(To start at the beginning of Alex's story, click or cut and paste this link into your browser. http://careycorp1.livejournal.com/1038.h
“Thank goodness you’re all right.” There’s a tiny hitch in his voice that I don’t think I’m supposed to hear.
Holy crap! The boy with the voice is kneeling over me. He’s so luminous my eyes water as I painfully squint up at him in awe. He makes a small noise between a gasp and a chuckle, and shifts slightly. It no longer hurts to look at him. Now that he’s not silhouetted against the glaring sun, I can see him better. And he’s still heartbreakingly glorious.
Glowing with a golden, shimmering light, I discern he’s not the angel I was about to mistake him for… he’s just a boy. An exquisite boy, flowing with goodness and beauty. But part of what I initially mistook for his halo’s merely a trick of the sun light. He shifts again.
Or is it?
As he reaches out his hand to help me up, I still want to weep at the sight of him and wonder if I’m in shock. But I don’t feel like I’m in shock. Just overwhelmed by the most beautiful boy I’ve ever seen.
He continues to gaze down at me, a small smile quirking his lips. But since I only just met him, I don’t know what that particular expression means.
My stomach flutters anyway.
I smile back and it feels foreign as my cheeks stretch tightening my lips. Alex doesn’t smile. Mostly she just hides from the dark ones…and herself.
When I place my hand in his, electricity – tingling warmth – shoots up my arm. He’s so beautiful. Sandy-blonde hair with wheat colored streaks, sun-kissed skin, Caribbean-blue eyes fringed with long lashes and a full, kissable mouth. That last embarrassing observation has my tongue darting reflexively between my own lips.
After he helps me to my feet I try to thank him, uttering, “Beautiful.”
It comes out as a hoarse croak and I suddenly realize it’s not the first time I’ve said that word out loud to him. “Uh – I mean, thank you,” I stammer, feeling my face grow red hot. My abused throat burns. “Thanks.”
“I think I should walk you home. Under the circumstances.” He says it mildly but in a way that tells me the subject’s not open for debate. Not that I would argue anyway. His voice is commanding; deep, smooth and lyrical. Hypnotic.
Dumbly, I nod, my head bobbing up and down under his spell. “Uh, okay.”
He slings his backpack over one arm then reaches for mine, shouldering it as well. Next, he smiles widely at me and I’m momentarily dazzled. And my instinct is to run away, protect myself from this handsome boy who must have some kind of ulterior motive… but his shining halo doesn’t lie. His halo tells me he’s good, safe.
“I’m Gabriel,” he says. He’s got perfect teeth, white like pearls.
I don’t smile back. I can’t. My whole body’s trembling. I glance down at my feet because it hurts too much to look at him. “I’m Alexia.”
Damn! Why did I say that? I’m opening my mouth to amend my introduction, when I hear my name coming from his mesmerizing voice. “Alexia.”
It’s like it comes from somewhere deep inside him, some place familiar and safe.
Chancing a glance at him, I’m captured by his searching crystalline eyes, tumbling into their depths with little resistance. He whispers again, “Alexia.”
Now he shivers. Glancing away, he breaks the intensity between us. I watch his Adam’s apple bob enticingly as he swallows. His neck’s smooth and looks soft.
Carefully, Gabriel places a gentle hand on the small of my back. We both tense at the contact and it strangely occurs to me he’s as unused to touching as I am to being touched.
“Lead the way.” He sounds restrained, but I can’t read him well enough to figure out precisely why. We walk stiffly, in perfect silence. The pressure of his hand on my back’s so light I can’t be sure it’s really there. Except the spot tingles.
As we walk the three remaining blocks to my temporary home, Gabriel stays close. It feels surreal but surprisingly okay. In front of Kate and Steven’s, I reluctantly slow, then halt. When I turn to thank him, he’s so close that our lips are just inches apart.
He smells of evergreens…and the smoke from a hardwood fire. I’m reminded of the only time I ever went camping in the mountains. The sensation of being one with nature and in tune with a Majestic Creator.
