119 Getting So Close

I could barely wait for Chad and my father to call that evening, and when my phone finally rang after dinner, I gushed, “Wait until you hear this!” and told them what we had seen.

“That’s incredible!” Dad said when I was done. “So the school already knew about the Strangers?”

“Sure looks that way,” I agreed. “I don’t understand why Dean Peterson was pumping me for information on them.”

“Maybe the school does, but he wasn’t in on the secret?” Chad suggested.

“Could be,” I said. “Anyway, They’ve probably cleared the lab by now, so I don’t think your court order’s going to do us any good, Dad.”

Dad chuckled. “Oh, right – well, the judge practically laughed in my face when I told him about it, so it’s probably just as well. But it does mean that you can’t get that address, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah,” I admitted, “but we might not need it if we can get the information from Luke. Vicky, Eric and I have been talking about whether we should challenge him alone, or with just his roommate present, or in front of the Strangers. I’m worried that Ian must have been in on the deception all along, but Vicky says no.”

“Could be a bit messy if you have a crowd, I’d think,” Chad pointed out. “What if some of them agree with you and some don’t? Keeping the audience small might be safer. And consider: you’re the outsider, here. They’re likely to be loyal to Luke and Ian.”

“How are you planning the confrontation itself?” Dad asked. Well, that was something I’d hoped to get ideas about from this call, so we talked it out for a while before coming up with a plan. It seemed reasonable to trust Vicky’s sense of Ian and Luke, since she knew them so much better than I. We agreed that bringing Eric could be problematic, fearing that introducing a newcomer into the mix might make the guys more defensive. That didn’t that he couldn’t be useful, of course.

I called Vicky immediately afterwards and she liked the idea, so she called Eric, who called Allie, swearing her to secrecy and getting her best guess of when Luke and Ian were likely both to be in their room with no company. Then we were ready.

It was hard to tell whether it was Vicky or I who was more nervous as we approached Luke and Ian’s dorm room Tuesday evening; my heart was pounding, and she was chattering as though afraid of the silence.

“You’re sure you don’t want to bring anybody else?” she asked, as though we hadn’t hashed over the point a dozen times. “Maybe we need a guy there for backup? You know, in case we start a fight between Ian and Luke?” I just shook my head. She wasn’t really looking for an answer I hadn’t given her multiple times before.

“And what about Jeremy? Why did you say he was upset when you said you couldn’t study with him tonight?”

She’d found a new question, so I sighed and answered, “He wasn’t exactly upset,” I told her. “He was disappointed, since study nights have been almost like dates for us, and I have rehearsal on both Monday and Wednesday this week. We don’t usually go that long without seeing each other.”

“So how are you planning on making it up to him?” she asked, and I stopped walking and stared, seeming to hear a conspiratorial tone in her voice.

“You know if this works out he’ll probably never see me again, right? He’ll never know we’d met, and he’ll probably have fallen for some other girl. So why are you asking me about ‘making it up to him’?”

“And you’re OK with that? I just want to be sure, Marsh.” She looked away and started wringing her hands. “I just want to be sure that if this works and… and we’re together again that you don’t find yourself wishing you were still with him instead of me.”

“Vicky, what’s wrong?” I asked, taking her shoulders and forcing her to turn to face me. “Are you having so much trouble believing that I really want to be with you? How many times do I have to reassure you? I’m crazy about you, Vixy. OK, yes, I like Jeremy a lot. Maybe, maybe I’m even in love with him a little, but it can’t work out. And I’m sure he knows that… he hasn’t dated a lot of girls and he’s way too sensible to get serious about me this quickly, and…” I shook my head to clear it. I didn’t want to think about what I was planning on giving up. “Anyway, it’s not going to matter because I intend to be your boyfriend again. OK?”

She nodded, and suddenly she had her arms around me, awkwardly trying to slip her arms under mine as she always had when I was the tall one.  A couple of guys passed us, but barely looked at us. I guess a couple of girls hugging is no big deal.  Still, I waited for them to pass before stepping back. “OK, let’s do this.”

Ian answered our knock almost immediately, gasped and dragged us inside. “Are you two insane?” he hissed. “You know you’re not supposed to be here! What if you were followed?”

