Notes: For reasons that make sense to myself and Carla, we have changed some names as follows:
Taz/Taryn Terri/Theresa
Jez/Jeremiah Rai/Raymond
Shauna Shona
That's all folks.

Part 9 "The Great Plan"

On Monday Terri and Linda began phase one of their Great Plan. It was pretty simple. The hook was to convince a majority of the students to nominate and vote for fictional characters to be Homecoming King and Queen. The reasoning was that since Eden Hall only seemed to vote for the prettiest and most popular for such titles, then why not vote for fictional characters, whose popularity far surpassed anyone in the school?

Using their influence over Charlie and Fulton, they had managed to get a fair amount of Ducks involved in the Great Plan.

Terri had spent the weekend with Linda hand-drawing cartoon icons, such as Homer Simpson, and the cast of Friends and Buffy on to flyers. Linda had dealt with the best way to word the text. As Terri had a study period first thing on Monday morning, she was elected to go to the school office and somehow photocopy at least a hundred of them. This was easy enough, because Fulton had been made to be the decoy, he borrowed Portman to help him. Together they skated down the hallway outside the school office, whooping and yelling loudly. The entire faculty set off in a chase after them.

With such a fantastic distraction, she was able to get several hundred of each variation of the flyers. It was just unfortunate that Terri left an original on the photocopier.

Later, the Bash Brothers would give the excuse that they were still hyped up over the JV Ducks' win against Varsity. They were on detention for the rest of the week. They weren't given simple detentions either, they were given more gruelling punishments. They were sent to the stables each evening to muck out the horses and fix and repaint anything that needed doing. It was strange though, they managed to get their jobs done in record time. It was almost as if they had a team helping them.

Terri made it to study hall only a few minutes late. Since this was custom for her, nobody really batted an eyelid. She took a seat next to Connie Moreau, a girl she had only met the day before and nervously handed her a sheaf of papers.

"They look good." Connie said. "So, who am I supposed to give these to?"

"Anyone." Terri said. "We want as many people as possible to at least consider the possibility of nominating a fictional character. Not everyone at this school is a complete preppy. Some people will think this is a good idea – and some people will just find it funny and go along with it. Feel free to give them to other people you think might be happy to hand them out."

"Will do." Connie gave her a grin. Then awkward silence descended. Terri mentally hit Linda. It was all fine and well campaigning for a better school, but she hated sitting with people she barely knew. It was ok if she didn't know them at all, no talking was required, but a short conversation was meant to be followed with polite chit-chat and Terri was no good at that.

"Hey, you drew these?" Connie asked, indicating the Buffy flyer.

"Yeah." Terri replied. "I like to draw."

Connie looked almost shy. "I don't suppose you'd draw me Harry Potter to go on my folder, would you?"

Terri smiled. Maybe it wasn't so bad.

Terri, Linda and their band of merry helpers spent the morning break handing out flyers and talking to people, dodging any teachers they saw, and it seemed to be going pretty well. Though they did see several students who were carrying the flyers being interrogated by the teachers, most probably on where they had gotten them.

Halfway through the lesson after break there was an announcement over the tannoy system.

"Linda Chavez, Connie Moreau and Theresa McDonald report to Dean Buckley's office immediately." It wasn't a question.

Connie gathered her things and got to her feet, her face burning. Why was she being dragged into this? It wasn't her idea, she had merely offered her services. Admittedly, she had found that she actually really liked talking to people and trying to change their minds about the school mindset of electing beautiful people to be King and Queen. And she probably had thrown herself into the plan with a little more gusto than most, because she felt it would repay Terri for the drawing she had requested. All the same, surely Charlie and Fulton should be on the list. They were responsible for dragging the rest of the Ducks into it.

She found Terri and Linda lurking outside the Dean's office, waiting for her. They were glaring fiercely at each other and talking in low tones. As she approached they both gave her guilty looks. "We're sorry." Terri said.

"Yeah." Linda said. "We are. Just act outraged. We'll get you out of this."

Before Connie could respond, Dean Buckley's secretary popped her head around the door. "The Dean will see you now." She said formally.

It was Connie's second time in his office, the first was when the Ducks had been after the assembly on the first day of school. She glanced at the ant farm, wondering if the Dean had noticed that it had been tampered with. She supposed that he hadn't otherwise she would have been called back in here before now.

