Miss Me Not (Page 20)

"How did you find the same plates for the twins that you used for Dean and Trish?" I asked, intrigued at the matching series.

"Tim," Sarah said, looking up from her own tub that she was emptying. "He searched high and low on the Internet until he found two with the original pattern. I was hormonal at the time, so I wound up bursting into tears. Poor Tim, he thought I hated them," she added laughing.

"They're cool," I said, running my finger over the tiny handprints. Did Donna have stuff stored away with my handprints? I doubted it. Clutter wasn't her thing. We had some decorations from years ago, but neither of us had dragged them out over the last four years. For all I knew, they could be in some trash pile somewhere.

Digging more through the tubs, I was intrigued when I stumbled across a Christmas village that was completely miniaturized. Unwrapping each house, I placed them on the floor around me. Each house was individualized with different types of structures and painting setting them apart from one another. Once all the houses, fifty in all, were unpacked and sitting on the floor around me, Sarah had Tim drag in a large plywood board from the garage to set up the village on. The board had been painstakingly painted with small roads and ponds that looked frozen. Multiple holes had been drilled through the board in sporadic locations to run the cords through. Sarah put the twins and me in charge of setting up the village, which we took to heart. We spent hours setting the houses and trees up so they resembled the perfect Christmas village. Once all the houses were in place, we used the fake snow Sarah had bought to add a whimsical touch to the entire thing.

"It woks good," Ashley said, clapping her hands with delight.

"What do you think, Dora?" I asked as she studied the board critically.

She smiled broadly. "It's bootiful," she said, clapping her hands too.

The twins grabbed the rest of the family so they could come see our handiwork. I stood up, working the kinks out of my neck from sitting hunched over on the floor so long.

"It looks great," Dean said, coming up behind me.

"It does, doesn't it?" I said, admiring the lit-up village in front of me. "It's beautiful," I added.

"Almost as beautiful as you," Dean said huskily, placing a quick kiss on my neck before his family joined us.

"You're insane," I whispered, stepping out of his embrace as the girls pointed out each of the houses we had set up.

Sarah and Tim insisted I eat dinner with the family that night. They wound up ordering pizzas that we ate on the living room floor while we watched Christmas cartoons with the girls.

"I had a lot of fun this weekend," I told Dean when he drove me home Sunday evening.

"I did too," Dean said pulling into my driveway. "My family really likes you."

"I feel the same about them," I said truthfully as we got out of the jeep. I didn't try to argue with him as he did his normal walk-through of my house, making sure it was safe.

"No boogeyman hiding?" I asked when he finally joined me in the living room.

"No boogeyman, though I still hate dropping you off at night like this."

"Donna should be home soon," I said, glancing at the old grandfather clock on the far side of the room.

"Well, in that case, I better head out," he said, pulling me close for a kiss. He kept the kiss simple with his hands in the safe zone. "I'm picking you up tomorrow morning," he said, breaking the kiss to look at me sternly."

"What if I want to walk?" I said, not sure I was ready to flaunt our relationship in front of everyone.

"Then I'll drive over and walk to school with you," he said, placing a finger on my lips as I started to argue. "I like you, Madison, a lot, and I want everyone to know it. I know you have some preconceived notion about how everyone will react, but you have to trust me when I say, I won't allow it. They either accept you for who you are, or they're no friend of mine."

"Isn't it supposed to be 'dudes before boobs' or something like that?" I asked. "Is it fair to throw away years of friendships over some girl you've just started dating?" I added, making it clear that I didn't expect him to choose me.

He laughed. "I'm not sure if that's exactly how the saying goes, but it doesn't apply to me anyway. I won't have to choose," he said, placing his lips back on mine.

I sighed slightly as he parted my lips with his tongue. My own tongue tentatively touched his before I became bolder. A key being inserted into the front door interrupted us, and I froze. Dean stepped away from me just as Donna opened the door.

"Madison?" she asked, raising her eyebrows at Dean.

"Dean was just dropping me off," I said with dread, wishing Dean would leave before she said something that I didn't want him to know.

"I'm Dean," he said, sticking out his hand for her to shake.

