The hand on the clock was stuck at three-twenty-seven. Rayner checked the watch on her wrist. It was suffering the same malfunction. She sighed, slumped further in her desk, and waited for the last three minutes of class to pass.
Rayne ignored her not so secret admirer. She’d been doing that a lot in the last month. It was funny, not ha-ha, but strange. She’d gone to school with most of these people her entire life and had been successful in staying under the radar. Some of them she’d not spoken more than a word to since sixth grade, then all of a sudden, last week, she’d become some kind of boy magnet. The unsolicited attention was unwanted and unnerving. She’d never dated. Not because she couldn’t; she was attractive enough. Her shoulder length, naturally curly hair was the bane of her existence but with the help of a bottle of conditioner and various other leave-in concoctions it was beat into submission every morning and suited her overall style that magazines called: bohemian chic. Her skin was the color somewhere between caramel and that of a brown paper bag and her complexion flawless. She wore little or no makeup most of the time and when she did it looked so natural people could hardly tell she wore any at all. Her one vice was a deep red lipstick. Every girl had to have at least one tube of the stuff. At five-six she considered herself of average height; she sported a few extra pounds that she wore well, the extra padding on her hips her mother called child-baring the rest was up top. She’d started sixth grade wearing a C-cup when the rest of the girls were in training bras.
“Hey…Rayne,” Steve called.
Before high school Rayne had been in Mrs. Carpenter’s third grade class with Steve. He hadn’t outgrown some of the childish tendencies he’d exhibited then, maybe most of them, possibly all of them. The wad of balled up paper that landed on her desk proved her point. She fisted the paper and wondered if she could make the trashcan from her seat. No doubt the paper was a note. In the last week Steve had resorted to passing notes to her after Rayne’s repeated attempts to ignore him after her countless rejections of his multiple offers to take her on a date, which was also strange since Steve had a girlfriend, or had a girlfriend, up until a month ago. That’s when he dumped her and started paying Rayne too much attention. The girlfriend, Trisha Roberts, confronted Rayne in the bathroom the day after their breakup, but before Steve had made his move on her. It’d caught Rayne off guard, and while she adamantly denied knowing what the distraught girl was talking about, Trisha had taken a swing at her. It took two girls to break up the fight. Who knew an eighty-five pound, four-eleven girl could be so strong? Rayne had held her own but she was beginning to worry and was seriously considering looking for a weapon when the cavalry arrived.
The whisper, that was one decibel from a shout, was only going to get louder the longer she ignored him. Three minutes had never taken so long.
“What!” she hissed, turning around to face her admirer. It was the last day of school. Their teacher, Ms. Woods, sat at her desk no doubt counting down the seconds before the bell rang along with her students, didn’t look up from the book she was looking at. Rayne suspected it hid a magazine; People, maybe InStyle.
“Are you going to the party after graduation?”
There were dozens of parties going on. House parties, private parties held at different venues all around town, but there was only one “the party”. The single night club that catered to the citizens of their town and not the students of the local university was hosting a graduation party. Everyone that was anyone was going. It was like the last rite of passage into adulthood for the seniors. First graduation, followed by a night of fun at the local hot spot that ordinarily only admitted people of legal drinking age.
“No,” she said shaking her head; her brow furrowed, her lips turned down in a frown.
There were other strange things happening with Rayne. They’d all started before the unsolicited attention from the opposite sex. Her sense of smell and taste were…funky. Both had been sensitive but now they were worse. She didn’t wear perfume and even used unscented lotion, laundry detergent and the mildest smelling soap she could find because walking around gagging off other people’s colognes was bad enough. It wasn’t an artificial smell that had her frowning at Steve. He smelled…good. Like leather and sawdust, fresh cut grass and rain on hot asphalt. All smells that she liked.
“I was thinking we could go together.”
Her mouth dropped opened. She was beginning to think Steve was mildly retarded, even with him being on honor roll and taking AP classes.
“I just said no,” she said, speaking slower than normal. It was like she was speaking a foreign language.
“Oh.” The look of confusion on his face caused a snort of laughter to escape her just as the bell rang.
Rayne stood up lightning fast with the rest of the class. She omitted the shout for joy that her fellow classmates were busy drowning out the dismissal bell with. Oh she was joyful; she just didn’t feel the need to exhibit it in such a childish behavior. That attitude had separated her from the rest of the students since kindergarten. Her mother said she’d been born with an old soul. It had nothing to do with being raised by a woman who treated her like an adult since she was old enough to walk and talk.
“Wait up Rayne,” Steve yelled from behind her.
She walked faster. The kids spilling from the open doors were loud and boisterous, some screaming at the top of their lungs. Not at all behaving like the young adults they claimed to be. Rayne ducked her head as she pulled the strap of her purse over it. She pulled at the hem of her dress that was really too short, but the dress code had been overlooked on the last day of school and the bottom of the paisley print dress stopped mid-thigh instead of regulation just above the knee.
She half considered running but Steve was on the track team while she, on the other hand, hadn’t run since freshman P.E. When she felt a hand on her arm she wondered how much trouble she would get in if she punched him in the throat, or maybe kneed him in the balls. It was the last day of school and she was a graduating senior. “Steve how many times do I have to say no?” She said turning to face…Yancy.
Yancy Sullivan didn’t take a class with her. Hell, he wasn’t even a senior, but he was smart enough to take several senior AP classes. The reason he was on that particular hall.
“Oh,” Rayne said, “I thought you were someone else.”
“So the answer’s yes?”
Yancy was cute. He was only fifteen. Rayne was eighteen. She smiled at the small red-head and resisted ruffling his hair. He was adorable.
“No,” she said smiling at him and slowing her pace from the brisk walk to a leisurely stroll that she regretted about ten seconds afterwards when Steve really did appear.
“Get lost,” he said pushing Yancy aside so that he could walk next to Rayne.
“Hey,” they both yelled at the same time. Rayne stopped, ready to defend Yancy, but he pushed Steve hard enough to send him flying back into the lockers. Yancy, who she always thought as sweet and innocent didn’t look either. His hands were balled into fists at his sides, his breathing was hard and fast, and the sound rumbling in his chest sounded too much like a growl to be mistaken for much else. He looked…dangerous.
The voice came from behind her and Rayne knew without turning who it was. Marion Knightly, senior class president, the first ninth-grade quarterback on the varsity team the school had ever had, and the most popular guy in school. Rayne, too afraid to turn away from the train wreck in front of her, was preparing to throw herself in front of Yancy. No matter how angry and dangerous he looked, he was outweighed by about a hundred pounds and Steve was a foot taller.
Marion laid a hand on the boy’s shoulder. The smile that had hypnotized half the female students since seventh grade plastered firmly on his face. It almost never left.
“Calm down,” Marion said and to Rayne’s surprise he actually started stroking the younger boy’s head. Yancy body was all but vibrating with anger as he continued to stare at Steve.
Rayne, confident that Marion could handle Yancy turned to face Steve. His posture mirrored Yancy’s: legs a little apart, hands balled into fists. There was a dent in the locker he’d been pushed into. It was like two attack dogs preparing to fight. How had the situation gotten so out of control so quickly? Rayne was about to walk away from the entire scene when the second most popular guy in the school arrived, Ben King.
Ben King was neither an athlete nor a scholar. He was a solid C student, but his family had more money than God. