“Get in there, Maggot!”
“No! Darin, no!” I protest as I brace my arms and legs against the edges of my gym locker, trying to keep myself from being shoved inside it.
But Darin just shoves harder. “Come on, guys, don’t just stand there!” he barks at two of his usually six personality-less goons.
And of course, they jump in without question, because how else are they ever to please their precious Darin if not by helping him torture me; someone whose literal only crime was being born.
They pry my hands loose, knock my feet off the edges, and push me the rest of the way in, making sure to lock the door up tight before I have a chance to fight back. As if I even had a chance against all three of them.
“Have a good day!” Darin calls as I hear he and his friends laughing and clapping each other on the back for a job well done.
Dick…I growl, as I contort myself just enough to get facing frontwards again. Luckily, these lockers are a little bigger than the usual ones, and I’m a lot smaller than most guys, so turning around is just uncomfortable, not impossible.
As I stare out through the tiny slats in the door though, I can’t help but wonder what the hell I did to the universe to make it hate me so much. To make it stick me with a brother like Darin. Well…half-brother. Same mom, different dads, long story.
I always get a kick out of movies that portray a loving and mutually supportive sibling relationship. You know, the ones where the older brother is always swooping in to save the younger one when the big bad bullies come and giving him little pep talks when he’s feeling down. Like, do the people who create those movies not have siblings? I seriously have to wonder, because that’s never been my experience. In my world Darin is the bully, and he’s made it his life’s mission to make my life a living hell, not make it better.
“Hello! Mr. Carrera, are you out there?” I call, hoping the gym teacher is within ear shot and come let me out as usual.
As I wait, I hear the bell ringing; signaling the start of the next period. Awesome. Second week of classes, and this is the third time you’re going to be late. That’ll go over well…
Mrs. Gac – the teacher of the class I’m supposed to be in right now - threatened last week that if I didn’t start getting there on time, she was going to have me removed. Yes, she can do that. Believe me, I checked, and I can imagine she won’t be pleased when I don’t appear to be heeding her warning. But it’s not like I can change anything. I can’t just magically will myself out of here, no matter how nice that would be. I’m at the mercy of others, and that just means I’m gonna have to hope she’s feeling merciful today.
Finally, I hear the familiar scrape of the heavy metal door against the tile floor as it’s opened, and Mr. Carrera comes striding in.
He’s a large man; built like a brick wall, with big tree trunk sized arms, and more muscle than most bodybuilders. Honestly, I think he might be juicing, but I’m not dumb enough to ever say that out loud. This guy would snap me in half in an instant. “Got yourself locked in again, Nishimura?” he asks, as if I chose to get locked in here. As if I did this all on my own.
I roll my eyes, holding back the frustrated sigh that threatens to escape my lips as I stare out at him. He’s a jerk, but he doesn’t completely hate me, so I’d rather not do anything to jeopardize that. “Yes, sir.” I reply. He knows exactly who did this to me. I’ve told him before. Countless times over my first year here, in fact, but he chooses to ignore that, and he makes certain that I do too.
See, Darin’s dad is a professor here, and he and Mr. Carrera are very good friends, which makes Darin his favorite student. The fact that he’s also the star player of Mr. Carrera’s SIM team doesn’t help much either. And Carrera won’t risk something as stupid as “a little bullying” – his words - getting in the way of his friendship or his team winning the championship again. Besides, he says that bullying “builds character” and this is a family issue, so if I really wanted it to stop, I just need to “resolve it outside of school”. Like I haven’t already tried that. All it did was make things worse. Much, much worse.
“Alright, give me a second and I’ll get you out.” Mr. Carrera says as he pulls his keys from his pocket and unlocks the door. “Whoa!” he exclaims, taking a step back and swishing his hand in front of his nose as I emerge from my metal prison. “Nishimura, you reek!”
I’m sure I couldn’t look any less amused if I tried. “That would be gym socks, sir.”
For his birthday last year, Darin got a bottle of sweaty gym sock cologne as a gag gift from one of his goons, and every so often, if he’s feeling especially dickish, he’ll douse my clothes in it, so I get to spend the rest of the day walking around smelling of feet. Honestly, it happens often enough that I barely even notice it anymore, but others do, and if I had a penny for every person who’s felt compelled to tell me how bad I smell, I’d probably be sitting on a small fortune by now. But bullying builds character, right?
Mr. Carrera takes another step back, making a face of disgust while trying very poorly to hide it. “Alright, well…you’d best get yourself to class.” He says, clearly eager to get rid of me.
