I take the last bite of my pie and push the plate away. Kaleb takes a finger and scoops up the bit of cherry filling left on his plate. He brings it to his mouth and licks it up. I watch him for a moment before I realize what I’m doing.
I clear my throat, “Now that we’ve explained what it means. We have to write it in our own words.”
He groans, “So now we’ve rewritten it once, we have to do it twice?”
I shrug, “Yeah, basically. It won’t be hard.”
He scoops up the papers that I have in front of me and reads them over. “Can I see your pen?” He reaches out to grab it from my hand. I watch him start to scribble words onto the paper. His brow is creased in concentration. He’s silent as he works, and this might be the first time that I actually like him.
Until he opens his mouth again, “Try not to swoon.”
He shoves the paper back at me. I read the words he’s written and try my best to mask the surprise on my face. What he’s written is actually very good. They flow across the page and I find myself liking the way he wrote them better than Shakespeare did.
I change a couple of words in his rewrite to make it sound better, but I don’t have to do much. Once I’m done, I pass it back to him. “See, easy.”
He reads it quickly, “We’re going to have this project done way before the deadline.”
“Yeah, which means it’ll give us extra time to come up with the extra credit portion.” I explain.
He scoffs, “You want to do extra work?”
“Don’t you want to bring your grade up?”
“My grade’s fine.” He counters.
“We’re doing the extra credit, Kaleb.” I tell him. “I went to this seminar about being prepared for college last and the guy said to always do extra credit.”
“You willingly went to a seminar about being ready for college?” He asks, his eyebrows arching.
I shrug, “Yeah, it was very informative.”
He laughs, “Oh, wow, you are such a goody two-shoes.”
“I’m sorry for actually wanting to do well in life. I’ve got to get good grades to make it to college.” I snap.
“You’re probably so rich that your daddy could pay off administration to just let you in.” He assumes.
My heart stops beating all together. My anger fades away to sadness. I’m at my feet in seconds. If I stay around any longer, I know I’ll cry in front of him. I don’t want him to see that. I don’t want him to see any emotion from me at all.
“Don’t pretend like you know me.” I say down at him as I turn around and basically run from the diner. Once I’m behind my steering wheel, a single tear starts falling down my check. I reach up to wipe it away quickly.
I really hate Kaleb Nixon.
When school comes on Monday, I’m still mad at Kaleb Nixon. I plan to avoid him like the plague. The problem is, he doesn’t show up in English Class. Mr. Hammons spends the hour going over the progress of everyone’s projects. When he gets to me, he says how pleased he is that we’re already so far into it. He says nothing about my missing partner.
Adam walks me to my classes as usual. I find myself looking around the hallways for the person I’m supposedly avoiding. Kaleb doesn’t show up to the next class that I have him in. When lunch comes, I’m sitting with Adam in the cafeteria. My eyes scan the room to look for Kaleb. Again, he’s nowhere to be seen.
“Have you seen Kaleb?” I ask my friend who sits across from me.
Adam shrugs, “He probably skipped. He does that a lot.” He digs back into his sandwich a second later.
The cafeteria doors open and my eyes snap to the front of the room. For some reason, I hope it’s Kaleb Nixon. That way he’d at least know that I’m avoiding him. It’s not though. It’s Jason Peters. He’s hunched over as he walks, his hands shoved in his pockets. When he finally looks up, his eyes meet mine from across the room.
That’s when I notice that he’s been beat up. One of his eyes is black and blue and swollen. His lip is spilt in two places. Jason Peters was in a fight and I’m pretty sure I know exactly who hit him.
“Holy crap, who did that?” Adam asks me, seeing Jason’s face as well.
I don’t trust myself to answer, so I just shrug my shoulders. I watch as Jason stops before Olivia Connors table. She looks livid as she spots the linebacker. A second later, her eyes snap to mine. She’s on her feet a moment later, strutting towards me. It’s like everyone in the cafeteria goes silent to watch what unfolds.
Olivia stops right before me, eyes flashing with anger, “You’re such a slut!”
Adam’s mouth falls open.
“Excuse me?” I balk.
“You heard me, new girl!” Olivia points a finger in my face. “I was nice to you and invited you to my party! But I thought Kale had made it very clear where you stood here. You’re at the bottom!”
“What are you even talking about?” I yell back at her.
She leans down until she’s nose to nose from me, ”Stay away from, Kale.”
“Are you kidding me?” I laugh. “You can have him. I don’t want anything to do with him.”
She studies me for a moment, “I warned you, new girl. Kale is mine. So much as look at him, and I’ll ruin you.”
I bite my tongue even though I want to yell right back at her. I don’t want to make even more of a scene than I already have. “He’s my project partner, Olivia, but as soon as that’s over he’s all yours.”
“I’m watching you, new girl. If I hear of you doing anything I don’t like, your high school career will be over!” She growls before stomping away with her cronies.
I can’t believe that just happened.
“Are you okay?” Adam asks a moment later.
“Fine.” I growl.
After school, I went to Mr. Hammons classroom to ask an important question. He was sitting at his desk grading papers when I went in. His head whipped up to look at me. He gave me a small smile, “Ms. Evans, what can I do for you?”
