I was not a bitter person, as a rule.
Like, I willingly gave my seat to old people in the bus and lent my class notes to whoever asked. I always shared my fries. I'd tutored Adam Tao for free when his mom threatened to throw him out of the house. Mrs. Tao was a terror, according to Adam.
So, no, I didn't consider myself a particularly bitter person. I stayed in my lane, and let the world stay in its own. I kept to myself and my music and baking unless approached.
I glared at Drake Finley's hulking form three tables away and felt firmly provoked.
"You're being the very opposite of subtle," Farah said, around a mouthful of french fries.
I kept glaring.
Just look at him. Laughing at something one of his friends had said, just like he'd laughed last week while he read out my carefully written love song to the entire music class. The song he'd stolen from my desk, explicitly labeled Talent Show Entry, the song I'd said was private.
Drake Finley made me bitter, like caramel left on the stove for too long.
I stuffed my face with the tasteless pasta the cafeteria lady had given me and did my best impression of a glowering giant. I was five feet and not an inch more, but that didn't matter. I was a giant in anger and today—today, I would get my revenge.
"You don't think this might be too much?"
I shifted my bitterness to Farah, softening a bit if only because she was my best friend, even if her loyalties were appalling.
"Too much? The school has been hell the entire week, Farah," I hissed instead of screaming, like I wanted to. "You've heard them in the halls, in class—Michel Rodriguez was singing a translated version of the first couple of lines at me yesterday. Translated with some liberty, if Google was correct."
Farah winced. She hadn't been in that lab with me, and I hadn't shared because I didn't want to repeat the sheer embarrassment.
"I know, Halcie, but…"
"It's Drake and you know how he is," she said, all in a rush of wide-eyes and jingling bracelets. "What if he decides to retaliate?"
I doubted he would.
Drake had a reputation of being the kind of guy that solved things with fists first, words later.
But excepting the song incident, he'd never been anything but polite, if distant, to me. Just enough so I could cultivate a carefully kept crush on him based mostly on accidental glances and his nice-looking face. A safe crush, one with no possibilities.
All my quiet, tender feelings for him trampled upon when he'd rudely taken the music sheet with my song from my desk and proceeded to read every painstakingly chosen word as if it were nothing. Less than nothing.
That song was supposed to be my entry into the school's Family Week Talent Show, now it was mere fodder for everyone to hurl at me as I walked around the school.
Yet Drake remained unchanged.
Right now, he ate a single french fry from the hand of Risha Patel, perhaps the prettiest senior in the entire school. She looked pleased with her feeding skills, or perhaps she was pleased with Drake's face. I didn't care.
I ate more of my pasta.
He was going to pay for every single shameful tear I'd shed in the girls' bathroom after he'd read my song and all the ones since, for every classmate mock-quoting my song back to me. He was going to pay, and I would enjoy it.
Skulking around the school while everybody was in class was easier said than done. High School Musical and CW shows told me that sneaking through halls would be all giggling, perfectly tousled hair, and a few glances around corners. Maybe a best friend and a hot guy in tow.
In reality, it was more like my heart pounding a hole straight out of my chest and me feeling thirty sizes too big to hide properly. And that was with the bathroom pass hanging around my wrist.
I held the paper bag far away from myself as I walked toward my target. I had ten minutes before the bell rang, ten minutes to lay out my sweet revenge.
It didn't take long to find what I wanted. Locker 117, undecorated except for the scratches on the right bottom corner. About a year ago and for a total of maybe three hours, the words Fuck me, Drake had been artfully written in that same spot by Meghan Lark, who everybody knew had a crush on Drake. Principal Laura had almost had an apoplexy. She'd ordered the words erased and Meghan was suspended.
The scratches were all that remained now, but everyone knew what had been there.
I set my paper bag on the floor while I worked on Drake's lock. It had taken the entire week since the incident and a lot of careful observation, but I'd finally figured out his combination. Or so I'd thought, but the lock refused to budge.