Neither one of us moves.
Butterflies pirouette inside my stomach as Gabriel’s eyes slide away from my mouth to examine my neck. The way he scowls at my damaged throat makes me suspect it appears even worse than it feels, if such a thing’s possible. He lifts his hand as if to touch my skin. In anticipation, I swallow then wince because the motion hurts. He lets his hand drop, his lower lip jutting out slightly in annoyance.
After an awkward pause he asks, “What time do you leave for school in the morning?” To my inexperienced ears he sounds terse, but I can’t be sure. And I’m distracted because he’s staring at my mouth again.
Unclear what he’s really asking, I hesitate, trying to read his expression. But he doesn’t accommodate me by looking up. “Uh, seven fifteen – ish?”
He winces at my raspy answer, but still doesn’t meet my eyes. The muscle in his jaw jumps. He’s angry. I wonder at whom? And why? Surely he doesn’t think what happened – back there – is my fault? Even as the thought passes, a small part of me agrees that it is my fault.
And he has every right to be angry. I forgot to watch for the darkness.
“Okay. I’ll see you in the morning, Alexia.” He bites his lip, hesitating. What he’s struggling with is a mystery. Finally, his eyes pierce mine and I’m flooded with the tidal wave of anguish that overflows from his angelic features. “I’m sorry I was late.”
With a fierce frown, he turns and walks away.
I watch Gabriel’s retreating golden form until he’s gone. He doesn’t look back, and I’ve got no idea how I’m supposed to feel about that. Inexplicably I have the urge to cry, whether from sorrow, shock, or happiness, I can’t tell.
What just happened seems impossible, like a dream. I begin to wonder if I’ve hallucinated the whole thing – him. But there’s a spot on my back where the skin still sings from his touch.
Is he really going to be here in the morning?
Alarmingly my face cracks and I realize I’m smiling to myself. That’s new. Gabriel nearly makes me forget I’ve just lived through hell. Shaking my head at it all, I go inside the comfortable home that’ll never be mine. But I am still smiling.
Over our take-out dinner of Szechwan shrimp, Kate asks me how my first day was. Unable to remember anything other than Gabriel, I hesitate. But the memory of him is one of the few things that belong to me and I’m reluctant to share it. Instead I shrug. “Uh, fine, I guess. It was school.”
“Did you make any new friends?”
My face starts to crack. Again, I’m surprised by the involuntary gesture. Tensing my muscles, I duck my head doing my best not to smile. “A few kids have potential.” I’m deliberately vague but she doesn’t press. She has probably noticed my neck, but she doesn’t ask about that either. She just nods and returns to her dinner.
Kate’s sort of like a perky pixie. Her short platinum hair spikes expensively around her head. She has beautiful, petite features – even her hands and feet are tiny – and the richest, most expressive, chocolate-brown eyes I’ve ever seen. They’re even more penetrating than Derry’s bistre-colored ones. Her champagne halo bubbles around her invitingly.
Always smiling, you get the feeling Kate’s a born nurturer. She doesn’t pry, knows when to back off and when to encourage, and always sees the positive. But at the corner of her mouth and in the hidden depths of her eyes, there‘s a grief so profound I can’t comprehend it. Maybe that’s why I feel kind of bad not telling her about Gabriel.
Steven arrives home a few minutes later. His job often requires him to work late and Kate tells me, because of this, she’s grateful for my company. As he sits, I study his expensive blue suit, his pale green shirt, impeccably matched tie, and daffodil halo. His freshly cut hair’s the color of espresso with subtle gray streaks invading at the temples. He has the appearance of someone important, busy. But his astute hazel eyes really see when he focuses on something or someone. And if you look closely, you can see evidence of laugh lines in the contours of his face.
I’m in the process of passing Steven dumplings when his perceptive eyes focus on something they don’t like. Abruptly his countenance is severe, almost scary. “What happened to your neck, Alex?”