“It’s no good, Ian,” Vicky said, as he closed the door. “The game’s up. The administration knows about the Strangers, don’t they?”

“What did you guys do?” he asked hoarsely. I don’t believe he could have faked the horror that showed in his eyes. At that moment I became convinced that Vicky was right, and he hadn’t known about Luke’s betrayal. Well, that was about to change.

“We didn’t do anything, Ian,” I said, walking up to him and prodding him in the abdomen. “It’s your roommate. He’s been playing both sides from the beginning. Call him.”

“What are you talking about?” he retorted. “Luke’s been straight with all of us. He’s been protecting the group – and now you’ve brought the authorities down on us and you’re blaming him? No way.”

“Call him,” I repeated.

He looked at me arrogantly and then shouted. “Hey Dude, get out here.”

One of the bedroom doors opened and Luke poked his head out and saw us. “What are you guys doing here?” he asked, sounding shocked. “You know you’re not supposed to be here!”

“And you’re not supposed to be telling the deans where to find us!” countered Vicky.

I’ll give him credit – he blinked, but was otherwise apparently unfazed. He laughed at us. “Girls, I can promise you I have never spoken with any deans about the Strangers – or anybody else from the school administration. Did you not notice how hard Ian and I have worked to keep them from finding you guys? I don’t know where you’re getting your information, but it’s just wrong.”

He was so sure of himself, I might have doubted what I’d heard – only, I’d made it a point to transfer a portion of the video to a sound file, which I had on my mp3 player. “Does this voice sound familiar?” I asked.

I pressed ‘play,’ and the professor’s voice came out of the speakers. “Come here, Brian I think we’ve got a problem. Look. Somebody’s been trying to get into the lab.”

I’d been watching Luke to see his reaction, but he barely twitched at the voice. I thought I saw his eyes flicker, but that was all. Ian, on the other hand, gasped. “Is that… is that Professor Davis? You actually met him?”

“We didn’t meet him,” I said, still watching Luke, “but we did get him on tape.”

“That’s… amazing,” he said. “So you actually found the lab? And tried to pick the lock?”

“Who said anything about picking the lock, Luke?” I asked quickly. “You seem to know all about it!”

“What? No – but if Professor Davis said somebody was trying to get in, I just assumed…”

Did somebody try to pick the lock?” Ian asked.

“Yup,” Vicky answered him, “and they left scratches on the lock and the door.” Ian was now looking carefully at his roommate.

I pushed ‘play’ again, letting everyone hear Brian’s comment, “But the only students who might even have wanted to should be group 2, and we know from Strangers in the Mirror meetings that they’ve given up.”

“What?” Ian exclaimed. “They do know about us?”

“Dude,” Luke tried to reassure him, “Marsha spilled the beans, remember? She told Dean Peterson. Remember how we set this big thing up so she wouldn’t come here anymore? This isn’t news.”

“I wasn’t here, then,” I pointed out. “And I never told them that people had given up looking.”

“So you say,” Luke retorted. “You’re still the only one we know told the people in charge about us. No point in trying to pin it on Ian and me. We never spoke with the administration about the group. Never.”

“Uh huh,” I said, and pressed ‘play’ again.

This time I watched Ian as the sound of Professor Davis’s last comment played. “We need to know if something happened. Contact Luke and see if he can shed any light on this.”

Ian did not disappoint. At the proof of his roommate’s perfidy, his head snapped around. “You bastard!” he hissed. And then he launched himself at Luke.

Automatically, I tried to stop him, but I don’t have the mass or strength I’d been used to and he barely noticed me. He pinned his roommate against the wall, screaming at him in language that no longer felt comfortable to me, while Luke yelled for help. Afraid Ian was actually going to injure our culprit,, Vicky and I finally managed to stop him by wrapping ourselves around each of Ian’s arms and allowing him to try to lift us off the ground.

Luke kept his back pressed to the wall and watched Ian warily, as both guys were panting heavily. “You’d better tell us everything,” Vicky warned him, “or we’ll let him go.”

Ian emphasized the point by snapping, “Liar!” but didn’t try to shake us off.

