Storm Page 12

’’That\s Jocelyn Kanter\s seat,’’ she said under her breath. ’’You gonna make her fight you for it later?’’

He stopped, turned his head, and looked at her from under his bangs. ’’You too?’’

’’I\m not the one who picked a fight over a chair.’’

He looked away, so she did, too, staring down at the glossy pages of her textbook. From the corner of her eye, she saw New Kid glance her way, but she kept her gaze down and flipped a page, not wanting to make eye contact.

Furniture scraped along the tile floor. Students were moving desks, shifting the writing surfaces together. Becca threw her head up. What had she missed?

They seemed to be turning six rows of desks into three. She started pushing her desk to the right, watching the others to make sure she was following instructions she hadn\ heard.

’’What are we doing?’’ she whispered to Chris.

’’Succumbing to the whims of a bitter old man.’’ He shoved his desk the rest of the way, until it was up against hers.

She sighed. ’’I meant ’’

’’Rewriting a peace treaty,’’ he said. ’’Semester project.’’

Talk about a thrill-a-minute. ’’Why are we moving the desks?’’

He snorted. ’’Who the hell knows. He probably read about this in a teachers\ magazine.’’

’’Quickly, everyone,’’ said Beamis. ’’Quickly. Now that you\ e partnered, you will work together over the next six weeks ’’

The class erupted in groans, and several girls scrambled to change seats so they could be together.

She and Chris didn\ move for the longest moment.

’’Great,’’ said Chris, his tone flat.

’’Sorry,’’ she snapped. ’’I\m sure you\d rather be with Monica.’’

But Monica looked all too pleased to be partnered with New Kid. Two rows over, Tommy was fuming, sprawled in his chair, completely ignoring his partner Anthony Denton, the scrawny boy who was two years younger than everyone else because he\d skipped a couple grades in elementary school.

’’Do you know the new guy?’’ said Chris. ’’He keeps looking at you.’’

She glanced up in surprise. New Kid was writing in his notebook, not looking anywhere near her.

Chris leaned in. ’’Earlier.’’

Becca looked down and doodled on the corner of her paper, feeling warm. Chris was so close, his voice dark and intimate like it had been in his bedroom the night before.

Her tongue felt tied in knots, so she just shrugged. ’’Not really.’’

He went silent for a while, every now and again copying instructions from the assignment as Beamis outlined the structure of the grading.

He kept his eyes on his paper and said, ’’Look. If you want to partner with someone else, I get it.’’

Did he not want to be with her? ’’It\s fine,’’ she said quickly. Then she added, ’’It\s only six weeks.’’

He gave a short, humorless laugh. ’’I\ll try to suffer through it, too.’’

She had no idea what that meant.

A folded piece of paper flew through the air and landed on the center of her book. She jumped.

Tommy Dunleavy was hiding a smirk. Her throat felt tight. Now? Really?

Chris reached out and grabbed it.

’’No!’’ she hissed, trying to take it back. ’’Give that to ’’

Then he had it open in front of him. With their seats so close together, she could read it over his arm.

$5 Sucky sucky?

Gross. She snatched it out of his hands and crumpled it up.

Her cheeks burned. Her eyes weren\ far behind. Seeing the notes privately was bad enough. Having a guy like Chris Merrick read them right in front of her was a million times worse.

’’Hey. Dunleavy.’’ Chris\s voice carried a shred of wicked humor.

Tommy looked over his shoulder. His eyes were amused, and a dark smile still hung on the edge of his lips. He sat ready for his efforts to be appreciated. ’’Yeah?’’

Chris took the crumpled ball of paper out of her hands and flung it. ’’F*k off.’’

Tommy came halfway out of his seat, his hands balled into fists.

Chris came halfway out of his.

’’Gentlemen!’’ Beamis was knocking on his desk, though Becca couldn\ imagine what he expected that to do. Chris hadn\ moved farther;his glare locked on Tommy now.

The class sat frozen, Becca included.

’’Christopher,’’ said Mr. Beamis. ’’Take a visit to the office.’’

And though she was staring at him, Chris didn\ look at her. He just shoved his books into his bag, slung it over his shoulder, and strode out of the classroom.

’’So let me get this straight,’’ said Quinn, spinning her water bottle in her hands. The rain seemed to be holding off, so they had the lunch table to themselves again. ’’He threw the note at Tommy and then told him to f**k off? Or do I have it backwards?’’

’’I\m detecting some sarcasm.’’

’’And then got himself sent to the principal\s office because he was ready to defend your honor?’’

’’Quinn.’’

Her friend waved a hand. ’’No, I think you might be on to something. This is clearly an elaborate plot to screw with you. He asks you out, he defends you from that meathead what next?’’ Quinn\s eyes flashed wide in mock surprise. ’’Crap, Bex, do you think he\ll do something truly horrible like buy you flowers?’’

Becca gave her a look. ’’So you think I should apologize.’’

’’No. I think you should give him a shot.’’ Quinn rolled her eyes and dropped her voice. ’’I think you should give someone a shot.’’

Becca chewed on her lip and peeled at the label of her water bottle.

A shadow fell across the table and a lunch tray slapped down next to Quinn.

Becca jerked her head up, surprised by the quick flutter in her chest.

But it wasn\ Chris it was New Kid.

She stared up at him. It took her brain a second to get it together.

