The next morning brings my second day at Arden Prep. I pull my uniform on, haphazardly throw my hair into a ponytail, and pick up my bag as I leave my room. Leo is flipping pancakes on the stove as I enter the kitchen. I take a seat on one of the bar stools at the island and stare over at him.
“You know, you don’t have to make me breakfast every morning. I can fend for myself.” I tell him, resting my chin on my palm.
He shrugs, “I leave not long after you, so I’m not just making breakfast for you.”
“Okay, well, thank you anyway,” I tell him, perking up when he slides a plate of pancakes and sausage across the island to me. I smother the cakes in butter and syrup.
Leo laughs as he stares at me, “You’re so much like your mom.”
My mood instantly turns sour. We don’t talk about my parents much. When we do, it always seems to kill the mood. Leo lost his older sister that day two months ago and his brother-in-law. I had to remind myself that I wasn’t the only one hurting. I had to tell myself I was lucky. Yeah, I might be in Witness Protection, but at least the Marshal assigned to my case was my very own uncle. It was a unique situation and I was happy about it.
I clear my throat and look up at my uncle, “You miss her?”
He nods with a sad smile, “Every single day.”
“Sometimes I forget that I’m not alone in this. I forget that you also lost your sister, I’m sorry.” I tell him.
“It’s alright, Greer, you’re allowed to be a little selfish.” He tells me. “You know if you ever want to talk about what happened that night, I’m here right?”
I would never do that to him. He doesn’t need to know what exactly happened to his sister and brother-in-law that night. Besides, I don’t think I could ever talk about it again. U.S. Marshals made me see a psychologist after the incident. I was forced to sit in a lounge chair for two hours a day for three weeks straight to basically relive that night. There were so many times I started screaming, crying, and begging them not to make me talk about it again.
I nod, not sure what to say to him. I eat my food quickly in silence. Leo eats as well, avoiding eye contact. Talking about my parents makes us both feel awkward.
I break the tension before it breaks us, “So, what did Adam’s background check show?”
Leo laughs, “He’s as clean as a whistle.”
“I am a good judge in character,” I tell him.
Leo looks down at his watch and curses, “You’re about to be late.”
I shove one last link of sausage into my mouth before retrieving my car keys and backpack. I wave goodbye to my uncle before stepping outside. I slide into my car and turn over the engine. My favorite band plays over the speakers.
I stop for coffee really quick, knowing I’ll just make the warning bell. I have to jog into school once I park. As soon as I step foot into the polished hallways, the bell rings overhead. I stop at my locker, quickly gather my books, and speed walks to my first class. As soon as my butt touches my seat the last bell rings.
Adam laughs from his seat near me, rolling his eyes. I give him a small smile.
The teacher, Mr. Hammons, finishes writing his lecture on the board. I notice the words “Partner Project” and internally groan. Hopefully, we’ll get to choose our partners. That would give me more time to spend with Adam outside of school.
Two minutes later, my good mood is ruined. The door to the classroom opens wide and the most annoying boy I’ve ever met comes strolling in. Kaleb Nixon is wearing his leather jacket as usual and carrying an English textbook under his arm. There’s a pen pushed behind his ear.
“Mr. Nixon, you missed class yesterday.” Mr. Hammons says with a scowl.
“Oh no, the horror.” Kaleb smarts.
“Just take your seat, Kale.” Mr. Hammons says nothing about the attitude he was just given, he must get it a lot.
Kaleb reads the board, smirks, and then faces the teacher again. They talk in hushed whispers. Mr. Hammons rolls his eyes but ends up nodding to whatever Kaleb has asked of him. Kaleb crosses the room to take the only empty seat in the room. Which just so happens to be right beside me, could this day get any worse?
Kaleb gives me his world-famous smirk, but I ignore him.
“Alright, class,” Mr. Hammons leans back against his desk. “Yes, as you can see we are having partner projects this semester.”
Almost everyone in the class starts groaning.
“You will not get to pick your partners. I’ll be doing that.”
More collective groans.
Okay, folks, have you ever seen or read a high school romantic comedy? If you have, then you know exactly what happens next. But like I said before, my story is a tragedy and belongs in the bargain bin.
“First group: Kale Nixon and Greer Evans.” Mr. Hammons starts.
And there it is. The cliché moment that starts the romantic part of the comedy. This is where the nerdy girl starts to realize she loves the bad boy. But not that’s not this story. I’m not that girl and Kaleb Nixon is not that boy. I absolutely refuse to have anything to do with him. He drives me insane and honestly, I’ve never met anyone that makes me as frustrated as he does. Also, it’s not a good idea to get involved with anyone because of my current situation.
My eyes meet Kaleb’s and I hope he can feel the heat of my glare. This is not going to end well. Mr. Hammons finishes off pairing all of us together. Adam gets paired with a cute girl that I can tell he’s happy with. Good for him. The teacher goes on to explain what the project’s about, but I’m not listening. All I can think about is how humanly fast I can finish the project so I don’t have to spend time with Kaleb. And how to avoid talking to him even though he’s my project partner.
A paper is passed down the rows outlining the project. Mr. Hammons instructs us to start working quietly with our partners. On top of the paper is the words ”Sonnet 65“. I sigh, I was never any good with Shakespearean poems.
I’m instantly aware of Kaleb dragging his chair across the floor to place it next to me. He leans over me to read the paper. His breath fans across my neck, causing goosebumps to form on my skin.
“Ever heard of personal space?” I snap, trying to back away from him.
His lips move close to my ear, ”Never.”
I spin around and poke one finger into his chest. I push him away from me. “Then allow me to inform you. I have this bubble around me at all times. It’s impenetrable, do I need to dumb down that word for you?”
He shakes his head and his smirk fades from his lips. His jaw clenches, a tell that I know I’m starting to get under his skin. “Don’t talk to me like I’m a five-year-old, Greer.”
“Then don’t act like one, Kaleb.” I snap back.
We stare at each other in silence for an uncomfortable amount of time before Kaleb breaks the quiet, “I asked Mr. Hammons to partner us up together.”
I roll my eyes, but my heart picks up speed. “Why would you do that? I thought I made myself clear. I want nothing to do with you.”
“And I thought I made myself clear.” He leans forward in his seat and rests his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together. He cocks his head to the side and smirks at me. I can’t even begin to describe how much I hate the stupid smile on his lips right about now. I bet all the other girls in school find the crooked smile to be endearing. I could almost lay down money that it was the first and only thing he had to do to get a chick to dump her morals for him. I wanted to slap the look right off his face. “I’m going to figure you out, Greer Evans. I’m going to find out what makes you tick and what makes your heart race. And I’m going to find out every little thing about you, mark my words. There’s going to be nothing you can’t hide from me.”
Cue horror movie music.
Most girls might go weak in the knees at Kaleb’s words, but not this girl. Like I’ve been saying since I met Kaleb Nixon, this is bad. So very bad. I was in Witness Protection, for crying out loud. I could not have some random boy vowing to learn every one of my dark secrets.
The bell rang suddenly, causing me to jump two feet in the air. Kaleb laughed, stood to his feet, and gathered up his book. I couldn’t move. Kaleb leaned down close to me, his lips brushing over my ear lobe, “See you around, dork.”