The Angel,The Devil,The Nerd

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Chapter 7 - He knows...

CHAPTER 7 - HE KNOWS...WAIT,HE KNOWS??

When I entered the gym, once ready, I found all my peers, like always, spread around it, chatting with their friends, but ready to start class. I was punctual, oddly, but the teacher wasn’t there yet.

What caught my eyes was the odd sight of somebody who’s become familiar this week but that, despite being already January, I’ve never seen in this class … Eric.

He was sitting on the left side of the bleachers, fourth row, pretty far from the other kids sitting. I bet those kids chose to be far from him. He was leaning over, hands clasped together, looking as stern and impassive but … angry as always. Pensive too, I’d say.

Sometimes I wonder what is it that bothers him so much, but then I remind myself that it’s none of my business, especially considering that he most probably hates me and would gladly tear me apart. Although I guess he would do that to anybody if he didn’t have any self control, because I can’t really think of something I might have done to him to make him hate me. I mean, the first time he ever realized I existed was on Monday, when I sat in between him and Kyle and my life took a sudden turn. If for the better or worse, I wouldn’t know.

I lowered my glance when Eric’s eyes snapped to me, like he’d felt I was watching him and I could feel his eyes studying me for a long moment as well. When I glanced back up, just to see if he was trying to make my head explode just with his intense gaze, I was startled and kind of agitated to realize his gaze was still on me, yes, and it was intense, yes, but … it wasn’t that hard as I would have expected it. It wasn’t gentle either, but he didn’t look like he wanted to murder me...

I tried to be kind and … crack a smile, but just as I did, he looked away, kind of … irritated. I guess he really doesn’t even stand my face.

When the door of the coach’s office opened, my eyes focused on that spot, but I was surprised to see a man walk towards us instead of Mrs., well, Coach Smith. "Hello, everyone." The man greeted, his voice booming as it echoed in the gym, approaching the middle of it. "Mrs. Smith left to reach her husband I don’t know where and don’t really care. I’m Coach Nichols. You can only call me that. I am, and that’s pretty obvious, your new PE teacher." He explained, then mentioning us his rules, like never wanting to be contradicted, everyone must participate if they want to pass this course, no exceptions, and so on.

Said we’ll be playing different sports, that he doesn’t expect us to be all champions, but at least we must try to improve, considering also that our grade will depend on our performance in class. I didn’t even worry, I mean, my mark was already decent and while I am not really a sportswoman, I at least can play with a ball without fearing it.

Soon, we were set to start warming up. There were a few kids on the bleachers that didn’t move and coach Nichols noticed them, so he quickly walked towards them. "Didn’t you hear?" He boomed, his voice always strong. "I want everybody participating. Everybody. No exceptions." The two kids that were on the right side of the bleachers looked at each other and then joined us on the field.

Still sitting on the fourth row of the left side was, guess who, Eric Rivers in all his glory, looking like he didn’t give a damn about the new teacher’s orders.

"You!" Coach Nichols called, in front of his side of the bleachers. Eric barely glanced at him. "What’s your name?" No response. I was one of the last in the line we’d formed to exercise, so I was pretty close and therefore I could see the coach’s jaw clenching, his voice getting stronger as he repeated the question.

Eric fixed his icy blues eyes on him and they held a stare contest for a moment, the first one being as calm as ever, the other one quickly losing his temper. Somehow, I’d say it was better that it was the coach to be losing it …

Coach Nichols placed his hands on his hips, his muscles flexing in the movement, letting us see that he was pretty muscular.  "I asked you a question. He roared, even if his voice wasn’t too high.

Eric seemed indifferent, his eyes landing on his phone that he was holding in his hand. Coach Nichols gritted his teeth and turned to us, who were all staring at the scene. Some were confused, some others were just amused, knowing it wasn’t a first for Eric to act like that. Me, I was neither. Didn’t really think much of it.

Eric’s eyes scanned the gym as the coach kept roaring his menaces, till they landed on me. I forced myself to smile and I would have sworn his lips twitched a little, but in a smug smirk, I guess. I won't wonder about the reasons. It's just be part of his couldn't-care-less attitude.

"I give you three seconds to step off those bleachers and join your classmates or I send you straight to the principal’s and he’ll see to fix your behavior’s problems." The coach gave his ultimatum.

