Unshreddible Hulk II
THE UNSHREDDIBLE HULK II
By SFCamster and Noah
By Ally Weber
“Three, two, one, and…” FLASH! I blinked at the burst of light. “Thanks, everyone,” Cassidy said, peering out from around the camera. “Happy birthday, babe!” she said, happily, giving Kev a hug.
I broke from the group. It was three weeks into March, and Cassidy had invited everyone to a party at her (super big) house, partially in celebration of the new OrigAvengers and partially in celebration of Kev’s birthday. It was really fun to have all of this new blood in the group, especially if they all threw parties as great as this one!
Kev looked as happy as I had ever seen him, and not just because he was eating birthday cake with his new girlfriend. His transformation from Artron to OriVision had been larger than just swapping a paper puppet. His smile was much more present, he wasn’t as quiet and I couldn’t help noticing that his jeans weren’t as baggy. He’d rolled up the legs, so his prosthetic leg was fairly visible.
Garfield wandered around the party, being as respectful as possible and serving some drinks whenever people seemed thirsty. For a super-rich kid, Gar was one of the most thoughtful and kind people I knew.
That’s when I noticed one of the other thoughtful people I knew standing off to the side. Dove was chatting with Tilly Waterson. He looked more comfortable than I had seen him at other parties, but he stood next to the window, as if ready to escape at the first sign of danger. I hoped he was doing well. We hadn’t talked much since Kev’s Wheeler attack. Sure, it had only been a few weeks ago, but it felt weird not to talk to Dove as often as I had. Had something happened that night that messed things up? I still was curious what Dove had said that managed to stall out Kev, but I didn’t press him about it. Part of what I admired about Dove was that he respected people and their boundaries. You know, especially mine. The last thing I would do is pry at his.
“Whatcha lookin’ at?” someone asked me. I jumped. I turned and found Andy and Laura standing next to me. Laura smiled.
“Hmm?” I asked.
“You alright? You’re staring out the window,” Laura continued, gesturing towards where Dove and Tilly were standing.
I glared. “No, no I wasn’t.”
“Well, you-” Laura started, but Andy shook his head. Laura noticed and made an ‘oh’ with her mouth.
Suddenly, the door to Cassidy’s house opened. In strode Franklin Young, a look of determination on his face. “Oh no,” I murmured.
“What?” Andy asked.
“It’s Franklin,” I muttered. Franklin was Cassidy’s ex-boyfriend.
Actually, I take that back. Cassidy’s ex-sort-of-boyfriend. The two of them had never officially been together, but after Franklin insulted Cassidy’s colorblindness, the two’s friendship had come to a sudden halt. If you ask me, it had been a cheap shot and Cassidy was completely justified. She’d made a better choice with Kev, in any case.
“Franklin?” Andy asked. He looked up and saw him in the doorway. “Ah. That’s not good.”
“Where’s Cassidy?” I asked, looking around. “I don’t see her.”
“We’ll find her,” decided Laura. Andy gave me a supportive nod, and they melted back into the party crowd.
I kept an eye on Franklin as he strutted around the room and, to my horror, made his way toward me.
“Ally!” he greeted. “How are you?”
“Franklin.” I was not amused, but I tried to hide my apprehension. “What are you doing here? This is Cassidy’s party.”
“So? I have complete freedom to party wherever I want.”
“Not at Cassidy’s party. You remember where you two left off, right?”
Franklin leaned against the wall next to me. “We were never a ticket. Friends have fights, Weber. I never liked Cassidy in that way. She’s not my type. I was always more attracted to a… different kind of girl.” I was quiet. “You’re very beautiful, you know.”
“Please leave,” I muttered. “Get out of my face.”
I started to walk away, but Franklin forcefully put his hand on my shoulder. I shuddered. His expression hardened. “C’mon, you shouldn’t go on rejecting people like that. That’s the same kind of mentality that got you kicked from Wheeler.”
I felt my breathing become very shallow. “How do you—”
“Hello, Ally!” I breathed a sigh of relief. Dove had arrived. Franklin removed his hand, quickly. “What is going on here?” Dove asked, skeptically.
“Nothing at all,” Franklin said, smiling broadly. Under his breath, I could have sworn he murmured “Yet.”
I looked at Dove, using my eyes to ask for help. Dove understood and nodded immediately. “Babe, want me to get you a drink?”
If the situation hadn’t been so serious, I might have laughed. I would have never expected Dove to use the word ‘babe’, least of all to address me. “Thank you, sweetie. I would love one.” I really hoped it didn’t sound too much like acting.
“Wonderful, girlfriend. Let us, um, go do that.”
“Okay, handsome.” With that, we left Franklin on the spot, his expression priceless.
“Thank you so much,” I whispered to Dove as we walked to the drink table.
“Any time at all, Ally,” he whispered back. “If you need help, I will always be there to assist.”
“I appreciate that, babe,” I replied, lightly slapping his arm. He looked away abashedly.
Andy and Laura emerged from the crowd in front of us. “Hey, Ally,” Laura greeted.
“Did you find Cassidy?” I asked.
“Yeah. She doesn’t care as long as Franklin doesn’t cause any trouble,” Andy explained.
I gave Dove a sideways glance. “Well, he won’t be now.” He chuckled.
“What?” asked Laura curiously.
“Well, um…” I started, but I thought better of it. “Nothing.”
Andy crossed his arms, and he got a concerned look on his face. “I’ll take your word for it, but if Franklin becomes a problem, he’ll have all of us to deal with.” Laura pounded her fist to emphasize the point.
I smiled, and laughed. “Totally. I’ll let you know.”
Though, in the back of my mind, Franklin’s words weighed on me. What did he mean by ‘last time’?
Had someone…found out?
Because the last thing I needed was everyone knowing the reason that I got kicked out of Wheeler High School.
