Could seriously use a Beta, if anyone's interested!

CHAPTER THREE

Part One

The hours had dragged on. She'd missed second and third periods and then had felt like a rebellious Freshman for doing it. Taking control of her own life? Part of growing up. But if she ditched responsibilities, most of the teachers would see her as just another loser. Not that it mattered what other people thought.

Heck, who was she kidding? She did care, at least a little, what others thought. Everybody did. If she didn't care, then people like Brian Cruise and "Princess" Kelly McBride wouldn't annoy her so much. But she'd thought that by the time she reached eighteen, her self-confidence would have flown off the charts.

So much for hoping and dreaming.

She kicked rocks and shuffled her feet while crossing beneath a shroud of gray clouds along Lanning Avenue. Next to her, Alice babbled about the hot guys she'd flirted with today. Wearing a leather skirt just barely long enough to be legal at their school, it was no wonder her petite friend had attracted so much attention.

Why bother with it? Why bother attracting guys, when they only brought more baggage and heartache with them?

"None of these guys, however," Alice went on, "match the sheer sexiness of Mr. Shields." She winked but Bekah's stomach rolled.

"Did you not totally enjoy English Lit?" her friend asked.

"He's not hot. He's a nerd. And a briber."

"A briber?" Alice scrunched up her nose and slowed as they neared the end of their street.

Behind them, just across Lanning, stood their wonderfully crazy, two story high school. Looking at the litter strewn about the grounds, Bekah always wondered how a neighborhood and a school surrounded by the upscale community known as Bexley, Ohio, could possibly have been so run down.

But her 'hood was packed with thugs, druggies and gangs, making a walk home with or without a friend as risky as wandering weaponless through Zombieland.

Her mother often scolded her for running to school without a ride, but she was used to the comebacks: "I was with Alice! The real jerks don't come out until after sundown!"

Alice shoved her blowing, streaked-blond, brown hair behind her ear and then cocked her head at Bekah. "If you're talking about the tickets you told me about…I'd hardly call that bribing. That's just a new teacher offering rewards for good behavior."

"Same thing, worded different. He's got something better in mind for the goody-goodies who do his bidding." Bekah stepped over the guardrail and waited for Alice to do the same before resuming her walk.

"Just forget about Shields, OK?" Bekah asked, cringing at the sinking feeling that accompanied her next words. "I really don't feel like discussing another hot, young teacher."

When Alice failed to protest, Bekah glanced over to find her friend ashen-faced. Flashing her bright blue eyes at Bekah, she said, "Sorry. I know it's kind of a sore spot, but you do need to start thinking of guys again, Beckless. You need a date."

"No, I don't. I just need some vodka, please."

"Girl, you've seriously got to stop asking to party without me." Alice laughed.

Bekah smirked. "Well, Mom's probably working late at the bowling alley, so join me."

Sometimes Bekah wound up driving her mother to work and keeping the car until eleven, when she'd be forced to drag her tired butt off of the couch and go pick her up. Tonight, however, Mommy Dear would be driving herself home, which may not have been a good thing if she and Alice decided to drink away their blues.

Maybe Alice often spoke like an excited ten-year-old, but her home was so wrecked by her mother's dipstick boyfriends that no teenage girl in her right mind could be genuinely happy. Bekah often wondered if her friend of nine years had been molested by any of the psychos Diane McAlister had dragged home. But Alice had denied it vehemently. "Trust me, Bekah, that's one thing I would totally not hide from you," she'd said.

Once Bekah entered her house, Alice ran home to collect the goods and Bekah made her way down a short hallway. She turned left to discard her black book bag atop the dining room counter and eyed the living room. Like a storm cloud over a valley, the dark blue couch stood out against the plain, beige carpet. The whole room felt like an empty valley, especially with the TV silent and the creamy walls void of family photos that had once displayed the goody-goody state of the Rose household.

Maybe it was best they were gone.

Her sigh felt as heavy as her legs as she entered the kitchen and mulled over what to eat for dinner. Because of the wonderful absence of any parents this evening, she decided not to pop the thawed pork roast into the oven or whip up any mashed potatoes. Since Kaye Rose was probably dining at the bowling alley- talk about delish- Bekah opted for a bag of potato chips and a bologna sandwich, and then clicked on the TV.

