The Brat Pack
"The Breakfast Club"
"Jared, call him again, and tell him to get out here right now or we're leaving him."
Gorgeous Jared Delaney rolled his bright blue eyes at one of his best friends, Kristin Klein. "You wouldn't do that," he responded easily, although he actually didn't doubt that she would and really just wanted to convince her that she wouldn't. Discreetly, Jared pulled out his cell phone and rapidly texted another of their good friends, Colby Callahan, telling him to hurry up before they were late for class. "You'd end up feeling bad, and then—"
"I can't be late for first block!" Kristin protested in a panicky voice, fidgeting in her silver Honda Accord anxiously. As an afterthought, she straightened her school uniform, smoothing any would-be wrinkles. Then her green eyes went to her car's clock, and she nearly cringed. "I swear to you, Jared, I'm counting to—"
The opening of the back door cut Kristin off, and an out of breath Colby jumped in quickly. "Sorry, guys. My step-dragon was hogging the bathroom."
Frowning, Kristin resumed the drive to the private school that they'd attended for their entire lives. Although she could understand Colby's excuse for holding them up, her inner control freak couldn't resist a negative comment. "Your tie's crooked."
Jared, who was lazily sprawled all over the front passenger seat, scoffed and removed his tie completely with a defiant jerk. "I hate these freaking uniforms," he muttered, a traditional statement that he made at least twice a week. "We look like we're going to funerals all the time."
"Except our uniforms aren't black, dude," Colby commented with a smile that lit up his brown eyes and showed off the dimple in his right cheek. He fidgeted with his navy slacks and then sighed. "Only three months till graduation."
"Thank God." Jared, since they were approaching the school, started putting his tie back on, though he did it very reluctantly. A sarcastic smile spread over his face while Kristin parked her car in her designated parking spot. "You guys think Webb made it to detention on time this morning?"
Kristin snorted. "Regardless of what people say, there's not always a first time for everything."
Laughing a little, Colby grinned, showing off his dimple again. "Aw, I wouldn't say that. He's been getting lots of practice getting to school early."
Proudly, Jared agreed, "Fifty-eight times this year. That's our boy."
Travis Webb was the fourth spoke of their social wheel, with Alexis Clarke—who'd murder anyone who didn't call her Lexi—being the fifth and final. Occasionally, when he didn't have to be at school early for morning detention, Travis would carpool along with Jared, Kristin, and Colby, but Lexi's extraordinarily wealthy parents insisted that one of the family chauffeurs drive their daughter to school, much to her chagrin. Due to Lexi's feelings about being chauffeured, she normally managed to run late in the mornings, just so no one would see her driver.
Four of the five of them had known each other since even before they'd started school at Coolidge Academy. Jared and Travis had been friends since birth, due to Travis's now deceased mother being a distant step-cousin of Jared's mom. And since Jared's and Kristin's families were good friends, Jared, Kristin, and Travis had practically grown up together. Colby had become friends with the guys in some little league sport or another when they were four or five years old, and Lexi had made her way into the group by befriending Kristin on the first day of kindergarten at Coolidge Academy. Despite their personality differences, the group was inseparable.
"Hey, Kristin, do you have a pencil I can borrow?" Jared suddenly asked during the walk from the parking lot toward the large prep school. "I didn't bring one today."
Kristin sighed and went through her orderly purse, keeping a cautious glance ahead to avoid running into objects. "Did you forget it?"
Rolling his eyes, Jared answered simply, "No. I just didn't bring it."
"Here." Kristin watched Jared pocket the pencil, knowing she'd never see it again. "You're such a slacker."
He smiled. "Aw, but you love me."
"She does?" Colby asked in a fake shocked tone. "Kristin Klein has a heart? When did this finally develop?"
Jared laughed, but Kristin leaped to her own defense, saying, "Colby, just because I'm not affectionate doesn't mean I don't have a heart."
"Of course not," Jared agreed consolingly. "It just means she has no hormones."
