By Catrina Wolfe
Feedback: Feel free to tell me what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimers: My two main characters resemble a certain warrior princess and bard but that’s where the similarities end. This story is mine and may not be reproduced in any format without my express permission.
Copyright, December 2012. All rights reserved. ©
She was running. The stones and twigs on the forest floor felt like sharp needles stabbing her bare feet but she dared not stop. She looked back through the maze of trees behind her but her pursuers were not in sight. Knowing that she needed to get away before they caught up she pressed on.
A vine wound its way around her ankle, tangling in her shoes and she fell face down on the rocky ground, immediately untangling herself and taking off again. She could hear them now. The ground shook as they closed in on her. Glancing back again she could see tree branches moving as they thundered through the forest after her.
Suddenly her feet met air. She felt herself fall and grasped frantically for something to hold onto but found nothing but empty air on her way down.
The water in the lake was cold and the current pulled her down.
“No,” she gurgled as her strength waned.
Her scream turned into the shrill ringing of her alarm and she jumped up disoriented, her feet tangled in the covers feeling just like the current. She twisted left and promptly fell to the floor as she tried to untangle herself.
Her heart was still pounding as she finally got free from her covers and turned off the alarm. CJ climbed back in bed shakily.
“CJ, you’re going to be late for school if you don’t get out of that bed,” her mother shouted.
“I’m up,” she grumbled as she flung open her bedroom door and padded into the bathroom.
“Breakfast in five minutes guys,”
CJ rolled her eyes as she peeled off her damp clothes and jumped into the shower.
Rummaging through her dresser she finally came up with a black baby tee and a clean pair of grey stonewash jeans. She grabbed her brush and worked the tangles out of her thick black hair muttering under her breath as she tried to tame her bangs into some kind of order so they didn’t keep falling into her eyes. Examining the end result of her efforts in the full length mirror she looked at her dark hair which provided an unusual contrast to the stormy ice blue eyes and olive skin complexion that pointed to mixed ancestry. She had high cheekbones and a slightly flared nose.
“CJ, you’re going to make your mother and sister late,” her father bellowed.
“Coming,” she said as she picked up her backpack and raced down the stairs.
“Ready,” she said as she breezed through the kitchen picking up her lunch and an apple for breakfast.
“Finally,” her ten year old sister muttered.
“Shut up Gwen.”
“It’s too early in the morning for this. Do not start.” Her mother warned looking at her.
“Here,” she placed a bowl of cereal in front of her as CJ sat down at the table.
“Not hungry,” she said moodily.
“Eat it anyway.”
She shot her mother an annoyed look walked into the living room to wait for them.
“How do you manage to stay right on the speed limit and still drive like someone possessed?” she groaned as her mother hastily parked in front of the school.
“If you had managed to see fit to get ready on time I wouldn’t have to drive like this,” she retorted.
CJ bit back a response as she stalked to class on time despite having left home late.
CJ doodled in her notebook while Mr. Jettison, the literature teacher droned on. The sudden roar from the class broke her concentration and she looked up in interest.
“What’d I miss?” she asked Sharon.
“This is so unfair!” Sharon’s protest joined those of the other students in the class.
Sharon turned to answer her but Mr. Jettison interrupted.
“Quiet!” he shouted rendering the room completely silent.
“Allowing you to pair up with your friends doesn’t do you any favors. At the teachers’ conference last week we saw trends that proved what I’ve been saying all along. You don’t get better from group assignments the way you were meant to because the partners you choose are not any more motivated than you are. Or you choose a partner who carries you through the entire project.” He said passionately as the grumbling started again.
He held up his hand for silence.
“I’m pairing you up myself based on individual strengths and weaknesses. Everyone will be expected to pull their own weight. In the real world you can’t choose your colleagues and you don’t have to like them but you do have to learn to get along with them.”
CJ slumped in her seat.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“Everyone come to the front of the class. Bring your things with you.”
The class as one crowded around the teacher’s desk at the front of the room with a collective glum expression. Bit by bit each student was paired up. Some looked happy with their new partners, others looked like they were being tortured slowly.
