It's a Cruel World, Sir

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09 | Just Chase

Nikki latches onto me as soon as I step back in the room, both of her hands clasping mine uncomfortably tight. “What happened?”

“Nothing really,” I say, shrugging. “He basically won her over.”

“Yes!” she cheers. “I knew she couldn’t resist his charm for long.”

“It has nothing to do with charm, Nik,” Leon says. “He’s a good person.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Since when did you decide this?”

“Ten minutes ago,” he replies easily, face serious.

Nikki laughs, shaking her head. “I guess if Leon’s decided it, it’s official.”

“Yeah, I mean, ten minutes is a serious amount for Leon; I can tell he’s thought hard about this,” TJ jabs, snickering when Nikki shoots him a glare.

“I’m this close from killing you,” she announces.

TJ opens his mouth, presumably to make some sort of snarky response about Leon just to piss her off, but Trent hits his shoulder, stopping him short. “Drop it, TJ.”

He pouts but does as he’s told, deflating on the couch.

There’s a click and the door opens, showing Chase and Whitler.

“Where did you two go?” Nikki asks, slyly winking at me as she heads over to them, “Making out in a corner is illegal, you know.”

Whit rolls her eyes but doesn’t acknowledge Nik past that. “I guess it’s fine,” she states, looking at Leon.

He nods coolly, like he’s not surprised. “At least you didn’t hit him.”

“It was a challenge,” she admits, throwing a glare in Chase’s direction. “The bastard is unbelievably irritating; I’m surprised Cupcake can put up with him.”

“Homicide isn’t far from my mind when I’m with him,” I give her.

Chase raises a brow, smirking, but doesn’t say anything.

“Well, now you’re stuck with him,” Leon says, looking me in the eye, “and you better listen to him.”

This time, it’s my turn to roll my eyes. “Whatever, father, I don’t need a chauffeur. The person that did it is stuck in the school, remember?”

“Drop it, Cupcake,” Calvin intervenes, “Just be thankful you’re with Chase instead of one of us.”

“Fine,” I grumble. “Let’s go.”

He holds the door opened for me, making TJ and Nik squeal, and follows me down the hallway. His steps are easy, light, as he walks carefully behind me, like he’s in the middle of some thought I’m not allowed to hear.

“Vixen!” a voice calls out.

I look down the hall, tilting my head at Ryan, whose jogging towards me. His dirty blonde hair is erratic, soft brown eyes almost worried as he measures me with them. The red tee is disheveled, jeans wrinkled, as he touches my shoulder.

“What’s going on?” he asks, finally looking me in the eye. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” I say easily, polite. I don’t know why he cares but might as well assure him. “Just in trouble.”

“In trouble?” he repeats. “Is someone trying to hurt you? I heard that there was something going on with your desk...”

My mind ignites with suspension, but I try to shove it to the back of my thoughts.

I chuckle, carefully brushing off his touch. “Nothing like that,” I lie, aware that Chase has tensed uncomfortably next to me. “I meant: I’m the one who threatened someone, not the other way around.”

He doesn’t look convinced, arm falling to his side as he does one last look-over. I use it to my advantage, though, and check his clothes more carefully. Nothing seems to be in his pockets, no bulge to hint at a hidden weapon, and no trace of white powder to suggest he’s the culprit.

But if that’s the case, why does Chase seem so uneasy?

Ryan finally notices him, blinking as he catches his stare. “Oh, you must be the new professor,” he says. “Why are you here?”

“I’m here to escort Ms. Tyler to the police station,” he says, going along with my fib. “Ricin in a public place is a serious offense.”

“Yeah, but why are you taking her? What about an actual cop?” Ryan pushes.

“Because the police are already busy with collecting and documenting evidence,” he says smoothly. “There aren’t enough of them in this small town to do both at once, and since a friend of mine works at the station, he asked me to take her.” He steps in front of me slightly, like he’s hiding me. “Now, if you’ll excuse us.” His hand moves to the small of my back, urging me to move towards the back doors.

I obey; face blank until the door closes behind us.

He doesn’t say anything as we get to his car. The other night, when he took me home, I couldn’t really tell what kind of car he drove, but now I can distinctly see the deep blue paint, the dark ragtop. Thanks to Trent and his never-ending obsession with cars, I know it’s a Pontiac Solstice, I’m just not sure what model it is. In fact, I’m not even sure how many models there are.