The following night, Mars, Dove, and I gathered in Mars’s garage, sitting on the floor at the center while Mars worked on his newest project—a small helicopter made out of plastic fragments. He was crafting it for Wheeler’s Reduce Plastic Art Festival, which was planned for the next day. Our garage meetings had started to become a tradition between the three of us. Sometimes, Kurt and Adrian would join us, but the two of them were busy that night. Kurt apparently was celebrating a family birthday. Adrian was just… busy. It seemed like he’d been really busy recently. With what, exactly, I wasn’t sure, but I could tell that Dove was concerned for him.
I was somewhat distracted. Last night had hit a little too close to home. Nevertheless, I tried to focus on the conversation while absentmindedly strumming my electric guitar. Dove was describing his most recent struggle with Seyla Solstice, the T.H.A.N.O.S.-appointed Student Body President.
“I must admit, the way she runs the school is very effective,” he admitted, “But her methods as they relate to the people are very lackluster. For instance, she has gotten rid of Pizza Day!”
“No!” I said, laughing. “The tyrant!”
“All in favor of healthier food, which is entirely unfair,” Mars added, spinning around on his wheeled chair.
“You’re living under a dictator, certainly.”
“She did support the Wheeler’s Reduce Plastic Art Festival,” Mars pointed out, fiddling with his art piece. “You gotta give her credit for that. And hey, if this helicopter wins, I get fifty bucks.”
Slightly disgruntled, Dove stood up. “Do you have water nearby?” he asked Mars.
“There’s some in the fridge inside. Make a left as soon as you enter.”
“Thank you.” He exited through the garage door.
With Dove out of earshot, I set down the guitar and took the chance. “Hey, Mars,” I said carefully. “I need to ask you something.”
“The other night, I was at a party…” I told him about Franklin’s threat.
When he heard, Mars gave me a hug. “Oh, Ally, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine now. But…” I took a deep breath. “How would he know? Have you told anyone about what happened at Wheeler?”
“No,” Mars said immediately. “Only the, you know, teachers. When it happened.”
“Oh,” I said quietly. “Thanks.”
Dove came back out, holding up Thorigami in one hand and a glass of water in the other. “I must declare, this water is nourishing and refreshing!”
“Nothing less for my noble king,” saluted Mars and his puppet, Eitri. Setting down the origami puppet, he asked, “So, is anyone else coming tonight?”
“Just us,” I said.
“Hmm. Kurt and Adrian haven’t showed up for a couple weeks now.”
“They are busy,” Dove noted. “Kurt’s at a family birthday tonight. I have only seen him in passing a few times recently. To be fair, I am comparing that to before, when he followed me around all of the time.”
Mars clapped him on the back. “Good to see he’s maturing.” He excused himself to go inside.
I walked back to my guitar and picked it up again. I started strumming. A lot of people think strumming doesn’t work on an electric guitar. It totally can.
Dove eyed it excitedly. “Okay, so, are we going to discuss the fact that this is the first time I’ve seen you play the guitar?”
I shrugged, but I was kinda proud inside. “I’ve been playing it for about five years.”
“It has known you longer than I have. Here I was thinking I was your best friend,” Dove joked.
“Truly a shame,” I nodded, punctuating the thought with a solemn minor chord.
“Hey… are you okay, Ally?” Dove asked suddenly. He looked at me with concern. “That whole thing with Franklin looked rough.”
I let out a breath. “I’ve been better.”
“I am sorry to hear that. Do you want to talk about it?”
“It’s okay,” I said, trying to put on a brave smile. “I think I just need to relax and have some fun.”
“Some fun. I see,” Dove said seriously. “Well, you have come to the right person. If you enjoy listening to electric guitar in addition to playing it, there is this band, AC/DC—” He held up his phone, showing a playlist titled AC/DC Essentials. “Shall we, Weber?”
“I like the way you think.” I took off the guitar, made my way over to Mars’s speaker, and turned it on. “I think the switch for Mars’s light system is… there.” The room was ready. Mars’s light system, which he had put up in my first days of wielding the Unshreddible Hulk, flickered to life. I nodded to Dove.
Dove started the song, and the lead guitarist broke out into a riff. We both tentatively nodded to the beat, then broke into our best moves as the song got into it.
Dove danced over, bobbing his head like a chicken. I laughed. We joined hands and swung, twirled, and circled. It wasn’t the most professionally choreographed dance, but all I can remember is laughing the entire time.
The door opened, and Mars came back in. “What in the—”
“C’mon, Mars!” I yelled, waving him towards the dancefloor. Mars hesitated for a moment, then immediately broke into a groove.
The three of us danced the night away.
By Jessica Smith-Holt
Part of the ‘perks’, I guess, of being an OrigAvenger is the fact that you periodically have to drop everything to go help out some random kid. I hope you can hear the sarcasm dripping from my text.
Ugh, every once and awhile, I would really like to just…not be a part of everything at these schools. Sometimes, I’d just like to exist as a teenager going through high school. No origami, no OrigAvengers, no more…oh, sorry about that little tangent. It’s just been on my mind.
Coming back to reality, the reason I’m griping so much is because I did have to drop everything to help a kid today. While I was at my locker reapplying some makeup, a freshman ran up to me, out of breath, trying to find some help.
“You’re an OrigAvenger, right?” the kid asked.
“Most days, yes,” I said, finishing with my lipstick. I snapped my hand mirror shut and focused on the out-of-breath girl standing next to me. “What’s up?”
“My brother got into a fight. Can you come help him?” she asked, desperately.
Honestly, I didn’t see the need for being so worried. People get into fights every single day at Kirby. They spend more time brawling then actually studying. But, I couldn’t just ignore the kid. “Of course. Lead the way.”
The girl led me down the hall, past a few classrooms, to another hallway where two kids were duking it out in front of the lockers. One guy was way bigger than the other. I had a feeling the smaller guy was this girl’s brother, and from the looks of it he was getting his butt whipped.
