Integral Instruments - With prelude to Justified Voices (Book 7)

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27

Arlee

“Okay, don’t be mad, but I did a little research on you.” June stomped her feet and jumped up and down, “I’m so glad to have another egghead here!”

She giggled and I joined in.

“We’re in most of the same classes, even the senior ones as Juniors, you play the violin, I play the cello. We both do musical arts and are looking into Julliard.”

“Okay, it’s a little weird that you know all of that,” I told her, “But, you are too? Seriously?!”

“There are two of us, now three, all going for the J.” She nodded excitedly, “This is so awesome!”

She looked over my shoulder as Colby exited the office behind us and her face fell flat.

“Who’s big and tasty over there?” She whispered.

“Colby.” I rolled my eyes, “Just ignore him. He’s a precaution my dad is taking.”

“Body guard.” If possible, her face fell further, “You’re a Trust Fund.”

“A trust fund? What’s that?”

“Privileged.” She shook her head, “I knew it was too good to be true.”

“I’m not privileged. I worked to get where I am.” I scoffed.

“But you have the hottie over there to protect you.”

“That’s...” I looked back at Colby and lost my train of thought, “Ryan is my soon-to-be dad. He’s trying to...” I shook my head, there was no way I was going there. “Never mind, I have some family issues going on right now and it’s a long story... Just know that I’m not some snob. I work hard for what I have. My mom raised myself and my two little sisters. She’s an artist.”

“That explains it.” She giggled.

“Explains what?”

“No makeup, no hair product. No expensive jewelry. I like you.”

I laughed.

“So GPA?”

“Apparently a 4.7.” I smiled.

“Favorite extracurricular?”

“Chorus, actually.” I laughed when she twisted her face.

“Violin or piano?”

“Violin.”

“Okay, better.”

“So, if there are privileged people here, I’m guessing that your not one of them. What does that make you?”

“I’m considered one of the charity cases, because I’m here on scholarship.”

“But that’s a great thing.”

“Not to most of these people.” She shook her head, “They see it as us getting a free ride.”

“Are they rude about it or something?”

“Just stay away from the groupie chicks,” She shrugged, “Everyone else is nice and they’ll say hi in the hallways and stuff. Some of them even get after the groupies for riding the charity cases, but at the end of the day, they still screw around with the trust funds. They aren’t outwardly cruel to us though.”

“So they aren’t bad, but aren’t great?”

“They just don’t take any school stuff seriously. It’s all a boring game to them.” She snorted, “One even stayed back a year.”

“Seriously?”

“They aren’t bad, they’re just a family of sorts and they have everything ready for them when they graduate. They don’t allow outsiders in either, so you have nothing to fear.” She sighed and opened the door to a classroom, “Ready for first period?”

“Shocker, Charity is kissing ass again.” A blonde seated in the back row laughed with someone next to her.

“Enough, Summer, June is showing our newest student around today.” The teacher smiled at me, “Everyone, I would like you to meet Arlee O'Brien. Another bright young mind.”

“Thank you.” I blushed and took a seat in an empty desk next to June’s.

“Another charity case.” The blonde hissed, “Seriously? We’re allowing them to join all year now?”

"Miss O'Brien has a 4.7GPA," The teacher moved around the desk and leaned against, "It beats a 3.1, don't you think Miss Trovino?"

Some of the students laughed and we went about our lessons, with snarky remarks every time June or I raised our hands to answer a question.

Okay. Now I saw what June had meant. Did she always face this hostility?

***

“Summer is the worst.” She told me on our way to the gym, “She goes out of her way to be rude and others just follow her. The teachers don’t do much because her dad practically owns the school.”

“You’ll also notice that the more money parents throw at the school, the more these people get away with.” She stopped and sighed at a crowd outside of the boy’s locker room.

I noticed one of the faces in the crowd and looked to June. I didn’t want her to know that I knew them. Not right now. I needed to adjust to my new friendship, before I threw these guys and that drama into it.

