• 14 •
– Anna’s POV –
“All students and staff, please report to the auditorium immediately.”
The halls buzzes after the clicking sound of the intercom being turned off is heard. Humming and murmuring takes over, and I hear students saying things like, “We’re never called out for anything important. Must be serious.” Apparently this school doesn’t get much excitement, so being called to the auditorium must be what they call thrilling. Wow.
Hayley tags my hip with herself and follows me, who is following the pack of h***y and unsanitary teens. It’s like we’re just a hoard of cattle being pushed in whatever direction authority commands us to.
My foster sister has books clung to her chest and she smiles up at me. “What do you think this is about?”
I shrug. “If I knew I wouldn’t be going to this thing.”
She doesn’t reply, probably taking my words as a hint that that was the only answer she was gonna get. I shove my hands into my grey hoodie and glance outside the front glass doors, noticing the rain patting the pane. Then I sigh and head into the auditorium, filled with hundreds of kids. It’s more of a giant theatre if you ask me.
Hayley and I find our seats somewhat near the top, staring down at the principal, who seems two inches tall from up here. As everyone settles in and the doors are closed, he walks up to the podium and hushes the crowd. Gradually, it follows the order.
“Hello, everyone. I’m sure you’re all wondering why you’re here,” Principal Parling begins, “And I shall explain that reason in a few moments. But for now, I’d like you to take a second to understand what taking something that isn’t yours truly means. Deeply.”
Everyone stares and mumbles in confusion. Parling hushes them again and restates his fact, telling everyone to ponder for a minute on the word, “theft.”
In my world, it has multiple different meanings. There are so many versions of the word, that I can’t keep count. I overthink meanings of every word, so needless to say, I didn’t really think deeply in the sixty seconds I was supposed to.
When the time was up for thinking (even though I’m sure no students actually did), Parling sighs in some sort of empathy- a sadness unrecognizable. A fake one.
“Students, staff, I brought you here today to announce that something has been stolen from the music department. A three thousand dollar electric Fender guitar was taken from the classroom two days ago. This weekend, or today, we’d like you to report anything you may have seen or something you know.” He pauses, and my mind runs wild. I saw the person who took it. “Turn yourself in. Or the person who you think may have done it. Stealing something so valuable is illegal, and there will be consequences. Nothing like this has ever happened here, so it’s shocking to all of us. We want to prevent it from happening ever again, or as best we can. Come talk to me if you have anything- questions or comments…you’re dismissed.”
My eyebrows skyrocket. The guitar he stole was a very expensive one? It didn’t look that expensive. Maybe a thousand, but not three. I know my guitars. I would’ve been able to tell if it were worth that much. Maybe the principal is telling us a lie to emphasis and stretch the importance of stealing from school property. It wouldn’t be too surprising, considering he just admitted himself that “stuff like this doesn’t happen here.”
The students seem to groan and grumble irritatedly when they find it’s not something as exciting as some of the conspiracies that were created. Everyone files out slowly, getting ready to leave for the day in a few minutes. Apparently the thrill built up wasn’t what they were anticipating.
I wasn’t disheartened though. I was confused and questioning myself. Should I report that I saw someone steal the instrument? Would that attract unwanted attention? What if I do report the person, and they have some sort of vengeful emotion toward me from this day forward? Parling said himself that it’s illegal and that there’ll be consequences. If I don’t say anything and someone finds that I knew earlier on, then could that mean those consequences reflect onto me too?
My brain squeezes and I sigh, rubbing my forehead. No need to overthink. I don’t need to overthink. This isn’t even that big of a deal. It’s just a priceless guitar. Not a drug theft.
I sigh and decide on ignoring it. It doesn’t matter anyway. I’m sure they have enough guitars. Unless that instrument is one of the teacher’s most prized possession from their dead grandfather, then there’s no reason to freak out. The school will just over exaggerate it because they have nothing negative to talk about anyway.
Hayley laughs loudly and falls backwards into a seated Nico, who smiles adoringly down at her, hands pressed on the floor behind him. We’re all sitting in Hayley’s bedroom, a board game laid out in front of us. I didn’t exactly want to play, but they wouldn’t quit bugging me about it until I finally just gave in.
“That poor little girl!” Hayley exclaims, clutching onto her stomach while Nico keeps the grin plastered to his lips. “W-Why did you-” She interrupts herself by a laughing-wheeze of some sort, eyes crinkling and filling with tears. Nico releases a few chuckles, her behavior seemingly contagious.
“I was trying to be helpful for once, alright?” Nico replies in a playful glare. “It’s not my fault that the toddler is four and doesn’t understand expression.”
Hayley bursts into another fit of laughter, and I sigh, resting my chin on my fist and leaning forward a bit, bored. It honestly isn’t even that funny.
The story Nico just told was that he was chilling with his niece who came to visit from Canada about a month ago, helping her with the ton of homework she brought with her. And when one of the answers to the math question was, eleven, the girl started screaming and crying.
And why, might you ask?
Because Nico had told her, “Yes! That’s it! Hold up eleven fingers for me!”
