T is for… (GBT 3)

T is for …

Grover Beach Team, 3

Chapter 1

“BEING SEVENTEEN IS no fun if you’re not partying. And you can’t party if you’re hiding in this room.”

I laughed at my cousin’s antics, but inwardly I cringed when she grabbed my wrist and hauled me out of my room and down the hallway through the mansion. Chloe’s bright pink nails bit into my skin. The fact that her nails matched the color of her underwear—always—made me shudder. I really didn’t need to learn that bit of information right after dinner in front of my aunt and uncle, who were kind enough to take me in for the next four months.

Being the daughter of an army general was pretty tough at times, but at least my parents hadn’t made me move during the school year this time. Well, not too far into the year, anyway. It was the beginning of November. Early enough to integrate into high school society and make friends before you were called a total outsider. This was always my worst fear when the word move had been dropped in conversations in the past.

I snatched my black hoodie from the coat rack in the hallway before Chloe could crush my arm in the door. As I pulled it over my long-sleeved shirt, my cousin gave me an annoyed stare down her pointy nose.

“Why are you always so cold, Sam? This is California. You don’t even wear a coat here in the winter.”

For someone who had been living in Grover Beach all her life, this might be true. But for the previous eight months, I’d been living in Cairo. Once you learned to cope with the frying heat in Egypt, anything else felt like walking into a fridge.

“Where are we going, anyway?” I asked.

Chloe pushed me into her white car parked in front of the house and didn’t answer until she was buckled in behind the steering wheel. “To town. I’m going to introduce you to a few more friends of mine later tonight.”

Ugh. More friends of Chloe—meaning more girls who thought the most important thing in the world was the perfect hairstyle. Now didn’t that sound like a promising Saturday night…

I leaned back, hugged my legs to my chest, and closed my eyes. A slap from Chloe two seconds later made me jerk around. “What?”

“Take your dirty boots off my seat! That’s leather.”

I groaned but dropped my feet to the floorboard. It was her car after all and not my parents’ Land Rover, in which no one bothered about sand on the seats. In Cairo, there was sand everywhere.

Chloe drove us to a café in town where several cars were parked in a line in front. The name Charlie’s was spelled in dark blue, flashing cursive letters above the door.

After we parked across the street, I climbed out after her. “Is this it? Looks nice.” The café had a beautiful outside area, but no one sat at the round tables tonight. Faint music from the 1960s or ’70s drifted from the inside.

“This is only our first stop. We’re going to meet Brin, Kir, and Les here.” Chloe whirled around and sent me a warning glare. “Listen, here are the rules for tonight.”

“Rules?” She couldn’t be serious.

“You only talk to people I talk to, and if I have a drink tonight, you’re not telling my parents. Got it?”

Gee! If I had known I’d get the real army drill in Grover Beach, I’d have borrowed a uniform from my dad and worn it for a fun night out with my cousin. I rolled my eyes and headed through the door.

The place was even nicer inside. Terracotta stone tiles gave the room a warm touch. An S-shaped bar lined the side wall, and attractive rattan tables and comfortable chairs stood all over the place. It totally replicated a Caribbean ambience. I would know—before Egypt, my dad had been based in Cuba for two years. I fell in love with this café in an instant.

Chloe pushed at my back. “Don’t stand in the doorway gaping. Our table is over there.”

No gaping. I made a mental note of that and resisted the urge to salute the drill sergeant, who snorted down my neck. At this point, I thoroughly regretted not bolting the door to my room after dinner.

Heading to the back of the café, I looked over my shoulder and quirked my brows. “Seriously, Chloe, take a breath. It’s not like the paparazzi are hiding behind those columns, waiting to snap you doing something outrageous.”

She opened her mouth to say something, but a deeper voice beat her to it. “Watch out!”

My head snapped around. I jolted to a halt only seconds before I crashed into a waiter with a tray. He raised a protective hand in front of the empty glasses to prevent them from toppling onto the floor.

“Oh boy, I-I’m sorry,” I stuttered, and backed away. When I looked up I was staring into eyes that were as blue as the sky over Egypt, set in a face that could easily attract me. I always fell for boyish good looks, especially if said boys came equipped with tousled blond hair like his. Only trouble was, he was glaring at me like I’d broken the damn glasses already. His harsh gaze moved past me and the scowl on his face deepened.

Chloe pushed to the front. “Hello, Anthony.”

I had trouble figuring out if she meant to sound flirtatious or arrogant.

“Bring me a martini at my table.” She looked at me, tapping a finger to her lips. “And a club soda for my cousin.” Under her breath she added, “You’re going to drive home tonight.”

I felt the urge to laugh, but I feared Chloe would just use that as another reason to rebuke me, so I restrained myself and instead whispered, “I don’t think you’ll get alcohol in this place.” Then I turned to the waiter, Anthony. I wondered if Chloe was going to introduce us.

She didn’t. In fact, she stalked right past him, toward a table at the far end of the room, and sat down with three of her friends I had met earlier today, adjusting her black minidress.

Great. I was left standing in front of this guy like an idiot, as he tilted his head and regarded me with a questioning look. Since he seemed to be a friend of Chloe’s, maybe he was waiting for me to introduce myself? I offered him a smile. “Hi. I’m Samantha Summers.”

The guy rolled his eyes. “Just get out of my way.”

Oh…

My shoulders slumped as I took a quick step to the side, and he shoved past me. I wasn’t easily embarrassed, but right now I knew my face was glowing like a stop sign.

“Another Summers…” he growled—what—disgusted? “Just what we need.”

Gone was my last bit of hope for a nice first evening in my new hometown. I clenched my teeth and hurried to Chloe and her friends, keeping my eyes straight ahead, avoiding the curious stares of the kids around me. Sinking into the seat, I lowered my chin.

“What. Was. That?” Chloe’s high-pitched voice was as pleasant as disinfectant in my eyes.

“What do you mean?” I snarled back.

“Didn’t I tell you just a minute ago not to talk to people you’re not supposed to?”

“What?” She had obviously lost it. And I wasn’t up to taking crap like that after the rebuff I’d just had to stomach. “You talked to him first. What’s wrong with you?”

“I talked to him because I had to. He’s the busboy. But we’re not friends with him or his like.”

“Oh my God, Chloe. Do you ever listen to yourself?” I was ready to rise from the table and make the two-mile hike home. Anything that would save me from my cousin’s idiocy. My fingers curled around the armrests, but just as I pushed myself up, Anthony stepped up to our table. For some unknown reason, I slumped back into my seat. Maybe it was the menacing look in his eye that prevented me from leaving.

