Tuesday, June 13, 2017

City of Secrets--Chapter 19

City of Secrets

Chapter 19

Previously: On the first day of school, popular boy Jason helped out school outcast Frankie by bringing Frankie and her brother dinner. Though mistrustful of Jason's motives, Frankie invited him to stay for dinner, and they talked like friends.
At school, Natasha caught Penny breaking into the guidance counselor's office, and bailed her out just before the principal caught her. While Natasha and Penny were in the bathroom talking about it, Frankie overheard, but promised not to bust them. Frankie and Penny confirmed their plans for Penny to tutor Frankie. Frankie warned Natasha about Chase and the rest of her new friends. 



     Frankie stood at the front of her fifth period class, deciding whether she wanted to sit down or not. The room was empty; she was ten minutes early. Sitting down for class that early was wrong on principle, but she didn’t have anywhere else to go. She wished she hadn’t quit smoking—that would at least give her something to do.

    Ugh, I really am turning into a nerd. Nervous excitement coursed through her body when she remembered what she’d said to Penny. She didn’t know what had come over her; she hadn’t meant to be so bold. Flirtatious. You were flirtatious. Standing with Penny in the bathroom had felt both familiar and new. Frankie was comforted by the familiar, and struck by the idea that she wanted to explore the new feeling, whatever it was.

    She reminds you of Richie. That’s all it is, Frankie told herself. It was true, but Frankie didn’t think it was the whole reason behind her feelings. There was so much more to Penny than the quiet, shy girl who liked school and followed the rules. Richie had said as much. He’d said that he thought Frankie and Penny would get along.

    Frankie braced herself against the teacher’s desk as a flood of aching loneliness threatened to overwhelm her. Why does everything have to be so confusing? She didn’t know if getting to know Penny was a good idea. How would Richie feel if he knew Frankie was taking the time to get to know Penny after she’d refused his pleas for her to do just that?

    If only she could talk to him. She tried to picture his face, but instead it was Penny’s face she saw: her pale skin, the slight flush to her cheeks, the depth of emotion in her eyes. . . . Frankie’s stomach somersaulted. Stop it, Frankie! You do not like her like that! That’s way too messed up. It was, and it was one of the reasons Frankie had left the bathroom when she had.

    The new girl was the other reason. Frankie felt guilty for having been so rude to her, but Natasha was already friends with Laurel and her gang of minions, which meant she’d be joining the “let’s torment Frankie” mission any day now. Frankie had simply been firing a preemptive strike. But still, she couldn’t help but think that the new girl didn’t seem like the others, and that brought on the guilt. Who cares? You warned her about Chase, that’s all you needed to do. 

    “Can’t decide where to sit?” a voice asked. Frankie turned. Jason stood in the doorway, a small smile on his face.

    That smile was infectious, because Frankie found herself returning it on reflex. “Oh, it’s no contest. I always sit in the back, it’s just that I’m never this early.”

    “Yeah, I’m not either actually.” Jason glanced at the sea of empty desks, his smile fading.

    Frankie thought he looked upset and almost asked him what was wrong, but stopped herself. It was none of her business. Instead she said, “It seems weird to sit down so early. Last year I would’ve gone out to smoke, but I quit.”

    “Oh yeah?” There was a note of interest in his voice.

    “Yeah, over the summer.”

    “That’s great. My dad’s been trying to quit forever.”

    He should get pregnant. It’s a good motivator. When Frankie had decided to quit, she’d told herself she would start again after the baby was born. The reassurance hadn’t worked, because thinking about the baby being born was so terrifying that she had a hard time even imagining it. As far as she was concerned, the baby was better off staying right where it was. “Yeah, it kind of sucks.”

    “But you did it. You should be proud.” He gave her another smile before moving to take a seat. That smile sent a surge of warmth to her insides, but it wasn’t his smile she was thinking about as she watched him walk to a desk in the middle of the room. When he sat down and glanced up at her, she realized how stupid she must look standing at the front of the room staring at him.

    She tore her gaze away and headed to the back of the room, trying to pretend she hadn’t just been checking him out. What was she doing? She wasn’t into jocks, not that Jason had the traditional “jock” look. He was the smallest guy on the football team, which meant he still towered over her, but he was leaner than the other guys. Wait—was she still checking him out? She decided to blame it on out of control hormones and convinced herself that was actually a thing. So why was she disappointed that the conversation was over?

    It didn’t have to be over, did it? “Hey, thanks for not saying anything. About the other night,” she said, unable to think of a better exchange.

    He turned to face her, his expression unreadable. “I said I wouldn’t.”

    I know. I didn’t believe you. “Yeah, I know—just—thanks again.”

