Author's Note: I'm going to give advanced warning that this story contains sensitive issues including child abuse and violence. I know I shouldn't have tried writing about it because I've found that it was extremely difficult to write the whole plot realistically while attempting to focus on romance as well. Also, I'm afraid that this story didn't turn out quite as I would like it even though the story is undergoing editing. Still, if you remain undeterred by this note, read away!
Chapter 1: First Contact
She was an enigma. The way she walked as if she was supremely confident of her position in the school, hell, even in her life. The dyed black hair cut short with a fringe swept to the side. There was something enchanting about her yet that something also screamed danger. Only a fool, or somebody who didn't value their social status, would cross swords with her.
He smiled lazily as he welcomed her to the small secluded corner in the library, his eyes drawn to her smooth face. The rest of the girls ranged themselves behind her, some gazing at him with admiration while others looked on with trepidation.
"You heard?" she asked abruptly, not bothering to greet him.
He continued to lean against the wall, considering her for a moment and then he gave the tiniest nod.
The girl shifted angrily and ignored the troubled and exasperated looks that one of the girls closest to her was shooting at her. "I want revenge." When he didn't answer immediately, she continued to speak in a soft yet harsh voice. "I need you to make a fool of her, Jake. Unearth all her secrets and then reveal them to the school. The dirtier the better. Can you do it?"
Tilting his head, his cool blue eyes met with her fiery dark ones. "What's in it for me?"
A predatory smile lit up her face and she leaned forward so that only he could hear. "You love having fun with girls, right? And I promise you, there's something worth waiting for at the end of it all..." The girl trailed her hand suggestively down his arm and then lowered her voice seductively, "she stole my boyfriend, Jake. I can't let her get away with that."
He raised a pierced eyebrow at the girl as his mind began to contemplate the thrill he would get out of this game. "Well, for you, Ash... I'll consider it."
The voice snapped me out of my reverie and I jerked my head upwards, feeling my cheeks heat up in embarrassment as I faced the stern-faced teacher. "How many times have to tell you that you do not sleep in class?"
The rest of the class was sniggering, knowing how many times I had been reprimanded by this particular teacher. Every other teacher seemed to love me because of my grades but Mrs Kingsford was never satisfied with my class performance. She seemed to take it very personally that I chose to sleep only in her class. The truth was that it wasn't personal, it was just difficult to stay awake when all she did was drone on about the Cold War. I looked around the classroom, irritated to see that three more students had their heads buried in their arms and there was the distinct sound of a snore from one of the motionless forms.
"Are you listening to me?"Mrs Kingsford demanded.
"Of course." Not.
"Very well." Mrs Kingsford straightened and pointed to the board imperiously. "Then you can tell the class the answer to that question."
I was about to ask 'what question?' when I realised that this would not be the wisest answer. My eyes darted over the question and I realised that it was one that had been assigned for homework. Flipping wildly through my book, I found my work and quickly read out the answer I had prepared last night, shooting a quick glance at the teacher after I was done. She appeared far from satisfied which personally I found ridiculous considering the fact that I had been the only one in her class who had bothered to do the homework. Instead, she glared at me for a long moment as if she thought that I had copied the work from someone else and swept away, rapping her ruler on tables to wake students up. I sank back into my chair with a sigh of relief. I hated being the centre of attention. The gaze of all those people on me was unsettling.
Luckily, there were only ten more minutes until the end of the period. When the bell rang, the whole class erupted into a flurry of action. I allowed myself to be pulled along by the stream of students to the cafeteria, listening to the swirl of gossip and the loud teasing and laughs. Somebody crashed into me, elbowing my side. I let out a gasp of pain that was lost in the loud chatter, and the guy who had elbowed me out of the way kept going without seeming to notice. I bit my bottom lip, tasting the familiar tang of copper as I drew blood. The pain relieved me for a second from the painful pangs in my side.
When I finally arrived at the cafeteria, I quickly joined the line and began scooping food onto my tray, eager to remove myself from the jostling crowd. I found it exceedingly intimidating to be surrounded by people because for most of my life, people had either shunned me or I had pushed others away. I hadn't wanted people to know what sort of life I lived and others were reluctant to try to remain friends with me if I kept refusing to answer their questions about a bruise or made excuses so that I wouldn't have to go out with them shopping. I gave up trying to keep friends and ultimately stopped making any friends.
"Look who's finally arrived," a sneer came from behind me. Fear made me freeze and that gave them the opportunity for one of the guys to grab my shoulder and spin me forcefully around. I glared at the three guys before me, refusing to be cowed. "What do you want?"I spat at them angrily.
