The morning after the party, I woke up looking and feeling like I had been run over by several semis. My arms and legs were heavy, as if I had somehow managed to perform a high-intensity workout in my sleep.
It hadn’t taken much more than a glance to convince my mother to allow me to spend the rest of the day in bed, sleeping off the random illness and finishing up the extra credit work she had demanded my teachers assign me.
I slide into the empty seat at our usual table in the cafeteria, Katrena scrunching up her nose at my displeasing appearance. “You look like hell.”
“That makes sense considering I feel like hell.” I shove a sweaty lock of hair behind my ear.
I had managed to leave the house looking remotely approachable, pulling my hair back into a tight braid, but due to my frequent bathroom trips it has become soaked with sweat now clings to my face. I have also given up on trying to fix it. “I have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday. I am hoping they can figure out what is wrong with me because I have been sick for the past week and a half. Maybe I picked up something in California.”
“Gross.” Katrena pops a piece of grease covered fried chicken into her mouth, chewing loudly. My stomach lurches violently, threatening to evacuate the remainder of its contents right here on the table. “Want me to go get you some soup or something? I think I saw chicken noodle in there.”
I take a few deep breaths and steady myself. “I’m good, but thanks.”
“Oh. My. God.” Monica, a girl from our shared homeroom class, gawks loudly. “Do not tell me that Weirdo 101 is heading over here. Wow, I seriously think she is about to try and sit with us.”
Monica Dukes has been a consistent pain in my ass since the seventh grade and, despite the multiple hints I have dropped about her finding new people to annoy, the ex-cheerleader recently turned goth queen has continued to join us on a daily basis.
Part of me knows it is because she gets off by being a nuisance to anyone and everyone, but there is another part of me that thinks it is because she still harbors some unrequited feelings for Curtis.
She just so happens to be one of the many girls he dated back when he was making his way through his list of suitors, but her ability to do nothing but complain about her life caused their relationship to end shortly after it began. This, of course, didn’t stop them from hooking up and it sure as hell hasn’t stopped her from bringing up their short-lived romance whenever possible.
She thinks it bothered me but, by the time we started dating, Curtis had dated half the senior class and all it did was give me more of a reason to think about making our break a permanent thing.
Man, I really need to stop being such a wimp and have that conversation with him.
“Afternoon, Eveline,” Alyssa greets, her cheeks pink with nervousness.
She stands there awkwardly, staring down at the table and fidgeting with the hem of her yellow sweater. She looks completely out of place, all bright color and cheerfulness, compared to the dark clothes wearing misfits that occupy our lunch table.
“Here.” I move, using all my body weight to force Monica’s chair over a few more inches to give me and my new seat some more room. “You can sit next to me. Don’t worry, I am pretty sure whatever I have isn’t contagious.”
She grabs a chair from the table behind us, placing it next to me. “Thanks. I wasn’t sure if you were serious when you told me to come find you next time lunch rolled around.”
“You’re the reason she’s here?” Monica gapes.
“Of course she meant it,” Katrena chimes in, ignoring Monica to beam at the girl sitting next to me. “And just let me be the first one to say, I am glad you accepted her offer. I have been hinting since the first day of school for you to join us but, the next time I need something, maybe I will have Eveline deliver the message for me.”
A deep blush spreads across Alyssa’s cheeks and she reaches into her messenger bag, pulling a brown bag from it. She spreads its contents in front of her onto the table and, unlike Katrena’s lunch that reeks of over-processed meat, Alyssa’s meal of fruits and vegetables smells heavenly.
Noticing the way that I am eyeing her food, she slides a container of strawberries and snap peas in my direction. “Want some? I always pack more than I eat, so there is more than enough for both of us.”
“Sure.” I grab one of the bright red fruits, popping it into my mouth and savoring the sweet flavor. “Wow, these are amazing. I mean, seriously, I’ve had strawberries before but these are something else.”
