Captain Cold and the Fold
Captain Cold and the Fold
By SF Noah
Chapter 1: Underhanded
My name is Percival Miller, but most people know me as ‘The Favor’. That is not a good thing.
I gained that reputation through middle school and my first year of high school. I did favors for people, and in turn, nearly everyone at Lampert High School owed me something. It was enjoyable, but having so many people owe you things means you don’t have a lot of friends.
That’s when I met Matthew Yen – actually, I sought him out for myself. Matthew, the star runner on the school’s track team, had recently broken his leg under mysterious circumstances. I offered to help him, and in turn, he would give me something I wanted.
It didn’t go exactly as I’d planned, but somehow Matthew and his best friend Casey became my best friends, or the closest things to. As far as I was concerned, that was the best deal I’d ever made.
Reputations don’t disappear overnight, though.
Just recently, the identity came back to bite me and, for once, I’m completely at a loss of what my next move should be.
Second semester of sophomore year shouldn’t have been a big deal, of course. Simply more of whatever my new normal was, including Matthew, Casey, and Mandy Bennet, a girl who might like me. I am unclear on that point.
The winds changed, very quickly. Not only because of a change in weather; that was simply a coincidence. The winds changed during my homeroom, when I noticed Rosie Robinson catching my eye.
Rosie Robinson was…an interesting case. For years, she’d been my most frequent ‘customer’, by far. Ever since I became the Favor, even during middle school, she would ambush me in the halls asking me for something, and unfortunately, per my policies, I always followed through. Originally, these favors were more or less harmless; being a middle-man for disagreements, handing notes to friends.
In the past year, Rosie started using my position for less harmless jobs, including plotting revenge on her own enemies within Lampert. I didn’t like it, truly, but she threatened that if I backed out, my spot as the Favor was finished. Besides, she repaid the favors in spectacular fashion; my favorite blue button-down shirt was one of these repayments. In fact, I’d even forgotten who owed who at this point.
That was important to remember.
“Fav!” Rosie called from across the classroom. “Over here!”
Rosie cut a striking figure amidst the rest of my classmates. She wasn’t rich by any means, but she carried herself like she was. Always dressed to impress, today she was wearing a red blouse and skirt that complemented her short black hair. She looked like a chocolate strawberry, but in a good way.
Knowing I had no choice, I slowly passed the desks of my fellow classmates. The teacher would be here in a few moments, and I would be saved.
“Good morning, Rosie,” I greeted, shaking her hand. I am nothing if not polite. “To what do I owe today’s pleasure?”
I do not believe I had ever seen Rosie without a small smile on her face. She wasn’t a cheerful person by any means, and so the smile felt more mysterious than anything else. “I would like to cut to the chase, Fav. You owe me.”
I took a step back. “No, I don’t. You must be mistaken. After breaking up Kallie and Bryce, you-”
“Paid you back with a test packet for Binns’ Algebra,” Rosie interrupted.
“Yes, that was it. And so, you owe-”
“Do you remember what I gave you after that?”
I paused. “No, I-”
Rosie’s face kept the same mysterious smirk, but her eyes were dancing maliciously. “Do you remember a slip of paper inside the packet with a certain reporters’ phone number?”
Oh, good gracious.
“And do you remember what else was on that slip of paper?”
I thought back, going over the event in my head. Mentally, I opened the test packet and inside the first page was a tiny scrap of paper with the phone number of Mandy Bennet. I never used it, of course, until she gave it to me herself; that would have felt far too creepy. However, across the top of the scrap was a note. “‘In advance, why don’t you have this? – Rosie.’”
She was right. I did owe her. And I didn’t have a say about doing whatever she wanted.
“Now you’re catching on!” The teacher walked into the room, but Rosie wasn’t quite finished. “This is advanced enough, don’t you think? I know what I want from you.”
I looked around the room, trying to find a seat. Unfortunately, the only seat not taken was the one next to Rosie’s. Defeated, I sat down. “What could you possibly want, Rosie? I’ve found you test answers, I’ve helped you acquire friends, I’ve helped you get rid of those same friends. What else could you want?”
Rosie sat down herself, and leaned back in her chair. “Fav, I want you to ruin Matthew Yen. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Chapter 2: A Rock and a Hard Place
I would be fine with any other task. Really. I could steal test answers. I could get Rosie a date with a football player. I could make sure none of Rosie’s enemies bothered her ever again. That was my job.
But ruining Matthew? That was impossible. I’d ruined people before, but I certainly couldn’t ruin the only friend I’d ever had.
On the other hand, if I didn’t, Rosie had made it very clear she would destroy my Favor reputation with the blink of an eye. I was known as a man who never broke a promise, and if I did, there would be many people upset.
The favors I made and promises I’ve kept protected me. My job has made many enemies. My job also creates a protective barrier of everyone that’s ever owed me before. If that barrier disappeared, I might as well.
I am in a real pickle.
If I was ever going to figure out what to do, I would need a plan. But what?
“Percy!” Matthew shouted, snapping his fingers in front of my face. “Dude, you are so out of it.”
“Hmm?” I shook myself out of my stupor and remembered that I was, in fact, sitting with Matt and Casey at lunch. The lunchroom was loud and rowdy, and I subconsciously made a mental tally of how many people in the cafeteria owed me something. As I expected, it was a majority.
“What are you thinking about?” Casey asked. “You’ve been quiet all day.” I could tell she didn’t really care; she was fiddling with a piece of paper she’d kept in her backpack.
“Nothing at all,” I snapped, with more venom than I intended. Apparently, my friends were used to this tone, as they ignored it and kept eating, and in Casey’s case, folding. I had half a mind to tell them what was going on, but one of Rosie’s clear stipulations was that I could not tell my target what was going on. You know, obviously.
“Slow down,” Casey said, sternly, smacking the back of Matthew’s hand as he shovelled mashed potatoes into his mouth. “Your race isn’t for three days. Calm down.”
“But it’s competitions,” Matthew whined, dribbling potatoes back onto his plate. The guy’s eating habits were less-than-stellar. “Gotta be ready.”
“How are you going to win if you’ve got 50 pounds of potatoes rolling through your system?”
Matthew swallowed quickly. “Good point.”
“Will these be the championships?” I asked, inquisitively. Matthew’s running career was interesting to me, but oddly, it was a subject that simply wouldn’t stick in my head.
He nodded. “Tri-school competition. Central and Mignola against Lampert. And this is an important one.” Matthew wiped his face with a napkin and turned serious. “This is my chance to prove I’m not washed up. My first championship since my leg healed, and I am not losing.”
Casey patted him on the back. “Go get ‘em, sport. You’ll show those mouth-breathing, boot-licking, thumb-sucking ingrates what you can do.”
Surprised, Matthew and I stared at Casey. Casey shrugged. “So I can’t get into the spirit of competition? Lame.” She stood up from the bench, grabbed her backpack and an instrument case and shoved her misshapen paper blob in her pocket. “I’ve got band. Later, guys!”
