Scottsdale Prep was only a fifteen minute drive away from my house, it was actually closer to me than my own school was, just in the opposite direction. It was a big square building with honestly not much character. It look very . . . utilitarian. Institutional, even. There were no banners on the sides of the building promoting events, or posters in the windows advocating for classes. It was red brick with concrete trim, a big granite sign labeling it as “Scottsdale Preparatory Academy,” and not much else. Without the sign it might’ve been mistaken for a city hall or some sort of bank. But not a high school, certainly not that.
I parked in the large parking lot west of the building—noticing that it went back a lot farther than it did across—in the middle of a larger cluster of cars, hoping to blend in. It was irrational of course, because if anything the car wouldn’t be what stuck out, I would. No uniform, obviously not a student, and in a private schools you would think everyone knew everyone so I would definitely be a sore thumb.
I locked the car for once and got out, trying to head towards the red brick building casually, maybe if I acted like I belonged, like I knew where I was going, then other people would think that too. I tried not to roll my eyes at myself, no matter what I did, everyone I passed would know I wasn’t supposed to be here. But I couldn’t not investigate.
I pulled out my phone and checked the time as I approached the doors, it was just after three, so the school would still be teeming with stragglers if I was lucky. Mesa High was never completely vacant until about five when all the after school clubs got out and sports practices were over. I hoped, as I pulled open a door on the side of the building, that there would at least be a few students that I could lose myself in. I was certain that one student walking out of uniform in an empty hallway was much more suspicious than someone meandering through the building with other students around.
There was always the possibility however that I was being completely irrational and no one would think anything of it at all and I would be fine. But I wasn’t counting on that . . . there was no way to really anticipate what would happen inside, I had never been inside a private school before. Maybe no one would care, maybe I would get kicked out by some huge ass security guard, there was only one way to find out.
I pulled open the glass door and stepped inside, cool air washing over me as I walked into a near empty hallway, only a small girl not probably much older than Wanda occupying the space. She was kneeling at her locker and I wondered silently what grades this school taught. I knew that the boy in the journal was in ninth grade when he started here, but did it go all the way down to seventh? That didn’t sound very common to me, but that must’ve been it, the girl was so young and so small.
I walked quietly, looking down at my phone and rounded a corner to my right that headed down a much longer hallway that had many more students inhabiting it. There was a group directly to my left of two boys and two girls clad in private school uniforms and skirts that were a deep navy color accented with a lemony yellow plaid print. The color by itself would have been ghastly but it actually looked quite good along with the blue.
I kept my head down as I passed, hearing one of the girls let out a shrill laugh as one of the boys tried to tickle her from behind, the other two were conversing intently, ignoring the obvious couple.
“It’s been almost two months, you think that by now people would be over it,” the girl said to which the boy replied, “It was a low blow for a lot of people, Steph.” The girl started to say something about taking it down at this point but I couldn’t catch the rest as they were out of earshot and another group of kid’s conversation flooded my senses, talking mindlessly about the sterling scholar program and how they couldn’t believe that a boy named Shane was up for the dramatic arts slot when clearly it should be Piper.
All in all, it seemed like a really normal high school, drama, academics, friends, not that different from Mesa High if you just closed your eyes and ignored the uniforms.
I continued down the long hallway setting my sights for the main office, hoping I could find a classroom map or club list inside. The boy in the journal had mentioned something about a writer’s guild and it wasn’t much but it was place to start, maybe if I could find the english classrooms I would get somewhere.
The set up to Scottsdale was actually pretty similar to Mesa, except instead of a U it had hallways branching out of the main hallway every dozen yards or so, the main office/counseling center right in the middle of the building across from two sets of double doors that marked them as theater entrances.
I approached the door to the main office warily, I could almost feel my nerves pulsing in my ears like a heartbeat. What’s the worse that could happen? No one had stopped me so far.
I entered the room and it was even colder than the hallway with a very similar setup to the main office at my own school. The memory of the last time I had been in that room came flooding to the front of my mind and I shoved it aside quickly before chills could wash over me and render me practically senseless. I needed to focus.