Monica huffs loudly, rolling her over-lined eyes. “Chill, Evs, it’s just fruit.”
“Do you always have to be such an insufferable bitch?” Katrena asks, jumping in before I have a chance to reply. “Just last week you were gushing about some shoe that came out and did we tell you to chill? No, we listened to you talk about it like God himself had made the damn thing. Ev’s been sick for days now so if she has finally found something she can ingest without turning into that little girl from the Exorcist directly afterward, then maybe you should shut up. Oh, and if you keep glaring at Alyssa, I am going to slap that fake ring right out of your reconstructed nose.”
I bite back a laugh, popping another strawberry into my mouth as Monica leans back in her chair and crosses her arms over her stomach in surrender.
Katrena may be on the smaller side, desperately fighting to reach five foot five and maybe weighing one hundred pounds soaking wet, but she packs one hell of a verbal wallop when needed.
Monica’s brow furrows as she cuts her eyes at me. “Sick all the time, eh, Eveline? Something you need to tell us? Are you and Curtis expecting?”
Curtis, who has been weirdly silent this whole time, chokes on his pizza.
Monica laughs. “Oh, never mind. Sorry, Curtis, I forgot the ice queen over there has refused to let you get past second base. That must suck considering she gave that burnout Garrett Jenkins her V-card freshman year but refuses to let you touch her. Well, if it isn’t you then either Evs is a walking virus or she spent her summer laying on something other than sandy beaches.”
I continue shoving fruit into my mouth, demanding the violent voices in my head telling me to flip this table and pummel Monica be quiet. She has been making snarky comments to me and about me for as long as I can remember but hearing her bring up the mistake I made the first few weeks of my freshman year, the same night I ended up puking on someone’s car, infuriates me to no end.
Why is everything setting me off these days? Seriously, my Algebra teacher corrected me today on something I actually did wrong and, yet, I wanted to take her knees out as she walked past me.
I need to distract myself. “I really can’t get over how delicious these are, and these peas are even better. You have to tell me where you got them.”
“I grew them,” Axel answers from behind me, appearing out of nowhere in his usual manner. He doesn’t ask permission to sit, choosing to grab a from another table, drag it loudly across the already scuffed linoleum cafeteria floor, and then place it next to his sister before sliding into it.
So much for distracting myself.
Monica’s blue eyes light up with opportunity. “Well, well, well, how odd is this? We were just talking about things Eveline could have spent her summer doing and, look, you show up right as we are.”
This vindictive comment is followed up by a loud yelp as Katrena kicks Monica right in the shin.
“You grew these?” I continue to ignore the snide comments, now more interest in the fact that Axel did something with his hands that wasn’t destructive. “Like, on your own? In a garden?”
“That’s literally what I just said.” He takes a massive bite out of the large roast beef and cheese sandwich he pulled from his book bag.
“My brother has a bit of a green thumb,” Alyssa replies, giggling like she just told some kind of joke. “He spends most of his free time either hiking or out back in his garden, planting new things and making sure those pesky weeds don’t take over. He is quite talented, if you ask me. You should see him when my mother or I offer to help him; he gets all annoyed and shoos us away.”
“So, it’s a therapy thing?” Curtis finally chimes in, clearly over the initial shock of having Axel sitting with us.
He eyes Curtis warily. “A therapy thing?”
“You know, from when you tried to...” Monica runs her index finger across her wrist.
“No.” Axel’s voice remains cool, unbothered. “It is not a therapy thing. It was a hobby of mine long before the incident.”
Curtis scoffs. “The incident? Oh, you mean when you tried to kill yourself. I think I heard something about that. Was that how you did it, you slit your wrists?”
Axel finishes off his sandwich, washes it down with the water from the large bottle sitting in front of him, and then folds his hands on the table in front of him. “Actually, it wasn’t. If you must know, I took an entire bottle of painkillers and then drove my car off Hyller Bridge. Any more questions about my personal life or my suicide attempt?”