“CJ Redman and Zoey Fabright.”
CJ looked at the cheerleader she was paired with and groaned.
“Why me? What’d I do in a past life to deserve this?”
Zoe was part of the popular crowd with straight strawberry blond hair reaching midway down her back. Her green eyes usually sparkled with the kind of power reserved for the elite few that ruled the school. She was around 5”4 CJ figured since she herself was 5”9. Her tan long legs and model slim build were showcased by the formfitting outfit she wore and she seemed as unenthusiastic about their enforced partnership as CJ was.
“Alright everyone this arrangement is just for the classes when you will be working on your project. It’s due at the end of the semester and will be worth thirty percent of your final grade. For some of you this project will be the difference between passing and failing, ensure that you give it the attention it deserves.”
Mr. Jettison sternly passed out lists of books they were allowed to choose from.
“Ok so why don’t we come up with a way to pick a book we both can agree on. We could each choose a book and then weigh the pros and cons of each so we could make a good decision,” Zoe said with a perky smile.
“I am not getting a C in this class just because you think you’re in charge. Let’s just do this one and move on with our lives,”
“Why do you have to be so rude,” she huffed in indignation.
CJ rolled her eyes, took out a black marker and scratched all the Shakespeare plays off the list with a satisfied smirk.
“There that was rude. See the difference?”
“Oh my God! What is wrong with you retard? Just because you lack the mental capacity to read about anything harder than preschool stuff like ‘See Spot Run’ does NOT mean I have to descend to your level of stupidity.” Zoe screeched to angry to be bothered to lower her voice.
Laughter from the entire class ensued as the other students enjoyed the drama.
“My level of stupidity? I’d be shocked if you can even spell analyze barbie.” CJ screamed furiously.
“Oh point for CJ,” someone in the class said gleefully.
“Silence!” Mr. Jettison said shouting in front their desk.
The snickers continued while Zoe and CJ glared at each other.
“Detention for a week starting today,” he said angrily.
“Hell no it’s not my fault she’s a bonehead.”
Mr. Jettison raised his hand for quiet.
“Principal’s office. Both of you, right now.”
CJ fumed as she snatched up the list before Zoe could reach it. Picking up her books she stalked out of the room with Zoe right behind her.
“I hate cheerleaders.” CJ muttered.
“So what happened with the principal?” Zack asked.
CJ sighed, taking the books she was carrying home out of her locker.
“We got detention for the week but then little miss diva said she just couldn’t do detention because she has cheerleading practice after school.”
“So now you don’t have detention?” Sharon asked confused.
“I don’t have cheerleading practice so I still have to go for the rest of the week.”
“I know. She gets some alternative punishment or something,” CJ said with a shrug.
“Popular kids always get away with everything.”
“I don’t get why she can’t miss a few stupid practices. I mean seriously how much practice do you need to wave some pom poms in the air?” Zack said angrily.
CJ shrugged, “I’ll see you guys later. Can’t be late for detention when you’re a nobody.”
“Later CJ, hang in there high school will be over soon and then she’ll probably wind up working for you.”
“Yeah just remember it could be worse,” Zack said somberly.
CJ arched an eyebrow.
“You could be stuck in detention with the princess.”
CJ shuddered at the thought as she walked dejectedly to detention cursing Zoe’s existence the entire way.
CJ was silent throughout dinner while Gwen talked animatedly about her day. Aunt Judy had joined them and Gwen was ecstatic at having a bigger audience than usual.
“Beth, she’s just like you were when you were ten.”
“Really? Because everyone always says I’m the spitting image of dad,”
“You’re all me on the outside and all your mother on the inside pumpkin,” Carl explained.
“Cool,” Gwen replied before launching into a description of her soccer team.
“Can I be excused?” CJ asked moodily.
“Honey how often do you see your aunt Judy?” Beth said pleadingly.
“I have homework to do,” CJ sulked.
Her parents looked at each other, clearly not pleased with their older daughter’s behavior.
“Oh let her go, I don’t mind.” Judy said with a dismissive wave of her hand.
