“Do you know him?” Marissa asks.
Yes. “No.” And it’s going to be hard for anyone to believe that answer when he continues to stare at me like he’s seen me with my clothes off. I run a finger around the collar of my shirt, releasing some trapped hot air. If West doesn’t rein it in, he’s going to get us both killed.
“Are you sure?”
I told him to stay out of my way because that’s how West will avoid trouble with Conner and Matt. It’ll be amazing if I can remain unscathed through lunch.
Our teacher motions with his hand for West to take a seat. “Any seat.”
West’s eyes roam to the spot next to me and I grab Marissa’s hand. “Do not leave your seat. Not to sharpen your pencil. Not to use the bathroom. Not to pick up your backpack.”
“Ooookay,” mumbles Marissa and sticks her head back into a book.
West strides down the small space between the tables. I keep my eyes forward, ignoring he exists, ignoring that on Friday he almost pancaked me with his car, that he went kamikaze on Conner and that I had to fight to bail him out of trouble.
I ignore all of that, but more importantly, I ignore how my senses heighten as West pauses next to my table, plants a hand flat on the surface and leans into me. I swear the heat of his body wraps around mine. An extremely tempting musky scent enters my lungs when I inhale. Oh, God, he’s mouthwatering.
Everyone turns and watches because the most beautiful boy to ever step into this school is next to the girl no one but Matt has ever wanted to date.
“Hello, Haley,” he says in this deep voice that curls my toes in that Notebook movie kind of way.
I can’t look at him. I can’t. One, because he’s not supposed to be talking to me. Two, because he’s gorgeous and I’d prefer for West to remain in the dark that I think that. “We have an agreement.”
West chuckles. “You said something. I disagreed. Later, we’ll come to an agreement.”
Mr. Rice asks everyone to settle in, and West continues toward the back, but not before skimming one finger down my shoulder. I let out a rush of air between my lips as goose bumps tingle on my arm from his touch. West does not fight fair.
I return my gaze to the front and my heart slams out of my chest when I meet stone-cold eyes. Matt walks into class at the sound of the bell and there’s no doubt he saw part of the show.
He stalks down the aisle and I wish I could blend into my chair. Without breaking stride, he mumbles as he passes, “We’re talking today.”
My hand presses against my neck as if that will help open my clogged air passage. Whether he wants to talk about West touching me or the fact that Conner may have told him what happened between us or if he just wants to rehash previous fights in our defunct relationship, I don’t know, but as far as I’m concerned, there’s no way I’m talking with Matt—not if I can help it.
I drop into a seat at an empty table in the back and a dishwater-blonde slithers into the chair beside me. “You’re West Young,” she says.
“I am.” I edge away from her. The last thing I want is my reputation with girls or my rep with fights following me. Something good should come out of this. “How’d you know?”
“I’ve attended some parties at Brian Miller’s house with my cousin. She goes to Worthington Private.”
Shit. I assess her, praying we haven’t hooked up. I don’t f**k girls. It’s not my thing. I’ve witnessed guys spiral and burn because of an unplanned pregnancy, getting too emotional after the fact or a good ol’ STD. Thanks, but no thanks. I might not be hitting it in that way, but I hit it in other ways and girls appreciate my creativity.
The blonde twists her hair around her finger, makes full-fledged eye contact and sends me an I’ll-go-down-on-you smile—all signs indicating we have had previous carnal knowledge of each other.
“I’m Jessica,” she announces. “I’ve wanted to introduce myself since I saw you at a party a year ago, but by the time I get there, you’re usually a little far gone.”
Thank you, Jesus, for saving me from the why-didn’t-you-call guilt trip.
Our teacher calls the class to order and I open my lone notebook. With twenty bucks in cash to my name, I bought this and a pen, then spent the remainder on gas. Food wasn’t on the priority list this morning, and as my stomach growls, I’m beginning to regret the decision. I haven’t had a decent meal since Thursday night.
I’m terrified to use my credit card and learn it’s been denied. There’s a limit to what my mental stability can handle.
A few tables up, Haley sits curtain-rod straight. Come on, give me something. Anything. I got the hell beaten out of me over her, plus I saw the attraction stirring in her eyes in the stairwell. Hell, the girl flushed the moment I stepped into the room. Look at me. Just look at me.
My pen knocks against the table as it bounces in my hand, then freezes the moment Haley glances over her shoulder. In rabbit-fast movements, she switches her gaze back to the front, but it won’t erase the fact she looked.
Why it’s important to me, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because everything in my life is screwed up and I need to know at least one person cares. Maybe…but who knows? Right now today almost feels doable.
“You know Haley?” The lines cluttering Jessica’s forehead spell jealousy.
What were Haley’s words to me? To stay away? Not happening. “Yeah, do you?”
“She’s a friend of mine.”
Our teacher passes out an outline for an upcoming project and mumbles something about having to leave for a moment to help a class across the hall but being able to see us from there, and that he expects us to watch the documentary he cues up on the SMART Board. With the lights off and the door behind him clicking shut, the class loosens up with low buzzing conversations.
Jessica faces me, props her elbow on the table and rests her head on her hand. “How do you know Haley? From the fights?”
The fights? “Yeah.”
A relieved grin eases onto her face. If I play this right, maybe I can figure Haley out.
“That’s what I thought,” she says. “After she and Matt broke up last summer, she swore she was done with that tough man stuff, but I knew she wouldn’t be able to hold out. Haley’s been a tomboy since kindergarten.”
A tomboy? Are we admiring the same person? Haley’s all curves. She may be in high school, but she’s miles from that in-between stage.