The news of Chris’s hospitalization spread like wildfire throughout the halls of Palm Valley Prep, his name rolling of every pair of lips Khalil passed, echoing through the halls of the school. Even the teachers couldn’t resist partaking in the rumors and the drama of it all, lingering in the hallways longer than usual to catch a glimpse of the ongoing conversations. Khalil was just happy that the attention of hundreds of thousands of students had moved from their obsession with him and, though he still received the occasional glare when he walked down the halls and every so often someone would shove him a little too hard for it to be accidental, he managed to find optimism in his now unstained white button ups and bruised free arm. He walked with his head a little higher down the halls now, and even the untrusting looks from Mina’s friends couldn’t discourage his mood.
“Are we still going out to eat at the diner afterwords?”
Khalil plopped down on top of the wooden desk in front of Mina’s, barely picking up the end of her conversation with Noah, who didn’t look as excited to see him as Mina did. She didn’t even try to hide her snide comments or her deafening eye roll, but the bright smile on Mina’s face made it all fade to black and white. Without Chris around anymore Khalil could enjoy being around Mina without the looming threat of someone recognizing him. He could enjoy being around Mina!
“Hi!” Her demeanor was contagious and Khalil couldn’t suppress his own small shy smile. His new found elation was euphoria and Mina could tell. “You seem...better” she shrugged her shoulders laughingly. “Finally got Chris off your mind?” It took Khalil a moment to comprehend what she had said and a blank stare befell his face before realization struck him and he remembered the lie he had told her at the hospital.
“Yeah” he nodded. “Yeah. I finally realized that what happened to him wasn’t my fault. I finally stopped blaming myself, and I feel so much better now that that weight is off my shoulders.” He hoped he sounded convincing enough. He had partially told her the truth though, he did feel like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders, it just wasn’t the same weight that she thought it was.
“Good” she nodded her head with a sigh, reaching over her desk to give his arm a tight squeeze. “I’m really glad you figured things out, you don’t deserve to feel that way.” Besides, Chris is just in a coma. He could wake up any day and be just fine.” Khalil prayed that that day wouldn’t be any time soon, but at least he didn’t have to worry about any of that right now. All he needed to focus on was the dark haired girl smiling down at him in front of him.
“You know I think this lacrosse game is going to be a good distraction for everyone. Who knows-” she threw her hands into the air, amusing herself. “Maybe I’ll even actually enjoy cheering this time.” she laughed and Khalil slowly berated himself internally.
“Ohhh” he sighed, looking up and down at the outfit she wore in realization. “That’s why you’re dressed so uncomfortably.” he jeered, gesturing to the short green and white pleated skirt and matching top that she wore. He was surprised to find that Mina was a cheerleader, though now that he thought about it he hadn’t expected any less.
“You have no idea.” Mina laughed.
“I never pegged you for the preppy cheerleader type.” Mina shrugged her shoulders innocently.
“Well, there’s a lot you don’t know about me.” If only she knew how untrue that statement was. If only she knew how many hours he spent thinking about her everyday. If only she knew everything, but she couldn’t. Not now, not yet, not ever.
“So I guess this means you’re going to force me to come now?”
“No! No, you don’t have to come!” Noah spoke from beside the pair of them, idly shaking her head as if it Khalil’s absence wouldn’t have bothered her in the slightest. It wouldn’t have. “No really!” she continued pressing on, ignoring the harsh glances that Mina was throwing her way. “It wouldn’t be a problem at all.”
“Ignore Noah” Mina’s shoulders danced up and down as she let out a soft sigh turning back around to face Khalil once more, though her words still carried to the sarcastic figure behind her. Khalil drowned her out though, not even Noah’s quips could harass him today. For the first time in his life he was walking on pure sunshine. “You know you’re welcome to come to the game with us.”
“Mhmmm” Khalil hummed “I’ll even save you a seat in the front row of the stands.” she sang, though Khalil was sure he could say no to anything Mina offered even if he tried.
“Please?” she drug out, her eyelashes batting against her bottom eyelid. Of course he was going to go. “You’ll have fun. I promise”
“I- I wouldn’t miss it.” Khalil could faintly hear the sound of a soft scoff echoing behind the face of the smiling girl in front of him, but he ignored the obnoxious noise and instead chose to focus on the looming prospect of being swept into the cramped metal stands of the football field to watch Mina parade on the track below him with the rest of her teammates. He couldn’t think of a better way to spend his Wednesday evening.