There was a thin, wiry woman at the desk clacking away at a keyboard loudly, the only sound in the room coming from that and the low hum of the air conditioner. She didn’t look up at me as I entered so I hesitated, reading her name—Ms. Hicks—on the desk before finally gulping down my nerves and approaching.
“Um, I’m sorry, Ms. Hicks?” the woman looked up, hazel eyes unimpressed and unfeeling. Someone needed a new job.
She sighed, the entirety of her tiny body seeming to droop as she exhaled, “What can I do for you, young man?”
It was a shot in the dark, but I had to try. I took another, more confident, step forward and said, “Hi, my name is Scott and I’m a transfer student—late admission—and I was wondering if I could possibly get a map of the school and a list of clubs and classes so I’m not completely lost on my first day next Monday?”
“They didn’t give you kids any of that at orientation the other day?” she asked, seemingly annoyed. I shook my head innocently with a weak smile and she rolled her eyes, beginning to ruffle through a drawer next to her. Holy shit. It had worked.
She emerged a moment later with a thick folded piece of paper and another single page that had small lettering all over it. She handed me the first and said, “Here’s a detailed map with class numbers, teachers, and subjects. There’s also a bell schedule on the other side and all of the school’s contact information. Very important.” By the flatness of her tone, however, it couldn’t have seemed less important. “Here is a list of all clubs, sports groups, and extracurricular activities. You’re honestly probably too late to join any of them, but the contact info of all teacher supervisors for each one is listed as well.”
“Thank you so much,” I said, taking the second paper from her as she spoke.
“Is there anything else I can help you with?” she asked, a bland expression on her face suggesting that she really hoped there wasn’t. I looked up from the list of activities shaking my head, my heart full with excitement that I was actually getting somewhere with all of this. I honestly couldn’t believe it.
“No,” I said, shaking my head, a smile crossing my face of it’s own accord, “thank you, though.”
Ms. Hicks nodded solemnly looking back down at the computer before her and part of me wanted to tell her the good news in that she would probably never have to see my face again. Maybe that would cheer her up.
But I just shrugged it off, bringing the papers into my chest and heading towards the door, my fingers stopping just above the knob as I reached out to grab it.
“Wait,” I paused, the sudden thought of the journal in my bag in the car coming to my mind. I had another idea. I turned back around and called, “Where would I talk to someone about lost and found objects.”
“The counseling center next door,” Ms. Hicks said, pointing without even looking up.
I nodded and headed out the door to the room directly left of the one I had just exited. The interior was the exact same as the main office but there were a few more people flitting around behind the desk; one talking on the phone, one giving instructions to a uniform clad student who was holding a large stack of papers, the last typing on a similar computer as Ms. Hicks. I approached her since she was the least occupied compared to the others.
“Excuse me,” I said apologetically, tapping on the desk and the woman looked up at me with wide, interested eyes, very different from the woman I had just met.
“Why hello there!” she exclaimed, bringing her full attention to me, she had a slight southern accent that I was able to make out immediately. I smiled back at her, feeling suddenly at ease, “What can I do for you, sir?”
I laughed, “Nothing really, I just have a quick question for you.”
“Go ahead,” the woman offered with a welcoming hand gesture.
“Has anybody come in recently looking for a lost journal or notebook or anything of that kind?” I asked curiously, trying to keep it casual like this was something you asked people every day.
The woman pursed her thin lips and looked up in thought, “Um . . . no, not that I can think of. Did you want to turn it into the lost and found?”
I thought about it for a moment, turning the idea over in my head. I had found the journal over four weeks ago, and even then I had no idea when it had actually been lost, if they hadn’t come looking for it now, would they ever? If I was gonna turn it in anywhere I had a better chance at Mesa of it getting to the owner then here . . . and I hadn’t done that when I should’ve. So which would be more productive, turning it in now and letting it collect dust in the bottom of a lost and found drawer where it might be thrown away at the end of the year, or continuing to read it and look for clues and find the owner myself?
