25 | Perception
Leon clears his throat, making everyone’s head snap to him. “Now that we’ve established—uh—that, maybe we should discuss this thing with Canty?”
Nikki rolls her eyes, surprising him. “What’s to discuss? We go in, we rip out his heart, we give it to Cupcake as a present, then we leave Chase and Cupcake alone for a few days. Problem solved.”
My face heats up. “Why do you need to leave us alone?”
Her grin is demonic. “I thought that would be obvious, my dear Cupcake~”
“Seriously? You got stuck on that part?” TJ mutters. “You know she just threatened to rip out someone’s heart, right?”
“So?” I wonder, tilting my head.
Nikki snickers as TJ shakes his head. “You two need to work on yourselves.”
Leon sighs, interrupting us. “This is serious, guys. A professor is in the pocket of some gang leader.”
“Which is why we’ll take care of him as soon as possible,” Whitler joins in.
“That’ll just give another professor a reason to attack Cupcake,” Leon points out.
“Then we’ll take them out too,” Whit says easily. “Eventually, people will get the point.”
“What if they don’t?” he wonders.
She scoffs. “Have you met the sniveling professors at Pacific? After two or three professors go down, they’ll leave us alone.”
“Okay, but what if they don’t?” Leon says again. “Are we just gonna deal with this shit until we graduate? You know Cupcake’s gonna be left alone when that happens, right?”
“Exactly! Which is why we have to make sure no one has the audacity to—”
“Maybe that’s part of the problem,” he interrupts.
“What? How?” she demands.
Beside me, Chase nods absently, deep in thought.
Immediately, Whitler rears on him, glaring fiercely. “If you have something to say, then say it,” she grouses.
He blinks, clearly coming back to the conversation at hand, before he smirks. “I simply believe Mr. Reid may be onto something, that’s all.”
“Excuse me?” Whitler demands, crossing her arms.
It’s a sign Whit’s losing her temper, so Nikki motions for Chase to stop talking.
He ignores her warning, though. “Mr. Reid may be onto something,” he repeats easily. “What if people keep attacking you because you keep retaliating?”
She looks at him incredulously, but it’s Nikki who asks, “What d’you mean?”
“Frankly speaking, you seven spend too much time trying to prove that what others think isn’t important,” he elaborates, looking at each of us. “Does it matter whether people think you’re heartless? Ideally, no, it doesn’t, but the reality is that people’s perception of you affects you whether you want it to or not.”
“No, it doesn’t,” Whit argues. “What someone thinks of me doesn’t change who I am.”
“That’s true,” he agrees. “But it does change how others treat you. You can see it in the professors: because they believe you’re in a gang, they treat you as such. They cower out of your way when you’re in front of them, but they attack when you’re not around. They go above and beyond themselves trying to make your life harder just because they don’t want to be bullied into submission, so they give you extra homework or they make your test questions harder or they kick you out for the littlest of things—small, rather petty, acts that make them feel a little less badly about themselves.”
“Okay, and? Why does that matter?” Whit grumbles.
“Because I believe—no, actually, I know—the reason Jeremy agreed to go along with Preston in the first place is because he believes he’s doing the right thing.”
“How can it be the right thing?” I wonder. “I mean, Preston’s known for, like, pimping out girls and selling drugs. Not exactly the All Saint.”
“To say the least,” Nik mutters.
“In his mind, which is by no means that of a wholesome individual, Jeremy sees you seven as a group of misfits that made his friend quit his job, so he needs to get back at you,” he answers. “An eye for an eye mentality so to speak.”
“But you just said it yourself: he’s a twisted asshole! He threatened Cupcake into making her do God-knows-what so he won’t fail me and Leon, but you expect us to give a shit what he thinks?”
“I expect you to realize the consequences of your actions, Ms. Hall,” he says simply.
Whitler clenches her teeth, fuming, and I elbow Chase in the rib even though I know it’ll probably hurt me more than him. “Are you trying to make her hate you?”
