It's a Cruel World, Sir

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13 | Questions

I wake with a start, staring at my surroundings with a bleary gaze. The streetlights outside my window peek through a slit in my dark curtains, highlighting the mess the kids made the other day—bright nail polish and powder cover-up is a pain-in-the-ass to clean up. The dim, digital numbers on my alarm clock are blinking a red 4:43am, but I could’ve sworn I heard my doorbell.


Thought so.

With a groan, I throw my comforter off of me, trying to fight my way out of the sheets, and head out of my room. Too late I realize I’m not wearing pants, but they’re not important—the long-sleeve shirt I’m wearing is more like a dress anyway.


“I hear ya,” I grumble, stifling another yawn.

There’s a click as soon as my foot hits the bottom step and the door pushes open.


I blink, tilting my head. “Nikki?”

Sure enough, Nikki is standing in the doorway, nothing on except a pair of old boxers and a beat-up grey shirt. Even her feet are bare, the glow-in-the-dark nail polish on her toes glowing a faint green. Her long hair has been thrown into a messy bun, and it’s been so long since I’ve seen her without make-up, I’m almost surprised her eyes don’t have a permanent black line around them.

“Thank God you’re here!” she shouts, wrapping her arms around me.

I’m too tired to piece together everything and just stand there like an idiot as she squeezes me. “Uh...yeah. This is my house,” I mumble, confused.

“That’s not what I’m talking about.” Her tone suggests that I’m the mental one. “That text you sent me freaked me out!”

“Text?” I repeat intelligently.

She groans, closing the door before she shoves her way past the living room and into the kitchen. “Cupcake, I love you, but you’re like a zombie.”

“Well excuse me for being undead at five o’clock in the morning,” I grumble.

“Wow,” she says, stopping. “Is it that late already?”

“What the hell have you been doing all day?” I wonder as she starts ransacking the fridge.

“Well, Whit and I talked to Bri, but the only thing she went on about were the murders. Did you know the MO for the dude is, like, blondes with blue eyes? How cliché is that?”

I chuckle. “At least she doesn’t have anything to worry about it.”

“Right? But, get this: she wanted Leon to escort her home around five in the morning because, and I quote, ‘I’m naturally blonde, I’ve just been dying my hair since I was twelve’.” She scoffs, pulling out my half-eaten container of fudge. “Even if that’s the case, how can a thirty-something woman sacrifice a senior in college? Talk about selfish.”

The smirk happens before I can stop it. “You were jealous.”

“Wholeheartedly,” she grumps, not bothering to grab a spoon as she sticks her finger in the container and scoops some icing into her mouth. “And when I told Leon about it, the little shit said he was going to do it! What the hell, man!?”

I try really hard not to laugh, really hard, but in the middle of getting another finger-full of icing, she puffs out her cheek, much like Kay does when she doesn’t get her way, and it’s too much. “You—are—so—great,” I breathe out, holding my stomach. “Never knew—you were—the jealous type.”

“You know what?” she grouches. “I hate you.”

I snort but can’t retort because I’m laughing so hard.

“This is a serious matter, Cupcake,” she snaps, throwing the closest thing—in this case, the salt shaker—at me.

Salt flies through the air, covering the floor, and I narrowly miss the container, ramming into the counter.

“But come on, Nik! This is a historical moment—” I’m interrupted by the pepper shaker hurling at my head. “Alright, alright, point taken. What happened after that?”

“Naturally, I glared at him until he relented, and you know what he did? Do you even know?” She was still glaring, as if daring me to answer, so I kept my mouth shut, trying to keep from giggling. “He started laughing! Can you believe it!? The prick was enjoying my annoyance as much as you are!”

I grin. “So, what, it was just an entire fiasco to show how much you two are into each other already?”

Her face flushes as she glares into the fudge. “Not really.”

“It was! You were jealous of a woman that wanted him to walk her home, and he was probably laughing because you’re cute when you’re jealous.” I pause. “When you’re not trying to decapitate me with salt and pepper, of course.”

“Just wait until you get hot and heavy with some guy,” she threatens. “You can bet I’m going to be on the sidelines, tormenting you. Just you wait.”

I snicker. “Because that’ll ever happen.”

“I don’t know, Cupcake. You and Calvin could happen,” she says, grinning mischievously.

“No thank you,” I say, shaking my head. “I think I’ll stick to being single.”

“For now.” The grin is now bordering maniac.

“Anyway,” I say quickly, changing the subject. “Why are you here?”

