Read an Excerpt
Find You In The Dark
how did I get here? When was it that my life took this insane detour into the gigantic mess that I now saw when I looked in the mirror? Sure, everything had started so simply. A look, a touch, a kiss. Your first love is supposed to be beautiful, right?
And maybe it still is. I don’t know. All I do know is that I’m kneeling on this nasty bathroom floor in a dingy motel room in the middle of nowhere, wiping my boyfriend’s blood off the gritty tiles, the skin of my knees raw from my morbidly methodical task. The sting of tears burns my vision and I feel like I’m about to follow him off the edge.
Wipe, scrub, sweep. That’s what I’m doing. Wiping up the turmoil of our relationship. Sweeping away the anger, the hurt, the fear. Scrubbing it all away as I try to figure out how to piece myself back together.
But then I remember those elusive moments. The tiny slivers of time that help me recognize that it wasn’t all bad. Because I love him. And he loves me, in the only way he can. Perhaps my only failing was not seeing that I wasn’t able to hold it together on my own.
But I’m not one to give up—or forget. No matter how much they wanted me to. Because he had, for a moment in time, been my world. My focus, my entire being. And it’s hard to think I’m now without that. And maybe what we had, for those few blissful months, had truly been beautiful. Crazy beautiful. Or maybe just crazy.
Who knows? I was scared, tired, and alone, and missing that vital part of myself that had once felt whole and complete and now felt sad and empty. Wipe, scrub, sweep.
The holes would close up. The torn seams would come together. But I would never be as I was before. Before him. My crazy beautiful love.
Find You In The Dark
“you have got to be kidding me.” I groaned, kicking the tire of my piece-of-crap Toyota Corolla that had refused to start. Standing in my driveway, I unleashed every curse word imaginable as the minutes slowly ticked toward my inevitable tardiness. “Won’t start again, Maggie-Girl?” My father had poked his head out of the screen door. He had most likely been made aware of my predicament by my sailor-worthy tirade.
Sighing, I slammed my car door shut and picked up my messenger bag. “Nooo . . .” I dragged out the word in tired defeat. My dad held the door open for me as I made my way back into the house. “Didn’t you just have it in the shop two weeks ago?” he asked as I slammed my bag down on the kitchen table and threw myself into a chair.
I blew my bangs out of my eyes in frustration and didn’t bother answering. Everything was going so spectacularly wrong today. I shouldn’t have bothered to get out of bed. Maybe I should fake a cough or something and try to convince him to let me stay home.
My father took a bite of toast, crumbs falling into his neatly trimmed beard. “Well, I’ll drive you to school. Can’t have you missing that big chemistry test.” He smirked at me, as if reading my ulterior plot to skip school.
I groaned for the millionth time that morning. I’d completely forgotten about the test, but of course my dad, with his iron-trap brain, remembered. Well, that thoroughly screwed up any chance of a good day. Merry freaking Monday.
“Maggie May, what are you still doing here? The tardy bell rings in T-minus-ten minutes.” My mother breezed into the kitchen, pouring herself a cup of coffee and conferring with her watch to make sure she wasn’t mistaken about the time. Looking at my superserious, all-business, pretty fantastic-looking mother, I wondered, and not for the first time, how I could have come from her DNA. She was my opposite in every possible way: where her hair was blond and shampoo-commercial perfect, mine was a dull, mousy brown that refused to be managed into anything resembling a fashionable style. My mom had a perfect figure. She didn’t look anywhere near her age, whereas I had the misfortune of being dubbed a “late bloomer.” My underwhelming cup size and nonexistent hips were hardly anything to write home about.
But I did have her eyes. And I will say, allowing myself zero modesty, that they were pretty awesome. I loved that I shared the same dark-brown eyes and thick lashes. They were my best trait (well, aside from my astounding wit and amazing personality, of course), and I received my fair share of compliments because of them. So, no, you couldn’t compare me to the back end of a dog or anything, but, like most teenagers, I was anything but pleased with myself.
