I was awakened by the blaring sirens of approaching fire engines. They sounded close. When I opened my eyes, red lights were flashing in my windows. I glanced at the clock. It was just after dawn.
I hurried to the window. I could see boys congregating on the baseball field. Craning my neck, I spotted the trucks in front of Stanton.
“Sarah! Wake up! I think there’s a fire next door!”
Sarah bolted out of bed to join me. “I think you’re right. Come on. Let’s go see. Make sure everyone’s okay.”
We dressed quickly and headed outside. Larry and Andy were talking to Mr. Peters, who waved me over when he saw us.
“Melinda. We’re looking for Walter. He’s the only one unaccounted for. Have you any idea where he might be?”
I shrugged. “He goes running in the morning. Like, around town, not the track. I don’t know the route, though.”
Mr. Birkenhead, who was speaking with one of the firefighters, motioned for Mr. Peters to join him. When we were alone, Sarah turned to Larry.
“We don’t know. It’s not a drill, but no one saw a fire. We just got outside. When Peters went to do a headcount, he saw Walter was missing. I forgot he goes running.”
Andy smirked. “I thought maybe he was in your dorm.”
About twenty minutes later, Walter jogged up beside me. He seemed barely winded as he put an arm on my shoulder and held his opposite foot behind him to stretch.
“What’s going on?”
Before anyone could answer, a streak of pink collided with Walter, nearly knocking him to the ground. “Walter! I was so worried about you!”
Larry and Andy did not quite hide their snickers. Sarah looked as disgusted as I felt. Walter raised his eyebrows as he tried to extricate himself from Bella.
“Can someone tell me what happened?”
“You better find Peters,” Andy said. “When he couldn’t find you, well, he wasn’t happy.”
“Bella. I’ll, I’ll catch up with you later, okay?”
Bella had tears streaming down her face as she released Walter. “I’m just so happy you’re okay.”
“Yeah. I’m fine. Later.”
While everyone was watching Walter head towards the fire trucks, I caught Bella’s eye. There was something there that made me uncomfortable. It was gone in a flash. I shook my head and turned to my roommate.
“Since we’re up, breakfast?”
Sarah shrugged. “Why not? Dining hall isn’t open yet, though. I’m going to finish getting dressed.”
“Can I join you?” Larry asked.
“No!” Sarah and I exclaimed in unison.
“I meant at breakfast!”
“Sure you did,” Andy smirked. “Sure you did.”
“So, what was with the fire this morning?” Sarah asked as she sat beside Larry at the lunch table fourth period.
Walter shrugged, speaking without food in his mouth for once. “No one really knows. Apparently, someone pulled the alarm and ran away.”
“What did the dean want this morning?” Larry asked.
Bella gasped. “You got called out of class?”
Walter shrugged. “It was my free period, but yeah. I got an email to report to his office immediately. He had heard I wasn’t in my room when the alarm went off and wanted to ask me a bunch of questions. I think he thought maybe I pulled the alarm, but when he realized it wasn’t me, he started asking if I had seen anyone.”
“Did you?” I thought Bella sounded scared, but no one else seemed to notice.
Walter took a sip of his water and shook his head. “No. But, I wasn’t paying much attention.”
“Well, I’m just glad you’re okay. When you didn’t come out of the dorm, I was so scared something had happened to you.” Bella put her arm around Walter. It looked like she was trying to pull him towards her for a hug, but he was so solid that she ended up half out of her chair embracing him.
Near the end of the period, Bella turned to Walter, who had been unusually quiet the entire meal. “I’ll walk with you to class.”
Walter raised his eyebrows. “Don’t you have math?”
“I can be late. I’d rather spend time with you.”
“I would feel real bad if you were late because of me. Why don’t I meet you after classes? We can walk to the TRAC together?”
