"Rory! Rory, over here!" I glanced up from my novel and caught sight of an impatient figure sprinting towards me. I bookmarked my page and pressed the spine of the book against my forehead to shelter my eyes from the glare of the sun as I inspected the quickly approaching blob in the distance.
It was my best friend, Jayda.
"You're late again," I greeted heavily when she approached me, all out of breath and gasping for air as if she had just run a marathon when in reality her house was now less than a five-minute walk away from school. She recently moved closer to campus yet still somehow managed to be almost twenty minutes late.
"I know, baby. I am very sorry." She kissed my cheek as I stood and wrapped an arm around my waist. "But I'm here now, okay? I'm here to protect you from all the big bad bullies of Saint Stanhope Academy." She mocked in a childish tone. I elbowed her in the ribs and tried my best to hide my smile.
"Eff off, Jayda. I'm a strong black independent woman, I think I can handle myself."
Jayda gave me a look and I knew all too well what was coming.
"Half black and semi-independent, teenager," she corrected automatically.
"Don't make me knock your teeth out at 7 in the morning."
My best friend simply laughed and pulled me closer as we entered the double doors to the school.
"My apologies, ma'am."
To say I was happy to be thrust into this prison-like institution again after three months of freedom would be the first lie I ever told. I didn't resent school or so much the idea of it like the majority of my peers. I just resented the system. It had the potential to be better. So much better, but no political figure with any beneficial power had any intention or interest in the concerns and demands of teenagers in our society today.
That is why I, Aurora Halewell, want to become the next president of the United States of America.
Well, I wanted to, anyway. But ever since my life was handed over to a wannabe orange Cheeto lookalike... A lot of my future plans have changed.
Sorry to disappoint you, ten-year-old Rory.
If I could, the first adjustment I would make concerning the schooling system was the learning hours.
What is the point in waking me up at 6 in the morning to be here by 7:15 so classes can start at 9? My brain doesn't even begin to function properly unless it's 10 AM or later.
Much, much later.
But whatever; I don't formulate the rules and I only have one more year left so I might as well make the best of it and bring my internal political debates to a standstill.
"Do you think we'd be getting any new teachers this year?" Jayda inquired as we passed the security guard who was dozing off in a chair by his booth. He wore sunglasses to disguise it, but besides his obvious slanted form in the chair and the occasional drooping of his head, it wasn't that hard to tell his eyes were closed behind them. "I'm tired of seeing all these plain old faces, aren't you?"
"Shouldn't you be more worried about us getting a new guard?" I joked as a loud snore finally caught Jayda's attention, causing her to flinch. Her lips curled up in a half-smile as she looked over her shoulder and I could tell she wanted to laugh but was probably sharing the same uneasy feeling as me.
"Now that's a topic for this morning's assembly," she stated suggestively, glancing over her shoulder one last time at Phill before visibly shuddering and speed walking further into the building in the direction of our lockers.
Phill, the security guard, was in his late forties and I had labeled him as an okay guy throughout my first week at Saint Stanhope during freshman year. The assumption was only made because he was especially nice to me and even talked off some bullies that occasionally harassed me. But ever since that one particular day, he would always stare at me a little too hard or smile a little too wide as if he was expecting something in return for his brave act of kindness. I began to avoid him then and kept conversation between us limited to 'Good morning' and 'Goodbye'. My mother taught me to always be polite to everyone no matter the circumstances, so I kind of automatically greeted him simply out of habit at this point.
Besides the mornings when I was entering the institution and the evenings when I was leaving after lessons or a meeting with the student council, I had no other reason to converse with him unless he was present during our school's monthly drills and was directing us back to class. But otherwise, I always tried my best to stay clear of him.
And thankfully, I wasn't alone in the feeling creeped out by the situation. Jayda, along with a few other girls at the school we talked to frequently, had complained multiple times in the school washroom about catching him staring at them inappropriately when they weren't looking or admiring their chests a little too much whenever they talked.
We tried telling the principal about this but he assured us that Phill was to be trusted and to excuse his behavior because he was just 'old and lonely'.
Absolute bullshit, right?
That was the second thing I would proceed to make adjustments to. No school should have their female students or even male students walking around campus feeling queasy about a security guard that they are entrusting their safety to.
But apparently, our principal had bigger and much more pressing issues to worry about. For example, the football team's uniform needing a new design for the twelfth consecutive year.
"That guy still gives me the creeps," Jayda confessed suddenly, snapping me out of yet another potential mental debate with myself.
"Same. But at least we only have one more year with him," I tried to reason as I rampaged my locker for my English text. I had way too much shit in here as well as the weirdest stuff. Snacks, texts, crumpled papers, shoes, tampons, two anonymous love letters I don't have the heart to throw away even though I got them in freshman year. You name it and you could probably find it in here... somewhere.
"True, but one year too many." Jayda proceeded to complain. I glanced at her briefly and noted she had already found her necessary materials while I was still on a hunt through the Amazon jungle for mine. "Girl, you really need to clean that dump out."
I rolled my eyes at her clearly judgmental statement and tried reaching my hand toward the back of the locker since that was where my smaller textbooks usually went into hiding.
"I know, I know."
"You don't know shit cause if you did, you wouldn't have to be digging through literal trash to find a du-"
"Found it!" I yelled, retrieving the book and flashing it in her face so that she would shut up.
"You're insufferable." She chuckled, slamming my locker shut for me since I was juggling several items in my hands.
"Tell me something I don't know," I mused, flashing her a toothy grin.
Jayda leaned against her locker and smirked at me quite sinfully, "I slept with your ex."
There weren't enough words in the dictionary to describe how much I wanted to hurt her at that moment.
"What the hell did you just say?"
In an instant, her smirk faltered and she was pinching my cheeks like a toddler.
"Kidding! Geez, you look like you were just about ready to commit murder in the first degree." I simply glared at her as we made our way towards the student lounge.
Now, this was probably the only best thing about the school. A whole area furnished with couches and bean bags to do nothing but sit around and talk the whole day? Yes, please!
Just kidding. Well, not really. Some of us actually utilized the space to study and do last-minute assignments. At least, that was its original purpose. However, it was largely labeled the hangout lounge by us students – never mind the big chalkboard in the middle where teachers would sometimes use to remind us to complete our assignments and projects.
It was complete with three desktop computers, two three-in-one printers, and a vending machine. The school provided the machines and our job was to maintain them with the required necessities. Sounds kinda cheap for an oh-so-prestigious academy but we weren't entirely brats about it and appreciated the fact that they even cared about us at all. There was even a thirty-inch flatscreen TV suspended on the center wall but they programmed it to show three channels only; the food network, the history channel, and CNN. Again, we were simply grateful for the consideration and kept our complaints to a minimum.
The room was sectioned off in a separate area opposite the cafeteria so that it could be used during lunch or if you had a free period. Or, according to the 'Vibe-Killers', 'non-contact periods.' Thanks to senior year, I had a lot of those.
We were called in a week before school reopened to retrieve our schedules and whatnot while the fresh meat (the newer students) came in for registration and orientation to avoid all the hassle that usually comes with the first Monday of school. It really did save everyone a lot of time and effort so there was more energy allotted to prepare for today and I had already taken a nice long look at my schedule.
