So, we promised this chapter would be out by a holiday, but we never said which holiday... HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY!
Just kidding. We did say which holiday, and we were wrong. You'd think we'd learn to just stop giving estimates... Sorry for the gross delay, but without further ado, here's Chapter 28!
If you'll recall, when we left Courtney, she'd found Duncan asleep outside her door, made out with him, gone down to breakfast, and then gotten roped into picking up a delivery for Chris with Duncan, Heather, and a kind delivery man named Richard. And now, we learn her fate...
Rule 28: Never trust an outsider
Heather had spent exactly two nights on Playa, over the course of which she'd somehow managed to get even less sleep than was usual on Wawanakwa.
The first night had been interrupted by Duncan caving her roof in, and though the second had boasted no fresh horror, it was ruined instead by a self-inflicted, continuous state of wired paranoia as she awaited a new act of vengeance (courtesy of her fellow ex-campers) that thankfully never arrived.
Heather was, at the very least, pleased to note that this new set of custom Playa de Losers sheets had a somewhat bearable thread count, which made lying awake for hours on end moderately more comfortable. Nevertheless, when she awoke to drag herself to breakfast on that second morning, she was intolerably sleep deprived, still mildly paranoid, and in absolutely no mood to interact with anyone or anything. At all. Ever again.
The screeching cry of 'Leshawwwwwwna!' from a bird outside her window was enough of an irritating start to her morning that it almost ruined the whole day on its own. Heather stomped out to her balcony and promptly slapped the parrot into the pool (which she felt was symbolically slapping Leshawna as well), only to remember she was—yup—still bald, and retreated back inside to put something on her head before someone else remembered.
As fate would have it (because fate hated her, and she hated it), Heather was out of suitable headwear for the day; she hadn't packed much to begin with and had destroyed most of what she had packed in the fits of frustrated rage that had begun to pepper her daily activities.
She was just one day away from the finale and her (long overdue) emancipation from the island! Of course her stash would run dry only a few days before she'd be free to walk into a proper wig shop and get something for her head, something that looked authentic and didn't require any back room deals with Courtney to obtain. But, one day bald was one day too long; she was going to have to use her last resort. Pulling out the largest of her suitcases, all of which still smelled like seaweed, Heather extracted a gaudy purple cheerleading hoodie she'd received from her high school team. She'd previously promised herself she'd never wear it (sweats were for the unattractive and the lazy), but fortunately for her, she'd never valued promises much.
The upside of wearing the hoodie was that the hood quite easily covered her naked scalp. The downside was that it was hot—suffocatingly so—and wearing it made her look like a wannabe thug. She spent a few more minutes trying to arrange the hood in a way that would make the hoodie itself an improvement over her baldness, as opposed to an equally embarrassing alternative, and finally somewhat satisfied, she went down to breakfast.
There were a few early birds already picking through the buffet (including Bridgette, her own hoodie not causing her nearly as much heat stroke. How?), so Heather made a beeline for the only table under the air-conditioner. She really needed the dull breeze if she was ever to survive the whole day in a wool-lined hoodie in the middle of the summer, and that particular table was almost always the first to go. Getting it was her first priority.
Heather sat down possessively and started criticizing her cuticles, enjoying the weak airflow as much as she could, but as more people came down for breakfast, she realized she'd made a grave oversight: she hadn't gotten any food. She didn't have anything she could leave at the table to hold it (other than her despicable hoodie, which she very much needed), and with campers coming in every minute, there was no way she'd be able get food without losing her place.
Such was the sad story of how Heather ended up sitting by herself, suffocating and starving, staring grumpily out at the room in general as Beth walked in, looking quite unworried and could it be... confident? Courtney walked in somewhat later, looking composed and ready for anything and without a strand of hair other than her own.
Heather wished Courtney too had a parrot she could symbolically slap into a body of water, but since she did not, the least she could do was spare herself the trouble of watching her ex-campers-but-still-current-foes prance around the ballroom like they owned the place.
But as Heather pushed up her sleeves and stood to relinquish her much desired table (which Justin had been eying, probably hoping not to get too much sweat on his knock-off designer jeans), the most interesting thing happened: the door banged open and Duncan strode into the room.
And for absolutely no discernible reason, Courtney's composure completely fell apart.
Courtney pieced a facade back together in record time, but she'd already advertised her bewilderment to the room at large. She closed her eyes, inhaling deeply, a far more normal reaction to Duncan walking into the room, but Heather, intrigued, eased herself back into her seat, watching the CIT and delinquent with razor-sharp focus. Courtney was trying to cover up her slip, but the more inconspicuous she tried to look, the more apparentit was she was trying to be inconspicuous. Courtney was flushed, her muscles tensing and relaxing in direct proportion to how near Duncan was at the given moment. As for the delinquent himself, he didn't have a setting for inconspicuous (just his usual obnoxious setting and then obnoxious at a louder volume). He was grinning as he strolled into the ballroom, despite being wet and disheveled and more mangy looking than usual, gravitating to Courtney, shameless.
Neon signs flashing across both their foreheads would have been less obvious.
