DANCING IN CIRCLES
by Victoria Adams
by Victoria Adams
copyright © 2011 Victoria Adams 2012
"Have you seen the new guy? We're talking stud material." Tricia sighed as she texted and walked with her friends down the school hallway. "That body...that face...those eyes."
"We are aware of his anatomical structure." Francine sniffed. "I don't think he's all that great."
"You?" Tricia put her hand on her chest. "Francine Paulin, are rejecting the most perfect assemblage of male anatomy in this whole deprived – or is it depraved – school?"
"What aren't you telling us?" Jennifer popped the top on her lip-gloss-of-the-month and coated her lips with Swanky Pink. "Oh God. Ssh. Here he comes." The subject of their discussion headed in their direction.
Tricia leaned closer to Jennifer. "The gods did right by this one. He's got to be 6'2" or more, and his chest looks like it's going to burst right through his shirt."
Heather looked at her shoes and whispered, "Never seen eyes that dark before. She glanced out of the corner of her eye. "They're…so sexy."
Sexually intriguing. Julie stiffened at her thought. What the…?
Francine rolled her eyes. "Grotesque. Jeans and a T-shirt, in Westland Prep. I know we don't wear uniforms, but come on, show some level of civility. And his hair is much too long." She flicked her silky, long black hair over her shoulders. "Definitely not up to the standards of Westland Prep."
With everyone deep in their thoughts, silence fell on the five young women who defined this clique: Tricia, the bouncy brunette and co-captain of the cheerleading team.
Francine, the sophisticated member, known to be harshly judgmental and fiercely proud of her family's wealth.
Blue eyed and blonde, Jennifer, the school's gossip queen and social committee president.
Petite Heather's long brown hair covered her shoulders and the sides of her face like a protective coat. She was the quiet member.
And Julie, the dreamer, whose chestnut-brown hair sweeps against her shoulders but today was pulled back off her ivory-skinned face. Her long silken lashes framed her dark brown eyes.
They'd been friends since preschool. They dressed to the latest codes, and dated the right boys. To them, prep school was the period between high school and marriage. A time to hunt for the perfect date, shop and enjoy life. Prepping for college was the last thing on their minds.
Tricia broke the silence. "Jennifer, you know everything about everybody. Start talking."
Jennifer dropped her iPhone 4 into her purse. "Well, Addison said that Zoe said that Janai got it straight from...bell. Gotta go. Got Spanish. Must conjugate another verb. Adios."
Tricia grabbed Jennifer's arm. "DREAMS - 3:30. Julie's treat this time."
"Pardon?" Julie raised her eyebrows.
Tricia, Heather and Jennifer batted their eyelashes at her.
"All right." She shook her head. "How can I refuse those angelic faces?"
"Girls, am I mistaken, or didn't the bell just ring?" The principal, Mr. Morris, stood beside them with his hands on his hips.
"Going, sir." Francine waved.
"Going, sir." Heather scurried off to Drama.
"Gone." Tricia winked.
While she and Julie walked to Mrs. Wolmsley's English class, Tricia chatted about the new boy as dating material. "Wonder what it'll take to meet him? He's so hot. Wonder if he's got any secrets? And did you see those tats? I so want to know what's under that T-shirt."
"His chest." Julie grinned at Tricia.
"Yes, but I bet it's a chest to die for. And ripped abs. Ooh, I think my toes are tingling."
She turned at the sound of her boyfriend. "Hey, Chris." She signalled to Tricia to continue, as she tucked her arm into her latest boyfriend's.
Tricia glanced back and smiled then continued to English.
As Julie walked to her desk, she glanced at Tricia perched on the new student's desk. Julie admired Tricia's nerve. She couldn't charge over and talk to him. She'd be too nervous and would probably do something horribly embarrassing like burping in the middle of her sentence. Julie shuddered and slipped onto her desk chair.
With her grey hair pulled back in a bun, Mrs. Wolmsley entered the classroom.
Giggling all the way to her seat, Tricia sat behind Julie, who turned to speak to her but stopped.
"Class." The teacher stood at the front of the room. "Today I'm assigning independent projects. You may work solo, or with a partner."
She turned, picked up a piece of chalk and spoke while she wrote. "Due date is this Friday." She underlined this three times. "You have today's period to begin your research. Julie Anderson, which do you choose?"
The teacher called off names from her class list. Most students requested a partner. "Tricia Graham?"
"Partner. And I'd like it to be the new student, Robert."
He looked up then shrugged.
As Julie turned to congratulate her friend on her sexy catch, she was surprised to feel a small spot, deep inside burning with envy. She blinked, shook her head and switched her thoughts to Christopher – handsome, wealthy family, football team captain and all-star quarterback. With luck, they might be this year's Homecoming King and Queen.
When she'd finished organising the students, Mrs. Wolmsley handed out the assignments and dismissed the class. The crowd of students wandered in the direction of the library, their locker or an exit. Julie pushed open the library door, walked past Mr. Hartzfeld, the librarian, towards the tables at the back. When she passed Tricia and Robert, he'd spread out his books to work on the assignment while Tricia played with her pen and chatted. Julie smiled then settled down to work at an empty table one row over.
"Am I good? Or am I good?"
Julie glanced at Tricia.
"He asked me to the dance." She hitched a hip onto the table and leaned closer. "I love your earrings."
