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kyle wei, tree whisperer

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Harley isn’t really interested in attending Lydia Martin’s birthday party until she gets a text from Danny Mahealani that reads, Going to Lydia’s in twenty min, need a ride?

Trying to think of a way to phrase her point that doesn’t make her sound like J. Jonah Jameson, Harley replies, Over…my dead body? With that out of the way, she then returns to re-editing all of the articles that her Arts & Entertainment editors had forwarded to her.  Harley gets that life in Beacon Hills is tough, especially since their English teachers keep dying and parents and siblings mysteriously disappear really frequently, but she has expectations from her editorial staff, and that includes the ability to properly punctuate.

About fifteen minutes later, when Harley is furiously deleting entire sentences at the end of Mandy Richmond’s review of Beastly—who concludes a film review with a five-line description of somebody’s abs? Mandy Richmond, apparently—the front doorbell rings and her mom yells up the stairs, “Harley! Danny’s here to see you!”

Within three seconds, the door to Harley’s bedroom flies open and Danny enters, wearing a very tight t-shirt and enough Armani cologne to make Harley’s room feel three times smaller. Harley gets that Danny is dealing with his douchebro ex winning the breakup and his best friend moonlighting as a big lizard by grinding up on half the guys aged 16-22 in town, but. Harley is judging him.

“No,” Harley says, when Danny raises an eyebrow.

“Come on,” Danny says. “Lydia’s in a weird place right now—”

“—you mean she has no social currency,” Harley points out, returning to her eradication of every synonym for ‘glistening’ in Mandy’s article.

“—so it won’t be too terrible,” Danny finishes. “Scott texted me, so he and Stiles will be there. I texted all of the yearbook and A/V kids. Just mass-text the newspaper staff, tell them that there’ll be free booze and cupcakes.”

Harley has lived next door to Danny their entire lives, so he knows that that’s playing dirty. “What kind of cupcakes?” Harley hedges.

“Chocolate,” Danny says mercilessly. “And lemon. And probably red velvet, since that’s Lydia’s favorite.”

Harley highlights a misused semi-colon and deletes it. Danny can probably smell blood in the water, because he leans against her doorframe and waits for her to sigh, hit Command-S on her draft file, and close her laptop. “Fine,” she says. “I’ll text the newspaper staff. But this is only for cupcakes, and you owe me.”

“I owe you nothing,” Danny says. “There’ll be cupcakes.”

~

Harley isn’t some kind of friendless social leper—beyond the BHHS Highlights staff she rules with an iron fist, she’d been in jazz band for a year before quitting when she’d been voted editor-in-chief of Highlights following the death of the previous EIC—but she’s never really been in Lydia Martin’s league. Most of the parties that Harley attends are in the newspaper office after they put an issue in for print; root bear and stress-tears are most frequently on the menu.

“Harley!” Stiles says enthusiastically when she steps in the door, throwing himself at her for a big floppy-limbed hug. He’s mostly fallen off the face of the planet since Scott had “miraculously” gotten over his asthma (eye-roll), but he’s still good for last-minute space-filler if Harley needs a few inches to cobble together a passable Features section. “How’s it going?”

“I saw you literally yesterday,” Harley says, hugging Stiles back. “We were at 7-11. You were buying a Slurpee. You hugged me.”

Clearly drunk, Stiles says, “Right!” and lets go of Harley to attempt the same with Danny.

“No,” Danny says, stepping to the side, and Stiles nods and puts his arms down.

“Right, right,” he says. “Sorry, man. Come on in! Drinks and cupcakes are out on the patio.”

Since there’s no point in pretending to be here for another reason, Harley makes a beeline for the cupcake table. The decorations are very tasteful—of course, it’s Lydia freaking Martin’s birthday party—but Harley has eyes only for the cupcakes. Everybody else seems obsessed with the booze, so Harley doesn’t have to be conservative. She takes one of each flavor and a napkin and looks for the nearest person she knows.

There’s a little clump of A/V kids nearby, but Harley tries not to hang out with them unless she has to, so she elbows through a patch of lacrosse players swilling punch like total jackasses and makes her way over to a poolside lounger full of trombone players. Harley really hates lacrosse, mostly because she’s gotten into a screaming match with Coach once a week for the last month about how many pages of the upcoming issue can be reasonably devoted to reporting on the state championships (“No, Coach Finstock,” Harley has shrieked three times since last Tuesday, “four pages is not a legitimate amount of space for your stupid sport”) and she takes her hatred out on the lacrosse players themselves.