"Have a seat." The Dean said.

They obligingly did so.

"So, do you want to tell me about these flyers that everyone seems to have at the moment?"

"The artwork is impressive." Linda replied simply. "I'm very taken with the artwork."

"And the text is very convincing." Terri added, also a picture of wide-eyed innocence.

Connie fought hard to fight a smile. They were fooling no-one. "I don't know why I'm here." She said when Linda gave her a look.

"Girls," Dean Buckley leant forward over his desk, resting his weight on his hands. "I know you all are involved." He looked at them in turn. "Linda, this is clearly your work, you are well known for your stance on school tradition. Theresa, I've spoken to your art teacher, and she has confirmed that you are able to draw to this standard – she also mentioned that your signature is a butterfly. If you look closely there is a butterfly on each of the flyers."

"It's a frame job."

He ignored her. "Connie, you were seen handing these flyers out."

Terri gave her a 'go ahead' look. Connie didn't know what to say, it seemed so cowardly to let the other two take the blame.

"I don't know why Connie's here." Linda said. "Why would a jock want to boycott the Homecoming poll?"

"I gave a flyer to her," Terri added. "She ripped it up and told me she was actually running for Homecoming Queen. Does that sound like someone who is on our side…." She tailed off, noticing that everyone was staring at her.

"You gave her a flyer?" Dean Buckley asked.

Terri, obviously realising her mistake, quickly covered. "I mean, I passed one on. I thought it was a brilliant idea."

Linda turned a furious glare on Terri.

Dean Buckley smiled at Connie. "You may go, Miss Moreau. But might I suggest that next time one of these two approach you – especially if they look like they've had a brilliant idea – you turn and walk away quickly?"

Connie got to her feet, taking one last look at Linda and Terri. Dean Buckley looked furious. Linda was still glaring and Terri looked almost amused. Connie shook her head. She wouldn't like to be either of them at this moment in time.

Charlie met up with Linda at lunch. "So," he asked. "How much trouble are you in?"

She smiled. "Detention, to be honest, they couldn't do much to us. All we were doing was asking some students to think outside the box."

"What about the dance?"

"Oh, we're going. It's part of our punishment." Her smiled widened. "I thought it was a risk, but Terri was brilliant. She sat in his office, saying that she wasn't going to the dumb dance and how it was horribly unfair that attendance was mandatory. The Dean got really annoyed with her and told her that we have to attend."

Charlie frowned. He didn't want to hear how brilliant Terri was. He got it from Fulton, now he was getting it from Linda. Even Connie had mentioned that Terri was going to do some artwork for her folder. What was the deal with Terri? Did she have to take over the lives of all of his friends?

"Are you ok?" Linda asked, noticing his expression.

"I'm fine. It's just been 'Terri this, Terri that' recently, everyone's going on about her. I'm so sick of it, what's so great about her?"

Linda looked slightly offended. "Well, she did all the artwork on the flyers, her strategy was great – even if the plan didn't really work out so well. And I haven't been going on about her. You asked how it went. Why don't you like her? She's nice."

"Forget it." He snapped, then got to his feet and walked away.

Fulton was in love with Terri, he didn't need to be hanging around with another member of her fan club.

"Shona," Anna plopped her tray down next to her sister's.

"Anna-Maria," Shona replied in an icy tone. "This section is for cheerleaders only. You are not a cheerleader."

What you are is a pain in the ass, Anna heard the unspoken addition to her sister's statement. "I hate sitting here as much as you hate me here." Anna replied.

"Then please, don't let me detain you."

"In a minute. I need a favour." Those words had nearly killed Anna. She'd spent the entire morning practicing them in her head, trying to find the right casual tone to use. She doubted she had found it, she wasn't Shona, after all. However, the key word had been favour and that was all that was needed.

Shona's eyes lit up. "You need a favour from me?"

"Yes. You're on office duty next week, aren't you?" Office duty was an option that students could take. It won them extra credit to sit outside the Dean's office, help his secretary, run errands, and study when they weren't busy. Even though it bit into an hour of free time after school, it did get the student in question out of lessons all week, so there were many takers for the position, but only the favoured were chosen. Shona, naturally, was a very favoured student.

