The Auranades

Episode 13

Alien

Prolog

  It’s the week before New Year’s and Chad and Aaron are enjoying a movie date together at the theater in the mall one night. With his eyes fixed on the screen, Chad reaches over in the darkness for some more popcorn when Aaron moves it away teasingly. Chad’s hand ends up touching Aaron’s pants crotch by mistake before he pulls his hands away in realization and embarrassment.

  “Whoops! Sorry about that!” Chad says, “I didn’t mean to do that. Um I just wanted -”

  “Do you want to?” Aaron simply asks him and he turns in his seat to face him.

  Chad gets red in the face by the question and stutters, “Whoa. Aaron, I dunno if we’re ready for –”

  Aaron smirks and states, “Hey, hey! What I meant was do you want to have some more of my popcorn?”

  Chad gasps in embarrassment before he elbows him playfully in the shoulder. He takes some more of the popcorn from the large bucket between them before he remarks, “Thanks for sharing that after.”

  Aaron tells him, “Look, I know we’re still getting to know each other and I like what we share right now. So I want you to know I would never try to rush the two of us into anything that could end up ruining this if we’re not ready.”

  Chad sits back and thinks back to the time when he ran away out of town with Rick and muses in response, “You almost always regret when you rush into things without really thinking them through.”

  Aaron slouches back in his chair and comments, “Hmm. I wish Dustin would understand that.”

  Chad looks at the friendship bracelet on his wrist before he muses, “Dustin and I have been become pretty good friends and all but I hope he isn’t always getting into trouble like before with the military.”

  Aaron folds his arms and remarks, “Well he’s still in big trouble for kissing my boyfriend on Christmas.”

  Chad sees him pouting childishly and playfully confesses, “Well, Dustin has kinda kissed me before.”

  Aaron furrows his eyebrows before he sits up and turns to him, “Say what?”

  Chad explains to him, “It was back when he was hiding out at my school and way before I met you. But he was just using it as a cover when these military guys were passing by. I’m sure he was just messing around this time to cause a little trouble because of the mistletoe. I mean, what else could it be?”

  Aaron simply says, “What I’m sure of is that Dustin is probably getting himself into trouble right now.”

= = =

  Over at Rita Allen’s dorm, Dustin arrives to see that her boyfriend, Ray Torres, sitting on the couch in the living room, reading some football magazine. Dustin slips off his jacket and places it on the rack before he walks in.

  Dustin looks around the dorm before he says, “Hey Ray. Where’s my sister?”

  “Oh, hey Dustin. She’s in the next room taking some kind of important phone call,” Ray looks up at him and replies, “But you know I just have to wonder if you ever gave that poor girl that you slept with at my dorm a call after what happened.”

  Dustin looks around in a panic before he whispers harshly, “Omigosh Ray! Can you drop this already?”

  Ray continues, “I just can’t understand how people can take such a serious step like that like it’s nothing. I mean I would never go all that way with someone unless I was sure that whatever we had was truly something special.”

  Dustin shakes his head, “I can only be glad you’re so noble since you’re dating my sister, after all.”

  Ray says, “Yeah? Well you should try being noble sometime. Maybe things work out better for you in the future,” and it’s about then that he gets a text from his coach so he then says, “Looks like I have to go meet my coach for something. Tell your sister I’ll be back later.”

  With that, Ray gets his jacket and heads out. Dustin sighs in exasperation as he closes the door.

  Just then, Dustin’s own cell phone starts to ring. He muses that it seems like everyone is getting a call for New Year’s and he hopes this one is a good call before he answers.

  Dustin’s eyes bulge and he looks around the room cautiously before he whispers harshly, “Look, I told you no one is going to find out what we did, okay? I want this to remain a secret just as much as you do! So it would help if you would stop calling me all the time!”

  He hangs up. However, he is then startled by the voice that suddenly comes from behind him.

  “I can only hope you’re not in any more trouble despite what I just heard,” school reporter Rita Allen states as she walks into the room, “So you should tell me what that phone call was all about so I can be sure you haven’t gotten yourself into another mess.”

  Dustin tells her, “Oh hey, sis. That? That was nothing I can’t control on my own. It’s fine really.”

  “I sure hope you’re right,” Rita Allen folds her arms and says. “Although what that phone call was about is yet another thing you’re going to keep from your own sister. Like the mysterious person you have feelings for or who gave you that bracelet you can’t seem to take off.”

  Dustin raises an eyebrow and folds his arm as he retorts, “Oh? Like how you can’t tell me the real reason you want to assume nothing but the worst of Chad Blackman and his connection to Rick Hayes.”

  Rita Allen frowns and says defensively, “What? Dustin, I already told you how close Chad and Rick were. I told you how Chad had been wearing the same jacket Rick wore when he manipulated those students into attempted suicide and how Chad was missing from school when Rick disappeared from town!”

  Dustin asks, “Then sure, I understand that Chad and Rick could’ve been close and Chad could’ve just borrowed that jacket. So with Chad’s missing classes with Rick’s disappearance, why didn’t you just assume that Chad was in some way another victim of Rick’s manipulation just like the other students?”

  Rita Allen pauses before she simply says, “I guess that’s why we have to start planning now.”

  Dustin frowns, “What are you talking about? We have to start planning what?”

  Rita Allen explains, “We have to start planning now that I just got that call about the editor-in-chief vacancy that just opened up at the school newspaper. I just thought about it and I’ve decided I want to run for that editor-in-chief position.”

  “Editor-in-chief, huh?” Dustin comments, “I remember when I tried out a journalism stint like yours over at my school a while back, and I know that the editor-in-chief position can be pretty tough to get.”

  “It sure is,” Rita Allen replies, “But I’ve got to take the chance while I have it, right? Besides, if I get the job, not only would it make good experience for my future career but I can make sure the newspaper tells nothing but the truth about everyone. And maybe I can finally have the resources I need to show everyone all the real secrets Chad has been keeping about Rick Hayes.”

  Dustin wonders if she can really find out the truth that he knows. Rita Allen has a determined look.

= = =

  Meanwhile, at a restaurant, Vitani and Josh are standing in the waiting area in semiformal evening wear. They had been waiting for Evan and Eliza to show up, as they are late for the reservation. Vitani and Josh get anxious and decide to go look outside.

  After they get outside, there is no sign of their expected dates. However, Josh’s cell phone vibrates.

  Josh looks at it, “Hey, I just got a text from Ellie saying they want tonight to be full of surprises.”

  Vitani looks at her cell phone, “I just got the same text from Evan. What do you think is going on?”

  Just then, a man in white lab coat runs towards them in a panic. He pushes his way past them, dropping a large thin envelope as he does. Vitani picks it up to give it back to him but he runs off. She sees a small label on the envelope that it is from a local research center. Josh looks around but no one is following the man. Josh wonders if the man was in some sort of trouble and takes after him with Vitani following.

  The man turns into a nearby alley but is cornered by a dead end. He yells out frantically with nowhere to escape just as Vitani and Josh turn in the alley. Just as they arrive, a bright white light flashes from at the dead end of the alley, causing them both to shield their eyes as the man yells.

  When the light finally fades away, they look, only to see the man has vanished from the alley.

  Vitani and Josh exchange astonished looks.

Alien

  In the alley, Vitani and Josh are shocked by what just happened, since there is no trace of the man ever having been there except for the envelope he had dropped earlier. Josh is worried and suggests they get out of the alley, pulling Vitani along.

  As they walk away, Josh looks back in confusion as he asks, “What the hell was that bright light?”