Colby grinned and exchanged a fist bump with Jared while Kristin proceeded to ignore them. She honestly wasn't heartless, and she truly did have hormones; hadn't she dated Jeremy Cohen for over a year before he left for college? But in comparison to the many of other girls at Coolidge Academy, Kristin's heart appeared smaller, and her hormones were certainly more controlled—but what part of Kristin or her life wasn't strictly controlled? She was definitely more affectionate than Lexi, and yet no one ever made fun of Lexi's tomboyish nature.
Then again, Lexi might have slugged the teaser, which made a difference, since she actually had enough muscle to hurt someone, unlike Kristin, who had never hit anyone in her life.
"Webb!" Colby and Jared cried out simultaneously when the trio rounded a corner inside the school. Sure enough, Travis Webb was exiting the detention room, his home away from home, grinning broadly. A couple of girls were standing nearby, eyeing him hopefully, but when Travis saw his friends, he started moving their way.
The crowds parted to let him through. Just like they always did.
"Hey, guys," Travis greeted brightly. His short auburn hair contrasted greatly with his blue eyes, and when he grinned, his looks complemented each other, making him truly good looking. "What's going down?"
"Nothing much," Jared answered. He nudged Colby and cocked his head across the hallway, saying, "There's your lady, Colb. Better go permanently attach yourself to her for the day."
Colby's brown eyes lit up as he acknowledged his girlfriend, Savanna, and then he grinned his single-dimpled grin. "I'll catch up with you guys later, okay?" he muttered, although he was already making his way across the hallway.
Savanna's soprano greeting could be heard with no trouble, "Colby!"
"Whipped," Travis declared, shaking his head sadly and looking away as Colby and Savanna kissed tenderly. He draped an arm over Kristin's shoulders and smiled a charming smile at her. "Good morning, Kris. How are you on this beautiful day?"
She returned his smile and half hugged him. "Can't complain."
"You sure could while we were waiting on Colb," Jared remarked, his eyebrows raised. He stopped walking suddenly and started putting his combination into his locker's lock. Travis stopped as well, and Kristin shrugged out from beneath his arm. "Forgot already?"
"Nope; I'm just already over it." With a gentle toss of her golden hair, Kristin's smile widened. "See you guys in Calc."
"Yeah, yeah," Jared muttered, not looking forward to the class at all. The teacher had it out for him, Jared was convinced of that. He looked away from his locker and glanced at Travis, the best friend he'd ever had. "How was detention?"
Travis frowned. "Interesting," he answered, folding his arms over his chest. "I made it on time, but the English bitch hates me so much that she gave me another day for not having my tie on yet."
"No, not the English bitch from England," Travis corrected patiently, shaking his head. "The English bitch who teaches English."
Jared laughed lightly, not having known that there were two English bitches; he'd keep that in mind for future references. The hallway was emptying, so Jared slammed his locker shut and nudged Travis with his shoulder. "We better get to class. Another detention won't mean anything to you, but I'd rather keep my mornings to myself."
Amused, Travis grinned. "I've forgotten what it's like not having to wake up and go to detention. Must be nice."
"Mm," Jared conceded, tucking his history book beneath his arm. "Let's go."
"Will you be needing me to pick you up after school?"
Lexi Clarke made a face from the passenger seat—a seat her mother had unsuccessfully banned her from riding in—of one of her family's many cars. Derrick, one of the chauffeurs, looked at Lexi, trying not to smile. He was definitely Lexi's favorite of her parents' employees, due in large part to the fact that he seemed to understand how embarrassing it was for her to be so pampered by her family.
"That's a negative," she replied, balling the wrapper from her Hardees chicken biscuit and tossing it into the bag. "Want this other strawberry biscuit? I'm stuffed."
The look on Derrick's face showed shock. "Stuffed after only a chicken biscuit, one strawberry biscuit, and an order of hashbrowns?"
"It was a large order, asshole, with an orange juice." Lexi shook back her dark hair, pulling it into a simple ponytail. "And Mother forced some type of healthy drink on me before I could bolt this morning. So don't give me that."
