At the horrified look Kayla was making, I turned around in my seat to look behind me. I couldn’t help wondering what was making her mouth form a small O like that. All I could see was a group of kids our age standing in a semicircle talking. Was that what she seemed so terrified of? I looked back at her and she was trying to hide behind her book-bag, rather unsuccessfully, I might add.
“What’s wrong, Kayla. Why are you hiding from those kids?” I questioned her, my eyebrow quirking up a little at her childish behavior.
“Shhh,” she said with wide eyes as she peeked around her bag at me, talking in hushed tones. “Don’t say my name or they’ll hear you and come over.”
I looked back at the group, noticing them eyeing me right back before they started to walk away. I turned back around in my seat to face, Kayla. I resumed stuffing my face while I waited for her to explain the situation to me. Man, why was Chinese food so good?
“Okay,” I said slowly after swallowing a big bite of sweet and sour chicken with rice, “I think they’re gone. You gonna tell me what’s up now?”
“They are? Oh, good,” she said lowering her bag slowly and looking over my shoulder as she finally let out a relieved sigh, “Sorry. I didn’t want them to see me.”
“I got the memo,” I said with a small, confused smile, “So, what was that all about? Why are you acting so freaking weird?”
She looked down at her food before answering, “They...make fun of me.”
“What? They do? Why?” her confession surprised me.
Her delicate brows drew together as she sat back and gestured at herself, “Well, look at me.”
“I am. I don’t see the problem,” I admitted with a shrug of my shoulders, unsure of what I was looking for. Did she have horns or something?
She rolled her eyes and quirked a brow, “Oh, I don’t know. Could it be the dyed black hair? The purple streaks? Maybe it’s my gothic makeup or my clothes? They just hate me, okay?”
“Well I think you look fine and no. It’s not okay. I doubt they hate you,” I tried to reassure her.
“You’ve obviously never been picked on.”
“Nope, don’t think so. Or if I have, I’ve never paid too much attention to it.”
“Figures,” she grunted, dunking her egg roll in sweet and sour sauce.
“Well, look I’m sorry they tease you, but don’t listen to them. Obviously they have insecurities or something. They wouldn’t be singling you out otherwise,” I pointed out, shoveling more grub in my face.
“Gee thanks, I’ll try that,” she said, rolling her eyes again and pushing around the food on her plate.
“Kayla…” I began, ducking down to get her to look at me.
Her light blue, almost violet eyes peeked at me under her heavy bangs, “Can we change the subject please?”
“Sure, done. What do you want to talk about?” I nodded, polishing off my meal and downing my orange soda.
“I dunno. What kind of books do you like?”
“Ummmm… Fantasy, Science Fiction, Thrillers, Horror, that type of thing.”
“Me too,” she smiled in relief, “The Least favorite type?”
“Easy. Romance, biographies, autobiographies and history,” I answered with a smile.
“Good. We have some things in common, although... I wouldn’t rule out all romance, only the sappy kind. There are some good ones, mostly the paranormal ones. I have to be in the mood though to read that sort of thing.” She grinned, closing her Styrofoam carton and standing up to throw it away.
“I suppose you’re right.” I agreed reluctantly, following suit and tossing my trash away along with hers.
“Shall we?” Kayla said, gesturing with her hand elaborately and sporting a wide smile.
“We shall,” I grinned back.
“So, it is true. The new guy really is dating the freak of nature,” a high pitched voice said, followed by the laughter of a group.
“Oh no,” Kayla groaned before turning around to face them.
“Let’s go, Kayla. Forget about them,” I muttered, facing her.
“Aren’t they cute together?” asked a nasally blonde as she sneered at us.
“I can’t,” she whispered to me.
“Why not?” I mumbled back.
“She’s my step-sister…”
“Oh,” I said with arched eyebrows.
“Wow good work, Kayla.” The same snotty blonde girl said with an unattractive grin on her makeup caked face, “So, how’d you snag a hottie like him?”
“We’re just friends, Delia,” Kayla said in a huff, rolling her eyes.
“Awww, so not even your guy friends think you’re worth being with, huh?” Delia said with a laugh, chorused by her friends.
I snorted, “That made absolutely no sense.”
Delia did a dramatic hair flip, brushing her blonde locks back in a huff, “Yeah? Well...whatever.”