“Her car wouldn’t start. I’m just getting ready to take her to school.” My dad filled her in before I could answer. My mom gave me a sympathetic smile before giving her husband a rather obnoxiously sweet kiss good morning. They were really nauseating at times, the way they were still so in love with each other. However, deep down, I just wanted the same thing and I spent a lot of time freaking out that I would never find it. But that was a panic attack for another time.
“We can help you with it this time, you know. You worked really hard over the summer to buy it and it’s been nothing but trouble since you parked it in the driveway.” My mom, despite her Barbie-perfect appearance and a no-nonsense accountant’s personality, was pretty amazing. I took the bagel she handed to me and licked the cream cheese from the top.
“Thanks. But I still have money saved up. Let’s just hope I don’t need a whole new flipping engine or something,” I muttered. My mom ruffled my hair as if I were still five and picked up her briefcase. “Well, Marty, if you’ve got this under control, I’ve got to get to the office. I’ll probably be late tonight.” My mom ran her own accounting firm in the city—and worked a lot.
She leaned down and gave me a quick kiss on the forehead and my dad another loud smack and left. I shoved the rest of my bagel into my mouth and wiped my lips with the back of my hand. A napkin appeared under my nose. “I don’t think you were raised in a barn, Maggie,” my dad joked. I lightly touched the napkin to my now-clean mouth, just to make him happy.
“You can head on out to the car. I’ll meet you there. Call Burt’s garage today; they’ll come and tow the car. Mom and I will pay for the towing, you pay for the repairs. Deal?” My dad put his tea mug in the sink and filled it with water. I felt guilty having my parents pay for my car in any way, shape, or form.
I had been the one who insisted on buying the shitmobile outside. My dad wanted me to shop around more, to get a CARFAX report; all that rational stuff that I, of course, wouldn’t listen to because I was seventeen years old and I knew way more than my parents. Well, I learned that lesson the hard way.
But I knew I most likely wouldn’t have enough money to pay for the tow and the repairs. My savings from my job at the ice-cream stand over the summer were almost depleted and I would be firmly in mooch territory soon if I didn’t find another way to earn money.
I mumbled something unintelligible, not bothering to formulate words. Dad only chuckled. “I’ll interpret that as a thank-you,” he said, shooing me out of the kitchen. I walked out to the family minivan, not focusing too much on the public mortification of my librarian father taking me to school. If I hadn’t been feeling so negative, I’d have appreciated how considerate he was.
I really was lucky in the parental department. My mom and dad always seemed to take my teenage moods in stride. Not much ruffled their feathers. Not that I’d done much ruffling in my seventeen years.
So here comes the obligatory life rundown: I was your typical teenage girl, living in small-town America (Davidson, Virginia, if you really wanted to know), on the corner of Cliché and Stereotype. My life had been conventional and uneventful. I grew up the only child of the local beauty queen and the bookish guy she fell in love with. We had an apple-pie life of family dinners and games of Monopoly on Thursdays (Wednesdays if it was Mom’s week for Bunco).
My best friends, Rachel Bradfield and Daniel Lowe, had been my partners in nonexistent crime since the womb. Our mothers had grown up together and it was predetermined that we would be as close as they had been.
I was suitably smart, sporting a solid B-plus average, and had aspirations toward college, just like my friends. I did my homework, followed the rules, and basically bored myself to death. I also was in a very deep, crater-sized rut. How sad to be a senior in high school and already done with it all. And the year had only just begun! It was the first week of September.
My car’s refusal to cooperate this morning only added to my overall malaise. I waited less than patiently in the passenger seat, tapping my fingers on the dashboard in an imperfect rhythm. “All right, Maggie-Girl, buckle up.” My dad’s persistent use of my childhood pet name (only mildly less obnoxious than the fact that I was named after some ’70s rock song by a guy with really bad hair and a penchant for supermodels) was sort of grating this morning. I wasn’t sure if Dad had yet realized that I wasn’t ten anymore. My parents had a really hard time accepting that I was—gasp—almost an adult. Although, to be fair, most days (this morning included) I didn’t necessarily act the part.
I pulled out my phone and sent a quick text to Rachel and Daniel, letting them know I was running late. Judging by the time, I was at least missing the painful drone of our assistant principal, Mr. Kane, as he read the morning announcements. He always sounded as if he needed to blow his nose.
