Dark Road Awakened

First 2 Chapters as promised. Any thoughts?

 

Chapter One

 

“What?” Bella exclaimed. She couldn’t understand how none of the senior tutors qualified for the lead tutor position. She couldn’t believe what the principal had said. The Tutor Group had a standard. She maintained the required GPA. It wasn’t impossible to accomplish. What Principal Owen said didn’t make any sense to her. “What does this mean for the Tutor group?”

“It simply means the group will be going in a new direction.”

She blinked confused by his response. What kind of answer is that? Bella watched as he reached into his drawer, pulled out a file and a set of keys. She stared wide eyed as he placed them on the desk in front of her. He can’t be serious!

“With the full support of the entire faculty I’ve elected you as this year’s Head Tutor.”

Bella jumped to her feet and shook her head. “No. I can’t! I won’t! I’m not a senior! I’m not even a leader!”

“You’re the only person that has the required GPA.”

There had to be someone else in the tutor group at Jackson Heights. Think Bella, think. She ran through names in her head and spouted a few off. “Regina McKamey.”

“No.”

“Sean Johnson.”

“No.”

“Meg O’Brien.”

“No. Like I said, no senior has the GPA.”

Bella shook her head and went through more names in her head. I’m missing someone. Who am I missing? Like a slap in the face, it hit her. “What about Victor Hilliard?”

“I’m not familiar with him.”

Bella grinned. “He just transferred from Blanding Wood and he’s a senior.”

Principal Owen sighed. “You know I can’t use the GPA of a transfer student until after the first semester.”

“What if I voucher for him? I’ve known him since we were kids.”

“Even with your word, no matter how honest it is, I still can’t place him as Head Tutor.”

How can I convince him? Bella stepped around the chair and walked off some of her anxiety as ideas pummeled her brain from multiple directions. She shouted the first one that made sense. “Vick has leadership skills that I don’t. He’s a natural-born leader. Always stays in control.”

“Didn’t I hear you tell Mrs. Brown you became lead soloist in your church?”

Bella stopped pacing and looked at Principal Owen. It shouldn’t matter what she’d told his administrative assistant less than five minutes earlier. “Well, yes, but that’s just singing. I don’t have to plan or organize or assign anything.”

“And yet it’s still a leadership position.”

“It’s singing.”

Principal Owen opened his mouth to say something, but stopped. Bella didn’t know why, but his lack of response made her nervous. Instead, he just sat there as if he tried to come up with a suitable argument to get her to accept the position. Why can’t he accept I don’t want it? Bella knew if she took the position, she would be more notable around school and all she wanted to do was blend for the next two years. She only wanted to survive high school, not make it more difficult. Unable to bear the silence any longer, Bella spoke. “Please, please just give the position to Vick.”

“Rules are meant to be bent and adjusted, not broken. So, I’ll make you a deal. You take the position for the first semester. If at the end of the semester Mr. Hilliard’s GPA matches yours, then I will offer the position to him.”

Bella sighed, walked back to the chair and sat. Doesn’t seem like I have any other choice. Annoyed she couldn’t get anyone else in the position, she nodded. “Okay.” Reluctantly she accepted the folders and keys Principal Owen passed across his desk to her. With too much on her shoulders she gathered her belongings and stood. “If you don’t need me for anything else…”

“No. That’s all.”

She quirked her brows and half nodded as she left the Principal’s office. Bella paused by the administrative desk and softly frowned at the overly plump woman with short curly gray hair in a plum colored, too tight dress suit. “Mrs. Brown, did you know?”

“Yes, I did.”

“You couldn’t have warned me?”

Mrs. Brown smiled. “Don’t worry, Bella. You’ll do fine. And if you have any questions, you can always ask me or Principal Owen.”

“Thanks. I’ll remember that.” Even if she expected there would be questions, Bella wasn’t in a hurry to run to the two people she currently considered traitors. Making it through the year quietly isn’t going to happen. Just my luck. She sighed again, stepped around the counter, pushed open the administrative office door, and bumped right into another girl.

