Bleeding Hearts Page 23

I’d nearly had to deal with Social Services because a bully shot her mouth off at school after my dad died. Sara and I had to work on a school project, and when she came over, my mother was drunk. She told everyone at school the next day, and the day after that, until even one of the teachers was asking me if everything was all right at home. Sara didn’t stop until I burst into tears in the lunch line in front of everyone. It wasn’t until I flushed her favorite bra down the toilet after gym class that she finally left me alone.

“Just ignore them,” Nathan said quietly.

Lucy was the color of pickled beets beside him. He, on the other hand, looked perfectly calm.

“Yeah, Lucky,” Peter guffawed. “At least queerbait here knows when he’s whipped.”

I thought Lucy was actually going to jump right over the table, littered with empty chocolate milk cartons and lunch trays.

Apparently, since the last time I’d visited, Lucy had decided she was a ninja.

Only Nathan was able to stop her. He put his hand on her arm. “Don’t,” he said mildly.

“But …” She glared at Peter. “I really want to.”

“Please. Just don’t, Luce.”

Peter and his winged monkeys got bored and drifted to another table. Nathan pushed away from his chair and stood up. His ears were red but his expression hadn’t changed. Lucy hovered at his elbow, scowling.

“I don’t need a bodyguard,” he told her.

“Do too,” she insisted mutinously. “And I could have taken him. I’m taking self-defense classes. I could have made him cry.”

Nathan half smiled. “You’re scary enough without the classes.”

“Why does everyone keep saying that?” she wondered out loud.

“Can we just go now?” Linnet asked, still looking as if she wanted to cry. “People are staring.”

Lucy put her hands on her hips. “So?”

“So, Nathan hates that.”

Lucy deflated quickly; if she’d been a helium balloon she would have careened through the cafeteria. She still might. “Oh.” She winced at Nathan sheepishly. “Sorry, Nate.”

“It’s okay.”

She glanced at me. “Are you coming?”

I shook my head. “I’ll catch up.”

I knew Peter. He was in twelfth grade, like me, and he was a jerk. He belonged in one of those John Hughes movies from the eighties that Lucy loved so much. I slowed my pace as I approached his table, carrying my plastic cup full of soda. He was talking too loudly, as usual.

“What a loser,” he half shouted. “We should key his car.”

“He rides his bike to school,” one of his friends said.

“Figures. Fag.”

That did it.

I was so used to keeping my grades up and my head down so as not to attract the attention of the school counselor that I usually fumed quietly to myself.

Not today.

Maybe not ever again, if Mom’s treatment went well.

After all, the worst had happened. Her secret was out. I didn’t have to stay quietly in the background anymore if I didn’t want to.

And right now, I really didn’t want to.

I couldn’t help but think about a story I’d just read about Percy Bysshe Shelley when he was at school. Someone picked on him until he finally jammed his fork through the guy’s hand and into the table underneath.

If a cherubic blond poet in a cravat could kick ass, so could I.

Besides, I’d never gotten detention before, and there was something liberating about having that option. Plus, Nathan shouldn’t have to deal with Peter’s homophobic crap all year. Anyone could see Peter wasn’t going to let up. Also, Peter’s shirt gaped away from the back of his neck just enough. And there were a lot of ice cubes in my cup.

Perfect.

I tipped my drink, spilling the cold, sticky soda down the back of Peter’s neck, making sure most of it dribbled into his shirt.

He screamed like a little girl at her first horror movie.

Even more perfect.

He pawed at his back while simultaneously scrambling to his feet, scattering his lunch tray and knocking over his chair. Everyone turned to stare. The silence cracked like an egg, spilling laughter. Someone clapped. Peter whirled on me, rage making him sputter.

“What the hell, you bitch!” He took a threatening step forward. He was really tall and as wide as an ox. And clearly used to people backing away from him in fear. When I didn’t move, only lifted an eyebrow, he looked briefly confused.

I smiled, showing a lot of teeth, like an angry badger. “Oops,” I said insincerely.

“You are so dead,” he seethed while our audience kept laughing.

I tilted my head obnoxiously and batted my eyelashes. “Ooh. Scary.”

He stepped in so close to me that I had to crane my neck back to look up at him. “New girl, you just made the biggest mistake.”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Who writes your dialogue?”

When even his friends laughed, he reached for me. His hand dug into my arm, wrinkling my favorite T-shirt and bruising the skin underneath.

I kneed him right in the crotch.

He squeaked, doubled over, and then lost his balance entirely when I shrugged off his grip. One of the teachers rushed toward us, blowing her whistle. She did not look impressed.

I tried not to smirk but failed. She pointed at me. “You. Principal’s office. Now.”

I put down my empty cup, pulled my copy of Jane Eyre from the back pocket of my jeans, where I’d kept it safe from soda spills, and nodded politely. “Yes, Mrs. Copperfield.”

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