So maybe the day was still salvageable. I tried to minimize conversation as Dad drifted lazily through our tiny town toward the high school. He sang along, rather badly, to the Righteous Brothers, his voice an alarming falsetto. His shoulders swayed with the beat.
Dad was being so over the top that I couldn’t help but crack the barest hint of a smile. He caught me, of course, my emo facade at an effective end. He let out a whoop. “There’s my girl’s smile! I knew it was hiding somewhere.” He reached over and poked me in the side, causing me to squirm and laugh grudgingly.
“You are such a dork, Dad,” I told him, not unkindly. He only grinned and turned up the radio. The auditory torture didn’t last much longer before we pulled up in front of Jackson High School. I barely gave my dad time to slow down before I propelled myself from the still-moving vehicle.
“Don’t forget to call the garage at lunch,” Dad reminded me again. I gave him an ironic salute and turned to walk toward the school. I was glad to see I wasn’t the only straggler this morning. A few other kids were hurrying from the parking lot.
I fumbled to get my phone out of my jacket pocket, wanting to send a last text to my friends to let them know I was there. I was having a lot of trouble getting it out; thus I was less than attentive as I slammed into the back of someone who had stopped in the middle of the sidewalk.
“Hey!” I yelled as I collided with the very solid body. I dropped my phone, the back popping off and the battery skittering across the concrete. The guy dropped the papers he was holding and they scattered at his feet.
We simultaneously let loose a string of expletives that would have earned me a mouth full of soap had my mother heard. “What the hell?” the guy growled, stooping to pick up the items he had dropped in our human fender bender. Okay, I was already in a craptastic mood and his snotty tone was just the icing on an already pissy cake. So, maybe I was being clumsy and all, but I didn’t need some random guy giving me grief. “Oh, I’m sorry; did I miss the Stop sign?” I fired back, not bothering to look at the jackass as I tried to fit the broken metal onto the back of my phone.
I heard what sounded like a gritting of teeth. “Guess it’s too much to expect an apology.” His sarcasm was thick, his words ground out through an obvious grimace.
“Probably,” I quipped, finally looking up into the most amazing pair of brown eyes that I had ever seen.
Hot damn. Cue the violins and happy cartoon bunnies; I was in the middle of a Disney moment. Because this guy was gorgeous. And we were standing so close to each other. If he hadn’t been holding on to a barely contained rage directed at yours truly, it could have almost been construed as romantic.
Just add delusions to my growing list of issues.
Mr. Cutie stood there in all his infuriated glory—and he was seriously angry. His perfectly symmetrical face (covered with a fine dusting of adorable freckles, I might add) was flushed a rather alarming shade of red. Those awesome brown eyes flashed murder. He was quite a bit taller than I, with dark hair that curled around his forehead and ears as if he hadn’t bothered with a haircut in a while. He had a cleft in his chin and a tiny scar under his right eye. And, despite his obvious good looks, he appeared decidedly unhinged. Wow, they were only papers.
Cute Boy took a deep breath and closed his eyes. I jammed my hands into my pockets and made the decision to get the hell out of there. I started to move around him, making sure to give him a wide berth. His voice, much calmer now, stopped me. “Well, you could at least tell me where the main office is. You know, after practically running me over and all.”
If his tone had been playful, I would have been able to pretend he was flirting with me. But nope, he was terse and irritated and in a very bad mood. And I had had enough of it for one morning. So, his cuteness aside, this guy could go take a flying leap somewhere.
“You’re a big boy; I’m sure you can handle this one on your own.” I turned and quickly walked away.
“Thanks for nothing!” he yelled after me. Yep, Hot Boy came with a bad attitude. Not really my idea of a good time, thank you very much. I couldn’t get away fast enough.
Find You In The Dark
“that’s it! I’m swearing off every member of the female population. Do they still have monasteries? ’Cause a lifetime of praying and bad haircuts sure as hell beats chicks and their freaking drama.” Daniel’s lunch tray came down with a loud clang on the table.