“No,” I shook my head, a guilty look on my face, “okay, this is going to sound so hypocritical. But, I um . . . there’s . . . kind of sensitive material inside, I read just a bit to try and find the owner and I’m not really sure how they would feel if just anyone picked it up from the lost and found. I’d like to give it to them myself if I could.”
The words themselves were ridiculous, I totally sounded like a hypocrite and like I was hiding something, but the woman didn’t think anything of it, much to my surprise. She smiled and nodded understandingly, “Oh absolutely, those can be really personal.”
Her response took me by surprise but I tried not to let it show, nodding in agreement with a warm expression on my face, “Exactly.”
“Is there anything I can do to help you find its rightful owner?” she asked, genuinely eager to assist me.
“If someone comes in looking for it, could you give me a call?” I asked, like it was no big deal if that wasn’t a possibility, but inside obviously I was desperate. Anything that might further my progress in figuring out the mystery of the journal.
The woman looked thoughtful for a moment, running her tongue across her bottom lip, and finally said, “Yeah, I think I could do that.”
I thought I might jump for joy as she started to gather up a green sticky-note and a pen that she handed to me and instructed me to write down my name and number. I did so quickly, excitedly, and when I handed it back she added a little note of her own to the top that I couldn’t make out and stuck it to the bottom of the top drawer next to her.
“Obviously I can’t make any promises, and I won’t wait around all year for it,” she began and I said that I completely understood, “but if anyone comes in in the next couple of weeks asking about it I will definitely give them your number.”
I smiled, “Thank you so much, I really appreciate it.”
“Of course, dear,” she said with an over exuberant smile, the corners of her mouth nearly reaching her ears, “It’s nice to see someone so caring trying to do the right thing.”
I tried not to let that chip away at me too much as I thanked her again and walked out of the office. Was I doing something good? Were my intentions pure and right? If I really cared about getting the journal to its rightful owner wouldn’t I have just put it in the lost and found like Harper suggested instead of keeping it and reading it and lying about it to her? Were my reasons for keeping it and trying to figure out who it belonged to somewhat, if not completely, selfish? Even today, reading it to escape my feelings about Liam’s kiss. Escape, that’s what it had been from the very beginning, a way to escape the world I lived in and dive into someone else’s, use them and their issues to forget my own.
I shook my head, rounding the corner of the main hallway into an empty one so I could take a good look at the map and extra curricular activities list.
I unfolded the first, it was the size of four regular sheets of paper placed next to each other in a square, and felt oddly unnecessary. The school wasn’t that big and you could easily have fit the map before me on just one eight by eleven sheet of paper. I did a quick overview and realized that what I was looking for would not be here and put the other piece of paper I was given on top of the large one.
I scanned the list of activities and clubs quickly, looking fro one in particular. I found it at the very bottom of the page:
Academic Supervisor: Mrs. Tate. President & Co-President: Karson Mock and Adrienne Noakes. Secretary: Uza Morgan. Meetings held every Wednesday in room 211 from 2:30 until 5:00. Contact Karson for more details. (480) 555-8653.
Every Wednesday, I reread once more. No way, there was no way I was that lucky. I pulled the map out in front of the activities list and scanned for room 211, it was on the second floor. I tried to memorize the route, it wasn’t too hard, but I didn’t want my nose in the map the whole way up.
I crumpled both pieces of paper up and tossed them in a trash can that I passed on my way back to the main hallway and headed right towards the office and down to where I parked my car. I needed to do something first.
At my car I unlocked the doors and reached over the center console for my backpack, I pulled out the journal and put it under my arm. Maybe, just maybe I could get someone in the writer’s guild to tell me if they recognized the handwriting. It was a huge chance, considering I didn’t even know if the boy had ended up joining or if he was still in it to this day, but . . .
I stopped just before I closed the car door.
Oh my god. What if he was in there?
