The swollen purple eye and busted knuckles that Khalil came sporting to school the next day only added fuel to the blazing fire of rumors that were still circulating around the school about him and his ‘troublesome’ past, but Mina couldn’t find herself any less interested in the petty gossip and rumors that echoed through the halls of Palm Valley Prep. She found herself defending his very existence to anyone unaware enough to get caught in her web, and though they all pretended to listen with wide eyes and wry smiles she knew that every single one of them went right back to gossiping when she was out of earshot. Asher’s friends never strayed from their inappropriate and condescending jokes and, though Noah never made fun of Khalil aloud she never failed to laugh along with the rest of the table when his name popped into the conversation. They were all so disgustingly immature.
“Baby?” Asher’s soft voice tickled the skin of her neck, his lips intimately brushing against her earlobe as he whispered against her. His arms wrapped themselves tighter around her waist, his body pressed firmly against her backside. Standing in the middle of the busy hall all of Asher’s friends’ eyes were glued to her as if waiting for a response to an unspoken question, or rather an unheard question. Mina folded her hands over Asher’s, plastering what she hoped was a convincing smile on her face as she nodded her head consensually. She had no idea what she had just agreed with but, whatever it was, it seemed to satisfy the group. Chris and the others took up conversation again without a second thought, but Asher’s attention was still focused on his silent girlfriend wrapped between his arms. Mina could feel his eyes boring into the side of her head questioningly, and she turned her body sideways to give him a thin-lipped smile and a small peck to his lips. She could feel him smile underneath her touch.
“Hey!” laughter rose around the group as Chris’s voice boomed through the hall “Jeez” he protested. “Get a room you two!” Mina feigned a tight smile and was thankful for the distraction of the brass clanging bell overhead. Asher bade goodbye to all his friends, letting go of Mina’s waist to instead grasp her hand tightly in his. He was warm.
“See you at lunch?” Noah beamed and Mina nodded in response, watching as Noah blew her a curt kiss before following the sea of students scurrying down the adjacent hall. A sigh blew through the air and it took Mina a moment before she realized that the sound had come from her, Asher’s eyes immediately traveled to her in uncertainty. He raised their intertwined fingers and placed a wet kiss on the back of her hand. Being around Asher was unbelievably easy, the way he made her feel from just his words alone was incredible, but his friends...his friends were barely tolerable. She tried to make exceptions for them, since they were only acting just as obnoxious as the rest of the students at the school, but there was only so much of the lacrosse team that she could take, and she had reached her daily limit for today.
“What were you thinking about?” Asher’s eyes carefully scanned her face as they walked, still intertwined with one another, down the opposite hall towards their second period, his eyes were inquisitive and genuinely full of concern. She doubted he actually wanted to know what was on her mind: his obnoxious, self-centered friends, not to mention Khalil’s mysterious appearance. She must’ve been crazy, but she could have sworn that she recognized his face from somewhere.
“MJ?” Mina hadn’t answered his question.
“Just stuff about my parents.” It wasn’t a complete lie. They still weren’t home and, other than the bright neon sticky note they had left on the fridge for her yesterday, they still hadn’t contacted her. For all they knew she could be dead. Maybe if she did die they would finally pay attention to her. Mina quickly shook the dark thought from her mind, instead focusing on the warmth that was pulsating through her body from Asher’s touch.
“How long are they going to be gone?”
“I don’t know” Mina shrugged, looking away from Asher’s intense stare, she wasn’t ready for the intense look of pity that strobed over her body. “And honestly, I don’t really care.” The last part only held a hint of truth, and as soon as the words had left her mouth Mina immediately regretted them. That was the problem, she though in her head, she cared to much.
“Well, you know if you ever need-” Asher paused mid-sentence, Mina assumed thinking for the right words.
“If you ever need...a break” he continued slowly. “You know I’m only a phone call away.” The corners of his mouth pulled up into a sly smile and Mina barely hid her own at his insinuation. Nothing to get her mind off her rogue parents than sex with her boyfriend.
“Crap!” Asher’s smile fell as he watched panic wash over his girlfriends face, her eyes trained ahead of him to the woman standing in the hallway, a bright smile and a pair of khaki slacks in a sea of green.
“What?” he asked concernedly “What’s wrong?” his eyes had quickly changed from humorous to a deep cloud of worry. They had stopped in the middle of the hall, students still bustling around them, Asher now peering down at her through his thick lashes in confusion.
“I forgot my Macro textbook in my locker!” Mina realized. Asher’s clouded demeanor instantly lightened once more, his smile returning even brighter. Mina’s stomach somersaulted at the sight despite the annoyance in her voice.
“I’ll grab it for you.” he offered without a second thought, dropping their interlaced hands for the first time, but he had only taken one step before Mina’s hands were on his chest stopping him. The classroom was only five feet away, she couldn’t let him be late because of a mistake she had made.
“No.” she shook her head in protest. “I’ll get it.”
His eyes searched hers. “Are you sure, it’s not a big deal. I’ll only take a second.”
“No” Mina shook her head for the second time, still trying to push him towards the classroom behind them, though his figure was unmovable. “It’s fine” she pleaded with her eyes. “Just save me a seat. I’ll be right back, ok?” Asher finally nodded in acceptance letting her go, but not before he had dipped his head to meet her lips with his own.