“Oh, right.” She puts down the icing, looking at me. “What happened at school today—er, I guess it would be yesterday, wouldn’t it?”

I blink. “What do you mean?”

“I got a random text from you that said you were okay and Kaiser and Gibson were overreacting—whatever the hell that means—and then Calvin informed us you and Chase were together all afternoon on some sort of scavenger hunt!” Her voice is clearly accusing me of not telling her how Chase and I got so close.

I roll my eyes. Of course Calvin doesn’t mention that we were trying to find him. “It’s not what it seems like.”

“Oh really? So you and the hot professor weren’t shacking up?”

“What does that even mean?” I shake my head. “You know what? Don’t tell me.”

“Explain, woman!”

I sigh. “Calvin didn’t show up to school yesterday. Chase offered to go looking for him with me since Leon would kill me if he found out I went off by myself. End of story.”

Her face is suddenly serious. “He never told us he didn’t showed up.”

“Yeah, well, he didn’t,” I grumble. “And I spent most of the afternoon in the basement, which is where Chase found me—”

“He found you in the basement?” she asks, impressed. “How’d he manage that one?”

I give her a questioning look. “What’re you talking about? You’re the one who told him that’s where I like to hide.”

Now she looks confused. “No, I didn’t.”

“He said he called you,” I say.

“He didn’t,” she says. “How would he get my number anyway?”

I open my mouth to respond but stop. It never occurred to me that he shouldn’t have her number. “I never asked,” I say. “I just assumed he did.”

“Is that what you were talking about when you said something about Kaiser and Gibson just worrying too much?” she wonders. “Because I thought you were high or something.”

“I don’t get high and you know it,” I say dryly. “And yeah, that’s what that was. He said that they were worried because I wasn’t in class and thought something had happened to me.”

“Why would Kaiser care, though?”

“That’s what I was confused about,” I mumble, thinking. “Gibson worrying made sense because Calvin threatened him, but Kaiser? That woman would hold a party if I went missing.” His whole reason for searching for me was because Gibson and Kaiser were worried, but if Kaiser didn’t really care, then why bring her name into it? Unless the entire explanation was a lie. If that’s the case, then why did he come looking for me in the first place?

Nikki interrupts my thoughts. “Ignore Kaiser and Gibson for a minute. If I didn’t tell him where you were, then it had to be someone else in the gang. No one else knows where you used to hide. Hell, no one else knows we have a basement.”

“Yeah, but who? Calvin didn’t have his phone, so it wasn’t him.”

“Whitler was with me, and I’m sure it wasn’t Trent or Leon because they would’ve told us when we met up that something was going on, so that leaves...”

“TJ,” I say, pursing my lips. “But you’d think he’d tell Trent or Leon or something.”

“We’ll just have to ask him,” she says. Her face darkens, serious. “Either way, Cupcake, I don’t like this. If it was anyone but Chase, I’d tell you to stay as far away from them as possible, but since it is Chase, and he has practically saved you twice already... I don’t know. Maybe we should talk to him or something.”

“I’ll talk to him,” I decide. “It’ll probably be better that way.”

“Usually, I’d disagree with you, but I think you’re right. You know him better than we do, and if we all go in there, he might get defensive.”

I can’t see Chase getting defensive—if anything, I think he’d find it funny that we all tried to gang up on him—but I don’t want to drag anyone else in it.

“So...” Nikki has the fudge icing in her hands again, still ignoring the silverware drawer beside her. “Nothing happened between you two?”

I blink, caught off guard. “What?”

“Between you and Chase,” she elaborates, sucking the fudge off of her finger. “Nothing happened?”

“What would happen?” I ask incredulously.

She grins. “Oh, didn’t you know? When two really hot people meet and spend a lot of time together, things get steamy pretty quickly. Especially when one person is the embodiment of a Sex God and the other one’s a gorgeous pinkette.”

“Except I’m not gorgeous?” I say slowly, making it sound more like a question, and shake my head. “Seriously, Nikki, you’re freaking ADHD. One minute you’re serious and telling me to question him, and now you’re wondering if we did anything. Plus, earlier, you were talking about me and Calvin.”

“Hey! If you two did anything, then that would solidify any good feelings I had about him. He could’ve just been worried and searched the entire school for you,” she says. “And you know that was a joke. If Calvin stopped the perverted passes at you, it would be like he was your brother. Besides, you and Chase fit together better.”

“If that were the case, I wouldn’t be so suspicious, but we both know you just like scandals.”

“Give me a break here. It’s not every day my little Cupcake meets a guy! Especially one as delicious as Chase!” she defends.

