Port Fare, New York, has fallen into the clutches of true evil. The Dreser brothers have arrived with a scheme to increase drug sales in the area by whatever means possible. Seth Prescott is part of MET, Mobile Enforcement Teams, a branch of the DEA. He’s been assigned to work undercover at Port Fare High, and things aren’t going very well, that is until senior Maggie Brown enters the equation. He’s harbored a secret crush on her from day one, and now that she is in the center of the case, he’s trying to stay clear and object while walking the line between business and unrequited love.
Maggie is truly the poster child for Heroin Chic, complete with jutting bones and dark-ringed eyes, but is she an addict, or is there another reason for her appearance? She struggles with her feelings for Seth, fearing he is just another person who will eventually let her down, as everyone in her life has done thus far.
Seth works relentlessly to inject fear into the dealers and flush them out into the open, while Maggie fights to stay alive as the hunt turns deadly.
Seth and Maggie’s romantic journey is one of humor, heartbreak, and self-discovery.
Before I could reach his lifeless form, Alan grabbed my face and lifted me onto my tiptoes; my battered lungs begged for air. Dragging his slimy mouth along my neck he muttered, “I’ve waited so long to have you, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to control myself as long as I’d hoped.”
He then stopped and pinched his eyes shut before dropping me back to the ground. “No, Alan, you can wait a bit longer for your revenge,” he counseled himself while stroking my hair. “But maybe a little taste wouldn’t hurt.” He jerked my face to his, dropping his foul lips to mine.
Something inside me snapped. If I was going to die, I was going to go out fighting, so fight I did. I raked my fingers over his face, digging up flesh, and while forcing my thumbs into his eyes, I brought my leg up between his, hard, crushing his groin.
He stumbled and fell on top of me, pinning my battered body to the ground. His weight added unwanted pressure to my already tender ribs, and I screamed out.
However, Alan’s screams overshadowed mine; he was in serious pain. I began scratching, biting, and punching every inch of him I could make purchase with, holding nothing back. Still reeling from my well-placed knee, he spewed out a list of profanities a mile long as I broke free and forced my broken body across the kitchen floor toward the gun. I was almost to the drawer, when, from his prostate position, he hooked my foot, dragging me back several feet.
I looked back at his sweaty face, now scarred and bleeding thanks to my fingernails as he leered at me. “You. Will. Pay. For. That.” Reaching into a pocket by his left knee…
“Absolutely pathetic!” You’d think I really was an awkward high school senior instead of a top of my class, MET agent. Yet, here I sat at my ridiculously oversized desk, spinning a cheap Bic pen in tight little circles, lamenting my lack of courage.
“Get a grip, Seth, and talk to her already!” I shoved the pen back into the desk drawer and slammed it shut. Only my self-imposed chastisement didn’t help. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get up the nerve to ask Maggie Brown out on a date to save my life.
I crossed over to the window, frowning down at my scarred cowboy boots clapping against the linoleum floor. Not exactly my first choice in footwear, but they did provide me with a convenient place to hide my sidearm. It’s not as if I could meander around the high school with a gun strapped to my chest.
Okay, focus. Maybe I should try making small talk with her; that’s assuming I don’t choke to death on my tongue first.
While considering a few other lame scenarios, my eyes wandered over my dreary surroundings. It was your vintage government-issued office. Aside from the obese desk that lay sprawled across the center of the room, cold and lifeless, a rusted gray filing cabinet sat stuffed in the corner, with a gray pleather chair leaning cock-eyed against it. A seriously out-of-date laptop, which was, believe it or not, gray, hummed loudly in the top right corner of the desk. The only bright spot of color in the room was the half-empty blue and red Diet Pepsi can parked in the center of my desk.
Fortunately, I seldom had to be in my office. I worked throughout Upstate New York with the Mobile Enforcement Team, or MET. Being a specialized unit of the DEA, our job is to work specifically with local authorities in helping to dismantle drug trafficking in urban areas. For the past five months, I’ve been working undercover at Port Fare High pretending to be a student. Heroin use was on the rise in Port Fare, with three reported deaths from overdose last summer alone. The dealers were making it stronger, therefore, more addictive, and cheaper.
My assignment was to buddy up to the popular kids, figure out who was using, and from whom they were buying the stuff. That meant I had to spend most of my days with the school’s cheer captain and her groupies. Thanks to my wealth, she and her clique readily accepted me into their circle. She was the quintessential social climber and one shallow girl. I learned right off she wasn’t using heroin, but I wasn’t too sure about some of her friends.
There were three others working undercover at the school besides myself. One agent worked with the different sports teams, another covered the known drug users at the school, and the last was a floater. His job was to blend quietly into the background.
I hated deceiving the students, but the dealers had to be stopped, too many lives were being wasted. I appeased my guilty conscience by telling myself we weren’t after the kids who were using the stuff; we wanted their supplier.
The case actually began last winter. I was on an assignment near Syracuse with my team captain, Booker Gatto. We were tracking a particularly unscrupulous drug dealer, trying to learn who his supplier was. The scum dealer’s MO was to hang out around the local elementary schools. He would lace candy and other goodies with drugs before offering it to them in hopes of getting them addicted. Nine children lost their lives before he was killed in a shootout at a local pool hall. We lost one agent that day. He left a wife and two small children behind.
The dead dealer’s fingerprints and dental records turned up a big fat zero. His identity went to the grave with him, and we buried him simply as John Doe. Booker felt the situation was suspicious and had the case file sealed to the public to protect the team from retaliation.
We never learned who his supplier was, but we did stop the flow of heroin into the area, temporarily anyway. It seems there’s always another piece of trash waiting in the wings to fill the void.
Word on the street was that Rochester was the new hot spot for our elusive supplier, more specifically, the community of Port Fare. My town. Since volunteering for the assignment at the high school, I’d grown to know these kids. Most were good kids, some were a little lost, but overall they were a good group. I made it my personal mission to catch the low-life if it was the last thing I did.
My thoughts of the high school brought me back around to my other problem. Maggie. She didn’t fit into my assignment at the school, and I seldom, actually never got up the nerve to talk to her. The few times I’d run into her in the hallway, my tongue had swollen to the size of a small whale, essentially blocking off the oxygen supply to my brain.
Before I could tear myself up again, my office door flew open. In sauntered my team leader and best friend, Booker. No, he was more than a friend, he was like a brother to me.
