Today the high schoolers are on a field trip to the local mausoleum. Despite having visited it before in elementary school, the field trip is required for all secondary school students. They all have an essay to write about it for history class.
Tula stares darkly at Guy who has now taken to sitting by himself on the bus. Tula sits next to their chaperone, but does so silently.
"Is everything ok?" the student-teacher asks her.
Tula's disposition turns skittish, "Um...yeah, everything's fine," she sends a few nervous glances in Guy's direction. If he wants to set himself apart from me, so be it. Might as well make it official. Their relationship from the outside has seemed close and tranquil. It could be interesting to shake that up.
In any case, they'll have to separate eventually.
The teacher notices Tula's unease, and arches an eyebrow. "Are you sure everything's ok?"
Tula looks down, and bites her lip. "Yeah, everything's fine..." She glances at Guy one last time over her shoulder, then quickly looks out the window. "Don't worry about me." She pastes an unconvincing smile on her face.
Guy sits silently, spacing out. He's completely unaware of Tula's furtive staring. He just wanted to sit next to the window, is all. Sometimes having his own space is nice, especially in a chaotic environment like the school bus. The rest of their class sits in the back, loudly chattering and showing each other things on their phones. Guy never has anything cool to show anyone, so he sits alone.
Eventually they reach the graveyard and the teens trickle out of the bus.
"Don't forget your assigned groups!" their chaperone hollers.
Gregory grimaces, clearly not pleased with who he's been grouped with.
"This is such a bullshit assignment," he sighs to his cousin.
Tula nods, a similar expression of distaste gracing her face, "Tell me about it. Oh well, at least it's an easy A."
As Guy begins to catch up to Tula, her eyes widen. Suddenly and a little too forcefully, she shoves Gregory.
"Race you!" she exclaims. Without further explanation, she sprints ahead.
Gregory blinks in confusion, "Tula what the-," but she's already too far to hear him.
With a sigh of exertion, Guy pushes himself to run faster. He and Tula are in the same group and need to stick together.
Gregory looks between his cousin and his other "cousin", and frowns. Was it just his imagination, or did Tula only start running when Guy got closer? But she wouldn't do that, not unless she was scared of Guy. And Guy was harmless... right? There were all those times in elementary school when he fervently claimed people were spying on his thoughts, and all the weird unsettling stuff he'd say in class... but that didn't mean he was dangerous... not necessarily.
He shakes his head. He's probably reading too much into it...
Back at home, Sun seriously considers if staying cooped up inside all day is causing her to go crazy. Every little thing out of place is clawing at her senses, begging to be straightened, dusted, cleaned, whatever. She can't count how many times she's done the laundry in the past two days alone.
As the washing machine hums to life, she massages her forehead. Just a few more months and this baby will be out of her. She takes a deep breath and slowly counts to ten, trying desperately to fight the wave of panic that constantly threatens to swallow her whole.
Maybe it won't be so bad... having a small, cute baby to rock to sleep and sing lullabies to, isn't that nice? We can take strolls around town and we can play dress up and take pretty pictures...
It's a sappy, cliched image, but it's the only thing keeping Sun halfway sane. If being a mommy can be half as saccharine as she imagines, she might make it through this.
I'll be ok. Paolo's here, he's had kids before. He knows what to do. Everything will be fine, she soothes herself. Her body still buzzes with tension, but her heartbeat gradually slows. She has to believe that it will be ok. Because if not...
She rubs the bridge of her nose. She shouldn't even think about the "ifs". Everything will be fine, and that's that.
On the other side of town, Tula, Guy, Armando Marshall, and Teressa Marshall-Curley file into the small crypt.
"This is the creepiest shit ever," Armando declares, looking at his surroundings with a faintly disgusted expression.
Teressa glances skeptically at Tula, "You seem pretty...excited."
It's true, there's an almost childish look of glee on her face.
"Any chance to ditch class is fine with me," Tula says, her tone bubbly, "Even if it is in such a...lovely place."
Teressa nods vigorously, "Yeah, it's pretty creepy but it beats math, am I right?"