I stared after Casey for a moment, slightly jealous of her completely carefree outlook on life. It would be nice to not have problems to worry about. I slowly went back to my food, when I noticed that Matthew was also watching Casey leave.
“Ahem,” I murmured.
He grimaced. “Oh, shut up.”
I was quiet for a moment. Regardless of my many skills, I found it difficult to express my emotions. It was hard enough with my parents, who didn’t like the ‘unsavory characters’ I hung around, but with a peer? Ridiculous. However, it didn’t hurt to try. “Matthew, do you…value our friendship?”
Matthew looked up from his meal, which he had continued to shovel as soon as Casey left the cafeteria. “What?”
“I mean, is our friendship any good?”
Matthew stared at me, confused. “I’d think you were joking if you ever joked.”
“I…I make jokes. All the time.” How dare he.
“Whatever, man,” he said, laughing. “But yeah, sure. I value our friendship. You’re a good guy.”
“Are you sure?”
“What’s gotten into you?” Matthew looked skeptical. “I mean, yeah. You helped me with my leg, you stood up for me in DC. I’d say you’re a pretty decent guy.” Matthew glanced at the clock on the wall. “Oh, sorry, man. I’ve got Spanish.” He picked up his tray, and I heard him muttering under his breath, “My mom’s hispanic, I don’t need a stupid Spanish class, why the heck do I-”
I stood up to remove my own tray from the table, and while I was at the counter I caught the eye of Rosie Robinson. She simply waved and went back to her friend group. I glared.
I couldn’t let Rosie control me, and I wouldn’t let myself destroy Matt. For my own safety, I couldn’t let my reputation get destroyed, either. There had to be a way to get myself out of the problem so that no one got hurt.
It was time to call in a few favors.
Chapter 3: Construction
The one thing I have going for me at any time is the fact that everyone owes me something.
The deal goes that if I perform a favor for someone, they must, in fact, owe me, until I call them out and take the favor back. I could do this at any time and any place. It’s just how it worked. The funny thing is, is that I’ve almost never called in a favor. I enjoy the power too much, I’ll admit; it’s wonderful wandering around the hallways seeing just how many kids I have in my pocket.
Today, though, that streak would end. I was in a tough spot, and I needed help. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and this was certainly a desperate time.
What did I do first?
I made a spreadsheet.
It was Mandy Bennet who proofread my material.
“What exactly am I looking at?” Mandy asked, with an eyebrow raised. She scrolled through my tablet, unsure of the exact purpose.
I pointed out all of the different rectangles. “It is a comprehensive list of the student body and whether or not they owe me. Students who don’t owe me are in red, and students who do are in blue.”
“Really?” Mandy kept scrolling. “The only people who don’t owe you are Matthew, Casey, me, and…Rosie Robinson? Who’s that?”
“Unfortunately, that is the issue.”
Mandy handed my tablet back to me. “It’s really cool, and kind of terrifying, but why did you make it?”
Given that Mandy was the head reporter for the Lampert news, it was ironic that I trusted her with secret information like this. “Rosie Robinson, as you noticed, does not owe me. I owe her, actually, and she’s blackmailing me into hurting Matthew. I can’t do that, but I also can’t say no. My plan is to make a protective shield of students so that I can satisfy both parties at the same time.”
“I see. This list is meant to help you know who to contract?”
“Exactly. And you can help, because you know practically everyone here!”
“Can I see the list again?” Mandy asked. I held it out for her to see. “Hmm. I may know exactly who you can use.”
Outside on the lawn, a girl looked up at me and immediately recoiled. In her lap was a beetle, her hands held a sketchbook holding many notes, and various centipedes crawled along her arms. I fought the urge to scowl.
“Percival, this is Olivia Mackintosh,” Mandy said, introducing the girl. “She’s a big entomology buff. Aren’t you, Olivia?”
“Oh, y-yes!” Olivia stuttered. “P-percival Miller, the F-f-favor. You helped me g-get my spot as the Bio teacher’s assistant!”
“Oh, um, yes,” I replied. Now that she mentioned it, I did recall ‘helping’ her become Mrs. Barley’s assistant. In all honesty, all I did was put in a good word. There wasn’t much competition; Mrs. Barley was really strange. “How is that going for you?”
“W-wonderfully!” Olivia said, gingerly letting the beetles and centipedes back onto the ground. “I can come out here a-almost any time I want and study these w-wonderful cr-creatures!” Olivia stood, rubbing her hands together nervously. “W-what can I do for you both?”
“We’re calling in a favor,” Mandy said, firmly. “You owe Percy.”
I looked at Mandy, surprised. “Oh, we?”
Mandy smiled. “You don’t mind, do you? It sounds like fun!”
I was taken aback. “No- uh, no! Of course not!” More quietly, I whispered, “But why do we need her?”
“She’s a computer whiz,” Mandy announced, proudly. “She builds and tweaks stuff all the time. She’s got this really cool drone, and that could probably be useful, right?”
“That’s…nice,” I replied, appreciating Mandy’s enthusiasm but still feeling confused.
Olivia looked between us. “A-are you offering me a job?” She paused. “Because Mrs. B-barley is really weird and I need the b-break.”
“I didn’t sketch that for nothing,” a loudmouthed voice rang out. “We’re supposed to have the set decorators here today, but they’re not- Oh, gosh, not you again!”
Geoff Bean, a drama student currently practicing in the school’s auditorium, saw us coming and started to immediately look for a way out. He’d been directing the placement of a banner and once he ducked out, the banner fell to the ground. The banner looked very good, too, as a sketch of a man in a fedora with a cigar. That could at least count towards Geoff’s talents. His acting, though…
“What do you mean?” I asked aloud, as I passed the rows of chairs leading to the stage.
“You! You set me up with that crazy, insane-” Upon seeing that every exit was blocked, Geoff stuck his fingers in his ears and pretended not to hear us. Hopefully his acting skills were better than the current example.
“I’m guessing you remember this guy?” Mandy asked.
Over Geoff’s incessant ‘la-la-las’, I sighed. “He was trying to get a date with a girl and asked me to set him up. Apparently it didn’t work out.”
“Work out? WORK OUT?” Geoff could apparently hear us again. A crowd was drawing of his fellow actors, interested in the- shall I say- drama. “She was nuts! She refused to leave me alone, she wanted the whole world to know we were a thing, she was even talking about marriage two weeks after our first date! I’m sixteen! I’m not ready for that kind of commitment! And it’s your fault!”
“You were the one who asked me to help you,” I commented.
“You could have warned me what I was in for!”
Mandy giggled at the poor guy’s misery. “Well, um, unfortunately, Geoff, you still owe Percival for his help.”
Geoff’s face fell. “You can’t be serious.”
