It's a Cruel World, Sir

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14 | Second Threat

“Can’t believe you were alone with him,” Whit mutters, aggressively biting into her pizza. “Should’ve hit him just for the hell of it.”

I sigh, staring at the carton of milk in front of me. Every time I try to defend Chase, she gets more irritated, giving me a nasty “You’re just saying that because you don’t want me to worry,” so I keep my mouth shut, waiting for someone else to get annoyed with her.

“One hit and he would’ve gotten the point...” she says between chews. “Just because it’s been a while since I’ve been in a full-out brawl with someone doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be able to do any damage...”

Leon shoots her a look. “You’re overreacting, Whitler. It’s not like he was doing anything to her; they were probably just talking about class work.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” she retorts. “You didn’t see how close he was. Freaking pervert was almost breathing down her neck.”

“He was not,” I say a little too defensively, rolling my eyes. “There was a good yard separating us.”

“Still too close,” she grumbles stubbornly.

“If Cupcake’s alright with it, don’t you think you should stay out of it?” he suggests, raising an eyebrow. “It is her choice.”

“I’m doing this because she’s Cupcake!” Whit growls. “You think if she didn’t like it, she’d do anything? Huh? As long as it doesn’t affect any of us, she won’t do a damn thing, and you know it!”

I sigh. “I told you it’s different now.”

“What’s different?” she demands. “It hasn’t even been a year, Cupcake. How can you get over... how can you be all better after nine months?”

“It’s in the past.” I shrug. “And comparing Chase to him isn’t going to help anything.”

“But what if he—”

Leon slams his palm on the table, eyes hard. “Shut up, Whitney,” he says darkly. “Vixen has a point: if we compare everyone to him, it’ll only hurt us because we’re letting him take over. Chase hasn’t done anything to warrant your hatred anyway, and after yesterday, I thought you’d be more open-minded. Now lay off.”

His tone ends it. Whitler deflates in her chair, glaring at her food, but not saying anything. Trent and TJ look at him curiously, but he doesn’t pay them any mind.

“What happened yesterday?” I wonder. They’d skipped classes to go look for some hint at Preston’s plan, so they weren’t there to see him shutting up the kids in his class making jeers at me.

Everyone looks at him like he just gave something away.

“He helped you out,” he says easily enough, shrugging as he takes a drink. “Or did you forget your adventures with him yesterday?”

I eye him suspiciously.

“Okay~” TJ inserts himself into the conversation suddenly. “Now that we understand it’s up to Cupcake what happens between her and her professor slave, let’s talk about something else.”

“Professor slave?” I repeat incredulously. “What—”

He ignores me, looking pointedly at Leon, so I drop it, glaring. “Noah’s giving me a headache,” he says matter-of-factly. “I’ve been thinking about ripping him a new asshole.”

“Agreed,” Trent says lowly.

Leon tilts his head, both confused and amused. “What’d he do?”

“What didn’t he do is more like it,” Trent grouses out.

Everyone looks at him quizzically, even Whit. It’s always interesting, seeing Trent get worked up. Unlike Calvin, who generally hates any sort of conflict, Trent simply can’t be bothered—it’s not necessarily because he hates it, more like it requires more effort than he has in him to give.

“He seems more agitated lately,” TJ supplies, disregarding our suggestive looks. “This morning, he didn’t bother pretending to be a good guy, just shoved me into a wall—with Kaiser watching. She didn’t do anything of course, but he usually waits until no one’s around so he looks like some angel; that’s what makes it fair! Because that banshee was looking, I couldn’t do anything to retaliate and had to deal with a few kicks.” He lifts up his shirt, revealing barely-noticeable red marks imprinted on his abdomen. “Look at my beautiful skin! He’s lucky he kicks like a three-year-old, or I would’ve dropped him right then and there, Kaiser or no Kaiser.”

My anger flares. “You won’t have to,” I say simply. When I go to stand, though, Leon grabs my wrist. A flash of pain travels up my forearm, but I don’t flinch, glaring at him. “What?”

“Uh-uh,” he says, shaking his head. “If you start a fight now, Mrs. Grayson won’t be fooled into thinking he did it this time.”

“So? Leon, he—”

“—will get what’s coming to him,” he finishes. “For now, we’re going to eat lunch and avoid getting suspended.”

I reluctantly sit down, scowling at my milk.

“Wonder what has him irritated enough to lash out,” Whit says, thinking. “Did something happen at home?”

“Not that I know of,” Leon says thoughtfully, shrugging. “Haven’t been home for a while.”

“You’re always home,” she argues.

“Uh...” He clears his throat, awkward. “I’ve been staying at a friend’s.”

Her grin is wide and suggestive. ”Girl friend’s?”

“Maybe.”

“You and Nikki are sleeping together, aren’t you?” TJ says bluntly. “You don’t have to tell us; we already know you two’re going at it like rabbits.”

