Jolie kept her head down for her first few classes and focused on her school work, waiting for Chem class.
Weaving her way through the crowded hallway toward fourth period, someone tried to grab her boob. She slapped their hand and bulldozed her shoulder into the obstacle on that side.
“Don’t touch me,” she hissed. She didn’t know if she’d hit the right person. She didn’t care.
“Oh my God, what’s that smell?” Megan Washburn came up from behind Jolie, pinching her nose closed.
“It smells like a dead body,” her friend chimed in. Both girls looked at Jolie.
“Oh, it is a dead body,” Megan added, a malicious smile thinning her sticky glossed pink lips. “It must just be impossible to get the smell of death out of your clothes, huh, Jolie?”
Megan’s groupies snickered behind their hands as they sashayed down the hall, their perky buns wriggling above their bottle tanned legs.
Jolie knew there was no point in saying anything. None of Megan’s crowd had been at the Solstice ceremony. Anything they’d heard was second-hand at best, and while it was true that Rick’s mentor, Rory, had died that night, Jolie had nothing to do with it.
“Hey, Becca,” Jolie greeted her friend as she entered the Chem room. She pulled her books out of her bag and opened her notebook, laying it on the lab table.
“I really am sorry about yesterday, Becca. It was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s okay; I probably overreacted,” Becca admitted.
“Did you read the chapters?”
“I had youth group last night, but I skimmed them this morning at breakfast.”
“You can’t go all the way through high school and never do any homework, Rebecca. That just wouldn’t be fair.”
“I do homework,” Becca protested.
“Because you’re a goody two shoes, not because you need to study,” Jolie pointed out.
“Well, I do it,” Becca repeated. At sixteen, Rebecca would have traded being smart for being pretty in a millisecond. Jolie was betting that by the time her friend was twenty, she’d realize that as a computer geek from a supportive family, who had been able to set aside a college fund for their daughter, the world was her oyster, and she had all the tools she needed to crack it. When Rebecca went away to college, everything would change.
Jolie usually made a point of not noticing the other kids in class unless she was forced to, but today’s mission required a new strategy. She spotted Skateboard Boy’s sister sitting at a lab station with a girl from the student government crowd.
Great, Jolie thought to herself. Just what I needed; a credible witness. Why couldn’t it have been someone that no one would have believed?
She listened carefully while Mr. Wexler called student’s up to collect their lab reports. Pretending to look at her notes, she waited to catch the girl’s name: Madison, Madison Bishop.
Once the teacher finished his drawn out explanation about how to do the lab, Jolie gave Becca an excuse and wandered over to the blond girl’s station, trying to mold her face into an expression exhibiting the proper amount of awe and submissiveness expected by girls in Madison Bishop’s social set.
“You’re Madison Bishop, aren’t you? I’m Jolie Figg.” Jolie wanted to barf.
“I know who you are,” Madison replied, bluntly.
“I heard you were running for student council?”
“Yeah. I hope you’ll vote for me.” The words were polite, but Madison’s tone was cool and cautious like Jolie was a panhandler about to ask for money.
“Against Megan Washburn? I’d vote for a scorpion,” Jolie stated. “No offense.”
“None taken.” Madison almost smiled. “I hope you’ll encourage your friends to vote against Megan, too.”
There was an awkward pause; both girls realizing that Jolie didn’t really have any friends.
“What a pain, right?” Jolie tossed her head toward Mister Wexler’s thick middle-aged figure. His plain button down shirt was half un-tucked, and his pants were frayed at the bottom where they drug along the floor. “We could be almost done with this lab by now if he hadn’t droned on for so long explaining it.”
“Speak for yourself,” Jolie heard Madison think. ”I’m completely lost with this stuff.”
There was another awkward moment. Jolie was about to ask if they wanted her help when the Student Council chick spoke up.
“Is there a point to this conversation, because we need to get to work here?”
Yeah, Jolie thought. But like this Chemistry lesson, you’re just not going to get it.
Ignoring the partner, Jolie turned again to Madison.
“I bumped into your brother this morning. I guess it’s more like he bumped into me. He’s kind of shy, isn’t he?” Stupid, stupid, stupid, Jolie scolded herself. By tomorrow it would be all over school that she had a crush on Madison Bishop’s brother.
“Remy?” Madison looked surprised. What would Jolie Figg want with Remy?
Jolie didn’t have any intention of explaining. She had what she needed; Skateboard Boy’s name was Remy Bishop. Now all she had to do was make an acceptable exit.
“Yeah. He was blushing like anything.”
“He was probably freaked out that he bumped into you.” Madison looked alarmed at what she’d said and how it could be taken. “Not that there’s anything wrong with you. It’s just he’s a nice guy, and he’d be really embarrassed about something like that.” She glanced at her lab partner, clearly uncomfortable.
“Right.” Jolie nodded. “He probably doesn’t bump into too many girls at the skate park.” Madison looked at her as if she’d lost her mind, but Jolie was used to that. “It must be kind of nice having a brother who’s so close to your own age, huh?” she added, still looking for that graceful exit and hoping it was coming soon.
“You must be an only child,” Madison rolled her eyes.