He slid a bottle of Red Bull across the table to Chloe and one for each of her friends, then he sat a glass of sparkling water with a slice of lemon wedged on the rim in front of me.

“What’s this?” Chloe snapped, picking up the bottle and shoving it at Anthony. “I asked for a martini, not Red Bull.”

Anthony leaned forward, resting his palms on the tabletop, and glared at Chloe. “I don’t think any of you are over twenty-one, so it’ll be your usual. Take it or leave it, Summers.”

When his harsh gaze focused on me, the heat in my cheeks resurfaced. Dammit, could he stop doing that to me? I swallowed against a dry throat then grimaced sheepishly. “I’m the one with the club soda, remember? I’m sure I don’t need to be carded for that.”

Something appeared on his face that made him look a lot less intimidating. It took me a second to realize it was a set of dimples. Was that a smile? Well it wasn’t exactly, but his gaze softened for sure.

Next thing I knew, Chloe reached across the table and knocked my glass over with surprising clumsiness. The gush of water splattered down the length of my camouflage pants.

“What the heck—” I jumped up at the same time as Anthony jerked back from the table.

“Watch out, busboy,” Chloe spat. “Just look at what you did.”

The look Anthony cut her then was asking for a rope to strangle her. “Are you crazy? That was you.”

Chloe arched a perfectly shaped eyebrow and leaned back in her chair, arms folded under her boobs. Her voice went deathly cold. “I didn’t touch anything. You should try taking your eyes off me next time and concentrate on the simple job you have.”

Oh wow, this was Freddy Krueger meets Stephen King’s It. There was some serious enmity floating between them, and I was sure it had nothing to do with her being the queen of her own world and him just being a simple busboy. Why did I suddenly feel caught in the middle of something personal?

“Tony! Is there a problem?”

I turned to find a tall man behind the bar looking over at us. He wasn’t dressed in black pants and a white shirt like Anthony, but sported a blue T-shirt with a black vest over it.

No problem, Charlie,” Tony replied through gritted teeth. Then he yanked a dishcloth from his belt and wiped the table. When it was dry, he slung the cloth over his shoulder and cut me a look that was back to annoyed. “Can I bring you anything else that you and your friends can knock over?”

Words caught in my throat, when I actually wanted to scream at him that he shouldn’t drag me into this. They weren’t my choice of friends, and Chloe—well, she was family and I depended on her in a way I was starting to really hate this evening. But with the prospect of staying in her house for quite a long time, my options were limited.

So I just shook my head, and Tony left without another word.

A pull on my arm made me drop to my seat again. Chloe frowned in a very disapproving manner as she raked a few strands of her very blond bangs out of her eyes. “There’s a lot you have to learn if you want to hang out with us, little cousin.”

I was only six months younger than her, but I’d been the little cousin for a long time, due to my unfortunate five feet and two tiny inches. It didn’t bother me. What really got on my nerves was the strange, bitchy attitude Chloe seemed to have developed since the last time we’d met.

One of the girls—Breena or Brinna, I couldn’t remember exactly—giggled and opened her handbag under the table. Everyone took a turn in reaching inside, except me. When I saw what they fished out of it, my eyes widened. “You smuggled alcohol into this place? Are you insane?”

“Shush!” Chloe poured a tiny bottle of vodka into her Red Bull while the others leaned closer and covered her from the view of the bartender. “This is just to get in the right mood. We’re going to a real party later.”

Okay, that was it. I didn’t have a whole lot of options, but I wasn’t going to take that shit from Chloe or anyone else. “I don’t care where you go, but we are going nowhere. I’m outta here. Give me your car keys. I’m sure Christine—”

“Kirsten,” the strawberry blond next to Chloe corrected me sharply.

“—Kirsten, or any of the others, can drive you home.”

“I don’t think so.” Chloe laughed, and she sounded really pissed. “You’re not driving my car when I’m not with you.”

“You dragged me here and you knocked ice water all over my pants. I’m not exactly having the time of my life here. And I’m definitely not going to walk to your house. So give me the damn keys.” I paused and leaned closer to her. “Or do you want me to drop a note on the kitchen counter for your mom to read tomorrow?” My voice was a warning hiss. “I’m sure she’d love to hear that you’re spiking your drinks.”

“You wouldn’t dare, you little brat!”

“Try me.” I held out a hand, giving my cousin the death glare I’d contained all day—since she’d run her hand through my messy layered hair and told me I looked like a walking bush when she and her parents had picked me up from the airport.

With a snort, Chloe fished the keys out of her handbag and dropped them into my palm. As she gritted her teeth, I wondered whether I was going to pay for this later.

Man, tonight sucked.

I straightened and squared my shoulders. Holding my head high, I walked up to the busboy, who’d stopped by a young couple and was chatting with them. From the pocket of my pants, I pulled out a handful of dollars and tossed them on his tray. “Keep the change.”

He gave me a cold look. Obviously, I didn’t have to say more. I turned on my heel and strode out the door, only then daring to breathe again. I raked my hands through my hair, getting annoyed when it ended at chin-length. I’d thought it would be cool to cut it before I came here, but right now it sucked just like everything else.

Wow, what a start to my new life.

For a minute or two, I sat on the hood of Chloe’s car and stared at my wet thighs. The rusty color of my pants had turned into a darker shade of reddish brown. What had possessed Chloe to do that?

Maybe someone should talk to Aunt Pamela about her daughter. Drinking in public places, behaving like an arrogant ass…this was not how I’d known Chloe when we were younger. Then again, I wasn’t a tattletale. I’d never give a family member away—however stupid that person might be. But Chloe didn’t have to know that.

My thoughts returned to the busboy. I didn’t know anything about him, other than his first name, but the way he’d growled “another Summers” made me wonder what bad bit of past he and Chloe shared. Whatever it was, I refused to get in their line of fire. Their fighting wasn’t my concern. Right now I needed to focus on what lay in front of me. I had to start a new school on Monday, and without Chloe taking me by the hand and showing me around, it would be as nasty as all the other times I’d had to start over in the past.

Oh, I couldn’t wait…

Going back to the place where I inhabited a room on the same floor as my silly cousin didn’t appeal to me right now. With the keys dangling from my fingers, I ambled down the street, my mind set on a little window shopping to distract me. But the stores lining the sidewalk were all dark and some also had rolling grilles in front of them. I peeked through the slits but couldn’t make out much.