Both girls ended up dropping the collective notebooks in their hands. Bella got to her knees first and started gathering up her items. The other girl moved a bit slower. They both looked up simultaneously and started to apologize when recognition settled on their faces.

“Z…” Bella mumbled. She knew the other girl all too well. They had been best friends until a year ago. She couldn’t remember all the details, but the major points of their fight still stuck out in her mind.

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t Miss Goody-Two-Shoes. Should’ve known you’d get to school early. Trying to avoid the crowd?” The other girl snickered.

“Sarresh…” Bella started, but she didn’t really know what to say. What do I say? I’m sorry? No. It’s still true. She sighed and tried to be cordial. “How are you?”

“You don’t have to be nice. I know how much of a bitch you really are.” Sarresh crossed her arms.

“I’m not a… that word. I’m not,” Bella replied.

Sarresh laughed. “You still can’t even say it. Bitch. And yes, you are.”

“It’s an ugly word! And I don’t need to cuss to feel like I’m getting my point across.” So much for being … whatever… Sarresh deserves it. Bella was shocked by the thoughts that trampled her brain. When did I become so mean?

“Yeah, well, it still fits.”

“Why are you being like this?”

“You called me a slut!” Sarresh frowned.

“And I see it’s still true.” Bella couldn’t stop the words from coming out of her mouth. She hadn’t even realized she said it until she saw a look of hurt flicker across Sarresh’s face.

“You really are a bitch.”

Bella narrowed her eyes. “Calling me that name won’t change what you are. You must either think I’m blind or stupid. And if you think that, I wonder how much you expect that everyone won’t notice you’re –– ”

“Late for an a meeting with Principal Owen.” Sarresh shoved past Bella as she knocked Bella aside with her left shoulder.

Bella stood quietly outside the administrative office as she watched her former best-friend walk past her and push her aside like she was nothing. Bella had no idea if Sarresh planned to hide the pregnancy or deal with it. Inhaling a deep breath, Bella reminded herself it wasn’t any of her business what Sarresh did. Bella turned and headed back down the hallway to her locker. Thankfully her feet knew the direction because her mind had become mush. Pregnant? I can’t believe she’s pregnant. No matter how hard she tried, Bella couldn’t stop thinking about Sarresh and the revelation Bella had just gotten. I wish I had never run into her.

****

Bella picked at one of the slices of bread from her sandwich. Aside from her earlier encounter, the rest of the day had gone by smoothly. There was still another half to go, which made her less entertaining at lunch. She hadn’t eaten much or paid a whole lot of attention to her friends. So she hadn’t realized the table had nearly emptied until a set of fingers snapped in her face. She looked to her friend, Vick, and forced a smile. “Sorry.”

“What is the matter with you?”

Bella sighed as she threw the piece of smooshed bread on the table. “I ran into an old friend this morning.”

“You don’t mean that David character you told me about, do you?”

“No.” She frowned. Always the big brother. “I ran into Sarresh.”

“And?”

“We had words.”

“Well, I hope you told her you weren’t going to be friends again. You don’t need that kind of influence in your life.” Vick wiped his face with a napkin, then picked up the piece of bread she’d thrown on the table and added it to his trash. “Are you finished picking at your lunch?”

She nodded and watched him collect their trash. All of their friends described Vick as a young DMX with class and none of the drama. Vick had similar features: the dark skin, the slight appearance of a mustache and beard that he’d only started to grow over the summer, and the bald head. Bella desperately wanted to defend Sarresh to him, although she didn’t exactly know how or why. She also knew he would refuse any of what she said unless it supported his thoughts about Sarresh. He was the big brother she didn’t have, but often wanted. Right now what she wanted was someone who could quiet her brain.

“Bella!” Vick snapped his fingers in her face again.

Startled, she jumped. “What?”

“I asked if you were ready to go?”

She nodded and stood. They walked toward the cafeteria doors side by side.

“I hope you haven’t been doing that all day.”

“Doing what?”

“Blanking out like that. What is going on in that head of yours anyways?”

Bella sighed. More than I want to tell you. “No. I haven’t been blanking out. I just wasn’t paying attention here in lunch.”

“Well, it needs to stop.”

“Yes, Dad.” She smirked and saluted him.