  Vitani nods and adds, “And what’s in this envelope he dropped. Maybe it can give us some sort of clue as to what’s going on. Let’s see,” and so she opens the envelope and pulls out what appears to be a picture of a hailstone along with an infrared image of the hailstone… and the September freak storm around when Chad had arrived in town, “Hey look! This is the storm; that was how we all knew of the coming of Chad as the chosen one.”

  Josh looks at it and remarks, “But that storm was really an omen of the impending rise of the oscinades. So this man’s disappearance must have something to do with an oscinade too. Maybe that scientist guy uncovered something big about -”

  “Maybe we can uncover something big ourselves,” comes two familiar voices.

  Vitani and Josh look up to see Evan and Eliza standing outside of the restaurant. Vitani and Eliza hug before she then hugs Evan as they greet. Josh hugs Eliza and nods to her cousin Evan as they all greet.

  Eliza says, “Oh. You guys must have gone for a walk while you were waiting for us. Sorry about that.”

  Evan explains, “Yeah. I was just paying off the PI who helped us all find Eliza, when she and I both decided that he could maybe help us with something else. Something else just as important.”

  With that, Evan opens the door to let them head back inside. Vitani and Josh exchange curious looks.

= = =

  Back at the movie theater at the mall, Chad’s cell phone rings in his pocket so he rushes to answer it before it annoyed the other patrons in the theater. It’s Dustin calling. Aaron sees it come up on Chad’s phone screen and frowns a little to himself.

  Chad smirks, “Hehe. Speaking of our good friend Dustin, let me go see what’s up. Be right back.”

  With that, Chad answers it and jogs out of the theater to answer the call. Aaron secretly grimaces.

  Meanwhile, out in the concession area, Chad puts the cell phone to his ear, “Hey Dustin, what’s up?”

  “My sister is running for the editor-in-chief position at your school newspaper,” Dustin states.

  Chad frowns a little and muses, “Oh. I have a feeling I know one reason why she’s going after that job.”

  Dustin agrees, “She’d have way more control at the school newspaper and that kind of power could give better access to all sorts of files and reports at SyndAcad. Maybe even ones about … Rick Hayes.”

  Chad remarks, “Your sister has a determination that’s good for her job, but seems to mean bad news for me.”

  Dustin adds, “Since I did a journalism stint once at my school, she says she wants me to run as assistant editor. But then if she’s gets the job, I could find out whatever she’s up to and make sure she doesn’t do anything crazy about this Rick thing.”

  Chad says, “You’d do that for me? But still, Dustin, I don’t want to be the reason you, like, undermine your sister’s career or anything.”

  “I would never undermine her career,” Dustin says, “But I would never let her hurt you if there’s something that I can do about it.”

  Chad is touched and says, “Thanks Dustin. I know it means something when I’m wearing this bracelet.”

  “Really? You’re wearing the friendship bracelet now?” Dustin smiles, “So am I. I’m wearing mine too.”

  “Really? That’s awesome,” Chad looks around before he giggles, “Except it might make a certain boyfriend of mine twice as jealous after he saw you kiss me like that under the mistletoe.”

  “Huh? Kissed you like what?” Dustin teases with a smirk.

  “Almost like … I dunno … like there was something else going between us, hehe,” Chad replies, “But I know you were just playing around and Aaron probably knows that too. He’s known you longer than I have. Hey, maybe Aaron even already knows that you’re gay.”

  “Well I never told him about that,” Dustin says.

  “Aaron didn’t have to tell you he was bi,” Chad points out, “Maybe he picked up on you the same way.”

  “But I never felt this way about a boy until I met – ” Dustin trails off before he says, “Until recently.”

  “I’d ask Aaron about it but that’s probably a conversation you two should have yourselves. Anyway, I should get back inside the movie theater,” Chad explains, “Aaron and I are sorta on a date right now. So we’ll talk later. And hey, thanks for telling me about your sister’s latest plans to destroy me.”

  “You know I’d like to make plans for us to hang out sometime soon,” Dustin says, “For the friends we say we are, it seems I can only hang with you when you’re not on a date with my roommate and when my sister isn’t trying to keep me away from you.”

  Chad giggles, “We just have to make sure that no matter what, you and I find our way to each other.”

  Dustin sighs before he replies, “Well I hope we can find our way to each other soon.”

  After they hang up, Chad turns to get back to Aaron in the movies. He passes the concession stand decides to buy himself some popcorn first to avoid any more awkwardness on their date. After a few minutes of getting in line, he finally gets himself a small bucket of popcorn and Chad heads back inside to finish the movie with his boyfriend, Aaron.

= = =

  Over at the restaurant, Evan, Eliza, Vitani and Josh take a seat at their reserved table to talk.

  Evan begins, “Vitani, since we all know that your mother used an alias at the orphanage in Italy before you got transferred to NY with us, we can send the PI to Italy to check for someone with that name and who had her last description, and had the same silver pendant you’re wearing.”

  Vitani shakes her head, “But sending a PI to Italy would cost a fortune, much less hiring one.”

  Eliza explains, “Don’t worry about that. We still have trust fund money from when our family died.”

  Evan adds, “Right. And maybe even Josh could help out, right Josh?”

  Josh ponders on it and replies, “Sure. It might mean asking my father for help but I would totally do that if this PI guy could get us answers to your past, Vitani.”

  Vitani replies, “Thanks a lot guys. Really. It’s so touching to me that you are all thinking of me like this. But you guys also have to think that if the police hadn’t found anything then over a decade ago, there’s probably less to find now. My mother didn’t want to be found.”

  Eliza suggests, “But maybe it’s like what I did. I settled down in Westpoint City and even started seeing people like Josh when I didn’t think anyone was looking for me here.”

  Josh agrees, “And who else is back there searching for your mother more than a decade later?”

  Vitani remarks, “With a silver pendant like this, my mother could probably afford to send a PI looking for me herself, but has she?”

  Evan replies, “Well this is our chance to find out the answers to that question and so much more.”

  Vitani sighs and says, “Look guys, I could never forgive myself if I let you invest so much in something that might only be a lost cause. But I will always love all of you for even being willing to. There might be a time I’m willing to power that search for my mother, but it’s not right now.”

  Eliza hugs her and tells her, “We totally understand, Vitani. And we’re always here if you need us.”

  Josh reaches over and touches Vitani hand, “Yeah. I hope you know much we all care about you.”

  Vitani smiles at him, “I do.”

  Evan clears his throat, “I also think it’s time … that you know how I felt about you, Vitani.”

  Vitani looks up. Eliza smiles knowingly and Josh turns and raises an eyebrow. Evan looks right at her.

  He takes a deep breath before he continues, “Because not only may I have had a crush on you from back at the orphanage, but I’ve had feelings for you from the time I came here to Westpoint City. And those have both grown into this amazing feeling I get every time I see you now. So now I want the chance to show you. So Vitani … will you go out with me?”

  Josh looks on expectantly. Eliza grins happily and Vitani giggles to herself. Evan waits for a reply.

  Vitani gives him a look before she nods and smiles, “Hehe. Yes Evan. I would love to.”

  Evan lets out a sigh of nervous relief before they get up and hug each other affectionately. Eliza is ecstatic about her best friends’ growing relationship. Josh meanwhile looks away in deep thought.

= = =

  Back at SyndAcad, Ray drops by the newspaper office where Rita Allen is preparing for the editor-in-chief campaign. The school reporter is unpacking some papers to be used as flyers during her run for office when she sees him at the door.

  Ray props against the doorway and tells her, “Hey you, I nabbed some planetarium tickets today and I wondered if you wanted me to take you out. Maybe I can even take you to the stars tomorrow, hehe.”

  Rita Allen says, “Oh! The planetarium convention I heard about. That’s really awesome. But I don’t think I can make it, sorry Ray. I’m super busy right now because I have to write an application letter, an essay and then draw up a whole campaign plan since I’m gonna be running for the editor-in-chief position here at the newspaper. It just opened up and I just got started.”

  Ray pouts cutely and asks, “Wouldn’t you rather spend time with me?”

  Rita Allen promises, “Look, I’m definitely gonna at least make it to the gathering at Look-Out Point on the night before New Year’s for the fireworks. But tonight and tomorrow I definitely have to make the most of it for this campaign.”

  Ray nods and says, “Fine. I guess I’ll just let you get back to work and I’ll um see you later.”

  With that, Ray kisses her on the cheek and excuses himself from the room. Rita Allen is already darting from here to there with more files for the campaign and hardly notices Ray’s dejected look. She heads into the backroom.

  Outside, Ray looks at the tickets and tells himself he knows the perfect person to ask and walks away.

  After he walks away, Amber and Christy stop nearby and start to talk. Rita Allen meanwhile keeps working in the office on her campaign when she overhears the other reporter girls talking to the Milano sisters outside of the door and her name gets mentioned. She stops and listens at the door.

  Rita Allen overhears the reporter girls discuss whether they think that she will get the job or not. The Milano sisters talk about how they just heard her shoot down her own boyfriend to focus on preparing for her campaign plans. They gawk that Ray Torres is not only sweet and handsome but that he is the star football player and if it were them, they would not give him up for the world. They suddenly go silent and walk along past the office.

  Rita Allen steps away from the door just as her brother Dustin returns with two lattes in hand.

  Dustin knocks the door shut with his hip before he says, “Hey sis, saw some of your competition outside. Have they even got a campaign of their own going? Maybe we won’t even need a campaign this big.”

  After he puts down a latte for her and gets back to work on the flyers, Rita Allen meanwhile wonders if she did the right thing by turning down Ray’s offer for a date at the planetarium. She looks over at Dustin planning out the flyers as she takes up her latte from the table.

  Rita Allen sips on her latte and thinks to herself, ‘Oh we need this campaign alright. I’m doing this campaign to really make sure I get the chance to not only show you but to show Ray the truth about Chad Blackman once and for all.’

= = =

  Sometime the next day, Chad stops by the condo to catch up with his friends. He finds Vitani and Josh looking over some newspaper articles in the living room. Chad takes off his jacket and heads over.

  Vitani asks, “Hey Chad, how was your date with Aaron last night?”

  Chad says, “Um, it was pretty cool. How was your night out?”

  Josh says, “You’ll never guess half of what happened, squirt.”

  Vitani cuts in, “But for starters, I’ve now got a date for New Year’s this year like the two of you. My best friend Evan asked me out to the party we’re gonna be hosting at the Libretta.”

  Chad smiles, “Hey that’s great. I always could tell Evan had some kind of feelings for you, but I wasn’t sure if it was just fondness from your past together.”

  Vitani muses, “Yeah. Evan and I have been through a lot together. And I guess he probably didn’t tell me about his feelings after I started going out with the basketball captain Brett from WP. Then I laid off dating after how things between me and Brett ended. But I’ve got a whole year of possibilities ahead of me now!”

  Chad turns and asks, “So why doesn’t Josh look too happy?”

  Josh looks up and claims, “Huh? Oh. I was just thinking about the other thing that happened last night.”

  Vitani nods and clears her throat before she says, “We think we saw a man get abducted last night.”

  Chad looks at them incredulously, “You mean like alien abducted?”

  “Yup, one minute he was there and the next minute, after a bright light – gone,” Vitani nods and shows him a newspaper article from a few months ago that she dug up at the library, “Take a look at this.”

  It’s about some scientists at the Storm Research Center who reported that they detected an anomaly of infrared radiation in a hailstone that crashed on site during the September storm. They were suspicious the hailstone contained extraterrestrial life. However, it was laughed off by the scientific community since it was claimed by Dr. Reid, an eccentric scientist whose previous outlandish ideas got him a bunch of denied research grants.

  Vitani nods and says, “That guy, Dr. Reid, he’s the same man Josh and I saw disappear.”

  Chad looks at the article and asks, “How do you guys know who he was?”

  Josh explains, “He dropped this envelope; we found his name printed at the bottom.”

  Vitani says, “So we called the research center and they said Dr. Reid hasn’t returned for the last few days. But then they also said it wasn’t unusual, given his eccentric behavior. I think it will be a while before they think his disappearance means anything close to what we saw.”

  Chad then looks at the images from the envelope and says, “Hmm. Well according to these images, the hailstone’s thermal readings are an exact match for a region of heat in the September storm cloud.”

  Vitani says, “Well I just researched hailstone formation and we found out that they form when heat updrafts push rain up into freezing regions of the storm cloud. So when the frozen rain becomes too heavy, it falls back down and out of the cloud as hail.”

  Chad nods and says, “Right. That makes sense but what doesn’t make sense is how a huge storm would only produce a single hailstone report. And according to what’s written at the back, the thermal readings are similar to that of some kind of cold-blooded organism. This is implying there was some kind of life up there in that storm when I came to Westpoint City.”

  Vitani muses, “I guess that must have made this even more laughable when Dr. Reid suggested it.”

  Josh shakes his head and says, “But now we definitely know there had to be more to all this.”

  Chad looks up, “What do you mean? You guys think this is probably oscinade related?”

  “When isn’t it oscinade related?” Vitani remarks, “But now we know it is for sure. You see back in September before we found out you were an auranade, we had no choice but to ignore oscinade activity in the city, since we couldn’t banish them without a third auranade. Things in this town were getting pretty bad. Then we were visited by the oscinade of omens, who showed up to put the scare in us. He said that if we didn’t find the chosen one before it was too late that evil would reign upon the city in the face of the storm. So when the storm came that’s how we knew the chosen one was in town, and we eventually figured out that chosen one was you, Chad.”

  Chad looks up in awe that the storm when he came to Westpoint City was a sign of much to come.

  Josh says, “So the September storm was part of the omen of the oscinades’ impending rise before we finally put a stop to it when we stopped Rick Hayes’ plans for you on the bridge and the auranades were united.”

  “Then the storm went away,” Chad muses in following, “But then if it occurred just by a rise in oscinade activity, it must have been powered by some kind of dark forces. So then we have to wonder if those same forces sent some oscinade that could have lived inside the hailstone that the scientist Dr. Reid found.”

  Josh notes, “Well we’ve faced all kinds of oscinades this year that were capable of about anything.”

  Vitani looks up and says, “So where is this oscinade now and what has it done with Dr. Reid?”

= = =

  After a small beep from the security settings, Chad, Vitani and Josh enter the front door to the Storm Research Center on the outskirts of town and are met by a male scientist in a lab coat, carrying some boxes of equipment. He has a name tag pinned on his coat, identifying him as Dr. Groff.

  “What brings you kids all the way out here?” Dr. Groff asks curiously.

  “We’re all um doing this winter project thing for school,” Chad claims, “So we were really hoping to see the hailstone you and your team here found a few months ago with a claim it possibly contained life?”

  Dr. Groff lets out a heavy sigh, “Either you kids do your research or I bet you probably Googled ‘weird things of winter in Westpoint City’. But I’m sorry to disappoint you, since the display had been taken down ever since it got ridiculed by the scientific community – as you probably also read in some article.”

  Vitani says, “But with the possibility that it all could’ve been something big, I’m sure you guys must’ve kept something on the hailstone. It would mean a lot to us if we could get more information on it.”

  Josh adds, “Yeah. I kinda wanted to deal with this ‘project’ of ours and get it out of the way before New Year’s. I’ve got this date with my girlfriend and I –”

  Chad cuts in, “We’re just really curious as to how a hailstone could produce thermal radiation similar to that of a living cold-blooded organism. No fish or frog would’ve ever survived that long in a storm like that one. It almost makes you wonder if this thing could’ve been from … outer space or something.”

