The Fake
Here’s That Rainy Day
The contents of my locker looked like the contents of my room—books and stray bits of clothing cluttered up every inch of it. I grinned to myself as I tidied it enough to find my history textbook, my eyes not once even glancing at the ATM.
Was it Claire or working for Mr. Gallo that kept me from thievery? My most regrettable deeds came from Mr. Gallo’s orders. So, Claire then?
I grinned a little wider and shoved my locker door closed against the mess.
Definitely Claire.
She intrigued me back when she was Little Miss Idaho—a cute face in jeans and t-shirt, lost in a world filled with designer brands my mother would know by heart. Now I knew about her other side, the one that could out-sneak me, and out-paint her famous father. She had my admiration, respect, and something more I could not quite put my finger on.
I turned to look for her, always one of the last to arrive in the morning, and instead came nose to forehead with the last person I felt like confronting when I’d missed my morning cup of coffee.
“I want to talk to you,” Sydney said, glaring up at me.
“That is an amazing coincidence,” I said. “because I was just thinking: I sure hope I don’t have to talk to Sydney today.”
Her smile turned all sarcastic at the corners as she stared at me from under her brows. “As much fun as it is to stand here and banter with you, Bannister . . .”
I laughed. “Bannister—banter. Nice job, Syd.”
“Shut up.” Her teeth squeaked as she ground them together, then grimaced at the sound. “I’ll cut to the chase. Stay away from Claire Foster.”
I sucked in some air through my teeth and pulled a face. “Ooh, ouch. You mean I can’t continue to date the girl I have been dating for . . . oh, weeks now . . . because you don’t want me to? Well darn it all.”
Her nostrils flared and she pressed one perfectly manicured nail into the center of my chest. “Not because I told you, but because Claire is a good person. I know that’s a foreign concept to you, and I can’t blame you for not recognizing it right away, but she is.”
I grinned. “I know she is, way better than you do.”
Sydney’s eyes went so wide, it looked like she might do some serious optical damage. “She is my best friend. You don’t know anything!”
This was too funny not to laugh at. So, I did. Hard. “Oh, man, Syd. You are hilarious.”
She swapped the fingernail for knuckles, her row of gem-encrusted knuckle-dusting jewelry poking hard into my chest. “Look. I am not kidding, Grayson. Leave her alone, or I will make sure you do.”
I cringed dramatically. “All five-feet, two inches of you will put me in my place, huh?”
Stepping back, she crossed her arms over her chest. “Never. Ever. Underestimate me.” She spun on her heels and then glanced back at me through the swarm of students on their way to lunch.
Something about the way she said it, the barely-contained fury in her voice, made my blood chill by a few degrees. It was enough to make me take a few deliberate strides toward her.
I put as much venom into my tone as I could. “You might think Claire is your business, but she’s my business too, and I won’t be told by you or anyone else to stay away from her.”
Sydney smiled, and for a second it almost looked genuine. “Aw, you mean you have actual feelings for her?”
I blinked and frowned, then set my stare again. “Yes. I do.”
Her grinning pout stiffened and twitched. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
This time when she left, I let her go.
My phone rang in my pocket, and somehow, it managed to communicate a world of dread in that buzz. Watching Sydney stalk off toward her first class, I pulled my phone out of my pocket and held it to my ear.
“Grayson, can you stop by my room please? It’s urgent.” Mr. Gallo hung up before I could answer.
What could be urgent?
Had we been found out? Claire? Her dad?
I ran. It wasn’t that far to the computer lab. Most of the students were already off eating. But it felt far. It felt like those dreams where you drag yourself through molasses and take a million wrong turns before you get where you’re going. When I stopped at his door, my skin felt like ice, beaded with hot sweat from running.
The door was locked, so I knocked. It opened and Mr. Gallo gave me space to get through then locked it again behind me.
“Grayson, that was fast.”
“You said it was urgent. Is anything—is something wrong?”
He laughed. “No, oh no. Sorry to worry you.” He patted my shoulder. “I just wanted to catch you before you met up with your pals for lunch.”
He sounded cheerful, and it should have eased some of my suspicion. “Good to hear.”
“Isn’t it, though? So, here’s the good news. You’ve done better than I could have hoped for. I’m really proud of you.”
Those were words I lived to hear, but this time they sounded all wrong.
This was all wrong. It’s not like I didn’t know that all along. I knew. But now I had Claire, and it felt wrong.
It felt really, really wrong.
Mr. Gallo sat on his desk among the papers he was grading. Those kids would never know their paper had our teacher’s butt-prints on them. “So, enough with the photos. At least for now.”
I let out a long breath. “That’s great. I don’t want to do that stuff anymore. I’m out. I can go back to being a regular kid in class.”
His expression didn’t change. When he spoke, his voice sounded just like it always did, which is what made the words he said so hard to understand at first. “Actually, no. You can’t.”
“You’re not out.” He crossed his arms and stared right at my eyes. “You’re the only person who can get what I need. There’s no time to get anyone else to do it. It has to be you.”
I shook my head. “I told you. I’m out.”
As if I hadn’t spoken, he kept talking. “I need the access code to the gallery, and you’re going to get it.”
Shaking my head, I blinked and stuttered. “No way. Uh-uh. There’s no way that’s legal. I’m not breaking the law.”
Mr. Gallo smiled, but there was nothing funny or pleasant about it. “It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? I guess it’s time to lay my cards on the table. I’m not a stupid man, Grayson. I needed to protect myself in all this. There’s no security footage of your ATM raids, for instance. But don’t you think if I can find you a camera that will fit in the palm of your hand that I couldn’t set one up to keep an eye on you too?”
Slipping an SD card into his phone, he said, “Would you like to see?”
I shook my head, staring at his hands as he looked for the files. I knew enough to believe him. Ignoring me, he held the phone out to me. The video was grainy, black and white, but there was no doubt who the boy palming the credit card from Timber Atkinson’s bag was.
The Mr. Gallo I always dealt with had been fun, a nice guy, but he had a Terminator’s skeleton and I knew it. Still, I hadn’t expected this.
He took the card out and slipped it into his pocket. “So, the gallery code.”
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