"Signs of blackmail or bribery. An email that's vague enough to be innocent while still being legit to not be considered spam."
"Make sure she knows it's about the ref."
"Now get out there and show them what a Phoenix can do!"
"That's tonight dealt with."
Basketball Night in Canada
Chapter 4 - Cheesecake and English
Caitlin looked up as Skye returned to their shared dorm room. The tall girl tossed her gym clothes on her bed. "Cait."
The red-haired girl pushed her homework aside. "Yes, Skye?"
"You know how you promised not to interfere?" Skye saw the redhead nod. "Thank you for weasel wording your way out of it." The tall girl smiled. "That was the worst game until you found whatever you did."
"Who else?" Skye pulled a chair from the table and sat down. "Close one, though. Overtime win is still a win for us."
"Congratulations, Skye." Caitlin picked up her pen. "How does it feel?"
"Feels good. Do we have any ice? My nose is still sore."
Caitlin took a look at Skye's red, swollen nose. "It's not bleeding."
Skye got up to walk to the fridge. "Compared to other years, this is nothing. I'd love a full season like this." She looked in the freezer. "Someone remembered to fill the tray!"
Skye took the tray into the bathroom. "Speaking of, where is she? Where's Autumn, for that matter?"
Caitlin trilled a laugh. "They were being annoying, so I shoo'ed them to the library."
"No, really?" Skye came back out, holding a towel filled with ice cubes on her nose with one hand and an empty ice cube tray in the other. "You've got them looking into the ref, don't you?"
"Surprisingly, no." The redhead brushed a stray bang out of her face. "They were driving me crazy, Skye. Laura has no sense of propriety at all. Autumn's just encouraging her and picking up some of Laura's bad habits."
Skye sat down across from the red-haired girl. "Cait, Laura's new. She hasn't figured out the culture here. I like her. A breath of fresh air. Shakes things up a bit."
Caitlin scowled. "That's not necessarily a benefit."
"You'll get used to her." The tall girl stretched in her seat. "What did you dig up on the ref?"
"Minor dirt. Nothing any of us would ever be worried about." Caitlin shrugged. "For him, it was a big deal. He was just a pawn, though."
"Figures. So, who? Who wanted to mess us up?"
"Besides the usual?" Caitlin grabbed a piece of paper. "Verity." The redhead jotted the name down. "It's almost habit for her to try to disrupt us."
Skye rolled her eyes. "Or she found out who dropped the Diet Coke and Mentos on her."
Caitlin glared at Skye. "Be that as it may, she's not the only one. Carly, Verity's classmate, could have found out, too." The red-haired girl added the name, then kept writing. "The school board, either individual board members or as a whole, have been looking for a reason for decades to shut down the Academy. The mayor and city council, for the same reasons as the school board."
"Wait a moment. The school board?"
"Yes. What about it?"
Skye leaned forward, keeping the towel full of ice on her nose. "The board randomized the schedule this year instead of pitting us and St. Dymphna against each other."
Caitlin nodded. "Normally, both teams get suspended for the season. Why change that this year?"
"That's my question."
"Okay, then try this one: Are we the target?"
"Why wouldn't we be?" Skye leaned back. "We don't have any dealings with Simcoe. They're just a high school."
"That's it, though. I'll have to talk to Vamsi to see if she knows, but I don't know of any girl here having run into anyone at Simcoe, except maybe on a date." Caitlin tossed her pen on to the table. "There's too many variables. I can't even start to narrow things down."
"Maybe I can. Cait, there were a few Simcoe girls taking dives. I can ask them a few questions and find out what they know."
Caitlin arched a red eyebrow. "Could be useful."
"I owe one of them an elbow to the face, too."
"Do that after you get answers." Caitlin snapped her fingers. "The St. Dymphna game!"
"What about it?"
"Did they have the same problems we did? Or were they able to have a normal game?"
Skye shrugged. "I have no idea, Cait. I don't even know if they played."
