"Carly's never been this effective."
"As in, the Carly who Verity wanted to cause problems for but we interfered?"
"Time to let us in on the good stuff."
"A computer system filled with life-threatening medical information? Autumn will enjoy the challenge."
Basketball Night In Canada
Chapter 11 - Common Ground
The morning dragged for Laura. English class was filled with too many girls swooning over what appeared to be gibberish at a far too early hour for Laura's comfort. She did make an effort to follow along, but after the first fifteen minutes, she was so thoroughly lost that she just started flipping through her textbook. Her roommates didn't appear to have any problems. Caitlin was the model student, listening to Mr. Baker in rapt attention. Autumn scribbled in her notebook. Skye paid attention to what the teacher said. Laura bit back a sigh. It would not do if she brought the attention of the class to herself and thus to Caitlin. The redhead would never let her hear the end of it.
The bell, at long last, rang, ending the class. Laura gathered her papers, holding them close to her chest. Without waiting for her roommates, she left the classroom. The long held sigh escaped. One of her classmates, Camille, tanned even in the fall, stopped beside her. "I know," Camille said. She wrapped an arm around Laura's shoulders. "You're not alone in there."
Laura gave a sidelong glance to the tanned girl. "Alone?"
Camille nodded to the half-dazed girls coming out of the class. "You're not the only girl whose interests lie elsewhere." She gave Laura a quick squeeze. "Mr. Baker isn't everyone's type."
"Oh." Laura flashed a smile. "Thanks."
"And you're not my type, either, so don't go thinking otherwise."
Laura's smile disappeared. "I wouldn't dream of it."
Camille let go of Laura, then merged into the crowd of girls in the hall. Caitlin came out of the classroom, flanked by Skye and Autumn. "There you are!"
"Here I am!"
"I wish you wouldn't disappear like that, Laura," Caitlin said, oblivious to the sarcasm in her roommate's voice. "I wanted to make sure you knew to come straight to the dorm at lunch."
"Is the cafeteria serving something deadly today?"
Autumn laughed. "No more than any other day."
"Don't encourage her, Autumn." Caitlin took a breath to calm herself. "I'm dividing up the research. We'll meet at lunch to compare notes. You're in charge of distracting the St. Dymphna girls."
Laura snorted. "I have chemistry. I actually like that class and Ms Nash throws things at students who don't pay attention. If we're lucky, it's just crumpled paper. We're supposed to measure vitamin C today and she might have fruit."
"Do what you can. Have something to present at lunch." Caitlin walked off with Autumn following.
Skye looked down at Laura. "Caitlin gets focused sometimes." She gave the new girl an apologetic smile. "Don't take it personally."
"It'd be nice if she asked for once." Laura sighed. "I'll think of something."
"Thanks. Good luck with the lab." Skye strode down the hall, the opposite way from where Caitlin went.
Laura sighed again. "I hate mornings."
Lunch saw Caitlin setting up a rolling whiteboard in the shared dorm. Autumn used the small kitchen area to start making lunch. Skye returned, tossing her books on her bed. The tall girl ignored Caitlin as the redhead made precise notes on the board. Instead, Skye joined Autumn at the counters to help prepare lunch.
Without looking away from the board, Caitlin asked, "Where's Laura?"
"Probably still in chemistry," Skye said. "That is her favourite subject."
"I need her here."
"Do we?" Autumn asked. She put a casserole dish into the microwave. "We were doing well as a three girl team, Caitlin."
Caitlin stepped away from the whiteboard. "I had to adjust every plan I had. They are much easier with four of us, even if the fourth is untrained."
Autumn pressed a few buttons on the microwave, starting it up. "Untrained?"
"You know what I mean."
Skye wiped down the counter. "Cait, Laura isn't untrained. She's new. Completely new. As in, this is the first time she's been to a school. Did you even take that into account?"
"If she can't get up to speed here, she's going to be eaten alive. Laura is lucky to be with us instead of Cassandra or Felicia."
Autumn sat down at the table. "Has anyone told her that?"
"Told her?" Caitlin sat down across from Autumn.
"Cait, Laura's not a mind reader. She doesn't know you like we do." Skye finished cleaning. "Have you heard from Alyssa?"
Caitlin sighed. "No, nothing."
"Aren't you worried, Cait?"
"Alyssa knows where I am and how to reach me."
Autumn shook her head in dismay. "Caitlin, you are a piece of work."
"What?" Caitlin looked from Autumn to Skye and back. "I tried calling her before class started, but the number was out of service. What else am I supposed to try, carrier pigeon? Look, I miss her, too. But she's not here. Laura is."