Derrick laughed and drove the car down a side street. He was the only chauffeur who accommodated Lexi's wish of walking the rest of the way to school. "Be good, Lexi. Try not to cause too much trouble."
Scoffing, Lexi grabbed her books from the floorboard and hopped out of the car. "Whatever. See you later, dude." She paused and offered a small smile at Derrick. "Thanks."
Her smile was returned with an added nod before Derrick drove away, probably to go act as Lexi's mother's slave. Each day, Lexi thought her mother got more embarrassing with her extravagant behavior. You'd think her family was royalty with the way that Deanna Clarke acted. Lexi couldn't completely hate her mother for it though, as Deanna was a trust fund princess, imported straight from New York City, who had always been accustomed to the best things in life. With Stephen Clarke—frequently referred to as The Politician—as her husband, Deanna's lifestyle did not have to change, for his bank account was as loaded as hers was.
It quite sickened Lexi.
Lexi's phone vibrated, alerting her to a text from Colby, one of her best friends. Where r u? he asked. She casually checked the time on her phone; realizing she had four minutes to get from her side street drop-off to her first period class, Lexi's hazel eyes bugged.
"Shit," she muttered. Her books were secured in her arms in front of her as Lexi took off at a run. If her mother got another call from the secretary about her tardiness, Derrick may get bawled out for something that wasn't his fault; it was entirely Lexi's fault that she was always late, not his.
That realization helped her make it to her class in three minutes.
Out of breath, she all but fell into the seat behind Colby, whose eyes were on his watch, clearly timing her journey. The smile on his face told Lexi that she'd set a new record for herself.
"Very impressive, my friend," Colby congratulated.
Lexi grinned. "Thanks, buddy."
"Traffic problems?" he asked easily.
The final bell rang, signaling the beginning of the first class. Lexi glanced across the room; her first period English teacher, fresh out of graduate school, was frequently late himself, which saved Lexi from having to serve detentions for the majority of her tardiness. "Mother problems," she answered, rolling her eyes. "Mother was on the rampage this morning. She was moaning and groaning about me rolling out of bed and getting dressed. Apparently, I'm supposed to shower like a duchess and do my hair like a supermodel before stepping out in public."
Colby grinned at Lexi's scoff. He could perfectly understand family woe. While Lexi and her mother battled incessantly about being classy, Colby tried to avoid his stepmother like the plague. Since he frequently referred to her as the plague, drastic measures had to be taken to keep up the avoidance. It wasn't so much that she was a terrible person; Colby just resented that she wanted to be his mother—despite her young age and preference to the step brats.
Not that Colby was too resentful. He found solace in his friends and girlfriend.
"Anything exciting going on with the posse today?" Lexi asked, ever curious about what happened with her friends in the morning before she arrived to school. "Did Kristin take her OCD medication, or is she on the warpath as usual?"
Brow furrowing, Colby tipped his head, blond hair falling onto his forehead. "She was pissy about me running late. Jared and I gave her a little hell, but she didn't seem too mad." He shrugged. "I think she's good."
Lexi smiled, pleased. "And Travis? How's he?"
A guilty smile crossed Colby's lips. "I don't know. I got distracted."
"Savanna. Right, right…"
Shaking her head gently, Lexi smiled at Colby and then directed her attention to Mr. Winston, her young English teacher who had finally decided to show up. So much for gossiping with Colby—it was now time to dissect Shakespearean literature, one of Lexi's least favorite things.
"Are you working out this afternoon?" Kristin demanded of Jared when he slammed into the desk beside hers. Her green eyes were intense, staring into Jared's strongly. She paused and added as an afterthought, as if she was giving Jared information he didn't know, "It's Tuesday."
Jared half smiled. "I know what day it is. And you know I work out every day."
In the seat behind him, Travis piped up suspiciously, "Uh-oh… Kristin, you're not thinking about trying to work out with us again, are you?"