I nod, grabbing my tattered old grey backpack off the ground and slinging it over my shoulder. “Thanks again, Mr. Carrera.” For nothing…
On my way past the sinks I catch a glimpse of myself in one of the mirrors, and frown. We were playing dodgeball today to work on our defensive and evasive skills, so along with various bruises I’m sure are currently forming throughout my body, my hair looks like its melted into a sweaty black pool on top of my head. I keep it shortish, with the top just slightly longer than the rest, because sometimes I like to lie to myself and say that I might actually try to style this mess. Like that’ll ever happen.
To style my hair I would have to have a shred of self-esteem left to care about what I look like, and since I’ve been wearing the same pair of jeans and stained hoodie for the last three days, I think it’s pretty safe to say that I don’t.
Of course, having a giant burn scar that spans almost the entire right side of my face, and upper half of my body doesn’t do much to boost my self-esteem either. Its hideous, and when people see it, they always get that look in their eyes. The pity look. And when they realize that I notice they’re staring, they just look away and quickly scurry off. Like “Oh, look at that poor boy with that big, ugly scar! The poor thing.”
I hate it; the scar and their pity. I don’t need it. This scar has been etched into my skin for as long as I can remember; like someone threw a bucket of red paint at me, and despite the years I’ve had it, it’s done very little fading. It’s still angry, and gnarled, and sticks out like a beacon against my pale skin. But I’m used to it, and I came to terms a long time ago with the fact that there’s nothing I can do about it being there. Well…nothing I’m willing to do about it being there.
I remember trying to cover it once when I was maybe seven or eight. My mom has a scar on her face too – from a blade – though it’s much smaller than mine, and when she was home, she would always cover it with makeup. I was so fascinated by that. How one moment it was there, and the next she could make it entirely disappear like a wonderful magic trick.
So, I tried the makeup for myself, hoping I could catch a glimpse of what I might look like if I was normal, but it didn’t work on me. I could still see the raised lines, and bits of red peeking through. Then Darin caught me and made fun of me for wearing mom’s makeup; calling me an ugly scar face, and I cried because I knew it was true.
I sigh a little as I hear my therapist’s voice in my head, chiding me for entertaining such negative thoughts on my appearance, even for a second. Then again, she looks like the literal incarnation of a goddess, so what’s she got to hate about herself? Nothing.
Behind me, Mr. Carrera suddenly clears his throat, breaking me from my momentary fixation on my own self-hatred. “What’re you still doing here, Nishimura? Get yourself to class.”
“Yes, sir.” I say, tearing my eyes from the mirror and racing out the door as I realize I’ve wasted yet another few minutes of precious time staring at myself when I should have been getting my ass to the class I’m already late for.
Once I’m out in the hall, I pull my phone from my pocket to check the time, sighing as I see that I’m already five minutes late. I’m so screwed… I mumble to myself. Especially since the class in question is up on the eighty-sixth floor.
Unity Heights School for Careers in Space Exploration is a three hundred story skyscraper, equipped with all of the latest cutting-edge technologies, and subjects taught in any career you could ever dream of having when it comes to space. You want to study rocks? They’ll teach you to do that. How about be a doctor? Or a pilot? Maybe you want to study alien culture? Or learn how to build spaceships? Or teach? Or maybe you even want to join the IPTF and help protect the universe? Unity High – that’s what the students call this place – has it all.
Over ten thousand of us call this place home forty-three weeks out of the year, but don’t let that number fool you. Getting admitted here is tough, and the environment is highly competitive. Especially since this is the only school of its kind in all of Uniterra. Actually, it’s the only school of its kind in all of the known universe. Which is why my tardiness is such an issue. I could actually get kicked out for this. So, I guess this is one of the rare times I’m actually really glad we’ve got the tubes.
The tubes are Unity High’s version of an elevator. But they’re smaller. Like really small. They’re built for one – maybe two people if you don’t mind being uncomfortably close to each other – and though I’m not usually bothered by such small spaces, these things bother me.
Maybe it’s because they’re fast. Like rocket kind of fast. Or maybe it’s because people have actually died using them. Like when they malfunction, it’s end game. There’s nothing left of you but shattered glass and a pile of blood and bones. You’re just done, and that’s not exactly the way I want to go out.
As soon as I step inside, the door closes and my anxiety spikes in anticipation. I wave the back of my hand over the scanner in the wall, allowing the computer to scan my identification chip.
