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Embers (Ch. 10)

Adolescence in Training Series

Tyler Nix, Unsplash


I'd barely taken a step out of my car in the parking lot of Pasadena High, and I already wanted a smoke break. My shoulder bag was full of nicotine patches, but I wasn't sure they'd be enough to get me through the day. So I bought a shit ton of snacks, which barely had enough room for actual school supplies. All I needed was a notebook and a pack of pens. Everything else I needed I could always buy later.

The weather was decent this early in the morning, but it was always colder inside the classrooms, so I brought my jean jacket just in case, tying it around my waist, and adjusting my cap sideways. One last look in the side mirror of my car, and I was good to go. The parking lot was full of kids between the ages of 13 to 20—all races, sizes, skin colors and financial class. Which had been a step in the right direction for this area considering the race war that's been dividing the nation lately.

Taking a deep breath, I made my way towards the front entrance of the school, wondering where the hell my cousins were, or Sam or Charlie for that matter. If I had to choose anyone to get through today with, it had to be at least one of them. So I sat by the benches near the entrance and waited for them. The first bell wouldn't ring for 20 minutes. I had plenty of time to scope out the fresh meat entering this school year. I saw a few senior guys that I would definitely meet in the boys locker room, and a handful of girls I wouldn't mind flirting with during my lunch hour. I could already see the cliques forming, kids migrating to their natural habitats. The jocks, the nerds, the stoners and the outcasts. Those were the main categories most people squeezed themselves into, carrying it well into their adult lives. I vowed to create a new box of people with a mixture of everything I could stand proud in by the end of this year. It was incredibly suffocating just being one solid thing and I was positive I wasn't the only one who thought so in this place.

Lucky for me, I only had to attend a few morning classes and then I was free except for the online classes I had during the weekends. If I wanted to graduate this year, I'd have to pack on a heavier load of schoolwork for a senior, but at least it left me with the evenings open so I'd still be able to work. Aunt Serena had offered me a filing position at her sanctuary for homeless and abused that worked around my school schedule and paid decently enough for me to get by considering it was a part time job. She also offered me a room there, just in case I needed to catch a break from the shit show going on at uncle Freddy's place.

Mom was free from prison, and she could've skipped town and gone anywhere else. However, she unfortunately decided to stay in Pasadena at uncle Freddy's farm, in the hopes of reconnecting with her only daughter. It was pure bullshit. And I wished Freddy would wise up and see my mother was playing him, waiting for him to let his guard down so she'd be able to lure some money out of him. Then she'd definitely leave and never look back. If that were the case, and I highly suspected it was, I'd give her the money myself and save myself the grief waiting for her to exit my life again would cause me.

I shook all my thoughts of my estranged mother and got myself ready to head inside when I saw my cousins pull up into the parking lot, in their brand new cherry red Dodge Camaro their parents had helped them pick out yesterday. They'd been so excited, they took tremendous amounts of pictures of them posing with the car and flooded their social networks with them. I was happy for them. And even more elated that I'd have people I actually liked in this school to talk to this year.

"Are ya'll about done flexing?" I taunted as I approached them after they finished parking and exited the car together. Zach had gotten a haircut, but his hair was still slightly longer than his brother's, while all Zander needed to do was add water to his healthy head of hair to make it look smooth and appealing to everyone with ovaries. My cousins sandwiched me into a hug and placed their arms around my waist as we walked together towards the school entrance.

"You're in a good mood. Are you sure you're okay?" Zach inquired playfully and I rolled my eyes at him as we met with Samantha and Charlie by the benches. Leah and Josie were on opposite sides of the popularity spectrum, but they still managed to be cordial around one another as they passed by each other on their way inside the school. I bumped fists with Sam and Charlie as I watched Zander's face for a reaction. He kept his eyes on other prospects, making the freshmen girls sigh and swoon as they passed by us, and all the other girls snicker with curiosity. Zach saved his smile for Rhiannon Apani, one of the wildcards in the junior class I actually liked. She jumped at his side and gave him a kiss on the cheek as she hauled him away from us, causing Zander to finally pay attention to what was happening right in front of him. He and Zach were in their teenage peaks, where everything meant something, and nothing at all. Where they made promises and captured hearts they couldn't help but break. He was about to spend a lot less time with his brother, and a lot more molding his own identity separate from his brother. Especially with that pretty boy face of his and his broody behavior. Since I had no doubt temptation would get thrown in his face on the daily, I was interested in seeing just how long it would take for Zander Carter to remain the humble, but moody hero the girls of Pasadena didn’t know they needed.

Or more importantly, what Josephine Reyes, the most dangerous type of girl my cousin could ever fall for, needed. I only hoped that unlike me, Zander knew when to pull away from danger and when to get close enough to have a little fun.


Lunch was the last thing on my schedule for the day, and I'd planned on skipping it to head on over to the sanctuary and get the paperwork started before my first day tomorrow, since Sam and Charlie had other plans. But when I saw my cousins heading over to the cafeteria down the hall from my locker, I was curious to see how their first days had turned out so far.

Closing my locker, I made my way towards the lunch line to get some chocolate pudding from my favorite cafeteria lady named Joanna. No one knew her last name, but she was a heavy-set African American madam from Dallas, who spent the last 20 years of her life serving food to ungrateful kids. I always thanked her for her service, always complimented whatever different colored hairnet she sported that day. She always responded with a smile and an extra pudding cup reserved just for me. She'd been the only thing I missed on the days I had skipped school and ran around Pasadena looking for trouble. Not much had changed except now I had a new goal to reach, and that was to get through this next year of high school, with honors, and without fucking up every chance I got. It was going to be a challenge, but life was full of them apparently, so I might as well start getting used to it now.