Now if this wasn’t like the entire town was determined to shut me out. A long sigh escaped me. Focused on the dark sky, I strolled on, rounded some corners, and abruptly lost my way. With my fabulous sense of direction, I was good like that. It took an hour and a half and some serious cussing at myself to find Chloe’s car again. I hurried toward it from the opposite direction than I had started off. A push of the button on the key fob made the headlights flash twice and unlocked the doors.

Voices to my right drew my attention to the entrance of the café. A small group of kids stood outside. The busboy was with them, and also the couple he’d been chatting with when I’d left earlier.

Chewing on my bottom lip, I slowed down and peered at them from the corner of my eye, wondering if I should try to talk to Tony. Since he seemed determined to put me in the same boat as my cousin without knowing me at all, this was a good chance to set things straight. Okay, the thought of Chloe turning scarlet when she found out I was talking to someone I wasn’t supposed to, according to her, might have helped sway me to go for it.

I crossed the street. “Tony?”

He turned around, his smile fading the moment he saw me.

Ugh.

Eyes narrowed, he angled his head and studied me as I drew closer. I knew this look. It spelled: Just get out of my way. Uneasiness settled in my stomach. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all. My next step was hesitant, but it was too late to back down. Everyone was looking at me.

“I—” I clasped the cuffs of my hoodie, which reached to the middle of my palms. “I just wanted to say sorry. You know, for what happened back in there. With the water and—”

“For you”—he interrupted my stuttering with a drawl—“it’s Anthony.”

He turned back to his friends, and they walked away.

Chapter 2

 

“WELCOME TO GROVER Beach, Sam,” I muttered to myself and trudged to Chloe’s car. Banging my head on the steering wheel, I wished she had never dragged me out of the house.

It was just my luck that I hadn’t paid attention when we’d come to town, so I had no idea which way to go to get to my uncle’s house. I drove around for a while, but that still didn’t get me home. Of course, Chloe’s car came equipped with a navigation system, so eventually I punched in the address and let the female voice direct me to the Summers’ palace. I parked the car outside the closed double-door garage. Moments later, I let myself in with Chloe’s keys and stashed them under the doormat. I would send her a text in a minute and let her know where to find the keys later.

The guest room I occupied was on the second floor, and the twin windows overlooked the wide garden below. Right now I could see nothing but my frustrated face reflected in the glass when I gazed out.

I kicked my boots into the corner of the room and dropped across the bed. This room was twice as big as my old one back in Cairo, and though it was fully furnished in matching pieces made of cherry wood, it looked rather empty without any personal decorations. I hadn’t brought much stuff. Just a suitcase packed with my favorite clothes, which mostly consisted of hoodies and camo pants, and then of course my drawing stuff.

My cell phone lay on my night stand. I reached for it, wanting to talk to someone and get all the sorrow of a miserable first day off my heart. Egypt was ten hours ahead of California. I could call my mom now and probably reach her during breakfast. But then, what would I tell her? That Chloe had mutated into a bitch and that this guy in the café had embarrassed me like hell?

No, my mother would only worry, and I didn’t want to trouble my parents. Letting me go was hard enough for them. If I gave my mom a call, I’d have to sound happy, and I just couldn’t summon the effort to do that right now. So I only sent a text to Chloe about the keys then put the phone back down.

I decided to draw instead. It always helped soothe me. On the wide desk in front of the window, paper, pencils, and charcoals were scattered all over the place. Before Chloe had hauled me out, I’d started to draw Lucifer, the wild stallion that used to roam the grounds around our house on the outskirts of Cairo. Nobody ever managed to touch him, but for some reason, he’d always come closer to me than to anyone else. My dad used to say it was probably because he felt connected to me. Untamed and stubborn. Or maybe he just liked my hair, which was pitch-black like his.

Whatever it was, I’d enjoyed the animal’s presence and sketched it a hundred times back then. But now, the features, muscles, and shadows just wouldn’t work out as I wanted. It was hard for me to draw from memory. I missed the live model.

At two in the morning, when Chloe finally sneaked into her room and closed the door just a tad too loud, I gave up and went to bed. Closing my eyes, I expected to dream of Lucifer and the wide scenery of the Egyptian desert. But what came up was a boyish face with eyes that scowled when he looked at me. I groaned and rolled over, dragging the comforter over my head. Sure as hell that rude idiot would be the last thing I thought of before falling asleep.

*

Sunday was cool. I didn’t see much of Chloe. Apparently, she was used to sleeping in after a late night out. No one cared, least of all me.

In the evening, I packed my school bag and went through all the stuff I needed three times. I didn’t want to miss anything. But by Monday morning, I’d already realized I had missed one essential thing. A ride. Chloe had left without me, and without leaving any directions for how to get to the school too.

“Gee, gonna be a great start at Grover Beach High.” I squeezed my eyes shut and released a frustrated sigh, then I hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders. There was always the possibility of asking Aunt Pamela to drive me, but it would mean giving reasons, and I really wanted to avoid telling her about Chloe’s idiocy today.

Instead, I walked down the lane and asked the first person on the street for directions. The old and obviously deaf lady shouted back, “What do you want?”

“Grover Beach High School! Which direction?” I pointed left and right in turn, making a hopeful face.

Now the woman smiled. “Ah.” She pointed her walking stick to the left. “It’s two miles that way,” she screeched so loudly I wondered if she thought me as deaf as herself.

If I wanted to be at school before the bell rang for the first class, I had to run. Two yolk-yellow buses passed me as I jogged down the street. At least now I knew when to catch one tomorrow.

Sweating and panting, I arrived at the building within fifteen minutes. And I still had enough time to look for the office and get my schedule.

Mrs. Shuster, the secretary, was already expecting me as I opened the opaque glass door and stepped into the office. I had spoken to her on the phone the previous week, letting her know which classes I intended to take apart from the four core subjects, English, math, science, and U.S. history. I’d picked journalism, PE, and then of course, art.

Mrs. Shuster had told me about a special class they offered, which was called Animation & Visual Effects. I had been in a similar advanced class back in Cairo and couldn’t wait to continue my studies here. Gifted with calm hands and an eye for detail, my goal was to work for Disney Pixar one day. Either that or I’d become a professional dancer. I loved to move almost as much as I loved to draw.

The secretary had me sign a few forms, then she handed me my class schedule and a map of the school building. With that many corridors, it would be a miracle if I ever found my way back out.

I tracked my way to science with my finger on the map, looking up every now and then, checking that I was still on the right path. One last left turn and…ta da! Lifting my chin, I stared at a closed door that had the image of a stick man on it. The sound of flushing toilets and running faucets drifted out. This was most probably not the science classroom.

I checked the map again. Where the heck had I taken a wrong turn?