"You said it," Tula panders to Teressa's constant need for affirmation. The girl does nothing but agree and back-pedal when she doesn't.
"Creepiest shit ever," Armando says loudly, cutting off his cousin's attempts to suck up.
"Sick moustache though," he adds on. Soon Armando becomes engrossed in the portrait, "You think we could write our paper on ' the history of stylish facial hair' or something?"
Behind him Teressa snickers, a bit too loudly and forcefully for it to be genuine. "And then maybe we could have a paragraph about his side burns or something."
"What do you think, Guy?" Armando asks.
Guy slowly pulls his gaze from some undetermined point in space and stares at the painting thoughtfully.
A moment passes. "...Guy?"
"Who is this guy?" he finally asks.
"You can't be serious. We came here when we were, like, ten. Had that whole speech about the founder of Appaloosa Plains for about an hour? We even had a whole term of lessons on this man..."
"Yeah Guy, don't you ever pay attention?" Teressa chimes in. Tula suppresses an eye-roll. The only person who rivals Guy in forgetfulness and absent-mindedness is Teressa. She is constantly asking for other students' notes and to borrow pen and paper.
While the cousins gang up on Guy about how scatter-brained he is, Tula gives him a hard stare. He's been acting...different around her. A lot more uncomfortable and distant, and now he's engaging in conversation with other students. If she lets this continue, he might divulge his sense of unease around her, and things could become... difficult for her.
Thinking quickly, she comes up with a plan.
Guy, predictably, has disengaged from the conversation, and is making some kind of ghost noises at the wall.
"Do you think if we stick around here long enough, Silas's ghost will show up?" Armando whispers to his cousin. Silas Appaloose, the founder of the city, is rumored to haunt the mausoleum at night. Or so the legends say. No one this generation has been brave or stupid enough to actually spend the night in his tomb.
"He might," Teressa hedges. She doesn't want to look uncool in front of her cousin by saying what she really thinks- which is, "Who the hell cares, why don't we just do our assignment and go?"- but also doesn't want to seem like the kind of person who's childish enough to believe in phantoms in front of Tula, the smartest person in their year.
Tula smirks. She has a plan.
"Why don't you guys go and check out his urn? That's where ghosts supposedly come from, right? We need to look at his actual resting place for this paper anyways. I can stay here and check out the altar and Guy can study the painting."
Teressa, relieved to have been taken out of her sticky social dilemma, excitedly chatters on to Armando about Silas Appaloose's urn. As small children, they weren't allowed to go near it. As high schoolers, they're trusted to be "responsible" enough to view it. From behind a glass pane, of course.
The two cousins leave the crypt. The heavy stone entrance creaks shut behind them, leaving Tula and Guy...alone.
Guy doesn't immediately notice Teressa and Armando's departure, and by the time he does, Tula's already talking to him.
"Can you believe that? They really believe in ghosts," she snickers. She hasn't seen any apparitions since the night of her grandmother's death, leading Tula to believe that the undead stay firmly in...wherever spirits go when they pass on. Her research into the matter has proved inconclusive and rife with speculation. While she doesn't know that ghosts don't exist, it seems to be the more sensible, socially acceptable stance on the issue.
Guy laughs along with her, but she can tell he didn't hear anything she just said.
"Hey, Guy, what's that over there?" she points behind him.
When he turns around, she lets out a blood curdling shriek and dramatically crumples to the floor.
Not far outside of the crypt, Armando and Teressa pause.
Was that...a scream?
"What...was that?" Teressa asks, a frisson of electricity shooting down her spine. She hates this creepy tomb.
Armando, similarly unsettled, blanches. "Tula and Guy are in there."
They turn on their heels and sprint back.
They push the heavy door open and burst into the room.
"What's wrong?" Armando huffs, out of breath from heaving the door open. His heart is hammering in his chest.
Teressa looks at the strange scene in front of them; Guy is standing, shaking, but looking utterly perplexed. Tula is on the ground, backing away from him, her eyes wide with fear.
"What happened?" Teressa asks, her voice cracking.
"Tula...what happened?" Armando repeats.
Tula, shivering and her eyes shining with unshed tears, just shakes her head. Her eyes are pinned on Guy, the accusation clear.