"You mean he spoke? He didn't just shrug his shoulders?"
Tricia nodded. "You know, he's got the most adorable pierced ear, killer eyes, and I haven't even begun to describe his body. I think I'm in lust." Sighing, she returned to work with Robert.
Julie rolled her eyes and continued with her research until the bell rang. She picked up her book and headed for biology.
"Does she always talk that much?" A deep voice behind her startled her.
She turned, and stared into Robert's dark eyes. "Uh, yes." Why did her knees feel weak? "I...I'm surprised you got a word in to ask her to the dance."
"Had to ask her, just to shut her up." There was a disgruntled edge to his voice. Robert held the door open for her.
Julie's legs ignored her command to walk. She regained her composure, entered the room, passed Francine's desk and went to her seat. She didn't greet her friend. Instead, she puzzled over what happened. What caused her hesitation? Had he noticed it? Had anyone else?
"Put your assignments on my desk." Mr. Parks, the biology teacher, pointed towards an inbox as he clicked off the student's names as they entered. Attendance completed, class seated, he looked up from his computer. "Did anyone not hand one in?"
Robert put up his hand.
"And why not?"
"'Cause I didn't get it done." He slouched low in his desk at the back of the room, isolated from the rest of the students. His long legs stretched out into the aisle.
"You were given a simple assignment. It should've taken no more than two hours to complete. This isn't high school. It's college prep. If you cannot keep up—"
"I didn't have time." Robert sat up, rested his arms on his desktop and glared at his teacher. "I arrived in this school three days ago, and got handed two weeks' worth of stuff to get caught up on. Trust me, I get this isn't high school."
"Two weeks' worth can't be that much. A few extra hours after school."
"I ain't Westland. Gotta work to feed myself and put a roof over my head. For the past two nights, I've been doin' my homework after I get home from work. Been stayin' up to three in the mornin'. Had about four fu ─ miserable hours of sleep in the past two nights."
He ran his fingers through his hair. "Got calc and English done. I'll probably end up stayin' up 'til three again gettin' bio done." He inhaled and released it. "Right now I'm tired and pis ─ and I certainly don't feel like puttin' up with gettin' yelled at for not doin' my work, 'cause that's all I've done!"
Julie looked out the window. He speaks.
"I'll speak with you after class. Open your books to chapter three. Plant Systematics." Mr. Parks snapped open his textbook and searched for the page.
Robert brooded until the end of day bell sounded. The class stood and shuffled out of the room. Except Robert.
Francine waited for Julie. "Imagine, letting him into Westland."
Julie half-nodded. She was used to her friend's attitude - unless you grew up in Westland, you were unworthy of attending Westland Prep. She glanced back into the classroom. Robert was leaning on a desk, arms crossed, glaring at the teacher. Turning in the direction of her locker, she wondered if there'd be one less student in biology tomorrow.
By 3:45, the five friends settled into a booth at the restaurant, DREAMS. "Okay, the waitress is over there. Start talking." Tricia propped her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her hands.
"What?" Jennifer batted her eyelids.
"Him. Who is he? What is he?" babbled Tricia. "Is he sleeping with somebody? Is somebody sleeping with him? Does he like brunettes named Tricia?"
"All right, all right. Well Addison said that Zoe─"
"We know that. Zoe said that Janai said what?" Tricia and Heather shouted.
"His name is Robert. Kristal said that she heard Maddi tell Ashley...."
The waitress coughed interrupting her monologue.
"Uh, Diet Cokes all around." Julie pointed at everyone.
"I've got a date with him Friday night." Tricia's smile spread across her face.
Francine flicked her hair over her shoulders. "He and Parks had a disagreement in bio today."
"Wait a sec." Jennifer held up her hand. "Tricia gets a date, and Francine watches him fight with a teacher?"
The conversation paused while the waitress served their order.
Jennifer checked her cell phone. "Details please. Tricia goes first then you." She pointed a pink polished fingernail at Francine.
Tricia signalled the end of her success story by popping her eyebrows up and down and smiling. Francine wrinkled her nose and sniffed. "I don't think Trish'll be going on her date."
Julie nodded while sipping her Diet Coke.
"Why not?" Gossip queen Jennifer's senses tingled.
Francine pulled herself up tall. "He's not one of us. He's Shore."
"Ooh, a bad boy." Tricia's cheeks flushed.
"Tricia, get your head back here on planet reality." Francine glared at her. "He's not worth it. He'll just get you into a car, do you, then dump you. Excuse my crudeness. Guys like him don't care. Their brains and hearts are in their pants."
Tricia's eyes glazed over. "Sounds hot. He seems dangerous. I don't mean in the physical sense. I mean dangerous in the back of a parked car." She giggled and sipped her drink.
"I have to go. I've got class." Julie swallowed the last of her drink.
"Still dancing?" Jennifer shook her head. "How can anybody do the same thing for twelve years?"
Julie laughed and waved goodbye.
Julie kept secrets.
She couldn't discuss her deepest secrets with friends, as they were too concerned with their own lives. But, she didn't let that stop her from dreaming.
She loved everything about dance, especially the discipline, both of the mind and the body. Many nights, she dreamed of performing on grand stages in romantic cities like Paris and New York. She understood the sweat-filled hours and sacrifices it took to be a professional dancer.
