169. The Drive to Go On

“Are you sure about this?” Jae asked.

He woke up this morning after a pleasant dream. Although he disliked Mondays, he got ready for school with more energy than usual. What he didn’t expect was to be pulled to the Principal’s Office just when he arrived. Not to mention, the number of people waiting for him there.

After all of that, Jae still couldn’t comprehend how he found himself skipping classes and driving across towns. The car reached the border for Arboreal, taking a familiar path that led to the Red Panda Hotel.

“It’s not like I can think of another way” Alex groaned from the passenger seat. The fringes of her blonde wig tickled her forehead. She blew them off and adjusted the edges of the cap, “It’s really urgent and I don’t want to waste the element of surprise.”

Since they had to sneak away, she decided to wear a disguise. The clothes she wore were still her usual hoodie and jeans. She’d change out of them once they reached their destination. As for the wig, it took time to perfect so she decided to wear it while they drove, using the mirror of the sun visor.

“By driving all the way to Freccia Prep?!” Her companion exclaimed. Jae checked the GPS, making sure they’re on track, “Tell me again, why we’re not flying there?”

“Because there wasn’t an available seat. Besides, it’s not that far.”

“Yeah, just driving through two towns. No biggie” Jae replied sarcastically, “Why can’t you let Emily do it?”

Alex hit the back of her head on the chair. She stretched her arms. They had begun to hurt from wearing and altering the wig. Then, she took a comb and brushed the synthetic hair from the tips in thin sections.

“Because she’s not supposed to be involved. Didn’t you hear what I said? That this matter is between me and Skye? Carla also backed that up. Although she didn’t say it directly, she implied that Skye doesn’t know that adults have looked into the matter. We can’t expose that right away if we wanted to catch her.”

Carla Veverlede, someone Jae didn’t expect to be in the room. He found her talking to the lawyers while Alex filled him in on the situation. They coaxed her about her ties with Skye, mentioning the financial situation of her family. It did not seem pretty.

He was surprised that she managed to stand her ground under such scrutinizing looks.

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A few hours earlier…

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“Is Skye the person you hinted Alex about?” James asked curtly.

He sat in front of the Principal’s desk. He placed his feet apart and rested his elbows on his knees. His upper arms pointing upwards, he laced together. He kept his focus straight ahead and bore into the eyes a head cheerleader.

Steve Parker chose to retreat from the scene. He sat on his chair, leaning on the backrest. His elbows rested on the armrests while his fingers clasped together. He placed his hands on his lap.

“I’m sorry but I can’t tell you much,” Carla huffed out in one breath, “I have things on the line that. I can’t risk it. My mother also loves her brothers. I wouldn’t want to get in the way with that by betraying the family.”

“We looked into it,” Atty. Peyton replied, unmoved by her reluctance to cooperate, “Your family is in need of financial assistance. We can establish something of the sort if that’s what you’re worried about.”

“Did you hear me, Mr. Lawyer? I said I didn’t want to betray the family. That’s something money can’t replace. There’s already a team of you handling this. I’ve done what I could. I am sure you can proceed without my testimony.”

James heaved a sigh. His right temple throbbed in irritation. In times like this, he’d expect people to do the right thing. It was common sense. Alas, they always had a line they wouldn’t cross—even at the expenses of others.

Lilly placed a hand on his shoulder, “Don’t fret. She has a right to remain silent. At least, she didn’t deny it. That’s another assurance that it’s the truth.”

“But if we don’t have her testimony, we won’t have enough evidence against this” James pointed. He leaned back on the chair and stared at nothing, thinking of a new plan, “This won’t be an easy case and it would be a big mess. Even if we connect the two, without Carla’s confirmation, they can just use her as a scapegoat and say that she acted on her own. ”

His eyes flickered towards the head cheerleader. She smiled sadly, aware of what he meant. Her expression told him that she was ready to take that plunge if it happened.

In the end, the enemy would win.

“But Carla is innocent” Alex cut in. She stood up from the bench and approached the group, “I’m not proceeding with this case if the blame would be placed on an innocent person.”

She glanced over her schoolmate. They weren’t close but if she was another victim in Skye’s schemes, Alex was willing to protect her. No way would she allow someone else to be manipulated.

