For the rest of the morning (I really was doing a horrible job in being a good student), I stayed with Hunter outside in the courtyard. He continued to tell me about what happened after Hayley had committed suicide, how his family dealt with it, how people saw them.
“It’s not fair,” he muttered, looking at an ant that had crawled on his shoe. “She shouldn’t have done that. I should have noticed and stopped her.”
“You couldn’t,” I said, sliding my fingers away from him. “There was no way you could have known what she was going to do.”
“This wasn’t about you,” he said again. “I thought maybe if I could get you to hate me, when I told you my story, you wouldn’t feel bad for me. I don’t need that.”
“I would have tried to help you either way,” I replied. I shook my head. “You know I know what I’m doing with Elias is wrong. He knows too, and yet--”
“It keeps happening, yeah.” He looked at me and smiled. “I won’t blackmail you anymore, if you understand the seriousness of the situation. You need to get away from him. I don’t want you to get hurt.”
“That’s generous of someone who not even an hour ago wanted to force me into a relationship.” I laughed weakly.
“I’m sorry about that,” he murmured. “I am. But you have to understand why I did it.”
“I do,” I said softly. “You want to protect others from ending up like Hayley. That’s very admirable.”
“Yeah,” he replied, looking up into the sun. He took out a lighter from his pocket and then a cigarette, lit it, and then dangled it in front of me. “Take a drag.”
I sighed and took the cigarette. I toyed with it, watching the smoke swirl into the air before sticking it in my mouth. It made me cough, and after I passed it back, Hunter looked at me, his eyebrow raised.
“I take it you haven’t had much experience with these?”
“No,” I said, shaking my head. “None of my friends smoke.”
“The doe-eyed girl in English is actually your friend?” Hunter chuckled. “I feel bad for you. Who else do you hang out with?”
“Aria’s not doe-eyed,” I said, but I couldn’t help but laugh. She wasn’t much of a friend lately. “Do you know Caleb Harris?”
His blue eyes darkened slightly and his lip curled.
“I guess you don’t like him?” I muttered. That didn’t surprise me. Not many people liked Caleb.
“No,” he said. “But he likes you.”
“How do you know that?”
“I see the way he looks at you.” Hunter’s voice sounded bitter at the explanation. “I guess he doesn’t see how you don’t feel, does he?”
“He told me how he felt,” I responded, looking at him. “Now he’s not talking to me.”
“What an asshole,” he mumbled. “Does he know about the teacher?”
I watched the shadow of my swinging foot go back and forth before I answered. “No, he doesn’t. No one really does. Aria guessed but I had to lie. I’m a good actress.”
“Except me,” said Hunter. He took another drag and blew the smoke in my direction. “Even if I didn’t have those pictures I’d still have found out.”
“How?” I asked, reaching for the cigarette. It was easier this time.
“I’m smart,” he said, smirking. “Besides, I’ve seen the way you look at him. It’s obvious.”
I was quiet for a few minutes before I thought of something. It had been in the back of my head for days now.
“Do you think they know but they’re letting me make my own mistake on this one?”
“In this case, I don’t think so.” Hunter took back the cigarette, finished it, and stomped on it, crushing it into the dirt. Then he stood and held out his hand. “If they really did know, they’d definitely try to stop you from doing anything else. You know what you’re doing is wrong, so why not stop yourself?”
I took his hand without question, his fingers warm against mine, and allowed him to pull me up. I stumbled and fell into his chest and he laughed.
“It’s not that easy,” I said, looking up at him.
His hair was messy and I had this compulsion to fix it. I was aware of his arm around my waist but I wasn’t bothered by it. When I reached up toward his head, he gripped my hand.
“Round two?” he asked. “I wouldn’t say no if you wanted to go into a storage closet or my car.”
I rolled my eyes and loosened my hand from his.
“Can we go somewhere?” I asked.
He grinned at me. “I see my car’s not good enough.”
I blew a stray strand of hair out of my eyes furiously and glared at him. He was laughing at me again and it was slightly irritating.
“You’re such a pig.”
He frowned. “Not used to jokes are you, Stewart? Well, all joking aside, I’ll take you somewhere else, as long as you promise me something.”
“I’m going to regret this," I said, but nodded anyway.
Hunter smiled at me and I waited for him to take a hold of my hand. I’m not sure why but I expected it. Instead he lifted his hand and let his fingers dance across my jaw before he bent his head, his lips brushing mine lightly.
“You have to promise to get yourself out if something happens to me.”
He took my hand and pulled me inside. We were headed toward the main doors of the school, to the parking lot, when I looked behind us down one of the hallways. My heart leapt into my throat.
The creepiest thing wasn’t just that Elias was there, staring at us. It was the way he was looking at Hunter. It made my skin crawl.