I must have fallen asleep eventually, because the next thing I knew, my iPod was playing No One's Verses by Valium, full blast. I rolled over and moaned into my pillow before reaching up and turning it off. With a mounting sense of dread, I dressed, ate breakfast and generally got ready for school.
As usual, my dad drove me. I always got there ages before Violet and Josie, so I headed for my usual spot in the cafeteria with a cup of coffee and a book. About ten minutes in, the world turned suddenly black as a pair of hands covered my eyes and a velvety Irish accent washed away all my anxiety.
"Are you always here this early?"
I smiled as he let go and sat in the chair across from me. "Yes, actually. My dad is Coach Evans, so I just get a ride from him in the morning."
"Convient. So you come here every morning then?" he asked, smiling back and gesturing at the cafeteria.
"Yup, every morning."
"And are you always alone? Or do Violet and Josie come and meet you sometimes?"
"Nope, I've always been alone. It's my quiet time. I'm usually too busy to get any deccent reading time done, so I do it here. Or I do my homework."
"Oh. And would you be opposed to having a companion during these "quiet times"? I promise I'll be quiet too and ot disturb your reading."
"Come on, Mark. How could I say no to you?" I asked.
"Quite easily actually. All you would have to do is say "No, Mark, I would prefer to spend my mornings in solitude". It's not that hard."
"I guess I could do that, but I won't. I would like it very much if you would join me for my quiet time in the morning. If you want to get up that early."
He reached across the table and lifted my hand into his. Then looking into my eyes, he said gently, "There is nothing I won't do for you, Jini. If you asked me to get a star from the night sky, I would go above and beyond to get one for you. Besides, I don't need that much sleep."
The intensity in his green eyes was almost frightening. And, somehow, I believed every word he said. For the next half hour or so, the two of us sat and read, the occasional turning of a page and our steady breathing the only sounds that disturbed the silence. By then, more and more people were arriving and I knew that Violet and Josie would be wanting to talk to me.
As if he could read my mind (and by now I was possitive he could), Mark looked up from his own books and said, "Josie and Violet should be here soon, shouldn't they? Shall we go and meet them?"
"Oh, yeah I guess they'll be wondering where I am. I'm usually waiting at Josie's locker when they get here. Let's go," I said.
We both rose from our chairs at the same time but before I could even blink, Mark had come around the table and taken my hand. Smiling up at him, we headed for the hall.
As I had expected, Violet and Josie were standing at Josie's locker with eager expressions. What I hadn't expected to find was Elysia Macari and her gang. Their eyes lingered on our clasped hands and then darted to our faces. I smiled radiantly as Elysia scowled. With a flick of her hair, Elysia turned on her heel and left, he posse close behind.
Violet laughed as we approached. "Did you see the look on Macari's face? That was priceless! I've never seen her look so angry."
"To be honest, Jini, I suggest you be careful. You know how she can get when she's mad like that," Josie cautioned.
"Who's Macari?" Mark asked.
"Elysia Macari. She's the one who scowled at us when we walked by. She's the most popular girl in school. Her family's really rich so she always gets what she wants," I explained.
"And she get's nasty when she doesn't," Josie added.
"And I'm taking a wild guess that things are going to get nasty now," Violet said, sobering up a little at the thought.
"Why would she get nasty?" Mark asked, clearly confused about the workings of a girl's mind.
"It's it obvious? She wanted you, Mark. But now that you're going out with Jini, you're unavailable, at least until she can get Jini out of the picture," Josie said.
"Oh, I guess we should be careful then," Mark stated uncertainly.
"Yes, you should," Violet said.
"Well, well, well. What do we have here?"
I didn't have to turn around to know that Daniel and Jeremy were behind me. Not only did I recognize Daniel's voice, but the way Josie and Violet's faces lit up was enough to tell me who it was.
"A little birdie told me you two had hooked up," Jeremy said.