However, dreams never concern themselves with reality. They're the fluff that keeps a person's soul alive. Julie's dream was to dance. It was one of her secrets.
With school and dance class finished, Julie escaped to her sanctuary – her bedroom. Posters decorated her walls. Not of teenage heartthrobs, instead, pictures of ballerinas in tutus and scenes from ballets adorned her room. Centred between two large, bumped-out windows was a rose and white lace canopy bed, where in her dreams, she danced.
Eventually morning came and the realities of life returned. But for a while, she listened to the music of the orchestra, and felt the grip of her partner as he lifted her high above the stage. In her sleep, Julie smiled.
At school, the next day, the gossip lines hummed about what happened in Mr. Parks' class. The consensus of the student body was, since Robert was not from the wealth and privilege of Westland, he should be expelled.
Biology was first period. The only one late for class was Robert. Two minutes after the bell, he entered.
"Sleep in?" The teacher held out his hand.
"I wish." Robert handed him a bunch of papers.
"Get caught up?"
"On everythin' but sleep." Robert made his way to his seat, ignoring the threatening glances of his classmates. He wasn't worried. He'd put up with worse things than these Westlanders could throw at him.
Mr. Parks settled the class, and continued his lecture on Plant Systematics. Seventy-five minutes later, the class exited. Several male students bumped into Robert. He clenched his jaw, struggling to keep his temper under control.
"You." An index finger was pointed into his face.
Robert looked past it at the unknown student.
The classmate used his finger to punctuate each word. "You and me. Outside. Now."
"Ya got a problem?"
"Yea and it's you. I hear Shore guys are tough. Prove it. Meet me outside."
Robert heaved a disgusted sigh. "Lead on, Macduff."
"It's a line from Shakespeare. You know, the dead guy we study in English."
The student's brow wrinkled, he shrugged, motioned to his friends and walked away.
More to himself than anyone, Robert said, "Guess he don't like Shakespeare." A whiff of Julie's perfume snagged his attention. He turned and tilted his head in the direction of his opponent. "What's his problem?"
Robert rubbed his forehead. His assumption was right.
"You don't have to fight him, you know." Julie brushed a strand of hair from her face.
"Sooner or later I gotta. If I don't settle this now, it'll just get worse. Although, I'd rather get some sleep." With a resigned sigh, he followed the crowd out of the building.
Julie wandered along behind him, puzzled by her action. He was Shore. What did she care about his kind?
A group of Westland students collected in the student parking lot, semi circling the challenger. Many had their cell phones set to record the event. With luck, Stephan's trouncing of the North Shore punk would be on YouTube by lunchtime.
Robert stood before his opponent. "Common courtesy demands that we introduce ourselves." He extended his hand. "Robert Holiday. And you are?"
"Stephan." He cast his gaze up and down Robert and sneered.
Ok, so not only are ya an idiot for tryin' to take me on, you're a f'in' jerk too. "So what's your problem with me?" Robert lowered his unshaken hand.
"You asked Tricia to the dance."
"Yea, so?" Robert stood with his weight resting on one hip, and his thumbs hooked into his pockets.
"She was going with me." Stephan glared at his opponent.
Robert checked his distance. "So a guy from Shore jacked your girl. Ooh, that's gotta sting that Westland pride. But, as they say, may the best man win."
Fists swinging, Stephan dove at Robert, who ducked the punch. Again, Stephen went at him. Robert sidestepped this punch, but edged himself too close to Stephan's ring of supporters. Two football team members grabbed his arms, pinning them behind him.
Stephan grinned. "I'll show you who's the best man. North Shore garbage." He swung. His fist caught Robert on the jaw line. Stephan threw a couple of punches at Robert's face and stomach before Robert untangled himself from his captors.
The two fighters stood facing each other, daring the other to move. Stephan arrogantly confident. Robert wary the crowd was more opposed to him than curious. Stephan swung. Robert caught the fist and twisted it behind Stephan's back. Stephan dropped to his knees, letting out a moan as Robert applied pressure to his elbow joint.
"Any of your friends charge us, and I break your arm." Robert checked if anyone moved closer. "Now that you're all calmer, we can talk. I can't fight you here. You'll get your wrist slapped." He pointed at his chest. "I'll get expelled. Durin' school hours, on school property, I won't fight. After school, across the street in the park - you and me. If ya don't show...." Robert exerted more force to the elbow, released it, glanced over at Stephan's teammates then left.
Julie entered the school and walked in the direction of her calculus classroom. Robert leaned over a drinking fountain. He sipped some water, rinsed his mouth then spit it back into the bowl. The water was tinted red. She stopped next to him. "You're bleeding."
"Yea, he got in a good one. Split my lip on my tooth. Guess no kissin' for a bit." He started to grin, but winced instead.
Julie squeezed her books against her chest - academic protection. "You had no intentions of fighting, did you? You were going to talk your way out until his bullheaded friends joined in."
Robert didn't reply. He was too lost in the light glistening off her hair, and the soft scent of her perfume.
Julie hesitated. "I didn't expect you to do that."
He rubbed his chin. Do what? "Oh, ya expected me to fight, 'cause I'm Shore?"
"Yes. You people are always fighting and causing trouble. You're supposed to be tough, macho studs."
"The stud part's right." He grinned.