Lo and behold, Andy and Ally had already shown up. Ally was trying to talk them down while Andy placed himself in between the combatants. To make myself useful, I put my hand on the big guy’s shoulder, trying to calm him down. As soon as Big Dude noticed me, he let go some of the tension. What can I say? I have a way with boys.
“So, can anybody tell me what’s going on?” Andy asked, in his patented Commander Voice.
“Before anybody else gets punched, please,” Ally added, calmly.
“This little idiot shoved me from behind,” Big Dude growled. My hand was still on his shoulder, but I could feel him getting antsy.
“You wouldn’t leave my sister alone!” Little Guy shouted, indignantly. “She asked you to stop and you wouldn’t listen.”
“What?” Ally said. I noticed that she’d gotten a bit paler.
“You don’t need to stick your butt where it doesn’t belong,” Big Dude said. His fists clenched.
“If you don’t leave my sister alone, I’ll stick it wherever I want!” Little Dude replied.
Andy raised his hands. “Easy, easy. You,” Andy said, pointing at Big Dude, “Need to learn some respect. You got what was coming to you. Now, get out of here.”
Big Dude looked like he wanted to punch Andy, but then he thought better of it. I let go of his shoulder, and he walked away, grumbling.
Andy turned to Little Guy. “You did the right thing. Or, at least, as right as you could. You should look for a teacher, or at least one of us, before you start swinging, okay?”
Little Guy nodded. “Yes, Mr. Captain America Puppet Guy. But, I was just trying to protect her. And myself. You know?”
I took a turn to nod and smile. “We know. You’re free to go.”
Little Guy and his sister left, beaming, leaving me, Ally and Andy behind.
“So, guys, I gotta-” I started, before Andy interrupted me.
“Ally, are you okay?” he said. At these words, I looked at Ally. She didn’t look great. She looked pale (-r than usual) and she was staring off into the distance.
“Ally?” Andy asked again.
Ally snapped back to reality. “Oh, yeah. Yeah.”
“Are you sure about that?” I said, skeptically. “You left planet Earth for a bit, there.”
“I’m fine, really,” Ally repeated. “Just, that kid reminded me of…nevermind.” Ally turned down the hallway, walking faster than normal. “Later, guys.”
I shrugged. “I think she’s fine.”
I looked at Andy, who had his eyebrow raised. “I don’t know. That seemed different.”
“Whatever.” I turned and waved. “Bye, Andy.”
Okay, so, maybe it was kind of rewarding to see those two kids get some vindication. They still totally messed with my make-up routine, though.
The Art Show
I went with Ally to the evening Reduce Plastic Art Show at Wheeler to support Mars. His helicopter looked very nice, but I avoided getting too close. I had some unfavorable experiences with the glue that Mars used.
The show was in the gymnasium. Booths lined the floor as the artists stood by their creations. I must admit that I did not consider myself to be artistic, but I wanted to be there to support Mars.
Well, that, and I co-sponsored the event with Seyla Solstice and Callie Westridge. It had been one of the few occasions I had gotten along with those two. Callie and I had hardly spoken since she had helped Seyla get elected. Seyla and I, on the other hand, spoke all of the time. We often, ah, had disagreements in the name of justice. Chris Burwell, our last Student Body Government member, had taken the night off.
I walked with Ally through the aisles of booths. When we arrived, she had seemed to be a bit shaken up again. When I asked her about it, she explained that she’d had to talk down an annoying person at Kirby in the morning. I did not press further. Soon, however, she was back to normal; we were talking with fancy accents, as if we were at a very expensive gallery.
“Ah, the finest art of the eight realms of Wheeler,” I said.
“Behold,” Ally said, pointing. “A bird made of plastic bottles.”
“Exquisite eye, Weber.”
“I do declare that the techniques used in this—oof!” Someone walking past us bumped into Ally. I caught her as she stumbled. “Hvolpur nef!” Ally yelled after them.
“Nice one,” I said appreciatively.
“Thank you. I’m tired of people bumping into me. I think Andy started a trend during my recruitment.”
“I heard that he slipped a note into your sandwich,” I remembered. “Is that true?”
“Unfortunately,” Ally laughed. We rounded the corner of the art aisle.
“I must say, that is very interesting,” I said. “During my recruitment, I was simply directed to become Thorigami by…” I trailed off and halted in my footsteps.
“Dove?” Ally asked, stopping as well. “Are you okay?”
I continued to stare ahead. “In the name of Asgard…”
“Hi, Dove!” Shelby greeted, waving. She was walking arm-in-arm with Seyla, who looked less than happy about the arrangement.
“You’ve met my sister, right?” she asked, letting go of Seyla, who quietly stared daggers at her. The current Student Body President did not seem to enjoy being with the former Student Body President.
“We’ve definitely met, sis,” Seyla said, shortly. She greeted both of us with a nod, before striding off into the crowd.
“Student Body Government,” I supplied. It felt hard to breath. My emotions were jumbled, like they had been smelted by the dwarves of Nidavellir into a compound of chaos.
“Oh, right,” Shelby nodded. “It feels like it’s been forever; I want to say hey to Callie. And I’m sorry, who are you?” she asked Ally.
“Hi. I’m Ally,” she said, shaking Shelby’s hand. “I’m on the OrigAvengers with Dove. We work together.”
“On missions,” I wheezed.
“That’s great! I was Foldin.” Upon noticing Ally’s confused look, she explained further. “You know, Odin? King of Asgard? Father of Thor? Yeah…the pun didn’t really work.” She turned back to me. “Well, hey, Dove, I have to find Seyla. Would you want to get lunch tomorrow at the Wendy’s? Maybe at four? I’d love to catch up with you.”
“That would be good,” I nodded, perhaps too many times.
Shelby giggled. “Okay. See you then!” She merged back into the art show.
I leaned against the nearest easel and took a deep breath.
I felt a hand on my shoulder. “How’re you holding up?” Ally asked kindly.