"We heard something," one guy said slowly, grinning. "You're dating Aisha's boyfriend."
My response was instantaneous. "What?"
"You two were making out after school."
I swallowed and wet my suddenly dry mouth. How could they have seen it? "He kissed me. And we're not dating," I said coolly, struggling to retain my composure although this was rather difficult after I realised that everybody around us was listening. Aisha was one of the most popular girls in the school. Someone as 'lowly' as me should definitely not have been kissing her boyfriend.
"That's pretty good news. Knew Mark wouldn't date someone like you. Kissing you, now that's something I don't understand even more," said one guy as he blocked her pathway out of the cafeteria. "You'd better tell that to Ash, 'cause she's mad as a hellcat."
"I don't have to explain myself to anyone. It was Mark who started it, and he can be the one who explains," I retorted through gritted teeth. I made to walk off furiously but I had only taken two steps when someone stuck their foot out and tripped me. Since I was holding a tray of mashed potato which looked more like sludge than anything else, I found my face quickly coming to meet the white, lumpy mixture.
Bracing myself for the humiliation and the face full of potato, I was startled to see that I was hovering a few centimetres above the ground and the tray was being safety held by someone else's hands. Quickly finding my feet, I looked at my saviour and almost did a double-take.
He was at least a head taller than me and his messy hair was dark blonde. His lightly tanned skin and slim build was well-known throughout the whole school and his cold blue eyes could have frozen hell. "Jake," the guy who had tripped me said, sounding fearful. "Hey, man."
Jake was the last person I expected to have saved me from utter humiliation. I wasn't even sure he knew my name. He was in year 12, his final year of high school, and was on the famous basketball team which had won the state finals four times in a row. I was in the grade below him and was known perhaps by my teachers and a few students. I looked at him carefully as I straightened my school blouse and fixed my blazer, noticing with an inner wince that there were gravy stains on his untucked white school shirt and a green pea clung to his tie which hung loosely around his neck.
"What's this about?" he asked, a drawl to his voice. Somehow, his hand was still on my arm and he was still holding my tray.
The boys stumbled over their words as they tried to come up with an explanation. Finally, one of the guys said clearly above the rest, "You heard the rumours. It's like, she kissed Aisha's boyfriend! So, we thought somebody should get mad at her, do some revenge for Ash..."
I was panicking. If they knew about what had happened with Mark after school, then that meant that the whole school knew. Which meant that Aisha knew and she would definitely be after me. Jake didn't give the guy's explanation a second thought. "Ash doesn't need people like you to fight her battles for her," he said with a slight sneer in his voice. "Scat," he ordered the boys. The obeyed, rushing to the cafeteria door the instant Jake gave them the command. He turned his blue eyes on me and I quickly diverted my eyes to look at anything but him. He let go of my arm and I glanced back up at him hesitantly.
"Thanks," I said once I had found my tongue and remembered my manners.
Jake snorted, thrusting the tray he still held in my direction. "Don't mention it, Leslie," he said coolly. "Seriously."
He walked off, his hand in his pockets as he headed towards his friends who were waiting for him at the cafeteria doorway. I saw people at nearby tables staring at me and I quickly ducked my head down and hurried out of the cafeteria, passing the group on my way. I overheard one of the guys say, "Dude, she kissed Ash's boyfriend. Why the fuck did you save her? It would've been a laugh if she stacked it."
"Isn't Ash gonna be mad that you saved her ass?"
"Butt out of it, man," Jake replied, exasperation in his voice.
I didn't stay to hear the rest as I quickly made my way out to the sun and to my usual lonely area on the school oval. It was a bit shocking to have Jake Holloway rescue me. However, the one thought that dominated all else was the knowledge that Aisha knew about what had happened and she didn't seem to care about the truth. The only thing she would want, and I knew she would want this after witnessing all the social downfalls at her hands, was to have her revenge against me for humiliating her. It was pointless to argue with her and point out that I hadn't been the one to humiliate her in the first place, it had been her boyfriend.
The sense of doom hovering over me returned and I pushed all those thoughts away, concentrating on eating the muck on my tray.
"Jake, why'd you just leave her like that?" Aisha hissed at him when she arrived at lunch. "You rescue her from falling and then ditch her there? Aren't you meant to seduce her or something?"
Jake regarded her calmly. "Look, Ash," he said, his voice low. "You want me to do this, let me have some fun with it."
Aisha frowned at him and then shrugged, tossing her head so her fringe moved out of her eyes. "I owe you big after this," she whispered, playing with strands of his dark blonde hair.
"And I'll be willing to take," Jake replied, a smirk tugging his lips.