One more smirk. Eric was obviously indifferent to the coach’s threats and it doesn’t surprise me, I mean, he’s seen the principal’s office so many times already … actually, it’s already odd that he joined us today, because he’s been skipping this class since the beginning, so much that I never even knew we had it together. After all he is known to skip those classes he isn’t interested in, and those he does attend, apparently he doesn’t pay any attention.

The coach started counting ad right when he reached three, Eric stood up, brushing off invisible dirt from his jeans, and descended the bleachers, coming face to face with the new teacher.

"Let me guess, you are who every teacher warned me about." The coach commented, studying him as he stood there, unfazed, like always.

That teachers have warned the new coach about Eric, it doesn’t surprise me, even those who don’t have him in his class know him. Coach Nichols checked his list, scrolling through it. "Eric Rivers." He named. "You’ve got a record of nonattendance in this class." He mused. "I should fail you just for that." Eric shrugged at that, uncaring.

"I’m new here, so all I know about you is what my colleagues told me." Coach Nichols commented, staring down Eric, who didn’t give a damn about all the thing, like always. "But I’ll give you a chance." The coach mused and then glanced at us, who were witnessing the scene wordlessly.

Even if only with the corner of his eyes, Eric glanced at me once more … I guess because, differently from others, I was the only one that seemed not at all amused. I couldn't say what was in his eyes as he watched me,but there wasn't hatred. Actually,I think his gaze was just blank. Why was he looking at me of all people,I have no idea, but my heart was thumping already at the mere thing.

I was startled to hear my name, though. "Watson. Natalie Watson." The coach boomed and I, even if with my heart suddenly racing, took a step forward. "Here." I responded, voice normal … I hope. I was agitated, yes.

The coach turned to me and, oddly, smirked. "Natalie Penelope Watson." He repeated, reading his list. I nodded. "You’re a perfect student, I’m told." He commented. I shrugged, not really knowing what to respond, trying not to mind the mocking whispers of my classmates. Among them, there was also Dana, the Queen Bee I mentioned, who just so happens to hate me for some reason I never understood. She was the first to mock, of course.

It’s odd, you know. I’m invisible and yet every time I lock gazes with such a popular and mighty girl I’ve never had anything to do with, she glares at me, like I’ve wronged her in the worst way possible. Like Jamie always told me, I should be thankful that Dana never decided to act on her hatred towards me, well, not … often. I mean, she did mock me and at times pranked me till middle school, but quit in freshman year, even if still glaring every time possible.

Coach Nichols looked in between me and Eric and I had the feeling something bad was about to happen. "Split in pairs. Now." The coach ordered to everybody and I looked around to see if I could catch somebody left alone like me, but …"Watson!" The teacher called, startling me again. His voice is so booming he winds up being even scary.

"With Rivers." Oh, good God … is it a conspiracy? Why do I always end up pairing with him? Not that I hate him or dislike him or whatever, but, like I said and said and said, he scares me.

Some kids turned to look at me, stopping their search for their partner. I bet to better see the poor guinea pig of the day. When coach Nichols gave me a dirty look, I moved towards Eric, trying not to look too anxious or aggravated.

"As long as I don’t see improvements in his behavior, you’re gonna be paired up with him." The coach stated. I sighed, even if inaudibly, but I think Eric caught it, because his eyes landed on me. What sense does this thing have? Being close to me in class will make of Eric a better student? I don’t think that’s possible, especially because I know we won’t even talk.

"I don’t need this nerd to behave." Eric commented, his tone harsh and pretty scoffing. One more point to my idea: he hates me. Coach Nichols fixed his eyes on him, his nose flaring. "You’ll do what I say, Rivers. Or I fail you." Eric snorted and the coach gritted his teeth. "How about an extra assignment then? Something like an essay you guys will write together."

"Oh, please no …" I wrapped my hand around my mouth once I realized I’d talked out loud and their eyes were on me, both surprised and aggravated. I inhaled deeply. Hope Eric didn’t take it wrong …

"It’s just that … E-Eric and I already have a project to work on together …" I tried to mend. Coach Nichols smirked. "Then this one will only enhance my theory." He commented. I sighed, rolling my eyes, but then I locked gazes with Eric and … he seemed … not offended, but clearly aggravated. I didn’t just sign my death sentence, did I? He's so vindictive,they say...and I just practically rejected his presence,so to speak. Technically,since he doesn't like me,he shouln't even be offended,but it might be a pride thing...or I'm just paranoid maybe. Only the paranoid survives says Finch,though...

"Five extra laps around the gym would be better." Eric commented through gritted teeth and my heart dropped. He seriously doesn’t even want to see me. Does he hate me this much? And why? We barely even know each other.

