ninety-nine days before

I spent most of the next day lying in bed, immersed in the miserably uninteresting fictional world of Ethan Frome, while the Colonel sat at his desk, unraveling the secrets of differential equations or something. Although we tried to ration our smoke breaks amid the shower’s steam, we ran out of cigarettes before dark, necessitating a trip to Alaska’s room. She lay on the floor, holding a book over her head.

“Let’s go smoke,” he said.

“You’re out of cigarettes, aren’t you?” she asked without looking up.

“Well. Yes.”

“Got five bucks?” she asked.

“Nope.”

“Pudge?” she asked.

“Yeah, all right.” I fished a five out of my pocket, and Alaska handed me a pack of twenty Marlboro Lights. I knew I’d smoke maybe five of them, but so long as I subsidized the Colonel’s smoking, he couldn’t really attack me for being another rich kid, a Weekday Warrior who just didn’t happen to live in Birmingham.

We grabbed Takumi and walked down to the lake, hiding behind a few trees, laughing. The Colonel blew smoke rings, and Takumi called them “pretentious,” while Alaska followed the smoke rings with her fingers, stabbing at them like a kid trying to pop bubbles.

And then we heard a branch break. It might have been a deer, but the Colonel busted out anyway. A voice directly behind us said, “Don’t run, Chipper,” and the Colonel stopped, turned around, and returned to us sheepishly.

The Eagle walked toward us slowly, his lips pursed in disgust. He wore a white shirt and a black tie, like always.

He gave each of us in turn the Look of Doom.

“Y’all smell like a North Carolina tobacco field in a wildfire,” he said.

We stood silent. I felt disproportionately terrible, like I had just been caught fleeing the scene of a murder.

Would he call my parents?

“I’ll see you in Jury tomorrow at five,” he announced, and then walked away. Alaska crouched down, picked up the cigarette she had thrown away, and started smoking again. The Eagle wheeled around, his sixth sense detecting Insubordination To Authority Figures. Alaska dropped the cigarette and stepped on it. The Eagle shook his head, and even though he must have been crazy mad, I swear to God he smiled.

 

“He loves me,” Alaska told me as we walked back to the dorm circle. “He loves all y’all, too. He just loves the school more. That’s the thing. He thinks busting us is good for the school and good for us. It’s the eternal struggle, Pudge. The Good versus the Naughty.”

“You’re awfully philosophical for a girl that just got busted,” I told her.

“Sometimes you lose a battle. But mischief always wins the war.”

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