“It’s a GXP,” Chase says, answering my thoughts. “2009.”

I nod, but still not sure what that means.

The sound of his car purring to life fills the space between us as he pulls out of the parking lot. Soft rock is playing on his radio, calming the nerves I didn’t know I had.

“Why did you lie?” he asks, breaking the silence.

“Because it’s easier that way,” I answer, propping my elbow on his armrest. “It’s easier for everyone to accept that I’m the bad guy. Plus, if they found out the culprit hasn’t been caught, it’ll cause panic.”

He lets that sink in, processing the words before asking, “Is he someone you don’t want to worry?”

I snort. “Not hardly,” I say, looking at him, “I only know him from my Earth Science class; we’re not close or anything.”

“Then why lie?” he questions; it’s not particularly demanding, just honestly curious. “If it doesn’t matter whether he worries or not, why make yourself look like the assailant?”

I sigh, leaning my head on my hand. “Why cause other people to worry when whoever put poison there was obviously aiming for me? Why make other people freak out just because someone thought it was necessary to threaten me?”

He mulls over the rhetorical questions, rolling them around in his head.

“Most people already can’t look me in the eyes; something like faking a threat in order to get out of class or whatever they come up with won’t be that hard to believe. This way, no one has to panic unnecessarily.”

It’s silent, the minutes ticking by with nothing but the sound of Elton John in the background.

“I wish I could understand the way you think,” I hear Chase murmur.

“What do you mean?”

He shakes his head, a shadow of a smile on his lips.

But I’m not letting him out of this one. “Is there something weird about the way I think?”

“No, not weird,” he says slowly, the smile definitely coming through now, “more like strange.”

“What does that mean?” I grumble. “Is there a difference?”

“There is,” he asserts, stealing another glance of me. “Weird would mean it was odd, abnormal, but strange means it’s more unexpected, uncommon; not many people think like you.”

“I don’t feel like I think that differently,” I mumble, trying to follow what he’s saying.

“For someone who’s supposed to be a horrible human, you’re rather thoughtful,” he explains. “Instead of taking up for yourself, you don’t go on the defense until someone’s attacking your friends; instead of worrying about the threat to your life, you worry more about your friends’ safety; and instead of simply telling the truth, you lie and make yourself seem like the criminal to keep from alarming others. It’s rare to find such a good person.”

I blink several times, failing to process what he just said.

Good person.

Good.

“I think you have the wrong idea, Chase,” I say quietly. “I’m not a good person.”

His eyes are molten silver when they look over at me, warm and honest. “You are, Vixen, and it only proves my point if you haven’t figured it out yourself.”

I can’t bring myself to argue with him when he looks at me like that.

The silence feels like it sparks the air with heat as I stare into the silver. The green flare in them is almost entirely taken over by the time he breaks the silence.

“You called me Chase,” he observes.

I blink but nod a little. “Everyone’s decided that you’re a friend now, so there’s no point in treating you like a stranger.”

He raises a brow. “Calling me by my last name was a sign that you didn’t trust me?”

“Sort of.”

“Does that mean you trust me?” His eyes are intense, smoldering.

“Yes,” I breathe, but instantly regret it when I see the smirk forming. “I mean, it’s not like it’s that hard to gain my trust,” I lie. “You should worry more about Whitler; she’s the worst of us.”

“She let me take you home,” he points out.

“Yeah, I guess she did...”

“VIXEN!”

My head snaps up, eyes wide at the sight of both Cassadee and Mother standing at the door. I hadn’t even known we had made it to my house, let alone that they were watching us.

“People you know?” Chase asks, expression serious as he eyes them.

“My mother and sister,” I say blankly, opening the door.

“I knew it was you!” Cassadee yells, pointing her finger at me like a little girl, “Who is that with you? That guy you’re screwing?”

“What!?” Mother decides to pipe up, looking at me wide, disbelieving eyes, as if she hasn’t had her run of her workplace.

“Who else would it be?” I say dully. To Chase, I mutter, “You might wanna get out of here; things are going to get ugly.”

There’s a click. He’s actually unbuckling his seatbelt. “But if I left you alone with them, I’d lose Ms. Hall’s trust.”

There’s definitely a smirk on his lips.

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