I laughed at him in his black, full dress uniform, including the standard issue Glock pistol tucked into a leather holster at his waist. I hated our wool uniforms, too itchy. Luckily for me, jeans and tee shirts were the required uniform of my current assignment, along with the boots, of course.
“What’s up, Book?” I went back to my desk and sat down, my pleather chair squawking out in protest.
“We got a new lead on the heroin ring. It’s the most promising one yet.” Booker shoved the door closed roughly behind him causing the glass to rattle in its frame. Flipping open a thin manila folder he took three photos out, tossing the top one onto my desk.
“This is Felix Hoffman,” Booker said, tapping the photo of a seedy-looking man with stringy red hair and a pockmarked face. “He’s a small-time thug with a record a mile long, mostly for dealing marijuana, but it seems he has new aspirations. He was seen in Applegate Park talking to a couple of new guys last week.”
“I’m guessing we don’t know who these new guys are?” The man in the photo had creep written all over him. Definitely not someone I’d want to run into in a dark alley, not without my Glock, anyway.
“Nope. However, word on the street is they have a powerful contact.” He dropped down onto the corner of my gray desk and continued.
“Do you remember that stabbing last week in Applegate Park?” I nodded. “Cole’s the doctor assigned to her case. He called me this morning when she came out of her coma, and I went over to interview her.”
He set the file down and pulled out a small blue notepad from his breast pocket, flipping over a few pages. “Her name is Michelle Stringer, 18 years of age. She went into the park looking to score some grass, and came across our new friends instead. They intro’d themselves to her simply as Bill and Alan and tried to convince her to buy some heroin from them. She said she wasn’t interested, but this guy Alan was insistent that she try it. He said he only offered the good stuff, and she wouldn’t regret it.
“He began bullying her around.” Booker’s eyes darkened as he spoke. He held zero tolerance for men who abused women. Understandable on all accounts, but especially after what he’d been through. “But it seems our Ms. Stringer is a second degree black belt,” Booker said. “She got a few good kicks in until this Alan character drew out a pearl-handled knife from his pants. He proceeded to shove her into their car.”
“What kind of car?” I sat up and reached for the pen I’d been spinning earlier, along with a slip of yellow paper from my desk drawer.
“Beige,” Booker said, rolling his eyes.
“That narrows it down.” I sat back, tossing the pen onto my desk.
“She did say it had several rust spots,” he offered, jotting something down in his notebook.
“Ms. Stringer stated Alan had fastened her wrists together with cable ties, and that he really got off on cutting her up with his knife, telling her he could make her scream for hours before she died if he wanted.”
“Guy sounds like a real … charmer,” I said, forcing back a coarse remark.
“After he finished with her, she was kicked to the curb, literally, and left for dead. An older man out walking his dog found her almost immediately and called 9-1-1. It’s probably the only reason she’s alive, and the fact that Cole was the doctor on duty when she was brought in. I don’t believe she would have made it otherwise. The guy’s a miracle worker.”
“What about the other guy? Bill, right?”
“Alan and his huge knife demanded most of her attention. She did say Bill wasn’t too happy about Alan using a knife on her. The two men had an intense argument, but Alan was determined to punish her for kicking him. When Alan threatened to carve Bill up if he didn’t shut his mouth, the argument pretty much ended.”
“Was she able to give us a description?”
“She guesses Alan to be about six feet tall and Bill to be a couple inches shorter. Both men were dressed in black polyester shirt and pants, and Alan had on shiny black ankle boots with silver zippers.”
“They’re definitely not fashion icons,” I said. “How about hair and eye color?”
“Slicked-back, dirty blond hair for both men. As for their eyes, is bloodshot considered a color?” he frowned.
“So they were high.” That was not unusual, selling was how most of dealers supported their own habit. “Anything else?”
“Only that Alan wore a one inch silver disk in his right earlobe” Booker flipped the notebook shut and tucked it back into his pocket.
“Is she willing to work with a police sketch artist as soon as she’s feeling stronger?” Hopefully, this was the break we’d been looking for.
“Yes, I’ll run the drawing through the files, and maybe we’ll find a match.” He slid the next photo onto my desk.
“Meet Barbara Brown. This old driver’s license photo is the only picture we have of her. I’m still trying to find something more recent,” Booker said, before swiping a drink of my now warm soda. He winced and set it back down.
“Haven’t you ever heard of ice, kid?” Ignoring him, I looked over the photo. The woman’s blue eyes looked familiar.
“It seems she’s somewhat of a recluse,” Booker said. “We’re not even sure how she’s involved yet. We do know that Hoffman’s been over to her house almost daily for the past few weeks, and he doesn’t come empty-handed.”
“Drugs?” I asked, scanning the info beneath the photo. It stated she was only twenty-five years old when the picture was taken, yet she looked much older. I didn’t pay it much heed since it was a DMV photo, and when have they ever been flattering?
“Again, not sure. Some days he brings over a few grocery bags full of something and leaves an hour later empty-handed. Other days he comes with nothing more than a bottle of vodka, but when he leaves, he has the weighted-down grocery bags from before. We thought about bringing him in for questioning until he was spotted with the guys in the park. Now we’re hoping he’ll lead us to them. Something tells me they’re the big time players we’ve been after.”
“What makes you so sure there’s a drug connection between him and Barbara Brown? Hoffman could be her boyfriend.” I didn’t doubt Booker, I just felt bad for the poor woman.
“Because of her.” He dropped the last photo from his file onto my desk. “Ma—”
“Maggie.” I sat up sharply, picking up the photo. “I know her. She’s a senior at Port Fare High. What does she have to do with this? Is she this woman’s daughter?” I knew the answer before I'd asked the question. The eyes, they held the same pained expression.
“Yup. Physically she’s a textbook case, kid. She’s gaunt, with jutting bones, and she has dark rings around the eyes. She could be the poster child for Heroin Chic.”
“You’re wrong about Maggie. She’s brilliant. She has a 4.0 GPA, and she spends her lunch hour in the library most days. No one’s mentioned that her mother does drugs, but I have heard she drinks a bit.” That was a mild exaggeration. I’d overheard Maggie’s ex-boyfriend Zack Finkle telling some of the guys in the locker room that her mom was an all-out drunk.
“Maybe I’m wrong, but look at the photo, kid. Something’s going on with her.”
I absent-mindedly ran my thumb across Maggie’s cheek in the glossy eight by ten before realizing Booker was watching. I grabbed my warm soda and took a swig. Yuck! His face was split wide in a grin.
“So, you’re sweet on her?”
