Whoa. He took another drag, but his eyes remained on the field. His slender hands caught a sliver of sunlight that sneaked through the gaps in the bleachers.
What is it? One of the groupies. Jody didn't even remember the kid's name. But the kid had smokes, and that earned him a few minutes of limelight.
The captain just plowed through Tank and Vlad like they weren't even there. He was in genuine awe. By default bored out of his skull, it had been a long time since anything impressed him.
Well, 'es headed this way, the kid had picked up on Jody's interest. The elbow to the ribs that followed earned him an unimpressed glare. A quick glance verified that the captain was indeed walking in their direction, laughing with a couple other members of the rugby team.
Still breathless, Iliana lifted her face and squinted into the sunshine. She loved a good take-down, both getting and giving one; the thrill of a solid hit shot through her, and she knew the buzz wouldn't quit for minutes yet. The team was scattering, heading back to class, and she knew that she should, too. Taking a few steps forward, she wasn't paying attention to where she was walking. Her feet tangled, or she struck something, or she tripped on her laces, she couldn't be sure, but suddenly the world tipped and there was nothing but sky.
"Good one, boss," Vlad laughed, his cackle shrill and comically maniacal, mismatched to his large frame and square, plain face.
"Better watch your step," continued Tank. "There's grass on this field! You could hurt yourself!"
"Har har." Iliana's hand went to her head, checking for a bump. She made an ugly, twisted face at Tank, sticking out her tongue for good measure. "You going to help me out or what? I think I broke both my legs here."
Grasping Iliana by both hands, Tank pulled her upright with a grin. "I'm going to buy you shoes that close with velcro for your birthday, how about that? Those laces of yours are a menace."
"Yeah. Okay." Suddenly struck stupid by the boy's prettiness -- the soft swell and curve of Tank's mouth, his smiling eyes -- Iliana forgot to let go of his hands.
"Get a room!" Vlad shoved her playfully. Alarmed, Iliana dropped the boy's hands and went pink, to the tops of her ears.
"Shut up, Vladimir," Iliana laughed, shaking off the blush. "I've got Mr. Winter for physics and," a pained expression crossed her features. "Urgh, if I'm late again he'll have me in thumb screws."
Hurrying across the field, she cut towards the bleachers. There were kids hiding beneath them, she knew. Even though she couldn't see their faces, she could smell the smoke. It made her nose itch.
He took one last, quick drag from his cigarette and tossed the butt into the kid's chest. Scram, he said, never taking his eyes off the centremost member of the approaching trio.
Jody only needed to take a few steps forward in order to emerge from the darkness of the bleachers into the blinding midday sun. Dressed in a tight Placebo shirt and torn, faded jeans, he looked like he belonged on stage. All he was missing was the mic.
He rested his lithe arms casually on the beam overhead, leaning forward as he called out in musical tones. Iliana. He posed for a moment, now that all eyes were on him. Then he released his arms and strode forward to intercept her. You really know how to knock a guy off his feet.
The boy who emerged from his hiding place was handsome, with a fine-boned face, bright eyes and white teeth that belied his foul-smelling habit. Jody, she knew him by reputation. His throwaway clothes gave him a look of careless, effortless cool, and if the gossip was at all true, he had likely peeled both the shirt and jeans off a conquest only the night before, wearing them today like trophies.
Too skinny by half, Iliana noted, eyeing him up and down. Maybe this pointed to other vices, above and beyond those she'd already heard of.
Was he making fun of her, she wondered? There was no malice in his tone, but ...
"Thanks," she shrugged her shoulder, like she didn't care, reminding him that she wasn't an easy target.
His grin lit up his face like a spotlight. Jody liked a challenge.
I'll see you in physics, he promised, with an easy, comfortable tone.
Mr. Winter's favourite method of punishing tardiness was also his signature opening, which a dozen students could flawlessly impersonate. Any questions? No? Then let's have a quiz!