“I didn’t lie, Ian,” Luke said softly. “I never spoke to the administration about any of this.”

Ian spat in his face.

“I’m pretty sure they don’t know anything. But… I have been in touch with Brian and Rolf – that’s Professor Davis. And believe me, they want this kept from the administration as much as we do.”

I felt the tension in Ian’s arm diminish, and cautiously let go. Vicky did the same. Ian made no move to resume his attack, but only whispered, “Why? Why did you do it, Luke?”

“You’ve got them all wrong,” Luke insisted, looking at all three of us. “They’re good guys. Only the administration panicked and made them leave campus and tried to pretend they never existed.”

We waited, and he went on, “Rolf is a visiting prof from out West, and he wasn’t teaching classes. He and Brian and I think another grad student came here to do some more research; I don’t know the details. Only they needed to know exactly what the results were and the administration told them they couldn’t talk to any of the students under threat of losing their funding, or whatever they were supplying.”

“So where are they now?” I asked.

Luke shook his head. “I have no idea. I’ve only communicated with them by email since they got booted. Unlike most of you guys, I did go back for an interview, and since they knew my roommate had also volunteered, they contacted me and suggested setting up the Strangers in the Mirror, both to keep everybody together and to let me send them information. So I’ve sort of been telling them what you guys have said about your own experiences.”

“But why?” Ian repeated. “Why did you do this to us?”

“I didn’t do anything. Look, if they’re going to be able to undo what happened, they need to understand it, right? So I was doing this for all of us. But I had to keep it quiet, ‘cause if the word got out they might have to close up shop and then where would we be?”

By now we had drifted to the couches so that we could speak more comfortably. I could see that Ian had calmed down a lot. His last question had been much more of a query than an accusation.

“So they’ve said that they’re going to change us back?” Vicky asked.

“Well, not in so many words,” Luke admitted. “But why wouldn’t they? I mean, once they have enough data? I have to believe that this was all a mistake. They would never have been allowed to do this experiment and mess up our lives on purpose, would they?”

“Maybe that’s why they had to leave that place out west,” Ian pointed out. “Did they pay you? Or just trick you? I’ve never known you to be so naïve, Dude.”

“Look, this is all very interesting,” I said, “but what’s really important to me now is getting in touch with them. Can you give me their email address? Or at least have them contact me?”

Luke looked really uncomfortable. “I can’t actually do that.”

Ian snapped at him. “Luke, you need to decide whose side you’re on. Some of us are really hurting here, and Marsha’s acting like she’s one of the worst. Hand over the information!”

“No, I mean I really can’t,” Luke repeated. “I don’t have a way to reach them. See, they really don’t want to be found, so they contact me using one of the disposable email addresses. You know, the ones people use when they have to register for websites and don’t want to give out their info? They’re good for like a few hours or a day, and I have to answer within the time limit. If I need more time to get them the answers they want, they just send me another message a couple of days later.”

He pointed to the wall, and I saw the object that had been taken from the lab the previous week. “They dropped that off and emailed me to see if anybody noticed it and how they reacted and then of course they had to email me again after the meeting to get the answers.”

“Fine,” I said. “Then send them a message the next time they contact you. Tell them I really want to talk with them and I promise to keep their secrets, but it’s kind of urgent.”

He shook his head. “No can do. I don’t think they’re ever going to contact me again. They sounded really freaked out – apparently somebody had actually found the lab, and tried to pick the lock…”

I felt all the blood drain from my face. “You’ve got to be kidding.”

“They asked me if I’d heard anything from the Strangers about it and I hadn’t, so they figured it was somebody we didn’t know about and said they were breaking off communications. I’m really sorry, Marsha. I didn’t even think about it being you.”

Vicky came over to sit next to me and put her hand on my arm. We looked at each other without speaking. No words seemed necessary.

“If they do ever contact me again, I promise to let them know that you want to talk, Marsha. That’s all I can do.”

It wasn’t much. In fact, it really wasn’t anything, if he was right about Professor Davis panicking. And it was all my fault! If I hadn’t tried to get somebody to break in…

But Vicky was whispering to me, “I think we should go, Marsh.” I tried to stand, but my legs were rubbery and she had to help me up. “Thanks for the information, Luke. We won’t tell anybody – and do let us know if you can get them a message.”