“Kaleb wasn’t in class today.” I started.
Mr. Hammons nodded, “Unfortunately, Kale is absent quite a lot.”
“Which isn’t good for me, because he’s my partner, yeah know?” I explain. “I have his homework from the classes we have together, but he’s not answering his phone. I really need to get it to him and we need to work on our project. I was wondering if you could tell me where he lives?”
Mr. Hammons seems to think it over for a moment, “I really shouldn’t.”
“I understand, I just thought he should have his homework for tomorrow.” I smile, getting to my feet.
Mr. Hammons stops me, “Fine, alright, I’ll give you his address.”
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Hammons.” I beam.
He rifles through his drawn and then comes out with a file. He shuffles through the papers and then writes down an address. He looks up at me and hands me the paper. “Oh, Ms. Evans, before you leave.” He clears his throat. “Kale might’ve asked me to pair you up, but I think you’re good for him as a partner.”
“What do you mean?” I question.
“He’s not a bad guy, Greer.” He tells me. “He’s had it hard, that’s why the school’s so lenient on his absences.”
I nod, “Thank you, Mr. Hammons.” I walk out the door, more confused than I was before.
I’m standing in front of a nice two-story house on the edge of town. For some reason, this isn’t the kind of place I pictured Kaleb Nixon to live in. The front lawn is neat and tidy, the flowers are bright, and there’s a wooden cross hanging on the front door. I gulp before my feet carry me up the nice walk way. I stop on the front porch, plucking up the courage to knock. Once I do, it’s only a couple seconds later that I hear movement inside. Someone’s yelling and I realize that their words aren’t in English.
The door opens to reveal a smiling woman. My first thought is that Kaleb looks nothing like the women before me. He doesn’t look like the little girl that runs to the door next either. The woman has naturally tanned skin and black hair. The little girl looks just like the women before me.
“Can I help you, sweetie?” The woman asks me. She has a slight accent, but I can’t place where it’s from.
“Oh, um-yeah,” I stumble over my words. “Does Kaleb Nixon live here by any chance?”
Her smile brightens, “You’re a friend of Kale’s?”
“I’m Greer. We’re partners on a project at school.” I explain.
She laughs at something that I don’t understand, but steps aside to let me in. I step into the foyer. It smells of lavender. From what I see of the house, it looks like it’s straight out an Ikea magazine.
Someone tugs at the hem of my shirt and I look down to see the little girl smiling up at me. “You’re prettier than Kay said you were.”
My cheeks redden. “Thank you.”
I’m really hoping that Kay isn’t Kaleb Nixon.
“Right this way, Greer.” The woman leads me past the living room and into the kitchen. “Kale’s up in his bedroom. You can go on up, he’s not feeling well today.” She said with a sad smile. “But, bring this to him.” She hands me a steaming mug and the smell of hot chocolate wafts up my nose. She points to a set of stairs. “First door on your right.”
“Thanks.” I smile to her and then walk over to the stairs.
I climb them slowly, my heart hammering in my chest the closer I get to the top. Once I reach the landing, I stop in front of the door that the women said was Kaleb’s. I reach up and knock quickly before my head can talk me out of it.
"Voglio essere da solo!” A harsh voice yells from the other side.
I don’t know what the words mean, but they don’t sound like come in. I knock again.
There’s a shuffling from within, followed by a string of profanities in another language. Kaleb swings the door open, ”Che cosa?” He said the words before his eyes met mine. Once they do, he looks very surprised. He looks behind me for something. “Greer, what are you doing here?”
I barely register that he said something to me. I struggle to keep my eyes off his chest, because he’s standing shirtless before me. My eyes take note of the small tattoo he has on his right ribs: a simple outline of a wave. My mouth feels dry just looking at the muscles before me.
“I actually came here to yell at you.” I say in a weak voice.
His eyes skirt around my face and then he reaches forward to grab my arm. He drags me into his room and closes the door behind him. I gulp as I realize that I’m alone in a bedroom with Kaleb Nixon.
My eyes skirt around the room. I’m surprised once again. His room isn’t what I expected. It’s clean besides a couple of shirts on his floor. There’s a couple of guitars in the corner. A game system is hooked up to a TV that’s mounted on the wall. That’s not what catches my eyes though. There’s a whole entire wall covered in black and white and colored photographs. They take my breath away.
I turn around to look at Kaleb once again. He’s rifling through his dresser and comes out with a t-shirt. He pulls it on over his head and turns around to face me again. “How do you know where I live?” He questions.
“I have my ways.” I repeat the same words he’d once said to me.
He doesn’t even react, “What are you doing here, Greer?”
I still have the mug in my hand, I shove it towards him, “This is for you.”
He reaches forward and takes the mug from me. When he does, I notice the scratches and bruises peppering his knuckles. His angry voice snaps, “You came all the way here to give me hot chocolate? I don’t think so.”
“You weren’t at school today.” I say to him.
“I realize that, thanks.” He steps towards his door. “You can go now.”
I don’t move.