Chapter 1 - Brandon
What a man won’t do to pay off his steroids dealer.
Brandon took a deep breath, frowning over the musty smell in the museum basement. He gripped the penlight, holding it low. One of the windows in the otherwise darkened basement was visible from the street. Like most buildings on the Marblehead peninsula, the bottom floor only half stood below ground level. The scant topsoil on the limestone rock seldom allowed fully submerged basements on the eastern end of the peninsula. If the county’s finest saw a light inside the museum, they’d investigate.
Brandon swiped the access card and punched in the eight-digit code, his hands sweating inside the utility gloves. The door unlocked, allowing entry to the warehouse storage room. It comprised half the bottom floor of the Marblehead Annex of the Sandusky Museum of Antiquities.
Like father like son, Brandon thought bitterly. He blamed his father, the now infamous Reed Hollister, for the mess he was in. His father’s arrest for insider trading during Brandon’s junior year in high school decimated the family’s finances. Brandon resented his college fund disappearing to pay for his father’s legal fees.
Brandon had quit using steroids weeks before his father’s arrest. But selling steroids became a way to make money he needed for college. His dealer became his supplier.
Unfortunately, someone stole the stash he bought to sell two weeks earlier.
I knew I shouldn’t have kept it at home. Stupid. He’d hidden the stash in the family garage while staying in Port Clinton for the summer between college semesters.
After closing the storage room door, Brandon flicked on the light switch. The yellow bulb provided a muted view of the dusty, windowless room.
A box with shiny tape near the entrance looked new. It contained three metal pieces, each about thirty inches in length, that he needed. He unboxed the items, each unevenly notched and appended with short metal lengths, and set them by the door. He found the only large piece, a tripod seat, already unboxed in the back of the room. The museum board had pulled the tripod seat from the prior evening’s exhibit opening on the main floor.
Though he’d received a text confirming arrangements as planned, Brandon grew worried two remaining pieces were displayed upstairs after all. He wouldn't risk triggering the security system in the main exhibition hall to retrieve them if they there. Breaking into the warehouse was already too far beyond his comfort zone.
The room’s dust taking its toll, Brandon sneezed. He frowned, worried a sprayed dripping might get him caught by some high tech analysis like those used in crime television shows. It’d be my luck to be caught by snot.
Or sweat. Tears of perspiration streamed down his cheek. Brandon checked the room again. Curation opportunity? What a joke!
Sue Ballentine, who hired him for the job, had called it a “curation opportunity.” Though Brandon knew selling steroids was illegal, stealing objects from a museum was a more aggressive crime. But he needed the money to finish paying his supplier.
Brandon knew not to cross his steroid supplier in Detroit. There was always an “or else” when it came to paying him on time.
For two years, Brandon had followed his supplier’s plan of paying half up front and half after he sold the goods. But he owed $5,000 for the second half without any goods in hand to sell. Got myself in too deep.
Brandon shook off the fear and the guilt. Pull it together.
He spotted packing tape glistening on an unopened box less covered with dust than most. Opening it, he found the two final pieces, each round and ridged along the outer perimeter, small enough to fit inside his backpack. Though he could lift all the artifacts together given his strength, he’d been told to treat each piece delicately. But he found them sturdy, not fragile.
The artifacts, made of iron, were over 2,500 years old. Brandon understood the three medium pieces were legs that fit to the tripod seat.
When hiring Brandon, Sue told him all six pieces were found in a Tunisian dig. When working in concert, the pieces could create an effect the tripod hadn’t produced in over two millennia. She insisted she only valued the tripod’s special effects.
Market value is more like it. What could these old metal pieces do?
But Brandon figured the less he knew, the better. He wanted to be paid, settle with his supplier, and forget the whole mess.
Using the museum employees’ back exit, Brandon carried the items to his car in the adjacent state park’s lot, a broken shrub line separating the park from the museum. After loading all the pieces, he breathed in the moist night air. Lake Erie lapped audibly on the other side of the road.
Glad the museum annex only had camera security for the main exhibit hall, front door, and museum parking lot, Brandon eagerly started his car. Other than the card swipe into the storage area, his trespass remained unrecorded.
He pulled out onto the street going south and waited a five count to turn on his lights. He didn’t want anyone to witness his exit.
