As soon as Delilah had the thought, she hated herself for it because it was exactly what her mother would think. Girls were just as dirty after all, with thick, sticky makeup and every flavor of perfume clouding the locker rooms. The public high school seemed to have a dim film layered over the lockers and floor, walls and windows. It was the first day back after the winter, so Delilah assumed that everything had been cleaned vigorously over the break, but maybe the fog of girl and boy hormones mixing together had permanently dulled every surface.
All around, students pressed past her and lockers slammed near her head, and she struggled to appear unaffected by the public-school chaos. Delilah looked down to the piece of paper clutched in her hand. Before she’d even been dressed and fed this morning, her mother had already begun highlighting all of the important information for her: locker number, locker combination, class schedule, teacher names.
“I should have printed a map for you,” Belinda Blue had said as the highlighter squeaked across the page. Delilah had looked away to the neat rows on the carpet left by the vacuum cleaner, had waved politely to her father as he’d walked into the kitchen wearing his standard outfit of tan pants, a short-sleeved white collar shirt, and a red tie. Even though he wasn’t going to work and maybe didn’t even have a job interview today, she couldn’t fault him for dressing the part. She, too, was still more comfortable in clothes that resembled her private-school uniform than she was with having this new freedom to wear whatever she wanted.
“Mom, it’s only two main buildings. I can handle it. Saint Ben’s had seven.”
Morton City High was smaller than Saint Benedict’s Academy in pretty much every way possible, from the size of the classrooms and number of buildings, to the minds of the student body. Whereas—perhaps unexpectedly—imagination had been embraced and nurtured in her beautiful Catholic school, there had always been a single way of thinking in her small Kansas hometown, a tendency to embrace normal and disregard anything else in hopes that it might simply go away.
It was what had happened to Delilah six years ago, after all. Her parents had tolerated her strangeness with shared looks of exasperation and long-suffering sighs, but then had shipped her off to Massachusetts as soon as an excuse presented itself.
“Still, you’re used to calm. This school is so big and loud.”
Delilah smiled. When her mother said “loud” she really meant “full of boys.” “I’m pretty sure I’ll make it out alive.”
Her mother had given her the look Delilah had seen countless times over winter break—the look that said, I’m sorry you can’t finish your senior year in a fancy school. Please don’t tell anyone your father lost his job and your nonna’s money is all tied up in her nursing care.
The look also said, Be careful of the boys. They have thoughts.
Delilah had thoughts too. She had a lot of them, about boys and their arms and smiles and how their throats looked when they swallowed. She had infrequent contact with these things, having been sequestered away for the past several years at an all-girls boarding school, but she certainly had thoughts about them. Unfortunately, the schedule in her hand didn’t mention a thing about boys, and instead read: English, Phys Ed, Biology, Organic Chemistry, World Studies, AP French, AP Calculus.
She felt her enthusiasm wilt a little before the day had even started. Who wants to have PE so early in the day? She’d be a sweaty mop and would never factor into any thoughts anyway.
Delilah successfully negotiated her locker combination, stowed some books, and headed to English. The only empty seat in the room—Room 104, Mr. Harrington, highlighted in yellow, thank you, Mother—was of course in the middle, up front. Delilah was a bull’s-eye for the teacher and for the fellow students. But even if she sat in the back of the room, it wouldn’t have made a difference: She was a target anyway.
Delilah Blue was back from the fancy East Coast boarding school.
Delilah Blue had come home to go slumming.
Although she spent some of each summer back in Morton, being at school here was different. Delilah had forgotten how many teenagers could come out of the woodwork, and all around her they were yelling, throwing notes, whispering across aisles. Was this how they always behaved while waiting for the teacher? When your time is yours, use it to create something, Father John had always told them. A picture, some words, anything. Don’t rot your brain with gossip.
Having seen only her best friend, Dhaval, with any sort of regularity—and maybe a handful of her classmates around town during breaks—Delilah’s memories were an old stack of pictures of her eleven-year-old peers. She struggled to place the faces she remembered from six years ago with the reality of the faces now.
Rebecca Lewis, her best friend from kindergarten. Kelsey Stiles, her archnemesis in third grade. Both were looking at Delilah as if she’d kicked a puppy before class. Rebecca probably glared at her because Delilah had left Morton so successfully. Kelsey probably glared at Delilah for having the gall to come back.
Not everyone had been hostile when they recognized Delilah; some girls had greeted her in front of the school with hugs and high-pitched welcomes, and Delilah knew that she had a completely blank slate there. She could be anyone she wanted to be. She didn’t have to be the girl whose nervous parents sent her away when she was only eleven for getting into a fistfight defending her unrequited first crush.
Delilah took her seat next to Tanner Jones, the only person to ever have beaten her at tetherball in sixth grade, her last year of public school.
“Hi, Delilah,” he said, eyes on her legs and then chest and then mouth. Six years ago he’d been looking at her pigtails and skinned knees.
She smiled to hide her surprise. Delilah hadn’t expected the first boy to speak to her to also have thoughts. “Hi, Tanner.”
“I heard you had to move back because your dad lost his job at the plant.”
She kept her smile and stayed quiet, thinking of her mother’s innocent-at-best, naive-at-worst hope that people would assume Delilah came home for a single semester for educational purposes, and not because Nonna’s well of money had dried up. Clearly the town knew better.
Your business is only yours until you share it, Father John had always told them.
Just as Mr. Harrington was closing the classroom door, a boy slipped in, mumbling an apology and staring with determination at the floor.
Delilah’s breath grew trapped in her throat, and the old protective fire flickered to life between her ribs.
He was the same, but not. His shirt was black, jeans were black, and shaggy black hair fell into his eyes. He was so tall he must have been pulled like taffy. When he looked up at Delilah as he passed, the same eyes she remembered from all those years ago—dark and stormy and shadowed with bluish circles—seemed to flicker to life for a moment.
Just long enough for her to lose her breath.
He looked like he knew every one of her secrets. Who would have guessed that after six years Gavin Timothy would still seem so perfectly dangerous?
Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of longtime writing partners and best friends Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, the New York Times, USA TODAY, and #1 internationally bestselling authors of the Beautiful and Wild Seasons series, Dating You / Hating You, Autoboyography, Love and Other Words, Roomies, Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, My Favorite Half-Night Stand, and The Unhoneymooners. You can find them online at ChristinaLaurenBooks.com, @ChristinaLauren on Instagram, or @ChristinaLauren on Twitter.
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