The girls’ bathroom. 8:50 PM.
“He was right there,” Virginia said, pointing to the wheelchair-accessible stall. It was empty now, the door hanging open.
Benny looked around. He felt supremely weird standing in the middle of the girls’ room. And he had a panicky suspicion that Virginia had brought him here to make out or something, which he didn’t think he was prepared to do. He definitely wasn’t prepared to do it in a bathroom. Gross.
Virginia was rambling about some masked drug dealer she supposedly saw before the power went out. “He wouldn’t tell anyone his name, but if you said the password, he’d give you free drugs. It was scary, I’m telling you. And his pants were ironed. I could see them under the door. Isn’t that weird? A pants-ironing drug dealer?”
“Uh huh,” Benny said, edging toward the door. This was exactly the sort of thing Virginia would do: trap a guy into making out with her using some insane story about a phantom pants-ironing drug dealer. And Benny had totally fallen for it.
“Hello? Are you about to throw up or something?” Virginia demanded. “What is wrong with you? Help me look for clues.”
“…Clues?” Benny managed. He felt his head spinning slightly.
“Yeah, clues. You know, evidence leading to the detection of a crime? Christ, maybe I should be Mystery Club president, and you should be, like, Mystery Club gaping bystander.”
“OK, no need to be insulting,” Benny said. He pretended to peer around the bathroom. How long was Virginia going to keep up this charade? He wished she’d just pounce and get it over with.
Virginia was inspecting the stalls one by one. “Nothing,” she sighed.
Then, to Benny’s surprise, she strode right out the door, apparently expecting him to follow her. For a moment, he just stood by himself in the empty bathroom. Was she going to ambush him as soon as he walked out there? He cracked the door open. No one was there. Cautiously, he crept out into the hall.
“Benny? Were you just in the girls’ room?”
Benny spun around. It was Mr. Gadhavi, one of the teacher chaperones.
“Uh…” Benny said, looking up and down the hall for Virginia. Where did she go?
“Whatever, I don’t even want to know,” said Mr. Gadhavi. “Listen, you can’t keep leaving the table. People are counting on you.”
Benny rolled his eyes. People were counting on him? Yeah, right. Most days it felt like he could disappear and no one would even notice. The only time it felt like he mattered was when there was a mystery to solve. And right now, Benny couldn’t even tell if there was. The kiss? Virginia’s drug dealer? Were these mysteries, or were they just…life happening? Benny would have preferred a mystery.
“Chop-chop, Benny,” Mr. Gadhavi said. “We need to announce the king and queen soon. If we keep the horse and carriage past 10, we have to pay for an extra hour.”
It was a Riverside tradition for the Spring King and Queen to take a victory carriage ride around the block. It was always highly publicized, with photos splashed across the local paper. The fanfare always seemed to emphasize the imperial nature of the social order at Riverside: the lucky ones at the top, lording their popularity over the people who had bestowed it upon them.
“You counted the votes already?” Benny asked.
“Well, I had to, since you disappeared,” Mr. Gadhavi replied in a tsk-tsk tone. “All I’m saying is, you volunteered to man the ticket table. But every time I come by, you’re either letting people sail past you without paying, or you’re not even there. Why does it feel like I care about this more than you?”
Because you do, Benny thought sourly.
“Don’t you want to know who won?” Mr. Gadhavi asked, as if it weren’t the least-suspenseful contest in history. Everyone knew it would be one of the Carnegie twins for queen, and either Jordan Cross or Xander Mulroney for king, because they took the basketball team to finals last year. There was really no point in caring, and even less point in Mr. Gadhavi caring, if he cared.
“Sure,” Benny said, following him back to the ticket table.
“Well, Brittany Carnegie for queen—”
Astounding, Benny thought.
“And for king…” Mr. Gadhavi paused, letting it hang in the air for a minute. Then he said it, and Benny couldn’t believe the name that had just come out of his teacher’s mouth.
The Spring King was Calvin Harker.
The dance floor. 9 PM.
Virginia strode out of the hall, heading straight for the dance floor. There was definitely something weird going on, and she was going to get to the bottom of it. Just because Benny was spacing out didn’t mean the whole club had to fall apart. This was her chance to show Benny that she could solve a case on her own—that she was as valuable to Mystery Club as he was.
She scanned the dance floor for anyone who appeared to be on drugs. The problem, she quickly realized, was that everyone appeared to be on drugs. The DJ was playing “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey, and everyone was moshing. Stupid Opposite Day, Virginia thought. How was she supposed to separate the drug-addled idiots from the regular idiots?
“Are you on drugs right now?” she shouted over the music, tapping Cam Davis on the shoulder. He was flailing around with a couple of his football friends, laughing moronically.
Cam turned around, stumbling a bit. It took him a moment to focus on Virginia. He looked her up and down, taking in her punch-stained and cake-covered dress. “Dude, I’m hungry,” he said. Then he leaned forward and smashed his face into Virginia’s chest.
“Ew, get off me, pervert!” Virginia yelled, struggling to push him off. Cam tripped over his feet and fell on the floor, his face covered in frosting.
“Delicious!” he yelled, licking his lips.
Virginia scowled, resisting the urge to kick him in the head. She moved on to a pair of girls she recognized from her PE class. They were on the fringe of the dance floor, dancing in a weird, witchy way, waving their hands around like they were casting spells. The straps of their dresses were falling down, and they hadn’t bothered to pull them back up.
“Cool song, huh?” Virginia said warmly, imitating the way the girls swirled their hands around. They gave her a once-over and continued dancing. Virginia persisted. “Hear about that guy in the bathroom?” she ventured, trying to sound casual while shouting to be heard over the music. “Who was it? Did you catch his name?”
“No,” the blonde one finally answered, sounding annoyed.
“What did he give you?” Virginia pressed.
“I dunno. Magic pills. Stardust.”
Very helpful, Virginia thought. “What was the password?” she shouted.
“Liberation,” she declared breathily. “Please go away now.”
“That’s not what I heard,” her friend interjected, twirling on her toes. “The password was ‘gimme drugs.’ That’s what I said, anyway.”
A guy in an inside-out Phish shirt stepped into their little circle. “No, it was ‘Opposite Day,’” he said. “Hey, is that dude still in there? This stuff fucking rules!”
Are they messing with me? Virginia wondered. What was the point of having three different passwords? She continued probing the dance floor, trying to get some coherent answers. But no one seemed to know the name of the mysterious drug dealer, or even the name of the drug they’d been taking. And everyone seemed to have a different password. Football, poop, red rum, orange. By the time the next song started, Virginia had counted 12. She was starting to wonder if there really was a password after all. Was it possible the guy was just handing out drugs to anyone who took a guess?
Virginia remembered the sound of the dealer’s voice, echoing slightly in the empty bathroom. “Do you know the password?” he’d asked.
“No,” she’d answered. No. Apparently she could have said any word in the world except for that one. For some reason it made Virginia incredibly depressed. She was about to approach a group of very suspicious-looking seniors when she heard a voice yelling, “Don’t talk to her! She’s the narc!”
Virginia whirled around. “Who said that? I’m not a narc!”
She felt everyone’s eyes on her. Usually Virginia didn’t care what other people thought about her, as long as what they thought was that she was cool and mysterious and interesting. But a narc? It was the grown-up version of being a tattletale.
“I’m not!” she protested feebly over the din of the music. But everyone had already turned their backs and returned to their Opposite Day dancing. It was like the word narc had cast a film of invisibility over her just as the word no had done in the bathroom. It was stupid, the random power of words.