“No… I… well, she’s nice. The other students genuinely like her. In fact, she was dating this obnoxious kid until last week, and he’d been whining about her being a goody-goody because she wouldn’t smoke grass with him. Supposedly, that’s why they broke up. I sincerely doubt she’s doing heroin. Or cocaine,” I added before he could.
“Does she seem out of sorts when you talk to her?”
I cleared my throat. “I haven’t actually talked to her.” I dropped my gaze, wanting to hide my anxious expression.
“She makes you nervous, huh? Must be love. Puppy love, anyway.”
“Shut up, Booker.”
“Kid, you’re in the presence of a master. Here’s what you have to do, my callow friend. You joke around with her, tease her a little, you know, get her to laugh. Make it so she’s the nervous one. That, my friend, is how you’ll win the lady’s heart.”
“This coming from a guy who hasn’t had a date in years.”
“Because I choose not to date.”
“Yeah, right,” I laughed. “Look, she seems nice, that’s all. I’d hate to think she’s involved in this mess.” I began casually spinning the pen on my desktop again hoping my lie wasn’t too obvious.
“I guess you’d better put on your game face, I’m adding her to your assignment. Pull back a little on the kids you’re currently working with and refocus most of your energy on Ms. Brown. Make her your new best friend. Something’s going on at her house, and only time will tell whether she’s involved or not.”
I dropped my head back against my chair and groaned. Booker laughed. “I have every bit of confidence in you.” He slipped the photos back into the file and set it on the desk. “She sure is skinny. Anorexic, you think?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
“Ask her out. The girl looks as if she could use a good meal… or three. Check her arms for tracks while you’re at it.”
“And how exactly do you suggest I do that? 'Hey, Maggie, you want to go get a burger? Oh, by the way, do you mind if I check you for needle marks?'”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something.” He got up and headed for the door. “One more thing, kid. Be very careful,” he warned soberly. “She’s only 17, which means she’s still considered jailbait.”
I chucked my pen at him, missing his head by no more than an inch. He chuckled and darted out the door.
Slumping back in my chair, a sickening feeling crept into my gut. Maggie couldn’t be on drugs, could she? Scrubbing my face in frustration, I looked down at the photo of the pretty girl with the sad blue eyes and prayed that my partner and lifelong friend had it wrong.
However, he seldom did.
“Absolutely pathetic!” Sadly, pulling the comb through my hair again did nothing to improve it. The dull brown strands fell lifelessly down the center of my back. Of course, technically, hair was already dead, yet somehow mine seemed deader than most. I carefully set the skinny comb on the edge of our avocado green sink. The bathroom was much too small for a counter-top so the retro sink had to pull double duty.
“I wonder if Hillary ever has a bad hair day.” I asked my reflection in the chipped mirror above the sink. “Probably not.” Hillary was the cheer captain at my school, Port Fare High, and every boy’s fantasy girl. Whatever!
I wasn’t an ugly girl. I had nice eyes, sort of. There were huge shadows around them anymore thanks to too many late-night study sessions, but their blue color was somewhat pretty. I had a good nose. It was straight and short, though it did turn up a little too much at the end, but my skin was clear, this week anyway.
I jabbed my fingers through my hair again in hopes of infusing some life into it.
I dropped my hands back down onto the sink’s edge, forgetting about the precariously placed comb and sent it plunging into our pink toilet. Yet another great day in my dull boring life! I fished the comb out, poured bleach on it and left it in the sink to soak. I wrapped a rubber band around my dead hair and went to my room.
The back seam of my one and only winter coat had ripped out right before Christmas, and I now had to dress in layers to keep warm. I pulled on a tank top and two tee shirts before grabbing my beige sweater off the bed and heading into the kitchen to pack some lunch.
Scooping up the mail off the wobbly kitchen table, I thumbed through it while standing next to our trash bin. “Hmm, junk mail.” One was addressed to me: Maggie Brown, You may already be a $1,000,000 winner!
“Goodie, my troubles are over.” I tossed the envelope into the dilapidated orange bin and gathered the peanut butter and the last of the bread from the cupboard before continuing.
The next letter was addressed to my mother. Barbara Brown, you are invited to join the Wine of the Month club. Call 1-800—“Oh, yeah, exactly what my mother needs.” I ripped the invitation into several small pieces and filed it alongside the $1,000,000 advertisement. The only other piece of mail was the overdue electric bill. “Shoot!” I set it beside the tattered dish drainer to remind myself to write out a check after school.
With only one slice of bread left, I made up half a sandwich for my mother. If anyone needed food, she did. I packed up my book bag and walked over to where her skeletal frame laid sprawled across the couch sleeping off last night’s dinner: a bottle of vodka. I swept back a matted strand of gray hair from her prematurely-lined face—no one would have guessed her to be only 34 years-old—and kissed her cheek, something I’d have never done if she were coherent.
“I lo … bye, Mom.” I wanted to tell her I loved her, but she’d never made our home a safe place for expressing emotions, and even though she was asleep, I still couldn’t do it. I’d learned from an early age to keep my feelings buried deep inside, training myself never to cry in front of her. Having to endure her ridiculing if I were to show her my true emotions would have killed me.
I thought back to when I was just seven years old. I’d fallen out of an apple tree and hurt my arm. Lying on a rotting heap of wormy apples, I screamed out in pain and within seconds, my mother was at my side.
“Shut up! You’re embarrassing me.” She jerked me up by my injured arm and dragged me into the house. “Stop crying and go to bed!”
I remembered rubbing the tears dry from my cheeks, and forcing myself to stop crying. “My arm hurts, bad!”
“Good! Maybe that will teach you to be more careful, cry-baby.”
Two days later the school nurse noticed my swollen, misshapen arm during recess and tried calling my mom for over two hours but she never answered so the neighbor listed on my emergency contact card drove me to the hospital instead. It turned out my arm was broken in two places. And the reason my mother never picked up the phone? She was passed out from her liquid lunch.
Social services showed up at our home the next day. My mother was sober by then and was able to lie her way out of trouble, but she went ballistic on me after they’d left.
“If you ever pull a stunt like that again, I’ll stick you in a foster home so fast your head will spin, then you’ll no long be a burden to me!” From then on, all my tears were saved for my pillow.
I turned and gave the room a quick once-over to make sure nothing was lying around that she might stumble over and hurt herself on. Quietly closing the door of our dilapidated blue trailer, I tightened my antiquated sweater as the bitter cold wind sliced through it. “Oooh!” Spring couldn’t come soon enough for me, despite the beauty of Upstate New York, the winters were brutal.
