“Don’t beat yourself up about it, man.” Damien said, nudging Aiden in the common room. “There’s nothing you could have done.”
Aiden sighed. “I could have tried. I should have guessed they’d go for Alison next after me.”
Danny laughed. “Dude, if you want super-villains, you could do worse than those three.”
Alex nudged him the shoulder, quieting him down. Aiden looked down and took another gulp of orange juice. The thoughts had been running through his head all day.
“Did Scarlett specifically say or hint she did anything?”
Aiden shook his head. “She did her ‘Scarlett’ thing. God, if it drives me this mad, I can only imagine what Chad and Alistair feel like.”
Alex took a seat next to Aiden, putting her arm around his shoulder. “It wasn’t your fault. You know, to take your mind off it, I could do some investigating; see if we can guess what they’re going to plan next. That way you can be ready for the contest.”
Aiden’s voice turned to a whisper. “I don’t know if I want to do it anymore.”
Danny’s eyes widened. “What?”
Damien crossed his eyebrows. “Just like that?”
“Guys, every time I get involved with this, someone gets hurt. And there’s not a damn thing I can do to stop it. I’m not going to let you guys be next. This started with me, it ends with me.”
Danny shook his head. “You’re not thinking straight, man. You need to keep your head in the game. We can drop the ball on those wack jobs, no problem. Damien and me. The Dope Duo. We can help.”
Damien turned to him. “That’s the best you could come up with? Really?”
“Off the top of my head, man. Don’t judge.”
Damien looked ahead. “Look, Aiden. This is your choice, man. None of us can tell you what to do with it. But you need to make sure this is your choice. You’re not just doing this out of fear we or someone else will get hurt.”
Aiden nodded. “It’s my choice.”
“Then I respect you for that.” Damien said.
Alex put her arm around Danny. “Don’t worry honey, I’d love to see you in tights.”
Aiden got up. “I’m gonna go and clear my head a bit, see you guys after school?”
Damien nodded. “We’ll come see your dad and Alison at the hospital. Then we can hang out.”
Aiden smiled, heading out of the door. He walked down the corridors slowly, trying to get his head clear. Was he making the right call? Or was Scarlett right, was he really just scared?
Making his way to his locker, he opened it and stuck his head in it, taking in several deep breaths. He fought trying to hold back tears, sucking in air to prevent the welling tears.
“What’s the matter? Head too big to stick up your ass?” he heard a voice behind him tease. He turned to see Scarlett, who smiled sweetly at him.
“Scarlett.” he asked. “Tell me something honestly. I get why you and Alison don’t like each other. What’s your deal with me?”
She shrugged. “To be honest with you, it isn’t anything personal. Just like when you used to hang out with Chad, you still manage to be in my way.”
Aiden smirked. “Well, it’s your lucky day. I’m quitting the contest. Now leave me and my friends alone.”
Scarlett’s mouth opened. “Why are you quitting?”
“It’s just a stupid contest.” he said. “I thought I could win before, but you’ve shown me that I can’t. So why should I even try?”
She clapped. “Wow. I can’t believe it. Well, I should have seen it coming. Just like all things, Aiden Malcolm’s a quitter.”
He sighed. “Think whatever you want to think. I don’t care.”
A phone buzzed in Scarlett’s pocket. She jumped and picked it up. “See you around.” she said.
Aiden shut his locker, glad he’d gotten that off his chest. What he heard next sent the nerves riling up again.
“Yeah Chad, I’m outside my locker. I’ll be round the park in five minutes.”