Somehow, her aunt’s disinterest managed to make her feel even more of an outsider than the collective fawning over Gwen. Without waiting for a response from her parents she jumped up and took her plate and glass to the kitchen before racing up to her room. Gwen was and would always be the favorite. She looked like their parents with her light brown hair and chocolate eyes and had some of the characteristics of their mother. She was the miracle baby they never thought they would have. CJ was the one who was nothing like either of them.
Desperate to have a child and disheartened by the lengthy process to get a baby, they chose CJ who was eight years old at the time. Her mother had abandoned her when she was 3 and she had been forced to adjust to a string of foster homes moving from Albuquerque, New Mexico the state where she had been born, to Arizona and then over to California until the Masons’ came along. She had been an untrusting eight year old certain this placement was as temporary as the others had been. Confused by the memories of the woman she had called mom and faced with the person explained to be her new mother, bonding as a family had been an arduous process. When she had been living with them for a few months and they had all finally settled into some semblance of a family Beth had found out she was pregnant. Suddenly they had the baby they had wanted for years exactly the way they wanted and CJ was left with the impression that they only kept her because they were stuck with her.
She flopped down on her bed and opened the literature list to look for possibilities and ignored the laughter of the people downstairs.
As soon as homeroom was over the next day Zoe stalked determinedly down the hallway, finding CJ in less than a minute she grabbed her arm and marched them both to a bank of lockers.
“Look, whether you black out the list or not isn’t going to change anything. Be reasonable about this, we have to make a decision that we can both agree on,” she demanded angrily. “Now how about Shakespeare? I know you blacked it out but that was probably just because it was first on the list and you wanted to prove a point. Its relatively simple and we’ve already done most of those plays in class.”
“What could you possibly have against Shakespeare?” she asked baffled and slightly annoyed.
CJ defiantly folded her arms across her midriff, the black and silver bands on her wrists dangling from the movement.
“How about the fact that it’s boring, it’s almost in another language, I just don’t like those plays and don’t wanna spend the rest of the school year studying something I don’t even like.”
“Well then what’s your great idea?”
“I vote we don’t do the project at all,” CJ looked at her with an amused smirk.
“I am not failing this class just because you won’t co-operate,”
“I’m touched, didn’t know you cared about my happiness so much,” she said sarcastically before walking off.
Angry, Zoe hurried to class determined to show CJ that she wasn’t to be ignored, a plan already forming in her mind. She sent a quick note to Katie who put everything into motion by the time class was over.
Steve met her at the door to walk her to the only class they had together, Spanish.
“Hey, what happened last night? I tried to call you but you never picked up,” he said with what looked suspiciously like a pout.
“Sorry I was over by Katie’s and she spent most of the night on the phone with her boyfriend,” she said as she linked her arm through his and assumed her best flirty expression. “Plus I was super stressed because this girl CJ is my lit partner and she’s giving me a hard time,”
“Hard time like what exactly?” he asked, the protective streak in him rearing its head.
“Well we’d have a better chance at passing if we actually bothered to do the assignment but all she does is pick fights and try to show me that she’s the top dog,” Zoe fumed.
“And she says the meanest things to me. We wound up fighting yesterday and the principal had to give her detention.”
“Want me to talk to her for you?”
Zoe grinned, “actually I was now telling Katie about an idea for a little prank to show her I’m not a weakling”
“I am seriously starving and I only just started my diet,” Zack complained as they walked to her locker.
CJ grinned at him, “no worries, I’ll be a good friend and eat both our lunches before you even know it’s gone.”
She yanked open her locker still smirking at him when she was forced to jump back in shock as green goo sprayed over her and oozed out of her locker.
“Oh my God! Who’d you piss off girl?”
“My homework!” CJ exclaimed as she pulled out her sticky folder and bag watching in dismay as the goo dripped from it.
Hearing the laughter behind her she spun around to find a group of basketball players looking suspiciously proud of themselves. She angrily slammed her locker shut and took a step towards them.
“Down girl, you see the size of these guys? Don’t even, it’s not worth it.” Zack soothed as he dragged her back.
“No it would be worth it,” she growled.