“I hate when you do that.”

She grinned. “Then stop telling me what to do.”

He frowned as he opened the door and let her out first. “I will do so, until the day I die.”

“Then I will mock you until the day you die.” Bella smiled. She and Vick met when she was three. They were at the playground and some boy had put sand in her hair. Vick promptly defended her and scared the boy off, then checked to make sure she was okay. To this day, neither knew what made him do so, but they’d been friends since. They found out later their parents knew each other, but had lost touch after college. Somehow, during that time he’d started to play the role of older and protective brother. Bella tilted her head and looked at him. Maybe he’s always done that.

“What? Do I have something on my face?”

She bit her tongue and scrunched her mouth shut as she tried not to laugh and point out his failing attempt to grow a beard.

He frowned. “You can stop any time now.”

“I can’t help it. You open yourself up for it every time.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Vick shook his head. “Now that you’re brain has re-inhabited your body, care to tell me about this attempt you made this morning to make me Head Tutor?”

“Principal Owen told you?”

“Yes. I’m not sure he meant to, but he did.”

Bella groaned. “I didn’t mean for you to find out. Wait, did he tell you about our arrangement too?”

“After the news was out, he kind of had to.”

“Great. Just great.”

“I don’t get it. Why aren’t you happy about the promotion?”

Bella sighed and wondered how much she should tell him. Oh heck. “Because I’ve already made enough of a name for myself. I don’t need to give the other students more ammunition to torture me with. I just want to make it through high school and I prefer quietly.”

“Torture? What are you talking about?”

“Vick, come on. I’m Christian. I don’t dress like any other girl in this school and let’s not go into who my parents are.”

“What’s wrong with who your parents are?”

“In my eyes nothing. Here, at school, to everyone else? Everything. My dad is the Youth Pastor at the Juvenile Detention Center. My mom not only helps with the church finances, but she runs the church daycare. Then add everything about me and you have… well, stick around and you’ll find out.” Bella hated telling Vick all the things he didn’t know. She hadn’t said much about exactly what people called her, but she said enough to give him an idea.

The bell rung as they approached Bella’s locker. She suspected Vick may have formulated some thoughts on what she attempted to explain, but his ideas probably didn’t compare to the truth. Aside from the minor scuffle that morning, her day had been pretty quiet, which was unusual. Bella normally got accosted first thing in the morning at her locker. She likely avoided that by getting to school early. Leaving lunch early probably would have worked too, except they didn’t leave early enough.

“Welcome back prude.”

Bella sighed, looked at Vick and just shook her head as she worked on gathering books for her next two classes. She didn’t have to look to know the first comment came from Heather Warren, the most popular girl in school, as well as Head Cheerleader.

“I can’t believe you had the nerve to come back. Especially after that whole ordeal with my brother last year.” Heather smiled and flipped her sleek, midnight blue-black hair over her shoulder.

Bella grabbed her last book and slammed her locker shut. The moment she tried to pull Vick away was the moment he opened his mouth.

“I don’t care who you are, but you need to show some respect.” Vick glared at Heather and the two other girls that hovered nearby.

“You must be new here.” Heather smiled. “So, let me explain the pecking order. Me, Captain, top. Her, loser, bottom. I don’t care how you know her, but you’re way too cute to be hanging around her. I’ll give you this one chance to wise up and join us.”

“Let’s try this again.” Vick smirked. “You, bully, loser, bottom. Me, older, brother, top. Get it?”

Bella snaked her arm through Vick’s and tugged him away. “Come on.”

Heather mockingly frowned. “Yeah, brother. Go on. Shoo. Because with an attachment like that, you’ll never be on top.”

The three girls waved them away.

“Virgin Walking,” one of Heather’s followers called out.

“Here comes the Cat Lady,” the other follower said.

Then all three meowed, laughed, and walked away.

Bella hadn’t gotten very far since Vick fought her attempt to get him to move. With no desire to stand there any longer she let go of his arm and started pushing her way through the gathered crowd. I will not cry. I will not cry. The words hadn’t changed any since last Spring, but they hurt every time she heard them.