Heather glanced around the room. Their interactions were equal parts pathetic and entertaining, and yet their campmates were going on with their own lives like a game-changing piece of information hadn't just made itself available.
She was surrounded by so many losers she could hardly breathe sometimes.
The two girls locked eyes from across the room, and as Heather watched the panic flicker across the CIT's face in real time, she became absolutely sure that something had happened between Courtney and Duncan last night. Whatever it was (Heather had a plentitude of guesses, none of them appropriate for the show's television rating), Courtney looked convinced it would destroy her if her campmates found out about it.
And rightly so.
Heather was deliberating over a multitude of snarky yet pointed lines to open with ("You do know the afterglow isn't supposed to light up the whole room, right?") when Mr. Delivery Man's arrival interrupted her. Initially, she felt nothing but annoyance at the lost opportunity, but it quickly became clear that a delivery from Chris was a good enough reason to table her observations of Duncan and Courtney. Fate, however, had either (a) forgotten that it hated her or (b) had come to its senses and decided that it feared her more than it wanted to spite her. Courtney and Duncan were coming along to see what the delivery was. She could kill two birds with one very well placed stone.
"You know," Richard said congenially, walking with the three of them through the maze of Playa hallways, "when I got this assignment, my only directions were to show up and find the 'tall girl, the loud girl, and the boy' that intern here. Can you believe it?"
"Ugh. That is so Chris," Heather said.
"I guess we're all lucky you stumbled into the ballroom and...found us...interning," Courtney said carefully.
"Oh, absolutely," the delivery man replied, blissfully unaware of his mistake in recipients. He led them through the lobby to the main doors. "This place is monstrous. I don't know how you find anything."
"Usually by accident," Duncan smirked, holding the glass door open for Courtney and then dropping it on Heather.
Heather cut him a look that he didn't catch. He was too busy trying to share a conspiratorial glance with Courtney, which was obvious enough for even Richard to notice. Courtney, on the other hand, was choosing to focus very pointedly on the older man, and as a result, looked even less casual than the not casual she was trying not to be.
"You know, I'm sorry," Richard said, "I never caught your names."
Heather thought of her hoodie and the cheer captain at her school. "I'm Rachel,"she said smoothly.
"Hey, you know my wife's name is Rachel!" the delivery man said happily.
Heather groaned internally. She should have picked something else. She wanted nothing to do with this man.
"My name's Claire," Courtney said, stealing Heather's idea. "It's nice to meet you."
Duncan sounded unprepared when he finally said, "Drew." Heather refused to believe he'd never lied about his identity before, given his line of work. It was likelier he was paying more attention to Courtney's ass than the situation at hand.
"I'm Richard," Richard added, as if they hadn't zeroed in on his nametag the minute he walked into the room.
"Nice meeting you, Dick," Duncan snorted.
Richard didn't seem to take take offense, but Courtney punched Duncan in the shoulder, an obvious shut up, before going back to ignoring him, even as he grinned knowingly and rubbed his arm. It was starting to look like Heather wasn't going to have to do any digging at all.
"So, Rachel," the delivery man said conversationally as he led them towards the more secluded beach on the north end of the island, "what's it like working for this Chris McLean guy? My daughters throw his name around a lot."
"It's Hell," Heather said dryly.
"Rachel said 'swell'!" Courtney interjected over her shoulder, shooting Heather a don't screw this up glare. "Didn't you, Rachel?"
"Pretty sure Rachel said 'Hell', Claire," Duncan corrected before she could answer, still grinning.
"I wouldn't trust your ears too much, Drew," Heather simpered back, forgetting Richard for the moment. Duncan had a way of making a person forget everything except how much that person hated Duncan. "I expect listening to death metal at four in the morning is making your brain more liquid than solid."
"Well I hear it brings down the house," Courtney said pointedly, her gaze settling coldly on Heather.
Heather smirked. "Was that supposed to be a lame reference to yesterday's ceiling-dropping fiasco?"
Courtney blinked, realizing her mistake. "No," she snapped, turning and heading down the beach.
"Because if it was," Heather went on after her, "and you and Drew were tag-teaming in an argument—"
"Hey, she said it wasn't," Duncan growled.
The similarity of their tones only made Heather push harder. "—I'd be asking myself, gee, why is that, since Claire only just got through telling us all she didn't want anything to do with Drew?"
Courtney had one eye on Richard as she tried to articulate an argument, but Duncan, who had no such concerns for their company, beat her to it. "She didn't mean it like that."
"What are you now, the Girlfriend Whisperer?" Heather asked him, smirking. "Knock it off, Drew. Shining armor doesn't look good on you."
"You know," Richard cut in hopefully, "I think shining armor looks good on anyone!"
Duncan's obvious urge to physically assault Heather was lessened only slightly when Courtney, ignoring Richard's nugget of not-quite-advice, put a hand on his arm and muttered, "I can handle this, Duncan."
His eyes darted between Courtney and Heather for a moment before he uncurled his fist and shoved past the latter to meet Richard on the sidelines.
Heather watched him gleefully. "That's right, run along now," she sang, shooing him with one hand.
He flipped her off without turning around.
"Rachel, Drew," Courtney hissed, casting a glance at Richard, "we have a guest."