Skye sat down. "Laura isn't Alyssa, Cait. Laura is Laura."
The door opened. Laura walked through in a rush. She stopped beside her bed to put her books down. "Sorry I'm late."
Caitlin looked over at Skye before answering, "It's okay, Laura."
"Lunch should be ready soon," Autumn added.
"Did I miss anything?" Laura joined the girls at the table.
"Nothing to worry about," Caitlin answered.
"I see." Laura looked over her shoulder at the whiteboard. "You've been busy."
Caitlin followed Laura's gaze. "That? Prep work. I did it in history class."
The microwave dinged. Autumn got up to retrieve the dish. "Ouch, hot! Hot!" She half-dropped the casserole dish on the counter to blow on her fingers.
"Need help?" Skye asked.
"I've got it." The Asian girl retrieved four plates from the cupboard and brought them to the table. "Must be nice to have a class where you don't have to pay attention, Caitlin."
"Sarcasm doesn't help digestion, Autumn," the red-haired girl huffed.
"I thought that was anger."
"Anger and sarcasm." Caitlin passed out the plates.
Autumn returned to the counter to get the casserole dish. "I see."
"Guys, I'm hungry," Skye said. "Let's not delay food too long."
"It's coming." Autumn set the dish down in the centre of the table. Another trip to the counter and back later, and silverware was passed out and a ladle placed with the dish. "Help yourself."
Laura stared at the casserole. "That looks," her voice trailed off.
"Delicious." Skye finished. She spooned a generous helping on to her plate.
"Involved." Laura waited for Skye to finish before getting her own, smaller, share. "Really involved."
Autumn brushed a stray lock of her fine hair out of her face. "It wasn't that difficult. Anyone could do it."
"Not if you burn water." Caitlin gave Laura a wink. "Where are we with our assignments?"
Laura passed the ladle to Autumn. "I still suck at poetry."
Autumn stifled a giggle as she got her portion of the casserole. "Not the school's. Caitlin's. I'm still running an image search on the boytoy. Nothing's come up through news sites, which may mean he's either Caitlin level of good or a convenient, if somewhat cute, stooge. I'm going with stooge."
Skye nodded. "He wasn't good at acting. Unless he's very good and only was acting like he couldn't act, but that'll lead to second-guessing everything."
"Let's use Occam's Razor for now," Caitlin said. She received the ladle from Autumn. "The simplest explantion is better than the over-complicated. Skye?"
"I asked Coach Cherry about Friday's game." Skye paused to swallow a fork full of lunch. "We're not facing Simcoe for a few weeks. We're playing host to Oshawa West."
Caitlin nodded her head slowly. "What's their team like?"
Skye shrugged. "They reached the playoffs past few years, but unless their top players are being held back for the fifth straight year, we can win."
"Did you get their roster?"
Autumn raised her hand. "I have it. Found it on the newspaper's sports page. You can have a copy when I'm done eating."
"Run through the names and see if there's any familiar." Caitlin stirred her lunch with her fork. "Especially if it connects back to Wheeler or Sullivan. Laura? Have you figured out how to distract Verity and her girls, besides your poetry?"
Laura stuck her tongue out at the red-haired girl. "Since Vamsi can't get me gas grenades until next month, I'm somewhat limited."
Caitlin stared at her roommate. "Have you ever heard of the word 'subtlety'?"
"Gas is subtle. I could have asked for the exploding type." Laura took a bite of her lunch. "Anyway, you never said how you wanted the Dimples distracted. Did you want something to toss at them if we run into them or a way to send them completely off our trail before we ever see them?"
Caitlin thought over the question. "Ideally, I want them looking the wrong way."
"Then we need to do to them what you did with Wheeler. Create a false trail for them to waste time on while we're busy working out the right trail for us."
"Any idea of how?"
"Tell Verity exactly what we're doing?" Laura shrugged. "If you two don't trust each other that much, she'll be suspicious of anything you say, so why not the truth?"
Caitlin set her fork down on her plate with a loud clink. "Tell Verity?"
"Laura, nice idea, wrong people," Skye said. "Cait and Verity would verify each other's stories, so telling her what we're doing would lead her right to us."
"Precisely." Caitlin kept her tone a strained neutral.
"It was just a thought. Excuse me for not having a scorecard." Laura returned to her meal.
Caitlin snapped her fingers. "Laura, it's brilliant!" All three of the redhead's roommates stared at her. "No, no," Caitlin continued, "we need Verity and her crew involved. Of me, Verity, and Carly, not one of us has the resources to fight off the other two combined. Laura, you're a genius!"
