Bonus Scene: Untouchable Math and Meetings for Rules and Roses
9th grade prior to Rules and Roses
The car rolled up to the high school, and I leaned back in the passenger seat. Jeremy cast a sideways look at me. “There’s still time to change your mind, Mr. Archie.” It was the first day of ninth grade, and not only had we moved over the summer to a new house in Texas of all places, but I’d decided to go to school locally rather than remain at boarding school.
“Nope,” I said with a lot more confidence than I possessed. The last couple of years at Andover had been less than stellar. With Nana gone now, there was no reason to stay. She’d been the driving force behind my attendance. Particularly since she and Grandpa lived a few miles away. I could spend weekends with them. Grandpa didn’t want the house anymore, and I couldn’t blame him.
The last weekend I spent there, it had just been the two of us rattling around in that big empty place. Now that Grandpa and Edward were no longer on speaking terms, I didn’t even have that escape available. Grandpa’s last missive—passed through Jeremy since Edward, the asshole, had forbidden me direct contact with him—included the fact that he was selling the house, but would put the money into my trust for me.
I didn’t give a damn about the money. Honestly, I didn’t even care about the house. It was just a building without Nana.
This school though was a far cry from the boarding schools and preparatory academies I’d spent the last few years at. No uniforms in sight. The temperatures outside were sizzling. A hell of a lot more kids trailed up the walkways, got off of buses, and made their way in from the parking lot than had been at my boarding school.
A lot more.
Public school. Time to make my own way.
“I’m good,” I continued, glancing at Jeremy. The guy who was pretty much the family manager—from butler to chauffer to cook to confidant—regarded me steadily. “Seriously, I’m good. I want to do this. I need air to breathe that isn’t loaded down with expectations and plans made three generations ago.”
Also, I didn’t want anymore damn arguments about what my next steps would be. Edward and Muriel both wanted different things for me. From prep school to Ivy League to diving into the family business.
Yeah, none of those were on my list.
There had to be a life outside of the moneyed halls with their polite stabs in the back and poisonous arguments.
“You have your phone, I’ll be along directly at four to retrieve you. If that changes for any reason, just let me know.”
“Of course, Mr. Archie.”
At least riding up front meant it wasn’t as conspicuous that I had a driver for school. We’d finished all my enrollment the week before. Jeremy had come with me to do the paperwork and signed everything. He’d pretty much done that since I was five. I doubt Edward or Muriel had ever set foot inside one of my schools.
Somehow, I didn’t think it would change here
“See you later,” I told Jeremy as I stepped out into the muggy heat and slung my backpack over my shoulder. One look at what the other kids were wearing, and I was glad I had swapped out the polo shirt Jeremy put out for a band t-shirt I’d picked up at a concert over the summer.
As it was, the khaki shorts were gonna stand out, but fuck it. I tapped the top of the Lexus before walking away. I had my schedule in my back pocket, and I may or may not have memorized the layout of the school because it was three times the size of the academy. They like everything bigger in Texas apparently.
The first three classes of the day were boring as fuck. I might need to revisit my academic schedule. I was ahead of a lot of these classes, but Jeremy had been right in his advice to test the waters first. Fourth period had potential. I liked math. My engineering classes were in the afternoon, so those were something to look forward to, as well as foreign language. Two years of French to meet the requirements.
Another perk for public schools—so far, there was no assigned seating. I could skate in and grab a desk in the back row. It put me in the perfect position to watch kids as they hustled in. The other freshmen seemed to be a mixed bag of totally not giving a damn and seriously anxious. The anxious ones earned my sympathy, ’cause if I hadn’t practiced hiding my feelings for years, I’d probably look just like them.
The last four to skate in the door laughed their way into the classroom. Two jocks, though the third guy could be one, too, I supposed, but they weren’t what snagged my interest. No, the blonde in their midst with a faint smirk on her lips as she punched one of the jocks in the arm captured all of my attention.
“Shut up,” she muttered, then hip-checked the second jock. “Asses.”
“Awww,” the third guy complained. “It was my idea.”
She flipped him off so fast, I had to snort a laugh, then she slid into the chair in front of me, which worked for me. I didn’t mind the view at all.
Her friends, however, scowled, and the dark-haired guy gave me such a narrow-eyed look, I planted my gaze anywhere but her.
For. The. Moment.