It didn’t take Vick long to catch up with Bella. “How can you let them do that to you?”

She shrugged. “Mom always says to ‘turn the other cheek.'”

“Why? Because that’s what the Bible says?” Vick frowned.

Bella nodded. They were both Christian and knew what the Good Book said about the enemy. It didn’t make what she did any easier, but she prayed every night for the courage needed to make it through.

“B, you can’t seriously put up with that.”

“And exactly what would you have me do? Tell them off? Because it only makes things worse.” Bella snapped more than she intended to.

“How does it make things worse? Generally by standing up to a bully, you let them know that you aren’t cannon fodder.”

“Yeah, sure.” She sighed. It seemed pointless to correct her friend and tell him how in her experience it usually made it worse, nearly as bad as avoiding the situation. Maybe if she was lucky, she could hide her newly appointed position. Who am I kidding? Bella knew better. She tutored Heather’s brother, David and he had already proved he wouldn’t give Bella up for anything.

“You do realize I’m not going to let them keep teasing you like that, right?”

She nodded before her brain fully wrapped around Vick’s statement. “What?”

“I’m not going to let them hurt you anymore.”

Bella stopped and stared at her friend. “Vick, please. Please don’t do anything. You’ll make it worse. I can handle it.”

“Can you? Because from what I just saw, that isn’t handling it. It’s accepting it.” Vick crossed his arms. “So either you deal with it or I will. We clear?”

Big brother at work. She sighed and nodded. “Fine. I’ll see you after school.” Refusing to give him another opportunity to inject himself into her life, Bella walked away.

****

“What are you gonna do?”

“I don’t have a choice,” Bella replied. With the end of the school day, she and her friend walked side by side. The two girls had some similarities, but were noticeably different. On one hand Bella had mocha-colored skin, mid-back length, midnight black hair and hazel eyes. On the other hand her friend had bleach-clean-white-colored skin, shoulder-length, dirty blonde hair and huge brown eyes.

“All I have to say is that I wanna be there. You have to let me be there when you tell Heather off.”

Bella snickered. “Alex, I’m not planning for a particular time or day or anything. I’ll just do it whenever I do it.”

“Oh come on!” Alex begged. “I’ve never seen anyone have the guts to tell Heather Warren off.”

Bella laughed. “All right. I will do my best to wait until you are around.”

“Thank you!” Alex smiled.

The rest of the afternoon had gone by quietly. Bella hadn’t thought too much about Sarresh, though her mind had wandered a few times. Thankfully that ended in her last period because she had her friend to talk to about other things besides her ex-best-friend. All the talking the two had done halted as they rounded the corner of the hallway Bella’s locker was at. This can’t be happening.

“Do you need me to stick around?”

Bella sighed. “No. I’ll have to deal with him sooner or later. Might as well be now.”

“Okay, but you know if he’s there he’s glutting for punishment.”

“I don’t think it’s so much punishment. I think he somehow got the idea that he’ll eventually wear me down and I’ll say yes.”

Alex shook her head. “Which to this day, I don’t understand why you don’t. I mean, David Warren.”

“Yeah, related to Heather Warren.”

“You know, maybe after you tell her off you’ll feel more inclined to say ‘yes’ to David.” Alex wiggled her brows.

Bella tilted her head and considered it a moment. “I’ll still say ‘no.'”

“But why? He’s so fine, I could just eat him up. Let’s not forget he’s the most popular guy in school and captain of the soccer team.”

“With all that, I’m still dying to know why he wants to go out with me,” Bella replied.

Alex grinned. “And you’re still too chicken to ask.”

“Yeah. I want to know, but that doesn’t mean I really want to know.”

Alex shook her head and chuckled. “That doesn’t even make sense.” Smiling, the girl backed away. “Go on. Go reject him for, what, the fiftieth time?”

