She could see he was struggling to contain himself. Good. It was about time he figured out that being a jerk wouldn’t get them back to the cabin. Much as she disliked Derrick, she wasn’t about to let it keep her from getting back to a roof above her head and a night’s fire.
Elise heard Derrick breathe deeply, silently counting to ten again…. Now how would she know he was counting to ten? Before she had a chance to ponder to this, Derrick intoned carefully, quietly,
“And what did I do to give you that impression?”
“Does it matter,” Elise gestured impatiently. She rolled her eyes skyward, hating how unconvincing and childish she suddenly sounded. As soon explain why the sun would rise each day.
“Yes, it matters. Our problem isn’t going to go away just by being nice to each other long enough to get rid of this chain and get home. I need to know what your problem is.”
She sighed. She couldn’t resist thinking upon occasion that he was a little better that her original summation of him. But informing him of the rest wasn’t going to change him. Yet everything he’d done, said, been, since they’d been here, was totally contrary to what she’d been insisting….
“Well?” He was not going to relent.
Elise just looked at Derrick helplessly. Where to start? Strutting through the halls like a tomcat? Putting down freshmen? Carol?
“All right,” Derrick volunteered, her silence renewing his vigor. “Why am I conceited, for instance? Condescending?”
“The list could go on forever,” Elise finally spat, sufficiently goaded into speaking. “But I’ll tell you the first time I’ve known you to be a total jerk. I have a best friend at home who has a massive crush on you –” she inspect Derrick’s face carefully for signs of arrogance, but he remained impassive – “and one day during lunch, she finally got up enough guts to introduce herself, in front of all your friends even. And you remember what you said?”
Derrick was looking puzzled, probably, Elise thought, because so many girls threw their stupid selves at him that he couldn’t distinguish one from another.
“You looked at your friends and flashed this big, idiot-grin and you told her, What’s your point, babe? That was the first time I saw you for your real self,” Elise finished acidly.
His face registered a mixture of shock, scorn, and disbelief as he stared back at her.
“I don’t know who you’re thinking of but it definitely wasn’t me. Oh, stop. I know what you’re thinking....”
“Well, of course you wouldn’t admit it. As if you’d say, Yeah, you’re right, Elise, that was me being a total jerk,” Elise interrupted him scathingly, though somehow the sincerity of his reaction begot a susurrus of misgivings.
“I’m telling you, though, that wasn’t me. It wasn’t,” he added in response to her grimace of disgust. “I’m not like that. And I don’t say babe, either. And just when was this supposed to have happened, anyway?” Derrick wanted to know.
“At the beginning of the school year,” replied Elise stonily.
“At the - jeez, this was just a month and a half ago? And you can base your whole opinion of me in just a month and a half? Never mind, don’t answer that. You’re a girl, of course you would. Even so, I would never have said that. Especially when I’m single,” he grinned weakly.
“Liar!” The second it escaped her lips, she regretted it.
His face darkened; she could practically see the links in the chain disappearing. A muscle twitched in his jaw. Breathing heavily, he growled, “Don’t ever call me a liar.”
Elise could only glower at him, an embarrassed flush heating up her neck. Had Carol somehow confused him with someone else?
After a while, Derrick leaned back against his tree and crossed his big arms casually. “So that’s it? That’s why you’ve hated me, because someone who wasn’t even me picked on your friend? And I was worried,” Derrick scoffed.
Elise clung to the shreds of her restraint – and her dignity – and retorted, “Even if it wasn’t you, I’ve seen you making fun of the underclassmen....” She trailed off, realizing how futile her attempts at justification sounded.
Derrick laughed heartily at her, cultivating her fury. “Picking on underclassmen. If that’s a serious character flaw, man, incarcerate me now. Listen, I’ve got news for you, everyone does that. That’s just the way it is. Everyone picks on underclassmen - they always have, even if it’s only once. And as far as me picking on them, I may joke with them now and then but I’m not a total jerk, like, like... Dylan Griffith, or Jimmy Price. Speaking of him, he’s probably the guy who was so rude to your friend, we’re cousins and we’ve been mistaken for each other since the second grade. So it was him your friend talked to and you’ve been hating me all this time for nothing....”
And he laughed again, while Elise sat with her back to him, her face in the wind, despising him all the more.