A shiver scurried up her spine. "You know, there are two sides of you."
"As far as I know, I'm an original."
To keep from giggling, Julie took a deep breath. "After calculus, can we go somewhere? Have lunch and talk."
"Why?" That wasn't what he wanted to say. In reality, he wanted to run down the hall shouting, "YES!", but he so knew that wouldn't look cool.
"Because I asked?" Because the words just came out of my mouth.
"Guess so. Where?"
He said yes. "Not here. I don't want to be—"
"Seen with me?"
"No, that's not it." She stepped back a pace, relieving the tension his presence caused in her. "I find you an enigma. I'd like to chat."
"Well, you're arousin' my curiosity. What do Westland girls, with a body like yours, eat for lunch? Ya don't look like the cheeseburger and fries type."
"Lunch Box isn't far. It has a great salad bar." She looked away, knowing her cheeks flushed bright pink.
"Ya ever been on a bike?"
Julie shook her head.
"There's only one in the parkin' lot. Meet ya after class."
When the end of calculus bell rang, Julie and Robert exited without a glance in the other's direction. Julie wanted to keep their lunch date secret, and she hoped Robert understood. She chewed her lip as she looked around the parking lot. What was she doing riding off on a motorcycle with a guy from North Shore? What was it about this man that attracted her so? Was that it? She thought of him as a man, not another of the immature boys she went to school with?
He stepped beside her and handed her a black helmet. "Here, ya wear it. I only got one. You're gonna have to show me the way." He adjusted her chinstrap then steadied his bike as she climbed on.
She gave him directions to the restaurant then paused. Not ever having been on a motorcycle before Julie guessed she had two choices: keep steady by wrapping her arms around him, but that seemed too forward, or fall off which was stupid.
With a roar, the bike surged ahead. Julie decided being bold was better than dead. She squeezed his waist and buried her face into his back. Please don't let me die. I want to go back to school this afternoon.
Robert glanced at Julie's arms, gripping tightly around his waist. He chuckled. "Don't worry. I won't let anythin' happen to ya."
She peeked out twice. Once at a stoplight and the second time as the vibration of the engine ceased. The restaurant's sign was a welcome sight.
Lunch Box was an upscale restaurant with skylights and green plants scattered throughout. "Menus or salad bar?" A hostess escorted them to a booth.
"Where I eat, the menu's on the wall." He hunched his shoulders. "A cheeseburger and fries is fine." He slid into a seat on the opposite side from Julie.
She leaned across the table. "This is a vegetarian restaurant."
"I don't eat vegetables. I eat meat. Didn't fight my way to the top of the food chain to eat vegetables."
"Try a salad. It's good for you. A burger and fries are so full of fat." She rolled her eyes. "You can eat and eat until you're full." Sliding out of her seat, Julie led him to the salad bar and handed him a plate.
Robert examined the ingredients. "I ain't sure what half of this is."
He placed a pile of lettuce, carrots and radishes on his plate.
Julie shook her head. "That's experimenting?" She dropped a couple of strange looking brown things beside his radishes.
When they returned to their booth, their waitress was waiting. "What can I get for drinks?"
"Lemonade, please." Julie settled into her seat.
Robert put his plate on the table and sat. Do places like this even have a liquor licence? "I'll have the same." He stared at his meal. "If I die eatin' this I'm comin' back to haunt ya."
Julie chuckled. "Get caught up on all your homework?"
"Gawd, I hope so. Between school, homework and work, I've got about six hours sleep this past week." He rubbed his face.
"Did you hear the rumours about you and Mr. Parks?"
Robert scrunched his brow as he eyed something hanging off the end of his fork. "What's this?"
"An oriental mushroom."
"Ain't that brave." He pushed the mushrooms aside. "Yea, I supposedly swore at Parks and threatened him."
She waved her drink at him. "And you pulled a knife on him."
"I must really be tired 'cause I don't remember none of that." Taking a bite of a carrot, Robert looked down at his meal. You've got the prettiest eyes, like chocolate ice cream. Stop talkin' about bio. I'd rather talk about you.
Julie scooped up a forkful of salad. Your eyes. They're so intense. They don't look at me. They look inside me. "What happened after school yesterday?"
"I said sorry for losin' my temper, and he apologised for judgin' me too quickly. When my assignment wasn't done, he figured I was bein' belligerent or somethin'." Robert finished his first plate of salad and went back for seconds. "It could take a person a long time to get full eatin' this stuff." He gulped the last of his drink. "I think ya called me a name. An enigma."
"You're pretending to be dumb, but I know you know what the word means." She dipped a slice of cucumber in dressing. "That's what fascinated me. You suddenly pop up in class, don't speak for days and then blow up at a teacher. You go out and play the tough guy on Stephan's challenge and try to negotiate a settlement. I presumed you'd...."
"Ya presumed wrong."
Robert tossed his fork onto his plate and slouched low in his seat. "I'm Shore. Therefore, I'm stupid, uneducated, a tough punk, into drugs and stuff."
Ashamed of herself, Julie stared down at her half-eaten meal.
"I knew I was in trouble when I had to register at Westland Prep. There are so many different kinds of racism." He ran his fingers through his hair. "We're the same colour and nationality. Religion isn't a factor here, so that leaves social or economic standin'. Ya live in rich Westland. I'm from North Shore. I expected you'se guys to hate me. I was hopin' maybe somebody'd get to know me before they found out what I am."
