Chapter 14

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Almost as disturbing as Ethan's question was the fact that he followed us over from the cafeteria line to our table and sat down without being invited. Vanessa's eyes grew to big brown orbs and Darren glared at him like he was a suspicious growth he'd just discovered on his right testicle.

"Well..." He shoved a corner of his taco into his mouth and bit off a chunk. "Are you going to tell me or what?"

"Um, why are you here, Ethan?" Vanessa shifted her focus to Kayla "Why is Ethan here? Isn't he school-phobic? And don't you two hate each other?"

"Hate is a strong word. But in this case, it's the right one." Kayla jabbed a fork into her taco salad. "Ethan is here, as in at school, because his family currently has other priorities than his home-based education. He's here, as in at this table, because he's an eavesdropper with the social graces of a hermit crab."

Ethan's face puckered. "I just want to know why the two of you are so interested in Zeke." He pointed at me and Kayla.

"They're not interested in him. I've never even heard them mention him." Darren's voice shook as he talked, like it was a chore to get each word out in front of Ethan's heated presence. I could relate.

"They were just talking about him. I heard them."

Kayla stabbed her salad again, leaving the fork standing upright on her tray. "Ethan, get over yourself. Everyone is talking about Zeke right now. He's the only kid in Dorn currently in a coma injured by... I don't even know since the hospital won't tell the reporters anything. All we were doing was talking about how much people were talking about him. The town is genuinely concerned. Is there a problem with us showing some compassion?"

Ethan's face remained puckered. I wasn't sure at this point whether he was going to relent, like he had at the hospital, or break out his Hunger Games archery set and pick us off one by one.

While Ethan slowly chewed over Kayla's words, Kayla turned to the side to make it clear she didn't care what his response was. She spent the rest of lunch icing him out. Vanessa, Darren, and I followed suit. Even though I wasn't an Ethan fan, I felt bad making someone the odd man out at our otherwise socially awkward but happy lunch table, even if it was Ethan. If he minded, though, he never showed it. He ate his tacos in silence and when the bell rang, he got up and left without a word.

"Great," I said as I collected my things. "I have to go to class with him right now."

"So?" Kayla shrugged. "You don't have to talk to him. Not as long as he's being a prick." She glanced over at her other friends and gave them an "I'll see you later" wave. "As for our convo, let's pick it up again after school."

I nodded in agreement and then headed to Communications class, stepping slowly, as if I was trying not to slip on an icy sidewalk, hoping to prolong the inevitable.

Ethan was already seated when I arrived, Feet propped up on the chair across from him. My chair. Kayla was wrong. I was going to have to open my mouth and speak words to this guy. I hadn't imagined hating someone worse than Blake and Dakota, but there it was.

I walked down the row of desks, stopping in front of his outstretched leg. "I assume you have your leg up so I'll be forced to talk to you and reveal whatever dirty dark secret you think Kayla and I were talking about in relation to your brother."

He lowered his leg and tucked it back under his own desk where he shook it back and forth like he'd just downed a triple vente mocha. "No, I was just stretching."

I slid into my own seat. "Yeah, sure you were." I intended those to be the last words I spoke to him for as long as possible, but inspiration leapt up and grabbed my tongue, telling it to be brave. Take a chance, Mazie. "So, Ethan, how long have you known Dakota and Blake?"

Ethan's twitchy leg stilled. "Those two? I know of them. Why the hell would you think I associate with people like that, all fake smiles and nail polish and daddy's credit cards. When the apocalypse happens, I give them a day tops before they bite it. Neither of them could bear to live without Wi-Fi."

Damn, that was a decent burn. I was going to have to reverse the order in which I hated people again. "Oh, well, my mistake. I thought because you've lived in Dorn your whole life and they've lived in Dorn their whole lives and now they're the Junior Popular Royals... I just assumed you knew them. Never mind."

"You should never assume anything. Besides, didn't Kayla tell you I'm some backwoods dwelling, unschooled yokel? I don't mix regularly with the townies." He cocked his head to the side. "Until now, I guess. Not exactly my choice, though."

"It must suck, having your brother in the hospital, your parents in Seattle with him, and you're all alone and having to come here for school." I didn't begrudge him that. I'd be miserable if I were in his shoes too.

He dropped his eyes. "My older sister is staying with me, so I'm not alone, but... the stuff with my brother and having to go to school—that definitely all sucks."

"I'm sorry your life is shitty right now, even if you are a jerk."

His eyes shot back up. For the second time that day, I had a boy studying me, head to foot. Ethan wasn't so much a predatory bird as he was a crow—dark, crafty. I didn't know if he wanted to hunt me down or if I could dissuade him from his nefarious intentions with shiny objects. Apparently, the uncertainty was catching.

"You're like the world's shyest snoop. I don't know what to make of you, Mazie."

Likewise, I thought as class begun and we both turned our attention towards the teacher. I managed to escape afterwards without looking in his direction, much less speaking to him.

When school let out, I was still on my feet. I'd talked to six people not counting teachers, which was probably a record for me, and I was pretty sure eighty percent of my sentences were coherent. So, I disliked half the people I'd spoken to, had learned some curious and potentially disturbing information, and had Ethan watching me like a crow. Still doing better socially than I ever had before.

My locker was Popular Royalty free, but the side hallway leading to the track was not. I stopped just short of it at the sound of not one, but two now familiar voices.

"I don't care, you were there too. This is not all on me." Ethan.

"It is, actually. I'm not the one who--"

Oh my God, that had to be Blake. So much for Ethan never associating with the likes of Blake.

"Shut it, Blake. Now's not the time. You're going to have to deal because I'm not going anywhere."

A locker slammed shut, and with it, my heart slammed against my chest. Turning around, I ran back the way I'd come from, exiting the front of the building and then looping around to the student parking lot, praying neither of the boys saw me. If they did, I'd be hearing from them about it.

Heart still pounding, I ground to a halt in front of Kayla, sitting on the hood of her car waiting for me. She glanced up from her phone, her mouth in a round O as I panted.

She slipped her phone into her pocket. "What now, Mazie? Speak, speak!"

"Kayla... Holy shit. The plot just thickened!"

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