“Part of the deal, Geoff! It’s part of what makes him ‘the Favor’.”
This was too much for the aspiring actor. “No, no, no, no, I don’t owe you! Can’t I just pay you back? Take my life savings. I’m not helping you out if you were dying of thirst in the Sahara after what you did to me! I WON’T HELP YOU!” He began leading the gathered crowd in a chant of ‘go away, go away, go away.’ It was slightly terrifying.
Mandy turned to me. “He’ll come around.”
The last person Mandy led me to was an old acquaintance, and one I was very surprised to see: Richard Stewart, stretching on the track outside. After learning he’d been the mastermind behind Matthew’s broken leg, we’d had a surprisingly amicable relationship. Of course, until he himself tried to make a fool of Matthew in Washington D.C., but I felt that that particular event was behind us. I wasn’t sure why Mandy had picked him.
“Richard,” I greeted.
“Percival,” he replied. I figured he would be annoyed that we were interrupting his workout, but he didn’t seem upset. “What’s up?”
“We need your help, Richard,” Mandy said, cutting to the chase. “And you owe Percival. And, well, me.”
Richard looked confused. “No, I don’t. I’ve never asked him for anything. We’d never even met until I messed with Yen.”
“Yes, Mandy,” I said, agreeing. “I think you’ve made a mistake.”
“Oh, have I?” she replied, with a smile. “Tell me, who was it that decided to keep the whole problem a secret and tell nobody about Richard’s evil plans?”
“Matthew,” I replied, not quite getting the point.
“Yes, but you could have ratted him out! And, you kept his involvement with the League of Feathers a secret, too!”
“Legion of Plume,” Richard corrected.
“Aaaaand, I agreed to help Richard only if he could get the jocks to stop flirting with me. That hasn’t happened yet. He technically owes both of us!”
“That logic doesn’t make the most sense-”
“Fine, I’ll help you.”
I did not expect that. “What?”
“You guys are the good guys now, right?” Richard said, while in the middle of a painful-looking lunge. “I don’t want to be known as a bad guy anymore. Whatever you need help with, I can do it.”
Mandy seemed satisfied. “It’s about Matthew Yen, funnily enough.”
Richard nodded. “Even better! I really never wanted to hurt him specifically. Maybe this can help get me back in his good graces.”
“Fine by me.” I held out my hand. “Welcome to the…um…team, Richard.”
Richard shook it confidently, and Mandy smiled. Her team was assembled.
“Okay, why do we need a team?”
This whole time, I was still unclear on Mandy’s reasoning. I hadn’t raised any concerns beforehand because I really liked hanging out with her. However, now that everyone had been sought out, I figured I might as well ask what the point was. “This group. Why do we need it?”
Mandy looked thoughtful. “You said you needed a shield of kids to help you protect Matthew! That’s what we’ve got, now, isn’t it?”
Hmm. I guess that made sense. But there had definitely been a misunderstanding. “What I meant by that was maybe finding bruisers who would do whatever I asked, not form a strike team.”
My friend’s face fell. “Oh. Well, we can tell them the deal’s off-”
“Oh, no! I’m sure I can use them. We’ll figure something out!”
“Oh, good! Now, should I make T-shirts?”
Chapter 4: The Greater Threat
The better part of the day was spent trying to fit Olivia, Geoff and Richard into a grand ‘scheme’ that was a bit too over-the-top for my tastes. I didn’t want to disappoint Mandy, though; she seemed so excited to help me and I would use any assistance she gave. I might sound like I was complaining, but it was a nice problem to have.
My notebook, which had previously been used to write notes to Mandy Bennet, was now being used to collect whatever possibilities I could create. It felt like planning some sort of heist, even though this was for a noble cause.
“Whatcha working on?”
I jumped, in spite of myself. I turned to find Casey looking over my shoulder. In hindsight, it was probably a mistake to be writing this at our usual lunch table. I slammed my notebook closed. “Nothing! Nothing, of course.”
“So, you’re still acting weird, got it.”
“I am not acting weird,” I countered.
“You haven’t looked us in the eye since yesterday and you seem even more closed-off than usual,” Casey observed while sitting across from me. “For you, that’s weird.”
“Perhaps I just like my privacy.”
“Sure. And you’re writing how you can ‘keep Matthew from getting hurt’ for completely normal reasons?”
I sighed. There was no getting upset with Casey; she was simply matter-of-fact. She wasn’t trying to annoy me. She still was, in any case. “For your information, I believe that should be classified.”
Casey didn’t care. “Matt is my best friend too, Percy, and I’ve known him for way longer. If he’s in any danger at all, I’m going to help and you can’t do anything about that.”
Reluctantly, I slid my notebook over to her. “Don’t read the first pages. The only stuff you need to know starts on Page 13.”
Casey resisted the urge to read anything before 13 and skimmed the page. “I see. Why can’t you just…not do what Rosie says?”
“You don’t understand, Casey,” I said, emphatically. “I need to be the Favor for my own protection. I’m doing my best to work around that unfortunate fact.”
Casey slid the notebook back, having read as much as she needed to. “Suit yourself. But I’m here to help, just so you know. I don’t think I’ll fit in very well with your ‘team’, though. Seems they’re all a bunch of misfits, outcasts…”
“Rogues,” I finished.
“Oh, so the whole Flash thing is getting to you, too?” Casey observed, laughing. After finishing the mystery of the broken leg, Matthew had shown up one day with a paper puppet of the Flash in his grasp. I didn’t know anything about the character, but the two of them had discussed him enough that I picked up some information. “Maybe I should get one of those puppets, too. We could be a puppet trio!”
“Goodness, please, no,” I muttered. “However, I am grateful, Casey. Thank you for offering. I’ll give you a call if I need anything.”
Casey nodded. “That’s what friends are for, after all!”
After leaving the lunchroom, I was ready for my classes to restart as it would give me a welcome distraction from the planning and plotting. That is, until I heard an ‘ahem’ behind me.
“I think you misunderstood me a bit, Fav,” Rosie Robinson announced as soon as I was within earshot. She pushed through a crowd of students until she was standing next to me. “I want you to stop Matthew. End his career. Just completely pulverise it into the dust. I see none of that happening and I’m not sure I like it.”
I grimaced. I didn’t often like to let my emotions show, but Rosie was one of the few people able to get under my skin. “These kinds of things take time, Rosie, and the lack of clear instructions made it hard to plan. Now I know that you want me to mess up his track capabilities, which frankly seems a little unoriginal-”
Rosie held up her hand, dismissing my (admittedly) weak excuses. “I think it’s because you can’t bring yourself to hurt a friend. Is that right?”
“No, of course-”
“Because if you can’t get over that hurdle,” Rosie paused and chuckled, “Pardon the pun. But you will have a long line of angry customers looking to turn in their receipts.”
