“Don’t touch me and don’t talk to me.” I hovered over him, sneering. Madoc’s eyes were closed as he breathed hard. “Did you really think I would go out with you? I hear the girls talk, and contrary to popular belief, good things do not come in small packages.” The entire room erupted in laughter, and I crooked my pinky finger to the bystanders. I spotted K.C., tray in hand and an “oh, my God” expression on her face.
“Thanks for the offer anyway, Madoc,” I sang with mock sweetness. Grabbing my tray, I headed through the ocean of eyes and threw away my food. The only thing that mattered was making out of the lunchroom before I crumbled. Everything felt weak with tingles, and I was afraid my legs would give out. What had I just done?
But before I reached the doors, I threw caution to the wind. Oh what the hell, I’ve developed a death wish lately. May as well drown in it! I turned around and immediately locked eyes with the one person that made my blood boil more than Madoc.
Jared’s full attention was focused on me, and the world in my peripheral vision stopped as we stared at each other.
He wore dark distressed jeans and a black t-shirt. No jewelry, no watch, only his tattoos as accessories. His lips were slightly parted but not smiling. Those eyes, however, seemed challenging and too damn interested. He looked like he was sizing me up.
Leaning back in his chair, he had one arm hooked behind him on the back of his seat and one arm resting on the table. He was staring at me, and unwanted heat rushed to my face.
There was a time when I had all of his attention and loved it. As much as I wanted him to leave me alone, I also liked how he seemed surprised. I liked the way he was looking at me right now.
And then I remembered that I hated him.
The rest of the day unfolded as one surreal moment after another. I had to constantly tell myself that I was in a dream and this wasn’t really the first day of school. I received mounds of admiration over my lunchtime rumble, and I felt like this couldn’t really be my life.
After my high dissipated, it occurred me that I’d hit another student on school grounds. I could get in trouble—a lot of trouble—for that. Every announcement or knock at a classroom door had my hands shaking.
I texted K.C. after leaving the lunchroom, and apologized for ditching her. Since I hid in the library for the rest of lunch, I had time to try to figure out what the hell was going on with me. Why hadn’t I just walked away from Madoc? Had it been fun to knee him in the balls? Yes. But I was losing control lately, and perhaps I was taking K.C.’s advice of fighting back too literally.
“Hey, Jackie Chan!” Maci Feldman, a fellow senior in my Government class, sat down next to me. She immediately reached into her purse and pulled out a tube of glittery pink lip gloss, applying it while eyeing me happily.
“Jackie Chan?” Raising my eyebrows, I pulled a new notebook out of my messenger bag.
“That’s one of your new nicknames. The others are Super Bitch and Ball Buster. I like Jackie Chan.” She smacked her lips together and slipped the gloss back into her purse.
“I like Super Bitch,” I mumbled as Mr. Brimeyer handed out the syllabus with a questionnaire attached.
Maci whispered, “You know, a lot of girls were happy about that scene in the lunch room. Madoc’s slept with half the senior class, not to mention some juniors, and he deserved what he got.”
Not knowing how to respond, I just nodded. I wasn’t used to people being on my side. My responses to Jared’s and Madoc’s antics might have changed, but my goal to keep my head focused on school remained the same. My first day had included too much drama already. If I’d kept my head down, I might’ve escaped notice for the most part. But it was almost as if I had no desire to be silent anymore, and my actions were inviting more trouble. What was I doing? And why wasn’t I stopping?
Catching up with Madame Lyon after school, I was able to get my mind off the day’s events. She expected me to speak to her entirely in French now, and it irked me that the German I learned during the summer was getting me flustered. I kept saying things like “Ich bin bien” instead of “Je suis très bien.” and “Danke” instead of “Merci.” But we laughed, and it wasn’t long before I got my sea legs back.
Coach Robinson wanted us on the bleachers by 3:00, so I ran to get changed for cross-country practice. After a year away, my spot on the team didn’t exist, but I had every intention of earning it back.
“Have you had any backlash from what happened at lunch?” Jess Cullen, our captain now, questioned me as we headed for the locker room after practice.
“Not yet. I’m sure it will come tomorrow, though. Hopefully the Dean will go easy on me. I’ve never been in trouble before,” I replied hopefully.
“No, I mean from Madoc. You don’t have to worry about the Dean. Jared took care of that.” She glanced back at me as we walked down the aisle to our gym lockers.
I froze. “What do you mean?”
She opened her locker door and stopped to smile at me. “Mr. Sweeney came by right after you left the lunch room asking what happened. Jared walked over and said Madoc slipped and fell into a table or a chair…or something.” Jess laughed.
I couldn’t help myself either. It was too ridiculous.
“Slipped and fell into a table? And he believed him? ”
“Well, probably not, but everyone backed him up, so there was little Mr. Sweeney could say about it.” She started shaking her head in disbelief. “And when Madoc finally got back on his feet, he backed up the story, too.”