It's a Cruel World, Sir

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03 | Hell

The rest of the day isn’t as eventful as lunch. As usual, everyone settles back into their routine, going on as if nothing happened. Of course, no one tells on us, too afraid of what might happen to them if they snitch. Not that any of us would hit someone just because they told, but no one else believes that.

Still, even with the new professor as a distraction (which, yes, admittingly, I’d hoped he’d distract them long enough to get through the day), everyone’s overly aware that I’m in the classroom. Periodically, they glance back at me, waiting to see if I’m going to explode, before turning back to the professor as soon as I catch their gaze.

If that doesn’t make anyone want to explode, I don’t know what will.

With an annoyed huff, I look out the window, leaning against the palm of my hand.

“Pst,” a voice whispers. “Hey.”

I turn to the culprit, raising an eyebrow at the kid unlucky enough to get stuck in the seat next to me: Ryan Something or Other. Unlike the rest, who’ve gone out of their way to avoid any sort of contact with me, this guy is the only one who’s sat willingly next to me. Granted, he was paid twenty bucks at the beginning of the semester, but even with the money, they end up moving after the first few weeks.

“What?” I ask, bored but curious as to what made him speak to me. A dare, maybe? A test of courage?

“Do you know what she’s been saying?” he asks.

I blink, caught off guard. “Um, no?”

“Shit,” he breathes. Quickly, he smiles. “Sorry. You’ll have to excuse my French.”

I raise an eyebrow. Does this guy not realize who he’s talking to? “It’s fine.” I wave him off, turning back to the window.

“Hey, wait, I don’t think I know your name.” He pulls me back. “I’m Ryan.”

“Vixen,” I answer with disinterest.

“V—”

“Vixen!” the professor, Dr. Kaiser, interrupts, looking from me to Ryan angrily. “What are you doing to Mr. Davis?”

I sigh. “Nothing much.”

“I told you that if you messed with anyone in my class again, I’d send you to the dean’s office with every intention of suspending—”

“Wait.” Ryan stops her, raising his hand with confusion written on his face. “She wasn’t doing anything to me; she was helping me.”

The class starts murmuring, as surprised as I am to have someone other than my group of friends take up for me.

“Oh...” Kaiser clears her throat. “Well then, you should know that I don’t allow talking during my lectures. Next time, I’ll ask you to leave.”

“Sorry about that, ma’am,” he says smoothly.

“As I was saying...”

Kaiser starts teaching again, and I stare at Ryan as he shakes his head.

“What?”

I shrug to hide how surprised I am. “You’re going to have hell to pay because you took up for me.”

“Eh, they’ll get over it,” he says nonchalantly. “I can’t believe she automatically thought you were bothering me.” He laughs a little.

“Yeah,” I mutter.

Thankfully, the bell rings, saving me from talking to him any further. As everyone bustles to get out of the door, I pick up my black shoulder bag and shove the few notebooks I have into it, waiting until everyone is gone before actually pulling it over my shoulder.

The hallways still have groups of people near lockers, each talking to one another, and I quickly head past them, ignoring the feeling they’ve been talking about me.

Suddenly, my pocket vibrates, and I take my phone out, thankful for the distraction.

I flip open the old Samsung and read the text from Nikki.

WARNING: The Creator and her clueless play toy are waiting outside the school. No sign of their spawns. Leon’s waiting out back so we can avoid her.

I quickly tap in my reply and turn on my heel, ramming straight into something hard.

“Ugh...” I rub my head, groaning.

“Be careful, Ms. Tyler,” a deep voice says, “we wouldn’t want you to get hurt from texting and walking, now would we?”

I snort, preparing for a smart reply, when I look up, eyes widening. “Mr. Kingsley.”

He smirks. “Aren’t you going the wrong way? The school’s exit is that way.” He nods to the double doors a few feet from us.

“I forgot a book in my last class,” I lie, being sure to keep his gaze. “I can’t go home without it.”

