Early release on Fridays means the school’s populace can attend the Spirit Rally. The mass of people navigating the hill to the stadium is truly a remarkable sight. Aidan normally watches it from her car, waiting for the huddled masses to clear before leaving all the pep to Celia and the cheerleaders.
Today, thanks to the united efforts of Celia, Jason and most especially Corey, Aidan stops at her car to drop off books before joining the crowd already cheering. Of course, it helps that it is Friday, everyone gets to skip their last block and they have the game to look forward to tonight. If any of that mattered to Aidan, she would cheer too.
However, her stomach ties itself into knots. She knows Mr. Morgan knows her. She’s spent the last few days watching him watch her. What is he waiting for? The second coming?
She keeps looking for him in the crowd. Which means, of course that she is not paying attention to her feet or the hill beneath them.
Jostled from behind, Aidan slips, landing square on her butt and sliding down a few inches before catching herself. Everyone does this ungraceful move at least once, so it is an understanding titter that follows her down.
Aidan puts her hands on the ground, preparing to lift herself back to her feet, but the hand in her face stops her.
She looks up at James. He lifts her up smoothly, never losing his own delicate balance. The mass of students divert around him like a school of fish.
“Thanks,” she says, brushing off clinging grass.
He glances down at her grass-covered jeans. “May I?”
Aidan nods, slightly confused, until she feels his hands brushing her backside and down the length of her legs.
“You might as well wait ’til we get to the bottom before doing that. I’ll probably fall again.”
“Nah, I’ve got ya.” He takes her hand without asking and steadies her down to the parking area around the stadium.
Once safely on level ground, James lets go of her hand.
“Don’t I usually see you bookin’ it before the spirit starts flying?” he asks as they duck through the shadows beneath the bleachers.
“Aren’t you usually in the car in front of me?”
James shakes his curly black hair. “Touché.” He pauses before following her through the crowded seats. The cheerleaders are already bellowing out spirit and the people in the stadium respond…loud and proud.
Aidan watches his eyes find Celia in her purple and gold uniform. They both wave. Celia winks in their direction never missing a beat in the cheer.
They find empty seats in the nosebleed section, but James still has to lean close and raise his voice. “Celia told me you were coming to this. I want to talk to you about something.”
They wait for another wave of cheering to pass. James pulls out a wad of folded papers. “I saw the way you looked at Mr. Morgan that first day, and I’ve seen the way you’ve looked at him all week. He makes you nervous.”
Aidan doesn’t respond, so he keeps going.
“I did some digging.”
“Well, rummaging around the net, through some back doors and stuff.”
He pauses again until the roar dies a little. “Well, when Celia asked-”
“Wait a minute. Celia asked you to do this?” Who was keeping things from whom now?
What the hell, Celia?
Shut up, Aidan, I’m cheering here.
Aidan refocuses on James and his folded papers. “What did you find?”
“It’s more of what I didn’t find that’s interesting.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, everything is in order if you don’t look to deep. I mean, in general, background stuff, everything checks out.” He unfolds the papers, and hands them to her one by one as he addresses them.
“See, license, birth certificate, social security…everything is there in the right place.”
“So…what am I missing?”
“Well, generally before a certain year databases have scanned hard copies to back up the digital info they plug in. So, if I’m looking for his high school transcripts from the early nineties, there should be something typed on a form and eventually scanned in to a server for future requests. Born in the late seventies, he most definitely should have a hard copy of a birth certificate somewhere. But all his info is digital. Someone like me could go into a database anywhere and plug in any information I like. For instance, I can create a false background for you that would appear to be completely official.”
“So why do you think this is a false background?”
“Inability to locate a hard copy of anything.”
“What?” She isn’t sure she’s heard him right.
“Do you know any thirty-something’s that look like they just graduated college?”
“So he’s younger than he says…but so? He’s just a substitute, right?”
“Freakin’ highly qualified substitute. Graduated from Berkley, Masters in English Lit. If I were to make sure I got the sub position here, I would pad my background like this.”
Aidan studies the printouts. This really doesn’t help. It only opens up more questions.
“Yup.” His attention is on the field when the team ran out and everyone else stood, screaming wildly.
“How do you know how to do this kind of thing?”
He takes her hand in a pointed but friendly gesture. “No social life.”
Aidan squeezes his hand with what she hopes would come across as gratitude not complete rejection before she slips her hand from his.
“Well, he’s got a fantastic financial portfolio and enough liquid to have bought the house he’s living in. He’s got feelers out for storefront property downtown a few blocks down from your house.” James tosses black curls from his eyes as he passes another page to her.
“Why would he want to sub? If he’s got all that money? And why would he want a store?”
“Thought that would get you. I have no clue. All I can look at is digital information. The net has no access to motives and souls.”
Aidan reads the printouts carefully, but admits to herself that she only understands what James told her. Everything else is just gibberish on paper.
“Yeah?” He’s been watching the field, the cheerleaders, the football team and the principal pumping up team spirit. Now he turns back to Aidan.
“Who else have you done background checks on?”
“Ah, now, if I told you that, I’d have to kill you.”