"I am. Which you know, because this involves the favour, and you would never go to all the trouble of asking me without checking your facts. So why not just ask the actual question?" Shona replied.

"I need to take office duty next week. I'm on the list, but not until next term. Will you trade with me?"

Shona gave her an appraising look. "Do tell me, because I'm very interested to know, why on earth would I want to do that? Why do you need to take office duty?"

Anna paused. A lie would not work, Shona was the master of schemes, manipulations and untruths, she could spot a lie a mile off. A lie, no matter how elaborate, would not convince her. But the truth would be worse, it would certainly convince her, but it would give her plenty of ammunition to rip Terri to shreds. Shona already had plenty of that, but anything new would make her day.

Anna sighed. It would have to be the truth. "I need a break from Terri. She's driving me crazy. I'd really rather it was this week, but you're the only person I know on the list before it's my turn. So will you switch with me?"

Shona smiled widely, showing beautiful pearly white teeth. "Of course, my dear sister. Anything to help you."

Terri glanced around the cafeteria. Fulton was sitting with the Ducks, Anna was – sitting with Shona? What was going on there? Since when did Anna deliberately spend time with her sister? She supposed it began around the same time that she and Anna started fighting. Despite their very obvious differences, the two had never fought before coming to Eden Hall. They would disagree often, but they managed to get around that with good-natured teasing and discussion, rather than vicious insults and raised voices.

She and Anna had not managed to patch up their most recent argument; before there had been half-hearted apologies, or at least the standard excuse of PMS brought forth, but this time there had been nothing. No further fights, no mention of the last one, no apologies, it was as if it hadn't happened.

She had hoped to corner Anna at lunch and have a quick word, the public setting would keep both their tempers in check and force them to be polite. That was, if Anna could be forced to discuss it, it was entirely possible that she would just leave, citing an excuse about needing to go to the library again.

Not that it mattered, because Anna was sitting with Shona, and what was worse, they seemed to be getting along just fine, smiling at each other, no hint of the usual animosity. Despite that, there was no way in hell Terri was going to join them. Shona would have a field day if she knew that Anna and Terri were not getting along. She'd find the reason (for Shona was far better at that than Terri, and would actually succeed), and then magnify it, she'd find an angle to keep the two of them far apart, and then drive a wedge between them. Or at least, make the existing wedge a heck of a lot bigger. And she'd do it for fun. Simply because she could.

Her situation with Anna would just have to wait for its resolve.

Terri caught sight of Linda sitting alone and made her way towards her. Linda looked a little downcast. There's a lot of that going around, love, better get used to it, she thought as she put her tray down next to Linda's. "Hey, dudette. What's happening?"

Linda sighed and pushed her plate away. "I don't think Charlie likes me."

Terri's insides clenched up again. By this point, she would certainly call Linda a friend, and this was not a conversation she wanted to have with her friend. It would involve lying. Maybe she didn't know the truth about Charlie, but she had a fair idea, an educated guess at least, and pretending that she didn't wasn't something she was proud of.

"I'm sure he does." Terri said lamely.

"Really? Because I spend more time with him than you do, and I'm not sure at all."

Terri looked down at the table. "You're right, I don't know him. But I know you, and I like spending time with you, so I can't understand why anyone else wouldn't. He asked you out, he's been the one pursuing you all this time. I can't imagine why anyone would do that if they didn't really want to." At least, not without laying out some ground rules first, she mentally added.

She hoped Charlie was going to get his act together soon, it didn't matter whether he liked guys or girls, if he kept on this way, Linda was going to end up with a bruised and battered, maybe even broken, heart.

"I just don't get why it can't be easy. I wish we were like you and Fulton."

"Oh, you don't want to be like us." Terri replied without thinking.

"What's wrong with you guys then?" Linda looked interested, hopeful even.

Terri had no idea what to say. She knew Linda wanted to hear that she and Fulton weren't perfect either, but she didn't have any problems with Fulton, except that he wasn't the person she was in love with. She shook her head finally, "It's complicated."