I roll my eyes. “You’re psychotic.”

“Always!” she says, smiling.

The grandfather clock on the wall next to me suddenly starts dinging. When it doesn’t stop, Nikki glares at it.

“Stupid thing’s annoying,” she mutters as it quiets.

“Whatever time it is, that’s how many time it goes off,” I explain.

“Well, according to the damn thing, it’s now five,” she says, “which means Leon will be here to get you in an hour and a half.”

“You just want to get ready here?” I ask, turning to the living room.

“Sounds like a plan. Where’s the Bitch and her Creator, anyway?”

“Cassadee decided she wanted to explore some big city in Pennsylvania, and Mother decided she and Shaun hadn’t been to Hawaii together yet.”

“Why Pennsylvania?” Nikki wonders, heading up the stairs with me. “That’s not part of her extravagant tastes.”

“I think she wants Amish food,” I say absently.

She stops. “Why?”

“I don’t know nor care. You can ask her when she comes home Sunday.”

“She’s coming back? So soon?”

“Of course.” I make a face. “She met Chase the other day, and thanks to Mother, I think she’s on the hunt.”

I still remember the look on Mother’s face when Cassadee said she was going to PA for food. She looked appalled, like getting Amish food was not what she had hoped for her daughter to do. And when Mother mentioned Cassadee staying to get to know Chase, her eyes practically lit up before she promised to be back before Sunday.

“Oh hell no,” Nikki declares. “He’s yours; she can go suck off some politician.”

“That’s not the mental image I wanted this early in the morning,” I say, cringing. She starts snickering, and I glare at her. “And he isn’t mine for God’s sake.”

“I was wondering if you were going to comment on that.” She grins.

I roll my eyes and step into my room, yanking open the bottom drawer.

In the year I’ve known her, she’s made it a habit to leave her things at my house when she stays for weekends at a time. After a while, I just cleared out a drawer for her. It made it easier, and I didn’t have to explain to Mother why I suddenly had so many crop-tops.

I threw a random assortment of tops and bottoms at her, adding in a pair of underwear and a bra. “You can take a shower if you want.”

“Awesome!” she cheers. “I swear the Creator’s shower was made for the Gods.”

I shake my head, laughing as she leaves the room, and decide a shower sounds good.

Grabbing a pair of jeans and a long-sleeve, I head into my bathroom, stripping out of my clothes as I turn on the water. I wait until steam has filled the entire room, fogging up the long mirror above my sink, before I slip under the spray. It’s scorching, causing me to physically wince when the water touches my back, but I don’t pay much attention to it, mind drifting elsewhere.

As much as I love Nikki, I can’t tell her what happened after Bubba’s. She definitely won’t like that I stepped in the way of a burning cigarette, and then she’ll tell Leon, which will result in me getting yelled at for being reckless again, but that’s only part of it. More than anything, there’s no way she’ll believe what happened after the fight. I can still feel the sting of his tongue on the burn, see the look in his eyes as he made me promise not to do anything dangerous. Unconsciously, I look at my palm, staring at the spot where the welt should be. It’s red because of the hot water, but the remains of the burn are gone.

I spent most of yesterday rationalizing it away, but the most I could come up with was that there really wasn’t a welt there to begin with. Of course, if there was, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I first thought. After all, I only glanced at it long enough to see the damage before I rubbed away the ashes smeared on my hand. Maybe it had swelled a little and a bit of warmth soothed it, like the way cool water soothes itching. Mostly, though, I figured the tense, on-edge feeling I had had all day, coupled with the adrenaline from fighting, had messed up my memory. Either way, I’ve been trying to forget about it. Dwelling on weird things that I can’t explain always makes my imagination run away, and I don’t want to deal with vampires and werewolves that can heal with saliva just because my mind enjoys playing tricks on me.

The water runs cold before I get out of my mind, soothing the welts that had accumulated thanks to the scorching temperature. I sigh and reluctantly turn off the spray, grabbing a couple of towels from the rack next to me. I throw my hair up in one towel, using the other to cover myself, and brush my teeth, getting rid of the morning breath I can practically taste.

Nikki joins me after I pull on my long-sleeve luckily. I still haven’t told her about the gashes only a few centimeters from the tip of my wrist. They haven’t had time to heal, swollen and red and so deep they haven’t even scabbed over yet.

“Nice shirt,” Nikki comments, smirking as she grabs the mouthwash.