“Good morning, Lane Nishimura. You are currently six minutes late for Interspecies Biology, would you still like to go to class?”
“Yes.” I reply, gripping the handle bars on either side of the tube so tight my knuckles ache.
“Alright, transporting to Interspecies Biology.” Comes the robotic female voice, and the familiar dreaded whirring noise as the tube powers itself up before takeoff. I take a deep breath. I hate this. I hate this. I hate this. I hate this so fucking much.
One moment I’m staring out down the gym hallway, and the next I’m surrounded by the navy blue and neon green walls of the science wing, feeling like my insides have become my outsides. I wobble out once the doors open and use the nearest wall to brace myself. Deep breaths. No time to throw up now. I tell myself. I’ve got a class to get to.
By the time I actually make it there however, I’m ten minutes late.
Mrs. Gac glares at me over her cat eye glasses. “Mr. Nishimura, nice of you to finally join us. Take a seat.” She says, causing a few snickers from around the room. Darin’s friends. I could explain to her why I’m late all the time, but what’s the use? It’s not like she’s gonna suddenly overlook my lateness just because Darin is an asshole. She’s just gonna tell me exactly what everyone else does; go to the headmaster.
“Sorry.” I mumble instead, my shoulders slumping as I duck my head, and make my way quickly through the rows of desks to my seat.
I sit in the back of the classroom. I like it back there because nobody usually bothers me. I can just take my notes, listen to the lecture, and be left completely alone for an hour. It’s nice. It’s peaceful.
However, just as I’m about to toss my backpack down and take my seat, I realize its already occupied. Occupied by some new guy, with bright blue skin, long pointed ears, and wild spikes of flaming red and yellow hair sticking up out of his head. A Gav’yxian, most likely, being that they’re the only alien race I can think of that possesses this particular set of features.
He’s also on the SIM team judging by the letterman jacket he’s currently wearing. And not just any SIM team, because I’m not that lucky. Nope, he’s on the one team that hates me. Darin’s team.
Too bad…he’s actually kind of hot from this angle. I think to myself, taking a seat beside him, and mentally preparing for what I’m sure is about to be the class from hell, because this new guy is obviously just another player in Darin’s favorite game; torturing me.
And of course, I’m pissed, because in all the shit he’s pulled over the years, this is a new one for him. A new low. He may have made it his mission in life to drive me mad, but he’s never fucked with my studies before. He makes me late, but he doesn’t mess with the actual classes, and until now I just kind of thought that was an unspoken rule between us. I guess I thought wrong.
“Sorry, is this your seat?” the blue guy asks, leaning in a little as he finally acknowledges me.
And then I make my first giant mistake of the day…well, second if you count sitting down here in the first place. I look at him. I look at him and…shit, his large crimson eyes lock onto my brown ones, and I swear it’s like someone just dropped a brick wall directly in front of me. A brick wall I just smashed into it at full speed.
I still, my whole world seemingly coming to a halt as I swallow down the intensity of everything running through me right now. Like feelings so intense I’m not even sure my body knows how to process them properly. It’s like suddenly having a live wire connected to my brain, making my entire system go haywire. Clearly, being single these last few months has my teenage hormones going a little crazy.
Fuck... I think to myself. I was right about him being hot, and not just from my previously limited side view. He’s the kind of hot that’s hot from every angle. Famous person kind of hot, with a big, strong jaw, and a crooked razor toothed grin that makes my heart skip and my head light.
And then a remember who he is, and who sent him, and…Oh Darin, I’ve never hated you as much as I do in this moment. Because no matter how hot this guy may be, he’s completely off limits. He’s one of Darin’s pawns, and I wouldn’t touch one of them with a ten-foot pole. Not even if you paid me. Even if he wasn’t though, it’s not like someone like him would go for a guy like me. He’s like a perfect ten, and I’m like a two at best. Tens don’t go for twos, and that’s just a fact.
So, I quickly shake my head in response to his question, trying like hell to push my horny teenage thoughts aside, and instead focus on the class I’ve been too distracted to pay any attention to since I walked through the door.
Out of the corner of my eye, I’m aware of the new guy’s eyes shifting in my direction as I start taking notes retro style; with a pen and paper, clearly intrigued. Most of the kids here use their HoloScreens - a compact holographic sort of tablet - but I prefer the old way. It helps me retain the information better, and personally I just like the way a pen feels in my hand.