  Dr. Groff looks up at the mention of the words ‘outer space’. Chad, Vitani and Josh exchange looks.

  The scientist sighs again, “Since you kids seem to have the enthusiasm my team and I had about the hailstone when we’d first found it, I’ll see what I can do. Maybe I can show you some of the last collected information we had on it.”

  With that, Chad, Vitani and Josh follow him into an office with Dr. Reid’s name printed on the outside of the door. However, when they get inside, they look around to see the room is mostly empty. They notice papers are scattered everywhere.

  “Although this is typical of Dr. Reid to not be here, neither is his data on the hailstone,” Dr. Groff comments as he goes through the papers, “He was reassessing the hailstone again this week and yet all of his files on the hailstone are gone. Let me check the security cameras.”

  Dr. Groff runs upstairs with Chad, Vitani and Josh curiously following. When the alarmed scientist types in a few passwords on a computer, the view of security camera outside of Dr. Reid’s room pops up. He checks the log of the last time Dr. Reid was seen. A video plays of Dr. Reid leaving his office in some kind of panicked hurry. A few minutes later, a bright white light is seen coming from the opposite corner of the hallway. The camera starts to fizz before it scrambles and blacks out.

  Vitani and Josh look at each other upon seeing a bright light similar to the one they had seen in the alley where Dr. Reid had disappeared last night.

  “What the hell was that bright light?” Dr. Groff wonders, “It was getting closer to the camera just before the footage got ruined. It’s as if it could have produced the thermal readings we got … from the hailstone.”

  Chad gulps and muses, “You think that means that –”

  Dr. Groff replies, “I think I have contact our other partner, Dr. Haden, presenting at the planetarium tonight and discuss this matter. I also think you kids better get out of here until we get more information about what’s going on.”

  “C’mon guys. We should probably be getting back to SyndAcad anyway,” Josh remarks worriedly.

  Chad, Vitani and Josh nod before they leave the room. As Dr. Groff escorts them out, he locks the door to the center right after they leave. He has a worried look on his face as he watches the three drive off in Josh’s jeep.

  Dr. Groff turns around to see a bright light approach him. He yells out as a zapping sound is heard.

= = =

  At the Libretta, Chad, Vitani and Josh return to help with a New Year’s party being hosted there tomorrow, as they wonder what was going on with the scientists, the hailstone, the mysterious bright light and its connection to a new mysterious oscinade. The three auranades are helping set up the tables for the party.

  Chad places some napkins on the table as he muses, “When I got back from my aunt’s after Christmas and heard about the planetarium, all of the tickets were already sold out. So I guess we can only wait on word from Dr. Groff on what else is going on with Dr. Reid and the hailstone – hopefully before it’s too late.”

  “But maybe it’s not too late for you and your special someone,” Josh remarks.

  “Oh. Well Aaron wants to take me to Look-Out Point for the New Year’s fireworks,” Chad muses.

  “That’s not who we meant,” Vitani says with a grin, “Maybe fate has plans for you and the guy who just walked in.”

  Chad looks up in confusion until he turns around to see Ray Torres entering the café and looking about. Vitani and Josh smile at Chad. He gives them a look before he sighs and heads over to Ray.

  “Hey Ray, what’s up?” Chad asks.

  “Hey C.K., you’re just the person I was looking for,” Ray explains with a grin before he digs into his jacket pockets and pulls out tickets, “I’ve got two tickets to the planetarium and it’s the two of us.”

  “Awesome! I wanted to go myself, but the tickets were sold out,” Chad exclaims before he adds, “Wait … what about your girlfriend, Rita Allen?”

  “Um,” Ray explains, “She’s busy preparing an editor-in-chief campaign for the school newspaper.”

  “So I’m a second choice then,” Chad muses.

  “Hey. You were the first person I thought of when I got these. No one knows your love for science and stuff better than I do; you taught me all about it,” Ray tells him, “But I thought it would be kinda weird if I didn’t ask my girlfriend first. After all, you might have had plans with your own date or whatever. Last week when I wanted to hang out, your friends over there told me you were on a date, but then they clammed up like they weren’t supposed to tell me.”

  Oh, it’s not that. It’s just -” Chad pauses as he doesn’t think he should tell Ray that he has a boyfriend and that he’s dating Aaron; he’s not ready to reveal he is gay yet. After all, he supposedly saw Ray and Rita Allen having sex before, and he took it to mean Ray may have never even had those kind of feelings. “I guess me and my date were just getting to know each other at the time.”

  “I see,” Ray slips his hands in his pocket and nods to himself, guessing to himself everyone was right about Chad and that girl Cassie, “And I guess that means you two are getting more serious now?”

  “Whatever it means, we don’t have any plans right now,” Chad scratches his head.

  “Great. Then it’s a date,” Ray simply replies, “Say we meet up at the convention in an hour?”

  “Sure thing,” Chad nods, “See ya there.”

  Ray nods and heads back out of the café. Chad looks on and fiddles with a banner ribbon in his hand. He sighs to himself before going back over to Vitani and Josh setting up the other tables. The two smirk teasingly at him. Chad rolls his eyes at their looks before he grabs his stuff and says, “Looks like I’m going to the planetarium tonight guys. So maybe I can find some of the answers we’ve been looking for.”

= = =

  Meanwhile at the newspaper, Rita Allen tells Dustin that she has to go to the bathroom. After he nods, she leaves and goes to the girls’ bathroom, but as she enters, she overhears a girl crying to two of her friends inside of one of the bathroom stalls. Rita Allen stops curiously in case she might be intruding.

  ‘What’s going on in here?’ Rita Allen wonders curiously.

  The girl sobs that she just doesn’t understand why her boyfriend is losing interest in her after she gave him everything. The other girls remark that they hadn’t known she’d lost her virginity. The girl says she hasn’t given him that and maybe he doesn’t deserve it now. The other girls think that would keep him interested. Rita Allen simply rolls her eyes in disbelief at their comment.

  The girl asks her friends if they think sleeping with her boyfriend will keep him around. One of the girls claim the possibility will. The other girl says that no one is saying to define a relationship by sex, but sex is and will always be one of those things that keep most relationships alive, whether she likes to look at it that way or not. She insists that her own boyfriend isn’t interested in anyone or anything else because he knows he can get everything he wants and needs from her.

  The two girls tell their friend, “You just have to know if he is worth it or worth letting go.”

  Rita Allen ponders to herself before she turns and leaves the bathroom quietly.

= = =

  Back at the Libretta, Amber and Christy stroll in towards Vitani and Josh as they pin up some balloons. Vitani and Josh see them and let out a big sigh. The Milano sisters grin deviously.

  Amber says, “Like, if it isn’t our favorite waitress of woe and of course our fave basketball captain.”

  Christy adds, “Like, we just wanted to let you know that we’re gonna have dates for the New Year’s party tomorrow that will totally give you a run for your money.”

  Josh smirks and teases, “Oh. I guess I will just run right into my girlfriend Eliza’s arms then.”

  Vitani giggles, “And running from the two of you is always best.”

  The Milano sisters snap, “All of the guys sure ran from you this year, Vitani. Look how fast Brett ran.”

  Vitani says, “For your information, although it’s really none of your business, I’m the one who told Brett he had to go and I’m more than glad I did because now I’ve something way better.”

  The Milano sister fold their arms, “Oh really? And what’s that?”

  Vitani smiles, “Guess you girls will have to wait and see tomorrow, just like I’ll have to wait to see the poor guys you have for dates; who I’m sure by New Year’s will be saying ‘like, never again!’ after a night with you two.”