Linda was still looking imploringly at her, and Terri felt obligated to say something else. "I think we lie too much." She glanced around the cafeteria, looking at Anna and Shona in their intense conversation, Fulton sitting with the Ducks, not seeming to be interested in anything anyone was saying. "Everyone does though, don't they? I expect we'll all get found out some day."

Portman had the red paint, Fulton had white. Monday's punishment was to repaint the jumps on the outdoor equestrian school – the indoor ones were being used at the moment, but they would have to get them finished by the end of the week.

"Sorry about this." Fulton said.

"It's not so bad, it's the mucking out the horses I'm not looking forward to." Portman replied, prising the lid of his paint can.

"Well, try and get out of it. I'll do your share." Fulton started painting the bars, while Portman worked on the wings of the jump. "I'm really sorry, it's just that Terri and Linda need a distraction, and what's more distracting than us?"

Portman smiled at him. "You know what bugs me? The fact that you – and by you, I do mean all of the Ducks – beat yourselves up over the smallest of things, yet you're completely clueless about the really bad things you do."

Fulton didn't look at him, but he did reply, then again, Portman had expected him to. He wasn't like Charlie who just stuck his head in the ground and ignored the bad things.

"What've I done that's so wrong?"

Portman sloshed some paint on the wing, it ran downwards and trickled over the metal bit that held the bar in place, he thought the Cowboy had told him the metal thing was called a cup. Not that Dwayne had a habit of talking about insignificant things, but last week the Ducks had been recounting their worst injuries, and Dwayne, having no stories about grave injury of his own, had told them about the time his friend, Will, from the equestrian department, nearly broke his back. Will had been practicing show jumping in the indoor arena a couple of weeks ago. Apparently a plastic carrier bag had blown into the arena just as he had been approaching a jump. The bag flew straight in front of the horse's eyes and it refused. Will, who had been completely unprepared for a refusal, had shot over the horse's head, and landed on the wing of the jump, the metal cup digging into the small of his back. He passed out and was carried off in an ambulance. Dwayne had finished the tale saying that he would have preferred to have been Will at the time, because watching Will fall was pretty much the scariest thing he had seen.

Portman realised that his mind had wandered, probably deliberately, because there was no way he could tell Fulton that what was really bothering him was Charlie's treatment of Adam.

"You mean Adam, don't you?" Fulton said with a sigh, neatly painting his bar with none of the haphazard disregard Portman was showing. "You know, I think about how we were to him then, and now when I look back, I wonder why I never stopped to think about Adam. I also think it's easier for you to be objective because you weren't there at the time."

"The way I hear it, Charlie launched a vendetta against Adam and everyone followed unquestioningly until Charlie quit. Except you, who followed even after – because you walked out too." Portman realised that their roles had been reversed. Now he was venting to Fulton about life, instead of the other way around.

Fulton didn't look up from his painting. "You're not wrong."

He expected Fulton to continue, to say something in defence of Charlie, but there was nothing to follow.

"Are you ok, man?" Portman asked at length.

"About as good as I get."

"That's not really an answer." There was a long pause of silence. "But I guess that's as much as I'm getting. We're friends, Fult. Why won't you talk to me?"

Fulton glanced over his shoulder at Portman, then returned his attention to his painting. "I just can't, not to anyone."

Portman sighed. "Well, if you change your mind, my door is always open. Or I could make a great Rocket Queen reference here."

Fulton turned and smiled at him. "Maybe at some point." He said eventually.

"Yeah, kid, I remember the fire."

Russ leaned forward, too eager to try to appear nonchalant. "You do? Can you tell me what happened?"

George Wile, editor of the Star Tribune, was tilted back in his chair already; after a second, he kicked his feet up on the desk, folded his hands across his stomach, and shrugged. "Sure, why not. What do you want to know?"

"Everything. How did it happen? Why wasn't there an investigation?"

Mr Wile shrugged again. "They investigated, didn't find anything, called it an accident. End of story."

"But that can't be it!" Russ slammed the tip of his pen against his notebook. "It's just too easy, people stealing tools and the opposition from the school about the stables and then a big fire? I don't believe in coincidences."

"Official report, kid, was it was an accident."

Russ groaned and slumped in his chair. It had taken days, and dozens of phone calls before he convinced Mr Wile to talk to him about a school project on journalism. It had been a little white lie, almost a technical truth. He was starting to care about it a lot more than he'd expected though. He loved a good mystery.