English was a recurring subject for me every year so I tried my best to squeeze in some reading time every day over the summer break. I was failing the class miserably and my mother threatened to take me back to her home country forever if I didn't get at least a B this year.
Oh, the joys of having a Nigerian parent.
Jayda and I sat in the lounge comparing schedules to see what classes we had together while we waited on the bell for assembly. We were the first ones to arrive, but less than five minutes after we sat down, there was a chorus of loud chatter and bustling coming from the opposite hallway where our lockers were aligned. Other students, as well as teachers, were arriving and I could already hear our dearest friend James being scolded for skateboarding in the halls.
I tried to pinpoint which teacher was scolding him but unfortunately, I didn't recognize the voice so I couldn't tell if he would be getting detention on his first day back or not.
"Good morning, mamas," James greeted as he brought his skateboard to a halt in front of our desks, the many zippers on his leather jacket swaying back and forth with his jerky movements.
"How good of a morning can it be if you're already being scolded by teachers?" Jayda snickered as we both eyed our friend.
James sucked his teeth and slammed his leather backpack on the desk before pulling up a chair directly in front of us.
"Y'all heard that?" he grumbled with a defeated sigh, retrieving his crumbled schedule from a tiny pocket in his bag.
Jayda and I shared a look before silently agreeing we wouldn't tease him any further since he was easily provoked.
"Pshh, nah," we said in unison.
The brown-eyed boy groaned and ran his fingers through his golden, curly locks in frustration.
"Man, y'all should have seen this one," he complained in a whiny tone, referring to the teacher that scolded him. "Today's her first day teaching and she's already bossing people around," he fretted, skimming over his class schedule with a deep frown and a hint of fury simmering in his clear brown eyes.
"Wait, we have a new teacher?" I quipped, my interest suddenly piqued.
"And they're a 'she'?" Jayda placed her two cents in, dance emojis lingering behind her excited pupils and James and his petty issues long forgotten.
James' pierced eyebrows connected in dubiety before he lifted his gaze from his paper to glare at us.
"Really? I just poured my heart out to you two and that's all you care about?"
Jayda and I shared another look before facing James again.
"Aw, of course not honey." Jayda sweet-talked him in her infamous baby voice while pinching his cheeks. However, there wasn't much skin to grab on to – given his hard facial structure with a jawline that could probably cut through silk.
"You poor thing," I joined her, rubbing the hairy exposed skin on his arm in compassion.
Of course, James saw right through our bullshit act, but thankfully he didn't explode on us. Instead, he shook his head in disbelief, his messy blonde curls brushing against his forehead as he tried to retain his smile.
"You guys are annoying as hell."
"We know this already," I winked at him playfully and this time he actually smiled.
"But what we don't know is the name of the new teacher. So come on big boy, tea please," Jayda pressed, now leaning over the table as if James was about to confess the seventh wonder of the world to her.
"Down girl." James pushed Jayda back into her seat by her forehead like a puppy before sighing deeply and giving us his full attention. "First of all, I don't know her name. But she's good-looking, I guess. Oh, and a huge bitch... if you didn't figure that out already."
"How is she a bitch for doing her job?" I argued, an eyebrow lifting in curiosity.
"By yelling at me, a whole senior, her first day on the job?" He retorted as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Personally, I think he was just being his usual self – a drama queen.
"Dude, teachers yell at you countless times for skating all over the place like a mad man on wheels. Literally." Jayda argued, thankfully taking my side. James tended to be very unreasonable sometimes and though Jayda and I usually sided with him whenever he got into trouble, sometimes it didn't hurt to remind him when he was in the wrong.
"Jesus, whose side are you on?!" He sat up in his seat then, his broad shoulders no longer hung over in a slouch, clearly ready to start an argument.
"Yours, obviously." Jayda rolled her eyes but I know she was about to put him in his place. "But come on, you need to calm down. It's her first day so maybe she's just ensuring no one takes advantage of that by making you an example. And like I said, it wouldn't be the first time a teacher yelled at you for that particular reason. What makes this one so different?"
James stayed quiet for a while, slumping back in his seat and probably rethinking his options.
I studied him for a bit and couldn't help but think how much he reminded me of my little sister who would always throw a tantrum when she couldn't have her own way. Then I realized something.
"Wait, is it because you might already have a crush on her? Despite everything?" I questioned him and he perked up in his seat.
"James, you sly dog." Jayda covered her mouth, struggling to hold in her giggles.
"The new teacher? Are you only mad because you might be interested in her and feel like you've already made a bad first impression?
Because I clearly remember you acting the same way with Sir Sanchez." Sir Sanchez was our former Social Studies teacher (as well as eye candy) and James was always striving to be the teacher's pet. Sir Sanchez had treated him nicely for the most part, but he did something very stupid in class one day that had caused the teacher to yell at him, and ever since then he had resented the man. And eventually somehow got him fired.
The full details were still a mystery to me and Jayda.
James stared at me in what looked like a half glare. "How do you do that?"
I dipped my eyebrows. "Do what?"
"Read people so easily when I barely said a few words." He thought it over for a few seconds, genuinely wanting to know. Unfortunately, I couldn't give him a proper answer so I simply shrugged it off.
"Dunno, but it's very useful at times." I winked then smirked at him knowingly, and his head dropped to hide the small tint of red creeping to his cheeks.
A few moments later, he lifted his head and abruptly cleared his throat, dismissing the topic with a wave of his hand. "Right, well, it's whatever. Forget it."
And we all were about to do just that until the secretary approached us, her eagle eyes set on James.
"Mr. Donavon." The older woman addressed him and he quickly perked up in his seat.
"Good morning, ma'am."
And suddenly, he had manners.
Miss Grace glanced at Jayda and me briefly with a soft 'good morning' before returning her attention to James.
"I heard you got into a bit of trouble with one of the teachers this morning."
Jayda and I shared another one of our infamous looks.
"Miss, it wasn't my fault. I didn't even bring my skateboard today." James tried to defend himself albeit lying in the process.
"Oh? So you had absolutely no material to be caught skating in the hallways with just a few moments ago?" She continued to interrogate him. Miss Grace was a nice little lady for the most part. But when it came to discipline, especially in James' case, she had a zero-tolerance policy for bullshit.
Don't ever be fooled by her heart-shaped glasses, messy bun, and ankle-length flowing sundresses; that heart of gold can turn to a heart of stone real quick.
I felt Jayda nudge me in my side and kept glancing back and forth between my eyes and something on the floor. I directed my attention to where she was indicating and saw James' skateboard lying on the floor in plain sight. It was half under the table and half in Miss Grace's line of sight. Luckily she hadn't caught sight of it yet and I realized what Jayda was implying for me to do. I placed my foot against the face of the skateboard and tried my best to slowly reel it in all the way underneath the table, all in good hopes of saving my friend's ass. And it was almost there.
Until there was another shoe, the shiny red tip of a stiletto more forcefully reeling it back out with an unseen force and exposing it for the world to see. I watched on in shock and amazement as the board was taken away from me as if it were some useless toy.