Heather put her hands on her hips. "He's in no hurry, are you Richard?"
"Awesome," Heather chirped. To Courtney, she said, "So what then? The last eight weeks were just Gemmie-worthy acting? I don't believe you're capable."
Courtney's glare could have soldered metal. "That was and still is none of your business, Rachel."
"I'm just curious, Claire," Heather said innocently. "Curiosity isn't a crime. If it was, we'd all be in juvie, wouldn't we?"
The CIT blinked several times before glancing at Duncan, then returned her attention to Heather. "I said drop it, Rachel."
Heather picked her next words very carefully. After all, the best way of getting useful information out of Courtney was the simple, tried and true method of striking her where she collapsed most easily: her pride.
"You know, you're right. My bad!" she said, ignoring Courtney's repressed wince as Heather put a hand on her shoulder. "What you and Drew do behind the scenes is absolutely your business. I wrongly assumed that you frowned upon Drew's late night activities, but I guess you know everything there is to know about your own boyfriend and his history, don't you?"
Heather watched as the color drained neatly out of Courtney's face. Then it rushed back in, flushing it an angry shade of red.
"Let me set some things straight here, Rachel," Courtney spat, throwing Heather's hand off her shoulder. "I am not Drew's keeper. Whatever Drew does in his free time when he isn't making your life or my life difficult is Drew's business. Drew and I are not connected at the hip and if Drew wants to play loud music at night or go romping around this resort of his own volition, that is Drew's prerogative and has absolutely nothing to do with me or you or anyone else on this goddamn island!"
The first words out of Courtney's mouth hadn't been a fierce denial of Duncan's boyfriend moniker. Thattold Heather all she needed to know.
"Defensive much?" she asked, her smirk only widening. She was waiting for Courtney's control to completely fail and send her into another physically violent confrontation, audience or not.
Courtney paused, shaking slightly, seething, her hands balled into fists. But then, most curiously, at the very moment that Heather became sure the brunette was going to lunge at her, all the fight seemed to leave her body at once.
"I read a book last night," Courtney said, deceptively calm. "Why is that SO hard for you people to believe?"
"I didn't say anything about last night, Claire," Heather simpered, pressing on despite the brunette's change in demeanor. "But you can keep talking about it, if there's something you'd like to get off your chest."
"I'd like to get you—all of you," Courtney added, giving the Playa building behind her a withering look, "—off my back." And with that said, she turned away from Heather and resumed walking down the beach, subtly picking up speed as she went.
Heather watched her departure, confidence renewed. She'd gotten enough out of Courtney to hold her over until she could pull her away from both their visitor and her perpetual green-haired shadow and really pull her claws out.
"Sorry for that. The stress of the job has been getting to all of us recently," Heather apologized to Richard, who had long since stepped away from the conflict.
"Ahh yes, that makes sense," Richard said, watching Courtney with concern as she widened the distance between them. "I once had to work a 24-hour—"
"And what's your excuse?" Duncan cut in, addressing Heather. "PMS? General bitchiness?" He put a hand up to block the sun and squinted ahead at Courtney. "C'mon, Dick, let's get this crap over with."
As Duncan jogged to catch up with his chronic love interest, Richard turned back to Heather.
"Drew and Claire having relationship troubles?" he asked in a way that indicated it was very obvious to him that they were.
Heather merely smiled as she watched the two in the distance, having what looked like a rather intimate conversation.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Richard," she said, shrugging, before following the pair down the beach.
In order to fight his desire to strangle Heather, which arose every time she opened her mouth these days, Duncan turned from her and picked up speed to rejoin Courtney where she'd wandered off down the beach.
Realizing as he approached that he wasn't quite sure what to do with her, he resolved to try out that tact thing the brunette was always harping on. It wasn't like he couldn't be dashing. He'd just never had any reason to be before. It couldn't be that hard, right?
He slowed his pace a few meters behind her, smoothed his Mohawk, and walked up to her casually.
"Uh...hey," he said, nudging her with his shoulder.
Courtney didn't seem startled. "Hi." In fact, she didn't seem much of anything.
Fighting the urge to open with a jab at her, Duncan willed himself to take a more delicate approach. "How are you?"
"I've been better, I've been worse." Courtney shot him a quizzical look before her expression was wiped clean. She thought for a second and added, "Heather's sheer nastiness never ceases to amaze me."
"She's just pushing your buttons, babe. I would like the monopoly on that, if you don't mind." He cast a sideways glance at her, but her expression was neutral. She wasn't fighting him or demanding that he leave, which was usually a positive sign coming from her, but she also didn't seem to appreciate him being there (or his jokes). It was like she suddenly had no opinion of him at all. "Uh, I can drop her roof on her again...if you want?"
"That won't be necessary."
Silence descended upon the pair, leaving Duncan unsure of what to do. Normally, he'd have broken it with an insult or an invitation to find a more private location (which was more likely to be accepted now than ever before, he remembered), but this wasn't normal. He knew the topic of Heather (and her general existence) had a history of getting Courtney wound up, but this felt different. They felt...different.