“Don’t,” Kayla pleaded quietly with me, “It’s fine. We can go.”
“Okay,” I agreed shoving my hands in my pockets and trying to abide by her wishes for me to not get involved.
“Ooh, don’t leave on my account,” Delia said, followed by some guffawing from her crew.
“I’ll see you later,” Kayla muttered bitterly to her step-sister.
“Oh, you sure will. Later loser,” Delia said with a small wave, then she winked at me, “See you later, new guy.”
Gross! If it was okay to punch chicks, I would’ve totally socked her right in her perfectly straight nose. I tried to put my arm around Kayla as we walked off, but she pushed it off in agitation. I walked along with her in silence, trying not to pressure her into talking. Me with my hands in my pockets, gazing at her surreptitiously and Kayla with her arms crossed, looking down at her feet scowling. We walked all the way out of the mall, into the parking lot and to the street before she visibly relaxed, dropping her arms at her sides and inhaling deeply.
“Sorry,” she finally said, peeking over at me with a strange sadness in her eyes.
“It’s okay. She seems like a real...winner,” I said, my voice dripping with sarcasm.
Kayla giggled and looked over at me, “My dad remarried and the new lady came with a new sibling, unfortunately.”
“Yeah she’s a real piece of work. Is she like that all the time?”
“Yup. Every damn day,” she pulled the corners of her mouth in, then blew a raspberry, causing me to snort and then chortle. I was super duper attractive right then.
“I see. What a shame, then.” I kicked a rock down the street with great force, watching as it clattered down a hill. It continued gaining speed before it hit the bottom and flew off into the ether.
“Yeah. She hates me, but I don’t know why. I get along with her mom alright, though. So, that’s nice,” she said as we took a left, heading down the street towards her house.
“Oh good,” I agreed, nodding my head, unsure of what else to say.
“So, if I can ask, where’s your mom at?” I immediately wished I could take back the question as I watched how her face fell.
“She, uh, died,” she said, blinking a few times.
“I’m so sorry,” I stopped walking long enough to squeeze her hand.
She swiped away a singular tear with the sleeve of her hoodie as it shimmied it’s way down her cheek, smearing some of her thick black eyeliner. “Uh. It’s okay. I never knew her. She died while giving birth to me.”
“Oh wow. I’m sorry,” I threw my arm around her in a friendly hug. I tried to imagine what it would be like to not have my mom around, but I couldn’t even process the thought.
I didn’t know if she’d want to discuss anything more. So, I remained quiet and listened, letting her take over the conversation.
“You don’t need to apologize, it’s not your fault. It’s my fault. Or at least, I’m pretty sure that’s what my dad thinks.” She shrugged, shoulders hunched as we rounded the corner of her block.
“What? He told you that? What a terrible thing to say to someone, especially your own kid.” I shook my head and pulled her close to me in a friendly hug.
“No, he never actually said those words exactly. He didn’t have to. I can just tell he blames me by the way he acts around me.”
We took a seat on her steps, the warm concrete soaking through my jeans, “What do you mean? How does he act? Does he treat you badly? Like, does he hit you or anything?”
“No, but he treats me different from Delia. He distances himself from me, you know? He’s never once said anything mean to me or treated me bad, but I catch him looking at me sometimes, all sad. It makes me feel so guilty.”
“Guilty why?” I questioned while looking behind me, not understanding what she had to feel guilty about.
“He’s not here, don’t worry. He is at work,” She sniffled, following my glance, “I feel guilty...because I’m here and she’s not. It wasn’t fair she got taken from him. I can tell he still loves her. He only got with Lucille so he wouldn’t be alone, I think.”
“It’s not fair that she got taken from you either, but stop blaming yourself. It wasn’t your fault. I doubt your dad thinks it’s your fault either. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel,” I nudged her shoulder with my own, causing her to crack a small smile.
“I dunno. I guess you’re right.” She looked over at me and wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her hoodie, smearing eyeliner some more. She looked like a sad little panda bear.
“Could be. You won’t know until you try.”
“Okay. I’ll talk to him,” she smiled and kissed my cheek, “I should go inside and get a shower. I smell like incense.”
I wrinkled my nose and waved my hands in front of it, “You’re right. You do stink.”
“Shut up you butt-head,” she said with a laugh as she stood up and stuck out her tongue.