"Tweet, tweet," Josie laughed, kissing his cheek.
"And what's this about Elysia Macari?" Daniel asked.
"She gave Jini the dirtiest look earlier. We're guessing she wanted Mark to herself," Violet explained.
"Ouch, tough luck on that one. You two had better look out for each other," Jeremy winced.
Overhead, the warning bell rang.
"Come on, Jini, we'd better get to English," Violet sighed.
"Oh, no!" I gasped. "Elysia's in that calss! She'll be trying to murder me with her eyes the whole time!"
"It'll be okay, Jini. I'm sure Violet will look after you," Mark whispered in my ear before kissing my cheek.
"Yeah, I guess," I mumbled.
Mark gently let go of my hand and headed down the hall with Daniel. I waved to everyone and headed into class with Violet.
Sure enough, the moment I walked into English, Elysia shot me the dirtiest look imaginable.
Violet pretended not to notice as she muttered out of the corner of her mouth, "Just play it cool, Jini. Like you have no idea what her problem is."
I nodded, then straightened my back and squared my shoulders before taking my seat. I could almost feel Elysia's eyes boring holes into the back of my head.
Mrs Keane called the class to silence and then handed out the book we would be studying. I was dismayed to see it was a collection of short stories and poems by Edgar Allen Poe. She then proceeded to call us up one by one to get our essays from the last novel study.
When she called Elysia, the slim little blonde pranced to the front and on the way, dropped a note on my desk. It said:
You had better stay away from Mark because I want him. And what I want, I get. Unless you want to get hurt, you'll dump him later today. If you don't, I swear I will make it my goal in life to make your life a living hell until Mark's mine.
I gaped as Elysia flounced back to her seat, obviously pleased with my reaction. When Mrs Keane had her back to me, I handed the note to Violet who was in the row next to me, but one seat back. She read the note quickly then turned it over and scribbled something on it before handing it back to me. Violet's note said:
Don't worry about it for now. We'll show this to the others when we see them. Maybe they'll know what to do.
I nodded, knowing that was all the answer Violet needed.
I could hardly concentrate on what I was reading for the rest of the class. I kept thinking of Elysia's note and what she could possibly do to make my life a living hell - and I knew that she could do just about whatever she wanted.
I was so distracted that I must have jumped a mile out of my seat when the bell rang. I head Elysia snicker as she passed.
Violet pretended not to notice my jump. Instead, she grabbed my arm and dragged me our the door. She didn't let go until we were sitting in the back of History with Josie and Jeremy.
"Oh my god, Jini. What happened?" Josie gasped when she got a good look at my face. "You're white as a sheet!"
Violet pried the note from my clenched fist; I hadn't even noticed I was still holding onto it.
"This is what happened," she said gravely.
Josie looked confused as she took the scrap of paper. Jeremy leaned in to read it over her shoulder.
They both looked up at the same time with looks of horror on their faces, but their verbal responses were cut off by Mr Evans.
"Okay, guys, todays the say we choose groups for our castle replica project," he announced. "No more than four people to a group, please!" he yelled over the noise tha thad ensued.
The four of us quickly pushed our desks together, but we had not intentions of talking about which medieval castle we were going to build out of popsicle sticks and glue; the only thing on our minds was Elysia's note.
"What are you going to do, Jini?" Josie asked. "The last time some one got a note like that from Elysia, it was Emily Jackson. Elysia drove her to transfer schools just because Emily bought the same pair of jeans as her. Jeans, Jini! Imagine what she'll do to you over a boy! If she has her way, you'll want to move out of the country!"
Jeremy put his hand over Josie's. "Calm down, hun, it won't be that bad. Jini's a lot stronger than Emily was. We'll think of something."
The whole history class was spent pretending we were thinking of ideas for the castle when we were actually thinking of ideas of how to get Elysia to back off; it was in vain. We couldn't think of a single decent idea.
