Friday morning I woke up, most of my sheets lying on the ground. I vaguely remembered being hot in the middle of the night and shrugging some off, but my memories were all hazy, like a dream. My skin still felt tingly as I swung my legs out of bed, but the feeling soon was overshadowed by the blood rush from standing up. I rested my hands on my knees, the orange carpet swinmming under me, before settling down. I suddenly felt like running, or doing jumping jacks. Strange urge, maybe I could walk to school?
As soon as it came, it passed, and I jumped in the shower and took care of the rest of my morning business. Before leaving my room, I peeked in the closet, just to check on the stuff we’d bought. The sight of it sent excited shivers through me; we’d do better now, now that we were more prepared.
Outside the school the students clustered in packs for heat. Though it was only October, the weather had been unseasonably chilly for the past week or so. I looked around for my friends, but instead spotted Janine with her group. I must have been standing there for a while, since she had time to meet my eyes and look away, in too fast a movement to be casual. Suddenly that mystery sprung to the forefront of my mind again. I needed to sort out what was going on with her and Emma, and why Emma hadn’t done anything to me on Wednesday in Gym.
Luckily for me, I had History with her first period. Though I’d missed her after class yesterday, I was confident I’d be able to snag her today. I just needed to pay more attention.
The starting bell rang, and I entered the classroom and sat down at my desk. Mr. Parr wasn’t there yet, but the rest of the cattle were herding themselves into the torture chamber one more time. No, cattle was too harsh. These people had some feeling, and they’d cry if I punched them, not run away. More the pity. Which was again too harsh. Janine’s true self had been a complete surprise, and I shuddered to think of what all the rest of my classmates were under the surface.
Mr. Parr came out of his office, and Janine turned around and flashed me a glance full of sympathy. I didn’t want to be too friendly, since I’d have to interrogate her soon, but it was too hard to resist; Mr. Parr really was the devil. He started droning on about something, and it seemed to all go in one ear and out the other. I sat there pretending to take notes until he began a pitiful attempt to once again integrate current events into our lessons.
“So today, I thought we could all ruminate on the potential for our situation to parallel that of the Paris Commune,” he stated in his dull monotone. “Now, can someone tell me how this is possible, even likely?”
I was going to answer the question, but since I didn’t quite see any of the similarities and Janine had her hand raised, I let her take this one.
“Well,” she began, “if I fully understand what you are getting at, we could have to govern ourselves, and be mostly self-reliant, or at least self-contained in some ways, which are a little bit like what the Paris Commune did or was forced to do.”
He frowned in response; that must have not been what he was looking for.
“Not exactly, Miss Janine. I don’t think we have to become self-reliant, after all, the whole country’s focused on us, and that includes the air drops of supplies. Life is practically normal in here. I was thinking more along the lines of distributionism, wanton thievery, and horrifyingly radical political ideologies. So to state it in simpler terms, you are wrong.”
I bristled at that, and I could tell Janine did the same. Her shoulders tensed, and she seemed to be restraining herself from an outburst.
I decided to intervene, which was such a change from a week ago, where I never would have dreamed of doing this.
“Mr. Parr, she wasn’t completely wrong,” I said, trying to inject as much vitriol into my voice as I could. “First of all, you guys said things that are causes and effects of each other. If the contagion starts to become more airborne or something, or if the country has a war, or even if the disease doesn’t get cured soon, maybe they’ll begin cutting back, or at least charging private companies more to bring stuff in. And if you say we don’t have to govern ourselves, you’re also wrong. The limited contact we have with the outside world right now isn’t enough to involve the legal system. We need to be prepared for all the challenges these bring. My mom mentioned that she was having a hard time shopping because of the limited amount of cash in circulation.”
I paused as an idea struck me, then continued before Mr. Parr could butt in again. I turned away from him to face the class.
“On a related note, if anyone needs some cash, I’ll be trading some twenty dollar bills; my birthday was before and I have a lot. It’ll be 25% interest due when the quarantine ends and ATMs are open again. So I get 25 dollars from a twenty I give you, or 50 from two.”
People around me looked excited at my offer; they must need money as much as or more than I’d thought. Janine seemed suspicious though, and I didn’t blame her. If everyone wasn’t so stupid, they would have been too. The idea didn’t seem so smart after I’d made the offer. Too much chance for someone to figure out some connection with the stealing.