Bella shrugged. “Heck if I know. I stopped counting after the tenth.” Once her friend disappeared down the other side of the hall, Bella walked on to her locker. She moved slowly in silent hopes David would get tired of waiting and leave. No such luck. She sighed again and closed the distance between her and David. Alex was right though. Bella had begun to believe she was insane for saying “no” to David. He was quite attractive. He stood over six feet tall compared to her five feet and two inches. Forget about all that luscious, blue-black, wavy hair and those piercing blue eyes of his. If Bella hadn’t known better, she’d swear he could see right into her soul with those eyes. To her, his eyes stuck out, but they weren’t even the cream of the package. His musculature was well-toned and perfectly defined. He dressed with style and had a smile that could charm its way into almost any girl’s world. For some reason, since last spring, he’d been trying hard to get into Bella’s world.

“Hey Bella,” David said.

She smiled to him. “Hey. Have you been waiting long?”

“No.”

“Good,” she replied and opened her locker. “What’s up?”

“I heard you got the Head Tutor position. I wanted to come by and congratulate you.”

Bella quirked a brow. “How did you hear?”

“Principal Owen told me when I stopped in to sign up for tutoring with you this year.”

She focused on the books she would need for her homework because it kept her from saying something stupid.

“Anyways, he told me you may not be tutoring this year since you’d have your plate full, but that I could check with you.”

“Oh.” How nice of him. For a moment, she allowed herself to think about how much she would enjoy a year without having to tutor David. Then she remembered the fight he had put up last year when she tried to dump him on someone else. It had been just after the Spring Formal. She brutally rejected him in front of the entire school and their tutoring sessions afterward had gotten awkward. David had yelled at the Head Tutor back then and refused to have anyone except Bella tutor him. Bella looked from her books at David and wondered if he would react the same. He was a senior, so, regardless this would be their last year together.

“I get it if you really are too busy, but please don’t say you are just to get rid of me.”

Guess that answers my question. Bella sighed. “I’ll still have time.”

David nodded. “Good, I’m glad. When do we get together for our first session?”

“I’ve got an emergency tutor meeting for tomorrow afternoon, so how about Wednesday after school?”

“Perfect. I’ll see you then.”

She blinked as David turned to walk away. Her mouth opened and she spoke before she could stop herself. “You aren’t going to ask me out again?”

David looked at Bella. “Would you say ‘yes’ if I did?”

She shook her head.

“Then no. When there comes a time I believe you will say ‘yes’, then I will ask you out again.” He flashed her his charming smile and walked away.

 

 

Chapter Two

Bella pulled a couple of books out of her locker. She’d planned to come in early, but hadn’t made herself do it. She dreaded going over the requests already coming in for tutors. The leg work hadn’t thrown her for a loop, just the organization. After a conversation with her parents the night before, she accepted the position might give her something she needed.

“Look what the cat dragged in.” Heather snickered as she paused behind Bella. Heather’s tag-a-longs took up a spot beside Bella. The three girls effectively cornered Bella against her locker.

“Are you sure it was a cat and not an old, frumpy, cat lady with no taste in clothes?”

Bella looked at the one who had just spoken.

“Well, Missy, you’re right about the clothes and she does smell a little like mothballs.” Heather grinned.

Bella sighed and turned back to her books. Missy Watkins, a prickly blonde that made witch sound like a compliment stood to Bella’s left. Missy was also on the cheerleading squad with Heather and pretty much second in command. The third in their little group, Cassie Shows, an uptight red-head to complete their sensational color wheel stood to Bella’s right. There hadn’t been one time where they’d ever been without each other. It was like their meanness tethered them all together the first day Heather Warren showed up at Jackson Heights. From that point forward they were joined together and generally made Bella’s life a living nightmare.

Cassie grinned. “I bet it’s the clothes that smell. They’re probably hand-me-downs from her grandmother.”

They normally poked at her clothes. Bella continued to dig around in her locker, but she’d lost track of what for. So I wear long skirts. I don’t get the big deal. Today she had on a dark denim skirt, a short-sleeve white button-up trimmed with lace, and brown flats. Like always her hair was pulled back in a braid. So she was different. She wore long skirts and they wore short-barely-cover-your-behind skirts. I don’t have body issues, but I don’t need to show it off either.

“You know, with all these rags, I’m really curious as to what your brother saw in her.” Missy stated.

Heather laughed. “That’s easy. He felt sorry for her.”

