It's a Cruel World, Sir

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04 | Asshole

“Hey, Cupcake,” Calvin shouts from down the hall, Trent and Whit in tow. “How’s life?”

“Same as usual,” I answer, shuffling through the books in my locker.

Calvin is Trent’s cousin, but the two are complete opposites. Slender, lean-fit, and gorgeous, Calvin’s only a rank below Leon in terms of looks. His light brown hair falls about two or three inches above his shoulders, naturally curly at the ends. Chocolate eyes are inspecting me, assessing something. He’s wearing dark, boot cut jeans and a Monster energy drink shirt with rundown Converses.

Trent, on the other hand, has on white soccer shorts and a dark red, under armor shirt. His short, black hair is covered with a white beanie that has a thin strip of red wrapped around it. The Vans he’s wearing look almost as rundown as Calvin’s, worn and faded from black to a grungy gray.

“We didn’t see you at the rave last night,” Calvin says.

I shrug, pulling out my English book to stuff it into my bag. “Yeah, I had things to take care of at home, so I couldn’t make it.”

“It’s a shame too. I love the way your pink hair looks under black lights.” He grins, leaning against the locker. “You’ll be at the one tonight, right?”

I nod. “I promised Leon I’d come.”

“Speaking of Leon,” Whit suddenly joins the conversation, looking at me seriously, “Rumors are floating around town. Seems like Preston isn’t happy about the fight with Ronnie, so he’s out for blood.”

“And he threatened me.” It’s not a question.

“Yeah,” she answers anyway. “Leon doesn’t want you going anywhere alone for the next couple of weeks.”

I sigh, closing the locker. “Alright,” I agree.

Calvin cuts in, “Is anyone at your house? We know you live alone; maybe you should come stay with one of us.”

I shake my head, pulling my bag on my shoulder. “Mother and sister are home, so you don’t have to worry about it. They’d never let something like that happen to me.” Unless they do it themselves.

“Just be careful, Cupcake,” Whit stresses. “You know how Leon is when one of us is threatened.”

Calvin snickers at that. “Yeah, I heard about the incident with Noah. Bet it took everyone to hold him back so he didn’t beat the shit out of Noah.”

“You have no idea,” Whit mutters. “Nikki and TJ were so busy trying to keep him from going ape-shit that they couldn’t help her.”

He laughs. “And that’s his own step brother! I can’t wait to see his reaction when Preston comes after us.”

“I hope he goes after you first,” Whit says.

“Hey, I’m all for it.” He grins. “It’ll be nice having someone worried about me.”

“Maybe if you weren’t such an insensitive prick,” she comments.

“You really do get too much of a kick out of this,” I grumble.

He wraps his arms around my neck, pulling me against him as we head down the hallway. “That’s ’cuz he’s so dramatic when it comes to our safety. When he drives you home, he waits for you to go in before he’ll drive off; it’s like he’s our father!”

“He has good reason to worry,” Whit says. “Cupcake’s reckless. That, combined with the rumors about her, is bound to attract too much unwanted attention.”

“I’m not reckless,” I argue, throwing a look her way, “but I’ll be fine. I’m not a part of this group because of my looks, you know.”

“No, but it helps,” Calvin cracks, eyes inspecting my baggy, dark purple hoodie, black, ripped skinny jeans, and purple Converses.

I roll my eyes. “I’ll see you tonight.”

Calvin waves, earning stares from everyone in the hallway, and Whit rolls her eyes as Trent easily ignores him, sending a nod my way.

As soon as I step through the door, the murmurs in the room stop. As if I’m a bomb, they all stiffen, avoiding eye contact as much as possible. With a silent sigh, I take my seat in the middle of the room, laying my head down.

The fight with Ronnie Whit mentioned was my fault. I’ve never been good with my temper—a problem I’ve come to accept—and Ronnie managed to spike it in the worst way. Nikki had to physically wrench me away from him before I stopped. The problem is that Ronnie isn’t just some guy on the street: he’s actually Preston Keller’s right hand man, the man that terrorizes most of the West Coast.