Kate has noticed it as well – the look they exchange is unmistakable.
Instinctively my hands rise to cover the area, to protect my secrets. But touching my neck’s a bad idea because the flesh is too tender. I wince, trying to stifle a gasp and come up with a plausible explanation at the same time.
“A locker,” I lie. “Mine’s low and I ran into the elbow of the guy whose locker’s above mine. It looks worse than it is. Really.”
Another glance is exchanged, and then Steven lets it go. As he settles into eating, he asks all the same questions as his wife did earlier. Giving all the same answers, I wait until his curiosity is satisfied then asked to be excused.
In my room, I replay my interaction with Gabriel. All the confusing feelings come back – the fluttering, the trembling, the smiling – especially the smiling. I try to finish my homework, which is minimal being the first day and all, but Gabriel keeps distracting me. My neck throbs and my face aches from smiling.
I sleep like crap.
When I wake, the butterflies in my stomach are already rambunctious. Will he be waiting for me? After tossing all night, I’m still uncertain as to whether I want this. Briefly, I consider sneaking out early, just in case he shows. But I’m not a morning person and the extra time I spend on my appearance, for no reason in particular, costs me.
When I burst from the house at seven fifteen, Gabriel’s sitting on the porch steps. He’s even more beautiful, if such a thing’s possible, than on the previous day. Without a word, he stands and reaches for my bag, his movements smooth and confident. The look he gives me, as his eyes search mine, is penetrating.
“Ready?” he asks, as if he would completely understand if I said “no”. I bob my head somberly, but in reality I’m not ready for any of it, returning to school or this boy in front of me. As if knowing my thoughts he stifles a small frown and shoulders our bags. Again, his hand rests at my back in a touch so light the only way I can be sure is my skin’s awareness. I want to ask him to stop touching me, but I can’t seem to get the words out.
Just seven blocks.
At the corner of Fort Thomas Gabriel switches sides careful to keep his body between me and the busy street. The gesture is so protective and male, that I feel vaguely annoyed by it.
“Are you alright, Alexia?”
“Fine.” Even as I answer, I feel the frown puckering my features. But Gabriel lets it drop.
As we walk, I sneak sidelong glances at him. Encircling him in a thick ring of gold extending outward in spiky white tips, his halo makes it still seems like he’s backlit by the sun despite the cloudiness of the morning. Overcome with the urge to gawk at his radiance, I try to distract myself by focusing on the features of the boy inside the stunning halo. My heart stutters as I admit how breathtakingly gorgeous he is. Even with my new wardrobe and haircut, I feel completely inadequate by his side.
Distracted by his perfection, I don’t notice we are nearing Orchard Avenue until we’re at the corner. Awareness hits me like a sucker punch. Short of breath and in physical pain, I freeze, unable to cross the street, unwilling to get closer to the source of my new nightmares. The pressure of Gabriel’s hand increases. His fingers brush my back in small circular strokes.
Eyes widening, I suck air noisily through my nose. My yogic breathing doesn’t work this time and the terror threatens to overtake me. Then Gabriel’s warm hand is cupping my chin, forcing me to focus only on him. “It’s okay, Alexia. I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
And I desperately want to believe him.
He moves to the inside of the sidewalk, becoming a buffer between me and the dark memories of that particular street. His head’s close to mine, his breath tickling my neck as he whispers into my ear, “You’re strong. You’re brave. You can do this.” Over and over, like a litany.
Before I can give into my panic, we’ve moved beyond the corner. But it’s still uncomfortable because I’m leaning on Gabriel, in the literal and figurative senses. The feeling of security’s so huge, such a relief, that I can’t trust it.
“I’m fine,” I lie pasting a bright smile on my face and stepping away from his warmth. The minute our contact breaks I feel cold and strangely bereft. “Let’s go.”