Suddenly he nudges me, leaning in close enough to send a slight shiver down my spine as the warm heat of his breath hits my neck. “You didn’t miss much, but if you want, I can give you the rest of the notes after class.” He whispers.
I swallow hard, feeling like my throat is a desert. “Thanks, but I’m good.” I tell him, trying to calm my heart as it leaps in my chest.
“Okay.” He says, nodding, and then, “I’m Ietsauhtzuuro Broehmykx, by the way, but you can just call me Zuuro.”
Jeez…even his name is hot. But a hot name doesn’t make him any less off limits, so again, I just ignore him, hoping that he’ll lose interest and leave me alone.
But as soon as he realizes I’m not going to respond, he leans in again. “You know, this is usually the part where you tell me your name too.” He says; a hint of a smile in his voice.
Awesome…he thinks this is a game.
He’s a persistent one alright, I’ll give him that. And if he were anybody else, I’d probably have no issues talking to him. It’s not like I’m against meeting new people, after all, it’s just this new person I have a problem with. Because he’s on the SIM team, and he’s obviously Darin’s friend, and he’s clearly sending my horny ass into serious thirst mode, so it’s probably best just to steer clear, right?
I mean, why cause myself any more issues by giving in to exactly what Darin wants and talking to this guy? If I just sit here, take my notes, and keep my mouth shut, then hopefully Darin will take that as me not being interested, and by tomorrow everything will be right back to normal. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself, because I don’t know how I’m going to survive the whole year sitting next to this guy without popping an embarrassing boner if he does stay.
Still not taking the hint from my consistent ignoring of all his attempts to talk to me, Zuuro leans in a third time. “You’re not much of a talker, are you?” he says, his voice still hushed, but not hushed enough.
He seems to understand that talking at full volume is wrong, but I’m beginning to question whether or not he knows that talking in general is a bad idea. He’s gonna get me in trouble. I say to myself. And maybe that’s what he’s actually trying to do, I don’t know, so finally against my better judgement, I open my mouth to respond. “We’re not supposed to talk during lecture.” I reply shortly, hoping that’ll be the end of it. I won’t play your games, Darin.
But it’s already too late. I’ve been caught.
“Mr. Nishimura, am I boring you? Perhaps you’d rather spend the rest of class with the Headmaster?” Mrs. Gac asks; hands rested on her hips.
Shit. My cheeks flush. I knew my luck was going to run out eventually. “I –“ I begin, but Zuuro cuts me off before I have a chance to finish.
“Sorry, it was actually my fault. I had a question about how to do something on my HoloScreen, so he was just helping me.”
I look at him, a little surprised that he would speak up and risk getting himself in trouble when he could have just let me take the fall. I mean, he was the one who started the whole talking thing, but it was me who got caught, not him, so he didn’t have to cover for me. Nobody’s ever done it before, and definitely not one of Darin’s friends. Maybe I was wrong about him? I think, glancing over at the other members of his team. Two of them are looking this way, and neither of them look too pleased, but is that seriously enough to assume that him being here is just coincidence? That he really isn’t a plant?
Mrs. Gac doesn’t look like she’s too pleased either, but she nods anyway. She hates being wrong. “I owe you an apology then, Mr. Nishimura. And Mr. Broehmykx, I would appreciate if you’d save you questions for after class in the future.”
Zuuro nods, flashing a grin and revealing his perfectly white, razor teeth again. “Absolutely.”
I just sit there; blinking with my mouth hanging slightly open in shock like a fool. I can’t believe he actually did that. And it worked!
As Mrs. Gac goes back to lecturing, I take a moment to scribble “Thank you,” onto the corner of my notebook paper where I know he can read it. After all, I’m not a complete jerk, so even if I am suspicious of him, I’m not going to ignore the fact that he just stuck his neck out for me. I give him a little nudge with my elbow to get his attention and jump a little when I get a shock in return. Stupid static…
When he looks down, I see a little upturn of the corners of his lips. He has a nice smile. I think, and then instantly scold myself. He’s still off limits. I tell myself as he holds out his hand. It takes me a few seconds to figure out what he wants, but finally I conclude that it’s the pen, and hand it to him so he can scribble something directly below my thank you.
“Can we talk like this?”
I hesitate. Do not think with your dick, Lane! The answer is no! Do NOT talk to him. I tell myself. But, I mean, he saved me from getting kicked out of class, and his other teammates do seem pretty unhappy about that, so maybe I can give him a chance? At least long enough to figure out whether him being here is really an accident or not? I hesitate a few more seconds and then write, “Yes,” beside it.