I swallowed. It's okay. Breathe. Try again.
The lock clicked open.
I pried the locker open, hoping to all gods that the hinges wouldn't give me away. It was as undecorated inside as it was outside. All I could see were a couple of thread wristbands, a pen, a black t-shirt, and textbooks. Oh, some skittles in the corner.
My music sheet was nowhere to be found. He'd probably thrown it away.
I blinked away expected tears. I didn't have time for this, not if I wanted to be gone when the bell rang.
With a quick glance down each side of the hall, I grabbed my paper bag and pulled out its contents. Two sheets of foil around layers and layers of plastic wrap around a grocery bag and still some of the smell reached me.
I thought of Drake sneering, of the expressions on everyone's faces as he read out, "and your lips dripping honey onto mine". I remembered his face when he refused to give my lyrics back.
He deserved this.
Breathing through my mouth, I started to unwrap my present. One, two, seven layers in and the smell was unbearable. Three days left out in the hot Texas sun did some things to an already dead fish. Drake Finley was about to find out exactly what things.
I dropped the dead fish on top of his black shirt, half-regretting that his books might get oily, and closed the locker back on it just as the bell rang.
My heart skipped two beats with the sound of that bell, my head buzzing as I stuffed all wrappings back inside the bag and hurried away from the incriminating locker.
I was standing in front of the closest girls' bathroom when students started trickling out of their classrooms, backpacks in hand and the noise of freedom in their mouths.
I spotted Drake almost as soon as he came around the Chemistry lab. He was kind of hard to miss, at six feet whatever and with shoulders that could hold up a truck.
I stayed by the girls' bathroom as he made his way to Locker 117, some dude with a mohawk on one side and Risha on the other. He was talking to the dude, a slash of a smirk on his face and I shivered just with the anticipation of that expression falling.
That's why I was shivering. No other reason.
I went up on my tiptoes and watched.
Drake was two feet from his locker when a frown overtook his face. Students around him looked from one to another, a wiry-looking boy gagged. I smiled.
His eyebrows set in a deep V, Drake put in his lock combination (14-43-7-22), opened his locker, and—
"What the hell?" His growl bounced around the hall and straight into my head.
The scene didn't so much erupt into chaos as sort of dispersed away from Drake's locker and the foul smell of the decaying fish inside. Horrified expressions mixed with disgust and the flash of pictures being taken—of the fish, of the locker, of Drake's furious face.
I was full out grinning by then, my mouth stretched with as much satisfaction as I could manage, any hint of lipgloss long gone. And that was how Drake saw me, his eyes scanning the crowd for a brief second before locking on mine.
I jumped on the spot, my legs taking an involuntary step back before I could reign them in.
Run, run, run, screamed my instinct.
No, hissed my pride.
I stayed put.
Drake smashed closed his locker door so hard that it flew back open, hitting the locker next to it. He didn't bother to fix it.
There were a few things that sent my heart careening out of rhythm: my mom using my full name, singing in front of a crowd, and, apparently, the sight of Drake Finley's anger-filled form heading toward me ready to kill.
But I was angry too, even if my height wasn't quite so impressive.
The students parted to let him pass, barely fast enough to avoid being stepped over. He stopped a foot in front of me, his shadow swallowing mine.
I raised my chin, stopping just short of bringing myself to my tiptoes again.
"Do the mermaids sing of love?" I shot back at him, even if my face was blushing and the tears threatened to come back.
I could tell the exact moment he realized I was quoting the lyrics he'd mocked back at him, the why of this entire situation. I hadn't scurried away because I wanted him to know—what he'd done, how it'd hurt.
His shock lasted for less than a second before green eyes narrowed on mine. I hoped he couldn't see the tears crowding behind my glasses.
"You're coming with me."
There was no invitation about his words. He simply grabbed my arm and dragged me away while I was too stunned to resist. By the time I'd shaken myself into outrage, he was pushing me into the Music classroom. The Music classroom where he'd stolen my song.