“It’ll get you suspended,” Zack warned.
They had only taken a few steps away when three cougars walked up and threw red soda at them.
“Are you insane? This is a designer shirt!” Zack screeched in horror as he held his once pristine white shirt now hopelessly stained away from his body.
CJ wiped soda from her face and stared down at her clothes.
“Ok change of heart, you can kill them all with my blessing,”
“I plan to,” she replied as she advanced on the group and the obvious leader of the trio lost some of her smugness.
CJ slammed the tall brunette into the bank of lockers. The girl tried to push her back but a wicked right hook knocked her to the floor. Her two friends jumped in and CJ grabbed them by the front of their shirts and slammed them into each other.
“Hey why don’t you try that on me if you think you’re so tough.” Steve demanded as the crowd of students formed a circle around them.
“You the one responsible for my locker?”
“Yeah freak but don’t worry I don’t hit girls.”
“Good for you pea brain,” CJ sneered launching a high kick to his chest that caught him by surprise and sent him staggering back a few steps. He fended off a few of her punches but she still managed to land bruises on his face. His eyes reflected the moment he realized that he would lose face among his friends and the rest of the school if she continued. He attempted to push her back but she grabbed his arms and used his momentum to turn him around and elbow him in the face. Blood spurted from his nose and in retaliation he slipped his legs under her to bring her down. CJ hit the floor and immediately kicked out at him, catching him square in the groin. Steve dropped to the floor in pain instantly.
“What is going on here,” a teacher demanded as he pushed his way through the crowd of jeering students.
CJ stood up, her hair still dripping with soda and watched Steve with disgust as he rolled on the floor bloodied and groaning. More teachers arrived breaking up the crowd of students and sending the ones not involved off to class.
“Go clean up and then I want to see all of you in my office,” Principal Mitchell said sternly.
Still furious CJ marched to the girl’s locker room and took a quick shower washing the stickiness from her body. Her mother was the first parent to arrive so she was the first one in to see the principal.
“Fighting is not tolerated in this school Mrs. Mason.”
“I’m sure there is a reasonable explanation as to why this happened. CJ doesn’t give trouble nor does she go looking for it.” Beth turned to her. “What happened honey?”
CJ related the events of that morning starting with her fight with Zoe over the project and ending with the fight with the panthers and Steve holding up her sticky bag and ruined notebook as evidence.
“Those things do not give you an excuse to fight. You should have come to me to handle it.” Principal Mitchell sated firmly.
“Why? So you could give them all a slap on the wrist and send them off to practice like you did yesterday with Zoe?” CJ demanded angrily.
“I got detention for a week and she got to go on to practice even though she started it.”
“CJ,” Beth warned in a low voice.
“No, I want to know why fighting is a big no no but they get away with destroying my homework and my belongings, vandalizing my locker, ruining my clothes all with no provocation. They should all be suspended and I should get a medal for standing up for myself and my friend.”
“CJ stop now.”
“I cannot let what you did go unpunished. You violated school rules you don’t get a medal for that.”
“If this were the real world they wouldn’t even get by with a case of assault because they provoked me. Kind of like justifiable homicide. Yesterday you acted in a way that led me to believe you wouldn’t do anything if I came to you.” CJ said defiantly.
“Detention for two weeks,”
“CJ be quiet.”
“You will serve that time with Zoe Archibald. The two of you will use it to work on your project.”
CJ slumped in her seat and counted backwards from one hundred silently.
“I am designating a lunch area for the two of you and you will both have your lunch there. Only the two of you no invited lunch dates.”
“I’d rather be suspended.” CJ muttered.
“Think of it as an intervention before things spiral out of control.”
“You mean more than it already has?”
The principal shot her a warning glare and she fumed silently.
“I don’t suppose you brought me any clothes?” CJ asked hopefully as she plucked at her gym clothes.
Beth wordlessly handed her a plastic bag as they walked to her car.
“I’m sorry I dragged you away from work,” she said looking at her shoes.
“The whole point of those karate classes was to teach you discipline not so you could beat the crap out of people who annoy you.”
