I had low expectations when I woke up for the first day back to school. First of all, Finn wasn’t done with ruining my year. Each time I left a classroom, I took a precaution measure and looked over my shoulder, praying that he wouldn’t show up in any of my classes.
Out of the two new classes I had received, he showed up in my writing class and openly stared at Ronnie throughout the entire lesson. During class, Ronnie kept on whispering into my ear how she wanted me to order her some pepper spray—like mine—just in case she ended up alone with him.
“I’m not sure why, but I don’t think he’s going to put you in any danger,” a girl from our writing class said, walking out of the room with us. She was supposedly one of Ronnie’s friends that helped out in the theater department. “I think it’s kind of cute.”
“Staring at me across a classroom isn’t cute,” Ronnie grumbled and entered the cafeteria with slump shoulders matching her tired face. “I swear if he does that during class again, I’m going to throw something at him.”
I smiled to myself, imagining Ronnie throwing a chair at Finn was less horrifying and more comical. I knew she was mad enough to do it, but she wasn’t violent enough.
Letting out a yawn, I got into a long lunch line. We were a little late to lunch because of Mr. Adrian’s speech about respect in class. “If that happened to me, I’d stare back and start glaring until they looked away.”
“You didn’t do that when Dakota was staring at you. Matter of fact, you barely looked at him,” the girl observed. “I don’t blame you though. I hear he’s a complete psycho.”
My head whipped around. “What did you just say?”
“Uh, I heard he’s not right in the head,” she repeated, dropping her gaze to the floor. “I’m surprised you’re offended by that. You guys aren’t together.”
“If anyone is going to insult him, it’s going to be me and only me. What the fuck has he done to you? Nothing. He probably doesn’t even know you exist.” I was gradually getting louder, causing her to step out of the line, facing her palms to me.
She backed up, hitting her spine against the wall. “I didn’t know you were just as crazy.”
Ronnie sucked in a deep breath with her teeth bared. ”Run.”
She took Ronnie’s hint and left us alone, taking the spot further back in the line.
“That’s the third girl in like a week you’ve scared off because they said something about Dakota.” Ronnie noted. “Is something wrong?”
Since getting with Gabriel didn’t work, Ronnie recently adopted the plan to get more female friends since she was the only real friend I had. She knew a lot of girls at Crescent High. She grew up with these students and knew every single one of them. I, on the other hand, was lacking in the friend department and barely knew any of them.
Most of her attempts ended with the girl making a joke about Dakota and how she didn’t understand why I would go for someone like him, which lead me to threaten them, along with saying other offensive things directed toward them. Either they backed away or completely flipped us off.
“There’s nothing wrong with me,” I defended. “The only reason they’re talking shit about him is because of Maven or probably what they heard from his friends.”
“They’re your friends, too.”
“Not anymore. Friends don’t do that kind of stuff to you.” I shook my head. “I asked Pierson for distance and he has done a really good job at not getting in my way so far.”
She poked me with her elbow. “Hey, look at you make decisions on your own that aren’t completely reckless. I’m proud. Let’s see how long that lasts.”
I rolled my eyes and knocked my shoulders with hers. From the corner of my eye, I got a glimpse of something that stole the smile off of my face. I saw a girl repeatedly shaking her head at Dakota down the hallway that connected to the cafeteria. I couldn’t see her face until she spun around and stalked away from him, walking quick enough to run into a few students.
Dakota’s eyes connected with mine. I held back the smile that was forcing its way on to my lips and raised my hand up to wave. His face remained blank as he turned back around and went in the opposite direction, ignoring me.
Where the hell did that come from?
I jammed my hands into my pockets and faced Ronnie. “Who’s that girl over there?”
“I don’t know. She was in our writing class. She said she was new. Let me ask someone.” Ronnie tapped the shoulder of a guy ahead of us. “Hey, do you know who that is?”