Something had happened between them in the penthouse. And outside her door, and inside her door, and on the way to breakfast (and especially in the elevator on the way to breakfast, not that he was ranking their encounters or anything), but where had it all left them? He sure as hell didn't want to initiate that conversation, but not knowing made his current job of reasoning with Courtney even more difficult. Yeah, he'd always cheered up Princess in the past, even on the rare occasion that whatever she was worked up about wasn't his fault, but that was because he'd wanted to, not because he'd felt he had to.
Though Courtney had literally just made the effort to point out that "Drew" could still do whatever he wanted with no regard for "Claire"... But Duncan had regard for Courtney, so basically none of what she'd said applied! That was a lovely little loophole he could work with.
Maybe this new thing going on between them didn't have to be so different from the old thing! They'd basically been dating since arriving on the island anyway, just without the perks of kissing or hand-holding or acknowledging it was happening. (Wait...) They could keep doing what they'd always done, but with the added possibility of making out and him openly hitting on her without fear of taking physical damage.
Forgetting tactfulness for a moment, he put his arm around her reassuringly and pulled her to his side. But her flickering gaze—from resentful, to grateful, to empty, all in a second—freaked him enough to make him take his arm back and reconsider tactics.
New topic. "Those are, uh, nice shoes." Oh god, that was lame. What was happening?
"Duncan, these are the same shoes I've been wearing since before the competition started."
"Well, they look nice today!" he said in defense. "Learn to take a compliment, Princess. Sheesh." Now this felt more natural. When would it be safe for him to start messing her again? That was much easier than what he was doing.
"I'll have to put that on my to-do list," she deadpanned.
What was he doing? Whatever it was, it really wasn't working. Something in Courtney's cat-fight with Heather had seriously put her off, and now she wasn't being mean, she wasn't being nice, she didn't seem in the mood to be doing—ahem—other things, so what was left?
"You're acting different."
The brunette furrowed her brows, and her walk slowed. "Different how?"
"I dunno..." Duncan started, watching carefully for a sign—any sign—that she hadn't been replaced by some kind of zombie twin. "Can I help you with something?" What could he say? That he'd never seen her like this before, so completely neutral to him, his jokes, his mild insults, his handsomeness—it was giving him a very bad feeling.
Courtney laughed at what Duncan had thought was a perfectly reasonable question. "No, Duncan, you can't. And I really don't want you to try."
She didn't want him to try? Who did she think he was?
"Oh, well," he began, layering on as much sarcasm as he could manage, "since your word is law, I guess I'll just forget all about it!"
"I wish you would," she muttered.
"So what's the deal?" he shot back.
"What can I do?"
"You can't help me, Duncan," she snapped. "This situation is simply beyond your control. I'll handle it."
Finally, he was getting a reaction. "I'll help you handle it!"
"You can't, Duncan!"
"You're involved enough as it is!"
Courtney's eyes widened, and she suddenly looked like she wanted nothing more than for a wave to wash up and sweep her down the beach.
"...I am?" This was news to him, and not the pleasant variety he had been becoming more and more accustomed to lately. This whole time he thought he was innocent, and now she was essentially telling him her weirdness was a direct result of some crime of his own! He thought fast. "If I'm involved in this, then I definitely have the right to know what's up with you."
Courtney cringed. If he knew about her and Heather's arrangement, he'd be singing a different tune. The lyrics would probably involve betrayal and never wanting to speak to her again. Aloud, she said, "You choose now of all times to start thinking about your rights?"
"I learned from the best."
Courtney glowered at him for a second longer, then sighed. "Okay, fine." Even in the face of being a hypocrite, divulging any of her inner musings was going to be a challenge. She couldn't tell him about how she was trading a wig for information on his private matters—even though Heather toying with her about it was the biggest chip on her shoulder currently—but that didn't mean she had to make something up on the fly. There was a conversation she'd been meaning to have with Duncan for a while now that did work as a pretty good cover story. It was a nearly perfect alternative explanation! Duncan could spot a liar, but could he tell one truth from another?
"So..." she began slowly, "You probably know by this point that I don't like being wrong."
Duncan snorted. Then he started guffawing.
"Hey, that's enough!" Courtney snapped, punching him in the side. With some visible effort, he quieted down. Courtney struggled through her embarrassment to keep talking. "Well, I spent the better part of my time on the island hating you—"
"Hate is a strong word," Duncan said with a smirk.
"Strongly disliking you, then."
"Pretending to strongly dislike me."
"Nuance," Courtney dismissed. "But now, after last night, we're more or less together,"—she quickly looked up at him. Duncan didn't flinch at the idea—"which means that I was wrong. About...us. And as much as I hate knowing that myself," she swallowed hard, "I would hate it more if everyone else on the island found out. Everyone in the world who owns a TV, in fact."
Courtney looked at him helplessly.
"So you like me...but you don't like knowing that you like me," Duncan simplified. "And you don't want anyone else to know that you like liking me."
"Like is a strong word," she said feebly.
"And that's why you're acting so strange."
"Apparently." Courtney groaned. "My emotions are so at war with each other right now, it's easier to be totally neutral than to deal with this."
The punk laughed self-consciously. "Welcome to the club."