Eyes widening at the realization, Jared shook his head hurriedly, his brown hair flying as a result. "You remember what happened last time, Kris. One day, and you couldn't walk for a week."
Kristin scowled, crossing her arms over her chest. Normally, Jared and Travis made their second period Calculus class more interesting—at the very least entertaining. With Jared's infectious, outgoing personality and Travis's never-ending attempts to get himself into trouble, the pair lived to amuse their audience. As a musical theater maven, Kristin could appreciate that, so she didn't let them annoy her. But when she became the focal point of their teasing—like now—she didn't take it lying down.
"Okay, so I can't body build like you, Arnold," she said to Travis sullenly. Then Kristin shot a look at Jared and added, "And maybe I can't pump iron like you, Rocky, but if you'd give me a less demanding workout, I could definitely do it."
Travis and Jared exchanged a glance, neither of them wanting to handle Kristin's sudden interest in fitness. They did a mental stare down, silently arguing over who would have to discourage her from killing herself in the gym again.
When Travis blinked, Jared smirked, claiming the victory.
Sighing, Travis looked back to Kristin. "I won't argue with that," he began gently, "but, face it, Kristin, we all know you. You don't do anything halfway. If you work out, you go at it like a fiend."
"And you'll end up hurting yourself," Jared put in quickly.
Travis nodded. "Which we don't want."
The expression on Kristin's face showed that she was undeterred. The guys made a good point: she never did anything halfway. She'd set her mind to start working out with them sometimes, and she'd do it—even if it did kill her. Kristin stared at both guys defiantly—a look they recognized.
"Kristin, if you promise to do things slowly…" Travis stopped thoughtfully, seeming to reconsider. "Maybe…"
Jared's face twisted in discontentment. "Why the sudden interest in working out anyway?" His eyebrows shot up, a knowing look appearing on his handsome face. "Someone called you wimpy again?"
"No." Kristin rolled her eyes and let her shoulders slump—but only momentarily; then her posture was perfect again. "I need something to occupy my Tuesdays and Thursdays," she explained. "I'll have musical practice after school on the other days, but I'm open on Tuesdays and Thursdays."
Jared sank back in his desk, sighing exasperatedly.
Fully understanding, Travis nodded, obviously giving his permission. He glanced at Jared for support, and Jared just shrugged. Both of them having known Kristin for their entire lives, they were well-versed in her obsessive-compulsive disorder. While medication helped Kristin control most of her tendencies and worries, she still had to take certain precautions to avoid meltdowns. Whenever she had nothing to do, Kristin literally went crazy. Every day in her life was planned so meticulously that the guys figured she probably had her breaths orderly timed.
And it was because of this that, after school, Kristin was in accompaniment as the daily trek to the weight room was taken. She, Travis, and Colby walked together, as Kristin and Travis had their final period together, and Colby had run into them.
"No rehearsals to go to?" Colby asked Kristin, seeming surprised at her presence with Travis.
Kristin shook her head sadly. "No…they cut them back."
"So she's hanging with us," Travis informed Colby, one of his eyebrows arched.
Colby winced. "Kristin, have you forgotten about last time? I don't want to see you go through that kind of pain again. You were so sore that you couldn't sit down without cringing. Are you sure—"
"I learned my lesson." Kristin, if possible, straightened her back more than usual and walked more swiftly. "Trust me, it'll be fine."
Travis smirked and shook his head in disagreement at Colby behind Kristin's back. Colby almost laughed in response but caught himself, not wanting to get caught in any kind of argument. He was everybody's best friend—even to people who really weren't his best friends.
When they reached the weight room, Kristin pushed against the door, obviously straining with the weight of it. Easily, Travis reached over her shoulder and gave the door a push, smirking more when Kristin fell forward with the door. Unable to hide a chuckle, his arm gracefully reached out and caught Kristin's waist before she hit the floor.
"You all good?" Travis asked, careful not to be too teasing.
Kristin sniffed indignantly. "Yes. Thanks."