A boy with beach blonde hair shifted his eyes over to where she was pointing. “Oh, that’s some new girl. She came here from Maine with her half-brother Ian Prescott.”
“What?” I gulped. My knees nearly gave way. I held on to Ronnie when this piece of news hit me. The Ian Prescott I knew back in Maine didn’t have a half-sister, or I didn’t think he had one at the age of thirteen. His parents were separated so there was the possibility that they might’ve gotten back together. I wasn’t entirely sure if that was the case here. If he was related to Lola or on of her friends, I would’ve recognized them sooner than later. The girl in the hallway, rushing into the cafeteria, was a complete stranger though.
Ronnie’s pale expression mirrored my own. “Wait, do you think it’s the same one you know? That’s impossible. Ian Prescott is a pretty common name, right?”
The likelihood that the same Ian Prescott from Maine would attend this school for the second semester was so slim that it was ridiculous to even consider.
“I don’t know, but I don’t want to find out either.”
“That’s him right there,” the beach blonde motioned to a lanky brunette standing next to the soda machine, chatting with another student.
“Finn,” Ronnie sighed to herself when she recognized the other student. There was some kind of joke shared between them and the new student turned around, revealing that if I knew him or not. Waiting on my next set of words, Ronnie paused for my response. “Do you know him?”
Finn saw us both watching him in the cafeteria and grinned at us. They changed their course and went to where we were in the line, still waiting to get a tray.
“Hello you two.” His eyes softened when they fell on Ronnie, but only for a second.
“Who’s your new victim? I mean friend.” Ronnie asked.
“Well, Silvia why don’t you introduce him?” Finn beamed. “I think you know him better than I do.”
“I don’t know him.” I said feebly, easing up on the hold I had on Ronnie’s arm and dropped my voice down to a whisper. “Excuse me. I’m going to go to the restroom.”
Giving one last look to the three of them, I turned on the balls of my feet and headed toward the restrooms that were in the left wing of the school. After all of these years, holding back tears was a skill I had mastered. But this time when I entered a stall and locked it behind me, I didn’t want to cry.
I wanted to scream.
Tears didn’t fog my vision. Instead, an undeniable heat was building up in my chest, scratching the back of my throat and begging for a chance to shout as loud as possible. I didn’t care if anyone heard me. I didn’t care if I raised questions with my yells.
A soft knock on my stall stopped me from ripping my hair out at the torment I was going to have to go through with Finn in power. “Silvia?” It was Ronnie on the end. “Let me in. It’s the same Ian, isn’t it? Don’t answer that. That’s a stupid question.”
“It’s him,” I croaked from behind the stall, keeping it locked. “How did Finn know anything about an Ian?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t tell him. I swear,” she promised. “I’m worried he knows a lot more than he’s letting on.”
“He definitely knows a lot more,” I supplied in a surprisingly calm voice. For something that was only a senior tradition, he took it too serious. He acted as if this kind of stuff would look great on his High School transcripts, right next to tennis accomplishments and stellar SAT Scores. “Is he going to try and find other people I know to mess with me? What else is he going to try and throw in my face next?”
“Well how many people did you talk about Ian with besides me?”
“It’s just you...and Dakota.” I hesitated before saying his name and then unlocked the bathroom stall. “But they were listening to us at times. I know that much.”
Earlier this week, I had gotten into a deep conversation with Hunter about the nature of my birthday party. It took a lot of work, but I managed to squeeze out of him that Finn, or someone who worked for Finn, put recording devises in Dion’s apartment. I had a sickening feeling that Dion’s girlfriend, Olivia, was someone how connected to it because her sister was Beth. Hunter said he didn’t know for sure if it was Beth’s sister, but he said Finn confirmed that it was Segg that place them there. Not Dakota.
“Who’s to say Dakota wasn’t the one to give Finn those recordings with you guys talking?” she suggested. “Maybe Dakota–”
“No, he wouldn’t do that,” I protested. “He looked just as shocked as everyone else.”