Courtney eyed him. "What do you mean?"
Duncan didn't feel like divulging that he'd had a similar emotional crisis on the island weeks ago, upon realizing he might have actually liked that stuck up CIT for more than her butt and easy button pressing. He hadn't slept at all that night and had been particularly blasé in the following challenge too (it wasn't like he had a stage-worthy talent, anyway), but he wasn't about to tell her that.
"Let's just say you're not the president of the Liking a Person You Shouldn't Be Liking In the First Place Club," Duncan said. Courtney looked more curious than satisfied, so he hastily added, "I mean, Harold and Leshawna get those crowns."
"Presidencies don't have crowns," Courtney murmured, but she let the topic drop. She let all the topics drop, actually, and kept walking in quiet.
"There's something else, isn't there?" he said, the words out of his mouth before they'd registered in his brain. She would have been back to herself if that had been it, right?
"That's all there is to it, Duncan," Courtney said, but the words were in the all too familiar tone of CIT denial.
"Do you want to talk about last night?" he asked, grasping at straws. "Is that it?"
"I think last night speaks for itself," she said, her voice oddly pitched.
That wasn't a yes or a no.
He was preparing to keep pushing when suddenly, the memory of their first kiss jumped at him, thoughts of Courtney's behavior afterwards taking hold of his insides and leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. It hadn't happened immediately last time either, but she'd eventually eased herself back into complete denial that there were any feelings between them at all. Was that what was happening again? Had Courtney already begun to convince herself that last night had never happened?
Duncan pinpointed exactly why this new Courtney was making him so uneasy: it was old Courtney, before she cared about anything besides winning—before she even knew his name.
He couldn't let it happen again. He hadn't had a chance to do anything more than throw a wooden skull at her last time, but he'd be damned if this was how he lost her again, especially since they only had 24 hours left before the finale. Time was ticking.
Glancing behind him to check how far back Heather and Richard's were (not far), he decided to cut to the case.
"I know what you're planning," he said.
Courtney stopped short. She looked at him and then followed his gaze, paling slightly when she found him watching Heather.
With an obvious feigned ignorance, she scoffed. "What are you talking about now?"
"You're trying to do exactly what you tried to do before," he said bitterly.
Under the surface, Courtney was trying to quell a growing panic. She thought he'd been too drunk to remember that she'd asked him about juvie again the other night, but she must have miscalculated. But even so, had he really put her deal with Heather together so quickly? Was she that transparent?
Courtney scrambled for a vague defense. "Look, I...don't know what your talking about, but if I did, I would probably remind you that me doing whatever it is you think I did is just the way I handle...not knowing...things."
BS. Duncan could relate to not knowing what the future held, but still... "Y'know, talking about it's always a start," he grunted.
Before he knew what was happening, Courtney turned from just kind of annoyed to raging mad as if Duncan had thrown a switch. He braced himself as Courtney gave up all pretenses. "I tried, Duncan! I tried talking to you about it!"
"Yesterday! In the penthouse!"
Maybe he'd been a little drunker than he thought. He didn't remember there being any conversation about her overuse of denial last night, but for argument's sake, he would keep that to himself. "Babe, don't you think last night was a little too late?" he asked, an accidental edge in his voice.
Courtney sighed, her temper fizzling out already. He was right. She'd asked him about juvie in the penthouse as a last resort—not a first.
"I'm sorry!" she said, digging her hands into her own hair. "Okay? What do you want from me? My life's been turned upside down since this show started. Between Heather and Chris, Satan should just retire, and you were being you and not at all cooperative last night—"
"Blame it on the alcohol," he cut in.
Courtney covered her face. "I didn't mean for things to get out of hand like this."
The delinquent felt himself soften. "Okay, okay, calm down, Drama Princess," he said, pulling her hands away from her face and revealing a glare, no doubt aimed at the pet name. Duncan wasn't surprised. "There's still time to deal with this. We'll be all right."
She looked mystified. "You really think so?"
"Yeah. I do," he said, grinning. "And you know how I'm never wrong." She still seemed willing to admit that something was happening between them. Thank god he'd caught her in time.
Courtney freed her hands from his and rubbed her brow, still looking at him curiously. "Seriously? You're not...mad?"
"It's you being you," he said by way of explanation. "It's a pain, but I knew what I was signing up for. How could I be mad?"
She still looked confused. "Because...because I didn't tell you about it. As soon as Heather got involved, I got so wrapped up in everything that I—"
"Wait, Heather?" Duncan raised a brow. "You mean Harold," he corrected. Harold had mixed up the votes and gotten her booted. Harold had robbed them of their chance to get this right the first time. She knew that.
"You know, lame, ginger, wears glasses, about yea high and this big around?" He pointed to his wrist.
"I know who Harold is, but what does he have to do with anything?" Courtney challenged, hardening as she spoke.
"He took you away from me! He nearly ruined everything!"
"That's a total non sequitur!"
"That's French, isn't it? Why are you talking in French?" Duncan asked, his tone still raised.
"It's Latin, and it means that has nothing to do with what we're talking about!"
"It has everything to do with what we're talking about!"