The door suddenly swung open and, with the large paper clasped in both hands, I gaped up into a boy’s face. Before I even knew why, my heart lurched to my throat.

Tony stopped dead before he ran me over. He made an effort to look down on me, as if my short height annoyed him above all else.

Oh, come on, it wasn’t really that bad. If nothing else, my height was just cute. He could probably rest his chin on the top of my head if he hugged me.

Wait. I didn’t just think hug, did I? Definitely not with this ass, no way.

“You’re going to school here?” he asked me then, and by the sound of it, that was surely the worst thing that could happen to him.

“Umm…y-yeah.” Dammit, I hated my recent habit of stuttering. This wasn’t me. Well, not the normal me, anyway. I cleared my throat and straightened my spine, which gave me the final inch I needed to find my self-confidence again. “First day.”

Tony’s gaze dropped to the map in my hands, then moved back to my face. His expression changed to one of amusement as he arched one brow. “Taking your first class in the men’s room?” He gave me no time for a comeback but carefully shoved me to the side with the back of his arm and walked away.

I stuck my tongue out after him which he really couldn’t see. Then I banged the back of my head against the wall and immediately regretted it as the pain vibrated through my skull.

Okay, starting again. I located the men’s restroom on the map, then worked my way from there to the science classroom. This time I found the way and slumped, relieved, into a seat at the back of the room.

A bunch of students filed in at the ring of the bell. One very tall guy wearing a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over his head walked toward me and then stopped, giving me a strange look. The slim cable from iPod headphones ran down the length of his neck, and a few strands of red hair flashed from underneath the hem of his hood. “Move over,” he growled. “That’s my seat.”

“Good morning to you, too,” I mumbled, but I didn’t think he could hear me with the headphones plugged into his ears. I scooted to the seat next to him, sliding my books along with me. He didn’t send me away, so I might’ve had to sit next to an unfriendly giant, but at least I got to sit somewhere.

A female teacher walked in behind the last couple of kids. Her hair was dyed a brilliant white and funky green glasses sat on her pert nose. She looked around the room until her gaze landed on me. Smiling, she motioned with her hand that I should come forward.

I knew this was going to happen, but a shudder slithered down my spine at the thought of the formal introduction nonetheless. At least I’d only have to do this seven times today, and then the horror would be over.

Mrs. Hallshaw, that was her name, made me stand in front of the class and tell everyone where I came from and what I liked to do.

I shoved my hands into my pockets. “My name is Samantha Summers, but please call me Sam. My dad’s a general in the U.S. Army. He opted for out-of-country work, so that’s why I’ve been to nine different schools already.” Rocking back on my heels, I leaned against the blackboard. “In nine different countries.”

Some of the faces in the crowd took on intrigued expressions. One of the guys in the back even whistled through his teeth.

“Awesome,” said a girl, her eyes widening behind her glasses. If she knew the bad side of it, which mostly concerned the non-existent social life of that general’s daughter, she probably wouldn’t have said that.

“Try memorizing nine different city maps, nine maps of high schools, and learning four different languages just to be able to order the right sort of spaghetti in a restaurant,” I told her, exhaling a sad breath. “It’s not that much fun really. And just when you figure out where to buy cool clothes in that new town, your parents tell you sorry, but you have to move again.”

The girl with the glasses pulled a face. “Ouch. That sucks.”

“You speak four languages?” the teacher asked, and I turned to look at her impressed face.

“Yes, ma’am. English, Portuguese, Finnish, and a little Arabic.” In fact, my Arabic was limited to the basic terms of greeting and asking for the price, but it was enough to get me through eight months in Cairo. I was lucky. Most people spoke English there, and even the school I had gone to was a private one for American kids.

“Can you say something in Finnish?” another girl with pigtails asked. She looked slightly familiar. I wondered if I had seen her somewhere in the café Saturday night.

“Rakastan piirtämistä ja tanssimista,” I pulled from the top of my head for her.

Some of the kids laughed at the clearly foreign sound of it, but all of them seemed super impressed.

“What did you say?” Spectacle Girl demanded and pushed her wavy brown hair behind her shoulder.

“She loves to draw and dance.” The answer came from the tall guy with the hood and the iPod. His lips were pressed together, but he smiled. He had me completely gawking at him open-mouthed.

After Mrs. Hallshaw dismissed me and I walked back to my seat, the tall guy turned to me and pulled down his hood. No longer disguised, he actually looked cute. He held out one hand. “Hi. I’m Niklas Frederickson. You can call me Nick.”

“Hi, Nick.” I wanted to say something cool, but I only stared at him for a second, then I asked, “Are you from Finland?”

“Sweden, actually. But I lived in Finland for a few years before we moved to California.”

“Cool.” And I really meant it. “How long have you been living here?”

“Six years. So…you love to dance? What do you do?”

“A bit of everything. Ballet, hip-hop, funk, breakdance.” I grinned, knowing this sounded like I couldn’t get my shit together and stick with just one style. “I’m enthusiastic.”

He gazed at me with narrowed eyes, as if he was deliberating something. “Sounds good. You should speak to Alyssa Silverman. She’s a friend of mine and captain of the cheerleading team. I know she’s looking for new members.”

“Wow.” A cheerleader. I laughed. “I know I just said enthusiastic, but I don’t think I’m that type of girl.” Mostly because I was short and didn’t have the hairstyle for it: long, blond, and perfect. Now I was wondering if Chloe was a cheerleader.

Mrs. Hallshaw cleared her throat, and Nick and I fell silent for fifteen minutes. But when we had to do a partner experiment on some dead fish, he gave me a small piece of paper with a number scribbled on it. “This is Allie’s number. If you want to check out the team, give her a call.”

“Okay…thanks.” I tucked the note into my pocket. “I’m surprised there’s cheerleading here at all. Does Grover Beach even have a football team?”

“We don’t. But we play soccer at this school.”

I had watched exactly one half of a soccer game in Finland. Not my kind of sport, really. “You play?”

“Yep. I’m a Grover Beach Bay Shark.” He gave me a smile, revealing that one of his front teeth was chipped. Maybe a soccer accident. I tried not to stare at it, but it was hard when he didn’t stop smiling.

“So, um, what position do you play? Quarterback? Pitcher?”

Nick angled his head as though he was trying to figure out what language I was currently speaking. “Quarterbacks are in football. And we sure as heck don’t have a pitcher. I’m the goalie.”

“Oh.” So he’d probably stopped a ball with his face once or twice, thus the chipped tooth. I resisted asking about it and instead pushed the plate with the fish toward him to let him do the dissecting. “I can’t handle dead animals. They give me chills.” Even now a shiver made my hair stand on end.