The foot belonged to someone with great legs and a good sense of fashion when it came to heels. My eyes slowly lifted along the length of the woman's bronze-colored legs, skimming over her black pencil skirt and white blouse up to her dark red smirking lips and intense gray eyes.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't frozen in shock for a good ten seconds more before reality finally caught up to me and I remembered how to close my mouth.
I blinked a few times to take in the woman before me. Her long jet black hair fell off her shoulder in waves and ended just above her hip, framing her face in a way that showed off her high and defined cheekbones and roman shaped nose. But what really caught my attention apart from her gray eyes that somehow looked silver when she tilted her head enough for the sun's glare to strike them; was a long necklace with a yin-yang symbol dangling in between her breasts.
I tried not to let my attention linger in her chest area for too long, however, and glanced back up at her face just in time to see her shaking her head disapprovingly at me with a small wave of her index finger. The fact that she was still smirking left me in shambles yet again as I couldn't tell if she was just being playful or actually serious in her actions.
I soon found out, unfortunately, it was more of the latter than the former.
"Miss Grace," She called out to the elderly woman. The idea that I could possibly be in trouble slipped my mind for a few seconds as I was too captivated by her voice. Smooth but firm, silky but rough at the edges. It sounded like a cross between Vanessa Hudgens and Blake Lively. "I believe this is what you're looking for," the woman bent down and gathered the skateboard in her hands, her gray eyes never leaving the curiosity of my hazel ones as she straightened up again. Still somewhat lost in a spell of her existence, I noted the faint yet slightly noticeable Russian accent to her tone. It made my sudden curiosity in her increase for whatever reason.
"Ah, yes." Miss Grace smiled widely as if she had won the lottery, retrieving the skateboard from the mysterious woman's hand. "What do you have to say about this then, Mr. Donavon?" The older woman was peering down at James through her glasses now and if he didn't know it before then he certainly knew now that he was in for it. James glanced up at the woman behind Miss Grace and I could swear I saw him visibly pale before lowering his head from her line of sight.
"Ah, shit," I heard him mutter from across the table.
"That won't do, Mr. Donavon."
Uh oh, Miss Grace had heard him.
"Kindly take your skateboard and follow me to the office, please," Miss Grace instructed, stepping back a little so that James could exit his seat and retrieve the detention bait from her hands.
Jayda and I gave him a sympathetic look as he got up from his seat begrudgingly.
"Wait, Miss Grace. Not to sound rude or anything but can't you give James a little break? I mean it is the first day of school." I tried to reason with the secretary in the sweetest voice my throat could've mustered up.
"Sweetie," The unknown woman spoke up addressing me. The 'sweetie' came off as anything but sweet with her gray eyes piercing into my soul again. "Don't you think that's even more of a reason why your friend should be mindful of his rowdy behavior this morning?"
I stayed quiet, swallowing back any words I had as if I had been bound in a spell. Jayda stared me down with an odd look and focused on the gray-eyed teacher before us with a look of newfound determination and confidence I wish I had. "Well, yes, and James should have known better. But I'm sure the excitement about senior year rushed to his brain a little faster than he could handle." From across the table, I caught James shooting daggers at our brave albino soldier as if he were ready to rip her head off. Miss Grace seemed to be contemplating her next course of action, her eyebrows connecting in confusion, but the other woman beside her was clearly not having it.
The raven-haired beauty cocked an eyebrow in my direction and clasped her hands behind her back. I quickly noticed that everything about her screamed perfection. Her shoe was the purest shade of red I had ever seen, well polished and free of any stains even though it was raining earlier and I was positive no one could escape the number of muddy puddles scattered about outside. Her clothes were free of any wrinkles with her bloused tucked neatly into the waist of her pencil skirt. She stood perfectly straight at all times as if her spine physically couldn't bear another posture, and her voice always held a hint of a brewing hurricane undertone to it. I couldn't tell if she was happy, angry, or displeased with the way she spoke as she said everything all in one tone.
"I believe she was trying to dispose of the evidence underneath the table." She pointed to me first, then the skateboard in James' hand, and finally to the table we were sitting at.
"Oh," Miss Grace seemed to be looking at me through new eyes then. "Is that true Miss Halewell?"
God, damn it! Why did this woman have to sell me out like that? And to think I actually thought she was pretty. No, drop-dead gorgeous.
Actually, no, just pretty because now it appeared as if she was berating me with just the look in her eyes.
I could lie and save my own ass or speak the truth and get my best friend in trouble. But everyone knew how much I sucked at telling a lie and James seemed to be screwed either way. I quickly glanced away from her before she could catch me glaring at her a little too hard. I looked to Jayda for help but she was already shaking her head at me, clearly wanting me to help her save James' ass, but I was still stuck on what to do. I wanted to do the right thing like I always did, which was to tell the truth, but I had to consider how much it would affect my friend first.
Dismissing my silence, Miss Grace refocused her attention to James and a small frown painted her thin lips. "Mr. Donavon, I think you owe Miss Addington an apology." James immediately reddened and tried his best to maintain eye contact with the secretary, the muscles near his throat flexing as he audibly gulped. He looked especially guilty then and I wondered if he had purposely left out a piece of his encounter with the new teacher that we would hopefully find out about now.
I looked to the woman who I assumed was Miss Addington, the gorgeous dark-haired woman that started this mess in the first place. She looked calm. Patient, even. And for the first time when I looked up, she wasn't staring at me but expectantly at James, waiting for his apology.
"Anytime now would be great, Mr. Donavon." Miss Grace commented with her head lowered to her clipboard, scribbling down something quickly.
"I'm sorry," James finally said all lamely, his shoulders slouching to show his obvious boredom. Miss Addington raised an eyebrow, clearly not satisfied, and the secretary peered up from her clipboard with impatience.
"Is that all?" James shrugged and moved around his hands as if to say 'yeah, duh'. "When apologizing to someone you have to ensure you include what exactly you are apologizing for – because right now I could list a few things for you off the top of my head that you should be apologizing for instead of just one."
"James, what did you do?" Jayda asked him in a gentle tone, leaning forward in her seat to gaze at him warningly.
The blonde boy simply sighed and shoved his hands into the front pocket of jeans, suddenly finding the courage to return Miss Addington's fiery glare. "I am sorry for calling you a bitch."
I saw Jayda facepalm herself from the corner of my eye while James offered me an apologetic smile. The new teacher smiled at him as if she was pleased with his answer and nodded her head once.
"That is so much better," Miss Grace smiled, pleased with herself and James. She then grabbed his arm and turned in the opposite direction. "I guess I'll just leave Miss Addington to decide what to do with you," she glanced at me and then the gray-eyed woman. Oh damn, I was hoping she had forgotten about me. "Nothing too harsh, yeah? Aurora is a good sport. And like they said, it's the first day." Miss Grace winked at me then gently tugged James forward by the arm as they took their leave.
Miss Addington folded her arms across her chest as she reprimanded me. I highly doubted she acknowledged Jayda's existence until she spoke up, too intent on winning the staring contest that had started between us.
"Uhm, Miss Addington?" Jayda called out to her and she had no choice but to look away and regard my best friend. I mentally celebrated my victory party.
