It's a Cruel World, Sir

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02 | Fight

By the time we make it, the cafeteria is completely filled. The size of four classrooms combined, it’s not nearly big enough to house all three-hundred sophomores and seniors, so there are plenty of people crowded around each other. Each table, meant for ten students, has at least twenty, some sharing seats, others on their knees. The lunch line is backed all the way to the hallway (we passed a lot of people in line on the way here), and the cooks are scrambling about, trying to get each student food as quickly as possible.

On the left, placed conveniently next to the long windowed-wall, is a row of circular tables. Right in the middle is a single table with only a notebook on top: our table, the only place bare of the chaos.

“Looks like Leon’s already here,” TJ says.

“Awesome.” Nikki beams. “I’ve been missing my eye candy.”

I smirk. “Nicole? With Leon?”

“Don’t judge me,” she says. “Have you seen that boy’s abs? They’re practically edible.”

TJ nods. “Yes. Yes they are.”

I laugh, shaking my head.

As we walk towards the table, people stop what they’re doing and glance in our direction, shoving each other out of the way so they can give us room to pass.

“It’s like how Jesus parted the waters,” TJ says.

“Only I have a nice ass,” Nikki retorts, scraping the chair against the tiles before she sits down.

“How do you know?” TJ challenges.

“Have you seen my ass? It’s practically God. And, if I remember correctly, God is a rank above Jesus,” she says.

“Actually, Jesus is God depending on what type of Christian you are,” he informs us.

“What?” we say at the same time.

“You know what, never mind. I don’t want to know.” Nikki waves it off.

“Hey, assholes.” Whitney announces her presence by dropping her virtually empty tray on the table, a couple fries tumbling to the floor as she sits next to Nikki.

Whitney’s like the rest of us: eccentric. With long, white and blue hair, she’s probably the craziest of all of us. Pushing twenty-two and stuck in her senior year for the second time, she knows all of the quirks about the school and the best places to skip. She’s not stupid, by any means, but she is lazy, almost never taking the time to do homework and rarely showing up. Like most of us, she hates her name, preferring to go by “Whit” or “Whitler,” a gag name we came up with when she dressed up as Hitler on Halloween a few years ago.

“You seem in a wonderful mood today,” I note, stealing a fry.

“Yeah, well, that’s ’cuz Dr. Fuck-Trumpet decided that I deserved detention for something that wasn’t even my fault,” she grumbles.

Dr. Fuck-Trumpet: the Physics professor, Dr. Flannigan. She and Whit have hated each other since the beginning of the year when Whit came into class with piercings all over her face. Even though the policy doesn’t say anything about them, Mrs. Flannigan was thoroughly disgusted by the angel bites, spider bites, and septum piercing.

“What happened?” TJ asks, tilting his head.

“Some girl in my class ended up burning herself on the stupid tube heater thing. And Fuck-Trumpet blamed it on me just because she heard us get into an argument when the dumb chick made a remark about my tramp-stamp.” She rolls her eyes. “I mean, honestly! If I’m going to get someone back, I’m not going to make it look like an accident. Give me a little credit here!”

We laugh, and Nikki adds, “Don’t worry, babe, I’ll meet you there. Since I’m late for class so much, Dr. Carter sent me to the office, and they’re giving me detention for the rest of the week.”

“Two out of seven of us have detention, Trent,” Leon states with mock sadness, taking a seat in between Nikki and me. “How did that happen?”

He just shrugs, lazily setting down his tray as he sits in between TJ and Whitney.

“You’re no fun,” Leon jabs, taking a bite of his pizza. “How was class? I heard we got a new professor.”

“Oh, boy, did we.” Nikki licks her lips. “And man is he delicious—with a capital D.”

He shakes his head, the smirk still fresh on his lips, and looks at me. “What about you, Cupcake?”

“He’s okay,” I say, snatching another fry.

“Please,” Nikki snorts. “You know you wish he’d rip off your clothes and devour you. Hell, I wish he’d devour me.”

“Maybe he doesn’t swing that way,” TJ pipes in. “Maybe he swings my way.”

“That’d be so hot,” Whit says. When everyone at the table looks at her, she adds, “What? Come on! Don’t even pretend like you guys weren’t thinking it either.”

“Whitler strikes again.” Nikki laughs and everyone joins in.

“Look at who it is.” A confident voice causes me to stiffen. “It’s the Freak Show and their pet Fag.”

TJ goes completely still, his knuckles turning white as he clenches his fists.

Nikki lets out a short laugh, her eyes hard. “Wow, Noah, I don’t think we’ve heard that one this week.”

“Nicole, don’t you look fucked up as usual.”

