At a quarter past five, Dylan was still wearing a devious grin. Holly however had said very little for the last four and a half hours. As they waited in the sweat drenched gym, Dylan finally snapped, “What’s with you?” Holly shrugged and pulled her headphones out from her backpack. Dylan pressed her for an explanation, “I’ve gotten the silent treatment since we left the bleachers. Silent is not a thing you do well.”
Holly hooked her headphones around her neck and spoke with a twinge of bitterness, “Using people ain’t supposed to be a thing you do well. Maybe I just don’t know you all that well?”
Rolling her eyes, Dylan folded her hands behind her head and leaned back up against the padded wall. Remorse for her actions crept up her throat like bile, but was quickly forced back into her gut. Dylan explained, “You know the thing about chess?”
Holly snapped, “Do I look like a play chess?”
Dylan countered, “The RZA plays chess.”
“Get to the point, girl.”
“The thing about chess is, when you’re playing, you’re not actually on the field.”
Straining to keep cool, Holly asked, “I don’t do riddles well neither, case you wondering.”
With a deep breath, Dylan continued, “Isabella isn’t going to stop being Isabella just because she gets shot with a paintball. I’m playing her like I play chess. I’m going to set up the pawns exactly where I want them, then I’ll take out the Ice Queen. For good.”
Shaking her massive afro, Holly spoke softly, “That how you see it? He ain’t a boy, just a chess piece?”
“I see a villain, and a game I have to play to make things right. That’s all it is.”
Trying to read her friend, Dylan saw equal parts scared and sad mixing across Holly’s face like an emotional lava lamp. Before either girl could say anything, Brad’s voice rang out, “Kennedy, Holly, your uncle’s here. Time to go.”
As Holly walked across the gym, Dylan shouted, voice wavering, “I’ll call you tonight?”
Holly kept walking. She put her headphones on and shrugged. Whatever. Once again Dylan was left alone. Maybe Holly was right though? Dylan never considered, or maybe didn’t want to consider collateral damage. It may be a game, but the pawns were real. Then again, what did it really matter? The only target in all this would be Isabella. She deserved what was coming to her. It would be a proportional response.
Trying to distract herself, Dylan watched as Holly’s uncle signed the release form. He was a fit man, shaved head, pressed collared shirt. A little US Flag was pinned to the back of the wheelchair. Dylan was certain, the man was a Marine. Maybe he’d lost his legs in Desert Storm? At any rate, Holly’s Uncle finished signing and rolled himself out after his niece with unparalleled dexterity. Watching the wounded warrior exit, Dylan couldn’t get the thought out of her head now: in war, there’s always collateral damage.
Another thought cut through the girl’s concentration. The register, Dylan thought, Luke isn’t here to be signed out. Pulling herself up to her feet, Dylan limped across the gym towards the sign out sheet. Bradley was distracted by the twins beating each other up. She had a clear shot. One chance. She approached the table and flipped towards the ‘P’ section in the binder. With the pen attached to the little ball bearing chain, Dylan scribbled something that almost looked like a signature.
Bradley’s voice again, somewhere behind her, “Matthew, Mark, you boys are sitting out until your dad gets here and that’s final!”
Dylan quickly put the pen back and stepped away from the desk. She grumbled to herself, “Till MY dad gets here.”
Bumping into to a solid mass standing directly behind her, Dylan felt a firm hand come to rest on her shoulder. Her father spoke, “You ready to check out of here, Private Yates?”
Quickly turning around, Dylan was unexpectedly overcome with the urge to hug her father. It wasn’t like her. But, it felt good to tangibly hold someone who hadn’t left yet. She needed to know someone was still there. Giving his daughter a hearty pat on the back, Colonel Yates called out for Matthew and Mark. The two boys ran towards the exit. Bradley came following after.
The Colonel didn’t bother to look up as Bradley approached. Still, Dylan’s father asked, “No problems today?”
Bradley’s voice shook slightly, “No. No Problems, Colonel.”
Dylan’s father stopped signing. He flipped the clipboard around and pointed at Luke’s field, “You want to explain this, young man?”
Bradley took the clipboard hesitantly. Before he could lift it, The Colonel’s index finger pinned it to the table. The tip of his finger tapped the signature next to Luke’s name. Stammering, the counselor tried to answer, “It looks like, um, someone else signed him out.”
“Who?” The Colonel asked with a voice like a sword to Bradley’s throat.
Collateral damage. Luke probably didn’t intend for Bradley to bear the wrath of her father. In fact, Luke probably didn’t even consider Dylan was next in line if they found out what she’d done. When they find out. They always find out.
