Crossroads: Book 1

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Chapter 10

Elena

“There was a slight, furtive boy whom no one knew, who kept to himself with an inner intensity of avoidance and secrecy.”

​Even Lord of the Flies is warning me about Mike. For the past eight days, I’ve been studying this book. All it does is remind me of him. So what if he doesn’t want me to date Declan? Declan has been nothing but sweet to me. He makes sure I don’t sit alone during lunch; I’m content around him and excited about our date. It isn’t any of Mike’s business...

That boy is a hard egg to crack. Rubbing my temples, I try to make sense of what has happened. Ever since I told him off last Tuesday, he’s given me one-word answers, eye rolls, or shoulder shrugs. He glared at me with those brilliant green eyes of his whenever I tried to attempt to stitch back together whatever got lacerated between us. Curse my big heart for feeling bad when clearly, it shouldn’t.

I yawn and rub my eyes. I’m not sure how much longer I should let Dad take me to school. To start my day at the crack of dawn isn’t my first choice, but if it means that I don’t have to be under the scrutinization of my neighbor’s glare, then so be it. If I took the bus like any other normal kid, I’d chance the risk of him boarding it too, just to spite me; although the chance would be slim.

Is socializing with Declan such a bad thing? Oh gosh, there’s a headache creeping into existence behind my eyes. I slam my book shut, then take out a couple of Excedrin from the medicine cabinet and a glass from the cupboard. Turning on the faucet, I fill my glass with water, and the sound of a motorcycle invades the house. It’s him, I roll my eyes. He annoys me even when we’re not in the same building as each other. I bring the glass and the pills to the couch and look out the window at his driveway. Swinging back the two chalk-white tablets, I take a sip of my water and cough from the pills being lodged in my throat.

​He isn’t alone. Again. I examine them as he pulls further up the drive. He’s helping her off the bike the same way he did with me - only she lingers on his broad shoulders. I’ve seen her there before. A part of me wants to go over there and rip her hands off of him. She flirts with him - makes me nauseous. She twirls her hair, lingers on him, and has a high pitch squeal that can be mistaken for a laugh. It makes me sick.

It’s hard to tell exactly what she looks like because it’s dark. Only the outside lights are illuminating this little show for me. I sigh, the girl is wearing next to nothing, and I know I don’t have that kind of confidence. He removes himself from the bike, wraps his arm around her waist, cups her face with his free hand, and kisses her. Maybe she’s his girlfriend? Wouldn’t surprise me. Although, the opposite doesn’t help the little green monster growing inside me either. I don’t like the idea that he might sleep around. Why do I feel jealous? I huff to myself; this is absurd.

I wonder if his parents are home and okay with this type of behavior from their son. Maybe they work late every night...

Acting like a ‘Peeping Tom,’ I get an eye full while he picks her up by her bottom… this isn’t helping. She wraps her legs around his slim waist; her arms link behind his neck as he carries her to his door. I bite the inside of my cheek to chew away my envy.

Behind me, Dad clears his throat. Faster than a speeding bullet, I turn around and see that he’s changed into his pajamas. A plain white t-shirt and blue plaid pants. His hair is still damp as it clings like a dark mop to his forehead from the shower he’s taken.

With one brow up, his hands on his hips, he asks, “What are you doing?”

It doesn’t help that I look as guilty as I feel. I had no right to spy.

I scramble for a good excuse. “Um... uh... I’ve just noticed that there’s a lot of dust behind this couch. I need to remember to dust behind it tomorrow.” I nod my head in efforts to be convincing.

The effort of lying to a detective is useless. I’ve always been a terrible liar, and my dad knows this. Dad can smell a lie from a mile away.

​He stares at me while his brow shoots back up - not buying it. “Fine. I was just making sure that Mike got home okay. I heard a motorcycle outside and wanted to be sure it was him,” I shrug my shoulders. It isn’t a complete lie...

​​​“Mhm,” is all he grunts as he takes a seat in his favorite black leather Barcalounger.

​An NCIS episode, which isn’t the same without Abby, and two news channel shows later, my eyes grow heavy. Probably the Excedrin kicking in. Car headlights peer into the living room window; I glance at Dad, who appears to be asleep. Sitting up enough to peer beyond the couch at Mike’s driveway, I spy the girl that came home with him hours ago. She gets into the car while he holds the door open for her. The car drives off; he turns for his front door but stops and looks in my direction.