The school was close, only 12 minutes away if I jogged, something I usually did during the winter months. It was the first day of school since Christmas break, and I was looking forward to getting back into a routine.
When I reached the park near my home, a sporty red Lexus IS F pulled up alongside me. My heart skipped a beat. I knew the car and could easily pick it out in a crowd, along with its hot owner. Seth Prescott: beautiful car, beautiful hair, beautiful… seriously, what wasn’t beautiful about him? He even had a way of making the scruffy brown cowboy boots he always wore look hot. He’d transferred to Port Fare High from some fancy private school last summer, and I’d developed a serious crush on him, along with every other girl in school. I knew he was out of my league, but it didn’t stop me from indulging in a daydream or two. I’d heard he lived alone since his parents died a while back. Rather impressive for a guy who was only eighteen.
“Want a ride?” He flashed a to-die-for smile as a gust of wind caught his shoulder-length brown hair, tossing the silky locks onto his face. His green eyes sparkled as he brushed the hair behind his ears and laughed.
Yep, he was freakin’ hot.
I thought of the look on Hillary’s face if she were to see me in Seth’s car. Priceless. I quickly doused the daydream. “No, thanks.” The idea of trying to make conversation with Mr. Tall and Yummy, even if only for five minutes, was more than I could handle this early in the morning. I’d rather walk. He let out a rush of air as if he had been holding his breath and drove away.
Crossing the school parking lot a short time later, my ex-boyfriend Zack Finkle cruised by in his rusted-out Chevy something or other. I quickly diverted my gaze to the ground. He honked his horn, or rather played his horn in his search for a parking spot, all the while primping his spiky blond hair. Some goofy tune bellowed out of the car, and he gave his engine a punch of gas as he shifted gears. For some unknown reason I waved, though I had to wrestle back a sneer. He smiled and winked one of his dull gray eyes. Sick! We broke up after dating for two months. He insisted we sleep together, I insisted we didn’t.
Weaving my way through the last row of cars, I was nearly plowed down by a bright yellow Mini Cooper driven by none other than Hillary Jeffers: cheerleader, beautiful, perfect in every way. Perfect hair, perfect skin, perfect clothes, and perfect pom-poms. She barely glanced in my direction. No surprise, she rarely acknowledged my existence. It worked for me.
Naturally, Zack had a thing for her, but Hillary only had eyes for Seth—and who could blame her—even still, I had no doubt Zack would have her one day, he was a devious little worm. His family had considerable power in the community, which meant they hung out in all the right circles. Regardless of her lust for Seth, Hillary lusted after power and money even more. Zack was just her speed.
I entered the main building via the gym door and went straight to my locker, running into Karen Mayes on the way. She was yet another tall gorgeous cheerleader, but Karen was Hillary’s opposite–she was nice. She looked toasty warm in her long, red sweater and black leggings.
“Hi, Maggie, did you have a good Christmas?” Her smile sparkled against her clear ebony skin, as did the shiny white headband in her hair.
“Yes, how about you?”
“Great. My family and I went skiing in Utah for a week. It was awesome. Have you ever been there?”
“No,” nor had I ever been skiing. After fighting with my locker combination a few times, I opened the door and shoved my extra books inside.
Karen carefully slipped her pom-poms in behind my books and gently shut the door. Her locker was jammed fully of cheer paraphernalia, leaving little room for the blue and gold streamers. I let her keep them in mine.
“I appreciate you letting me use your locker. I guess it’s silly to be this fussy over pom-poms, it’s just that some of the other girls get rather nasty if they don’t look perfect.” Undoubtedly, she meant Hillary. “Did you get anything fun for Christmas?”
“Oh, you know the same old boring thing.” Nothing.
“Yes, but those boring Christmases make the big Christmases even better, don’t you think?” She then lowered her voice. “Guess what? I got an email from Mrs. Connor over break. I’m getting a B!”
I’d been helping her study for her English Lit class during the lunch hour. She was getting a D, and would have been suspended from the cheer team if she couldn’t bring it up to a C.
“Thanks for the help. I lost track of how many lunches you skipped to help me.”
Not many really, it’s not as if I brought lunch very often.
“Hey, I have an extra donut. Do you want it?” She wiggled a tan sack at me. “It won’t make up for all the lunches you missed, but it’s a start.”
“Are you sure?” I tried to sound casual despite the fact I was starving.
“Positive.” She handed me a glazed doughnut from a small sack. “See ya later.”
“Thanks.” I eagerly stuffed the doughnut into my mouth. It tasted wonderful. Of course hungry as I was, cardboard would have tasted wonderful. After licking the last of the icing off my fingers, I made my way over to my first class of the day, Modern Mythology.
Port Fare High divided the classes up into 90-minute blocks. Each class was taught every other day, a plus for me since I hated math.
On the other hand, it could be extremely painful if you had a dull teacher. Case in point, the Modern Mythology teacher, Dr. Bore. Or as he was known amongst the student body: Bore the Snore. Not only was he a complete bore, but he was also a bit bizarre.
The self-proclaimed nonconformist was a thin, scrawny man, with a feeble gray beard. It matched the straggly gray hair he kept tied back in a ponytail via a thin leather strap. He wore collarless shirts, and because the school policy stated male teachers had to wear a tie, he kept one draped about his neck, untied. He wore sandals every day. Nothing, neither rain, nor sleet, not even snow could keep him from wearing his silly Birkenstocks. If that wasn’t bad enough, a weird odor hung on him all the time. I did my best to avoid standing too close to him.
His five or six minions sat in the front desks soaking up every word he had to say, while the rest of the class battled sleep. My favorite spot was the far right corner of the room where I could sit unnoticed. Before class started, I dropped into my usual desk and began doodling in my notebook, immediately becoming lost in my thoughts. So lost, I didn’t notice who sat down next to me.
“Hello, again.” I immediately recognized the deep warm voice and turned to look into Seth’s delicious eyes. He had on a long-sleeved, yellow striped polo and a pair of well-worn Levis. I glanced about to see who he was talking to, only to discover there wasn’t anyone else around.
“Hi?” Not meaning for it to sound like a question, I blushed.
“Maggie Brown, right?” I nodded cautiously at him. “Where do you live?”
Why did he want to know that? “Why?” I sounded rude, which wasn’t my intent. Maybe I should stick to nodding. My hand sprung to a strand of limp hair that had escaped from my rubber band, and I was about to begin twirling the hairs back and forth between my first two fingers, an anxious habit of mine, but thankfully, I caught myself and quickly dropped my hand back down.