During tourist season on a late August Thursday, mere minutes before four AM, Brandon knew those fishing that morning would be hitting the road soon. After turning the corner, Brandon slowly headed west on East Bayshore Drive. He wiped the sweat from his face when he stopped at the route 53 traffic light.
An Ottawa County sheriff’s cruiser approached from the other side. After the light changed green, Brandon exhaled sharply when it continued past him.
Still sweating, Brandon turned and drove north and soon took the short bridge onto Catawba Island from the peninsula.
While old drawings from the early 1800’s showed Catawba Island surrounded by water, it had been attached to the mainland in all formal records since. Its inland Western Harbor Basin bound by land, the island distinction held in name and aura. It became a gateway to the Bass Islands which anchored the surrounding archipelago.
Brandon’s hands tightly gripped the wheel during the short drive to Catawba Island’s northern tip. His heart pounded heavily while he stopped for a Miller Ferry worker walking across the road to the ticket booths. The “curation” timing was uncomfortably tight between the late night activity and the early morning workday during the area’s busy season.
Why couldn’t all this happen over winter break instead? Why’d it happen to me at all? I’m a decent guy caught in an impossible situation.
After passing the ferry entrance and coastal parking lot, Brandon turned right onto a narrow-lane bridge heading northwest onto Tempest Island.
Tempest Island, shaped like a large skateboarding quarter-pipe, was narrow with a single road. Seven homes with properties known for their steep descent from the two-story height cliff stood along the southern ridge. The incline descended to the small island’s nearly lake-level rocky northern shoreline.
Brandon pulled into the aviary, the only site on the right. Amid the waking calls of both aviary and wild birds along the water’s edge, he was to deliver the artifacts to Sue.
Oversized power lifters with ‘roid rage, Brandon could handle, but the lean, five-foot-two Sue Ballentine intimidated him. She’d warned him not to get killed between the pickup and drop-off, saying she didn’t want to chase after the artifacts again if they fell into “their” hands. He didn’t ask about “them.”
Brandon slowly rode to the far end of the parking lot, deserted except for one SUV. Stopping, he rubbed his eyes. A stretch of trees and bush along the perimeter provided the aviary limited privacy.
Nick Saffron owned the avian sanctuary and had introduced Sue to Brandon. The aviary parking lot ended directly across from Nick Saffron’s home, situated centrally on Tempest Island.
Nick and Brandon had met earlier that summer, both exercising at the nearby Ice Bridge Gym. Later, after discovering his stash stolen, Brandon offhandedly remarked he needed money fast. Nick suggested he meet with Sue.
“Let’s get the items inside,” Sue said, her shadowed face looming suddenly outside Brandon’s window.
“What the - ?” Brandon grabbed the steering wheel. “Don’t sneak up on a guy. Geez!”
Sue merely stepped back and stood, arms folded.
Brandon got out and opened the trunk, sweating despite the cool night air, sunrise not yet for an hour. If there were any trouble during the theft, he figured it would be during the drop-off.
Keep it together.
He expected Sue to make him do all the work, but she grabbed the tripod seat, her arms taut with lean muscle. She led him through a maze of aviary cages to a long building. Entering an expansive room lit dimly by one bulb above a sink, Brandon could make out concrete walls, tables, tubs, hoses, and drains. A disinfectant scent hung in the air.
They set the pieces in the back of the room. After two uneventful trips from his vehicle, Brandon helped Sue cover the items with a tarp.
The hiding place felt risky for stolen property. Brandon suspected Sue wouldn’t want him to know where the artifacts were kept for long. Likely, they would be moved again soon.
Back at his car, Brandon handed Sue the museum access card and she handed him an envelope with his payment. Brandon quickly counted the fifty bills, then looked up and nodded.
“Thank you for your part with the curation,” Sue said, unsmiling.
“Sure. Whatever,” Brandon said, embarrassed that his voice cracked. He shook Sue’s extended hand, realizing she’d stayed stoically cool as a cucumber throughout. Then, he backed out his car, glimpsing Sue with a cell phone to her ear in his rearview mirror as he drove away.
Chapter 2 - Gil
Gil stepped out of the shower and toweled himself dry. The Turkish cotton was thinning, but he preferred the old towel to the rougher bargain brands his mother recently purchased.
