I am not shallow.
At least I’d like to think I’m not. In fact, most women around me seem to think I’m pretty logical and straight.
And then he called me a prude.
Him, with his black leather jacket and motorcycle and all round ‘bad boy’ vibe. I snorted as I watched him roaring out of our school parking lot.
“God you’re so lucky!”
I could hear the theme for Grease in the background and scowled. “Enough Penny. I will not have you compound me into those girls who get off on being treated badly!”
“But he’s soooooo dreamy! Brown eyes, all that chocolate brown hair! Come on Saya. He’s gorgeous! And he’s your partner! You’re teaching a class together! Every other woman in the faculty is green with envy! Myself included! And he smiled at me! Oh swoon!” Penelope Smith, my childhood best friend and sweetest woman I know is the dumbest idiot I’ve ever met. Not only is she always over-weight and on a diet, but she had no self-control when it comes to things that are bad for her.
I’m not like her.
So the next time the students shuffled out of our class, I turned to him and fixed him with my most professional glare. “Stop making those eyes at my best friend.”
He was stacking papers, said chocolate brown hair cropped longer in the front, nearly falling into his face. “What eyes are those exactly?”
“The bad boy with the heart of gold eyes. She’s completely susceptible to bullshit and has no tolerance against temptation.”
Finally lifting his eyes, he leveled the same eyes at me. But they were deadpan. “I smiled at her. It’s polite.”
He made it sound like I had no idea what that meant. “It’s unacceptable.”
And just like that he was in my personal space, one hand braced on the whiteboard behind me, his breath wafted against my face and I froze there for a second despite all my bluster. Narrowing those strangely deep brown eyes, he shifted a fraction closer and I drew a sharp breath. “Stop.”
A chocolaty eyebrow arched. “Are you really so arrogant as to decide what is and is not acceptable?”
Gritting my teeth against the onslaught of his intimidation, I rallied my frantically beating heart into finely honed fury. “Stand away from me.”
I planted my hands firmly against his chest and lost my breath when he didn’t budge an inch. A tremor slid down my spine and I bit down on my tongue to keep from speaking or panicking.
We were in the middle of the school. It was not even dark out yet. The students were still milling about. There was no way in hell he would try anything. I had to remain calm, and not let him yank my chain.
Carefully, drawing a deep breath, I lifted my eyes to his and held. Despite our proximity. “Or I will report you to the headmistress for harassment.”
“It’ll follow a complaint of student misconduct from me.”
I grit my teeth. “That’s a lie!”
“So is your harassment claim.”
Damn but he was annoying. “What do you want Rikiya?”
I wanted to knee him in the balls, but I held it. “For leaving Penny alone?”
My world tilted, a flash fire of furious indignation built in my chest. “How dare you…”
“Why? You don’t think it’ll be good enough to save your friend from me?”
My mouth dropped open at his gall, the breath now hard and angry in my lungs as I glared up at him. And he! He barely looked moved by the blackmail he was sporting. Well screw him. I wasn’t an idiot. “By all means,” I let the double meaning hang for a moment, before scowling. “Take her.” And it was in that flash of surprise on his face that I used to duck out from under him, grab my purse and storm out of the classroom I would have to share with him for the next four months.
I wanted to walk into traffic.
Complaining about him was impossible. Not only was he a stellar teacher, but the students loved him. The girls might ogle him but they were just as impressed with his ability to teach as were the boys. There was no way anyone would bat an eye at my complaint, much less take it seriously. Women from the faculty threw themselves at him left and right and it was justified.
He was handsome, there was no doubt about that.
And what was worse, he did seem to have a heart. Gold or otherwise. We’d been thrown together to bring up the grades of a ragtag group of exceptionally low performing group of students. Apparently that was his specialty, handing difficult students. I had been recommended because I was also the sit in student councilor. So he and I taught a behavioral therapy session in the guise of a remedial class. The weeks we spent planning our classes, preparing sessions and schedules, I found him to be an extremely apt partner. Quite the virtuoso of teenage psychology despite his physics degree. And despite our personal dislike for each other, we worked really well together. Completely in sync.