CJ bit back a retort and steadfastly stared at her shoes.
“That big basketball star is going to be walking around funny for days. Good job slugger,” Beth said with a wink as she ruffled CJ’s hair.
Grinning CJ wrapped her mother in an impulsive hug.
“See you at home pumpkin.”
“But that’s so unfair!”
“He should totally just give you a new partner.” Sharon agreed.
“Unfair or not this is our last lunch for two weeks.”
“Oh my poor baby,” Zack said morosely.
“You know, come to think of it, if she’s stuck in detention with me for bonding sessions after school every day she can’t go to cheerleading practice,” CJ laughed.
“Can you just imagine the expression on her face when she realizes her ultimate punishment?” Sharon said with a huge grin.
“But coach that’s not fair!” Zoe pleaded in horror.
“You can’t just miss all my practices for the next two weeks Zoe. I don’t care how good you are I’ll have to put in someone else.”
“If you could just talk to Principal Mitchell…..”
“You made your bed so lie in it.”
“Can’t I come to practice late or something?”
“Zoe that won’t work. No practice means you’ll have to fight back for your spot when your punishment is over.”
Zoe struggled not to cry.
“In any case your behavior reflects on the squad. At least this way it looks like I took what happened seriously and punished you. I can’t let one girl tarnish the good name of the panthers and all we’re supposed to stand for.”
“It was just supposed to be a little prank I never meant for it to end in a fight. Plus if I’m not out there cheering I won’t be eligible for a cheerleading scholarship,” she said brokenly.
“Well Zoe you should have thought of that before.”
“Wait, so then who’s getting your spot?” Sarah asked indignantly.
Zoe shrugged in response.
“This whole thing could have been avoided if she’d just cooperated,” Katie said putting an arm around Zoe in comfort.
“Don’t worry Zoe two weeks will fly by like nothing and this will all be over.”
“Yeah no one will permanently take your spot, we would never let that happen.”
Zoe looked across the cafeteria at CJ. She had changed clothes and was now wearing a pair of baggy tan cargo pants and a chocolate brown tank top with the picture of a pig on it. She and the redhead were laughing while the boy talked animatedly. From the gestures it looked like he was giving a rundown of the fight.
“This is going to be awful,” Zoe groaned.
Almost as if she sensed that she was being watched CJ glanced in her direction. Her glare made Zoe swallow back a trickle of fear. This girl had fought with four people on her own and won and her anger at them was nothing compared to the anger she must have towards Zoe herself.
“You know, at this point if I were you I’d break up with Steve,” Katie said pensively.
“Huh?” Zoe asked confused as she tore her gaze away from CJ. “Why on earth would I do that?”
“He lost to her. The whole school is laughing at him.”
“We’ve been together for almost six months. I am not dumping him because he lost one stupid fight.”
Katie shrugged uninterested since she had already made her point.
CJ engrossed in her book, ignored Zoe when she sat down across from her the next day. She was vaguely aware of Zoe eating her lunch quietly and then just staring into space.
“Is that the book you want us to do?”
Zoe waited in growing annoyance as CJ failed to answer.
“Hello? I asked you a question.”
“Doesn’t mean I have to answer.”
“Are you trying to be difficult or does it just come naturally?”
“What can I say, it’s a gift that only comes out around the deserving.”
“What is your problem?”
“You really want an answer to that?”
Zoe arched her eyebrow. “Why else would I ask? Just to hear myself talk?”
“Look in the mirror sometime, you’ll get your answer there.”
Zoe glared at her and smirking, CJ went back to her book even though she could feel Zoe’s stare.
“I’m trying to work on our project and your behaving like a spoiled four year old.”
“The only reason we’re being punished is because of you. I didn’t ruin all your notes or your homework or your bag or your clothes.”
“Whatever, last time I checked I was nowhere near you when that stuff happened.”
“You may as well have been. You told them to do it and you didn’t care what damage they did in the process.”
“I don’t own them. I didn’t hold a gun to their heads so you can’t blame me for what they did.”
“Sure I can.”
Zoe gave her a frosty look.
