I hadn’t been able to find a good enough hiding place for the keycards and keys. I wasn’t exactly trusting of the security in the apartment. In the end I decided to take them with me to school and not tell Malakai what I was doing.
This time I was smart. I saw those students coming a mile away, and so did Malakai who dragged me to his table once again. I didn’t even get a chance to use all the excuses I’d come up with the night before. I even wrote them down in one of Gideon’s spare notebooks just in case I forgot.
“Kai, I noticed something strange,” I said. I looked around the room. “How come no one is asking about Gideon? Don’t his friends think it’s strange that he’s missing?” Malakai didn’t say anything. “Does he have friends?” Gideon never told me details about his school life.
“Everyone is too caught up in their own lives to think about someone else’s,” he said. I waited on him to say more but he didn’t.
“Any luck with the memory stick?” I asked.
“No. I’m going to borrow someone else’s computer.” He saw the look on my face. “Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”
“Can I at least go sit with Jericho now?”
Malakai glanced over to their table. “I don’t like them.”
“Have you ever talked to them?”
“I don’t have to talk to someone to know I don’t like them. I just have to observe them.”
“That doesn’t explain why you don’t like them,” I said. He didn’t say anything. “You can’t give me orders and expect me to follow along without question.”
“Can’t you just trust me? You never question Gideon.”
“He’s my cousin and we grew up together. I know I can trust his decisions in a lot of situations because I’ve seen the outcomes many, many times before. You are his friend, not mine. I have no reason to trust what you say.”
“Do you forget who I am?” Malakai asked.
“I know your reputation. I don’t know you.”
He didn’t get a chance to answer. The others had arrived. I used that opportunity to escape from him and the room. Once I was outside I looked around. I saw the sea in the distance and went towards it. There was an empty bench overlooking the beach. I went over and sat down to enjoy the breeze where I would be able to eat my breakfast in peace.
“You’re in my spot,” Krish said, a spiral bound notebook in hand.
“There’s nothing in the rules saying I can’t sit here,” I said.
He muttered something and sat on the bench next to me. He opened the notebook and began to write.
“Why are you staring at me?” he asked gruffly.
“Doesn’t your hair get in the way?” I asked.
“Why? You have a problem with it?”
“No. I think it suits your face but the wind is blowing it into your eyes and I know that is uncomfortable.”
Krish looked at me out of the corner of his eye. “You had long hair?”
“It was longer until recently.”
He looked at me a little longer, then went back to his food. “No one would believe you were a boy if you had long hair.”
My hand went to the back of my head where it was the shortest. “I know. That’s why I cut it.” I dug into my bag and pulled out a rubber band. “You can use this.”
He looked at the rubber band then at me. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“What?” I asked. “My hair could never be held in such a tiny rubber band but I’ve seen people use it.” My hair was far too thick and the waves made it hard to control. I’d liked that. It had personality. Now it was barely two inches at the top. The shorter cut did suit my face but I missed my hair and my head felt cold.
“Using that will damage your hair.” Krish reached into his bag and took out a cloth hair tie. He used his fingers to pull his hair into a ponytail. “There. Happy?”
I shrugged. “It was just a suggestion. You didn’t have to do it.” Truth was, it did make me happy. I could finally get a glimpse of his face. It was just a glimpse because he was refusing to look at me, instead focusing on his notebook or out at sea. He did have a nice profile. I’d give him that. Gideon was still the best though. Not even golden boy Malakai could beat him. I didn’t care what anyone else said. Gideon’s facial structure was the best and his glasses added character.
“Do you plan to continue harassing me?” he asked after a while.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s been three days since you’ve been here and you’ve been harassing me ever since.”
“That wasn’t my intention,” I said. “It’s just that it’s much easier to share tables with someone I get along with than someone I don’t.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. “Will you be satisfied with a truce?”
“A truce would imply there was a war to begin with. I don’t know you enough to decide whether or not I hate you.”
“Then what is it that you want?” he asked.
I thought about it for a moment. “I would like to be friends but you don’t want that. An acquaintanceship would suit us best then.”
“Why are you so insistent on this?”