“Why thank you. I was going for the look you have,” she shoots back.

Noah is Leon’s step-brother—a result of his father’s third marriage—and the only member of Leon’s family I’ve ever met in person. Thick chested, angular facial features—he’s almost as good-looking as Leon, whose lean and defined. Their personalities, however, are as different as their hair and eyes. Leon, with dark auburn hair that’s almost constantly messy and deep brown eyes, is calculating and strategic. Noah, on the other hand, with his white-blonde hair and light grey eyes, is a fake. He plays the professors’ favorite, which is why, despite the fact that he’s too ignorant to function, he’s a senior.

“How’re you, Vixen?” Noah turns to me and puts his palm flat on my shoulder, daring Leon to do something. “I heard an interesting rumor the other day.”

I don’t say anything, trying to ignore the urge to shrug his fingers off of me.

“I heard that you and queer-bait over there were shacking it up at your house. Is that true?” He snickers, as if he’s said something devastating.

TJ flushes, though, humiliation staining his face.

Irritated, I slam my elbow into Noah’s gut without looking back. He gasps loudly, making the whole lunchroom turn to us as I stand up, glaring at him.

“You wanna repeat that?” I growl. “I don’t think I heard you the first time.”

“You... bitch...” He gulps in air and looks at me, face contorted in pain.

Just when I think it’s finished, I turn to sit back down, but he catches me by my arm and turns me to face him, his fist connecting with my jaw, busting my lip. I fall on the table, scattering everyone’s tray, and narrow my eyes at Noah, fingers touching the small trail of blood trickling down my chin.

“Holy shit!” Nikki shrieks.

“Damn it, Noah, you can’t hit a goddamn girl,” some guy next to him says.

“That’s how you wanna play?” I say darkly. “Fine, I’ll play.”

Noah smirks as he stands there with his Jet-Li-wanna-be stance. “Bring it on, Cupcake."

As soon as I stand up, Noah tries to get in another hit, lunging forward with his fist, but I manage to dodge it, moving to the right a little before shoving my knee into his stomach, knocking the air out of him again. He doubles over in a coughing fit, and Nikki promply grabs a handful of hair, pulling his head up.

“Clean shot, Cupcake. Make a nice shiner as payback for the one he gave you.”

He wheezes pathetically.

I shake my head and relax my coiled muscles. “It’s done—the idiot learned his lesson—no point in stooping to his level.”

She sighs and releases him, ‘accidently’ tripping him, causing him to fall on his face. “You’re too nice.”

I shrug as the softball coach, Mrs. Grayson, comes rushing over. “What happened here?”

“It’s awful!” Whit stands up suddenly, tears in her eyes, and diverts the coach’s attention. “Noah was making fun of TJ and, when Vixen tried to take up for him, Noah hit her!”

Mrs. Grayson turns around in time to see Noah standing, a pained expression on his face. “Mr. Rider, I never thought I’d hear about you, of all people, bullying someone. Not to mention hitting another student!” she scolds, eyes cold and angry.

“What?” he asks, dumbfounded. “Wait a minute, Mrs. G, you have the wrong idea—I never—I mean—I didn’t—”

“My office,” she says icily, “now.”

He growls and glares hatefully at me. Nikki returns it by sticking her tongue out.

When Grayson looks at us, the sneer is gone as Nikki touches my lip. I cringe from her fingers. “It’s definitely going to bruise,” she mumbles with feign sadness.

“It’s hurts,” I whine.

“Oh my.” Mrs. Grayson inspects my jaw and gives me a sympathetic look. “I don’t think the nurse is in today...”

“Don’t worry,” I say, wincing when I smile at her. “There’s only half a day left of school; I’ll just treat it when I get home.”

She thinks about it for a minute before she nods. “Okay, but if it starts hurting, come to my office. We’ll figure something out.”

“Alright.” I give her a small smile. “Thank you.”

She returns it before heading back, ordering everyone in the cafeteria to mind their own business.

“Quick thinking,” Nikki says approvingly to Whit as she sits back down. “If you hadn’t distracted her, she would’ve noticed Noah on the ground.”

“Thank you. You’re not the only one with a mastermind in cover-ups, Nikki-dearest.”

I plop in the chair, rubbing my sore jaw. “Sorry, Leon,” I mumble. “I just lost my temper and—”

Leon smiles at me and shrugs his shoulders. “Since he got caught hitting someone, dad’ll kick his ass, which means no worries for me tonight, so don’t sweat it.”

“Thanks.” I smile.

“No, thank you.” He grins. “Did you see his face when Mrs. Grayson yelled at him? Priceless.”

Everyone laughs and the mood lightens, easing.

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