He nods, seeming to accept this, and steps to the side a little. “Hurry and get it.”

I nod this time; positive the whole hallway is watching us. “Sorry for running into you.”

“It’s fine,” he says. “Just be careful next time.”

“Wow. Mr. Kingsley is so understanding,” some girl coos as I walk past, giggling.

“Yeah, especially since she’s the one who ran into him," another continues.

“I know, right? And the way he smiled...”

I roll my eyes and hurry up, ignoring the possibility of Mr. Kingsley seeing me slip into the janitors’ closet. Pacific University may suck when it comes to looks, with all the rundown classrooms and chipping paint, but they’re like Nazis when it comes to security. There’s one way in here, which is through the double doors Mr. Kingsley had pointed out earlier, and it’s covered with three different sets of high-tech cameras that are programmed to catch anything that moves. However, there are two or three “secret” doors that only the faculty and staff have access to. Of course, if you’re caught sneaking in or out one of these doors, it’s an automatic, five-day suspension and some intense questioning from local police.

Yeah, in looks, Pacific is at the bottom of the list. Security, though, is their prized tribute. They always state that they may have old books and dusty desks, but they’ve never had a school shooting despite the fact Pacific is considered a school where the “leftovers” go—or kids that have been kicked out of other universities in Washington State.

Still, if you take out the fear factor in being caught, the doors are the perfect place to skip.

Or escape from dealing with your sociopathic mother and her pushover husband.

After unlocking the door and slipping through, I run across the grass and into the professors’ parking lot, tapping my foot.

A few seconds later, Leon drives up in his Dodge truck and stops in front of me, smiling. “Hey ther pertay lady, how ’bout you take a spin with some real country men?”

Whit smacks the back of his head, rolling her eyes. “You know, for a hot guy, you’re an idiot.”

“Woah now, no hitting the eye candy,” Nikki says.

I laugh and wrap around the front, opening the door. “Do I get front or are you making me squeeze in the back?”

“Fine,” she says, getting out and slipping into the back. “But he’s still mine. I called him first.”

I chuckle and sit down, looking over at Leon. “Thanks for hiding.”

“Not a problem. I’ll admit that—however shitty your parental unit may be—you still can’t deny her taste in cars. That Mercedes Benz is beautiful. Had to cost a shit ton of money, though.”

“Wouldn’t know,” I mutter. “Just looks like an ugly green car to me.”

“Oh, if Trent heard you say that.” He shakes his head.

“Speaking of Trent.” I look around the car. “Where’s he and TJ?”

“They went to TJ’s house,” Leon says matter-of-factly, pulling onto the road. “Apparently, they had a project to do together.”

“Oh,” is my lame reply.

“I heard you can’t come to the rave tonight,” he says conversationally. “Why not?”

“Family issues,” I answer vaguely, not willing to go into detail right now. “But I’ll be at the one tomorrow.”

“I’ll hold you to that.” He smiles.

Nikki and Whit keep the conversation going after that. I’m too lost in thought to bother talking, something the three of them realize and kindly decide not to push.

When we get to my house, I’m thankful that no one’s home; I don’t feel like having to deal with Mother’s outrageous rants.

“See you tomorrow?” Leon checks as I open the door.

“Yeah, same time as always.”

“Alright.”

He doesn’t drive off until I get to my door, something he’s done since I started hanging out with them. Turning the knob, I walk into my house and throw my bag on the silk couch, walking into the kitchen.

Stepping into the large dining room, I smell her before I see her.

Cassadee has always had a thing for strong, cheap perfumes. You know, the ones you can get at Walmart that cost practically nothing but smell up an entire room for hours with one squirt?

Sure enough, leaning against the ivory-topped counters is my twenty-three-year-old-trying-to-act-nineteen half-sister. Thankfully, we look nothing alike. With her bleach blonde hair and a recent nose job, she now looks more like Mother, give or take a few minor details. Naturally, she’s wearing one of Mother’s outfits: a black maxi skirt with a sleeveless, baby blue shirt.