“We aren’t sleeping together,” he says, affronted. “We’re just sleeping together.”

“Well, now that that’s all cleared up.” TJ rolls his eyes.

“I meant we’re not having sex,” Leon mutters. “We’re sleeping in the same bed and shit, but that’s all we’re doing.”

“And how’d that happened?” Whit asks skeptically.

He sighs, ruffling his hair. “You know how she’s afraid the of the dark?” he checks, continuing when we all nod, “Well, when I took her home last Thursday, she was freaking out because the lights on her street had gone out, and she had no power, so I just... stayed, I guess.”

“And never left,” TJ adds, grinning.

“That’s so cute~” Whit sings.

“How’d we even get on this subject?” he demands. “We were talking about freaking Noah just a second ago.”

“You forgot that Nikki and Whit have magical powers that force romance into any conversation, no matter what the original topic was,” I explain, “and you walked right into it.”

He takes a bite of his pizza, disgruntled. “I only said I wasn’t home.”

“Yeah, and looked guilty as hell about it,” TJ says, wriggling his eyebrows.

They laugh, but I tune them out, letting them dissolve in the background as I rest my head on my hand. The weather has taken a turn for the worse, rain pounding on the windowed-walls like water bullets. I try to focus on it, try to keep my thoughts on the droplets sliding down, but my mind wanders to Noah anyway.

I can’t figure out why he’d throw caution out the window like that. Noah believes reputation is everything (why do you think no one knows Leon’s his step-brother?) and strives to be the usual do-gooder. Everything he does revolves around people believing him to be a good guy, especially the professors. He stays after soccer practice to help clean everything up, stays late after school to ‘study,’ and even spends Saturdays tutoring underclassmen in Religion, so for him to attack TJ with everyone around means something happened to really piss him off.

The bell rings, ending lunch, and I stand up absently. Leon says something about Nikki meeting me at my homeroom to walk me to my next class, but I vaguely hear him, trying to think as I make my way to the classroom.

Yesterday, he seemed okay, more than okay, actually—he was downright ecstatic to know I was by myself. In fact, if it weren’t for Ryan intervening...

I hit my head with my palm, causing everyone near me to send startled looks my way.

Of course. Noah’s pissed that Ryan stood up for me! How could I forget that scuffle in the hallway? It was the entire reason I was hiding in the basement in the first place...

Groaning, I turn around, forcing my way through the crowd.

Noah is exactly where I expect him to be: in the library, head buried in a book. If I didn’t know any better, I’d think he’s reading—but I see the earbuds tucked in his ears, almost perfectly hidden by the hoodie he’s not allowed to wear.

The librarian looks at me like I’ve threatened her and makes a quick getaway in the back, pretending to look for a book in the teachers’ lounge.

Good. She left us alone.

I sit down next to Noah casually. He doesn’t notice, however, doesn’t even bother looking up, so I shove the biography he’s reading down on the table, revealing the sports magazine underneath.

“What the—” He stops when he sees me, sneering. “What do you want?”

“You screwed with TJ this morning,” I start, angling my foot. “Why?”

“Because I fucking wanted—”

I kick his knee, digging the tip of my shoe into the bone. “What?” I ask sadistically. “I didn’t catch that.”

“Psychotic bitch,” he grunts, hand disappearing under the table.

I go to kick him again, but he manages to dodge it, almost falling out of his chair in the process. Quickly, he gathers himself and stands up, once again putting up fisticuffs.

I snort. “I don’t have time to fight. Besides, we both know how it’d end.”

He relaxes a little, fists easing up. “Then what do you want?”

“To threaten you,” I say simple. “If you’re mad at me, then take your anger out on me. Jumping TJ just because you know he can’t fight back not only makes you coward, it also makes you pathetic.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he hisses.

I sigh and snatch the front of his shirt, dragging him down to my eye level. “Just because you’re being a piss-baby about someone taking up for me doesn’t mean you can take it out on my friends. If I find out that you’ve attacked someone else like that, I’ll use your bones to make furniture for Whit, and your eyes to make a nice pair of earrings for Nikki. Got it?”

He tries to act tough, but I see him shiver, so I let go and head out of the room before the librarian comes back, confident that he gets the message.

The halls are empty again, noise coming from the cafeteria as the Freshmen and Juniors eat lunch. I entertain the idea of hiding in the basement, but think twice about it: Leon said Nikki was picking me up after homeroom, and if I’m not there, she’ll probably flip.

Like everywhere else, things die down when I walk in. It’s probably more from surprise than intimidation, though: it’s a well-known fact that the seven of us hang out in the parking lot during our homerooms. Because of Preston’s threat, however, Leon put a stop to it for the time being, something about not giving them a clear target.

