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If You Huff and You Puff, ...

Chapter Five: If You Huff and You Puff, You Can Blow the House Down

FREDDIE

When Monday rolled around, I shouldn’t have been exhausted as I was, considering how I’d spent most of the time trying to force myself into doing homework and sitting in my bathroom staring into nothing much at all. When the rest of my sisters had arrived, dad had spoken to them together, claiming he’d already spoken to me privately and that there was no point in my hearing it all again. Lou had begun to suspect something, but I’d forced on some strain of a happy face, and she’d left, semi-satisfied.

Our house could feel so empty. The five of us congregated in Cathy’s old room when dad had finished what turned out to have been a simple catching up of where everyone was and how far they had to go before they reached success like he had done, a talk I could have therefore joined in with.

It had been so bittersweet; all of us together again, but dad’s illness negated from the joy we all wanted to feel. And so, we’d sat and done a mixture of listening to music, settling into embraces that elicited tears and reminding each other through childhood memories of things our father had done that could cast a shadow over the way he was behaving now. We tried to understand how scared he must have been feeling. Tried to recognise that shooting Paris down after she’d requested that I join in on the discussion when she realised what might have been happening was just his temper flaring as he struggled to cope. We told ourselves that his pride was understandably hurt when Bethany suggested that he contact a charity organisation or that we all go to the hospital together to find out ways we could support him and he swore at her, anger growing unchecked. We told ourselves that the tears were falling singularly because our father’s cancer was incurable, though there was treatment to prolong his life and heighten the quality of it, but those tears were also falling because of the utter helplessness we felt.

There was no way to help a stubborn old man who had depended on himself and himself only for as long as he had been able. There was no way to help a stubborn old man who believed his way—and his way alone—was the right one. A stubborn old man who did not want, nor would he accept, the help.

There was no way.

So, I was exhausted. It was an emotional weariness that soaked my bones, dirty like pond water, and it made every movement heavy and slow.

The Spanish homework I’d had to do was easy enough; learning twenty words, of which I knew at least half already, and writing out some answers for the role-plays we were going to do in class, second period.

It would probably only take about half an hour to do, which would be perfect considering the fact that I had a free lesson first period, and the last half hour could be used to learn our vocabulary. I didn’t know how I was going to concentrate, though.

I walked through the open door and straight into form. If the volume of the room really had fallen, I did my best to ignore it. A point worth mentioning; ignoring the class as I’d decided to do was very different to ignoring a person out of spite. It was something I felt I had to do to keep myself grounded somehow, otherwise, I feared, I’d lose my footing and simply fall.

Nothing was said, though. Registration passed without incident - likely due to my fierce disregard of everyone. Even when my name was called, I barely replied. Mr Chou started to call it out again, but looked up to find me sat near the front of the room, head bowed, and moved on.

JOEY

What a fucked weekend.

Some new kid my mum just started taking care of had to be at ours for the whole of Saturday. An eleven year-old called Connor who was, not only attention-seeking, jealous, and a compulsive liar, but needlessly violent too. Of all the stupid things he did that day, pushing Priya (who’d come to stay from 4 - 10pm) off the trampoline in our back garden was the one that angered me the most. She wasn’t hurt too badly, but the cuts on her elbows, arms and knees were bad enough.

Then there was the fact that our shower had broken too, as I found out on Sunday. I was pretty sure it was down to the Connor kid, considering the fact that it had been perfectly fine Saturday morning, but mum was adamant that no evidence meant no crime.

Even still, a lack of a shower resulted in a lack of good mood. In the end Ryan had offered his own, and I had gladly accepted that evening, but it was still a piss-take. And he’d burst in and taken pictures (because of the faulty bathroom lock). I’d honestly felt like murdering him in cold blood for the next half hour, but... I always eventually saw the funny side, where Ryan was concerned.

