It's a Cruel World, Sir

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07 | First Threat

“So, he gave you his jacket?” Nikki asks for the third time.

“I just said that,” I mutter, English book in hand.

“Yeah, but you don’t seem nearly as excited about it as me,” she whines.

“That’s because there’s nothing to be excited about,” I say simply, closing my locker with a shrug.

“Face it, Nik, Cupcake’s not the girl to swoon over a guy,” Whit joins in.

“But Whitler, he’s the definition of sexy,” she says. “Especially when he smirks, my God.”

“I’m not saying he’s not drop-dead gorgeous, but we’re talking about Cupcake here.”

Nikki sighs. “Yeah, I know. Clearly, we need to have a girl-to-girl talk one of these days,” she decides.

“Can’t wait,” I say sarcastically.

She hits my shoulder, making me laugh.

It’s time for first block—the late bell is about to ring—but we’re taking our time, messing around at my locker as I decide whether I want to stay the full day or skip my evening classes with Whit. It’s tempting to drop everything after lunch, but it’s only Monday, so even if I leave, I’ll still have to deal with everything tomorrow.

Plus, Mother might still be at the house.

“But in all seriousness, how was it?” Nik asks, wrapping an arm around my neck. “Was it like watching a Sex God trying to be an ordinary man or what?”

I roll my eyes, looking over at Whitler for help. She looks as interested as Nikki, though, leaving me hanging.

I sigh. “Not really. He handed me his jacket, took my bags, and got in the car. It was weird, though. He was dressed in that leather jacket and a pair of jeans—completely different from when he’s here—and it looked really good on him.”

“I wish I could’ve seen it,” Nikki says dreamily.

“Figures. Cupcake likes the sexy gangbangers. Why am I not surprised?” Whit inserts, shaking her head.

“Can you blame her?” Nikki looks at her. “I mean, he’s hot in khakis and a button-down shirt. Imagine him in black jeans, a dark tee, and a leather jacket.” She fans herself for dramatic effect. “I’m melting just thinking about it.”

Whit smirks. “I’ll be sure to let Leon know about your thing for leather jackets.”

She tries to smack her arm but can’t reach her. “You know what? Screw you.”

“How’s everything with him going, by the way?” I ask, hoping to distract them. “You two were pretty close Friday night.”

“Ooo, real girl gossip. Please tell us, Ms. Nicole. I want to hear all about lover boy.”

Nikki’s face is red as she unwraps her arm and moves away. “I don’t know what you two are talking about.”

“Hot damn, Cupcake, I think you made her blush. Way to go.”

“Shut up,” she grumbles. “Did we forget about Cupcake’s adventure with the sexy professor? They had to talk about something while he drove her home, right?”

“Good point,” Whit agrees, looking at me. “What did you two talk about?”

“You like bouncing from subject to subject, don’t you?” I mutter.

“Don’t worry—she’s not getting out of it either—but I’m curious. What do you talk about with a professor like Mr. Kingsley?”

“Rumors,” I say easily, shrugging. “Apparently, people think my mother would waste her money on a butler.”

She shakes her head. “The entire school’s full of idiots,” she mutters. “Did you tell him about her “trips”?”

I give a noncommittal shrug. “A little. Mentioned that I’m home alone most of the time. Talked about her husbands. Little things like that, I guess.”

“How’d he take it?” Nikki pipes in.

I chew on the side of my lip, looking forward.

It must be hard.

You’re a strong girl, Vixen.

“Cupcake?”

I mentally shake my head, clearing it. “He didn’t really say anything about it,” I lie. “Nodded his head and drove. I don’t think he knew what to say.”

Whit nods. “I can see why.”

“Yeah...”

The conversation falls silent. I’m suddenly lost in my head, too deep in thought to force out any topic to talk about. With Mother and Cassadee home, I didn’t really have time to think about what Mr. Kingsley said. Now, though, the comment kind of embarrasses me, to the point that I don’t want Whit and Nikki to know about it. It’s not like it was anything bad, it’s just...

“Woah.” Nik pulls me from my thoughts.

I blink a few times, coming back to Earth, and see what they’re looking at.

Everyone is gathered in the front of the room, crowding Mr. Canty’s desk, staring at a desk in the middle of the rows. The desk is covered in clumps of some sort of white powder, even the floor under and around it painted in it.