When I turned back towards the front of the room, Mr. Parr’s face was the epitome of fury: eyebrows bulging, face red, lips sputtering. I almost feared he’d have an aneurism. Well not quite afraid, more sort of morbidly hopeful. He marched over to my desk, laid a large hand on my shoulder, and forcefully directed me into the hallway. Janine snuck out too as the door was closing, unseen by Mr. Parr.
He sat me down in a lone desk, placed there for students who were in trouble or needed to make up tests, then stood in front of me. Janine managed to stay behind him the whole time, and met my eyes over his shoulder. I made sure to keep my facial expression neutral, or more accurately as pissed off as I should be, and not allow the hint of happiness I felt at her presence shine through.
Mr. Parr placed a hand on the desk, took a few deep breaths to calm himself, and then launched into his rant.
“You see this hand, Elie?” he asked, waving said appendage in front of my face. “You see it? Well take a good look at it. The veins, the bone structure. How it all melds together to do such great things. Writing for instance, or typing. Without this hand I couldn’t spread my knowledge, couldn’t teach. That hand is like the classroom. It needs a variety of components all working perfectly to function. The most important part of the hand, or the most important factor in its ability to perform such complex tasks, is that each cell within the hand, each muscle, each tendon and ligament works according to the function of the brain. The muscles grow, the hand becomes more dexterous, but not if it does whatever it wants. It has to follow orders, do things the right way, and that is how it learns. You see where I’m going with this?”
I did, but thought it’d be fun to egg him on more. The rant was so funny it swept away most of my anger. His mustache bristled and twitched with each second I sat there, supposedly pondering his amazing analogy.
“No,” I said demurely. “I don’t get it Mr. Parr.”
“Well.” He puffed out his chest, comfortable back in his position of instructor. “I have a hand. You have a hand. You have a foot. You have many other body parts. They all do functions. They do functions now better than they did before. Practice, right? If your body parts acted of their own accord you couldn’t improve. Each aspect improves when your body works as one, just like each student improves when we all work together.”
Before I could respond, he put a finger to my lips, effectively shutting me up. I saw Janine in the background looking at me pityingly, and grimaced back. Mr. Parr was the creepiest guy ever.
“No, never mind,” he continued, “you don’t get it. Forget that comparison. I was simply saying that you don’t only hurt yourself but the class when you’re a constant disruption. Recently, you’ve stooped so low as to bring other people down with you. Janine used to always have the answer, be one of my most talkative students, but you’ve corrupted her. She was one of the only people who could understand, actually get what I was teaching. And now she’s gone. She used to be my best student, but now look at her. She goes off on these ridiculous tangents with you, and I’m alone.”
He paused again, and stood up straighter. As he did, I saw not an angry teacher, but a defeated man, forever tormented by that which was barely out of reach. Now he felt as if I was taking Janine from him. I had a small bit of pity for him, in that moment. That pity he evoked didn’t make him any less of a creepy pervert.
He sighed, shoulders rolling back, and shook his head as if to clear the stray thoughts.
“What I’m trying to say, Elie, is that you’re smart, but you’re also too smart for your own good. You can’t pull shit like this in the real world. You’ll get in over your head, and it will all come crashing down. Now I’m going to tell the class I sent you to the principal’s office, but really just go to the bathroom or walk around or something. Sorry I got so angry.”
He slowly walked back into the classroom, as if a great weight was on his shoulders. This was the first time I’d seen any evidence that Mr. Parr was a human being. Now that may seem mean or harsh, that judgment of him, but he’d always been that pervert fawning over high schoolers, staring much too long when we stretched or leaned back. He’d been obsessed with me for two weeks, and during them I dreaded school every day, much more than I normally would have. This, what he’d said, he seemed to have some emotional attachment to us, and instead of being able to pursue that like someone normally would, he was forced to act as if we didn’t matter at all. Or not more than a student normally would for a teacher. That ridiculous hand analogy was really his way of hiding how much he was hurt by Janine no longer parroting him and interacting with him exorbitant amounts. He was pathetic, but now there was a twist of sympathy in there too.
While I was lost in my musings, Janine came over to me and sat down on the desk. Her breasts were level with my head, and that wasn’t the best thing to be thinking about given how we’d ended last time.
She put her hands on my shoulders, a comforting gesture. After a few seconds I removed them with my own hands, but kept our fingers intertwined.
I stood up, then said, “Wow. I’m glad that’s over. He actually seemed sad at the end, did you notice that?”