Finally, somewhere in among it all I had started reading the book that mum had recommended to me on account of the fact that she saw similarities between the main character and I. Though I saw where the similarity lay, I also read a scene that had a very homosexual twist- in the first chapter alone. I’d had to ask myself if I’d mentioned Freddie’s sexuality to her at all, but I hadn’t (having subtly suggested that I had no idea if the jokes against him were untrue). Confronting her about it only earned me a firm-handed reprimand in which she told me to be mature and read the book through, as that had nothing to do with the book’s plot. But even still, I regretted reading the little I had.

When I had been twelve years old, I’d had the smallest of sexuality scares. I’d had dreams of a sexual nature about guys - most often Ryan, and another guy called Curtis who had been two years above me but had taken my bus. He’d left the next year, but the dreams about him remained. I’d thought I was gay or something- it was a pretty shit time, though I blocked the majority of it out. Either way, I stopped worrying so much when, the next year, we learnt in Sex Ed. that at that age, hormones were going crazy and nothing was really as it may have seemed. So I shoved the whole thing behind me and refused, for the most part, to give it a thought again. But Saturday night, after I’d come across the particular scene, my dreams were far too similar for comfort. Ryan had been sitting beside me in a café that I didn’t recognise, and then he’d suddenly taken one of my hands and pulled it beneath the table and in between his legs, leaning forward to kiss me as he did so.

Shit.

I couldn’t imagine—didn’t want to imagine—how fucking disgusted Ryan would be if he knew-

But he didn’t. And that was the way I would keep it.

Along with all of that, I had a feeling that stepping foot in school was also going to be awful because of the way rumour travelled in school, but many people didn’t seem to have heard the true story about what had happened in the citizenship classroom, so when I walked into school on Monday morning I found that nothing was quite as bad as I had imagined it would be. I got stares, but the facial discolouring I had ensured I would. What most people knew was that a fight had taken place in CT, and that Freddie had beaten me so bad I’d had to go to hospital (shit). The rumour was that I’d stolen his bag, which pushed him over the edge after the Dahmer comments, which had now circulated. My guess was that Mrs White had asked that the students who’d heard the cancer deal not say a thing.

When Freddie walked into our form room, I was pretty definite that it was not in my imagination alone that the speech hushed a little. Courtney’s hand landed on my lap as I watched Lewis’ wooden march to a seat near the front. It took a moment to pull my eyes from the rigid set of his back to my girlfriend’s face.

“Joe, do you want to go out for break?”

“What?” I asked.

“Break. I wanted to go to Costa. Do you want to come with?”

I shrugged, allowing my gaze to drift back to where it had first been. “Yeah, sure.” When the bell rang, before I’d even stood fully, Mr Chou was calling Freddie and I to speak to him privately. I watched Freddie subtly as he moved himself between people, seemingly hyper aware of his personal space.

We reached our form tutor’s desk simultaneously, and there Freddie stood stationary while I turned to watch others as they filtered out, watching me. Watching all of us three, obviously wondering what was about to take place.

“You both received letters home about the detention after school, I’m sure,” Mr Chou said as he twisted a biro pen about his fingers. His enlarged owl-like eyes blinked at us from behind his glasses. He tried not to look too hard at the bruises on my face. I replied in the affirmative as Freddie nodded. “The occurrence is a little unfortunate, and though teachers try to refrain from detaining sixth formers, I was told a physical fight took place...” As if it wasn’t obvious. Mr Chou’s countenance grew more nervous the longer the two of us stood in silence. I could feel Freddie standing totally still beside me, even if we were in no way touching. Perhaps it was that thing about personal space again. He was so wary of being a certain distance from me, that I had become so too. I gripped the strap of my backpack harder and focused on Chou’s navy and tan chequered socks, peeking out from between the hem of his trouser legs and his Oxford shoes. An odd combination, I thought.

“I was told to remind you,” our tutor continued tentatively. “Ten to four outside the old library.”

“Okay,” Freddie murmured, and then, “Do you mind if I go now? I have homework to do before next lesson.”

Well, fuck, I thought. So did I. I had completely forgotten to catch up with my Spanish assignments over the weekend, not to mention finish the one in for today.

“Yes, that’s fine, Freddie.” And so, as Freddie turned to go, I did so too. “W-wait, Joey!” I sighed aloud as I looked over my shoulder. Mr. Chou was sifting through all the paraphernalia on his desk before he found what he was looking for. “For the lessons you missed on Thursday and Friday,” he said, offering me a small smile with the leaves of paper, all stapled together, in his hands.

“Shit,” I groaned, taking them all from him and staring in a mixture of shock and disbelief at the words on the first page. It wouldn’t register however. They refused to swim in the same direction. “How much did I miss!?”

“Just a lot of reading and discussion for the most part, though I’m sure Kelsey will let you photocopy her notes if you need them. Please do read the sheets I have given you, though.” After a heavy sigh escaped from between my lips, Mr Chou smiled and added, “Before our third period lesson.”

Good to know the guy has a sense of humour. Because that was a joke, right?

Realising that it would probably be best to do something for Spanish—lest Mrs Luy skewer me—I headed over to the sixth form computer suites.

There were two of them; one full of Apple Macs, while the other contained old computers that were slow as the day was long. The latter was the one I headed towards. For obvious reasons, the other room was full nine times out of ten. Besides, a faulty computer was a brilliant excuse to give Mrs Luy as to why the work was undone, considering how allergic to technology she was.

Just as I thought, when I peeked into the Mac suite there weren’t many empty seats—granted not everyone was even using the Macs, but I couldn’t be bothered to deal with navigating through the crowd, and the noise wouldn’t help concentration either.

The other suite, however, as per usual had just the one body inside, and this time it was a vaguely Freddie-shaped one.

I hesitated in the doorway, still holding onto the handle.

He quite clearly wanted privacy. He was sitting at the computer furthest from the door, back facing me, and it oozed from every individual part of him, joining to shout a huge Fuck off to all. His mid-length wavy hair had been free this morning in registration, but he’d now packed up what part of it he could. There was still at least half of its mass left free to fall, but the idea was clear; down to business.
With a back ramrod straight and his fingers tapping madly along the keyboard, I probably should have left him to it. He was clearly busy (doing the Spanish homework I should have been doing), and he definitely did not want to be disturbed. I was very aware, though, not only that he was pretty good at Spanish, therefore could very possibly lend me a hand, but that I still owed him an apology. And this... this was a perfect opportunity; we were completely alone. If he tried to punch me up again, I could go down without witnesses and lick my wounds elsewhere. No one else would ever know because he somehow didn’t seem the type to boast about conquests. So I started walking towards him.

Freddie heard my steps before I reached him. Turned to face me before I’d decided what I was going to say.

“What the hell do you want?”

He wasn’t overly confrontational. Tired, yes. Pretty pissed to see me—that too. But not overly confrontational. And, though I hadn’t been expecting a greeting of rainbows and sunshine, the repulsion in his eyes was a little off putting.

“Uh,” I cleared my throat and crackled my knuckles before shoving my fists deep into my trouser pockets. My eyes flicked to his computer screen. “Shit, that for the role-play?” He’d done half a page.

“Joey, what do you want?”

I removed a hand from my pocket in favour of itching the back of my head, as if that would pass the time somehow, or rustle up an idea. Some backbone, maybe.

After a moment, he swivelled back around on the chair he was sitting on. As the tapping on the keyboard continued, I began to speak but found I needed to clear my throat again.

“I’m sorry about what I said.”

He said nothing for a while. I hadn’t known what to expect, and so I was stood uncertainly, not sure whether to leave. There was every possibility that he simply wouldn’t accept my apology.

“Yeah. Okay,” he muttered.

“Honestly.” I shifted so that I was looking at him from the side rather than behind. His eyes were focused on the screen, but his hands weren’t typing. “I am sorry I said it. I regret it, and I’m—” I coughed weakly, growing uncomfortable in the silence he was offering. “And I’m pretty ashamed. I’m sorry.”

Freddie slowly and deliberately turned his head to look up at me. “I am not,” was what he said.

“What?”

“I am not sorry. I don’t regret it.” Though for a moment his eyes drifted from one discoloured part of my face to another, there was something that didn’t quite seem like apathy hanging there.

“Regret punching the sense right out of me?” I smiled a little then, looking away to escape the intensity of his stare. “Nah, that’s cool. I haven’t been hit in a while. It was kinda fun, once I got past the pain. Felt like I was high for a moment there.” The angry determination in his eyes gave way to confusion. “Is your, uh-m, is your dad... Okay?”

We both seemed to realise his mouth was hanging open a little at the same time. He closed it and altered his position on his seat. The corners of his lips began to sink as though an anchor was pulling them gently down.

“What the hell do you think? Can you get out now? I have to finish--”

“The Spanish! Yeah, sure—sure. I’ll leave you to that,” I agreed, but before I’d fully turned to leave, I remembered the book in my bag belonging to him. Dropping my bag on the nearest free surface, I dug my hand through. Pulled Postcards from No Man’s Land up first, but I quickly shoved that one back in, ears burning like hell fire. As if I would ever let anyone know I was reading a book like that.

I presented the thriller by placing it next to his keyboard. It was a little funny to watch him glance at it and away before then doing a double take, and then his eyes whipped up, hair flying wildly out of the blue band he had used, coming to rest by the sides of his face.

“You—you took this from my bag?” he accused. He stood up, then, and I stepped back, holding my hands up a little as I detected a little of the anger that had resulted in the bruises on my body. I shook my head.

“I didn’t. You dropped it. When—when Lowood said—” and there wasn’t need to say anymore. I could see in Freddie eyes that he remembered just as clearly as I did. Likely more so. “You dropped the book, and you left the bag. So I took them for you. I—” At the expression on his face, I stopped. I cracked my knuckles self-consciously again. “What?”

“You took them for me?” It was a disbelieving question that he seemed to be asking himself more than he was asking me, but it still felt like a question for which an answer was needed.

“Yeah,” I said. “I did.”

“They said...” he was saying, gaze drifting slowly down. “You took it-”

My sigh was enough to blow a pig’s house down. “Yeah, to fucking give it to you,” I muttered.

After a moment, defensiveness reared its head. “Why?”

I shrugged. “What Pete said. It wasn’t right. Just like what I did wasn’t either-”

“No way,” he said. He stood. “No. Why would you?”

“I just told you-”

“That isn’t a good enough reason!” he shouted. “I don’t need your fucking help! The fuck?” He ran his left hand through his hair and, with his right, the one decorated with endless bracelets of every damn colour under the sun, he gripped tight onto the back of the chair that he’d just evacuated from. And that’s when I realised I’d picked up a bracelet of his, too.

“Fre-”

“No,” he interrupted. “No—shit—fuck off,” and before I knew it, he was striding past me, and out of the door.

I was a little lost.

Had I done the right thing? And if so, where had I gone wrong? Because I most certainly had, somewhere along the way. He wouldn’t have left in the state he had if all had gone well.

God, I was shit at comforting people.

God, I was shit at most things.

I also had a feeling that Freddie wasn’t coming back any time soon.

My eyes drifted over his belongings once again. I checked my Courtney-given watch. There were about twenty minutes to go before the end of period one, and then it would be Spanish. I was unsure, still, whether I was welcome to stay. What if he didn’t even come back again? To take Freddie’s belongings to the class and risk yet another bust up, or not to take Freddie’s belongings to the class and risk yet another bust up. That was the question.

FREDDIE

I had sounded like my father.

Good fuck had I sounded like my father. “I don’t need your fucking help”? True though it may have been. I wiped away angry tears—because that was all they were.