As soon as the teacher walked in though, I kept studying her. She barely looked up from her books, except to answer questions. That kind of laser focus was scary. Still, math just got a hell of a lot more interesting, even if the subject material was easy
“Psst,” the blond jock leaned over and tapped her arm. I’d ended up sitting right in the middle of all of them, but I didn’t mind.
“Yes, Bubba,” she said over her shoulder with a grin. “I’ll help with homework after school.”
“Awesome,” he said, grinning.
With him distracted, I could see his answer sheet. Why did he need help? He had all the problems answered already, but he tucked the page into the back of his book and then put a blank sheet on the problem set.
Still, the glimpse of her profile had been like a donkey kick. She really was gorgeous. All too soon, the bell rang, and she and her escorts were gone before I could introduce myself.
That had to change the next day. Hell, I hadn’t even caught her name. I’d do better. I had first lunch, so I headed for the cafeteria along with the rest of the herd. A couple of girls smiled at me, and a guy from my first period class lifted his chin. I nodded back, but I couldn’t remember their names, if they’d been said at all. Probably better to just play it cool.
I stood in line with everyone else and grabbed a tray of the most frighteningly greasy pizza I’d ever seen, some French fries—who served fries with pizza?—and grabbed bottled water. I’d kill for a soda, but apparently, they didn’t sell those in the lunchrooms here.
Healthier options, or so it had said in the orientation packet. Looking at the greasy pizza, I had to seriously question that particular description. Whatever. Food paid for, I scanned the cafeteria seating. The tables were packed. I didn’t know enough of these people to just swing over and ask for a spot, so I navigated the room looking for an open table, when the blonde from math intercepted me.
Damn if I didn’t nearly swallow my tongue.
“Hey,” she said, and my brain went on hiatus for a solid five seconds. “I’m Frankie. You can sit with me if you want.” She indicated the nearly empty table behind her. Well, nearly empty except for her tray and backpack. “My friends will be here in a minute.”
The communication lines between my brain cells zapped to life, and I grinned. What was I going to say when a beautiful girl—seriously freaking hot—asks me to sit with her? I was not stupid.
“That’d be great, Frankie. I’m Archie.”
“Awesome! Those of us with ‘e’ at the end of our name need to stick together.”
I snorted a laugh as I slid my tray onto the spot next to hers and pulled out the chair. She said her friends were coming. I assumed that meant the guys from math, but maybe she meant girlfriends.
“You’re in my math class,” I managed as I unscrewed the top from my water bottle. Pithy one there, Arch. Really pithy.
“I know,” she said with a grin. Unlike me, she was in jeans, but they were ripped around the knees, and her t-shirt was tie-dyed. She kind of reminded me of a cool hippie. The green of her eyes held all of my attention. “Saw you when we came in. Did you go to Freeman?”
I had no idea what that was. “No, just moved here this summer.”
“We can’t leave you alone for five minutes,” said the guy she’d flipped off during class. “Don’t you remember you’re not supposed to talk to strangers?”
“Bite me,” she said, pointing a plastic spoon at him. Like me, she had a slice of pizza and some fries, but she also had a chocolate pudding cup and was eating it first. “Coop. Archie. Archie, Coop.”
“Hey, man,” Coop said with a grin as he set his stuff down on the other side of Frankie.
“Why are you all the way over here?” Ah, here came the other two guys. The darkhaired one pinned me with a look that was far from friendly. “Who are you?”
“Jake, don’t be an ass.”
“Hard for him to do that when it’s his default mode,” Coop said with a laugh. The other blond with Jake snorted.
“He’s sitting in Jake’s spot, and Jake never takes that well.”
Shit, she was already taken. That figured.
“Jake can sit there,” Frankie said, pointing opposite her. “It won’t kill him. Also, Archie, that’s Jake. He growls a lot, but he’s much nicer than he sounds, and that’s Bubba.”
“Hey,” Bubba said, sliding his tray onto the table. “I don’t growl, and I’m apparently not very nice.” But his laughter decried that as Frankie rolled her eyes.
I found myself grinning as Jake scowled but took the chair she pointed out. I could have offered to move, but I didn’t want to. Besides being pretty, she was adorable.
“Guys, this is Archie. He’s new, just moved in this summer, and he’s gonna hang out with us for lunch, so don’t be dicks.”
“When was the last time we were dicks?” Coop asked with a laugh, then bumped his shoulder to hers.
