Third period was with Mr. Mullins. Biology. I wasn’t sure what the lecture was about today, having long since zoned out. I’d taken biology freshman year at a high school in Cincinnati, so it wasn’t as if I was missing out on something important; there’s very little about a cell that I care to learn twice.
Instead, I was too busy reliving last night. No matter what I told myself and as much as I would be thrilled to say I didn’t care, the memory still stung. Alana had been my only comfort after I moved in with my new foster family. Now it was almost as if she was abandoning me; she’d ignored me all morning.
I reached up to scratch my head as my skin began to feel irritated, almost as if I had a rash. The flesh was inflamed and warm beneath my fingers.
Damn it, I thought. Just what I needed, a rash on my head. I pressed my fingers against it, attempting to cool it down before digging my nails in.
A wad of paper smacked into the back of my head when I ignored the voice.
“What?” I whispered impatiently, finally turning around. I tugged lightly at the hair rooted in the patch of itchy skin, hoping that it might make the burn subside a bit. A few strands came loose and drifted to the floor. I stared at them in disgust.
Nate studied me from the desk behind mine. I searched around for its original owner and found him at the back of the room, gazing at us in confusion.
“Why did you trade desks with Alan?” I asked dumbly.
He glanced back at the boy. “I wanted to talk to you.”
My brow furrowed. “About?”
As he opened his mouth to speak, another voice interjected. “Marley Jamison,” Mr. Mullins called from the front of the room, “is there something you and Nate would like to share with the rest of the class?”
I shook my head slowly, my face turning bright red.
Mr. Mullins twirled his finger around in a slow circle. “Then face the front,” he said slowly, as if I were in kindergarten, “and please save flirting for another time.”
I colored even darker as dozens of gazes were pinned on me. Once Mr. Mullins turned around again, I swiveled back to Nate.
He cocked a brow and grinned stupidly. Flirting? he mouthed. I rolled my eyes and faced front for good, trying to find interest in the lecture.
The spot on my head flared, and I opened my mouth in a silent gasp, my hand flying to the spot. The rash seemed blisteringly hot and itchy. Was I having an allergic reaction to something? I lowered my hand. My skin was wet with fluid, and hair tangled between my fingers. I began to worry my bottom lip as my scalp felt like it was beginning to pull apart. I let out a tiny moan, no louder than a squeak.
The skin tore, or at least that’s what it felt like. Agony ripped through my scalp, and I squirmed in my seat, pressing my hand to my head. Beneath my palm there was a lump. It grew bigger, and something brushed along my hand.
The pain abruptly subsided with a hiss; the only evidence of it having been there were the tears on my cheeks.
Something moved in my hair, and I reached up to run my fingers through the locks until I found the obstruction, utterly confused. Wrapping my hand around it, I pulled it forward and felt a tug at my scalp. The texture was scaly and revolting, something I’d like to drop had it not been for the curiosity egging me on.
What I saw summoned a scream, but sheer terror kept me silent. Staring at me with angry yellow eyes was a snake, no wider than a nickel. Its scales were a shimmery green and very, very real. I snapped my hand away, attempting to scramble back in my seat, but no distance was put between me and the reptile.
I must have made a noise, because Nate was suddenly out of his seat, asking Mr. Mullins if he could take me to the office because I looked like I was about to be sick. He quickly looked from my sweat-covered face to Nate and nodded slowly.
Nate’s hand wrapped around my upper arm and he hauled my out of my chair. He hurried to the door, careful to keep close to the right side of my body, the side with the snake. Dazed, I was only vaguely aware as he led me down the halls and stopped by a stairwell where there were no cameras. I sank to the floor with my back pressed against the brick wall.
“Are you going to be sick?” he asked.
I shook my head, breathing hard. “A snake,” I said hoarsely. “There’s a snake . . . my hair. Nate, what’s going on? Am I . . . why . . . I don’t know what . . . Nate, what’s going on?”