They avoid eye contact as I walk by, careful to keep their heads down, and I roll my eyes, plopping in a chair in the back corner. No one says anything else, just steal glances of me as the time ticks by, even the professor, Mrs. Cleaver, is silent, carefully working on something at her desk.

Now I remember why I never come to homeroom.

Thankfully, Nikki shows up at the doorway ten minutes before the bell, looking apologetic. “Ready?”

“Definitely,” I mutter, standing up. Mrs. Cleaver doesn’t bother saying anything as I walk past her, choosing instead to sink lower into her chair.

“Did someone die?” Nikki wonders, watching as they all tense under her gaze.

“Not yet,” I say irritably, “but if they keep staring at me like I’m a bomb, I might have to make an exception.”

She laughs, wrapping an arm around my neck. “It’s okay, Cupcake. You should see the way everyone reacted when I went to homeroom the other day. I thought they were going to shit themselves!”

“Ridiculous,” I grumble, removing her arm. “If we wanted to attack any of them, you’d think we would’ve done it already, considering how often they talk behind our backs.”

She shrugs. “That’s what happens in a delinquent school. Someone has to make everyone else look better, right?”

I snort. ”Please. If anything, we make them look worse just by being here.”

“Also true,” she agrees.

We head down the hallway, steering towards her locker to get her books—she won’t have time to grab them after dropping me off at my class since her class is on the other side of the school.

“Wonder how it is for Leon,” she says absently. “After all, he’s basically the leader, right? If we were ranking people like that anyway.”

“I guess he could be the leader.” I tilt my head. “Huh. Now that I think about it, we do everything he says.”

“That’s because he knows what he’s talking about,” she says defensively, throwing open her locker.

“I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; I was just stating a fact,” I say, chuckling. “He got angry with Whit at lunch today and the moment he told her to drop it, she did. Didn’t even argue. And when I tried to give Noah a piece of my mind, he grabbed my arm and told me to stop. I did what he said without thinking about it, actually...” I blink. “Wow. He really is the leader.”

It’s her turn to laugh. “Does that make me the second-in-command?”

“You wish. If anything, I’d say it’s Whit or Trent.”

“Why Trent!?” she demands, sorting through her messy locker. “I mean, Whitler I get, because she’s older and knows how things work, but Trent? Really?”

“It just depends on how the ranks work. Are we doing this from strongest to weakest or brains and brawn or what?”

“Good question,” she says. “Let’s ask Leon who he thinks is his right hand.”

“Yeah, because that’ll go well. We both know he’ll say you just because of the whole thing you two have going on right now.”

She grins. “So? All’s fair in love and war.”

I roll my eyes. “Whatever.”

“Wait! Why’d he get mad at Whit today? And why did you want to kick Noah’s ass? Not that you shouldn’t. Personally, I think Noah could use a good ass-kicking, but that’s besides the point.”

I forgot she wasn’t there for the whole thing and explain how Whit was still angry with Chase, and TJ’s change of subject after Leon got irritated with her. She growled when she found out that Noah still hit TJ even after he was down, but definitely turned dreamy over Trent taking up for him.

“That’s awesome,” she says, smiling. “Especially since Trent never gets angry.”

“Yeah, it was something,” I say, turning down the hall to get to my locker.

"Something?” she repeats incredulously. “Trent, the guy who thinks that simply talking is too much trouble, lost his temper for TJ! That’s everything, Cupcake!”

“I get it, I get it,” I say quickly, hoping to avoid one of her tangents about love and cute couples and changing for others. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Uh-huh,” she says doubtfully.

“What did you talk to Chase about anyway?” I ask, changing the subject. “It must have been something pretty long if you missed lunch and part of homeroom.”

She looks at her nails critically, going for nonchalant. “Oh, you know. The homework.”

“Yeah right,” I snort. “He doesn’t give homework, Nik, and the extra credit is opinionated—there aren’t any right or wrong answers.”

“I was talking about the worksheet from the other night,” she says. “I’m probably not gonna have enough participation points, you know, so I have to do the worksheets he assigns. I’m having problems distinguishing between the different types of personalities.”

I raise an eyebrow.

“What? There’s too many for me to keep up with.”

“Nikki, you memorized the entire periodic table in under two hours—I think you can handle sixteen personalities,” I say, turning the lock on my locker.

“Yeah, but the elements on the table are straightforward,” she insists. “The personalities are more complex than that.”

“That still—”

White powder is stuffed in my locker, nearly spilling out on me as I open the door, but I jump back, forcing Nikki to the side with a reflexive shove. It manages to get the ends of my jeans and shoes, but most of it lands on the floor. I stare at it with wide eyes, but something shiny distracts me. Hanging from the hook on the back, covered in white, is some kind of envelope. Thoughtlessly, I step forward, reaching for it, but fingers encase my wrist gently, stopping me.

I look up, surprised.

