Past - Bailey
The resident asshole was staring at me the moment he walked through the door of the science lab. I could tell he was the school asshole by the perma-sneer on his face and the way he walked into the room with an exaggerated swagger that only the coolest of cool kids adopted by the time they hit middle school. His was a well-practiced swagger by now, causing all lesser-than students to dart out of his way while flashing hesitant smiles, hoping for validation in the form of a cool-guy head nod in return.
I rolled my eyes and yawned, having seen this exact scenario too many times before to be impressed. Besides, I was pissed off, having been forced to attend a new school as a freshman, facing day one with less enthusiasm than my mom when she had her first mammogram. If I looked like I cared about this dipshit, I'd break from my pissed off routine and I was committed, goddammit.
I examined my nails, seeing the first chip in my black polish. I'd only painted them last night, you'd think I'd be chip-free for at least one day. Perfect. Messed up manicures fueled my pissed-off attitude. It was this thorough nail examination that made me miss the prolonged look from dipshit, right before he changed directions and sat down next to me.
It was the obnoxious mouth breathing that snagged my attention. I couldn't stand loud breathing and especially chewing. Ugh, it was so disgusting. Like nails on a fucking chalkboard.
I looked up to find him leaning over his small desk to enter my air space, smirk a bit more pronounced as he looked me up and down.
That's right, ladies and gentlemen, he led with the lamest line ever. It was so bad I would have laughed, but figured that might encourage his kind.
"You're observant, Neanderthal." I didn't bother looking at him since that's what he wanted me to do.
He chuckled hesitantly, probably trying to figure out what Neanderthal meant. Or maybe he thought I was just so overcome by his majesty's attention I couldn't squeak out more than three words.
"You got a name, beautiful?"
"I do. But you can't have it." The conversation continued, him talking to the side of my face, me talking straight ahead to the chalkboard.
"You like to play games, huh? I can think of a few games we could play," he drawled, then burst into obnoxious laughter.
I finally turned to him, drew as close as I could stand without vomiting, and made sure he got a nice view of my cleavage. I laid my first and last flirty smile on him. "How about we play my game first? It's called Go Fuck Yourself with Your Tiny Dick."
He jumped back like I'd physically attacked him, brain trying to process rejection. His leer turned to a sneer. "Like I'd have anything to do with you, freak." He jumped up and stomped across the room to another chair, whispering to his friends and looking back at me.
I just smiled and winked at his buddies, excited to be making friends already.
Another warm body slid into the chair next to me, this time a blonde girl. Not a mouth breather. She had a very peaceful way about her, sitting in her chair observing the goings-on of the room.
When she glanced my way, I asked, "You got something to say to me too?" Might as well weed her out right now. Her preppy, good-girl outfit didn't bode well for a blossoming friendship with the likes of me.
"Yeah, I do. I love your outfit!" She leaned forward, a mischievous gleam entering her eye. "Teach me how to do that."
I tilted my head. "Do what?"
"How to tell those assholes to go 'eff themselves! I've been wanting to do that for years, but I can't seem to get the words out."
I squinted, wondering if I wanted to go there. If she was worth breaking my pissed-off streak. Something about the way she held no judgement as she looked at me pulled me in. Made me want to open up to her. Made me want to give this new school, this new life, a solid try. What did I have to lose?
"All right. Here we go. Let's do this." I smiled the first genuine smile in years, pleasantly surprised my face remembered how to do it.
I think I was ten when it dawned on me for the first time that I was a real-life, living cliché. My mom was a poor, single mother, raising me the best she could with two jobs and all the stress of keeping a home and raising a daughter without any help. My dad had escaped the cliché life when I was just a baby, choosing wide open pastures instead of diapers and sleepless nights. I never knew him long enough to miss him, but his absence left a raging pit of resentment toward him and all his kind.
The anger and lack of parental supervision led me down a rough path. My friend circle was full of the "unsavories", mad at the world and making sure everyone knew it. I fit right in with my teased out Afro and my brightly colored clothes. The more ripped up and mismatched the better. And that was only middle school.
My mom finally stepped in the summer before my freshman year and called my bluff on the escalating bad behavior. She moved us out of state, all the way to California where she got a better job. I had to enroll in a new school without any familiar faces.