It’s my desk.

Whitler’s eyes harden as she faces the class in the corner. “Who the fuck did this?” she demands.

Nikki grabs her shoulder. “Calm down, Whit. Yelling won’t get us anywhere.”

I ignore them, stepping closer.

Something’s written on the desktop.

DON’T THINK YOU’RE SAFE

I tilt my head.

“Come on, Cupcake,” Nikki says, grabbing my arm. “We need to get Leon.”

“You go ahead,” I say blankly, dusting some of the stuff away. “I have class.”

“Don’t give us that,” Whitler spits, “Let’s go before—”

“What’s going on in here?” a familiar voice demands.

Mr. Kingsley steps into the room, eyes wide and alert. He looks at Nikki and Whit before his eyes draw to the side of my hand covered in white powder, and finally my desk. Silver flares in his green eyes as he breathes in deeply through his nose.

“Is that your desk?” he asks me, calm, collected, and hard.

I nod, watching him, watching his eyes.

The flares burn out, leaving only a sliver of green around the edge of his irises. He looks at Nikki, scaring her. “Get Dean Gibson,” he orders, voice leaving no room for arguing. “Tell him to meet me in the lounge after he calls the police.”

Her eyes widen. “The police?”

He nods. “And hurry. Run, if you have to. If anyone says anything to you, tell them it’s an emergency and they can come to me if they have any problems with it.”

“I’m not leaving Cupcake,” Whit decides.

“She’ll be fine,” he says, “I’ll be with her.”

“That’s exactly why I’m not leaving,” she says.

He raises an eyebrow, the expression almost daring. “Excuse me?”

“I’ll be fine, Whit,” I assure her.

“But, Cupcake—”

I cut her off. “It’s fine, Whit. I promise. Go get Leon and the rest.”

She opens her mouth, eyes darting from me to Kingsley to me again, before she finally closes it and heads out of the room with Nikki.

Mr. Kingsley seems curious but doesn’t ask. “Alright, everyone out of the room. Ms. Tyler, you come with me. Don’t touch anything.”

I do as I’m told, following after him at a fast-walk. He takes a sharp left, towards the science lab, and pulls me inside. I watch with surprise as he turns on the chemical faucet and grabs my wrist. The still-healing cuts on my forearm break open a little, causing me to cringe in pain.

He stiffens, the muscles in his arm tensing, hand freezing.

“Mr. Kingsley?”

He shakes his head, pulling my hand under the hot water.

I blink, tilting my head, but he ignores me, eyes concentrating on getting the white off of the side of my palm.

It’s silent as he cleans it, lips in a thin line, jaw locked. He doesn’t look happy, but I’m not sure why he’d be angry.

“What’s going on?” I wonder out loud.

He doesn’t say anything until the water’s turned off. “Do you know what that white powder was, Vixen?”

I shake my head. I hadn’t really thought about it.

“It was ricin,” he says. “Poison.”

I don’t even stop. Just look at him. “Is that the reason you had Gibson call the police? To investigate?”

“Yes.” He grabs a towel and wipes the water off my hand. “Someone did it to scare you. Hopefully, they can get something from the school’s cameras.”

“But there aren’t any cameras in the classrooms,” I say. “I don’t even think there are any in the hallways.”

“There aren’t,” he states, “but we can at least see if the person who did it was someone who came in the school or if it was someone already in the school.”

“Good luck narrowing it down,” I mutter. “I have a lot of enemies.”

“I know,” he says. “But it’s the best we can do.”

I nod. “I’m sure Leon and the others will appreciate it—probably a good thing you did it before Whitler goes off the rails too. Congrats, you’ve probably just won a lot of brownie points from the school and the scariest gang at Pacific. You should feel accomplished.”

The towel pauses on my hand. “I did it because someone threatened you, not because I wanted ‘brownie points’ from anyone,” he says, looking at me. “You understand that, right? They threatened to poison you, Vixen.”

I shrug, looking at the mixture of white powder and water going down the drain. “Yeah, I understand. What’s your point?”

He stops. “Point?” he repeats.

I look at him, blank. “So, they threatened me. What does it matter? No one else was hurt; Whit and Nikki are okay, right?”

