Boarding School Blues
Jordy Diaz was dead.
Cooper couldn’t believe it—couldn’t breathe as the news became official. It started as rumors—everyone heard the sirens as they came roaring down the lone street leading to the castle and then across the rolling green fields. The vehicles converged at the far side of the lake where Jordy’s body was plucked from the water. Now the search was on for a second.
Cooper’s food sat untouched on his plate as his knees shook at the table. They were all a total wreck. It didn’t matter what anyone tried to say. No amount of kind words could fix a dead boy. Cooper craned his head to try and find Roman again. He and Fielding were nowhere to be found.
Kai wasn’t at dinner, either…Cooper shuddered, wishing he could go back in time and undo hearing Kai’s tortured scream when everyone found out.
“This is so fucked,” Anakin muttered. He sank in his seat, eyes still puffy from his recent tears.
“I can’t believe it,” Naveen said, shaking his head. “I never thought, I mean…who would have?”
“You were trying to be hopeful,” Cooper said.
“We all were,” Julian agreed.
They waited a long time in the banquet hall. No one felt like moving. Cooper didn’t want to go back to his suite. Not like this. Not when the whole world was falling apart.
“Come on,” Anakin finally said. “Let’s go together.”
That night, Professor Bell came to visit them along with a professor they hadn’t met. Apparently she was one of the counselors at the school, ready to speak with any of the students as they worked through processing their grief. If anyone needed to speak with the woman, Cooper thought, it was Kai. Surely no one was hurting more than him right now. While she talked, the four of them waited on the sofa in silence as a low fire crackled in the nearby hearth.
“Boys,” Professor Bell said when the counselor had finished, “I know this isn’t easy to hear, but it was Jordy they found out there. The police are still investigating, but they found his leg twisted up in the weeds. They think it was an accident.”
Cooper fell back against the couch deflated. Had he been wrong this whole time?
“What about Xavier?” Cooper asked, almost afraid to ask the question. He was surprised at how hoarse and scratchy the words were in his throat.
The two professors traded glances, but the counselor shook her head like they were communicating about something else entirely.
“They’re still looking for him, but for what it’s worth, they don’t think a second body’s in the lake. Listen, boys. Classes are canceled while arrangements are made for Jordy, but under no circumstances are any of you allowed near the lake or the boat house. Headmaster Robinson wants everyone to stay within the castle walls. If you have to go somewhere, go in pairs, alright? And if you see anything out of place, say something.”
“Thanks, Professor Bell,” Anakin said as his fingers teased the folds of his scarf.
“Professor Bell, wait,” Cooper said as the two started to leave. When they turned to face him, he hesitated. Did he voice his suspicions about foul play or did he trust the officers to do their job? Cooper couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something else the two professors weren’t sharing. No, if he wanted answers and justice for Jordy, he’d have to get them his own way. “Sorry, nevermind.”
That night as they lay in bed together, Cooper broke down, crying as he lay next to Anakin, whose face was as wet as his. Cooper was furious with himself for being too late to save Jordy. Did he miss something at the boat house yesterday when he went inside? Surely there must have been some clue he overlooked. Cooper’s mind traveled back to the round lantern and the splintered door. Had there been a clue inside all along? What if Jordy’s body had somehow been inside? It was stupid to think Jordy could have drowned! He was the best swimmer Cooper ever met.
How did any of it make sense? There were so many people searching for any sign of Jordy and Xavier! At the lake yesterday, he’d been so close, only a couple hundred feet when he ran into Roy and his dog.
That was it, Cooper realized.
Roy must have been keeping an eye on the area, and then when Cooper got close, he chased after him with his dog to scare him off. But if that was the case, then that meant Jordy really didn’t drown.
He was killed.
And his killer was still on the loose.
The next morning, Cooper explained everything to Anakin as they got dressed.
“You can’t be serious, Coop,” he said. Anakin’s shoulders looked heavy as he dragged out his clothes for the day. In a rare turn of events, Anakin’s clothing was simple, just a pair of jeans and a t-shirt. Even his scarf lay untouched on the dresser. “You heard Professor Bell yesterday. It was an accident. You have to let it go.”
“I know what they said, but I’m telling you something was super off about Roy! I have to tell Headmaster Robinson what I know, but I need you with me.”
A pained expression crossed Anakin’s darkened face as he sat down on the mattress.
“What if it makes things worse?”
“Nothing will happen if we’re together,” Cooper said. “I promise. Trust me, Anakin, okay?”
Cooper knew time was running short. All he could think about was Roman and the fact that his brother was still missing. Hadn’t he made his friend a promise to do whatever he could to help find Xavier?
Maybe the next best step was to find Roman and come up with a plan together.
Roman threw up again for the third time in twenty four hours as he thought back to the previous day.
By now his stomach was emptied, but he kept dry heaving, his gut punching him with each violent wretch. He couldn’t shake the bloated corpse from his mind, the way Fielding’s last skipping stone had squelched against it. The only good news about finding Jordy’s body was that it was face down.