“I am not sure,” I said, my stomach whirling with emotions. “I think I need a moment.”
“Okay.” She seemed somewhat subdued.
I looked up. “Hey… um, are you okay?”
“What?” she said distractedly. “Oh, fine. It’s nothing.”
“I’ll catch up with you later, alright? I’m going to check on Mars.”
I nodded, leaning back on the easel.
“Bro.” I jumped at the sound. It was the artist at the booth. “Could ya stop leaning on my painting? Trying to win a competition here.”
It had all happened so quickly, and before I could believe it, it was four.
I followed the all-too-familiar route to Wendy’s. I parked in the all-too-familiar parking lot. I opened the all-too-familiar door. Shelby and I had been at this location many times. A year ago, things had been so different.
Shelby was already there.
“Hey, Dove!” she greeted, waving me over. She had already ordered each of us a frostie.
“Hi, Shelby!” I greeted. Once again, I found it difficult to breath. I could not help being a tad frustrated that she had that effect upon me.
“I’m so glad we got to do this! It’s been forever since we’ve been at Wendy’s. Seyla told me you had lunch with her here,” Shelby noted as I sat down.
I shuddered, remembering the event. Andy and I had discovered that Seyla was both Hela and part of T.H.A.N.O.S. at that lunch. “Yes. Ah, about that. Shelby… Seyla is…”
“What about her?” Shelby asked, taking a bite of her frostie.
I hesitated. Coming into this lunch, I had wanted to talk to Shelby about Seyla. I wanted to find out why she was part of T.H.A.N.O.S. Why she wanted one of the schools to close. Why she had made my life in the Student Body Government much more difficult.
But now… I had not seen Shelby in forever. She was a different person. I did not want to talk to her about it. Besides, she did not appear to have knowledge about the involvement her sister had with T.H.A.N.O.S. For all of the stress that Seyla had given me, I just wanted to sit down with Shelby and have lunch. Simply a regular lunch.
“Seyla is… the new Student Body President!” I finished awkwardly. “It is interesting that you both have had the job.”
“I know, right?” Shelby nodded. “I’m proud of her.”
“So…” Shelby sat back and looked toward me excitedly. “I mean, how have you been?”
I thought of everything that had happened: Seyla, Artron, the new OrigAvengers. And, of course, all of the time I had spent getting over the very girl that I was having lunch with.
“Not too important,” I said, smiling despite what I felt. “Tell me about you. How is college in Nevada?”
“Okay, buckle up. I’ve got loads of stories,” Shelby laughed. “I was completely late for my first class. I left my laptop in my dorm and dropped my textbooks as I ran to get to the room on time. They told me it was supposed to be in…” With that, I was swept into Shelby’s new world. I must say that the stories were thoroughly entertaining, and I spent a good deal of the time smiling or laughing.
We finished our frosties, tossed them in the bins, and, with regality worthy of kings of Asgard, strode out.
Once we were in the parking lot next to our respective cars, we both lingered and talked for a bit longer. Shelby was still telling me stories.
“—ended up letting me keep my fridge, after all,” she finished. Suddenly, she halted in her speech. “I’m so sorry, Dove. I’ve been talking, like, this whole time. How’ve you been? Really.”
I hesitated again. “Do you promise to take everything seriously?”
Shelby smiled, kindly. “Dove, come on. You can tell me anything.”
I still did not feel completely comfortable sharing everything that had happened, but I decided to ease into the subject. “I…did not expect so much trouble related to paper puppets when I came to America.”
Shelby laughed. “Nor I, Thorigami.”
I shrugged. “It has just been…difficult, I would say, to navigate all of my life here while having to be a ‘hero’. There are people that look up to me, people that are very important to me…and I am not sure if I really deserve all of that respect.”
“Dove, you really don’t have to worry about that,” Shelby said. “You just kind of…inspire people to like you. It’s not a bad thing, either. I mean, it’s made me like you, at first.”
All of a sudden, I felt my eyes misting. “I missed you a lot. The OrigAvengers… they are all at Kirby. Now, we have more members that go to Wheeler, and they are nice and fun to hang around. But, nobody has really replaced you, Shel. Some of my closest friends, the people I really care about, I barely see during the day. And with all of these people looking to me to lead them… I cannot help but miss when I had a comrade to lead with.” It was slight, but I noticed Shelby take just the smallest step back. That single gesture told me all I needed to know. “I am sorry if this put a damper on lunch,” I said. “I am really proud of you, Shel. You have come so far.”
She nodded. “A lot has changed. I mean, some things don’t, but…”
We were standing rather close to each other. I coughed and we simultaneously pivoted towards our respective cars. “Yes, a lot has changed,” I said. I smiled. “Thank you for everything.”
“Thank you, Dove. You made my last year of high school pretty special,” she said, grinning. “It was great hanging out with you today. Tell Seyla hi for me!”
“Of course,” I said, chuckling, as I imagined how that conversation would take place. I faced Shelby before finally walking towards my car. Shelby opened her car door, and stopped. “Oh, Dove, wait a second!”
She quickly walked back up to me, holding something small in her hands. “I wanted to give you this, before I leave. It’ll do you better than it’s done me lately.”
In her hands was her the original origami Odin, or ‘Foldin’. The very puppet that had introduced me to the entire concept of origami superheroes.
Before I could make any protest, Shelby pushed the puppet into my hands and walked back to her car. “Just take it. Surprisingly, most people in college don’t appreciate origami like we do.”
I laughed. “I will take care of it.”
She winked. “I know you will!”
A Hushed Threat
It happened just after fourth period. I was with Jesse in the hallway, my hydro flask in hand, standing near Mr. Rainey’s Social Studies class. Students were bustling around us, trying to get to their next destination. It’s strange. During my time as a F.O.L.D. agent, I saw a lot of students, all of them always in a darn rush. Like, stop and breath, people.