Checking his face in the mirror and seeing no new zits, Gil exhaled, relieved. Only two fading ones remained noticeable. He examined above his upper lip and decided he wouldn’t need to shave again before Sunday. He looked away, seldom enjoying seeing his own reflection.
Gil had woken half an hour earlier, unable to fall back asleep. The bathroom clock read 4:50 AM, Thursday. He headed to his room to prepare for his first day of high school.
Turning on his desk lamp, Gil considered the clothes he’d laid out the evening before. More concerned about impressing fellow students than his teachers, he chose casual attire, going against his seven years of private school training. The recent painful year at public middle school had cured his snobbery about clothes – especially since money remained tight.
Gil felt hopeful about his first day at Ohio Archipelago Regional High, a small charter public school located on Catawba Island. The school made its reputation by emphasizing humanities, focusing on the classics in literature and history. While kids from the Lake Erie archipelago attended, most of its current 350 students resided on the mainland in Ottawa County.
Gil walked down his home’s stairwell, its once lavish silver gray carpet well worn. In the kitchen, he retrieved his lunch from the refrigerator, placing it in his carefully ordered book bag. He then poured a bowl of granola and added his usual chocolate milk over it.
Sitting at the kitchen counter, he recalled his earlier school experiences. His parents had sent Gil and his older brother, Brandon, to a nearby private academy. Though by no means popular among his classmates, Gil got along well his first six years.
Then, the news broke about his father’s arrest during Gil’s final week of sixth grade. He continued at the academy for seventh grade, but most of his classmates kept their distance as the trial proceeded to Reed Hollister’s conviction and his family’s accounts were frozen.
Gil’s mother, Bea Hollister, ably weathered the storm. She accepted a job at a fundraising firm in Sandusky and managed to keep the house. Gil had enrolled in the local public middle school.
If he could forget his eighth-grade year, Gil would.
Though he made friends among creative types through his involvements in middle school yearbook and the annual school plays, he was bullied over his father’s publicized shame.
Having weighed it against the lonely online high school option, Gil eagerly hoped to make friends at the small charter school. But his quest to get into a good college with a scholarship mattered most to him.
A car pulling into the driveway startled him. Gil peered through the kitchen window.
Brandon got out of his car as early dawn illuminated the sky. Gil shrugged and sat at the counter again, figuring his brother went to the gym. Though not much for organized sports, Brandon was built bigger than most. Already a gym rat before, Brandon had become even more of one during their father’s troubles.
Workouts were his brother’s coping mechanism. Gil coped by studying. Aside from schoolwork, he’d voraciously read online, learning about codes, puzzles and ciphers for the annual social studies fair competition. His entry won second place in Ohio’s statewide competition. Not too shabby, but not what other kids find cool.
From what he saw, other kids valued sports. Squeezing his shoulder, Gil knew he could work out more. He wanted to be more fit and attractive, though he didn’t foresee dating anyone until after high school.
Dating now would be too hard. Though his parents accepted him, Gil couldn’t see being out as the gay kid. School would likely be tough enough without that.
The kitchen door clicked, keys in the lock.
Case in point. Brandon would probably be the worst. Gil’s brother did not yet know about his orientation.
Brandon walked in and stopped short, eyes narrowed in annoyance as he closed the door. As usual, Gil did not know what he’d done to irritate his brother.
“Good morning,” Gil said.
“Why are you up so early?”
“I was getting up at five anyway. My first class is at seven-thirty, though first period is opening assembly today.”
“If you worked out more, you’d sleep better,” Brandon said, grabbing a protein shake from the fridge.
“You’re right. I should do that - workout more. Would you give me some pointers?” Gil asked.
“Uh, sure. But, I’m only here through Tuesday,” Brandon said. “College will be busy after that.”
“I’m all skin and bones. Any advice would be better than none.”
“Advice will only help if you actually do the workouts,” Brandon snapped.
“Really? Thanks for the tip. That one’s real helpful,” Gil said.
“Sorry,” Brandon apologized. “And you’re not just skin and bones, brainiac. You got your straight-A mind going for you.”
That surprised Gil. His brother neither apologized nor complimented often. “Were you at the gym?”
“No. Did a little jogging along the lake shore.” Brandon’s face reddened, beads of sweat rolled down his cheeks.