I look down and finally see which shirt I picked out. It’s a pastel purple V-neck with “FRIENDS buy you lunch. BEST FRIENDS eat your lunch.” written in teal, block letters.

I chuckle, sliding on white leggings.

Christmas last year, in an effort to get me better clothes and, in Nikki’s own words, “to help strengthen the bonds of friends,” she and Whitler had taken me shopping at the mall. We spent most of our time in JC Penney and Sears, but Hot Topic and Spencer’s was definitely a stop on the way. Around noon, Whit had offered to buy us lunch, and, after Nikki got Subway (failed attempt at eating healthy) and Whitler and I got Chinese, Nikki ended up eating most of our cheese wontons.

“Real friends share their food,” she had said through a mouthful of egg rolls. “Especially when it’s Chinese.”

It was pure coincidence we found the shirt in Hot Topic after that.

“I want to do your make-up,” Nikki decides, conjuring a palette of eyeshadow.

“Uh, why?”

“Because you never do anything more than eyeliner and some lip balm—it gets old. Let’s go all out today.”

When she says all out, she means all out. She spends almost an entire hour working on a smoky eye that fits both of us. Eventually, she goes with a smoky eye that has green accents along her eyelid to match her green half-shirt, and a smoky eye with purple accents to match mine. I’ll give her credit—they look great—but then she pulls out lip gloss.

“I don’t want to wear any,” I argue, back against the wall.

“C’mon, Cupcake! Stop being such a baby!”

“There’s no point wearing it,” I defend. “It’ll just rub off after lunch anyway!”

She sighs, exasperated. “There is a point; it’ll make your lips look kissable. Now come here!”

I dodge her advances, causing her to face-plant into the wall. “Who cares if my lips are kissable!?” I demand, running out of the bathroom.

She tries to grab my wrist, but I manage to twist myself out of her reach, rushing down the stairs.

“What’re you—” Calvin is standing in the middle of the living room, confused.

“Save me!” I order, hiding behind him.

“From wha—”

This time, Nikki comes crashing into him. “Let me at her!”

Thankfully, Calvin holds her shoulders. “What’re you doing to Cupcake?”

“Trying to put some lip gloss on her!” She yells, trying to force her way to me.

He looks back at me then her. “What color?”

“Why does it matter!?” I demand.

“Clear,” she says. “Anything more would make her lips too pink.”

Calvin mulls this over for a second and releases her. “Okay.”

“Traitor!” I shout, running towards the kitchen.

“Get her!”

They both chase after me, stalking into the walkway with creepy grins. I chuck a pan at them, but it only hits Nikki, leaving Calvin open to grab my wrists. I hiss at the pressure, and Calvin lets his hands slip up my forearm, sending me a brief apology—quietly, so Nikki doesn’t hear—and forces them behind my back. I try to struggle free, but he has me at a weird angle, giving me only enough room to wriggle around.

“Perfect.” Nikki’s grin is scary as she unscrews the lip gloss.

It’s heavy and greasy—disgusting. After a few seconds, my lips start tingling. “I hate both of you.”

“Looks good on you,” Calvin says.

“Doesn’t it make her lips look irresistible?”

He smirks, releasing me. “Definitely.”

“And if you try to wipe it off,” Nikki inserts when I raise my hand to do just that, “I’ll make you wear one of my outfits. One of my favorite outfits.”

I stop. “You wouldn’t.”

Her smirk is downright evil. “Try me, Cupcake, and I’ll make you wear it to school.”

Nikki has two categories when it comes to clothes: Okays and Favorites. Okay outfits are the ones she usually wears when she hasn’t slept for three days because she has an exam. They’re usually jeans, sweats, less-than-skin-tight shirts, and a few jackets here and there. Favorites, however, are the ones she wears when we’re going to Bubba’s or MJ’s Joint. They’re skimpy, tight, and hot. She’s actually wearing a Favorite right now. The green crop-top shows the pink bellybutton ring dangling just above the waist-high denim shorts. Her knee-high boots look painful, the heel making her at least two inches taller.

All that aside, I have wounds throbbing with pain as we speak, and most of Nikki’s Favorites don’t include long-sleeves.

Calvin must realize this as well, because he’s looking at me with a look that says, Do you really want to risk it?

My arm drops. “I’ll get you back for this, Nicole.”

The casual smile’s back on his face. “Shit just got real.”

Nikki rolls her eyes. “Can’t wait, Vixen.”

We stare at each other for a few seconds, neither of us blinking.