“Okay. See you later, sweetie!” Bella kissed the top of Walter’s head as she stood. I could have sworn I saw her glaring at me as she reached for her tray. I blinked and Bella was smiling sweetly and bouncing toward the dishroom. Walter turned a bright red and pushed his tray away, even though there was still half a sandwich and a plate of cookies on it.
“You’re not eating. What’s wrong?” I was only half-kidding.
“I don’t have much of an appetite.”
I had a feeling Bella was contributing to his sudden lack of interest in food, but I waited until we were walking to Latin alone before mentioning it.
“You okay? You didn’t eat much at lunch. That’s not like you.”
“It’s Bella. She’s just always around.”
“And . . . you don’t like it?”
“I’ve barely spent any time with my friends. When’s the last time you and I just hung out? I’ve been dying to play Weddas with you, but she’s sucking up all my free time. And, she’s starting to ask personal questions. About my family.”
“Walter, she’s your girlfriend. You’re gonna have to tell her eventually.”
“My gut is so busy telling me that’s a bad idea that there’s no more room for food.”
I giggled as I held open the door to the language building. “There’s Walter. Maybe we can play Weddas later this week. I’m having dinner in town with Eliot tonight.”
Not wanting to shut the door on anyone, I glanced down the path to make sure no one was behind me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a figure lurking just down the hill. I did a double take, but the person had disappeared. I could have sworn the apparition had been Bella.
That afternoon, I searched my closet frantically. “Where’s my dance bag? Did it end up on your side of the room?”
“I doubt it.” Sarah glanced on the floor between my closet and the bedroom door. “You always put it next to your closet.”
“I know, right? I can’t find it anywhere.” I crawled on the floor to inspect under my elevated bed.
“Did you leave it in the Black Box yesterday?”
“I doubt it. No. I remember carrying it back to my room. I put it in its corner, grabbed my shower stuff and took a shower.”
“I’ll check the shower room!” Sarah bounced out the door.
I glanced at the clock. I was going to be late if I didn’t find that bag. Sarah returned a moment later, shaking her head.
I stood with a sigh. “Don’t let me make you late for practice.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I can just wear socks today. Madám Cherí doesn’t mind. She told us we could. But, I need to find the shoes by Friday for tap.”
I wasn’t in the best of moods when I emerged from the Black Box Tuesday afternoon. Madám Cherí was not pleased about the missing bag, but she did offer to search the shoe bin at the studio for a pair of slippers I could borrow until I found mine. I was extremely grateful for the offer, since within a few minutes I realized that dancing in socks was just not the same. The entire class, something had felt off. It didn’t help that I had spent most of the class thinking about where I could have left my bag.
“Why were you laughing?”
I spun around. Bella’s voice had echoed across the Arts Center courtyard. She was sitting on the concrete staircase between the two halves of the building. I sent her a confused look.
“What are you talking about?”
“When you went to Latin. Why were you laughing? Were you flirting with Walter?”
“Eww. No. He said something funny.”
“What was it?”
“I don’t remember. Something about his stomach. Why were you even there?”
“I’m his girlfriend. Not you.”
“I know that. I have a boyfriend, remember? Actually, I have to go meet him now, so I’ll—”
I walked briskly in the opposite direction, making it to my dorm in record time. I took a quick shower before heading out to meet Eliot. I couldn’t help looking over my shoulder as I walked into town.
Eliot was waiting for me at one of the tables in the coffee shop, a soda and sandwich in front of him.
“Hey. I hope you don’t mind me ordering.”
I smiled. “No. It’s perfect. I’ll just go get mine.”
A few minutes later, I returned with my ham and cheese panini and iced tea. Eliot had not yet eaten. I raised my eyebrows when I saw his sandwich.
“Egg salad? I thought you hated egg salad.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Sixth grade. You brought egg salad to school like, every day.”
Eliot cocked his head to the side. “Were you stalking me?”
“No! You would bring it, but you never ate it. It stayed in your locker. Right next to mine. Every. Day. After about a week, I had to hold my breath to get my books. After two weeks, the entire class was running past the locker holding their breath. Around week three, Mr. Giles decided to cancel class so we could have a locker clean out. He said it was because MY locker smelled so bad.”