Autumn waved her hands to get Caitlin's attention. "Aren't you forgetting that Verity would throw a party if you had to leave Oshawa? Imagine the size of the party if the entire Academy is shut down."
Skye nodded in agreement. "Verity would be rid of you, Cait. Why would she want to help?"
"That's the brilliant part." Caitlin's eyes shone. "If Verity lets us get shut down, she has to give props to Carly. Can you imagine Verity having to thank someone she's been having a feud with if she just stepped aside or even helped Carly?" The red-haired girl laughed. "She has two choices. The first, help Carly and let Sullivan have all the glory. The second, help us and see Carly crash and burn."
"The third," Autumn added, "screw all of us over and look like she planned it all from the start."
Caitlin resumed eating. "Imagine someone with Verity's ego. Would she let someone else take the credit? Someone she's been working against?"
"If you put it that way," Laura said.
"See?" Caitlin beamed. "Laura, we're going to Neutral Grounds tonight."
"It was your idea."
Mackenzie stared at Verity. "Just because it was my idea doesn't mean I need to go. I could have plans." The tiny girl stormed through her shared dorm's living room to plunk herself on the couch.
Verity smirked. "More poetry? It's like you've been struck by Cupid's arrow." Understanding dawned on the brunette's face. "Oh, my giddy aunt. Little Mackenzie is in love."
Mackenzie glowered at Verity. "And you wonder why I never tell you anything personal."
"Mackenzie, you'll have to invite your young man out sometime." Verity trilled a laugh. "Well, arrange for him to invite you. You do know how to get him to do what you want, I trust?"
"From what I've seen with Caroline, flashing skin seems to work."
From the bedroom, Caroline yelled, "I do not!"
"Were you planning on seeing your boy tonight?" Verity asked.
Mackenzie rolled her eyes. "I was planning on doing my homework tonight. Math problems don't solve themselves."
"Then we won't stay late."
"Why does it have to be me?"
Verity sat down beside Mackenzie. "I need someone at my side to make sure that I'm the scorpion, not Caitlin. You won't be distracted." Verity's smile turned devilish. "Unless your young man is at the coffee shop."
Mackenzie sighed. "And if none of Caitlin's minions show up? I'm not wasting an entire night there."
"Bring your homework. Word should get back to Caitlin, so if not tonight, tomorrow night."
The fall night was crisp and cool. Caitlin pulled her Academy-issued grey trenchcoat around her as she walked beside Laura. Neutral Grounds had a few people milling outside, most of them to smoke. Caitlin stopped near the door, away from the windows. She urged Laura to go in on her own. With a shrug, the new Unruly went inside.
The inside of Neutral Grounds was too warm for the Academy trench coat; Laura slipped out of it, letting it drape over one arm. She joined the queue to order, looking around. It was the merest glance that gave her enough time to brace herself before being half-tackled by Mackenzie. "Hi. Look, this might not be a good night." Laura dry-swallowed.
"I was about to say the same thing." Mackenzie looked over her shoulder. "Laura, I need you to take a message to Caitlin. Verity wants to talk. She's here tonight."
Laura blinked. "Really? I think I can do better than deliver the message. Where are you sitting?"
Mackenzie pointed deeper into the coffee shop. "Around the corner."
"I'll meet you there." Seeing Mackenzie's confusion, Laura added, "It's going to get weirder."
Laura left the line to return outside. She found Caitlin with her hands thrust into her pockets. "Okay, this makes me feel like we're in a spy movie."
Caitlin took her hands out of her pockets. "My hands got cold. You're back faster than I expected."
"You're not going to believe this."
"Okay, maybe you will."
Laura started back towards the entrance. "Why would I say she is if she isn't?"
"I need caffeine before I can even get into teaching you about sarcasm." Laura opened the door. "You're buying."
The line to order dispersed as Caitlin and Laura approached. The barista filled the order, eying both girls. Laura took her cappuccino and began walking towards the back before Caitlin could hand her anything else. The redhead followed several paces behind. In a corner tucked away from sight from the entrance, Mackenzie whispered to Verity. Both girls stood up when the Unrulies came close. The din of conversations died down as the teenaged customers realized what was happening. A barista walked out from behind the bar, a presence ready for trouble.
"Verity." Caitlin set her cup, saucer, and pot of tea on the small table in the corner.
"Caitlin." Verity brushed one of her twin tails over her shoulder.
The redhead and the brunette stared at each other, never breaking away nor blinking. Feeling the tension building around her, Laura said, "Parlay?"
"Your ego can wait."
"Watch the kung fu grip."
"Is there a problem, ladies?"
"I wish I knew how to gasp properly."