Happy, happy, joy, joy, time to make fun of Dr. Phil. Better than sitting here, listening to the empty walls while waiting for Alice.

OOOO

The next day, someone- most likely the green-eyed Jerkly Jockly himself- had stuck a love letter to her locker. Her head still a bit swimmy from the drunkenness of the night before, she ripped off the paper, forced a grin to her right, where stood the in-crowd who'd harassed her for the past year. All beaming at her like the brainless twits they were, clueless of the meaning of true humor.

"Wow," Bekah said, "looks like you people can't stop thinking about me. Normally I'd be flattered, but considering what idiots you are, I guess it doesn't say much."

Kelly McBride's smile dropped and Bekah imagined her red spirals straightening- not that her comment had been scathing enough for such a dramatic reaction.

Brian, who leaned lazily against a locker, simply flipped his ball cap backwards, allowing him to view Bekah better over his girlfriend Gina's head. Walking past the dipsticks, she threw the rumpled piece of paper that had asked the hottest question of the century: Will Cheap Rose shine the Shields this year?

Just as the paper bounced off Brian's chest, she asked, "When will you ever grow up?"

Brian held her gaze darkly. He didn't always retaliate right away. He seemed to stew things over a bit, consider his options. Heck, maybe in time this whole thing would become nothing but a game to them. No more animosity, just trading jabs for the freaking fun of it.

Yeah, right.

Alice, who'd been staring at the whole scene, hurried up next to her. "Bekah, those guys will never grow up, you know that!" Her short friend straightened her tight-fitting, red blouse with one hand as they squeezed between some Freshmen nerds. "If you keep retaliating, they'll most likely kick the living snot out of you."

"Did you just say 'snot?'"

Alice glared at her, but Bekah wasn't too worried. About Alice's irritation or about getting her butt kicked. According to rumors, Brian had punched a girl or two on the arm, but he'd never gone absolutely ape on anyone of the opposite sex. No, the harder fights in this haven of madness normally erupted between two or more members of the same sex.

Lord knew that Kelly would never risk breaking a nail in a fight, but Gina- she just might have let her fake, blond curls go wild in an all out free-for-all. After all, she and Brian were drawn together by something. It must have been their 'can't eat, can't sleep till I've harassed someone to death' attitudes.

Brian's lackeys probably didn't beat anyone up without his approval, and most of the fights at this school were gang-related, anyway. Brian and his clique were innocent, little buggies compared to the chain-wearing tough guys who'd blow someone's brains out for crack money.

She paused just as one of the gang members, wearing a black "Killer Clown" T-shirt strode down the opposite side of the hall. Bekah pointed and sighed at Alice, who seemed to read her mind because she nodded.

"Yeah, I get it," she said. "But still be careful because I don't want to be scraping you off of the pavement."

Bekah slowed again as she neared Shields' room. "I've so got to take self-defense classes."

"So do it already. I'll crack into my piggy bank and see if we've got enough to make it!"

Bekah almost laughed. Alice, the girl who stole liquor from her mommy's closet in the middle of the night, still owned around three "piggy banks," where she'd been stashing coins since she was ten years old. Rarely did she break into them. Instead, she hit up her mom and her brother, Todd, for extra money. With the dirty habits that drove Todd on a daily basis, Bekah was surprised the nut hadn't discovered Alice's stash.

After Alice scurried down the hall, her right ankle twisting slightly in her spikey boots, Bekah slipped into Shields' room and found Kevin had arrived early. Having chosen the same desk as yesterday, he looked up expectantly, the curl of his poor, wittle brow a dead give-away that he knew she'd sit far from him once again.

And so she did.

This time, front seat, third row from the door- right where Kelly had been sitting yesterday. Bekah mentally laughed while Shields, the big briber, opened his laptop computer. Kevin's sigh was enough to snap Teacher out of his world, his round eyes now reminding her of chocolates from a Whitman's Sampler box.

He'd placed a globe with a golden, ornate stand at the corner of his desk, along with desktop calendar- the kind that usually bore some sort of neat, little words of wisdom on their pages.

Someone clip-clopped into the room, a heel squealing against the hard floor. Kelly had entered and come to a screeching halt with her mouth agape. "That's pretty much my seat, Rebekah."

Oh, my gosh. Could we act any more like kindergarteners than we already have?

"So, come take it, Kelly."