“Bad habit,” he says, a ghost of a smirk appearing. He sombers quickly, though, as he continues, “You have had problems with many people, haven’t you? Problems that are more significant than some university professor, correct?”
The color drains from Whit’s face as she thinks about the girl we helped get away from Ronnie.
“You had problems getting Ronnie convicted because the police were worried a judge wouldn’t believe your testimony over a criminal’s, and the charges were dropped over a lack of evidence. I bet they even wondered if you had bribed the victim to accuse Ronnie because of some trivial rivalry.”
My eyes widen. I hadn’t told Chase about that part, but he’s right: some of the officers wondered if the incident was all planned by us so we could take over Preston’s territory.
“That wasn’t our fault,” Whitler grinds out.
“I know,” he assures her, “but your past actions made it hard for them to believe you.”
If looks could kill, I think even Chase would be butchered by the glare Whitler sets on him. “So, what? You want us to try and change a perception that we didn’t even make in the first place?” she demands, raising an eyebrow. “You know what started the whole ‘Leon’s Gang’ bullshit? Leon defending me. That’s it. He defends me once, and, suddenly, we’re recruiting members for the next Black Kings. Nikki asks if she can eat lunch with us, and, the next thing she knows, everyone’s cramming themselves into the corner of her classroom. Calvin hits on her at the club, and they dance together, so, clearly, they’re going out. Poor Trent is related to Calvin, so, obviously, he’s in on the gang too. What do those actions have to do with that? Huh? Leon was being noble. Nikki was being nice. Calvin was being a horn-dog, but he doesn’t count. So you tell me: if even good deeds are going to be punished, why should we waste our time trying to convince them we’re not doing anything wrong?”
He stares at her for a long moment. When she starts tapping her foot impatiently, he lets out a breath. “Perhaps it’s not why you should do it,” he murmurs. “Perhaps it’s because I want you to.”
She freezes, glare wiped away as she gapes at him.
Nikki is grinning for some reason. “And why’s that, Chase?”
“I’m tired of the general populace mistaking your actions,” he says easily. “Quite frankly, I’m not entirely sure how you all manage to put up with it, because I’ve only been around for a few months, and I already have the urge to... reeducate a few people.”
I have to stop myself from shivering at the look in his eyes.
Nikki, on the other hand, is swooning. “Something about alpha men makes me so thirsty.”
“I think I’m in love,” TJ agrees.
Leon mutters, “I don’t know why.”
“I like being told what to do,” she explains.
I raise a brow. “You don’t listen when Leon says, though.”
She giggles. “Of course not, but that doesn’t mean his attempt doesn’t excite me~”
“Oh my God. I think Nikki’s a sadist.” TJ fakes a gasp, earning a swat from Nikki.
Leon coughs loudly, trying to redirect the conversation. “Back to the point please?” When Nikki winks at him, he shakes his head, looking at Chase. “What plan do you have in mind?”
Chase smirks. “I think the best way to solve this would be for me to go to the principal with a suspicion I have, blaming it on an abnormal behavior or a Freudian slip or a simple suspicion, and request he check the cameras in the hallway when the teachers arrive instead of the students this time. When we inevitably see him putting poison in Vixen’s locker, the principal will have enough proof to call the police, and Jeremy will be none the wiser.”
“You make it sound so easy,” Whit gripes. “What makes you think he’ll listen to you?”
“I’m rather persuasive,” he says. “Besides, the hardest part is done: I have the trust of you sevenand Principal Gibson.”
“I never said I—”
“The rest of us trust him,” Leon interrupts, looking at her, “which is good enough.”
She huffs, crossing her arms as she stews.
“I don’t,” Calvin pipes in.
Everyone turns to Calvin, surprised—except for Nikki, who just looks exasperated.
“What d’you mean, Cal?” Leon asks, tilting his head.
