Well, that’s the last time I’d ever try that again. I can’t believe it. What’s wrong with a little practical joke? No need to be so serious. It didn’t hurt anyone. Mostly. Well, it did, but the doctors said Matilda would be fine. So no harm, no foul. What’s the big whoop? It’s certainly not worth sending me away because I’m a “danger” to others.
I heave a long-suffering, dramatic sigh and pull my luggage out of the back of the trunk. A tall man in a black uniform offers to carry them, but I wave him off, tossing him a penny like they do in the movies. Well, sort of, because the man looked pretty ticked when he realized it was, in fact, only a penny. I smirk to myself as I enter the boarding school, looking around. The carpet is thick so that I can’t even hear my own footsteps. Well, that could come in handy, now, couldn’t it. I look up and see a giant chandelier that's made of thousands of crystals. I glance around the lobby. Besides me, there is an old-looking woman at a large desk in the middle of the room. A girl with curly black hair down to her waist, looking like she’s about to puke, is on a chair nearby, sitting straight up. She catches me looking at her and she glances down. Well, at least I came to a boarding school with cute girls.
“Young man,” the old woman at the desk is staring at me now, a stern expression on her wrinkled face. “do you happen to be Mr. Benjamin Wood?” I cringe. Nobody calls me Benjamin except for my mom when she’s mad.
“Well, you can call me Benny,” I say, shoving my hands in my grubby sweatshirt pockets. The woman sniffs and turns to her computer. She clicks a few keys and turns back.
“Mr. Benjamin,” she says, putting lots of emphasis on my name, “your room is on floor 9, door 756,” she says. She hands me a key and turns back to her computer. I consider saying thank you, but I don’t like her attitude. I glance around the lobby, unsure where the elevator is.
“Miss Grace, please, show Mr. Benjamin Wood where the elevator is? And while you're at it, grab me a donut from the food court please,” the old woman says. I turn and see the dark-haired girl, Grace, making her way towards me, her eyes on the carpet. She walks past me and to a door in the far off corner. I follow her and she guides me through it and to the elevator doors. We finally get inside and I click the button for floor nine. For about 5 solid seconds, we stand there in awkward silence.
“So,” I say, “how about that desk lady, huh?”
“Oh, Mrs. Dillman?” Grace asks. Her voice is extremely soft, and hard to hear over the awful elevator music that’s playing. I think the last time I heard this song was on my 28th trip to the principal's office. Or maybe it was my 29th? It’s too hard to keep track.
“Yeah, well, she’s a hoot. Seems like she’s been managing that desk a little too long,” I say, smiling. Grace finally looks up and gives me a small smile back. Her eyes are the color of obsidian and twinkle like stars in the night sky. I’m honestly kind of taken aback, I’ve never seen anyone so pretty.
“She is a bit…” Grace trails off as the elevator doors open and a tall girl steps in. She has dark brown hair and blue eyes, and she scowls when she sees Grace. Then she notices me and flashes me a smile.
“Hey! Are you new? My name’s Kara. I’ve been going here for a few years now. Do you need a tour? I can help! Don’t let Grace bug you, she’s so weird. Let’s go!” Kara says all this so fast, I hardly have any time to react as the elevator door opens and she tries to pull me out.
“Well, that’s okay Kara. Grace will do fine,” I say with mock sweetness. Kara looks taken aback, and then she scowls at me.
“Fine then. Be part of the weird group. I don't care,” Kara says, and she flounces out the door.
“Well, Kara and Mrs. Dillman should start a club for eccentric jerks,” I say, looking at Grace. She didn’t seem to be hurt by Kara. She’s probably used to her. Grace smiles and the elevator doors open on the ninth floor.
“It’s late, so I’ll meet you tomorrow for the tour,” Grace says. I glance down at my phone and see that it’s about 10:00. “I’m down the hall in 751,” Grace walks down the hallway and shows me where my room is, and then disappears into her own.
As I unpack and settle into my new room, I think about how maybe setting the frog on Matilda wasn’t that terrible. It all turned out fine in the end, didn’t it? Well, mostly. I still have to deal with the members of the jerk club.
Over the next few weeks, I settled into a routine. Grace typically meets me at the breakfast tables around 7:00 am, we go to classes, have lunch, go to more classes, have dinner, and then hang out until lights out. During these weeks, I haven’t had a single ‘incident’. Well, I may have slipped hot sauce into our math teacher's coffee, but I wasn’t caught, so that doesn’t count. I’ve tried to get Grace to sneak out with me at night to explore the school, but she is too nervous about getting caught, as per usual.
