18 | Culprit
*MC holds up a hand* Undermining the severity of attempted rape happens near the end, along with just a lot of dick muffinness in general. Cupcakes’ discretion is advised~
I’m sitting in Leon’s truck, trying ridiculously hard to focus on the conversation he and Nikki are having.
There’s no way, under any circumstances, that I’m thinking about Chase Kingsley anymore.
Mainly because ever since he jumped out of my window, I haven’t been able to get him out of my head.
What was his problem anyway? I mean, I understand that he warned me away from Darestin for a reason, but nothing happened between us—aside from that kiss—so what could have possibly set him off? Unless it’s the kiss itself? But that doesn’t make sense. It’s not like it’s that important. Darestin basically admitted that he was just screwing around like Calvin does when he gets bored, so it’s not like it meant anything.
How about I show you just how wrong you are, killer?
I sigh, leaning on the window.
And Darestin, trying to prove something about Chase, only to explain nothing. What does kissing me prove? Last time I checked, the only time kissing does anything is when the people involved are either into it or totally against it, and both of us were pretty indifferent. Besides, even if Darestin is attractive, it was like kissing my brother.
If my brother was some unknown paranormal creature.
I groan, rubbing my temples. So much for not thinking about it. My mind’s just going in the same circles it’s been going in since Chase left.
“—cake?” a voice interrupts my thoughts.
I blink, coming back to Earth, and meet a confused Nikki.
“What’s wrong, Cupcake?” she repeats.
I stare at her, unsure of how to answer. To be honest, another struggle I’ve had about this whole thing is what to tell everyone. I don’t want to say anything about Chase’s... nature without his permission, but, at the same time, I don’t know what to do about all of this by myself. Though, I guess if I spun it correctly, I wouldn’t have to tell them everything... and with the amount of relationships Nikki’s had, I’m sure she’d know.
Letting out a breath, I take a chance and ask her. “Why would someone be upset about someone kissing someone?”
She snorts. “You’re going to have to be a little more specific, Cupcake.”
I sigh. “Like, let’s say a...a friend you know kissed another guy. Why would that bother you?”
“Depends on the person they’re kissing,” she answers automatically. “If the person has a bad reputation or I know something’s up with them, I’d be worried that they’re making a mistake.”
“Makes sense,” I mumble. Especially since Chase did warn me about him. “Would it make you angry, though? Like, irritated enough to kind of...brush someone off, I guess?”
“Oh, no,” she says quickly, shaking her head. “I’d be worried, but not mad. If anything, I think I’d try to convince them that they’re not thinking things through enough and keep an eye on the other guy to make sure he’s treating them right.”
I sigh again. “Then I guess that’s not it.”
Nikki perks up. “Wait. Why? Who are we talking about?”
“No one,” I deny immediately.
She turns around in her chair, completely facing me, with a giant, creepy grin on her face. “Did someone kiss my little Cupcake?” she coos. When I keep my face resolutely blank, she squeals. “Oh my God! Chase kissed you, didn’t he? I knew he couldn’t resist for much longer!”
I literally choke on nothing but air. “W-what in the world are you talking about?”
She rolls her eyes. “Oh, please, Cupcake. Whitler’s not here, so you can stop playing dumb now. Be honest: Chase totally made a move, right?”
“No!” I say, the red on my face making it harsher than I mean. “What are you even—Jesus, woman, I meant Darestin! Darestin kissed me, and Chase saw! Why in God’s name would Chase—”
“Holy shit! Chase saw you kiss another guy!?”
“That’s what I just—”
“Cupcake, this is serious!” she says, flailing. “How could you cheat on him!?”
“Cheat on—I’m not dating Chase, Nikki!”
“Right, okay, just like I’m not dating Leon. How could you let this happen!? Oh, I bet Chase is furious!”
“Nik, tone it down and let her explain,” Leon suggests, keeping his eyes on the road. “You’re starting to get ahead of yourself again.”
She pouts, sitting back in her chair with her arms crossed like a kid. “Fine~” she whines.
I send Leon a grateful look and start from the beginning. Of course, I leave out Darestin appearing in my bathroom door and Chase interrupting us from my window. Instead, I make it seem like Darestin knocked on my door after we had talked about being in the same neighborhood, and Chase came to check on me since he knew my family wouldn’t be home. I don’t even mention that Darestin was trying to “prove” something, just that he gets a kick out of messing with people.
When I’m finished, Nikki sighs, long and hard. “Cupcake, why do you think Chase reacted that way?”