Except for Scott and Stiles, of course, whom she loves like brothers. Unobservant idiot brothers, but brothers nonetheless.

“Hey,” Harley says, kicking Heather’s knee until she obligingly shifts it over. “How’s it going?”

As Harley sits at the edge of the lounger, Heather turns to her blearily and beams. “Oh my god,” she says, nearly face-planting into Harley’s lap. “This is so great.”

Danielle catches her at the last second and says, “My girl is wasted. Sorry, Harley.” Danielle doesn’t look a lot better herself, but at least she isn’t twisting her hair around her index finger and singing “Party Rock Anthem” under her breath.

“S’fine,” Harley says through a mouthful of cupcake. As red velvet is her least favorite, she’s starting with that one as a kind of appetizer. It’s delicious, even if she still thinks red velvet is a fake flavor that uses food dye to disguise its only weakly chocolate nature. “How’s spring break going?”

“So, so, so great,” Heather says. She puts a hand on Harley’s shoulder and leans forward, her eyes widening significantly. “Mom was going to take me down to LA for a few days but she’s worried about leaving Leo alone. With, you know.” Here, Heather widens her eyes and hisses, which is apparently the best impression her drunk ass can do of a murder lizard.

“That’s fair,” Harley says. If she opens her jaw wide enough, she can fit the rest of the red velvet cupcake inside, which is frankly all that she cares about. Heather and Danielle are nice, but the trombones have always and will always be way too invested in other people’s lives. They make the best gossip reporters because of it, but Mr. Rajput, the Highlights staff adviser, refuses to budge on allowing Harley to bring one in. Apparently they’re classless and promote strife amongst the student body.

“That’s boring,” Danielle corrects. “Why would anybody want to murder Leo? He’s, like, twelve.”

Harley says, “Who knows how murder lizards think?” around a mouthful of cake. Stiles and Scott are trying to figure it out, she thinks, because they have bigger hearts than brains and have yet to internalize the most important maxim of being a resident of Beacon Hills, which is: Ask no questions, and maybe you’ll be incrementally less likely to be murdered.

When Danielle and Heather go with the rest of the trombones to get more punch, Harley looks up from her decimation of the lemon cupcake (slightly bitter, very moist) and spots Mandy Richmond by the pool house with both of Harley’s Arts & Entertainment editors and half of her fourth-period Chemistry class.

“Hey!” Harley says cheerfully, coming up around Mandy’s left. “What’s up?”

Mandy Richmond turns, glassy-eyed, to say, “Have you seen Kyle?”

“Kyle Wei or Kyle Ferreira?” Harley replies, licking a dab of lemon buttercream off of her thumb.

“Kyle Wei,” Mandy says. “He was supposed to get me more punch. He left, like, twenty minutes ago.”

“No idea where he is,” Harley says. When Mandy groans and buries her face in the shoulder of one of the Paulson twins—Harley can’t tell them apart unless they’re standing next to each other, since her only fool-proof method is that Olivia has a slightly deeper part—Harley decides that now is probably not the best time to talk to Mandy about just how unnecessary her description of Alex Pettyfer’s body had been in the context of her film review.

The conversation doesn’t really get any better. The other Paulson twin shows up and starts shouting about how all of their English teachers dying is a global conspiracy to make sure that none of them graduate, which Mandy takes as an invitation to air her hypothesis (poorly-supported, but hilarious) that next year’s graduating seniors are going to have to reenact the season three finale of Buffy before they can collect their diplomas.

Kyle Wei never comes back with Mandy’s punch, but Harley finds him anyway when she decides to get another round of cupcakes.

“Oh, hey, Kyle?” Harley says when she sees him. “Mandy was looking for you.”

Kyle, who is nudging a tree with his nose and making a series of weird faces, pauses and blinks at Harley. “What?” he says.

“Mandy,” Harley says, more slowly, because she’s had Danny passed out on the floor of her bedroom enough to know how to deal with nice drunk people. “Is looking. For you.”

Reaching up to pet the tree, Kyle frowns. “Okay?” he says. “Why?”

Harley really only knows Kyle casually, the way that you know anybody who’s attended the same elementary, middle, and high school as you. They had been partners on a Social Studies project in the sixth grade, which they had nearly failed because Kyle had sat on their diorama of Machu Picchu on the bus to school. It had taken Harley two years to stop hating him for that.