“You and Rikiya really make an amazing team.”
I looked up at George. Bless George. If he wasn’t the prettiest boy I’d ever seen, I’d have decked him. Rikiya and I were not a team. We were forced coworkers. To call us a team suddenly made it seem too intimate. It made me want to hop into the shower and scrub myself raw. But the results were pretty glaringly obvious. More of our trouble makers attended school, many of them were now exceptional in one or the other subject they studied. Most of them were happy, laughing kids again. But praise for our ‘teamwork’ was all kinds of insane coming from George. The man I’d been crushing on since I’d joined the school. It was just too much.
I walked into the old girl’s bathroom and lit my first cigarette in months.
As luck would have it, it was he who slapped the stall door open while I sat there on the tank, my feet on the closed lid of the toilet. “HAAAAAA!” Startled, nearly choking on my coronary, I dropped my barely half-smoked cigarette into the corner where a puddle snuffed out the last of its life. “Are you crazy!?” I screeched, putting my finger in my mouth where I’d accidentally singed it. “Whadahewawoowoo!”
His usual eyebrow arched. “Why are you smoking?”
“Why do you care!” I snarling low under my breath, I ducked out from under his arm that still held the stall door open and walked to the sink to rinse out my burn. “I’m stressed, okay?”
“The tests went fine. Most of them will graduate now.”
“I know that!” I glared at him through the mirror. “I’m stressed because of you.”
He didn’t seem to grasp the concept and crossed his arms. Like it was unthinkable he could be the cause of said stress. “You’re a teacher. And you’re hiding in the bathroom to smoke.”
“You’re a teacher, and you hide up on the roof to smoke.”
“That’s a teacher only area.”
“One that YOU hog the key to!”
And he’d refused to relinquish it to me. Truth is, I’d never needed a cigarette at work. Lately, I wanted it in my mouth all the time. I felt it would keep me from killing this man.
His phone went off and I was about to open my mouth for another complaint but he held up his hand and took the call. “Rikiya.” His brow darkened. “Hale, where are you?”
I knew that name. He was one of our students. A real trouble maker but with so much potential. It was the one thing Rikiya and I agreed on. We wanted to help Hale get the grades he needed so he would leave his gang and get to college.
Brown eyes lifted to me and I read the warning there, turning around to frown at him. “Stay there, I’m coming to you get you.”
“Where is he?” I asked when he hung up.
Eyes widening, I followed him out of the bathroom, matching his long strides to walk briskly towards the parking lot. “Why the hell would he go to that place? It’s a shit hole for reprobates!”
“He usually goes there when he skips.”
“What!? You knew about this?”
“I did,” he threw back exasperatedly before collecting his things from the faculty lounge. I hurriedly grabbed my bag.
“Why wouldn’t you report it!”
“Would that make him stop going there!? Think for a second, will you!”
Following him to the big monster of a heavy bike with the brown bolt of lightning, I crossed my bag over my head. When I swung my leg over behind him, he spun around to stare at me. Stubbornly hardening my jaw, I held out my hand for his spare helmet. “Don’t even try to talk me out of this. I’m going with you.”
“Damn you Saya, have you ever been to Okeer’s?”
“No. I’m not stupid.”
“Then why are you being stupid right now?”
I held his gaze resolutely. “Because Hale matters to me too.”
Perhaps he had more respect for me after then. Okeer’s scared the shit out of me. The place was the worst kind of club and bar. Filled with putrid smell of drugs and sex. If it wasn’t all legal, it would have been shut down. The only thing illegal was the minor we had to drag away from the owner. When Rikiya handed over the wad of cash, I had to bite my tongue. How the hell had he known to carry it? Or did he always carry nearly two grand of cash on his person.
What prompted the respect, was how I didn’t pee myself when a sleazy patron had hit on me, tried to grope me and ended up on his ass. I had expected a bar fight, but maybe I’d seen too many movies. Hale hadn’t stop staring at me even until we put him in a cab and sent him home.
