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Chapter 16

Nicky continued to walk up and down the hallway with short, impatient steps. Penny watched the other girl with fascination, sure to keep a palpable distance between herself and the popular cheerleader. She knew that anyone who possessed such a high social profile as Nicky Mayfair would not want to be seen associating with the likes of dreary Penny Nelson.

"Where is she?" Nicky rasped out in frustration, chewing on her top lip and almost ripping her long strawberry blonde hair out with worry. "Hey!!" Nicky abruptly looked up and gazed thoughtfully at the freckled face glancing back at her curiously. Snapping her fingers in delight as inspiration suddenly struck, a small smile played on her cherubic features. "Raven's bound to have just went straight to the Cafeteria to meet Phil....don't you think?"

Penny opened her mouth, about to add her opinion, but didn't get the chance as a frantic Nicky grabbed hold of the stunned brunette's hand, dragging her towards the dining area. "She won't have realised that we were waiting for her.....that we're worried about her...don't you think Penny? Huh? Raven's into the independence thing big time...."

Penny opened her mouth to speak, but was once again beaten to the post.

"I mean, you know what Raven's like... Miss-I-Don't-Need-Anyone.... Ha! Little does she know that we're routing for her! Right Penny?" Nicky beamed a smile at the other girl as the dense crowd of students instantly parted, graciously allowing her to maneuver her way through to the cafeteria. Penny just nodded and followed the blonde girl helplessly, trying not to die of embarrassment when her stomach grumbled....loudly.

Nicky entered the busy Cafeteria, steadily dodging out of the way of the tray laden students, Penny doggedly following at her heels. "Can you see Phil anywhere?"

Penny blushed and stared abruptly down at the floor when the geeky boy's name was mentioned. "I-I...ah..."

"Ah-ha! Doesn't matter...I can see him." Nicky could have easily detected Phil's mop of brown hair anywhere, cow licks and all. "There he is!" Nicky briefly pointed out the skinny boy with an elegant finger and headed over to him. "C'mon Penny....."

Penny dutifully traced Nicky's steps, her plump hands quivering slightly at her sides as she drew closer to Phil. Phil was busily engrossed in reading some sort of Sci-fi comic, oblivious to the impatient cheerleader and the plump shy girl that were progressing towards him.

"Hey! Philly!" Nicky waved at the scrawny boy, who's head snapped up at the sound of his name. That can't be Raven...Phil curiously thought as he glanced around for the person who had called his name out. Raven's voice isn't that...sweet and soft. A puzzled frown wrinkling his face, Phil pushed his glasses back up on his prominent nose.

Nicky eagerly jogged over to Phil and was welcomed with a friendly and somewhat surprised smile by the ever enthusiastic boy. "Hey Nicky... what's up?" Nicky looked over at the table and even dodged her head backwards and forwards so she could see whether Raven was waiting in the dinner queue. Nope...she's not here. Nicky scowled for a moment, her emerald eyes roving around the crowded room, but she couldn't see Raven's statuesque figure anywhere. Dammit! Nicky frowned and took the seat that Phil waved her into.

"Where's Raven, Phil?" Nicky's soft voice asked impatiently. Nicky waved at the shy girl who stood over to one side away from the table, motioning for Penny to sit down beside her. Phil looked over at the cute freckled girl and smiled in welcome, curious as to why she was avoiding eye contact with him. "Oh, this is Penny....she's from mine and Raven's gym class."

"Hi!" Phil said eagerly to the pleasantly plump girl, muttering around a bite of his sandwich. Phil suddenly began to cough. Reaching out one skinny hand he quickly grabbed his glass and gulped down his milk shake when part of a cucumber lodged in his throat, causing the nerdy boy to splutter in distress even more.

"Oh! Oh!" Penny screeched, bringing one hand to cover her mouth which gaped in horror, believing that poor Phil was choking to death right in front of her. Eek! Now that I certainly can NOT handle! "Nicky?!" Penny glanced over at Nicky who still seemed to be mulling over Raven's whereabouts.

"What...?" Nicky looked up at noticed for the first time that Phil was choking. "Oh.... right." Nicky hurriedly sprang out of her chair and raced over to Phil, pounding him on his narrow back with her hand. "Jeez Phil..." Nicky continued to pat his back until a chunk of semi-chewed cucumber flew out of Phil's mouth. "Urrggh... gross!" Nicky giggled and backed away from the horrid green lump that sat on the table top looking oh-so innocent and harmless.

"Whoa!" Phil gasped, his face bright red. The embarrassed boy reached into his pocket and withdrew a tissue. "Death by cucumber....what a way to go..." Phil snickered in slight amusement, but seeing that Penny, who was sitting opposite him, wasn't amused at all, he scooped up the offending piece of salad and threw it into a near-by trash can. "Sorry about that..." He mumbled while scratching at his neck in acute discomfort.