Gabriel keeps pace as I charge my way toward school. At the crosswalk I reach for my bag, which Gabriel surrenders with a barely noticeable amount of reluctance. It’s better if we part company before anyone notices us. After all, my goal is to be invisible and Gabriel’s about as visible as they come. With his celebrity looks, he couldn’t be inconspicuous if he tried. But as I mentally dismiss him something akin to physical pain settles heavily in my chest. Crap!
“Thanks Gabriel. I’ll be fine from here.” With a drop of his hand he nods.
The light changes and I hurry across the street in the middle of a yellow mob of kids, determined not to glance back over my shoulder. My heart twists, as if it misses him already – totally ridiculous since I just met the guy. Walking straight to Algebra, I keep my head down carefully skirting around any dark ones in my way. In the classroom I sit in the same front seat as the day before. About as far away from Jonah Wilkes as I can get.
A second later Gabriel slips quietly into the second row, one seat from the end. As he adjusts his desk, I realize he’s directly between me and Jonah. He grins, despite my scowl, and the effect he has on me is more powerful than ever. My stomach somersaults while I grip my desk so hard my knuckles whiten. The whole class is focused on him – for he’s too beautiful to be overlooked – chattering excitedly. Out of the side of my mouth I hiss, “What do you think you’re doing?”
He answers me the same way. “Math.”
Girls are twittering about him, using words like hot and doable. As the teacher calls the class to order, I glance over my shoulder and whisper, “You have this class?”
He leans forward causing his sandy-blonde hair to flop over one eye. “I do now,” he whispers back with a conspiratorial wink. Everyone’s staring at him – and me.
Mr. Ramirez clears his throat and I’m out of time to suggest Gabriel sits somewhere else. My face is burning as I sink down in my seat. For the next hour I pay rapt attention to the teacher but it might as well be Greek. I don’t comprehend a word.
I do learn Gabriel’s last name is Kustosz.
When the bell rings I’m one of the first ones out of my seat, but before I can escape Gabriel’s at my elbow following me down the hall. Although I'm ignoring him, we’re too close not to be together. I’m hyper aware of his heat, his halo, his amazing smell. All around us I hear bits of conversations – kids talking about us. Feeling their scrutiny, I don’t dare look at anything other than my shoes as the humiliation burns in my cheeks. Inspiration flashes and I halt, suddenly.
Pausing to let Gabriel get ahead of me doesn’t work. He stops too, his familiar hand coming to rest against the small of my back. I stare straight ahead, keeping my voice discreet. “What’re you doing?”
His voice is also low, low and amused. “Going to our next class, Alexia.”
Unable to help myself, I turn and glower at him. My response is out of control and louder than I want it to be. “There’s no ‘our’, Gabriel. There’s ‘yours’ and ‘mine’. No ‘us’!” Everyone within earshot is curiously watching, ravenous for gossip
He’s tranquil in the face of my anger, his smiling eyes radiate patience. Looking down at me he tucks an errant strand of hair behind my ear. His fingertips softly graze my cheek causing me to shiver. Instantly I feel as fearsome as a fuzzy kitten.
“Maybe there should be.” He stuns me with his dazzling smile.
Without a word, I make a beeline for French.
In class Madame Mimi showers an inappropriate amount of attention on Gabriel. She flirts outrageously, giggling and flipping her hair, but I seem to be the only one who notices. I decide to call her Madame Putain. It fits.
On the way to third period, I pretend he doesn’t exist. Only I can feel the searing heat of his hand against my back. When we enter class, he keeps himself between me and Jonah all the way to our seats. Coincidence? I wonder as he sits behind me again, one seat over. Although Jonah’s the deep slate of a stormy ocean, with Gabriel between us, his halo barely affects me.
Gabriel, on the other hand, I am keenly aware of…every movement, every shift, every breath. For the next hour, I try to concentrate on biology, but all I can think about is chemistry.
After science, I try another tactic and hide in the girls’ bathroom until the bell rings. The space has a cold institutional feel I find comforting. From inside my stall I stare at the cracked blue floor tiles and read the graffiti that covers the walls. I learn Naomi is a slut. At least in someone’s opinion.