“I don’t make receipts-”
“And to motivate you just a bit more, why don’t we give you a deadline? How about…two days time, at the competition?”
I couldn’t take it anymore. I put my foot down. “I can’t. Not then. It’s Matthew’s chance to prove that he’s still got ‘it’, whatever it is.”
“The truth comes out.” I couldn’t be sure, but the constant smirk on Rosie’s face was thinner than usual. “Two days, Percival, or it’ll be public that the Favor’s lost his mojo.”
Rosie turned to leave, but I wasn’t finished. “What do you have against Matthew? Have you even met him? Why make me bring him down?”
Rosie’s back was still to me, but her head tilted behind. “Oh, I could care less about Matthew.” She sauntered off, obviously satisfied.
I was left to puzzle over her words for a moment, but only a moment. I came to a starting realization quite quickly.
She was trying to make Matthew suffer. She was trying to make me suffer.
Chapter 5: Trust Issues
As I was walking down the hallway, considering my current situation, I heard footsteps running behind me. “Hey, Percy! Wait up!”
I stopped in the middle of the hallway and found Matthew barrelling toward me. Ever since getting his cast off, the poor guy had trouble with slowing down. I assumed it was because he’d been forced to be slow for months, something that simply didn’t register with his brain. Now that he was free, all bets were off.
Used to the potential danger, I sidestepped as Matthew brought himself to a full and complete stop. “Dude, what’s going on?” he asked, not even out of breath.
“What are you talking about?” I replied, a little too cleanly. I’d had a lot of experience with lying on the job. I’m not proud.
“With you, dude!” Matthew shouted. “You’ve been avoiding me for the last two days. You haven’t eaten lunch with us and anytime I try to say hi you pretend like you don’t hear me. That’s what I’m talking about.”
Thinking back, I realized I might have been giving him the cold shoulder. Accidentally, of course, and it was all for the greater good…but I could see where they might have been a misunderstanding. “Oh, yes, of course. My apologies. I’ve just…had a lot of homework all of a sudden and it’s taking all of my focus.”
Matthew wasn’t buying it. “Really? Because I’ve been focused on the race and it hasn’t taken my focus. Well, not totally.”
“You’ve told me that you never have to worry about homework because there’s always somebody to warn you about what’s coming. Which is, of course, cheating, but the point stands.”
This was true. “I’m, uh, simply trying to do things the right way.”
“Interesting.” Matthew still seemed skeptical. “Is that why you were talking to Casey at the lunch table when you left? Is she helping to give you pointers?”
Hmm. He was more perceptive than I gave him credit for. That sounds more mean than I mean it to sound. “No, no, actually…” I wracked my brain for any plausible excuse. “I was wingmanning, as the kids say.”
Matthew immediately took a step back and his face turned a deep shade of red. “W-what? Wingmanning?”
A perfect diversion. I mentally gave myself a pat on the back. “Wingmanning. Getting the feel for the playing field. Investigating. Seeing what was what.”
“Ah, dude, come on,” Matthew spluttered. “Please do not do that. No offense, but she’s my best best friend and if you even screwed a tiny bit of it up- What did you even say?” He paused. “What did she say?”
“Oh, you know…” I waved my hand casually. “Nothing serious. Just putting in a good word for you.”
“‘A good word?’ We’ve known each other for three years. I don’t think she needs a ‘good word’.”
“You’d be surprised what a second opinion could do for you.”
While the abrupt subject change had mostly worked (and for the record, I was not simply messing with him – I would not raise false hope where there was none) he attentions weren’t completely diverted. “Uh- okay, um, cool.” He cleared his throat. “But, dude, seriously, you don’t have to avoid me because of schoolwork, or, uh, Casey. We’re friends, and friends trust each other. Don’t be afraid to just tell me what’s on your mind.”
I nodded. “Of course. Friends trust each other.”
I will admit that at those words, my stomach took a slight plunge. I had lied before – and often – but not like this. Matthew obviously trusted me, and I still had reservations. I would make things simpler if I warned him about Rosie Robinson’s threat, but I couldn’t tell him. Not yet.
Those were the rules! And a deal was a deal.
Chapter 6: Motivation
Mandy’s plan was laid-out: in the possibility that Rosie got impatient and took matters into her own hands, each of our ‘Rogues’ (the name had, unfortunately, stuck) had their positions around the race course.
Olivia, due to her technical know-how, would observe the course from her laptop, utilizing a drone she’d gotten for Christmas that looked suspiciously like a bumblebee. If there was any trouble, Olivia would see it long before it happened.
Geoff, the actor, would act as a distraction for Rosie, who would undoubtedly be at the race. A distraction, also, for the audience of the race. He wasn’t a good actor, but it was the only place he would fit.
Richard would be watching out for Matthew while on the track, as he was also racing in the 5k. He would make sure no harm would come to him as he was racing, an admittedly ironic turn from how things went last semester. Also, he wanted to be close by to show Matthew that he was on his team for this one.
Mandy herself wasn’t exactly involved since her job was to interview the attendees. And as for me…my job was to ruin Matthew and fulfill the favor. All within the plan, of course.
The only problem was getting people to show up.
After school the day before the race, Mandy had requisitioned the newsroom for an impromptu meeting. Well, I say requisitioned; we frequently worked on homework in the newsroom together, so it was our unofficial headquarters. Everyone was obligated to attend, but unfortunately only I, Mandy, and Richard had shown up. And so the three of us were, sitting around a circular conference table, watching the minutes tick by. I especially wanted the meeting to be over soon; I was planning on getting post-race ice cream with Matthew and Casey as soon as we were finished.
“Where is everyone?” I asked, concerned. “You called Geoff and Olivia, right?”
Mandy shrugged. “Tried to call, you mean. It rang all the way through for Olivia, and Geoff’s went straight to voicemail. I think they’re ignoring us.”
“But they need to come,” I sighed, mopily.
Richard was very obviously trying to be as polite as possible; he was all in on the redemption quest. “Percival, I think you need to consider that not everybody is as honorable as you are.”
I cocked an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”
“Think back. How many favors have you actually called in since you started this whole thing?”
I acted like I considered the question, but I already knew the answer. “None, really. The only things that come close are Rosie practically giving me repayments, and Matthew making sure he treated the deal fairly.”
“That’s your problem, Percival,” Richard replied. “You think everything should work fairly and that’s how you see the world. A deal is a deal and that’s all it is. Not everybody works like that. In fact, I’d say the majority of people in this school couldn’t care less about a deal being a deal.”
“Isn’t that how the world works?” I asked. “Deals are the only things that matter. The whole world runs on them, in business and politics and everything like that.”
Richard looked uncertain. “I think that’s what some people would want the world to be like, but it’s not. The real world is messy, Percy. People don’t care about deals so much as relationships and meaning. A deal won’t make people work with you. Friendliness and kindness work a bit better.”
“That’s why I like working with you,” Mandy said, smiling. “You’re nice to me!”