She tilted her head to one side. “Sad? He might be sad, as in pathetic, or be sad, as in upset, but why?”
“Well…” I didn’t want to broach the subject of his infatuation, not so openly. “He thought you used to agree with him all the time, and now you don’t, and he’s sorta upset about that.”
She snorted. “That’s great. So now I’m not allowed to have my own opinions? What a douche.”
Her judgment seemed a bit callous. She hadn’t been in a position to see his face while he’d been talking though, truly feel his emotion, so I let the subject drop.
I released one of her hands, but kept the other, and she hopped off the desk.
“Thanks for coming out here, being here for support,” I told her.
“Oh, yeah.” She smiled, then started walking down the hallway, dragging me along behind her.
After a few minutes in silence, spent wandering the school, I stopped and turned towards her. I let go of her hand. Mine that had been grasping hers suddenly felt cold, as if it was without an obligatory or necessary pair. I stuck it in my pocket so it wouldn’t be awkwardly hanging there.
“Janine,” I said, looking at her intently, “did you tell Emma not to bug me in Gym on Wednesday?”
Her eyes widened a fraction, but that was almost instantaneously replaced by her trademark smirk.
“And if I did, what will you do for me?”
“Well seeing as I didn’t ask you to, I don’t think you get anything.”
She frowned. “If you didn’t want help, you should have said so. That took a lot of influence.”
“No, that’s not what I meant,” I said hurriedly. “I was just kidding. But if you wanted something, you did have me alone in the locker room for a bit afterward.”
Her frown twisted back into a smile. “I did, didn’t I? I was wondering whether you’d bring that up. Do you really want to know why I did that?”
I thought about it for a second, then said, “Yeah, sure.”
“Well, I’ve always thought you were interesting. I mean, you don’t take shit from anyone. Not always in a good way, but you’re independent. I like that. You’re also, well…”
She motioned to me, as if indicating my various assets.
“Pretty hot,” she finished. “So I didn’t know exactly what I thought about you, like if it was just whatever because we were rivals in sports and stuff, or something else. Like sexual.”
She paused, and furrowed her brows.
“This shit’s so hard to talk about. Fuck. How about we just say I was confused, okay? What about you?’
Now it was my turn to try to articulate my confused mix of emotions and, well, lust.
“I, well, you’re hot too,” I started, thinking it best to begin with the self-evident. “I stared at you almost as much as Mr. Parr one day earlier this week.”
I stopped, unsure how honest I should be with my prior thoughts about her. Better safe than sorry.
“I had a small crush on you for a while, but that was mostly physical. It didn’t stop me from hating you just as much as I hated everyone else. But then you actually seemed intelligent. And we argued on the same side instead of against each other in History.”
I let out a breath, done with the hardest part of our series of confessions.
“What did you think about the kiss then?” she asked, curious.
Maybe I wasn’t out of the fire just yet. I fiddled with the end of my shirt, thinking back on it.
“I don’t know exactly. I don’t remember it that fondly, but that’s probably because you pulled back so suddenly. Because of that, I’m not sure I’d want to do it again.”
She nodded, as if agreeing.
“I think so too. How about we just be friends, maybe try that again sometime later?”
I grinned. Janine, a friend. What was my life coming to?
“That sounds good. You know what’s the best? That we can actually talk about this shit instead of ignoring it or pretending it will all work out.”
“Yeah,” she said.
There was a pause, now that we were done with that discussion.
She tossed her hair, then looked down the hall one way, spotting a friend.
“So…” she began, “I’ll see you later?”
“Yeah.” And I walked away with a smile on my face. Human companionship felt good.
Gym passed peacefully enough. Emma still wasn’t bothering me, so whatever Janine had threatened her with must have had staying power. Other people started taking notice, but I ignored the few whispers that reached my ears. It was also nice that the rivalry with Janine wasn’t so venomous anymore. We still competed just as hard, but friendly rivalry is better than bitter, hated rivalry.
After school I found Ava and Jacoby talking outside the building, and approached them. I needed to scout out a location and they’d probably be grateful if I included them more in the planning process. I’d brought the map the company had sent in their last letter with me to school so I could do this right after.
I approached Ava from the back, and covered her eyes with my hand. She tried to shrug me off, but I held firm to her shoulders.
“Guess who,” I said.
“Elie, I know it’s you.”
“Spoilsport,” I pouted, and removed my hand.
“Do you guys want to come with me to the place we’re going tonight?” I asked.