I’ve spent a lot of time hiding in bathrooms.
Not caring if I’m late, I actually consider ditching Government altogether until the Fosters’ concerned faces fill my head. Crap! When I finally emerge into the empty hall, Gabriel’s lounging against the wall, unconcerned. He grins as annoyance crosses my face, pointing out smugly, “You’re late for Government.”
His smile, I want to slap it off his face…or kiss it away.
Crap! Crap! Crap!
My words, short and clipped to cover my traitorous thoughts, sound angrier than I feel. “If you care so much, you should’ve left me.”
That gets the smile off his face. He grips my shoulders firmly but without hurting me. It actually feels sort of nice. “I’m not going to leave you,” he insists.
It feels as if he’s talking about something other than class, something I don’t understand but sense is bigger than I can handle. I grumble, “Even if I ask you nicely?”
As my words sink in, he blinks several times. “Would you do that?”
“What?” My sullen response causes his eyes to widen.
“Ask me to leave you?” There’s surprise with an undercurrent of something I can’t quite identify in his voice. It almost feels like panic, but since we are practically strangers the emotion makes no sense.
Ducking my head, I avoid the answer with a question of my own. “Even if I did, would you really go?” A red thread-like fiber curls on the ground near my feet, I stare at it while waiting for him to answer, afraid of what he’ll say.
Soft as a feather, his fingers trace my jaw line. Gently, he lifts my head until we’re staring into each other’s eyes. His narrow with import. “If you really wanted me to leave, I would.”
The air between us is heavy with his unspoken plea. It hits me that he doesn’t want to be sent away and I don’t really want him to go – at least not for today. The stark vulnerability of need twists in my stomach. I feel weak and scared, because I don’t want to need him. I don’t want to need anybody.
“Do you, Alexia?”
His words flow over me like a haunting melody causing me to forget the original question. “Do I what?”
“Want me to go?”
Quietly he clears his throat and for the first time he appears uncertain. His eyes continue to hold mine and I’m unable to look away, to protect myself even in that small way as I admit the truth.
I tremble slightly as the confession hangs between us. He swallows and I watch the way his throat bobs, the way his jaw muscles flex, the way his lips ripple, and his pupils expand… Movement at the end of the hall breaks the moment. Gabriel sighs, reaching for my bag. “We should get to class.”
Dumbly nodding, I turn away from him, my body feeling shaky and unreliable. It takes all my concentration not to stagger. Anger and guilt tangle in my chest as I try to process what just happened. Then I feel Gabriel’s steady hand settle reassuringly into the small of my back and bite back a growl. “Maybe you shouldn’t touch me.”
Wordlessly he lets his hand drop, and I nearly relent.
At the door to Government, he stops and hands my bag back to me. I pause, confused. “Don’t you have this class?”
His left eyebrow dips as he inquires, “Do you need me to?”
I think for a moment, wondering at his cryptic question before shaking my head. “I guess not.”
“I’ll meet you right here for lunch.”
“That’s not necessary.”
Although he’s waiting for me to go, I hesitate, worried about after lunch. As much as I want to, I don’t think I can face Mr. Creepy on my own. But I can’t bring myself to admit it. Clearing my throat, I ask, “What about – nevermind...”
When he looks at me – a deep, searing stare that shakes me to my core – it’s as if he knows my mind. “This is the only class we have apart. So the bad news is you’re going to have to put up with me the rest of the day and I’m not taking ‘no’ for an answer.”
Relieved and more than a little grateful, I nod. Giving my hand a quick squeeze, he lightly admonishes, “Now get to class. You’re late.”
In that moment I’m too mollified to realize how bizarre it is that he knows our collective schedule. But as I sit in Government, self-loathing sets in. I hate that I’m counting on Gabriel to get me through English. It’d be better to leave – get away from him and from the Fosters before thing become complicated. The only person I can depend on is myself. I know this from experience.