The sheer shamelessness.
I swirled around on him, standing between me and the door.
"Get out of my way," I gritted out.
He fixed me with a look that had sent wimpier people to peeing themselves. I stood my ground, hands tightening into fists at my sides. I wasn't weak, I wasn't going to cower, which, by the change in his expression, was exactly what he'd expected of me.
He trailed his gaze from the pastel hem of my dress to the lacy neckline and the pocket-watch necklace hanging from my neck. One quick glance at my rings, at the Sol I'd sharpied on the back of my hand.
I could see the adjectives flying in his head: girly, nerdy, cry-baby.
And the new one he was starting to discover: stubborn.
Or maybe just annoying.
He crossed muscled arms over his chest. "You put that fish in my locker."
Again, not a question. I didn't give him an answer.
His face changed then, frown replaced by raised eyebrows and slight appreciation. I'd rather he stayed angry, he was less attractive then.
"You wanted my attention? You have it now."
The sad part was, a not small enough part of me would have thrilled at those words a week ago. They would have been the highlight of my entire month.
And I did still want something from him. I had to swallow back a lot of pride and shame before the question could come out.
"Do you still have it?" I choked out.
He gave me a smile that made him look like a shark.
"Is that what this is about, you little love song?"
Your little love song.
It took three steps to stand in front of him and only one hand to slap him hard enough that my palm smarted.
His wide-eyed shock felt like satisfaction prickling at the back of my neck. Then his hands were around my arms and he was lifting me clear off the floor, like I weighed less than a chair, which I most decidedly didn't.
"Put me down," I said, wriggling my nose to keep my glasses in place.
"No." He stared for a long, uncomfortable second. "You hit me."
"You deserved it."
He almost smiled at that, but it died as a mere twitch of his lips. Instead, he walked with me still in his arms and set me down on top of the teacher's desk, papers crumbling under my weight.
"Who's it for?" He asked, his hands still on me, barely.
He stood close enough that his legs pressed against mine, blotting out the world.
"Your love song, who did you write it for?"
I snapped back into my senses at that, a truth and a lie both dangling from my lips as an answer to his question, unsure of which one I should give. This was Drake, I reminded myself.
The lie won out: "No one."
He pressed closer, wedging himself between my legs, his hands going slowly up and down my arms. I wasn't sure what was happening anymore.
"You're lying. Tell me who you wrote it for, Halcie."
"What do you care?" I bit. "So you can laugh at that, too?"
He flinched, though I wasn't sure if it was because of my words or the sheer shrillness of my voice. Probably the latter.
"I won't laugh," he said, and I almost believed him. "I won't."
Except I didn't want him nice. I wanted him evil and I wanted to stay angry, because I'd rather be angry that let the hurt growing inside of me crack open my surface.
I pushed him away with force, but I knew he only stepped back because he hadn't resisted.
"Don't talk to me."
Having lunch tucked away between the Religion and Fiction shelves in the library wasn't ideal, but it was quiet. More importantly, it was free of randoms with my lyrics on their laughing lips. Just today during Homeroom, Timothy Stovak had passed me a note that said, in neatly written letters: The sea is a bed of softly spoken needs.
Except he'd changed out needs for a much cruder word and Mr. Benson had almost frowned himself into nonexistence when he read it. Tracy from Homeroom had snickered all the way out of class after that.
I thought the fish incident might quiet down some of this, but it seemed making fun of me was way better than making fun of Drake. That might have had to do with the fact that only one of us was likely to break bones, but still.
I was tired.
And, at the present time, I was also almost late. American Lit would start in exactly five minutes ago, so that was fabulous.
I packed my lunchbox and tucked back the Romance book I'd found under an old copy of Socrates for the Rich in Faith. I was only sixty pages in, but the hero had already compromised the heroine in ways only marriage would solve in 1870s Victorian London and I couldn't wait to get back to it.