“I noticed you were walking to school today and it’s pretty cold out. Would you like a ride in the mornings? My house is over on Ivy Circle, do you live near there?”
Where else would this beautiful being live except for on the rich side of town. “Sorry, I live off Main Street, by Applegate Park. Thanks anyway.”
He reached over and tucked the limp strand of hair behind my ear. His fingers felt warm as they brushed against the jaw of my still cold face and it forced another shiver down my back.
“It’s not that far out of my way. If you’d like, I can pick you up,” he said with a smile.
My first instinct was to wonder why he was being so kind. What did he want? True, I had seen him around school, but we’d never hung out, let alone had a conversation.
“I’m trying to get in shape for track team tryouts in the spring.” Okay, that was a shameless lie. “Thanks anyway.” He looked as if he was about to insist, when Hillary appeared out of nowhere, wrapping her arms about his neck. She was wearing a pink mini skirt and white blouse. How she was staying warm was a mystery to me.
“Good morning, beautiful.” Hillary smiled as he turned and stood. I briefly wondered if I looked as mesmerized as she did when looking at him. “Will you help me with the Mythology homework? You never called back last night, naughty boy. Trying to avoid me?” She stuck out her bottom lip in a pout and slid her arm around his waist.
“Sorry, Hillary. I was busy and forgot.”
“I’ll forgive you if you come over and help me before class starts.” She flashed him another impish pout and turned to leave. He followed like a whipped puppy, but not before he glanced back at me and mouthed, “We’ll talk later.”
Okay, weird. I had no idea he even knew my name. Apparently, Hillary had her hooks into him deep. She whistles. He jumps. I wondered if a guy would ever care for me like that. “Maybe if I was built like Hillary,” I mumbled under my breath.
I was actually enjoying the single life since breaking up with Zack. I had no one trying to force me into compromising on things I wanted, or didn’t want.
While we were dating, Zack was constantly trying to pressure me into trying alcohol. No thanks. Living with an alcoholic all my life gave me ample cause to avoid the stuff. He also tried getting me to smoke pot, which in my book was the same as alcohol except more destructive.
However, his all-time favorite thing was to try pressuring me into sex, with him. Ha! As if! A ripple of disgust washed over me as I remembered his wet, sloppy kisses. Since breaking up, I’d tried to figure out why I ever dated him in the first place. Loneliness, I suppose. But now that I was free, loneliness wasn’t so bad. I was independent and enjoying it immensely. I vowed never again to have a boyfriend hanging around me like a noose. I was a liberated woman who didn’t need a boy to be happy.
Dr. Bore droned on and on, it felt as if class would never end. To break up the agony, I pulled out my new class schedule and verified the changes. Everything was pretty much the same as last semester, except I added a fourth period Culinary class and had to switch my Community at Large class to second period.
Community at Large, or CaL, was my favorite class. Students from the high school drove over to Hunter Hills, the local elementary school, and assisted the teacher in the classroom for an hour with various activities. I worked with the emotionally needy children. Over half the class was in foster care, having been through unspeakable horrors already in their young lives. CaL was the highlight of my day. Truthfully, it was more like the highlight of my life. I felt more alive there than I did anywhere else. I willingly gave those kids the real me I didn’t trust to anyone else. It felt liberating, and truthfully, they did more for me than I could possibly have done for them.
The bell rang, rousing me out of my daydream. Since carpooling to the elementary school was mandatory, I hurried toward the CaL classroom to find out who I was driving with.
“Hey, Maggie, how was your Christmas break?”
Melody Winkmyer. We’d known each other since the third grade though we rarely hung out. She was short, maybe 5’2,” and had tons of short, curly brown hair. Her face was always a bright red, as if she’d just run a marathon. She was also a wizard on the lacrosse team. “Have you heard the latest?” Gossip, Melody should have a PhD in it by now. To be sure, the girl knew something about everyone. “Mark and Debbie broke up!”
That was news. They had been a couple since tenth grade, and everyone assumed they’d get married after high school. “Debbie and her family went on a cruise over Christmas break, and she met some guy from Mexico. They’re engaged!”
“Debbie told me herself. Her parents are livid.” Melody’s cheeks were positively glowing with excitement over the news. It made me uncomfortable.
“How’s Mark doing?” I liked Mark, he was a decent guy. This had to be difficult for him.
“Well, he’s not in school today!” She smiled broadly. I was about to change the subject when Hillary rushed past me. Seth was walking directly ahead of us, no doubt, she was trying to catch up to him.
Melody frowned. “Are those two still an item?” Hillary reached Seth and looped her arm through his. She proceeded to flip her long strawberry-blond hair, drawing attention from every male within 100 yards. I had to pull my head back to avoid being smacked in the face with it.
Her frown deepened and she whispered loudly, “Never mind. Does he ever date regular people like me?”
“There are plenty of other guys out there. Zack and I broke up.”
“No thanks, he’s too handsie.” So true. He had little respect for anyone’s personal space especially if that someone were female.
“I heard Seth keeps a comb in his back pocket in case his precious hair dares to mess up,” she again whispered loudly. I hoped he was too busy drooling over Hillary to overhear her, though he’d have to be deaf not to.
“I also heard he ducks into the bathroom between classes to check up on it. Girls only like him because he’s hot, I’ll bet his personality totally sucks. And did you know Hillary changed her schedule around so they would be in all the same classes?”
“I don’t know him very well, he seems nice.” She rolled her eyes and accused me of having a crush on him before running off after another friend.
The CaL classroom was full. I worked my way to the back, waiting for my carpool assignment. The teacher, Miss Coy, came in and tried to call the class to order. She was a small soft-spoken woman and it took her several tries to quiet the room down. Eventually, a techno-geek helped her hook up a microphone. It only made it worse. Her petite voice kept breaking up over the speakers. I leaned toward her as if it would help me to understand better.
“Most of you had this c—ss last s—ester and wo-ld like you to conti—e driving with the same p—ple. H—ever some of you are new, or h—ve switched perio—. Who does not —ave a ride this seme—er?” My hand and four others shot up. Before Miss Coy could ask for volunteers, Seth Prescott turned to her and said something.
Seth? I had no idea he had signed up for CaL. He didn’t seem the type: a good looking, seemingly self-absorbed guy, working with children? I quickly chastised myself for judging him unfairly. I’d noticed I was getting a little too judgmental lately and decided my New Year’s resolution this year would be to rein it in. Might as well start now. I will not judge, I repeated over in my mind.