Afterwards, Gabriel’s waiting just like he promised. As we walk to lunch together, amidst stares and whispers, I resign myself to no longer being invisible. But as we enter the cafeteria, I’m ill-prepared for the resulting attention.
First everything comes to an immediate halt. Noise stops and movement ceases in an almost exaggerated way, reminding me of a poorly-made sitcom. The result is disorienting. My body reacts in fight or flight mode as Gabriel smoothly steers me through the maze of gawking students to an empty table in the back.
In a stupor, I let him seat me facing the wall. As he settles across the table, I fidget uncomfortably, panicking because I can’t have my back to everyone. Needing to watch for the darkness, I try to glance over my shoulders at my surroundings without being obvious about it but the movements make me nauseous and agitate my injured neck. Noticing my distress, Gabriel stops unpacking his lunch to pat the seat beside him.
“Why don’t you come sit next to me, Alexia.”
I want to, but worry what people with think.
Continuing to read my mind, he offers, “They’re already talking about us. There’s no reason for you to be sitting over there in agony, when you would be more comfortable on this side.”
As painful as it is to admit, he’s right. So I switch sides. I try not to sit too close but, because there’s a metal bar in my way, end up touching his thigh with mine. Despite our layers of clothing, my leg tingles where we connect. If Gabriel notices, though, he doesn’t react. Instead he watches with interest as I pull a Vitamin Water and a cereal bar from my backpack. With a frown he asks, “That’s all you’re having?”
I shrug. “Didn’t think I’d be very hungry.”
Nodding he begins unpacking his lunch, producing a thick sandwich loaded with veggies and meat on wholegrain bread, an apple, a banana, a Vitamin Water like mine, and a tiny package of Oreos.
“Here,” he says handing me his banana.
Hungrier than I anticipated, I take it without arguing. “Thanks.”
“You’re most welcome.” Crooking an eyebrow, he contemplates me challengingly. “You’re also eating half my Oreos.”
His edict makes me laugh because he has no clue how crazy I am for Oreos. “Half?” I retort, “I was planning on eating them all.” I grab them possessively, clutching them to my chest. Pulling at my hands, Gabriel makes a mock attempt to reclaim his dessert. We scuffle, wrenching the cookies back and forth, until we’re both quaking with laughter.
“Is this seat taken?” I look up to see two cheerleaders smiling – all vacant and phony but dazzling nonetheless – down at Gabriel. My heart slams painfully in my chest as I realize I’ve let my guard down yet again.
Or maybe my pain has to do with how lovely the two girls are with their perfect makeup and short, sexy uniforms. One blonde and the other brunette, they resemble what I imagine to be the epitome of every teenaged boy’s fantasy. Once they capture Gabriel’s attention, they sit down uninvited.
“I’m Naomi Bennett,” the brunette bimbo says coyly. Her halo’s a smudge, merely a slight darkening around her edges like a grease stain. She nods toward the blonde. “This is Kendra Douglas.”
“Hi,” chirps the blonde one. “You’re Gabriel, right?” She tosses her hair with such skill it should be an Olympic event. Kendra’s surrounded by a flimsy ring the color of stale beer. She’s barely good, which becomes apparent in the way she’s blindly following Naomi’s lead.
They don’t acknowledge my existence as they make themselves at home at our table. Their attention is exclusively for the gorgeous boy at my side. Suddenly, I am invisible again.
Deflated by the turn of events, I turn away to catch Jonah watching us. Hate shoots like daggers from his eyes toward the two girls seated opposite me and I wonder at the history behind his scowl. All of a sudden, he’s conscious of my scrutiny. Giving me a quick, sharp glare, he turns back into himself, his chaotic halo darkening into slate as he picks at his lunch.
“Alexia?” Gabriel’s breath is low and humid against my ear. I realize he’s been speaking to me, waiting for some kind of response. At some point he has nestled his hand against my back. My skin begins to sing with awareness and I scoot away.
