Her eyes are intense—looking into the camera as if she’s looking into me. She’s both confident and comfortable, and although she isn’t smiling or laughing in the photo, I can tell she’s happy. Whenever this was taken, it was a good day for her. For us. Her eyes are screaming a thousand things in this photo, but the loudest is, “I love you, Silas!”
I stare at it a while longer and then place the photo back inside the locker. I check my phone to see if she’s texted. She hasn’t. I look around, just as Landon approaches from down the hall. He tosses words over his shoulder as he passes me. “Looks like Brian isn’t quite out of the picture yet, brother.”
The bell rings.
I look in the direction Landon came from and see a heavier crowd of students at that end of the hallway. People seem to be stalling, glancing over their shoulders. Some are looking at me, some are fixated on whatever is at the end of the hallway. I begin to walk in that direction and everyone’s attention falls on me as I pass.
A break in the crowd begins to shape and that’s when I see her. She’s standing against a row of lockers, hugging herself with her arms. Brian is leaning against one of the lockers, looking at her intently. He looks deep in conversation, whereas she just appears guarded. He spots me almost immediately and his posture stiffens along with his expression. Charlie follows his gaze until her eyes land on mine.
As much as I can assume she doesn’t need rescuing, relief falls over her as soon as we lock eyes. A smile tugs at her lips, and I want nothing more than to get him away from her. I spend two seconds deliberating. Should I threaten him? Should I hit him like I wanted so badly to hit him yesterday in the parking lot? Neither of these actions feels as though they’ll make the point I want to make.
“You should get to class,” I hear her say to him. Her words are quick, a warning, as if she’s afraid I’ve decided to punch him. She doesn’t have to worry. What I’m about to do will hurt Brian Finley a hell of a lot more than if I were to just hit him.
The second bell rings. No one moves. There are no students rushing to class to avoid being late. No one around me shuffles down the hall at the sound of the bell.
They’re all waiting. Watching. Expecting me to start a fight. I wonder if that’s what the old Silas would do? I wonder if that’s what the new Silas should do?
I ignore everyone but Charlie and walk confidently toward her, keeping my eyes trained on her the entire time. As soon as Brian sees me approaching, he takes two steps away from her. I look directly at him while I stretch out my hand toward her, giving her the choice to take it and go with me or remain where she is.
I feel her fingers slide between mine and she grips my hand tightly. I pull her away from the lockers, away from Brian, away from the crowd of students. As soon as we round the corner, she drops my hand and stops walking.
“That was a little dramatic, don’t you think?” she says.
I turn to face her. Her eyes are narrowed, but her mouth could pass for smiling. I can’t tell if she’s amused or angry.
“They expected a certain reaction from me. What’d you want me to do, tap him on the shoulder and ask politely if I could cut in?”
She folds her arms over her chest. “What makes you think I needed you to do anything?”
I don’t understand her hostility. It seemed like we left on good terms last night, so I’m confused as to why she seems so angry with me.
She rubs her hands up and down her arms and then her eyes fall to the floor. “Sorry,” she mutters. “I just…” She looks up at the ceiling and groans. “I was just prodding him for information. That’s the only reason I was with him in the hallway just now. I wasn’t flirting.”
Her response catches me off guard. I don’t like the look of guilt in her expression. That’s not why I pulled her away from him, but I realize now that she thinks I really am upset with her for being with him. I could tell she didn’t want to be there, but maybe she doesn’t realize how well I’ve learned to read her.
I take a step toward her. When she lifts her eyes to meet mine, I smile. “Would it make you feel better to know I was cheating on you with the guidance counselor?”
She sucks in a quick rush of air and shock registers on her face.
“You weren’t the only one who wasn’t committed to us, Charlie. Apparently we both had issues we needed to work out, so don’t be so hard on yourself.”
Relief probably isn’t the reaction a girl should have to finding out her boyfriend has been cheating on her, but it’s definitely what Charlie feels right now. I can see it in her eyes and I can hear it in the pent up breath she releases.
“Wow…,” she says, her hands falling to her hips. “So technically, we’re tied?”
Tied? I shake my head. “This isn’t a game I want to win, Charlie. If anything, I’d say we both lost.”
Her lips spread into a ghostly grin, and then she looks over her shoulder. “We should figure out where our classes are.”
I remember the schedules and pull hers out of my back pocket. “We’re not together until fourth period History. You have English first. It’s back in the other hallway,” I say, motioning toward her first period classroom.
She nods appreciatively and unfolds the schedule. “Smart thinking,” she says, glancing it over. She looks back up at me with a wicked smile. “I guess you got these from your guidance counselor mistress?”
Her words make me wince, even though I shouldn’t really feel remorse for whatever happened before yesterday.
“Ex-guidance counselor mistress,” I clarify with a grin. She laughs, and it’s a laugh of solidarity. As screwed up as our situation is, and as confusing as the new information about our relationship is, the fact that we can laugh about it proves that we at least share in the absurdity of it all. And the only thought I have as I walk away from her is how much I wish Brian Finley could choke on her laugh.
The first three classes of the day felt foreign. No one in them and nothing discussed seemed familiar to me. I felt like an imposter, out of place.
But the instant I walked into fourth period and took a seat next to Charlie, my mood changed. She’s familiar. My only familiar thing in a world of inconsistency and confusion.
We stole a few glances at each other, but we never spoke during class. We aren’t even speaking now as we enter the cafeteria together. I glance at our table and everyone from yesterday is already seated, save our two empty seats.
I nudge my head toward the lunch line. “Let’s get our food first.”
She glances up at me, briefly, before looking back at the table. “I’m not really hungry,” she says. “I’ll just wait for you at the table.” She heads in the direction of our group and I head toward the cafeteria line.
After grabbing my tray and a Pepsi, I walk over to the table and take a seat. Charlie is looking down at her phone, excluding herself from the surrounding conversation.
The guy to my right—Andrew, I think—elbows me. “Silas,” he says, jabbing me repeatedly. “Tell him how much I benched Monday.”
I look up at the guy sitting across from us. He rolls his eyes and downs the rest of his soda before slamming it on the table. “Come on, Andrew. You think I’m stupid enough to believe your best friend wouldn’t lie for you?”