The Better to Bite(6)

By: Cynthia Eden



Over-protective much? Yeah, that was my dad. But with the things he’d seen, he had reason to be that way.

For a moment, my gaze locked on my reflection in the back seat window. My hair was twig free today and combed into the usual sleek style that I liked to wear—a straight shoulder length bob, parted on the far right side. I’d even gone so far as to put lipstick on today. And a little blush.

Jeez, I was trying. Couldn’t he see that?

“Don’t raise too much hell,” my dad said, pointing a finger at me.

Ah, right. I’d forgotten that part. A girl gets into a few scrapes at her old school and suddenly she’s a hell-raiser.

Maybe not so suddenly. “I can’t make any promises.”

I thought he laughed at that, but I was already turning away. School rule: You can only talk to your dad for so long—in the sheriff’s car—without getting weird looks.

I pushed back my shoulders, clutched the strap of my backpack a little too tightly and headed up the chipped stone steps. A bell rang just as I reached for the door. The warning bell. Five minutes until homeroom started.

I can do this. Everyone else did normal every day. I could manage it, too. At least for a few hours.

I found my locker instantly. Big surprise. I didn’t even look at the lock as I spun the combination. It was that whole not-lost thing again. I can’t get lost, and nothing can be lost from me. So there’s no forgetting a locker combination for me. I just spin and it feels right and bam—the lock snicks and opens.

My gaze darted down the hallway as I shoved some books inside the locker, lightening my bag. Voices rose and fell, laughter followed. Some girls in skirts way shorter than mine sauntered down the hallway. One glanced my way—a girl with curly blond hair—and her eyes narrowed a bit as she assessed me.

I tried a smile. She didn’t really smile back. But then, she didn’t glare at me, either.

Progress? Maybe.

A few jocks ran down the hallway then, pushing other kids out of their way. No, they weren’t wearing giant signs that said “Jock”—but they might as well have been. Big guys, too much I-own-the-world attitude, and they were already talking football. I barely controlled an eye roll. Again, me—not so athletic.

I slammed my locker and turned around—and slammed right into some guy with light coffee skin, close-cropped black hair, glasses, and a voice that cracked when he hurriedly apologized.

“Don’t worry about it,” I murmured because I was the one who’d hit him. Then I took a good look at the guy. He had a green schedule card in his hand—his shaking hand. He had the fresh-faced, scared look that only a high school freshman can be marked with.

Poor guy. Tall, a little too thin. Probably one of those kids who’d hit a growth spurt over the summer. He’d sprouted up tall, but the muscle hadn’t caught up yet, if it ever would.

He offered me a quick smile. “I-I’m trying to find Mrs. Parker’s room.”

A jock stopped right by us then. Over six feet, t-shirt stretched with his muscles, and a goofy hi-there grin on his face. “I can help you with that, kid,” he said as he pushed a hand through his blond hair.

The “kid” blinked. “You can, Troy?”

Troy, huh? I raised a brow and waited.

“Sure.” That smile stretched, showing bright, white teeth. “Here’s what you do, FM. You go back out the main entrance, slide around the back of the building and pass the shop room. Mrs. Parker’s class is on the east side of the school yard.”

FM? For Freshman?

The freshman nodded eagerly. “Th-thanks, Troy!”

Troy must be someone important the way the guy was all wide-eyed now.

The freshman turned away, and I heard Troy snicker.

I knew I shouldn’t, but I still had to ask, “FM doesn’t stand for freshman, does it?” Because that would have been too easy.

Troy glanced at me, his brown eyes shining with laughter. “Fresh meat.”

Right.

“That’s what we always call the first crop that gets bussed in.” His gaze slid over me. “And you must be—”

But I was already hurrying away from him. I freaking can’t stand bullying. I grabbed the freshman’s shoulder and yanked him around. Sometimes, I can be a lot stronger than I look.

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