Caitlin stood up. "I'll get Laura to go to Neutral Grounds and see if anyone from St. Dymphna is there. I just hope she listened to me and went to the library."
Laura threw her pen down in frustration. "I don't see the point of this!"
Autumn shushed her new roommate. "We're in the library. No yelling." She peeked at Laura's papers. "What are you not getting?"
"You're still working on your writing sample?"
"Are you sure you can read?"
Laura glared at Autumn. "Yes. Hard to read chemistry books if I couldn't."
"How can you have problems with poetry?"
"It doesn't make any sense!" Laura let her head fall to the table with a clunk. "Ow."
"Did you get anything marked yet?"
Without a word and without looking, Laura opened her book bag and pulled out a sheet of paper. A large D-, in red and circled, was visible in the top right corner. "He said I had to do my own work."
Autumn took the sheet. She read over the sonnet. "This isn't yours?"" Laura's answer was to shake her head no. "Can I see one of yours, then?"
Laura reached back in the bag, retrieving a second paper. This one had a red F in the corner. "I had to write this in class."
"Well, duh, Laura. Mr. Baker isn't stupid. He knows our dodges. You can't just purchase one poem. You need several and memorize them if you're going that route." Autumn read the second sonnet. "Are you sure you can read?"
Laura snatched back the sheet of paper. "And how are your marks in his class?"
"Mostly B's. How much did you pay for your ringers?"
"It doesn't matter." Laura glared at the Asian girl. "What can I do? I need this class, don't I?"
"I need this class. You?" Autumn shrugged. "You're missing so many courses that you won't get a proper diploma. Finishing here means getting attention from big players, so that's not going to be a hindrance."
"I can skip and no one would notice or care."
The sound of boots on tile interrupted the two girls. Caitlin emerged from an aisle of books. "Oh, good, you actually listened to me. Laura, I need you to--"
"Caitlin, Laura's having a crisis."
"Not anymore. Autumn solved it for me."
Caitlin looked from one girl to the other, bewildered. "Crisis?"
"Laura's failing English."
"But it doesn't matter anymore." Laura smiled. "I don't need to pass English because I'm not getting a diploma anyway, so why bother? I get to sleep in tomorrow!"
Caitlin gave Autumn the stink-eye. "It doesn't work that way, Laura. Everyone here has to pass and get a diploma. Even you. Anyway, I need you--"
"How can she, Caitlin? Laura doesn't have any of the other course credits."
Caitlin sat down across from her two roommates. "You pick now to have this problem?"
"I have been trying to do this assignment for two weeks." Laura gathered her marked assignments and put them back in her bag. "I need the class for a diploma I'm not eligible for? Great! I'm sleeping in tomorrow!"
The red-haired girl sighed. "Maybe you should talk to the Headmistress about graduation before you decided on anything, Laura."
Laura put away the rest of her papers. "I will. Tomorrow. After I've slept in. You wake up too early here." She closed her book bag. "I'm going to Neutral Grounds for a bit. What was it you wanted me to do, Caitlin?"
Caitlin blinked. "Well, if you're there anyway, can you find out how the results of the St. Dymphna game? I just want to compare it to what we saw this evening."
"Sure. Why didn't you just say so?"
Neutral Grounds was busy for a Wednesday night when Laura arrived. She dutifully got in the line up to order. As she read over the menu, two arms wrapped around her waist. "Laura!" Mackenzie squealed. The tiny girl pulled Laura away from the line. "Don't waste your time. I already have a pot of tea and a slice of cheesecake to share." Mackenzie cut to the front of the line. "Can I get another fork and cup, Arlene? Thanks."
Having caught her breath after Hurricane Mackenzie, Laura returned the tiny girl's hug. "You're bubbly tonight."
"You're here. Why shouldn't I be bubbly?" Mackenzie received a cup and fork from the barista. "Thanks!" The tiny girl guided Laura back to a table. "You look happy, too. Did you get the marks for 'your' poems?"