Shaking my head to clear it, I snap back to him. “Sorry, I must’ve zoned out.” As I turn toward him, he doesn’t pull back. He – is – so – close.
An involuntary shiver trembles down my spine as our noses brush. He swallows, a small gulp so loud it fills my ears causing me to tremble even more. My stomach tingles in an unfamiliar yet not unpleasant way.
Alarmed he pulls back, holding me at an arm’s length for evaluation. “Are you all right?” The concern in his sea-colored eyes makes them wide.
“Fine.” Nodding self-consciously I fiddle with my water as Gabriel opens his Oreos, giving me two and keeping the other half for himself.
“Oooh,” crows Naomi enthusiastically. “I just love Oreos. They’re the best.”
Gabriel grins. “Yep.”
To my extreme satisfaction, not only doesn’t he offer her any, but he seems to take great pleasure in breaking them apart and slowly savoring them in her face. His thigh presses against mine and I wonder if his action is conscious, if he’s deliberately maximizing our contact.
“So Gabriel, how do you like Midlands High?” Naomi smiles at him sweetly, overlooking the cookies. But I get the impression she’s not used to being ignored.
“Is it better than your old school?” Kendra bats her eyelashes at him then backs off as Naomi elbows her under the table.
As the two girls attempt to chat with him, Gabriel remains polite and brief. Even in the face of his one syllable answers, they can’t take a hint. He makes a private joke of rolling his eyes at me as he exaggeratedly eats his Oreos, and before I know it, I’m playing along with my own cookies.
When the bell rings, Gabriel clears our combined trash without a word. I’m still sitting when the cheerleaders stand in tandem. “What class have you got next?” Naomi asks.
“English,” he answers curtly.
They move to intercept him on his way back from the waste bin, chattering over the top of one another. “We’ve got English too!”
“Isn’t Mr. Abernathy the best?”
“Did you get yesterday’s homework assignment, since you were out?”
“He’s one of the best teachers at this school. He’s won National awards and everything.”
“My locker’s right on the way, I could get you the answers.”
“He’s really handsome, for a teacher and all.”
Naomi tries to take his arm, but Gabriel successfully evades her grasp. Parting them like the Red Sea, he reaches out to help me to my feet. His lips twitch with barely contained mirth that makes his eyes sparkle.
Glancing at me as if I’m some spider she just noticed crawling across her shoe, Naomi shoves at Kendra and they flank Gabriel in unison. “Walk with us,” she begs.
“No thank you.” Looking pointedly at me he asks, “Are you ready Alexia?”
I’m anything but ready. But I won’t admit it. He remains motionless, hand outstretched, waiting for me to surrender my bag to him. The cheerleaders are hovering and in a fit of impulsiveness I sling my backpack at Gabriel in an enthusiastic arc that nearly knocks Naomi down. Choking back a giggle, I enjoy the rush of satisfaction as she stumbles backwards.
Kendra rushes to her friend’s aid as Gabriel catches my carelessly flung bag. Disapproval radiates from his eyes and the tight set of his lips but I don’t care. In this strange new world where I have to suffer perky cheerleaders and perfect boys, it feels good to lash out. As Jonah brushes past me, I see the smirk on his face and I know he gets it.
Shooting daggers with her eyes, Naomi stomps past us dragging Kendra by the arm. “Bitch,” she snarls.
“Was that really necessary, Alexia?” The disappointment in Gabriel’s eyes fuels my mood.
“Yes,” I answer, feeling defiant and perversely happy.
With a soft shake of his head, he asks, “Are you ready for our next class?”
The smile freezes on my face as the realization that I have English next sinks in. The knowledge causes instant corporeal pain and I regret having eaten. My heart sharply accelerates in anticipation as my legs turn to rubber. Mr. Creepy’s sickening behavior speeds through my mind blurring the present surroundings.
Everything in the scene before me goes fuzzy around the edges. Solid objects start to dissipate as the floor tilts, pitching up to meet me at an impossible angle. Then, everything vanishes.