“Punch,” Harley says. Kyle is holding a mostly-empty glass of it in his hand. “You were getting her some?”

“No?” Kyle replies, frowning.

Harley’s basically done with trying to communicate with him at this point—what did Lydia put in that shit? Freaking Everclear?—so she shrugs and says, “Okay, cool, whatever,” and tries to step around Kyle on her way to the cupcake table.

His hand shoots out and he pats her on the upper arm insistently. “Wait, wait, Harley. Ha—arley.”

“Yes,” Harley says. “That’s me.” She has not consumed enough cupcakes to make this funny.

“This is Peach,” Kyle says, pointing to the tree that is definitely not a peach. Can peach trees even grow in this climate? Harley thinks probably not even Lydia Martin can bow the laws of nature to her will, although maybe her mom can. “Peach, this is Harley.”

He looks at Harley, expectantly.

“Um,” Harley says. She reaches out and pats the nearest branch of the tree. “Nice to meet you.”

Kyle beams at her so widely that she can see his gums, turned blue from the punch. “Harley’s nice!” he says, apparently to the tree. “She rewrote most of my article about the girl’s basketball team but she made it funnier.”

Gripping his hand by the fingers, Harley removes it from her arm and gently pulls away. “I’m gonna—get some cupcakes, okay? You should drink some water, Kyle.”

“Right,” Kyle says. “Right, me and Peach, drinking some water. Do you want some water, Peach?”

~

Harley had been voted EIC—as a sophomore!—because she understands the two pillars upon which BHHS Highlights rests, namely an editor’s ability to (1) recite the full name, number, and class of the entire first line of the lacrosse team from memory at a moment’s notice and (2) avoid explaining all deaths, disappearances, memory-losses, and strange occurrences in any satisfactory way.

If Harley got a quarter every time she had to delete ‘werewolf’ from some over-ambitious freshman’s front-page article on the newest dead AP Lit teacher and replace it with ‘mysterious,’ ‘unexplained,’ ‘harrowing,’ or ‘baffling,’ she’d have an entire college education funded by now. Probably not Stanford, but definitely a state school.

“Look,” Harley tells Carl Mukherjee on the last night of production, pointing to the neon green sheet of paper taped to the wall over her desk in the newspaper office. “Carl, look at this and tell me what it is.”

Carl adjusts his glasses and reads, dutifully, “Appropriate Synonyms for ‘Unexplained.’”

“Yes,” Harley says, as patiently as she can. “Why do I have this, Carl?”

“Because I used ‘inexplicable’ seven times in this article?” Carl hazards. He’s only the News co-editor because Nikki Janssen’s parents had had the infinite wisdom to move to Poughkeepsie in January. Harley’s hoping he’ll suffer some kind of nerve trauma before next year so that she can just replace him without having to justify it to Mr. Rajput.

Resisting the urge to slam her head against her keyboard, Harley hands Carl the heavily marked printout of his article about the latest death spree at the sheriff’s department offices and says, “We can’t report a murder lizard, Carl.”

“But—” Carl tries.

No,” Harley says. “Take it out. We don’t know how these people have been dying, because the sheriff’s department is baffled and therefore we are baffled, okay? And for god’s sake, we can’t print Matt Daehler’s name. Mysterious assailant.

“Sheriff Stilinski’s a moron,” Carl mutters under his breath, but he dutifully takes the printout and goes to skulk at his computer. The Highlights offices are really two repurposed janitor’s closets flanking the graphics lab in the basement, but Harley has a microwave and a ratty couch in her office and a bunch of motivational posters in the other room so none of her editors get really sad about their lives.

“He’s not a moron!” Harley yells after Carl. “He didn’t grow up here!”

Carl doesn’t dignify that with a response.

There’s the squeak-shriek of wheels on linoleum and one of the interchangeable freshmen graphics interns rolls into Harley’s office, still on her desk chair. “Hey, Harley?” she says. “We just got the photos from the sheriff’s department. Do you want me to email them to you, or can you look at them now?”

Harley glances at the proofs of the Opinions section spread across her desk and sighs. “Yeah,” she says, trying desperately not to think about how much Chemistry homework she has due tomorrow. “I can look now. Where’s Jared?”