Then he sat up straight.

"So what was the unofficial report?"

Mr Wile grinned, dropped his feet to the ground, and leaned forward, his arms on his desk. "Good for you—what'd you say your name was?"

"Russ Tyler, sir."

"Don't sir me, I'm not that old. Why do you think the unofficial report would be different?"

"It has to be, there was vandalism and theft, and a prize horse trapped in the barn—it just doesn't add up."

"You've done your homework." He narrowed his eyes. "Why are you so interested in all this? Trying to settle an old score?"


Another shrug. Russ was getting tired of everyone using their shoulders to express themselves. They could speak, they needed to use their damn words. When he didn't say anything, Russ sighed.

"Look, a friend of mine heard about Finito and just asked a few questions. No one would talk about him, and it made me curious. I love mysteries, but I like solving them even more. Can you help me or not?"

"I started at this paper when I was eight, working as a paper boy. I worked hard to get here." He grabbed his coffee cup, swirled the liquid inside, made a face, and set it back down.

"I'm sure you did, s—Mr Wile. That's why I came here for your help."

"Okay, kid. Listen up, I'm only going to say this once."

He was quiet for a second, let Russ scramble to get his notebook ready.

"I was a cub reporter back when Eden Hall announced they were hiring an ex-trainer to build their equestrian program. I got the catch-all assignments, anything anyone else didn't want to do. One of those things was the social pages, including Eden Hall.

"I started looking for interviews when the tools disappeared. None of the administrators wanted to talk to me, but the builders, they were a different story. Some of them received threats, you know, phone calls at night, notes that would then vanish, nothing to show the police.

"I didn't know what the big deal was, the unofficial official statement was it was about money for the different programs, but that didn't sound right to me. Just a feeling I had. So I kept digging, and that's where the trainer, Mr Tonga, came in. He had this scholarship idea, you see, and back then scholarships just weren't done, especially not like he wanted."

He stopped, frowned at Russ.

"What did he want?"

"Look, it was a different time, kid, just keep that in mind. This next part isn't so nice. Tonga wanted to bring in this student he'd worked with at his last stable, the boy worked as a stable hand after public school let out, and Tonga thought he was a good rider, too good to waste mucking out stalls. I don't know why it was such a big deal for him, but one of the things in Tonga's contract was he got to give out one scholarship a year."

"What's the problem? The whole JV hockey team's there on a scholarship right now."

"Like I said, different time. Before they started the new stables, Tonga told the board of directors about the kid, and things all went to hell. Not only was he poor, way too poor for private school—he was black. And the rich white parents hated it, and threatened to pull their contributions. No one was happy, but Tonga insisted, he brought in the kid, along with a horse they'd been training together, and—"

"And then they burned the barn."

"You got it."

Russ tried to swallow, his mouth was cotton, his breath rasped in his throat. Deep inside, his stomach twisted, and then began to burn. He was mad, first, and then deeply, completely furious.

No wonder they wanted a cover up. No wonder he got dirty looks. No wonder he was one of only a handful of non-white students.

He snapped his notebook closed. The mystery wasn't solved yet, he didn't care what happened, now he wanted to know who. He was gonna bring them down, and he knew just who would help.

On Tuesday there was another public announcement over the intercom.

"The school administration have decided to discount all nominations for fictional characters, despite an overwhelming number of nominations for Homer Simpson for Homecoming King."

On Thursday the next part of the Great Plan went into action. This was the riskiest part of the plan, and the place it was most likely to fail. However, Terri had talked Anna into playing this part. Anna had "borrowed" Shona's spare cheerleading uniform, changed her hair and affected her sister's way of talking. She managed to successfully intercept Cheryl, the girl on office duty that week, and swap Linda and Terri's new and improved ballot papers with the originals that Cheryl was about to distribute among the classrooms, under the pretence that she was Shona. After all, who would suspect the captain of the JV Cheerleaders of foul play?
Friday lunchtime brought about an announcement. "The Homecoming King and Queen this year will be Xander Harris and Willow Rosenburg."
Half an hour later, there was another announcement.

"Theresa McDonald and Linda Chavez are to report to Dean Buckley's office immediately."