She titled her head to the side. “And how much of that do you really believe? He could’ve been acting surprise. Wouldn’t be the first time he was trying to deceive you. Starting the relationship with you was a form of deception. It shows his character, too. Shows what kind of person he is.”
“That’s true,” I remarked, blinking away the stinging pain in my eyes. Ronnie’s face blurred, mixing with the pastel blue colors in the restroom. “I guess I’ll never know his side of the story.”
“If you want my opinion, I think you should keep a strong front with this entire thing. You’re not going to be in high school forever. Ignoring Dakota for a couple more months won’t be too hard.” She snuck a look around and wrapped her arms around me, pulling us into a hug. In a low voice, she said, “Segg isn’t going to last any longer. It’ll be gone before we graduate. Wait and see.”
I laughed through the tears. There was nothing funny in what she said, but I couldn’t stop the chuckle from taking over me. “That sounds impossible.”
She broke the embrace and held both of my shoulders. “It won’t be impossible. It’s just difficult.”
“How are you going to do that?” I asked, using the back of my hand to wipe away the tears. “They’re everywhere. Pierson, Finn, Maven, Beth, Carmen, and countless others are a part of it.”
“I can’t talk about the details yet. At least not here.” She walked backwards out of the stall and to the sinks, glancing around cautiously. “C’mon let’s go.”
“I’m not going back out there.”
Despite my statement, Ronnie grabbed my arm and tugged it. “We’re not going back to the cafeteria.”
“Where the hell are you dragging me to then?”
She paused in front of the door. “You’re whaling in the girls’ washroom like Moaning Myrtle. There’s only one place I would take you for a pick me up.”
I groaned. “I’m not going to Beverly Hills to make fun of people’s botched nose jobs.”
“This is far better than going Beverly Hills,” she assured me while pushing me out the door. I rebelled against her idea, but my words were useless.
Soon, we were on our way to the office. For the first time this entire school year, I signed out for off campus lunch. I never saw the appealing of it, even during my first semester. They gave us almost an hour for lunch, but it never felt like it was enough time.
“Where are we going?” I closed the car door and buckled myself in. “Is it far from here?”
“No, it won’t be that long of a drive,” she informed me and started up her car. “I’ve been there before and I know a fast route.”
“You’re avoiding my question. Where are we going?”
“Relax for once in your life. You don’t have to know. If I told you exactly where I was going, you’d call me weird.”
“I already think you’re weird. Most of your solutions in life involve flashing a boob,” I told her, laughing at the thought of the odd conversations we had shared in our English class. Sometimes I wished I had met Ronnie before I ever ran into Beth.
If I never went to that party, I wondered if my senior year would’ve been any different. The answer usually “yes.” But I wasn’t sure if I would’ve gone back and rewritten my friendship Ronnie. I only hoped that it would’ve started earlier and that I never crossed paths with Beth or Xander.
“Okay, I want your honest answer,” Ronnie said, tapping her fingers to the steering wheel. She was still in her parking spot. “How do you feel about Men’s water polo?”
“I already don’t like the sound of this. I thought we were going to stay away from guys?”
“We are. I have no intentions to get any of them. That doesn’t mean I can’t look,” she said, raising her voice at the end of the statement as if it was meant to be perceived as a question. “They’re reconstructing the indoor swimming pool at the college over in South Emerson. Because of that, their polo team has been practicing in the outdoor pool in rec center they have directly across the street, which is open to the public. Only half of it can be used by the public though. They reserved a certain portion of it.”
“You’re okay with looking like a perv?”
“I’m only watching.”
“No...just no. I can’t do that,” I said while rolling down the window. “There’s something creepy about being the only two people on the bleachers, staring at a team of partially clad boys, playing in water.”
“It’s not that creepy. I know one of the members who lies for me. I’ve only had one person ever ask me why I’m there and I just say I’m there waiting for my cousin,” she explained with a soft smile. But the excitement in her eyes instantly faded for some unknown reason. “Don’t turn around.”