Nick had no problems with the dead fish. He sliced into it like it was a warm biscuit.

After science, I battled my way through the crowded corridor to U.S. history, and then further on to English, where I found a seat next to the girl from science class with the wavy brown hair and glasses. Her name was Susan Miller, and she turned out to be really funny. We had to write a poem about any fruit we liked, and she titled hers “Ode to My Banana”. I’d just taken a sip from my Coke while she was reading out the poem, and when everyone barked with laughter, I snorted Coke through my nose. Yeah, I could be so attractive when I wanted to be.

Susan also had math with me, and since she’d heard my introduction three times today, she took it into her hands to introduce me to two of her friends before fifth period: Simone Simpkins, who looked like a Norwegian model in super-tight clothes and with perfect blond curls, and Lisa Matthews. Both girls seemed very nice, even though Lisa didn’t say much. She seemed to study me for a really long time. Awkward. The fact that she was part of the couple Tony had talked to in the café on Saturday made me doubly uncomfortable.

“You’re Chloe Summers’ cousin, aren’t you?” she finally said, tying her long brown hair up in a high ponytail.

“Um, yeah. Is that a problem?” After the incident with the busboy, I wasn’t sure.

“Seriously? Chloesetta is your cousin?” Susan blurted and shoved her metal-rimmed spectacles farther up her nose. “I would have never guessed that. You’re so…down to earth.”

Everyone laughed. Me the loudest. Most of all because she’d called my cousin Chloesetta and I had no idea why. “Yeah, she’s a little…eccentric. I’m living with her and her family until my parents move back to the States in four months. I don’t remember her being that snobbish from when we were younger.”

“She’s like—the Barbie clone,” Simone said, then pointed a thumb at Lisa. “Her words, not mine. But she does have a rep at this school, and not a very nice one, if you get what I mean. Thus why some of the kids started to call her Chloesetta. She’s known to drag boys into her closet all the time.”

Oh, I totally understood. Took me only five minutes with Chloe to figure that out.

After journalism, the three girls pulled me along into the cafeteria. It was nice to have someone I could sit with during lunch break. Normally, it took me a few days to make friends at new schools. Today was different. I really enjoyed the girls’ company. And in the cafeteria, I also saw Nick again. He sat at a long table with a few other athletic guys. His ginger hair stood out from them all. I waved at him as we passed them, and he smiled.

“You know Frederickson?” Lisa said into my ear as we lined up to get our lunch.

“Yeah. Finnish broke the ice.” I grinned at her over my shoulder, then picked out a thin slice of pizza, table water, and a cherry lollipop.

Simone grabbed half a pizza, and Susan and Lisa each got themselves a hamburger with fries. I followed them through the room, wondering where we’d sit. My mouth fell open when we steered toward the table with the hunky guys, but I closed it quickly.

“Hey, Finn Girl,” Nick said and pulled out the chair next to him with his right foot for me. “How’s your first day going?”

I set my tray down and lowered into the pink vinyl chair. “Better than expected.” I smiled then bit the corner of my pizza.

He stared from his loaded tray at my lollipop. “Is that all you’re going to eat?”

“She’s short. She doesn’t need as much as you, Frederickson,” someone said behind me. The layer of ice in that voice made me hunch my shoulders, and the pizza got stuck in my throat. I didn’t need to look back to know who it was.

Tony walked around the table and slumped into the seat between Lisa and Simone, then he leaned in to Lisa with his cold eyes on me. “And why’s she sitting with us?” A moment later, he grimaced. “Ouch!”

Lisa scowled at him. “That was for being an idiot.”

He flashed his teeth at her in the parody of a smile. At the same time, the tall, black-haired boy I had seen with Lisa in the café came up behind her. He pulled playfully on her ponytail, leaned down, and pressed a kiss on her neck. “Why are you kicking my best player, Matthews?”

Player? Did they all play soccer like Nick?

Lisa briefly closed her eyes and smiled, obviously enjoying the caress. Hot damn, who wouldn’t? The guy was sexy as hell. “Because he deserved it,” she replied when he swung his leg over the backrest of the seat on her other side and sat down.

“Hey, what’s your problem, Tony?” Nick chuckled around a mouthful of fries, then shoved more of them in his face.

Tony met my gaze across the table. I wondered if he’d rather sit in a different corner of the room right now. Just why did he hate me? It wasn’t like I had leper tattooed on my forehead or something.

With a sigh, I put my pizza down, having lost my appetite. I wiped my fingers on the white paper napkin. “The problem is that I’m Chloe Summers’ cousin.” Whatever that meant to Tony.

All the boys at the table stared at me for a couple of seconds. Even Nick glanced at me sideways. “Oh. Is that so?”

I nodded.

“You don’t look like her.”

Now I laughed, glad I hadn’t just sipped from my drink. Spilling water through my nose in front of them all was the last thing I wanted. “Yeah, we’re not made from the same sperm, you know,” I told Nick, rolling my eyes and shoving his shoulder.

“But Sam’s going to live with Chloe’s family,” Simone stated with a sympathetic look as she fed a grape to a guy with a blond mohawk next to her. “In the same house for four months.”

“Ooh, that’s bad,” said the boy who’d kissed Lisa’s throat, not looking up from picking the pickles out of his cheeseburger. “Hey, Alex, pass the ketchup.”

Simone’s boyfriend sent the bottle skating across the table to our end, but another burly guy caught it and started pouring the mess all over his spaghetti.

“Ew, Sasha, leave some in the bottle, would you?” Lisa wrestled the ketchup from his hands and gave it to her boyfriend, who squeezed the rest of the sauce onto his burger.

A moment later, Nick made me jump in my seat when he shouted, “Hey, Al, get your sexy ass over here for a sec!” I tracked his gaze across the room to a slim, tall girl with hair as black as mine, only it reached to the waistband of her pair of bell-bottoms and not just to her chin.

She put her tray down at a table surrounded only by girls, then headed over to us. “Hi, guys, what’s up?”

“Are you still looking for members for your team?” Nick asked.

Ugh. A cheerleader. I clamped down on my molars, wishing he wouldn’t do this right now. One glance at me and the girl would decide that cheerleading and I were not compatible.

“Yes. We finally convinced Lisa to join us, but we’re still short of two. Know anyone?”

It was so funny how suddenly both boys to the left and right of Lisa looked at her with dropping chins. The tall one with the black hair flashed a half-smile, mouthing, “You did?”

“I only said that I’d check out the training,” Lisa defended herself quickly. Then she grinned cynically over her shoulder. “Thank you, Allie.”