Rikiya was uncharacteristically silent as he pulled to a stop outside my apartment building. I swung my leg off and adjusted my bag. Pulling off the spare helmet I clipped it back into place and Rikiya just sat there, helmet on, watching me from behind the visor. It was all kinds of impossible not to squirm. He could see me, but I could see nothing. “You threw him like a pro.”
Clearing my throat, I shrugged. “I grew up with brothers.”
I frowned. “Why does it matter?”
“So I know how many punches to expect when I do get my hands on you.”
Something wild and warm unfurled in me and all the red flags went up. Stepping away from him I let out a shuttered breath. “Yeah, that’s not going to happen.”
I glared at his teasing tone. He was grinning behind that visor. “On your life.”
There was a soft chuckle and then he nodded to the door behind me. “Get inside Saya. Or I’ll have to take my chances.”
Scowling at him and the crazy birdcage beat of my heart, I turned and left him there on the curb. But something stayed behind with him. Maybe left with him.
Hale returned to school. But if it was hard to be around Rikiya before, it was nearly impossible to be in his presence now. And Rikiya being the straight-forward asshole that he is, called me out on it even opportunity he got. “Are you going to ignore me all day?”
“I’m working on it.”
“Go play in traffic.”
A huff from him and we resumed work.
The four months were nearly up. The students were showing a marked improvement. Sooner or later, the semester would be over, our work would be done and we could both go back to our respective lives. So why did that seem to make my breath hitch?
And then Okeer came looking for me. He brought the man I’d thrown with him and they found me late in the evening in the school parking lot. There was a yard of school busses. No one would hear me. I could barely hear me with the foul hand on my mouth. I could barely breathe. But I kicked and I twisted and got a lot more bruises and blood then I counted on.
Rikiya found me. I still don’t know how.
He found me kicking and screaming and in one piece but when the police came, there was little left in the way of intact bones in Okeer and the man. Wrapped in a paramedic blanket, the headmistress apologized for the night guard being negligent. Of the CCTV camera’s not being monitored properly. She offered to pay medical bills and therapy and a new sports car if it meant keeping her school out of the press. I said yes to keeping my mouth shut and no to sports car. Medical bills were not really needed, I was scratched and bruised, but I was ok.
“She doesn’t need a hospital. She needs a bath.”
“Maybe Okeer wasn’t such a bad guy after all.”
Rolling his eyes, he caught my arm and proceeded to drag me to his motorcycle despite my sputtering and protests. What was worse, he followed me into my apartment, crowding me to my bathtub and threatened to put me in there himself if I didn’t comply. I did.
What I couldn’t do was stop the crazy fluttering of my heart as he sat there in the doorway of my bathroom, his booted heel planted against the doorframe, his eyes haunted. Looking completely destroyed.
“Glass cabinet, second shelf.”
Turning his head, he saw me immersed in the water, the shower curtain hiding everything essential. But his eyes burned everywhere they touched. “Condom?”
Heat suffused through me turning my skin a stupid shade of red. “Cigarettes, perv.”
The corner of his mouth quirked and he stood, carefully fishing out the pack and lighter before lighting a cigarette and taking a long hissing drag on it. “Damn you Saya, don’t do shit like this again?”
His gaze cut through me like a knife. “Stay back in school alone.”
I swallowed hard. I should have been safe. I was unlucky that’s all. He knew it, but I saw how he couldn’t bring himself to look beyond the green and brown bruises on me. Walking over he held out the cigarette to me and I stared up at him in horror. We were not sharing buddies. But maybe the situation could allow it. With trembling fingers, I lifted a wet hand and took a shaky, short drag.
This time he collapsed against the side of the bathtub and I realized just why everyone said his hair was chocolate. I wanted to bury my hands into it and swim there for a bit. Gritting my teeth against the feminine stupidity sweeping through me after his knight in shining armor routine, I held the cigarette back to him. “Thank you,” I muttered.
The muscles in his neck tightened. “I was late.” He took the cigarette and roughly shoved it between his lips.
“My chastity would beg to differ.”