I was unconvinced. A deal was a deal and that was that. I could work with friends as equals, but all of my friends had come from deals. They were important, and if Olivia and Geoff couldn’t realize that, I was going to find a new team.
I was just getting ready to get out my spreadsheet again when there was a knock at the newsroom door.
“U-uh, hello? Is this where I’m s-supposed to m-meet Mandy Bennet?”
Through the door’s window I could see the mousy figure of Olivia peeking through. I looked at Mandy. “You really claimed total leadership, didn’t you?”
Mandy smiled politely, stood up and opened the door. “Hi, Olivia! Welcome on in!”
Olivia shuffled into the room, carrying her bumblebee drone with both hands. “S-sorry I’m late. M-mrs. Barley wanted me to h-help her clean the science room.” She turned back to the doorway. “Oh, and I n-noticed a guy pacing by the d-doorway. Do you k-know him?”
“DANG IT,” I heard a frustrated Geoff Bean shout. “I haven’t decided!”
“You’d better get in here, regardless, Bean,” Richard replied, barely raising his voice. He gave me a pointed look. “A deal is a deal, after all.”
I couldn’t quite decipher what the look meant, but I’ll admit to feeling slightly vindicated. Fairness did matter to these people after all.
Geoff followed Olivia inside. Mandy showed the two latecomers to their seats. Mandy sat in her original spot next to me. Olivia sat by her and Geoff slumped down next to Richard. Before we started talking, though, one last attendee stepped inside.
Casey stood off to the side, leaned against the wall, and crossed her arms. “You didn’t invite me, but I figured I’d be able to find you here.”
“Oh, well…” Mandy looked to me for approval. I knew there was no chance in heck I’d be able to get rid of Matthew’s best-best friend, so I nodded. I made a mental note to include a role for her, because I knew she’d absolutely be at the race tomorrow. She always was.
“Okay, Percy,” Geoff muttered, completely put out. “What is it you want?”
I switched into business mode as soon as the question was asked. “How familiar are you all with the running competition tomorrow? Central and Mignola against Lampert?”
The groan amongst the team members was nearly simultaneous.
“Y-you don’t m-mean we have to go, d-do you?” Olivia asked, nervously.
“I hope they all twist their collective ankles,” Geoff mumbled.
“That makes no sense,” Richard scoffed at Geoff.
Geoff was defensive. “Nobody asked you, dude. You’re on the track team already so you’re a conflict of interest.”
“An interest in what?”
“WHATEVER!” Geoff shouted. He crossed his arms and sunk deeper into his seat.
“This is a nice group you’ve got,” Casey said, laughing. “I’m glad I came!”
“I see that you all haven’t been introduced!” Mandy interrupted, as bubbly as ever. “As you’ll be working together, it would be good to know each other’s names. Richard, Geoff. Geoff, Richard. Geoff, Olivia. Olivia, Geoff. Olivia, Richard. Richard, Olivia. Casey, um…everybody.” She paused. “Oh, and I’m Mandy and that’s Percival. Don’t call him Percy because he doesn’t like that. There we go!”
“Nice to meet you again, Percy.” Geoff waved halfheartedly.
“T-thank you s-so much for including me,” Olivia said. “M-mrs. Barley never lets me d-do any extracurricular a-activities.”
“Could you explain more clearly what we’re here to do?” Richard asked.
I took a deep breath. “I’m in a tough spot. I’ve been asked to hurt a friend and my position requires me to do so. But, I would like to make sure that my friend is hurt as little as possible, and I need your help to accomplish that. My friend is Matthew Yen, and my deadline is the competition.”
“W-why don’t you say no?” Olivia asked.
“That’s what I said!” Casey interjected.
“I can’t. Next question.”
“That’s a weak answer, Percival,” Richard added.
“I just can’t. It’s not in my job description.”
Geoff snorted. “Get a different job, then.”
I rolled my eyes. “Anyway, I would like to know that I can count on you all. Before we go any further, can I trust you all to be at the race tomorrow?”
After some uncommitted affirmatives, I continued on.
I explained the roles each of them would take, where they would be stationed, and exactly how necessary they were to the success of the plan. To include Casey, she would be the eyes from the sidelines, a second ‘bodyguard’ for Matthew should the need arise. She happily accepted the role.
Going over the plan out loud, I knew it wasn’t the most elaborate set-up. However, for the team I had, it wasn’t half bad.
Mandy offered comments whenever she felt they were needed, which seemed to be often. Richard asked helpful questions, Olivia took notes, Geoff asked unhelpful questions, and Casey, knowing Matthew’s quirks and superstitions, added some much needed context and time tables. All things considered, I felt the meeting went well. While make-shift in every sense of the word, we would make do.
“I would like to thank you all for agreeing to help. I appreciate it very much.”
“Don’t have much of a choice, do we?” Geoff stood up. “While, it was great talking with you all. But I would like to be doing literally anything else.” Without another word, Geoff was out the door.
Olivia followed Geoff out shortly afterwards. She was mumbling to herself possible modifications she could add to her drone that would help increase clarity of image and capture consistency.
Richard and Mandy got up at the same time; as Mandy was technically the mastermind, and Richard the most eager to please, he wanted to ask her as many questions about his role as he could. He seemed fine with his role as bodyguard, but wanted to know about times and places. As he’d masterminded an event like this, he seemed to know exactly what went into planning.
Casey stayed against the wall, evidently waiting for me to stand. She was wearing a wide smile. “It’s really cool to see how much you want to help him out, even if your reasoning is stupid.”
“If Rosie wants me to hurt him, I’ll make sure I do it in the nicest way possible,” I replied.
“I can’t tell if that was a joke or not.”
It was at that point I noticed that Richard and Mandy, who had been chatting all the way to the door, had suddenly stopped.
“Um, Percival?” Mandy said. “Someone’s here to see you.”
The door opened, and, leaning against it with his arms crossed and a glare on his face, was Matthew.
He sighed. “Really, dude?”
Chapter 7: Self-Reflection
“Hurt. Me. Really?”
Matthew was not taking this well.
“Matthew, you have to understand-”
Richard and Mandy, too stunned to do much, had kind of frozen by the doorway. Casey, who’d adopted the ‘cool girl’ attitude the whole meeting, now looked kind of embarrassed. As for me, I was completely out of my depth. I had never been caught in a scheme like this before. Usually, every contingency was covered. And now, here we were. The jig was up, foiled by the person it was created to save.
I had no idea how to save face. Could I even save face? Maybe there wasn’t a face to save. This wasn’t a big deal. Was it?
“How’d you know where we were?” Mandy asked, dumbfounded. “This was a secret meeting.”