"Hi, I'm Jayda Reede. Rory's best friend," She nudged my shoulder for reference. "Firstly, I'd like to personally welcome you to the school." She stretched out her hand for a handshake but the teacher merely glanced at it and left it hanging in the air awkwardly. Jayda reluctantly pulled her hand away but the smile never faltered from her lips. I glanced at Jayda in disbelief, wondering why in God's name she was about to perfect her art of ass-kissing on the new teacher that could potentially ruin my life.
"Thank you," The woman replied in a monotone, her gray eyes flickering between Jayda and me as if she was studying us. Suddenly, I felt the need to remove Jayda's arm from around my shoulder.
"Right. Well, Rory here, like Miss Grace said, really is a good sport and everything she does is with good intentions. So please don't give her detention on her first day. She means well and we were just looking out for our friend."
Oh... So that's why she was being awfully polite.
Miss Addington studied us some more and I took that time to shamefully admire her features again. She was so breathtaking — literally. The urge to ask if she had just walked out of a fashion magazine lingered on the tip of my tongue but I swallowed it quickly. She barely looked a day over 26 and I concluded then she was the youngest teacher we've ever had since I started here. Everyone else was above and beyond 30. Coming back to my senses, she was still wearing that suspicious smirk as if she knew something no one else did. She seemed to be deep in thought now and I wondered if she was actually considering listening to Jayda.
"Actually," The gray-eyed beauty focused her attention on me. "I had no intention of commissioning any punishments to err...?" She paused, then asked very carefully. "What is your name again?"
Ignoring the tight squeeze in my chest at the fact that she had forgotten my name so quickly after it was recently mentioned multiple times to her, I choked it out in a hurry as if I couldn't tell her fast enough. "Aurora." I then cleared my throat and tried again "Aurora Hallewell." I added more slowly, relaxing my shoulders a bit.
"But she's mostly known as Rory to everyone around here," my best friend pointed out politely.
Miss Addington stared at me for a long moment, her left eyebrow twitching slightly in thought. Finally, she nodded once in acknowledgment of Jayda's words. "Rory..." she trailed off slowly, testing the nickname on her lips. They tilted down slightly and she shook her head disapprovingly. "Aurora," she then corrected and I felt a small twinge in my chest. "I have no reason to punish you. I just want you to be more careful next time. I understand Mr. Donavon is a close peer of yours, but enabling this kind of behavior from him will not help to shape him into the intelligent and well-rounded young adult he needs to be after leaving the academy." She said everything in one breath, as if it had been rehearsed or as if the principal kept some secret button on all the teachers that he used to program certain words and phrases for them to repeat to students.
"I understand, Miss Addington," I mumbled and lowered my gaze from her slightly, feeling stupid for some reason.
"However," the teacher began again. Of course there would be a 'however', "you can stay back after school later to help me with something."
"You're not going to try and molest her, are you?"
"Jayda!" I slapped my best friend behind her head since she had clearly lost all her senses.
Miss Addington seemed quite uncomfortable now and was fidgeting with the collar of her blouse. This is the first time since I met her that she seemed so unsure of herself.
"On second thought... never mind. Excuse me." She turned to leave but something compelled me to grab her hand so she wouldn't. The moment was short-lived, however, as I pulled back my hand in shock, my apology to her for Jayda quickly dying in my throat. There was no jolt of electricity or whatever silliness people felt, but her hands were surprisingly scorching to the touch and I felt like she had burned me. For a brief moment, it felt like what I imagined touching the surface of the sun would feel like.
Why was she so hot— Literally?
The woman stared at me in horror as if I had just committed a crime.
"I'm sorry," I tumbled out quickly, feeling the need to apologize at her icy stare. But before she got another word in, the assembly bell rang and students began filing out of the lounge.
"Rory!" Jayda called out to me. I glanced behind me to see a worried look on my best friend's face, but when I turned back to the front expecting to see Miss Addington there, she was gone.
"Rory!" Jayda was at my side now and she held onto my arm tightly as we pushed our way through the swarm of students. I was still cradling the hand I touched the new teacher with close to my chest, the after-effects of a third-degree burn still lingering behind. I almost wanted to cry at the pain I felt in my palm.
I bit back tears and turned to Jayda. "Where did she go?!" I yelled to Jayda over the loud chatter of students.
"I don't know! She probably got swallowed in the crowd!" Jayda continued to tug on my arm, practically dragging me along behind her as we made our way towards the gym for assembly.
I paused when we neared the double doors, unable to stop a stray tear from sliding down my cheek, and winced slightly as a wave of hot pain shot up my right arm. "I think I need to use the washroom," I said to an alarmed-looking Jayda in a hurry, making a 180 and speed-walking down the empty halls in the opposite direction.
I had almost completely forgotten about the new teacher then, my only focus at the time being to quickly get some cold water running on the hot scar I felt branding my palm. I heard quick footsteps following behind me as I nudged the door to the girls' washroom open with my shoulder, sprinting to the nearest faucet and placing my palm under the sensor.
Cold water immediately gushed out and splashed against the heat in my palm at full force, making me flinch. I swallowed the soft groan at the back of my throat as the pain slowly began to fade. I was too overcome with relief to register Jayda hovering behind me, her mint green eyes gazing at my hand under the faucet in concern.
"Rory, what's going on? Are you feeling okay?" I shook my head slowly in reply, clarity drifting further and further away from me. I looked down at my hand in confusion and removed it from the faucet as the pain finally began to subside. "Rory, what the fuck is that?" Jayda all but yelled in my ear, tentatively grabbing my wrist and tilting my hand this way and that. "Did you go to Jeremy's and get a tattoo without me, you little bitch?" It was almost comical at how quickly her concern for me morphed into rage at something I didn't even quite understand myself. But I was too engrossed in my sudden growing fear to even chuckle. I stared at my hand in horror, the words dying as they burned in my throat like acid.
"I–I... I don't know where that came from. I certainly did not get a tattoo, Jayda. You know my mom would murder me." Her eyes narrowed to slits and drifted back to the tiny yin-yang sign branded into the center of my palm. It was as if someone had taken a piping hot piece of metal and pressed it into my palm, leaving behind raw flesh. My best friend seemed to be examining the mark more carefully now and her forehead visibly began to coat with a thin layer of sweat.
"Yeah, it doesn't really look like one now. More like someone or something burned you." She agreed, shakily wiping away a piece of white curl that clung to her forehead. "What happened? Did you hurt yourself somehow this morning with some fancy flat iron? I know your parents are always sending you some ridiculous shit from South Korea."
I sighed heavily with frustration and pulled my short fish braid around to rest on my shoulder, chestnut brown curls of fuzz poking out from the once neat braid. "Woman, does this look like I had the time to be anywhere near a flat iron this morning?"
Jayda's small pink lips curled up in disapproval at my frizzy hair, her fingers reaching out to finger it. "Very fair point." She snickered and when I glared at her she was back to business. "Well, maybe it was that scary but hot new teacher, Miss Addington."
The corner of my lips dipped in a frown and my head tilted in thought. "Why do you say that? I don't remember touching her. Ever."
Jayda's head tilted back slightly in disbelief, her eyes surveying me with a crazed look. "What do you mean you don't remember? That was barely five minutes ago."