He starts grinning that perfect smile again. “Sorry I almost got you in trouble.” He writes.
“Thank you for not letting me get hauled off to the Headmaster’s office.”
“It was the least I could do. I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Why?” I ask him, because it’s weird. People don’t usually talk to me unless they have to, and they definitely don’t willingly sit with me either. I have a very small group of friends, and they’re the only ones I’ve made in the three years I’ve been here. It’s definitely not for a lack of trying, but usually when someone does try to talk to me, one of Darin’s goons will approach them and tell them that talking to me is basically committing social suicide, and then they’re gone. Nobody wants to be friends with the social pariah, and I get that. If the situations were reversed, I probably wouldn’t risk it either.
“You just looked interesting, I guess”
I scrunch my brows. I just looked interesting? Is that supposed to be a dig at my appearance? I sigh. “Did Darin put you up to this? I get it if he did, I’d just like to know.”
I watch as a look of confusion clouds his face, and then he turns his gaze on me and shakes his head. “I don’t know who that is.”
Again, I hesitate. His reaction seems genuine, and honestly that should probably be good enough, but I think for now it’s still best if I keep myself open to the idea that this might still be a prank, even if we do continue to talk. “Then why’d you choose to sit here and not with your team?”
He looks confused again for a moment and then after looking down at his jacket the realization dawns on him. “I only spoke to them for a few minutes over the weekend after the coach put me on the team, so I don’t really know them.”
Okay…that’s actually promising. “So, you just decided to sit here?”
“I just decided to sit here.”
“And the fact that it’s my seat is just a coincidence?”
“I thought you said it wasn’t your seat?”
“And you don’t like that I’m sitting in it?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Your line of questing says it for you. I feel like I’m getting interrogated.”
My eyes flick up to his face expecting to find him annoyed, but instead he actually looks amused and he seems to be trying very hard not to smile. “Should I be interrogating you?”
That time he does smile. “Well, I’m an alien from a super secretive planet of warriors, so maybe you should?”
Okay, he’s playing. “I guess that depends on whether or not you’re actually from Gav’yx.”
“Where else would I be from?”
“You could have been born here.”
“I could have.”
“So, were you?”
“Then you’re from Gav’yx?”
“I am. Just got here, in fact.”
That definitely confirms my suspicions of him being new. I mean, it’s a big school, but after being here for three years you sort of get to know the other people in your year. “Your English skills are really good for someone who isn’t a native speaker. Where’d you learn?” I ask, knowing that they don’t speak English on Gav’yx.
“From one of the human settlers. She taught me when she found out how interested I was in learning.”
I nod. One of my mother’s friends was one of those settlers. I was still pretty young then, but I remember at his going away party he said he was being sent there to study Gav’yxian culture shortly after Gav’yx had finally agreed to allow it. It didn’t go well though. They weren’t very forthcoming with answers, and everyone was sent back home within a year or so. “If I didn’t know you were from Gav’yx I would have thought you’d lived here your whole life. Why’d you want to learn?”
Zuuro grins at my compliment. “I knew I was coming here.”
“Was it hard to learn?”
“The language itself wasn’t too bad, but your written communication is complicated.”
“On Gav’yx we use what your people call symbols. One symbol in our language can contain enough information to say what would take a whole paragraph in English. It took me almost half a year to master your writing, then another two months to learn the spoken language.”
I almost laugh but manage to stop myself. “I love that you think that’s a long time.”
“In Gav’yx time that might as well be ten years.” He jokes.
“In human time that WOULD have been ten years.”
“I guess I’m just a fast learner.” he writes, giving me a little wink that goes right to my groin. And then he starts writing again. “Do you have lunch next?”
“Do you mind if I tag along? I tried to get used to the whole food thing here over the last week, but it didn’t go well.”
Every bit of the intelligent part of my brain is screaming. Danger! Danger! Don’t do this! But the stupid part of my brain that’s thirsty as hell for this guy seems to think it’s a perfectly safe and not stupid at all. The stupid part wins. “Sure, as long as you don’t mind eating with my friends.”
“That’s fine. I’m always up for meeting someone new.”
As I stare down at what he’s written, I’d really like to slap myself for agreeing to let him come to lunch with me. What the fuck is wrong with you? He’s on the SIM team! Are you really just gonna take his word that he doesn’t know Darin? You’re just buying that? Do you like making it this easy for Darin to mess with you? Do you like being hurt? I ask myself. I sigh. Clearly.
