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She spoke first. “What do you want, Mason?”
“He loved you.”
She flinched again and turned away. “Yeah, well—”
“You don’t get to talk right now.”
She flushed, but she didn’t leave.
I added, “You’re like all the other girls. You used my brother and you wanted to use me too.”
“It wasn’t like that.”
I snorted. “Yes, it was. You were friends with Kate. I saw you guys. You’re the popular girls in our grade and what? You wanted more, didn’t you? You didn’t even like me, Tate. You wanted the power that I could give you, but you didn’t think it through.”
Hearing Kate yelling my name, I turned to make sure she couldn’t see me. I wasn’t hiding, but I didn’t want to hear her crap at that moment. I told Tate, “Logan asked me today if I sicced Kate and her friends on you.” She met my gaze then, waiting for the answer. “I didn’t, but I’m glad they’re making your life hell.” Logan acted normal today. He was getting better, but it had taken months. “When Kate is done with you, that’s when I’ll start. I will break you just like you broke him.”
The next week, Mr. Rooney sent half the class to the library. We were assigned a project to work on, but the same instructions that he enforced in his classroom were applied there. No talking. Period. The only person you could talk to was your table mate. Glancing to where mine had gone, she scooted around the group and walked to the very back of the library.
As I followed her through the book cases, she went to a table set in its own section. It was away from the main lobby and isolated with bookshelves all around it.
I put my notebook on the table and took a seat. “I’m not a typical dumb jock, but I had no idea this was back here.”
She paused, her fingers stopped flipping through her pages, and she studied me for a moment.
I narrowed my eyes. She still hadn’t talked to me. When Mr. Rooney announced the project, he pulled me aside at the door and said that I would have to talk to Marissa. Then he added, “Be nice. Be respectful and then back away from her. I mean it, Mason.”
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t care about deflowering virgins, Mr. Rooney. I have enough headaches in my life because of women. Your warnings are insulting now.”
“You heard what I said.”
I did. I didn’t care. I’d talk to her, but I had no intention of anything else. Focusing on her again now, I frowned. “You have to talk. I’m not doing a presentation all on my own to prove that I did the work.”
She frowned. She had stopped becoming flustered after the first few days. Now she was hostile instead. I was starting to get sick of it. If I had done something to her, then yeah, I deserved it. Unlike most of my run-ins, I’d been nice to her.
Then she said, “I don’t want to be held back by you. This is important to me.”
I laughed.
She looked ready to piss her pants, but that made me laugh even more. “So you do think I’m a dumb jock?”
“No…” She did. I could see it in her eyes.
“I’m number one in our grade. If anyone holds anyone back, it won’t be me.”
Her mouth fell open an inch. She became flustered again. “You’re in the number one spot?”
I nodded. “Yep.” I flashed her a grin. “See. I’m not the typical dumb jock.”
Then I reached for the worksheet with the instructions. “Hand it over. Let’s get this bitch done with.”
We worked the entire week together. Every day Marissa relaxed and by the end of the week, she was a chatterbox. I didn’t talk, but that was fine with me. I didn’t want to talk. Everyone else wanted me to talk. They wanted to know what I was thinking. They wanted to know an ‘in’ to get with me. Not her. Marissa did most of the talking for our presentation. She surprised everyone. I could tell no one expected her to be as enthusiastic or as confident as she was. A few of the guys were looking at her with interest.
She wasn’t bad to look at. A heart-shaped face, cute lips, a decent body underneath her baggy clothes. A few of them were giving her lewd looks and I knew they were imagining her naked. For some reason, that ticked me off. I blocked the view of one of the guys and he glanced up. He moved back, seeing the warning in my gaze, then he lifted his hands in the air. He didn’t lift them high, just off the table, but enough to show me he would back off. The others caught the motion. Marissa kept rambling on about the effects of desertification, but a new spark of interest went around the room. The others saw that I was protective of her. I glanced towards Kate. She was staring straight at me. She was dissecting me. Her eyes were clear and filled with interest. I frowned. I shouldn’t have done anything. There was a target on this girl now. Kate wasn’t going to forget the look I gave that guy.
Shifting back into place, Marissa paused, but I leaned against the wall and let her finish the speech. When she was done, Mr. Rooney asked, “Marissa, please tell me that you didn’t work alone on this project.”
“No.” She frowned, her hands grasping tighter onto her paper. “Why?”
He indicated me. “Because your partner didn’t say a word through the entire presentation.”
“That’s because he hates speeches.” She didn’t blink an eye. “He’s shy.”
The room burst out laughing. Marissa fell back a step, taken aback by their response, and then turned to me. She was confused.
“Why do you think I’m shy?”
Mr. Rooney came to the front of the class, shaking his head, chuckling. “Uh, Miss Hooper, I can think of a lot of words to call Mason Kade, but shy is not one of them. It’s not even close to any of them.”
“Tread lightly.”
He kept laughing, but held his hands up. “No offense intended.” The class continued to laugh except Kate. She was staring Marissa down like she wanted to tackle her. I tensed. That would be a battle.
When we took our seat, Marissa leaned close and whispered, “Why are they all laughing at me?”
“Because I’m not shy at all. If I was, that’d probably help me in life, but I’m not. Why do you think I’m shy?”