“All you had to do was say yes or no when I asked about your book.”
“Ok yes or no,” CJ parroted smugly.
“Of all the people in this school why did I get stuck with you.”
“I ask myself the same thing every day,” CJ retorted.
Zoe stood angrily and stormed out. CJ laughed.
“This might be fun after all,” she grinned to herself.
“We’re going to be stuck together for a while, longer if they think we didn’t learn our lesson. Can’t we just decide on a book?” Zoe asked exasperatedly as they sat together in detention.
“Fine, pick one,” CJ said pulling out an unmarked list.
Zoe gestured to the title of the book CJ had been reading earlier.
“Here’s what we’re supposed to do for the project,” Zoe continued pulling out the assignment. “If we divide the stuff we can have as little contact as possible.”
“So you can take the first two requirements, I’ll do the next two and we can collaborate for the presentation.”
“Why are you being so reasonable about this? Did you get replaced by the pod people?”
“Since we agree on something we should get started on some research. I’ll go ask if we can go to the library to get some books.”
Zoe watched her get up warily as she re-examined the list wondering when she had decided to stop being a bitch and get a new copy of the assignment for them to use.
“So what should we do this weekend? There’s this new romantic comedy out that I’ve been dying to see.”
CJ rolled her eyes at him.
“I swear you are such a girl sometimes,” she said disgusted.
“Jealous much?” Zack answered teasingly.
When she finally made her way to the lunch table Zoe was already there.
“Hi,” she mumbled as she took the seat against the wall.
“Hey,” was the soft reply.
CJ lasted fifteen minutes before sighing in frustration at herself.
“Ok what is going on with you?” she demanded.
Zoe looked up in confusion.
“You’re weirdly quiet and sad. You’re not trying to talk my ear off or act all weird and perky anymore and it’s downright scary.”
“You wouldn’t understand,”
“Is all this because you’re not on the Panthers anymore?”
“It’s complicated. I don’t want to talk about it especially with you.”
She held up her hands in surrender and then watched in surprise as Zoe got up and fled the lunch room. It took less than a minute for her to curse her sudden worry for her nemesis and follow her. She found the former cheerleader in the girl’s bathroom all the way on the other end of the school. She almost walked back out when she heard the sniffling.
“Go away loser.”
CJ knocked on the stall.
“What’d I just say? Did that fight kill your few remaining brain cells? Leave me alone.”
“Well at least you sound more like yourself now,” CJ joked.
The stall opened and Zoe came striding out. Her eyes were red rimmed and puffy and her nose was red.
CJ leaned against the wall while Zoe touched up her makeup to hide the damage done by her crying jag.
“You know we’re not friends right?”
“Something else we agree on,” CJ smirked.
Zoe gave her a small smile.
“Look if you don’t want to talk to me about it then I can go get one of your friends for you,”
Zoe shook her head at the offer and tried to brush past her. CJ grabbed her arm and spun her around instantly seeing the tears that threatened to fall. She wasn’t entirely sure she was making the right move or why she was trying but she pulled Zoe back until the girl was facing her.
“I know we haven’t gotten along but if you would stop being so stubborn about everything….”
CJ’s rant trailed off as the tears Zoe was trying to stop spilled onto her cheeks. Zoe crashed into her and she put her arms around the smaller girl’s shaking shoulders as she tried valiantly to comfort her.
Lunch was over by the time Zoe had calmed down again.
“Sorry,” she said looking at the black stains from her reapplied mascara on CJ’s top.
“Don’t worry about it,” CJ replied dismissively.
“I’ll get you a new one.”
“Forget about it ok?”
She watched Zoe scrub her face clean, not bothering to reapply any more makeup.
“Want me to walk you to class?”
Zoe shook her head.
“You want to go hide out till next period?”
CJ took the silence for consent and led her to the parking lot. They sat under the big oak tree at the very edge of the school grounds.
“My dad is having an affair.” Zoe said quietly.
“Are you sure about that? Maybe you’re misunderstanding things.”
“No, they had a huge fight yesterday. He’s talking about leaving.”