Courtney froze—something in their conversation was very wrong. Duncan must have been talking about something entirely different, and if that was the case and he still didn't know what she had going with Heather...
"What are we talking about?" she asked.
Duncan blinked. "What are you talking about?"
"There she is!" Richard announced very loudly, startling the teens before either of them could reply. They gaped at each other, still confused over the two-sided exchange they'd just had, but the deliveryman had put his arms around both of them congenially and was urging them to look up at the dock.
As they broke eye contact and turned, they caught sight of what was waiting there. An incredibly large, four level yacht was docked in the water, painted a pearly white with red and yellow streaks and nearing in size to one of Playa's larger buildings. The Flipper was written in a cursive script on the side, as tall as any of the campers, and it was flying a large flag that boasted Chris McLean's airbrushed face.
Courtney barked out a laugh, and Duncan started snickering as what he saw of last night's movie came back to mind. He'd never realized what a giant dork Chris was, maybe more so than Harold; it was only less obvious on the former because he had enough money to cover it up.
"Is that the delivery?" Heather asked, eying Courtney and Duncan's amusement with both interest and disapproval as she wandered up behind them. Duncan made a slight noise of disappointment as Courtney side-stepped out of his reach.
"I didn't think you could have boats delivered by general post," she murmured, staring up at the vehicle as they approached it. Maybe if she kept talking, Duncan would forget about the conversation they were not having.
"We usually don't," Richard said, stepping onto the dock, "but this was a special case, seeing as your boss needed so much delivered."
Duncan reluctantly tore his gaze away from Courtney, putting his confusion aside for a moment, and raised a brow at Richard. He would deal with her when this was over. "Meaning?"
"Oh, the boat's only the first package," Richard explained, heading for the end of the dock. "There's something like forty more on board."
Heather stopped dead where she was bringing up the rear. "You expect us to sign for 40 packages?" she said sharply, crossing her arms. "Are you crazy?"
Richard turned around and consulted his clipboard. "Well, I assumed that's why there were three of you on the job," he said slowly, looking at the teens with a puzzled expression.
"Of course it is!" Courtney said, looking maliciously at Heather. "That makes perfect sense, Rachel."
"Look, babe! Paperwork!" Duncan said pointedly. He took Courtney by the shoulders and steered her away from Heather as he said, "Isn't that, like, your third favorite thing in the world besides me and being a bossy pants?" Courtney gave him a sour look but didn't shrink from his touch. This was promising; Duncan figured that the sooner they hijacked Chris's delivery, the sooner they could ditch the others and decode the exchange they'd just had. "Where's the paperwork, Dick?"
"Right up here," Richard said, climbing onto the boat himself before offering a hand to Courtney and Heather. Duncan refused his hand (a foolish decision in hindsight), and at about the same time he managed to get himself aboard, the older man returned from the cabin with a thick stack of papers and three pens.
"It shouldn't take too long between the three of you," he said hopefully.
Heather scoffed while Courtney took and doled out the papers. Duncan brushed her fingers when she handed him his stack, to which she cut him a warning look. He smirked—it was good to see her coming back to herself.
"It's just about thirteen each," Courtney mumbled, doing the calculation quickly in her head. "Shouldn't take more than a couple of minutes."
"Great! Thanks." Richard flipped a few pages back on his clipboard and checked off some boxes of his own. "And once you've finished that, I can show you what we have here! It's a doozy. Maybe you can explain it to me."
"Would you mind?" Heather asked, sweetly twirling a finger at Richard. After a second of confusion, he obliged and turned around, allowing Heather to slap the paperwork onto his back and start signing.
"Don't mind if I do!" Duncan added, slapping his own pile of paperwork onto the back of Heather's hoodie. She tried to glare at him over her shoulder, but the hoodie blocked out her peripheral vision, as he'd imagined it would.
Heather was all bark in front of Richard anyway, and didn't react to Duncan with anything more than an icy comment of, "Go ahead, Drew. Just so long as Claire doesn't get jealous."
Courtney made a noise that sounded like the tail end of a very loud internalized scream from where she was signing against a wall, and Duncan found himself writing a little more viciously than was necessary, stabbing Heather with the pen every time he set it to paper.
It took longer than a couple of minutes, largely due to the fact that when Courtney looked over and found that Duncan wasn't even signing as this Drew person, but instead with a skull and crossbones on the signature line, she had to snatch his stack away from him and do it all herself. This left him free to lean back against the boat rail and watch as Heather finished up her own stack and was left to suffer through Richard's painfully innocent small talk.
He smirked to himself when he noticed that Courtney was signing a little slower than usual to make Heather's discomfort last just a little bit longer.
Richard couldn't help but feel he'd stumbled into a new universe where he simply didn't belong. The kids were nice enough, he supposed—or at least cordial. He didn't mind them snapping at him (and each other) every once in a while. He had two daughters, the youngest about their age, so he felt more than equipped to handle the interns. He had undergone a thorough crash-course in the teenage psyche that had been rather unpleasant at times.