“Yeah, Casanova,” Nikki says, raising an eyebrow at him like she’s daring him to tell the truth, “why don’t you tell the class what you mean?”
He shrugs. “There’s too much that doesn’t line up,” he says easily.
Nikki snorts, but Leon ignores her as he wonders, “Like what?”
“Like how he always seems to be in the right place at the right time? Leon, man, you can’t tell me there’s nothing suspicious about how he always manages to save Cupcake. I mean, even this thing with Preston—how’d he know where to find her? How’d he get to her so fast? We just found out not even a half hour ago that she was kidnapped, but he’s somehow managed to get to her already?”
Nikki makes a face. “You’re just jealous that youweren’t the knight in shining armor.”
“No, he has a point,” Whitler says, narrowing her eyes. “How the hell didhe know? We only knew because they left some shitty ransom note like terrible 50′s gangsters, so how’d he find out?”
“The power of love?” TJ mutters, earning a high-five from Nikki.
Whitler glares at them. “I’m being serious.”
“So were we,” Nikki says under her breath.
Calvin bypasses them, turning to Chase with a cold look on his face—the first cold look in a long time, honestly. “How did you know where Cupcake was?”
The corner of Chase’s mouth twitches, and I notice that he doesn’t seem as easy-going as he usually is, the two of them staring the other down.
“Careful, half-breed,” Chase says finally, so quietly I can barely hear him, and I’m standing right beside him.
Calvin must hear him, though, because his shoulders stiffen, lip arching in anger.
“Well?” Whitler demands, completely missing the exchange.
“Forgive me, Ms. Hall,” Chase says, relaxing as he looks away from Calvin to Whitler, his nonchalant attitude returning almost immediately. “To answer your question, though, I have a friend that lives up there. I believe I’ve told you all about him before, yes? The one who got me the position at Pacific University? Well, he saw the police on his way home and mentioned it to me. Since I’ve dropped Vixen off once or twice, I knew it was her house.”
“And how’d you find her?” she continues.
“A well-educated guess,” he lies smoothly. “Preston’s territory is said to be near the club you all infiltrated a few days ago, and the old building they were redoing had been the easiest place to check first.”
“You want us to believe that it was all luck?” she asks incredulously.
He shakes his head. “Truthfully, it was more like getting into their minds and crossing off what I thought would be too obvious,” he explains. “If I were in their shoes, what would I do?”
“Psychologists are kinda scary,” TJ whispers.
Nikki snorts. “Yeah: scarily hot.”
Leon rolls his eyes, clearly trying to ignore them but failing miserably.
“Okay then, how about back at MJ’s Joint, when Cupcake was running away with that guy? Or at Bubba’s when she was looking for me? You always just appearoutta nowhere to help,” Calvin says.
The green in Chase’s eyes ice over, but he maintains his casual attitude. “Darestin was the guy she was with, correct?”
Everyone’s eyes widen.
He smirks. “He’s the friend I’ve been talking about.”
Now they’re gaping. One-hundred-percent gaping.
“There’s no way that’s a coincidence,” Whitler says, coming to Calvin’s rescue.
“Of course it’s a coincidence,” I say, defending him. ”I’m the one who agreed to dance with Darestin, remember? And it was me who dragged him out of the club and down a few streets too. There’s no way for Chase to coordinate that.”
“Yeah, you two. You sound like some crackpots about to protest that vampires are real or some shit,” TJ says, waving them off.
“Or like a jealous boyfriend wannabe and his desperate sidekick,” Nikki adds, smirking evilly at Calvin.
“It just doesn’t make sense!” Calvin defends.
“Exactly! That’s what I’ve been saying from the get-go!”
Leon sighs, long and hard. “Maybe we should turn in,” he says, ruffling his hair. “It’s been a long, tiring day, and we’re all on edge from everything that’s happened, so maybe we should crash and come back tomorrow.”