Suddenly I became very nervous, I was close, closer than I had ever realized I was to figuring out who the journal belonged to. I would be mere hundreds of feet away, all I had to do was go upstairs and play my cards right. There was no telling what would happen, what I might find out. But also, what I might not; it could totally be a dead-end and I couldn’t get my hopes up. All of this might be over in a few minutes, but also, it might just be beginning.
I took a deep breath and headed back in the school, taking the up the stairs directly to my right two at a time when I got through the doors. At the top I began following the memorized instructions in my head down the second hall to my left to the classroom very very end.
This was crazy, they were in the middle of a meeting, it wasn’t like they were just going to let me sit in on their club. I wasn’t even a student. But I had to try, it would have driven me mad if I didn’t at least give this a shot.
I stopped just outside the closed door, I could hear a low murmur of voices inside that all paused to laugh as I looked up at the room number just to make sure I was in the right place. Yep. 211. This was it. I took a deep breath and looked down at the doorknob that seemed to be glowing with importance knowing that if I waited any longer I would just walk away. None of this was really like me, but i didn’t want to take any steps backwards.
I took a deep breath and turned the doorknob, stepping inside as all of the voices silenced immediately at the sight of me and over a dozen heads turned to watch me enter. There was a redheaded girl at the front of the classroom, standing at a small wooden podium. Everyone’s bodies were cheated out towards her so she must have been presenting something to the group, something that I had rudely interrupted.
“Can we help you?” asked a blond boy who was sitting at what appeared to be the teacher’s desk just parallel to me and the door. He had a confused and slightly annoyed expression on his face and I was immediately regretting my decision to come in on them in the middle of a club session. I should have just waited and joined them at the beginning of one next week. It was irrational, stupid. I wasn’t thinking clearly.
“Um,” I began, immediately wanting to say, ‘Sorry, wrong classroom’ but I was already here, I was already standing in the doorway to the answers that I needed and he could be in here, watching me right now. Any one of the couple of male faces that were currently eyeing me down with annoyed expressions. So instead of running away I said, “I’m new, just wanted to check out a couple of clubs and get familiar with everything before I start next week.”
The tension in the air seemed to drop substantially in just a moment, “Oh,” the blonde boy nodded, “from the transfer group, I see.”
“Yeah,” I said, still full of disbelief that that was actually a thing, “Can um, can I sit in?”
The group of kids looked around at each other exchanging nods and glances of approval, slight murmurings that suggested it was okay.
“I don’t see why not,” the blond boy concurred, “find a seat, Hannah was in the middle of sharing a short story.”
“Sorry about interrupting,” I said weakly, waving as I walked over to a desk by the blond boy. The red haired girl at the podium said it was okay and before I even settled in she was back at it, reading her story to the rest of us. I wasn;t paying attention though. It could have been about pirates, or romance, or zombies or anything, but I wouldn’t have known because I was too busy eyeing each and every individual in the classroom, all clad in the same uniform that catered to their gender.
There was a blond girl next to a brunette boy with an undercut, that could be him. Two more boys with red and jet black hair, it could be either of them too. Three girls sitting in a cluster right next to the podium and parallel to them was a group of two more girls and one boy; it could be him. Then right next to me there was a boy and a girl holding hands from where they sat in their desks. I mean, that could be him, but with Rose in my head I couldn’t see him holding hands with another girl for some reason. Even if I didn’t know whether or not they were still together, it just felt wrong.
Everyone began clapping as the redheaded girl finished her story and came down to sit by me and the couple. The blond boy started to praise her for her good work and then asked that we go around and discuss our thoughts on her pieces, it was all pretty positive with a few critiques on motive and story flow, but overall really nice. They got around to me and the blonde boy asked if anyone else would like to share.
The boy with jet black hair raised his hand and said, “I would, Karson.”
I smiled, I had been right, he was the president.
“Get up there Julien,” Karson instructed with a laugh and the boy smiled nervously as he grabbed a few pieces of paper of his desk and walked up to the podium, everyone clapped before he even started and I wondered if maybe this wasn’t a usual thing for him to do.