Roman wasn’t sure he could have handled it otherwise.
Yesterday, when he and Fielding ran like madmen back to campus, it didn’t take long to find Headmaster Robinson. As the emergency vehicles thundered onto campus, Roman wondered if they were in trouble. Roy Rochester refused to say a word as he delivered them to the headmaster’s office like prisoners.
He didn’t care if they were in trouble, though. All Roman could think about was Xavier floating somewhere cold and dead in the murky lake like Jordy. That’s when he threw up the first time. Roy scowled at him but let Roman clean himself up in one of the nearby bathrooms before Headmaster Robinson was ready for them.
Dinner was brought to the headmaster’s office as they shared everything they knew, including how they’d seen Jordy the same day he disappeared, just hours before.
“I don’t know why I never said anything,” Roman said. “I was just scared.”
“But we don’t know anything else,” Fielding added in a panic. “Honest!”
“And why were the two of you out at the lake?” their headmaster asked.
“We were just…out for a walk,” Fielding said, his voice trailing.
“Together,” Roman added. “We were spending time together.”
Headmaster Robinson coughed and scribbled down a few extra notes before leveling his gaze at them. When he first met Headmaster Robinson, Roman’s first impression was that of a tiger. Now, with everything that had happened at Blue Ridge over the past few days, all Roman could see was a tired, old man.
“I believe you both,” he said. “For now, we’ll let the police investigate and go from there. For what it’s worth, young man, I hope your brother is not in that lake.”
“Do my parents know?” Roman asked, and Headmaster Robinson nodded.
“We made a call when your brother first went missing and again tonight. I understand they are both away for travel, but they should arrive within a couple days.”
What did his parents make of Xavier’s disappearance, especially now that there was a dead body? When they were allowed back to their dorm room, it didn’t take long for Roman’s food to sour in his stomach, and before he could make it past the first steps, he threw up again, his stomach rejecting the little amount of food he managed to choke down.
One of the upperclassmen who saw them went to get an adult while Fielding rubbed his back. Roman clenched his hands in white-knuckled fists. He had to get it together. Xavier wasn’t gone yet. He couldn’t be.
Later that night, when they were gathered on the couch in their suite, Professor Lee pulled Roman to the side.
“I’m not supposed to say anything yet,” she said, “but they don’t believe Xavier’s in the lake. This is good news, Roman.”
It was good news, and for the first time, Roman felt like he could breathe. But then the cogs in his mind started turning, and he began to wonder. If Xavier wasn’t down in the lake, then where was he?
When he asked Professor Lee what she thought, a frown crossed her face, and she hesitated. “We aren’t sure. The investigation’s still ongoing.”
That had been the end of the conversation.
Now, as Roman hunched over the toilet bowl and wiped the residue of stomach acid from his face, he knew he needed a plan. Xavier hadn’t mysteriously vanished off the face of the Earth. He was somewhere at Blue Ridge. Roman had to find him, no matter what. Even if it meant coming across a second body. He had to know the truth.
With classes suspended, there wasn’t as much urgency to eat breakfast quickly, but it didn’t matter. Roman’s appetite was gone. He wasn’t sure he’d ever eat again, not when every time he closed his eyes he saw Jordy’s bloated body again.
“I’m not hungry anymore,” he told Fielding and started walking away before he could be talked out of it.
“Wait, where are you going?” Fielding asked, turning around to follow him out.
Roman wasn’t sure, but he couldn’t be in a room full of people who had no idea what he was going through. He was almost out of the banquet hall when someone grabbed his arm from behind. Spinning on his heels, Roman raised his fist in a scowl, ready to punch whoever it was in the face. Cooper and Anakin stood there, and an intensity flared in Cooper’s eyes that Roman had never seen before.
“Let’s find someplace private to talk.”
They gathered in the nearby courtyard, their only company the birds pecking the ground for food. Roman shivered in the cool air as Cooper walked them through all that had happened over the past few days from their perspective. When Roman heard about Cooper’s theory on Roy, his ears perked up.
Wasn’t there a time he’d seen Roy and Xavier in an argument earlier in the semester? He wasn’t sure that meant Roy was some vicious killer like Cooper believed, but there was clearly more going on than they knew.
“The same night Jordy went missing, Anakin and I saw something floating on the lake. A light of some kind. I tried getting clues at the boat house, but there were too many people, and it was getting late. And then later on, I saw Roy right near the same spot they found Jordy!”
“Well, good luck getting inside now,” Fielding said, waving his hand in dismissal. “The police have that whole place taped off.”
Anakin nodded in agreement. “Plus, how would we get permission to go? Everyone’s under lockdown.”
Roman locked eyes with Cooper and nodded. Roman could see the same determination on Cooper’s face that burned within him. There was no way anyone was changing their minds. They were getting answers tonight. “Who said anything about getting permission?”
End Chapter 15
Copyright 2023 – Levi Holland
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