I know Zuuro says he doesn’t know Darin, but just because he seemed genuine when he said it, doesn’t mean he isn’t dangerous. Darin could still be manipulating him. Or maybe he’s manipulating me. I don’t know yet, but I need to keep my guard up. I need to protect myself until I’m sure.
When class finally finishes, I quickly gather up my things and cram them into my backpack, being careful not to put anything too close to the rather large tear that’s beginning to form along one of the outer seems. I know I really could use a new one, but I like this one. My mom got it for me before she left on her last mission, and somehow replacing it just feels wrong.
She’s an Intergalactic Protection Task Force commander, currently stationed on the planet Gudaria in the Aurellian galaxy. Being in the IPTF is dangerous. They’re the enforcers of our laws, and the keepers of peace throughout the galaxies. If a threat arises somewhere, then it’s their job to neutralize it before it does too much damage. So when she goes out, there is always a good chance she won’t make it back, making the few things that I have from her – like this old ratty backpack - precious. And that’s why despite it looking like it got dragged through the mud and chewed on by a rabid dog, I still keep it.
“Ready to go?” Zuuro asks from behind me.
I open my mouth to respond, but as I turn around to face him the words freeze in my throat. While we were sitting next to each other I guess I noticed he was a fairly tall guy, but I’d underestimated just how tall he was before now. “Wow.” Is all I can say, sounding like an idiot, and I’m sure looking like one too as I ogle at him. Have a mentioned I’ve got a serious thing for tall guys?
Zuuro raises a brow, eying me oddly. “Is something wrong?”
Way to make him feel subconscious, Lane… “Huh? No, it’s just you’re tall. Like really tall.” I say, still awestruck. “Are all Gav’yxians as tall as you?” I ask. I’m only 5’4, so I’m used to people being taller than me. My parents are both taller than me, my brother is taller than me, and even my friends are taller than me. But Zuuro takes tall to a whole other level. He’s huge!
Zuuro shrugs “I’m 6’7, so actually I’m on the shorter side.”
My brows lift in surprise. Short?? I size myself up to him. The top of my head barely reaches the top of his chest. I look like a child standing next to him, and yet he thinks he’s short? “If you’re short then I’d hate to see what you consider to be tall.”
He chuckles “Most of us are on average somewhere in the seven-foot range, so Gav’yxian tall is usually considered someone over eight feet.”
I let out a short puff of air. “Wow, if I was that tall it’d solve a lot of problems.” I say, trying to be funny, but instead coming off insanely awkward. How are you even allowed to open your mouth anymore? Seriously, Lane, what the fuck!
He raises a brow curiously “And what kind of problems would be solved by being tall?”
I sigh, really wishing I hadn’t said that out loud. “Well, for starters, I probably wouldn’t fit in my gym locker as well.”
“Is that some game you Uniterrians play?”
I laugh again, but it lacks all humor. “Yeah…I guess to Darin it would be a game.”
“You don’t like it?”
“No. No, I don’t.”
“Then why play?”
I let out a little snort. “You clearly didn’t have bullies on Gav’yx.” I respond. Which if I’m being honest, sounds pretty nice. I’d love to be on a bully free planet. “Come on, we should go. We don’t get that long for lunch as it is.” I tell him, exiting the classroom and making my way towards the stairs. The place I usually have lunch is only two floors down, so we can walk from here.
“Sure, but what’s a bully?” Zuuro asks, confirming my assumption as he catches up.
Clearly, Zuuro’s teacher forgot to include a few vital words in his vocabulary. Not that bullies are ever going to be an issue for him, but still. “A bully is someone who gets joy from treating other people like shit when they know they won’t get in any trouble for it.”
“Oh.” Is all he says in response.
Oh? Just oh? That’s all he has to say? Yeah, because you were probably right when you thought this was a plan hatched by Darin, and now he’s just realized what he’s doing is being a bully. But when I look over at him, I’m surprised to see that he looks kind of annoyed.
“Uhh…is everything alright?”
His mouth is set in a hard line and his brows are pulled together causing a little wrinkle to form between them. “No. I don’t like these bullies, and I don’t think that game you play sounds like much fun.”
Okay, not what I thought. Is he not aware that the bullies I’m referring to are his teammates? Has he really not figured out that they’re all assholes yet? I know he said he only spoke to them for a few minutes, but that’s pretty much all you need. I shrug “It’s not, but bullies don’t care.”