“Oh, you’re so going to cheer for me, baby.” Her boyfriend nibbled at her ear.

Lisa shoved him away like a cuddly puppy and laughed. “Go eat your burger, Hunter.”

Nick rested his arm on the backrest of my chair. “Al, this is Sam Summers. She just moved back to the States, and I hear she’s good at dancing.”

Alyssa Silverman smiled, leaned over the table, and held her hand out to me. Her long hair fell forward and almost into Tony’s food. He brushed it aside and back over her shoulder, then he gave Nick a death glare, which Nick didn’t notice, because he was looking at me. Yeah, Tony could make you feel totally welcome, whatever you did.

“Nice to meet you, Sam,” Al said as we shook hands. “What kind of dance?”

“Um, a mix, really. I’m a little into everything.”

“Sounds cool. If you’re interested, we can take a look at what you can do. I have PE next period. Any chance you’ll be there?”

I quickly recalled the schedule I got from Mrs. Shuster this morning and nodded.

“Fantastic. See you guys later.” She waved and hurried back to her friends.

Oh wow. This was new. I’d totally expected her to embarrass me in front of them all with some off comments about my unruly appearance. But she seemed cool with it.

“This is awesome,” Susan giggled and clapped her hands. “Lisa and Sam will both be cheering for us.”

“I don’t see what’s cool about that,” Tony muttered, and I knew he meant me.

I decided to ignore him for now and instead raised my brows at Susan. “For us? Don’t tell me you play soccer!”

“Co-ed team,” Lisa explained. “Your cousin is on the team, too. Didn’t you know?”

“I haven’t talked to her much since I got here. So, no, I didn’t know. And that’s totally crazy. My cousin…playing soccer.” I shook my head. “Are we really talking about Sorry-I-can’t-type-on-a-keyboard-because-I-could-break-a-nail Chloe?”

Oh my God, what was that? Did Mr. Cold and Furious actually let a smile slip? Well, if he did, he was fast to bite it down.

“Yeah,” Hunter said. “And she’s really good, too.”

Now Lisa lowered her chin and cast him an annoyed look. I wondered if she was unhappy about that fact. Maybe I could ask her about it later. And then some more about Tony, too.

While everyone was eating their meals, I ignored my pizza, unwrapped my lollipop, and stuck it in my mouth. The cherry taste unfolded on my tongue as I sucked it hard. Delicious. I sighed.

When Susan quirked her brows at me behind her glasses, I pulled the sucker out with a smack and pointed it at her. “These are the best things in the world. I haven’t had one in eight months.” I stuffed it back in my mouth and rolled it into one cheek with my tongue. “Mmh, so good. I could live on them and nothing else for the rest of my life.”

“She’s like you with your cheese crackers,” Lisa said and elbowed Tony playfully in the ribs. “Only she doesn’t put mayo on the sucker.”

Mayo on a lollipop? What was she talking about?

Tony gave Lisa a look equally as cold as he’d given me when he’d joined us. “She’s not like me. Most of all because she’s short. And that’s also why she shouldn’t be on the cheerleading team.”

His chair scraped on the linoleum floor as he rose and carried his tray away. Moments later, the double doors swung closed behind him.

Chapter 3

 

“I DON’T GET it. What did I ever do to him?” I slumped down on the low bench in the locker room and kicked off my boots.

A compassionate expression on her face, Lisa said, “Don’t mind Tony.” She started to unbutton her jeans and pulled her gray Mickey Mouse sweatshirt over her head. “He’s just a little allergic to the name Summers right now.”

“Yeah, I figured that out. So what’s the big deal? What’s Chloe got to do with him?”

Lisa’s mouth quirked to one side. “Simply put, he liked her, then he slept with her last summer, and she dumped him the same night.”

“Holy shit!” He had been with my cousin? My eyes were probably wider than saucers right now. Had Tony been in love with Chloe? That was hard to believe after the way I’d seen him talk to her. He had been stone cold, without any affection—just like he was around me.

Lost in a daze, I saw Lisa angling her head. “Are you okay?” she asked.

“Sure.” I cleared my throat. “I just didn’t think Chloe would turn into that sort of bitch. Now I understand why he doesn’t like to hear our last name.”

“Yeah, but there’s more to the story,” Simone chipped in and snaked an arm around Lisa’s shoulders. The girls looked at each other, then Simone started to grin. “Right?”

Lisa sighed, and that was when Susan took over. She really loved to talk. “The thing is Lisa was in love with Tony like forever. But he didn’t notice. Or maybe he did, and he just didn’t have the guts to tell her he loved her, too.”

So he had been in love with Chloe and Lisa? The thought of it gave my chest a funny squeeze. Well no, it wasn’t funny. Strangely enough, it felt annoying. I didn’t want to be the only person in the world he hated.

“But one day,” Susan went on, taking no notice of my sudden unease, “Ryan Hunter came along and stole Lisa from Tony.”

Lisa laughed. “He didn’t steal me.” She glanced my way. “Didn’t have to. I went of my own free will.”

“Yeah right, after the two guys fought over her.” Simone made an awed face. “In her bedroom.”

Tony got in a fight over Lisa? She did seem nice enough to have guys lining up for her, and she was beautiful, too, in a very natural way. Suddenly, I envied her a little. If I hadn’t cut my hair and looked a little more like her, Tony might find me attractive, and then he wouldn’t be such an ass around me. Boys didn’t behave like jerks around the girls they found pretty. Right?

But why in the world would I even bother? He was just one stupid boy getting on my nerves. I could ignore him. It shouldn’t be too hard.

I slipped into my sneakers and tied the laces, looking up at Lisa. “Ryan Hunter is the guy from lunch, right? So he got you, and Tony is pissed?”

“Nah, he isn’t pissed.” Lisa slipped into a white tee, and so did I. When her head emerged from the collar, she said, “Tony’s cool with how things are. We’re still best friends.”

“Only he doesn’t get to sleep in your bed anymore.” Simone snickered. When Lisa swatted her on the shoulder, Simone skipped off with Susan behind her.

As we followed, I asked with a strange edge to my voice, “Tony used to sleep in your bed?”

“Yep. For years. We did everything together. It was just so normal for us.”

“Did you kiss him?” I bit my tongue. Dammit, I didn’t want to ask that, and I wasn’t even interested in the answer, so why the hell did it slip out?

“No, not really. He kissed me. Last summer. But only once, after I’d fallen for Ryan. Why do you ask?” Lisa paused and flashed a Peppermint Patty smile. “Are you interested in Tony?”