“It’ll be too late tomorrow!” Whitler argues. “We still don’t have a plan for Canty!”
“Yes, we do,” he says, shrugging. “We’ll let Chase talk to Gibson.”
“No buts, Whitler. TJ’s right: you and Calvin are starting to sound like conspiracy theorists. You two’re so used to people being against us that you can’t fathom why someone would want to help, but Chase is offering, and Cupcake trusts him, so I think it’s time we give her some credit. She hardly trusts anyone, but she’s been glued to his side since we came.”
I blink, confused, before I realize that he’s right: I’ve been so focused on defending Chase that I hadn’t realized how close we’ve been standing this whole time.
I take a few steps away from him, face burning hotter when Chase chuckles.
“Too late now~” Nikki sings.
I shoot her a glare, earning a bright laugh from her.
“Well, I’m not leaving Cupcake here,” Whitler says.
Leon, surprisingly, nods. “Of course not. We’re all crashing here tonight.”
TJ perks up. “All of us?”
Leon nods again.
“But Cupcake and Chase just confessed to each other—do you really want to get in the middle of their first night?” Nikki asks.
My face somehow manages to turn even redder as Leon clears his throat. “Yeah, well, it’ll be safer for everyone, especially Cupcake and Chase, if we all stay here, so as much as I hate to barge in...” He trails off, looking at Chase apologetically.
“When I told Nicole to bring you all over, I assumed you would stay,” Chase assures him, smirking. “There isn’t much room but feel free to make yourselves at home.”
“Don’t worry,” TJ chirps. “I’m sure if we pile some books on top of each other, we can make our own pillows.”
The smirk widens. “I might be able to hunt down a few extra blankets and pillows from the closet. One moment.”
He heads down the narrow hallway, leaving the seven of us alone.
Without missing a beat, Nikki and TJ come over, each taking a hand, and squeal. “Oh my God, Cupcake! You totally landed the sex god professor!”
“Can we just... not?” I plea.
TJ’s eyes are wide. “Not what? Not talk about how you just gave one of the best confessions ever? Right in front of him?”
“Yes,” I say.
“Hell no!” Nikki says. “What was it like, seeing Chase fight? Did he fight them? He had to, right? I doubt Preston just gave up without fighting.”
“I don’t know,” TJ inserts. “I mean, could you imagine what an angry Chase is like? Covered in all that leather?” He shivers.
“I can’t tell if that shiver’s from fear or desire,” Nikki admits, pursing her lips.
“I’m kinda curious too,” Leon joins in. “How did Chase save you? He doesn’t strike me as the type to brawl.”
“Right??” Nikki says.
I sigh. “He’s not,” I confirm. “He prefers to settle things without having to use his hands.”
“Like Calvin?” Nikki wonders, snickering when Calvin tenses.
“Don’t compare me to him,” Calvin says heatedly.
That throws me off. I look at him, tilting my head. “What’s wrong, Calvin?” I wonder. “You’ve been bent out of shape since you got here.”
“Nothing,” he says curtly. “I just... I have a bad feeling that won’t go away.”
“It’s called jealousy, Calvin.”
“Actually, I’m worried about my sis,” he says indignantly, trying to smooth out the look of utter disgust that doesn’t suit his face. “Even if it’s a small chance, there’s still a possibility that Preston’ll go after Janet.”
Nikki sobers a bit. “I guess that’s true.”
“It’s more than a possibility,” Chase says from the bedroom, voice muffled by the walls. They’re so thin, though, that we can still hear him without him having to shout.
My eyes widen. “Cassadee’s at the house alone, too!”
“Who cares about that bitch?” Whitler scoffs.
“Seconded,” Nikki says.
“Third,” TJ mutters.
Chase, however, sounds like he expected nothing less as he says, “Don’t worry, Vixen. Darestin said Cassadee went to the station with the police, so she’s safe.”
I let out a breath. “She was so scared when Ronnie took me, I thought she’d leave the state as soon as we pulled off.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” Chase says.
