Beau? There was an extremely high chance that Noah’s Beau and Khalil’s Beau were completely unrelated, but there was also an extremely high chance that they were, and Mina couldn’t stop the anxiousness that plagued her thoughts as she traveled, zombie like, from class to class. Khalil had painted Beau out to be a manipulative and mischievous boy who was only concerned with matters that affected himself, someone who wouldn’t hesitate to throw someone under the bus if it meant he were to get off scott free, but Noah’s Beau didn’t give her those vibes. Noah’s Beau seemed nice, but looks could always be deceiving.
If Khalil were here she could ask him, but her friend seemed no where to be found and the longer he remained absent the more worried Mina became, and the only thing that was taking her mind off it was concocting explanations in her head that justified why the boy Noah was talking to and Khalil’s childhood foster home friend were not the same person.
The lunch bell rung, pulling Mina from her daze of thoughts that threatened to swallow her whole and she merged into the crowd of students pushing their way into the compact lunch room, like a school of fish all in a frenzy.
That’s when she spotted him.
Clad in his usual baggy pants and much to large dark green blazer and tie, Khalil sat at his usual table in the very corner of the lunch room, his head bowed towards the table as if he were lost deep in pensive thought.
“Khalil!” She had never made her way across a room so fast in her life. “Khalil, there you are.” she threw her bag onto the slick table surface, crawling onto the bench beside him with ease. “I was worried about you when you didn’t show up for homeroom, and then you didn’t answer my texts-” she was rambling now. “Then I thought maybe you were avoiding me or something and-” A soft wince beside her brought Mina’s droning to a halt as, for the first time since she sat down, she took a moment to look over at the skinny boy beside her, shocked at the figure that she was met with.
“Khalil?” her once booming voice had grown soft now as she absorbed Khalil’s beaten and bruised body beside her, he looked as if he had gotten into a fight with a wrestler , and he had clearly lost terribly. She scooted closer to him on the bench, their thighs pressed tightly against one another as she pushed herself flush against his own trembling body. Mina felt as if she could burst into tears at any second.
Unable to restrain herself, she reached out to touch his beaten body, running her fingers gently over the deep open wounds spread across his arms, his hands, his face. He took a sharp intake of breath as her fingers danced across the tender cuts of his face, a hand shooting out to wrap comfortably around her free one underneath the metal table.
“What happened?” she whispered quietly, but the lanky boy beside her only shook his head silently. “Who did this to you?” Another head shake was all she received in return, but she couldn’t understand why he would want to protect classmates who beat him until he was bruised with cuts and scrapes, she couldn’t understand why he wouldn’t say anything.
“Did they threaten you Khalil?” He didn’t even bother to give her a slight head shake this time, his eyes glued to his ragged jeans.“Who did this to you?” She bit the inside of her cheeks to keep from lashing out, her bottom lip sucked into her mouth in thought. “It was the boys on the lacrosse team wasn’t it? It was Asher’s friends.” This time she didn’t try to pull a response out of him, simply yanking her hand free of his iron clad grasp and pushing herself back from the table with ease.
She was tired of the way they all seemed to get away with treating Khalil, and she was tired of the way he seemed to sit back silently, letting everyone walk all over him with no fear of any consequences. She hadn’t seemed to realize how toxic her entire school was until Khalil showed up, but now that her eyes had been opened she couldn’t go back in the dark, she couldn’t be a bystander and let them get away with the stunts they pulled.
“Mina stop!” Now he wanted to speak. He grabbed her wrist, promptly yanking her back towards the table with ease until she was standing right above him now, her figure resting between his legs and still seething.
“Are you serious!” she exclaimed out into the electric air. “I let them get away with covering you in fake blood, with writing murderer across your locker, with all the other stupid things you let them do to you, but this-” she was shaking her head now, so overcome with emotion she could barely string all her words together. “Khalil, this-”
“Yeah?” he asked sarcastically, cutting her off before she could finish her angered thought. “And what are you gonna do about it Mina? What are you gonna do to them? Hmm?” Silence. “What?” he humphed his shoulders. “Are you gonna go tell on them, beat them up?”
“I’m gonna talk to them.” she gritted.
“You’re going to talk to them?” he eyed her skeptically now, his lips pressed tightly together as if he were withholding a laugh. “What makes you think they’ll even listen to you? Huh? What makes you think just because you tell them to that they’ll stop - because I guarantee you they won’t Mina, and absolutely nobody is going to make them.”
“What- what about the teachers.” she was reaching now, but Khalil only continued to shake his head, moving his hands to wrap tightly around her waist above him and suddenly Mina forgot how to breathe. She was still upset and frustrated at the sight of Khalil’s battered figure, still upset at what Asher’s friends had done to him, but the sensation of his fingers dancing across her skin was muddling her brain and she couldn’t force herself to form a coherent sentence anymore.