I blink, not expecting that. “Well, I mean, he doesn’t seem to trust Darestin, so, like you said, it could be that he’s irritated I’m still talking to him. He’s been a big pain-in-the-ass when it comes to me ’being reckless.’” I roll my eyes. “Seriously, guys, he’s worse than Whitler!”
She sighs again, and the look she shares with Leon makes me uneasy.
“What?” I demand. “If you have something to say, just say it.”
“Cupcake, Chase is hella jealous,” she says. “Like, if he were me, the amount of jealousy he feels right now is about salt-throwing level.”
I’d laugh if I wasn’t completely confused. “I don’t get what—”
“That’s not important right now, though,” she says, but quickly corrects herself, “Well, it is important—and super exciting—but it’s not what the big picture is about.”
“I don’t understand,” I say cautiously, staring at her. I feel like there’s nothing I’m missing, especially since she looks ecstatics.
“It’s more than jealousy,” Leon inserts, pulling into the campus parking lot. “Chase cares about you.”
I open my mouth to protest, but Leon stops me. “Don’t even try to deny it,” he says, looking pointedly at me in the rearview mirror as he turns off his truck. “Bottom line: there’s more going on between you and Chase than him being a good professor, but, like you, he didn’t realize it, so when he saw you kissing Darestin—”
“—it really fucked him up,” Nikki finishes.
“But, guys, Chase—”
“—is only human,” Leon says lightly.
I snort. Chase is definitely not human.
“Yeah, and, as smart as the guy is, he’s kind of dense when it comes to relationships,” Nikki agrees.
“I think you two have been spending too much time together,” I mutter, looking accusingly at Leon. “Since when do you have a thing for romance? Huh?”
“I don’t,” he says easily. “It’s just been obvious ever since the second time you were threatened, when Chase got on his knees in the rain for you.”
I huff, crossing my arms. They just don’t know the whole story; that’s the problem here. Their views are all clouded because, as hard as Nikki is, she’s still a ridiculously hopeless romantic—I’m sure that she’s been fantasizing me getting with Chase since that second day in class, when he stopped me from hitting him—and Leon’s been worried about my relationship with guys ever since that shit with Macintyre.
Nikki grins. “Giving up already, Cupcake? You’re so cute wh—”
TJ taps on the window. “C’mon, you make-belief family, before others start piling in the parking lot.”
Nikki huffs, irritated to be interrupted, and opens the door with enough force to break his nose. Too bad TJ has supreme reflexes. He jumps to the side easily, only the corner of the door grazing his shoulder, and glares at Nikki.
“You went in for the kill just then, didn’t you?” he demands.
She snickers. “Would’ve worked too if you weren’t as nimble as a rat.”
“Oh ho. Nicole has jokes today, does she?”
“Nicole has more than jokes, Taylor Dane,” she says evilly.
TJ eyes widen, a hand covering his mouth. “How’d you find that out?” he asks through his fingers.
“Oh, you know, just snuck into the office the other day and found your file. Did you know that even though Whitler’s been here the longest, she has the third-most write-ups out of the seven of us?” she wonders. “I can’t believe the amount of detentions you’ve had—even more than me!”
“Oh, it’s on now, Nicole Maxine,” TJ declares. “Your indecisive ass is going down.”
“TJ, you perv. Not in front of my boyfriend,” Nikki teases. “He’s kind of overprotective, so you’ll have to wait until he’s out of earshot for some foreplay.”
Leon rolls his eyes the same time TJ tackles her to the ground, but he’s too nice about it, aiming for the grass instead of the concrete and twisting them around so she lands on top on him instead of the other way around.
“Aw, TJ really doesn’t want me dead.” She laughs, pinning him to the ground. “Your kindheartedness is going to earn you a one-way ticket to hell, pretty boy.”
“You think so?” he retorts, flipping them over effortlessly. “Because I think I can beat you blindfolded.”
“Wanna bet?” she challenges, lifting her leg high enough to snag it around his neck.
“That’s my girl,” Leon says proudly. “Horrifyingly flexible. TJ may have quick reflexes, but Nikki has experience with using her opponent’s weight against them.”
Whit and I make gagging noises, laughing when Leon swats at us.
“What did I miss?” Calvin wonders, heading over to us with Trent. One look at the two romping around on the cold ground, and he gets it. “Ah, TJ say something to set her off again?”
“Actually, it was Nikki this time,” Whit informs him.
“Alright, you two, enough messing around. We have to get to our lockers,” Leon says, trying to end it.
“She started it!” TJ defends, dodging a fist aimed at his face. “Gonna have to be quicker than that, Nicole.”