“You all right?” Gil asked. That must’ve been some cardio. Though impressive with weights, Brandon was slower when it came to aerobic exercise. His struggles with it only made Gil admire him more, since Brandon did the cardio anyway.
“Sure. It’s just warm outside already is all. Now, spill it. Who are you trying to gain muscle for? Who is she?” Brandon asked.
“Uh, no she. I want to be fit for me. I’m not looking to date.”
“Good idea. Focus on school and then, the right girl will find you. Geeks are in, at least, that’s what they say. I could have avoided a lot of problems if I focused better during high school.” Brandon gulped down a green concoction that made Gil queasy simply looking at it.
“Yeah. Mom says to focus on school, too. Oh, guess what? Mom knows one of my high school teachers, called him an odd duck. Said she worked on a fundraiser for his bird sanctuary.”
Brandon spewed the protein shake across the counter.
“Dude! That was classic! What gives?” Gil couldn’t help snickering, although his brother looked like he might be truly sick.
“Ah. Nothing. Went up my nose is all.” Brandon grabbed a dish towel and wiped up the mess. “So, you said this bird sanctuary guy is your teacher? What’s his name?”
“Some old guy named Saffron.”
“Nick Saffron is not old.”
“If you say so. He’s at least in his fifties, older than Dad. You know him?”
“I know him to see him. He’s gotta be the only Saffron at the gym,” Brandon said. “Listen, I need some shut eye. Are you going to walk Cyclops this morning or should I?”
Blind in one eye, their dog Cyclops was originally Brandon’s responsibility. But, when Brandon left for college, Gil cared for the doberman mix. A handful at 105 pounds, Cyclops was one of the biggest dogs in the neighborhood.
“I’ll walk Cy.” In many ways, the dog had been Gil’s best friend the past year.
“Thanks. I’ll catch some Z’s. Later.” Brandon left the kitchen while wiping his face with his hands. He quickly reappeared, stepping back into the kitchen. “I wouldn’t tell Saffron about my being your brother and him knowing me from the gym.” Without further explanation, Brandon left again.
“Okay,” Gil answered. He shook his head. Why does he care about that?
Chapter 3 - Lexi
Squinting, Lexi scanned the auditorium seating. She spotted Anita sitting in a midway row, an empty seat saved with her sports bag. Lexi and Anita had lived on the same block for years, but attended different grade and middle schools. She was glad to be in the same high school with her friend, but less happy about Anita’s crowded seating choice.
On the first day, school-wide assembly replaced first period. Lexi’s grandmother, Mallory Constantine, would give the opening remarks.
“I’m so glad we get to see each other every day at school,” Lexi said, sitting after Anita pulled the sports bag underneath the bench. She smiled, hopeful to relieve her recent pangs of unusual loneliness with an active school year.
“We’ll finally know who each other is talking about,” Anita agreed.
Several adults sat on the stage besides Lexi’s grandmother. Lexi recognized only Principal Alan Cabot, a lean man who stood an imposing six-foot four.
Perspiring from the rising heat, Lexi glanced around the auditorium. A few members of the student body trickled in late. As Principal Cabot walked to the podium, one of the stragglers stopped at Anita and Lexi’s row.
“Hi Anita. Can I sit beside you?”
Anita scooted over. Lexi reluctantly did the same, brushing against a heavy-set girl to her right.
Of all the boys to sit here - why Gil Hollister? Lexi thought he was a spoiled rich kid. He’d apparently dressed down compared to his first day arrival in eighth grade the year before. I bet he chose every detail of what he wore to fit in. Not that she hadn’t.
With Gil’s dad in jail, Lexi didn’t trust the guy. In eighth grade, Gil appeared the snob, always alone and quiet. He never spent the effort to make friends among other students, except for after-school activities.
Though attending a private middle school, Anita had been allowed to join the public school’s play productions. She and Gil became friends during last year’s play.
Lexi shook her head. I thought Anita would be a better judge of character.
After nodding to Lexi, Gil stared straight ahead. He fidgeted, looking nervous. Lexi found that odd since he’d portrayed such confidence on stage. Lexi thought all actors were prideful hams after watching her Grandad Dwayne and his exploits. Could her impression of Gil be wrong? Nah!