CJ wrapped an arm around her shoulders in silent support surprised when instead of feeling weird, it felt almost familiar like Zoe actually belonged there.
“They always fight about everything but this time was different. He sounded like he didn’t even want us anymore. Like this new person was more important than our family.”
Zoe turned in CJ’s arms to look at her.
“What am I supposed to do without my dad?”
“He’ll still be your dad Z. Even if he does move out.”
“No he won’t. Everything will change.” Zoe lamented as she rested her head on CJ’s shoulder.
Not knowing what to say and knowing she was not good with emotional problems she stayed silent.
“I always knew they only got married because of me. Mom comes from money and when dad got her pregnant right out of college her parents made them get married. I’ve tried so hard to be worth the sacrifice they keep saying they made but now it’s like it doesn’t matter what I do. It’s not enough for him to stay.”
Zoe sat up barely able to keep from bursting into tears again.
“Don’t you get it? They got together because of me and now I’m such a disappointment that they’re breaking up. I’m not worth it anymore.”
“No, they got together because they were careless, they stayed together because of outdated beliefs and they’re probably breaking up because they don’t love each other. None of that had anything to do with you.”
“Then why does it feel like it’s my failure?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” CJ admitted feeling inadequate and wishing Zoe’s boyfriend or her best friend would show up so she could escape and then feeling strangely protective, not wanting them near her at all.
“I’m sorry for what it’s worth,” CJ offered still confused by her feelings.
“Why are you sorry? You haven’t done anything other than stress me out a little.” Zoe teased.
CJ smiled back realizing that somewhere between them getting detention and actually talking now they had crossed a line she wasn’t even aware was there.
“Hope everything works out,” CJ said as they parted in the parking lot after detention later that day.
Zoe gave her a tiny wave as she slid into her car and drove off.
“How’s that going?” CJ’s dad asked as they turned in a different direction.
“Better than I expected,”
“Good, so then no more fights.”
“No promises. We’ll see,” CJ grinned.
“Then promise me you’ll take your fights to a more secluded spot so you won’t get in trouble,” her father laughed.
“I’ll work on it,”
“Always,” she stuck out her tongue at him playfully.
The ringing of the telephone by her bed woke her up.
“Damn it Zack go to sleep,” she whined as she groped blindly for it.
“What?” she growled.
“CJ?” an unsure female voice asked.
“Yeah who is this?”
“Zack if this is your idea of a joke at one in the morning,”
“No it’s Zoe. I’m sorry to call you so late. I woke you up didn’t I?”
“Doesn’t matter. Sorry I thought you were a friend of mine. What’s up?”
“I can’t sleep. They’re making too much noise.”
“Who? Your parents?” CJ asked confused and still groggy.
“Yeah, they’ve been arguing since dinner.”
“Not to be mean or anything but you have a school full of friends and your boyfriend. Why are you calling me for help?”
“I wish I knew.”
“Want me to stay on the phone till you fall asleep?”
After a full minute with no answer she started wondering if Zoe was still there.
“Do you think I could sleep over by you?”
“I’m not sure my parents would approve of that and it’s a little late to wake them up and ask them,” CJ stammered thrown off guard by the request.
The silence on the other end was broken by the sound of a crash followed by loud yelling.
“I’ve had it! I’m getting my stuff and leaving,”
“Well fine go then, see if I care but you’re not taking those things with you,”
“I paid for them and that makes them mine.”
“With my father’s money! This house, your first car, all our china. Mine! Mine! Mine!” a woman screeched followed by the sound of even more things breaking.
“I’d be gone before they knew I was there,” Zoe pleaded softly.
Ten minutes later CJ was leading her guest quietly up the stairs all the while wondering how her life had managed to descend into the twilight zone.
“Thanks for doing this,” she whispered as she closed the bedroom door behind them.
CJ looked over at Zoe who looked a far cry from the fashionista that usually ruled the school as she stood unsurely in front of the door wearing cotton shorts and a tank top, her face pale in the moonlight.
“Don’t worry about it. My bed’s a little small though and I don’t have a sleeping bag so I hope you don’t snore,” CJ said as she quietly gestured for Zoe to join her.
