“You should’ve seen Miss Memphis here get into it with Nick last period,” Brianna said, squeezing in between M and Inez at their usual spot in the cafeteria. “She shut him down with her crazy ancient cultures voodoo.”
“He’s an ass. He’s lucky he’s hot,” their friend Ayana commented, waving her spork in Nick’s direction.
M shrugged. “I wouldn’t try to debate him in Physics. I just know more about Rome than he does.”
“What about AP Chem? Would you debate him in that?” Inez asked in a fake-serious voice. “Would you debate him in German class?”
“She’d debate him in German, in German,” Brianna joked. “And if he tried to fight back, she’d switch to Greek.”
M threw a French fry at her. “I can’t help it. I grew up speaking different languages.”
“And learning about pharaohs. And becoming well versed in the history of the Etruscan people,” Ayana said, putting on a fake accent that was probably supposed to be British. “Oh, and setting broken bones in the bush.”
“That only happened once,” M muttered. Her friends laughed.
“Anyway, it was epic. Thanks,” Brianna said. “I can’t stand fighting with people, and Nick always goes after me.”
“He knows you hate it,” M pointed out. “That’s why he does it.”
“An ass, like I said.” Ayana shrugged.
“You think he’s coming to the party tonight?” Brianna asked.
“Probably. Everyone else is,” Inez replied. “Even Memphis.” M made a face. “Anything to get out of the house. Bob and Liza would expect me to play board games with them otherwise.” Her friends exchanged a glance. M winced. “No
“Oh, were you offending someone?” Nick piped up from behind her. “Good girl.”
Immediately Bri looked down, while Ayana rolled her eyes. Inez just smirked, glancing back and forth between M and Nick.
“I was not offending anyone. I only meant I don’t like parties,” M said. She didn’t bother to turn toward him. It didn’t matter; he inserted himself onto the bench next to her anyway. A little tingle ran up her spine as the scent of his cologne hit her nostrils, spicy and warm.
“Mmm, they’re boring. Everyone talking about the prom or the senior trip or whatever. I’m over it,” Nick said.
Me too, thought M, wishing she didn’t agree with him. She loved her friends, but even they were all about high school. M just didn’t care. High school was nothing more than what she had to get through before she could leave. After the crash, after the shock of Bob and Liza becoming her guardians, she’d asked if she could go off to college early, either Boston University or the University of Sheffield in England. Both had the kind of archeology program she
wanted and would’ve let her in with no questions. They knew her father. They knew high school was a waste of time for someone like her.
But her guardians said no. They said she needed stability and normalcy after losing her dad. Never mind that traveling the world and taking care of herself was normal for her. While she and Dad technically lived in Boston, she’d never spent more than a few months there during the school year. They traveled. Half the year spent on digs. She missed it.
“What’s with this thing, anyway? Is it to fight off bad guys?” Nick teased, finding an excuse to touch her. He reached for M’s collapsible bo staff, tucked in the inside pocket of her jacket like always. But before he touched it, before his flirty smile registered in her mind, M had already grabbed his hand, twisted it back to the breaking point, and used the pain to push him off the cafeteria bench and onto the floor. With her other hand, she whipped out the stick and shoved it up against his throat.
M froze. He’s just hitting on you. Her friends were aghast, and everyone nearby watched, openmouthed. Nick’s eyes were wide with panic.
“Sorry.” M stood up, leaving Nick on the floor. “I’m really sorry.”
“Freak,” he muttered, climbing to his feet. He glanced around, noticing the barely concealed laughter from onlookers. “Jeez, I just wanted a fry,” he joked, as if he hadn’t been humiliated, then hurried out of the cafeteria.
“What. The. Hell?” Inez asked. “He was flirting with you and you beat him up!”
“I know.” M groaned, shoving her staff back into her pocket. “I didn’t mean to. It was just reflex.”
Her friends were silent. She’d freaked them out. Should she explain the years of self-defense and martial arts train-
ing? That she and Dad ended up in some rough places? Her friends lived in a city, they understood danger. Sort of. In a nice, upscale Boston kind of way.
M sighed. There was no point in trying to explain. Nobody understood her life.
“You kinda push all the guys away,” Brianna pointed out quietly. “Maybe not like that, but still . . .”
“I don’t do romance,” M replied. She was done with love, period. She’d loved her parents, and they were both gone. Love hurt too much. It was better to steer clear of it.
They all ate in silence for a minute.
“I mean, he is an ass,” Ayana said finally. And everybody laughed."
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