“Let’s go Panther’s! Let’s go!”
Clap. Clap. Clap.
The cheerleaders roared from the track mere feet in front of him, their pom poms and dark green skirts twirling faster than seemed humanly possible. Khalil watched them jump, shout, and prance around the field in an ecstatic whir of energy and he found himself getting dizzy just trying to keep up with them. He couldn’t understand why Mina would want to be associated with girls like this, girls whose sole achievement was the branding that came along with being one of these pixie sticks jeering in front of him. She was better, but that didn’t stop him from staring upon her figure with unbridled fascination and permanently etching her grinning face into the back of his mind.
“Let’s go Panther’s! Let’s go!” The crowd echoed back to the girls on the field, their crisp claps reverberating off of every available surface and ringing in Khalil’s eardrums. The sacrifices he was willing to make for his family were going to get him in some real trouble one day, but for now, he waved away his woes and clapped his hands together with the crowd. Their energy was infectious and their symphony raucous.
“Let’s go Panther’s! Let’s go!” he found himself shouting right along with them, and a shy slow grin spread the length of his face when he realized that, down on the field, Mina’s eyes were drilled into his figure as if watching his actions in awe. Khalil was in awe, but the moment was quickly shattered when the crowd exchanged their joyously cheerful shouts for ones renewed with a new sense of vigor and excitement. The Panther’s had come into possession of the ball and one of the members of the team was steadily running the ball down the field with hardly any opposition. He could feel the crowd around him holding their breath as they waited to see if he would give them what they wanted, but at the very last second a member of the opposing team slammed his body into the boy, sending them both tumbling onto the faux grass of the football field. A chorus of boo’s rang throughout the stadium and Khalil, much to his surprise, found himself entertaining a steady stream of boo’s as well.
“Shake if off boys!” One of the cheerleaders sang, initiating the rest into her ranks as they all started up yet another cheer that Khalil didn’t know the words.
“That’s ok, that’s alright, shake it off! Shake it off!” they chanted.
Khalil, grudgingly, began to loose interest in his surroundings as the night wore on, his thoughts fluttering through the air and down to the track where Mina pranced around with the rest of her squad. The scoreboard meticulous ticking of the scoreboard was becoming unbearably obnoxious the beeps mocking his discontent. He couldn’t help counting down the hours until he could leave the sweaty and cramped stands and instead run down to Mina smiling so hard he wouldn’t be able to stop.
The hours steadily began to turn into minutes, then seconds, until finally the scoreboard released a loud and deafening buzz throughout the stadium that put all the student’s anxious cries to ease, but Khalil wasn’t listening to their pointless game banter. He could care less who won the stupid game, and he tried to retain his dignity as he gently manuevered through the crowd who, like him, were dispersing onto the green field below them. Almost there. His feet were moving of his own accord now, trailing him through the maze of jeering students, in search of one bright and smiling face.
“Excuse me. Sorry” he echoed as he pushed through body after body, leaving behind a sea of death glares in his wake. Almost there.
She was surrounded by the rest of the cheerleaders, all huddled together and laughing at some unheard quip. Mina wasn’t smiling. She was, but it wasn’t like the smile she had worn at the party, or the smile she boasted when she was around her friends. It was uncomfortable, forced, and utterly uncomfortable, but Khalil felt his own lips twitch upwards as Mina’s bright eyes caught his in the unforgiving crowd, and he watched as her uncomfortableness turned into sheer glee as she ran to meet him on the trampled and flat grass.
“You came!” she screamed as soon as she was within earshot, and Khalil beamed at her excitement.
“Of course” he nodded his head, shoving his hands deep into the pockets of his faded jeans. He wouldn’t have missed it. “I said I was, didn’t I!”
“I know” she began, and now she was the one looking embarrassed. “I just thought that Noah-”
Khalil interrupted her before she could finish her sentence, shaking his head as if to wave off her debilitating thoughts. “I told you, I could care less what your friends think about me.” It seemed that telling Mina half-truths was becoming second nature to him. “As long as we’re good.” Her beam had transformed into a contagious grin and Khalil mirrored her expression. She was undescribable.