“Well, Janet’s not gonna go with the police, and me not coming home tonight will just worry her more, so I’m gonna have to bail,” Calvin inserts, shoving his hands in his pockets.
Leon looks at him, studying him in a way that tells me he thinks Calvin is hiding something, before he finally nods. “That’s alright with me, but I think Trent and TJ should go with you.”
TJ’s expression falls. “Why me?” he whines.
It’s Leon’s turn to smirk. “Because Janet’ll probably be more comfortable if it’s family staying over instead of random friends, which means Trent’s going, and I thought you’d want to follow him.”
TJ pouts, letting go of my hand to go to Trent. “Using my feelings against me,” he mutters, grabbing Trent’s hand nonetheless.
“Have fun,” Leon says, grinning as TJ flips him off before walking dejectedly out the front door.
“I’m surprised you didn’t send Whitler away, Leon,” Nikki says.
“As if I’m going anywhere without Cupcake,” Whitler retorts for him.
“There you have it.” He shrugs.
Chase comes back then, carrying a heaping pile of blankets and flattened pillows in his arms.
“This is what I managed to scrounge up,” he says, setting them on the windowsill.
“Why’d you only bring enough blankets and pillows for two people instead of four?”
“Because I figured you, Ms. Hall, and Vixen would want to sleep in my room,” he explains. “It’s the only bed in the apartment, and it’s a king, so I thought you three might be more comfortable in it.”
“Trying to butter us up?” Whitler grumbles.
He pretends like he didn’t hear her. “Unless you’d rather sleep with someone else. With only five of us here, there’s more space.”
Leon shakes his head. “I think the girls sharing the bed is a good idea,” he says, looking gratefully at Chase. “You and I can hang out in the living room, and they can get a good night’s sleep.” He pauses. “Well, what’s left of the night anyway.”
I chew on the inside of my lip, not really sure if I want to leave Leon and Chase alone together.
“Perfect~” Nikki cheers. “That means the three of us can gossip while the two of you read like the dorks you are~”
There’s a light dust of red on Leon’s face. “What’s wrong with reading?”
“Nothing,” she assures him, kissing his cheek. “I think it’s adorable that you’re a badass who enjoys sitting down with a book.”
“What do you like reading?” Chase wonders. “I have more books in my room.”
“Oh, he likes reading anything from fantasy to romance,” Nikki says, grinning.
Chase nods. “I believe the pile on the counter next to the sink is fantasy and adventure,” he says, nodding to the leaning tower of books propped against the faucet. "The Right Amount of Wrong and Taming the Wind are in there as well.”
“You even have fantasy?” I ask.
“I enjoy the paranormal,” he says, smirking at his own joke, “although I’ve been particularly interested in witches lately.”
“Paranormal?” Leon asks, interested.
Nikki grins, kissing Leon’s cheek one more time before linking our arms together. “Let’s let the boys enjoy their bonding time, shall we? I think it’s time Cupcake got some sleep.”
“I’m not tired,” I argue.
“Don’t care,” she says. “You’re laying down after today, and you’re going to get over it.”
“Finally something we agree on,” Whitler says.
Nikki laughs, linking her free arm with Whitler’s, before forcing both of us down the narrow hallway.
Fun fact? Grammy started reading this story recently (per my request) and ended up getting into it, so she’s been bugging me for a solid week to update, which means you guys inadvertently have her to thank for this chapter~
On that note, it was almost too tempting to “tone down” Nikki because I knew my grandmother would be reading this chapter, but then I was like, “No. Nikki shouldn’t have to hide herself for anyone. Not even Grammy.”
Crap~ And, before I forget, I actually made a discord server for not only this story, but several others where you guys can come hang out and discuss what you want to happen, what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want~ The link is on my profile, but I’ll also comment it for easy access. Hope to see you there~(;
Anyway, let me know what you think as always, cupcakes~