“God, no!” And that was that. I strode a little faster into the gym and hurried over to Simone and Susan, who were chatting with Allie by a pair of gymnastic rings.

All three grinned at me as I approached them. That gave me an eerie chill. “Up to something?” I asked. Yeah, they definitively were.

“Simone just pointed out your perfect height,” Susan explained.

“My perfect height?” My voice had gone dry. No one had ever put it like that. And the fact that these girls had, made me very uncomfortable. “Perfect for what?”

Allie stepped forward and placed a hand on my shoulder. “You know how cheerleaders do those choreographies where they toss a girl in the air and catch her again?”

“Nuh-uh. No way!” I slipped away from her. “You’re not going to throw me in the air like a bouncy ball. You can throw Simone. She looks like she’d enjoy that.”

“Simone is a good dancer, but she’s a coward,” Allie said and immediately got a shove on the shoulder.

“I’m not a coward,” Simone blurted out. “I just don’t trust you guys!”

“Oh, great. But I should?” They had to be kidding me. “And why don’t you trust them, anyway? Don’t you do this all the time?”

Allie rubbed the back of her neck, wrinkling her nose. “What exactly did Nick tell you about our team?”

“He didn’t say anything. Just that you’re cheering for the soccer boys. And girls,” I quickly corrected after a glance at Susan, who wasn’t wearing her glasses for once. “Why? Is there something wrong with your team?”

“No. We’re cool. We’re just not professionals is all.”

“What do you mean?”

“We sort of thought it would be fun to cheer for our boyfriends,” Simone chipped in. “At soccer, you don’t normally have cheerleaders, but the guys liked it when we came to their games and did some amateur dancing during halftime. So we watched some really cool cheerleading movies and tried to copy their moves.” She jumped and threw her left leg in the air, waving her hands like she was holding pompoms.

Lisa cast Simone a mocking grin. “You want me to do that, too?”

“Yeah, throw your leg up, Matthews. I’m sure Hunter wants to know what you’re wearing under your skirt when you dance.”

“Hunter will find out after practice.”

Everyone laughed at that. Only I pulled a quizzical face. “Um, is there a deeper meaning to why you call your boyfriend by his last name all the time?”

Lisa shrugged. “He started it.”

“Yeah, he never calls her Lisa,” Susan told me.

“Never?”

“No. When he doesn’t call her Matthews, he calls her…baby.” At the last word she lowered her voice to sound really deep and grumbling. Too funny. I slapped my thigh as I laughed out loud.

The girls had said they cheered for their boyfriends, so now I got curious. “Who are you with?” I asked Allie when I had calmed down.

“She’s with no one,” Simone told me. “Yet. But she’s working really hard on Sasha Torres. You saw him at our table at lunch.”

“The one with the short brown hair? Really?” Oh my God. Did she know how he ate his spaghetti? I guessed not, or else she might have reconsidered. Or maybe not. He was hot, like most of them.

Allie flushed a sensational pink. Heck, she was working on him.

“Does he like you, too?”

She shrugged one shoulder, but a smile crept onto her pretty face. “I hope so.” Then she cleared her throat. “Anyway, we should see what you’re capable of before Miss Trent blows her whistle.”

Looking in the direction she did, I saw a middle-aged woman in sportswear marching into the gym and straight for the equipment closet. She held a small silver whistle between her teeth but didn’t blow it.

“Okay,” I said. “What do you want to see?”

“Can you do backflips? That would be so cool,” Susan blurted.

Actually, I couldn’t. But from my ballet lessons I had gleaned some severe agility. To show off, I bent backward until I touched the floor behind my heels, then moved my weight onto my arms and lifted my legs over one after the other in a cartwheel motion to stand upright again.

Their mouths sagged open. I grinned. They sure hadn’t expected that. Susan pulled on her hair, her eyes really wide. “Shit, that was amazing.”

Allie nodded. “I say, if you have just a hint of rhythm, too, you’re in.”

“Cool.” I didn’t know if I should be happy now or go find a toilet and flush myself. Then again, any dancing had to be better than no dancing, so I tried to smile.

“We’ll do some choreo tomorrow afternoon,” Allie told me. “Come to the soccer field after school, then you can meet the rest of our team and decide if you want to join.”

“Okay. As long as I don’t have to date a player to be accepted, I’ll come.”

Susan laughed and looped her arm around mine. “I can be your date.” She had adopted that deep, rumbling voice again and dragged me to the rest of the students who’d started doing some warm-up stretching.

Miss Trent let us choose a game for today’s sports lesson. Thank God everyone wanted to play volleyball, the only ball game I was any good at. After class, I got my things together and hurried back to the main building to find the room where I was supposed to have my last lesson, Animation & Visual Effects. I had been looking forward to this period all day.

With the ring of the bell, I slipped through the door and slid into the empty seat closest to the teacher. It was a woman in her late thirties wearing a nice floral dress and heeled sandals that clacked on the floor as she walked over to me. “You must be Samantha Summers. Welcome to AVE,” she said in a low voice, and we shook hands. “I’m Caroline Jackson. I assume Mrs. Shuster told you what to bring to this class?”

I nodded and opened my portfolio of sketches that I had drawn during the past week. “I have the charcoal portrait of an old woman and the animated antagonist. What troubled me a little was the baby in motion, because we don’t have any babies in our family. I prefer to draw from live models. But I found something on YouTube to work with.”

“You’re inventive. That’s good.” Mrs. Jackson studied each of my drawings for a few seconds. “Your pictures are quite professional. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard a new student would be joining, but now I see you definitely have talent and belong in this class.” She cast me an approving look. “At the beginning of each lesson, I like to discuss the projects of two or three students with the rest. I’d like to start with yours today, if that’s fine with you.”

I nodded but immediately tension knotted my stomach. I knew I could draw. I just didn’t know how good the others were and where I fitted in with my talent. Then again, Mrs. Jackson seemed pleased with my sketches, so I breathed deeply and forced myself to calm down while she clipped them on the whiteboard.

The class began analyzing my Baby in Motion first. There was really not much they critiqued. They liked the Portrait of an Old Lady even better and pointed out that I had done a fantastic job with the wrinkles and deep lines around her eyes. That was when I finally relaxed in my chair. I had passed their critical examination. Phew.

Finally, Mrs. Jackson moved to my last piece, TheAnimated Antagonist. It was a three-layered sketch of a spaceship captain, who was swinging around with a lightsaber in his hand and shoving his dark-purple cape back over his shoulder. To my eyes, it was perfect. I’d worked for ten hours on this particular move. Everyone seemed impressed, which put a beaming smile on my face.