Bella’s hand tightened around the book in her hand. For the first time ever, she wanted to do something unladylike and undesirable. As grand as smacking Heather upside the head with the book sounded, Bella knew better. Instead she slammed her locker shut and turned around unaware a crowd had gathered. “Listen up and listen good. I don’t care what the heck you think about my clothes because I’m well aware of why you choose to pick on me. I have something you don’t.”

“Like I’d want bad taste –– ”

“Shut up!” Bella snapped. “I’m not finished. I have pride in who I am and I stand for something you can never get back. I still have the chance to give myself when I choose to because I love that person. You can’t. You gave it away to the first guy that walked in the door. And now that they’re losing interest, you do and say whatever you need to, to make yourself feel better. Well it ends here. I don’t care what a couple of sluts think of me because you can’t take away what I’ve got.”

“Why you little –– ”

“Don’t even try it Heather. Because I’m fairly certain you just went from the top to the bottom in five seconds flat, but I guess you’re used it.” Bella smirked and shoved the three girls aside as if they were nothing but annoying flies. It wasn’t until she made her way through the crowd and felt an arm hook hers that she realized a mix of clapping and laughter now filled the hall.

“That was awesome!” Alex said.

“I guess you heard.”

“Dude, I think a whole bunch of people heard.” Alex grinned. “I bet by lunchtime the cafeteria will be buzzing with this bit of juicy gossip. It isn’t everyday Heather Warren gets put in her place.”

Bella shrugged. “Yeah, that’s true. Especially by someone like me.”

“Doesn’t matter who. Okay, scratch that. It is a bigger deal because you did it.”

Bella nodded. “Yeah. Now, can we stop talking about it? Otherwise, I think I might throw up.”

Alex laughed. “Don’t ruin it.”

****

All eyes went to Bella the moment she stepped through the cafeteria doors. She paused for a second before the loudest whispering she’d ever heard filled the room. The only thing she had prayed for all day was that by lunch everyone would’ve forgotten about her little excursion with Heather. She sighed. I guess not. As she moved for her table a couple of students stopped to congratulate her. She hadn’t expected the kind of support she received. Quietly she slipped into the table and hoped no one else said anything.

“I said stand up for yourself, not go all loco.” Vick sat across from Bella.

She quirked a brow. “What are you talking about?”

“It’s all over school how you snapped and ripped Heather’s hair out.”

“Are you sure?”

Vick said, “Yes. I’m positive.”

“Well, I hate to correct you, but you have been grossly misinformed.”

He shrugged. “I’m just repeating what I was told.”

“It’s wrong! I didn’t touch the witch!”

Vick laughed and held up a hand. “Then tell me what really happened.”

Bella sighed. “I simply called her a slut and told her that I had something she couldn’t get back because she put out to the first guy that walked through the door.”

“Yeah. I definitely heard something completely different.”

“I did too,” Alex said as she slid in beside Bella. “And I was there to witness the whole thing. I’m telling you, I didn’t think something could get so out of hand. But it has. I’ve heard about six different versions of what went down.”

“Six?” Bella asked. “You can’t be serious.”

Alex nodded. “I heard you punched the shit out of her.”

“I heard you ripped out her hair. That was my favorite.” Vick grinned.

“I didn’t even touch her hair!” Bella cried out.

Alex shook her head. “I like the one about her with the trucker mouth.”

Trucker mouth? Bella swallowed as a lump formed in her throat. She’s never cussed in her life. How could she from sweet and innocent to dirty trucker and not hear about it?

“I don’t think I heard that one,” Vick said.

“Oh?” Alex smiled. “That one was awesome, but I’m not sure I should repeat those words. They were kind of ugly.”

Bella considered interceding, but it was pointless. Her friends appeared to have fun as they discussed the various stories about her interaction with Heather earlier that morning.

“Really?” Vick asked.

Alex nodded. “Yep. It was bad, but that wasn’t my favorite.”

“Was it the one where she knocked Heather on her butt?”

“I never touched her!” Bella exclaimed.

“Nope.”

“What about the one where she back-handed Heather?”

“I never…” Bella started, but realized it was fruitless. They’d stopped listening to her.

“Nope.”