That aside, I’m used to this—Leon and the others worrying about me. Being only nineteen is a pretty big deal to them, always has been since I started talking to Nikki. Leon freaks out when someone threatens us in general, but they all go especially crazy when it comes to me. Like with Noah. I’m pretty sure the only reason he didn’t yell at me for hitting his step-brother, the blame of which would’ve been put on Leon, is because he was angry that Noah hit me in the first place.

Thankfully, the thin cut down my bottom lip is less swollen today, now looking like a simple, red line down the right bit of my mouth, and I’ve gotten used to the dull ache.

Mr. Canty doesn’t bother calling on me the entire class period, something I’m thankful for. Usually, just to spite me, he calls on me every other time, but it seems he can sense the not-so-calm mood I’m in. He, like the other professors, has probably already heard about Noah.

It’s not good to mess with a girl who just got hit by a guy. Especially one with a deadly right hook.

When the bell rings, I’m not surprised to see TJ.

“Hey, babe,” he says, beaming down at me.

“Hey,” I answer halfheartedly.

“Judging by your reaction, you’ve already heard about Preston.”

“Yep,” I pop, stepping out of the room. “So you’re in charge of guarding me?”

“Don’t sound so happy about it.” He chuckles. “And no, I’m not. It’s actually Nikki, since you guys are always together anyway, but she’s in trouble right now.”

I smirk a little. “What this time?”

“Eating lunch with us.” He shakes his head. “Since she’s a junior, she’s technically not allowed to eat lunch with us, like Calvin, but she hasn’t listened to the three warnings beforehand.”

“Knowing her, she’ll come up with an excuse,” I say proudly, smiling.

“Definitely.”

When we step into the psych room, I’m glad to be one of the first ones here. I hate it when everyone stops talking and moves out of our way in the most ridiculous ways. TJ shares my enthusiasm as well, but only because he wants to sit in Nikki’s seat, something she won’t appreciate very much.

“Good morning, Ms. Tyler and Mr. Justice,” Mr. Kingsley greets.

“Morning,” I reply with disinterest as TJ chirps, “Good morning.”

“I heard you got into a fight yesterday at lunch, Ms. Tyler,” he continues, leaning against his desk. “A senior hit you?”

“Yeah.”

“But you didn’t hit him back?” he asks skeptically.

“Me? Hit a senior guy?” I snort as if it’s impossible. “Yeah, right. He’d kill me.”

He smirks, but doesn’t comment.

TJ lets out a low groan. “Dear Buddha, did you see his mouth? That smirk could turn make a nun drop her panties.”

I laugh. “You sound like Nikki now!”

He winks. “I’ve gotten some pointers from her, too.”

“Really?” I ask, brightening. “Who’s the guy? Is he in our group?”

“Of course he’s in our group; where else can I find a guy who could kick my ass?”

I chuckle, shaking my head. TJ’s always had an interesting view on boyfriends: they have to be stronger than him. Which, if you don’t know him and go off of his looks alone, can’t be too hard. However, even with a pretty face, soft, dark hair, and a barely-deep-enough-to-be-intimidating voice, he’s one of the best fighters in the group. Only Leon and Trent are ahead of him, making his dreams of finding a guy who can beat him pretty impossible.

Wait...

“Woah, it’s not Leon, is it?” I ask. “Because I’m pretty sure Nikki will gauge your eyes out for him.”

He cringes. “Oh god no. She can have him. I’m talking about Trent.”

My eyes widen. “No way.”

He grins like a kid in a candy story. “Way! We’re doing a project for Physics and Mrs. Flannigan assigned us as partners—because who would want to pair up with members of Pacific’s infamous gang, right?—so he came over to my house last night and while we were waiting for the stuff to firm, we started wrestling and that boy is such a rough, manly man that I can’t even—” He groans.

I laugh at his rambling, ignoring the looks of people who’re entering the class. “That’s great, TJ!”