"It's Ok Phil, we know that it couldn't be helped." Nicky said, grinning gently at her clumsy friend as she returned to her own side of the table. " So... Raven... where is she?"

Phil screwed up his face in bemusement. " I dunno...." The scowl that crossed Nicky's usually complacent face caused Phil to become even more puzzled. They haven't fell out already...? Have they? "I usually meet her here for lunch if we haven't just left from the same lesson... why what's up?"

Nicky sighed and fiddled with her plaid skirt, wrinkling the soft blue material in her fingers. "Nothing much... well, at least I don't think so..." Nicky exhaled loudly, a gust of air leaving her slightly parted lips, pushing her hair off her face and making the silky golden strands of her fringe look slightly rumpled. "We don't really know what's going on. Rae and Maria....well, you know what Maria's like...she was a being a complete cocky cow again and Rae was kinda pissed off and..."

"Did she pound Maria's face in?!" Phil jumped up from his chair, a glow of excited disbelief on his homely face. "And I MISSED it?! Shit, why do I always miss out on the cool stuff...Hey.... what're ya doin'?"

Nicky yanked on Phil's arm and pulled the bespectacled boy back to his seat, hoping that the whole cafeteria hadn't just heard his excited out burst. " Phil, you shouldn't be saying that..."

" Huh? Why? Everyone frigging hates Maria...I mean, she's cute and everything..." Phils's face adopted a suddenly dreamy look as his mind went over Maria's physical attributes. "Hmmmm, really cute...." Penny squawked in exasperation at the besotted boy and quickly held a hand up to her mouth to hide her embarrassment as Nicky shot her a knowing grin. "But still... there's not many who like her....."

"Yeah, but there's even fewer who will cross her Phil." Nicky folded her arms against her chest and tried to make the two confused faces sitting with her understand. "Sure, no one can claim to be her best friend or anything... Christ, even frigging Darth Vader would know to stay away from Maria's poisonous tongue... I can count on one hand the number of people in this school who would dare to cross Maria.." Phil gulped and nodded slightly in agreement.

"Yeah... but we've got one of those people who WILL cross her on our side...our Rae." Phil stated proudly. Penny nodded her head vehemently in agreement with Phil, her frizzy hair shaking from side to side in a flurry of motion. Nicky smiled and reached for a strand of her own hair to twiddle with as she gazed thoughtfully at Phil.

"That's true Phil..." Nicky let go of the strand of hair that she had wrapped around her little finger, flicking it out of the way with the back of her hand. "But what I'm worried about is that each and every time Rae goes up against someone like Maria, she is going to end up getting herself dragged down along side of them." Nicky watched as Phil struggled to swallow a lump in his throat at the thought of his beloved Rae getting into a shit load of trouble. "I don't want her to get hurt Phil, and I know that that's what's going to happen if she keeps getting into trouble.....Thursville's just a small know what the people here are like." Nicky sighed unhappily, realising that the town folks would sooner persecute an outsider like Raven rather than lay the blame where it truly Maria's feet. "I just don't want Rae to get hurt...and I have a really bad feeling that that's exactly what's going to happen sooner or later if we don't do something to stop it."

Penny held one finger up to both Nicky and Phil's amused disbelief. "C-can I say something?"

Phil gazed at the small brunette and nodded. "Go ahead Penny. You don't need permission to talk ya know....if you've got sumthin' to say, just spit it out."

Penny blushed once more, enjoying the sound of her name on Phil's lips. "I.. R-Raven, she can look after herself r-right?"

"Yeeeahhh..." Phil drawled, reclining back in his chair and crossing his arms behind his head as he prepared to listen to what this vaguely familiar girl had to say. Don't I know her from somewhere? Phil ran his eyes over Penny's soft features, taking in her gentle hazel eyes and her little stub nose.

"Well..." Penny took a deep breath and hardly believing that two people were actually listening to what she had to say with a degree of interest on their faces, she plodded on with what she had been worrying about. "So she can handle any situation... even when she's in trouble?" Nicky automatically nodded, never doubting Raven's capabilities for a single moment. "But i-is she in any trouble...? We still haven't found out whether.."

"God, you're right!" Nicky sat up and drew herself out of her chair in one fluid movement. She was a woman on a mission. "We've got to find you think that she's maybe been expelled by Greener?" Nicky gasped at the hideously worrisome thought. "He better not have bloody kicked her out or I'll... I'll... urgggh!" Nicky looked down at the two students staring back up at her. "I'm going to look for her."

"Nicky." Phil placed his hand on her wrist, halting her movements for a moment. An image of Raven telling him that sometimes she just needed to be left alone crossed through his mind. "Perhaps she doesn't want to be least, not right now."