“Welcome students, teachers, and staff! If I could have everyone’s silent attention please,” Principal Cabot said from the lectern. Some shuffling and talking continued while he waited for a moment. “I said silent attention.”
Students throughout the auditorium became quiet.
“As a reminder,” Principal Cabot continued, “second period class will follow assembly today. You will meet your first period teachers tomorrow. While we value our students at Ohio Archipelago Regional High School, I highly value my teachers. Their hard work makes my job easier and they’ve earned my trust.”
“And since I value my teachers, my emotions are mixed over our speaker’s plans for the school year. Mallory Constantine is an excellent teacher. She will be sorely missed during her sabbatical. But she’s agreed to address us today to start the school year out right. I give you Ms. Mallory Constantine.”
You’re on, Nonna. Students clapped in polite applause as Lexi’s grandmother walked to the podium. Her professional dress and steady demeanor commanded respect. Lexi smiled, knowing her grandmother could also be soft and fun at home.
Anita leaned over and whispered, “Your grandmum is so fit for her age. Flawless skin, too.”
“I know, right? I have good genes,” Lexi agreed.
Lexi’s grandmother kept in shape through a vegan diet and exercise. A strong island woman, Mallory jogged throughout the summer on South Bass Island and used an elliptical year-round.
Mallory was one Put-in-Bay village’s 300 primary residents. The village’s South Bass Island population ballooned with visitors during the summer months. During the winter, she would stay with Lexi’s family in Port Clinton.
“I’m glad to speak to you today,” Mallory said. “While I look forward to meeting the entering freshman and catching up with all our underclassmen on my return, I will miss the seniors graduating next spring. So, I want to congratulate you now. I’ve enjoyed teaching each of you. This is your final year before embarking on adult life’s adventures. Use it wisely.”
Lexi glanced around the auditorium as her grandmother spoke. Though forbidden during assembly, she noticed a few glowing phone screens. While also curious what her friends posted socially that morning, she stayed attentive to the podium.
“Use your time for learning, for friends, for responsible exploration,” Mallory continued. “People only learn to enjoy life’s future adventures by enjoying the here and now. So, do so. Yes, learn. The classics are a marvelous source of wisdom that will serve you well. But, don’t keep your eyes constantly glued to your screens and books. I shall enjoy my everyday adventures in Europe. I implore you - enjoy your year here. Most importantly, enjoy this day.”
Europe? How could Lexi not know her grandmother was traveling to Europe? Lexi knew about her sabbatical, but thought she planned to write at home. Then, Lexi remembered her dad mentioning airport arrangements after his museum exhibit opening the day before. Had he told her?
No! I love Nonna to pieces. I’ll miss her so much! I’d remember if he did.
Chapter 4 - Sue
Sue glared at her husband, willing him to get on with it.
“I’m disappointed, Nathan,” George Flagstaff said. “If last night’s opening hadn’t been so successful, I’d fire you.”
“Fire me? For what? It’s not as if we misplaced the items. They were stolen,” Nathan said, his face red.
George, Sue’s husband, stood up from behind the desk. As Executive Director of the Sandusky Museum of Antiquities and its two satellite branches, he oversaw all employees. “Stolen after you spent five thousand dollars on added security this year.”
Sue looked down, disappointed that her husband’s voice shook. He isn’t one of us, Sue reminded herself. George was not an Enlightened Pythagorean, nor knew of their existence.
“We spent that, the first funding for improvements we received in three years, on the main exhibit hall, which remained secure,” Nathan said, remaining seated. “We requested more and made do with what you gave us.”
“This is not the time to request funding. I’m putting you on a two-week suspension,” George said.
Sue caught herself exhaling sharply. The two men glanced her way. “As a board member, Nathan, let me say we’ll likely keep you on as branch manager,” Sue said. “The board will simply decide how to proceed given the artifacts lost. Fortunately, only the tripod seat item was appraised at a high value. Our response will consider everything involved.”
“I see. When does this suspension start?” Nathan asked.
“Now,” George said.
Sue breathed deep, relieved Nathan would not oversee the Marblehead annex during an investigation. He knew the building better than anyone and might find something incriminating.