“There’s just one problem.” His face falls a little. “I’m pretty sure Trent’s straight.”

“I told you that he could go either way.” Nikki suddenly appears, looking between the two of us. “He hasn’t dated any girl in this school. He doesn’t even show interest in the girls at the club, so it’s up in the air, really.”

“Yeah, but he’s never really said anything either,” he argues.

“Trent never says anything,” she counters. “That’s kind of his thing. Mr. Mysterious, you know?”

He sighs, unsatisfied. “I guess.”

“Now, that aside, why is your ass in my seat?” she demands, hands on her hips. “Up, lover boy.”

He does as he’s told and sits in front of her, not bothering to put up a fight. “How’d the office go?”

She shrugs. “Fine. Nothing’s really changed. Now I have to get a note from my professor to eat with you guys, though.” She huffs, crossing her arms. “Damn asshole. Trying to act all high and mighty just because he’s the dean now. If you ask me, I liked him better as a professor.”

“That’s only because he let you get away with everything,” I point out.

She waves it off. “Minor details, Cupcake, minor details.”

I laugh, shaking my head.

“All right,” Mr. Kingsley’s voice interrupts us, “how was everyone’s Thursday?”

There are a variety of answers, mixed in with TJ and Nikki cheering.

He chuckles. “Good, then you’re ready to jump into today’s lesson.”

Now there are groans.

“Now, now, be thankful there’s no book work involved,” he says, smirking. “Today, we’re going to dive into the different types of personalities, so I’m going to need a couple of volunteers. Anyone?”

Almost everyone shoots up a hand. He looks thoughtful, and I rest my head on the desk, closing my eyes.

“Ms. Tyler,” I hear him say. “Thank you for volunteering first.”

I look up at him, eyes narrowing.

“Please come to the front of the room.” He smirks.

Roughly shoving myself out of my desk, I head up to the front, TJ and Nikki snickering.

“Nice to see you’re so excited,” he states smugly, causing me to bite my lip in response.

Breathe, Vixen. He’s just trying to show the class he’s the boss; there’s no reason to rip off his gorgeous face.

“Something wrong?” he asks, raising a daring eyebrow.

But it’s tempting.

“Course not,” I answer, smiling sweetly.

Everyone knows it’s a lie, the tension in the room intensifying.

“Now, let’s go with...” His eyes trail the class, and he smiles warmly at the queen. “Ms. Shay, please join us.”

Harley smiles, the corners of her mouth curling up subtly, as she stands up. Her outfit, a thin, black, pencil skirt and tight, baby blue tub top, leaves nothing to the imagination. The high heels she’s wearing clack all the way to the front of the room, where she sends me the nastiest look she dares with Nikki and TJ so close.

“Now,” Mr. Kingsley says, addressing the class with a deep, authority-filled voice, “how do you think Ms. Tyler would react if someone started verbally attacking her?”

The class exchanges looks with each other. Nikki snickers and TJ smirks a little, both of them relishing the unsteadiness in their eyes. No one says anything.

“Okay then, how about Ms. Shay?” he asks. “How do you think she’d react?”

Nikki snorts. “She probably wouldn’t say anything to your face then spread shit behind your back. That’s how plastic people act.”

He smirks, unfazed by her harsh words. “Okay, Ms. Sutton, since you want to answer so badly, why don’t you tell me why no one said anything about Ms. Tyler?”

She shrugs like it’s obvious. “They know better.”

“They know better...” he muses, deep in thought. “Ms. Shay, you may sit down now.”

Harley heads back to her seat, but when I try to do the same, he stops me. “Ms. Tyler, please stay.”

I grumble under my breath and shove my hands in my pockets, trying to ignore the smirk he has, like he’s purposefully irritating me.

“Let’s say, for argument sake, that I don’t know better,” he says, facing me.

Is this guy really going to insult me?

“Tell me, Ms. Tyler, is there something you hate, something that gets on your nerves more than anything?”

I shrug, as if to say, Not really.