But these kids! They were awfully... dramatic. And they said each other's names so often! Richard was forced to assume it was a coping strategy they used to handle the fact that they couldn't stand each other, or their shared job. But again, Richard would cut them some slack. As he'd been about to say before Drew ran off to comfort Claire (an attempt that appeared somewhat unsuccessful. Richard had been in that rodeo before...), he had once had to take a 24-hour shift around the holidays, and he'd been about ready to trudge into the house without a word to his family when he finally completed all the deliveries. Of course, he hadn't. What kind of monster would that have made him?
Despite the interns' best efforts, being a guest on that island just felt a tad bit...well, awkward! It didn't seem to be about status or wealth, even though the island and its structures were bigger than his entire neighborhood. The kids he'd run into seemed normal enough, perhaps even disadvantaged; Claire was about what he'd been expecting, but Drew looked more like the type to be getting into trouble, and Rachel's poorly disguised bald head made him wonder if she were undergoing treatment for some terrible disease. He simply couldn't imagine what could have united them! The interns, as well as the kids in the dining room, looked like quite a ragtag bunch, but then again, Richard wasn't a kid anymore. Maybe teens were less cliquey than they used to be?
He was trying to talk to them to pass the time and break up their (and his) daily routine, but it was proving more difficult than he'd anticipated. They were responsive, sure, but he couldn't help but feel as if they simply didn't have time for him, like they had more important things to do, bigger matters on their minds. He couldn't imagine what it might be—they didn't look older than 16 or 17—but his daughter always got angry when he implied that her responsibilities were only going to get bigger, so he had learned to avoid that topic. Things always seemed more life-altering from the teenage perspective, and hey, he was delivering a ridiculous amount of packages to the three. Maybe they had more on their plates than he gave them credit for, without having to handle a stack of paperwork and a new yacht.
But eventually the papers were signed and Richard was clear to escort the interns up to the top deck of the boat. A couple dozen cardboard boxes, varying in size from small to vehicle-sized, lay stacked neatly, almost like Tetris blocks (that loading guy Joe sure did good work), if not a bit shifted from the ride over. Some had holes and were making scuffling noises, which was concerning—Richard never enjoyed dealing with live contents—but he wasn't about to ask questions.
"What the hell is this?" Drew asked as he came up the stairs.
"These are your packages!" Richard announced. "Forty in total, all expedited, all insured and labeled as fragile."
"Something's wrong," Claire said immediately, approaching the neat stack.
"Oh? What is it?..." Richard asked carefully, his brows furrowing. Those were words you never wanted to hear on the job, especially from a girl who couldn't even be comforted by her boyfriend. This was his daughter going to prom all over again...
Claire opened her mouth to speak, but seemed too confused to muddle through her thoughts. She glanced from the boxes to her colleagues and back again. "Richard," she began curiously, "hypothetically, how much would it cost to have forty boxes expedited and insured over Canada post? Ballpark figure."
Richard looked at his clipboard. He had the real number there, but he wasn't strictly allowed to reveal it to them. It was one of the longest numbers he had seen in his delivery career, and more money than his daughters' future college educations combined. More money than he made in a year, in fact.
"Let's say it's more than the whole outfit you're wearing right now."
Pursing her lips as she looked over the boxes again, Claire asked, "Is it more than what you would pay for decent masonry on a building roof?"
That was an oddly specific question. Richard looked at the number. "Yup, I'd say so."
"More than it would cost to get an elevator inspected?" Drew chimed in.
"Decidedly so, Drew."
"More than you'd pay to hire an architect with a degree and up to code supplies to build a resort with sturdy floors and ceilings?" Rachel added, glancing testily at Drew and Claire.
"Honestly, probably all of those things combined," Richard admitted.
"This doesn't make any sense," Claire mumbled, circling the cardboard puzzle. "Why would Chris send us packages that so intensely valuable to him and not be here himself to pick them up?"
She turned to Richard and asked more clearly, "Are you sure these are meant to be here?"
Well that was even more concerning! "Of course!" Richard said, hastily flipping through his clipboard again. Where was that page with the delivery address?! "Unless this isn't Wawanakwa Island off the coast of Muskoka? I mean," he went on, finally pointing a finger at the print, "there are only three land masses in the area. The one with the skull was pretty clearly Boney Island and the other looked uninhabited. I just figured..."
Perhaps he'd been mistaken. His Rachel was always telling him that he needed to stop being so presumptuous.
Claire exchanged a look with Drew, and they, along with Richard, glanced out at the fuzzy spot on the horizon, the empty island Richard had passed on his way with a strangely shaped mountain of some sort.
"You made the right call, Dick," Drew assured him solemnly. "That island isn't fit for human life."
"It was just my mistake," Claire corrected as well. "Everything's fine."
Richard breathed a sigh of relief. But what a good story this would make when he got home! He couldn't wait to tell the family.
"Do we have to open all of these ourselves too?" the intern Rachel asked in a bored voice, eying the tallest of the packages, which stretched above her head. Whatever was inside it growled, and she jumped back.
"Up to you," Richard said, tucking his pen back into his shirt pocket. "This is the end of the line for me."
He reached into his pocket and fished around for the pair of boat keys, which he located and handed to Claire. Drew snuck up behind her and snatched them out of her palm before she could get her grip, jingling them with a smirk. She glared but didn't seem very surprised.
