chapter three| just a routine

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Finn hadn't stepped a foot into the house before his mother attacked him. Friday, excited that Finn was back, but equally excited about the amount of dirt he was covered in, joined the pair in the doorway. Finn struggled to hold Friday away from his dirty clothes as Mrs. Wrangley glared alarmingly at the scene.

"What? Where? Dirty!" Mrs. Wrangley let out a horrified scream. "You're sweaty! Where were you?"

"I was playing baseball," Finn explained, happily. His mother simply glared at him hotly. "With friends I made at school!" he continued.

"Friends? That's my boy!" Mr. Wrangley chuckled, winking at his son.

"Go upstairs and get cleaned up for dinner!" Mrs. Wrangley instructed. Finn complied, carefully setting Friday back on the ground. He raced up the stairs, excited to read more of the stories he'd stolen.

I'll return them, he promised.

"Hey there, Blondie!" Jack called from her window. Startled, Finn yelped and tripped over his own feet. She leaned out of her window, to make sure he was okay. "So, the little rebel finally came home."

Finn got up, rubbing his nose. "Whaddya mean?"

"First day here and you were out 'till dusk," Jack said, smirking. Finn cocked his head, looking at her sideways.

"There's a twig in your hair," he mentioned, and Jack felt her hair, trying to locate it.

"Got it," she said, pulling it out.

"Where'd you go after lunch?" Finn asked, trying to contain his curiosity.

"Exploring," Jack said vaguely. "Whatcha got there?" She pointed to the papers spilling out of his book bag. Jack wanted to tell Finn that those were her stories he'd stolen, but decided not to. Maybe if she kept quiet, he'd visit her treehouse more often. She liked sharing her secret spot, especially if it was with Finn because he was nice. The other kids were not nice.

"Oh, nothing," Finn dismissed.

"I saw you playing with Tommy Baker. Are you friends now?" Jack asked.

Finn shrugged. "I don't know."

"Tommy doesn't like me, so you can't be friends with me and Tommy, or Tommy will be mad," Jack explained carefully.

Finn snorted. "I don't care. I can be friends with whoever I want, including you." Finn smiled brightly, making Jack's stomach twist. Finn noticed the sudden expression change. "What's wrong?"

"What's wrong with your face?" Jack snapped, scrunching her face. She immediately chided herself for being so harsh.

"Oh, well I'm going to take a bath," Finn said, the comment flying over his head. "Race you to school?"

"Sounds fun," Jack answered smiling, shutting her window, and ending the conversation.

From then on, it became a routine. Every morning, she'd wait for Finn to come out of his house, and then race him to school. After he came back from playing with his friends, they would talk for a while before going to bed. Slowly, Jack found herself looking forward to these small talks and wishing for more. Finn remained oblivious to her feelings, as he happily considered her a dear friend. As they grew up, and Finn grew into a handsome young man, all the girls suddenly realized what Jack had years ago. His attention was focused towards Tommy and their gang, but Finn never failed to make time for Jack.

Jack had yet to tell Finn that the stories he'd been stealing for the past five years were hers. She'd figured today was a good day as any to tell him the truth and was heading towards the treehouse to intercept him. That is, until she was stopped by Linda. Linda hung out with Tommy's gang and was Jack's personal hell. She did everything she could to ruin any bit of happiness Jack had but had yet to target Finn.

"Well, well, well," Linda crooned. "Look what the cat dragged in." For a twelve-year-old, Linda was as cruel as one could get. She constantly tormented Jack, from her lack of friends to her mixed heritage. Linda found it terribly amusing that Jack's father was a mix of Chinese and Cook Islander, and that her "normal" mother had married someone like Jack's father. Just some other things to make Jack an outcast. The only reason she was even allowed into the school was because of her mother's white ancestry, reflected in her mother's appearance. However, Jack had been unlucky, her features clearly not resembling those of her classmates. Instead, she had darker skin and looked different

"Oh, shove off," Jack said impatiently. She turned around, about to head into the trail when she was pushed to the ground.

"Now, I think you should show the lady some respect," Tommy growled. "She belongs here, I can't say the same for you."

"I have every right to be here- same as you!" Jack tried to stand up but was shoved back down.

"You're only here because of your mother!" Tommy stood back satisfied. "She's normal."

"Finn thinks you're annoying. That's why he's been avoiding you," Linda said nastily. Jack's heart stopped. She had noticed that lately their brief time together was being cut, but she assumed it was because Finn was busy.

"That's a lie," Jack said lowly.

"Please, don't flatter yourself," Tommy snorted. "He's better than you, and you're tainting him."

"I'm doing no such thing!" Jack growled.

"He tells us everything," Linda bragged.

"You're not special," Tommy spat. "He said he'd do anything to get rid of you." Jack remained speechless, barely containing her tears. She automatically clutched the ring resting at the base of her neck. Jack had strung a piece of string through the ring to make a crude necklace, a replacement until her fingers were big enough to wear it.

"Ooh, what's this," Linda said, yanking the necklace from Jack's neck.

"Hey, that's my ring!" Jack protested. "My grandmother gave it to me!"

Linda smiled wickedly. "It's mine now." Jack, enraged, kicked Linda, sending her to the ground. "Tommy!" Linda wailed. Tommy shoved Jack to the ground, her head spinning as it slammed into the dirt.

"I think we should teach this rat a lesson," Tommy growled. Jack's heart raced, as several horrible possibilities ran through her head. The one she wasn't expecting, was Linda to brandish some scissors. She tried getting up but shock paralyzed her.

"Stop!" Jack cried. Linda grinned, grabbing a fistful of Jack's hair and in several uneven snips, cut it off. Jack hadn't even put up a fight. Linda giggled, as Jack started sobbing.

"That'll teach her," Tommy said, letting Jack go. Abandoning any thought of Finn, Jack raced home, taking the long way instead. She burst through her front door, sobbing as her mother leaped up from the couch.

"Honey, what's wrong?" Her mother raced over to her daughter. Jack hiccuped, barely holding it together.

"Why do they hate me?" Jack asked, tears streaming down her face. "I'm different, is that why? Because I don't look like them?"

"Sweetie," her mother started.

"I don't want to be different! Why can't I be normal!" Jack left her mother's comforting arms and raced up to her room, slamming the door. She jumped into her bed, the tears never ending as she lay awake the entire night. Finn hadn't tapped on her window like he usually did, and that only further confirmed Jack's suspicions. Finn had finally succumbed. He decided that she was every bit of the disgusting vermin that her classmates painted her to be.

The next day, Linda wore her 'new' necklace, flashing it proudly for all to see. Finn praised it to no end, while Jack watched from afar. He hadn't even waited for her to walk to school, so Jack was given no choice but to walk alone. Finn remained oblivious to the hatred his friends dispelled onto Jack, and Jack finally started to resent him for it. Maybe Tommy was right. Maybe Finn had finally succumbed and listened to what everyone had been telling him. It didn't matter. They were all the same anyway.

If Finn Wrangley wanted nothing to do with her, then she wouldn't give him the time of day.

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