Miss Coy said something in reply to Seth before calling the class to order again. “Who can t—ke —?” She rattled off the other four student’s names, nine kids volunteered, and she made the assignments. “Maggie Br—, you’—be riding wi-h—” Her voice broke up again making it impossible for me to understand her. She continued. “These assi—ments are for the e—ire semest—, no exceptio—,” she added sternly. I raised my hand to ask of my fate, when Seth appeared next to me out of nowhere.
“Ready, Maggie?” Seth rattled his keys in front of me. I gawked at him as if he had lost his mind. Surely, Miss Coy hadn’t assigned me to ride with him? “I’m afraid you’re stuck with me for the entire semester, you heard what she said about switching rides.”
Why did he volunteer to take me? The expression on my face must have been obvious because he added, “I believe we’re both in Mrs. Mathew’s class at Hunter Hills, correct?”
I groaned silently and nodded. There was my answer. What in the world would we possibly have to talk about on the drive over? Hair-gel? He could probably give me some pointers, his hair always looked great even after the wind had tossed it onto his face. I heaved my book bag up onto my shoulder, smiled politely, and followed him out to the parking lot.
An arctic blast cut through my thin sweater as he opened the car door for me and I let out a gasp. He was around and in the car in record time, cranking up the heat and twisting the vents in my direction. “You really should wear a warmer coat,” he said. “You could get pneumonia wearing only that.” His car had black leather interior; it was beautiful, and cold. I was glad the heater worked well.
“I love this sweater,” I mumbled through my chattering teeth. Besides, it’s not as if I had another choice. Rich people like him don’t have a clue what … You’re judging him, Maggie. I smiled, tightened my sweater around me, and blocked out the negative thoughts.
Before long, we lapsed into an uncomfortable silence, neither he nor I seemed to know what to say. I wrenched myself closer to the door while stealing a quick glance at him. I was surprised to see his hands wrapped tightly around the steering wheel, so tight his knuckles were white. I looked out at the road to see if maybe we were driving on ice. It looked clear to me.
Finally, Seth broke the silence. “Why do I make you nervous?” He had a slight smile on his face now. “By the way, you should slide to the center of the seat, it’s much more comfortable.”
“I’m comfortable, thanks.” In actuality, the armrest was digging into my hip, causing me significant pain. I shifted a bit, making it worse.
“Isn’t Hillary taking this class with you?” I desperately wanted to change the subject.
“No, cheerleading practice was switched to second period. She had to drop CaL.” He chuckled softly, leading me to believe he’d heard Melody in the hall earlier. How embarrassing!
Only when we pulled up to the school did I realize my fingers were tangled up around my hair. Seth looked over at me and smiled. My face went pink as I untwisted them. He jumped out and came around to open my door before I could get out.
“Thanks for the ride.”
He nodded. “This is my second semester here. It’s my favorite class.”
“Mine too,” I said, astonished.
“Why is it yours?” His face looked sincere, as if he was truly interested in what I had to say.
“The kids love you, and they don’t care what you wear.” I thought of my thin worn out sweater. “Nor do they care what your hair looks like.” That was aimed at his vanity. For a split second, he smiled. “They love you and want you to love them, no strings attached. It’s …” I trailed off in search of the right word.
“Yes, pure love.” I couldn’t have said it any better. This was the one place I ever felt loved or wanted. My mother certainly didn’t love me, at least she never expressed it in any way. As a child, I longed for her to gather me onto her lap and read me a story, or brush my hair and tell me I was pretty. She never did. She never hugged me, or tucked me into bed at night, and she never made me dinner, or any other meal for that matter. She had a wicked mean streak, and when she was upset, her harsh words nipped at my heart. She was a cold, distant woman who drank too much.
A year and a half ago things changed-for the worst. She was rarely sober anymore and seldom left the house. Her words took on a new cruelty; they cut clear to my soul, some days shredding it into pieces. Words like: get out of my sight, you lazy girl, or, can’t you do anything right, you unlovable nothing? And my favorite, I should have given you up when I had the chance!
As we approached the school door, a passage from my favorite Victor Hugo novel Les Misérables crossed my mind. For Jean Valjean there was no sun, no beautiful summer days, no radiant sky, no fresh April dawn. Completely lost in my pain, I didn’t feel the tears brimming up in my eyes until one spilled over the edge.
Seth softly turned me around to face him. “What’s wrong?” He peered into my eyes and it felt as if he was burrowing down into the dark recesses of my soul. His fingers ran softly across my cheek, brushing away the tear. There was an undeniable tenderness about him and it made my heart flutter. His reaction caught me off guard, I stammered for a moment not knowing what to say. Should I tell him about my pathetic life, explain to him how unloved I was, or how I could totally relate to these children and what they were feeling?
I opted for the safe answer, like always; show no emotion, keep it locked inside, they can’t hurt you if they don’t know anything about you.
“It’s the cold air, it’s burning my eyes.” Clearly, he didn’t buy my lame excuse, but to his credit, he said nothing. He held the school door open for me and led us down the hall.
Crying? What the heck was wrong with me? It must be PMS! I stayed a few steps behind him secretly drying my face and running through a calendar in my mind.
Approaching the classroom, I peered around his shoulder and saw twenty-two little smiles eagerly awaiting us, their little cherub faces pressed up against the glass before the door promptly flew open. Out they came, jumping on Seth and me, knocking us both to the floor. Their reaction to him stunned me. Apparently, they loved him as much as they did me.
Zane, a tenderhearted blond boy, was now perched on my knees. “Why are you here early, Miss Maggie?”
“I had to change my school schedule to this hour.”
“Wow! Our two most favoritist teachers at the same time,” swooned Noah, a sweet little guy with big brown eyes. “I’m the luckiest boy ever!” He smiled as Seth helped me up off the floor.
“You know what this means!” said Elise, a stunning, curly-haired blond girl.
“What?” Seth asked.
“It means you two have to get married.” She smothered her giggle into her hands, along with several other little girls, while some began chanting, “Kiss her! Kiss her!” Seth laughed loudly, scooped me into his arms, and before I could protest, planted a big noisy kiss on my cheek. Wow, his cologne smelled heavenly. I laughed as the girls cheered and the boys made gagging sounds. He released me when their teacher, Mrs. Mathews, a tall, middle-aged, Korean woman with long silky black hair, came out into the hall and shooed them back inside.