Honestly, though, what the hell was Hartman doing picking up after me without spiteful ideas behind it? And, equally, what the hell was I doing readily believing everything he’d said? It was probably just to deduct from his detention time or—some shit like that.

Damn it, I really had to control myself, though. Stop the storming out of rooms. Hold myself together, a little. A little would be enough.

I placed my head against the glass of the mirror in the toilets. It was funny how a bathroom was always a means of escape. Pity that these ones had a less-than-appealing odour hanging like a dead man’s body on a noose. I took a deep breath in and released through the bell signifying the transition between lessons.

I found myself wondering if I’d return to the IT suite and find my bag missing again, but I witnessed an even bigger surprise. Joey was sat at a computer beside the one I had logged in on. He was typing like crazy.

I strode towards him, stopping only when I reached the computer I’d been working on. Before I could say anything, Joey turned to face me.

“Hey,” he said hesitantly. “Hope you don’t mind; borrowed some of your words for this thing.” He nodded towards my role-play.

“You’re going to be late for Spanish,” I told him. His brows furrowed.

“So are you.”

“Yes, but you could have gone earlier,” I insisted. After a moment, he chuckled.

“Yeah, could have. But then you’d probably punch me up for taking your bag again.”

It was a moment before I could smile—even if just a little. I cleared my throat. “You’ve taken my words this time, though.”

“Borrowed,” Joey clarified. “I’ll give them back.”


We walked into Spanish late having not spoken to each other during the time we packed our bags and logged off the computers through the journey to the class room. Mrs Luy had given the expected speech about punctuality, commitment to the Spanish language and impending doom in relation to exams to come, and then Joey and I had trooped to our seats, respectively. He to his window seat, and me to mine. Sherry and Tom’s eyes were narrowed with their inability to comprehend as they glanced between the two of us.

“What happened?” Sherry asked, leaning towards me.

Tom had to push his head around, practically clambering over my friend so that he could be seen. “Are you okay?” he wanted to know. At the look I gave him, he attempted a small smile. “Did you guys get a strict talking to?”

“No,” I sighed, glancing in front of me at Joey, who had already turned to face the window he mentally climbed out of every lesson. Sherry glanced his way too, but it looked a little more like a glare.

“But he said something to you though, right?”

I shook my head, giving the impression that I was too busy to pay attention to their questions by flipping my Spanish book open in an exaggerated manner, and then brandishing my biro like a weapon.

The lesson passed smoothly, like that.

JOEY

Borrow Freddie’s words though I had, when it came to running through the role play with Mrs Luy, I knew next nothing to use to piece the last question together. I also hadn’t learnt the assigned vocabulary, and scored an unbelievable six out of twenty. Five and a half, really, but she didn’t have to know that.

Either way, I was unsurprised when she requested to see me again after class.

“Joey,” she said, and my name in her accent was better than my name in any other form, full stop. That was the only reason I did Spanish; the sound of the language. Though I was beginning to regret the choice a little. “I’m becoming weary of your lack of work. I told you at the end of last year how the work load jumps, and you clearly are not coping.”

“But you only told me all that stuff about catching up on Wednesday,” I replied, feeling like the situation was weighing a little unjust on her side. “And then that afternoon I was kinda taken to hospital.” Her expression told me she’d heard about the incident. She then openly regarded the uglier of my black eyes, like most had been trying, and failing, to refrain from doing.

“Yes,” she allowed, “But your vocabulary - that is something you can learn while lying in bed with every bone in your body broken.” I blinked at her, wondering how to reply to that. True though it may have been...

“Okay, okay,” she said, pressing the tips of her fingers to her forehead and shutting her eyes. She looked in physical pain, and I felt a little bad knowing that I was the cause of the headache. “I will give you until October half term, Joey. That is just over two weeks. You need to prove to me that you can keep up with the essays and assignments.” I nodded as she looked up at me. “Do you even enjoy the language?” I nodded and I shrugged, and she sighed in exasperation. “Okay—Dios mio, okay. Joey. October half term; keep up and you can stay on the course, okay? Would you not prefer to pick one you will enjoy and do well with?”