I laughed back, standing up as well, “I’ll see ya later, Kayla.”
“Okay. Later, Kai,” she waved and opened her door.
Before I got very far down the street, I heard the screen door open and shut again, “Kai!”
I looked back in time to see her running straight at me. She threw her arms around my neck and squeezed hard. It was like one of those chick flick, romantic comedy movie moments or whatever. Minus the romantic element. Not that I watch those or anything.
“Thanks for listening. You’re the best,” she said, grinning before taking back off to her house.
“You’re welcome!” I called back, bearing a grin of my own.
I had to turn back to the road leading to the mall to get to my house, but I was in no rush.
“I thought she’d never leave,” a familiar voice crooned in my ear. I shivered both from the coolness he brought with him and the very closeness of him.
“What? Where do you keep running off to? I was going to introduce you to Kayla at the mall, but you bolted again. Why do you do that? Are you shy it something? Cuz you made me look like an idiot,” I blurted out in a rush of annoyance as I shot daggers at him with my eyes.
“Sorry,” he held up his arms, conveniently not answering any of my questions, “Want me to get rid of her?”
“No. What? You mean, Kayla? Why would I want that?”
“Not her. Her,” he said pointing at someone over my shoulder.
“Hey there, new guy!” A grating, high pitched voice called out, making me groan inwardly, “Wait up.”
“Great,” I grumbled through clenched teeth, as I turned around to face evil incarnate in disguise as Kayla’s step-sister.
She was by herself, veering off the path to her house to walk over to me. Jude walked in front of me blocking her way and turned his head to look at me.
“Just so you know, I’m going to disappear on you again. Try not to freak out, okay? I’ll come back,” Then he turned back around to face the incoming probable cheerleader.
“Wait, you’re what? You can’t leave me with her,” I whispered angrily, putting my hands up in frustration.
“Geez, don’t look happy to see me or anything,” she said with a smile plastered on her face, as she sauntered over towards us.
I stood there, not saying a word. Still trying to figure out what Jude meant. He still stood in her way, but she never so much as blinked in his direction.
“What the heck, dude?” I said, peeking around his big head, trying to get this conversation with her over with.
“What are you doing, weirdo?” She said laughing, her hands on her hips.
“Watch this,” Jude turned to wink at me as she walked right through him, causing him to dissipate like smoke. Delia shivered and rubbed her arms, frowning over at me.
“Did it suddenly get colder, or is it just me? It was warm a second ago. I wish I had thought to bring my jacket. I mean, look at me. I have goosebumps,” she whined, extending her arm out to me so I could look, even thought I couldn’t have cared less about her hairy freaking arms at that moment.
“What. Just. Happened? Oh my god, did you see that?” My eyes bugged out of my head as I covered my mouth, walking around her in circles.
“What are you going on about?” she said, her frown deepening the lines in her forehead.
“Uh, nothing?” I answered, uncertain about what I had just witnessed.
“Oh, you’re so cute,” she exclaimed with a squeal, moving closer to me.
“What? I am?” I said, my eyebrows puckered in confusion. What is with the girls in this town?
“Ugh, no. Not you,” she scoffed, picking something up off the ground and stood up holding the same black cat that was at my house. “I was talking about this pretty thing. Is it yours?”
“No…. Where’d you come from?” I asked the cat, reaching out to pet her, but jerking my arm back when she hissed at me again.
“Well, guess she doesn’t like you,” Delia laughed, stroking the purring cat. She touched the half moon charm on it’s collar and then stood frozen, staring at the cat with a strange, slack jawed look on her face. The cat stared right back at her, neither of them blinking. The wind picked up out of nowhere on a cloudless day. Thunder rumbled ominously in the far off distance, hinting at a big storm making a pit stop over town.
“You okay? What’s the matter?” I asked after a few moments of silence, curiosity getting the better of me as I snapped my fingers in front of her. The cat hissed at me and jumped out of Delia’s arms, scampering off down the street.
Delia blinked and shook her head, mumbling as she turned back the way she came, “I have to go now. Bye.”
“Okay. Later then,” I muttered back with a small wave.
As she walked away, I stood there with my mouth gaping open, wondering what her problem was. She was acting so strange. After she was gone, I was left to face a different dilemma. I stared at the place where Jude had just been only moments ago.
Where did he go and how did he do that?