I shrugged. “Can’t I just be a nice person?”
Krish chuckled darkly. “Not in this school.”
“What do you mean?”
“Isn’t that why Malakai is keeping you on a leash?”
“This is Neptune. It’s not a normal high school. The students here don’t attend just to learn.”
“I know. We’re also here to make connections.”
“Yes, but that’s not it,” Krish said. He played with the pencil in his hand. “This is when you decide who you’re going to work with, who you want on your team. This is where the foundations for your future career, business or company begin.”
“I thought that was in university.”
“A lot of students who go to school here would have gotten the knowledge and the tools necessary to start their own businesses by the end of Year Seven. Not everyone will go, or needs to go, to university once they have the official school ring. The connections you make here will stay with you whether you want to or not, the good and the bad. Getting the wrong person angry will destroy you later on.”
“I guess that’s why they’re trying to get to Malakai through me,” I said. “They’re expecting him to become successful.”
“Exactly. That’s why you need to be careful who you make friends with.” He shifted on the bench so he was facing me. “Now, the question you need to ask yourself is, is Krish Summers someone whose friendship would benefit me?”
I turned my head. “I… I don’t want to ask a question like that,” I said.
He sighed. “You’re not going to last long at this school on your own. I hope Malakai has a better plan to keep you out of trouble. All he’s doing right now is making you a bigger target. Someone as new and innocent as you will only get hurt.”
I clenched my teeth. “Don’t make assumptions about me. While I may want to think the best of people and friendship is my favorite option, I am not above making enemies or doing less than moral things to get what I want.”
“I’ll believe that when I see it,” he said. The bell rang for classes to begin. He grabbed his bag. “I have class now.” He didn’t wait for me to answer and left.
I sat on the bench for a little longer enjoying the breeze, then I grabbed my bag. I didn’t have a class yet and I was hoping Mr. Moore didn’t have one either.
“What is with Levine?” asked a male voice.
I went closer to where I’d heard it. Not too far away were three boys sitting on the grass beyond the rope barrier and throwing rocks over the edge of the cliff. I hadn’t seen them beneath us, and Krish and I must have been talking too softly for them to hear us. Their backs were to me. I couldn’t see their faces.
“What do you expect?” another other boy asked. He kicked another stone over the edge. “He’s Malakai Levine. I bet he doesn’t even know you exist.”
“In Year One and Two he used to do everything we told him. Ever since he started winning all those contests, he thinks he’s better than us. My project would have won last year if it wasn’t for him and that Gideon guy,” the first one said.
“He didn’t come back this semester,” the third one said. “He probably got tired of all the beatings.”
The first boy chuckled. “He never even fought back. Serves him right.”
“You shouldn’t be laughing. Malakai got you back for that,” the second boy said. “You’re lucky you even got off so easily.”
The first boy shrugged. “Nothing that wasn’t healed in a few hours, and that was last year. He won’t even look at me now, even after I apologized.”
“And it wasn’t like we were the only ones who did it. Malakai only targeted us,” the third boy said.
“Look, Gideon is gone. You have a chance now with the new kid if you want to get on his good side,” the second boy said. “If that fails then you should give up.”
The first boy huffed and threw another stone. “That tiny whimp stands no chance against us.”
“Are you an idiot or something? Wasn’t one beating enough?” the second boy asked. “Don’t touch him.”
“I say we cut our losses,” the third boy said. “No one is having any luck with the new kid or with Malakai. It would be best if we find someone else.”
“You’re on your own,” the second boy said. “I have my own plans that don’t involve violence.”
“All I have to do is not get caught this time,” the first boy said. “We’ve done it before. That was one time. This time, Malakai won’t find out.”
I felt blood on my palms. I’d clenched my fists so tightly my nails had cut them open. Those boys hurt Gideon. Other boys had hurt Gideon. I couldn’t forgive them for that.
I took a few steps back and took some deep breaths. Malakai had gotten back at them. Their next target was me but they wouldn’t try anything so soon. Too many people were harassing me and Malakai was rarely letting me out of his sight outside of class. If they were smart, they would wait until the excitement of me being here died down then make their move and I would be ready for them.