  Josh chuckles, “Yeah, I made that resolution myself last year and now I’m happier than ever.”

  With that, Vitani and Josh walk off laughing together. The Milano sisters fold their arms and scowl.

= = =

  At the planetarium, Chad and Ray are looking at the displays around the convention in awe. Tons of excited people are buzzing from here to there to look at all of the amazing exhibits about outer space. Chad is also reading one of the brochures to find out where Dr. Haden’s presentation will be held so he can get some more information on the mysterious hailstone.

  Ray slips his hands in his pockets and asks him, “So C.K., how were the holidays at your aunt’s?”

  Chad looks up from the brochure and says, “Oh. It was really great to be with family again after my first school term at a new school like SyndAcad. But it was also great that I could tell them how many good friends I’ve made since I enrolled. I actually have reasons that I want to come back here next year.”

  Ray turns to him replies, “You have to come back. When you came to SyndAcad, you totally changed my life. I mean you saved me from the lightning storm, you tutored me so I could stay on the football team and you figured out that Cameron Levine was plotting to get rid of me all along. I don’t just call you C.K. for namesake. You’ve got a world to save here.”

  Chad blushes a little, “I guess I have to figure out what means the world to me. But that means a lot.”

  Ray smiles and tells him, “It means a lot that you save a lot of people the way you do.”

  I couldn’t agree more,” comes a familiar voice.

  Chad and Ray turn around to see none other than Destiny, the fortune teller! She is the fortune teller girl who they all had run into at SyndAcad a few months ago for Halloween. She smiles at them knowingly. Chad and Ray are surprised to see the mysterious fortune teller again.

  Chad says, “Hey, Destiny. What brings you to the planetarium?”

  Destiny states, “I was scheduled to leave a few weeks ago but couldn’t bring myself to do so until I spoke to you again. I know something drew me to stay for the convention and it must have been you.”

  Ray asks curiously, “Why did you need to speak to us?”

  Destiny reminds them, “I never got to tell you about your destiny before Rita Allen got in the way.”

  Chad sighs deeply as he recalls how Rita Allen had come between something ever happening between him and Ray and he had no choice but to move on. He thinks that since Ray is with Rita Allen, who is out to get him, and he is with Aaron now, he isn’t sure what lies ahead for them.

  Destiny meanwhile nods and pulls out a scroll which she unravels before them, “Look here. You see, each one of us is a star, bright in its own right. But just like in this painting, when the path of some stars cross, that’s when their light will shine brightest and cast off the surrounding darkness.”

  Chad and Ray look at the scroll to see a painting of two stars which seem to circle each other and produce a magnificent light. But what did it all mean about their future? Chad and Ray look at each other in wonder. However, when they look back – Destiny is gone.

  They look around, but she is nowhere in sight among the crowd. Chad and Ray shrug in confusion.

  “Well this was pretty amazing,” Ray says, “I feel like I know a little more about this world we live and even beyond now. I just wish I understood what Destiny meant by that star-cross painting in the scroll.”

  “I dunno,” Chad shrugs. “I guess maybe we just have to play it out right and it will all make sense.”

  “I wonder how far we are from figuring it out,” Ray muses before looking at his watch, “I hope it’s sometime soon. But speaking of time, I better get back to SyndAcad to help out my girlfriend with her editor-in-chief campaign. Rita Allen seems really driven to get this job at the school newspaper.”

  “I bet she is,” Chad muses, knowing that Rita Allen wants to get more on his connection to Rick Hayes.

  “If we finish up with the campaign planning tonight, maybe she and I can make some plans for tomorrow night for New Year’s,” Ray continues, “I bet you’ve got something planned with your date.”

  Chad scratches his head and nods, “Um yea. I think we do.”

  Ray replies, “I guess we’ll both be ringing in the New Year with someone special then.”

  With that, Ray walks away and leaves the convention. Chad shakes his head before he looks down at the brochure in his hand. He still hadn’t found the doctor. However, it’s at that moment that he looks up to see none other than Dr. Haden walking out towards two other people… his partners, Dr. Reid and Dr. Groff. Chad listens from around the corner.

  “We told you we don’t know what hailstone you’re talking about,” the other two scientists insist.

  “What do you mean you don’t know what I’m – omigod!” Dr. Haden exclaims, noticing some kind of bruise at the sides of both their heads, “Did someone do something to you?”

  “If someone did something to us, they must have hit you with a dose of crazy,” Dr. Groff claims.

  “You’re talking about aliens in hailstones. And they call me the crazy one,” Dr. Reid laughs.

  The two scientists put a hand on Dr. Haden’s shoulder telling him to calm down. Unnoticeably to Dr. Haden, but seen by Chad, a silvery amoeboid creature slithers its way from out of Dr. Groff’s jacket and onto Dr. Haden’s back. Chad’s eyes bulge in shock.

  Meanwhile, Dr. Haden looks at Dr. Reid and Dr. Groff in disbelief before he suddenly runs off out of the doors. The other two scientists scratch their heads in bewilderment and walk away. After they pass by, Chad steps out in alarm.

  Chad realizes what is going on and muses, “Well it’s no alien, but it definitely doesn’t come in peace!”

= = =

  Josh’s Jeep pulls up at the Storm Research Center. They notice Dr. Haden’s car parked outside with the doors left open. Chad, Vitani and Josh jump out of the vehicle and burst inside the front doors where they find Dr. Haden has gathered up the last of his stuff in the next room.

  “What are you kids doing here?” Dr. Haden exclaims, “You need to leave now before –“

  Before he can finish the sentence, the silvery amoeboid creature suddenly expands behind him and produces hand-like projections which glow with crackling electricity. It places it hands at each side of Dr. Haden’s head and zaps him, creating an explosion bright light.

  Chad, Vitani and Josh gasp in horror. Dr. Haden collapses on the floor. The silvery oscinade takes a more human-like form in order to stand on two feet. Its eyes glow an electric blue. The auranades run out into the main area where the front doors are now locked and automatic gates block the way.

  Chad states, “That energy in its hands is probably responsible for the readings Dr. Reid picked up in the hailstone. It’s been using its powers to zap their minds and erase their memories of that hailstone from the September storm. But I think it’s already gotten to Dr. Reid and Dr. Groff!”

  “It must’ve gotten to Dr. Reid that night in the alley,” Vitani realizes.

  “And it must’ve gotten to Dr. Groff after we left before,” Josh adds.

  “I am no ‘it’, I am K15 – oscinade of abduction!” the eerie oscinade creature hisses in a robotic voice as it enters the main area, “I couldn’t allow these humans to prove my existence for their government to hunt me down. Not while I, and so many others who came in that storm, have objectives from the Triad of Doom to complete. One objective is now priority – destroy the auranades!”

  With that, K15 launches a blast of reverberating sound waves towards them. Chad and Vitani cover their ears. Josh stands in the way and turns his arms to steel, crossing them in front of him. The sound waves hit his arms and reflect back in the opposite direction, towards K15.

  The oscinade of abduction returns to its amoeboid state on the floor to dodge the sound blast before it slithers quickly towards them. Vitani puts her hand to her mouth and blows her icy mist. K15 crawls onto the wall and up on the ceiling to dodge the icy cloud. Chad quickly swipes his hand upwards to make a gust of wind blow the cloud of icy mist over toward K15. It hisses as it freezes solid on the ceiling, flickering in light from inside K15.

  “Hey guys, I think K15 is weakened by ice,” Chad realizes, “That’s why it couldn’t break out of the hailstone on its own. It must have only escaped recently when Dr. Reid abandoned his project and let the hailstone melt, freeing K15!”