“Then which one?” Vick leaned forward.

Alex grinned and wiggled her brows. “My favorite is the one where Bella gave a couple bucks and told Heather ‘I’m just paying you for your time like the whore you are.'”

“I’m sorry, I said what?” Bella flipped her gaze to Alex.

“Hey, I’m just telling you what I heard.”

Unable to help herself Bella stared blankly at Alex. “You corrected that information, right?”

Alex shook her head.

Bella looked from Alex to Vick. “What about you?”

“Well, I didn’t hear that one and I wasn’t there.”

“What does that matter? You know me. You can’t honestly tell me that any of these things sound like something I would do.” Bella threw her sandwich on the table. She wouldn’t have done any of the stories her friends repeated. Yet they sat there and stared at her as if they couldn’t believe she’d really made such an outrageous claim.

Vick shrugged. “I figured it was possible. I mean, we haven’t seen a lot of each other this past year. Not to mention, it’s hard to say what people will do when they are pushed to the point of boiling.”

Alex looked from Vick to Bella. “Not that I want to agree with him, but his last point is valid.”

“But you were there!” Bella screeched. She cared little at the attention she’d started to draw to the three of them.

“Yeah, but you could’ve run into her later when I wasn’t around. Another scuffle could’ve gone down,” Alex replied.

Unable to believe her friend’s response, Bella’s jaw dropped open for a moment. Then she tightened her lips, narrowed her eyes and stood. She considered saying several different things, but only found one appropriate. “Ugh!” Bella flipped her braided hair over her shoulder and walked away leaving her untouched lunch behind. She had gotten half way to the cafeteria doors when a scene in the middle of the lunchroom called her attention. While Bella hadn’t heard what was said, what she saw settled heavily on her shoulders.

A pretty brunette sat at the table in the middle of the lunchroom, a table notoriously known to belong to Heather and her followers. Usually Heather’s boyfriend and a couple of his friends sat at the table with the girls. However, the guys sat with the new girl and waved Heather, Missy, and Cassie away. As Heather stormed off, her gaze locked with Bella’s.

Bella forced herself to look away from the heat that burned in Heather’s eyes, but she knew all too well what this meant. Bella’s life was about to get a hundred degrees hotter than Heather already made it.

****

Today sucks! Everyone is still talking about this morning and now I’m running late.Bella was inside her own head so much she hadn’t seen the person that stepped out of the library. With her head down, she flipped through the charts in her hand and toppled right into him. All of the files in her arms flew to the ground. “Oh my god. I’m so sorry. So sorry.”

“It’s okay,” he said as they both dropped to their knees and gathered their belongings.

“I’m really sorry. I’m late and I just wasn’t looking.”

“It’s cool. It happens.”

At that moment, they both looked up and stared at one another. Everything around them stopped and their world went silent.

Bella swallowed as she looked into a pair of breath-taking emerald green eyes of the best-looking guy she’d ever seen. He had short light-brown hair with bangs gently swept to the side and caramel-colored skin. Why is he heading this way?

He shook his head, smiled, and extended his hand. “I’m Jeremiah.”

She blinked at his offered hand. After a moment, she finally placed her hand in his and smiled. “I’m Christabel… I mean Bella… I mean… everybody calls me Bella.”

“Bella, that’s a nice name.”

“Thank you.” She shook her head collected the last of the files from the floor and noticed the yearbook on the floor as well.

Jeremiah picked up the yearbook and helped Bella to her feet as he stood. “Are you okay?”

She brushed down her skirt and looked at him again. Wow, he’s tall. “Um, yeah. You?”

“I’m good. What are you running late for?”

“What?”

“You said you were running late.” He smiled.

“Oh yeah. Um, a tutor meeting.”

He nodded. “Can I walk you the rest of the way?”

Bella nibbled on her bottom lip and glanced to the floor. “It’s actually just right here.”

“The library?”

She nodded. “Yeah. We’ve got a room in there we use.”

“Well, I don’t want to keep you from helping anyone.”

“Oh, we haven’t started those sessions yet. It’s just a meeting to get all the tutors together.”

Jeremiah nodded. “Will they mind you’re late?”