That might have been the only good thing to come out of this socially-imposed lunch reclusion. More time to read.
It should have been more time to write music, but there was a dark pit that yawned open in my gut every time I even thought of putting pen to paper. I couldn't write.
At least, I couldn't write anything that wasn't angsty, angry songs.
I rushed out of the library with a quick smile to Ms. Samantha, the librarian, who had been kind enough to ignore my smuggled food all this week.
The halls were deserted—five minutes after the bell and most people were already in their classrooms. I was making my silent way to the my locker when the door to the Principal's office opened right in my face and I almost had a heart attack.
I flattened myself against the wall, still behind the door. Principal Laura has already made it clear she didn't like all the events happening around me, even though she was mysteriously unaware of my involvement with the fish in Drake's locker. She'd already threatened detention.
So I made sure she couldn't see me; I could, however, be seen by the person who'd just come out.
Just that alone made me want to risk detention to leave.
I locked eyes with him only long enough to know he'd seen me, even if there was not even a twitch in his expression.
Principal Laura was going on at him, too intent to notice me on the other side of the door.
"Stellar conduct will be required from now on, Drake. You can't go around punching students just because you feel like it, it will not be permitted."
"Right," Drake said, though he looked as bored as anyone could.
Out of the pocket of his jeans, I saw one of the yellow detention slips.
Maybe I didn't want to risk detention anymore.
The Principal dismissed him with a swift good-bye and a click of the door closed. Then I was fully exposed, all pressed against the wall and with my ketchup-stained shirt.
Ok, the ketchup stain was tiny, and really just on my sleeve, but it felt like it covered my entire shirt.
I slowly peeled myself off the wall and straightened my outfit, all noted by Drake, who seemed to suddenly have forgotten how to stop frowning in my direction. That could have been because of the fish.
I wasn't sorry.
Walking by him like I didn't care was another matter altogether. My legs shook in a feeble attempt to appear nonchalant, my palms were sweating. I was blushing.
It made me angry, that blush. It made me furious that my ridiculous crush on him could still affect me like this after what he'd done. I should hate him, but there was still a part of me that squeezed tight at having his attention.
A foolish, shameless part of me.
The rest of me was a shield to keep walking straight past him, even when I felt like crumbling into forgiveness. Even when I felt his eyes boring into my shoulder blades with each step I took.
The bell for class had already been sent screaming when I'd barely made it to my locker, now littered with sharpie and paper messages declaring my selfishness and vindictiveness. Principal Laura didn't seem to think that was as great an offense as Fuck me, Drake, though, so no one was punished for it.
I opened the locker to grab my books, shoving the new slips of paper away, and found my phone having a small seizure, rattling the lockers beside mine. Farah.
did ya hear about drake?
omg are you dead
I frowned at the string of texts, then frowned at the weird flip-flop my heart did. That was a flip-flop of anger. Nothing more.
I closed my locker.
I was out of breath when I rushed into American Lit, landing in my seat next to Farah just as Mrs. Sawyer started class.
Mrs. Sawyer had assured us repeatedly that her name had nothing to do with her chosen profession, but that seemed sketchy.
Not two minutes of the teacher monologuing on Huckleberry Finn, I felt a sharp poke at my side. I turned to Farah, perhaps looking a bit more assaulted than necessary.
Farah mimed talking on the phone. Her texts.
I shook my head and mimed opening a book, to tell her I'd been in the library.
While Mrs. Sawyer wrote our in-class assignment on the board, Farah scribbled on her margins, pushing her notebook to the edge so I could read it.
Drake has been punching half the school unconscious.
I had to assume the "half the school" bit was an exaggeration or I'd have heard, even in the library.
I raised one eyebrow in her direction, hopefully in my most So? face. Drake had never been a shining example of good behavior—he'd been suspended once in third year for taking on the soccer team.
The team hadn't been able to play in that year's championship.
