The rest of the day dripped by slowly. Taylor was consumed with worry about his mother. She was very proud of her job at Willow Prep and the money was allowing his family to slowly look at living beyond paycheck to paycheck, even in Manhattan. Plus, his mom's boss was a very old woman - Mrs. Janus - and she was slated to retire within a few years, leaving June Zachary up for a sizable promotion and the benefits which came with it, just in time to help Taylor through college. It was important to him and to his family and he knew it.
He also felt he had a good gauge of the Behrstables, Philomena in particular. She was likely quite capable of following through with her threat, both in terms of resources, Taylor knew her father was a millionaire CEO. She was anything if not tenacious at everything Taylor had seen her do in class. Quite aside from the fact in terms of school activities she loomed large at Willow Prep and only Izzy Chatham could be said to be more popular.
Taylor sighed as he walked off campus on his way to pick up William. He was lost in thought again and utterly confused to be suddenly flying backwards off his feet on to the concrete after walking a block away from the school. A small park loomed nearby.
“What the...“ Taylor said looking around. To his dismay Parker loomed over him, Lil J, who was not little at all, grinned malevolently just behind Parker.
“Not so smart now, pleb.“ Lil J said snidely. Parker said nothing but looked down his nose at Taylor. His expression made Taylor into a messy problem which required effort to clean, but was beneath him. A part of Taylor cringed at the thought and almost agreed. But the rest of him rejected that and the very idea he was less than Parker or Lil J. Taylor. He couldn't stop it, he snarled. Parker hadn't said anything yet but hearing Taylor's snarl his upper lip curled a bit and his hands balled into fists.
“I'm not quitting!“ Taylor managed to say, scrambling backwards away from the other boys hoping to at least gain his feet.
But Parker was quicker and he darted towards Taylor, swept a foot hard against Taylor's side. Most of the breath fled Taylor's lungs and a throbbing bellowed just below his rib cage. He wanted to shout something at Parker but couldn't. Lil J, still behind Parker, smiled evilly and egged the other boy on.
“Show him F!“ Lil J said nastily.
Taylor tried again to stand up, but his side hurt fiercely and he couldn't get to his feet. Worse, Parker's eyes blazed and the larger boy prepared another kick. With a sad, sickening certainty Taylor knew this fight was over before it had begun. There was just no way he was going to able to fight Parker, and even if he could Lil J would likely join in and Taylor could as easily fight an NFL linebacker as the pair of them. He closed his eyes, resigned, not wanting to see the kick coming.
A loud grunt sounded and Taylor wondered how long it would take the pain to hit him this time. But it had been instant the first time and he felt nothing new. He slowly opened his eyes and they widened in shock.
Lil J had backed away, face apprehensive and afraid, express full of disbelief. But that wasn't the oddest thing. Parker was on the concrete a few feet past Taylor, face nursed in his hands. Taylor stared incredulous. The first thought he had was so utterly ridiculous he sat absorbed in it, enjoying the sight of Parker hurt as he tried to logic the thought out.
“How the hell did I do that?“ was the thought. A shadow came from just behind him and confused he turned to look, only to see a teenage girl, with very short hair, tanned skin and a very stern expression on her face standing over him. Her hands were balled into fists which bounced lightly in front of her.
Parker made his way back to his feet, unsteady and cupping his right cheek with one hand. Lil J had not moved back further, but he had not come closer either. “That fucking hurt, Rodriguez!“ Parker shouted through clenched jaw and his hand. Taylor managed to get to his feet, cradled his side in a similar manner to how Parker cradled his face.
Once on his feet Taylor turned to stare the girl who had hit Parker. She was an inch or two taller than him, a year or two older, and much more muscular. Taylor also thought she was quite pretty except for the fact she looked angry enough to chew nails. It didn't work on her features: the length of her nose, the sharpness of her cheeks - all of it made her seem more a bird of prey than a teenage girl. Of course Taylor had seen her before: in a picture and at Willow Prep several times. He would have recognized her eventually, even had Parker not supplied her name.
“Lourdes Rodriguez.“ Taylor said, almost to himself. At the sound her name Lourdes turned to Taylor and nodded, although what the nod was supposed to convey Taylor couldn't tell; it might have been simple acknowledgment of her name, it might have been something to do with Parker or anything really. Taylor simply couldn't tell.
“Lou.“ was her reply. Taylor clutched his throbbing side.
“This isn't done, Zachary. Not by a long-shot. You will learn how things work at Willow Prep, if I have to spend a week beating it into. This dyke won't be around all the time.“ Spitting in their direction Parker darted off, still cupped his jaw tenderly and Lil J followed. Soon they disappeared around the corner. Lou stayed tense until the pair rounded the corner of the block, then she seemed to relax. A bit.
“You OK?“ her tone was clipped. Short. No nonsense.
“Yeah I think so. I'll be alright.“ Taylor said, unsure how to feel. He was grateful he hadn't had to endure the rest of the beating, but at the same time, he had been rescued by a girl. He knew that shouldn't bother him Taylor thought of himself as forward thinking, but that galled. He hoped she couldn't see it.
“It's OK...“ Lou said.
“Taylor.“ Taylor supplied his name and hand.
“Taylor. It's not cool to be saved by a girl.“ Taylor goggled at her. She didn't crack a smile or anything, just kept on talking. “But those two don't really understand boundaries. They would have hurt you. Badly.“ She was certain. Taylor tried not to look too sheepish.
“Well it was nice to... meet you, Taylor.“ Lou said and turned to walk away.
“Wait?“ Taylor said, startled. “That's it?“
“What do you mean that's it?“ Lou asked, face unreadable.
“Do you do this often? It's not every day someone steps in to keep me from getting my ass kicked. I mean... I owe you... don't I?“ Taylor said.
Lou stiffened a bit and she moved in close to Taylor. When she spoke her voice was low, menacing.
“Let's get this straight, kid. I helped you because I hate bullies and it was the right thing to do. Nothing more.“ She sounded offended even if she didn't look it, her features were still unreadable.
Taylor sighed, “Sorry... didn't mean to be offensive. Really. I don;'t have many friends here, I'm new and I don't know how things go and... well... I thought maybe...“
“We'd be best friends?“ Lou said, something was imbued in her tone, was she being sarcastic? Taylor couldn't tell. The girl was a stone mask. She did arch an eyebrow at him.
“Dunno. I'm sorry. Never mind. Thanks for the help.“ Taylor said and moved past her, walked towards William's school.
“Wait.“ Lou's voice sounded surprised. Taylor was surprised himself. He turned around. Lou extended her hand slowly. Taylor reached out took her hand, shook it. It was a mass of hard callouses and her grip was like a recursive algorithm.
No wonder she knocked the crap out of Parker.... she's got the hands of a boxer.
Taylor didn't know what to say next. “Well, I guess I'll see you at school sometime?“
Lou nodded. She turned around and crossed the street, didn't look back.