Jesse was rambling on about some story about his last class. I was only half paying attention. I know, I know, that’s rude. But I listen to teachers for half the ding-dong day. I don’t need to listen to Jesse for the other half.
Anyway, it was around then that I saw Ally walking down the hallway. Don’t tell her this, but I have a great deal of respect for her. She’s a clever girl and she’s proved me wrong when I thought she wasn’t.
As she continued to walk closer to where Jesse and I were standing, a figure blocked her from passing. I couldn’t see his face, but he stood tall in his Los Angeles Lakers tank top jersey. Ally looked distressed.
I couldn’t hear what they were saying. “Yo, Jesse, shut up,” I interrupted.
“Shut up. This is important,” I hissed. Jesse rolled his eyes. I leaned in and tried to listen to the conversation over the roar of the crowd.
“—don’t believe that you and MacLeash were ever together. C’mon, babe, we’d be great.” The dude flexed his arms.
“Leave me alone, Franklin. I’m not interested,” Ally said, trying to stride past him. He blocked her again.
Franklin. The idiot. I wanted to go over to him and smack him upside the head.
“Besides, I know you, beautiful. I know where you’ve been. You know, what you’ve done.”
Ally looked up at him with resilience. “I think if you did know me, you would know that I don’t go out with disrespectful jerks. I’m going to give you five seconds to back away.”
“No need.” Franklin raised his hands in mock surrender. “But I hope you’ll reconsider. How would you feel if your friends knew why you were really kicked from Wheeler, hmm?”
Ally didn’t respond and pushed past him down the hallway.
“What was that all about?” Jesse wondered.
“I’m not sure,” I said, pulling out my phone. “But Franklin is going to pay.”
I have never wanted to deck someone as much as I wanted to deck Franklin…but that wasn’t true, was it? That’s the whole problem here.
As soon as I left Franklin, I bolted down the closest hallway and headed for an empty classroom. Kirby had a few of those at the moment; several elective teachers had been laid off in the past few months. I headed into an empty Home Ec room, turned on the lights and sat down at one of the tables.
I laid my head down on the table. Everything had been going so well lately. Now, so many things had been…changed. Someone was coming after me because they were the jerk. My past was starting to catch up to me. Dove was talking with an old girlfriend, and for some reason I felt really, really sick about that. I trusted Dove, really, but then he’d gone and had that lunch… I don’t know. Maybe we weren’t as close as I’d thought. Well, it would hardly matter if he found out why I was kicked out of Wheeler.
“Shut up,” I groaned. “Dove’s my best friend. Nothing’s going to change that.”
But what if he found out?
“That doesn’t matter. He’ll still be there for me.”
But, if I couldn’t even accept myself, how could Dove? Or anyone else, for that matter?
Something needed to change.
I needed to do this for my friends. For Dove.
I was tired of people guessing about my past. Tired of them wondering why I got kicked out of Wheeler. Theorizing about how I ended up at Kirby, a reject of the enemy. Obviously, that had all lessened since my ‘hero work’ began, but it never went away completely. Franklin was proof of that. I had to fix this, and I had to fix this by myself.
The classroom felt eerie, in a way. Since it used to be a Home Ec room, there were countertops along the wall, each with places for different kitchen appliances. Drawers were open, empty of whatever they’d held before. It felt empty. That made me feel better, in a way. This was a place where I could empty everything I’d been keeping inside of me.
I placed Unshreddible Hulk on the table next to me, and pulled my phone out of my pocket. I was ready to text Dove about what I wanted to do…and then I stopped. Dove had his own life; the last few days were proof of that. It wouldn’t hurt to keep this from him. I knew I should do this by myself.
I’d kept this part of me a secret for so long, and someone was finally using it against me. I wasn’t going to put up with that.
I set the phone up on the table, turned on the camera, and hit record.
Then, I told the whole story of how I was expelled.
Strong Arming the Jerk
By Andrew Gardner
“So, what did I miss?” Dove said, running down the hall right towards us. He seemed pretty out of breath, but ready to help. Jessica’s message had been acknowledged by just a few of us; myself, Cassidy and the new recruit, Guillermo, who was always eager to drop everything and help out.
“How did you get here so quickly?” Guillermo asked. “Don’t you go to Wheeler?”
“I skipped my last class,” Dove explained. “I am here now.”
“I’ve gotta say, I’m impressed,” Jessica said, raising an eyebrow and putting her hands on her hips. “I didn’t know you could run that fast.”
“Jessica,” I said, glaring at her.
Dove looked amused for a moment, then turned towards me. “So, where is this sonur a byssu?”
“He’s currently showing off for some pretty girls,” Guillermo reported, looking around the corner. “I don’t know why they’re so impressed. Swimming has made my body far greater than his.”
“Franklin always did like to show-off,” Cassidy replied. “I’m glad I broke up with him when I did. He just seems to be getting even more full of himself.” She straightened up, pretended to crack her knuckles, and smiled. “So, who wants to go beat him up with me?”
Jessica and Dove raised their hands.
“We’re not beating anyone up,” I said, rolling my eyes. “Let’s just go talk to him.”
Jessica groaned, (she always loves adding just a little insubordination to our conversations) but nodded. We rounded the corner.
“Franklin Young?” I asked, taking the lead. “We’d like to ask you a few questions.”
“Not again,” Franklin complained. “Last time we did this, I… oh, hey, Cassidy.” Franklin immediately struck a pose, nonchalantly flexing his biceps.
“You’re an idiot,” Cassidy sighed.
For some reason, all of the girls around Franklin gravitated towards me.
“Oh, hey, Andy,” one of them said.
“You’re looking good,” another added.
“Very,” the third finished, winking at me.
“What?” I asked, kind of confused.
“Back off, girls, he’s off the market for now,” Jessica said, shooing them away.
“I’m not,” Guillermo noted.
Jessica ignored him. “Get out of here,” Jessica ordered, and the three girls walked away, grumbling the whole time.