’’Hey,’’ he said, dropping onto the bench beside Quinn. ’’Why do you sit all the way back here?’’

Quinn looked at him for a moment, then back at Becca. Her expression was some combination of bemused and incredulous. ’’Did you save his life, too?’’

New Kid picked up his fork and looked over. ’’Whose life did you save?’’

Becca opened her mouth, then closed it. Her brain was refusing to engage. She couldn\ figure out how to play this without knowing what his motives were. The quick and easy intimacy of discussing death in the aisle of Pets Plus didn\ exist here especially since she\d seen him sit head-to-head with Monica for fifty minutes.

’’Quinn\s just being silly.’’ She kept her voice disinterested. ’’You ... ah, you\ e eating with us?’’

His whole tray was full of healthy food grilled chicken, steamed vegetables, brown rice. No wonder he\d gotten through the line so quickly. He went for the stuff most kids wouldn\ touch.

He peeled the lid off something that looked like sliced fruit. ’’That all right?’’

Quinn put an elbow on the table and gave him a level look. ’’She wants to know why.’’

He raised an eyebrow. ’’I\m hungry and I don\ know anyone else?’’

Becca wasn\ going to buy any poor-little-new-kid crap now. ’’You seemed to be getting to know Monica Lawrence pretty well.’’

He met her gaze head on, a spark of boldness in his green eyes. ’’Oh,’’ he said, his voice flat. ’’You mean instead of sitting here, I could hear all about Monica\s badass cheer routine and where she gets her highlights done and how some girl named Claire, who\s a total whore by the way ’’

’’Okay, okay.’’ Becca couldn\ help the smile.

’’No, wait. I\m just getting going.’’ He sliced into his chicken.

’’Claire is a total whore,’’ said Quinn. ’’She and Monica sit behind me in Trig.’’

Becca watched New Kid work the cutlery. ’’Bet you wish you\d given up your seat now, huh?’’

’’Oh.’’ Quinn settled back on the bench and gave him a more appraising look. ’’This is that guy.’’

He looked thrown for a second. ’’That guy?’’

Quinn nodded. ’’Pet store hero, ex-police-dog owner, seat stealer.’’

Trust her best friend to be absolutely direct. Becca glanced away and tucked her hair behind her ear. ’’I might have mentioned you.’’

’’She spilled all your secrets,’’ said Quinn.

’’Yeah?’’ He sliced off a piece of chicken and glanced across the table. ’’What\s my name, Becca?’’

Busted. Becca wanted to melt into a puddle.

Quinn grinned. ’’You mean it\s not really New Kid?’’

Becca kicked her under the table. ’’That\s not fair. I was wearing a name tag.’’

’’It\s Hunter.’’ His fork went still as he held her eyes. ’’Want me to write it down?’’

Yeah, with your number. Talking to him felt entirely different from sitting with Chris, exhilarating and challenging and breathless all at once like running a race.

’’Nah, I\ve got it,’’ she said.

He picked up a forkful of broccoli. ’’Was Chris the same one those guys were looking for last night?’’

She lost the smile. ’’Yeah.’’

’’I shouldn\ have been a kon*** about the seat. I didn\ realize you\d get stuck with him.’’

There was a thread of disdain woven through his voice. She frowned. ’’He\s okay.’’

’’He looks like a thug.’’

’’Those guys did that to him.’’

Hunter must have heard the tone in her voice, but he didn\ back off. ’’Somehow I get the impression it might have been deserved.’’

Becca stared at him for a moment, torn over whether to defend Chris. Hunter didn\ help, either, just looking at her across the table as if he could hear her thoughts fighting it out.

’’What\s with the white hair?’’ said Quinn.

He broke the eye contact with Becca and smiled at her friend. ’’I thought you knew all my secrets.’’

Now Quinn blushed.

His smile turned into a grin. He looked down at his tray and shoveled rice onto his fork. ’’You guys hitting that party tonight?’’

’’Which one?’’ Becca said drily. ’’We try to make the circuit.’’

He smiled in a way that said he saw right through her. ’’Well and I want to make sure I get this straight Monica said Claire said her boyfriend\s best friend\s brother was home from college with that skank Melissa ’’

’’No,’’ said Becca sharply. ’’We\ e not.’’

His eyebrows went up.

’’Jesus,’’ said Quinn. ’’You followed that?’’

Becca faltered, knowing she sounded like a freak. But Claire\s boyfriend was Matt Carpenter. The goalie of the soccer team.

And Drew McKay\s best friend.

’’I might have to work,’’ she said lamely. Her heart was kicking.

’’I hear you,’’ he said.

’’You said you weren\ working tonight,’’ said Quinn. ’’Free and clear, you said.’’

Becca slapped her water bottle on the table. ’’Damn it, Quinn.’’

’’Free and clear, huh?’’ Hunter said.

’’Look,’’ she said, hearing her voice come out choked. She had to clear her throat. ’’That party is going to be at Drew McKay\s house... .’’

’’Old boyfriend?’’

’’No.’’

’’Yes,’’ said Quinn. When Becca glared at her, she shrugged. ’’It\s true.’’

His pierced eyebrow lifted. ’’Still carry a torch?’’

’’No,’’ she snapped.

Hunter was just looking at her, his eyes bright and challenging again. Her breath caught. Forget running a race this felt like dancing.

’’In or out?’’ he said.


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