Rise of the Storyteller 20: The Bus Ride Home

I started to stuff my break up letter in my pocket but felt the ID in there and kept it hidden in my hand. I walked out of first hour and into the hallway to see Island waiting for me.

“What are you doing, Mr. Brown?” She held a finger up at me and shook it. “Not a good idea.”

“I can’t talk,” I said. I walked to the door of Jenkins’ room but Island stepped in front of me before I made it.

“Why?” she asked.

“She is too good for me,” Shadow said. He felt the note in his hand, the ID in his pocket, and he thought he would be sick.

“Always has been. Nothing has changed,” Island said.

“Everything has changed. What if they tell her?” I said.

“Who? The high schoolers? They won’t tell. They were all coked out of their minds, and drunk. They have no idea what happened at that party,” Island said.

“What about X?”

“What about him?”

“What if he tells?”

“You sound like an idiot, Mr. Brown. X would not rat. It’s not in him.”

I walked around her.

“This is a mistake,” she called after me.

When I turned, she was gone. I wished she had still been there.

I waited outside the door to third hour for Jazz. It was our only class together. Assigned seating had me all the way across the room from her and, though we had cursed it for the last month, it would serve me well now.

When she saw me, her face broke into a smile. I had hidden from her before school and she had not known I was there that day. She smiled, and, as she got closer, her face changed. When she got up to me, she stopped. She did not say hi. She did not speak. She simply held out her hand and stared me in the eye. Her friends gathered around us and stopped at the door blocking the way. I dropped the letter in her hand and ducked into the room.

She closed her hand around it and held it to her heart as she walked into the room. Walked past my desk and went to hers. Her friends snarled at me. I stared at my desktop, my heart hammering. I did not even know what I had written in the note. Had only a vague notion of the excuses I had given.

I looked up in her direction, seeing her across the room standing beside her desk, the note in her hand as she stared at me.

Her eyes were not angry. Her eyes were not sad. There was no emotion on her face as she held the note and locked her gaze on me. I watched, unable to pull my eyes from her. I saw a flurry of movement around her as her friends spoke in a storm and glared at me.

But Jazz did nothing. She looked at me quite like I was a puzzle. Or a game. A game she was trying to win. A game of chess. I felt as if she had been checked.

It didn’t look like mate.

She held her hands out and the girls around her went quiet. With her eyes still locked on me, she started speaking.

I fought hard to figure out what she was saying, but I could not. They looked at me and I looked at them. Their faces were settling from anger to something else. Plotting. Planning. They were all lining up their minds. All joining in on one call to action.

Marshmallow dropped into the seat in front of me. He turned, looked me in the eye, and grinned. The expression made him look like an oversized child pulling a dog’s tail.

“You broke up with her.” He looked across the aisle at another boy. “What an idiot, huh?”

The other kid laughed.

“She is too good for him anyway. I bet those lips of hers can suck pretty good,” Marshmallow said.

Guardian looked at him and Marshmallow grinned.

“He didn’t like that, did he?” Marshmallow said. “He didn’t like that at all.”

Class began. This teacher I cannot remember. It was English, a subject I had loved ever since Olsen, but this guy did not teach. He wrote our assignments on the board and sat at his desk. He pulled out the newspaper and held it up to his face. He read. This was all he did in class. This was his teaching method. All through the class, I kept looking in Jazz’s direction, but there were too many kids in the way. Too many other heads.

When the bell rang, I was up and headed for the door. I saw Island outside of it and stopped. I looked at her and held my arms out. “What do you want? I did it already. I can’t take it back.”

Island said nothing. She just stood before me with a grin on her face. She held her hand up while I stood at the door waiting for her to speak, to yell, to laugh, to anything. She nodded after a moment and walked away. I started to walk to my next class, and Jazz grabbed me.

She pulled me aside, and I realized Island had been holding me at the door so Jazz could catch up with me.

Jazz did not look upset. She looked calm. Scary calm. She took my hand in hers and I jumped. She spoke very slowly as the other kids moved behind us.

“We are still friends,” she said. “Say it.”

“You are better without me. You need to forget all about me.”

“Still friends. Say it out loud so I can hear it.”

I looked into her eyes and Shadow started crying. His shoulders sagged and he heard a guy walk past him.

“Pussy,” the kid said.

Jazz wrapped her arms around me in a hug and whispered, “Say still friends.”

“Still friends.” I sobbed.

“See you at lunch.” She pulled back and grabbed me by the shoulders. “You are sitting with us. X too, if you can find him. Tell him the chocolate milk is on him.”

I laughed.

I was met at my locker by Grr.

“You’re a fucking idiot,” she snapped. “You are a fucking idiot. She was the best thing that ever happened to you.”

“I know, okay.” I slammed my locker shut. I had forgotten my science book. I cursed and thumbed the lock.

“I know why you did it,” Grr said.

My heart stopped. I looked at her as liquid panic ran through my body and pooled in the muscles of my legs. I could hardly stand.

“You are still thinking you can get Ruffle back,” Grr said.

I took a deep breath.

“She is not taking you back. You belong with Jazz. Everyone says it. Everyone sees it. You two are the second-best couple in the whole school. After me and Jeep.” She looked at me. “Ruffle is gone. You can’t have her back. Get your shit together. I ought to have your ass kicked.”

At that moment, I wanted her to. Wanted her to have Marshmallow and his friends take their time, it would take a long time, but have them take their time as they kicked my ass.

“I ought to do it. And don’t think I wouldn’t, but I was told you are protected,” Grr said. “Not even I can hurt you.”

“Island?”

“What?” Grr said. “Shut up. Jazz says that no one can touch you. Every girl in this school wants to claw your eyes out but your girlfriend is telling them not to.”

“She is not my girlfriend.”

“Yeah, I know.” Grr smacked me upside the head and pointed at me. “I ought to do more. But for now, you just get a smack.”

At lunch I sat across the table from Jazz. She talked about other things, casual things. I stared at her. She was so beautiful. So perfect. I wished she would reach across the table and take my hand. She talked about other things, and the girls at the table did as well. No one ever mentioned that me and Jazz were no longer together. No one mentioned it.

A half hour past sunset I had the phone in hand. I needed a familiar voice. I needed to talk to Jazz but I called Ruffle. She answered on the first ring as if she had the phone in her hand. “Call your girlfriend,” she said before she hung up.

Grr called me an hour later. “You’re an ass,” was all she said. Then she hung up, too.

X threw rocks at my window for an hour before giving up. I didn’t want to go out with him. I was scared. All I could do was lay in bed and cry. I hugged myself and I said, “Shh,” over and over.

The next day in school, my best friend was Jazz. She was everywhere. She talked to me about anything I wanted to talk about. She laughed with me, we had lunch together, and she never let a flash of darkness cross her face.

After school, after not dressing out for gym, I climbed onto the bus and saw Jazz sitting there.

“What are you doing here?” I asked.

“Every Tuesday I am going to Grr’s house. My parents have work and I am tired of being alone there, so I will be hanging out at Grr’s house until eight. Then my parents will come pick me up.”

X showed up and shoved me in a seat. He moved to sit down next to me, and Grr grabbed him.

“You’re sitting with me today,” she said.

I looked at him and he sighed. “You’re a bitch,” he said to Grr.

“Maybe. Let’s talk about that on our way home.” She grabbed his arm and pulled him in the seat beside her.

Jazz patted the seat next to her. I laughed and joined her.

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