I decided as he began reading off the title of his work that it would be a good idea to pay attention to this one, maybe I would recognize writing style or verb usage from the journal. Probably not, I was no linguist and what I had read so far was written when the boy was thirteen, not however old the boys were in here. There was definitely no one younger than sixteen, but still, I was hopeful.
The boy cleared his throat and began with a shaky voice:
Words fall from lips
Like paper airplanes
Never reaching their destination
Tangled up in you I lose myself
Forget who I am
Who I was
Who I’m supposed to be
A nameless face
A question lingers
Begging to be resolved
No one listens
We are broken
But we try our best to hide the shards
Everybody clapped and the boy flushed a deep red.
“Thank you,” he said, “Thank you.”
Everyone gave him feedback, even me, and then someone else went up to share something they had written.
This went on until ten after five when Karson said it was time to wrap it all up. He thanked me for joining them and said he hoped he would see me again soon. I returned the sentiment thinking that was never going to happen, and said I would see what I could do.
Everyone began gathering up their things but I stayed put, pulling my phone and acting like I was texting, I was in no rush to leave just yet, there was one more thing I had to do before I went. The students slowly began to file out of the classroom one by one or in smaller groups chatting amongst themselves, even the president, Karson, was heading out and it was just me and two other people lingering behind. The first was one of the blonde girls on her phone, looking out the window as she chatted animatedly. The other was the dark haired boy who had shared his poem, he was shuffling through his bag looking for something he seemed to desperately need.
I stood and walked over to him, his hair was matted to his forehead a little, he had some bad acne, and only looked to be my age. The boy in the journal would be almost two years older than me by now, so this wasn’t him. But it didn’t mean he didn’t know him.
“I really liked your poem Julien,” I offered as I approached, he looked up, surprised that I had even spoken to him let alone nicely.
He smiled awkwardly and said, “Oh, um, wow, thank you. I appreciate it.”
I casually sat at the desk in front of the one he was stationed at, setting the journal down in front of me and said, “It was really . . . deep. I could really feel the words you were trying to say. Almost see them.”
Julien began to blush, he stopped shuffling through his bag and closed it up, throwing the strap over his shoulder as he said, “Thank you again, that means a lot.”
I wasn’t sure if he meant it, he suddenly seemed to want to be anywhere but here.
He started to walk past me but I put out my hand, apparently flattery wasn’t going to get me what I wanted—we couldn’t all be Liam—I just needed to ask him. The boy looked down at me then, confused as to why I had blocked his path and I gave him an apologetic smile.
“Sorry,” I said between clenched teeth and let out a nervous laugh as I pulled my hand away, “I just really need to ask you a quick question. It’s important I swear.”
The boy looked to the blonde who was still at the window, then back to me and sighed slightly before saying, “What can I help you with?”
I perked up a little at that and excitedly replied, “Thank you, wow, thank you. Now I’m really appreciative. Ha ha. Okay,” I grabbed the journal and opened it up to almost the very back, stuff I hadn’t even read yet, I held it out and said, “You guys see each other’s handwriting a lot, right? Of course you do, anyway. Um, I found this journal, see? And I think it belongs to someone in the guild and I was wondering if it was yours or if you recognized the handwriting and could tell me whose it is?”
It was flustered and excited but honestly I couldn’t contain myself. This was the now or never moment. The boy sighed again, almost in exasperation and leaned down a little to take in the words before his him. After a moment of reading his eyes widened and he sat up straight, looking at me dead in the eyes with a harsh, almost angry expression. It was a change in demeanor so fast I didn’t really know how to process it.
“Where did you say you found this?” the boy said darkly, pointing a limp, accusing finger at the journal.
I closed it and started to bring it back towards myself saying, “At my high school a few weeks ago. Why? Do you know whose it is?”
And he must’ve the way he was acting with me now. Cold and angry, like the sight of it had triggered something in him that I couldn’t possibly understand. Suddenly his hand was on the journal, too, trying to pull it away from me.
“Hey!” I exclaimed, yanking back and he let go.
“I need you to give that to me,” he said and I stood to walk away before he could try and take it from me again. I began backing out of the classroom and the boy just followed me slowly, his blue eyes growing darker and darker with every second.
