Students stand in clustered circles whispering to each other, some bobbing their heads to catch a glimpse of the boy lying on the ground. A few teachers try in vain to quiet everyone as two paramedics push past the crowd with a stretcher.
From my position on the stands, I can barely make out faces.
“Nate,” I say into my phone. “What’s happening down there?”
“Leeroy Nkosi fainted. Apparently, he was just eating a spiced pumpkin truffle or something and couldn’t breathe. Poor guy. I hope he’ll be okay.”
“That’s terrible! Is it the same Leeroy who pranked Mulder last year?”
“The one and only. Have you found–”
“D-did you say, Leeroy?” Cheryl interrupts, the colour draining from her face. With the lipstick smeared all around her mouth and large tendrils of hair escaping her plait, she looks like she did a little more than talking in that classroom.
I thrust my phone into my pocket, shutting off Nate’s voice. I’ll have to fill him in later.
“Cheryl, we need to talk.”
“Jazz, I’m sorry. I just can’t right now.” Cheryl’s eyes well up with tears which she swipes away with the back of her hand, leaving long trails of mascara.
“Just can’t what, Cheryl? Tell me how you’ve been skipping classes and letting your grades slip, all for some stupid … Oh my God!”
That voice. Of course, I knew that voice! How could I not, when I’ve been hearing it every damn day. But then that would mean …
“Husky dog eyes,” I say, more to myself than Cheryl. “He has husky dog eyes.”
“What are you talking about, Jazz?”
“Benjamin Langley. That’s who you’ve been seeing.” I look Cheryl dead in the eyes, daring her to deny it. But she doesn’t. She turns around and runs away, shutting me out again.
I chase after her, following her into the girls’ toilets. She locks herself in a cubicle and refuses to come out.
“Cheryl, has he … forced you to do anything you don–”
“No! God, Jazz! It’s not what you think. Ben loves me.”
“He’s a predator, Cheryl. Men like him, they … they make you think they love you to get what they want.”
OMG, all this time. The secretiveness. The missing classes.
It started around the time Langley asked her to stay behind because of that essay she forgot to turn in … hardly even a month since he first started teaching.
“Hey, Cherry,” I say, my voice softening. “I know it’s going to be hard, but we have to speak to your parents–”
Cheryl kicks open the cubicle door, making me jump back in shock.
“Please! What do they care? They’re at each other’s throats, fighting over every single thing in the flippin’ house. Thank God I’ll be 18 by the time the stupid divorce is done.”
“Divorce?! I had no idea. Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know. You were caught up with this carnival and Nate … and then Ben was so sweet to me and then …” She throws her hands over her face, her shoulders heaving. “It’s just a big mess, Jazz. I didn’t know Leeroy would react to it this way. I swear! I didn’t know! And now he’s–”
“React to what?” I ask, a feeling of dread washing over me. “What does Leeroy have to do with any of this?”
“I gave him bubble.”
Tell us: Has Cheryl got involved with drugs because of her parent’s divorce, or Mr Langley, or both?