THE TEACHER STOOD A FEW FEET AWAY. “I’M not kidding, Shaw. I don’t care whose kid you are, you’re going to Dr. Kahn’s office.”
Noah pulled back slightly and searched my face. “Will you be all right?”
I nodded. Noah’s eyes lingered for a moment longer before he kissed the crown of my head and sauntered off.
After a dumbstruck moment, I collected myself and walked through the gauntlet of eyes alone. I made it to English just before Ms. Leib began the lecture. She was giving us a review of her term paper expectations, but I was the one that had the class’s attention. Furtive glances were shot over shoulders, notes were passed among desks in a chain, and I sunk low in my seat, futilely trying to melt into the hard plastic. I thought of Noah in the principal’s office, answering for his chivalry. His dick-measuring display. Whatever it was, I liked it. Much as I hated to admit.
Noah appeared halfway through English, and a ridiculous smile transformed my face the second I saw him. When class ended, he took my bag and slung it over his shoulder as we walked out the door.
“So what happened in Dr. Kahn’s office?” I asked.
“I just sat there and stared at him for five minutes, and he sat there and stared back for five minutes. Then he told to me to try and learn to play well with others during my two-day suspension, and sent me on my merry way.”
My face fell. “You’re suspended?”
“After exams,” he said, seemingly unconcerned. Then he grinned. “That’s what I get for defending your honor.”
I laughed. “That was not for me. That was you marking your territory,” I said. Noah opened his mouth to say something but I cut him off before he could. “So to speak,” I finished.
Noah grinned. “I neither confirm nor deny your assertion.”
“You didn’t have to do it, you know.”
Noah shrugged lazily and stared straight ahead. “I wanted to.”
“Is it going to screw with your transcripts or anything?”
“With my perfect GPA? Doubtful.”
I turned to him slowly, just as we reached the door to my Algebra class. “Perfect?”
Noah smirked. “And you thought I was just a pretty face.”
Unbelievable. “I don’t understand. You never take notes. You never have your books with you.”
Noah shrugged. “I have a good memory,” he said, as Jamie appeared on his way into Algebra. “Hey,” Noah said to him.
“Hi,” Jamie said, and shot me a look as he slid past us.
If Noah noticed Jamie’s reaction, he didn’t mention it. “I’ll see you after?” he asked me.
The thought warmed me up. “Yeah.” I smiled, and walked into class.
Jamie was already at his desk and I sat next to him, dropping my bag on the floor with a thud.
“Much has changed since you last I saw,” he said, without looking at me.
I decided to make him work for it. “I know,” I said with a dramatic, exasperated sigh. “I cannot even tell you how much I am dreading exams.”
“Not speaking of that, was I.”
“Why are you Yoda-ing me this morning?”
“Why are you avoiding the subject du jour?” Jamie asked, filling out squares on his graph paper to form a really weird picture of a fire-breathing dragon with a human arm.
“I’m not avoiding it, there’s just nothing to say.”
“Nothing to say. The lonely new girl is suddenly kickin’ it with Croyden’s hottest piece of ass, and there’s a sketchbook of Shawporn depicting this unlikely relationship? ‘Nothing to say,’ my tuchus.” Jamie still refused to make eye contact.
I leaned in and whispered to Jamie, “There’s no porn sketchbook. ‘Twas a ruse.”
Jamie finally looked at me and cocked an eyebrow. “It’s all a sham?”
I sucked in my lips, then bit them, then said, “Not exactly.” I wasn’t sure how to explain what had happened between me and Noah yesterday, and wasn’t even sure I wanted to.
Jamie turned back to his graph paper. “Well, at some point, you’re gonna have to break this down for me real slow-like.”
Anna interrupted my train of thought before I could respond to Jamie. “How long do you give it, Aiden?”
Aiden pretended to study me as he spoke to her. “The end of this week, if she gives it up. Otherwise, she might last a couple more.”
“Jealous much?” I asked calmly, though inside I was furious.
“Of what you’re going to go through once Noah’s done with you?” Anna said, her prim little mouth curving into a malicious grin. “Please. But he is an awesome lay,” Anna said to me in a stage whisper. “So enjoy it while you can.”
Anna sat back down, Mr. Walsh walked in the room, and I seethed quietly in my seat as I pressed my pencil down on my notebook very, very hard. My stomach soured at the thought of Anna acquiring that particular piece of information about Noah. Jamie told me they’d dated. But that didn’t have to mean—
I did and didn’t want to know.
When the bell rang, I got up from my seat and another girl in the class, Jessica, elbowed me as she walked by. What was her problem? My arm hurt and I rubbed it before picking up my textbook and notebook from my desk. As I made my way to the door, someone knocked them out of my hands. I whirled around, but no one around me looked particularly guilty.
“What the hell?” I muttered under my breath as I bent down to pick up my things.
Jamie crouched with me. “You’re unraveling the very fabric of Croyden society.”
“What are you talking about?” I shoved my things into my messenger bag with unnecessary force.