"Trish tried. She said you were staring at her in English."
"I wasn't lookin' at her. I was lookin' at you."
Julie felt a blush rush to her cheeks.
"Trish is usin' me. She wants to make Super Jock jealous and pay more attention to her."
"But you're doing what she wants by fighting Stephan." Julie rested against the back of the booth.
"I'm gonna scare Stephan." Robert met her gaze. "What's it to ya?"
"My curiosity's piqued. I thought I understood people. You've surprised me. There's something behind those eyes. Some sort of a secret."
"I've got a past. I ain't proud of it. Didn't wanna cause any trouble. Just wanted to get through this term and disappear."
Julie swallowed the last of her lemonade. "I'm really angry with myself. I'm having a difficult time letting you be you. I want you to fit the stereotype."
"Separate cheques?" The waitress broke into their conversation.
It was a brief debate, but Julie put her foot down. "I invited you to lunch. You drove. I pay. Got it." She looked at the cheque and handed the waitress some bills. "Keep the change."
"Are all Westland women so bossy?" He picked up his helmet and led her to the exit.
Julie paused as she passed him. A musky scent tickled her nose, making her sigh. It made her feel warm and safe.
He held the door.
"Sorry." She stepped through.
He followed her. "What? No snappy comeback to my question?"
Julie crinkled her brow. "What question?"
Robert chuckled. "Nothin'. Get on." With a kick, he started the engine and drove out of the parking lot.
On returning to school, Robert dropped Julie off at the front door and parked his bike. She hurried to English. It was several minutes before Robert entered. He handed Mrs. Wolmsley an admit slip and went to his desk.
"Thought you'd been kicked out." A student in the third row growled in a low voice.
"You heard me."
"Sorry to disappoint."
"What's the chatter over there?" Mrs. Wolmsley's brow wrinkled as she glanced across the room.
"Whoever this is." Robert jerked his thumb towards the student. "Was worried I'd been expelled."
"We were hoping you'd been kicked out," Derek shouted across the room.
Mrs. Wolmsley glanced at her student. "Why do you want Robert expelled?"
"'Cause of what he did in biology yesterday."
The teacher waited for an explanation.
"I'll tell you what he did." Derek stood. "A friend of mine said Robert didn't hand in his assignment. When Mr. Parks questioned why, he blew a fuse. He was yelling and swearing that he didn't have to do some stupid assignment. When Mr. Parks tried to reason with him, he swore at the teacher."
Derek dug into his story. "Then Robert pulled a knife and threatened Mr. Parks with it. Right there in class. I heard Kristal had to leave. She couldn't deal."
"That'd be one version." Robert scratched his chin.
"You calling me a liar?" Derek lunged towards Robert.
With a bored expression on his face, Robert didn't move.
"Derek, get back in your seat." The Principal's voice boomed across the room. Two police officers stood near him.
Robert snorted in disgust. "I don't believe this."
"Would you come with me, please?" Although Mr. Morris made it sound like a question, Robert understood it was an order. He shook his head and crossed the room. An officer grabbed his arm and escorted him out.
"You know, Mrs. Wolmsley, Robert's right." Julie controlled her nerves. "Derek's mistaken. I'm in Mr. Parks' class, and unless I'm suffering from total lack of recall there were no four-letter words or any hint of a threat or a knife or anything. Robert's not one of us and no one will give him a chance. He's North Shore. That's all they need to know." Aware of her classmates' stares, Julie scooted from the room.
As Julie searched for Robert's locker, she turned a corner and stumbled to a stop. Robert was spread-eagled against the wall being frisked by one officer as the other inspected his belongings.
"Go back to class." Mr. Morris pointed down the hallway.
"No, sir." Having never disobeyed a Principal before, she forced her voice to stay calm. "I can't believe this. I was in bio, nothing happened."
"Julie's right." The teacher rounded the corner. He directed his statements to both the police officers and Mr. Morris. "Absolutely nothing happened. Sir, don't you think I would've called you if he had a knife, or if he'd threatened me?"
Robert still leaned on the wall. "Can I move?"
The officer grunted.
Assuming that was a yes, Robert turned to face Julie. "Don't worry about this. I've been frisked before. At least this time I wasn't slammed against the wall first."
"He agreed to a search. To prove there's no knife," said Mr. Morris.
Robert started to speak, but Julie interrupted him with a flick of her hand. "No I've got to say this. Do you know what he's gone through? Just because he lost his temper." Her cheeks flushed as she could feel the heat of her nerves and indignation rising. She clenched and unclenched her hands, trying to calm herself. "He's been humiliated twice. At least. One, he was hauled out of class by police officers and two, forced to agree to a search. All for nothing. There's no knife, is there?"
She glared at both officers. "He has rights, and I'd say every one of them's been violated. Does anyone care? No. And why not? Because he's North Shore. Well, who died and made us Westlanders God?"
Mr. Parks put a hand on Julie's arm. "She's right, you know."
Mr. Morris looked at Robert who shrugged. "I expected it. I didn't wanna come here. I got sent. This school has the worst reputation for friendliness. If ya ain't Westland, you're nothin'."