“Mandy, come on,” Matthew said, rolling his eyes. “You and Percy hang out here almost everyday. It’s not like you’re holed up in Fort Knox. As soon as Percy and Casey didn’t meet up so we could get ice cream, I got suspicious.” He looked around the room, completely aghast. “And look what I find! A conspiracy beneath my very nose! With my best-best friend, my best friend, my best friend’s best friend, and, uh, Richard for some reason. Hi Richard. Are you the guy trying to hurt me?”
Richard shook his head. “No. That was last year.”
“Right.” He waved his hands emphatically. “What. The. Heck. Is. Going. On?!”
Looking around the room, I felt the obligation to explain myself. “Somebody asked for a favor.”
“- And I have to hurt you, apparently, and I don’t want to do that, so…I’m trying to figure out how to not do that.”
“Just so you know, it’s all with good intentions,” Mandy said, defending me. I appreciated it.
“I don’t doubt that, but…Percy.” He looked across the room. “Casey. Really?”
Casey just seemed a bit embarrassed; not enough to lose her natural swagger, but it was noticeable. “I just wanted to help. I didn’t want you to get hurt, and since I know you best, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to lend a hand.”
Matthew gasped. “So that’s why you were talking with Percy yesterday?” He sighed, then caught himself. “That’s, uh…”
Casey shot me a pointed look. “What did you tell him?”
“Perfectly harmless things of no importance,” I replied, quickly.
I’d been sitting at my seat this whole time, but I stood to emphasize my explanation. “Matthew, you know how important the Favor is to me. It’s an identity I can’t just shake off, and if I said no…Rosie Robinson would ruin me. Completely. You know I can’t just break a deal, either. So, I’m doing my best to make sure that I don’t ruin you at the same time. I’m…sorry.”
Matthew was quiet for a long time, considering what he would say. Finally, he spoke, and looked very upset the whole time. “Dude, you don’t get it. You really don’t. I know you’re trying really hard to be a friend. But you don’t get how it works.” He once again stopped, thinking. “To be a good friend you don’t have to shield the other person from the hard stuff, especially by lying to them. That’s not trust, that’s just…lying. If you’d told me from the start, it wouldn’t be a big deal.
“I’m the Flash dude now – er, the Fold. I’m a hero, man! I could help you. And the fact that you didn’t even consider that makes me think you don’t totally trust me, and that stings. And you, Casey-” He made a half-hearted point toward Casey. She bowed her head. “It hurts that you went along with him! I really – I mean, I trust you too. You don’t have to go behind my back even if you think it’ll keep me safe.” He pointed at Mandy and Richard. “I…do not care that you guys are here. Good to see you both.”
I cut in, quickly. “Matthew, I do trust you. I just…don’t think Rosie-”
“Don’t trust me enough, I get it. I’m not saying I could do it by myself, but we could beat this stupid problem together. Because that’s what it is, a stupid problem!” He threw his hands up in the air. “You’re missing the point! I do not care about this stupid problem! I care that you lied and went behind my back for no reason.” He thought. “Okay, maybe not no reason. But no good reason.”
“Matt, I’m sorry,” Casey apologized. “We didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“I know you didn’t,” he grumbled. “The whole thing’s ruined anyway.” He turned to leave. “Don’t bother with the ice cream, Percy. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He looked back at Casey. “I’ll, uh, see you later, Casey.”
He shut the door behind him, leaving the four of us conspiracy members dumbfounded and depressed. I slumped back into my chair, defeated.
Not only had this mission I created for myself failed, it had failed spectacularly. Not only had I made a horrible deal in the first place, the deal was now officially broken. Not only was Matthew mad at me, he was also mad at Casey, someone who I thought he could never be mad at. This was horrible. And all before the competition tomorrow.
Mandy silently pulled her phone out of her pocket. “Should I…should I update Olivia and Geoff?”
“Probably. I don’t know. I don’t care.”
Mandy took the hint I accidentally gave and walked out of the room. Richard followed her, looking amazed.
Casey was leaning against the wall again, arms crossed, but not at all cool and confident. In fact, she looked a little sad. Once again, this was an expression I’d never seen her make.
“I’m sorry, Casey,” I mumbled. “You are perfectly allowed to hate me for dragging you into this. This is my fault.”
She rolled her eyes. “Percy, I don’t hate you. It’s just as much my fault for coming in here as it is yours for starting the whole thing.” She stood up to leave. “We just gotta make things right, I guess. You know why?”
I shook my head. “Why?”
She walked out of the room. “I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”
Chapter 8: Resolution
Saturday dawned a new day: a day promising the competition that would make or break Matthew Yen’s career as a runner going forward. Would his nasty injury leave a stain on his career he wouldn’t be able to wash out? Or would he rise to meet the occasion and return as the legendary runner Lampert knew and loved?
Morale was low, especially after yesterday afternoon’s debacle.
The crisp March air in the sunny afternoon was great running weather, and the crowd outside on Lampert’s field was massive; attendees from three different schools were all crowded together preparing for the big 1500m. Already, the freshman had raced around the track in a race about five minutes. As soon as the last runner had crossed the finish line, the organizers cleared the track of any rocks and debris, and the sophomore 1500m was set to begin. This was Matthew’s time to shine.
He was in a group with many of his teammates, including Richard. Politely and professionally, as I always tried to be, I walked up to him. “Good luck, Matthew. Break a leg.”
He shot me a look.
“Poor choice of words, got it.”
I noticed he just looked tired and a bit defeated. “Thank you, and I appreciate you showing up, but…just let me do this, okay? I’m fine on my own.”
I was slightly offended by this brush off, but I nodded and walked out. I caught a glance from Richard, who looked sympathetic.
I walked off, feeling dejected. All night, I had tossed and turned over who I was and who I wanted to be. I said like I wanted to move on from being the Favor, but was that really what I wanted? I certainly didn’t act like it. I enjoyed people owing me. Is that why I kept at it? It wasn’t healthy to be so isolated like that, and I knew that now. I just ended up hurting people because I had no idea how to build a friendship.
I was committed to doing one thing today, and one this only, and that was finding Rosie Robinson.
You’d think it would be hard to find a single person amidst a crowd as large as this one, and it was. However, I needed to find her before the race started, so I did my best.
Eventually, with only minutes to spare, I spotted her: a small, dark-skinned girl with a huge cluster of ‘friends’ around her, many that I’d helped her find and connect with. It suddenly made me sick to my stomach.
When I successfully caught her eye, she excused herself and walked up to me. “Percy! How are you doing? Doing well, I hope!”
I didn’t have time to dance around the subject. I cut to the choice. “No, Rosie.” For the first time since this whole thing had started, probably since I’d become the Favor, I stood my ground. “I will not do it.”
“What did you say?” she asked. The smile was still on her face, disturbingly unshaken.
“I won’t do it, simple as that. I draw the line at hurting a friend.”
“Really? That must be a new philosophy.”
“What- No! I mean, I will not ruin Matthew. The deal is off.”