“Um,” the graphics intern hedges. “He left a while ago?”

Jared is literally the most useless photography editor ever. “Did he get sick?” Harley predicts. “Come on, the roll wasn’t even that gory.” If Matt Daehler hadn’t had the poor taste to drown a week ago, Harley would’ve replaced Jared with him in a millisecond.

“I think he’s getting photos at the game right now?” the graphics intern suggests.

Mr. Rajput, who has weird ideas about respectable journalism, has forced standards upon Harley about how much blood per photo they can publish. About half of the roll from the sheriff’s department massacre has to be tossed because over 50% of the visible surfaces are covered in blood, but there’s a good one of a bunch of EMTs clustered in front of the BCSD sign, with flood lights and yellow perimeter tape and, best of all, Stiles visibly swathed in a trauma blanket in the back of an ambulance.

“Yes,” Harley hisses triumphantly. “Somebody call Stiles and get his permission to print this. Where’s my caption?”

The graphics interns squeak and scatter, one of them using the office phone to dial Stiles’ cell number—it’s in the directory, next to Harley’s handwritten note of good for last-minute Features pieces on LITERALLY ANYTHING—and the others gathering around the nearest monitor to compose a caption for Harley’s approval.

“It’s gone to voicemail,” the graphics intern on the phone says. “It’s the championship game tonight. Do you want me to—run up and get it?”

Harley says, “Yes, obviously,” and the graphics intern bolts.

She’s been gone for ten minutes and three axed captions (“No puns, oh my god, show a little respect, please”) when the office phone rings.

Harley, her reflexes honed by a year and a half of anticipating terrible phone calls from the printer about last-minute mishaps, is the first to grab it. “Hello, BHHS Highlights office, how can I help you?”

“It’s Gretchen,” says someone breathlessly. “Oh my god, Harley, oh my god.”

Intuiting that this is probably the missing graphics intern, Harley prods, “What? Did you get Stiles’ permission?” She presses the phone against her collarbone and hisses at the nearest typing intern, “He’s 24 on the lacrosse team, make sure that’s in there.”

“Jackson—oh my god,” the graphics intern (Gretchen, apparently) squeaks. “Jackson—is dead? The—the lights went out and then they came on and—” In the background, people are screaming.

Harley nearly drops the phone, but she recovers quickly. “I’ll be up there in two minutes. Find Jared, get photos, and for god’s sake, get a quote from Finstock.” She slams the receiver down and points at Carl, who is hunched over one of the computers filched from the graphics lab, mouthing along with whatever he’s typing. “Carl! Call the printer, tell them we’re going to be sending the paper over late.”

“What?” Carl squawks, but Harley’s already bolting from the office, making for the nearest staircase.

~

Harley has to be in the Highlights office at six the next morning so she’s available when the printer wakes up and has to call a million times to clarify various fuck-ups. Back in September, Stiles had gotten her copies of all the necessary keys for breaking into BHHS after hours—at the time he’d claimed that it was a ‘precaution’ but Harley knows that he’s using said access to bait the forces of evil or whatever terrible life-threatening hobby he has now that he’s forsaken A/V club and the newspaper—so she gets a ride from her mom to the Beacon Hills Coffee near the school.

“Morning, Harley,” the barista says sleepily. “Usual?”

“Good morning,” Harley replies, digging through her backpack for her wallet. “Yeah, please? And an everything bagel.”

She drinks her coffee for the five-block walk to the high school, which is crawling with the shattered remains of the BCSD (all five of them). Rather than deal with Stiles’ dad, Harley climbs around the tennis courts and sneaks in through the cafeteria entrance. It’s mostly deserted, but Harley knows better than to tempt fate; she drains the last of her coffee and sticks her bagel in her backpack, exchanging it for her taser.

Luckily enough, she’s not murdered on her walk down to the Highlights office. Harley locks the door behind her just in case before settling at her desk with her bagel and Chemistry homework. The paper hadn’t been finished until one in the morning, and Harley had barely had time to scrape together a passable essay on the short story they’re reading in French before her mother had come by and offered her a ride to school. “Did you sleep at all?” her mother had asked suspiciously, watching as Harley had rubbed crusted mascara out of the corner of her eyes.

“Kind of,” Harley had lied. “A ride would be great! Thanks, Mom.”