And his niece proceeded to shout for her mother, bawling her eyes out over the fact that she only has ten.
Hayley proceeds to act as if this is the funniest thing in the planet. And I’ll admit it’s amusing, but not laughter-worthy. Am I just being too unhumorous? Maybe it’s gone dry over my years of experiencing things…
After another ten minutes, Hayley recovers with a large smile and wipes her eyes dry of tears. Her skin is glowing and her eyes are bright. I don’t understand how someone can be so optimistic all the time.
“On a more serious note,” Nico begins, “Where’s Aiden?”
Hayley shrugs. I just stare at the floor. He was supposed to meet up here with Nico as a tag-along, but it was obvious what Nico was trying to do. And Aiden spotted it, thus the reason he hasn’t and will not show up.
I’m not disappointed. It’s a good thing he didn’t show up, even if I never get the answers to the questions swirling around in my head. We need to distance ourselves like I’d originally planned. It’d be better this way. Maybe he was agreeing – silently – to these terms.
“I wouldn’t be too surprised if he is with you know who,” Hayley comments, rolling her eyes. My eyebrow raises. The first reason for that is because I’ve never seen Hayley act cold towards someone. The second is because, who the hell is “you know who?”
Nico shrugs sheepishly. “I wouldn’t either…he said he might have plans, whatever that meant.”
Hayley slaps his arm. “He was supposed to come here. Why didn’t you ask him what’s up?”
“Because,” Nico protests. “He’s my boss. I can’t question him, even if he is my friend. He turns lethal when others tell him something that opposes his actions, and you know that.”
I stare at them hard just before Hayley suddenly just remembers that I’m in the room. She clears her throat and awkwardly dodged eye contact before saying we should continue the game.
I play, but my mind is stuck on their conversation in which they may have said a little too much.
Nico told me in the gym that Aiden wasn’t what he seemed, that he is a completely different person in his line of “work.” But what does that mean? And how does Aiden change? Everyone tells me or at least talks around me that he’s a terrifying person. I haven’t really seen that side, although I believe a piece of it stuck out back at the unfinished house.
Perhaps that’s his line of work: dealing with men like the one that tried to attack us. His face was completely covered, and he pressed his voice into a lower octave as if he didn’t want to give away what he sounded like. So obviously he didn’t want Aiden to know his identity- or maybe he didn’t want him to recognize his identity.
My mind rushes again, but I close off all thoughts about Aiden. I don’t need to worry about him. He’s no longer my business, and I don’t care if the universe says otherwise.
Knock. Knock. Knock.
We all snap our heads in the direction of the door. Immediately, my mind shoots back to Aiden. Did he actually show up?
Hayley sighs and stands. “I’ll go let him in.”
I nod and she leaves the room, Nico stretching out onto a laying position on the floor. He shoves his arms under his head and lets a dreamy smile take over his features. I roll my eyes.
“Who did you think Aiden was with?” I couldn’t help the question from slipping my tongue. It did it on its own.
Nico looks over at me, smirking instantly, one faci*l hair strip above his eye rising. “Jealous?”
I shake my head. “Curious.”
He scoffs. “Yeah sure. Whatever.” Then he pauses. “Her name’s Amanda Rent. She’s kinda Aiden’s go-to sleeping buddy.”
I hold back a gag. “Sleeping buddy?”
He winces. “Was I a little too blunt with that?”
I sigh. “Better blunt than hesitant.”
He nods. “I guess.”
“Does she go to our school?” I question. She had to. How else would Aiden have met her?
Nico nods again. “Yeah, but she’s really stupid. She has no idea that Aiden only has sex with her because he’s stressed, drunk, or needs to forget.”
I glare at him. That time he got a little too blunt. A bit too personal. It’s not like I, out of all people, want to hear about his sex life. Especially when I’m the one that’s supposed to be in it and me alone. Not that it bothers me. I’m supposed to avoid him, right? None of my business?
He chuckles nervously. “Too far?”
“Miles.” I deadpan.
A presence at the door distracts us from talking and Hayley stands there, looking confused. “Hey Anna, some guy is here for you.”
I morph into just as confused as her. “It’s not Aiden? Who is it?”
She shrugs. “He told me to relay back to you some Spanish thing. Él no Play Dough last mart mace something something. I don’t know. He’s good at it, and too fast.”
The color drains from my face and my lips part in shock. How did he find me?
If my father could, he could too I suppose. I mean, if he found what school I attend, he probably already found out where I lived too. Why didn’t I even think of that?
Él no puede lastimarte más.
That’s what he meant to say. It translates, in English, to, “He can’t hurt you anymore.” But what does he mean? My father can’t? But how? Did he get thrown in jail? But how would Dakota know that?
My breathing picks up pace and I stand up, pushing passed Hayley as she repeats my name in worry. I run downstairs and freeze when I get to the front door.
He looks so much stronger. So much taller since then. He looks like he could take out two guys by flicking them on the forehead. And he got two tattoos that wrap around his lower arms- his forearms to be exact. But his smile is still the same. Those protective eyes I once loved and cherished still remain golden-brown.
Tattoos are freaking bomb af.