“Noah drove you to school.”
“Noah doesn’t drive anyone to school.”
“So what?” I asked, growing frustrated.
“He’s acting like your boyfriend. Which makes the girls he treated like condoms a trifle jealous.”
“Condoms?” I asked, confused.
“Used once and then discarded.”
I ignored that, knowing I’d make zero headway on this particular subject. “So what are you saying? I was invisible, but now I’m a target?”
Jamie tilted his head and laughed. “Oh, you were never invisible.”
Noah was waiting for me when we made it out of the classroom. Jamie wordlessly stepped around us and headed to his next class. Noah didn’t even notice.
The rain slanted in under the arch-covered path, but he walked on the outside anyway, not caring that he was getting wet. As soon as we were out of earshot, I couldn’t hold in the question that had been nauseating me since Algebra. I looked up at him.
“So, you dated Anna last year, right?”
Noah’s formerly content expression morphed into disgust. “I wouldn’t exactly use the word ‘dated.’ “
So Jamie was right. “Gross,” I muttered.
“It wasn’t that awful,” he said.
I wanted to bang my head against the brick arch. “I don’t want to hear that, Noah.”
“Well, what do you want to hear?”
“That she has scales underneath her uniform.”
“I wouldn’t know.”
My heart leapt, but I tried to appear only mildly curious. “Really?”
“Really,” Noah said, his tone amused.
“So, uh, what happened?” I asked so very casually.
Noah shrugged one shoulder. “She just sort of attached herself to me last year, and I suffered it until her general hideousness of character and my inability to translate her moron language got to be too much.”
It was still too early to celebrate. “She said you were an awesome lay,” I said, feigning interest in the gush of water that spilled out from the gutter by the lockers. My face would betray me if he saw it.
“Well, that’s true,” Noah said.
“But she wouldn’t know from personal experience.” Just then, Noah tilted my chin so that I faced him. “Why, Mara Dyer.”
I bit my lip and looked down. “What?”
“I don’t believe it,” he said incredulously.
“You’re jealous.” I heard the smile in his voice.
“No,” I lied.
“You are. I’d reassure you that there’s nothing to worry about, but I think I kind of like this.”
“I’m not jealous,” I insisted, my face burning under the touch of Noah’s fingers. I backed up against my locker.
Noah raised an eyebrow. “Then why do you care?”
“I don’t. She’s just so—so malodorous,” I said, still looking at the ground. I finally screwed up the courage to look up at him. He wasn’t smiling. “Why would you let her say she slept with you?”
“Because I never kiss and tell,” he said, ducking slightly to meet my eyes.
I turned away from him and opened the locker door. “Then anyone can say they’ve been doing anything with you,” I said, into the dark space.
“Does that hurt your feelings?” He spoke in a low voice from behind my shoulders.
“I don’t have feelings,” I said, my face buried in my locker.
Noah’s hand appeared on the locker next to me and I felt him lean toward my back. The air was thick with our electricity.
“Kiss me,” he said simply.
“What?” I turned around and found myself just inches from him. My blood glowed under my skin.
“You heard me,” Noah said.
I felt the stares of other students. In my peripheral vision, I saw them huddled under the covered path, waiting for the rain to let up. They gawked at Noah’s long figure leaning over mine, his hand pressed on the steel by my ear. He didn’t inch closer; he was asking, waiting for me to make the next move. But as my face burned with the feeling of his eyes and their eyes on me, the other students began to disappear one by one. And I don’t mean they walked away. They disappeared.
“I’m not into kissing,” I blurted, my eyes darting back to Noah’s.
Noah’s mouth tilted into the smallest of smiles. “Oh?”
I swallowed thickly, and nodded. “It’s stupid,” I said, checking for the once-assembled crowd. Nope. Gone. “Someone poking their tongue in someone else’s mouth is stupid. And gross.” Way to employ my AP English vocabulary. Mara doth protest too much.
Noah’s eyes crinkled at the corners, but he wasn’t laughing at me. He ran his free hand through his hair, twisting it as he went, but a few thick strands fell back over his forehead anyway. He didn’t move. He was so close. I breathed him in, rain and salt and smoke.
“Have you kissed many boys before?” he asked quietly.
His question brought my mind back into focus. I raised an eyebrow. “Boys? That’s an assumption.”
Noah laughed, the sound low and husky. “Girls, then?”
“Not many girls? Or not many boys?”
“Neither,” I said. Let him make of that what he would.
“I am taking away that word. You are no longer allowed to use it. How many?”
My cheeks flushed, but my voice was steady as I answered. “One.”
At this, Noah leaned in impossibly closer, the slender muscles in his forearm flexing as he bent his elbow to bring himself nearer to me, almost touching. I was heady with the proximity of him and grew legitimately concerned that my heart might explode. Maybe Noah wasn’t asking. Maybe I didn’t mind. I closed my eyes and felt Noah’s five o’ clock graze my jaw, and the faintest whisper of his lips at my ear.
“He was doing it wrong.”