Chapter 5 - Big fans
Another morning meant lacing up my boots and sulking my way through a workday.
But not before stopping by Jackson’s house first.
He was my best friend and I should’ve trusted him to take care of his own sister. His own flesh and blood.
But I didn’t. And I wasn’t sorry about it.
Since I met Jackson he made it no secret how he felt about his father, and rightfully so. The man just tapped out, completely ignored his duty to his kids after his wife passed away. If I had to take a guess I’d say he got lost in his own grief. Caught up in the loss of his wife, so much that it consumed him. Jackson always wanted River far away from that situation.
But he had no clue what it meant to take care of another person.
Not like I did.
I had this innate need to visually make sure she was okay.
That she was awake and getting ready for school.
And that she wasn’t eating half of a jar of peanut butter for breakfast.
I walked into the house which was unlocked, a fact that annoyed me to no end.
River had her headphones in while she stood in front of the stove cooking bacon and was completely oblivious to the fact that I had walked in the front door.
This was the shit I was talking about.
I slid into a chair at the kitchen table and waited until she turned around which didn’t take long.
She screamed when she noticed me.
I started but she interrupted me.
“Don’t curse... Yeah, I know. But if you keep scaring me, I’m going to keep cursing.”
She rolled her eyes.
“Why is the front door unlocked?”
“I knew you’d show up.”
“Finish your book?”
I asked. She sat through most of the party Friday night with her nose stuck in it. The other half she spent killing Jackson in cornhole.
She sighed as she flipped the bacon over.
I found it hilarious that our mundane conversations annoyed her. Especially in the mornings. In the short time I'd spent with her I discovered that River was not a morning person.
“You have everything you need for school?”
She spun toward me, giving me her full attention for the first time since I walked in.
“I think so.“
She looked nervous and I wished I knew what to say. She was at least ten times smarter than I was at her age, she had no reason to be nervous.
I looked at my watch and stood up.
“I’ve gotta get going. How are you getting to school?”
Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
“The bus is supposed to be here in thirty minutes.”
I nodded before walking out of the kitchen.
“Lock the door, please.”
I yelled as I walk out of the house.
When I got to work there wasn’t much to do. It was the slowest day I’ve had in a while. Slow for the whole floor apparently because just as I was about to slip out early, Amy from down the hall came into sight.
“Heard you had a party Friday night. Where was my invite, Beau?”
She tried batting her lashes but it didn’t have the effect she was hoping for. It looked more like she needed to flush her eyes out than anything else.
Sure as hell wasn’t sexy.
Not that she wasn’t physically attractive. She just tried so damn hard to be and that’s the furthest thing from attractive.
“It’s not my house, I have no control over that.”
I told her as I pretended to look through a chart.
“Yeah, right. It’s basically your house. Anyway, I heard Jackson’s little sister lives with him now. That must suck, having a little brat to take care of.”
I almost laughed because River being referred to as a brat was comical.
But a brat? She didn’t have it in her.
Although I was sure she would prefer most people to just think she was one. Better chance of them just leaving her be.
I nodded in Amy’s direction, not bothering to make eye contact before leaving. I had met my conversation quota for the day.
I got to my house and my phone rang.
“What’s up, Jackson?”
“River got into a fight.”
Guess my quota was a bit short.
“Yeah... Something is up, she might seem a little moody but I know her, fighting isn't in her nature. But it sounds like the principal is taking her side, so it’s not all total bullshit.”
I pinched the bridge of my nose and tried to imagine River in a fight. She probably didn’t even weigh a hundred pounds but I’d more than likely still put my money on her.
“So can you go get her?”
Jackson surprised me by asking.
“You want me to go pick her up?”
“Yeah, I would do it myself but I’m halfway to Wilmington with these trucks.”
I thought it sounded a little loud on his end. Jackson was over transportation of our unit but he somehow always managed to have to do everything himself.
“Alright. Alberton High, right?”
“Yep. You’re on her emergency list so there shouldn’t be any issues.”
He said before hanging up.
I went to Alberton High School too. I really wasn’t sure what I was doing back in this town when I quite literally could’ve picked almost anywhere else.
But here I was.
I pulled up to the school that looked exactly the same way it did the last time I saw it and it felt... Weird.
I hated this place but I can’t for the life of me remember why.
What could’ve possibly been wrong with my life back then?
I made my way to the office and when I explained to the lady sitting at the desk up front why I was here, she arched her brow.
“You’re here to pick up River Stafford?”
“Yeah... I’m a... A family friend.”
I pulled out my wallet and handed her my ID.
She nodded and handed it back before she walked to the back, down a small hallway where I could only assume the feisty criminal was being held.
A few minutes later she walked back toward me, River not far behind.
I gave her a once over as she got closer.
Her clothes looked normal, with no holes or blood, her face as well. Nothing looked out of place except when she made it to me I saw that her bottom lip is busted.
I narrowed my eyes at the lady before opening my mouth.
“Did you give her any ice for that?”
I asked, not trying to disguise my tone.
But it was River who answered.
“Its fine, Beau. Can’t even feel it.”
She smiled and winced.
The lady left us and I dipped my head down so only River could hear me.
“Nothing important. Let’s just say I don’t think the girls in this town are going to be big fans of mine.”
Not going to be fans? It was the first damn day of school.
I turned my body back to the desk.
“Can I speak to the principal?”
The lady nodded and I could barely hear River whisper screaming behind me.
I was shown to the principal’s office, I somehow managed to avoid it during my high school years but apparently not anymore.
After a few minutes ticked by the door swung open.
“Beau Holmes. You have to be kidding me!”
I turned around to see Bradley Novack walk through the door. His younger brother Ben and I both walked these halls at the same time. Ben was two grades ahead of me but we spent plenty of time at football practice together, where Bradley helped out.
“You’re the principal?”
“And proud of it.”
How did I not know?
“What can I do for you, man?”
Hmm... How should I explain this?
“I’m here picking up River Stafford. Her older brother and I work together and are close friends. I think you spoke with him on the phone. Anyway, she seems to think the girls here don’t like her. It’s her first day so I’m trying to figure out how that could even be possible.”
I leaned back in my seat.
“Ah, yes. I don’t know how to word this without just flat out saying it. High school girls are mean. They can be... Relentless. And unfortunately, I think this particular group is bored, so River arriving really riled them up.”
I stared at him, dumbfounded.
“She has a busted lip. I think that’s a little more than a mean girl. You’re not going to do anything about it?”
He leaned forward with his elbows on the desk and smiled.
Was he seriously smiling?
“River put them in their place.”
I was still staring at him blankly so he sat back in his chair and continued.
“I guess you didn’t see the other girl.”