His lips compressed in a thin line. He rose. Taking the cue, I rose, too. I was about four inches taller than him, and when I stood, he flinched, then pulled himself straight and scowled, like I was trying to show him up. I slumped back into my chair.
“Your father seems to think you need special coursework for your special needs.” He twisted the last words, like I needed remedial math instead of advanced placement. “I am going to suggest, however, that we work on your attitude first.”
He stalked out. I slumped farther, wincing as my knees smacked the bottom of the desk. I stared longingly at the window. I was pretty sure Murrell wasn’t coming back, but with my luck, he’d come storming down the hall the second I made it to the exit.
I checked the clock. I was supposed to meet Simon on the ball court at four. It was already 4:10. I called on my cell, but it went straight to Simon’s voice mail. Probably on the phone with his girlfriend. It was a good thing I kept sneaking him my top-up cards or Dad would carry out that threat to take his phone away, and I wasn’t sure Simon would survive.
I stood, being careful not to bang my knees again. Shoot up six inches in a year and suddenly everything’s too small. It was a damn good thing werewolf genes meant I healed fast or my knees would be permanently bruised.
I checked the hall. No sign of Murrell. I took a deep breath, searching for his scent. All clear. Just three girls talking at their locker, their high-pitched chatter and giggles as painful as a dog whistle.
I strode past them, making a beeline for peace and quiet and freedom—
I kept going. It wasn’t my name.
I was close enough to see the sun streaming through the glass doors, to catch the faint whiff of wet grass sneaking in on a draft. Then the girl shot in front of me. Blond. Big teeth. A cloying layer of perfume masked her scent. She might have been in one of my classes. I could never keep track. In a few months we’d be moving again and I had better use for the brain space.
She waited for me to tell her my name. I didn’t see the point.
Wrong again. His dad had unofficially adopted me, but correcting her would only prolong the conversation, so I said, “Yeah” and tried to pass. She stepped into my path.
I was tempted to keep walking, see how long it’d take her to decided it wasn’t smart to block a guy twice her size. But I’d gotten in enough trouble for that sort of thing at our last school. A couple of idiots had been goofing off in the hall and one had slid into me. I’d picked him up, moved him aside and kept going. I’d been perfectly nice about it, but I got threatened with suspension for “bullying.” As Dad pointed out, it didn’t help that even a guy my size shouldn’t be able to pick up another kid that easily.
I wasn’t taking that chance again, so I stopped short and said, “I gotta go. I’m meeting someone.”
“Who?” The brunette behind me tittered. “Your girlfriend?”
The blonde motioned for her to cut it out. Mocking me wasn’t a good way to get what they wanted.
“So, are you going to the Valentine’s dance?” the blonde asked.
“I was taking the shortcut. Now can I go?”
“Tracy’s right. You are a jerk.”
“Yep. Now . . .?” I motioned for her to step aside.
When she didn’t move, I tried to pass. Again, she cut me off. I felt my hackles rise as the wolf inside said I was being threatened. I told it to shut up. It didn’t. It never did.
“Right,” I said. “I forgot the second part of your unasked question. Is Simon going with anyone? The last time Simon didn’t have a date for a school dance was seventh grade, when his girlfriend got sick. Okay?”
“Could you be more specific?” the blonde asked.
“No, I can’t, because I have no idea who he’s seeing right now.”
I snorted and tried, again, to pass. She slid in front of me.
“I only know he has a date, meaning he’s not available. Try the spring formal. I’m sure he’ll have broken up with her by then.”
When she still didn’t move, I eased back and looked at her.
“Simon’s got a girlfriend. But you asked if Iwas going. Actually, I am, and I don’thave a date yet, so if you’re interested . . .”
The girls scattered like deer hearing a gunshot. Worked every time.
I pushed open the door and walked out.
A blast of icy air surrounded me. It was a week after Christmas break, but we were having a warm spell—warm for January, anyway—and I hadn’t bothered with a jacket. I drank in the smells. The exhaust fumes I could do without, but I caught the faintest tickle of fresh air and wet earth.