The printer’s office calls twice, once freaking out because they think the PDFs are corrupted and the second time because their supervising printer doesn’t think the front-page photo is something Mr. Rajput would have approved. He’s mostly right, since Mr. Rajput had come by the office at eleven the night before, looked at the mocked-up proofs, and scowled at Harley like it was a picture of her eating babies or something.

He’d come around eventually, since it was hard for him to argue with Harley’s pointed reminder that there was barely any blood and you couldn’t see that much of Jackson’s body under the tarp, anyway. The focal point was really Coach Finstock and Sheriff Stilinski, yelling at each other while the jackasses from Midtown High held their lacrosse sticks and looked useless in the far background.

“I absolutely promise that this is okay,” Harley is telling the printer, holding the remains of her bagel in her free hand, when somebody knocks on the door to her office. “I have to go, but you can call Mr. Rajput if you want confirmation.”

Sounding suspicious, the printer says, “I probably will,” and he hangs up.

“Who’s there?” Harley calls, taking a bite of her bagel.

“Um,” somebody says. “It’s—Kyle Wei?”

Harley hasn’t really seen him since Lydia Martin’s party—Kyle’s in the musical theater crowd, which is underfunded at BHHS and therefore has extremely low visibility outside of a two-room radius around the auditorium—so she has no idea what Kyle wants. “Give me a sec!” she says loudly, digging through her bag for her taser.

It’s just Kyle on the other side of the door, his backpack slung over his shoulder. “Hey,” he says, and then he repeats, “hey,” when he sees her taser.

“What?” Harley says. “Do you know how many people die in this building a year? I didn’t get promoted to EIC so I could die and leave Highlights to the likes of Carl Mukherjee.”

“I guess that’s fair,” Kyle says hesitantly. “So, um, do you have a second? Or—fifteen minutes, really.”

Harley steps out of his way and gestures him into her office. “Come on in,” she says. “If the phone rings, I’ll have to take it, but otherwise I’m free.” Her Chemistry homework is done enough, probably. “What’s up?”

Kyle looks at the couch, which is sagging in the middle and weirdly stained, before he apparently decides not to sit down. “You remember Lydia’s party, right?”

“Do you?” Harley asks, grinning at him. “I think I was the only sober person there. You were talking to a tree.”

“Yeah,” Kyle says. “Peach.” He does not sound like somebody who’s joking. “So, I kind of need your help. Have you noticed that nobody else seems to remember the party? Like, at all?”

Since Lydia Martin’s illegal underage drink-fest is not the kind of thing Mr. Rajput would let Harley mention in the Highlights Features section, Harley hasn’t talked about the party with anybody. “Not really?” she hazards. “But I haven’t brought it up.”

“Well, I have,” Kyle says. “And nobody remembers. Which isn’t, you know, totally unusual, for Beacon Hills, but—I need to find her. And when I went back and asked Lydia, she shut the door in my face.”

“Find—who?” Harley asks. “Did you meet somebody at the party? Because my phone tree isn’t really going to work if nobody remembers actually being there.”

“Yeah,” Kyle says, staring at Harley like she’s an idiot. “Peach. I need to find Peach.”

Seeking to clarify, Harley says, “Peach—the tree?”

“She looked like a tree, yeah,” Kyle says irritably. “But I think she’s, like, a tree spirit or something.”

Harley mouths, Wow.

Kyle adds, eyes bright, “I’m worried that something’s wrong with her. She seemed, like, sick or something at Lydia’s party.”

Getting more suspicious with every word, Harley says, “Wait—”

“She needs my help,” Kyle insists loudly, like he’s suddenly had a personality transplant from Scott.

“Oh my god, you idiot,” Harley whisper-yells, leaping at him and waving her hands in front of his mouth as encouragement for him to shut the hell up. “How have you survived this long in Beacon Hills? Rule number freaking one of this town is to never discuss interfering in this shit! You can talk about the murder rate but you don’t talk about why it’s so damn high! What’s wrong with you? Don’t you have parents to tell you about this?”

“I think she’s sick,” Kyle continues, undaunted in the face of common sense. “You’re friends with Stiles Stilinski, right? So you know how to break into places?”

One day, when Harley is less concerned about being killed in her sleep by some kind of weird avenging tree spirit, she’s going to tell Stiles about this conversation and laugh in his face. “You want me to help you break into Lydia Martin’s house?” She has a hard time keeping the incredulity out of her voice.