I’ve really gotten to know Grace better, and the more I know her, the more I am intrigued by her. I have never known someone like her before. She’s very quiet and hardly says anything during our conversations, which sometimes makes me feel as if I am talking to myself. Sometimes, I can tell she prefers to be alone with her own thoughts. She likes to draw, and boy can she draw. Her drawings look almost exactly like photos. She gets all weird about it when I tell her how good she is though. I don’t know why.
This morning, as I’m heading down to breakfast, I hear Kara talking to someone else around the corner of the hallway in hushed whispers. I pause to listen.
“- it’s her, I think we’ve caught the spy,” a pause, “Yeah, it’s the one I’ve been suspecting for a while now,” another long pause, “I have the poison, we can kill her tonight,” pause, “room 751, I’ll be at the window at 10:00,” It takes me a minute to register multiple things. One, Kara is talking on her phone. Two, there’s supposedly a spy. Three, Kara has some type of poison. Four, Grace is in room 751. Before I can collect my thoughts, Kara walks around the corner and stares at me. I freeze and try not to look like I was just eavesdropping on a conversation that turned my world upside down.
“What are you doing here Benjamin?” Kara says, flipping her dark brown braids. When she does this, something on the tips of her fingernails catches the light. Before I can tell what it is, she crosses her arms.
“I-uh... was making my way to the breakfast table,” I stuttered. Kara narrows her eyes and slowly walks towards me. I back into the wall as she gets up in my face. She’s so close, that I can smell the overpowering scent of her bubblegum flavored lip gloss.
“Don’t mess with me. If you do, you’ll be sorry,” Kara rumbles. I nod and she backs away, glaring. When she leaves, I make my way quickly down to breakfast, so she wouldn’t be any more suspicious of me than she already is. When I sit down at the table, Grace gives me a concerned look.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she says quietly, tilting her head.
“Well, I’ve seen someone who's about at ugly as a ghost,” I say, trying to joke. My head is spinning with what just happened. Is Kara going to try to kill Grace? But why? What is going on?
“Benny,” Grace says, jerking her head towards a nearby hall and getting up. I follow her and she leads me down a hallway and into an empty classroom. “What is it?” she asks.
“I-” I hesitate. What am I going to tell her? That I heard Kara in the hallway plotting her death? What if she thinks I’m crazy? What if I am crazy? What if I’m overreacting? “Well,” I say, cringing at the word. Kara has been mercilessly teasing me about how I start loads of my sentences with “Well”. It’s what my mom used to do, so I guess old habits die hard. “I overheard Kara in the hallway talking to someone on the phone,” Grace’s eyebrows shoot up.
“Do you know who it was? Could you hear the voice?” Grace asks intensely. For a moment, I don’t know how to respond. Why did she care so much?
“Well, no,” I say, “Why do you care?” Grace glances down, her shyness returning. “Anyway, she said that she had caught a spy or something. And that…” I trailed off not wanting to say anything else.
“And?” Grace prompted.
“That she was going, at 10:00 tonight, to um, poison and kill… you,” I stuttered. Grace’s face turned white.
“I knew it would only be a matter of time before I was discovered,” she muttered, “I thought I’d have more time,” her voice broke, and I could tell she was scared.
"Grace, what’s going on?” Grace looked up at me with her sad black eyes.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t honest with you before, but I didn’t want to put you in danger. I work for a secret society that’s currently working to track down a man or woman who calls themself Toxin, because they use poison as their main weapon. Toxin has been taking out good men and women working for our society for years, and we’ve finally tracked down one of Toxin’s agents to this building. I had suspected Kara, but I wasn’t completely sure. I don’t know how, but she knows who I am and what I’m here for. We have to strike tonight or we’re both dead,” Grace says, taking my hand. “I’m so sorry I’ve put you in danger, but I have no choice, I need help,” If my head was spinning before, it’s a tornado now. What? A secret society? Toxin? Kill? What?
“I, uh, I’ll help you,” I say, still unsure about what I’m getting into. How did no one know about this secret society? How can I be sure they aren’t actually the bad guys in this situation? What if I’m helping the wrong side? But wait, I know Grace. She wouldn’t lie to me, would she?
“Thank you,” Grace says, letting out a breath and sounding relieved. That must be a lot of weight on her shoulders, to catch and, what, kill a poison addicted psychopath? “Meet me tonight at 9:30 in my room,” with that, Grace slipped out of the classroom and closed the door gently behind her.