Farah waited, practically bouncing off her seat, for Mrs. Sawyer to turn away again so I could read her new note. I was trying hard not to care about Drake or whatever he did, but her anxiety was getting to me.
By the time Mrs. Sawyer finally turned back to the board, my heartbeat an irregular staccato in my ears.
Farah pushed her notebook toward me. She'd drawn an arrow from her last message down to a new one: half the school he's heard using your lyrics.
Biology hadn't taught me that hearts could burst due to emotional stress, but mine might've just then.
No, I should rephrase: WHAT THE HELL?
The alarm must have shown on my face, because Farah immediately took back her notebook and mouthed an apology.
I wasn't sure what she was apologizing for—I wasn't even sure what was happening. Why would Drake be punching people on my behalf? This had to be some sort of game of telephone gone wrong.
I remembered the yellow detention slip I'd seen in his pocket and Principal Laura's warning.
I was still trying to make sense of all the pieces in this ridiculous puzzle when the bell rang. I handed in a poor attempt at the class assignment and shuffled out of the classroom, Farah behind me.
"You okay?" She asked, one arm hooked around mine.
"Confused. Still sort of angry."
I walked to Music class half-guided by Farah like I'd somehow lost sentience. In reality, I was whirling inside. Mainly, I was begging God that Drake would be mysteriously absent from our shared classes today.
One step into the Music classroom and I knew my prayers had gone unanswered.
I should have gone to church more.
I'd been watching the fish in Mr. Sullivan's office for what seemed like ages now. I had basically started growing roots while anxiety and the heart-wrenching feeling of certain doom washed over me.
Give or take
I was nervous. I had never been called to anyone's office like this before, and now the Principal was "displeased with the behavior surrounding me" and Mr. Sullivan wanted to talk to me.
He'd seen me in Music, why couldn't we talk there? Why did it have to be in his office? And why had he abandoned me with his mostly-dead fish? I wondered if Mr. Sullivan knew the fish was mostly dead.
By the time the door to the office cringed itself open, I was ready to throw myself out of the window. Or hide under the desk—I wasn't fond of throwing myself out of second story windows.
"Sorry for the wait," Mr. Sullivan said, sweeping into the room like an orchestra violinist into a first chair.
That was also his second job, incidentally.
"Oh, no problem. I love waiting." I shut my lying mouth before any other ridiculousness came out.
Mr. Sullivan seemed to take it in stride. "Great. But still, I didn't mean to take over your entire break." He sat in his desk, rummaging through a drawer that was piled with colored slips and pencils, as far as I could see. "I'll give you an exception slip, in case you run late for your next class."
I didn't know what he could possibly want to talk about that might take that long. I side-eyed the fish.
"I assume you know why I've brought you here," Mr. Sullivan added, scribbling on the light blue slip.
That seemed to get his attention.
His brows came together behind glasses too big for his face.
"What about this?"
For an instant, I wasn't sure what the crumbled piece of paper that he was unfolding could possibly have to do with me. Then the pencil annotations on it were all too familiar, even if they weren't by my hand—the dots and lines and keys written in uncertain strokes, the corresponding lyrics neatly lining each row. A replica.
And on top: TALENT SHOW ENTRY. HALCIE MCLEAN.
I was fairly certain all the blood in my body had suddenly dropped straight to my feet.
"Where…" I started, drifted. Started again, "Where did you get that?"
Mr. Sullivan's brows changed directions, rising above his glasses now. Those had to be the most expressive eyebrows in any human face. Except maybe Emma Watson.
"Someone slipped it under my door today and I assumed it was you," he said, folding the paper again. "The deadline to enter the talent show was last week."
I nodded, too mortified to say anything.
"So you didn't submit this?"
I shook my head. "But it is—it's mine. I wrote that." I meant the song, but I didn't want to get into the finer points of how my lost entry had reappeared in this office in somebody else's handwriting.
Or my suspicions of how it'd happened, rather.
"And you meant to submit it, yes?"
"Ah, yes, sir."
The eyebrows came back into the dark brown frames.