Crap.

With a rapid force, I dive back into the couch. The back of my head slams into the armrest hard enough that a bump will form. I let out a small whimper as the pain radiates to the front of my skull, then curse under my breath at myself for being so nosy.

​Dad’s phone rings - it’s been ringing a lot these last few days. He jumps from the surprise but answers it like it didn’t startle him from a deep sleep. “What?” he says into the receiver. “Uh, hang on a minute.” With a side glance at me, he stands up from the chair and walks down the hallway to his room. I sit up enough to peek over the couch to see if Mike is still there - I’m let down. He’s not there anymore. I feel a pinch of confusion and a dash of disappointment along with the throbbing in the back of my head.


​There’s a knock on my door. I groan and smash my face into the pillow at the disturbance. “Hey, kiddo,” Dad soothes. “I don’t think your alarm went off. You’re going to be late. It’s already 7 am.”

What?

Snapping my head up, I grab my alarm clock–sure enough, it’s 7 am. I need to leave in thirty minutes. I kick the covers off and run for the bathroom. While trying to ignore the dull ache in my head from last night’s events. My dad continues, “Mike will take you to school again, I have to go to work.” I slam the bathroom door behind me in haste.

​ “Why can’t I take the bus?” I groan over the door, washing my face and splashing water everywhere like a madwoman. I would rather take the bus than be in awkward silence in a confined space with Mike’s gut-wrenching scowl.

​ “Well, if you want to do that, then you have about fourteen minutes to get to the bus-stop down the street,” Dad yells over the door as he walks down the hall.

With another groan, I roll my eyes while brushing my teeth. After tripping over myself as I try to pull up my black jeans, I watch the clock as it torturously ticks by.

I have ten minutes.

My hands grab a light pink t-shirt from the hanger I put out last night. I begin to brush my hair frantically. Of course, it doesn’t do what I want it to, so I force my locks into a messy bun.

Seven minutes left.

Picking up my Chapstick and mascara, I stuff them into my bookbag, followed by my books.

I glance at the clock, five minutes.

As I race through the kitchen, my dad opens the door for me as I run past. By the time he reaches his car, he shouts out a ‘goodbye’ as I run across Mike’s lot.

​My lungs are burning, my hair is falling out of the bun, and I’m sure there’s a thorn jabbing into my side. Why did I stop taking gym classes? My adrenaline is in overdrive as I try to beat time with these legs, which are on fire so I can avoid being alone with Mike. I just can’t be alone with him. He makes me feel things I’ve not ever gone through before; the notion scares me. It petrifies me with how jealous I’ve become over the nights I’ve seen him with that... tramp. It isn’t fair for me to call her a ‘tramp.’ I don’t know her. I am aware that I have no chance with Mike; nevertheless, that whole situation is like a slap in the face.

​I see it—the bus. The red stop sign is out. Red lights are flashing, the doors are open, and a few people climb in. I’m too far away, but I pound the pavement faster. I scream out for it to wait, but the doors of my saving grace close. The stop sign retracts as the bus carries on to its next stop. My legs slosh to a halt, heaving, I place my hand over my chest as if to keep it from collapsing in on itself. This is why I quit gym. I bend down to rest my hands on my wobbly knees, panting like an exhausted dog - I hear a diesel engine crawl to a stop.

​ “You should’ve woken up earlier...” I roll my eyes. “Climb on in. I’ll take you.” That voice. I have a love/hate relationship with that deep raspy southern drawl. With a turn of my head over the shoulder, as sure as there is pain in my side, there he is with the window down of his black Ford pickup truck offering me a ride. That black baseball cap accentuates those stunning green eyes which have been haunting me every night. Do I take him up on the offer? I don’t want to walk the rest of the way–I’d be late for my first class. Being confined in a small space with him doesn’t sound so good either.

During my internal dispute, he adds with irritation, “If you don’t get your keister in here now, I’m leaving, and you can walk.” As if to prove his point, he moves his truck forward, causing me to jump after the handle. Defeat crushes down on my shoulders as I climb in.

