The next day, Matt ditched me and the rest of the guys on our morning commute to school. He informed Janik he had to help his mother with something but I wondered if he was trying to avoid me. If not, then I figured it had something to do with that flashing blue light I’d noticed in his secret lab.
It’s amazing how fast rumors spread because the guys kept ribbing me about my encounter with the cops and figured I was a goner for sure. I resisted divulging anything, mostly because there wasn’t much to say. They didn’t believe me though and I couldn’t blame them. They had an inside contact on a major gossip story and wanted to cash in. Janik pressed the hardest, but I felt his intentions were political and he’d just as easily throw me under the bus if it elevated his reputation.
Chris, on the other hand, wasn’t ill-willed and wanted some juicy details for gossip’s sake alone. That kind of innocence I could excuse, but I still wasn’t talking. Rumors weren’t Steve’s thing so I got little pressure from him. Then I wondered what Matt would tell them and Ms. Petrovich’s accusation about him garnered my full attention.
Once at school, I felt like I had a sign taped to my back. I understood what it meant to be a celebrity and for all the wrong reasons. Unfortunately, Allison wasn’t much different from the rest. She cornered me the first opportunity she got.
“What in the world happened yesterday?” she asked, then slugged my arm. “And why didn’t you return my calls?”
“I’m sorry, I was busy ... as you can imagine.”
“Well to hear it from Matt, you two are like Bonnie and Clyde.”
“Two famous bank robbers.”
“Right, but didn’t they go down in a hail of bullets?”
“Yes, which is why I’m worried. Are you in trouble?”
“No, of course not,” I replied casually. “They just wanted to talk to me about something. In fact, guess who it was?”
“That same lady from the college fair. She actually works for the government.”
“And what did she want because Matt said you might be in big trouble.”
“He did? When did you see him? I think he’s avoiding me.”
“In history ... so, what did she want?”
“Remember how I didn’t do so well on my aptitude test?” Allison nodded impatiently. “Well, at the fair, she told me my actual score put me in the 85th percentile.”
“Then why did the letter say something different?”
“Can’t say exactly, but she confirmed the mix-up yesterday and said they’ll be issuing a new letter.”
“Which means you’ll be eligible for a scholarship,” she said enthusiastically.
“I guess that’s right, but I’d probably have to open my Past Lives Letter in order to get one.”
“But you’re still thinking about it, right?”
“Yep, I told you I was.”
The few students who hadn’t yet found their classrooms scurried down the hall.
“That still doesn’t answer why they questioned Matt,” she said curiously. “Anyway, we can talk about it later over coffee. Besides, I have an important meeting regarding my internship after school and I want to tell you all about it.”
“It’s a date.”
She smiled, gave me a peck on the cheek and hurried off. The bell rang, but I didn’t care, Allison had just kissed me.
After school, I decided Matt and I needed to have it out over this incident he was so darned proud of. What in the world was going through his mind, I wondered, and why in the hell was he avoiding me? What had he told those government people that had him acting this way?
I rang the bell and the light below flickered three times, which meant he was working in his secret lab. After a couple of minutes, the front door opened, but no one was there. I peered in suspiciously and called his name, but no one answered.
“Matt,” I said louder.
“Downstairs,” he yelled.
I closed the door and made my way to his bunker. Matt was fooling around with something on the internet and spun around to greet me.
“How’d you like that trick?” he asked proudly.
“You mean the door thing?”
“Yeah, dumb ass, of course I meant the door thing. It’s a little gizmo I installed this morning,” he explained and tapped his keyboard. A surveillance camera showed the front door stoop. “Now I can see who’s bugging me and open the door from here, if they’re worthy enough.”
“Pretty cool,” I replied, trying to show some enthusiasm, but really wanted to get to the main issue. However, before my next words came out, I noticed another series of blue flashes coming from the crack at the base of the lab door. In fact, upon closer inspection, the lab door was open just a tad. I couldn’t resist and took a step closer. “So what’s doctor evil up to these days?”
Before my second step hit the ground, Matt darted from his chair like a leopard on the prowl and aggressively pushed past me. I was taken aback by the charge and sudden body check. Matt pulled the door shut and punched in a quick code on the keypad.
“What the hell are you doing?” he snapped. “You know that’s off limits, even for you.”
“Shit, dude, take it easy,” I exclaimed. “It’s not like I’m going to steal your grand idea and sell it to the Chinese and let people think it was you who sold the country out.”
The look he threw me was a mixture of contempt and curiosity. “What the hell does that mean?”
“I don’t know. I was just saying.”