“Well, no,” Kyle says. “Her patio. I just—want to make sure that Peach is okay.”

Harley opens her mouth, the “abso-freaking-lutely not” already formed on her tongue, when Kyle reaches into his backpack and pulls out a key ring. “I work in the main office for community service credit,” he continues, “and if you help me, I’ll give you a copy of the keys for the filing cabinets. All of them. Student records and projected budgets.”

Projected budgets. “Extracurricular funding for next year?” Harley gurgles.

Kyle nods, his eyes narrowed in on her. “You have to help me, first, and then I’ll give you the copies.”

On the one hand, Harley would like to live to see her seventeenth birthday. On the other—extracurricular funding is literally the murkiest and most important issue at BHHS, every year. Harley has written 4/5ths of an editorial about the egregious lacrosse spending versus every other extracurricular activity at BHHS combined, but she needs actual numbers to finish it. They get a new principal every few months, but all of them have been accomplished at dodging Harley’s emails.

Journalistic ambition wins out in the end. “Fine,” Harley grits out through her teeth. “Do you have a car? Because we’re skipping last period. Meet me here at 1:50.” Just because her own mercenary nature has her trapped doesn't mean she wants to die. “And seriously, do not talk about spirits. To anybody.”

With a stupid, determined glint in his eye, Kyle nods once and turns on his heel. “See you at 1:50,” he throws over his shoulder as he leaves.

As Harley flops back into her desk chair for one last read-through of her Chemistry homework, she reflects that she really, really wants a cupcake.

~

Harley has gym last period, but when she tracks down Coach Finstock and dribbles a couple tears about how tragic and terrible life is right now, he writes her a pass. “Me too, kid,” he says, slapping her twice on the shoulder. “My first line’s a frickin mess.” He looks like he might start crying next, which is frankly something Harley could really live without witnessing.

Kyle drives an ancient Ford Focus that looks like he busted it from a museum. The engine is too loud for Harley to conceivably start up a conversation, if she even wanted to—which she doesn’t, because Kyle Wei became a dead man walking the second he got drunk at Lydia Martin’s birthday party and decided to start dating a tree spirit—so she texts her mom that she’s going over to a friend’s house to study and not to worry if she’s late for dinner.

OK have fun! her mom texts back.

Harley thinks about laughing bitterly, but she stuffs her phone into her pocket instead. “Take a left up here,” she tells Kyle. “We should try to go in the back.”

Lydia Martin lives with the other rich people on Mountain Road; all of the lawns are pristine and everybody has a pool that they pay somebody else to clean. Because they’re rich, they can afford breathing room—all of the Martin’s neighbors are far enough away that they shouldn’t be able to see Harley and Kyle breaking into the patio.

When Harley settles on her heels to pick the padlock, Kyle loiters behind her, his breathing heavy and uneven. “You okay?” Harley asks him, sticking a bobby pin into the padlock and pulling a safety pin from her pocket. Stiles had taught her and Scott how to do this on the padlock on his garage door a few summers ago, when they’d gotten bored with Kingdom Hearts and it was too hot to walk to the pool. Harley makes sure to practice every few months, to make sure she doesn’t lose the touch for it.

“Fine,” Kyle says, sounding like he’s hyperventilating.

Nudging the safety pin in carefully, Harley says, “If you’re having second thoughts about breaking into Mrs. Martin’s patio to talk to a tree, it’s fine. We can go home and pretend this never happened.”

“It’s fine,” Kyle hisses. “I just—I’m worried.”

“About your tree girlfriend,” Harley mutters.

Kyle says, “She’s not my girlfr—” but he cuts himself off when the padlock clicks open and slips into Harley’s hand.

When Kyle makes no move to enter, Harley pushes the door open and gestures him in front of her. His pupils are enormous. “We aren’t robbing a bank, Kyle,” Harley points out. “It’s a patio. I’m not even sure this counts as breaking and entering. I think it might just be trespassing. Plus, we’re totally traumatized from last night. Who’d arrest us?”

“Right,” Kyle says. He takes two jerky steps towards the open door, and then he squares his shoulders and marches in. One would think, because Harley has been friends with Scott since kindergarten, she would find this kind of bravery laudable. But, really, she thinks Kyle is an idiot.