“This morning,” Frankie and Bubba said almost in concert, but Jake just snorted. He didn’t say much while we ate, but he did slide his pudding cup over to Frankie when she finished hers. The weight of his glare wasn’t lost on me, but I played it cool. Frankie chatted with all of us, and her enthusiasm for school just seemed to bubble over.
“Wait,” I said when something she just mentioned penetrated past my just soaking in her voice. “You have French this afternoon?”
“Yep,” Coop said, popping the p. “Both of us do. Sixth period.”
Excellent. “Me too.”
“Hey, that’s two classes together. What else do you have?”
“Engineering next, then history for seventh.”
“You’re with Jake next period then,” Frankie said, grinning. “Who do you have for history?”
I had another class with Jake. He met my gaze with the same amount of enthusiasm I experienced. That was going to be fun.
“Um…Rogers, I think.” I had to pull out my phone and look at the schedule
“Sweet, you’re with me and Bubba.”
Three classes with Frankie, but one of the other guys was in it? I could live.
“Well, at least now I have a reason to survive my first three classes of the day.”
She laughed, and Bubba snorted. He and Coop shared a look. Yeah, I was definitely treading on unwelcome territory, but she invited me so I wasn’t going anywhere. The next couple of minutes, she quizzed me about my last school, and I didn’t mind answering the questions, but I kept it vague.
She’d finished her pizza and was down to half her fries when she said, “I see Tiff and Sharon. I gotta go talk to them about spirit squad.” As she wiggled out of the chair, her hip bumped my arm before I could move out of her way. “Sorry.” Then she pointed a fry at Jake and Bubba. “You two owe me for this.”
Jake grinned at her, and it was his first real smile since sitting down. “You’re the best.”
“You really are,” Bubba told her. “Also, if I could put in a cookie order for my spirit box…”
“Yeah yeah,” she said with a flick of her fingers before walking away. “Don’t touch my fries, Coop,” she called back without looking behind her as she hustled across the cafeteria. Coop yanked his hand back with a laugh, but I tracked her progress until Jake leaned into my line of sight.
Snapping my gaze to him, I raised my eyebrows. “Problem?”
“Keep looking at her that way, and there might be.”
“Dating?” I asked because sure, if she was taken taken, I could bide my time.
“Nope,” Coop answered before Jake could say anything. “Frankie isn’t dating anyone.”
The other guy glared daggers at him, but I grinned. “No one, huh?”
Jake scowled, then drained his water bottle. Bubba shrugged. “Frankie doesn’t date.”
Maybe she just hadn’t met the right guy. “So, I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes if I ask her out?”
Across the room, she was talking to a table full of girls. Girls who alternated between chatting with her and glancing over here at us. But I wasn’t interested in them. Frankie’s grin was so damn open.
Finally, Jake sighed as I realized the dead silence meeting my question also involved the three guys exchanging looks. “No,” he said after a beat. “But let’s be clear, if she says no, you take her no, and if you hurt her, I’ll beat your ass.”
“And I’ll help,” Coop said. “You know, like bring the first aid and stuff.”
Bubba just shrugged. “What he said, but Jake usually does the hitting first and warning later. So take the warning for what it is.”
“Duly noted,” I said with a nod. She was on her way back, and when she grinned at me, I didn’t bother to hide my own smile. “Definitely need to do lunch again.”
“We do lunch everyday, genius,” Coop said.
“Great, you’re just going to open the door?” Jake grumbled.
“I didn’t have to,” Coop retorted.
“Y’all behaving?” Frankie asked as she dropped back into the chair, a little flushed and breathless. “Also, apparently, I have to do this spirit thing every day after school for the next couple of weeks. I officially hate you both.”
“Aww,” Bubba said. “We’ll meet you after football practice.”
“Pfft,” she said, but Jake offered her the pudding cup from Coop’s tray, and she laughed.
“Hey,” Coop complained. “I was going to give it to her.”
“You snooze, you lose,” Jake said with a grin, and I shook my head.
They were nuts.
But they were my kind of nuts.
Frankie popped open the pudding cup and looked at me. “We’re probably going to walk down to the diner after practice and spirit meeting stuff. You’re welcome to come with.”
Oh yeah. “Sure, just let me know when. I’ll have to text my ride.”
Yeah. School was definitely looking up. Tomorrow, I was definitely grabbing a pudding cup to give her, too.