Coach Nichols looked in between us,well,more like scrutinized, like to see if there was more than we let know between us, in terms of conflicted relationship,that is. I wonder if to his eyes it looked like I was afraid of being bullied by Eric,which I wasn't, I mean,he may be a bad boy,at least that's what they call him,but he's no bully. As far as I know,he doesn't just prank or torment kids. He just makes trouble of different kinds.

I was flustered, Eric was annoyed … maybe the teacher would understand and let us live our separate lives … maybe. "Go reach your classmates on the field." He ordered. No mercy apparently. I know girls would kill to get the chances I am getting of being close to this particular guy,but I am just afraid, because he makes me nervous and what if I say the wrong thing? For what I know,he's touchy. Gets riled up very easily and I'm so clumsy...already having to work with him in the afternoon is reason of stress for me,now having even to worry about throwing a ball in the wrong way and irk his ill-tempered character...

I sighed and nodded, starting to walk towards my peers who were already jogging, but before I could move to join them, I felt Eric beside me. Unstoppably, I spoke: "I-I’m sorry if it sounded like I don’t want to be around you." He barely glanced at me as he, walking past me, retorted: "Like I even care."

Oh, well, that me not wanting to spend time with him didn’t bother him was predictable, but … I couldn’t help but wonder if now I was seriously on his black list or not. His reputation is stuck in my mind and the fearful side of me keeps telling me he’s dangerous and if we end up alone together …

***

I was exhausted already. Five laps around the gym. This new teacher must be crazy. Mrs. Smith never made us work this hard. I, as well as some others, were still wheezing, trying to catch our breaths, when he ordered us to grab a ball and position in front of our partner, saying we’d exercise passing.

Me, as I raised the ball to pass it to Eric once we were in front of each other, I couldn’t help but think I was giving him a weapon to strike … yet, he passed it gently, was skilled, but not vindictive as I expected.

Overall, the whole thing lasted ten minutes, then we were split in teams and I was finally far from Eric and his blood-freezing gaze, actually quite grateful to the coach for not having made us exercise in pushups and whatsoever because in that case I would have had to touch my partner and...well,for how much any girl would beam just at the thought,I shuddered. Not because he repulses me,but because physical contact isn't my thing and to start with him...do I sound prude? Yes,I'm prude. Sue me.

Although… against my every self-preservation instinct, I lingered in the gym once everybody was already in the lockers room and reached Eric, wanting to apologize,pushing back the thought of him snapping and possibly smashing me against a wall for no reason. "I’m seriously sorry if earlier I sounded like I …"

"I – don’t – care, Watson." He interrupted me, making me lose all the courage I’d gathered up, especially because he gave me one of his murderous looks that would scare off even the bravest person.

"I don’t want you around either." He stated coldly. "But I …"

He froze me in my spot with a deadly glare and I gulped. "I-I’m just sorry if I was rude. T-that’s all." I concluded, walking past him to reach the safety of the lockers room where everybody was. If there are witnesses, he’s not gonna murder me … right?

Yet, I flinched when I felt him grab my arm and pull me back. I was already mentally going through all the prayers I knew when he spoke: "Apologies accepted. But I don’t want you around. Screw that stupid project." I inhaled deeply as he hissed.

I realized I was quivering when Eric let go of my arm, looking at me like I was pathetic, and I felt like I truly was, for being so scared of him when all he’d done was grab my arm.

"W-we need to finish it …" I argued lowly, but regretted it when I felt his menacing presence closer to me. "You can finish it without me." He spat.

I turned around, both to act badass and face him, and to see if he did something I should worry about … like, I don’t know … stab me from behind. Overreacting, I know.

"W-we are supposed to work on it together …" I argued, trying not to sound like a scared puppy. He narrowed his eyes at me, taking a long minute to stare me down before replying:

"Considering you quiver at the mere thought of being alone with me, I don’t see how we can." He mused. "I-I don’t quiver …" He arched an eyebrow at me. "You even stammer, Watson." I sighed, crossing my arms in protection.

"I-It’s just that you scare me …" I bit my tongue too late … he smirked, coming closer, so much that I almost became one with the wall to avoid coming in contact with his body, although he wasn’t touching me.

"I scare you, huh?" He scoffed. "Good. That means you are as smart as they say." I looked up at him to see him smirk wickedly, which had me even more frightened, but I tried to keep it.