Released from the search, Robert and Julie walked back to class. With one hand on the door, he glanced at her and smiled. "Thanks." His eyes sparkled with gratitude.
A couplet from a poem shot through Julie's mind.
Thine eyes fill me with wanton lust.
Thine arms doth cause me to surrender.
He held the door open for her. There was a gasp of disbelief as he entered. "Ta da. The innocent has returned." He snapped his fingers and bounced to his personal beat.
Mrs. Wolmsley placed her book on the desk. "The bell's about to ring. I want to remind everyone to read the next two chapters for tomorrow."
Derek stood. "Don't forget the meeting in the park."
The class exited. As Robert walked down the hall, several students bumped into him, but he ignored their feeble attempts to start a fight.
Julie's friends waited by her locker. "Where were you at lunch?" Heather asked.
"Forget that. Francine tell her the news," Tricia urged.
"Daddy arranged a horseback riding party for me for my birthday. At the Murran Estate. Two o'clock Sunday. So no excuses, Julie, you don't dance on Sundays."
"Isn't it great?" Jennifer giggled. "Maybe we'll meet Mrs. Murran."
The owner of Murran Estate and Riding Stables, Mrs. Emily Murran, was a reclusive woman. She rarely attended social functions, but her generosity was legendary around the city. An invitation to the Estate would be a step up in their social climb.
Jennifer's fingers flew over the keys as she texted three friends.
Francine checked her manicure. "Are we going to watch Stephan trounce that punk?"
Julie shook her head. Heather and Jennifer grabbed her and pulled her along. They worked their way to the front of the crowd and stood close to where Stephan and a pack of football players had clustered.
"You know, Tricia," Julie turned to face her. "This is all your fault."
"I know. Isn't it great having two men fight over you?" She shimmied.
Stephan straightened his shoulders, trying to look menacing. Julie bit her lip as Robert walked towards the group. He'll get killed. He can't possibly fight the whole team.
Robert positioned himself in front of Stephan. Both men glared, visually challenging the other person. With a rustle of leaves, several black leather jacketed figures dropped from the surrounding trees and formed a group behind Robert. "Hey, guys, I was wonderin' when ya all was gonna drop in."
One of Robert's friends handed him a black leather jacket. On the back was a large insignia of a coiled cobra, fangs bared and dripping blood. "Now ya got your supporters and I got mine." An evil grin crossed Robert's face. "Suddenly got real even, didn't it? We can do this nice and fight fists, or...." Robert pulled a knife from his jacket pocket. He flicked it open, examined it, closed it and returned it to his pocket.
Robert stepped closer. "Ya get one shot. Make it good. 'Cause then I'm gonna break your fuckin' face."
Stephan swung. Robert caught the punch and turned his fist. His knuckles were close to Stephan's face. "Continue or concede?"
"Concede." Stephan's voice cracked. Robert released him.
"What're you doing?" Derek jumped forward. "Hit him!" A friend restrained him from charging at Robert.
"He's Shoresmen." Stephan's voice filled with contempt. "He's not worth it."
Derek knocked off his friend and charged towards Robert's retreating back. Robert spun and drilled his foot into Derek's stomach, stopping him in his tracks. Interlocking his hands behind Derek's head, Robert lifted his knee and smashed Derek's face onto his thigh.
"Ow! Fuck you." Derek wiped blood off his face. "You broke my nose."
"Anythin' else ya'd like me to break?"
Blood dripped onto the pavement. Derek moved, but someone clasped a hand on his shoulder, pulling him back. "Don't Derek. He's Shoresmen. They never lose a fight."
Robert faced the crowd. He stood tall and held eye contact with everyone who met his gaze. "I haven't taken my knife into your school, and until now, I ain't never worn my colours in your town. But, if I'm challenged, I will defend myself." He pointed at the onlookers. "Ya all live comfortable lives. Ya don't know how to fight. I do." He pressed his finger onto his chest. "And I will."
His gaze rested on Julie's friend. "This all started 'cause Trish wanted to make Stephan jealous. I didn't start nothin'. Ya ignore me and I'll ignore you, and at term's end, I'm outta here." He turned to his friends. "Beer's on me, guys." Not glancing back, Robert and his fellow gang members walked away.
Derek wiped the blood off his face and glared at Robert.
Julie's gaze followed while the insignia of the coiled snake faded as Robert and his compatriots left the park. She reviewed what she'd witnessed. A group of people jumped out of the trees and handed Robert a black leather biker jacket. Suddenly he went from classmate Robert to Shoresmen Robert. A gang member fully equipped with an insignia-emblazoned jacket and a knife, but somehow Robert was different from the others. Soon the roar of a group of motorcycles signified Robert and his colleagues' departure from Westland.
"Are you still going on your date with him?" Heather's eyelids opened wide.
"You bet. There's no way I'd miss this." Tricia bit her bottom lip.
"What if your parents find out?"
Francine rolled her eyes. "I wouldn't be caught dead with him. This is a Shoresmen we're talking about." Speaking with the pompous authority fuelled only by gossip, Francine flicked her hair back. "They're the most violent gang around here. I heard that part of a gang initiation is to kill someone."
Tricia tilted her head. "Kill? To be in a gang?"
"Trish, love." Francine placed her hand on her friend's arm. "Gang members aren't like real people. They're all bad blood. Robert got off the hook because the police couldn't find his knife, but he just proved he has it and he'd use it. To them, killing someone is like...us buying a new blouse. It means nothing."