Colby lingered behind, watching uncertainly. He knew he lacked the intensity to talk Kristin out of killing herself, and apparently Travis didn't have what it took either. Colby wondered if Jared knew about Kristin's plan to join their workouts; he figured he didn't because Jared would have put his foot down.
However, Colby found out that he'd guessed wrong because Jared, who was already stretching nearby, merely raised a hand in greeting at all three of them.
Well. That left one person.
"Oh, hell no." Lexi shook her head, her brown ponytail whipping violently. "I'm not about to watch you get your ass kicked by weights heavier than you. Kristin, get the hell out of my gym."
Kristin's green eyes nearly popped out of her head. "Lexi!"
Amusement flickered into Travis's blue eyes as he emerged from a quick move into the locker room to change into a t-shirt and basketball shorts. A good lashing always interested him, no matter who was getting beat down. He glanced at Jared, who was trying desperately to focus on arm curls and not laughing. Colby was cowered in the corner, trying to appear in conversation with a guy doing leg presses.
Lexi's toned arms crossed over her chest. "Don't start with me, Kristin. You can sit in here and do homework, but don't you dare lift anything. You'll break your back."
Shooting Lexi a dirty look—who did Kristin spare her looks on?—Kristin went into the locker room, clearly planning to change clothes and defy Lexi.
Eyes narrowing, once Kristin was out of hearing distance, Lexi demanded, "Why am I the only one concerned with her ripping what puny muscle she has to shreds and inducing intense physical pain on herself?"
Travis briefly explained about Kristin needing some way to occupy her Tuesdays and Thursdays. Slowly, Lexi's shoulders relaxed, as she understood how Kristin always had to be doing something. Every single one of them had witnessed one of Kristin's meltdowns, and not a single one of them wanted to see her flip out again if it was at all avoidable.
"Well, at least she's where we can keep an eye on her," Lexi huffed, stomping over to her favorite treadmill.
Travis shrugged with his easygoing technique and went over to the corner of free weights with Jared, vaguely aware of Colby wandering into the locker room. Suddenly thoughtful, Travis plopped onto the black padded bench beside Jared. "So I'm working on a good idea."
Jared finished his set of arm curls. "Oh yeah, Trav?" He smiled and began his next round of repetitions on his other arm. "What's the good idea?"
"I haven't been suspended in awhile." Travis stood and started stretching his long arms; he was definitely the tallest of his closest friends, towering nearly two inches over Jared and closer to three over Colby. "I was thinking that a good suspension might be a nice way to end the basketball season. You think?"
Setting his weight down, Jared shrugged and swallowed a gulp of water. "With basketball out, there's no reason to avoid it. Got any ideas on how you're going to accomplish that?" Jared's ice blue eyes turned amused. "The school's learned to put up with a lot from you. You get by with stuff no one else would, just because they're sick of punishing you."
"I know. I've got a reputation to live up to like you wouldn't believe."
"Oh, I believe it," Jared laughed. He ran a hand over his brown hair, taking a breather before lifting. "No initial ideas then?"
"Vandalism is over done," Travis decided dejectedly as he stretched his lean legs. "Detention's the only thing I get for talking back to the teachers. I'm telling you, dude…it's going to have to be extreme."
Blonde hair caught Jared's attention, but it was only Kristin, running on an elliptical trainer. He noted Lexi keeping an eye on her and had to smile. Poor Kristin. For her to be considered the more motherly one of the group, the others did their fair share of mothering (or fathering) her. But at least, for once, Kristin seemed to be picking a safe route; the elliptical trainer wouldn't kill her.
Colby appeared in Jared's line of vision, heading toward him and Travis. With light blond hair and deep brown eyes, Colby even looked like the nice guy he was. Notably a huge pushover, Colby would have been trampled all over if Jared, Travis, Lexi, and Kristin didn't take up for him, careful not to let their good friend be used by their more vindictive peers. Jared saw the inhaler in Colby's hand and knew that his asthmatic friend was planning on doing cardio today.