  Just then, the frozen alien-like oscinade suddenly drops from the ceiling. The ice shatters on impact and so the oscinade is freed as a flittering silvery blob. They watch as it regains its human-like form.

  “Now we know how to stop you!” Vitani smiles and blows more icy mist.

  However, to everyone’s surprise, the icy mist floats up into the air and freezes onto the ceiling. They then feel their own feet lifting off the ground. K15 laughs robotically as it creates a zero-gravity effect in the room. Random objects around them start to float as well.

  As they float upward, Chad tries to swipe his hand at the oscinade. But nothing seems to happen.

  “You need air molecules for your powers to work,” K15 explains, “So, apart from the thin veil of air around you to breathe, you are all now essentially in a vacuum of space! But worry not, all shall be void once I destroy you three!”

  “Pretty sure there’s still ice in space!” Vitani yells and uses her new power to hurl blue spheres of ice.

  However, the blue spheres also float around aimlessly. K15 floats up into the air as it laughs evilly.

  The three gulp when they see K15’s hands glow with crackling electricity. It was going to zap them too! Unlike the auranades, K15 moves toward them with more control, although slowly. They try to move away, but they merely spin in the air. Chad, Vitani and Josh panic as the oscinade approaches.

  Realizing that he hasn’t tried anything yet, Josh turns his hand to steel. He begins to sink towards the floor due to the density of the steel. He manages to grab one of Vitani’s blue spheres, which had been floating below them. Just as K15 is almost there, Josh turns one of his hands back to normal, causing him to rise back up between K15 and Chad and Vitani.

  When K15 reaches out to zap him, he holds the blue sphere in his steel enhanced hand and puts it between the oscinade’s grip as quickly as possible. A bright light is created as Josh’s metallic arm conducts the electricity and the ice of the blue sphere weakens K15 during the contact. After a shock wave occurs, K15 hisses and is blasted away. This causes the zero-gravity field to lose effect.

  Chad, Vitani and Josh hit the ground first. When the floating blue sphere starts to fall, Chad takes a deep breath before he swipes his arms around to guide all of them to crash right into K15, forcibly knocking it back into an electrical generator behind it. The oscinade is electrocuted before it slumps into a silvery puddle. Chad, Vitani and Josh look over at the hit man and repeat the banishment verse together:

“Evil spawned from darkness core,

Walk this land you shall no more,

Wickedness be rectified,

Let your face be now denied!”

  An intense light emerges from the generator, where blasts of energy cause fragments of the broken generator to swirl up into the air from the opening vortex. The three auranades watch K15 move towards the portal. The oscinade of abduction hisses as its body and the generator are sucked inside.

  There is an echo of the hiss in the research center before it seals shut and fades away.

  “I’m sure that’s one blast that oscinade won’t forget,” Josh muses, shaking off a weird feeling he gets.

  Just moments later, Dr. Haden walks into the main room apparently just having woken up.

  “What happened in here?” the dazed scientist asks in confusion.

  It’s then that Dr. Reid and Dr. Groff entered the research center once the security gates slid apart and the doors unlocked. Chad, Vitani and Josh step aside as the scientists run over to Dr. Haden.

  “Hey, it’s you three kids again. Are you kids alright?” Dr. Groff asks.

  Chad, Vitani and Josh say it is just Dr. Haden they are worried about after things got a little ‘crazy’.

  “We knew things must’ve been serious when you put the center on lockdown like that and we couldn’t get inside,” Dr. Reid says to Dr. Haden. “Things must have gotten as crazy for you as it did for me when it came to this hailstone. Yes, it all came back to me a few minutes ago. But what happened to the hailstone we had is still a blank.”

“I think we should just forget about all of it and just start fresh with our research,” Dr. Haden remarks.

“I more than agree, Dr. Haden,” Dr. Groff adds. “Now there’s a new year of possibilities ahead of us.”

  The three scientists shake their heads and laugh. Chad, Vitani and Josh nod at each other.

Epilog

  At the newspaper office, Rita Allen and Dustin remark that they’ve put in enough work for the campaign for the day and the final touches can be done just before school first thing next year when the actual campaign will begin. The siblings begin packing up their things from on the office table.

  Just then, Ray shows up with a big smile on his face, “Hey guys. I’m here to help if you need any.”

  Dustin replies, “We actually just decided we’ve done enough for the day, although you’re in a good mood.”

  Rita Allen walks up to her boyfriend and holds his hand as she says, “I’m sorry for not going to the planetarium with you today, but maybe we can go tonight. Hey, let’s go right now!”

  Ray shakes his head, “Um it’s probably closing now. But if you’d have come with me before I’m sure you would’ve seen just how amazing it was. I think we had a pretty good time.”

  Rita Allen frowns. “We?” she asks.

  Ray replies, “I just knew C.K. would love that kind of stuff, being our top science student and all.”

  Dustin looks up and asks, “Who’s C.K.? Did you go out with another girl because my sister had plans?”

  Ray says, “Don’t be silly, Dustin. C.K.’s my best friend. And your sister knows how close we are.”

  Rita Allen cuts in and swallows jealously, “Well Ray, you are all mine tomorrow night for New Year’s!”

  Rita Allen then pulls Ray into a hug, thinking about how Ray didn’t hesitate to turn to Chad the moment she wasn’t there. She thinks that Chad is trying to get close to Ray when she’s not around. She vows that she isn’t going to lose Ray to Chad, not when she knows she is so close to proving his true connection to Rick now… if she wins the campaign. She sighs in thought.

  Rita Allen muses, “I guess I let you go already today, and you’re not worth letting go. You’re worth it.”

  She smiles and Ray smiles back before they share a kiss before holding each other’s hand. Their show of affection makes Dustin think about his feelings for Chad, which he’s been keeping secret, especially now that Chad is dating his military school roommate, Aaron. He then thinks about what Chad said about Aaron. That’s when something hits him.

  Dustin gets his coat and says, “Well, let’s go guys. I think this New Year is gonna be an interesting one!”

= = =

  On the night before New Year’s at the Libretta, the party has started with a dance, although some of the guests are arriving. Meanwhile, Amber and Christy sit patiently at their own table until Vitani comes in. They get up and go towards her.

  “Where’s your non-existent new boyfriend, Vitani?” the Milano sisters ask her.

  “Where are your unfortunate dates, girls?” Vitani asks in return.

  “Right here,” comes a familiar voice.

  Vitani turns in shock to see none other than her ex-boyfriend, WP basketball captain, Brett, standing behind her. Brett smiles at her before he stands next to the twins and put his arms around them both. Vitani frowns at them all in disbelief.

  Amber and Christy smile teasingly. “But it like looks like you’re the one doing the solo samba tonight.”

  Vitani looks around the decorated bookshop café. The twins laugh. Brett then leans forward.

  He whispers to Vitani, “You can save the last dance for me and maybe even the rest of your night.”

  Brett wiggles his eyebrows teasingly. Vitani scoffs in her head before she decides to play along.

  She pulls him aside by the hand from the twins and claims, “Oh I’m all for a good night tonight, Brett. But prove it to me and tell the Milano sisters to get lost right now.”

  Brett looks at her in surprise until Vitani traces her finger along his tie. Brett looks up and thinks that she must really be still into him. He turns and immediately confesses to the Milano sisters, “Look girls, I only used you two to get my girl Vitani here to see what she’s been missing with me. So that now that she has –”

  The WP basketball captain moves over puts an arm around Vitani’s waist. The Milano sisters scoff.

  Vitani steps away from him and explains, “Now that I have Evan, I realize I’m not missing much of anything and I’m also discovering a whole lot more about how vindictive people like the three of you can be. Thankfully, I know that there is always better.”

  With that, Vitani walks over and kisses Evan, who is standing not far behind them, “Take me to dance?”