Rosie still simply looked mildly amused. “Oh, really? See, I thought the deal was done already!”
I had no idea what she was talking about. “What?”
“Oh, Fav, you must have done a number on him! Did you see how mopey and upset he looked? There’s no way he’ll do well in this race. I think you sufficiently ruined him, and right on time, too!”
The realization hit me in the gut like a freight train.
Rosie was right. I’d successfully done exactly as she asked. I’d hurt Matthew even as I tried to do the exact opposite.
I was either really good at my job or really terrible.
“But if you really want to take it back…” Rosie gloated, savoring the moment.
“I- I do! I do want to take it back, really. I don’t want to be the Favor anymore, Rosie! I’m tired of owing people, and them owing me. I just end up hurting people and myself. I’m done.” The words spilled out of me before I could stop them, without any of my usual decorum. This was too important for that.
Finally, Rosie’s smile did falter, and turned into a grim frown. “That only took years for you to realize.”
“What?” I asked.
“You really don’t get it, do you?” she asked, indignantly. “You don’t think I actually cared about everything you could do for me, do you?”
I didn’t know how to answer. “That’s usually the only thing people care about when it comes to me.”
“But not everybody, Percival Miller!” Rosie seemed exasperated. “Years ago, I wanted to be your friend. You seemed cool and interesting, and I liked you a lot. So I asked you to help me with some things. But you didn’t seem to care about how many times I tried to ask you to hang out, or that I genuinely wanted to get to know you; it was all about fulfilling the deal. And then, other people asked you for favors, and you did all of them, and all of sudden, you weren’t Percival Miller anymore; you were the Favor.”
“I- I don’t-” I was beginning to see things in a new light. “I’d forgotten that I became the Favor because of you.”
“That doesn’t actually help your case,” Rosie said, grimacing. “I’ve just wanted you to notice me as a friend and not as a customer all of these years. And because of that, you have to understand how, out of the blue, you had three new friends accidentally. It hurt.”
I believed I was finally understanding her problems. “…And so, you wanted me to feel as hurt as you do.”
“In a way, yes. Glad you’re finally getting it.”
If I didn’t feel horrible already, this simply compounded it into nauseous guilt. “I’m sorry, Rosie.”
“I’m sure you are,” she scoffed. “I don’t even care anymore, you know? I’ve known you were a lost cause for ages now. But I still felt like I had to do this, just so you could know what regular people feel whenever they don’t get their way.”
“Why didn’t you tell me all of this earlier?”
That was, evidently, the wrong question. Rosie snapped again. “You think I haven’t thought about that? Young Rosie did the wrong thing in trying to get you to notice her, and by the time I realized that it was too late. The chance had passed me by.” She looked at the track behind her. “Looks like yours is, too.”
The runners were lining up behind the finish line, finding their spots before the race was officially started. I needed to find a place to sit, and quickly.
I felt compelled to say one final thing before going off to sit down. “Rosie, I didn’t know any of this was going on, and because of that, I am sorry. You don’t deserve that.” I hesitated. “But, bringing Matthew and Casey into this was wrong. I don’t know how, but I will fix this problem. I will.”
Before Rosie could say another word, I broke off the conversation and headed for the stands. I would fix this. I had to!
Chapter 9: Race Day
On my way to the stands at the front of the track next to the finish lines, I passed Mandy who was recording some coverage of the events with her cameraman cousin Mikey. She gave me a small wave as I passed by, and my spirits lifted.
Casey sat by Matthew’s parents on the stands, and I walked up and joined her. I made sure not to step on her backpack as I sat down.
“No luck?” she asked.
“Huh?” I asked. “Oh, yes, with Matthew. He simply doesn’t want to talk.”
She nodded. “I noticed. I think we hurt him, Percy. I just want him to be okay.”
“He’ll do fine, I’m sure.”
She sighed. “It’s not just that, it’s more that- Oh, hey, guys!”
I looked up and saw that Geoff Bean and Olivia Mackintosh were walking up the stands until they were next to us. I was completely baffled by them showing up. “What…in the world are you two doing here? I thought we called it off?”
I noticed Olivia was holding her bumblebee drone as she explained. “M-mandy told us what h-happened as soon as we left, and we f-felt bad. W-well, I felt b-bad – Geoff is only h-here because he still owes y-you.”
“A deal’s a deal, I guess,” Geoff muttered.
Casey motioned for them to sit down. “We’re glad you’re here. And just in time, too; the race is starting.”
The runners were lined up behind the starting line, and after a short count from the officials of ‘Ready, Set, Go!’ a giant mass of guys from three different schools, my friend in the middle of them, barrelled across the line and onto the track.
What I’ve learned about long races, like a 5k, for example, is that you don’t expend all of your energy at once. It’s better to hold onto it until the ending, giving yourself a last push that pulls you over the line. Obviously, I couldn’t judge Matthew’s overall performance with that in mind, but he was still doing pretty terribly.
Stuck in the middle of the group, Matthew was being shoved back and forth and battered between his opponents. His footing was sloppy and he’d already tripped more than once. All of this was only on the visible stretch of the track; soon enough, the competitors would disappear into the wooded area and would stay there reappearing right before the ending. This wasn’t a good start.
“He doesn’t look good,” Geoff commented. “All that because you hurt his feelings?”
Casey glared. “He’s been nervous anyway, because he doesn’t know if his leg will hold him back. It’s not a good mix.”
Usually, a 1500m run was split into laps, but the outdoor track outside of Lampert was long enough that everything could be sequestered into one lap. Was it against code for true Track and Field guidelines? Who knew, but the three schools didn’t seem to care. Already, they were nearly a third done, and Matthew had somehow stumbled his way to the back of the pack. They were just now entering the wooded section, and I could just make out Richard Stewart falling back to make sure Matthew was alright.
I was stunned that all of mine and Mandy’s team seemed to be doing everything they could to help. I’d asked Mandy to make it clear that they didn’t owe me anymore, and yet, here they were, being present for moral support. It wasn’t just kind.
It was friendly.
And if they couldn’t let down a guy they were forced to meet yesterday, I couldn’t let down my best friend.
A plan hatched with lightning speed. Once again, not a particularly great plan, but a plan nonetheless.
“Olivia, you can fly your drone through the trees, correct?” I asked, quickly.
“Y-yes, of course. I’ve p-practiced on my downtime,” Olivia replied. “Why?”
I turned to Casey. “Do you have any paper with you?”
Casey opened her backpack and retrieved a large sheet. “Is that even a question?”
“And Geoff…you can draw, right?”
Geoff looked upset. “I’d rather you asked about my acting ability, but…yeah, I can draw.”
I handed him the sheet of paper and a red marker, also from Casey’s bag. “Here’s what I want you to draw…”
Within 30 seconds, the bumblebee drone was lifted off from the stands with a sign attached to it, illustration courtesy of Geoff and note courtesy of Casey. With incredible speed, it flew towards the trees, even before any of the races had emerged. Olivia wasn’t lying, she had modified it extensively.
