No Good Deed
Copyright© 2019 by Lumpy
The new semester did start with surprises, just not the ones I expected. The teachers had stacked us with homework and additional studies over the winter break, although the girls and I sailed through that within the first week of the break. We spent the beginning of the day going over that work and talking about what the new semester would bring.
I hadn’t given it a lot of thought, but listening to the breakdown, I started to think that Mom’s idea of switching to a homeschooling setup was a good idea, regardless of its necessity because of the move. There was only so fast a school district was able to accept the progression of their students, and the girls and I had started having to hold back at school, in case someone noticed just how accelerated our studies were and came up with an answer we wouldn’t like.
None of that, however, was the surprise. That came just before lunch as I headed towards the cafeteria when a hand grabbed my shoulder from behind. I turned and found the owner of the hand was Josh, and I felt the pit of my stomach go out.
‘This is it,’ I thought. ‘He’s really going to make me fight him.’
Josh had been getting steadily more aggressive over the last year that, if he hadn’t been friendly the previous year, I would’ve thought he was a genetic negative. I knew I’d have to deal with him sooner or later, but I was having trouble coming up with any plan that didn’t end in a fight. It wasn’t that I was afraid of Josh. Sure, he was huge, but despite everything, I’d held out a hope we could recover from whatever insanity had taken him over. Plus, Amanda was close to the girls, and I knew any fight with Josh would jeopardize that as well.
I tensed up for him to make a move, but he simply said, “Can we talk for a second.”
He was gesturing to an empty classroom, and I followed him into it, expecting maybe an ambush by some other kids he’d talked into helping. But the room was empty. Josh closed the door to the classroom to shut off the noise from the hallway and came over to stand across from me, looking at the ground.
“Cas, I want to apologize.”
That, I hadn’t been expecting.
“For what,” I said, mostly to buy time to think through the situation.
“I know I’ve been an ass. When I haven’t been begging you for whatever you’ve done to yourself and your ... uh, friends, I’ve been threatening you. Amanda pointed out to me that not only was I making it less likely that you’d be willing to do whatever it is you’ve done to the others for me too, but I was making it so I couldn’t be friends with any of our group anymore.”
“Wait,” he said, holding up a hand. “I want to be clear this isn’t a play to get you to change your mind, or whatever. Not only have I made it so you and I aren’t friends anymore, but Amanda’s had to avoid the rest of the group, too. That’s made her pretty upset. I’d like to fix all that. So ... I’m sorry.”
He had a look on his face I couldn’t decipher. I was half sure that, despite his denial, this was some kind of ploy to convince me to change my mind after all. But I’d also been upset over the state of our friendship. I realized that, at this point, it was up to me if we fixed it. So, despite mistrusting his intentions, I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
“Thanks. Our friendship was important to me, too. I’d like to fix this, too.”
“Great,” he said with one of his big smiles. “Well, I’m meeting Amanda off campus for lunch. You go meet the rest of the gang, and we’ll talk later.”
“Sure, Josh,” I said.
The look on his face was still there, but he gave me one last grin and headed out of the classroom. I walked towards the cafeteria lost in thought, sitting at the table without even getting food. I was trying to work through all the possibilities of what Josh might be up too. But there were just too many possibilities. I had just landed on deciding to take a “wait and see stance” when a push on my shoulder pulled me out of my thoughts.
“Hey,” Zoe said, her hand rubbing my shoulder. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah. Sorry. Just ... something strange happened, and it’s got me a little out of whack.”
“Josh apologized for how he’s been acting.”
“Great,” Tami said. “Amanda said she was going to push him to fix things. So maybe stuff will go back to how it was.”
“Maybe,” I said.
“You don’t think he meant it?” Zoe asked.
“I ... I don’t know. But I think we should accept it at face value for now, and just pay attention. Just in case.”
“Good,” Vicki said. “Amanda’s been avoiding us for weeks now, ever since the party where he threatened you outside. I’ve missed her.”
“I know,” I said, patting her on the hand. “Hopefully this will fix all that.”
We let the conversation drift off to other topics, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was missing something.
After school, I met up with Jawarski, who was waiting to pick me up. I’d left my keys with Zoe so she and the rest of the girls would get it home. They had all pulled out of cheer-leading this semester, claiming it was because of their advanced class load. The real reason was their coach had made a few comments about how fast they were progressing in performing harder routines.