“Welcome home, baby sister,” she says, grinning metallically.

“I thought you were in California.” Or dead. I return her plastic smile.

She shrugs, tilting her head innocently. “You know how easily I get lonely. Plus,” the already sickening grin becomes shrewd, “I missed my precious sister.”

“I don’t have any money,” I lie, opening the fridge. “Ask mother.”

She scoffs. ”Please. That woman always gives you money; it’s like her payment for you to act like you don’t exist.”

“Well, I spent it all,” I say, pulling a thing of fudge icing out, “and she hasn’t sent me any more.”

“Damn bitch,” she grumbles.

Don’t get the wrong idea; Cassadee doesn’t hate Mother. To put it simply, if you were to put a pile of money on one side and Mother on the other and make her choose between them, telling her the one she doesn’t choose would be set on fire, she’d choose the money in a heart beat. But if you put, say, me in place of the money, she’d choose Mother. It’s called conniving, and she’s really good at it.

Instead of playing into whatever trap she’s setting, I move her out of the way to grab a spoon, shoving a spoonful of icing into my mouth.

“Ew. How can you do that?” she asks, appalled. “That goes straight to your hips.”

I shrug.

“You know, you shouldn’t eat—you’re already too fat,” a stern, high-pitched voice says.

I freeze, the spoon wedged in a piece of icing.

Heels clack against the tiles as Mother steps into view. Her sharp jaw is locked with anger and disgust, lips in a thin line. With shoulder-length blonde hair and fake, green contacts in, she looks like the spitting image of Cassadee, except with harsher wrinkles and more prominent breast implants.

“Missed you too, Mother,” I say coldly.

She ignores me, eyes lighting up. “Oh, Cassadee! I didn’t know you were coming back today, honey! Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was going to, but I didn’t want to bother you.”

They hug, and I imagine swallowing the entire spoon.

“Vixen!” a chorus of cheers comes through their embrace, earning a scowl from Mother.

I smile as three brats dash into the kitchen, jumping up and down as soon as they see me.

“We missed you!” Lesley, the youngest, says, grinning a toothy grin.

“I doubt that,” I say, bending down to get on their level. “How was Disney World?”

“I got to see Mickey Mouse!” Austin shouts. “He sat with us while we ate!”

“Yeah, and we watched Cinderella lose her shoe and the Prince help her!” Kaleigh, Austin’s twin, gushes.

“That’s great, guys. Did you take pictures?”

They all nod.

“They’re in the car, though!”

Mother clears her throat, looking down at me. Cassadee’s snickering.

“How about you guys go get them and take them to my room; I’ll meet you up there in a minute.”

“Okay!” they all cheer at the same time before scampering out of the kitchen.

“Well, what do you want?” I ask, standing up.

“How did you get home?” Mother asks.

“I got a ride from a friend,” I answer, grabbing my icing. “Why?”

“Because we were waiting for you outside of the school!” she snaps. “And what the hell happened to your mouth?”

“A fight, obviously. What else?” I retort. I’d be surprised she noticed if it wasn’t for the fact that she absolutely hates any sort of blemish on a person’s face.

“Oh ho.” She laughs, but it’s cold and hard, completely twisted. “Did one of your boyfriends get tired of that mouth of yours? Try to knock some sense into you? Did you tell them that I’ve already tried that?”

I pop some icing in my mouth, returning her hatred with a black smile of my own. “No, actually, instead I kicked his ass. Would you like a demonstration?”

Her expression darkens, and she snatches the container of icing from me. “Stop eating this shit. You need to lose weight.”

I snort. “Oh, so I can look like you? No thank you.” I rip the icing from her manicured hands.

“You can’t talk to me like that; I’m your mother!” she shrieks.

I don’t bother replying. Instead, I dip the spoon into the chocolate and scoop up a huge spoonful, shoving it into my mouth right in front of her before heading up the stairs.

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