“Alright, children, settle down.” As always, her voice was gentle. “We now have Mr. Seth, along with Miss Maggie as our visiting teachers for this hour. Since we haven’t had our guest teachers read to us for several weeks, we’re going to separate into two groups for story time.” She quickly divided the kids up and sent the groups to opposing ends of the room. Harrison, a precious redheaded boy, chose several books for me to read as the rest of my group settled into beanbag chairs or on small carpet squares. Noah curled up in my lap and began stroking my cheek.
The time flew. Occasionally, I’d hear Seth read a line with exaggerated drama and the children would laugh. I tried not to look over at him, yet my eyes were drawn there as if by some unseen force. He was glowing. He seemed at home with the little first graders, three of whom were sitting on his lap. I was taken aback by this side of him.
Halfway through the hour, Mrs. Mathews had us switch places so the children could spend equal time with both of us, though Noah insisted he stay with me. I looked at Seth as we crossed the room. He smiled and winked. I dropped my head as my face turned at least four shades of red, and my mind flooded with suspicion. Why was he acting this way? Did he think I was going to be another notch in his belt?
Elise tugged at my arm. “What’s wrong, Miss Maggie?” I didn’t realize my expression had deteriorated into a scowl. Nudging the negative thoughts out, I began reading to my new group.
By the end of class, my ill feelings toward Seth had almost vanished, that was until he slipped his arm around my shoulders while we walked down the hall toward his car. I pulled away and gave him an icy glare.
“Sorry,” he said, wrestling with a smile. “My car is out this way.” I glanced around and realized I had turned down the wrong hall. I nodded curtly and walked toward the correct door, completely humiliated by my childish overreaction.
I settled quietly into his car, and we drove back to the high school, again, in tortured silence. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear he was as nervous as I was.
Clearing my throat, I attempted to make conversation as we approached the school. “The kids really like you,” I said.
“Yeah, probably because I’m so hot!” he teased, I think… I hope!
“You know, I’m surprised the three of us can fit in your car.”
“Three? I do believe there are only two.”
“Me, you, and your over-sized ego. I believe that makes three.” I jumped out before the car came to a complete stop, slamming the door shut behind me. I was trying to placate some of my guilt, though why I should feel guilty I had no idea. It was Melody who criticized him, not me.
“You’re welcome,” he shouted to my backside.
Just because he does something kind doesn’t mean he’s not an egomaniac, I reasoned, still trying to salve my wounded pride.
Later at lunch, I cut through the cafeteria on my way to the library. The placed reeked of rotted food and gym socks, not the most enticing smells for a lunchroom. Divided into rows of three were forty long gray plastic tables with attached benches. Spaced evenly across the ceiling were a dozen humming fluorescent lights and down the center of the room sat three black garbage cans spaced between the tables, adding to the ambiance.
Seth and Hillary were snuggled together at their usual table near the front of the room, all giggles and jokes. Never once did he look my way, which was just fine with me. Who needed an arrogant snob in their life? I had enough to deal with without adding him to the list, including the nagging voice in the back of my head telling me it was wrong to judge him. It really needed to shut up!
I arrived home from school to find my slimy neighbor, Mr. Hoffman from across the road, walking back toward his haggard gray trailer. My guess was that he had spent the afternoon with my mother and a bottle of vodka, something he seemed to be doing all too regularly over the past three weeks. I opened the door and found my mother passed out on the couch and surmised I was right.
My mom used to have lots of friends coming by to visit until I realized they were using her for what little money we had. After I’d gone to the bank and set up a checking account with direct deposit, and kept the checkbook hidden, the supposed friendships evaporated. Except for Hoffman. He’d moved in a few months ago and they’d become fast friends. He gave me the creeps.
I set about cleaning the house so not to think about the aching hunger in the pit of my stomach. It was a pocket-sized trailer consisting of an extremely small living room-dining room-kitchen combination. The sparse mismatched furnishings were tattered beyond repair.
There was a brown couch that sagged horribly in the middle, a blue armchair—minus an arm- and a rickety kitchen table with two wobbly folding chairs Toward the back of the trailer was our micro-chip sized bathroom, and opposite the bathroom, were two 9 by 7 foot bedrooms. My mother rarely used hers, preferring to spend most of her days and nights passed out on the couch.
The floors throughout were a linoleum, cold brown linoleum, and it was normally littered with an empty booze bottle or two and a few stray tissues. The walls were painted a blanched white and were bare and tedious, mostly because we didn’t have the money to decorate them. I’d used thumbtacks to hang some old beige pillowcases over the tall narrow windows to afford us privacy.
My frantic cleaning efforts were rewarded. I found 83 cents under the chair’s flattened cushion. I finished my housework and ran to the store to buy some day-old bread.
Most of my lunch hours were spent in the library studying, that way I didn’t have to watch others eat, but not today. I had a peanut butter sandwich, and I ate in the cafeteria sitting alongside Melody who had asked me to sit with her before anyone else did. On any given day, I battled hunger headaches, this afternoon, however, it was a tension headache from listening to Melody’s insipid gossiping. I made several attempts to change the subject and finally gave up. The girl was like a dog with a bone. I tried to chew loudly on my dry bread and crunchy peanut butter, nevertheless, her voice still hacked through the white noise.
“Hillary said you are riding with Seth to CaL class now.” Melody adjusting her black polka dot shirt as she spoke. “How many times did pretty boy fix his hair on the ride over?” I shrugged my shoulders, dropping my head back down to my lunch. “You’re trying to be nice by not saying anything, but you know I’m right. Look at them. They’re the perfect couple.”
They were sitting a few tables away from us, and I hoped they couldn’t hear her this time. I didn’t dare look, and instead nodded silently and continued staring down at my dehydrated bread.
“They sit there never speaking to anyone who isn’t in their little clique. They think they’re better than any of us because they’re rich and good-looking.” She snorted loudly. “They’re totally self-absorbed, it's as if the rest of us don’t exist.”
I wiggled around uncomfortably in my seat, debating whether to say something about Seth and the way he loved the CaL kids, or that I had indeed seen him hanging out with lots of different kids around school, not just the popular ones. But I didn’t. Instead, I swallowed the last of my sandwich and gathered up my things.
“I have to go, Melody. Thanks for sitting with me today.” Some of what she said was probably true, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about him yesterday with the children. I rushed to culinary class, relieved to be away from her.
The advantage of a cooking class was you got to eat what you created, and hungry as I was most of the time, I’d even eat my cooking. The classroom was close to the cafeteria, and with my hasty departure, I arrived ten minutes early. I chose a desk in the far back corner and hoped the teacher wasn’t one of those control freaks with a seating chart.