As soon as the girls left, the mood changed. Dove’s face turned into a glare. “Are you messing with Ally again?” He stepped forward, causing Franklin to shrink back again. I forget sometimes just how big Dove could make himself. Franklin looked tiny.
“Dove, look, c’mon, you think I really thought you guys were together?” Franklin said.
“Why is that such a weird idea?” Dove asked.
“I mean, Ally’s, like, way…smaller than you, I guess?”
“What are you threatening her with?” Jessica asked. “Why is it such a big deal to her?”
“Ally got kicked out of Wheeler, right?” Franklin said, visibly starting to sweat. “She’d have to do something really bad to get kicked out of that stupid place.”
“Like what?” I pressed.
Cassidy sighed and stepped in front of Dove, who looked incredibly confused. “Oh my gosh. You don’t know anything, do you?”
“Wha- what?” Franklin said, freezing.
“You’re bluffing. You don’t know anything about Ally’s expulsion.” Cassidy’s eyes narrowed. “Ally didn’t want to go out with you, so you just acted like you knew something. You’re pathetic.”
Franklin stood up, gaining a little confidence. “Pathetic? You’re the one that broke up with me for no reason!”
“The fact that you don’t know why is a good enough reason,” Cassidy said. “I haven’t had a single regret about it either, by the way.”
With that, Cassidy turned and left us all. Franklin deflated again and leaned against the wall.
“So, she’s right?” Guillermo asked. “You’re just full of crap?”
“Leave me alone,” Franklin muttered. “I don’t have anything for you. Just go.”
I put a hand on his shoulder. “There’s better ways to deal with this. If you need help, you can talk to somebody.”
Franklin shrugged my hand off. “I won’t mess with anybody again. Just leave me alone.” He moped down the hallway, having lost all of his confidence in a matter of minutes. Even if he was a jerk, a part of me felt sorry for him.
“What is the issue with me being tall?” Dove wondered. “Not that it, ah, matters.”
“I don’t know, maybe the fact that you’re the size of the Hulk and Ally’s like the size of tiny Steve Rogers?” Guillermo offered.
“Guillermo,” Jessica interjected. “Not the time.”
As the group dispersed, Dove stayed put. I could tell he was thinking hard about something.
“What’s on your mind?” I asked. “Ally’s safe, but I can tell something isn’t sitting with you.”
Dove sighed. “I just…I know Ally still is not going to feel good, even now. Whatever happened to her still hangs like a shadow. I…want to make her completely better. Whatever happened, it should not control her like it does.”
I nodded. “I don’t know if I can help you with that,” I said. “But I might know someone who can.”
“Check with Desiree Dawson at the Kirby King. She knows everything about anyone at this school. She might be able to help you out.”
“That helps immensely, Andy!” Dove immediately turned and headed towards the office. “I will do so now!”
If I was to learn what exactly happened to my best friend, Desiree Dawson seemed as if she would be the best option. It felt a bit strange, going to Editor-in-Chief. From everything Andy had told me about her, she was a difficult person to deal with. I did not know how it would go.
Desiree’s office was directly next to the teacher’s lounge. It was apparently their after-school writing session. People were constantly milling in and out of the office, and I had to avoid many of them as I went inside.
Inside was just as busy as the outside. Different desks were set up near the front, with several reporters writing and typing. I recognized one of them, though I was not in the mood to talk. Unfortunately, he was.
“Dove! Hey!” the reporter stood up. “Dove, it’s me, Ezra! What are you doing here?”
“Hello, Ezra,” I greeted. “I am here to talk to Desiree Dawson.”
“Oh, really?” Ezra crossed his arms. “I dunno, man. Desiree’s shut herself up recently. Something about a big break.” Ezra leaned in towards me and lowered his voice. “I hear she thinks there’s a secret society or something in the show. More than L.I.F.E., more than Chameleon or guys like that. A real secret society!”
I chuckled, nervously. “Yes, that is crazy.” I did not believe Ezra should know about T.H.A.N.O.S., so I moved on. “Anyway, I believe I will be able to go in.”
Ezra shrugged. “Your funeral. Well, see you around, man!”
“Yes, see you!”
Ezra went back to his desk, and I moved farther down the office. There was a door at the end with Desiree’s name on the front. I knocked.
Desiree’s voice came through immediately, sounding very irritated. “I do not know how many times I must tell you all to leave me alone, but please. Leave. Me. Alone!”
“I am sorry to bother you, but this is Dove MacLeash,” I replied. “May I ask you a few questions?”
“Dover MacLeash? That’s coincidental.” I heard someone stand up and I saw a shadow walk to the door. The door opened and Desiree greeted me. “Come in, then, if it’s important.”
Desiree Dawson seemed more…frantic than I had expected. Several strands of black hair had fallen into her face, and she held many random pieces of paper in her hands. “Excuse the mess. I’m on a roll.”
Even though she felt the need to apologize, there was not a mess at all. The only ‘mess’, I assumed, was a wobbling stack of papers on her desk which seemed ready to topple at any moment. Desiree sat behind her desk and gestured for me to sit down too. I sat in a chair opposite her and waited politely.
“As you can probably tell, I’m working,” Desiree said, putting her hands together. “So make this quick.”
“Ezra Cronin told me some of it.” I lowered my voice, just to make sure no one could hear. “Are you investigating T.H.A.N.O.S.?”
Desiree nodded. “Of course I am. I have been for a long time. But everything I’ve gathered recently makes it seem like they’re…plotting, I guess. It’s strange. Things have gone quiet with the Student Body President at Kirby. I’m missing something. Something is coming, I’m afraid, but I just can’t pinpoint what.”
“Ask Seyla Solstice about it at some point,” I said. “I would love to see her squirm.”
“Seyla’s S?” Desiree asked, astounded. “I knew it!” She hastily scrawled a few things in a notebook and put it away. “That one piece of info just made your stop-in worth it.”
“Um… you are welcome.”
Desiree nodded. “I think I know what brings you here, Dover.”