"Fantastic. I'm thinking of sneaking your entry in even though you were late."
All the blood came back to my head in a rush that left me dizzy, mouth agape like I was trying to imitate Mr. Sullivan's fish.
He smiled at that, the I'm-too-young-to-teach smile that had made so many girls (and some boys) join music class this year.
"I wouldn't joke about this, would I?" He said, and my stomach flipped twice. "We have a couple of empty spots on the talent show this year, and we were planning to make the intermission longer to compensate, but I think I'd like to squeeze your song in."
I might have vomited out of gratitude just then. And I'd like to imagine that it was because of that—the blood problems and the digestive imbalance—that I said what my have been my stupidest sentence of the day:
Mr. Sullivan looked like he, too, thought I was an idiot for questioning my good fortune.
"Because I like the lyrics and your work in class has always been excellent," he said. "Plus the show could use a love song. You'll be on the first act, before intermission, I'll send you the schedule later today. If you agree to be in it, that is?"
"Yes," I blurted, before he changed his mind, before my brain stopped functioning. "Yes, of course."
"Awesome. Look forward to rehearsals."
Then he gave me the slip and a smile and I left. Like I wasn't just about to faint.
Even the fish seemed shocked.
I wouldn't say I was a coward, but even I'd admit there was a tiny amount of cowardice involved when facing the guy whose locker you broke in to put a dead fish inside.
Even if it was deserved.
I knew after talking to Mr. Sullivan and hearing about Drake's punching spree that I should talk to him. I knew it, because I wasn't an idiot and could put two and two together.
Just like I knew I didn't want to talk to Drake. Not after last time.
Possibly not ever.
So I'd run out of school yesterday, barely letting the bell end before I had left the classroom. But today—today I was getting this done with.
It was with that half-hearted determination that I stood in front of the principal's office, where I'd heard they'd sent Drake in (again) for punching some boy (again). I swallowed.
I'd thought about what I would say yesterday after Mr. Sullivan'd sent me the Talent Show Acceptance email. Thank you seemed ridiculous, if it had been Drake who'd submitted my entry for me, which I was pretty sure it had been. But even then, he wouldn't have had to had he not stolen my entry in the first place.
I sighed, the sound ending in a hiccup when the door to the Principal's office opened.
Was it too late to run? It was.
I watched Drake walk out of that office like an invincible mountain, eyes on me immediately even as the Principal kept talking behind him. The hesitation I glimpsed in those eyes seemed like a trick of my imagination.
Principal Laura spotted me over Drake just as she finished whatever she'd been saying.
"Do you need anything?" She asked, obviously not remembering my face enough to come up with my name.
I shook my head, words coming loose almost by accident. "No, ma'am. Thank you."
When he realized I wasn't actually leaving, she turned back to Drake. "Be there on time, Drake, or it'll be suspension next time."
The threat hadn't been for me, but I straightened nonetheless.
Then Principal Laura left and I was alone in the hall with Drake, which was much, much worse.
He stood four feet from me, a lion ready to pounce but apparently waiting for its prey to make the first move. I raised my chin, I was no one's prey.
"I want to talk," I said, and was glad my voice didn't waver.
Drake just shrugged, like being in each other's presences wasn't nerve-wracking to him. Show off.
His easy willingness took me aback, though I didn't really expect anything else. Oh, God. This was already becoming a mess.
"Right, yes. Ah." I glanced at the Principal's office around Drake, the shadow of the secretary behind the window still visible. "Let's go somewhere else?"
He followed me through the halls like a silent sentinel, if silent sentinels were unnerving and went to high school.
I didn't want to be outside, too aware of people still milling about the school who could snoop on us. I also didn't want to go to the one classroom I knew would be empty at this hour (Music) for obvious reasons. The football field was being used for band practice. The cafeteria was closed already.