    He nodded. “No problem.”

    Frankie thought that was it—the end of whatever it was between them that was beginning to feel like friendship. There was nothing left to say. Except Jason hadn’t turned back around. He was looking in her direction, his eyes focused behind her, as though he were reading the posters on the wall. Frankie racked her brain for something else to say, but she couldn’t think of a thing.

    “So, how’s it going?” he asked after a few seconds of silence.

    What? How’s it going? What does that mean? Frankie blinked, unsure how to handle what sounded like casual conversation. After staring at him for a few more seconds, she realized he was waiting for an answer. “Oh, not bad, I guess. I’m trying this new thing where I go to all my classes. It’s not as horrible as I thought it would be.”

    He laughed. “Yeah, it’s not all bad.”

    “How’s it going with you?” she asked.

    He shrugged. “Not bad.” His facial expression didn’t agree with his words.

    “Is everything okay?”

    He didn’t answer right away, but instead looked at her thoughtfully. He was probably deciding whether or not to answer. Frankie was wondering if she’d been out of line to ask when he said, “I don’t know. It’s just—”

     “No way, man. You’re yanking my chain,” Dave Colton said as he walked into the room. So much for that, Frankie thought. She automatically fixed Dave with a scowl, but it disappeared when Chase entered behind him. She looked down at her desk, fear washing over her. What is he doing here? He wasn’t in this class the first day. She’d thought that she’d gotten lucky enough not to have any classes with Chase. Apparently, she’d been wrong. She resisted the almost overpowering urge to get up and walk out, but she wouldn’t give Chase that pleasure.

    “Fine. Believe what you want,” Chase said, laughing. It was a friendly, joking sound, but Frankie didn’t hear it that way. To her it was loud and harsh; it filled the entire classroom until she didn’t see the classroom anymore. Instead, she saw the gray morning sky and the tops of the trees reaching upward. She felt the rock that had become a pillow for her throbbing head and the branches that were digging into her back.

    Don’t. Come on, Frankie. You can handle this. She wasn’t sure she could. She felt dizzy as she leaned over and reached into her backpack.

    “Dude, you weren’t talking to it, were you?” Dave asked.

    Frankie had been sitting up, notebook in hand, when he’d said it, which meant that she saw his head tilt in her direction. Her eyes narrowed. She opened her mouth, comeback on her tongue.

    Chase looked directly at her, raising his eyebrows. He smirked before taking a seat in front of Jason.

    The words died on her lips. She lowered her head, opened the notebook with shaking hands, and stared at the blank page, humiliation and hatred washing over her.

     “Do you have to be a dick one hundred percent of the time?” Jason asked. Dave’s only response was a laugh.

    “I don’t know, man. He’s right. You better watch out with that slut,” Chase said. “Can’t go anywhere good. Bitch is a succubus.”

    “You would know,” Dave said.

    Frankie bit the inside of her lip. She wanted to scream. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t stand sitting back and taking their insults. Sitting in a classroom with Chase for an entire year was going to be pure hell.

    She felt nauseous. Her vision blurred.

    “—learn from my mistakes,” Chase was saying. His words were a taunt. He was pushing her. You don’t get to threaten me. You don’t get to talk back. Not anymore. Hell, you don’t even get to exist unless I keep letting you.The words echoed in her mind, and Frankie bit harder, trying to forget them. She tasted blood, but the memory of Chase’s threats wouldn’t go away.

    “If I were you, Chase, I’d be thinking about this afternoon,” Jason said.

    “What’s that supposed to mean?”

    “Dave’s been practicing. That starting QB position may not be yours after all.”

    “Oh, no fucking way. Now you’re dreaming,” Chase said.

    “Hey, doesn’t matter to me who’s throwing the passes,” Jason said. “I’ll be catching them either way.”

    Chase and Dave launched into a discussion about who had the best spiral, whatever that was. All Frankie cared about was that it had nothing to do with her. Her jaw slowly unclenched and she began to relax, at least as much as she could with Chase around.

    The classroom began to fill with chattering students, and Chase and Dave continued their argument until Mrs. Orona entered the room and told the class to quiet down. Chase didn’t look in Frankie’s direction again, and she allowed herself to hope that maybe he would get bored with taunting her.

    Frankie’s eyes fell on the back of Jason’s head. Did you do it again? she silently asked. She was almost certain that he’d changed the subject intentionally, which made twice in one week that he’d stood up for her. She didn’t know what to make of it.

    When her gaze turned to Chase, she realized it didn’t matter that Jason had helped her. It didn’t matter that he was being nice to her, it didn’t matter that she liked his smile and enjoyed laughing with him. Because of Chase, they could never be friends.