Bradley had called another councilor over. Some young blonde in the same white shorts and red polo get up. She shook her head, “I don’t remember him being signing him out. Sorry.”
Dylan’s father was not amused, “So, you people have now LOST, one of my kids?”
Bradley was sweating bullets. He barked at the blonde, “Go check the basketball courts for Luke Profit. Find out who saw him last.”
Feeling the heat from her deception, Dylan approached the clipboard as if it were some foreign object she’d never seen before. She read the name. The fake signature. The lie. On top of the pain from losing another family member and maybe even a friend, she contemplated the scope of her fault. She hadn’t just lost her brother. It was undeniable that Dylan had now played a key part in literally writing him out of her life.
Swallowing her guilt, Dylan pointed at the forged signature, “Looks like Han.” Bradley’s eyes pleaded for Dylan to cut him a break. She did owe him one for taking a free shot at the Ice Queen earlier anyway. “Bo Han probably signed him out.”
Dylan’s father didn’t look any happier, “The kid from last night. You saw him sign Luke out?”
Shaking her head, “No. Sorry.”
Frustrated, the Colonel checked his watch, “You have Bo Han’s phone number?”
Mark blurted out, “Yeah, she has his phone number. It’s on her arm!”
Matthew spoke up, ever so softly, “I thought she was dating that black girl?”
Dylan had almost forgot that Allen’s number was still on her forearm. To late. Her father already had her arm in his hand. The Colonel asked in an escalated fatherly tone, “You wanna explain this, young lady?”
Dylan could feel the blood rushing to her cheeks as she answered, “No. It’s not… that’s, um, another boy’s phone number.”
Colonel Yates was almost beside himself. It wasn’t often that his fatherly instincts surfaced above his calm officer’s demeanor. He released Dylan’s arm, searching for the words, “We’ll have a talk. Later. At home,” he growled between his teeth.
Bradley stepped in, “If Luke was signed out by his friend–”
The Colonel cut him off, “He still couldn’t have just waltzed off with a minor unless he was on the list, right?”
Bradley swallowed hard. Staring at the Colonel in the state he was in was like locking eyes with the barrel of an eight gauge shotgun. Before her father completely lost it, Dylan offered a hastily, “I’m sure Luke’s fine. He’ll have Bo Han’s number somewhere in his room.”
Taking a deep breath, The Colonel conceded, “I want that number when we get back.”
Dylan forced a smile and gave salute. Her father frowned again as he saw the number tattooed on her arm. Slowly Dylan lowered her right arm and pressed it against her side, hiding the ink.
Jill was stuck at the office. This exposed Dylan’s father one and only weakness. Cliched as it may be, he couldn’t cook to save his life. Sandwiches, cereal, toast, sure. Anything beyond that was out of the question. Or, at the very least beyond consideration as something edible. That’s why dinner with her dad almost always meant dinner at the mall. Dinner directly across from McLaren Arcade. In short, Dylan loved it when it was her father’s turn to cook.
Dylan took a final, decisive bite of her Schlotzsky’s sandwich. She wiped her mouth clean with a napkin and crumpled it up into a little ball. Her eyes were fixed on the Arcade across from her. The Colonel followed his daughter’s gaze.
Clearing his throat, Dylan’s Father stumbled around for the right words, “Dylan, I think we need to talk about that, um, what’s on your arm there. Where did you…? Is there a boy, you know, your age that you…?” The Colonel tried to end the non-sentence with a wave of his hand, gesturing for Dylan to fill in the blanks.
Unfortunately, the young girl was just as lost, “That I what?”
Right on cue, Mark blurted out, “You keep flirting with that one blonde kid. That means you like him.”
Dylan, earnestly, flatly, “Gross. No.”
Matthew answered with a mouth full of food, “You’ve got his phone number: means you like him.”
Dylan, huffed and looked down at her empty tray, “Don’t mean nothin’ other than I got his phone number is all.”
Still trying to provide a fatherly presence, The Colonel threw in his two cents, “Honey, you should probably know that boys, how to put this? At your age, they’re-”
Cringing Dylan looked up to interrupt her father, “Are we going to talk about sex now? Again?” Before her father could respond, “‘Cause I’d really rather just go play video games now.”
Sliding a five dollar bill across the table, The Colonel released an uncertain sigh of relief, “Here,” he spoke as he pinned the bill down with his finger tips. Springing up from her seat Dylan was stopped dead in her tracks as her father added, “And take your brothers with you.”
The twins abandoned their food and ran for the arcade. Dylan followed, but the joy that usually accompanied the occasion was severely lacking.