At precisely 9:30 pm, I slip out of my room and down the hall. I give a quiet knock on Grace’s bedroom door and slip inside. Grace is sitting on the edge of her bed, dressed in all black. She has on a pair of sleek black leggings and a long-sleeved sweatshirt. Her long dark hair is up in a ponytail and she has a mask on like doctors wear. The only thing on her that isn't black is a small leather cord with a pearl in the center, wrapped around her wrist.
“What’s with the mask?” I whisper. Grace hands me a pair of black cargo pants, a sweatshirt, and a mask.
“Keeps out toxins that might be in the form of an aerosol,” Grace turns to look out the window as I change. The sweatshirt's a little tight, but besides that everything fits perfectly. I joined her at the window and we both looked down. Below, I could see a figure moving around in the trees. Kara. I cannot believe that I’m going to be part of a secret spy network. How does it only take a moment for an entire world, an entire universe, to be turned completely upside down?
“You ready?” Grace asks.
“Well, as ready as I can be,” I say. I glance over at the clock and see that it reads 9:55 pm. Grace grabs my arm and pulls me into the shadows of the corner of her room, and we wait. A few minutes later, I can hear a small tap on the glass, so soft, I almost missed it. Then, the window shattered and Kara leaped into the room, dressed in black. She made a lunge towards the bed, and then pulled up short, realizing Grace wasn’t there. In her moment of confusion, Grace swung her leg around and it collided with Kara’s skull. Kara growled and turned around, holding her fingers up like claws. That’s when I noticed the tiny silver tubes retract from them like claws. Needles. Probably chock-full of poison. Kara made a swipe with her needle-claws towards Grace's neck but she dodged it tripping Kara. Kara fell to the floor, knocked her head against the dresser, and fell unconscious. Grace turned to me, breathing hard. I stepped out of the shadows.
“Thanks for all your help,” she says with a laugh. I smiled and hugged her. Grace pulled away, her arms still wrapped around my neck. She smiled. My stomach dropped and I found myself leaning towards her. That’s when she shoved me hard onto the floor. For a moment, I lay there, stunned. Why did she shove me? I stand up quickly and turn to face her again.
“Tell me what you know, and I’ll give you the antidote. Otherwise, expect her death in the next two minutes.” Kara was standing there, she had Grace in a headlock and her pointer finger needle was inserted into Grace’s neck.
“No!” I lunged towards them, but Kara expertly wiped my feet out from beneath me. I hit the floor hard and I heard something else land next to me. I turned to see Grace there, staring at the ceiling. “Grace!” I say, taking her face in my hands. Her eyelids are fluttering. No, no, no, no, no. I can’t lose her. I can’t. I look up at Kara. “I don’t know anything, I swear! Please just give me the antidote!” I say in desperation. I look down at Grace and see that she is mouthing something. I lean down to listen.
“Lipgloss… antidote... “ she was murmuring. I looked up and saw that Kara’s lipgloss was in her pocket. I lunged towards her, grabbing her legs and shoving them out from under her. She cried out in surprise and fell to the floor. I grabbed the lip gloss from her pocket, narrowly avoiding a swipe from her claws. I ran over to Grace. She was now unconscious and her breaths were ragged. I opened the lip gloss container and poured it down her throat. It had no effect. A sudden whack on the back of my head caused me to see stars. Kara pressed one foot against my chest and held me down.
“I will kill you and everyone you love if it’s the last thing I ever do,” Kara growls slowly bringing her claws towards my throat. I try to get up, but my head is fuzzy from the blow. “Say goodbye,” Kara says and swipes. Just before her claws reach my throat, I see a syringe plunge into her neck and she falls to the floor.
“Have a taste of your own medicine,” Grace says, holding up the empty syringe. I stumble to my feet and hug her, thankful she’s alive.
“How- how did you-”
“No time to explain, we have to get out of here before the poison wears off,” Grace says.
“Where will we go?” I ask, confused.
“We have to find the safe houses and hide out there until we figure out our next move,” Grace says, moving towards the window. I stare at her, unable to comprehend how such a shy, quiet girl could fight like a karate master.
“Will you teach me how to fight like that?” I ask. Grace laughs and beckons me towards the window. She slides down the rope Kara had used to climb in, and I follow. As we run through the night, I think about how my life will never be the same again. What dangers lie ahead of me? What am I getting myself into? I have no idea, but I know that as long as I’m with Grace, it will be okay. Well, at least until my parents figure it out and send the cops after us. But we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.