It seemed like that was going to be a problem across the board, and one more that would be fixed with us moving.
Jawarski left me alone as we drove, letting me stare out of the window and think through the changes that were coming, and puzzling over Josh some more. Sadly, the answer to both of those seemed to be the same: ‘wait and see.’
When I came out of my own head and looked around, I realized we were pulling into the complex we’d rented an apartment in.
“We’re not going to Alex’s lab?”
“No. Did you think they’d just keep the girl sleeping on a couch? Once she was stabilized and not baffling every five minutes, they brought her here to rest. Use your head.”
She had a point. As with many other things lately, I hadn’t thought it through. She parked the car, and we headed upstairs. Inside I found Celia sitting on the couch next to Megan, drinking a Gatorade and still looking ragged.
From the look she gave me when I came through the door, it was clear the change had finished. It was the same general expression everyone who’d gone through the change seemed to give me. It was part of the reason I hated changing people. None of the others seemed to be able to see it, Zoe said it was in my head, but I could see it. Every time.
“How are you feeling,” I asked as I found a seat next to Celia.
“Better. I’ve stopped puking my guts out, thankfully. Whatever you guys gave me was like every detox I’ve ever had, put together at once.”
“Well, you were pretty messed up when we found you.”
“Megan told me. Apparently, I was in a coma?”
“Apparently. You were breathing, but we couldn’t snap you out of it. Alex was worried what would happen if the coma stayed for a long time, so we decided to go ahead with the treatment, hoping it would clear out your system and wake you up. And ... it did.”
“I’m ... I’m sorry about running out.”
“It’s not your fault. I’m told addiction is really hard to fight.”
“He’s not kidding,” Jawarski said, sitting in one of the open chairs in the room. “The stuff I’ve seen ju ... addicts do to get a fix would blow your mind.”
“See,” I said. “But now, you’re clean. More or less.”
“I don’t get that. Every other detox was weeks of weaning me off, a little at a time. You guys have something that’s one or two shots and boom, you’re clean? How is this stuff not in every hospital in America?”
“Because it’s still new and in testing, and we haven’t figured out how to make it in any significant quantity, yet.”
“What happens if I get hooked again?” she asked, seeming genuinely concerned.
“We’re not sure, so I’d say don’t change it,” I lied.
Of course, the truth was she couldn’t get high again. Ever. But that would require more explanations, so Alex had suggested we skirt the truth as much as we could, or at least while we could.
“What, will it kill me?”
“Like I said, we don’t know.”
“So what’s next? I guess I just go home?”
“No, the medication’s only the first part. The drugs made you want to take more drugs, but we need to address what got you started in the first place. This week, Zoe, the girl who was with you when you woke up in Alex’s lab, will get together with you. She’s going to start getting you involved in working on some stuff?”
“I don’t get it.”
“Part of addiction is medical. Some people are just wired to become addicts easily. But part of it is psychological. A need to escape from something. I believe that one of the things that will help you is to have something else, something more productive, to put your energies into. Something to give you some purpose. We run a growing charitable organization ... well, when I say we, I mean Zoe and a few others run it.”
“So what? You get some free labor and the giving work gives me some touchy-feely vibes that will keep me from getting hooked again,” she asked, sounding skeptical.
“I know, it’s hard to believe, but I think it will help. I’m just asking you to give it a shot. Do your best and see what happens. If it doesn’t work, you can go back to your old life, and all you’ll have lost is a little time. Just try it, for me,” I said, putting emphasis on those last words.
In actually, I didn’t believe charitable works would necessarily keep someone from getting hooked. I mean, I’m sure it worked for some people, but it wasn’t something I really thought was the key to kicking an addiction. What it was, was a good excuse to explain why she was not feeling the need to get wasted anymore, instead of her subconsciously going with what I was asking of her.
“Okay. I’ll give it a try, for a little while at least.”
“That’s all I asked.”
We stayed and chatted for a while longer, and it was dark by the time we headed home. The entire drive back to the house, I kept thinking I forgot something. It wasn’t until I walked in the front door that I remembered what I’d forgotten to do.
“So, I’m supposed to have a new assistant, I hear,” Zoe said as soon as I walked over the threshold, hands on her hips and an expression I was starting to recognize.
She wasn’t mad at me, but she also wasn’t particularly happy. Generally, she was just annoyed at me.