Rachel and I rolled our eyes in unison and turned to the third member of our trio with what we hoped were supportive expressions. “What did Kylie do this time?” Rachel asked, popping a Cheeto into her mouth. Daniel ran his hand over his buzzed blond head. He was clearly very agitated. But, honestly, when wasn’t he agitated? Daniel was as big a drama queen (or king, or whatever) as any girl.
He let out a long, tortured sigh and propped his chin on his hand. Rachel’s eyes went all gooey and I saw the telltale signs of her unrequited crush rearing its ugly head. Looking at our best friend, it was easy for me to understand why she felt the way she did. Daniel was easily one of the best-looking guys at Jackson High School. If he weren’t the closest thing I had to a brother, I would have joined Rachel in Crushland. His puppy-dog eyes and perfect lips were many a girl’s dream and definitely helped in the popularity department. Rachel and I, being his best friends, gained popularity by association. Not that I cared much about all that.
Daniel’s on-and-off relationship with Kylie Good, a perky junior who happened to be co-captain of the girls’ field-hockey team and was so cute you wanted to slap her, was the source of a lot of drama. Honestly, it was exhausting, even as a spectator. Kylie was nice in a fake kind of way but, in my opinion, her insane insecurities and even more insane jealousy made her truly insufferable and a really shitty girlfriend.
Personally, I thought Daniel got off on the craziness of their relationship. Some people were like that—getting some sort of thrill out of constant turmoil. Otherwise I couldn’t wrap my mind around why Daniel had put up with all of that nonsense for the past year and a half.
“I’ve been staying after school getting help in trig from Laura Johnson. Shit, it’s just schoolwork. And it’s fucking Laura ‘Granny Panties’ Johnson! It’s not like I’ve been secretly banging her as she whispers math problems in my ear or something.” Rachel and I each stifled a giggle. Daniel shook his bottle of chocolate milk, his admitted weakness, and opened it roughly. He raised his eyebrows as we tried to stop laughing. I schooled my face into blank attentiveness.
“So Kylie thinks you’re getting it on with Laura? Really? Has she lost what few brains haven’t already gone missing from one too many hockey sticks to the head?” I asked, popping open my can of soda. Daniel frowned and chose to ignore my comment. Rachel jumped in, the epitome of understanding and support.
“So, what happened, Danny? Did you guys have a fight?” Daniel’s expression smoothed out and he sighed again. Yep, total drama queen.
“Yeah, Kylie just went off on me. She says I shouldn’t be spending so much time alone with girls that weren’t her. She is just completely irrational.”
“What about us? You spend tons of time with us. Last time I checked, we fit in the vagina column,” I remarked. Daniel choked on his milk. Rachel snorted.
Daniel cleared his throat. “You guys don’t really count. I mean, you’re Rachel and Mags. Kylie knows that you guys might as well have a penis.” Well, that was more than bordering on offensive. Rachel moved her hands into her lap, clearly hurt by Daniel’s words. He was so dense. How could he not know that saying something like that could hurt someone’s feelings?
When he saw the looks on our faces, his cheeks went red. “No, I didn’t mean it like that. Of course I know you’re girls . . . it’s just you’re my friends and everything . . . and . . . oh, hell, I didn’t mean to be a dick.” Okay, maybe he wasn’t a complete dolt. I shrugged, letting him know he was cool—with me, at least. Rachel wouldn’t look at him. “Rachel, I’m sorry. Don’t be mad at me. You know it’s just my verbal diarrhea brought on by a bad case of Kylie angst. Forgive me, darlin’.” Daniel was laying it on thick and Rachel was defenseless against his evil attack of charm.
Rachel smiled at him. “I understand,” she told him, and I thought I would gag at her simpering. I loved Rachel, don’t get me wrong. But I wished she would grow a pair when it came to Daniel. He unknowingly walked all over her. Daniel was not an asshole by nature, just really self-centered and egocentric. He was a good friend, though, and fiercely protective of Rachel and me, which is why it was so easy to dismiss his moments of jerkiness.