Oh, to be young again.
"If you drove this boat here, how are you getting off the island?" Drew asked, twirling the keys around a finger.
"Oh, I didn't drive it. I just pulled it," Richard explained, walking to the deck rail on the opposite side and pointing. Claire followed him over and looked to see his small tugboat in the water, which he'd anchored on the yacht's other side. "I'll get home alright," he assured them all.
He turned to the brunette and ripped the top sheet off his stack of papers. "This is for you, Claire. So you can keep track of all of Mr. McLean's items." She seemed to be the most neurotic of the three, and that usually corresponded with being organized. Besides, Richard kind of liked her. She reminded him of his wife, in a way. Ironically enough, seeing as the other girl shared her name.
"Thank you," she said cheerfully, perhaps happy to think that Richard had deemed her the most responsible of the three. Or the closest to him at the time. She didn't have to know the details.
"Well, it was a pleasure meeting you three, but I must be going," he said truthfully. These kids were a breath of fresh air. He wouldn't have minded seeing more of them, but he had a life to live far away from that beautiful island. Maybe he would take Rachel to Wawanakwa for an anniversary sometime. "Send Mr. McLean my regards."
"We'll be sure to do that, Dick," Drew assured him with a chuckle.
"And Claire," Richard added softly, calling on all his fatherly practice as he put a hand on her upper arm. In an exaggerated whisper, he said, "We men can be real knuckleheads sometimes, but stick with us and we generally don't disappoint." He smiled at her kindly, like they were in on a secret together. "Things will work out with Drew."
"I...uh, I…" she stumbled.
Richard realized that might have been very weird for Claire to hear from a man she hadn't met more than an hour ago, but he didn't regret it. Everyone needed to hear that things would turn out okay—especially at that crazy age.
"Uh, thank you. Sir."
He nodded and shot her a smile, climbed off the edge of the boat onto a rope ladder, and then down to the tugboat.
Richard waved to them all as his own vehicle sputtered to life, untying it and taking back the rope ladder a little clumsily. Driving off into the open ocean without another word, he turned back once to wish his new friends well one more time, but their specks had already disappeared into the distance.
What's in the boxes? Is Chris going to get Richard fired for the misdelivery? We hope not, because Richard is wonderful.
From strayphoenix: Okay, so I will 100% take the blame for the delay of this chapter. We promised to get it out as close to Christmas as we could, and well, a month later is as close to Christmas as we could. I had a pit of a psychosis with this chap and it's three points of view that I had to get JUST RIGHT and Rina eventually just had to take the doc away and make me drink lots of water and breathe deep.
Easter Eggs! Congrats if you figured out why Duncan/Drew, Courtney/Claire and Heather/Rachel have those aliases before I mentioned that it was an easter egg! Congrats to you who now know that it's an easter egg and will go find out why! Congrats to everybody!
And now a Holiday message: Want to know what my favorite part of writing this story is? Every new chapter we get new fans reading the whole story in one shot or a review from a steady reader following us from the start or an old fan rediscovering each glorious chapter again or long time readers/ first time reviewers coming out of the woodwork like you'd been here all along and we love each and every one of you SO MUCH. You are the greatest gift we could ask for year after year :) As authors and a fellow fans, you guys have made us better writers and keep our love for this show alive far longer than the show itself did. Thank you. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.
So! With that mushiness out of the way, to show our gratitude, we'd like to leave you with an extra special something: a preview for next chapter! Where packages are opened, secrets are revealed, and Playa de Losers gets turned upside down!
Excerpts From Chapter 29:
"Duncan," Courtney hissed. Under her breath, she asked, "I thought we were going to inspect these things ourselves before we let anyone else get near them. They could be dangerous explosives, or wild animals!"
"All the better then that someone else opens them!" Duncan said.
"So you're not too busy to risk life and limb with a mystery delivery," Bridgette intoned, "but you're too busy to talk to your best friend about the most recent development between you and Du—"
"Shhh!" Courtney hissed. In a rushed whisper, she added, "Bridgette, look, I don't know what you think you saw this morning—and don't make that know-it-all face at me, I hate that face—but everything is status quo and I really can't talk about it right now because—"
Courtney's head suddenly snapped up. "Where's Geoff?"
"Talking to Duncan probably."
"I got this, babe," Duncan said, walking over and whipping out his switchblade.
"Yes, because if we were fearing for our lives before, we surely aren't now," Noah commented dryly.
Happy Holidays, Campers! And a Very Merry 2014!
From Contemperina: Please note that the above chapter excerpts are subject to change. Like, they will probably be only vaguely recognizable by the time the whole chapter goes up. This is because we're constantly in the process of re-editing and trying to make these chapters better for all of you, and we take this very seriously!-sometimes to our near downfall and, like stray hinted, mental breakdowns.
She said it all above, but I would like to echo her sentiment and say again, we really do appreciate each of you so much. It's fun for us to write, but it's more fun to know that someone is reading. We hope you all enjoyed the chapter and are patient enough to stick around for next one. Happy New Year!
Until next time,
Thanks for reading! Please review (: