Nexxus (Nexxus Book One)

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“Browning, what on Earth do you think you are doing?” Coach Reibart shouts, his thunderous voice echoing across the field.

Axel leans back casually with his elbows placed against the bleachers, the hood of his jacket up as usual and his shades on as he tilts his head to stare up at the darkened clouds hovering over us. He doesn’t move an inch, pretending like he is the only person who didn’t hear the man’s megaphone voice.

“Browning!” This time he follows up his shout with a powerful blow from his whistle.

Axel lets out a visible sigh and lowers his sunglasses, peering over the rims down to the center of the field where Coach stands. “What?”

“Did you not hear me the first two times I called you?”

“I did, but I chose to ignore you,” he snaps back brazenly.

Coach’s face turns three different shades of red, the vein in his forehead now bulging. “Get down here right now, change into your gym clothes, and run these laps.”

“Can’t.” Axel pulls a folded sheet of white paper from his jacket pocket, waving it over his head. “My therapist specifically said that I am not to partake in any activities that could be deemed stressful and, being that I find this entire class stressful, am going to have to obey her orders and sit this one out.”

“Let me see that note.”

“Sure, come and get it.”

At this point, it appears that Coach is debating on strangling Axel with his own two hands but, instead of doing so, he shakes his head wearily and allows a look of surrender to replace the anger that was on his face. “I expect to see that note when we get back inside and it better reflect everything you just said or else it’s suspension for you. Everyone else, five laps! Your goal for the year is to improve, not decrease. This means that, by the end of each month, I expect you all to shave a few seconds off your run. You do this and you get a passing grade. This means that if you plan on being lazy and wasting my time, I plan on failing you.”

A select group of girls whines at the announcement, their eyes traveling lustfully over towards where Axel remains seated. Since his return to our school his title of ‘bad boy’ has been reinstated, meaning the girls here now either avoid him like the plague or jump through hoops to get his attention.

He pushes his sunglasses back up his nose, making it hard for the group to figure out if he is staring at them, but that doesn’t stop them from hiking up their shorts before bending over to stretch, just in case he is.

I opt for using the time to tighten my laces, happy that, despite the dark clouds looming above, the weather and my mood have remained in good spirits. The first day of the week started out rough but the rest of it has gone easy on me.

Coach blows his whistle and we are off, the same group of girls breaking into full sprints to show up their friends and flaunt how in shape they are.

Unfortunately, I am not them and my calves begin to cramp about two minutes in, making me wish I had taken the time to stretch. I debate on asking Coach to let me sit this one out but, with the mood Axel put him in, he might fail me just for asking.

Both the cramping and lack of motivation to run when I am not being chased might stem from the fact that I skipped both breakfast and lunch today. Like the note on the fridge had stated, my mother hadn’t been home when I woke up in the morning, so there was no one watching to make sure I shoved food down my throat.

Not wanting to deal with the wrath of an already furious Coach and become the first person to fail gym before the year really began, I push through the pain. The girls who took off ahead of me have already begun to come into view and I smile, remembering all the articles I read in the airport’s limited magazine selection on the benefits of pacing yourself.

Brushing past them, I feel the knots in my legs begin to unwind and energy erupts inside of me as I take off.

Well, this is new. I guess that whole ‘runner’s high’ thing that Coach was going on about at the start of class is not just some bullshit he came up with.

The harder I push myself the more my energy increases and, before I realize it, I am a good three feet ahead of those girls. My breathing starts to even itself out and I wipe the sweat from my brow, my skin heating with each stride I take.

I glance over my shoulder again, surprised to see that I have surpassed that group of girls and the rest of the class. Hell, even some of McCalls more seasoned runners linger behind me.

The girls shoot me vicious glares but this only causes me to smile and I will myself to run faster.

I am on my fourth lap when curiosity takes over and I risk a glance towards where Axel is sitting. I am not sure why I want to look, but part of me wants to know that he sees how far ahead of those girls I am. Another part of me wants to confirm the strange feeling that I am being watched, which is something I have been experiencing since I started running.

He has moved since the last time I saw him, no longer occupying the highest row of the bleachers but now sitting on one of its lower levels. He watches me carefully, unbuttoning his jacket and placing it next to him.

Our gazes meet as he tucks his sunglasses into his shirt pocket and he winks, his lips turning up in a diabolical smile.

Pain shoots up my leg and I am no longer running, now finding myself falling toward the ground. My mouth fills with the disgusting combination of grass and dirt and I roll to my side, clutching at my stinging knee.

Black spots dance in front of my eyes but I manage to make out the objection that tripped me. A small root sticks out of the ground where I was running, perfectly looped to ensure that some poor soul’s foot would get snared in it.

I have run around this track damn near four times and not once did I see that root.

“Peak, are you okay?” Coach rushes to my side, examining my bloodied knee with extreme caution. “You were on some kind of streak back there, what happened?”

I point to the root, ignoring the eruption of giggled behind me. It seems that the rest of the class has caught up and is now basking in my embarrassment.

This is what I get for wanting to show off.

I drag myself back to my feet, wavering as I attempt to put the slightest bit of pressure on my injured leg.

Coach reaches forward and helps steady me. “Browning, get down here and help Miss Peak to the nurse’s office. She needs to have this thing checked out and bandaged. The last thing I need is for her to have broken bone and end up filing a lawsuit against the school because I let her wander the halls injured.”

“Or she could take herself,” he suggests, making his way down the bleachers and onto the field. “I already told you that I am not allowed to get involved with things that could cause me undue stress and I just so happen to find Eveline quite stressful.”

“Just do what I said to do.” Coach hands me off to Axel who, with a dissatisfied look on his face, allows me to throw one arm around his waist for support. This, even though I am bleeding and feeling completely uneasy having to stand this close to him, does nothing to stave off the slew of hate-filled looks I am getting from the girls who spent the whole class trying to catch and then keep his attention.

I would willingly trade places with any of them.

I wonder how many of them are going to find themselves injured next class just in hopes of having the same thing happen to them.

“Thanks for the hand,” I mumble as we enter the nurse’s office and Axel helps ease me onto the makeshift exam table.”

“It’s whatever.”

I roll my eyes, running my fingers through my messy hair. Pieces of grass float down around and I feel my face grow warm. Of course, no one felt the need to let me know I look like I just lost an MMA fight to a shrub, they were all too busy plotting on ways to get their own Axel escort. Now I’ve spent this whole walk looking like an idiot and, while Axel might be in the running for ‘World’s Biggest Asshole’, it doesn’t change the fact that I find his freakishly good looking. “You can leave now.”

“No can do. I was told to stay here until the nurse gets back.” He takes a seat in the chair in front of me. “This also serves as the perfect excuse not to go back to class. Plus, should you manage to hurt yourself between the time that I leave and when the nurse finally arrives, Coach will have my ass and I am already on his shit list.”

“Are you this much of a jerk to everyone?” I grit through clenched teeth, fighting back the swell of anger rising up inside of me. “Or are you making a special exception just for me?”

He continues to stare down at his shirt, now fidgeting with one of the many loose strings at the end of it. “Everyone, so don’t go getting your hopes up that I did or would ever go out of my way for anything that involves you.”

“Trust me, nothing about you gets my hopes up.”

“Harsh,” he snaps back sarcastically. He taps the right side of his chest, right above his heart. “Got me right there, right in the feels.”

I leap off the makeshift table, surprised when my leg doesn’t give way instantly due to pain. In fact, it seems to be almost completely back to normal now. “I don’t know what your problem is, but you seriously need to get over yourself. You don’t have to be a menace to everyone just because you feel like it.”

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Go back to class, Axel.”

“Don’t you ever listen? I already told you, I can’t do that. I have to sit here unt-”

“Until what?” I cut him off. “Until you find someone else’s nerves to get on? Until you annoy me so much that I have no choice but to snap and cause you physical harm?”

Axel lets out a disbelieving laugh. “Cause me physical harm? Wow, what a threat. Seriously, I am shaking in my sneakers right now. Have you ever been in a fight before? No, better question, is this the first time that you’ve ever threatened someone? I am going to go with ‘no.’ Wow, Evie, you sure are frightening.”

“Do not call me Evie,” I warn.

“Why, does it bother you? Does it get on your very fragile nerves?” He gets out of his seat, taking a step towards me. “Well, does it, Evie?”

I snap, swinging my arm and slamming my tightly clenched fist into his nose with such force that it actually surprises me; blood pours from his nose.

He shoves me away from him. “Bitch!”

I swing again but, this time, he catches my fist in his palm before it has time to reconnect with his face.

“Not so fast, Evie.”

“Miss Peak! Mr. Browning! What in the world is going on in here?” Nurse Gillard shouts as she comes rushing into the room.

I rip my fist free of his grasp. “I was causing him some well deserved bodily pain.”

Axel wipes the back of his hand across his face, leering at me in response. The still running blood smears across his cheek and he flashes me a vicious smile. “Evie here just attacked me for no reason. I think there might be something wrong with her head.”

“I am going to knock your head off.” I swing again and he leans back, narrowly missing the oncoming blow.

Why is he so fast?

“Miss Peak, cut it out right this minute!” Nurse Gillard shouts.

I freeze, snapping out of my hate-filled trance, taking a moment to process the horrified look on her face and the victorious one on Axel’s. “Well, shit.”

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