It was only after the usual groans accompanied by a chorus of binders snapping open to each relinquish a single sheet of paper that Iliana breezed into the classroom. Mr. Winter was reciting the problem, some nonsense about hammers frozen inside floating balls of ice, but he paused, with an eyebrow raised, to berate the rugby captain. Next time you're getting an automatic zero, Ms Quicke. By some coincidence, or perhaps not, the only free desk was at the back of the classroom, near the corner. Jody sat in the desk adjacent, twirling a pencil around his thumb with an effortless flick. He smiled at Iliana when her gaze fell in his direction, but then he turned his attention to the teacher.
Now, when the ice melts, will the volume of water increase, decrease, or remain constant? You have two minutes. Show your work.
"Yes sir," Iliana said as she passed through the open door and into the classroom. "Sorry, sir."
An automatic zero was bad news, though glancing toward the problem on the blackboard, she knew that even left to her own devices she wouldn't pull off a much stronger score. None of this material made a single lick of sense to her, and she was barely scratching by on a pass.
There was Jody, sitting by the only open desk in the room. Crossing to his side, she tore a lined sheet from a notebook and figured that this new seating arrangement wasn't coincidence. No matter. Despite his scheming and overtures, she wasn't going to give him the satisfaction of wearing her jersey around the school. No way. Never. Not a chance.
Dropping heavily into the chair with a sigh, she started scribbling some nonsense on the page, failing to resist the urge to take a peek at the boy's own work.
Well. He seemed to know what he was doing, even though she hated to admit that even seeing his work written out so precisely illuminated exactly nothing for her. She dotted her sheet with anxious penmarks and then wrote out an equation that seemed vaguely familiar to her, but looked nothing like what Jody was laying down.
By the time their two minutes were up, Iliana was about ready to sink into the floor with annoyance and despair. Why was she taking this stupid class anyway? It's not as though she couldn't get into university on a sport scholarship. That is, if she didn't die of this horror, first.
The PA system chimed, summoning Mr. Winter to the office. After hurriedly collecting their quiz papers, and delivering a quasi-threatening speech about punks and hooligans and proper behaviour befitting senior students, he left the room. Just as soon as the door clicked shut behind the man, a dull murmur of conversation swelled through the class. Iliana dropped her head to her desk and wished for death.
Much to the dismay and frustration of the faculty, Jody's brilliance was peerless. For example, despite the fact that he had only attended two physics classes in as many weeks, he had memorized the single lesson given, abstracted the concepts taught into general rules that applied to the entire course, and was able to apply that understanding effortlessly to today's quiz. Mr. Winter, like all the others, had initially attempted to find some way to penalize Jody for his unrestrained contempt of the entire academic institution. But aside from penalizing his marks for his lack of attendance, the staff simply had no venue for retribution. Forced to award Jody marks upwards of eighty-five percent term after term, teachers were resigned to simply, and utterly, ignoring him.
This explained Jody's headphones and gum chewing. It did not, however, explain his shocking nonchalance when he reached below his chair, rummaged around in his knapsack, and produced an enormous ruby in the shape of an apple. Perhaps it would be more accurate to describe it as a sparkling apple that caught the afternoon light like a ruby, causing a soft red glow to fill the young man's hands.
Before Iliana was able to react to what she was seeing, she was interrupted by the girl seated directly in front of Jody angling her chair sharply back, bringing her head to rest upon his desktop. Her eyes met Jody's, green gazes matched evenly, pale and lovely faces mirroring each other, albeit her's was upside down in this imperfect reflection. The girl's loose, flaxen curls framed her delicate features prettily; Iliana was certain the effect was intentional.
Jaelydia Cooper. The slacker's workaholic sister. Top of her classes, student council treasurer, swim team champion, shoe-in for valedictorian. Iliana heard somewhere that Jae wanted to get into NASA when she grew up; astronaut was an uncommon ambition, and that sort of tidbit really stuck out.
