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Jason looked up from the cylindrical stainless steel film tank between his palms with a puzzled and slightly startled expression. “You first?” he asked, his eyebrows arched in surprise. “I thought this was my story!”
“It’s just…” Alex stammered, unsure what she wanted to say either in response now, or when she had interrupted Jason in the first place. As great as all that talk of honestly and revealed secrets had sounded, it was an ideal that just wasn’t possible for Alex anymore—not now, or possibly not ever. She had done too much damage—and not the kind that could be undone with some simple apologies and a promise of improved behavior. No, the decisions she made were of the no-turning-back variety, with some serious consequences for deviation attached. Even if she could, theoretically, trust Jason with her secret, then that fact alone would make him the kind of person she wouldn’t want to burden with the moral dilemma of whether or not to turn her in. “It’s just…” she began, measuring her words, “it’s just that you shouldn’t have to feel like you need to bare your soul just yet in order for me to like you. That’s not fair. If you aren’t ready to talk about it yet, then that’s OK. You can just show me what happens next with the film in that light-tight canister thingy there and we can just enjoy the moment.”
Jason looked Alex square in the eye. “Thanks for sharing,” he said, dryly, a slight smile playing at the corners of his lips. “Now can I get on with my story?”
“OK,” Alex said, feigning contrition as she hopped up on the counter beside Jason.
“Well, after they found the scissors in the back of my car during a random parking lot check, the assistant principal came and got me out of class. It was Bio lab, actually. We were looking at the cellular structure of fungi we’d cultured on bread—honey wheat and potato, to be exact. It’s crazy the details I remember about that day.” Jason sighed heavily, wiping his palms down the front of his jeans. “When Mr. Peters sat me down in his office and told me they’d found the scissors and explained that the situation was ‘problematic’ in light of the school’s zero tolerance policy, I just sat there, waiting for him to explain what the work around would be. You know, something like ‘Jason, we know you’re a straight ‘A’ student who was just doing some community service. Come to a couple Saturday detentions and we’ll call it all good.’”
“Aw, they never say that,” Alex shook her head sympathetically. “Once you’re in the vice principal’s office, it’s all over,” she said with resignation.
“Not for me!” Jason’s voice squeaked in righteous indigence. “The last time I had been in that office, I was picking up a commendation certificate for representing the school at an academic bowl!”
“An academic bowl?” Alex repeated, her eyes raised and brow furrowed. “Really?”
“Really,” Jason nodded. “Alex, stuff like this doesn’t happen in our family. I had no frame of reference. Which,” he said with a sigh, “is probably why everything else happened like it did.”
Alex sat still, waiting for Jason to continue. So far, nothing Alex had heard seemed very earth-shattering, but it was clear that whatever happened had rocked Jason’s world.
“I was told to clean out my locker. Class was about to end, and I wanted to get out before the bell rang and I’d have to face everyone.” Jason paused, gathering his thoughts before continuing. He looked again at Alex, more seriously this time. “Somehow telling this story was easier back at camp. Back when I didn’t have to look straight at someone I like so much and explain what a crumb I really am.”
The room grew silent and Alex simultaneously felt weak at the thought that Jason actually liked her, and an unbearable heaviness at the knowledge that she wasn’t worthy of his interest. She wanted to say dozens of things at that moment, but what she heard herself say was, “Honestly, Jason, I don’t shock easily, and I’m not even sure what it means to be a ‘crumb,’ so try me. What happened next?”
“I opened my locker, and I don’t know.” Jason shook his head. “Something inside just snapped. The injustice of it all just hit me, and I was suddenly furious. I grabbed the first thing that I saw, which happened to be my 3-inch thick Calculus book, and I just hurled it down the hall.”
Jason stopped speaking, and, for a moment Alex thought that maybe heaving a math text down the hall was just another big, academic no-no, which she’d have a hard time taking seriously. She was grateful later that she suppressed the urge to make wisecracks and simply sat next to Jason in silence until he found his voice again.
“I didn’t know she was there, Lexie. I didn’t know anyone was in the hall at all. But when I heard the thud, I turned around and saw Mrs. Beale—sweet, smart, elderly Mrs. Beale, lying in front of the lockers across the hall, and all I remember after that is noise and confusion, and being led away in handcuffs.”