"W-what? I don't know what you're talking about..." I confessed slowly, a slight feeling of dizziness overcoming me as I forced myself to remember anything within the last five minutes.
"Are you being serious? Not the best time for you to be having your five-second amnesia, girl." When I didn't say anything, her pale eyebrows knitted together in concern again, her just as pale features growing serious. "You really don't remember anything, Rory?" I shook my head and she took a cautious step closer to me. "James got in trouble for skating in the halls this morning. The new teacher busted him and then lectured you about being a better influence on him. I think as your punishment she said you were to help her with something after school but I... said something stupid and she was about to walk away, but you touched her arm then pulled away. She kind of disappeared after that."
"Oh," I mumbled softly, soaking in her words as the memory of James complaining about getting hollered at by the new teacher replayed in my mind. I remembered Miss Grace showing up with the new teacher, Miss Addington, telling me to stop covering for James, but after that, my mind hit a hard brick wall. It was as if something was physically restraining me from remembering anything beyond that point. I told Jayda everything I remembered and she agreed with me that it was really weird. "But how and why would she burn me? She didn't have anything in her hands besides James' skateboard..."
"Well do you remember bumping into anyone on your way here? Maybe someone's cigarette grazed you or their hot lunch in a China bowl branded you."
I stared at her with a dumb look. "I ran into dozens of people, Jade. Everyone was rushing to get to assembly, remember?"
"Speaking of..." She lifted her index finger to the ceiling where the Principal's muffled voice was heard over the intercom, giving his usual lengthy and otherwise unnecessary speech in the gym at assembly. "We better get going and try to sneak in before a teacher catches us in here and think we're ditching."
"Yeah..." I agreed, half-listening, my eyes glued at the burn on my palm. "Maybe I just burned myself this morning somewhere and didn't notice. Right?" I asked the albino for clarification, her eyes shining with doubt but ignoring it as she nodded.
"Sure. We'll figure it out later." She promised, tracing the outline of the symbol in my palm with her fingertip. "It's warm." She acknowledged, frowning. "Is it still burning?"
I shook my head and stared at her soft features, the look of concern that never left them as she followed me in here. Suddenly she pulled back as if feeling my worried stare on her, and reached into her backpack. Jayda pulled out a small flowery scarf that smelled strongly of her expensive-as-hell Taylor Swift perfume and gingerly wrapped it around my palm, covering the burn mark. She then plucked a pink hairpin from her silver hair, a stray curl falling free after it, and secured the scarf on my hand. "There," She said smiling at her little handy work. "For protection. I imagine it's still sensitive to touch since you flinched a mile away from me just now."
"Thanks," I whispered and flexed my fingers, testing the security of the scarf. It was pinned in tight with a promise to uphold for a few hours.
"And last but not least.." She trailed off gently, grabbing my wrist and lowered her lips to my covered palm. Jayda pressed a feathery kiss into the center of my palm where the burn mark laid hidden beneath her scarf. Immediately my cheeks warmed at the small gesture and I watched in awe as she pulled back and smiled at me sweetly. "...For the pain." She clarified with a playful wink, then took my unharmed hand in hers and held open the washroom door. "Ladies first," she joked and I rolled my eyes before stepping out into the deserted hallway.
"If I'm a lady, then what are you, Jayda?" I shot up my eyebrows at her playfully in question and without missing a beat, she replied:
"On all levels except physical, I am a wolf."
Releasing a chuckle that echoed throughout the empty hallway, I hooked arms with my knucklehead for a best friend as we fell into stride. "You're an ass is what you mean."
"That's an insult to donkeys, take it back." I bit back another laugh as I tripped over my own two feet and stumbled forward into something soft. A firm pair of hands caught me by my shoulders then slowly pushed me away from them at arm's length.
I was suddenly overcome with dread to look up into the pair of piercing gray eyes that I knew for a fact were there. My eyes were leveled with her plump red lips so I stared at that instead and tried to ignore the sudden hot pain in my palm.
"Rory, Jayda.. why are you two not present for this morning's assembly?" I heard the calm voice of Miss Grace from behind the towering figure in front of me. Warm hands released me and I took a cautious step back, desperately searching for my best friend. She was standing next to Miss Grace ahead, shooting cautious glances at me every now and then, and said something quickly in a hushed voice to the secretary. "Oh. Everything okay now?" I heard her ask Jayda before giving me a worried glance.
I nodded, not knowing what excuse Jayda made up, but it had to be a good one if Miss Grace was willing to brush off our tardiness with a light wave of her hand. "Well. come on girls, Miss Addington and I will help you find some seats. We're heading there now."
Jayda abandoned me for the calm and secure presence of our sweet secretary ahead and I was stuck striding awkwardly beside Miss Addington, my tail tucked between my legs. I couldn't help but silently acknowledge the harsh change in atmosphere as I trailed behind the chatty pair up ahead. The cheery and comfortable air that had blanketed Jayda and me only a few moments ago was quickly iced out with a small chill up my spine the second I accidentally ran into Miss Addington's ample chest.
Gosh, could I be any more embarrassing in front of this woman?
"I hope we don't miss your introduction." Miss Grace declared over her shoulder with a hopeful smile, addressing the eerily silent woman beside me. Out of habit, I glanced to her at my side, hoping to catch her reaction, and felt my bones seize up as my hazel orbs locked onto her intense gaze. I faced forward quickly, heat crawling up my neck as I realized she had been staring at me all along. Did I have something in my hair? Or smelly for some reason? I lifted my arms slightly and subtly sniffed at my armpits.
Nope, fresh as a daisy.
"We won't." She spoke up suddenly, her voice carrying a silent promise through the empty halls. Her gaze never once shifted away from me, even when she had addressed the secretary ahead. Miss Grace, unaware of the staring contest with a party of one, pushed open the double doors leading into the gym and paused at the entrance.
The large room was preternaturally silent aside from the loud booming voice of the Principal bouncing off the walls as he spoke at a podium placed in the center of the squeaky clean gym floor. Surveying the bleachers for empty seats for Jayda and me, Miss Addington stepped forward to stand beside the secretary and Jayda fell back beside me.
"I'm sorry for leaving you, Rory." She quickly apologized, lacing her fingers with my own. "But I'm not sure I would survive even a second next to Miss Addington. She looked so serious and I was afraid she had it out for me after my earlier comment."
I sighed and shrugged off her apology, understanding her fears. "It's fine. What did you tell her anyway?"
"You seriously don't remember?" She whispered close to my ear. I shook my head and looked around for empty seats as well. The gym was crowded, not a single student seemed to be absent today. Four empty seats caught my attention eastward and I felt my heart plummet. The only seats available were on the opposite end where all the teachers sat, paying keen attention to the Principal and his still ongoing speech. Miss Addington pointed out the seats to her coworker and Miss Grace turned to face us with a wide smile. "Well, maybe that's for the best." Jayda quickly tumbled out, avoiding my suspicious stare.