“You’re right,” he said, his face suddenly calm. “You wouldn’t understand it even if I let you see it, so no harm no foul.”
“And what does that mean?” The tension was definitely rising. “Are you implying that because I don’t have the aptitude scores for a scholarship that I’m somehow not smart enough to grasp your lame science projects?”
As I assessed Matt’s reaction, the thought suddenly came to me that perhaps my score wasn’t the only one Matt had monkeyed with. I now wondered if his score, albeit in the 80th percentile, was actually as low as he said. Was he lying, and if so, why?
“I don’t know what’s up your keister today, but it ain’t cool,” Matt said and pushed past me again.
“What’s not cool is someone purposefully changing my test score so I look dumb.”
He stopped abruptly and I knew I’d touched a nerve. Then, out of nowhere, Matt yanked his newly beloved sword off the wall and swung it toward me, the blade stopping short of my chest.
“Fuck you, Trenton.”
“I guess that answers that question, you freak.”
“Don’t call me that, I’m warning you.”
“Get that damn thing out of my face,” I said in a low, determined voice. But Matt held his ground and I really wanted to punch him now. “So it’s true then, you don’t deny it?”
“It’s not my fault you don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground when it comes to programming.”
“But why? I don’t understand.”
“No, you don’t. Now get the hell out of my house.”
I glanced at the lab door. “What the hell are you up to in there?”
“Nothing the son of a traitor should know, but something tells me you’ll find out soon enough,” he said and pushed me. “Now leave.”
“There’s something seriously wrong with you, you know that?” I stepped through the doorway.
“And Trenton,” Matt exclaimed, “be careful near the Metro ... I hear it can be pretty rough sometimes.”
As I stared dumbfounded, trying to process the comment, he slammed the door and locked it. Trying to continue the conversation was pointless as he’d be watching for me to leave on his new surveillance system, so I took a deep breath and journeyed upstairs.
Outside, I flipped him the bird and quickly moved down the street wondering if he was referring to my run in with Eye Patch and his gang. If so, how in the world did Matt know about that? The only two people besides the hooligans who knew were my dad and the psychologist.
It just didn’t make sense.
Later at work, my mind was a blur as I processed the usual rush of orders. Keeping physically active actually helped placate my mind. When Number Nine walked through the door, I can’t say that I was too surprised.
“How’s it going today, Trenton?”
“Busy as usual.”
“I see,” he said and stepped aside as I rang up the order for a disgruntled mother with two rug rats gnawing at her calves. Before leaving and without smiling, she gave Number Nine the once-over.
“Seems like a charming woman,” Number Nine said sarcastically.
“Par for the course around here,” I replied and wished to god that another customer would walk through the door, with or without two screaming kids. When that didn’t happen, I figured I’d better distract Number Nine with some idle chit-chat or he might re-engage his recruitment efforts. “You’re old, why do most people your age seem angry all the time?”
“Now you sound like someone who’s seventeen,” he volleyed with a sharp grin. “Believe me, one day you’ll sympathize with that woman and all the other old farts like me.”
“Maybe, but I’m not sure. I mean, there’s no reason to be rude just because you’re having a bad day.”
“That’s true and I hope you can live up to your expectations as life progresses.”
“That sounds like something right out of one of our fortune cookies.”
He laughed. “I suppose it does. Anyway, it’s come to my attention that you’ve taken a certain interest in your biological parents.”
“Wow, the Romulans certainly hear and see a lot, but isn’t that a little personal?”
“Hardly, especially when one breaks into a public, yet classified domain. Let’s just say as a hard-working tax payer, I’m looking out for my best interests ... and the public’s.”
“Then you must know Ms. Petrovich?”
The name caught him by surprise, but he recovered quickly, which I imagined he learned deep in the bowels of corporate espionage school.
“Yes, she’s a very formidable opponent,” he confessed.
“Opponent ... what is it, a death match?”
“Nothing as sinister as that. I simply mean the government is one of our top competitors for talent.”
“Order up,” Mrs. Han called through the window and slid a brown bag forward.
“Have you given any further consideration to our scholarship discussion?” he asked as I rang him up.
“I’ve been giving lots of things consideration recently, but I can’t make a decision like that overnight.”
Number Nine flashed an understanding grin and slipped me a small piece of paper in exchange for his order.
“Some numbers you might want to use to research your family tree.”
I watched him leave with the curious expression of a fish being baited. The paper had two series of numbers and nothing else.
“Now what kind of trouble will this get me into?” I asked softly, but a parade of dueling customers strode through the door and jockeyed for position.
“Order up,” Mrs. Han yelled and I immediately got back to work.