Groaning CJ reached over to shut off the alarm only to find herself trapped beneath Zoe who, sometime during the night, had cuddled close to her throwing an arm and a leg over her with her head resting on CJ’s chest. She gently extricated herself and shut off the offending noise.
“Z,” she whispered shaking the other girl lightly.
“Get up, you’re going to be really late for school,”
“Don’t wanna,” she replied petulantly before snuggling up to CJ again.
“You’re gonna be late for school and you’re parents are gonna realize you slipped out last night,”
“Five more minutes,” came the sleepy reply.
CJ shook her harder this time, “I’m throwing you on the floor in about ten seconds,” she threatened.
Zoe shifted onto her back blinking sleepily at her.
“You think your mom is up yet?”
The low raspy voice coupled with Zoe’s tousled hair made CJ have to swallow before she trusted her voice enough to answer.
“Yup, she’s usually up before my alarm goes off so we’re going to have to be really quiet about sneaking you out of here.”
As one they got up tiptoeing quietly down the stairs and out the front door.
“I’ll see you at school,” Zoe said shyly as she walked to her car.
Giving a little wave CJ turned and went back inside to fight Gwen for the bathroom chastising herself for her inability to stop her mind from replaying how beautiful Zoe had looked when she woke her up.
“You have so totally lost your mind.” Zack declared disgusted when CJ had finished telling them about the previous night.
“I know,” she groaned. “But it’s like I can’t help it. She’s really sweet and funny once you get past all the prickliness.”
“Haven’t you hated her and that whole cheerleading group for the whole of high school?” Sharon asked in disbelief.
She turned exasperatedly to answer her and stopped at the sight of Zoe leaning casually against her locker obviously waiting on her.
“What is she now? Your new best friend?” Sharon asked sarcastically.
“Something like that,” CJ grinned looking at Zoe remembering how gorgeous she looked barely awake this morning and unable and unwilling to stop the instant quickening in her gut.
“Ready for our lunch date?” she asked.
Nodding Zoe slipped her hand through CJ’s as they walked to the cafeteria.
“Did they notice you weren’t in your room last night?”
“Nope, I think Dad left and when I got home Mom was still asleep,”
“I’m really sorry for how I treated you before,” CJ offered nervously.
“Its fine, thanks for last night,”
“Well my bed is yours anytime you need to hide out,” she said and blushed the minute she realized how that sounded.
“I think I’ll take you up on that,” Zoe replied with a wink.
The shrill of the alarm clock penetrated her consciousness slowly making her sleep addled brain only mildly annoyed until the body pressed against her started to move restlessly. Forcing her eyes open CJ reached over and shut it off. Zoe refused to move from her position practically on top of her but after a month of them in the same bed she was used to the feel and weight of her. In fact, even though her father had moved out rendering the house as silent as a tomb, Zoe still slept by her every night and they still had lunch together at school.
“I could probably deal with mornings if they happened a little later,” Zoe complained.
The knock on the door didn’t leave them enough time to even try to hide Zoe’s presence before Beth poked her head in.
“Zoe if you and CJ hurry you can both have breakfast before you go home to change for school.”
CJ stared at her in shock.
“Oh don’t give me that look we’ve known she was here from the first night back when I could have sworn the two of you were mortal enemies,” Beth grinned obviously relishing the shock on her daughter’s face.
As soon as the door closed an embarrassed Zoe buried her face under the covers.
“Do you think she knows about………” CJ started to whisper.
“CJ if you girls wanted to keep your relationship a secret then you should try to keep it down at nights. I’m sure your aunt can hear you from Rhode Island.”
Her face burned as she joined her girlfriend under the covers.
“I can officially never face my mother again,” she groaned in mortification.
“I think if we don’t get up now she’ll come looking for us again. Or maybe your dad will.”
Zoe laughed as CJ flew off the bed at the thought.
“Just know you’re not funny,” she said in mock anger before giving her a quick kiss and running off to the shower before Gwen could get in. She could live with the embarrassing stories her mother was sure to tell as long as it meant hearing that laugh forever.