But Rachel had it so bad that I felt horrible for her. She had loved Daniel pretty much since we could formulate words. She held him up as some sort of perfect specimen of man. She never dated, holding out hope for her fairy-tale ending. Poor girl. And Daniel had no flipping clue. Okay, he was a dolt. Because Rachel was stunning. Her brown hair wasn’t mousy like mine; it was lovely and curly in a way I always envied. She was shorter than I but possessed curves that clearly stated “I am Girl, hear me roar.” She and Daniel would have made the most gorgeous couple, if only he could see past his own idiocy.
“I just can’t take her crap anymore,” Daniel moaned, bringing the conversation back to him and Kylie. Rachel, being the total nurturer, rubbed the back of his hand.
“Danny, you are only seventeen. You really don’t need all the hassle.” As if I couldn’t see the true motive behind her words.
Well, I was less diplomatic. I leaned over and grabbed a fry from Daniel’s tray. “Just dump her, Danny. She’s a serious wack job. One day you’ll come home and she’ll have boiled your guinea pig.” Daniel arched that annoying eyebrow in my direction and started eating his less-than-edible hamburger.
Rachel frowned at me, clearly irritated by my lack of sensitivity. Excuse me if I didn’t understand why people wasted so much energy on relationships that made them miserable. I had an awesome example of what functional love was supposed to look like and so much of what I saw around me was anything but that—which, I guess, is why I never bothered with the whole dating thing. Nothing lived up to the standards that I had set for myself.
Sure, kissing was fun, but it was all that other messy stuff that seemed to come with teenage dating that I could do without.
I’d never had a “boyfriend” per se. I’d gone on a handful of dates, made out some, feinted going to second base at the occasional party after a football game (though I was by no means a slut or a tease; my boundaries were firmly in place). That was all fine and dandy, but I just didn’t see the need to pair off with some random the way Daniel and Rachel did.
Rachel was a hopeless romantic, her crush on Daniel a case in point. She longed for her one great love and all that Romeo and Juliet junk. She had told me more than once that my double-X chromosome must be on the fritz because I was unconcerned with all those female trappings. Not that I was a tomboy or anything; I just had a more masculine approach to hooking up and dating.
“You make it sound so easy, Maggie. One day you’ll get it,” Daniel muttered. I just shrugged and focused on my lunch, letting Rachel do the whole advice-and-consoling thing. She was much better at it, anyway.
While my friends ruminated on the disastrous state of Daniel’s love life, my eyes flitted around the cafeteria. Everyone and everything was just as it should be. The population of Jackson High School existed in their perfectly predestined circles. The jocks ate at their table in the middle of the room, making suggestive comments to the cheerleaders and tripping the A/V geeks as they scuttled by. The goth kids sat in the back, writing bad poetry, or applying more eyeliner, or whatever it was they did. The social outcasts sat on the fringes, not making eye contact. Nothing changed. Everything was so predictable and boring I wanted to gouge my eyes out.
Then my eyes landed on him. That familiar black hair and beat-up army jacket. It was the not-so-pleasant guy from this morning. Now, there was someone who was anything but boring, even if he seemed a bit psychotically temperamental.
He was making his way through the lunch line, haphazardly dropping food items on his tray. He obviously couldn’t care less about what he was going to eat and seemed to be doing nothing more than going through the motions.
Even from here, his good looks were startling. He definitely had the attention of most of the kids in the room. The girls whispered to each other as they batted their Maybelline-mascaraed eyes in his direction. The jocks stared him down, feeling the threat of encroaching testosterone in their territory.
What was interesting to watch was this guy clearly not giving a shit about any of it. In fact, his body language practically screamed “Leave me alone!” He stood with his shoulders hunched forward, his chin pointed down toward his chest. His shaggy hair hung in his face, obscuring his eyes. He shuffled along as if he were trying not to draw attention to himself.
Good luck there, buddy. Davidson was a small town, and the arrival of a new student was like a bloody steak dropped into a tank full of sharks. He’d be devoured in no time.
I watched him pay for his food without saying a word to the lunch lady. He picked up his tray and moved quickly toward a table near the back. Into the outcast zone. Interesting. This guy could easily have sat anywhere. He could have carved out any place within the social hierarchy that he wanted. But instead he sat at a table by himself without once making eye contact with anyone. He pulled an MP3 player out of his tattered army-jacket pocket and put the earbuds in. His vibe was loud and clear: don’t approach under fear of death!