“Dove,” I requested. “And what do you mean?”
“Well, Dover, I am the most connected person in this school. Do not underestimate me. Now spill.”
She scared me. But, I did as she asked. “I want to learn about what happened to Ally Weber. Why did she get kicked out of Wheeler?”
Desiree turned to her desk, pulled out a drawer, and shuffled through it. “It’s funny you should ask that. Because, I just received a tape from Allison Weber…” She pulled out an old, black tape from the drawer. “…about exactly that.”
Desiree took the tape and put it into a dusty VRC player wired to her computer. The tape was titled ‘My Expulsion.’ It popped up on her computer. There was an attached video and a small text blurb saying, ‘Please share this with the school. I’m done caring what people think about me.’
“Ally…” I murmured, dumbfounded. Why would she do this?
Desiree clicked on the video. “I doubt it would mean the same coming from me,” she said.
“No, you do not need to play-”
Before I finished, a video of Ally started speaking. She looked nervous, like she always did when she talked to people she did not like. It hurt to see her like that.
“There are a lot of rumors floating around about why I got kicked out of Wheeler,” the video of Ally began. “I don’t want those rumors following me anymore. So, let me explain.
“You guys remember Jude, right? Well, when he tried to take over Wheeler way back when, I didn’t like him at all. But, I didn’t really want to do anything about it. If it didn’t affect me, I wasn’t going to do anything back. It worked for awhile, until it didn’t.
“The day he and Dove had their big fight, I tried to leave the auditorium with my friend Mars. There were a bunch of Jude’s henchmen blocking the door. I asked them if I could leave, but they didn’t let me.
“They started flirting with me. When Mars tried to stand up for me, they just shoved him into the wall. I got…mad.”
There was a pause. Already, I could see what was going to happen.
“I let the guys have it; punched, shoved, kicked in unfair places; I didn’t want them to flirt with me or mess with Mars. They needed to know that they didn’t control everyone. But I may have gone a bit too far; one of them was bleeding by the end. It was just a nosebleed, but that was enough for a teacher to notice.
“This hadn’t been my first offence, but it was definitely my worst. According to Wheeler’s staff, I was a delinquent and I didn’t belong there. I was toast.
“So there, that’s my story. That’s the story of how I got thrown out of Wheeler Academy. Terrible, isn’t it? Well, maybe this will get you guys to stop talking behind my back.
“Um, thanks for watching.”
The video shut off. I was silent for a moment.
“Honestly, I expected more,” Desiree said, crossing her arms. “It’s almost touching.”
“That was not her fault,” I murmured, as a smile suddenly crept across my face. “That was not her fault!”
“Easy, Dover,” Desiree said, noticing the growing grin.
“No, you don’t understand! I was worried that this might be a felony, or some other terrible crime she had committed. But no! She was being noble!” I stood up, barely able to contain this exciting revelation. “She did nothing wrong!”
“She made a guy bleed,” Desiree retorted.
“He needed it!” I shot back. I looked at the computer, then back at Desiree. “She has nothing to prove. She does not need to post this!”
Desiree looked at me, skeptically. “She sent this to me for the express purpose of showing it to the public.” She paused. “But I agree. Allison’s story is very low-tier, and she was definitely in the right, so she just needs to get over herself. I’m not going to play it, Dover.”
Relief flooded over me. “Good.”
I was surprised how much pure joy I was feeling. It was strange; not knowing Ally’s past had made a small wedge between us that I had never noticed. However, now I could feel the wedge disappear. I knew my best friend was the same from her expulsion to now; she was a hero and would not tolerate being bullied. I respected her.
I left the office far happier than when I had walked in, and I was sure I had made the right decision. Ally did not have a single thing to prove. She had not done anything wrong!
“Can I see the tape?” I asked.
Desiree looked at me carefully. I could tell she knew what I was doing, but she did not seem to mind. She popped the tape out of the system and handed it to me. “Sure.”
I met Dove in Madison Park that night.
“Hello, Ally,” he greeted. His blonde hair had grown out and was starting to reach eye height. He swept it out of the way.
“Wanna walk?” I asked. He nodded, and we started down the path.
“There are a few benches ahead, if you wish,” Dove said.
“That’d be great. How about this one on the left?”
Dove shifted uncomfortably. “Um, that one has some bad memories. Shelby and I, uh, had our breakup at that bench.”
“Oh. Next bench it is.” I had not talked to Dove about Shelby since the art show. I felt bad for the guy. It wasn’t nice to have your past come back to hit you in the face. Then again, that hadn’t stopped Dove from having lunch with her…
We made our way to the next bench and sat down.
“So, how was it?” I asked.
“How was what?”
“Lunch with Shelby.”
He looked uncomfortable. “Um, good. It was good to catch up.”
“Cool,” I nodded, not sure what else to say.
“She has been at college in Nevada. It was amazing. She—”
“That’s great,” I interrupted. I glanced at shirt pocket; there was a puppet there that looked suspiciously like Odin. Somehow, that irritated me.
Dove sat back. “Ah, yeah. So, ah, why did you ask to meet me here?”
I thought about my words carefully. “Look… I just wanted to say thank you for having my back with… well, with what happened at Wheeler. I just want you to know that I’m not trying to hide anything.”
I took a deep breath. “I’m not going to hide anything any longer. The other day, I recorded a tape explaining everything. I sent it to Desiree Dawson.”
Dove looked up at me. “I know. She told me.”
“What?” I asked, confused. “When were you talking to Desiree Dawson? Was she at Wheeler?”
Dove dropped his gaze and looked at his feet. “Well… no.”
A pit started to form in my stomach. I could tell Dove felt uneasy about something. “Well, then, why were you at Kirby?” I asked pointedly.
Dove was silent.
“Dove?” I prompted. “You can trust me. Hello, it’s me.”