“Sorry, I meant to talk to you about it...”
“I’m sure,” she said, sounding anything but. “So, talk to me now. What am I doing?”
“I needed something to use as a reason why she doesn’t get hooked again. We can’t peg everything to our new miracle detox procedure since at some point we’ll need to explain what it does to someone who might notice how full of shit we are. So, I was thinking...”
“That never bodes well,” Jawarski said, pushing past me and heading into the house, proper.
“Anyway,” I continued, ignoring the fact that Zoe was laughing at Jawarski’s comment, “I was thinking that we could explain our real process is giving an addict drive and focus, a reason for kicking their habit, and say it works with anyone if done ‘right.’”
“Instead of explaining they weren’t able to get hooked again, and the reason they were turning their lives around was that they were now physically bonded to you and we’re doing it just because you asked.”
“Have you run this by Mom or Alex?”
“Not ... as such.”
“‘Cause it might work for Celia, but any of these theoretical people you mentioned who might look into your treatment would still not be fooled by it since at some point you have to give the person an injection. Not to mention the fact that this isn’t replicable by anyone other than you. Someone’s bound to put that together.”
“I’d thought about that.”
“I decided we’d figure that out when we had to.”
“For someone who’s got a souped-up brain, you’re pretty dense sometimes.”
“Thanks,” I said sarcastically.
“Don’t get mad. You just really need to bounce these ideas off of Mom or Alex. Coming up with ideas that you have to push off into the future is never a good idea.”
She was right, but I’d already said ‘yeah, you’re right’ enough times this week and was getting a little tired of being hoisted by my own petard.
“I’ll talk to them.”
“That’s all I asked.”
“So what am I supposed to do with her?”
“Just show her what you guys are doing with Next Step and get her to do some of the work. Preferably the closer to helping someone the better. While it’s the loyalty part of the change doing the work, I think there’s probably something to be gained from helping a specific person out, someone whose face you’ve looked into and can identify as an actual person as opposed to some name on a form.”
“Past that, it’s up to me to figure out?”
“Ugg. Fine. You better be glad you’re cute,” she said, turning and storming off in a pretend huff.
“I am,” I called after her.
I ran my ideas past Mom later that night, and she agreed with Zoe that my idea would work for Celia but had problems if we tried to do this enough times that someone noticed the flaw in the system. Mom said she and Alex would look into it. I left it at that, happy to have the problem in someone else’s lap.
The next day Zoe, with help from Tami and Vicki, started working with Celia. Megan had made noises about staying and helping too, but the new semester was starting up soon. We all put our foot down on that idea.
That left just Mrs. Hollabrand staying with Celia. This was fine, since post-change, we weren’t worried about Celia doing something that might get Vicki’s mom hurt or in some kind of trouble. Still, Vicki or one of the other girls would spend the night over there. They did it on the pretense of working on something till late and just staying there, ‘cause it was easier; but everyone, probably including Celia, knew the real reason was to keep an eye on her.
That did allow me to spend more one on one time with Emily, which was nice. She was the least involved with Next Step, not for any particular reason, it was just the way it worked out. She usually seemed more interested in what I was doing with the company, and since the others were often either over at the apartment working or, as was the case the following weekend, down at the new center under construction, Emily would go to the office with me just to ‘see what it was all about.’
Not that I minded. It was nice to occasionally take a small break from work, close my office door, and make out for a bit. Ted found our antics funny, generally. He probably would have had more of an issue if we’d been less discreet, but he did give the occasional look or smirk that made it clear he knew what we’d been up to.
Another week and a half rolled past with everyone doing their thing when Ted found his way into my office. I’d been showing Emily some of the stuff we’d been working on for the battery. She’d been doing a lot of reading lately, trying to fill in gaps in knowledge, and spent time with some of the engineers, who loved to talk show and was happy to explain everything they were doing, Douglas especially.
Thankfully the change the girls went through had pushed their mental processes almost as far as it pushed mine. Several people had already commented on how fast she was picking everything up.
“I’ll go wait out front,” Emily said as Ted came in carrying some kind of rolled up documents, followed by Marcus and Jonathan.
“No, stay,” Ted said. “If you’re going to be staying on as Cas’s assistant or partner or whatever, I think it’d be good for you to hear all this.”
“We hadn’t been...” I started to say...
“I wasn’t...” she began...