Until a low mumble from the back of the classroom pulled me out of my euphoria. “God. What a baby face.”

The suppressed laughter of a few guys followed. The hairs on my arms rose. I didn’t want to turn around, but I felt my upper body slowly twist in my seat nonetheless. My gaze fell on the cold eyes of Anthony sitting in the last row of the room.

“Mr. Mitchell, is there anything relevant you want to add about this work?” Mrs. Jackson said loudly.

He tapped his lips with his forefinger, deliberating for a couple of seconds, then said, “Actually, yes.” In his voice, I clearly caught his delight at getting the chance to rip me to pieces through my work.

I wrapped my arms around myself.

“While the motion of the antagonist and the balanced composure, as well as the hunky body, may work with a bad-guy image, the artist totally messed up the facial expression. She clearly has an obsession with dimples, which we already got to see in pictures one and two, and the baby-blue eyes of this antihero should have been sketched in a meaner, more furious way. Samantha Summers’ antagonist may scare the shit out of Winnie the Pooh, but that’s it, I’m afraid.”

The entire class burst out laughing. I wanted to cry. My face burned like I’d been left in the sun for ten hours.

Mrs. Jackson pulled my sketches off the board and handed them to me. “Thank you very much for your assessment, Mr. Mitchell,” she said in a sarcastic tone. “Why don’t we look at your work next?”

“Sure.” Tony grinned and winked at me as he sauntered to the front. It wasn’t a nice gesture, but utterly cold and mean. He knew he’d hurt me. And the ass was enjoying it.

Why?

He couldn’t really be so cruel as to be doing it just because Chloe knocked that glass over Saturday night. He had to know I wasn’t impressed with her antics and that I certainly didn’t want to get him into trouble with anyone. Why was he so blind? And stubborn? Goddammit!

Tony tacked his drawings onto the whiteboard with big, round magnets.

My thoughts got knocked to the wayside and my mouth fell open. He hadn’t caught the baby’s side view like I had. Instead, the tiny thing was crawling toward the viewer in a way that made one want to reach out and pick it up. And his antagonist was a brutal knight on a mean black horse. With a greedy expression, the knight gave the animal the spurs a little more on each layer, making it rise on its hind legs. Fantastic work.

But it was the third drawing that really took my breath away. I didn’t know who that woman was, but it could have been the lovely grandmother of anyone. Her face showed the scars of a long, hard life. And even if her lips were thin and straight, her happiness and hardship—it all shone through her eyes.

It was perfect.

I kept silent while some of the others commented on the precise charcoal strokes and the accurate use of light and shadow. No one shredded Tony’s confidence like he had done with mine. I lowered my face so he wouldn’t spot my awe as he grabbed his pictures and returned to his seat.

During the rest of the lesson, I concentrated hard on what Mrs. Jackson told us, so I wasn’t tempted to brood over Tony’s latest act of cruelty against me. But frankly, my heart was bleeding. If any other person had said shit like that about my drawings, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. But after seeing what a great talent this guy had, it meant something. Maybe he was right. Maybe I’d messed up the project with the antagonist. I would have to try harder on the projects to follow and not give him the slightest reason to get at me like that ever again.

After AVE, as everyone got their things together, Mrs. Jackson called me to her desk. “There is a goal I want each of my students to meet at the end of this semester. Since you’ve missed a couple of months already, you need to catch up with at least the most important projects. About five completed pieces of work. Do you think you can handle that within a couple of weeks?”

“Um, sure.” I stepped to the side to let a bunch of kids pass behind me. “What do I have to do?”

She smiled briefly then shouted over my shoulder, “Tony! Please wait a moment.”

The shudder his name ignited within me intensified when I turned around and saw him coming toward us.

“What’s up?” He cut a brief look down at me, then back at our teacher.

Instinctively, I took a small step away from him and pinned my eyes on Mrs. Jackson with rising horror.

“Could you give Miss Summers your notes on the main projects and explain what she has to do?” Mrs. Jackson asked him.

“Heck, no!” Tony raised his eyes to the ceiling and let out a disbelieving laugh. I wanted to do the same at her ridiculous suggestion.

Mrs. Jackson lifted her brows. “Excuse me?”

“Come on, Carrie. This is so cliché. You’re only doing this because you’re mad about my honesty from earlier.”

“That wasn’t honest, it was unnecessary. And it’s not the reason I want you to help Miss Summers.”

Despite the weirdness of this discussion, all I could think was: wow, he got to call her by her first name without being told off.

“No?” he grunted. “Then why?”

“Because you’re my best student, and there’s no one more qualified to help her than you.” She smiled, and I thought it held a hint of mockery. But that couldn’t be. Not between a teacher and her student. And she needed to stop talking right this minute. I didn’t want this guy helping me with anything.

“I don’t care,” he snapped. “I don’t want to give her my notes.”

Mrs. Jackson sighed. “Fine. Then would you please send Jeremy back inside. I’ll ask him to share his notes with Miss Summers.”

Yeah. Get Jeremy. I’d rather have his notes.

But Tony didn’t leave. He folded his arms over his chest and leaned a few inches back. “Seriously? You want to pair her up with Jerry? The guy can’t do a stick figure for a bathroom stall.”

I don’t care. Go get him!

“He’s almost as good as you,” Mrs. Jackson countered.

“No way.” Tony barked a laugh. “I can’t believe you’d resort to using him.”

Wow, had she actually hurt his pride? I had to bite down a smile, even though the situation was not amusing.

“Unfortunately, you give me no choice,” she said.

“She won’t even be able to decode his notes. Have you ever seen them?”

Mrs. Jackson grinned, but not at Tony. She grinned at me. Something funny was going on in her head, a plan only she knew about. And judging by her smile, it was working. I wished it wasn’t.

Tony growled as he dropped his backpack between his feet, leaned over, ripped a yellow Post-it from a stack on the desk, and scribbled something on it. He handed me the note, looking more annoyed than ever. “I have soccer practice today but I’ll be home after four. You come. You get my notes. You leave. I’m sure you’re a smart girl and can figure out the rest by yourself.”

I should have told him what he could do with his charming offer but, totally dumbstruck, I just stared at the little yellow note in my hand instead.

Tony hoisted his backpack over his shoulder and gave the teacher a hard glare. “Your psycho shit sucks.”

“I love you, too, dear nephew,” she cooed after him as he strode out the door.

***

Tony is such an ass, isn’t he? Are you curious if he comes to his senses in the end and wins the girl anyway? And hooooow? ^^

Grab your copy from Amazon and finish the story today!

One thought on “T is for… (GBT 3)

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