“…..You see us as you want to see us: In the most convenient definitions. But, what we found was that each of us is a Brain, and an Athlete, and a Basket Case, and a Princess, and a Criminal. Does that answer your question? Sincerely yours, The Breakfast Club.”
–The Breakfast Club (1985)
Somewhere in the background of his dreams, a fire alarm sounded. But Jai wanted to be unaffected. His alarm was ringing, which meant that it was 4 a.m. He grudgingly dragged himself out of bed and walked over to his study desk which overflowed with photocopies of notes in various handwritings. Under a couple of papers lay his phone. Yawning and stretching quietly, Jai rubbed his eyes with one hand while going through the texts and messages he had received during the night. 3 unread messages.
The first was obviously Jen. Lovely girl, he thought, as he read Jen’s ‘best of luck, and I’ll see you at the match’ text. The second was Zeke asking him if he needed the extra knee protection cap. During practice sometime last year, Jai had shattered his knee cap. It was nothing permanent or particularly serious to him, but the doctors had insisted that he take it slow. Zeke somehow knew that wearing the knee cap protector would be good for him and had taken to giving Jai one, especially on match days. It was an ugly thing, the knee protector. Jai was too cool to be seen in one. It didn’t look right, you know? It made him look so silly and breakable. He’d have to accept it from Zeke but he’s find a way to slip it off as soon as he could.
The third text message was from an unknown number. Like, it said the words Unknown Number instead of displaying a number at all. This didn’t surprise Jai. He was used to the crazy girls calling and texting. The preview pane showed the usual ‘Hi Jai! You don’t know who…..’ and it could easily be a stalker girl trying to get him to go out with her. Nevertheless, he felt uneasy. He clicked the text message and it opened up to something he did not expect.
From: Unknown Number
Message: Hi, Jai! You don’t know who I am, do you? Wondering if I’m going to ask you on a date, pretty boy? Well, I’m not. I need something from you – A piece of your past, if you will. Look under the doormat outside your front door.
Jai’s heart was beating faster than usual. Beads of sweat were building on his forehead. This didn’t sound like a very friendly message. What did this person want from him? He even tried to TrueCaller the number. No results found, it said. When he finally reached the front door of his house, his toes ached from the effort of noiselessly walking. He quietly opened the door. The sudden cool, morning breeze hit his forehead and raised gooseflesh on his body. Sure enough, there was a large envelope under the doormat. He quickly picked it up and ran to his room, shutting the door on his way in.
The envelope contained two things – a typed out letter and another, smaller envelope. The letter was short and crisp. It read:
‘Remember all that bullshit you used to do? – Hustling drugs and steroids? That’s the reason that you and Neal actually became friends. I know things. I need a list of all those people that you supplied to a month before Neal Ray Gellar’s death. Do not try to fool me. I know you still have that accounts notebook with you. Leave it on Neal’s grave within an hour after the match. If you tell people about this, I’ll expose your hustling habit – and last I heard, hustling was illegal. Take this is a threat.
I’m going to be watching you Jai Slater. Leave the list in the envelope on Neal’s grave. It’s for the best.’
Just then, Luke entered Jai’s room and went “What are you doing up so early, brother? Secret admirers called? Hey, do well at the match, bro.” and on some afterthought, his expression changed from melancholy to grave and mocking. “Don’t keep ‘em waiting.”
It was safe to say that Mira Hallow was happy. She no longer hung out with people who didn’t care for anything but popularity, her new friend was turning proving herself as a valuable piece in this little game they had going on and finally, football season was here. Now Mira was no fan of football. She detested any physical activity, like even getting out of bed, but something about watching sweaty, well sculpted men, chase after each other on a field, with their shirts flapping in the wind showing off their perfect abdomens appealed to her. Samuel wasn’t going to play today, she knew that. But she held on to the glimmer of hope that he would, in fact, turn up to encourage the junior team.
The day was going to be pretty boring for Amelia Stine. Lectures were from 10:30 to 12:50 p.m. and then pep-rally, after which they football players would head on for practice and she would hopelessly ogle at Zeke Matthews in his football uniform. The match would start at 2:00 p.m. but she would have to go earlier to get a good seat. Good thing the stadium is across the street, then, she thought to herself (not because she didn’t want to share the thought, but merely because of the inherent loneliness she reveled in ever so often). Going over her schedule, she met Chi and they walked to class in the most natural silence.
Mira’s first lecture was probably Political Science. She didn’t know for sure. The atmosphere was electric. Zeke and Jai, the only two in the football team from her class, had come dressed in their kit and the class had applauded when they entered. Of course Mira had gone and hugged both the guys and wished them luck. She even chose to give Zeke a peck on his cheek, wishing that god would protect him from disaster. But disaster was about to strike somewhere else. Jai looked a little shaken, if not downright queasy. His eyes looked more dazed than usual, and even his natural cheerful manner sounded forced.