He swiveling around, staring at me. “Are you for real woman? You’re covered from head to toe in bruises, you have a sprained wrist and split lip. You think it is easy for me to see how I failed you?”
Mouth parting in shock, I ducked a little deeper into the water. “Wha…how the hell is this about you?”
“I should have known they’d come after you! I know their kind!”
Startled at the fury in his voice, I realized he was angry with himself. “Contrary to popular belief Rikiya, the earth continues to spin without you twirling it.”
He vibrated with anger for a moment before rolling to his feet in one fluid motion. “Get some rest, I’m taking you to the precinct tomorrow to make a statement.”
But I got no rest. Everything unsaid and unspoken kept me awake well into the morning until I fell into exhausted sleep.
The precinct visit was a start. His heavy bike continued to park outside my apartment day after day and I would huff about bad hair days before jamming my helmet back on my head.
“Not like other girls eh?”
I looked up from my desk to see Penny smirking down at me. She had no malice in her. She was merely teasing, but I glared at her, my insides churning with disquiet and denial. “He’s pretending at the Knight in Shining Armor bit. It’s temporary. I don’t suffer any romantic delusions.”
“You are delusional Saya, if you think that’s what it is,” she rolled her eyes and wandered back to her desk with a shake of her head and the word ‘stubborn’ thrown back at me.
The other teachers had gone quiet around me. Perhaps they felt my hypocrisy. I felt like such a fraud. And I brought that up when I walked out after quitting time to find him sitting sideways on that black monstrosity, waiting for me. “This has to stop. People are talking.”
Turning his head from where he’d been staring off into space, making the perfect picture to just stand and admire, he frowned. “So?”
“So I’m taking the bus.”
He tilted his head and let out an exasperated breath. “What they say is really that important?”
“Considering how much I hated your guts a few months ago, yeah.”
“You don’t hate them now?” And just like that his smile did funny things to my inside. The lopsided tilt of his mouth seemed to off balance my entire world and I swallowed hard, taking a step away.
Those deep brown brows drew together, the smile fading. “Stubborn pride is finally reasserting itself, eh?”
Flushing under his accurate deduction and shamed because I knew he could see right through me, I turned and started walking away. It was better this way. And when he didn’t call out to me as I walked out of the big front gates, I realized it wasn’t. Now I felt empty. Alone.
Oh god, it couldn’t be. Because I could lie to the world, to him, to Penny, but how could I lie to my stupid emotionally intelligent heart that yearned for him.
And it only got worse. No matter when I left, or got home, I saw him through my periphery vision. Most of the time I thought he was a figment of my imagination, but many a time, I would meet his eyes and then he’d be gone. Then I remembered how he’d said he’d failed me. It wasn’t easy to come to terms with how he still felt responsible for me. It was unfathomable and made no sense.
Then the exceptionally idiotic bad boy sent me the key to the roof.
I stared at the simple silver key. It was a copy. He’d gotten in made for me. And it should have seemed stupid to me considering it was not the key to his damned apartment but a seemingly public place that he had staked a claim on for some reason. Perhaps the school allowed him to keep it because it kept the other students from sneaking up as well. Either way, it was all kinds of irksome and sweet that he’d sent it to me. I should have had my head examined instead of grabbing my purse and making my way up the stairwell after school ended.
What I found there filled me with both elation and great disappointed. Our ‘bad boy’ group of now successfully graduating students were gathered there on a spread out blanket, with a lovely celebration party. And amidst all those bad boys with hearts of gold sat mine. Silently watching me with those sinfully dark, exceptionally perceptive eyes. Like he could feel what I’d misread from the key.
Laughing, eating and sharing those decidedly non-alcoholic drinks, I felt like a fool. And being around him only seemed to itch harder under my skin. Only reminded me how far I’d fallen. Not one of those girls indeed.
And when the party wrapped up, we both got a really sweet and awkward hug from Hale, a mumbled apology to me for what happened in the parking lot and the students shuffled out. His presence seemed to surround me and I could barely breath. I knew he wanted to talk but I was a coward and the realization of just how much I wanted to fling myself into his arms like a sordid heroine in a seedy romance novel only propelled me faster to the door…only to find it locked.