"You hanging out with Savanna later?" Jared asked Colby casually.
An instant smile appeared across Colby's features. "Yeah. This weekend will mark nineteen months together." The dimple in his right cheek showed. "We're going to get together and decide how we're celebrating."
Jared stared at Colby, not sure what to say to that. While he'd had casual girlfriends, Jared had never been in a relationship longer than two months. Call it a short attention span, but he felt all the fun left the relationship when the relationship started. It was all about the pursuit. Therefore, he couldn't relate to Colby at all in that aspect.
"Told you he's whipped," Travis declared.
Colby smiled. "It'll happen to you too some day."
"I hope not," Travis scoffed, shaking his head. He inclined his chin at Jared and then the bench press. "Come spot me?"
Across the room, Kristin panted on the elliptical trainer. She'd achieved a mile in slightly under twelve minutes; that was pretty good, she figured, for her first day. Her eyes scanned the gym. Yes, Lexi was distracted on the treadmill, her feet slamming onto the machine in a hard, fast stride. Jared was spotting a bench-pressing Travis, while Colby talked casually to a guy Kristin recognized from their American history class. Assured that no one was watching her, Kristin hopped off the elliptical and wandered curiously around the gym, looking for any type of weight training that didn't look too intense. She wouldn't let her friends be right about her overdoing it.
Kristin perked up when she saw the lateral pull. All she had to do was sit on a seat and pull a weighted bar down. That couldn't be too difficult, right?
Delicately, Kristin sat down on the padded seat and reached up for the bar. Nope, it was too high up, so she stood and settled her hands on the cool metal. Tugging down, Kristin expected the bar to move easily, but it didn't budge. She figured she probably could have put all her weight on it and hung from the bar before it she could make it move. She mulled that over, wondering if she had the nerve to try it. Deciding she didn't, Kristin instead gave the bar an almighty jerk. It still didn't move.
A quick glance around kept Kristin's pride in check. No one had noticed.
"Need some help?"
Damn, Kristin cursed herself, spinning to look over her shoulder, a careful smile on her face. Before her stood a tall guy, probably another senior, with light brown hair and gray eyes, a faint shade of blue in their depths. Scrolling through a mental list of everyone in her class, Kristin realized she didn't know this guy, a thought that she admitted with a great deal of reluctance. Kristin made it her business to know everyone she associated with by name.
Ah, but she didn't associate with many people in the gym. Jocks annoyed her.
"No, thank you," Kristin answered politely, stepping away from the lateral pull easily. "I was just curious."
The guy smiled at her—but he didn't seem amused or teasing, a huge change from Travis or Jared. "Oh." He sounded polite. "Because I was going to say…" He stepped aside, and his hand reached out to the machine; effortlessly, he adjusted something and then barely tapped the bar of the machine, making it move downward. "That was a pretty hefty weight you were trying to pull."
Blushing, Kristin cleared her throat. "Mm. Thank you."
The guy grinned at her and extended his hand. "I'm Ben Gottlieb. I don't believe we've met before."
Momentarily frozen, Kristin could only stare at his outreached hand. The amount of germs that could be crawling on his skin was limitless. Thinking of that, Kristin was vastly aware of how many germs were released in the sweat of her peers when they used the weight room; she was standing in an ocean of germs. Kristin swallowed hard and tried hard to push the thought away; she shook Ben's hand quickly and resolved to wash her hands immediately.
"Kristin Klein," she introduced herself. Hearing the strain in her voice, Kristin forced herself to relax and go on politely, "It's nice to meet you."
Ben smiled. "It definitely is."
Bacteria spreads at an unbelievably rapid rate in average room temperature. The thought startled Kristin. "Um, I've got to go." I have to go wash the filth off my hands—and the rest of my body, Kristin elaborated mentally. "It really was nice to meet you. Thanks again!"
With the words out of her mouth, Kristin fled the scene, hurrying into the locker room. She had clothes to collect and wash—right after she washed her hands at the nearby sink.