“I enjoy Spanish,” I murmured.

“Mm.” She didn’t believe me. That much was obvious. I was finally allowed to leave, having missed the first ten minutes of break time anyway. And, of course, with this realisation, the knowledge that I’d had a prior engagement smacked me sharply across the face.

“Fuck.”

Courtney had texted and Courtney had called. I tried to ring back, but she obviously flat-out rejected the call. “Fuck,” I again muttered under my breath, but, honestly, I was also semi-relieved. Courtney’s presence was beginning to weigh me down—or had done for a while, man, I didn’t even know.

After another minute of silent deliberation, I headed over to Philosophy early so that I could sit and start reading, just in case Mr Chou hadn’t been quite the joker I’d taken him for.

I tended to really like Philosophy. The amount of essays we were given was crazy ridiculous, but not only was Mr Chou a pretty mellow teacher, the topics that we were to study were cool too. At the time we were on ‘Personhood’; the status of being a person, as defined by Wikipedia and my teacher alike. It brought up a whole lot of conversation and debate about what made a person (in which answers like emotion, status as ‘human’, consciousness and the having of a soul often came up), equality (concerning slavery and women’s rights), and the ongoing abortion issue along with animal rights. Then there was the idea of innatism; whether we as humans were born with ideas and knowledge given to us by a God or higher being, Nativism, that the knowledge came from genetics and shit, or that, as some suggested, we all simply arrived on earth via our mothers’ wombs as blank slates.

It all seemed a little pointless, learning all of it, as Kelsey often said to me, but I really liked Philosophy. I loved it, truthfully. The lesson itself was an escape that I desperately needed, sometimes. The escape I acquired with the window in Spanish wasn’t necessary because of the conversation in Philosophy; every new idea, every Plato, Sartre and Nietzsche.

After lunch and a double session of DT, the day was over, and I headed over to the old library, which had been turned into a moderated study room, thinking over the events of the DT lesson.

Design Tech. was definitely my favourite subject, but I tended to simply tolerate the lessons where Lowood decided to engage in conversation with me. His topic had unsurprisingly been focused on my fight with Freddie, the cancer situation and how ‘fucking sick’ it had been that I said what I did. He’d then tried to convince me to tell him what Freddie’s face had been like afterward, getting pissed when I wouldn’t co-operate. I would cringe inwardly every time the word was said, too, wishing he would just stop. You don’t joke about cancer. Full stop.

Our teacher, Mr Anderton, barely even did anything. Told Pete to shut up a couple of times, as if that ever worked. And mum was wrong about me, too, because I couldn’t say a thing to the guy about leaving it out.

Freddie was already stood outside the old library room, along with a group of about ten other stragglers, and we all stood mostly silent, our quiet likely due to the forty-five extra minutes of a Monday to be spent at school. When Mrs White eventually arrived, she led us into the class room and instructed us all to sit in silence. Each of us were allowed to read a book, or do some homework, but phones would be confiscated if used. Then she sat at the desk in the front, and everyone began to sit at their own. Freddie headed towards the back and, after a moment of consideration, I followed him.

The first fifteen minutes passed by without incident. Freddie did some homework, and I tried to decide between catching up with Spanish and reading that Postcards book. Ended up reading the wad of Philosophy pages Chou had given me.

It was only when Freddie eventually put away the work he had been doing and brought out the thriller novel that I heard him hiss my name. I turned my head to blink at him. He was pointing at an open page of the book, and his mouth was moving in some kind of-- Boomer?

“What?!” I whispered back. He mouthed it again. “Boomer what?”

“No, you idiot!” he spat, ducking his head down closer to me as he pointed to, what I belatedly realised, was an item that was no longer there. “My fucking bookmark—where is it?”

I allowed my forehead fall into my palm as I groaned as quietly as I could manage. “On my bedside table,” I muttered.

“Your where?”