“I trust you more than anyone else I know, Ally.” He exhaled. “She is not going to air it, Ally. She told me to tell you, um, that…” Dove straightened and put a hand on his hips. “‘Allison’s story is very low-tier, and she was definitely in the right, so she just needs to get over herself.’ And, um, some other stuff.”
I was still unsettled. “Dove, she wouldn’t just give you that information out of the blue. Did you… did you ask Desiree about me?”
Dove was silent again for a moment. “Yes.”
My heart sank with disappointment. For the first time with Dove, I felt an alien emotion: betrayal. “You went behind my back to find out why I got kicked out of Wheeler? Dove, that’s private.”
“I know,” Dove said. “I was just trying to help—”
“Help? Don’t you trust me to make my own decisions?”
“Dove, you know how personal this is to me. I thought you understood that it’s private, no matter how pathetic Desiree thinks it is. It’s the reason I can’t even—” I could suddenly feel tears building up. I swiped them away. “It’s the reason I can’t even talk with some friends at Wheeler anymore. It was humiliating to have everyone think that I was some kind of monster.”
Dove looked startled. “Ally, I never meant to—”
“Did you listen to it? The tape?”
I felt a swell of anger, betrayal, and disbelief rise up. I stood up. “You did listen to it!”
“You were going to release it anyway,” Dove snapped, standing up too.
“I’m not mad that you heard it, Dove!” I tried to gather my thoughts. “The reason I’m upset is because you went behind my back.”
“I was protecting you!”
“I can take care of myself, Dove. Do you—”
“I know you can take care of yourself,” Dove interjected, tears forming in his eyes as well. “I admire that about you very much. But that is my point. Nobody needs the tape, Ally! We know who you are, we do not care about what happened at Wheeler.”
“You clearly cared enough to listen to the tape. This is my chance to leave it in the past,” I said, filled with disappointment. “I thought you would understand. I need to do this.”
“You still want to release the tape?” Dove demanded.
“Yes!” I shouted at him. We stared at each other quietly for a moment. I took a deep breath. “Tomorrow, I’m going back to Desiree to get back the tape and I’m sending it to Harrison Osgood Herring to play on the public—”
“You cannot,” Dove said quietly. A tear escaped from his eye and drifted down his cheek.
“Yeah?” I challenged. “Why not?”
“Because after listening to it, I threw the tape in the trash.” With that, he turned on his heel and walked away.
It had been a week since… well, you know, the fight. I had seen Dove only once since then, and we had shouted a few unkind Icelandic phrases at each other. Everybody around just looked concerned and confused.
That had been the day after the fight. I wasn’t sure what had happened since then or where Dove was. Just as well. I didn’t want to talk to him.
I was recounting the details to Andy Gardner over lunch at the cafeteria. I didn’t just tell Andy about the fight, either. I explained to him why I was expelled from Wheeler. It wasn’t easy reliving what happened again, but I knew Andy pretty well. Still, it was bittersweet, because it reminded me that I normally would’ve had this kind of conversation with Dove.
“I just can’t believe he went behind my back, you know? I trusted him.”
“I know,” Andy said solemnly. “But Ally, all Dove was trying to say was that you didn’t need to explain anything. You were the victim at Wheeler.”
“Not according to the teachers or students. Nobody saw me as the victim. A lot of people still don’t.”
“Fair enough,” Andy said. “But why care what they think?”
“They were my friends,” I reminded him. “They were all I had at the time.”
Andy conceded the point. “So, why haven’t you made a new tape to send to Desiree? Or, Harrison even?”
I looked down at my shoes. “Well…”
“Do you think Dove was right?”
I glared at him, instinctively. But, then I relaxed. “What he did was wrong. He went behind my back with her.”
“We’re still talking about Desiree, right?” Andy asked quietly. I stared at him. He sighed. “He did what he thought was best for you. How can you blame him for that?”
“I mean- are you taking his side?” I asked, accusingly.
Andy tilted his head. “You’re just putting an awful lot of importance into what one person did. I realize Dove’s our friend, but you need to cut him some slack. Why do you care what he does? Think for a moment if Clark did this. How would you react?”
“I would be angry, but-”
“You would understand that he meant well, right?”
“So what’s different about Dove?”
I struggled for a moment to find the words. “Because Dove—I care a lot about—I mean, we’re really good friends and—” I stopped and looked Andy in the eye. “We’ve spent so much time together. When that happened at Wheeler… I didn’t feel like I could trust anyone. Not my teachers. Not even my friends.
“I want to trust Dove. The thought of not being able to trust him just makes me feel so empty. That’s why this made me so upset.” I sighed. “I know he made a mistake.”
Andy nodded. “Good.”
I felt my anger melting away. “Well, I need to tell him that I’m sorry, then. Because… I wasn’t just upset about the tape. I… was jealous. Jealous that he had lunch with Shelby.”
Andy just sat there, but he kept staring at me, knowingly.
After a moment, Andy shrugged. “Well, if that’s all you wanted to say, it might be simpler if I go and apologize to Dove for you. I’m seeing him later anyway, and-”
“No!” I blurted out. “Don’t- I mean, I should do it.”
“Really, it wouldn’t bother me at all.”
“I…want to. I…want to make sure that he’s-”
I stopped. “I-”
Andy smiled. “I think we’re finally on the same page.”
“I need to make sure that he’s okay and that we’re okay, because… well, I’ve never felt like this about someone before, but it helps if they know that you care, right? So, I… should probably tell him that. That I care. About him. That I’ve felt like that for a really long time.”
“I won’t tell him, then,” Andy said, beaming.
I stared at him. “How long have you-”
“Let’s just say, for awhile.” Andy stood up. “I’m just happy you know now, too.”
“Andy…” I think I meant to sound stern, but it ended up sounding like a plea. “If you tell him…” I started.
Andy laughed. “Your secret is safe with me. C’mon, I haven’t said anything, and I’ve known for a while.”
“Thank you,” I said, still not completely sure what I’d figured out.