“Either way, she’s still involved” Lilly reminded them, “Even if we gather more evidence, that folder incident is a highlight of the case. She’d be seen as an accomplice. The only way to pull her out of it is to place the evidence of blackmail, threat, forced consent, violence… if we were to follow Carla’s wishes, it wouldn’t help her.”

From what Lilly understood, the girl wanted her transactions with Skye to be kept secret. Any of those would put a strain between their relationship and she desired for it not to happen. Also, if word got out about a reward money, it had high chances of being retracted by the Conary’s.

She’d lose what she risked herself for. In fact, Lilly believed that the head cheerleader was actually asking for help on how to be pulled away—without surrendering.

Her niece pinched the bridge of her nose, “Is there any way to avoid it altogether?”

Alex dropped her hand and stared at both lawyers. Their grim faces said it all. She took a deep breath and cocked her head to one side, “So we proceed with my plan then.”

She actually hadn’t thought about interrogating Carla until the lawyers pointed it out. In her mind, the people involved were her, Skye, Logan and Jae. No one outside of that circle appeared when she crafted an exploit. It wasn’t the grandest plan in the universe but she figured it was her best shot.

Especially if she only had one of it.

“Absolutely not. I refuse” Lilly objected for the nth time. Her back became rigid immediately, “You are not allowed to be near Skye. Call her instead if you really want to extract a confession.”

A confession from the criminal herself, Alex mused. It was the most outstanding evidence they could get. The problem was how to get it. Not only did they need elaborate planning but also they had to grab every advantage possible.

The element of surprise was her top choice and Alex came up with one.

Unfortunately, her aunt didn’t share the same sentiment.

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“If I call her,” Alex explained for the nth time, “It would be easy to cut the line. Once I reveal what I intended, she would avoid it at any costs. It wouldn’t have to be me either. She’d be on her guard for everyone. The only way is to corner and that should be face to face.”

“Then, it should be either James and I. There’s no need for the person to be you.”

Alex groaned. They already had this conversation and it always ended in circles, “You can’t because you’re lawyers. She wouldn’t be willing to admit things to you.”

“And why would she tell you?” James inquired. He had been listening attentively. He had to admit that a confession like Alex wanted was their best course of action with the circumstances.

“She wouldn’t.”

“Ha—!”

“But!” Alex interrupted Lilly with a scowl, “I do have another angle and it would be most effective if I did it. I also can’t sit here, worrying if the plan is working or not. I want to go. This is between me and her. I want to confront her myself. I’d take any added security measure if it would help calm you down.”

Her nerves brimmed from impatience. It had been bothering her since the last time she saw Skye. If it weren’t for Logan, she would have ran after her as well. That remained the only thing Alex could use against her. It didn’t involve Carla or the folder. It only had her, Skye, Jae and Logan like she initially thought for the plan.

She needed to take action now or she’d drive herself crazy.

“Well, I still don’t think this is a good idea” her aunt muttered, folding her arms over her chest. She looked away and let the rest of the people handle the matter. She couldn’t be the only one that found the idea ridiculous.

“Bring the fight to the enemy rather than waiting” James stated. He pursed his lips together, shrugging his shoulders, “It’s a good strategy.”

Lilly snapped her head towards him. Wild accusations filled her gaze, “Why are you so calm about this? Are you actually an accomplice?”

His lip twitched in delight as he glanced upwards. The frown on her face only made him more amused. She clearly didn’t like to lose.

“Your image of me is flattering,” he chuckled. Then, he gave her another shrug, “I just know that there are times when kids need to do what they need to do. Free to make their own decisions—act on them, make mistakes and learn. Sometimes they’d even encounter a small victory if things went successfully. Another thing they need to experience for them to be confident when they’re on their own.”

Lilly stayed quiet. Her eyes landed on Jae who hadn’t spoken a word. He sat on the bench

hunched over his open knees, arms resting on his thighs. When they made eye contact, he willed himself not to avoid her gaze.

From what he understood when Alex talked to him, he’d be the one to accompany her in this plan. Her aunt must have wanted reassurance that nothing would go wrong. He needed to show her that to comfort her doubts.

“If I may be bold to offer an opinion,” Carla spoke up, clearing her throat, “Alex is quite independent. A person would expect her to act alone… or, at least, appear that way.”

James smiled at the head cheerleader before turning to the sulking aunt. He grabbed her elbow and brushed his thumb against her skin, “If you know anyone in that school that could look after them, it would be alright.”


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