12 – Generation Me –
Brody walked out of Principal Trilby's office with his head held a little higher than when he went in. A little over two weeks before, he would have never thought he would be in the clear, let alone be the one who had cleared the whole incident up.
Rise left just after Paris and Rylan had stormed out, but Brody and Logan had to stay behind to give their formal statements to the school attorney. Before they began, Principal Trilby had told them to leave the Allbright family and Paris out of it. He was afraid of the mess they could make if they were asked to testify, or possibly even if they were just questioned.
In the end Brody agreed with him, even if it meant hiding a part of the truth. Though Rylan had done nothing wrong, the steps the two of them had taken when they thought they had made a mistake were really out there.
"Brody," Paris said once he'd stepped out of the faculty's quarters and into the classroom section of Town Hall. She was standing right behind the large wooden doors, and Rylan was right by her side.
"Paris," he said. He really wanted to leave, to forget who Paris Renaldi and Rylan Allbright were, but he had too many unanswered questions. so many he couldn't even decide on where to start.
"Why did you do it?" he settled on.
"That's the sort of question you ask when you don't weigh the consequences against the actions," Paris said casually, as if she hadn't just been caught out in a massive string of lies.
"I mean, honestly, I wouldn't expect anything more from the picsquared generation," she added decisively.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Brody asked, leaning back against the opposite wall. He felt more confident now; Paris's long-winded statements and even longer words didn't scare him any more.
"You asked me why my pictures on picsquared stopped being 'weird'," she said. "The truth is that when they were, only five people liked them at all."
"That's why I remembered you, I guess," Paris noted, her voice tinged with nostalgia. "You were one of those people who cared."
"I was beyond frustrated," she admitted, though she was still smiling. "You see, Brody, my dad is Former Congressman Renaldi."
"He was almost a Senator, you know," Rylan added. "Before he... retired."
"I asked him why my account was so unpopular, and he said it was because my messaging was wrong," she explained. "But all that did was make me even more frustrated."
"Like, what was that supposed to mean?"
"But he was right; nobody wanted my overwrought attempts at complex art. They wanted feel good pictures, glamorous stuff that would help them ignore the real world."
"When Zoe Langton developed the software that became picsquared," Rylan cut in. "she claimed she wanted us to connect on an honest level, and I bought into that."
"The truth is picsquared was not her art," Rylan continued. "It wasn't a pet project that she chose to nurture. She sold it to facespace for a billion or so dollars without a second thought."
"It could have been a fiver for all I care," Paris said.
"What does this have to do with anything?" Brody wondered.
"All of you," Paris said. "Want the pretty things, the honest things, the hashtag no filter things, but you're all lying to yourselves. The Zoe Langtons of the world know that, which is why things on social media are decided by likes and not how honest or accurate they are."
"What do you think would have happened to me if you hadn't come up with that convenient truth of yours?" Rylan accused with a faint smile. "My dad would be run out of town, and nobody would ever speak to me again. Nobody would ever want to be seen with me again, because my no filter would have been a medical nightmare for three real people with real anger."
"I don't believe that," Brody said, but even as he did, he wasn't sure if he was right. "We all need to own up to what we've done, no matter how badly we screwed up, so we can forgive each other."
Though the words came out of his mouth, the weight of the secrets he was still holding on to prevented him from truly believing them.
But the alternative was having as bleak a worldview as Paris Renaldi or Rylan Allbright, and he couldn't let that happen.
He would come clean, he knew he would. Even if right now he he had to put an 'eventually' sticker on all of the promises he made to himself. Because right now he was protecting somebody of his own.
"That's cute, Brody," Paris said. "But we're all humans. Even though we're just teenagers who have barely lived, we have baggage and secrets we'd rather be hidden away for all eternity."
"I'll always do my best to help anybody I care about keep theirs at bay."
"This little discussion isn't why I wanted to talk to you, Brody," Paris continued. "I just wanted to let you know that you should be careful if you're planning on facing off against us again."
"Is that a threat?" Brody asked defensively.
"No, it's just a fact," she said. "I underestimated you. Before all of this, I saw you as one of those rugby jocks who just went along with the crowd."
"Faking an identity like that isn't easy," Rylan observed.
Brody opened his mouth to protest, but the truth was that Paris was right. At least, about this.
"If you keep holding on to this obsession with the truth," Paris said. "We're bound for a second round."
"If we're ever on opposing sides again," Paris said with a broad smile as she and Rylan turned away. "It won't be a draw."
Brody didn't bother correcting her. He felt like if he called out, they would be stuck in a painful war of words for the rest of the day, and his opinions weren't as strong as Paris' were.
In the end, he didn't want to lose on a day when he'd already secured such a big win.
So he let it go.
"Brody!" Kash called as Brody walked through Wicker Park. Since the school wasn't going to be shut down by any lawsuits, Brody still had classes to attend. Kash looked like he always did at his peak during the season; his large forearms pulsing out of his tight-fitting orange and purple striped rugby shirt, offsetting his dark blonde hair.
Though his unparalleled tactical skill and leadership style were the main reasons he was captain of the rugby team, his imposing build didn't hurt his prospects either. Though they were the same height, Brody was still nervous to be around him ever since he'd unceremoniously quit the team.
"Kash?" he asked, resisting the urge to drop and apologize with a thousand push ups.
"I saw you go into Trilby's office earlier," Kash said. "What's up?"
"I'm not sure I'm allowed to talk about it," Brody said, remembering the school lawyer's words.