The Martins’ patio looks bigger now that it’s not crawling with drunk as shit teenagers but Kyle has crossed it in a handful of seconds, making beeline for his tree. Harley hovers by the back entrance and checks the time on her phone; it’s 2:20, which means Lydia will be getting out of class in ten minutes. For somebody whose boyfriend had died the night before, she’d looked pretty good during third-period French. If she gets a ride from Allison Argent or Stiles, both of whom drive like maniacs, she’ll be home within half an hour.

“Hey,” Harley calls to Kyle. “We good?”

He says, “No, hold on,” but before Harley can probe what, exactly, is the hold up—they’re checking on a freaking tree—her phone buzzes with a text from Heather.

OH MY GOD, it reads. Her phone vibrates, again, and it’s another text, this one from Danielle. OH MY FUCKING GOD that one says.

The next vibration, about two milliseconds after Danielle’s text, is a call from Carl Mukherjee.

“What?” Harley answers. “Shouldn’t you be in gym right now?”

“Jackson is alive,” Carl shrieks at the other end of the line. Harley practically can hear him self-righteously adjusting his glasses.

“Shit,” Harley says.

“We’re going to have to print a retraction!” Carl is yelling. “In my entire tenure as News co-editor, we have never had to print a retraction, and now we’re going to because you felt the need to jump the gun—”

“Hey!” Harley yells right back. “He was pronounced dead at the scene! It’s a perfectly legitimate mistake to make! Also, you’ve been News co-editor for like two issues.”

 “A retraction!” Carl shouts. “A! Retraction!” The next time Mr. Rajput objects to Harley’s assertion that Carl doesn’t have the nerves for serious journalism, she’s going to recite this phone conversation back to him verbatim.

“You better get on drafting that, then,” Harley says, and then she hangs up. She has about fifteen new texts, fourteen of them from various trombone players and one from a contact she’s saved as“Graphics Intern w/ Red Glasses (M).” That one says, Jackson’s alive, should we call printer to pause / edit? It’s naively optimistic but it shows the kind of gumption that Harley looks for in the freshmen to hint at their potential for editorship.

Went to print at 1pm, she replies to him. Before she forgets, she opens the notebook function on her phone and types a reminder to herself to get the name of the male intern with red glasses during the distribution meeting on Monday.

“Are you done yet?” Harley asks Kyle, not looking up from her phone. The trombones are evenly split down on the middle in glee and sadness about Jackson Whittemore no longer being dead, so reading through their messages is giving her whiplash.

When Kyle doesn’t respond, she looks up and sees him hugging a potted tree—probably Peach? It’s not like Harley makes a habit of remembering the individual trees she’s introduced to by drunk classmates—and whispering to it.

“Hey!” Harley calls, slightly louder. She doesn't think the Martins have a housekeeper, but—better safe than sorry. “Kyle! Are we done here? Lydia will be home in like fifteen minutes.”

 “Give me a minute,” Kyle finally says, and Harley answers four texts and drafts an email to Carl explaining that she’s not approving a retraction unless it comes with 200 additional words about how the sheriff’s and / or coroner’s office fucked this up. She reminds herself at the end of the draft to make the subject of the email NO MURDER LIZARDS.

This time, when she checks on Kyle, he’s about four feet away from her, pulling the tree behind him with two fingers hooked in its pot. “Um,” Harley begins.

“She’s not safe here,” Kyle says tightly, although he could just be breathless because he’s dragging a tree two feet taller than him across Lydia Martin’s impressively vast patio. “She says she needs to go back to the preserve, to be with her sisters.”

Kyle is her ride home, so Harley decides not to say anything as he shuffles past her and she relocks the door behind them. Over her dead body is she participating in this tag-and-release program for a freaking tree spirit, though. “Drop me off at home first,” she tells Kyle as she trails him and his tree girlfriend to his car. “It’s on the way, anyway.”

She makes sure to get the copies of the office keys before he peels off, the top few of Peach’s branches poking out of the left backseat window. Harley is pretty sure that this is the last time she’s ever going to see Kyle Wei, so when he breaks for the stop sign at the end of her street she takes a picture of his car with her phone in case she forgets any pertinent details while writing his obituary for the next issue of Highlights.

~

Kyle takes the seat next to Harley in third-period French on Monday with a quick, “Hey!” It’s normally Christina Polanski’s desk, but she’s dating Olivia Paulson this week and they’re sitting together in the back so they can hold hands and do other vile stuff for which Ms. Morrell’s going to kill them.