"Miss Rose." Shields sounded stern.

"What?" She screwed up her brows at her approaching teacher. "We haven't had assigned seats since we were in Junior High."

"But it's a matter of respect," he said with a nod. "If Kelly selected this seat yesterday, you should assume she'll want it again today."

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, I'll tell you what it means to me.

"Geez, the way you talk, I'll bet Aretha Franklin is your hero."

His tight frown appeared just as he stopped. "Excuse me?"

"You're the teacher, think about it." But he wouldn't unless he'd been forced to listen to oldies music like Bekah had. Whatever.

"This is stupid." With that, she snatched her books and took a breath. Now she was acting like a kindergartener and she'd rather stick her finger down her throat and spew an entire month's worth of breakfasts than draw any more negative attention. Even though Kelly and her gang were the worst when it came to immaturity, if Bekah kept fighting over a stupid seat, she'd have another label stuck to her.

Something not-so-witty, like…Not-so-sweet as a Rose…Rose.

She rolled her eyes at her speculations and marched over to the window seat behind Kevin, because it was a heck of a lot better than sitting near Brian's crowd. Kevin may have been a nerd, but at least he was kind.

Unlike you, ya big brat. Bekah groaned under her breath.

Kevin turned a faint smile on her, apparently feeling quite victorious.

Don't get the wrong idea, you tie-wearing-

"Miss Rose."

She peeked at Shields without turning her head. He'd reached the end of the teacher desk and now nodded toward the door. "May we speak outside the room for a moment?"

Great, in trouble with the new teacher. Or did he intend to bribe her? She'd be sure to ask once they reached the hallway.

Ignoring her instinct to slam her hands on her new desk, she took a deep breath and forced a smile not unlike the one she'd plastered on The Brian Clan before class.

As she strode behind Shields, she did not miss Kelly's sad gaze- a hint of jealousy, perhaps. No doubt she'd love a few minutes in the hall with the supposedly hot, new teacher. Every other girl could get away with it, but not Bekah. No. She'd suffer to the utmost if Shields kept this up and she'd have to let him know that- somehow.

In the hall, with kids still filing into their first period rooms, Shields turned to her while rolling the plain, brown tie that matched his eyes around his right hand. "I realize there's a lot going on here," he said. "But this is the second day of school and both days have presented some sort of commotion involving…you."

"Wow. Takes a degree in teaching to get that, does it?"

He grimaced but went on, "I sense you've been treated unfairly for some time and I understand you're angry, but could you please do me a favor?"

"I get it. Shut up? Sit tight. Don't let the idiots bite, am I right?"

"Something like that." He shrugged. "But I wouldn't put it that way. Just let me deal with these guys, OK?"

"Yeah and have them pick on me all the more, because now Teacher Dear is sticking up for me?" Having heard the rise in her voice, she bit her lip and glanced around to ensure that none of her nemeses were snooping about.

Shields seemed to be chewing on what she'd said. Bekah, however, didn't feel quite as calm as he appeared and forced her words to come out steadily. "Don't make a habit of calling me out to the hall in front of everyone. It's bad enough I stayed after class yesterday to harass you."

He squinted. "Come again?"

"Just trust me. I'll try to avoid the jerks and we'll make sure not to spend time alone- in the hall or in the class room."

"That's a good idea." He nodded and rolled back on his heels.

Bekah nearly sighed her relief, until he added, "However, I'm sure there are times you'll need extra attention and-"

"Oh, please, knock it off with the boy scout stuff."

"Rebekah…" He sounded stern again. "Don't forget I'm not a peer and I don't appreciate-"

"First off, you're only about five or six years older than me, right? And given that your fall-back is to bribe us, it doesn't look like you've prepared yourself to handle tough students."

Folding her arms, she half expected him to blink and turn red in the face like he'd done yesterday. Instead, his jaws set as firmly as his broad shoulders, his darkening eyes sending a shudder down her spine.

Bekah fidgeted with her black shirt sleeve, noting somehow that the hall had mostly cleared.

Man, what was this? No way in heck would she allow Mr. GQ to intimidate her. She spun on her heel and marched back into the room before he could say another word, although she knew he'd find some way to chastise her for her behavior. Or maybe not if she acted like a sweet, little lamb during the remainder of his class time.

For some reason, she felt unsettled. Just as she had when her father disappeared.