Sweet Venom
Page 12

 Tera Lynn Childs

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As long as I keep my nose clean at school, we can go on as we are. That suits me fine. But one red flag in the wrong file and I’ll be in the foster care system before you can say “unfit guardian.” Or, worse, back with Phil and Barb. No thank you. Twelve years with them was enough to last a lifetime.
I pull myself up in my desk, straightening my spine to improve blood flow to my brain. Rubbing the backs of my hands against my eyes, I allow myself one last yawn before focusing my attention on the lecture.
I grab a pen out of the pocket of my cargo pants, click the top, and start to write the date in the corner of my blank sheet of paper.
The classroom door creaks open as I underline the date for the third time. I continue my doodling, covering the left margin of my page with diagonal stripes. I assume the visitor is an office aide come to request the presence of someone less adept than me at keeping below the radar.
The hush that falls across the room is my first clue.
Usually, an interruption by an office aide means an excuse for the sheep to start talking. They snatch the opportunity to trash-talk each other or trade juicy stories while the teacher is distracted. That they’ve fallen into silence means this isn’t an ordinary office aide visit.
I glance up.
“Class, this is Nick,” Mrs. Knightly explains, gesturing at the boy standing next to her desk. “He’s new at Euclid. Please welcome him.”
The sheep erupt into chatter, instant gossip about the new boy. He looks fairly ordinary: on the tall side; short, wavy blond hair; dark, unreadable eyes; features that look carved from stone—okay, not so ordinary. But not so exceptional among the male half of the herd.
I go back to my doodling.
Mrs. Knightly looks out over the classroom before telling Nick, “You can take the seat behind Gretchen.”
That regains my attention.
Nick’s dark gaze follows the direction she’s indicating and stops when he sees me. Maybe I’m imagining things, but I think the corner of his mouth lifts up into the tiniest fraction of a smile.
As he makes his way down the aisle, I pretend not to notice—or care—keeping my attention on my paper when in reality it’s killing me not to sneak a glance to see what color those dark eyes actually are.
Nick swings into the desk behind me, and I force myself to relax. I’ve never gotten this tight and twisted over a boy at first glance. He hasn’t even said a word to me yet.
“Gretchen, huh?” he asks, as if reading my thoughts. “Can I borrow a sheet of paper?”
“Um, sure.” I reach down into my bag, pull one out, and hand it back to him. “Here you go.”
“Thanks.” Our fingertips brush as he takes the paper, and I suppress a little shiver. He leans closer, so close I feel his warm breath as he asks, “How about a pen?”
“What?” I blurt. “Forget you were coming to school today?”
“Something like that.”
“Problem, Miss Sharpe?” Mrs. Knightly asks.
I shake my head and sink into my chair. Intent on not causing further distraction, I grab another pen out of my cargo pocket and drop it over my shoulder onto Nick’s desk.
“Thanks again,” he says.
I sense him leaning back into his chair, away from me. But I swear I can feel the skin on the back of my neck tingling the whole period.
“Aargh!” I end the call and punch instant redial on my phone. I listen as the phone rings several times before Ursula’s voice mail picks up. Ursula’s full voice mail. I hang up again. I’ve been trying between classes all morning, with no success. “Where is she?”
“No answer?”
To my credit, I don’t scream or jump or even swing a punch at the sound of his voice. I have every right. Not only has he found me in my favorite hiding spot—a vending machine alcove around the corner from the cafeteria, left empty since the school decided to remove all junk food from campus—but he is also the reason for my desperate call to Ursula. The way he kept leaning forward to ask me questions all through biology, each time a little closer than before. The way his fingers tickled across my palm when he gave me back my pen. The way he managed to cross my path between all my classes since. Something’s not right about his presence, I feel it, and Ursula might know what to do. If only I could reach her.
Deep breath, Gretch. You can handle this.
Quickly pocketing my phone, I turn to face Nick.
Big mistake.
I’m not usually a sucker for a pretty face, but this one . . . Well, let’s just say he’s a little too handsome for my own good, especially now that I can tell his eyes are a midnight shade of blue, the exact color of the water beneath my balcony on a moonlit night. An image fills my head, of the two of us standing together, looking out over the inky bay. In the image, I lean against his side and he wraps a strong arm around my shoulders. The idea is more tempting than it should be.
Where did that come from?
“Who were you calling?” he asks innocently. “Boyfriend?”
I almost snort. My life is beyond too complicated for boy interest, even in boys with midnight-blue eyes. I need to snip this before it goes anywhere, even in my own head.
Throwing on my best huntress glare, I snarl, “What’s it to you?”
Without waiting for a response, I stomp away toward the cafeteria. That should scare him away nicely. Only an idiot would want an angry, aggressive girl who makes it clear that she’s not interested.
What I need right now is a trayful of carbs to get my energy up. All the recent late-night hunts are catching up with me. Too bad the school removed all the vending machines, because a caffeine-and-sugar-filled energy drink would sure come in handy right about—