Nicky shook off Phil's hand gently and shook her head in denial. Whether Raven likes it or not, I'm going to be there...through everything...she is NOT going to push me away again. Nicky clenched her teeth and tried to maintain a calm facade for Phil and the ever apprehensive Penny. "Rae can be unpredictable at best Phil, but I need to know if she's all right. You two stay here...just in case she comes back....Ok?"

Phil wanted to complain that perhaps it should be HIM looking for Rae...the dark girl was after all HIS best friend.....but the determined scowl that was fixed firmly on Nicky's pretty face was enough to deter him and make him see reason. " Sure..." Phil mumbled, reluctantly giving up his claim for Raven's attention." Just...just make sure that she's doing fine Nicky...'kay?"

Nicky nodded briefly before waving and marching off to find Raven, never looking back once at the concerned duo that watched her parade towards the exit door of the room. Nicky strode right past her cheerleader clique and the hollering football players, without once glancing at their incredulous faces.

"Brad looks none too happy Philip." Penny whispered as her attention was side tracked and she stared longingly at a girl's tray who was passing by, which held a gloriously rich piece of chocolate cake on it. Right on schedule Penny's stomach grumbled in protest again, causing the shy girl to duck her head and cringe, her face flooding with heat.

Phil smiled merrily at the freckled face, blushing for all it was worth. "Why don't you go and get yourself some lunch Penny?" Phil said kindly, seemingly unaffected by Penny's body and it's internal protests at being starved to death. "I'll wait right here, so that if Rae does come a-lookin' then she'll know where we are...Ok? You just go and grab something to chow on and I'll be waiting right here for ya."

Penny nodded her head and sighed, wondering how on earth her life had changed so quickly. For the first time in 7 years, Penny Nelson had been invited to actually sit and converse with someone during lunch...and all because a 6ft beautiful amazon had claimed her as a friend. Penny smiled and headed for the back of the dinner queue, giving one last thought to the presently absent Raven before she had to concentrate on choosing her meal selection of the day. " Thank you." She whispered softly before eagerly moving forward to collect a grey plastic tray from the hot counter-top.


" I can not believe that she just did that!" Donna squealed in outrage, as Nicky walked right by them without even waving or saying hello or anything. " I mean like, how impolite is that?! You'd think that she would be over here right now, like trying to kiss ass after what she and that tramp from the trailer park did during gym class to poor Maria!"

Maria nodded vehemently and brought one slender hand up to the bruised area around her neck." She is so going to get it now!" Maria snarled, shoving her sandwich to the side in disgust.

" Who's going to get it?" Stacy mumbled, holding onto Carl's beefy hand as she stared at Maria. Sure, Nicky shouldn't be knocking around with that tall dark haired freak but I'm not gonna stand by and let a bitch like you bring my best friend down. Stacy watched Maria cautiously. She seemed to be enjoying the fact that everyone was now studiously paying attention to her in Nicky's conspicuous absence.

" Raven, of course!" Maria sneered at the red head who scowled back at her. " I'm gonna make sure that that little slut gets what's coming to her." Maria languidly shook her head and reached up to undo her hair, running her thin fingers through the long chestnut strands. Glancing over at Brad, Maria's face transformed into a sickening sweet smile. " So Brad, are you looking forward to the Dance tomorrow? I bet Nicky's been talking your ear off about it with excitement, huh?"

Brad clenched his jaw and glared at Maria. " No...not really...I mean I'M looking forward to it..." The rest of the footballers at the table chuckled, knowing that it was at occasions like this that girls gave out the goods most readily. Brad flashed his cheesy grin to his buddies feeling the comradeship with his fellow football stars. The smile from Maria's face slowly drooped like a wilting flower too long exposed to the garish sun. A sour look lingered around the slim cheerleader's grim face.

"Yeah... but what about Nicky? " Maria said the name with less than friendly under-tones, earning her a dubious look from Stacy and May.

"What's the sudden interest with Nicky, huh Maria?" Stacy asked while scratching at a speck of dirt that had appeared on her skirt. Looking up at the bitchy girl, Stacy tilted her head to the side, her bottom lip pouting slightly as she contemplated as to what Maria might be up to next. " I mean, anyone here would think that you're frigging obsessed with sure you don't bat for the other team?"

Maria sat up in her chair which she had been slouching in and nearly choked on her own tongue at such an insult. Stacy you bitch, don't fuck with me! Maria glared with pure malice at the contentedly smiling red headed dragon who was enjoying riling up the ultra slim cheerleader.

" Ohhh, Maria!" May snickered as she snuggled into Donny's large arms." I didn't know that about you sweetie, but you know that Nicky's already taken...Ain't she Brad?"