“Of course we’re-”
No. No. No. Khalil hadn’t meant to groan aloud, but the low and deep guttural sound had escaped his lips anyway. Mina didn’t hear his discomfort though, she was too busy being swung around in her boyfriends arms to pay attention to him anymore, and her abrupt giggling became a knife to Khalil’s stomach.
“There you are.” Khalil grimaced as he watched Asher wrap his arms tightly around her waist as he lifted her up, placing short and curt kisses to her lips. Khalil was growing more and more uncomfortable as the seconds wore own and, as if the situation couldn’t have gotten any worse, Noah appeared seconds later in his peripheral. If there had been a wall around, Khalil was sure his hand would have gone through it.
“You did so good baby!”
Khalil cringed, though it didn’t matter since it seemed no one was even paying attention to him anymore, no one that mattered anyway and he couldn’t suppress the urge to dig his nails into the palm of his hand as he watched them kiss each other for what felt like the thousandth time.
“You came.” Khalil groaned once more. He should have walked away when he had had the chance. He should have taken Mina’s hand and run. He should have forgotten Mina and run, anything would be better than a conversation with the small girl now glaring up at him.
“Very observational” Khalil snapped back, cutting his eyes at Noah. She let out a short, unamused, laugh.
“You’re right.” she sung “I am very observational aren’t I. In fact, I’m so observational that I noticed you running down the stairs at the party minutes before Chris’s body was found.”
“Chris was drunk.” Khalil didn’t hesitate to rebuttal, he couldn’t afford to be caught now. He couldn’t afford to be sent back to that cramped juvenile detention center. He couldn’t afford to give up.
“Chris is always drunk.” Noah shook her head. “And yet-” she pretended to be deep in thought for a moment. Khalil hoped she couldn’t hear his heart pounding out of his chest. “And yet, he’s never thrown himself off a balcony before.”
“There’s a first time for everything.”
“You were the last person to see him Khalil, the last person to talk to him.”
“Listen” Khalil closed the short distance between the two of them so that they were standing toe to toe. He applauded himself at the look of uneasiness on her face as she took a small step backward. “I don’t know how may times you need to hear this, but I had nothing to do with Chris falling off that balcony! Nothing! But if you ask me, it was only a matter of time until his karma caught up with him. Maybe this was just the universes way to teaching the ass a lesson.”
“The universe has a lot of your issues in mind” Noah crossed her arms in disbelief. She was going to be a hard one to shake.
“I pray a lot.” Noah scoffed, her eyes practically rolling to the back of her head.
“Now it’s your turn to listen buddy.” The confidence that faltered, suddenly came rushing back to her, and Khalil was the one who now found himself taking a step back. “You may be able to fool everyone else around here, but you can’t fool me! I know you had something to do with Chris’s fall” Her finger was pressed roughly against his chest now as she forced him backwards with every word she spoke. “I know that you’re a lier, and I’m not going to prove it.” She paused, a sinister smile growing the length of her face. “And when I do....MJ will be the first to know!” Shit. Noah was Mina’s best friend. Even if Mina wouldn’t listen to Chris, she would listen to her best her friend. She would listen to Noah. She would listen to Noah and he would be back on the streets where he started. He couldn’t let that happen. He couldn’t lose Mina.
“Let me change really quick and then we can head to the diner.” The sound of Asher’s voice snapped the pair of them back to reality, and Noah quickly created open space between them once more as four pairs of eyes turned in their direction quizzically. Mina eyed the smirk on her friends face accusingly, her eyes darting over to him for only a second before she began to glow once more at the sensation of Asher’s lips on her cheek. Khalil hadn’t eaten a thing during the game, and yet the urge to vomit was becoming overbearingly strong.
He didn’t even protest or complain when Mina ditched him to flounce across the field with Noah and the rest of the lacrosse team as they all began to rev the engines of their expensive trucks in the parking lot, no doubt all headed to the diner he had overheard Mina and Noah talking about at school. But Khalil couldn’t find the urge to feel anything in the moment, he was to concerned overanalyzing Noah’s threats to think about anything else at the moment. Noah didn’t seem like the type of person who didn’t follow through, and he had no doubt that she would be watching him even more closely now.
It seemed as if as soon as Khalil resolved one issue, another popped up, but he didn’t have very many options. Noah would only keep feeding Mina her lies, which meant that Khalil would have to do everything in his power to make sure that Mina didn’t believe her.