Nikki sniggers and opens her fist. A handful of cold mud comes hurling at his face, and TJ’s forced to move out of the way or risk ruining his foundation. It’s a mistake, though, because Nikki’s waiting for him. Before Leon can yell at them again, she has him pinned to the ground.
“I think using Aikido is a bit of an overkill, babe,” Leon says.
She looks up at him, smug. “He said he could take me down blindfolded, Leon~”
“Well, that’s true,” he gives her, “but still. You shouldn’t use that kind of thing in friendly fights.”
“He’s fine,” she assures him, rolling her eyes a little as she gets up. “Just couldn’t move.”
“My arm was only going numb,” TJ whines, though he looks more entertained than hurt.
“He could’ve easily avoided her,” Trent says casually, causing everyone to look at him.
Leon doesn’t look as convinced. “I don’t know, Trent. Aikido aside, Nikki’s pretty good at reading people.”
“And TJ’s great at maneuvering,” Trent retaliates.
“But maneuvering doesn’t do anything if their opponent can predict where they’re going.”
“That only works if they know their opponent well or in drawn-out fights. In a brawl, on the other hand...”
Calvin leans in between Whitler and me, snickering. “Why does this feel like it’s getting into that ‘my horse is bigger than your horse’ bullshit?”
Whit chuckles. “Because it is going into that.”
“I heard that,” Leon says the same time Trent shoots a look in our direction, “and that’s not what’s going on here. I just think Nikki could take TJ in a fight. That’s all.”
“Which he’s not wrong,” Nikki says, “but it’s still great that he fawns over me.”
Calvin and Whit snicker as TJ and Trent roll their eyes.
“Let’s go before this gets worse,” Leon grumbles. “We need to get Cupcake to her class before everyone and their brother starts piling in.”
“Sure thing, dad,” Calvin cracks.
Leon groans. “Why do I put up with you all?”
“Aw, don’t be like that, Leon~” Nikki says, snagging his hand with hers. “We love you~”
“Yeah, I can feel it.”
We get to my locker just as the first few students trickle in. They glance at us out the corner of their eyes as I rummage through it quickly, grabbing my English book and a notebook for psychology, and nearly jump out of their skins when I slam it shut, scurrying off down the hallway quickly. I roll my eyes, but stop when I notice that everyone is still gathered around me.
“No wonder they’re so scared,” I mutter, looking at everyone. “Seriously, guys, I don’t need an entourage to get to class. Just Nikki is fine.”
“Well, I need one,” Nikki says, hooking the arm not entangled in Leon with mine. “Besides, what’s wrong with traveling the hallways like we’re in a gang? If people are going to give us the label anyway, we might as well enjoy the perks it comes with.”
I roll my eyes, trying immensely hard to ignore the terrified looks everyone’s throwing our way as we past them. “You just like being surrounded by people in general.”
She smirks. “You know me so well.”
Even so, I hate it. Everyone’s been exceptionally wary of me ever since the rumor got around that I covered my desk in poison for attention, so all this escort is doing is making people actually try to hide in their lockers as we walk by.
I’m almost thankful when we get to Canty’s classroom. No one’s in there except Mr. Canty himself, so it doesn’t matter much when they follow me to my seat, each looking around the room in nostalgia.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been in here,” Calvin says.
“Right?” Whitler says. “I forgot how horrible it was not having windows to look out.”
Someone clears their throat, causing all of them to look over at the culprit.
Mr. Canty is standing at his desk, face scrunched. “Can I help you?”
“Actually—” Nikki starts, only to be cut-off by Leon lacing their fingers together.
“Sorry, sir,” Leon says politely. “We were just walking Cupcake to class.”
“And now she’s here, so you can go,” he grumps.
Whit’s lip arches, but Calvin laughs, wrapping an arm around her neck. “You’re right,” he says easily, tugging Whit towards the door. “See ya later, Cupcake.”
I give them a little wave as they head out, sighing when they’re out of sight.
“Bet you liked that,” Canty grouses out. “Must be nice to have an army of mindless drones follow you everywhere you go just because of you were threatened with a little ricin.”
My eyes narrow at him. “What?”
He scoffs. “You heard me. A bunch of worthless kids, acting all high and mighty—if it were up to me, they’d be locked up in prison with other animals. Bet they wouldn’t be so haughty then.”
I grit my teeth. “That’s not what I meant,” I hiss, although I made a mental note to remember that little jab. “How did you know I was threatened?”
His movements stutter for a moment. “It was all around the school,” he retorts.
“No, it wasn’t,” I argue. “Everyone thinks I did it for attention.”
