Chapter 44

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F O R T Y—F O U R

      ONE WEEK WITHOUT Ryder caused everything to change.

      Tyler, Jay and Cyrus had been lessening just how much they actually showed up to school. I could honestly say I'd see them there maybe twice out of the five week days since he'd been gone, and I was getting admittedly frustrated.

      This bothered me for multiple reasons.

      For one, they didn't even think to ask if I wanted to come to any of the activities I'd heard about from Selena, and the only reason she even knew was because she'd show up unannounced to Tyler's and see them lounging in his room with video games and snacks galore.

      Two, I felt neglected. Not in the way that I craved their attention or affection, but in the way that they honestly abruptly shut down all connections we'd had. They rarely opened my texts, and the few times they had they'd been short, mostly one-sided conversations. I'd thought our friendship meant more to them than that. I was pretty hurt, to say the least.

      Selena tried to help the situation. She suggested that they might just be too preoccupied with the things teenage boys do to think about it, but I knew she was wrong. Something was up, whether I'd somehow caused them to get tired of me as a person or I did something to upset them within the time of Ryder's absence. Regardless, shutting me out wasn't the way to deal with it.

      "Are you alright?"

      I lifted my gaze from the book I stared blankly at and focused my attention on the accented brunette. "What?"

      "Are you alright?" Julian repeated. He nodded to the book in my lap. Dark eyes bore into mine with concern. "You've been staring at those two pages for a bit. Unless you read very, very slowly, I figure you should have flipped the page ages ago."

      I let out a heavy sigh and leaned my head back against the locker. My locker, this time. I didn't feel comfortable using one of the guys' lockers after their sudden absence from my life. "Just distracted."

      "Is it your friends, again?"

      I nodded. Julian had been attached to my hip since day one of Ryder's suspension. It'd been pretty annoying at first, but I quickly came to accept that he wasn't going to go away by just me trying to ignore him. After a while, surprisingly, I came to not mind his presence so much.

      Julian opened his mouth to speak, but stopped as he glared daggers at somebody walking past. I didn't need to look up to know it was somebody staring directly at me, their displeasure at my existence clear in their face.

      Ever since the boys visibly forgot about me, others seemed to notice instantly. People started to see that the four were no longer pushing my books to the floor or shoving me into lockers, and had long since turned into my bodyguards from people like Jessica Meyers. And when somebody's been bullied before—even if it was just for show—nobody wants to accept that they suddenly aren't anymore. Who better to target then the girl without her bodyguards. I was free reign, and it was high time for everybody else in the world to take a go at the one and only Skye Valkyrie.

      My boys left me, and now I was being bullied.

      Actually, my new found torment was one of the reasons I stopped minding Julian's presence. Not only was he admittedly attractive, but he was intimidating enough that a glare kept most people in the general vicinity away from me. Girls wanted him to like them, and guys wanted to not pick a fight they'd have a high chance at losing.

      "I don't mind them so much," I lied. He couldn't be with me at all times, and it was unfair of me to automatically make him my bodyguard. Whether he minded the conflict or not. "You don't have to defend my honor every time somebody looks at me weird."

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