“Hey Jai, are we still on for late lunch after your match?” asked Jen.
“Um…no, I mean, I have some work after the match. It’s nothing major, you know. But, yeah, I need to be somewhere else. I’m sorry?” Jai said, enunciating each work carefully, as if to measure their worth.
This struck Mira as odd. Jai and Jen always went out after matches, everyone knew that. Kat seemed as surprised by Jai, but she was pretty good at hiding it.
Visibly hurt by his rejection, Jen asked Jai very innocently: “But what’s the work, then?”
“I need to drop off some paperwork at the college office. That’s it. It’s to process my exam requirements. I’m really sorry, okay? I’ll make it up to you tomorrow, yeah? We’ll go out for dinner tomorrow night.”
Mira was unconvinced. Jai was hiding something. Under the cracks of his seemingly nervous demeanor, Mira could faintly make out the outline of a frightened child.
After sitting in class for what seemed like an eternity, it was time for the pep-rally. It wasn’t going to be anything special – just a bunch of students screaming out encouragements to the team. Mira had a different plan. As soon as the bell rang, Mira Hallow was out of the door. She bolted down the steps that lead towards the foyer and slinked away into the shadows behind the boys’ locker room. From her vantage point, she could see Zeke and another guy high fiving, while Jai tied his shoe laces. He looked at the knee protector that Zeke had given him, and quietly slid it into the back pocket of his bag, and rolled his socks up. Mira waited for the boys to all be out of the room.
Most of the college was empty. No doubt, everyone had gone to the foyer to be part of the pep-rally. There was mostly silence, except for the faint sounds of ‘Maroon and Brown, show us what’s going down!’ – the slogan that had been invented to encourage our team. She crept into the locker room and quickly began to rummage through Jai’s bag when she was sure that no one would look.
It didn’t even take any special effort. Mira had expected more of a challenge, really. But as soon as she opened Jai’s bag and looked, there it stood, bright white against the dreary, low cost, textbooks in his bag. There was an envelope. It was pure white. She opened it swiftly – and nearly cried out in the actual, physical pain it caused her to look at the sheet and its contents.
With her eyes burning, Mira stared long and hard at the sheet of paper in her hand, before deftly pushing it back into the envelope and leaving it inside Jai’s bag. This was not right. She was lost in thought, almost, when her phone buzzed in her back pocket. A text message from an unknown number flashed:
From: Unknown Number
Message: Someone likes snooping around, huh. Found anything you liked on that list, Hallow?
Chills ran down her spine. Mira was being watched. How else would anyone know what she was doing? And this stranger knew about the list. The situation was grimmer that she had thought. Mira made a conscious effort to calm her heart and arranged her facial features into a bored, almost indifferent expression. She wasn’t going to give this omnipresent stranger the satisfaction of seeing her affected in any way.
Making a resolve to meet Ashfaq as soon as she could, she walked quietly into the foyer and lost herself in the crowd.
It was almost 1:20 p.m. before the pep-rally finally broke up and the crowd began thinning. Now the junior football team was heading towards the locker rooms. Rahil was standing on the makeshift stage and thanking everyone for coming out. He hoped that everyone would attend the match and that the team would win. Mira walked over to him and motioned him to bend down. As he did so, she pulled at his collar and simply said “The seats?” to which Rahil replied, “Oh, it’s done. Obviously” referring to the request Mira had made about having some good seats reserved for her and her friends. Rahil did this kind of work. A lot of people owed some kind of favors to him, and he owed a couple of favors to Mira Hallow, who happened to be his neighbor.
Exhausted, Mira ate little and lost herself in thought. She walked over to the stadium alone, enjoying the solitude as an opportunity to formulate her plan for the final time. Climbing up the steps to the reserved seats, she met Rahil who walked her up. Once they entered the seating area, Mira looked around real quick. There she saw a large number of parents filling up the first row. In the second row sat a few rowdy senior boys, followed by a bunch of snarky idiots. Among them Mira recognized Amelia Stine’s head.
“What’s that one doing here?” she asked Rahil, amused.
“She looked like she needed some help. She’s a sweet girl.” Rahil deftly replied with a hint of a smile playing at his lips.
“Oh I know she’s sweet.” And on spotting Jen, Kat and Alisha, “How will I ever thank you, Rahil?”
Only after Mira had walked away, and only the smell of her perfume lingered in the air, Rahil whispered to no one in particular “I could think of a few ways.”
The match was a good one. The Maroon and Browns were leading 3 to none, with Zeke having scored one of the goals. He had the girls going wild when he took off his t-shirt as soon as he scored that first goal. Amelia Stine had swooned. Maybe she’d be able to find a couple of pictures of this on facebook, she had thought. Mira was sitting right behind her and had all but kicked her when Zeke did his little stunt. But Mira seemed a little wary. She wasn’t her usual self and was spending a lot of time looking at her phone. Amelia wasn’t either! How she had gotten into the reserved seating area, she knew not. The boy had been so sweet to her, asking if she wanted a good view. Rahil, he had introduced himself as.