“Hello! Earth to Maggie!” Rachel wiggled her fingers in my face, breaking my single-minded focus on Mr. Cute and Gloomy. Rachel followed my line of vision and smirked. “Ah, checking out the new kid, huh?” I grunted noncommittally and turned my back on the lonely boy at the rear of the cafeteria. I looked at Rachel and Daniel, who wore identical grins.
“What?” I asked defensively.
“Aw. Mags has a whittle ol’ cwush.” Daniel obnoxiously ruffled my hair. I swatted his hand away and smoothed the flyaway strands.
“You’re as crazy as your Glenn Close psycho girlfriend. I met him this morning and he’s a total ass. Not remotely crush-worthy,” I lied, stuffing a Snickers bar into my mouth in an attempt to limit conversation.
Rachel laughed. “Well, whatever he is, he is smokin’ hot with a capital H. Though he’s kind of an oddball. He was in my creative-writing class this morning. His name is Clayton Reed and he just moved here last week from Florida. But he’s some kind of social-phobe or something. He wouldn’t talk to anyone and pretty much ignored everyone who tried to talk to him. And Lord knows the girls were trying.”
“Well, he certainly didn’t have any trouble talking when he was chewing me a new one this morning,” I said, glancing over my shoulder at Clayton again.
“What is this? Was he mean to you? Do I need to have a talk with this guy?” Daniel asked, jumping into protective-brother mode. Daniel took his role as pseudosibling very seriously. No one messed with Rachel or me without making a very serious enemy. It was nice to know someone like Daniel had your back. The boy had clout in our little ecosystem and I felt pleasantly protected by Daniel’s friendship. But I recognized the mama-bear glint in his eyes and I had to neutralize it before it led to a confrontation and further humiliation and embarrassment.
“Heel, Danny. I’m a big girl and can fight my own battles. I wasn’t Miss Suzy Sunshine either,” I conceded.
Rachel chuckled. “Now, that sounds more like it. Our Maggie doesn’t take being verbally berated without giving as good as she gets.” I tossed my straw wrapper at my best friend.
“Shut up, Rachel. I’m the nicest person you know,” I told her with mock indignation. Rachel balled up the paper and flicked it back in my direction.
“Yeah, right, Mags. It’s not like you don’t have a reputation for taking people out at the knees or anything,” Daniel joked, jabbing his fork into his fruit cup. Okay, I admit it: I’m not the easiest person to be around sometimes—or maybe even most of the time. I had a habit of speaking my mind without thinking, of telling the absolute truth without any thought of the possible consequences. I had no time for fluff, so I simply didn’t bother.
“I just have a low bullshit tolerance, and I, for one, think that is an admirable trait,” I bit out, a little annoyed with my friends for painting me in such a negative light. Daniel patted my arm, noticing my dark look.
“You’re right. I’d rather be around someone who tells it like it is than have to second-guess everything coming out of their mouth. I think you are a refreshing change from the rest of the sheep at this school.”
Rachel smiled at me. “Ditto,” she said, reaching over and giving me a one-armed hug.
My friends were so cool and great for that needed self-esteem boost. There was a reason I kept them around.
My attention was suddenly pulled back to the table occupied by Clayton Reed. I heard a raised voice and groaned at seeing meathead Paul Delawder holding Clayton’s MP3 player. Paul was a raging douche bag. He made it his mission in life to taunt, terrorize, and humiliate most of the student body. He skipped school at least three days each week and failed most of his classes. He had already been kept back twice and he was the oldest senior in our class, being nineteen and all. He had a designated desk in the detention room and bragged about getting a plaque for it. He was a nasty moron with a taste for abuse and definitely not my favorite person. He and I had had multiple run-ins over the years and I also had been on the receiving end of his harassment a time or two. My hands clenched as I watched the school bully zero in on his new target.