"You'll have to sit with us today, girls," Miss Grace declared, gesturing with a delicate hand towards the four empty seats. I grabbed Jayda's hand and tugged her behind me towards the seats, desperate to not end up sandwiched between either her or Miss Grace and our bossy new teacher. I collapsed into the first chair next to Sir Leon, my former Chemistry teacher. I took his class the year prior to complete my third and final science credit. Ah, it felt so nice to finally be done with weird numbers and formulas I barely understood.
I whispered a soft greeting to the thirty-something year old man and sat forward in my seat as he smiled at me in greeting, half-listening to Principal Banks. I felt Jayda stiffen next to me and one glance in her direction quickly told me why. Miss Addington had occupied the seat next to her, leaving Miss Grace to take the remaining seat opposite the new teacher. I snickered silently to myself, happy to have avoided the situation Jayda was now in.
"You set me up," she hissed from beside me and I feigned innocence. Miss Addington unnecessarily cleared her throat next to us, silently telling Jayda to shut up and pay attention to what was happening up front. My best friend visibly paled, which seemed impossible to me because her albino skin was already as white as snow. She gritted her teeth then, a silent threat to me before facing forward, zoning in on the Principal and his flashing pearly whites. I leaned back in my chair, hugging Jayda's arm as my silent apology, and pressed my head against her shoulder as I took in whatever the hell was going on in front of us.
"Please, students, I urge you to be kind to one another. I can assure you that bullying is not taken lightly in this institution; peer to peer, peer to teacher, or even teacher to teacher. I will not stand for it." I realized almost immediately why he had emphasized the 'teacher to teacher' specifically. Saint Stanhope was anything but a perfect high school. Normally, in any other high school, the students were responsible for a majority of the unnecessary day-to-day drama. However, my high school in particular was something special. The teachers here can spread gossip like the plague. News traveled faster than the corona-virus – the horrific pandemic which, thankfully, ended twelve years ago– and affected every person in its path.
It was the reason why, last year, two students were expelled, one teacher fired and another suspended. Miss Addington was most likely the replacement for Sir Jacob, the former English teacher and supplier of all teenage gossip he had no business getting involved in. I guess that's what you get for being too nice with some of the pricks for students around here.
I lifted my head from Jayda's extremely comfortable shoulder and surveyed the area for the face of a familiar teacher. Sure enough, one row behind us, sat Miss Price with her bony figure leaning into another teacher's personal bubble, hand partly covering her mouth as she whispered something into the now annoyed woman's ear. I recognized the teacher listening as Miss Aaliyah, my art teacher who was now gazing in the direction of Miss Addington with a slight frown on her lips. Not two seconds later and Miss Aaliyah was shifting away from Miss Price, a firm scowl set on her pretty face as she tried to adjust her blue hijab in a way to dismiss any more conversation from her annoying coworker.
I turned around in my seat with an eye roll that almost gave me a headache. Of course she was already gossiping on her first day back. And about a teacher she knew absolutely nothing about at that. Only god knows what lies she was just formulating in that poor woman's ear. I lightly poked the half-asleep albino beside me and jerked a subtle finger in the direction of Miss Price, singling her out to Jayda whose face immediately scrunched up in disgust.
"This bitch." She muttered softly in my ear, her voice laced with disbelief as she eyed the eyesore for a teacher who was already bravely chatting up another one of her coworkers with false claims about Miss Addington. "Ignore her, Rory." Jayda quickly told me, gripping my chin between two fingers and tried to redirect my attention to the front.
"It's not fair." I gritted between my teeth, already getting worked up. "She should have been the one to get fired. Not Sir Jacob." I proceeded to complain to my best friend, not realizing I had subconsciously raised my voice a little too high and accidentally caught the attention of the ice-cold dark-haired beauty beside Jayda.
"What's the matter with you two?" She questioned, her tone more curious than annoyed with her gray eyes skimming over a nervous Jayda before lingering on me with a cold stare.
"Uhm, nothing Miss. Please excuse Rory. She's having a bad morning." Mint green eyes shot up to me desperately and I bit back anything else I was about to say. I sunk back in my chair and tried my best to hide from Miss Addington's line of sight but I could still feel her silver gaze on me.
"Well, it must be since this is the second time you're asking me to excuse her behavior." Thankfully she didn't sound as upset with Jayda as I expected her to be and my best friend audibly exhaled in relief and stopped trying to make herself shrink in her seat. "What is that on your hand?"
I glanced beside Jayda and realized this time she was talking to me, her gray eyes firmly focused on the colorful scarf secured around my palm. Out of instinct I reached out and touched Jayda's scarf almost in a protective manner and her eyebrows dipped suspiciously. "Nothing. I hurt myself earlier and didn't have a bandaid."
She didn't say anything for a long moment, her gray eyes slowly trailing upwards from the cradled hand in my lap until they locked firmly with my hazel ones. I began to shift uncomfortably in my seat, momentarily forgetting how to breathe.
"How?" She finally asked and I frowned, already forgetting what we had been talking about. "How did you hurt your hand?"
"Oh." I forced myself to tear my gaze away from her spellbound-like features and glared at the scarf on my hand, the burning sensation gradually returning. "I can't remember." Something shiny caught my attention from the corner of my eyes and I caught myself staring at the yin-yang pendant dangling between her breasts. That's strange, it looked almost exactly like the one in my...
"Well, I hope you feel better," was the last thing she said to me, yanking me out of my train of thought as her lips twitched slightly with the hint of a smile before facing forward in her seat.
"Thanks..." I mumbled more to myself than to her since she was already distracted by something the principal was saying in front.
"On that note, I would like for you all to give a warm welcome to your new English teacher." Principal Banks' unwavering gaze flickered to the raven beside us with an encouraging smile as he beckoned her forth with a wave of his hand to join her by his side at the podium. "Miss, if you will."
The teacher stood to her full height, her lean frame hovering over me as she tried to squeeze through the clustered space in front of my knees and the adjacent chair. Her long and obsidian tresses of soft hair brushed against my fingertips as she passed and I had to physically refrain myself from reaching out and running my fingers through it, desperate to thread them through their full length.
By the time her strong but indistinguishable perfume had left my nostrils, her elegant frame had already bypassed me and she was descending the short stairs leading out to the open gym floors. Her blindingly hot red heels clicked against the wooden floor in an anticipated rhythm as she approached the smiling principal, her slender arms firmly placed behind her back in a tight clasp.
Principal Banks bravely placed a comforting arm around Miss Addington's slim waist and guided her the rest of the way towards the podium, urging her to take his place in front of the microphone. For the first time that morning, I actually saw that woman smile. And my god was it beautiful. Small and barely noticeable if one's eyes weren't squinted at the perfect angle, but gorgeous nonetheless.
"Rory, pinch me if I'm dreaming, but I think that woman actually knows how to smile," Jayda declared with a small gasp from beside me. For the fun of it, I gripped onto a mound of soft flesh on her arm and pulled harshly. Jayda swallowed back a yelp as she shot me a vicious glare and I smirked at the red bruise already beginning to form on her pale skin. "Abusive bitch." She frowned and began to vigorously rub at the rapidly forming mark on her arm.
"Love you," I whispered to her playfully then kissed her cheek apologetically.
