’t have to wait, I have my bike,” Conrad tells us.
“Yeah, like I’d leave without you,” I reply and frown at him.
Conrad smiles down at me.
“I didn’t mean you, but I would have understood if you wanted to get out of here.”
“Out here is better than in there, but that’s as far as I was willing to go. Now tell us what’s going to happen now.”
“As you may have guessed already, I am most definitely fired. Luckily, that’s about it. Sydney’s of legal age, so there’s nothing to be done there, but obviously what I did is against the policy. After some smooth negotiating though, this won’t go on my teaching record, so even though I can’t teach here anymore, I can still teach elsewhere if I decide to teach again.”
I and everyone else let out an audible sigh of relief.
“So you came out of this relatively unscathed then,” Harrison says.
“Yeah, except I’ll definitely have a shady reputation around town now. I’ll be known as the teacher who screws his students.”
I cringe at that, and Conrad notices. He reaches for my face and cups it between his palms and looks me square in the eye.
“I know it’s more than that babe, but you know as well as I do that’s how the story will be retold. The story will get worse and worse with every mouth it leaves.”
I nod because I know he’s right.
“So what do we do about that?” I whisper, my eyes still locked with his.
“I don’t know right now, but there’s not much we can do about how people talk. It’s out there whether we like it or not. Be prepared for the whispers; they’ll be coming in a flood soon.”
“So school should be interesting on Monday then?” Desiree comments.
“I don’t care,” I say, “All that matters to me right now is that your career isn’t ruined, and I can kiss you in public now, whether other people like it or not.”
“I do like that,” Conrad smiles, “no more hiding.”
“Then kiss her already and let’s get out of here so we can go let off some steam with a few well-deserved drinks,” Kevin chortles.
“That actually sounds nice,” I say.
“You sure?” Conrad raises his eyebrows in surprise.
“Yeah. A lot has happened tonight, so it’d be nice to hang out with our friends and have a little fun.”
“I was hoping we could have some one on one time.”
“Oh trust me, there’ll be plenty of that because I’m staying with you tonight…all night.”