The classroom was huge. On one side were twelve two-person desks, and on the opposite end of the room were twelve white stoves with small counters to the left of each, along with four stainless steel refrigerators spaced out across the back.
Soon the class began filling up. Several of my friends stopped at my desk to ask how my Christmas was. Since everyone had already partnered up before coming in, I was still sitting alone at my desk when the teacher arrived. I hoped that she’d pair me up with someone who cooked better than I did.
“Alright everyone, take your seat.” The teacher, Mrs. Gianchi, was a feisty Italian woman with dark hair she wrapped tightly in a bun and anchored to the top of her head with several clips. Her smile was warm and generous, and her cheeks glowed bright pink, presumably from the heat of the ovens in the room. I’d seen her walking around in the halls before with her flowered aprons, and they usually looked nice, but today she had on a striped dress and the combination of the two made my eyes hurt.
“Good afternoon.” She stepped her petite frame up onto a small stool so everyone could see her better. “We’re going to jump right into cooking today with an easy lesson on candy making.” She explained how we were to mix up the ingredients and record the effect the various temperatures had on the candy mixture as it heated up. She directed us toward the stoves, dividing everyone up into pairs. When she came to me, I still didn’t have a partner.
“How can this be?” She pulled out her roll book. “There’s an even number of students enrolled in class.” Before she could find the list, Seth appeared out of nowhere, startling me.
“Sorry I’m late,” he said with a grin.
Oh, no! This can’t be! We now had three classes together!
“There you are,” Mrs. Gianchi said to him, closing her book.
“I was held up, it won’t happen again.” He looked over at me and quietly added, “I had to fix my hair.” Heat overtook my face, and I looked away.
“I need you to partner with Maggie.” He smiled broadly at Mrs. Gianchi’s request. I turned my back on him as he slid up behind me, standing much too close. I moved a few inches away, hoping he wouldn’t realize it. He did and scooted even closer. I got the distinct impression he was teasing me. I folded my arms across my stomach and glued my feet to the floor. He would have to walk over me if he thought I’d give him another inch. My eyes stayed fixed on the teacher, and yet I could feel his smile burrowing into the back of my head. She handed me the instructions, and I accidentally bumped into him moving toward the small counter. Still ignoring him, I began measuring and pouring items into the pan.
“Would you like my help, or am I supposed to stand here and look pretty?” he asked. I passed the recipe over and signaled for him to continue. He poured and measured so quickly I had a hard time keeping up with what he was doing.
Neither of us spoke as the temperature of our candy mixture slowly rose. Bore the Snore’s class was more thrilling than this… well, maybe it wasn’t quite that bad. Thankfully, Mrs. Gianchi interrupted our rampant excitement. “Class, remember drop a small amount of your mixture in cold water at each temperature gauge, and record the reaction on your worksheet.”
An eternity later, the stupid mixture finally reached 230 degrees, our first test temperature. I reached into the pot, scooped up a spoonful of the sugary substance and was about to drop it into the glass of cold water, when an all-too-familiar voice startled me, causing me to spill the liquid candy.
“Seth, what did you do in a previous life that doomed you to be stuck with her for a partner?” Hillary. She was dressed in jeans and a cute black shearing jacket with a white fleece collar that made her alabaster skin glow. I never felt uglier. She gave me a supercilious look as she folded her arms across her chest. Her perfect chest. I quickly folded my arms cross my not so perfect chest, as if it was a big secret God had forgotten to give me breasts. “Nice sweater, by the way,” she added. “It just screams trailer trash.”
“That’s enough, Hillary.” Seth frowned and glanced over at me. I was surprised that he actually shut her down. Impressive, though it didn’t seem to bother her at all since she just flipped her hair and twisted his face back to hers.
“My notebook is still in your car from last night.” She actually purred as she walked her fingers up his arm. “I need it for my history class. May I have your keys?
“I put the notebook in my bag this morning, wait here, I'll go got it.” Hillary and I both watched him walk over to the desk and rifle through his book bag.
Abruptly, she coiled back to me. “You’re so out of your league, girlfriend.” Her voice was low and her face, tight. “Even if he were to go out with you, it’d be for one reason and one reason only. Your kind are merely toys for boys like him.”
Racking my brain for a witty comeback, I came up flat and turned back to the thermometer. It now read 315 degrees. Sure, now the dumb mixture heats up fast! We’d missed every reading in between. I pulled the pan off the burner as Seth returned with the red notebook. Hillary tucked it under her arm and blew him a kiss as she left.
“It’s ruined.” I slammed the pot onto the back of the stove, causing the contents to splash everywhere. “If your airhead girlfriend hadn’t come in and interrupted us we wouldn’t have failed this cooking lab. Now we’re going to get an F on the assignment!” For the life of me I couldn’t figure out why I was letting those two upset me like this.
His jaw tightened. “Hillary’s on the honor roll, so I guess that blows your airhead theory, and she’s not my girlfriend. Please let Melody know, won’t you?”
He snagged the candy worksheet, wrote down the answers, and tossed it back at me, muttering that something wasn’t working and he needed to make a phone call. He turned and stormed out the door without saying another word. Mrs. Gianchi rushed over.
“What is the matter with Seth?” I shrugged my shoulders trying not to look guilty. She picked up the worksheet and smiled. “He’s such a nice boy and what wonderful penmanship.”
Geez, even the adults were bedazzled by him!
“This worksheet looks correct. Once you’ve cleaned up this mess, you may leave,” she said, pointing at the candy splattered on the stove. She walked away leaving me to wallow in my misery. It took me the rest of the class period to clean up the now hardened mess.
My mind kept replaying Seth’s angry words in culinary class on my walk home, and I took offense to his comment. Melody was the bad guy here, I had never said anything about him.
On the other hand, I didn’t stop her from maligning him or Hillary either, and I did laugh at a few of her comments. As hard as I tried to appease my guilty conscience, I still felt terrible. I had been a victim of false rumors before and even though they were lies, it still hurt. I swore to myself that the next time Melody started ranting about Seth, I was going to speak up. My decision helped ease the guilt somewhat, and I picked up the pace. It was cold.
I got home and took a long hot shower to warm up my frigid body. My mom had already ingested her daily allotment of booze and was passed out on the couch. I thought about helping her into bed, only the last two times I’d tried, I was rewarded with some pretty nasty bruises. She was an ornery drunk. Sometimes it was best to let sleeping dogs lie.