Ian, Noah’s cousin, went pale and began to walk over to us.

“June, I should probably tell you-” I began, but was cut off.

“Hey, June. Would you mind taking Arlee somewhere else?” I could hear the tightness in his voice.

“We have gym this period.” She gaped at him, “How do you know Arlee?”

“Look, uh-we’re just wrapping up here and-”

Suddenly the door burst open and everyone cheered. It didn’t take long to see what they were cheering for when two people emerged. The snarky blonde from earlier and... My heart stopped...

“Fuck.” Ian’s green eyes never left my face as he muttered.

Wow. Just... Wow...

I had no reason to be heartbroken. I knew he wasn’t told no, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it stung a little.

I liked him. Like, really liked him. I had texted with him every night for months... He’d even hopped in my car when I drove to the ocean for the day and we’d had fun. We laughed, we talked and he seemed genuine and kind. We even almost- Wow... All the while he was...

“Ooooh, the hall monitor and her new little groupie caught us.” The blonde glared, as Noah’s eyes focused and saw me standing there for the first time.

“Arlee?” He gaped, “What the hell are you doing here?”

“Liv.” I closed my eyes and when I opened them I trained them on the ground, “She thought it would be safer for me to switch into the private sector sooner than I’d originally planned.”

I cleared my throat and tried to compose myself, looking anywhere but at him. The boy I liked. The only boy I had ever liked, and kissed and... Wow...

I met Colby’s eyes behind the crowd and almost broke. Then I turned to look at Ian who was obviously seeing my heart break.

Everyone would know now that I was stupid enough to fall for a boy’s stupid tricks. The whole school, on my very first day. My new friend would know and, once Colby gave his report tonight, so would my parents.

My mom would probably have a fit and hate Bree for raising a jerk and it would all be my fault. Because I, Arlee Tanner O’Brian, fell for the wrong boy.

When I turned back to face him, he was looking between me and the blonde...

“Arlee... This isn’t what it looks like.” He tried to explain.

“Oh, I’m pretty sure it’s exactly what it looks like.” I curled my lips inward and bit them, so I didn’t say what was really on my mind in front of all of these strangers.

Sure, he acted sweet and nice with me, but in reality, this was the guy I had been talking to all along. The guy that screws girls in locker rooms. I bet he told her the same exact thing he’d told me a couple nights ago.

“Do you know this charity case?” The blonde scoffed.

“Shut up, Summer.” He stiffened as he snapped at her.

“Tell me you didn’t fuck her.” She laughed and a few others joined in as Noah gaped around the hall, “She’s homely looking. Especially with that hair.” She looked from him to me, “Talk about a cheap dye job. I bet-.”

“It’s just her hair. It does that in the sun.” He whispered, but I could hear him, that meant others could too.

I squeezed my eyes closed again, trying to wipe the image of him coming out of that closet out of my head. This wasn’t the Noah I knew.

“Arlee, do you want to go sit down somewhere?” Ian asked me like he thought I was about to faint, “We can chill. Just you and me. No Noah, nobody else. We can talk, okay? You can talk to me.”

“What?!” Noah snapped, “That ain’t fucking happening!”

I jumped as his voice reverberated off of the hallway and gave an echo.

“Noah!” Summer snapped, “Answer me!”

“Can you just shut the fuck up for one God dammed minute?!” He shouted at her then turned to me as I took a step back.

“Arlee, we need to talk about this.” He begged.

“No.” I bit my lips between my words, “We don’t need to talk about anything.” I began to shake my head as I backed away, “I don’t need to talk to either of you. Any of you. It’s honestly none of my business what you guys do. I just wanted to go to gym.”

“Arlee.” Ian’s eyes were so soft as he reached for my hand, like he could feel the pain that I was trying not to.

“No.” I pulled away.

“Dammit, Arlee!” Noah reached for me next and I jumped back.