Adding insult to injury, she also forced me to start going to church with her, saying she'd failed me by not taking me before then. I rolled my eyes, crossed my arms and sent out dirty looks and negative energy, gaining me few friends. I actively fought it, I really did, but after only a few weeks a particular family took my mom & I under their wing, my mom all smiles and gushing profuse thanks. I went kicking and screaming but went I did.
And the only reason I put up with such coddling was because it was Esa's family. After our friendship pact that first day in science lab, we were inseparable. My mother rejoiced, having barely saved me from being a pregnant high school drop-out, or some other such malady she swore I was destined for. I mean, I saw her point, but a little optimism from my own mother would have been nice.
Esa's mom and dad, Mr. and Mrs. Grant, treated me like their own daughter, telling me I could be at their house anytime I wanted, no prior invitation or even knocking on the door required. Since we lived only a few blocks from each other, they might have gotten more than they bargained for when I was at their house pretty much every day. When they started regularly stocking my favorite brand of yogurt, I knew I'd found my second family.
They were a churchy couple, praying at the dinner table, attending church every week, and volunteering their time at the homeless shelter. They always dragged Esa and I with them, which we agreed to since they were so nice all the time. The least we could do was volunteer alongside them. I wasn't down for the church stuff as I didn't believe in it, but I took to the volunteering like cotton and spandex.
It was at the homeless shelter that I gained insight into a life I vehemently did not want to experience. The hard shell I'd carefully constructed around my heart crumbled when I saw the conditions in which these people lived. I had perfected the tough-girl schtick around my peers, but the truth of the matter was that I was a marshmallow underneath that faćade. Only Esa, her parents, and the people at the homeless shelter ever saw that side of me.
By the time I graduated high school, I'd lost my angry undertones thanks to Esa's parents and the volunteering, but I'd kept my signature sassiness. I'd also kept my love of flashy clothing and funky sense of style. I was accepted into the fashion design program at UC San Diego, where I'd room with Esa in the freshman dorms.
Life was the best I'd ever known those first two years of college. I was living with my best friend, attending a gorgeous university, and pursuing a career I loved and would keep me off the streets.
All that came to a screeching halt when Esa texted me one morning.
Esa: Rady Hall ASAP. I need you.
This was enough to cause my heart to race and a heavy sense of doom to take residence in my stomach. I acted tough, but Esa was the rock in this relationship. She didn't need me for anything, except for comic relief, perhaps. If she said ASAP and that she needed me? The world was ending.
I grabbed my backpack and ran out of my lecture hall right in the middle of a riveting discussion on verb usage. I was willing to ruin perfectly good high heel boots just to get to Esa in the shortest amount of time possible. My cardio training was seriously lacking on the best of days, so I thanked the Gods Rady Hall was only a few buildings away.
I whipped open the double doors, Wonder Woman style, and charged in to find Esa and two police officers in the main hallway. Esa was slumped against the wall, her hand covering her mouth. I didn't see any handcuffs, so I figured this was good news.
"Esa? What happened?" I reached her side and pulled her into a hug. She wouldn't look at me, so I looked to the police officers for an explanation. They looked at her first and she nodded her head.
Looking in my direction again, with somber expressions on their faces, they changed my world in a single sentence. "I'm sorry to tell you, Mr. & Mrs. Grant died in a car crash this morning."
Everything around me dimmed. The officers continued to talk, but there was no sound coming out of their mouths.
My heart beat once, then twice.
On the third beat everything came rushing back, the sounds around me drowning out my thoughts that made no sense anyway. Doors opened and closed in the long hallway, the officers were speaking over each other, and my labored breathing was echoing in my ears.
Then I felt Esa shudder in my arms and it was like a lightning bolt to my brain. She was sobbing, her face buried in my chest, her body curled up like she was protecting herself from attack.
I didn't have time to fall apart or to grieve. This wasn't about poor little charity case Bailey any longer. I needed to be Esa's rock now. So I took my first steps into adulthood by shaking off my shock, my grief, and my renewed anger. For now, I'd welcome in the numbness. I asked the police officers what had happened. I asked what we should do next. I got their business cards. I made a list in my head of who I needed to call. Family, friends, our professors for extensions on assignments and tests, the mortuary, the cemetery, the lawyers, the bank. The list was endless.
