So someone did bump into me earlier. That, at least, I hadn’t hallucinated. I reached around and pulled the sign off my back, where the word “slut” was scrawled on a sheet of looseleaf. The quiet snickers then erupted into laughter. Jamie looked up, confused, and I flushed as I crumpled the paper in my fist. Anna threw her head back and roared with laughter.
Without thinking about it, I unfurled one of my fists and placed the wad of paper in my flat palm.
And then I flicked it in her face.
“Creative,” I said to her as it hit its target.
Anna’s tan cheeks turned red first, and then a vein protruded from her forehead. She opened her mouth to fling an insult my way but Mr. Walsh cut her off before she began. Score.
Jamie grinned and clapped me on the shoulder as soon as class ended. “Well played, Mara.”
Aiden pushed past Jamie on his way out the door, slamming Jamie’s shoulder into the door frame. Aiden turned before leaving the room.
“Don’t you have a lawn you should be decorating?”
Jamie glared after him and rubbed his shoulder. “He needs a knife in the eye,” he muttered, once Aiden was gone. “So. A-holes aside, how’s your first week?”
Oh, you know. Saw a dead guy. Losing my mind. Same old. “Not too bad.”
Jamie nodded. “Big change from your old school, is it?”
When he asked me that, a still frame of Rachel materialized in my brain. “Is it that obvious?”
“You’ve got public school written all over you.”
“Oh, that’s a compliment. I’ve sat in class with these douches for most of my waking life. It’s nothing to be proud of. Trust.”
“Going to private school or going to Croyden?” I asked as we made our way to his locker.
“From what I’ve heard from friends at other schools, I believe this level of asshattery is unique to Croyden. Take Anna, for example. She’s only a few IQ points above a corpse, and yet she sullies our Algebra II class with her stupidity.”
I decided not to mention that I was probably just as confounded by the homework as she was.
“The amount your parents donate is directly proportional to how much murder you’re allowed to get away with,” Jamie said as he exchanged his books. When a shadow blocked the light filtering in from the midday sun, I looked up.
It was Noah. As always, the top button of his collar was undone, his shirtsleeves were carelessly rolled up, and today he wore a skinny, knitted tie loosely knotted around his neck. I could just make out the black cord that hung around his neck, peeking out from beneath the open collar of his shirt. It was a good look for him. A great look, actually, despite the shadows that stained the skin under his eyes. His hair was in its permanent state of disarray as he ran a hand over his rough jaw. When he caught me staring, I blushed. He smirked. Then walked away, without saying a word.
“So it begins.” Jamie sighed.
“Shut up.” I turned around so he couldn’t see me flush a deeper shade of red.
“If he wasn’t such a dick, I’d applaud,” Jamie said. “You could start a fire with the heat between you two.”
“You’re mistaking bitter animosity for heartfelt affection,” I said. But when I thought about last week, and how Noah had been with Mabel, I wasn’t so sure if I was right.
Jamie answered with a sad shake of his head. “It’s only a matter of time.”
I shot him a poisonous look. “Before …?”
“Before you’re doing the walk of shame out of his den of iniquity.”
“Thanks for thinking so highly of me.”
“It’s not your fault, Mara. Girls can’t help falling for Shaw, especially in your case.”
“Noah is clearly smitten with you,” Jamie said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. He shut his locker and I spun around to walk away. Jamie followed behind me. “And that ass don’t hurt, neither.”
I smirked over my shoulder at him. “What’s your deal with him, anyway?”
“You mean, aside from the fact that his attention already has Anna Greenly gunning for you?”
“Aside from that.”
He considered his words, the mulch crunching under our feet as we cut across one of the flower beds to the picnic tables. “Noah doesn’t date. He’ll screw you—literally and figuratively. Everyone knows it—his conquests know it—but they pretend not to care until he moves on to the next one. And then they’re alone and their reputations are shot to hell. Anna’s a prime example, but she’s only one of many. I heard that a senior from Walden tried to commit suicide after he—well. After he got what he came for, pun intended, and didn’t call again.”
“Sounds like a major overreaction on her part.”
“Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to see that happen to you,” Jamie said. I raised my eyebrows. “You have enough problems,” Jamie said, and a wide grin spread across his face.
I returned it. “How magnanimous of you.”
“You’re welcome. Consider yourself warned. Much good may it do you.”
I shifted my bag to my other shoulder. “Thanks for telling me,” I said to Jamie. “I’m not interested, but it’s good to know.”
Jamie shook his head. “Uh-huh. When you’re all broken-hearted and listening to sad kill-yourself music after it ends, just remember I told you so.” He walked off and left me at the door to History. Wise were his words, but forgotten in the face of my next class.
Lunchtime found me once again scrounging for scraps from the snack machine. I rooted around in my bag for change when I heard footsteps approach. Somehow, I didn’t need to turn to know who it was.
Noah reached around me, brushing my shoulder as he placed a dollar in the machine. I sidestepped out of his way.
“What shall I get?” he asked.
“What do you want?”
He looked at me and tilted his head, and one corner of his mouth lifted into a smile. “That’s a complicated question.”
“Animal crackers, then.”
Noah looked confused, but he pressed E4 anyway and the machine obeyed. He handed me the box. I handed it back to him, but he laced his hands behind his back.
“Keep it,” he said.
“I can buy my own, thanks.”
“I don’t care,” he said.
“What a surprise,” I said. “How’s Mabel, by the way? I meant to ask you about her this morning but you weren’t in class.”