It was with all that in mind that I walked into the cleaning supplies closet and motioned for him to get in. This wasn't nearly a closet so much as a small room, stuffed with three shelves piled with detergents and brooms and the like. Then Drake strolled in and there was hardly any space to breathe.
"Is this where you hold court?"
His joke surprised a laugh out of me before I could even process it. I stifled it with one hand, cleared my throat.
"No, obviously not. I just—" I took in one deep breath, reminding myself that I was in control here. Sort of. I hoped. "Why have you been punching people?"
He shrugged, gaze averted.
He wasn't going to make this easy for me. Of course.
"I heard you were hitting people who'd been mocking my lyrics," I finally said.
Don't blush. Don't blush. Don't blush.
"Did you?" He crossed his massive arms over his chest, and only then did I realize that I was doing it, too.
I uncrossed them. So did he.
"Stop that. Have you really been? Is that why you've gone on a violence rampage."
A corner of his mouth lifted and my shoulder blades itched.
"I wouldn't call it a rampage."
"No? What would you call it?"
He was silent for too long, but I refrained from filling the silence. Then doubted myself. I opened my mouth to speak just when he did.
"It's my fault."
I might have been having hearing problems. The kind that were also brain problems and heart problems.
Drake narrowed his eyes at me, and I had the impression that he thought I was playing with him, when, in fact, I felt very much played with.
"I'm punching them," he said. Slowly. "Because it's my fault they're being asses to you."
"Because you were an ass first."
"Yes," he grunted.
This part I had already figured out, but I asked anyway.
"And you also submitted my song to the talent show."
Drake stepped back like I had punched him—well, like someone bigger and stronger than I had punched him.
"You knew it was me?"
It was my time to shrug, to look nonchalant. Finally.
"No one else had a copy of the song." Because I hadn't let anyone but apart from Farah see it, not until the incident with Drake.
Shame tickled up my spine at the memory of his mocking voice reading my lyrics out loud before Music started, of people laughing like a chorus to his verse.
"Why?" The question came out without permission, hanging between us like a sentence.
"Why did you do it in the first place? Why make fun of my lyrics?"
I knew I was exposing myself to more jeering just then—maybe he did think my lyrics were ridiculous, maybe they were worthless to him. But I had to know.
Somewhere in the back of my head and a small corner of my heart, his opinion mattered. All opinions mattered.
Drake seemed as uncomfortable answering as I was asking, but I didn't relent. He ran a hand over his short-cropped hair, jaw tight, and it felt like victory.
"I saw the page on your desk and grabbed it without thinking—I don't know, I just… it was there, and you're very good at Music, and I wanted to see it."
In the darkness of the cleaning closet, I almost thought I saw him blushing. I was most definitely blushing.
"You just had to ask." It came out like a whisper, a soft thread of my feelings. "You didn't have to read it for everyone to…"
The word filled the space between us, mixing with something that might have been guilt.
"I'm sorry, okay? You were staring at me with those big eyes, looking like I was a fucking beast soiling your treasure, and I just, I don't know, reacted. I read them. I'm sorry."
I did what I imagined looked like a fairly good representation of Mr. Sullivan's fish.
"I didn't think you were a beast," I almost screeched, much like a 1930s grandmother. "I was horrified you would read it—my love song? I felt so ridiculous. I was ashamed and worried you would laugh and—"
"And then I did," he said, out with a single bark of a laugh. "I am a fucking beast."
"I—" I bit in whatever I was about to say, not sure if I could speak in complete sentences anymore. This entire thing was giving me a headache.
Drake, having doubts and tender feelings?
I wasn't even sure what to do with that. I wasn't sure how to rearrange my anger to hold on to it anymore.
"I'm sorry," was what finally came out, to Drake's apparent shock. "I'm sorry about the fish."
"Are you serious? I'm sorry. God, I didn't realize everyone would be such major assholes about the song, I thought they would forget about it." He shook his head. "They will forget."
Even if it meant he had to beat the memories out of the entire school, I assumed he meant.