"I-If you didn’t just growl and snarl and give me deadly glares every time, m-maybe I … maybe I wouldn’t be scared of you and wouldn’t mind working with you." I inhaled deeply. "Like I did the other day."

He scrutinized me for a moment, then glanced behind me, towards the lockers room, and once more back at me. Did he just check if we were completely alone? Oh,my...I'm so dead,aren't I?

Yet Eric grabbed my chin, raising it so that I was looking into his icy blue eyes, which were glowing in an odd way. Those eyes would be so beautiful if only they weren't so cold...

"You think I hate you?" He asked me. Even if warily, I nodded, his fingers still gripping my chin. "Why should I hate you?" I shrugged. "I-I don’t know … you just … always glare at me. E-Even if we barely know each other."

His jaw twitched, not sure if in a smirk or what. "We barely know each other." He repeated in an odd tone,something in between scoffing and incredulous. "You sure?" I arched an eyebrow at him as he asked that. "Uh … yes … I … I introduced myself to you on Monday and you barely even …"

"That doesn’t mean I don’t know you, Watson." He smirked. ‘Cause I do know you. Always have. I know about you much more than you imagine."

Instinctively, I backed up, freaked out and scared actually, but he didn’t budge.

"For instance, I know you used to be allergic to peanuts." He told me, once again in front of me. "I know you’re always late, no matter what. I know that Dana has kind of bullied you a little till middle school and you’ve been accurately avoiding her since then."

He placed a hand on the wall above my head while I tried not to give away my anxiety. "I know you don’t know why did she quit tormenting you while I do." Eric implied. "W-why did she?" I asked. He smirked. "Because I told her to." I blinked my eyes, confused. "Y-you? W-why?"

But he didn’t reply, just smirked once more as he placed his other hand beside my head. "I know you’re alone because your best friend left. I know you spent four days crying your heart out when, in sophomore year, your grandmother died."

I gulped. How the hell does he know so much about me? His smirk got less scoffing and more irritated.

"I know you’ve been crushing on Kyle Romano since freshman year but never had the guts to tell him." I inhaled deeply. Ok,now I was seriously freaked out. How the hell does he know such things?? Only Jamie knows about my crush on Kyle!

"H-how do you know all of this?" I asked,really afraid I had been on his black list since ages and now my time was coming... ok,maybe I seriously watch too many crime shows,but...believe me,if you knew his reputation...I've always wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt,because all I've ever seen of him is that smug boy standing beneath the stairs every morning,but...well, I hear rumors and...there's nothing encouraging,may I tell you.

Eric shook his head. "I just do." He stated. "B-but …"

"I don’t stalk you, if that’s what you think." He smirked. "You can sleep tight, Natalie." He assured me as he lightly pinched my cheek,his eyes darkening in a way that would have had me cowering back if I'd been able to move.

"I-I already do." Duh,I sounded stupid,I know I did,in fact he smirked once more.

"Good." He pulled back and I breathed again. "One piece of advice." Eric said, backing up. "Do not trust appearances. There are angels more rotten than you imagine and devils less demonic than you think."

I frowned. Did he mean what I think? I watched him walk away, always so self-confident, so badass, so secure. If there’s one thing I might envy him, it’s his self-confidence and self-esteem. Sometimes I wish I had at least a half of those.

I tried not to think too much of his words. How does he know such things about me? That I was allergic to peanuts, that’s pretty easy to know, considering I had a reaction in 5th grade after eating a bar and he was probably there. Although,that I was and not am anymore, only someone that has seen me eating bars even after that and finally got the necessary white cells might now. And that's already creepy because that means he watches me. 

Dana tormenting me and me being always late, pretty much everybody knows. Although … why did he tell her to quit? Why did he even care if she tormented me? I can only guess he pitied me.

Not that Dana ever bullied me in the strong sense, but till middle school she would prank me and mock me and so on. I’d hoped she’d change in high school and I was relieved when she started avoiding me completely, aside from normal glares, but I never imagined it had been someone to convince her … Eric Rivers of all people!

I’ve always taken for granted that he had no idea I even existed, I mean, while I still preserve the memory of that smile that lovely little boy gave me in 4th grade, I took for granted he forgot immediately. Especially because we never talked.

Gee, it should creep me out that the bad boy knows this much about me and I never even noticed, but all I can think of is how does he know and why does he even care?

Although, I should be content enough with knowing he doesn’t hate me, which should mean I am … safe. Maybe.

***************************

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