“Sure,” Jacoby said, “I don’t have anything better to do.”
“I’m free too,” Ava chimed in. “But why aren’t we taking Claire?”
I thought about it for a second, and decided honesty was the best policy. At least for this situation.
“I’m not sure she could make a rational decision about anything relating to the thieving,” I explained, wincing at how uncaring I sounded. “Now that we know why she’s doing it I’m afraid she’ll go do something stupid. I don’t want to risk anything until tonight, when we are the most prepared we can be. Right now we just have to act casual so no one remembers us and says something if the cops visit the scene.”
“Okay, I guess,” Ava said, voice filled with doubt.
“Well what else do you think we should do, do you trust her as much as before?”
Ava looked uncomfortable at the question.
“I don’t know. I guess it just feels like she should be included in this. Like we’re being divisive, damaging group unity.”
I understood where she was coming from, or at least recognized that Claire would be upset when we told her, but if I changed my mind now I’d look flaky as a leader. Confidence is key.
I waited silently for a few seconds, Ava pissed I wasn’t responding, Jacoby amused at the argument.
“Well, shall we go then?” Ava finally said, when it was clear I wouldn’t say anything more about on the topic.
“Yeah, let’s go.” Jacoby said eagerly.
After heaving a sigh, we set off for the neighborhood marked on the map in my hand, a bit farther to the west than where we’d been last time. The houses grew as we went, and the numbers of cars on the street and in the driveway increased. These people probably had jobs more related to technology, and so there was no point in them going to work at the moment. The increased number of people at home made it more likely someone would recognize us during the day, and associate it with the burglary at night. That worried me.
I glanced down at the map again. We’d just crossed the outer edge of the three block radius that had been marked off. These were the houses we’d have to rob.
Both sides of the street were identical, and there was a limit to the amount of snooping around we could do. The number of people at home made it so we couldn’t try to sneak around and check back doors, or even front door locks. Not that I’d be brave enough to do that anyway. It was much more frightening when we weren’t in “costume.”
Three stories, brick, somewhat imposing. The houses weren’t the same, in the sense that this wasn’t suburbia, but they all had a similar style. Since we had no idea about how hard each would be to burgle, I thought we should just pick a random one.
We walked down the street, waiting for someone to propose an idea on the selection process.
When we were maybe three-fourths of the way down the block, Ava stopped.
“So do you just want to pick the biggest, or…”
I shrugged. “Maybe we could think about the easiest escape route too. Do you want to head to the park where we met last time afterward?”
“That’s a good spot,” Jacoby said.
Ava frowned, but said, “Okay, I guess that’s fine. It seems a bit far away from here.”
“Do you have any better ideas?”
“I guess not,” she said, turning back to the houses.
I looked around for a minute. The park was to one side of our section, in the direction of my house. We’d probably go there after we were done stealing. The end of the block might be better than the middle, so we’d have a cross street near us, more options for escape.
I pointed to the house on the corner. “Then do you think that one there would be good. We can run pretty easy from it, it doesn’t have anything weird in its lawn, and there’s a fence on this side that’ll be helpful. We can also maybe see the backyard if we go around the side street.”
Ava nodded, seemingly satisfied. Jacoby did as well, but it was her who spoke.
“Yeah,” she concurred. “That looks good. Let’s go see if we can see in the back yard.”
We made our way to the end of the block, and turned right. The house we’d decided upon had an open front yard, a path leading up to a raised front porch. There wasn’t a door on the side we walked past, and the back yard had a tall wooden fence surrounding it. No gate on this side, but when we checked the alley around the back, there was one.
“Do you want to peek inside the yard?” Jacoby suggested. “I didn’t see any cars at home.”
“Do you think people in that house can see us?” I asked, looking at the one across the alley from our pick.
“I don’t know, but I don’t think this is a good idea. We’ve been plenty suspicious for now. It’s not like they’ll have a trap or anything it would be helpful to see in advance.”
Ava reminded us of the reality of the situation. I think we’d forgotten a little that we were in the middle of a neighborhood, where people could be peeking out their windows at the strange kids wandering around.
I glanced around, nervous, and said, “I think we should get out of here. Their yard doesn’t matter. We won’t be able to see the back door well enough to tell if it’s locked.”
“I agree,” Jacoby said, suddenly on edge.
We made our way out of that neighborhood and split up to go to our respective homes. Tomorrow, we’d steal.