“Don’t touch me until you wash your hands.” I said with a shaky voice, “Maybe disinfect your body or something.”

“Arlee, please,” He was pleading now, “Just come and talk to me."

“Noah! Back the fuck off!” Ian turned and shouted at his cousin who was about to shout back before Colby stood between them and me.

“I think Miss O'Brien has had enough for one day, boys.” He told them sternly.

“Who the hell are you?” Noah snapped, standing up to Colby. They were both around the same height but, being older than us, Colby was bulkier.

“My name is Colby and I’m in charge of Miss O'Brien’s safety.” He spoke calmly, “But if you piss me off anymore, by coming closer to her, there will be a time and place for you.”

“Wait, she’s not a charity case? She-” Summer began.

“Her name is Arlee Ford! NOT O'BRIEN!” Noah shouted and it echoed in the now deathly silent halls, “She’s Ryan Ford’s fucking daughter! Ryan! From my mother’s band! Shut the fuck up, Summer!”

I glanced at June who was gaping at me in shock, then at Ian who watched me sadly, and the back of Noah’s head as he shouted at the crowd.

“Ryan Ford doesn’t have a daughter.” Someone scoffed.

“He does!” Noah shouted, “He has 3! You wanna fucking doubt me, bitch?! No one knows what goes on in my family! No one!”

This wasn’t Noah. It wasn’t my Noah.

“Arlee, please,” Ian put his hands up in surrender, “My cousin’s a dick. Just-.”

“What the fuck did you say to her?!” Noah turned and grabbed Ian by the collar, “We had an agreement, bitch!”

I couldn’t help the scream that escaped me when they began throwing punches. I wasn’t used to this. I had never seen this side of Noah or such violence and credulity at all.

Normally these guys were best friends. We hung out and watched movies and joked and laughed. They were ALWAYS friendly and nice. What happened?

“Can’t you tell she’s fucking freaked?!” I heard Ian shout as strong arms lifted me and pulled me away from the fighting boys.

“You coming?” I heard Colby ask someone as he carried me into an empty classroom.

He closed the door behind him and sat me in a chair.

My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. Or was that my entire body?

“Are you okay?” He looked me over to make sure I was physically unharmed.

Brown. His eyes were a deep shade of brown, almost black. It reminded me of soil and our garden back at the old house. I used to love being out there with my mother and sisters as we tended our veggies.

With that thought, I began to relax, taking deep breaths.

I gave him a nod and he nodded back.

“Good.” He smiled, “Now breathe. Try to relax. If I bring you home like this your parents will flip.”

“Are you okay Arlee? I’m sorry. I had no idea.” June was shaking herself, “I wouldn’t have said all of that stuff if I knew.”

“You think I’m mad at you?” My eyebrows drew together.

“Well, yeah. I said some pretty nasty stuff.”

“I've never seen them like that!” I motioned to the door, "They're always so nice!”

A scuffle sounded near the door now and Colby went to hold it closed.

“You’re just like him you know!” Ian was panting, “Exactly like him! You’ve been treating Arlee like shit, just like he treated your mom and you're going to feel that fucking guilt the rest of your damn life!”

A huge thud and a smacking sound made me jump as I gaped at Colby.

“Looks like somebody is going home early today.” Colby leaned against it and I could tell from his stance that no one was getting into this classroom.

“Alright boys,” That was the principle, “You, Mr. Noah McGhee, are going to my office now. And you, Mr. Ian McGhee, are going to the nurse. I’m sending you both home and I’m calling your parents.”

I gulped I had never been in trouble before. This would go on my record. They were fighting because of me. Or not me. I wasn’t exactly sure. All I knew was that I was going to get caught in a classroom with my new friend and my bodyguard anf I would be sent to his office and then what? What happened when you went to principle’s office?

“He’s even cuter when he smiles.” June sat next to me and leaned in, looking at Colby wistfully.

I laughed. She may turn out to be a good friend.

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