We left Writers Club that first day and piled in with Harvard. Careful took the front seat. She was Harvard’s, and we all knew her a queen. The rest of us, Walleye, Chanel, Glare, and I, scrunched into the back seat.

First, food—Harvard was buying—then Wal-Mart. This was back when the store had a soul, when the store had employees who cared about the place. Back when stock options were a thing and to steal from the store meant stealing from an employee’s future. When hours were reasonable and the entire place gave off a smack of hope.

It had a food court, and I stopped there to sit out the shopping. Harvard threw an arm around Careful, and they all dissipated into the store. I turned, and standing beside me was Glare.

He was a disarming boy with a kind smile and a fierce intelligence in his eye that could not be denied. I did not know him, but after that first meeting of Writers Club, I was soaring. I was ready to get involved, to learn more about the group and its members. I sat at a table, and he sat across from me. I grinned at him and stuck out my hand.

“I’m Jesse Teller, nice to meet you.”

He nodded and shook my hand. “Yes, it is. Kinda took over in there, didn’t you?”

“Where?” I asked. “Where are you talking about?”

“In the group. You just took over.” He smiled at me, and then I saw it. Through the smile and the intelligence, through the hand shaking and the disarming demeanor, sat a rage focused on me, a hate black and terrible that could not be hid in the voice.

I pulled back and looked at him again. He knew I saw it, and his eyes jumped. His face did not change. His smile never faded, but we were fighting. He wanted blood.

“Well, I walked in and sat. I heard the second bell go off and Mrs. Bronte said we could get started, and nothing but chaos in the room.” I leaned in and smiled at him, for now I was pissed, too. Now we had fire between us. “Nothing but chaos. I waited to see if anyone would start. I looked at Mrs. Bronte and Mrs. Atwood, and they looked back. I figured we were there to read, so yeah, I started the group.” I rapped my ring on the table top between us and I grinned. “Just like that.”

He looked at my ring, and his grin shifted to a sneer. “Better not lose that,” he said, pointing at my ring. “Be a shame if you couldn’t call meetings together any more.”

I laughed. “I would find a way.” I pulled back. Maybe I was just imagining it all. Maybe I was just fired up and wanting to scrap, and I was just looking for something that wasn’t there. “Listen, a lot of the people in this group are lost. They are hurting and broken. You are obviously brilliant. You are obviously a leader. Together we can help them out. We can join them all together and make a family of them.”

Glare laughed and tapped the table between us with one finger. He chuckled again and pointed it at me. “That will not happen. I am not interested in that at all. These people belonged to me before you came around. That group was my group. It was me that had the idea to create the club in the first place. Mrs. Bronte and I created Writers Club. You are just a false pretender. I am not interested in doing anything with you.”

He smiled at me again and I saw my death in that smile. He looked past me. “Chanel,” he said. “We were just talking about you.” He jumped up and hugged her. She looked wary and smiled a troubled smile.

“You were talking about me?” she asked.

“In a way we were,” he said.

“I was telling Glare that I would never allow anything to happen to you, and I would never let you get away, or let anyone take you away from me,” I said with a smile. She pried herself away from Glare and hugged me. She took his hand in one of hers and mine in the other. He let her hand go and walked away.

When they dropped me off at my house, I watched the car as it backed away. As it turned, I looked in the back passenger seat and saw Glare staring at me. His face was poised and pleasant. His eyes alive and his smile perfect. He did not snarl. He did not rage. There was nothing so crude as a middle finger or even a head shake. Glare looked at me with a gentle smile filled with death and hate.

I nodded back.

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