“Why?” I went against her request and twisted in my seat, glancing around the parking lot. I heard giggling before I saw who it belonged to.
Dakota was the first one to come into my line of vision. He put his arm over one of the girls in my math class. Her name was Cheryl or something. I didn’t know for sure though; my eyes were far too busy focusing in on the way her arm coiled around his waist and how her hand intertwined with the one he had draped over her shoulder.
“Shoot me now.” Unbuckling my seat belt, I sunk deeper into the chair and rolled off of it until I was out of view and waited for them to pass the car.
“I told you not to look,” Ronnie said. “You should’ve listened to me.”
The window was open, and since we were in the indoor parking lot, their voices echoed louder than usual. There was a lot of soft spoken words between them, but there was one thing that I distinctively heard him say. “Yeah, my car’s over here.”
“Can I drive it?”
She has high hopes. He’d never let me drive it. I raised up out of my crouched potion and peeked at them. She had her hand out in front of him, waiting for him to place his keys into her palm.
He shrugged, nonchalant to the request and brought out his keys. “Sure you can. I don’t care.”
A pang of shock rattled into my heart when I heard that. ”What. The. Hell. Did I just see?” I whispered to myself. I sat back up completely. “That didn’t just happen.”
“He must trust her.” Ronnie commented.
The moment when my hand touched the door handle, Ronnie pressed the lock button, shutting me in. She then proceeded to bring the windows up. “You are not going out there and making a fool of yourself. Stay in the car, Silvia.”
“You don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“I do know what you’re going to do. You’re going to run out of this car and shout at Dakota for some stupid jealous reason. And I swear if you do that, I will drag you back into the cafeteria faster than you can spell out the word petty.”
I scoffed. “It’s not because of petty reasoning.”
“Yes, it is. Just because he’s not running after you for the first time doesn’t mean that gives you the right to get mad at him for finding someone else.” She straightened her back, peering at me with a less harsh expression. “Silvia, I don’t see why you even want to start up that relationship with him again. Can I be honest for a second? You guys were beyond toxic. Perhaps the break up is for the best.”
My mouth popped open. “H-”
She raised her hand. “Wait. Let me finish. When he called you last semester, telling you someone stole his phone and laptop, what did you say?”
I put my seat belt back on. “It wasn’t stolen though. He was lying.” Ronnie informed me about Dakota’s lie after my birthday party. I was hurt when I learned the truth.
“You didn’t know that at the time.” She pointed out. “When he told you, you didn’t know all of that. Instead of feeling remorse for letting Beth in, what did you say? You said - and I quote - I think you’re blowing this out of proportion.” She made air quotes and even changed the tone in her voice. “If that happened to me, I’d probably punch you through the phone for being that insensitive after being robbed.”
“Not only that,” she continued, “but can you please stop and think about how Dakota wasn’t the guy in the video, yet before finding out the truth, you run off to Pierson. What does that say about you.”
Before I could reply, Ronnie said: “Let’s just get out of here. I don’t want you doing something you’ll regret later on.”
“I don’t have anything against him going out with other people,” I lied. The mere idea of him with someone else sent a knife into my heart. I wouldn’t tell Ronnie that though. “But I think it’s really early for anything to start.”
“What about you and Pierson? Don’t you think that was a little fast after everything that had happened?”
I sat up in my seat. “That was different. There was nothing romantic between us.”
“There was nothing romantic you noticed between you guys, but anyone could’ve easily confused you two for dating if they saw how often you slept over at his house. You even told me you guys used to share a bed on most nights.” She exited out of the student parking lot and drove away from the school, saving me from embarrassing myself. “You should be happy for him, Silvia.”
She was right. I should be happy. Dakota was free to do whatever he wanted. He didn’t need to have my feels in mind before doing anything.
Maybe this was a sign.