I drove Haley to her home, but ended up staying for a couple hours after that.
I left there just before eleven, dropping off the car back at HQ, and making it home on time for curfew. Then I read a book for a few more hours, and went to bed around two in the morning.
I didn’t fall asleep at school the next day, but I hadn’t gotten enough sleep, making me more withdrawn than usual. I took notes, ate lunch by myself, and stayed away from people.
This had one practical result. I didn’t know where any of my friends were going to be after school, making it hard for me to bum a ride home. That wouldn’t ordinarily have been a problem except that it started to rain during the last period, and didn’t stop when school let out.
All of which left me standing in the hall, looking out the front doors of the school, trying to decide if I should call someone to pick me up or just wait for the rain to stop.
People walked past me to buses waiting in front of the school, and across the street to the muddy parking lot.
While I scanned passing faces for friends, Chris stepped out of the crowd.
“Nick, are you waiting for somebody?”
“No. I’m trying to find a ride home.”
He gave a bemused looking smile. “I’m stuck too. My car didn’t start this morning so I rode my bike, but I don’t want to ride home in this shit.”
Looking him over, I decided I wouldn’t ride home on a bike in his situation either. I doubted the jean jacket he wore would do a very good job keeping him dry.
“I was hoping things would let up soon.”
“I wish. The forecast calls for rain from now till midnight. I checked it on my phone.”
I looked toward the front doors, watching the rain through the glass. “So, what do you think is wrong with your car?”
“I’m thinking the battery, maybe the alternator. On the other hand, I might have done something stupid that’s draining the battery. I didn’t have time to check.”
“What have you been doing to the car?”
“Just experimenting. I had a couple ideas…”
He started telling me about his ideas, and the conversation took off. Twenty minutes passed without me even noticing.
Sean’s voice finally drew me back to reality. The majority of people had now long since left the school and Sean, Dayton, Jody, and a couple girls were the only people walking down the hall. Julie, the girl who had emailed a picture of Haley and I out to most of the school, was one of them. I thought I might recognize the other from when Keith tested people in the parking lot.
Sean’s voice carried. “They’re still out there. What we have to do is get famous enough that they won’t have the nerve to make us disappear. Seriously, they bugged my house…”
As I looked over at them, Sean glared at me, lowered his voice, and kept on talking.
At that moment, I suppose I could have said, “You don’t have to worry about it. The Cabal didn’t bug your house. That was me.”
It didn’t seem like the right time.
Chris watched them pass with an expression that I interpreted as disgust.
When the front door shut behind them, and we were the only people standing there, Chris opened his mouth, stopped, and said nothing. Then he quietly said, “I know who the Rocket is.”
My guts froze, but I managed to say, “How?”
“You were too good at helping me with Grandpa’s stuff. No one figures out something that complicated in an afternoon.”
“Just from that?”
“That and when I mentioned to Grandpa that you might help, he looked relieved. Also, when I thought about it, that bit with handing the ball over to the League.”
I don’t know what the expression on my face looked like, but he said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m not going to tell anybody. I just wanted you to know I knew.”
“Thanks, and don’t take this badly, but I think I’ve got to get better at hiding it.”
“Easy. Don’t fix supervillains’ equipment.”
“Right. I –” I was going to arrange getting the ball back to him. Even as I began, I thought better of doing it right there, and then my phone rang.
I pulled it out of my pocket, noticing two things immediately — that it was nearly an hour after school had ended and that Vaughn was calling.
“Nick, this is bad. I went into my family’s house’s uh… really big basement, and someone’s been down there. Can you get over here? I’ve already got Cassie.”
“Can you pick me up? I don’t have a car, and I’m still at school.”
“I’m sure someone can pick you up.” Distantly, I heard him say, “Cassie?”
“Wait,” I said. “I just thought of something. Haley’s not working. She can probably bring me.”
“Right. And she might be useful too.”
After we hung up, I made a mental note to put “new communications system” higher on my list of projects. I didn’t think we’d said anything dangerous, but just about anybody could eavesdrop on a cell phone.
“Hey,” I told Chris. “I think I had an idea about how to get you home.”