I shoved my books inside my locker and slammed it shut, my actions rather forceful. Haynes’s insult still burned in my mind, dampening my mood.
Coward that I was, my locker took the brunt of my anger instead of the boy who was responsible for it.
“Keily!” Addison was sprint-walking toward me, another girl—who’d introduced herself as Lola this morning—following her.
“How’s your day going?” I asked when she reached me.
“So far so good.”
I looked at Lola, not wanting her to feel left out.
She just shrugged. Lola didn’t talk much.
“C’mon, let’s go. Sadhvi must be waiting for us,” Addison said, hooking her arms with mine and Lola’s and rushing us to the cafeteria.
It was lunch. Addison had invited me this morning to sit with her and the girls.
What a cool cousin I have!
“What about you? Any scandals yet that us cheerleaders must gossip about?” my cousin asked.
I let out an ugly snort. “I’ll let you know.”
“I heard that your English class is taught by Mr. Crones.”
“He’s a pretty cool guy—mind you, annoying, but cool. Although this entire year, you’re going to be saddled with lots of assignments, so be ready.”
Addison groaned. “We got stuck with Old Man Whitman, that bitter crow. You’re lucky, K.”
My first impression of Mr. Crones had also been that he was a laid-back guy. He was too enthusiastic for my taste, but at least he was friendly with us students.
The smell of food assaulted my nose as we entered the cafeteria. The booming noises of students’ chatter filled the large room. My mood lightened until my eyes landed on Haynes.
He was already looking at me. He was at the table just beside the window, sitting there like a king on his throne.
His eyes narrowed, and I looked away. Jerk.
“Let me introduce you to the boys,” Addison said. She waved at the guys at his table. Other than him, there were four more guys; two of them waved back. ~No!~
“It’s okay. We don’t have to disturb them,” I refused, but Addison had already begun dragging us to their table.
Despite my reluctance, she pulled me with her as if I weighed nothing, and that was saying a lot. What does this girl eat?!
“You’ll love them, except James. He’s a prick.”
We reached their table. Addison high-fived a blond guy. Lola greeted them all with a single nod. And I looked anywhere but at him, all the while feeling his glare.
“Is she the cousin you were talking about?” Blond Guy asked Addison.
Addison nodded. “Keily, this is Lucas. Lucas, this is Keily.”
“Hey.” I gave a small smile, my shyness peeking its head. Lucas was a handsome guy. He had sharp facial features with green eyes and heart-shaped lips. He probably had many girls vying for him.
“It’s good to have a beautiful face around,” Lucas said with a most genuine smile. “I hope we’ll have some of our classes together. Addison’s cousin is my…friend.”
“She better remain your friend. We don’t want you dating a cow,” a voice commented. Haynes.
My smile dropped. That hurt.
“Shut up, James.” Addison glared at him. So he was called James. “You just want everyone one to be as miserable as you, don’t you?”
James Haynes rolled his eyes.
“Okay, okay,” Lucas jumped in, his eyes dancing between Addison and James, who were in a glaring competition.
“James, you’ve been in a bad mood since History. God knows why. But you don’t have to take it out on others.”
Addison huffed, putting her arm around my shoulder. I felt like a dwarf, a grateful dwarf. She’d stood up for me. If I could only do the same for myself.
“We’re leaving,” my cousin spat. “Sadhvi is waiting for us anyway.”
As we began to walk, Lucas stopped us. “Hey, don’t let this sourpuss ruin your mood. Don’t go. By now, Sadhvi must’ve found other girls.”
He looked at me. “Keily, I apologize for him. He’s having a bad day.”
“That’s not an excuse,” Lola muttered.
“Yeah, it’s not.” Another guy stood up. He was wearing glasses, which gave him a look of maturity. “Look, why don’t you guys sit here with us? We all want to know Keily.”
He became one hundred times more charming as he smiled. “It’s going to be our treat,” the poor guy added when Addison didn’t reply.
I heard James scoff, probably holding in some remark about my weight and how I’d eat too much.
Addison glared at him but relented anyway. I’d hoped she wouldn’t, but by now, we all had established she was our leader. We did what she said.
I settled in the seat beside Lucas, hyperaware of how much space I occupied.
It didn’t help that James was right in front of me, looking like he wanted to chop my head off for sitting beside his friend.
Am I that bad?
The other guys introduced themselves.
Matt, the guy with glasses, and Axel and Keith, the other two, went to grab our lunch. It was their treat after all.
“So Keily, are you having a good time here—” Lucas stopped, his face scrunching in a cute frown. “Let me rephrase that. You’re not getting bored too much, are you?”
