It was nearly seven thirty when the bus slowly approached the clean, white building, the silver sign "Stonebrook High School" gleamed so brightly under the morning light that it nearly blinded them. Scarlet jumped off the bus as Nick followed after her, hurrying into the building and headed right down the hallway.
The hallway, was crowded as usual with students that was eagerly engaged in conversations, trading summer stories and of course, making up the exaggerated ones that would probably become the gossip topics for the next few weeks. Nick was greeted by a couple of guys who were recognized as the jocks on the basketball teams. They hollered, whistled and high five each other as if they haven't seen each other for years.
Scarlet followed quietly behind Nick, who was holding her wrist as he made his way through the crowd. She used to be bullied by the jocks in school --- they tied her hair to the chair, tossed her books around... Once there was a guy who dared to reach out and pulled her bra straps. Scarlet used to cry in these situations, but it just made them even more… Excited instead of stopping --- therefore she learnt to keep her head down and swallow her tears when they decided to taunt her again, praying her hardest for everything to be over. She even tried to avoid them by hiding in the girls' bathroom, but she couldn't hide forever.
She survived, barely. Because Nick was always there for her. He used to be this short and skinny boy, easily overlooked and of course, weak. The bullies never see him as a target but when he tried to stand up for Scarlet, they usually ended up being bullied together. They held each other's hands through everything; he was almost like a big brother to her.
But all of that changed when Nick became part of the basketball team. He had become taller and stronger over the years, sometimes Scarlet even suspected it was because he was sick of being bullied, tossed around all the time. Like her.
Only he had the guts to do it. She remembered sitting on the bleachers at his tryout, watching Nick as people made fun of him --- no one believed he would make it, but Scarlet did. And in one year he managed to become the captain of the basketball team.
Suddenly Nick was very popular. People had respects for him --- and Scarlet. Bullies stayed away and people actually started talking to Scarlet. She didn't care much about that though. But she owed Nick, big time.
And deep down inside, she knew she couldn't survive in this world without him. She needed him, and somehow she had a feeling that Nick needed her, too.
Nick let go of her hand as they stopped in front of their lockers, and started dumping books into his locker. Scarlet balanced her books in one wobbly arm and struggled to spin the combination lock, but it stuck. She gasped as the book on top of the pile in her arm slipped and fell....
Nick caught it. He frowned at her combination lock, and pointed out. "Forgot your combination again?" He said, taking the books from her hands, and threw them into his locker before slamming it shut.
Scarlet bit her lip. "Well....." She said, struggling inside.
Nick raised an eyebrow. "It's 1449, not 1446." He spun the last number to nine and the locker swing open. Scarlet's jaw dropped. "How did you know?"
He just shrugged.
"And why are you hiding my books?" Scarlet asked suspiciously and raised an eyebrow at him, the way he always does.
"Because there's no chemistry test today." Nick said and grinned, secretly enjoying to see her cheeks flaming. The pink glow tinted her pale cheeks slightly --- if anyone could be cute when they were furious, it would be Scarlet.
"Nick Anderson!" Scarlet stared at him in disbelief for a second, and then it just reminded her of the fact that Nick enjoyed pranking her. She sighed and pouted, closing her locker slowly. "I skipped breakfast for that today. And it's all your fault."
Nick paused. "You did?" He asked, there was a sudden concern in his voice.
Scarlet nodded and crossed her arms. He took out a small packet of biscuits out from his pocket and handed it to her. "Eat it now." He instructed firmly. Scarlet rolled her eyes before obeying his order by tearing the plastic wrapper, and shove a biscuit into her mouth. "Mmhmmm...." She licked her lips as the buttery goodness dissolved on her tongue. Nick was about to say something when a chirpy voice came up behind him.
"Heeeeyyyyyyyy." the girl said in a singsongy voice and she put a hand gently on Nick's shoulder.
It was Noelle Khirkham, of course.
Noelle was one of the most popular girl in Stonebrook High, captain of cheerleaders, everybody's so called dream-match for Nick. Because "Every king needs a Queen", or so they said. But in Scarlet's eyes, Noelle was more of the King than Queen, the way she bossed boys around, including Nick, who didn't pay much attention to it, and it seemed to drive her crazy.
You could easily call her stereotype if she was mean and nasty. But the thing is, she wasn't. It confused Scarlet that sometimes she seemed decent, other times she just came off looking snobby.
"How was summer?" She looked up adoringly at Nick and batted her eyelashes --- the whole world could tell she was flirting. But it was the way she did it so naturally and effortlessly that made you want to strangle her, knowing that you'd probably end up looking stupid if you ever try doing it yourself.
"Fine." Nick smiled and gave her his famous one-word answer. Girls usually go away awkwardly after that, but if it bugged Noelle, she certainly didn't show it.
Instead, she turned to Scarlet and flashed her a killer smile with those gleaming pearly whites, her dimples forming on her smooth cheek. "Hi...." she said, her eyebrows scrunched up a little as if she was trying to remember something. Even frowning, she looked stunningly gorgeous.
"Selena?" She greeted Scarlet, but it was more like a question.
Scarlet almost wanted to burst out laughing, but she didn't. "Scarlet." She said and smiled politely. But Noelle already moved on. She tossed her golden locks over her shoulders in a manner that would make guys drool, and said, "What do you think of James?"
"James? Who?" Scarlet asked, confused. She wasn't expecting this.
"Him, silly." Noelle smiled sweetly again, pointing to a guy who was standing few feet away. Scarlet followed her gaze, and the blonde dude winked back. Noelle rolled her eyes and looked at Scarlet, "Well?" She raised her eyebrow, as if she was expecting an answer.
"He's....." Scarlet began, unsure of what to say. She wasn't used to judging people by looks, but Noelle seemed to expect an answer from her. Right now. Think of something, Scarlet Brennan, she thought. "Cute?"
That seemed to brighten Noelle up a little. She nodded at the guy --- James before looking back at Scarlet, her smile even wider that Scarlet thought her face would break. "Well," Noelle said, her voice turning into a whisper as she leaned closer to Scarlet's ear, "He likes you."
For a second, Scarlet was numb. All she could manage was "huh?", but Noelle didn't seem to mind. She pulled back a little and acknowledged the guy with a nod before winking at Scarlet. Then she left.
"Hey." James said in a deep voice, smiling warmly at her. Something about his voice made Scarlet blushed. She bit her lip and looked down at her shoes, "Hi." She said quietly, which came out sounding more like a whisper.
"You're cute." James said and flashed him a cheeky grin. Suddenly Scarlet was unsure of what to do, so she turned around to Nick, the way she always does. But he was gone. She spotted him at the corner of the hallway, and Noelle was clinging onto his arm. Her heart dropped a little. He left without her?
She turned back to James, who started talking about basketball practice and pizza. She nodded along, but barely hears a word he said as a wave of odd disappointment hit her.
She was so caught up in it that she didn't notice that this time, he looked back.