“You shouldn’t touch unknown substances, Ms. Tyler,” Chase says. “You don’t know what it could be.”

I open my mouth to retort but stop. There’s something in his expression that I haven’t seen before. Something that makes me close my mouth and nod.

Nikki isn’t as upset as I thought she would be, looking at Chase calmly. “What’re we going to do?” she asks him. “Should we tell the others and take her home or what?”

“We need to get this off of her before we do anything,” he says.

She nods. “Then you go with her to do that, and I’ll grab everyone else. In the back parking lot where the professor’s park, work for you?”

“That’s fine,” he agrees.

“Got it. Meet you two there~”

I blink at her retreating figure. Just an hour earlier, Whit was freaking out because we were alone together. Now, Nik’s telling us to go somewhere where there aren’t any cameras.

I shake my head.

God only knows what Whitler’s going to do when she finds out.

“Come now,” Chase orders. “Before the hallway fills with people.”

“But what if someone accidentally touches it?” I ask, staring at the mess. “We need to at least—”

“It isn’t poison, Vixen,” he says shortly. “It’s only rock dust.”

“How can you possibly know that?” I demand.

His eyes are gleaming, the silver in them already taking over his entire iris. It’s different from usual, though. Instead of the milky, light look, it’s harder, deadly, like solid steel, dark silver swimming in it. “I just do.”

“You’re angry,” I say without thinking about it. He does look angry, or, at least, on edge. I can see the tension along his arms and around his jaw, the muscles tight and rigid.

“Angry?” he echoes. “No, not particularly. I am, however, a little ardent.”

“What do you mean by that?” I ask, confused. “Fierce or really devoted? Because neither makes much sense.”

“A little of both,” he decides after a stony second.

I tilt my head. “Because...?”

He smirks, but it’s severe. “I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you.” He grabs my hand, light but firm nonetheless, forcing me to follow. “Now let’s go before the bell rings.”

I huff, irritated, but go along anyway.

When he reaches the door to the back, he effortlessly opens it.

“That door’s always lock,” I say, distracted. “Wonder why they left it opened...”

Either he doesn’t hear me, or he ignores me.

It’s still raining, but now it’s a light drizzle, barely noticeable. Immediately, Chase kneels on the wet ground, lightly dusting away the powder with his hands.

Something hits me, and I look down at him quizzically. “If it’s just rock dust, then why wouldn’t you let me get the letter?”

“Because the substance around the envelope wasn’t rock dust,” he says. “I think it even contained ricin. Whoever did it probably hoped you’d be curious enough to open it and accidentally breathe in just enough to incapacitate you.”

“How do you know that?” I demand. “It all looks the same to me.”

“The smell,” he says simply, looking up at me as he finishes getting off what he can. “Ricin comes from the castor oil plant, so it smells more like castor oil, making it different from rock dust, which is sharper with a hint of soil.”

I stare at him incredulously. “No one’s sense of smell is that good.”

He smirks. “Yes, you’re correct.”

“Then how can you—”

“Maybe one day you’ll find out,” he says cryptically, standing up. “For right now, your friends are here. And one isn’t exceptionally happy that I’m alone with you again.”

Sure enough, the back door breaks open, hitting the wall with a bang, and Whit steps out, looking both furious and worried. Before I can say anything to explain, she takes a swing at Chase, planting her fist into his abdomen. He doesn’t react, only raises an eyebrow. Whit, however, retracts her hand, swearing.

“Motherfucker,” she hisses, cradling her fist with her other hand. “What the hell is your stomach made of? Fucking diamond?”

“That’s what you get for hitting him,” Nikki says, unapologetic.

“Yeah, being the mindless, angry one is Cupcake’s job,” TJ continues, “or did you forget?”

I glare at him, but he only snickers.

“Are you okay, Cupcake?” Leon asks, more serious.

I nod. “I didn’t touch the poison.”

“But there was so much of it, and Nik said it got on your jeans.”

“That wasn’t poison,” I say, glancing at Chase. ”Apparently, it was rock dust. The stuff in the envelope was poison, though.”

“Jesus Christ,” Calvin mutters. “They’re not playing around, are they?”

“No, they’re not.” Leon’s face darkens. “Guess it’s time we got serious.”

TJ and Nik’s face brighten. “Really?” they ask at the same time, hopeful.

“Really.”

I groan. Great. Just what I needed.


Believe it or not, I actually wrote most of the next bonus chapter before I started on this one. Was quite tempted to post it before this, but decided against it~

Oh! And don’t forget to follow me on Tumblr, army-of-cupcakes.tumblr.com, to invade my privacy, find out about upcoming chapters, and maybe even new books~ Or, be nosy and ask me questions on ask.fm (you’ll never guess my username) (it may or may not be morbidcupcake) (but you never know). There’s a link on my profile to that.

Happy reading, cupcakes~<3

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