The musical chords of the overture to Swan Lake floated out of Julie's purse. She dug through it and grabbed her smart phone. "Hi, Chris. Sure. Five seconds." She tossed her cell back into her purse. "Gotta go girls. See you. Love you. Call me."
Julie's family lived in a large home situated on a tree-lined street in a newer neighbourhood of Westland. Julie loved the atmosphere in her home. It was peaceful and loving, although noisy at times with one younger brother and two younger sisters. She was excitedly waiting for this Christmas, not due to the joys of the season, but because her mother was expecting twins.
"It's got to be a boy she's dreaming about." Younger sister, Sheila, giggled.
"Uh? Pardon?" Julie looked around the dining room table at her two younger sisters, her parents and one obnoxious little brother.
"I asked you three times if you'd pass the salad." Her mother held out her hand, waiting for the bowl.
"Anything interesting happen at school today?" Her father reached for the bottle of dressing.
Julie looked up from her meal. "There's a new student at school. He's from North Shore."
"He's Shore? How did he manage to get into Westland Prep? He has to pay tuition and maintain his grade level." Her father tilted the bottle and Creamy Ranch drizzled onto the lettuce.
"I don't know, but he's there. We're both in bio. He had a disagreement with Mr. Parks, and the rumours went around that he swore and threatened him with a knife."
Sandra Anderson gasped.
"I said rumours, Mom. I was in class. Nothing happened. He asked Trish out to the dance tonight."
"But she's been dating Stephan for three months." Sheila was the gossip-loving sister.
"I know. Stephan called him out on it. Robert didn't want to fight. He tried talking his way out of it. He said he didn't want to get expelled." Julie realized she was using her fork to emphasize her sentence. She placed it by her plate. "Anyway, later that day the cops...I mean, police came and searched him and his locker, but they didn't find a knife. I've talked to him a bit and he seems nice."
"I don't want you going near him. If he's Shore then he's trouble," said her mother.
"His not being Westland leads into what I was going to say. He doesn't fit the Shore stereotype. He's intelligent, mature, soft-spoken...."
She scratched her head. "He's not the stupid, crass, North Shorer that I was led to believe he'd be. I'm amazed at how economically prejudiced we are. We, Westlanders, sit up here in our safe and secure neighbourhoods and pass judgement on others."
"Can I go?" Jason stood. His father nodded, and Jason hurried out of the dining room.
Unfazed by her brother's rude departure, Julie continued, "You were appointed judge, Daddy, because of your knowledge of the law. Who chose us to pass judgement on North Shore? Just because they live in a different part of town doesn't mean they're bad. But nobody'll give this guy a chance. He's condemned solely because of his address, and I think that's stupid." She heaved a sigh of relief at having vented what needed saying.
Her mother tilted her head. "What's gotten into you?"
"I don't want you having anything to do with this person." Her father used his deep commanding judge's voice. "I've had a lot of experience with North Shore people in my court. They aren't like us. I may call Mr. Morris to see why this Shorer's been allowed in to Westland Prep. I pay a hefty tuition to send you to that school. I want your focus on your subjects, not on…you shouldn't have to associate with the likes of a Shorer."
Julie wanted to say more. Instead, she finished eating then left the table, announcing she had to prepare for her date.
The doorbell rang at 8:15. Mr. Anderson answered it. "Christopher, how nice to see you. Come in. How are you?"
"Just fine, sir." Chris was wearing his team jersey, a crisply pressed pair of dress pants and lots of his father's expensive Italian aftershave.
"How's your Dad? I heard he injured his shoulder last week playing golf."
"His doctor said no golf for three weeks. Mom says he can't possibly last."
"No." Mr. Anderson laughed. "He'll be on his own psychiatrist's couch." Julie's mother entered the living room.
"Good evening, Mrs. Anderson. You're looking well."
"Thank you, Christopher. Julie'll be down—"
"I'm here. Let's go." Julie grabbed her purse and kissed her parents. She'd deliberated about what to wear and decided on her short, red-leather skirt and white silk blouse she'd bought when her family had gone to New York in August. She'd slipped on her favourite, black stilettos and checked her earrings and makeup in her mirror. After all, it was the first dance of the year, and she was now one of the elite preparatory students, not a high school student. Tonight was about seeing and being seen.
Chris and Julie separated moments after entering the school gym. Chris went to talk to his friends and Julie went with hers. Francine, Heather, Jennifer, Tricia and two girls from the cheerleading squad were standing together. They smiled as Julie approached. Everyone greeted her then the conversation changed to local school gossip. Heather and Francine grabbed their dates and dragged them to the dance floor. Julie glanced around, but couldn't see Chris.
Heather was talking about a new app for her cell phone when Robert entered the gym. Tricia gasped, grabbed Julie's arm, giggled, released it and raced over. She wrapped her arms around his neck and planted a kiss on his lips. Julie glanced in the other direction. When she looked back, Tricia and Robert had disappeared into the crowd.
An hour later, bored and annoyed at being ignored, Julie pulled Chris aside. His breath reeked of beer. "You've been drinking."
"Less dance." He reached for her but stumbled.
Derek and Heather stood beside Julie. "This is boring. Let's go get some pizza."