After riling her husband into action from his usual do-nothing approach, Sue had then mollified him so he wouldn’t fire Nathan outright. Six years of marriage made it effortless to rile the man, but calming him afterward remained tricky. Sue preferred Nathan be left worried, but still employed, so he wouldn’t rock the boat.
“I’ll oversee things today,” George continued. “Brenda from Sandusky main will act as branch manager through the Friday following Labor Day. Other than answering the authorities’ questions, you’re relieved of your duties.”
Though his eyes flashed anger, Nathan stood and silently nodded to George and Sue before leaving.
Nathan is really gaining paid free time. While trying to justify her manipulations, Sue felt a pang of guilt. After the peace tripod performed successfully and the E-Pyths moved it out of Ottawa County for safekeeping, she could smooth things over for Nathan with the museum board members. Obtaining the artifact pieces for the Enlightened Pythagoreans was too important to regret temporary collateral damage.
E-Pyths, Sue corrected herself. After internet social networking had helped rebuild their movement, young recruits among the Enlightened Pythagoreans preferred the shortened name.
Her cell phone vibrating, Sue checked her messages. Hubbell was summoning her to the office supply store after her workday. She grimaced, resenting the added meeting.
Among the old guard of E-Pyths, Hubbell headed their movement in North America. Though E-Pyths numbered less than a thousand worldwide, older and younger members’ beliefs sharply differed. Hubbell and the older generation found little value to human life. According to them, any desires beyond service to animals’ well-being were a waste.
While only ten years younger than Hubbell herself, Sue and the younger generation believed human life equally wretched, but the animal nature within, if harnessed, made people marginally worthwhile.
Sue entered a note in her smart phone’s daily planner. Besides the new meeting with Hubbell, she needed to prepare for that evening’s first test of the tripod’s effects.
Missing knowledge, secretly coded centuries before, impeded their progress on the peace tripod instrument. The evening’s test would rely on a time-worn audio recording of the only other original peace tripod. She ached over that tripod’s destruction by the mathematikoi in the 1970’s, well before she was born. The discovery of the second of two original tripods offered the E-Pyths renewed hope.
With fellow E-Pyths, Sue had worked quickly during the past year, downplaying the worth of the discovery to officials. Spending most of her inheritance to fund the archaeological excavation, she’d resorted to using credit cards to fund the museum’s transport of the tripod pieces transport to Ohio for temporary exhibition. Then, through the board, she pulled all the needed items from the exhibit and hired Brandon to steal them before they were to be returned to their homeland.
The tripod could now remain where it belonged - with the E-Pyths.
“I’ll be late this evening,” George said.
Sue had forgotten her husband was still in the same room, something not uncommon during their marriage. “That’s fine,” she answered. “I’m reviewing a joint class project with a coworker anyway.”
Sue left the museum annex, averting her eyes from the deputies milling about outside. As she drove to work, she tried to shake off guilt over Nathan’s temporary dismissal. This is for the greater good. She was prepared to resign from the museum board over the stolen artifacts, if needed.
Quickly driving to the OARHS teacher parking lot, Sue walked inside the school as the bell rang concluding first period and the school’s opening assembly.
Chapter 5 - Lexi shakes Nick Saffron’s hand
Teachers at OARHS greeted students with a handshake as they arrived for their first class of the year. Walking into her second period classroom, Lexi awkwardly shook hands with her world history teacher. His hold lingered creepily. Lexi shuddered.
“You’re an old soul, aren’t you?” Nick Saffron said as he handed Lexi a copy of the class assignment schedule. The tall, lanky man in his fifties smiled thinly.
Lexi shrugged. “Is that a good thing?”
“Not always,” Nick said. He walked away to the teacher’s desk.
Lexi grabbed a seat by Anita, not knowing whether she’d been insulted.
“Everyone, I’ve handed out the reading list.” Nick said. “A description of the group project is on the back. With History and English holding the joint freshman project for Fall, you’ll be assigned groups from attending those class periods in common. The project topic relates both to ancient history and something more recent familiar to most of you.”
A few students snickered.
Lexi guessed some already knew what the topic was. I can’t be behind already, can I?
Here’s hoping. Lexi worried about the group project grade. She didn’t want her high school GPA hurt by another group member’s mistakes.