Before I can close the door, his foot is on the gas, and he turns his radio up to avoid conversation most likely–heavy metal. My eyes glance at him; the man is deliciously sinful. He’s wearing black jeans and a black t-shirt. There are inked sparrows and crows in a flying position sporadically positioned on his forearm, some words on his bicep - I can’t see what it says, the letters are too small. There’s a skull with a flower blooming out of the eye socket near the outside of his elbow; the heavy metal makes sense.

The pounding of the bass and the screaming of the lyrics don’t agree with my ears. I put my earbuds in and reach for my phone to scroll through a playlist. Settling on Pink, I take out my mascara and pull the sun visor down to aid in applying some makeup in the mirror. To my surprise, he reaches for the volume knob on the dash to turn the volume down. A muffled noise catches my attention as I concentrate on brushing the ink on my lashes.

​ “I’m sorry?” While I remove my earbud, I peer over at him. Our eyes connect, now I’m caught and can’t tear myself away - I’m not sure if I even want to.

​He states in a matter-of-fact tone, “I said, you don’t need that stuff.”

​I’m not sure what I heard. Was he trying to compliment me? “What?”

​ “You are plenty beautiful without that crap.” He didn’t look at me while he called me beautiful.

I look down the road ahead of me. “Uh... I-I’m not so sure about that, but thank you,” I mutter as I pull my hair behind my ear. I can’t help but blush. At the corner of my eye, I see that he’s facing me. As I turn towards him, I notice him eyeing me like he did the first time we met—such a drastic change from the past week, even from just five minutes ago.

“For what exactly? Giving you a ride or trying to compliment you?” Mike teases, raising a brow. I let out an embarrassed giggle at my lack of manners. I hadn’t thanked him for offering me a ride yet. Of course, that’s not entirely my fault. I would have thanked him sooner, but he turned up the radio, giving me the impression he didn’t want to acknowledge my existence.

“B-both,” I manage to stutter sheepishly.

“You’re welcome, strawberries and cream,” Mike smiles and punctuates with a wink, causing my belly to flutter.

“What?” What was with the strawberries and cream? Did he blend his ‘you’re welcome’ with a grocery list?

He lets out a laugh; it’s a beautiful sound. “You have bright blond hair, and your cheeks are extremely red. Hence, strawberries and cream–by the way, is my favorite treat.” His grin is almost coy.

Oh. With a wide smile, he turns onto the road that the school is on. Butterflies multiply in my stomach.

Thank God we pull into the school so that I can get out of this truck. The air is becoming a little thick. I was getting too warm despite the fall chill in the air, which reminds me that I forgot a sweater.

When I reach for the door handle, Mike is already at my door, holding a hand out for me. It’s a sweet gesture. The moment, I place my hand in his large palm, a hot sensation takes over my body at his touch, telling me just how much I’ve missed his skin on mine. The contrast of his warmth to the fall air gives me goosebumps. Before I know it, Mike reaches behind the seat for something.

He pulls out a plain black sweatshirt, and says, “Here, you can wear this.”

Surprised by his thoughtfulness, I accept it. “Thank you,” I beam. As I slip on his sweatshirt, I surreptitiously sniff the familiar pine and spice. It smells heavenly; I’m surrounded by it. The sweatshirt falls just past my butt and about hits the middle of my thighs. The arms are nice and long - nearly swallowing my hands, but I don’t care. While pulling my hair out from under it and gathering it over to one shoulder, I notice him staring at me.

“What?”

“Uh... nothing. Looks good on you.” He breaks eye contact and closes the car door. “Let’s go.” He motions towards the doors of the school. I’m sure I saw a little pink in his cheeks, but I don’t call him out on it.

We walk in silence on the way to my locker and to our biology class. Still going over the skeletal system, we examine the skull all the way to the rib cage. Our teacher gives us a skeleton worksheet. Our assignment is to label each bone–like we would on a test. I’m able to get all the way to the C4 vertebrae before Mike cracks the silence.

“Did you know that the lacrimal bone is the most fragile bone in the body–one of the smaller ones too?” He sounds like a scientist; I can’t help but chuckle.