“Alright, ladies, we have to go,” Calvin intervenes, draping an arm around my neck. “Don’t be so angry, Cupcake; you look hot. Besides, Nikki’s right: you’re lips are already drawing me—”

I elbow his ribcage, being sure to dig right between two. “No one asked you, pervert.”

“Always in the ribs,” he groans.

I ignore him, stepping around to get to the door. Nikki pats his back sympathetically, but snickers as we head to the car.

Everything’s quiet as Calvin manages to slide in the driver’s seat and start up the car, making it a point to moan in pain when he twists to get his seatbelt. Neither of us show any sympathy for him this time—Nikki actually laughs when we hit a bump and he winces.

“Still don’t see why lip gloss is needed,” I grumble when Calvin stops his whining.

“For Chase, of course,” Nikki chirps. “Since you have to talk to him alone, it’s the perfect opportunity to look as alluring as possible.”

“Alone?” Calvin repeats. “What?”

“Really?” I ask, ignoring him. “Nikki, he’s a professor. He’s a 28-year-old professor, for that matter. What in God’s name do you think he’s going to find ‘alluring’ about a 19-year-old delinquent?”

“Uh, everything?” she says, snorting. “C’mon, Cupcake! Marriages with at least an 8-year difference are more likely to succeed than others, and, let’s face it, none of us act our age. If you ignore the idiots that work at school, everyone is always commenting on how mature we are. Plus, what older man doesn’t want to get some from someone younger than them?”

“How about men who don’t want to go to jail?” I can’t believe we’re talking about this. I spend one afternoon with the guy, and she’s already planning a wedding.

“You only go to jail if you get caught,” she says. “Besides, who’s gonna believe that someone would risk their job to sleep with ‘Vixen Tyler, the youngest member of Leon’s gang.’” She does a really bad impression of a deep voice, rolling her eyes.

“You had that prepared, didn’t you?” I accuse.

I can see her grin in the review mirror. “Since you told me he gave you his jacket,” she confirms.

I groan. “Calvin, tell her she’s crazy.”

He doesn’t say anything.

I look at him, leaning over a little to get a better view of him in the review mirror. His eyes are hard as they watch the road, lips set in a thin line.


He blinks, snapping out of it, and meets my eyes. “What?”

I furrow my eyebrows. “Are you okay?”

“Fine,” he says stiffly. “I’m going to agree with Cupcake on this one, Nik. She doesn’t need to be going after someone 9 years older than her.”

“I’m not going after him, dammit!”

“Oh yeah?” Nikki sends him an impish smile. “Then who do you think she should go after?”

He glances at me. “No one,” he says easily, shrugging. “She’s too young to be dating.”

She snorts. “Coming from the guy who’s been sleeping with people since he entered the ninth grade.”

“That’s different,” he says, returning her smirk. “There were so many girls just dying for me, it was a crime not to let them have it.”

We both roll our eyes at that.

Because of the rough-housing this morning, we’re later than usual. The parking lot is filled with cars, some people hanging out around their vehicles and chatting. Most rush out of the way when they notice Calvin driving, which makes it easier for us to get to the parking spot next to Leon’s truck.

“What took you guys so long?” Leon asks as Nikki jumps out of the passenger’s seat.

"Someone—” she looks pointedly at me “—decided to be stubborn.”

“I wasn’t being stubborn,” I grumble, slamming the door. ”She was being unreasonable.”

“How was she—wow, Cupcake, you’re wearing make-up today,” he says, distracted.

I groan, slamming my fist on the trunk of the car. “I always wear make-up, dammit!”

“Let’s try not to put a dent in the Honda,” Calvin cracks, rubbing his car gently. “She’s sensitive, you know.”

Everyone ignores him.

“Yeah, but it’s usually only black shit around your eyes,” TJ injects.

“TOLD YOU!” Nikki cheers, pointing at me.

“You have no right to talk, TJ,” I say, glaring at him. “You wear eyeliner too.”

“Not as often as you do,” he argues.

“But I don’t wear it around my eyes like a raccoon!”

“That’s because I make a cuter raccoon than you!”

“Alright, time to stop,” Leon says. “You two are acting like kids.”

“He started it,” I mumble childishly.

He shoots me a disapproving look as the bell rings. “Just go to class and behave yourselves.”

“Whatever, dad," I grumble.

Everyone piles towards the doors, heading to their lockers, but I snag TJ just before he goes to follow them.

“You’re not allowed to hit me!” he warns, covering his face. “I’ll tell Leon.”

I snort. “Really, TJ? That’s like running and telling mom.”

“If it keeps you from bruising my cheek, I’ll take it.”