Nick Saffron began talking about world history. Given Lexi’s time with her father at his museum, she was a history buff and looked forward to the subject. But, as her teacher droned on, Lexi eventually caught herself staring at the ceiling. The stark lighting of the classroom was no substitute for outdoor sunshine of late summer. Lexi quickly longed for the freedom of final bell.
After half an hour of lecture, Nick returned to the group project.
“For the project, turn to the back of the reading list page,” Nick said. “The project requires finding a connection between the world of ancient Greece and any Shakespearean play.”
Oh, that’s what he meant by something more recent. Shakespearean plays were old enough, though Lexi liked them since her granddad was in them often. She wondered what part of ancient history would be in the project.
“The more secretive the connection you find, the better for your grade – a code of some sort is ideal,” Nick continued. “What you find during the first homework assignment will be your topic for both this and Ms. Ballentine’s class for six weeks. Choose thoughtfully.”
Several in the class sighed, Lexi among them. Saffron glared directly at her in response. Don’t need to start on the teacher’s bad side my first day. Lexi looked down, avoiding eye contact.
“There will be six groups of three or four students,” Nick continued. “During the rest of class, meet with your groups.”
Nick instructed where in the room each group should meet. He then began writing names under group headings on the board. Before adding a second name to group F, he added Anita’s name to group C as a third member. Then, he wrote Lexi’s name as the third member of group E. After that, he filled in the rest in order again.
Lexi wondered if anything were meant by writing their names out of turn. Gingerly, she walked to the back corner near the far window.
A good-looking boy Lexi didn’t recognize sat there. His jet black hair pleasantly offset his tan skin. Though thin, he sported a lean muscular build.
Gil joined them as Lexi sat. The three exchanged necessary introductions.
“Are we all in Ballentine’s first period English?” Trevor asked. Both Gil and Lexi nodded.
“Do you know Ballentine?” Gil asked.
“I met her at the Humane Society the same week I moved in with my aunt back in June,” Trevor explained.
“Humane Society? If you like helping animals, you should become a vegetarian or even vegan like me,” Lexi ventured. “My friend Anita is over in the group sitting by the door. She and I are giving away pamphlets on going vegan after school by the Ira Rupp Library. I can bring you a pamphlet if you’d like. You, too, Gil.”
Gil leaned back. “No thanks. I have enough trouble putting on weight. I want to bulk up on protein, not make it harder to gain by eating rabbit food.”
“I’ve been vegan for two years,” Trevor said.
“Really?” Lexi hadn’t met any vegan guys her age, only girls. “Want to join me and Anita later?”
“Sure. I’ll try it out,” Trevor agreed.
“We only have a day to find our code for this topic,” Gil said. “Let’s focus on the project. I don’t want to start out locked in with something weak.”
The three read the project description again. Lexi felt clueless. She asked the others how to begin.
Gil said the topic related well to his social science fair project the year before on secret codes in writing.
Lexi rolled her eyes. From the way Gil told it, the project was designed for him. Full of yourself maybe?
Trevor said he spent part of a summer in Greece the year before when his father ran workshops there. There, he’d learned about ancient Greek history. Lexi didn’t mind as much when Trevor made it sound like his experiences aligned with the project. Unlike Gil’s, Trevor’s voice soothed her.
Trevor and Gil both stared at her expectantly. She blushed, first believing they were checking her out. But she soon realized they wanted to hear her special connection to the project topic.
“My grandmother usually teaches history here, too. She gave the opening talk at assembly. Oh, and my granddad’s an actor. He used to be a professional and acted in lots of Shakespeare. They can give me pointers,” Lexi said. My grandparents? That’s my “in” on the project? I’m such a loser. She was determined to not be the weakest link in the group.
“Let’s meet after school,” Gil said. “Can you come by my house at four?”
“Let’s make it five,” Lexi suggested. “Trevor and I can come over right after handing out pamphlets.”
Trevor told them he couldn’t meet for long since he had somewhere to be at seven that evening. They exchanged information.
As Lexi wrote down Gil’s address, Nick Saffron spoke from the back of the room. “All right. Before the bell rings, I want to go over reading assignments for the weekend.”
Lexi frowned. Saffron’s voice sounded familiar from long ago. It brought eight-track tapes to her mind. Weird. Lexi had never used those, only heard about them second-hand.