“Not much. Teachers here are pretty okay.”
“Cool. By the way, if anyone here gives you trouble, come to me. I’ll take care of them.”
Take care of your friend, I wanted to reply.
“You don’t have to play the hero, Lucas. She’s already got me for that,” Addison chimed.
“Addy, let me impress your cousin,” Lucas pouted. He was so sweet.
A chuckle slipped past me at his adorable shenanigans, but it stopped as soon as it came when I saw James looking at me with narrowed eyes.
Matt, Keith, and Axel joined us, carrying food for twenty people for just eight of us.
Everyone dug in like the hungry animals that teenagers are, but I was cautious not to take too much, especially with James sitting here. I didn’t want to give him any more ammunition.
It felt like my every action was controlled by how he’d react.
As food reached our mouths, the chitchat at the table ensued.
I learned Lucas was the captain of our football team. I had suspected him of being athletic with all the muscles and height he was packing.
James was also on the team. The two seemed to be good friends. I gathered that much when Lucas kept throwing insults at James and received equally harsh ones back.
According to Matt, James and Lucas were their key players. I took him at his words.
Keith and Axel were on the track team. Addison spent most of the time talking to them about their next tournament.
Lola listened quietly as Matt whispered in her ear. He was so close that he almost sat on her lap.
“They’re dating,” Lucas informed me when he caught me glancing at them.
Lucas asked me about my town and previous school. I answered all his questions, and he listened patiently. It was flattering that a guy like him would pay any attention to me.
His amiable nature gave me courage to ask him questions myself.
We talked about football, but when I couldn’t keep up with him, he switched the conversation to the subjects he was taking. I learned we shared Calculus and PE.
This lunch would’ve been the best one that I’d had in a long time if not for James Haynes. I tried to block him out, but it was difficult when he kept throwing glares my way.
Thankfully, he didn’t make another remark about me. He didn’t even say a word to me, silently settling on an I-wouldn’t-mind-killing-you look.
I should’ve given him that stupid pen.
“Yes.” I looked at my dad. We were on the couch.
After returning from school, wolfing down some snacks, and sleeping for an hour, I had finished my homework.
It hadn’t been much since it was our first day (although I had yet to start on Mr. Crones’s assignment). Now it was approaching 7 p.m., and my dad and I were in the living room.
I was on my phone, and he was doing his work, glued to his laptop.
Dad had already prepared dinner. We were waiting for Mom to return from work.
“Which color is better?” he asked, turning the screen to me. Two browser pages side by side with the heading Ample.com stared at me.
He was asking about the theme color. One was a darker brown fading into light brown. The other was also brown, but a different shade.
I pointed at the first one.
“I also like this one.” He smiled and closed the web page. My eyes were still on his screen when I noticed unfamiliar software.
“Wait. Why aren’t you using Atom? It’s your favorite tool,” I asked. He always used Atom IDE to design websites.
“The client wanted me to use this one.”
“Is the software new? I haven’t seen it before.”
“Yeah, it was launched a year ago.” He began typing on his laptop before stopping again. He looked at me, his brown eyes gleaming. “Do you want to see its features?”
I nodded eagerly. I guessed I shared my father’s interest in designing websites and coding.
“Okay, kiddo, don’t make fun of me. I’m still learning.”
“I can’t promise you that.” I smiled.
Because of my dad, computer science was my favorite subject. Today, I had been excited to attend that class. However, the excitement had poofed out of me when I saw James sitting in the computer lab.
I could’ve handled that, but the teacher had asked us to sit alphabetically, and because K comes after ~J~, we had to sit side by side.
For almost an hour, I’d had to endure his judging gazes, and when I’d ever made the mistake of looking over, I’d been showered with fat jokes.
My two favorite classes, English and Computer Science, had now turned into…not so favorite. If that wasn’t enough, we shared Calculus too.
But Lucas had been there to keep him in check, so it had been bearable. Even though I was grateful, I felt bad that Lucas had to fight his friend for me. He was such a kind person.
If only I could fight for myself.
Our front door opened, and Mom walked in.
“Welcome back,” I said before turning back to the laptop screen.
“I’m going to take a shower.” She put her purse down on the free chair. “And I want this laptop closed and you two at the dining table before I come back.” With that warning, she headed upstairs.
“Yes, Mom. Yes, sweetie,” Dad and I muttered together.
I prepared myself for the upcoming interrogation at dinner about the first day of school.
My mother already had a lot on her hands with this new office of hers. She didn’t need to hear her daughter complaining about a mean teenage boy.
I’ll probably leave out the James part.