“Hi?” Harley says. She really is shocked that Kyle is still alive.

Kyle leans forward and puts a hand on Harley’s desk. “Thank you,” he says, apparently suffused with sincerity. “For what you did on Friday.”

“It was nothing,” Harley says quickly, hoping that he’ll accept this and move on.

“I got her to her sisters in the preserve,” Kyle adds. “She’s so much happier, she says.”

“Great,” Harley lies, badly. “Glad to hear it. You should probably stop talking. Ms. Morrell looks mad today.”

Ms. Morrell always looks superior and French, kind of like what Harley imagines Anna Wintour looks like in her glass castle at the top of the Condé Nast building, but Kyle takes this threat of impending detention seriously and settles back in his seat.

“Bonjour,” Ms. Morrell says severely, and everybody parrots it back at her in a terrified rush.

They have a vocab test first thing; Harley finishes early, turns it in, and then flips to the back of her notebook, where she’s made notes on her editorial for next issue about the budget fiasco. She won’t have to pitch it to Mr. Rajput until they have the senior editorial staff meeting on Thursday, but Mr. Rajput can smell an argument’s weakness like Lydia Martin can spot knockoff purses at twenty yards.

Two rows to the left of Harley, Lydia is reading a fresh copy of Highlights, holding it between her thumb and index finger and flipping past the News and Opinions sections in order to get to Arts & Entertainment. She doesn’t look perturbed by the front article above the fold on her no-longer-dead boyfriend, which Harley had tried and failed to explain to Mr. Rajput this morning.

“Lydia is seriously not going to be traumatized by this,” she had told him, picking up two bundles of 50-issue stacks and shoving them at various members of the editorial staff. “It’s Lydia Martin. If anybody’s going to come out of this with problems, it’s going to be Jared.”

“Hey!” Jared had said, but he’d been green underneath his glasses and his stacks were upside-down in his arms, so the picture of Jackson’s tarp-covered body was facing the floor.

Mr. Rajput had said, repressively, “Lydia might not be as resilient as you think, Harley,” which really only proved that he doesn’t know the story of Beacon Hills Middle School’s 2008 production of Alice in Wonderland, starring Lydia Martin as Alice and three seventh graders as the Cheshire Cat, two of whom had disappeared on their respective opening nights and been found a handful of days later wandering through the Target in Beacon Heights, suffering from both mysterious lacerations and memory loss.

“Right,” Harley had said to Mr. Rajput with all the skepticism that that deserved. “Would you mind putting 25 issues in the nurse’s office, please?”

Off Mr. Rajput had swanned, looking disapproving in his polka-dotted bowtie, and Harley had used the remaining time before first period to hunt down the graphics intern with red glasses and get his name.

“What are you doing after school?” Kyle says to Harley at the end of French, when she’s putting her pencils back in their case and trying to figure out if she has enough time to run to the cafeteria for a bag of chips before Chemistry.

“Newspaper,” Harley says distractedly. She might not have enough change for the vending machine; she’d bought a lot of Gatorade during production last week.

“Oh, okay,” Kyle says. “Cool. Do—you want to go to the preserve later? Peach wants to talk to you.”

“No,” Harley says. “Absolutely not.” She waits for the classroom to empty and then she points a finger at Kyle’s nose and adds, “You and your tree girlfriend are broken the hell up, okay? It’s Facebook official now, and that’s the last I want to hear of it. However, if you want to drown your sorrows in respectable journalism, you can come by the Highlights office after school and I can give you something to do.”

“Didn’t an issue literally come out today?” Kyle asks, proving that the theater kids really don’t know anything useful outside of how to construct a set for Dancing at Lughnasa from random junk.

“Oh, Kyle,” Harley cackles meanly. “You have no idea. Be at my office right after the last bell. You’ll need to learn the basics.”

Kyle squawks, “The basics? What basics?”

As far as Harley is concerned, if it keeps him away from his tree spirit ex, it’s basically a favor to humanity. Besides, she’s wanted an assistant for ages, Kyle has written some not-terrible stuff for the Sports section in the past, and he works in the main office. It’s like killing four birds with one stone. No wonder Harley was voted EIC as a sophomore. She’s amazing.

“Right after the last bell!” Harley reminds Kyle. She’s going to have to sprint to make it to Chemistry on time. “And for god’s sake, stop talking about freaking tree spirits. Who do you think you are, Scott McCall?”