“Freddie and Joey, please keep it down.”

“My bedside table—shit, I-”

“Why!? Why’d you take it out?”

Well, fuck, if he’d let me finish- “I read a little of the book, okay?”

“But the bookmark?”

“It’s on my bedside table,” I repeated incredulously. We were going around in circles.

“No, dumbass, did you read it?!” he rasped, just as White scraped her chair back and stood, glaring. We both turned our heads to her sharply.

“Whether you two communicate with words or fists, I would rather you wouldn’t,” she said. I sighed and sat back, crossing my arms. We hadn’t been the only ones, but it was us that her beady eyes hovered over for another moment. Then she walked to the door and opened it, sticking her head out to call for someone to get her a cup of tea or something. I glanced at Freddie.

“I didn’t,” I lied. It wasn’t that big of a deal, though; I barely remembered the little that I had swept my eyes over anyway. And it had only been the one side, really. He seemed satisfied with my reply, though, and settled back into his seat. I added that I’d bring it back in on Tuesday. It looked like a mild panic fought for dominance over his expression briefly, but then he nodded. When I thought he’d smile a little to provide a little breathing space after all the tension, his gaze swivelled down to the book he had neglected for a few precious moments and he began to read.

I, on the other hand, eventually abandoned reading any more Philosophy and finally started with some Spanish work; an essay about my summer holidays. On account of the fact that I had no Google translate available to me, I whispered words to Freddie, and he would answer after a moment to churn them around his head and then outwards again. Sometimes full sentences took him a little longer, so I’d doodle random cubes and lines on the corner of the page until he came up with something for me.

I could have sworn Mrs White heard us, but she must have decided to let it be, because she said nothing for the rest of the detention period. When she finally stood and announced we were all free to go, Freddie and I began to clear our shit away and stood.

“Thanks,” I offered. I hadn’t quite finished the essay, but the conclusion wouldn’t be too difficult.

“Yeah,” he said. I leaned against my desk and watched him hesitantly fold the corner of his book page again, then straighten it and smooth it religiously. He took note of the page number before shutting the book finally and zipping it up in his bag.

“Luy’s kinda threatened to throw me off the course,” I admitted as he began to go. I followed behind, adjusting my backpack to sit properly on my shoulders.

“You’re really that surprised?”

“Guess not.”

I continued to troop after Freddie, offering my opinion on the ridiculousness of Mrs Luy’s homework expectations, when he suddenly stopped just short of the school entrance.

“What are you doing?” he asked after a moment. I looked at him, confused. He slowly turned to face me, eyes narrowed in some sort of aggravated emotion that I couldn’t detect the root of. “Why the hell are you talking to me?”

I’ll admit that I was so shocked about what he’d just said that I literally stood blinking at him, speechless. Well, shit. Why was I speaking to him? It could have been answered with a simple “Why not?” but his point remained. Embarrassment caused me to scowl deeply in an attempt to distract from the red hue likely creeping across the tips of my ears.

He continued, glancing away from me. “If it’s just because you found out about my dad, save it.” Then he walked away as if the hounds of Hell were snapping at his feet, hands gripped onto the strap of his shoulder bag.

Fuck that, and him.

Like, shit.

Fuck off.

Every time I tried to do something fucking good for Lewis, he snubbed me somehow. I wasn’t exactly eager to befriend the bastard again.

I ran my hands through my hair and growled out an incoherent groan before digging my hand into my pocket and whipping my phone out.

“Yo, Ryan. Want to come over?”

“Can we watch porn? My laptop is fucked, man.”

Unsurprising. The thing was laden with viruses. “Whatever,” I said. He laughed far too loudly into my ear.

“Cool. I’ve got some good shit to smoke too, Joe!” he crooned, and I could hear rustling and the sound of a grinder, so I had a pretty good idea of exactly what he was doing. I rolled my eyes.

“Yeah, okay, whatever,” I repeated. “I’ll meet you there in thirty.”

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