She shrugged. “Possibly, but they can’t start without me. I’m kind of the leader.”

The library door opened behind Jeremiah and Vick stepped out. He rushed around Jeremiah to Bella’s side. “B, where’ve you been?”

“I was on my way in. Go on back, I’ll be there in a second.”

Vick crossed his arms. “I’ll wait here. We can walk in together.”

Ugh! Why is he so stubborn? “Fine.” Bella rolled her eyes.

Vick smiled. “Good. Now, who’s this?”

Bella sighed. “Vick, this is Jeremiah. Jeremiah, this is my friend Vick.”

The two guys shook hands.

“Jeremy!” A girl called out. “Come on, we gotta go.”

Bella glanced over her shoulder to see the girl who approached. She didn’t know her name, but recognized her from earlier. She caused a scene in the lunchroom with Heather. Bella sighed. I wonder if she’s his girlfriend.

Jeremiah pulled his hand from the handshake first and glanced past Bella. “I’ll be there in a second Mandy.”

The girl crossed her arms and tapped her foot.

Jeremiah returned his attention to Bella. “It was nice to meet you. Would it be possible to see you again?”

Bella blinked. Did he just ask me out? She glanced at Vick out of her periphery and partially smiled at the frown settled on his face. Then she realized Jeremiah still awaited an answer. “Um, yeah. I’m sure we’ll see each other around school.”

Jeremiah nodded. “I’m certain of that, but what about outside of school?”

Bella blinked. She wanted to glance back at the pretty girl she knew stood several feet behind her, but she refused to look. She shook the thoughts from her head. “Um, maybe at church. If you go. I mean, I go.”

“Oh yeah? What church? I’ve heard there’s a few in town.”

She nodded and opened her mouth, but Vick interrupted before Bella got the chance to respond. “UC Fellowship.” Vick hooked his arm in Bella’s and pulled her around Jeremiah to the library door.

“Bye.” Bella called out as Vick dragged her inside. Once the door closed behind them and he released her she glared at Vick. “Why’d you do that?”

“Because I couldn’t stand there and watch the two of you flirt any longer.” Vick groaned and continued to the room where the tutor group waited.

“Flirt? I? What?” Bella had no clue what Vick meant. She chased after him filled with a million questions, none of which she asked. Was that flirting? Did I really flirt? How do you know what flirting is? Have you ever flirted? Have I ever flirted before?

****

Jeremiah spun around and watched as Bella got pulled away from him. Once out of sight, he walked on down the hall toward the girl who still waited for him.

“Crikey. What the hell took so long?” Mandy asked.

“You remember the girl from this morning?”

“Nope, sure don’t.”

He sighed. “Sometimes, sis, I really wonder what we should do with you. Anyways, I just met the girl all the rumors are flying around about.”

“I hope it isn’t the bitchy one. I met her at lunch and I don’t like her.”

Jeremiah shook his head. “No, Mandy. The other one.”

“Oh. Well, whatever.”

He grinned. “I like her.”

“Oh God. We haven’t even been at school one day and already you met someone? How is that even possible?”

“Because I accepted this could be a good move.”

Mandy shook her head. “Only in your mind. I want everything to blow up so we can move back to California.”

Jeremiah sighed. “You can’t really be this selfish.”

“If only you knew, little brother.”

“You might actually like it here, if you just give it a chance.”

Mandy rolled her eyes. “Says you. This has been a pretty shitty day.”

“It couldn’t have been that bad.”

Mandy bopped her head back and forth, then shrugged. “Maybe not. I mean, I did get to tell that bitchy girl off and watch her boyfriend dump her. That was fun.”

Jeremiah laughed. “I really don’t know about you sometimes.”

“Hey, we all have our moments. You met a sweet church girl and I got to be a little bitchy myself. It all worked out.”

“Now as long as Mom and Dad don’t find out about your change of clothes, your day will be complete.”

Mandy quirked a brow. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Sure. Keep telling yourself that.” Jeremiah grinned as he pushed the door open and headed outside to the parked van, where their mother waited. He opened the front passenger side door and glanced once more back at the school.

 

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