"Hey," the blonde hissed through a fierce grin. One corner of her mouth lifted higher than the other, lending the impression of playful insincerity. "Not studying, I see? How unsurprising. B's might be enough to keep you happy, Jo, given your wild ambitions of living out of a box after graduation, but some of us ..."
Jae hesitated for only the briefest instant when she caught sight of the prismatic gem, rolling her eyes before finishing her thought. "Some of us are unhappy festering in our own mediocrity."
All said, Iliana didn't find either the brother nor sister particularly compelling at that moment. But that apple, all watery translucence and crimson radiance, was diverting. In fact, there was something in the pattern of the light filtering through it, something more than mere prettiness, that cheered her.
For one perfect moment, Jody looked down into his twin's eyes as she looked up into his. All he could think about was how good he looked. He leaned back and let his eyes flip back and forth between the two athletes.
Hey, Jody whispered so that only the two of them could hear. It was a testament to the boy's dexterity with his long fingers that he prevented the radiance of the ruby/apple from catching the attention of anyone else in the room. What do you think it is?
I mean, he continued before either of them could answer, I know its an enormous ruby in the shape of an apple, but it feels strange. It's like my skin can taste it. Staring at the gem, he lost himself in its brilliance for a moment before looking up. Abruptly he thrust the jewel back into his knapsack as their teacher breezed back into the room, scowling so badly it looked like his forehead was going to cave in upon itself.
My car has been broken into, Mr. Winter announced. There was fire in his eyes.
Iliana hadn't the vaguest inkling of what the apple could be, though it was plainly out of place in the classroom, nestled in Jody's palm. There was something strange about it, apart from its luxury. If Iliana had been one to entertain these sorts of notions, had she been a poet or a theist or something equally fanciful, she might have hazarded that the ruby was otherworldly. But as it stood, she was none of those things, and possessed none of the spark that allowed those kinds of imaginings to flourish.
The sister, however, cocked an eyebrow and whistled, low. "I think it's an indication of your ambition. I was wrong, Jody. You don't want to live in a box after graduating. You aspire to prison. Who knew?"
Iliana didn't follow. What did the jewel have to do with prison? Jae wasn't suggesting that Jody had stolen it, was she?
The door crashed open, and Iliana spun to catch sight of their teacher storming into the room.
"My car has been broken into," he snarled, and Iliana had the uncomfortable feeling that he was looking directly at her as he spoke. Sitting straighter, she refused to shrink away from him glare -- she had nothing to do with this, no reason to hide -- until finally he looked away.
"The authorities have been called," the man continued, with obvious relish. Whatever had happened to his car, he seemed confident that no student could possibly get away with it.
As it happened, Iliana would never know, one way or the other, whether the police would have been successful. With a shock, a deafening roar, the shattering of glass, a powerful explosion rocked the building. Without thinking, Iliana dropped beneath her desk, covering her head and shutting her eyes against what was happening. As the rumbling died down, what seemed like hours later, she peered about the room.
There was dust in the air, obscuring the edges of desks, chalkboard, students, windows. The sky outside had gone dark, and with it the inside of the classroom; it was hard to make out what was happening. It was only that Iliana realized that she could hear nothing, no sounds of alarm or fear. Had the explosion affected her ears?
Still, she felt strangely calm. Calm. Yes, calm, but cold. Terribly cold, as though the dust was sheared ice. With each breath, she felt biting frost filling her lungs. She tried to breath less, with no success.
From out of Jody's knapsack, the apple rolled across the floor and bumped into Iliana's foot. It's colouring seemed the only thing real in the room, the only thing not grey and ice and dark. Beneath it's translucent surface she could see movement, words spun of letters in a language she didn't recognize. Iliana reached for it and immediately understood what Jody had meant about tasting the thing through her skin. The jewel's surface was smooth, and unfathomably sweet.
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