Armando and Teressa help Tula up, careful to keep her away from Guy. He offers no protest, still rooted to his spot on the floor.
"Are you ok? Did he...did something happen?" Armando asks Tula quietly.
Teressa leans in, "You can tell us, Tula. We're here for you."
"Tula..." Armando presses.
Though her eyes brim with tears, Tula says nothing.
Guy stands silently long after the trio leaves the room.
Did he do something wrong?
When he regains his composure, Guy goes outside and is told that Tula is on the bus, recovering from...whatever happened in the tomb. Everyone looks stern and angry, but no one stops him when he climbs in after her and takes a seat.
"W-what happened? Are you alright?" he asks, his hands shaking. Why is everyone looking at him so hatefully?
Tula nods, "I'm sorry for scaring you. I thought I saw something behind you..." she looks out the window, "All that talk of ghosts just had me on edge. I already explained that to everyone."
"But... you looked so scared. Of me. Did I...do something?" he asks, eyes pinned to the floor. You always do stupid things and forget about it. Never has this been a more terrifying reality for him.
Tula shakes her head. "No, it was just nerves, I swear. You'd never hurt me, right?" she puts a hand over his and squeezes.
He shakes his head vigorously, "Oh no, no, I'd never do that. Never!" With a sigh of relief, he sinks into the bus seat. "I thought I did something dumb again. But you're ok, right?"
Tula smiles sweetly at him, "Never better."
Eventually the rest of the students and the chaperone climb back into the bus, asking Tula dozens of times if she's ok. They cast a few dubious looks at Guy, but at Tula's sunny smile and seeming ease around him, they all seem to let it drop.
The two teens return home side by side, as they always do. Tula sees a rare opportunity to talk to Sun and surprises everyone by pulling out her homework right away. Normally she reserves these easy assignments for the ten minutes of homeroom the day the assignment is due, but it's nice to shake things up a bit.
"How was school?" Sun asks, trying to seem calm.
Even to Guy, her smile seems unnatural, and immediately makes him feel on edge.
Peering away from the stress oozing off of his...step-mom? Guardian? He still has no idea what to all her, Guy just shrugs.
"Ok, I guess..." he mumbles.
"Sit, sit!" Sun says, trying to be cheerful. Guy jumps a little at her insistence, but obeys.
"Are you alright? Baby stressing you out a bit?" Tula asks. She knows that with someone as seemingly anxious as Sun is that probing is the last thing she should be doing to calm them down...
But who said she wanted Sun to be calm?
"I'm fine," Sun responds with a strained smile. "Everything's all good over here."
"I mean if I were about to have a baby, I'd be stressed," Tula says as if Sun hadn't spoken, "Especially if it was an unexpected erm...surprise. But at least you'll have plenty of time with the baby since your experiments at the lab won't take up your time anymore."
Guy frowns sadly at his homework. Why does Tula have to do this to people? Why can't she just leave things alone?
Sun's grip on her seat tightens, and so does her smile. "Yes, lots of time with your new little brother or sister... I'm excited," she punctuates her sentence with a caress of her stomach, and another forced grin.
Guy keeps his eyes trained on his assignment. Just being near Sun is stressing him out.
"Oh yeah, I bet. Have you and dad picked out a name?" Tula inquires easily, barely glancing from her paper.
"Nope, not yet. I'm sure we'll think of something soon."
"Well, don't wait forever. These things really pile up if you leave them for too long. I'm pretty sure my mom and dad waited until the last minute to give me a name too. But I guess it was fine in the end. They loved each other and made it work. I'm sure you and my dad will be the same way, right?"
Sun squirms in her seat. Paolo has never said that he loves her, only that he loves their child. Does she love him? She has to, right? She's having his baby and everything!
"Yes...of course. Well, I'll leave you kids to your homework, I need to use the bathroom..."
As Sun waddles away, Guy looks at Tula worriedly. That interrogation seemed...unnecessarily cruel.
But looking at Tula's blank, relaxed expression, Guy says nothing. If Tula's ok with what she said, it must be him in the wrong.
She's much more socially astute than he is, after all.