He nods slowly, like he’s not following but he wants to hear what I’m trying to say anyway.

“Then there’s no problem,” I say, lifting a shoulder. “I’m just glad you got there before someone else touched it. Ricin is poisonous if it’s breathed in, right?”

He stares at me, the silver in his eyes like liquid. There’s not a trace of green in them anymore, but that’s okay—I think I like the silver better anyway. They’re warmer this way, more natural despite their odd color.

“Strange.” He says it softly but definite. Like he doesn’t want me to hear it, but it’s so true that he has to say it out loud. Oddly enough, it doesn’t seem like an insult either, more like a state of fact.

I blink.

“We should go,” he decides, letting go of my hand. “The dean should be on his way to the teachers’ lounge by now, probably with your friends following closely behind him.”

I nod, standing up mechanically.

He tosses the towel in the hazard box next to the table and steps out of the room, seemingly deep in thought. I follow behind him slowly, trying not to interrupt whatever is going through his head, but something strikes me.

“How did you know it was ricin?” I ask.

“From the way it looks,” he says easily, nonchalant.

Except the tension in his shoulders and arms isn’t easy, and the way his jaw is locked isn’t nonchalant.

“I thought it was salt,” I say. “Or baby powder, until I touched it.”

“I’ve seen it before,” he says, continuing down the hallway. “Friend of mine was almost poisoned by it.”

I look at him. “What did you do before getting this job?”

He simply smirks as his eyes meet mine. “Do you want to know more about me, Ms. Tyler?”

I roll my eyes, stepping in front of him. “No thank you.”

He chuckles, following behind me.

Just as he had said, everyone is in the teachers’ lounge when we get there. Leon is pacing the length of the room, looking at the carpet with a serious expression, and Nikki is watching him from the couch, both amused and worried at the same time. Whit and Calvin are by the mini-fridge next to the sink, both leaning against the busted counter. Whitler is looking at the roof, though, deep in thought, and Calvin’s aimlessly looking out the window. Trent and TJ are on the brown loveseat. TJ has his head back, resting on the spine of the couch, eyes closed, worry lines creasing his brows, and Trent is leaning forward, arms on his legs, head down. The dean, Gibson, is next to Nikki, eyes darting from each of them, watching as they deal with it in their own ways.

“Hey, guys,” I say.

Everyone’s eyes immediately snap to me, relief setting into every pair.

Leon rushes over, nearly pushing Mr. Kingsley out of the way as he grabs my shoulders. “Are you okay? Were you hurt? What happened?”

I sigh. “I’m fine, Leon.”

“Fine?” he repeats. “The hell you are. They covered your desk in poison, Cupcake.” He shakes his head. “That’s it. You’re coming to my house. End of story.”

I open my mouth to argue, but Nikki beats me to it.

“Hey now; don’t suffocate her,” she says, coming over to us to put a calming hand on his shoulder, much like the way she did to Whitler in the classroom.

“Well, what else am I supposed to do?” he asks. “They came at her in school, Nik; I doubt they’ll give a damn about her house.”

“I know, but you can’t expect her to leave her house,” she reasons. “Besides, Cupcake’s mom is there right now.”

He snorts. “Like that makes any difference. That bitch would give her to Preston with a fucking bow in her hair.”

Nikki can’t really argue with that.

“Language, Mr. Reid,” Gibson reprimands, standing up from the couch. “I understand that you’re worried about Ms. Tyler, but that’s no reason to—”

Leon grabs his shirt, pulling him to his level. “Don’t tell me what to do, dammit. Maybe if you jackasses would take better care of your students—”

TJ and Trent each grab an arm as Calvin pries his fingers from the dean’s shirt, pulling him away as soon as he releases Gibson. The fire in Leon’s eyes is still burning, but he eases, relaxing as he takes deep breaths.

Gibson looks scared, but clears his throat, fixing his tie. “I will check the cameras and see if anyone entered the school. If no one has, and it’s revealed that the culprit was someone already in the building, there will be a formal investigation by the Silverstein Police Department. I promise that we’ll do everything in our power to ensure the safety of Ms. Tyler.”

“You better.” It’s not Leon this time; instead, it’s Calvin. “Because if something happens to Cupcake, I promise there won’t be a place on this planet you can hide.”

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