He balls his fists at his sides, gritting his teeth and looking thoroughly pissed. “But that’s wrong! You don’t deserve that. Nobody deserves that. You’re a nice person, and…and if I catch one of these bullies bothering you again, they’re not gonna like what happens.”
I just stare up at him, blinking. How exactly am I supposed to respond to that? “Uhh…thanks? But it’s all good. I’ve been dealing with this guy my whole life, so I can handle him just fine on my own.”
This all seems to be very shocking to him “But I thought Uniterra was supposed to be a peaceful planet, where everybody lived in harmony?”
I actually have to laugh a little at that one, because while that is often what the peace movement tries telling everyone, true harmony doesn’t exist. Especially not in a population this large. “In a sense, we are a peaceful planet. I mean, we aren’t at war with each other, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t bad people here. There are bad people everywhere.”
Zuuro frowns, “I guess.” He says, seeming to contemplate my answer on his own for a moment. “Hey, can I ask you something?”
“What do I call you? You never actually told me your name.”
I facepalm. You forgot to tell him your name? That’s basic communication 101, Lane! How could you forget to tell him your name?! “Wow, that’s a new one for me. I’m sorry.” I say, my cheeks turning red with embarrassment. “It’s Lane. Lane Nishimura.”
Zuuro shrugs, smiling again. “It’s alright, I just thought it would be good to know your name if we’re going to be friends.”
I stop dead in my tracks. Okay, wait, what now? “Friends?” I ask, a bit surprised. Why the fuck would he want to be friends with me? Has Darin not explained the whole no talking to me rule yet? Or is this just another part of Darin’s plan? I mean, it’d be new, but making me think this guy wants to be friends with me, and then taking him away? That’d be the right up his alley.
Zuuro stops as well, looking confused. “Well, yeah. I like you, and you’re nice. Of course, I want to be friends.
Ouch! Friend zoned already. That was fast. “Okay…but you literally just met me. Isn’t it a little soon to be slapping the friends label on things? Don’t you, like, want to get to know me first? This nice thing could all be an act. Maybe I’m actually a really big asshole?”
He shrugs, not seeming put off in the slightest. “We do things faster on Gav’yx, so no, not for me. Plus, I’m a pretty good judge of character, and I don’t need to spend a bunch of time getting to know you to know you’re a nice person. Unless you don’t want to be friends with me?” he says, suddenly looking a bit worried.
I bite my lip, trying really hard not to make this moment awkward by cracking one of the many inappropriate jokes he left himself open for with that wording. “Uhh…no, friends is fine.” I say. I mean, it’s not like it’s gonna last that long anyway. I can make all the thirst jokes I want, but that’s mostly because I know people like him don’t go for people like me. It’s fun, but nothing will ever come of it, and as soon as he realizes he’s gonna become a social pariah by hanging out with me, he’s gonna be gone just as fast as he showed up.
His face splits in a smile again. “Good, because that would have been really awkward if you’d said no.”
I chuckle, shaking my head as I pull open the door to the stairwell and we begin our descent downward. “Probably, especially since we’re about to have lunch together.” I say, then instantly panic as I realize that may not have come across the way I wanted it to. “You know…as friends.” Jeez Lane.
“Yeah, probably.” Zuuro says, though by the look on his face, he’s trying very hard not to laugh at my awkwardness, as he holds the door for me and we exit into the cafeteria.
The cafeteria here is pretty famous, due to its numerous eateries, with options for just about everyone, in every food style that you could possibly imagine. It’s insane, and just as Unity High is the only school of its kind, this place is one of a kind as well.
“So, what’s good here?” Zuuro asks, standing beside me with his hands on his hips like he’s a superhero surveying his city.
I rub my hand over the back of my neck. I was really hoping he wasn’t gonna ask that. “Umm…well, I’m kind of picky, and I have a lot of allergies, so I usually just have pasta from Sal’s Little Slice of Italy.” I say, feeling kind of lame about eating the same thing from the same place pretty much every day.
Zuuro gets that curious look on his face again, as he raises one of his brows. “What’s pasta?”
“Umm…pasta is like a gooey, stringy, thing? I know it sounds kind of gross when I explain it like that, but it’s not, I swear. And it’s got a really good tomato sauce, and a ton of fresh vegetables from the botany department, so it’s pretty healthy as well.”
Zuuro nods. “Alright, I think I’ll have that then.”
And I instantly regret ever making the suggestion.