"Slure. I drive." Chris fumbled in his pocket.
Julie held out her hand. "Give me your keys."
"I'm not drunk. I drive. I godda go over ther…." He wandered into the crowd.
Chris wasn't at his car when Julie arrived in the parking lot. She pulled the handle but it was locked. Standing in the cool night air, she tapped her fingernails on the hood. Wonder where Tricia disappeared off to? Did she spend all that time with Robert? Did she let him get past kissing? Did they…no, not Tricia. She heaved a sigh of disgust. Where's Chris?
From between parked cars, he staggered over. He dropped his keys, twice, then stood, holding them like the Statue of Liberty's torch. "And you thought I was to drive to drunk." He smiled.
Give me those." Julie reached for his keys.
"I'd rather give you something else." Chris pulled her tight against his body.
Open mouthed, he leaned forward. She slapped her hands on his chest and pushed.
"Come on, what're you saving it for, your wedding night?" He reached under her skirt and groped for her butt.
Her heart raced as her breaths came in short gasps. "No, Chris, no. Stop it!"
He pinned her to his car with his leg as he wrestled with her blouse. A button popped off.
"Christopher. Stop it!" Cold fear filled her.
His lips slobbered against her mouth. The combination of aftershave, stale smoke and beer nauseated her. She bit him. Chris pulled back in surprise. "You little bitch." He touched his lip then raised his hand.
Julie shut her eyes and threw her arms up to block his hit.
"She asked you to stop."
Julie opened one eye.
Robert stood in front of Chris blocking his way. He glanced over his shoulder. "Ya ok?"
She nodded. Her throat was too dry to allow her to speak.
"Good. Move." He pointed to a spot by a tree.
Hands trembling and knees shaking, Julie had trouble obeying.
Chris clenched and held up his fists.
Robert glanced at them then snorted. "Ya actually gonna try and take me on." He grabbed Chris by the front of his shirt. "What do ya want me to do with him?"
"He's dru – drunk. He didn't mean...." She covered her mouth, fighting the urge to throw up.
Not believing what he heard, Robert glanced at Julie then shook his head. With a powerful backhand slap, he spun Chris around and left him sprawled on the trunk. He picked up the keys, swung his arm back and stopped. He walked to a garbage can, dropped them in and chuckled. "Friends shouldn't let friends drive drunk."
Julie tried fixing her blouse, but her fingers refused to cooperate.
"Are ya sure you're ok?" The smile left his face.
The reality of the moment descended upon Julie in a wave of repulsion. Robert took one step towards her, but she backed away. Confusion swirled in her head and caused a sickening knot in her stomach. He was Robert, a classmate. No, he was Shoresmen. A gang member. He rescued her from Chris. Trust him. He couldn't be trusted.
"It's ok. You're alright. Relax." He inched towards her, wrapped her in his arms and held her.
Julie buried her head into his chest; calmed by his strength. There was no expensive Italian aftershave or stale beer to repulse her, just a deep musky smell, which triggered an emotion she couldn't catch, as it was instantly submerged under waves of repulsion. Her body shook as she fought to control her breathing. "How could he? How co…? Why?"
Robert didn't answer, instead letting the comfort of his arms soothe her. She snuggled closer, closed her eyes and listened to his heartbeat. With each pulse, the chilling effects of her shock faded. Julie didn't want to break the spell of the moment. Her breathing returned to normal and her pulse slowed. Everything was perfect.
"Let go of her. You son of a bitch." Stephan grabbed Robert and wrapped him into a headlock. Julie couldn't move as Derek threw punches at Robert while he struggled to free himself.
She blinked three times, trying to focus on what was happening. "No. Stop." She grabbed at Derek, but Stephan pushed her away. Julie looked for a teacher, a police officer – anyone who could help. The parking lot was dark and empty.
Stephan shoved his face to within an inch of Robert's. "Now we'll show you Shore trash how good we Westlanders are." He stepped back then spit on Robert's shirt.
Chris pulled himself up off the ground and stood next to Stephan. "Hit the bastard."
"Stop it, Steph! You've got it all wrong. He didn't do anything." Julie pulled at his arm. Tears streamed down her cheeks. "Stop."
Stephan placed his hand on Julie's face and shoved her away. "Back off. We'll deal with this bastard!"
With one arm free, Robert edged around and drove his elbow in Stephan's stomach, who yelped and released his grip. Robert spun. "What? Ya didn't learn your lesson the first time?"
The two men circled each other looking for that first opening. Derek picked up his beer bottle and before Julie shouted a warning, he swung. The glass crashed against Robert's head. He stumbled, shook his head then sank to the ground.
Derek chuckled. "Shoresmen always win their fights, yeah right." With a powerful swipe, he kicked the unconscious Robert.
Julie stepped forward and knelt beside him.
"Leave the garbage alone." Stephan pulled her away. "Come on, we'll take you home. Derek, get Chris."
Julie stared at a trickle of blood on Robert's forehead. "No, we have to help him." She tried to pull away, but Stephan dragged her to his car. Numb from the events, she sat in the back seat.
The sound of the engine snapped her from her dazed state. "Stephan, stop, we need to go back."
Stephan put the car into gear and pulled away. Through the passenger window, she saw Robert's prone figure lay with eyes shut while blood dripped onto the pavement.