Jessica’s seat scrapes against the floor, creating an earsplitting squeak as she slides closer to me. A chorus of damns fills the room. Most everyone looks back, including Haley. Fuck me. Another girl up in my business is not what I want Haley to see.
“So tell me,” Jessica says in a way that indicates we share secrets. “Is she fighting again? I won’t tell anyone, I swear.” Meaning she won’t tell anyone until she leaves class.
With her head lying on an outstretched arm on the table, Haley’s pen moves in circles. She’s a doodler, like my brother Ethan. When he’s trying to clear his head, to think things through, he scratches away on any paper he can find.
Haley’s shorter than me. Tall for a girl, yet not. And very, very feminine. Jessica has to be joking. There’s no way Haley’s a fighter. “I haven’t seen her fight.”
“Oh. Well. Then you must have seen her cousin and brother fight, I guess.”
“Yeah.” Haley and her family are fighters. I roll the words around in my head as if taste-testing them. It feels off, but then I think of how she challenged me the other night when I almost hit her with my car.
Haley’s a fighter. Interesting. Like the info on the flowers, it’s duly noted and filed away for future use. What other secrets are you hiding, Haley? “Who’s this Matt guy you mentioned earlier?”
“That is Matt.” Jessica points to the large son of a bitch at the table behind Haley. His dark hair is shaved close to his scalp and his ears are a bit deformed. I’ve seen the full-blown deformity before on pay-per-view, though it was a much more intense version. Cauliflower ears. It’s what happens after a fighter gets hit too much and the cartilage doesn’t heal correctly.
What’s important is how the guy watches Haley, his eyes memorizing her every move. Has Haley informed him of their breakup or is he pining? “What’s up with the two of them?”
“They got together our sophomore year and split a week after Haley moved into the homeless shelter this past summer. I have no doubt Matt will win her back, though. He’s crazy obsessed with her.”
“What?” My head snaps in Jessica’s direction and my heart pounds as I wonder if I heard her correctly. She said Haley, right? Not me. But then the wonder turns to dread. Haley can’t be living at a place like that.
“That Matt’s crazy obsessed? It’s not in a weird way, well, it is, but it’s like romantic, you know—”
“Not that,” I cut her off. “The homeless part.”
She presses a hand over her mouth. “Oops. I shouldn’t have said that. Don’t tell Haley I told you. She’d be mortified.”
“I won’t.” But what she should be mortified about is that she spilled. Minus the fake hand over her mouth, Jessica wears smug well. At my old school, girls conducted war and annihilated opponents using words. That “slipup” was meant as an execution shot to Haley’s head.
“Good.” She surveys Haley as if she grew a conscience, but then abandons it as she lowers her voice. “Haley’s dad was laid off over a year ago and they lost everything. It’s been rough for her, but we’ve all tried to rally around her. You know, be good friends.”
I’d rather drink arsenic than enjoy a friendship like Jessica’s. “Does she still live at the shelter?”
She shakes her head. “They moved in with her cousin’s family. Seriously, don’t tell her I told you. She’s sort of private.” Finally Jessica’s cheeks flare. Maybe she’s slightly redeemable.
“Tell you what, if you keep it a secret I’m a Young, I’ll keep my mouth shut about Haley.” I’ve got no problem with blackmail. The last name Young is common enough. Hopefully no one will associate me with the richest family in town.
“Why wouldn’t you want anyone to know you’re a Young? Oh, my God, I’d spray-paint it in the sky.”
“I don’t, all right?”
“Okay,” she says.
The door to the room opens and conversation ceases. I relax in my chair, stretch my legs under the table and cross my arms over my chest. When I glance over at Haley again, she’s still resting her head on her arm, but this time I’m met by those gorgeous dark eyes.
Unexpectedly, she holds the gaze. One second. Two. Turning into three. Did she overhear my conversation with Jessica?
Haley breaks our connection and focuses on the movie playing up front. My mind bounces with the new information and it only piques my curiosity.
I’ve successfully avoided Matt since this morning and I’m betting that the refuge of the cafeteria will save me from him for at least twenty more minutes. There’s no way he’ll corner me in front of Jax, Kaden and the other fighters from my grandfather’s gym, right? I mean, no one’s that bold.
I bite my lip, starting to rethink my plan. While I don’t think Matt will, Conner might. His judgment has been off since he started using drugs.
Annoyingly enough, the buzz at my lunch table is the new boy at school, West. I stab at the pizza on my plate. The boy could be the death of me. Literally. West…the gorgeous, full of himself, infuriating, not-listening knight in shining armor is in three of my classes and there are two more periods to go before the final bell rings. I’m willing to bet money I don’t have he’s going to be in those, too.
West, West, West. Last name Young. And right now, as he struts into the cafeteria, he releases that blazing, agitating grin.
“Check out the new boy.” Jessica drools from across the lunch table. “He’s definitely a walking piece of art.”
“With arms like that,” says another girl, “it makes you wonder what he looks like with his shirt off.”
Yes, it does.
Several other girls verbalize their agreement and I focus on my uneaten tray of food. My freshman year, I used to sit with Kaden and the other guys from the gym at lunch. I stupidly fell for Matt my sophomore year and ended up sitting with him and the guys from Black Fire. I was forced to find a new lunch table when things between Matt and me exploded like a hydrogen bomb.
Up until that point, I had never done girl before. It’s not bad if you don’t mind strolling in a field of unmarked land mines.
“I heard you and Jax were hanging out in the office this morning.” Marissa eyes the other girls still ogling West and slides a French fry off my tray when she thinks no one is watching. Marissa’s always on a diet. Not because she’s fat but because Marissa believes she’s fat and the other girls pamper her fears. “Jessica saw you guys and told me.”