“What? How do you know that? I don’t even see that one on here.” I check my diagram, then to the book, trying to find the bone that he mentioned. I don’t have any luck–perhaps this class doesn’t get that in-depth, maybe it’s not on the face?

With a smirk, he shrugs his shoulders. “I just know.” Turning to face him, he lifts his finger, scarcely touching the side of my nose by my eye.

“Right here.” My heart picks up pace. He pulls his hand away to drop it on his lap; he seizes my gaze. If any other person had done what he did, it would have been uncomfortable. Mike’s orbs fall from my eyes to my mouth - I clear my throat. Why is he so nice to me all of a sudden? I’m not sure what to think of it.

A breath leaves me - I didn’t realize I was holding it in. “Oh, well... good to know.” A shy smile takes hold as I try to wrangle my focus back onto my worksheet. Hopefully, he doesn’t notice the flush crawling up my face.

“I’m sorry, Kitten. If I made you uncomfortable, it wasn’t my intention.” Looking over at him, his eyes are soft, and his features are sincere. Is it weird that I missed his pet name for me? I’m not uncomfortable at all - if anything, I was severely content… and timid -but in a good way. Like a, I want him to touch more, kind of way.

“Oh, no, nothing like that, I’m okay, really. I’m good.” The remark seems to sit well enough with him, as he gives me a grin, showing off his dimple. I can’t look for too long; otherwise, I’ll drool over him while making a fool of myself. Turning back to my faithful worksheet, I hope it will become the distraction I need from his stare throughout the rest of the class.

I can’t help but challenge him about where his books and notebooks are during the walk to my locker. It just seems so odd that he’s going to class with nothing but a pencil. Lost, I would be one-hundred percent lost without my books.

“I’m not worried about it. I’m a superb test taker, but I think it’s sweet that you’re concerned about me.” He grins down at me, nudging my shoulder.

Upon reaching my locker, I let out a laugh. “I’m not concerned about you per se, I just...”

“Yeah, you are, it’s all over your face.” He points a finger at me. “You’re a terrible liar...” I can practically hear his smile as I try to hide behind my locker door.

“Were you held back?”

“That’s a strange thing to ask.” He doesn’t seem put off by it, but I peek my head out from behind my locker to watch him respond. “No, I wasn’t held back. Why do you ask?”

“No reason.” I shrug my shoulder to let it go and determine that he’s just an early developer.

Mike takes a step forward into my space, but I welcome it. “It’s a relief knowing that you at least worry about me. I was beginning to think you hated me.”

Worry? No. Well, maybe I am a little bit; does he have plans after high school? That is something I should not concern myself with. But I do. I’ll just chuck it up as being a fellow pupil in his grade that would just hate to witness him failing to get out of here. Yeah, go with that, Elena.

He assumed I hated him? I was sure it was the other way around… His character sure is something different, but I don’t know him well enough to hate him. So far, he annoys me sometimes, but I don’t hate him. Now that I ponder it, I’m not sure it’s in me to grasp that sort of thing.

“No, Mike, I don’t hate you. Why did you think I hated you?” He opens his mouth to answer, then closes it. I feel a hand on my shoulder; Mike’s expression goes from friendly and flirtatious to pure irritation and glowering.

“Hey, Elena!” I turn to the voice of Declan; I should have known. Declan seems so cheery, wearing a nice white smile - a significant contrast to his tan, olive color skin. I never noticed before that he has a little scar above his top lip.

“Derek,” Mike greets him with an eye roll of disdain.

Narrowing my eyes at Mike, I try to warn him to be nice before focusing my attention back on Declan. “Declan, hi, how are you?”

Declan eyes Mike and says, “It’s Declan.”

“Don’t care.” Mike is deliberately looking at anything else besides Declan. He then looks at me. “I’ll see you in Lit,” Moody Pants says as he strides away. He was just being nice one minute and a jerk the next. That boy is a whirlwind, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep up.

“What’s his problem?” Declan asks, a little peeved. I shrug my shoulders as he offers to walk me to English lit. “So, there’s a party this Saturday night–I was wondering if you’d like to be my date? If not, that’s cool too. Our date can be something else.”

A party? I’m invited to a party, and I haven’t even been here for more than two weeks! Rachel would never believe this. But do I even want to go?

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