He closes his mouth, lips set in a thin line.
Just like that, it hits me. The person who did it had to be someone no one would be suspicious of. It had to be someone who could come and go as they pleased without interruptions, someone who could come early enough to plant it. It couldn’t be a student because we get our bags searched—the only reason Nikki and Whitler don’t carry purses is because even they get searched—and there was too much ricin everywhere to smuggle it in pockets. A professor, though...
I blink, staring at him in disbelief.
Canty wasn’t in the room when we came to class. In fact, Canty wasn’t anywhere to be seen period.
He’s scowling, but there are people walking in the room now, trying to figure out what’s going on. Without so much as a look, he starts class, voice tense and uneasy.
He hates me so much, I wouldn’t be surprised if he heard about one of the many rumors regarding Preston, offered a deal. He and Macintyre were practically inseparable, after all...
His lesson creeps by, taking forever to end. I know it’s because I’m uneasy, because I’m suddenly in the mood to be as far away from him as possible, but it takes everything I have to sit at my desk and wait. Maybe if I calm down, he won’t think anything’s up.
When the bell finally rings, I make a show of sitting up and stretching, pretending to be calmer than I feel. Before I can even grab my bag, though, Canty addresses me.
“Ms. Tyler, please stay behind.”
He never calls me ‘Ms. Tyler.’
I stare at him evenly, measuring. Canty isn’t a bulky man, quite the opposite actually: thin figure—not even lean, just thin—with skinny arms, like a twig. If he tries anything, I’m sure I can snap him in half.
Everyone clears the room, whispering to themselves.
“What?” I demand when the room’s empty.
Instead of answering me, he stands up and closes the door, sliding the lock home. I stiffen when he closes the blinds too, turning back to me with a black expression.
“What do you think you’re going to do?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” My voice is hard, on-edge.
“You think anyone’s going to believe you?” he wonders softly, tilting his head. “Do you honestly think any professor would even listen to you?”
“I wasn’t planning on telling a professor.” I really wasn’t; I was planning on telling Leon. Much worse.
He snorts. “Oh, of course not, because you’d never go to a professor for help, right?” He takes a step closer, making my muscles tighten, and sneers. “Because the last time you did, he tried to touch you, didn’t he?” He scoffs. “This is why I can’t stand the lot of you. A human? Wanting to touch you of people? Please.”
I go lax, waiting. I’m sure he’ll make his point soon and let me leave.
But my lack of reaction only pisses him off more. He grabs the collar of my shirt. “Listen here, you little bitch. If you tell anyone—anyone—about this, I’ll ruin your friends’ lives.”
My fist twitches, eyes narrowing.
He smirks. “That’s right. I know all about Leon’s dad. Senator Reid, right? I wonder how mad he’d be if Leon failed this year because of English. And I heard Whitney’s mother already beat her for failing last year. All that tramp cares about is appearances! Can you imagine what she’d do if Whitney failed again? And if Whitney’s mother is willing to go that far for it, I wonder how far Senator Reid will go? I think Leon would be lucky with only a beating, don’t you?”
I bite my tongue hard enough to make it bleed, but nothing happens, just warmth.
“People’ll notice,” I spat.
He scoffs. “No, they won’t. Don’t you get it? You’re the only one who gives a damn about them. No one else would even blink if they ended up on the side of the road.”
Chase would, wouldn’t he?
“So, what?” I demand. “What do you want?”
“What do I want?” he repeats, laughing viciously. “I want you to behave. I want you to keep your mouth shut and go on as if you don’t know anything. When the next threat happens, I want you to continue trying to figure out who’s behind it, and when they get close, I want you to deter them like the good liar you are.”
But would Chase listen to me?
“Is that all?” I growl.
“As a matter of fact, no, it’s not,” he says, the corners of his lips curling upwards. “Behaving includes no fighting, specifically with Noah. If my star pupil comes complaining to me about you one more time, I might just fail your friends out of frustration anyway. Even if he’s wailing on you, even if he’s forcing himself on you, even then, you take it. Understood?”
“Yes,” I grind out.
“Good.” He lets go of my shirt, fixing the collar of it. “Now go on before your friends start pounding on my door.”
Well, I should probably start with an apology, as this is the cliffhanger of the century, but this is a good stopping point in my opinion, and things are starting to move, so it’ll be fine. I’m already working on the next chapter, so don’t worry: I’m making it my mission to finish this story within the next month or so.
Now, to the important part: do you know how many of you were like, “It’s totally Ryan! I can feel it!” Welp, now how do you feel?(;<