Innocent

I’ve been away for about a month. First, due to lingering illness, and last weekend because I was at the Verde Expo. I’m getting back into the swing of things. I’ll be writing a pirate story this weekend to submit to an upcoming anthology. Anyway, this installment of Mental State is brought to you by prompts from Chuck Wendig & Bree’s #FFC2018. I hope you dig these 1055 words:
 


When Steven arrived at school, it was the usual process. He got dirty looks as he entered the classroom from everyone but the teacher, who gave him a smile, not a warm smile, but a smile nonetheless.

Steven sat down at his desk and began to work at the computer. He’d typed for a few minutes when someone sat down next to him. He thought that it was David or Leonard, probably wanting to pick a new fight with him, and he took a deep breath as he turned to face whatever new abuse that was going to come his way. When eyes fell upon the newcomer, his jaw became slack with shock.

Ruby sat next to him, and she was smiling like a longtime friend. Steven eyes locked on Ruby as a series of thoughts careened through his mind. Why was she sitting next to him? Why did she act like his friend? What the hell was going on?

“How are you, Steven?” Ruby asked, her voice chipper. She acted as if they had always been friends. The rest of the class watched Ruby in stunned silence. Robert looked as if he was going to be sick.

Steven stammered, “I’m… uh… I’m good.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Ruby said, smiling before turning to her own classwork. “I’m okay, too. A little tired, though; I didn’t get the best sleep last night. But I’ll go to bed earlier tonight to try and make up for it.”

The continued to stare at her in a state of confusion.  He realized she was waiting for a reply, and after a moment he said, “I slept fine… I guess.”

Steven peered around the room. Everyone was watching them. Most seemed torn between getting up and pulling Ruby away or attacking Steven. Luckily, indecision won out, and most of the class just stared. Robert visibly fumed. If Steven knew his old best friend the way he thought he did, he would guess Robert was wondering how Steven had gotten Ruby to sit with him, and what he could do to remedy the injustice

Throughout the lesson, Steven contemplated what Ruby was doing. Why was she being nice and talking to him? Had the truths Steven told her gotten through to her? Or was this some sort of elaborate prank?

It’s a trick.

Steven tried to ignore the voice despite its insistence.

She’s trying to confuse you. They’re all going to get you!

Steven couldn’t help but think the voice was right.

* * *

After class, Steven quickly left the room. Ruby started to follow him. She had to say something; anything; so Steven could understand her motivation, but Robert grabbed her and pushed her to the side before she got too close to the door. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

“What are you talking about?” Ruby replied, still searching the hall for Steven’s tall, lanky frame among other students meandering from classes to lockers.

“With Steven!” Robert said, his voice momentarily rose before he could control it.

Ruby regarded the boy she thought she’d gotten close to and realized that she finally saw his true colors.

“You’re sitting with him, like you’re best friends! What’s going on? Everyone thinks you’ve gone crazy.” His eyes locked on Ruby’s. “You haven’t been brainwashed, have you?”

Ruby pushed him away from her and hissed, “Of course I haven’t! That’s a stupid thing to ask. How could he brainwash me? Anyway, I told you how I felt yesterday. Steven is innocent, and I’m going to prove it.”

She tried to walk away but Robert blocked her path. Although he wasn’t a particularly large boy, he was still broader and taller than she. He made an effective wall of pleading adolescence. “Ruby, please, don’t do this! I care too much about you!”

Ruby shoved him aside with enough force that he shifted slightly. “Why don’t you think about others instead of yourself? Your once best friend is in pain for something that wasn’t his fault, and all you can do is be angry at him! He lost Lindsay, too, you know!” Ruby sidestepped him and stormed off to leave a disheveled Robert leaning against the row of lockers, staring in disbelief.

* * *

Steven paced in his room slowly, deep in thought. What had Ruby done today? Why was she acting normal toward him? He was almost convinced that she was tricking him, but she seemed so adamant. Maybe she really was just being nice?

The jokes on you. She’s doing it to lure you out. To destroy you. Do it first to save her the trouble!

Steven covered his face with his hands and to block out the voice, but it kept droning. He wanted to believe Ruby was trying to be his friend, but part of him knew it couldn’t be true.

Everyone had hated him so much, how could Ruby all of a sudden like him?

Don’t delude yourself.

Steven couldn’t help but think the voice was correct. Either way, he knew he would have to suffer Ruby tomorrow. This was his new life. He took a deep breath and opened his laptop.

A small part of him wished it wasn’t.

* * *

When Ruby arrived at school the next day, she was not met with the same enthusiasm she usually was. While everyone spoke to her normally, their faces indicated that they thought what she was doing with Steven was improper. Everyone seemed went through the motions of social niceties, but were too eager to get away, as if her belief in Steven’s innocence were communicable.

Ruby anticipated this response, and her guess was word had spread like a pandemic. The people hung out with every day weren’t as eager to spend time with her, but she had achieved exactly what she wanted, and people were doing what she predicted.

They were reevaluating Steven’s guilt. If he was guilty, why was another person – a popular girl like Ruby – spending time with him? If he did what he was accused of, why could Ruby even stand to be near him? And all these questions Ruby knew would lead to another one, one she knew people hadn’t considered before she started spending time with Steven: If Ruby was spending time with Steven, then was he really guilty of making Lindsay kill herself?

Next: Friendship

About Mark Gardner

Mark Gardner lives in northern Arizona with his wife, three children and a pair of spoiled dogs. Mark holds a degrees in Computer Systems and Applications and Applied Human Behavior. View all posts by Mark Gardner

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