Both Curtis and Monica remain quiet, clearly taken aback with the casualness in which Axel has answered their question.
Alyssa, however, looks like she is a minute or two away from crying. I hope for her sake she doesn’t because Monica will never let her live it down and there aren’t enough threats in the world to make her.
Thunder sounds outside and rain begins to fall heavily onto the school’s roof, filling the silence surrounding us.
Axel raises a brow and leans in. “No? Are you so sure? Okay then, I guess it’s my turn now. Since we are clearly taking this lunch period to get to know each other, I just so happen to have a few questions of my own. Monica, how long do you plan on lurking around this table before admitting that the only reason you do so is so that you can follow Curtis to his next class while interrogating him about he and Eveline’s rocky relationship? Or so that you can remind him of the steamy moments you two shared in the past and over the summer? And Curtis, speaking of your less than stellar relationship with our new mutual friend, when are you going to man up and realize that she just doesn’t want to be with you? Better yet, when are you going to realize that the reason she doesn’t want to be with you is that you went from the school nerd to a man whore who jumped in bed with anything that moved before deciding that Eveline was worth your time? Seriously, do you know how messed up that is? Obviously, you do, or else you wouldn’t be so worried that I or someone else is going to steal her away. The fact that you feel this way, by the way, means you have far more issues than I do.”
Curtis leans across the table, his glare locking with Axel’s. “Trust me, I have zero worries that anything would ever happen between you and Eveline; her standards aren’t that low.”
“Are you really that certain? I can think of a handful of girls who thought that I wasn’t their type until they realized I was. It’s all about trying new things.”
“You’re right, it is,” Curtis chuckles, leaning back in his chair. “So why don’t you try something new? How about, instead of being an arrogant douchebag with mental problems, why don’t you try being an arrogant douchebag with mental problems who didn’t fail at something as simple as killing themselves?”
My vision goes red and I explode with rage.
“What the hell is wrong with you two?” I leap out of my seat with enough force to push the table forward, sending the juice in front of Monica tumbling onto the front of her gray top.
Red liquid seeps into the fabric and she glares at me. “Bitch.”
“Really?” White hot rage screams through me. “I’m a bitch? You’re the one following Curtis around like some kind of scraggly animal looking for table scraps. We get it, the two of you slept together! When are you going to stop acting like that is some kind of accomplishment? It’s pathetic.”
Curtis chuckles lightly, only throwing fuel onto my rage-fire.
I cut my eyes at him. “And you! Did you seriously just insult whatever mental condition he may or may not have? Seriously, in front of me? I don’t know what it is with you these days and acting like you are so much better than everyone else but, let me remind you, you aren’t. You need to fix your shit because, as far as it and our relationship status stands, Monica is the only person who wants anything to do with you.”
It is at this moment that I finally snap out of it, realizing exactly how loud it is that I have been yelling.
All eyes in the cafeteria are on me.
My cheeks heat up.
I turn towards Alyssa, who is now looking more frightened by my outburst than insulted by anything that was said. “I am so sorry about this. Had I known that my so-called friends, Kay excluded, were going to act like socially inept savages, I would have joined you outside. Seriously, this is not what I had planned.”
“No, no problem. It, it’s fine,” she stutters.
“Come on, Ev,” Curtis pleads as I gather up my belongings. “Just let me explain.”
I whip around to face him, now feeling like I am only seconds away from hitting him. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare try and pull that kicked puppy dog shit act on me. No, this time, acting like some kind of remorseful child is not going to get me to forgive you. You have been waiting for my answer and, you know what, I think I know what it is. Grow the hell up, Curtis, that is my answer.”
I throw my bag over my shoulder and open my mouth to release more frustrations, to tear into him about everything from his shady past to how infuriating he has actually been, but I stop when I notice the indents on the chair that I have been gripping at.
Indents that look a hell of a lot like my fingers.