Paul leaned across the table and got in Clayton’s face. Clayton wouldn’t look up, his hair still in his eyes, but I could see the tension in his shoulders. Clayton was not a small guy: his chest was wide and his arms were thick. I bet he could have taken Paul if he’d wanted to. But instead all he did was sit there and seem to shut down, refusing to engage.
“One day someone is going to punch that loser right in the face,” Rachel muttered, looking away from the scene. I wanted that person to be Clayton. I don’t know why I felt such a weird protectiveness for this guy who had been a total jerk to me. Maybe it was because there was something about Clayton Reed that seemed to broadcast vulnerability. The hunch in his shoulders, the refusal to look at anyone. It was as if he didn’t want anyone to see him, and that made me want to do just that.
I had never been drawn to someone the way I was finding myself drawn to Clayton. I didn’t even know him, had only shared a mouthful of words (and they weren’t nice), but I wanted to say more, to hear more. So seeing Paul make Clayton his new verbal punching bag set off my once-thought-nonexistent nurturing side.
When Paul threw the MP3 player on the floor and stomped on it, I couldn’t take it anymore. Without thinking, I got out of my seat and started moving toward the pair. I barely registered the “oh, crap” looks on my friends’ faces before I found myself behind Paul. The bully didn’t hear me approach; he was much too focused on his prey.
“Look at me, you little faggot. You are such a fucking pussy, can’t even say anything. Are you fucking retarded?” Paul snarled. Clayton continued to stare at the tabletop, but I noticed the fine tremors in his hands. I wasn’t sure how he could sit there and take this crap. But I, for one, wasn’t going to.
“Shut up, Paul. Don’t you have a toilet somewhere that you should be drinking out of?” I said, shoving the much bigger senior out of my way. Paul looked down at me in surprise. Then he laughed.
“You want some of this, bitch?” Paul made a threatening move toward me. I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye and saw Clayton get to his feet, his face red. He looked like he was about to kill someone. I shivered at his expression. Paul stepped forward and I instinctively kneed him in the groin, sending him to the floor like a bag of rocks.
I heard a collective gasp from the kids sitting at the tables around us. Typical sheep mentality. They will sit there and watch it all go down but won’t lift a finger to help. Refusing to rock the proverbial boat. Jerks.
Then I heard the sound of the assistant principal, Mr. Kane, approaching quickly. “What’s going on here?” Dear God, someone give this guy a tissue already! He was always stuffed up. Mr. Kane frowned at me and then at Paul, who was still on the floor with his hands cupped around a very specific part of his anatomy.
Paul struggled to his feet, his face purple with a barely suppressed rage. I gave my best innocent smile. “Nothing, Mr. Kane. I think Paul was about to get sick or something. I was just making sure he was all right.”
Paul gave me a look that could have knocked me dead. But he proved he wasn’t a complete moron by giving a tight nod and an even tighter smile. “I’m fine. This girl here”—he couldn’t even remember my name, asswipe—“was just making sure I was okay. It’s nothing.” Mr. Kane gave him a sharp look, and I was sure he wasn’t fooled by our barely concealed lie. “Well, if you’re sick, you’d best get checked out by the nurse.” Paul didn’t move right away, not wanting to leave the scene of his attempted crime.
Mr. Kane shooed him with his hands. “Go on, Mr. Delawder. I’ll walk you there, to make sure you get to where you are supposed to be.” The assistant principal turned back to me. “And you can get to class.” Paul met my eyes as he was being herded out of the cafeteria and mouthed a really nasty word. One for a female body part.
Finally, when things had settled and conversations around us had resumed, I turned to look at Clayton. I had fully intended to ask him if he was okay but was surprised to find him looking at me with full-on anger.
He picked up his ruined MP3 player and shoved it into his pocket. He slowly slung his bag over his shoulder and met my eyes with a gaze as cold as ice. “In the future, mind your own business,” he told me. I stared at him with my mouth hanging open; for once I had no comeback readily available.
Seriously? I had just stopped him from being bullied by the resident jerkwad, and this was the thanks I got? Before I could find my voice, Clayton Reed turned and walked away, leaving me dumbstruck and strangely intrigued by this mysterious new student. It was official: I had lost my flipping mind.