At halftime, the sun was pretty hot, but the breeze was significantly cooler. Thinking back, maybe it was nature’s way of letting everyone know of the events that came next. Paying no attention to anything, but Zeke, Amelia had hardly noticed the other boy who had come to sit next to her. He kept busy on his phone, and she didn’t have the courage to look at his face. Mira had gone to get something to eat, and Alisha needed to meet her boyfriend, while Kat and Jen had gone to meet Zeke and Jai.
From where she sat, Amelia had a clear view of the field and the lanes that lead to the dressing rooms. She could see the boy Rahil, standing there, looking at his watch, and then glancing up at where Amelia sat. Suddenly, a fair hand pulled him back and it seemed like he was having a conversation with a girl. Who was this girl? Amelia decided not to bother herself with this and looked for Zeke. When she happened to look around next, Rahil was walking towards the Blue and Gold stands.
The whistle blew hard and a collective collegiate sign sounded. The game was not heating up the way that it had during the first half. Somehow, the Blue and Golds had taken a more defensive stance against the St. Xavier’s Maroon and Browns. No one knew what was happening. Kat and Jen were sitting a little away from Mira. The boy sitting next to Amelia didn’t make so much as one sound during that time. Mira, she noticed, had been staring uneasily at the back of his head too.
Suddenly, something seemed to happen in the opposing team. They began to make some cryptic gestures to one another, probably determining another play. They had scored only two goals, and needed one more to tie the match. Maybe they were going in for the attack now. As soon as the whistle blew for them to start, a couple of the burly looking boys tossed the ball around on the field. All the Xavier’s boys had spread out to anticipate the play. Jai stood a little to the right of the goal post, and scanned the field for the ball. He was going to get this. He was going to win.
In a moment, the opposing team closed in on the goal. They were frantically kicking the ball between one another. At once, one of the players numbered 13, decided to make the goal. But instead of making the goal, he kicked to the far right. What was happening? No one could comprehend why the boy had kicked to the right! The boy on the right, namely Jai, was caught off guard. The ball smashed into him, and he tried to pass it to one of his team mates. He wasn’t fast enough. One of the opposing team members intercepted his kick and in the bargain, tripped Jai. But there was already another boy trying to score for the Blue and Golds and Jai fell on his knees with a very audible crunch.
A blood curdling scream went up in the air. Everyone looked up. Behind Amelia, Mira had just left because her mother had called her home. Next to her, the boy stood up and roared. Amelia looked at him only to be caught completely by surprise. His face was the face of Jai. Only his voice was different. It was more shocked than sorry for his brother. A look of dismay crossed his face as he sat back down. Amelia asked him in exasperation, “You’re Jai’s brother?”
“Twin. I’m his twin.”
“Aren’t you going to go and see what’s happened to him? Don’t you want to go and check?”
“Mind your own business, Stine.”
Amelia was stunned once more. How did this boy know her name? Who was he, anyway? Here she saw Jai Walker being carried on a stretcher, and his twin just sat there. His expressions resembled a person making tough calculations with nothing but his own brain for help. Now she was really intrigued.
“Hey, you!” she poked Luke Walker, “Let’s at least go down. He looks seriously hurt.”
“He’s going to be more hurt than this soon, Amelia. Very soon.”
Luke’s face betrayed no emotion now. It was just his eyes. They looked frantic. They looked desperate. They looked worried.
“And so are you.” He spoke in a low tone, but a fast one.
“You’re going to be very, very hurt Amelia Stine. You think you’re safe because you’re friends with the devil? Well, say your prayers. You’re still not in too deep, girl. You can get out. I would if I was in your place.”
Taking the opportunity when he stopped to take a breath, Amelia asked Luke, “What do you even mean by that? “
“This thing you just saw? It wasn’t an accident; Jai breaking his bones is not an accident at all. All these webs of lies that you see in front of your eyes are connected. You unravel one, and you’ve unraveled all of them. Just like dominos. Push one over the edge, and they’re all down.”
“What lies, man? What are you even talking about?” Amelia was so confused.
“You’re friends with the wrong people Amelia Stine.” His expression varied from soft mocking, to ironical honesty. “You’re surrounded. It’s only a matter of time before you’re next in line. This isn’t a game Amelia. I may look like a sociopath to you, but I know things. This is no Breakfast Club where you know a person for 8 hours and you become best friends. Each of us is a Brain, and an Athlete, and a Basket Case, and a Princess, and a Criminal. Some of us are just better at hiding the bad parts, Amelia Stine. Think about this.”
And just like that, Luke Walker left Amelia alone. She had no idea what he was going off about. While she looked back at the field the excitement had died. The game had begun.
Through the back of the lanes, though, a very satisfied girl walked out, clutching a pristine, white envelope in her hands.