“Go” Mina called behind her with a smile as she ran back down the hall in the direction they had come from. She could practically hear Asher’s smile behind her. Her locker wasn’t far from the class, but the three minutes it took for her to reach it felt like the longest three minutes of her life. She spun her combination at double speed, throwing the door open with a loud bang, grabbing the bright green Macroeconomics book from the floor of the minuscule space, before she grabbed the door with her free hand, closing it again with the same ferocity. The bell overhead clanged loudly again, and Mina let out a string of curses under her breath, a frustrated sound emanating from the back of her throat in the now empty hallway.
Her wedges clacked against the linoleum floor at the speed of light, thundering down the hall without falter as she attempted to speed walk her way down the halls without attracting attention to herself. She didn’t need need the first conversation she had with her parents when they came back to be about the new detention she had acquired, but she had become so worried about avoiding detection that she forgot to avoid the rest of the late stragglers in the hallway. Suddenly the books and papers in her hand were littered across the shiny linoleum and she was sitting in the middle of it all.
“Fuck!” a voice above her cursed in frustration. “I’m s-sorry” the voice stuttered, but Mina was still in shock, her hands achingly red from the contact with the hard floor underneath her.
“It’s fine” she managed to grumble out attempting to climb to her feet, using the lockers beside her to steady herself, but she had barely lifted herself an inch off the floor before she slipped, ending up in the same spot as before. Not only was she late, but it seemed as if she had forgotten how to work her legs.
“I’m so s-sorry. I wasn’t looking where I was- I’m really sorry.” the voice continued to apologize frantically, gathering all of Mina’s papers into his hand with shaking fingers, his voice hitching in front of her with uncertainty. She found it humoring that the boy in front of her was apologizing when she was the one who had run into him, the story of her life. She swore people would let her walk all over them if she wanted.
“Really, it’s-it’s fine.” Mina shook her head absentmindedly, simply frustrated at her newfound clumsiness as she began to try and pick herself up off the floor once more, this time a pair of large hands appearing under her nose in guidance. One hand was tightly gripping onto her gathered books and papers and the other was empty, extended in assistance, but all Mina could focus on was the pair of dirty and beat up trainers leaving dirt smudges all over the pristine floors.
“Again, I’m so so-”
Mina grabbed the stranger’s free hand with both of her own, giving the figure her full weight as he pulled her off the ground swiftly. The beat up pair of trainers should have been her first clue, but somehow she still found herself dumbfounded staring at the tall and lean figure of Khalil in front of her.
“sorry” his voice trailed off as his caramel eyes landed on her face and once again he again grew into the silent anxious boy she remembered from homeroom. His bruised black eye and busted knuckles looked even worse up close and, despite herself she found her thoughts trailing to the whispered rumors all about the school.
“Khalil, right?” she spoke, breaking the awkward silence that threatened to swallow them both. Khalil nodded in response to her question, not speaking a word and she watched as his eyes traveled over her body from head to toe taking her in, almost as if he were afraid she wasn’t real. He was twirling the metal pendent she noticed around his neck on the first day of school, between his fingers like a top, it must’ve been an unconscious habit she assumed.
“You uhm-you know my name.” It wasn’t a question.
“Of course” Mina laughed, trying to diffuse the thick tension. “Doesn’t the whole school” She could have sworn she saw his eyes darken at those words. “So-” she quickly tried to change the topic.
“How are you liking it at Palm Valley?” that was a stupid question, no one liked being bullied and gossiped about. She let out a loud sigh, about to start her own mantra of apologies when she noticed the half smile threatening to spread across Khalil’s face, she was sure that was the first time that he had smiled since he had walked through the front double doors of the school, and she had a feeling it would never last, nevertheless she smiled along with him letting out a laugh that she hoped he would mimic. He did not, but his half-hearted smile didn’t falter.
“Yeah” he nodded. “If you like having smoothies thrown at your head and rumors spread about you.” He was being sarcastic, of course. She was an idiot.
“Hey, I’m- I’m really sorry about them-”
“You-you really don’t have to apologize”
“Yes, yes I do. They’re all rich pretentious jerks that-”
“It-it’s fine, Mina” Mina. He called her Mina. No one called her Mina, not her parents, not Asher, and Noah only ever yelled it when she was frustrated or angry, and yet this lanky anxious boy standing in front of her with wide eyes had called her Mina.
“You know my name.” Mina mimicked Khalil with a smile and she noticed his lips threatening to pull into a grin.
“Of course. Doesn’t the whole school”
“Hey? Do you want to eat lunch with me and my friends.” Mina blurted out, before she had the chance to change her mind, though why he would want to eat with the very people who had started rumors about him beat her, she hoped he would ignore that and accept her invitation anyway, but the smile that had once threatened his facial features was now replaced by a frown, his eyes become dark and closed off once more. She should have just invited him to eat lunch with her instead, but it was to late to take her offer off the table now, she didn’t want him to think she was being rude.
“Uhm” was the only response she received and she quickly began to ramble, only digging the conversation into a deeper hole.
“Of course, that was only a suggestion and you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to or aren’t com-” She was prepared to talk endlessly until he stopped her and she was prepared for any string of excuses that he was about to feed her, prepared for everything except the word, “Ok”