Redirecting my gaze back up in front, I caught Miss Addington shooting the principal an unsure gaze over her shoulder which surprised me since so far she seemed so well collected and self-assured. The chubby man simply gave her a thumbs up with his pearly whites on full display as he dabbed at a thick coat of sweat on his forehead and under his arms with a handkerchief. He reminded me then of my pastor in church on Sunday mornings when he would sit and take a water break from hours of preaching a gospel I never quite understood, the underarms of his shirt soaked through with sweat and droplets of the salty liquid dripping down the side of his face as if someone had just poured a bucket of water over his head.
I bit back a scoff. Nothing like powerful men who enjoyed hearing the sound of their own voice too much to care about keeping track of time.
"Good morning, students," Miss Addington suddenly spoke up, immediately grabbing my attention. Not like it had drifted elsewhere before. In fact, I don't think my eyes ever left her retreating frame the moment she stepped down from the bleachers. "As of today, I will be your new English teacher. You may address me as Miss Addington and nothing else. I believe my job here can be a lot easier if you can all cooperate and communicate with me only if absolutely necessary." She then paused for a few seconds as if allowing her words to sink into our slowly processing minds, then cleared her throat and addressed the teachers. "To my coworkers, I suppose the same applies to you." There was a chorus of 'wow's' and 'okay then' from the surrounding male and female teachers around us, clearly offended by the new teacher's very blunt speech.
"She seems like fun," Sir Leon commented from beside me, the sarcasm in his tone not flying over my head as he clearly intended for me to hear him. I shifted in my seat and caught him smiling slyly at the scene before him. "I hope she teaches as well as she looks if that's the first impression she's trying to make."
"I don't think she's trying to make anything," I answered him after a long pause, gazing at the dark-haired beauty as she gave a speech to us seniors that I probably should have been listening to. However, for some reason, I wanted to know what an actual teacher thought of her so far and not some bird that yapped the moment it was fed. Brown eyes slid over to me in curiosity and the older man narrowed his already naturally slanted eyes, silently prodding me to go on. "I mean, it just seems like her personality you know. Maybe she really doesn't want to be bothered outside of anything concerning work."
Sir Leon sighed and fingered the brown stubble on his chin. "I suppose you're right. I wouldn't blame her if that's what she's aiming for considering last year's incident." We both visibly cringed, sharing one memory of what had happened. "It feels like Banks is going to make things a lot more difficult for you guys and us teachers this year too. I wouldn't put it past him to send in a team of technicians to install cameras in every nook and cranny of the school."
I felt Jayda pressing further into my side, struggling and desperately wanting to be a part of the conversation as well. "Cameras?!" She whisper-yelled incredulously and Sir Leon chuckled. "Isn't that a little invasive of everyone's privacy? I mean, what if he saw me picking a booger in the halls? Is he going to watch me change my tampon too?"
I facepalmed myself and then tried my best to rid my head of the very graphic image my best friend just burned into my brain. Sir Leon simply smiled in amusement, looking anything but uncomfortable and I appreciated the fact that he didn't seem at all perturbed by Jayda's ridiculous outburst. Then again, it wasn't very surprising since he had had to deal with her for the past three years. Well, four years now, since she miserably failed Chemistry last year and was forced to retake the course this year.
"Don't get too paranoid now, Jayda. I'm sure it wouldn't reach that far." He tried to reassure us both but then contradicted it with: "I hope."
"Aren't there enough cameras around here? I'm sure there are plenty of other ways he can keep an eye on three hundred and thirty-seven students," I pointed out, remembering the queasy feeling I always felt in the halls, knowing I was being under surveillance 24/7. "And, well, 18 teachers."
"Oh? I don't suppose you have any other feasible suggestions then?" he countered, raising his eyebrows challengingly. I shot him a dirty look and shook my head, not being able to come up with anything as lazy and efficient. "That's what I thought." He smirked but not in a way to belittle me. It was more of an 'I understand and at least you tried'. "I'm not saying I don't agree with you. It is a little extreme if I do say so myself. But you girls shouldn't worry your heads though." He continued to say, suddenly very interested in adjusting his orange silk tie. "It was just a rumor I heard going around in the teachers' lounge this morning."
"Better cut that conversation short right there, Sir," Jayda mumbled and fell back into her chair. "We all know how fast rumors spread around here, eager to destroy careers and students' futures."
I wanted to counter that it was just a harmless rumor. But I knew better. By this afternoon it could be transcribed into something much worse and suddenly we'd be back to last year's incident that involved one too many cameras and a single locked classroom door.
"She's right." I sighed, siding with Jayda, and leaned my head back into her shoulder, ready to pretend like this entire conversation never happened. "Let's go back to why we're all gathered here in the first place."
"Stodgy speeches and sweaty principals, yes, of course." Sir Leon quickly added, taking the hint and zoning back into whatever was now going on at the podium.
Miss Addington was wrapping up her speech by the time we had all zoned back in on the assembly and I only slightly regretted that I had missed the rest of it. She returned to her seat and sat motionless for the rest of the hour, only turning to glance at me once and caught me shamelessly checking out her side profile.
I felt my heart skip a beat at her sudden sharp gaze and quickly attempted to redirect my attention to the front.
The morning assembly dragged on as usual with the principal giving another lengthy speech to us seniors about staying focused and getting all the help we can from teachers for extra credit – something about it being a nice highlight on our college applications and blah blah blah. If there was one thing I particularly didn't want to hear about this morning, it was college. I had already been lectured about it more times than I can count on both hands by my parents over the summer break. Every time I left the house to hang out with Jayda and James, I either came home to my father's judgmental looks while he sipped from his four hundred dollar bottle of whiskey, or my mother's disapproving glare from behind her glasses as she obsessively scrubbed away at a wine stain on her precious marble countertop. And every time, I felt just about ready to crawl back into bed and sleep for days, shutting out the obnoxious world around me.
"Damn, that man really ensures he makes the best out of his one hour every Monday morning." Jayda yawned from beside me as we stood up and began to slowly trail behind the line of students and teachers filing out of the gym.
"We should start a petition to get his time cut short." I joked, stretching my tired limbs like a cat. It was always a real pain in the ass – literally – to try and have your body cooperate with your brain after being confined to a wooden bench for one long and torturous hour.
"And then tell him we're doing it so we can get more class time." She agreed and I snickered.
"Pfft, as if."
"So, you guys totally ditched me to hang out with those old stale farts this morning," James suddenly complained as we exited into the main hallway, forcing his muscular frame in between Jayda and me as he slung his arms around our shoulders.
Immediately, an intense scent of Axe body spray and his Old Spice deodorant overwhelmed my senses and I nearly choked. That was one thing about him I never got used to.
"Not by choice, love," Jayda assured him and pinched his jaw playfully. "Rory here got burned by Casper The Friendly Ghost and made a big deal about it in the washroom. Long story short, we were late for assembly and Miss Grace and that new teacher made us sit with them."