  Evan doesn’t even look around at Brett and the Milano sisters before he grins happily, “Right this way.”

  After realizing that Vitani had just played him, Brett turns back to the Milano sisters,

  “Hey girls do you wanna-” but they cut him off, each with a slap to his face.

  “We wanna do more than slap you after that,” the Milano sisters exclaim, “But now you have nothing.”

  With that, Amber and Christy storm out of the party. Brett looks around embarrassed and leaves.

  Over where the others are dancing, Josh dances with Eliza as Vitani and Evan come over arm in arm.

  Josh tells Vitani, “I thought I was gonna have to come over and escort that jerk outta here. He could still get to know my fists again before the year is out.”

  Vitani laughs and replies, “Don’t worry, Josh. I knew the Milano sisters could send anyone running.”

  Josh twirls Eliza before pulling her back in and saying, “Once you run in the right direction like I did.”

  With that, he leans in and kisses Eliza. Vitani smiles as she hugs Evan while they dance.

= = =

  Meanwhile, Aaron has taken Chad out to Look-Out Point to watch the New Year’s fireworks together.

  As they are looking for a spot to settle down, Chad and Aaron pass by the football players around a campfire fry who gossip that Ray and his school reporter girlfriend Rita Allen are there as well. Aaron tugs Chad away from them.

  “Let’s go somewhere else,” Aaron suggests, “I mean so we don’t have to hear what a wild time Dustin’s sister is gonna be having with her boyfriend tonight. Whatever happens tonight is gonna be just about you and me.”

  Chad thinks back to when he’d seen what he thought was Ray and Rita Allen having sex before and just nods. So Chad and Aaron walk off through the nearby trees to find a spot to watch the fireworks together. Just after they have left, Dustin shows up at the campfire looking around for both of them.

  Dustin looks around the crowd of other kids and says, “I have to find Aaron now!”

= = =

  Also at Look-Out Point, but in a rented car, Ray and Rita Allen are talking about the upcoming year.

  Rita Allen decides to ask, “And what do you want for the two of us this year, Ray?”

  Ray shrugs and says, “I dunno, but I think I’m hungry for something right now.”

  He offers to go get them some food from the fry and leaves the car. When he is gone, Rita Allen slowly reaches into her handbag and pulls out a box of condoms. She looks down at the box and has a flashback of the girls in the bathroom at school:

  The two girls tell their friend, ‘You just have to know if he is worth it or worth letting go.’

  Rita Allen sighs nervously and wonders, ‘Should I go through with this? Is this worth it?’

= = =

  Meanwhile, Aaron suggests they split up in two directions to find the perfect spot to set up before the fireworks. Chad simply nods and walks off. Aaron turns to head the other way when he hears twigs crunching nearby. He turns to see none other than Dustin coming towards him.

  “Aaron! You and I need to talk!” Dustin states as he grabs Aaron by the arm, “Right about now!”

  “Actually, I need to find a place for me and my boyfriend to get cozy for tonight,” Aar0n replies as he yanks his arm away, “In case you forgot, Dustin, some of us actually have plans with our dates tonight!”

  “What I remember is that time when you, me and Chad all went to find out who framed me for the military code,” Dustin remarks while glaring at him, “You know, when you whispered in my ear that you couldn’t blame me for having the hots for Chad.”

  “You mean when you punched me?” Aaron shrugs, “Hmm. Well your denial was your loss.”

  Dustin gasps, “So you did know I had feelings for Chad all along, didn’t you? And you still went after him anyway! And you were more than sure to make your move right when Chad and I were having a rough patch over my sister!”

  Aaron retorts, “I was sure to be a man about my feelings for Chad unlike you, Dustin. That’s all.”

  Dustin asks, “Would a real man deliberately go after someone his friend had feelings for?”

  Aaron narrows his eyes, “I should ask you that same question, Dustin.”

  With that, Aaron turns and walks away. Dustin frowns before he exclaims, “Omigod. Aaron knows!”

= = =

  Chad stumbles upon a parking lot on one edge of the cliff and sees a single car parked there.

  He figures it is just some couple, until he hears familiar voices. Chad frowns and looks a little more closely to see it’s none other than Ray and Rita Allen in her bra making out in the car. He sees Rita Allen pull Ray’s shirt off of him before kissing him again. He guesses where this was going to lead after what he supposedly saw last time. With that, Chad turns and leaves hurriedly, his foot snapping a twig as he leaves.

  When the twig snaps, Ray hears it and pushes Rita Allen off of him again before talking a deep breath.

  Rita Allen softly asks between planting kisses on him, “What’s the matter Ray? This is what I want.”

  Ray frowns and says, “Are you sure about that? This isn’t like you. You just pushed this on me!”

  Rita Allen scratches her head in embarrassment, “Look Ray, I was just, um, playing around. That’s all.”

  Ray replies, “Yeah? I thought you were messing around or something before I saw that box over there.”

  Rita Allen looks at the condom box in the car seat and pauses before she sits back. Ray shakes his head.

  Ray asks her, “You really wanted our first time to be in some car? That’s not the Rita Allen I know. And I always thought that if we wanted to take our relationship to the next level that this is something we’d discuss first.”

  Rita Allen shakes her head, “You’re right. I guess I got carried away. But it must’ve been because I’m realizing … that my feelings for you are becoming more serious, Ray.”

  As he puts back on his own shirt, Ray looks over at her, unsure, before he gulps nervously to himself.

= = =

  Chad finally finds a spot for him and his boyfriend to be alone and calls Aaron on his cell phone. Aaron shows up at their spot and lights a small campfire before he sets up the blanket and basket of food quickly before he sits and has a beer. Chad puts down his stuff and sits close beside him.

  Chad then notices that three other beers are already missing from the pack.

  So Chad takes Aaron’s beer and says, “Um I think you have had enough for tonight, Aaron.”

  Aaron nods and claims, “You’re right. I have. Besides I want to put my lips on something better.”

  Aaron moves forward and starts to kiss Chad on his neck. Chad is a bit nervous, but Aaron tells him that it is okay.  When jealousy over seeing Ray with Rita Allen in the car hits him for a moment, Chad slides his hands onto Aaron’s neck and starts to kiss him back. Aaron moans appreciatively and cradles Chad’s back to encourage him to lie back on the blanket.

  As Chad and Aaron kiss, one of Aaron’s hands reaches for Chad’s belt buckle, but Chad soon grabs his hand when he catches himself. Chad shakes his head and sits up. Aaron looks at him and frowns.

  “Hey, slow down there,” Chad tells him awkwardly, “We don’t have to rush into anything, remember?”

  “I can’t imagine a better way to ring in the New Year,” Aaron smiles and leans in, kissing him again. “I know I might not be who you had in mind, but don’t worry, Chad. I’ll make sure you don’t regret this.”

  “What are you talking about?” Chad frowns and looks at him, “How much did you really have to drink?”

  “I just know what I want. And I know this is what you want too,” Aaron climbs over him and kisses him in the neck, “Well almost, maybe you can just pretend I’m Ray Torres and let me show you I’m better!”

  Chad frowns in disbelief and slaps Aaron across the face, “Okay, that’s it! Before this gets any worse!”

  Aaron rubs his cheek, “Hey! What’s the matter with you? And where are you going?”

  Chad is grabbing his stuff, “You’re drunk, Aaron! And that might get you in the mood, but I’m not in the mood for any of this! Clearly, after the amount of beers you had and what you just said, you can toast to the New Year without me!”

  With that, Chad takes his things and leaves, heading back through the trees. Aaron calls out for him.

  Aaron tries to follow but gets dizzy from the beers he drank. He gets angry before he stumbles back to the picnic blanket and pops a few more beers. About that moment, Dustin shows up at their set up.