He nods, but I can see that he doesn’t believe me. “Well, I know that you’re a part of Pacific’s strongest gang, which is interesting if you think about it. A gang? Of undergrad students? That’s not very intimidating. According to the professors here, you’re supposed to be some frightening person, yet you have pink hair.”

I raise an eyebrow, inviting him to continue.

“I bet your family’s really proud of you,” he says, sarcasm sprinkling the words. “You have such a wonderful set of friends. Perfectly monstrous.”

I can hear Nikki hiss and look over to see her teeth are clenched. TJ pats her back soothingly, trying to calm her.

Annoyed that he brought them into it, I look at him and narrow my eyes, crossing my arms.

“Bonus question,” he says suddenly, ignoring the anger from the two of us. “What do you think crossing one’s arms means psychologically?”

Aware of the heightening tension, no one dares to raise their hands. Their eyes are wide and surprised, worrying about what’s going to happen if this continues.

“Two things,” he answers, ignoring the pressure. “Either you’re trying to distance yourself from me, or you’re trying to restrain yourself. Which one is it?”

His tone pisses me off.

“That’s fine. I didn’t expect an answer anyway. Besides, I think I know.” He smirks and casually steps over to me, as if I’m not planning on permanently rearranging his attractive face the moment he’s close enough. “I don’t know why you’re so irritated,” he says. “Monstrous was the edited version, Ms. Tyler. If I were telling the truth, I’d tell you that they’re worse than monsters, much lower. Lying and scheming to get what they want, blaming others for their problems, and trying to run the university like it’s their playground—they’re disgusting, useless people”

Quickly, I glance over at TJ and Nik. Both of them are now glaring at him, straining in their seats, but I can see the self-disgust.

Without thinking, I grab Mr. Kingsley’s button-up and pull my arm back. Just before my fist can make contact with his chest, his hand shoots in front of me and grabs it, engulfing it with his hand effortlessly.

“The Protector,” he muses quietly—so quietly, I’m not sure he’s talking to me. “How rare...”

There are gasps all around the classroom, everyone surprised that someone’s actually stopped me from hitting them, and TJ and Nikki stand up, readying themselves to help if I need it.

Surprisingly, Mr. Kingsley let’s go and steps back to face the class. “As you can see, because of Ms. Sutton’s personality, when Ms. Shay was on the spot, she attacked her without restraint, but when Ms. Tyler was on the stand instead, she was practically the first to bolt out of her chair to help. However, none of you took up for Ms. Shay. Why? Because when confronted with Ms. Tyler and Ms. Sutton, and even Mr. Justice, who have strong-willed, blunt personalities, you guys don’t know how to counter for fear of repercussion. Mind you, there’s nothing wrong with that, most humans are like that.” He looks from me to Nikki and TJ, the amusement shining in his eyes making me want to punch him again. “I guess in that sense, you three are strange. In a good way, of course.” He smirks.

Nikki and TJ grin back, forgiving him instantly, and, thankfully, the bell rings.

Shaking off the irritation, I head back to my seat to get my things so I can run out of the classroom, desperate to get away from the asshole.

“Ms. Tyler, would you mind staying after class for a few minutes?” Mr. Kingsley asks.

I groan and pick up my bag, pleading with Nikki to stay with me with my eyes.

“I’ll be outside,” she says, smirking.

Traitor.

Chuckling, she and TJ step out, leaving me alone with Mr. Kingsley. I walk over to his desk grudgingly and stand in front of it, watching as he shuffles papers around.

When he’s finished, he looks up at me, eyes amused. “I’m sorry for pushing you today; I was only trying to make a point.”

“It’s fine,” I state with a shrug.

Do it again, and I really will rearrange your face.

He smirks. “However, you should be careful of that temper of yours; it’s going to get you in a lot of trouble one day.”

My eyes narrow. “You shouldn’t talk so high and mighty, asshole.”

He chuckles, unbothered. “You can go now. Can’t wait to see you in class on Monday.”

“I can,” I snap before rushing out of the classroom.

Damn professor. Who does he think he is!?

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