Laura couldn't meet Mackenzie's eyes. "Uh, yeah." She hung her head. "He figured out I didn't write them."
"Impossible. I gave you enough samples that your teacher wouldn't see through us."
"He had me write in class."
"Oh. Damn. I should have thought of that." Mackenzie rubbed Laura's arm. "I'm sorry."
"He prefers your work to mine, too."
Mackenzie handed a fork to Laura. "Have some cheesecake. It'll help."
"Thanks." Laura took a small forkful of cheesecake from the slice. She closed her eyes as she let the morsel linger on her tongue before swallowing. "That's heavenly, Mackenzie!"
"Isn't it?" The tiny girl ate her own bite of the dessert. "I could live on that." Mackenzie let the the taste of cheesecake last a little longer before continuing, "You don't seem upset about the marks, though."
Laura nodded. "I don't need the class. I won't be getting a diploma anyway, so I don't need English. Problem solved!"
"What do you mean, you're not getting a diploma?" Mackenzie adjusted her glasses. "Laura, you will be graduating, right?"
"I don't know. I was sort of homeschooled, so I don't have the classes for a proper diploma. I should get into university, but it won't be because of marks."
"You have to find out, Laura." Mackenzie gripped the taller girl's arm. "It won't be the same without you."
Laura felt her cheeks warming. "I'll ask."
"Thanks." Mackenzie rested her head on Laura's shoulder.
Using her free arm, Laura poured herself a cup of tea. "Mackenzie, I was wondering." She took a deep breath. "Did your school have a basketball game tonight?"
The tiny girl looked up at Laura. "That's an odd segue. Yes. Why?"
"How did it go?"
Mackenzie sat up. "We won. Why? Oh, wait, your team played, too. I hadn't heard of the riot squad being used. What happened, didn't the other team show up?"
"Funny." Laura added cream and sugar to her tea. "We won, in overtime. There were some problems with the ref, though. He was making bad calls. Three of the Simcoe team also need acting lessons."
"Simcoe?" Mackenzie rustled through her backpack. "Aha!" She retrieved a sheet to read over. "That's our home opener. I'd ask you to see it with me but," the tiny girl eyed Laura's Academy uniform, "you know."
"I know." Laura sighed. "It's like Romeo and Juliet, except tragic. And we're both girls. So, like Juliet and Juliet."
Mackenzie stared at her new friend. "Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy, Laura. Everyone dies. You really haven't taken an English classes."
"It's not a tragedy. I've seen the movie."
Laura shrugged. "It was an action movie. Romeo walked away at the end." She snapped her fingers. "And there was an animated movie with gnomes for kids. You don't make kids' films out of tragedies."
Mackenzie rubbed her temple. "Laura, those aren't the same." The tiny girl gave her head a shake, her short hair bouncing from the movement. "We can read it later, together." She patted Laura's arm.
Laura sat back in her chair. "Anyway, you're playing Simcoe next. Watch out for them."
"Do you remember any of the names?"
"One was like a cheese. Bree! That's it, Bree. Bree Powell. There were two others, but I can't remember their names."
Mackenzie wrote down the name. "It's something. I'm surprised Caitlin didn't have this figured out."
"Caitlin's surprised at that, too."
The tiny girl laughed. "Verity was caught, too. Sarah was happy, though. She didn't need stitches this time."
"Skye wasn't that lucky. She got smacked in the nose."
Mackenzie's eyes widened. "No! And there wasn't a brawl after that?"
"Skye wanted to win the game. No one threw a punch."
Mackenzie read the schedule again. "Interesting." She showed the timetable to Laura. "Take a look at our last two games."
"Gephardt, home and home series." Laura's eyes met Mackenzie's. "What do you think this means?"
Mackenzie looked at the dessert plate. "It means there's not enough cheesecake."
"Skye owes one of them a bloodied nose anyway."
"Oh, and Laura? Skipping English class isn't how you pass."
"Arrested? Naughty, naughty."
"I can destroy your life, bit by bit, until you are left begging me for mercy."