Virginia scanned the gym for Benny Flax, the founder and president of the Riverside High Mystery Club. She knew he always made a point of attending school events, on the off chance that some mysterious event would present itself to be solved. Sure enough, she spotted him in the entrance hall, sitting behind the ticket table. She sighed. Only severely dorky people volunteered to take tickets at dances. And couldn’t his mother at least buy him some properly fitting clothes? He always went around in these too-big turtlenecks that only accentuated his skinny frame, making him look younger than he was. Looking at him, it was hard to remember that he was actually crime-solving mastermind. Benny could be so cool, Virginia thought, if he just tried for five seconds.
“Dudes, Opposite Day! I’m using a plate as a cup!”
Virginia turned and saw Skylar Jones, the biggest stoner in school, dumping a ladle of punch onto a small cake plate. Of course it sloshed everywhere, splattering across the floor, while Skylar and his friends laughed buffoonishly. Virginia should have been annoyed, but she was secretly happy for the opportunity to use her much-practiced I’m Surrounded By Morons facial expression, a perfect blend of detachment and scorn. Her searing gaze was interrupted, however, when a slosh of red punch sailed from Skylar’s plate onto her cream-colored dress.
“Excuse me!” she snapped.
“You’re excused,” one of the guys snickered.
Virginia grabbed a pile of napkins and started towards the bathroom, dabbing at herself.
“Wait!” Skylar yelled at her over the music. “Are you going to the bathroom?”
Virginia paused, narrowing her eyes. Why did Skylar care if she went to the bathroom? Was he going to invite himself along or something?
“You don’t wanna go in there,” Skylar said, suddenly serious.
“Why, did you do something gross?”
“No,” Skylar said. “Just trust me, dude. Don’t go in there.”
Virginia tossed her hair and kept walking. You couldn’t take anything those guys said seriously, she figured. But then, the second she crossed into the hall, Virginia sensed a shift in the air. It was quieter, and brighter. Without daylight streaming through the windows, the florescent lights gave the white walls an eerie glow.
A group of girls were huddled by the water fountain, talking in urgent whispers. The skirts of their pastel dresses poofed out around them, making them look like an enormous bouquet of flowers. Virginia walked past them and was almost at the bathroom door when she heard her name.
“Virginia,” one of them was whispering. “Virginia, don’t go in there.”
The ticket table. 7:10 PM.
“It’s Opposite Day! You should pay me!” shouted Cam Davis, the biggest idiot in the whole school. He guffawed loudly, and then strode into the gym without buying a ticket. Benny Flax glared after him.
“Well, if he’s not paying…” the guy next in line hinted.
“Oh, he paid earlier,” Benny lied feebly. “He was just…kidding around.”
“Right, sure he did.”
A pair of girls snorted with laughter. And before Benny could stop it, the whole line was pouring into the gym without buying tickets.
Benny didn’t even try to stop the chaos. In a certain sense, being a rule enforcer was the same as being a rule breaker; in both cases, you had to be the kind of person who could pull it off. And judging by the way everyone was filing past him, Benny could not. People just didn’t take him seriously.
“At least cast your vote for king and queen…!” he called after them, knowing no one was listening.
Benny looked at the cash box and scowled. It’s not like he even cared whether people paid their measly 10 bucks, or whether the Spring King and Queen were elected by a fair majority of the populous. Yet he always seemed to end up in charge of this stupid stuff. People just assumed, in a way that felt vaguely anti-Semitic yet annoyingly accurate, that Benny could be tasked with the business side of things while everyone else had fun.
“Thanks, Scooby!” a pair of girls called to him before sailing into the dance giggling.
Benny rolled his eyes. When were people going to stop calling him that? It seemed like no matter how many mysteries he managed to solve, people were always going to treat Mystery Club like some kind of joke. He chalked it up to the Mystery of Human Intelligence: everyone has a brain, yet so few choose to utilize theirs. A mystery for the ages.
It didn’t help that the only other person to join Mystery Club was Virginia Leeds, the strangest and most annoying girl in school. He couldn’t decide which was more embarrassing: having a club no one wanted to join, or having a club Virginia Leeds wanted to join. But Benny couldn’t bring himself to kick her out. Benny believed in justice and inclusivity, and that everyone deserved the chance to improve themselves through the act of mystery-solving.
“Hey, do you have a pen? It’s an emergency.”
Benny looked up to see Calvin Harker leaning across the table, with a slightly wild look in his eyes. Benny knew Calvin fairly well: the two of them were always being thrown together. There seemed to be a school-wide expectation that Benny and Calvin should be best friends, because they were both loners who got good grades. But the friendship never managed to bloom. Admittedly, Benny was a little jealous of Calvin’s undisputed status as the smartest kid in school. But beyond that, there was just something weird about Calvin that Benny could never quite connect with.
Benny pulled a pen out of his pocket and handed it to Calvin. (Benny always had a pen.)
“Thanks,” Calvin said. “Can I take some of these too? To write on?” He pointed toward the stack of blank ballots for Spring King and Queen.
Benny shrugged. “Go ahead,” he said.
“Thanks!” Calvin grabbed a few ballots. Then, as if on second thought, he grabbed the entire stack. “I’ll write you an original poem, as payment,” he offered.
“That’s really not necessary…” Benny said, but Calvin was already scribbling frantically on one of the ballots.
“Thanks…” Benny said as Calvin shoved the scrawl-covered ballot into his hand. Then he watched as Calvin darted into the dance, quickly becoming lost amid the shadowy crowd.