"Oof. That must have been punishment enough," James huffed, pulling a face at the mention of our new English teacher and politely offered to carry our backpacks for us. As he shrugged the straps onto his shoulder, one of his basketball teammates was passing by us in the hallway with a familiar cheerleader clinging possessively to his side and he reached a hand out to James for a high five. James happily slapped palms with his playboy buddy then firmly wrapped a hand around my waist in a protective manner. The cheerleader's bright blue eyes made a show of slowly dipping all the way down James' leather-clad towering frame, then all the way back up again before abruptly stopping at his arm that was secured tightly around my waist. A barely noticeable frown dipped the corner of her lips, but it was only for a split second and she was back to biting on her bottom lip in what was supposed to be a sexy manner. In reality, she only looked like she had been starved for days.
"Good morning, James." She addressed my friend with her seductive gaze, purposely trying to get a reaction out of me by ignoring my presence. She didn't acknowledge Jayda either, but that was probably because my best friend was already glaring daggers at her.
"Morning, Cecilia," James mumbled lamely under his breath, barely sparing her a glance before redirecting his full attention to his teammate. They chatted wildly about something I couldn't bother to care about, having been too caught up in shooting imaginary laser beams from my eyes at the ginger in front of me. Cecilia twirled an orange lock around her finger in a flirtatious manner, still shamelessly ogling James and practically undressing him with her eyes. No longer being able to stomach the sight of her, I tugged on the sleeve of James' leather jacket, silently telling him to cut his conversation short so we could head to class. But he knew very well I needed to be as far away from Cecilia as humanly possible if he didn't want me ignoring him for the rest of the day.
"I'll see you at lunch, Christopher." He hurriedly dismissed his friend with a handshake then glanced at Cecilia. "And I'll see you in Algebra."
"Can't wait." She winked at him suggestively before following behind Christoper.
James quickly tugged both Jayda and me forward and away from the retreating couple.
I tossed a quick glance over my shoulder and locked eyes with the busty cheerleader, her blue eyes piercing mine with a cunning stare as the corner of her lips curled up wickedly. I fought back my urge to give her the finger and redirected my gaze to the front with an inaudible groan. James quickly caught on to my sudden annoyance and offered me an apologetic look with his eyes.
I shrugged it off and ignored him, not wanting another replay of the shit-show that was junior year.
"So is Christopher her new boyfriend now?" Jayda voiced my thoughts and I looked up at James expectantly. He nervously scratched his nape and focused his attention on the front of the crowded hallway.
"Something like that," he answered, shooting me a nervous glance.
"Right." I scoffed and Jayda rolled her eyes in agreement. "How do you know what class she has this morning, anyway?"
He hesitated on his answer and shot Jayda a panicked look, but the albino turned her face away, clearly not wanting to be a part of it.
"We texted a little the week before school reopened." He finally sighed out, fingering the mop of gold curls on his head.
I nodded slowly, allowing his words to process before I got myself worked up over nothing. "So you're talking again." I finalized and he immediately raised a hand in his defense.
"Aurora, whatever the hell it is you're thinking right now, it's not like that." He quickly defended and I reluctantly removed his hand from around my waist.
"Okay," I told him in a soft voice, forcing down the horrible memories that threatened to resurface and ended the conversation there. After a long stretch of silence, I decided to fill him in on this morning's events. "Anyway, before you say anything, in our defense the only seats available were in the teachers' section. I don't know about Jayda, but I'm happy Miss Grace was kind enough to not make us stand through one hour of a wannabe church service this morning."
"Ahh, I see." He hummed and I noticed his grip on my backpack tightened. "I saved you guys some seats but the cheerleaders crowded me and took them over. I would have politely told them to 'beat it' but you guys know how they get when they can't have their way."
I tried my best to mask the scowl on my face and decided it was best that I didn't respond to his comment.
"Yeah..." Jayda supplied awkwardly.
James seemed to be regretting his choice of words now and tried to change the topic of conversation. "Uhm, so did you guys hear Miss Addington's speech by the way? It was kinda mean, in my opinion."
"Rory doesn't think so," Jayda commented unnecessarily in a mocking tone. I rolled my eyes in her direction.
"I just think she was making it clear that she would like to be left alone to avoid all the shit that inevitably goes down at this school every year. Can you guys really blame her? Especially after last year?" I added in my defense.
James shot me a funny look, his eyebrows dipping in confusion and the corner of his lips curling slightly. "Did you even hear the entire thing? Or were you too busy ogling her from a mile away?" I didn't say anything, remembering how I had completely zoned out after getting caught up in my talk with Sir Leon.
"No..." I finally answered, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear. "I was a little distracted."
"Of course you were." He snickered at me and I shot him a glare.
"Shut up. She doesn't even seem that bad. Cold, strict, and has the personality of a rock, maybe. But I think we'd all be fine if we just stayed out of her way."
He scoffed and glanced at Jayda to back him up. "I agree with Rory on this one, dude." The albino chimed in, sounding slightly unsure of her words and I could tell she was being careful with them to not make James pissed like earlier. She then added, "But she was also being a little bit of a bitch to James this morning."
I didn't really give a shit about James' child-like temper at the moment after having to see that walking piece of plastic miserably attempt to flirt with him barely a few moments ago.
"She wasn't." I snapped and paused at a division in the hallway, bringing them both to a firm halt as well. I snatched my backpack off of James' shoulder and tried to control my temper. "Maybe if he stopped acting so childish then he wouldn't see the need to hate on her simply for doing her job."
"I am not childish. Why are you defending her so strongly anyway? Have a crush on her already?" James interrogated unnecessarily, refusing to take me seriously at all.
"It's nothing like that, dude. What the hell?" I frowned, not particularly enjoying where this conversation was headed. A smirk broke out on his face and I wanted nothing more than to punch it right off.
He shook his head disapprovingly and eyed me with an accusing stare. "Christ, it's not even noon yet and your hormones are already raging."
"Oh, they're definitely raging, alright," Jayda concluded quickly and held James back by the arm from getting closer to me, realizing I was no longer joking with him. "Come on, James. Stop teasing her like that. Why are we even fighting about this? We should be comparing schedules." Her dainty pale hands began to dig through her backpack in a hurry, desperate to find literally anything to redirect the conversation. "Look, it says here I have Chem first. At least now I know I'm not sharing a class with either of you this morning." The disappointed look on her pale features made me sad but I suddenly wanted to be alone for a while and hoped I didn't have to share a class with James either. I retrieved my schedule as well and I quickly skimmed over it, hoping to god that I didn't have to inhale his annoying Axe-infused male scent much longer.
James glanced down at the paper in my hands with his curious brown gaze and I saw the smirk slowly reappear on his pink lips. "Of course. English with your new teacher crush."
Deciding I had finally had enough, I glared up at him and stated coldly, "Try not to go about spreading a nasty rumor like that when Little Miss Perfect Cecilia is feeling you up during Algebra. I don't feel like dealing with any more of her shit this year. Especially because of you." I jabbed a finger in his solid chest at the emphasis on the 'you', ensuring he understood every bit of what I was saying.
"Rory–" He began to say, regret filling his pool of brown eyes as he reached a hand out to me.
It was too late though. I was already annoyed and had begun to walk away, saying to Jayda. "See you at lunch, babe."
"What? You're heading to class already? We have five more minutes of freedom left!" I heard her holler behind me but I waved her off with my hand.
The longer I stayed in James and his smug presence, the more irritated I was becoming. The best decision back there was to leave.
So leave I did.