Chai and Mercedes used Diantha as a messenger to ask me to lunch a couple of days after we talked on the phone. We met out by Mercedes’ car at the beginning of our lunch hour, Chai climbing up on the roof to wait for her. She pulled me up with her and we sat cross-legged, the cool breeze ruffling my sweatshirt and Chai’s bright hair.
Mercedes unlocked her car from a ways away and we swung in, Chai taking the passenger seat. We set off in search of cheap food and laughs to fill the hour we had off. Mercedes took us to a sandwich place in the same shopping center as the bookstore, accompanied by Chai and I screaming the lyrics to a mix of 70’s songs. A really good disco song about Broadway came on and I thought the windows were going to break from the sheer volume of our singing.
We walked around the shopping center while eating, Chai and Mercedes bouncing jokes off of one another, each quip managing to make me laugh more and more even with a mouthful of sandwich. “Hey actually, where’s Diantha during this time?” I asked between fits of laughter.
“I think she’s trapped in a math class this hour,” Chai said, spinning as she walked. “I try to sneak her out every so often, just to keep her sane, you know? She’s so wound up sometimes, it’s good for her to get out.”
“Yeah except she never comes with us,” Mercedes adds.
I thought for a moment. “She was always the reckless one when we were kids,” I said, thinking back to when we went running through the woods once, Diantha conjuring replicas of every bird we saw along the way. Her parents always got mad at her when she came home drained and pissy from using too much magic all at once.
Mercedes drove us back to the school with ten minutes or so left in the period, parking her car in the same spot it was in before. Chai and I danced our way up to the school, Mercedes in tow, singing to the sky and the curious onlookers that watched us return. Even Mercedes joined in before we got inside.
The entryway was mostly empty, save for a few students propped against the walls or tucked into the corners. Our voices bounced off the walls and echoed down every hallway, our youthful joy heard by everyone on the second floor. I bet Diantha even heard our return from her math class.
I spotted Salem as he ducked around the corner into the main office, so I nudged Mercedes so we could go say hello. Chai followed us inside, where Salem was speaking with one of the Assistant Principals, who stood more than a foot taller than him. The three of us went into the waiting area, keeping our distance from them.
“What seems to be the problem, Mr. Penrose?” The Assistant Principal’s voice rang in the office. Even Chai was silent in her presence.
Salem’s voice was soft and timid by comparison. “I released the spirit,” His voice wavered. “I released the spirit that’s been causing all the strange magic and problems. I did it.”
The Assistant Principal laughed. “Oh Salem, I’m sorry. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Mercedes glanced at me as Salem began to speak. “No, you don’t understand. I was trying to research the spirits that control our magic, and I found out there wasn’t any recorded information on one of them, so I figured out how to summon it,” He rambled through the story, hoping it would reach the Assistant Principal’s ears and consideration. “I summoned it in the library a couple months ago, and I lost control. I couldn’t contain it for study or gather any information about it, and now I can’t capture it back and I don’t know what to do. But I had to stop hiding from it, because I want to fix it even if I have to take a thousand detentions or something.”
“Salem, you didn’t do anything,” said the Assistant Principal. “Go tell whoever put you up to this to come see me, alright?”
I peered around the corner to see the Assistant Principal walking away, leaving a sputtering Salem in the hall. I took a leap of faith and stepped around the corner.
“This isn’t a joke,” I said sternly, stopping the Assistant Principal in her tracks. Salem looked at me like I had just spoken some celestial tongue. “He’s right. There is a spirit in the school that is the cause of all sorts of chaos. It nearly wiped out Diantha.”
“Diantha Lavenza?” The Assistant Principal turned to look me over, trying to discern if I was lying or not.
Mercedes came to stand beside me and Salem, touching my shoulder lightly to let me know she was there. “Yes. This spirit being here is putting students in danger, and playing dumb to it isn’t going to help anything.”
“Miss Archer, out of all of the students here, I never thought you’d participate in such a joke,” The Assistant Principal turned back around and walked away. “Next time please make sure you have a real reason to waste my time because I won’t be hearing of anything like this again.”
Salem was frozen where he stood, his feet anchored to the ground. “I tried to do the right thing,” he started to say.
“No,” Mercedes cut in. “If they won’t even acknowledge what’s going on, then it’s up to us. Right, Ainsley?”
Mercedes put her hand on my shoulder as I turned to Salem. “We’re going to help you make this right, don’t worry.”