  Dustin grabs him and asks him, “I thought you said you were here with Chad. Where is he? And why are all these beer cans around here? Omigod, Aaron, what have you done?”

  Aaron simply looks at him and groggily says, “I guess we’ve both done some bad things, haven’t we?”

= = =

  Chad wonders around the forest when he finds Ray sitting by himself on a tree stump near the cliff.

  Ray looks up and smiles a little before he asks him, “Hey C.K., what are you doing out here? Shouldn’t you be with your date?”

  Chad shrugs, “I could ask the same thing of you.”

  Ray explains, “Rita Allen and I are both taking a little time to think about something we did.”

  Chad remembers what he saw in the car and sighs before he asks, “Is it all going to be okay?”

  Ray says, “I think so. No matter what, I feel like it’s all gonna be okay somehow because you’re here.”

  With that, Ray reaches out and touches him on the shoulder. Chad can’t help but get that feeling in his chest from his touch. It’s also at that moment that the fireworks go off to signal the beginning of the New Year. They hadn’t even realized it was already midnight. Chad and Ray turn and look up at the amazing display of colors in the clear night sky.

  “Happy New Year,” Chad and Ray say to each other at the same time before they smile bashfully.

  “Hmm. Maybe this year will make this whole destiny thing become clear for us,” Chad muses.

  “I’m really looking forward to that day,” Ray tells him as he turns to face him.

  Chad looks up at Ray, who is looking right back at him. They exchange long looks before Ray’s cell phone suddenly rings. Ray steps aside to answer it. Chad meanwhile sighs to himself that he always feels like he is so close and yet so far from Ray.

  Ray hangs up his cell and says, “That was Rita Allen’s brother. Apparently he found a roommate friend of his who’s too drunk to get home on his own. So he wanted me to make sure his sister gets home safely. I guess he thought I was with her this whole time.”

  Chad nods in understanding, “I guess you have to go then.”

  Ray asks him, “Should I walk you back to your campfire? Do you need a ride home, or is you date still here?”

  Chad shrugs, “Um, I’ll be fine. Thanks, Ray.”

  Ray nods and says, “Guess I’ll see you around. After all, it’s hard to forget about destiny.”

  With that, Ray walks back through the forest. Chad ponders in thought as he walks away until his own cell phone vibrates. He just got a signal in the forest where a bunch of messages from Dustin come in; asking where he is, if he’s okay and wishing him a Happy New Year. Chad smiles a little and texts Dustin back a ‘Happy New Year’ message.

  Chad sits on the tree stump before he calls Vitani and Josh to pick him up. He sighs in wonder.

= = =

  The next day, back at the military school, Aaron is still calling Chad who isn’t answering. So he leaves yet another voice message apologizing for what he did while he was drunk on New Year’s Eve.

  “Chad, I’m sorry about what happened!” Aaron says. “I can explain everything. I just -”

  “I suggest you let it go and let using Chad to get back at me go. I know you know about what I did. You know … that I slept with that girl you went out with.”

  Dustin says this as he arrives there, when he returns with his stuff from his sister’s, where he spent the holidays.

  Aaron turns around and snaps, “She has a name – it’s Felicity Blake! You hear that, Dustin? She wasn’t just something you could use as a test to prove to yourself that you weren’t gay. How dare you accuse me of using someone, when you took advantage of her when she and I were having a hard time?”

  Dustin sighs and explains, “Look, I won’t deny that I made a huge mistake with her, but you told me it was over between the two of you and she was the one who came onto me that night during the blackout. And as I realize now, it must have been to get back at you for whatever happened!”

  Aaron says, “So you went straight for it, huh? Oh wait, you’re not even a little straight. So once you were finished screwing around Felicity, you kicked her out of the place! She came crying back to her friends and I overheard it all!”

  Dustin says, “Well you didn’t overhear that we got caught in the middle of things by my sister’s boyfriend that night so I had no choice. So many things happened that night that weren’t supposed to!”

  Aaron says, “I know you got so caught up in your indecisiveness, you lost out on Chad!”

  Dustin states, “So you deliberately go after Chad the very moment he and I were at odds about my sis.”

  Aaron retorts, “Except I think way more of Chad than you ever thought of Felicity and I wasn’t about to let you do Chad in the way you did her!”

  Dustin says, “This all happened because of my feelings for Chad! And you really don’t stand to question my feelings for him, since, as I can tell, Chad doesn’t want to hear from you after whatever it is you did on New Year’s Eve.”

  “What I did is nothing compared to what you did,” Aaron assures him, “You’ll figure that out soon.”

  Aaron storms out of the dorm. Dustin sighs and looks down at his friendship bracelet with Chad.

= = =

  Later that day, in the school newspaper office, Ray and Rita Allen are alone, talking about what happened between them in the car at Look-Out Point. Rita Allen had just finished uploading some pictures they had taken together the night before she tried to seduce him in the car. In doing so, she still hadn’t looked through the others to notice that, a few weeks ago, her hacking device had managed to download a single photo from Rick Hayes’ flash drive. She closes down her computer as she and Ray both agree they are not ready for that step in their relationship. They hug and make up.

  As Ray props himself on her table, she stands in front of him with her arms over his shoulders.

  Rita Allen sighs, “Oh Ray, I’m glad we’re okay. I just can’t believe we spent the countdown alone.”

  Ray muses, “Actually, I wasn’t that alone. Chad showed up just before the fireworks. It was like fate.”

  Rita Allen pauses in disbelief that Ray had been with none other than Chad at midnight for New Year’s while she was with – someone she didn’t expect to be with that night – where she thinks it’s better if Ray thinks she was really alone. She tells herself that this had all been because of her idea to use sex to get Ray to want to turn to her over Chad had blown up in her face in the car that night. It’s better that Ray thinks she was really alone. She then grimaces at the thought that Chad is definitely trying to somehow come between her and Ray, but she swears she won’t let him – and as soon as she finds out his true connection to Rick, that will be it for Chad.

  Just then, Dustin shows up and says, “Everything for the editor-in-chief campaign is officially ready!”

  With that, Dustin pours them all something for a toast. As he does so, Ray notices Dustin is wearing a friendship bracelet that he thinks looks rather familiar somehow. They toast to what they want for this year:

  Dustin briefly glances at his friendship bracelet and sighs before he says, “For new chances.”

  Ray thinks about his and Chad’s run-in with Destiny and adds, “For new chapters.”

  Rita Allen smiles deviously to herself about her plans for Chad and says, “For new surprises.”

  After that, they all toast and drink with smiles. Dustin then looks at his sister and her boyfriend says he hopes everything is okay now. Ray and Rita Allen look at each other and nod.

  The door opens up and someone says, “It couldn’t be better!”. They all turn around in surprise at the sound of the female voice. Rita Allen glares at the door, Ray frowns in sudden realization of who the girl is and Dustin’s jaw drops in shock.

  “My name is Felicity Blake, and I’m going to be the new editor in chief of SyndAcad this year!” the girl proudly declares, “After all I’ve got lots to tell!”

= = =

  Over at the condo, Chad looks at all of Aaron’s messages and ponders what to do about the situation.

  Vitani and Josh return at that moment from a brief trip to the store for some drinks for an official New Year’s toast. They see his engrossed look before they come over and ask, “Hey, Chad, you okay?”

  Chad looks up and states, “Hey. We’ve defeated yet another oscinade. I couldn’t be more proud of us!”

  Josh pours them all a drink in wine glasses. The three hold their glasses and toast, “To the auranades!”

To be continued…

© 2014 Chad Blackman

Chad.blackman@ymail.com

Published June 18, 2018