I gazed longingly at the empty track. My toes curled in my sneakers, muscles aching to tear down there, the silence broken only by the pound of my sneakers. After a day cooped up in school, there was nothing better than a run, and today I needed one more than usual. Restlessness gnawed my gut, putting my nerves on edge.
Dad would tell me to go. My body wanted this—needed it—so I should give in. Work it out. Simon could wait.
But I wouldn’t do it. The human side of me was in control, not the wolf. That’s how it had to be if I was going to fit into the world.
If my body needed a workout, it would get one on the ball court. So that’s where I headed. When I heard voices, I slowed. Someone must have snagged the court before Simon. So much for my workout.
Then I caught Simon’s voice. He wasplaying, apparently, just not alone. That was fine. Yeah, I’d rather it was just us, so I didn’t need to worry about hiding my strength, but that’s another thing I needed to work on.
But as soon as I saw the guys on the court, I knew they weren’t friends of Simon’s. They were seniors, the kind who spend more time in the halls than in class. Dressed in beaters and Doc Martens, they were small-town thugs who’d find out how tough they really were if they ever actually got out of their hick town—especially if they were mouthing off the way they were now, giving Simon shit about being a “foreigner.” Simon is half-Korean, born in America, like our dad, but that didn’t matter to morons like this. That’s why I prefer big cities. It’s easier to be different there.
My gaze fixed on the leader standing in front of Simon. As I picked up my pace, I could feel my skin prickling, muscles tensing, hands fisting. There was a part of me that said, “You should have gone on that run,” but it was only a small part.
As usual, Simon was giving as good as he got, meeting their insults with jabs and jokes, which only pissed them off more. Had they askedfor the court, he would have walked away with a grin and a “have fun.” But these guys weren’t the type to ask, and Simon wasn’t the type to give in to demands.
As I approached I could smell the faint stink of anger, bodies heating up, adrenaline flowing. The thugs shifted and tensed, spoiling for a fight. Simon missed the body language, of course. I’ve tried teaching him, but he never gets it.
The leader moved in front of Simon, his posture saying, “I’m bigger than you, so back off.” Simon stood his ground, leaning forward, his stance saying, “Yeah? Make me,” even as he kept grinning, chattering away like nothing was wrong.
The other two fidgeted, ready to jump as soon as their buddy gave them the nod. These guys weren’t looking for a fair fight. But that’s exactly what they were about to get.
I broke into a jog. They didn’t hear me coming. I never understand why people make so much noise when they walk. It’s easy enough to adjust your gait and move quietly. Or it is for me. That’s another thing Simon can’t seem to learn. Dad laughs when I try, saying teaching Simon to be quiet is like teaching a cat to bark.
I was less than thirty feet away when the leader drew back his fist. Simon’s fingers flew up in a knockback spell. The guy should have sailed off his feet, but the spell fizzled and it was Simon who hit the ground when the guy punched him. Then he grabbed Simon by the coat front and swung him up against the wall.
I charged. I kept my gaze on the other two, despite every instinct that insisted I focus on the guy pinning Simon to the wall. Simon was a decent fighter and could look after himself. My job was making sure the other two didn’t blow his odds.
I was veering toward them when the guy holding Simon lifted his free hand and I caught a flash of silver. The flash became a knife blade, heading for Simon’s throat.
I grabbed the guy by the collar, swung him off Simon and threw him. Just threw him. I didn’t know where. I didn’t care.
When I heard a crack, I ignored it, never even glanced over to see where he’d landed. If he’d hit the wall, that was fine—he’d done the same to Simon.
I turned to the other two. One got a good look at me and ran. The other came at me. I took a swing at him, but checked myself at the last second and the blow barely knocked him back. It was enough, though. When he took off with his friend, I tore after him. I got halfway across the tarmac before I realized I’d left Simon behind . . . with the guy and the knife.
I turned and saw the guy crumpled at the base of the wall. Simon was leaning over him.
“He’s alive,” Simon said, sitting back on his haunches as I walked over.
“Course he is. I only threw him.”
“Yeah. Because he reallyhad a knife, which was reallyat your throat. You better grab it before he wakes up.”
Simon stared up at me, this weird look on his face. “I don’t think we need to worry about that.”