"Look Kash," Brody said. "I'm sorry about rugby."
"Don't be," Kash dismissed, his expression completely earnest. It caught Brody entirely off-guard. "When you were going into Town Hall, you looked so... determined. Fierce."
"It was the kind of look people say I get when I'm out on the field," Kash explained. "I'd never seen something like that on anyone before, but I'm glad I did."
"You are?" Brody asked cautiously.
"You never looked like that when you were playing with us," he said. "Even though you were one of our best players, I don't think you ever looked happy. You always looked kind of... bored."
Brody smiled amicably, mostly because he couldn't find any words that would disprove what Kash had said. Looking back at all of his time on the team, there was no better way to describe it.
"Thank you, Kash," Brody said.
"I'm just hoping we can still be friends," Kash said, extending his arm. Brody took it and shook it with a solid conviction.
"Friends," Brody said.
"Don't worry about Tate either, he's just angry you didn't tell him you were gay," Kash explained. "Which, by the way, he told us."
"I'm not sure what I'm supposed to say at stuff like that, but my older brother's college room-mate is bisexual, and he said to just not freak out at you or anything," Kash said nervously. "I hope I'm doing it right."
"You're doing just fine, captain," Brody said happily, waving him off with a two-finger salute.
"Hey, Grant," Brody said as he entered the hospital room. Grant was looking much livelier. The pale, soft colour had returned to his cheeks, and his eyes were softer. Happier.
"Brody," he said happily, shifting around to grab a piece of paper on his bedside table. "I've been waiting; this is a list of all the fantasy movies I've seen that are way better than Sirius."
Grant thrust a piece of paper in his face. It was a short list, scrawled in thin green marker with strange titles like Life in Xycles and Ghudyei the Invulnerable next to bigger film series that Brody had heard mentioned in passing.
"That's a terrible joke, Grant," Brody said roughly, feigning anger. "Once you get out of here we're going to have to marathon every single Sirius movie so you can see just how wrong you are."
When Grant's eyes stopped sparkling, Brody was sure he'd done something wrong. He took the list from Grant and tried to study it carefully, hoping he hadn't offended him. Instead, Grant shook his head.
"We might have to hold off on that," Grant said. "My parents are suing the school, and I don't know how crazy that's going to get."
"You can't let them do that," Brody insisted. "We know what happened now! It was all an accident, Logan-"
Grant put up a hand to stop Brody's explanation before hoisting himself up so he was sitting upright. He looked Brody in the eye, as if he was steeling himself for something, but backed off at the last moment.
"You've been really honest with me Brody, and I wish I could do the same, but I can't explain why this is such a big deal to me," he said.
"I understand that you were really hurt," Brody said. "But I think we've all got to start being better students first."
"Better students?" Grant wondered, raising an eyebrow. "I didn't do anything wrong."
"I know you didn't," Brody said. "But everything that's happened to day showed me we all have to try."
"As soon as Rylan and Paris thought they were in trouble, they started messing with everybody. They threatened Logan, Rise and Principal Trilby. Logan was so scared for his chef career he had his lawyer embargo the school too. Then I used what they were all doing to get out of a parent-teacher meeting."
"The police were jerks, but I think we could have figured this out much earlier if we hadn't all splintered and left the school in the middle of it all. Eventually Rylan decided to sacrifice only person without any money or influence in this whole case."
"I know the school made mistakes, but we've all been terrible to George Gentry even though it took us all in with open arms. I've treated the school and the people in it to my advantage; to look like somebody I wasn't, to get out of trouble, to pick up whatever pieces were left of me."
"Please, don't make those same mistakes. If you sue the school, and it gets shut down, I get to go back to Ritter Prep, but what about you and all those other kids who really need George Gentry? Kash, Rise, Sal, Natalie; your friends in the AV Club?"
"Wow," Grant said, wiping at his eyes. Brody hadn't even noticed he was crying.
"I never thought you of all people would be lecturing me about how awesome public school is," Grant said.
"Me neither," Brody said quietly, suddenly feeling shy. "Um, Principal Trilby says he wants to talk to your parents about making sure this never happens again."
"I'll be sure to tell them," Grant said, a bright smile returning to his face. "Really though; who are you, Brody Delatour?"
"I'm... I'm your friend," Brody said confidently. Grant laughed out loud before bumbling his way out of his heavy sheets to stand beside Brody. He held out his hand and Brody couldn't help but take it.
"That is a good answer," Grant said with a smile.
"You know, Logan Cooke has a nightshirt exactly like this. His isn't open in the back though."
Grant swore at the top of his lungs and rushed back to bed.
The picsquared generation, whose #nofilter was nothing but a sugar-coated lie. Brody couldn't let that become George Gentry's legacy.
But how could he fight Rylan and Paris's ideas when he was still holding on to his own biggest secret? The one thing that could change how people saw him forever?
The truth was that he just wasn't strong enough to tell anybody yet. Grant's family could easily stop their civil suit against the school, but Brody had no idea what his family would do if they ever found out what had happened last year and over the summer. There was no way "he" would ever survive what the Delatours had in their arsenal. Just like Detective Pearson had guessed earlier.
Still, he'd promised himself. Even 'eventually' would come soon. Though it scared him, it also held promise for the bright future he was building with all of his friends.
Until then, he'd just have to keep deleting the texts.
"I can't do this to myself any more," it read. "I'm leaving for Winter break; by the time I'm back I hope I have you out of my system forever."
"I hope so too, Alan," Brody said, putting his phone away.