"Hey, Miss Joanna. Love the purple hairnet," I complimented, and her smile brightened when she saw me, while she kept serving a couple of juniors their food.

"Well, look who it is. How you doin' there, Miss Giselle?" She asked, and I loved how old school her accent was. You could tell she'd seen and been through some things in her life and she had no problem telling a listening ear one or two of her stories of her glory days back in the 70s.

"I'm doing ... okay actually." I replied with a smile and she nodded, a proud look on her face as she handed me a spoon and my two pudding cups and sent me wink before I moved out of the line.

After I spotted my cousins sitting at a table in the back with their newfound friends including Rhiannon, I found a spot next to Zach and began to open up my pudding cup. All gazes settled on me as I dipped my spoon into the pudding and placed a spoonful into my mouth.

"What? I wanted to see how you two were holding up in this shit hole." I explained with a raised eyebrow and both of my cousins shared a look before they smirked and turned towards me.

"Nice to see you're not enveloped in your usual cloud of smoke." Zander taunted, causing the rest to laugh and I flipped him off after smacking the side of his head. He made a face and reached to kiss my cheek in redemption.

"Fucking brat. I love you, too. Let me see those schedules though. I want to see if we have any classes together." I ordered both of them and being the good boys they were, they obeyed my command and reached into their pockets for their schedules, handing them over to me when they finished unfolding them. I skimmed through both schedules quickly and nodded when I noticed they had all the same classes together this semester and had a few with me throughout the week, like chemistry and physical education on Tuesdays and art and algebra on Fridays.

"Chemistry is no joke. Mr. Wallis will get his boxers in a twist if you don't know your shit the second you step into his classroom." I commented as I handed them each their schedules and continued to eat my chocolate pudding.

"So we've heard." The boys answered simultaneously, making the girls sitting beside them, and the ones nearby, smile and sigh once again.

"What's the deal with the art teacher though? Everyone is talking about her." Zach asked and I raised an eyebrow, wondering why anyone would be talking about Mr. Sullivan. His blind ass was hardly anything to gossip about.

"Is there a new art teacher on campus I haven't heard about?" I asked them and they looked up and gestured behind me. I followed their gazes across the lunch room, to the woman with the white on white ensemble consisting of a sleeveless shirt and maxi skirt down to her ankles. Her honey brown hair was braided perfectly into a fishtail braid, her naturally tanned skin practically glowing underneath the natural light coming from the big windows surrounding the cafeteria. She'd always been a walking, talking masterpiece and I couldn't believe she chose this school to teach at.

"Man, she's gorgeous." Zach commented in complete awe of the woman smiling down at her new students, stopping to have actual conversations with them while they ate.

"Hell yeah." Zander agreed as he licked his lips, causing Rhiannon to roll her eyes at him. He'd always had a thing for older women. I wasn't surprised at all he found her attractive.

"Hmm, I wonder..." My hormone driven cousin with the lip piercing resumed his drooling and I smacked the side of his head again so he could snap out of it.

"She's not into boys." I added as I placed my extra pudding cup in my bag.

"How can you tell?" Zach asked with a narrowing gaze and I waited until Rhiannon turned to her friends on the other side of the table before I answered.

"Let's just say, I know first hand what team she swings for." I replied, trying to hide the smirk eager to make itself known, while the boys shared a look and their eyes widened when they finally figured out what I was hinting at.

"No way. That's your ex-girlfriend?" Zander spoke louder than appreciated and I shushed him, while Zach shook his head at me, his expression full of bewilderment.

"I don't believe you." Zach challenged and I raised an eyebrow at him. Little booger was doubting me now? Well, I'd just have to show him who he was messing with then.

"Fine. Watch her face when she finally makes it to this table, then you can tell me if I'm lying or not." I suggested and they quickly straightened themselves up, letting me know she was close and about to approach our table. I took the head of my spoon and placed it into my mouth, and turned my hat towards the front to cover my face as she finally made it and placed her well-maintained soft hands onto the table.

"Hello, everyone. I'm your new art teacher, Ms. Sutton. But you can call me Skye if you'd like." Skye introduced herself and her calm and melodic voice only pissed me off. She'd been far from tranquil six months ago, when she kicked me out of her place in a rage, making ridiculously true accusations as she slammed the door on my face. I was thirsty for a cigarette, something to keep me from telling this woman off. But I chose the deviant route and took off my hat, flipping my dark waves towards the side before I looked up at her. Her face turned a pale white the moment her eyes settled on me, which only made my lips curve into a smile from satisfaction.

"Nice to meet you, Skye." I retorted, reaching to shake her hand. I turned towards the boys when she shook it and quickly slipped her hand away from mine.

"Uh, nice to meet you Ms. Sutton." Zander broke the ice first, shaking her extended hand, and Zach followed, both of them trying their hardest not to laugh.

"I'll see you all in class then." She stuttered when I sent her a wink and she tried to gracefully walk down towards the other kids at the end of the table, but ended up almost tripping on her own two feet.

"How was that not awkward for you? Didn't you love her once?" Zach asked as he stabbed his fork into his fries and placed them into his mouth.

"Love is for puppies like you and your brother." I began, glancing over at Skye as I continued, “The hearts of teenage boys are more resilient and distracted by anything with a skirt on. Mine is freezing cold, so I'm sure I’ll be fine," I answered proudly, hoping they bought what I was selling and took it as a warning as I got up from my seat, leaning down to hug each of them before I left.

"I don't know. I think there's something nice about having someone be there for you, with you through thick and thin." Zach's hopeless romantic side was obviously craving for a girlfriend this year and I hoped his brother could talk some sense into him before he ended up with his own twisted sense of what romance was at 16.

"You two have each other. Focus on that, and these next two years will be a piece of cake."