“I’m not going to hit you.” I roll my eyes. “Seriously. If I was, I’d just wait until we were in Chase’s class.”

“Huh,” he says, pursing his lips as he thinks about it. “I guess you’re right.”

“Anyway, I want to ask you something,” I explain.

“What’s up?”

“Did you tell Chase about the basement?”

“What?” His eyes widen, surprised. “No. Why would I?”

I bite the inside of my lip. “I was just wondering.”

He eyes me suspiciously. “Cupcake, you’ve been pretty secretive lately. Just yesterday, Calvin said you and Chase were hanging out all afternoon together.”

“Not you too,” I groan. “Look, that was just because Calvin never came to school, okay? I asked you because when Calvin never showed up, I hung out in the basement and Chase found me. I just wanted to know how he knew where I was.”

“Well, you better hope none of us told him,” he says seriously. “That’s one of those secrets Leon would kill if someone found out. You know if someone presses us for that kind of information, we’re supposed to lie and go straight to him.”

I deflate, sighing. “I forgot all about that,” I admit. “But, honestly, out of all the secrets we have, the basement isn’t too important, so it’s not like it’s that big of a deal.”

“By itself, it’s not that big of a deal,” he says, “but the reason why you hid there is. Because Macintyre...” he trails off, letting the rest hang in the air.

My jaw locks. “Yeah. I understand.”

He looks apologetic. “Come on, Cupcake. Let’s go.”

I follow him into the school, face dark. Just the thought of Macintyre and what he did to Whitler makes my blood boil.

Nikki’s on the other side of the door, leaning against the wall. When she sees my irritated expression, she decides to stop whatever she was going to say and instead follows me to my locker. TJ pats my back sympathetically and heads to his own class.

“You okay?” she wonders.

“Peachy,” I say tersely.

“Yeah, I can tell,” she says sarcastically. “Is he the one who told him?”

“No,” I answer. “I forgot that the basement thing is a secret between the seven of us.”

Her eyes widen. “Shit! I completely forgot we had secrets!” she says, but cringes. “Well, not completely. It’s hard to forget—”

“That’s what TJ and I were discussing,” I interrupt sharply, stopping her.

Understanding hits her, and she drops the conversation.

She walks me to class like she’s supposed to, trying to think of something to distract me. When she notices the looks that are being thrown at us, her face brightens in absolute joy.

“Everyone’s looking at us ’cuz you look hot,” she whispers when another guy glances over here.

I roll my eyes. “No, it’s because you look hot; I just happen to be standing next to you.”

She hits my shoulder. “Stop selling yourself short like that.”

“Sorry, sorry,” I say, exasperated.

Canty sneers as I walk into the room, but Nikki catches his eyes, sending a more menacing glare his way, so he keeps whatever insult he was going to say to himself, glaring at his desk.

“He’s in a lovely mood today,” she growls.

I shrug. “He’s always angry; don’t let it get to you.”

She huffs but doesn’t say anything else about it. “I’ll see you in Chase’s class.”

“Okay,” I say, taking a seat.

She leaves, sending Canty another warning look before she walks out of the room.

“Bet you liked that,” he says sinisterly. “Must be nice having an army of mindless idiots follow you everywhere you go.”

My eyes narrow. “Wanna repeat that?”

He snarls at me but doesn’t say anything else.

“That’s what I thought,” I say savagely.

The remainder of Macintyre has me agitated, not a good state for an asshole professor who needs to be knocked on his ass to belittle my friends. It seems like he understands that much, though, because he starts his lesson, voice edged with anger.

It drags on at a snail’s pace. I can’t tell if that’s only because I’m eager to get this conversation with Chase over with or what, but it feels like it’ll never end. When the bell finally rings, I practically leap out of my seat, nearly knocking the poor junior next to me on her butt.

Nikki smiles when I walk out the door. “Can we talk about how much I love Dr. Sandy?”

“The Bio professor?”

“Yeah,” she says. “She teaches my Advance Bio II class, and this guy kept trying to get me to blow him. Like, one, ew—he doesn’t even compare to Leon—and two, at least be a little more subtle than that. What happened to foreplay?”

I stare at her blankly.

“Right, anyway, just when I turned to kick his ass, Dr. Sandy told him that girls didn’t put small things in their mouth and sent him to the office! Can you believe it? She told the dude he had a small—”

“I get it!” I interrupt. “Geez.”

She snickers. “I’m sorry. Forgot: virgin ears.”

“Bite me,” I grumble.

