Flinch was late.
Fortunately, this was one situation he could afford to be late for. If he was two minutes behind during a mission, there was a very good chance people would die. But being late for the school winter festival? Nah, nothing to worry about.
Except for the fact that he was standing outside the cafeteria alone, and if there was one thing he had ever learned from his years at Nathan Hale, it was that there was always a trap set for the unlucky kid who showed up late. He wondered what the school's bullies had thought up this time.
Bucket over the door?
Possible, but a big risk. What if one of the teachers walked in instead?
An ambush waiting just inside?
More likely. They'd be able to throw their punches and be quick enough to escape getting caught.
Flinch closed his eyes and activated the comlink. "Anyone there? What's going on inside? Anyone? Duncan was supposed to meet me out here but I was late and now I'm kinda worried -"
"Uh, yeah." Jackson's voice came over the comlink. "I think the girls were expecting Duncan, actually. Don't come in yet."
Ruby spoke a second later. "Flinch, to be perfectly honest, I don't think you should be here. I had to come so that I wouldn't blow my cover; Matilda's here because her mom made her. Jackson... is a complete idiot, but that's not the problem right now. Thing is, the bullies have pretty much taken over the place, and the teachers don't even realize it. Go home. It isn't worth it."
"Are the Troublemakers there?" Flinch asked. "They could help."
"They're here," Ruby confirmed, her voice expressing just how helpful she thought they'd be. "Duncan hasn't arrived yet, so if you see him tell him what I just told you. And let him know that it's rude to hang up on people, too."
And with that, Flinch was left staring at the cafeteria door. Slowly, he pulled out a chocolate mint - one of the best parts of Christmas season - popped it in his mouth, and began to walk away.
"Don't you dare move!"
Flinch jumped, and because he was never good at following directions, he whirled back toward the closed door.
There was nobody there.
But then another voice responded. "I've been standing here for almost an hour! What do you want from me?!"
In trouble somehow?
But Ruby had said not to come in.
This wasn't serious, was it? The bullies wouldn't try to beat up a smaller girl in front of everyone. And even if they did, Ruby would die before she let anyone hurt her best friend. There probably wasn't anything to worry about -
- but by the time Flinch came to this conclusion, he was already barreling through the door.
He tumbled over something, rolled on the floor, got his foot caught in one of the lower decorations (why did this always happen?) and came to rest in the center of the room.
Everyone stared. The Christmas carols kept playing in the background. Flinch laughed awkwardly.
"Get off me," Matilda growled.
Flinch quickly stood up. "Sorry! I wasn't thinking."
"You never think," she muttered, but didn't seem upset. Instead, one of the girls who had been standing off to the side yelled at him.
"You ruined it! We had been waiting for an hour for this, and then you come in and ruin it!"
"Sorry!" Flinch said, then whispered to Matilda, "What did I ruin?"
In answer she pointed to the tinsel that had been hanging over the door, and small plant attached to it. Mistletoe.
So wait. They were making Matilda stand there, waiting for Duncan, with the mistletoe hanging there and how did this ever get the approval of the teachers -
"It wasn't my idea," Matilda said.
"Uh. Okay. Merry Christmas! Bye!"
And with that Flinch rushed out of the cafeteria and as far away as possible.