" Pack that in!" Maria screeched, appalled that anyone could suggest such a preposterous idea. If anyone's a frigging dyke it's that Raven with all her fucking muscles and bloody bad attitude! " I am not a freaking dyke! Tell them I'm tell them!" Maria's face burned red in anger and disgust.

" And how the hell would I know any different?" Brad asked, his voice cracking as he attempted to keep a straight face. Maria graced Brad with a suddenly smug grin. Oh you KNOW the difference all right. Maria placed her hands on her hips and waited for Brad to make a decision.

Brad raised his eyebrows and let the smile drop from his handsome face as he regarded Maria's deadly serious face. You wouldn't dare tell them...? Maria arched one of her own eyebrows in direct competition. Just try me buddy...I'll tell them that and more!

Stacy watched her two friends with avid interest wondering what the hell it was that was being left unspoken. Something is going on here. The red headed cheerleader leant back into Carl who was once again busy stuffing his face, oblivious to the little drama scene going on around him. Stacey's eyes drifted over to May and Nate, both of whom also seemed to have picked up on the uneasy rigidness that over came Brad's posture.

Brad cleared his throat and sat back in his chair, faking a relaxed pose. " Leave Maria alone May..." May squawked at being told to shut up and Donny had to quickly place his hand over his girlfriends big mouth before she said something that would embarrass them both. Brad's eyes flicked over to the fiery red head. "And you too Stacy."

Stacy graced Brad with a small vicious smile and shrugged her shoulders. " Fine Brad. I'll keep my trap shut..." Stacy made sure that her eyes connected with the star quarter back's. "But maybe you should be also telling certain cheerleader to keep her fucking gob shut as well." Stacy's blazing gaze trailed over to Maria who was settling herself back in her chair looking like the cat who just got the cream. "Maybe then there wouldn't be any bloody trouble in the first place."

Maria curled her lip at Stacy and glared at her, utter contempt blazing from her hard pitch black eyes. " No one tells me to do anything...I don't bow down to anyone..I..."

" You certainly bloody well bowed down to Raven this afternoon though, huh Maria?" Stacey sniggered, standing up out of her chair and shrugging off Carl's clinging arm. Her usually soft brown eyes turned into slits of anger as she regarded the aggravating cheerleader. " I say bravo for her! It's about time that someone shut your trap up!" Stacy turned her angry gaze to Brad." And at least someone sticks up for Nicky...obviously if you're not man enough to defend your girl, then maybe she should just dump you and get with someone who deserves her and will defend her!"

Brad jumped out of his chair in a state of furious panic and stomped over to Stacey, " Don't you even fucking DARE try to turn my Nicky against me Stacy!" Carl quickly stood up and walked between his best buddy and his angry girlfriend.

"Hey! Pack it in...the pair of you!" Carl said heatedly, the back of his neck flushing in discomfort as various students turned to watch them with avid interest." You're all making us look like freakin' idiots! Why can't you all just shut up and get along, huh? We're supposed to be the cool just chill out!" Carl was desperate for everyone to back down...he looked over at Brad who practically had steam coming out of his ears....Carl wanted to back up his team mate, but as he recalled, the Dance was tomorrow night and he knew for damn sure that if he stuck up for Brad, that Stacey would not be going out to Vanite Point with him for a bit of loving after the Dance.

Stacy graced her boyfriend with a brief scowl before picking up her folders and gracing the rest of the table with a look of contempt. " I don't know why I bother with you lot, if you're prepared to hang out with that malicious bitch...." Stacey glared at the smugly smiling Maria."...then I don't think that I want to be associating with you." Stacey huffed, sending Carl one more disgruntled look, the small red head stormed out of the Cafeteria.

Brad slumped back down in his chair and ran one large hand through his blonde curls. He glanced over at his best buddy Carl and winced in sympathy. " Women...who can figure them out?"

Carl sighed and gave his friend a brief grin. " I know what ya mean..." Carl scratched the back of his head in puzzlement over why the hell Stacy was pissed off with him. It didn't even occur to him that maybe the girl he claimed to love had wanted a bit of support from him on this one occasion. "Probably PMS or sumthin' huh?"

Brad laughed out loud and was joined by Donny and an uncomfortable looking Nate. " Yeah, that's got to be it!" Brad agreed readily. He glanced guiltily over at the slim conceited cheerleader, remembering the other night all too well. After he'd been playing pinball with Carl, Maria had offered what Nicky would not. He had accepted readily. Brad glanced over and grinned at the slim brunette who was so damn good using that mouth of hers to her best advantage. Sure Maria isn't exactly in the same league as Nicky, but she'll do, just until Nicky finally comes around to my way of thinking and finally lets me show her how hot I can make her feel. All good things come to those who wait....and Brad instinctively knew that Nicky would be all good.


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