And all the while, I held Esa, whispering over and over that everything would be all right. The Grants had taught me how to love without limits and to sacrifice for others. In their honor, I'd continue to do that, starting with Esa.
3 Years Later - Bailey
Shattering glass woke me up from a delicious dream about a pool boy and his long stick. I rolled out of bed and glanced over to see the clock read three a.m. I threw on a robe out of habit before rushing out of my room. Now that Esa's boyfriend Ivan lived there in the house with us, I was used to covering up outside of my room.
I raced down the stairs and came up to Esa, huddled around a corner, peering into the front living room area. I peeked over her head and saw Ivan huddled in the middle of the shattered glass from the front window.
"It just says 'Bitch'," he growled. I assume he meant the red brick he held in his hand. He picked his way across the glass to us, then moved us into the kitchen where Esa called the detective she'd been working with.
She'd had a break-in at her hot chocolate shop, her car vandalized, and now this. Someone wasn't too happy with her.
Which was crazy. Esa was the nicest, most level-headed person I'd ever met. She was the peacekeeper in our group of friends, always looking to include everyone and make sure everyone was happy.
Hell, if anyone should have a stalker it should be me! I just said things like I saw them. Said what I felt and thought about the repercussions of my actions later. Flirting was second-nature. Esa affectionately called me 'sassy' or 'feisty'. The word most people would use was less kind.
The doorbell rang, and I went to get it, leaving Ivan in the kitchen comforting Esa. I'd always loved my short, red and black silk robe, but I'd never been happier to be wearing the sexy thing than when I opened the door to Mr. Tall and Handsome.
The man standing before me had to be the detective working with Esa. She'd told me earlier that he was cute, but damn, she'd massively undersold it. He had jet black hair, brown piercing eyes, and the kind of lips you wanted to taste over and over again. His lips threw me. He held his lean, muscular body in such a rigid posture, alpha male attitude coming off him in waves. And then there were those sensuous lips that just didn't match.
One dark eyebrow raised, clueing me in that I'd left him standing there, the silence stretching out.
"If you're here to rob Esa, please hit me up instead." I turned on the charm, the flirt I always had at the ready. I extended my hand, pulling him in the door and dangerously close to me when he took hold of it, expecting a handshake.
"While I appreciate the offer," he drawled, glancing appreciatively at the open collar of my robe, "I'm on the other side of the law. I'd use handcuffs, doll."
He winked, then marched off to the kitchen to find Esa.
I blinked a couple times, trying to come to terms with that much sexiness at three o'clock in the damn morning. He was clearly a match in the flirting department, and I was intrigued.
Naturally, I followed his fine ass, highlighted in worn denim. He spoke to Esa and Ivan, then moved around the front living room collecting evidence. I wouldn't say I was watching him like a total creeper, but I was highly observant in wanting to make sure he didn't make any mistakes. My close supervision was for Esa's benefit entirely.
He was efficient with his movements, sure and confident in everything he did. I was certain my flirting had caught his attention, but it wasn't enough to deter him from the job at hand. Considering the state of the butterflies in my stomach and the sexual desire pinging through my veins, I was impressed with his focus.
And irritated. What's a girl gotta do to get his attention?
When he was done, he told Ivan that Esa needed to have someone with her at all times. Between Ivan and I, we'd make sure that happened. As a side bonus, maybe being around Esa even more than I already was would put me in close proximity to my new detective crush.
As Jack was leaving, I muttered a bit too loudly, "How do I get myself a stalker? I'm thinkin' I'd like some police protection too." Esa and Ivan cracked up laughing. Jack pretended he didn't hear me, but when he reached the front door, he looked over his shoulder at me and lifted one side of his luscious mouth in the hot-guy version of a smirk.
Oh, he'd heard me all right. There was no mistaking the fire in those brown eyes.
He shut the door, instantly making my heart drop at the loss of potent eye candy. I cheered myself up by realizing I'd scored in this first round of the Flirting War. This thing with Jack was just beginning.