Also attached to the Bumblebee was a small camera that fed directly to Olivia’s phone. I watched the feed closely as the drone picked its way through trees and runners, offering directions. I motioned for her to stop. “Okay, there he is!”
In the low-resolution image the camera picked up, I could just make out Matthew running through the woods. He was no longer in last place, and was doing his best to pick through his opponents – except, I knew he wasn’t doing his best. His heart wasn’t in it. But it needed to be. Richard was close by, presumably offering unheard encouragement.
The Bumblebee stopped and hovered over Matthew’s position, waiting for him to look up and notice. He was focused, it seemed, on the task at hand.
It was Richard, eventually, who fell back, poked Matthew’s shoulder and pointed up at the drone in the sky.
I couldn’t see him very clearly in the image, but I can tell that the poster we’d sent his way cheered him up immediately. He laughed, pointed, and then, with the speed that I knew was inside of him, started picking up position after position. It was all Richard could do to keep up with the sudden enthusiasm.
“Here, pull the drone back,” I told Olivia. “Wouldn’t want it to be confiscated.”
She did so, and soon enough the Bumblebee was back on the stands. Just then, the runners started to emerge from the trees, and the finish line was in sight.
I could feel the intensity now. Everyone in the stands was cheering the runners on, encouraging their favorites to cross the finish line first. But among them, only a few were cheering for Matthew Yen.
It was a surprise to everyone when Matthew quickly moved up the ranks burst out of the trees, ready for the final sprint.
He was in a tough spot, admittedly; a cluster of guys from Central High School and a couple from Mignola and Lampert were in front of him, but I could tell he had determination in his eyes, even from my distance.
It was then that Geoff, caught up in the moment, stood up and started a slow chant: “Matt! Matt! Matt!” Casey followed him, then Matthew’s parents, then Olivia, myself, and somehow, the whole student section in the stands from Lampert. Geoff did have a gift for riling up a crowd.
Matthew was pushing himself closer and closer to the front…he was only a few yards away from the leaders…the finish line was coming up fast…he was in the cluster…and it was all over!
There was bated breath as the stragglers crossed the finish line and the race was ended. It took the officials a long time to review the race footage, as the position of the cluster of guys made exact notation difficult. However, it was no surprise to us when the officials announced that Lampert High School’s Matthew Yen was the winner of the 1500m.
The Lampert stands exploded, proud that the resident star runner not only met but exceeded the expectations. He’d won the competition for the day! Looking over the standings, Richard didn’t do too bad either: out of nearly thirty runners on the field, he finished eleventh.
As soon as the cheering stopped, Casey jumped across me, Olivia and Geoff and ran down the stands. Shrugging, I followed her, as did my two reluctant teammates.
Matthew had extricated himself from the cheers of his running mates only to be barrelled into by Casey, who gave him a massive hug. Richard walked up behind Matthew, clearly exhausted but enjoying the celebrations just the same. I nodded to him and he returned the sign.
“Oooooooh, you did it, you did it, you did it, you did it!” I could hear Casey practically screaming this into Matthew’s ear, but he didn’t quite seem to mind. “I’m so glad you could do it!”
Casey unlatched, so I could walk up. I held out my hand and Matthew shook it vigorously. “Congratulations! I guess you are back in shape, then?”
“Yeah, thanks to you guys,” Matthew said, laughing. “There is no way I could have made it without your…drone? What was that?”
Olivia piped up. “Y-yes, that was m-mine.”
Geoff tried to look important. “The cheering was my idea.”
Matthew removed the sheet of paper from the bottom of the drone and held it up, proudly. “It was genius, really.” It really wasn’t at all; all it was was a hastily sketched image of the Flash and a message from Casey that read ‘Don’t break a leg literally, but do it figuratively, because you’ve got this! – Casey’ and finally a small heart by the name. I had suspicions that the rest of the message was completely unnecessary once Casey drew the heart.
“It was Percy’s idea,” Casey said.
“Oh, totally,” Matthew said. “Thank you, man. I owe you one.”
I blanched. “Please, never, ever say that again to me. I am done with favors.”
“Poor choice of words, got it.”
Pushing through the gathering crowd as the 1500m was prepared for the juniors was Mandy Bennet with a microphone and Mikey on the camera. She shoved the microphone in Matthew’s face for an impromptu interview. Casey and I respectively backed out of the shot.
“Matt Yen! How does it feel to be back on your feet for a race like this?”
Matthew, confused and out of breath, replied, “Oh, it’s great. Cool. Awesome!”
“Did you have any worries about your leg before hitting the track?”
“Uh, yeah, I did, but I got over it.”
“How does it feel to have a win this big after everything last semester?”
“It feels great! But, really,” Matthew pulled Casey and I back into the shot, proudly. “I could not have done it without my friends, really.”
In spite of herself, Mandy’s smile grew wide, seeing me struggle to escape from the camera. She made a small ‘call me’ motion with her hand before going back to reporting. I felt awkward all over again.
Matthew’s parents were beckoning from across the stands. Matthew and Casey both turned. “Hey, Percy, do you want to make up for that ice cream yesterday?”
I nodded. “I’ll be there in a bit!”
Matthew and Casey walked off, and I could swear I heard Matthew casually start, “So, the heart emoji you drew…”
As for me, I was proud and happy. I had fixed my problem, with the help of teammates I hadn’t looked for. As such, I looked to Olivia, Geoff, and Richard in turn. “Thank you, guys. I believe the deal is officially square.”
“I mean, there’s worse things I could be doing right now,” Geoff mumbled. “Thanks for the invite.”
“I v-very much e-enjoyed the race today!” Olivia reported.
“We’re happy to help,” Richard added. “It’s the least I could do.”
I nodded to each of them. “I’d be proud to work with any of you in the future. You’ve proven yourselves to be trusted individuals.”
Richard held out his hand. “Teammates?”
“Teammates,” I agreed, shaking it.
My three peers went their separate ways and I was left by myself. There was one last person I needed to speak to. Thankfully, she was already close by.
“That was some race,” Rosie commented, sitting on one of the bleacher seats by herself.
Rosie looked defeated. “I guess you do care after all, Fav.”
“Please don’t call me that anymore,” I asked. “Call me Percy.”
Rosie raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Yes. It’s…what my friends call me.”
At this, Rosie stood. “Are you-”
I cut her off. “I want to make things right, Rosie. I hurt you in the past, and I want to make up for that now. If you’d still like to be friends, I would be more than willing to oblige.”
Rosie didn’t make an immediate response, but her small smile slowly returned to her face. “I’ll think about it. Thank you, Fav…” She paused, obviously relishing in the moment. I figured I at least owed her that much. “I mean, Percy.”
“Really,” I replied, “It’s only fair.”