“Why? Whose is it? Why are you suddenly so upset?” I asked, ready to leave at a moment’s notice but not wanting to just yet. He knew who it belonged to and he wasn’t telling me. I wasn’t going to just go without trying to get answers out of him.
“Just give me the journal!” the boy shouted and it seemed like it wasn’t something he was used to doing, his whole body was shaking and spit flew from his mouth. I thought for a moment that I saw tears welling in the corners of his eyes. He lunged at me then, or rather the journal, and I dodged him quickly. This kid was about to tackle me if I stayed any longer I knew it.
“Hey! What is your fucking deal man?!?” It was my turn to shout now. This was totally out of line.
The girl on the phone had hung up and was behind Julien, a hand on his shoulder trying to insert herself into the situation. Good. Maybe she could calm him down enough to give me the answers I was looking for. Or give them to me herself I wasn’t picky.
“Guys,” the girl began, a serious and authoritative tone in her voice, “what is happening here?”
“Ask him!” I pointed accusingly and she turned to look at the boy who was obviously much more aggravated and upset than I was.
He looked back at the girl and said, “Has his journal.”
“Whose journal?!” I shouted and it was a mistake because just as I screamed it he seemed to clarify to her what he meant and who but I wasn’t able to hear it over my voice.
The blonde snapped her head to look at me, the expression on her face morphing to match his almost exactly.
“Where the fuck did you find that?” the girl asked, her voice harsh and angry, she started to saunter towards me at the same time as the boy and I rounded some desks towards the door. This was insane, this was almost creepy. If they wanted it back they needed to tell me why, I wasn’t just going to give it to them, especially after this, after how they were acting with me. Apparently it meant a lot more than I could have ever anticipated but I needed to understand why. I wasn’t just going to walk away.
“Why? Why are you guys so upset, I’m not just going to give it to you without an explanation, I’m the one who found it!” I argued, trying to bring the journal into my chest as closely as I could. I was desperately wishing I had brought my backpack with me now.
“You shouldn’t be messing with this,” the girl said, shaking her head, her own eyes starting to tear up, “you don’t understand. You don’t know. This isn’t a game.”
“Then explain to me,” I countered forcefully, “help me understand.”
The girl shook her head, angry tears falling. She screamed, “Give us the journal!”
“No!” I screamed back, this was fucking insane. Why did they want the journal so badly?
“Give us the fucking journal you ignorant asshole!!!” the boy yelled at the top of his lungs, spit flying from his mouth some more and tears were definitely spilling over his eyes. He started to run at me and I turned on my heels bolting out of the room and down the hall towards the stairs. What the fuck? What the actual fuck? I could hear him behind me, close, but not by much, I was too afraid to look back because that might slow me down so I stayed focused in my pursuit of the stairway.
I didn’t run down them, I bounded, three, four at a time but still the boy was right at my tail as I broke free of the stairwell and pushed my way out of the doors towards my car which was now one of the only ones in the parking lot.
Had I locked it? Fuck, I couldn’t remember if I had locked it. If so that was it, this was over, the boy was at my heels and I didn’t have a second to lose trying to mess with unlocking my car. I was only a few feet away and with the hand that wasn’t holding the journal I reached out just as I approached my car, grabbed the door handle and pulled hard, praying it wouldn’t just click.
The door flew open and I leapt inside, turning around just a second before the boy crashed into me and slammed my car door shut, jamming my finger down on the manual lock button. The boy hit my car hard, the whole thing shaking. He was screaming, crying, tears running down his face and part of me wanted to feel guilty but another part of me couldn’t help but forget that the freak had just tried to attack me!
He was screaming, begging me to please, please give him the journal. Please.
I fumbled around for my keys and put them in the ignition turning my car on. I looked at the boy one more time, his face practically up against the glass, smudging it with his wet nose, and put the car into drive, driving away as the boy tried to follow behind me limpy, desperately, still crying.
If anything, this just made me need to figure out the mystery of the journal even more.