She adjusted my coat, wrapped my arm around shoulder, and supported my weight as I stumbled into the hallway. I couldn’t move on my own. I was in shock, and I just let my legs fall under me as Vicky half-dragged my upper body. Neither of us spoke until we were out of the building, where the cold on my face brought me partially back into focus. “Are you alright?” she finally asked.

“That’s it? Just like that? It’s over?” I managed, my eyes staring at nothing. “How can that be? We found the lab, Vicky! We found somebody who had actually been speaking with those guys all along, and we still don’t know how to reach them. How is that even possible?”

“Just bad luck, Marsh. Bad, horrible, stupid, stinky luck. You know, I don’t think I can even cry now. I’m beyond tears.”

“Did we miss something? My brain is shutting down.”

“Well, we do have that address,” she continued. “Some of it, anyway. Maybe we can–”

“I don’t see it, Vix. I just don’t see it. There’s not enough there. How are we ever going to figure out where they are from the little bit of an address we got? I wish I’d never thought to ask Stan to pick a lock. I wish I’d never heard of picking locks. I wish… I don’t know. Maybe if we go back. Maybe there’s something Luke hasn’t told us.”

“Then why would he now?” she pointed out. “Marsh, you know how much I want this… I just don’t think there’s anything else there. I don’t want you hurt, banging your head against a locked door.”

“You’re saying I need to accept this. To move on. How do I do that? How do you?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted. “Maybe we’ll able to think after a good night’s sleep. I’m out of ideas.”

“Yeah, me too, Vix. Me too.”


  1. von says:

    Sigh (c).

    This chapter is officially frustrating. I can count ten tension destroying moments, just off the top of my head.

    We have waited for this chapter for months, and it fizzled.

    sigh (c)

  2. April says:

    Of course, I’m a Marsha/Jeremy shipper, so any chapter without the two of them makes me sad. 😉

    I think I agree with von (shock, horror!) that the tension in the chapter just kind of slips away, especially in the last few paragraphs. If I were in Marshall’s position, I’d either be in a state of catatonia or have a complete freak-out. If she really feels that it’s the end of her hope, I’d like to see some anger or despair or something. The whole “one day at a time” thing seems entirely too calm and stoic, especially for someone with all those girl hormones sloshing around in their brain.

  3. Russ says:

    Catatonia was my intention. It obviously didn’t come across, so I’ve revised the ending. Let’s see if this works better.

  4. von says:

    I think I agree with von (shock, horror!)


  5. von says:

    For me catonia is one aspect of the tension denying aspect.

    sigh (c)


  6. BMeph says:

    On the low-level editing front,…

    –> …she had to bend over to hug me the way she used to when I was the tall one.
    Should that be, “…the way I used to…”?

    –> “Why did you guys do?” he asked hoarsely.
    “What did you guys do?”

    Now, on the not-so-low-level front,

    –> I felt limp. I was in shock.

    Unless Marsha’s imagining being Marshall again, these sentences don’t work as advertised. It sounds more like you’d want a “I couldn’t feel anything. Vicky had to keep pushing me to make me move”-type of line.

  7. Russ says:

    Should that be, “…the way I used to…”?

    No – I intended that she was trying to hug Marsh as she used to – only it doesn’t work as well since she is no longer reach upward.

    Unless Marsha’s imagining being Marshall again, these sentences don’t work as advertised. It sounds more like you’d want a “I couldn’t feel anything. Vicky had to keep pushing me to make me move”-type of line.

    Ha! I didn’t think of it that way — but I’ve adjusted it to be more clear. Thanks for the suggestion.

  8. scotts13 says:

    >> One of the bedroom doors opened and Luke poked his head out and saw us. “What are you guys doing here?” he asked, sounding shocked. “You know you’re supposed to be here!”

    Shouldn’t that be “You know you’re NOT supposed to be here!”?

  9. Russ says:

    >> Shouldn’t that be “You know you’re NOT supposed to be here!”?

    Oops – yup

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