Donna studied him for a moment before replying.

"Donna," she said, shaking his hand limply. "Madison isn't allowed to have company over when I'm not home," she added, shooting a look in my direction.

"Oh, yes ma'am. I just came in to search the house since I don't feel comfortable dropping her off in a house at night, all by herself," Dean said, emphasizing the alone part.

"I see," Donna said, making it clear she didn't care about his excuse as she headed off to her room without another word.

"Sorry," I said, walking Dean to the door. "It's not you, it's me," I said, trying to explain her behavior.

"No, actually it's not you, it's her," he answered, looking troubled.

"She has her reasons," I said, defending her.

"No reason justifies that," he said, placing a kiss on my lips. "I'll be here in the morning," he said, stepping outside. I knew he would be waiting for me to lock the door behind him.

Chapter nineteen

Dean showed up as promised to pick me up the next morning with homemade biscuit sandwiches. "My mom sent me bearing gifts," he said, holding the napkin-wrapped sandwich for me. "So are we walking or driving?" he asked, shouldering my backpack for me.

"Driving," I answered, taking a bite of my sandwich. "Mmm, this is good," I said, taking a bigger bite.

"They're my favorite, for sure," he said, pulling into a parking spot in the student lot.

"Can't we walk in together tomorrow?" I asked in a last-ditch attempt as I watched our classmates pile out of their vehicles.

"Not a chance. I let you keep our friendship secret over the last few weeks. Now that were dating, I want people to know."

"They're going to hate it. Your reputation will be in tatters."

"You're wrong, but I don’t care," he said, taking my hand as we left his vehicle behind.

Conversations stopped as we made our way down the halls, hand in hand. I could hear snide remarks and incredulous comments as Dean first walked me to my locker. I kept my eyes averted from his. I may have foreseen this kind of reaction, but it didn’t make it any easier.

Twirling the dial on my locker, I finally looked up at Dean as I reached for my backpack that he still carried. My eyes meet his, and I wanted to hurt someone when I saw the pain reflected in his eyes. His jaw was clenched, and I could see his knuckles were white where he gripped my backpack strap. Anger welled up inside of me. Hurting me was one thing, but hurting someone as decent as Dean was just wrong.

"Fuck them," I said, smoothing my hand over his tense jaw. Whether it was my statement or my rare touch, the tension seemed to evaporate inside him.

"Fuck them," he repeated, dropping his lips to mine for a quick possessive kiss. If there was any shadow of a doubt in anyone's mind that we were together, the kiss we shared made our relationship abundantly clear.

"Let's get you to Whore Cat's class before the tardy bell rings," Dean said with a grin. All my worries drifted away at his smile. Who cared what everyone said? I'd ridden the wave of gossip before, I could ride it again.

"I'll see you at lunch," Dean said, dropping a last kiss on my lips.

I nodded before heading into the room and claiming my seat.

The whispers from the hallway followed me into the room, although the octave level of them seemed to have risen.

"Once a slut, always a slut," floated toward me. I kept my eyes down, not giving anyone the satisfaction of responding.

"Wonder how many lives she'll ruin this time?" a distinctive voice asked from the back of the room.

I didn’t cringe and I didn’t turn to look at the voice that belonged to my friend from long ago. As a rule, I hadn’t acknowledged Katie's presence since I discovered we were both in the same world history class. I never looked at her or showed any sign that I knew she was there. I knew my indifference drove her nuts, which is why she had chosen to ignore me the last four years. The note thrown at my head a few weeks ago was unmistakably her handiwork.

Ms. Jones started the class as soon as the bell rang.

"We only have three weeks before Christmas break begins to cover the material for the next grading module. All of your projects will be due on the twentieth and will count for eighty percent of your grade," she droned on, writing the criteria on the whiteboard for all of us to see.

I was not enthused about the end-of-term project. Projects blew. For one thing, they were way too time-consuming, and the fact that you had to present them in front of the class was like being thrown in a field with a bunch of starving zombies. I had opted out of projects that had been assigned since I entered high school. I always took the much lesser grade by opting to write a paper instead.

