Sweet Venom
Page 30

 Tera Lynn Childs

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“Are you certain?” Ms. West’s eyes narrow. “We do not tolerate disrespectful behavior here at Alpha. If another student is—”
“Really.” I appreciate her concern, but I want to handle this problem myself. “It’s fine.”
I force a cheery smile.
“All right then,” she says, shifting her focus. “I wanted to check in and give you one last opportunity to change your elective choices.”
“Change them?” I ask. “Why?”
“The drop deadline is tomorrow,” she says. “I thought I should give you one last chance to trade Yearbook for something else, something more . . . challenging.”
My schedule is full of challenging. Yearbook seems like it’s going to be fun, and it will give me a chance to meet lots of other students in the process.
“Actually,” I say, “I think I’ll stick it out with Yearbook.”
“Very well.” She clasps her hands behind her back. “As long as you’re happy with your choices.”
“Oh, I absolutely am.”
“Wonderful,” she says in a less-than-thrilled tone. She glances past me, into the classroom. Maybe at Miranda. For a moment I’m afraid she’s going to make a bigger deal out of that situation after all, but in the end she just says, “You should get back to your class.”
Then, without waiting for me to respond, she turns and walks away.
As I make my way back to my desk, wondering at Ms. West’s disapproval, I avoid Miranda’s leg again and swing into my seat.
“Ms. West is pretty harsh,” I say, kind of to Vail, but kind of to myself in case she ignores me.
She doesn’t.
“Guess so.” She shrugs. “Never really talked to her much myself.”
“Oh,” I say, a little surprised to hear that. Why am I the lucky one? “Maybe she takes a special interest in new students.”
This time Vail does ignore me.
“Grace,” Mrs. Deckler calls out, “can I see you for a moment?”
This time I circle around to the next aisle and bypass Miranda completely. As I reach Mrs. Deckler’s desk, she hands me a book.
“We’ll be starting this in class today,” she says with a sunny grin, “but I thought you might like a head start.”
I inspect the book, a brand-new–looking copy of Poetics by Aristotle. “Thanks.”
“I always begin the year with the origins of Western literature,” she explains, “with Greek myth and drama. Aristotle is the perfect introduction.”
An image of the griffin pops into my head, followed immediately by the feathered serpent, the fire-breathing lizard, and—of course—the minotaur. Like I need more Greek myth in my life at the moment. Not that I say that to Mrs. Deckler, because she seems very enthusiastic.
Instead, I say, “Cool.” And try to look as excited as she does.
She winks at me. “There are perks to being in both my homeroom and my English class.”
Back at my desk I glance over at Vail and see that she’s busy coloring in the letters on the cover of her calculus textbook with a black permanent marker.
I’m not rebellious enough to doodle the cover with marker, but when I flip open Poetics to the title page and find a line drawing of an old Greek guy in a drapey dress, I take my pencil and shade in the fabric of his toga. Still light enough that I can erase it before turning the book back in, but I feel a little daring for the effort.
Now, if only I could be more daring in everything else. Too bad real life isn’t erasable.
Chapter 9
Monday morning comes too early and too hard. I ditch first period to catch an extra hour of sleep in the third-floor janitorial closet and to avoid running into Nick in biology. After what he saw on Friday night, I need to come armed with a reasonably believable excuse for two guys vanishing out from under me in that courtyard. I’ve got a marginally lame one, but I’m in no rush to feed him the story.
Instead, I snooze until the bell and then slip into the between-classes crowd in time to make second period. Mr. Alioso’s lecture on the Constitution lulls me to sleep, and since it’s a PowerPoint presentation and the lights are off, I get to catch a few more winks.
But the power nap must dull my senses, because when I head for my third period, I forget to take the long way and wind up slamming right into Nick as I round the corner on my way to the stairs.
“Gretchen,” he says with a huge smile. “I thought you were out today.”
Stupid, Gretchen. Top-notch stupid.
Can’t exactly pretend the full-on body crash didn’t happen, so I might as well face him now instead of later. It’s not like he’s the type to let things go anyway.
I back up a step. “Nope, I’m here.”
“You’re not trying to avoid me, are you?” he teases.
“Whatever gave you that idea?” I ask with full-throttle sarcasm. “I’ve been nothing but nice to you since we met.”
He laughs at my joke, but his grin quickly turns into a scowl of concern. “I really was worried about you all weekend. After what happened at the club, I thought—”
“Nothing happened,” I interrupt, ready with my stupid story.
“Nothing happened?” he says with a humorless laugh. “You beat the hell out of two creeps and they disappeared right out from under—”
Before he can finish his sentence and blurt out everything right in front of the stream of students swarming around us, I grab him by the T-shirt and yank him through the crowd, across the hall, and into the empty computer lab. I don’t want to deal with a school full of red-flag-raising questions and gossip. I’m not messing around anymore.