Eliot was laughing so hard, he had tears in his eyes. “I had forgotten all about that! I can’t believe you remembered.”
“Eliot, you did it all year! We had locker clean outs like, once a month because of you. Mr. Giles spent the whole year blaming me, too. I literally hate egg salad because of you.”
“I’m sorry. I really am. And, for the record, half of those were tuna.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember you telling me that before tossing it into the back of the locker. Didn’t you ever tell your mom you didn’t like them?”
“Yup. She still made them. She uses this nasty mayo alternative, which is why I refused to eat them. I think it made it smell even worse.”
“We should have used your locker for a science experiment. Oh, speaking of. How was the math team? Did you have practice today?”
“Oh man. I was so nervous. I thought I was going to throw up. There’s ten of us, four on each team and two alternates. Mr. Pinto gave us a practice test, then told us how to do it. We each took a problem. I got stuck with a hard one, but it was still kind of fun.”
“That’s really cool. I’m glad you enjoyed it.”
“So, how was your new dance class?”
“Oh. Tap is only on Monday and Friday. I had ballet today. It was awful.”
I spent the rest of the meal telling him about my missing bag.
I was a little surprised to see Larry and Sarah sitting on Sarah’s bed when I returned to the room. As soon as they saw me, Larry stood.
“That’s my cue. I’ll see you at break.”
He kissed Sarah one last time before heading out. Sarah moved so she was facing me with her back was against the wall. “So, how was your dinner?”
“It was so much better than last time. He got there before me, and he had already ordered.”
“No, really, that was a good thing. See, I never know if we’re supposed to be paying for ourselves or what, so if he already ordered, that means he didn’t expect me to pay for him or him to pay for me.”
“Makes sense, I guess. Larry and I don’t have that problem. Then again, other than the movies the other day, I’m not sure we’ve been anywhere we needed to pay. So, it went well?”
Without giving too many details of the conversation, I explained how nice it was to be able to talk about myself as well as my date, whereas Mike had never seemed interested much in what I had to say, unless it was about him. As I analyzed everything with Sarah, I realized I was hesitant about what information I should share. Although I trusted my roommate completely, I wasn’t sure how much of what Eliot had shared had been confidential and whether it would be considered gossip to mention it to her. Ultimately, I ended up telling her more about how I had felt during the meal than the details of the actual discussion.
Wednesday, October 11
When I was in kindergarten, Talia Oliviera was the class tattletale. Every five minutes, she was calling across the room to our teacher.
“Mrs. Spring! Mrs. Spring! Mikey built a tower and Tony knocked it over!”
“Mrs. Spring! Mrs. Spring! Emma is supposed to be line leader, but Tony just cut in front of her!”
“Mrs. Spring! Mrs. Spring! Mikey just colored on Callie’s paper!”
“Mrs. Spring! Mrs. Spring! You said to do question one, but Melinda’s on number four!”
By October, no one wanted to be friends with Tattletale Talia.
Talia’s mother worked at a doctor’s office in town. About two years ago, she discovered her boss was writing prescriptions for patients who weren’t actually sick. She contacted the authorities and made local headlines as Whistleblower Wendy. A month later, mother and daughter moved out of town.
I have no proof that a certain someone is doing something wrong and I have no idea if I should share my suspicions with anyone. I would hate to be known as the class tattletale and I would really hate to lose my friends. Especially Walter. But, I fear what might happen if I don’t say something.
An Important Announcement
HARTFIELD CHRONICLES IS MOVING!!
Hartfield Chronicles now has its own home: it’s own website. New chapters will continue to be released here on Inkitt through the end of the first season (this Friday!). However, Season 2 will be exclusive to the new website. As always, free chapters will be published every Tuesday and Friday.
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Stay tuned. Episode 30 will be released on Friday, April 16.