“What the…” I tugged and twisted harder, but the door stuck.
“What’s wrong?” Stepping closer, nearly sending my already screaming heart into a frenzy he tried to handle himself. Then something low and feral came through him, a growl that should never have been possible on a human. “Hale! Open this damned door, you punk!”
“Sorry teach!” A cheerful voice flowed through the door followed by a peel of laughter. I patted myself down for where I’d pocketed the spare and I realized why he’d hugged me. That rat! “You both better sit back and relax,” Hale continued. “We’ll come back in two hours to let you out.”
“Hale!” I screeched, banging my fist against the door. “Open this door now!”
“Come on Ms. Saya. Adult time. Don’t break too many school rules!”
“HALE! HAAAAALE!” I screamed harder, sending my foot against the door this time. “I swear if you weren’t already graduating I would fail your scrawny little ass! Open this door now!”
There was a slow tired sigh behind me. “Let it go. They’re gone!”
And I was trapped. Panicked and hyperventilating and probably making myself dizzy and lightheaded. This was the worst possible outcome of our partnership. “Where’s your key?”
“Same place as yours, probably.”
At the easy, relaxed tone of his voice, I turned to see him back on the blanket, laying back with his hands behind his head as if it was completely normal to be locked up by his students.
“Why aren’t you more pissed?”
His gaze slid away from the dusky sky to meet mine. And I didn’t even need to hear it to know his answer. I was stuck with him and we would have to talk now. Well, stubborn had been my middle name for months now. I let my back fall against the door and slid down on the ground right there, arms wrapped around my knees. So there.
A perfectly chocolate eyebrow arched and he sat up, the light of the setting sun doing beautiful, artistic things to his profile. Like someone had photoshoped him to poster-boy perfection. Damn it all to hell, the universe was against me.
Fear and anticipated lit in my belly. “Not happening.”
“Fine.” And to my horror he rose to his feel in a fluid motion and came right at me.
Eyes widening, I was barely in time to scramble up to my feet before he stood before me. Those hands pressed into the door above my shoulders and I found myself staring up at him as I had before in the classroom when I had felt the need to protect my friend. Swallowing thickly, I plastered myself as far away from him as I could. “School rules,” I muttered lamely.
“Break some with me,” he whispered and I turned my head away as his breath caressed my mouth. Shit. The word built like a panicked mantra as I refused to look up at him. The inevitability of where this was going without my control was maddening.
“You’re the proverbial bad boy, not me.”
He snorted and lifted his head, giving me a little room to breathe. If only I’d known, it was his ploy to reel me in better. But I lifted my eyes to him now that the threat of being kissed was not in my immediate future. “Prude.”
Mouth agape, eyes nearly blown wide I gawked up at the familiar word he’s thrown out at me before. The word that started it all. “I am NOT…”
Sputtering, I planted my hands against his chest only to lose my breath. Damn but the man was built beautifully. “Your need to goad and blackmail me into this isn’t your most redeeming quality.”
“Do I have one?”
And I felt like an idiot. How long can you hedge and dodge and evade? There was something exceptionally tiring about it. Letting out a deep, lamenting sigh, I lifted tired eyes to his brown gaze and held it. “Much to my disappointment.”
The corners of his mouth tilting lopsidedly were just as devastating. “Ready?”
Pausing in where my hands were sliding up his chest to wrap around his neck (I hadn’t decided if I mean to hold him or strangle him), I blinked up at him. “For?”
“Me babe.” He smirked, a deep rooted rumble set in his bone, turning my own to jelly. Bending his arms at the elbow, he leaned deeper against me. “All me,” he chuckled huskily against my mouth.
“Egomaniac, shut up and kiss me.”
I’m not shallow.
But when this bad boy kissed me, all I could think about was that he was soooooo dreamy! Brown eyes, all that chocolate brown hair! Oh swoon.
And Grease still played in the background. But who cares?