If she couldn’t change Remy’s future, Madison Bishop would probably regret saying that for the rest of her life, Jolie thought. She truly hoped that wouldn’t happen, for all their sakes. In spite of Madison’s questionable choice of friends, Jolie liked her--or at least she liked the person she thought Madison could become. Hell, by the time she and Jolie were in their twenties and high school was behind them, they might even become friends. But not here. Not today.
“Well, I’d better get back to my station. See you around.”
Madison’s lab partner snorted. “I’d rather smell dead fish.” Madison glared at her but didn’t call the girl out. Jolie didn’t hold it against her. Not every teenager was built to handle being socially ostracized by their peers.
Jolie walked back to where Becca was measuring out the chemicals required for the day’s assignment.
“How’s it going?”
“A piece of cake.”
“Hey, Becca, I really need to go to the office real quick. Can I owe you this one?” She indicated the lab work. Rebecca didn’t even look up from her task.
“Sure. No problem. Go.”
“I’ll make it up by doing next week’s write up, okay?” Jolie approached the teacher’s desk.
“Mr. Wexler, I have to go to the nurse’s office.” He opened his mouth to give her some excuse why she couldn’t leave his class, but Jolie cut him off. “Now.” She gave him the look every female past the age of puberty knows how to use on any male who questions her need to go to the bathroom. Wexler scribbled out a hall pass and Jolie hurried to the Administration office. Fourth period she had an ace; Hugo Aiza was the office aide.
Last December she’d stood up for Hugo against some bullies, and he’d been in her corner ever since. Jolie wondered if that was why Megan Washburn had targeted him to be the butt of her abuse, but there was nothing she could do about it now.
“Hey, Jo.” Hugo smiled shyly as Jolie came into the office. A large bruise covered his eye and three-quarters of his right cheek.
“Whoa. What happened to you, dude?” Jolie asked, examining the damage.
“I had a disagreement with some fellow students.”
“They thought my face was a punching bag and I didn’t.”
“Shit,” Jolie swore under her breath. “That looks like it hurts, Hugo. Did you report them? You should report them.”
Hugo gave her a withering look. “What would I say that would change anything?”
“Yeah, I guess.” Jolie eyed his shiner.
“At least now, I know how it feels to get punched, and I can stop worrying about it.” Hugo touched his eye gingerly. “It appears there are worse things than getting punched, like the anticipation of getting punched.”
Jolie shook her head. “That’s messed up, dude. Nobody should have to go to school worrying they’ll get beat up.”
“Who’s worried?” The chubby geek smiled, transforming his face into something angelic. Jolie had never noticed before how lush and dark the eyelashes that fringed his brown eyes were. They would have made many a girl jealous. “Promise me that you’re not going to try and do something about this on your own?” Hugo asked.
“It’s wrong, Hugo,” Jolie insisted.
“Yeah, but it’s my wrong. I need you to let me deal with it in my way, Jo.”
“Okay. But I need you to do something for me, too.”
“Sure, if I can.”
“I need to know what class Remy Bishop has this period.” Jolie plopped her elbows down on the counter, giving him a front-row seat to the cleavage plumping out of her bra beneath her tee shirt.
Hugo glanced at the crease between her breasts then brought his eyes back up to her face.
He’s either a really nice guy, or he’s gay, Jolie thought. She was betting on nice. Still, sometimes it was hard to tell at this age.
“I don’t have access to that kind of stuff, Jo. I just answer phones, file stuff, and play courier.”
“But you could get it, couldn’t you? Come on, Hugo; this is kindergarten stuff for you. You’re probably the smartest kid in the school.” Jolie remembered what Rebecca had said about Hugo doing Megan’s homework for her. Was this how that had come about? Suddenly, she felt like she was abusing a friendship.
“You don’t have to try to flatter me to get my help, Jo.” Hugo’s disappointment added to her embarrassment.
Jolie stood up straight. He had never been anything but nice to her and manipulating him cheapened their friendship.
“I’m sorry, Hugo, but I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important.”
“If I tell you, is it going to get us in trouble?”
“Absolutely not.” Jolie shook her head. “Because no one will ever know, and even if they did, it’s not a big deal. I just need to deliver a note to his class.”
“You’re not stalking him or something weird, are you?”
“No. Cross my heart. No stalking. Just tell me what room he’s in. I’ll write the note, and that’ll be it.”
“Okay.” Hugo went to a school computer.
“Great.” Jolie smiled. “I’ll be back in five minutes.” She went into the nurse’s office. By the time she returned Hugo had a room number and “Senior English” scrawled on a piece of scratch paper. He pushed it across the counter toward her.
“Thanks. You’re a life saver. She raised on tiptoes and leaned across the counter, giving him a quick kiss on the un-bruised side of his face. “I owe you one.”
As soon as she was out in the hall, Jolie stopped to write on the hall pass she’d snagged from the counter.
Danger. Don’t go to the skate park, she wrote. Leaving it unsigned, she folded it twice, then headed for Remy Bishop’s classroom. She could give the hall pass to his teacher, who would give it to Remy, and that would be the end of it. Whatever happened after that, her conscience would be clear.