I winced. "Please stop punching people?" I said, even though I was slightly tempted to let him keep going. I didn't exactly have nice feelings for the people who'd been badgering me for an entire week. "You already got detention for it."
He shrugged, except this time it really did look like he didn't care.
"It's just detention."
Well, I guess this was how we were fundamentally different.
"I think I would die if I got detention," I laughed.
I thought he might mock that, too, but he gave me a small smile, like he thought I was amusing, like he was laughing with me. It was astounding, as my inopportune heart soon hastened to remind me.
I would not have a heart attack in the cleaning closet.
"So, anyway," I started, not sure how to finish it. I had to get out of here before I did something even more idiotic, like telling his smile was nice when he wasn't stomping my hopes and dreams. "Well, that was all I wanted to say!"
I ignored the slightly deranged pitch of my voice and moved to go around him, so I could escape into the hall where it was safe and public and I had space to let my hormones wander away.
I was basically on him before I realized he wasn't moving out of my way.
"So you got into the show?" He asked, heart-stompingly close.
I might have yelped. The full force of my crush on him came back to, aptly, crush me on the spot.
"Ah, yes. Yes. Yes, I did." This would be a good time to stop saying yes.
"I'm glad." He was basically speaking directly on my skin at this point, close enough to smell minty breath and stare straight at that scar on his bottom lip. "So…"
"You never said who the song was for."
I bit my lip, again the truth and the lie fighting it out in my throat. Last time he'd asked, I'd been hurt and angry, but now—
"Me," I said, no doubt blushing like a christmas tree again. "The song was for myself."
"Are you joking?"
I kept my gaze on his lips, not wanting to see whatever was on his face just then.
"Please don't laugh."
He cursed. "I'm not going to. My mom saw it, you know, around my books and stuff. She thought I was about to propose to some girl."
I didn't mind the rumble of his laugh this close, or how the darkness of the cleaning closet made me bolder.
"And you? What did you think?"
Drake brought one hand to the ends of my short hair, staring at me with what I could only describe as wonder, like I was cake.
"Can I kiss you?"
My stomach plummeted down, warmth flooding everywhere.
Drake covered that last step that was between us, hands still at his sides. I was pretty sure my entire system was going haywire, an electric keyboard stuck on Re.
He encircled me in strong arms, bringing me flush against himself with crushing gentleness, his mouth demanding, coaxing. I gave in, wanting it all for myself.
He didn't have enough hair to grab, but I still reveled in the sensation of the short, soft hair at the base of his neck. I let out a sound that I hoped sounded enticing, and not like another yelp.
He seemed to like it.
By the time he pulled away, I was sure I was lacking enough air to function properly.
"That was nice," he said, pressing his forehead against mine so his mouth was so close I wanted to kiss it again.
"I'm free after your detention," I said in response.
He chuckled. "I'm free even during detention, if you want."
"I don't hang out with delinquents."
Both eyebrows rose in response to my comment, but it wasn't nearly as impressive as Mr. Sullivan's eyebrow acrobatics.
"I'd say it's too late for that."
I went around him and opened the door, quick in the way only short people taking others by surprise could be.
I didn't feel like I was floating on air or anything so ridiculous after just one kiss, but my mouth was comfortably curved up.
That lasted all of two seconds until I saw Meghan Lark, arm around her best friend, staring at me like I'd grown a second head. Then at Drake, coming out of the cleaning supplies closet behind me.
I was subjected to their silent stares for what I was sure was only a couple of seconds, even if it felt like three elephant tons. Which wasn't even a measure of time.
They kept going down the hall, heads turned to each other in confidence.
I startled at Drake's hand on my back, then eased into his touch.
"Well, I'm guessing they'll be talking about something other than your lyrics now."
"What do you mean?"
"You look like I just kissed you." He smiled.
I wasn't sure I minded.
A/N: It's been so long since I put anything up on FP! I've been working on a book-length monster and trying to not fail out of med school. Hope you guys liked this one 3