Listening to Whore Cat with half an ear, I considered actually participating in this one. I'd bet my life on the fact that Dean was a pro at projects, and I was pretty sure he'd have no problem helping me with mine.

I was in the middle of jotting down the criteria for the project when the first crumpled up ball hit me in the head. I watched as it rolled to a rest by my foot, taunting me to pick it up. I wanted to see what insults were being thrown at me now that their golden boy was mine. I could practically hear the rolled-up ball calling my name, but I resisted picking it up. It was time to let the past go. I didn’t need to see what the note said. It no longer mattered. Dean was interested in me, despite it all.

Resuming my note taking, I wasn’t surprised when another paper ball hit me in the head. This time I didn’t even look up.

I could hear snickering behind me as a third and fourth paper ball hit me in the head in quick sequence. Obviously, everyone was enjoying the show that seemed oblivious to Ms. Jones as she continued to write out the instructions for our big project on the board.

"Dean must be a glutton for punishment," I heard Katie say loudly. "Obviously, he must not care about catching any diseases," she added to whoever would listen.

I wanted to continue to ignore her, but something inside me snapped. Years of abuse at her hands had never made anger boil up inside me like it did at that moment. Maybe it was just the idea that my mind was done with it all, but I knew it was actually my heart that spurred my reaction.

Without even considering my actions, I seized my heavy world history book in my hand and threw it at Katie without missing a beat. The distance between us slowed the book down, but it still hit her square in the face. Blood spurted out of her nose and spattered across her desk and down her shirt.

Crying out in pain, she cupped her nose, looking at me with hatred. "You bitch, you broke my nose," she shrieked, standing up and advancing on me.

"Next time, I'll break your fucking face if you ever talk about him like that again! You got me? I'll put up with your shit, but it'll be a cold day in hell before I allow you to trash him!" I said, stepping close to her so she wouldn't mistake the seriousness on my face.

"What is going on in here?" Whore Cat asked, stepping between us. "Madison, you can't throw a textbook at people," she said, clearly shocked at my actions. "Go to the office," she added, clearly shaken over my outburst.

"Right, because textbooks hurt," I said, making a point of looking at the crumpled up notes on the floor.

"Jill, will you take Katie to the clinic while I call the office?" I heard her say as I stalked out of the room with my bag.

I was more than halfway to the office when the ramifications of my actions dawned on me. My pace slowed and I closed my eyes briefly in dismay. I was bound to be suspended, which meant a call to Donna, which meant trade school for me. I was screwed.

The principal's secretary was expecting me when I arrived. "He's waiting for you in his office," she said unsympathetically.

Keeping my chin up, I made my way to Douche Bag's office and knocked on the door.

"Come in."

Opening the door, I stepped into the one room of the school that I had hoped to avoid.

He was sitting behind his desk with his fingers stapled together on a folder atop his desk.

"Ms. Hanson, am I to understand you initiated a fight in the middle of first period?"

Words of denial sprang forward to attempt to save me, but I held them back. This was all just a formality. I had already been found guilty and convicted. Nothing I could say would change anything. They saw what they wanted to see. Believed what they wanted to believe. So, I sat there, in stoic silence.

"Remaining silent will not help your situation, young lady," he said in the condescending tone that had earned him the nickname I had deemed him with. "I want to know why you would think you could get away with initiating a fight in one of my classes with an innocent student."

I literally bit my tongue at his words, so I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of an answer. I could taste the copper of my blood in my mouth, but I remained silent.

"Fine, we can play your silent game, but you will not leave my office until I know why you threw a book at a fellow student," he said in a clearly aggravated voice.

I balked at his words. Spending the day in his office was as enticing as wrapping myself in barbed wire. I could say anything. Take my punishment, and then I would at least be free of this god-awful place. Looking at his smug face, though, kept me silent as I sat there with my arms folded across my chest.

The minutes slowly ticked by as we sat there in silence. Eventually, he stopped glaring at me and went on with his work. I kept my eyes on him, unwilling to show my weakness by looking down. First period ended with the ringing of the bell and still I sat. My butt eventually went numb at the end of second period and yet, I didn’t move. I remained rigid, not showing any sign of giving in.