“I’m just glad there’s another sane professor here,” she says. “Chase is great, and nice to look at, but we need a nice female professor. You have no idea how much it sucks having to tell Kaiser that you need to go to the nurse’s for cramps. I think she purposefully acts like she doesn’t understand why just to try to embarrass me.”

“She probably does,” TJ inserts, suddenly appearing out of thin air.

“How would you know?” Nikki wonders. “You haven’t taken Earth Science.”

“No,” he agrees, “but she stood in for Dr. Flannigan one day while she ran an errand, and just to be a bitch, pointed out that I sat ‘too close’ to Trent. To which she went on a discussion about same-sex couples in need of ‘fixing.’ I thought Trent was going to hit her.” He grins at the memory.

“Why didn’t you tell us?” Nikki demands, stepping into Chase’s room. “I wouldn’t mind taking a swing or two at her for that comment either.”

“Agreed,” I say darkly.

He waves it off. “I can fight my own fights, ladies. Plus, Trent taking up for me was enough to snuff out any hurt feelings I might have had if I cared what she thought.”

We take our seats, chatting amongst ourselves about the various things we wouldn’t mind doing to Kaiser for her comment.

“Honestly, though, I wouldn’t mind ripping out her intestines and using them as straws,” Nikki says, her face almost scary serious. “It’s like Noah; fucking homophobia pisses me off so much, I practically see red.”

“You never really get used to it, but you end up expecting it.” TJ shrugs.

“That doesn’t excuse it.”

“What are you three talking about so seriously?” Chase wanders over to us, curious.

“Nuisances that should be annihilated from the world,” Nikki says matter-of-factly.

He tilts his head. “Oh?”

“Kaiser went on an ignorant rant about TJ’s sexual orientation,” I explain. “And Nikki was talking about how good she’d taste with ketchup.”

Nikki makes a face. “Now, now, Cupcake, that’s gross,” she reprimands. “Ketchup is so bland. I would much rather have ranch.”

I roll my eyes.

Chase chuckles. “You might want to be careful. If anyone else hears your conversation, they might spread rumors you enjoy human flesh.”

“One, never say ‘flesh’ again.” TJ shudders, grimacing. “Two, you missed Nikki’s freshmen year. I think everyone honestly thought she cooked elementary children for dinner.”

She looks thoughtful. “Oh yeah. That was interesting. I brought eggs and rice to school, and everyone thought the eggs were pieces of lungs or something.” She grins. “Priceless.”

“Mr. Kingsley,” someone says, demanding his attention.

We all look at Harley.

“I was wondering if you could help me with this homework,” she says innocently. “I’m having a hard time with it.”

“What are you having problems with?” he asks nicely, heading to her desk.

She says something about the personality characteristics—wondering which one of the types was less likely than the others, I think—and he clarifies it for her, pointing to something on the paper with a light smile.

“She definitely did that just because she was jealous,” Nikki says, kicking her feet up on the back of the seat in front of her. “Bitch.”

“Well, we can’t hog all of his attention,” TJ says. “People might start thinking he actually likes us.”

“Wouldn’t that be a scandal~” She smirks pointedly at me.

I pretend I don’t notice.

Unlike Canty’s class, Chase’s isn’t nearly long enough. I’m torn between getting the conversation with him over with and never having it in the first place, but we actually learn interesting stuff during his lessons. Not to mention his class is just plain fun. He knows what to say to make people laugh, and he has just enough sarcasm to entertain Nikki and TJ.

When it’s over, I’m not surprised to hear people groan in disappointment.

“Feel free to complete the online survey,” Chase concludes, smirking. “It will be extra credit.”

I sigh and stand up.

“We’ll meet you at lunch,” Nikki says, an implied ‘good luck’ in her voice.

TJ looks confused, but Nikki pulls him along with her, smiling at Chase on her way out.

I wait until the rooms cleared and Chase takes a seat at his desk. I didn’t notice it before because I was annoyed about Kaiser, but he’s in casual clothes today. No leather jacket, sadly, but the black tee makes up for it, clinging to him snuggly. His dark-rinse trousers look good on him, almost as good as jeans.

As if just noticing me, he looks up. “Is something wrong?”

I bite the inside of my lip. “I have a question.”

He raises a brow, inviting me to continue.

“Yesterday, you said you called Nikki,” I say slowly, “I was wondering how you got her number.”

He studies me. “I got it from the notecards,” he says easily.

“Notecards?” I repeat.

He opens a drawer, pulling out a stack of lined notecards. “The professor before me had all his classes fill out these cards with their contact information, remember?” He holds them out to me. “Nicole’s cellphone is on one.”