I walked to science looking gloomier than I should have. The moment I entered the room I felt a pair of hands take hold of my shoulders.
"Jini, what's the matter? You look ill," Mark's voice was that of utmost concern.
Violet took hold of both of us, sterred up to our seats and hissed, "We'll explain later."
Mark spent the whole first block of science casting us curious looks. The class seemed to go on forever but finally the bell rang and Mrs Gerard dismissed us for our break.
The four of us retreated into a corner with our heads together. Wordlessly, Josie handed Mark the now extremely worn note.
His eyes whipped across the scrap as he read. When he lookd up, his face showed puzzled concern.
"Why would she threaten to do something horrible to you just so she can date me? And what makes her think I would even want to date her?" he asked.
"Elysia Macari is one of those girls that thinks everyone worships the ground she walks on. Or that they should, at any rate. She also thinks that every boy is just dying to go out with her. Me and Violet are just lucky she's not interested in Jeremy or Daniel or she might have gone for them long ago. Most of the time the girl just steps down until Elysia's through with their guy and then they get back together. But Elysia has hated Jini since they were elven, so I would be anything that Elysia would hang onto you as long as she could, just to hurt Jini," Josie explained.
"What happened to you guys when you were eleven?" Mark asked.
"Jini made school football captain of the senior squad. Elysia hasn't played footy since," Violet answered before I could even open my mouth.
"Wow, hating someone for that? That's harsh," he said.
"What do you think we should do?" Josie asked.
Mark looked thoughtful for a moment, then a stange gleam came to his eyes. "We won't do anything, that's what we'll do. We'll just ignore this and maybe she'll forget about it."
"Are you kidding?" I gasped, breaking my silence. "Elysia never forgets about anything! If we ignore it that will only make her hate me more!"
Josie and Violet nodded in agreement.
Mark took my face between his hands and looked deeply into my eyes. "Jini, trust me on this If we ignore it, she'll back off. Promise me you'll ignore this."
I was struck mute for a moment by the softness in his voice and the intensity in his eyes. "Yes," I whispered eventually, "yes, I promise."
"Thank you," he said and gently kissed my forehead.
When we saw Jeremy at lunch (Daniel had to talk to Coach Evans about an upcoming game), he too seemed skeptical about Mark's idea of ignoring the situation. But Mark insisted on it and the strange gleam was still in his eyes, making me think that, despite what he said, he actually had a plan.
It was the end of the day, after gym, that I started to think Mark wasn't telling me something. We were talking with Daniel and Josie when Jo asked Daniel and Mark if they were coming for coffee with us.
See, ever since me, Violet and Josie got jobs, we would go to The Concersation Cafe for coffee after school. But on Mondays Josie didn't come because she led study group for jr. high kids and Tuesdays Violet got out of school early for her dancing. I hadn't even thought of it what with the excitement of Elysia's not keeping me from thinking of anything else.
"Yeah, I'm up for it. How about you Mark? Fancy a coffee?" Dan asked.
"Umm, no thanks, I have to talk to Mr Evra about some project he wants me to do to make up for the work I missed while I wasn't here," Mark answered.
"Oh, I've never heard of them doing that. Don't they usually just use your marks from whatever school you were at before?" Josie asked.
"Usually, but he says he wants to see for himself what I can do," Mark said. He lifted our clasped hands and kissed the back of mine. "So, I'll you in the cafeteria tomorrow morning?"
"Yeah, of course," I whispered, his eyes holding mine for a long moment and hten we walked away.
As Mark was walking back through the front door of the school, he passed Jeremy. Both stopped before Mark continued into the school and Jeremy came towards us.
"Sucks that Mark can't join us," he said as we set off. "Weird about that thing with Evra though. Never heard anything like it."
"Yeah, really weird," Dan agreed.
I nodded silently in agreement, when I was suddenly reminded of the strange gleamm in his eyes I'd seen at break. Could he be up to something?