“There’s no proof” he shook his head. “And even if there was-” he was fiddling with the hem of her shirt now, twisting the light fabric of her uniform between his forefinger and thumb as if he were heavy in thought. “I’m sure they still wouldn’t do a damn thing about it. I think they might hate me more than the students.”
“I want to get out of this town.” Mina blurted and Khalil paused at her words now, Mina’s shirt hem dropping from the tips of his finger. He paused, looking up at her skeptically. “Sorry” she ran her fingers through her hair exasperatedly, shaking her head back and forth. “I mean I know it sounds impulsive...and stupid” she laughed. “But I really hate this place, I-I just want to leave. Go some place where their stupid obnoxious rich people rules don’t apply, somewhere that I can be my own person without everyone around me trying to control me, trying to tell me what to do. I just want to- I want to be free someplace else” She hadn’t meant to rant, but as soon as she had opened her mouth, the words had begun to flow freely from her lips like a never ending river.
“Me too.” Khalil whispered back, a tight-lipped smile pulled across his face. ” You know I’ve always wanted to go to Wisconsin.”
“Wisconsin?” she laughed, and Khali shrugged his shoulders with a humph. “I don’t know” he chuckled alongside her. “Eight-year-old me had a lot of passionate dreams.”
“And one of those dreams was to go to Wisconsin?”
“Hey!” he exclaimed, pushing her from between his legs playfully, his hands dropping from her waist and it took all of Mina’s self control not to go rushing back. “If you’re going to judge you can find someone else to take with you on your impromptu trips to fall festivals” Mina’s jaw fell open in mock surprise as she held her chest, a feigned look of hurt written across her face, but she quickly snapped back.
“Then I guess you’ll have to find someone else to do your homework for you then huh?” she pouted.
“Blackmail?” Khalil questioned, his lips pursed together in a smirk. “Ok, I see how it is.”
Mina shrugged her shoulders innocently.
“I suppose now would be a bad time for me to ask to come over again then huh?” He was met with a smirk and a pair of steadily rolling eyes before Mina’s tone became serious once more and she took a seat next to him on the tan wooden bench again.
“I wish, but I can’t.” she pouted. “I have cheer practice after school today.”
“So skip” Khalil answered nonchalantly, without missing a single beat. “You hate them all anyway.”
“That’s not the point” she couldn’t suppress a smile at Khalil’s boldness. “Cheer is an extracurricular, and my parents preach that extracurriculars are your best friends when applying to colleges.”
Khalil scoffed. “I thought you were tired of other people telling you what to do, of other people living your life for you?” She was, but saying that you wanted a change and actually making a change were two different things, and she was scared of the latter so instead she shrugged once more and attempted to give Khalil the most innocent and forgiving look she could muster. This life was all she knew after all.
“I-I can’t” she shook her head, repeating her earlier excuse. “I have to go to practice.”
The bell rung overhead, drowning out the sounds of Khalil’s disappointment and instead filling the cafeteria with the unanimous sounds of benches and shoes scraping against the tile floor.
“Hey?” she tapped his arm as they both rose from the wooden cafeteria bench, gathering their things as they prepared to merge into the tight mass of students scurrying towards the metal cafeteria doors. “Um- random question”
“Mhm?” Khalil hummed in response, shouldering his bag from its place on the floor beside him.
“Beau?” His eyes shot up at the mention of the name and suddenly Mina became clammy with sweat as Khalil’s caramel colored eyes bored into hers. “He-” she attempted to sound nonchalant, but her wavering voice was betraying her. “He- doesn’t go to Palm Valley?” Mina prayed that the answer was no, but Khalil’s face bore no emotion as she spoke “Does he?”
“Why? Is something wrong?”
“No. I-I’m just curious is all.”
“Don’t be.” Mina gulped at the intensity of his reply. “Beau is the last person on my mind, and he should be the last person on yours” Of course. Mina nodded her head silently at his attempt at a vague answer, but her curiosity was overwhelming and worry plagued her features. From the stories Khalil had fed her, Beau was the only person that seemed to hate him more than Chris and Noah combined. If they were hanging out it couldn’t have been good thing, which was exactly why Mina was sure she needed to spill her guts.
“I think I saw him with Noah today in homeroom.” she blurted and she had never seen Khalil’s demeanor change so fast. Just the mention of Beau’s name did something indescribable to him and Mina watched him pause in his steps, his eyes becoming dark and glazed over as she was sure he was becoming more closed off. Maybe Beau and Noah’s friendship was more worrisome than she thought.