I flip through them. Sure enough, there’s a card for each student with his or her address, class schedule, and number on it, the one Nikki filled out even has her personal cell.

I never expected him to have it covered so well. If he had the lie this well-constructed, why pick someone I talk to all the time? Why make it so obvious?

Handing him back the cards, I look in his eyes, burning with questions. “I know you didn’t call her.”

He simply looks amused. “You do?”

I nod. “But this isn’t adding up.”

“Oh?” He smirks.

“I get that Nikki is the person who’ll most likely know where I am, and I’m sure if it was anything else, she wouldn’t hesitate telling you, but why choose her when you know I’m probably going to ask her about it?” I mumble, thinking out loud. “I mean, you had it planned out down to how you got her number, but you didn’t anticipate I’d ask her about it? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Are you insinuating I wanted you to catch on?” His eyes are practically gleaming.

“Did you?”

“I wonder.”

His evasive answers are starting to irritate me. “How did you know where I was?” I demand.

“It’s not as if it’s difficult, Vixen,” he says simply.

“It is difficult,” I retort. “There are hundreds of classrooms in this school, not to mention the four or five janitor closets, and you expect me to believe you happened to stumble into the one closet that has the door to the basement? How would you know about the basement anyway? Hell, how’d you know I was still in school?”

“Maybe I figured you wouldn’t leave without one of your friends,” he offers easily. “Maybe I searched for you right after my class—I’m done by two, you know.”

“Alright, then let’s go with that,” I grumble, crossing my arms. ”Why would you search that long?”

“I told you, did I not? Geoff and Alice were worried.”

“Kaiser doesn’t give a damn about me,” I say bluntly. “If I went missing, she’d pray I was dead, and Gibson might care if he thought Calvin would skin him, but I doubt he’d talk to you—”

“Vixen.” He interrupts me, voice deep as he looks me in the eye. “That isn’t what’s bothering you, is it?”

I chew on the inside of my cheek, staring back at him.

No, it isn’t. Yes, I wanted to know why and how, but I also wanted to know if what happened yesterday actually happened, if I was just seeing things or...

I go to the door, looking around. No one’s in the hallways—all are either at lunch or in their homerooms—but I shut it anyway. When I turn back to him, his eyes are silver. “When you... when you... licked my palm...” I avoid him, going over to the board, absently playing with a dry-erase marker. “Did you... do something?”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to be more specific than that,” he says, almost playful.

I glare at him. “All I know is that, one minute, there’s a welt swelling on my palm and the next it’s gone.”

“So you understand.” His voice is low, soft, accent thicker than normal. He stands up, practically crowding me against the board. “Do you remember what I said afterward?”

Do not purposefully put yourself in danger again.

I nod.

“As long as you remember that, you won’t have to worry about how I knew where you were or why the burn was gone.”

He’s too close. I can feel the heat coming from him, nearly burning me.

“You look good today,” he adds, an artful smile on his lips. “The lip gloss is a bit brash, but I can see why you put it on.”

My face heats up. “Nikki made me,” I say indignantly.

“I should have known.”

Without warning, he pulls away from me, separating us enough so I can breathe again. Seconds later, the door slams open. Whit looks outraged, face black with anger. Nik is behind her, apologetic.

“What’re you two doing?” Whitler hassles.

“Talking,” he says smoothly, innocent.

“You’re too damn close to be ‘talking,’” she says fiercely, coming closer. “Get away from her.”

If only she would have seen how close we were a few minutes ago.

By the slight smirk on his face, I can tell he’s thinking the same thing. Without saying anything, he moves away, slightly confused.

“Let’s go, Cupcake,” she says, grabbing my wrist. I cringe at the pressure, but she’s so angry, she doesn’t notice.

“Whit, calm d—” I try, but Nikki shakes her head.

“And you.” She glares at Chase. “If I find you two in a room by yourselves again, I swear to every deity out there, I will castrate you.”

Chase arches a brow.

“Come on, Nikki.”

“Sorry, Whitler, but I’m going to stay here and talk to Chase for a minute,” she says. “I have a couple questions about the homework tonight.”

I give her a questioning look, but she winks, smiling. Whit doesn’t give us a chance to say anything else, yanking me to the door.

“Fine,” she says crossly. “See you next class.”

Well, that took forever. I spent almost a month on the beginning of the chapter alone because I couldn’t get it right no matter how much I tried; it was exhausting.

Happy reading, cupcake~<3(:

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