As we stand in the short line waiting to get our food, I fidget anxiously. Maybe I should have suggested something else? He made it sound like he’d never had pasta before. What do Gav’yxians even eat normally? With those sharp teeth I’m thinking it’s likely a meat-based diet. Shit, he’s probably going to hate this…
“What can I get you?” the lady behind the counter asks when it’s finally our turn.
“Hi, we’ll take two of the pasta dishes – the ones with the really good sauce and lots of vegetables? Also, a water, and Lane what do you want to drink?” Zuuro asks, turning back to look at me as if this is the most normal thing in the world.
I balk. “Y-you don’t have to buy my lunch.”
He shrugs. “I know, but I want to.” he says, “It’ll make me feel better about earlier.”
I swallow hard, glancing at him and then at the lady. He doesn’t have anything to make up for, but do I really want to make a scene here in front of everyone? No, and the lady behind the counter is already staring at me like I’m gum stuck to the bottom of her shoe, so reluctantly, I give in “Okay…if you’re sure. I’ll have a water too.” I tell him, feeling suddenly really awkward and weird about this whole situation. I mean, he wants to buy my lunch? What’s up with that? Not to mention that it makes it much harder to stay wary and keep mistrusting him when he does something like that. Talk about some serious cognitive dissonance.
Zuuro flashes a smile as he whips out his meal card and pays for our food.
“You really didn’t have to do that.” I tell him after we’ve stepped off to the side to wait.
He shrugs again, just like he did when he ordered. “I know.”
I tug at a small piece of string dangling off the hem of my shirt. “And you don’t have to do anything to make up for earlier. I already said it was fine.”
“I know that too.” He states. “You know, it almost seems like you have a hard time accepting people doing nice things for you?” He says, raising his brow with a look of amusement sparkling in his eyes.
I open my mouth to respond, stumbling on my words. “That’s not…I don’t…” I try to say, but that’s exactly the problem. I don’t want him to do nice things for me, because I don’t want to actually like him.
Thankfully, before this conversation has a chance to continue, Fallon and Tallon, come bounding up just then to save me. I let out an inaudible sigh of relief. “Hey.”
Fallon’s eyes are instantly on Zuuro, like a moth drawn to a flame. “Uhh…hi…Lane, have you been off making new friends without us?” she asks, seeming a little awestruck by his size as well, evident by the way she looks up and down his body length. She and Tallon are both taller than me, but they still don’t even come close to Zuuro’s height.
Fallon and Tallon are identical twins, but Fallon is slightly shorter than Tallon, with long curly cotton candy pink hair and a pretty out-there kind of style. One that usually consists of a lot of bright, neon colors. Todays choice seems to have been a mix of teal and hot pink, something I’m not sure would work on anyone else, but on her looks amazing.
Tallon is the more subdued of the two of them. His hair is dyed a powder blue -Fallon’s doing- but otherwise, there’s usually very little color or thought put into his outfits. He’s kind of like me in that respect. That is, unless Fallon gets ahold of him, which by the looks of it, she did today, because he’s dressed almost just as brightly as she is.
“Fallon, Tallon, this is Zuuro. Zuuro, meet my friends, Fallon and Tallon.” I introduce them.
Tallon and Zuuro just nod, which is pretty much all Zuuro can expect from Tallon until they get to know each other a little better, because he’s shy as hell, and he hates strangers.
I remember when we first met, he didn’t talk to me for almost a full two weeks. I was beginning to wonder if he could even talk at all, but then I showed up to lunch one day, and he was just chatting away. We’ve been fine ever since, but anytime someone new comes around he just clams up again.
Fallon on the other hand, has zero issues with meeting new people, evident by the way she immediately throws her arms around Zuuro like he’s her long-lost best friend. She’s beaming. “I’m sorry, I’m a hugger. Anyway, it’s nice to meet you.”
Zuuro thankfully, doesn’t seem to mind. “You too.”
As I stand there, waiting for our lunch, and listening to Fallon and Zuuro making small talk, I start questioning again whether inviting him here with me was a good idea. Because this is kind of a first. I don’t invite people to lunch with me. Not ever. I mean, I also don’t exactly meet a lot of people, but still. I don’t want my friends thinking this is gonna become a thing, or that this very attractive, and very likely Darin plant is gonna be sticking around. Because he won’t. He’ll probably even be gone by tomorrow, and then I’m gonna be stuck having to explain to them why, and…yup, I definitely did not think this through.
On second thought though, maybe I did think it through. I just clearly wasn’t doing that thinking with the head on top of my shoulders.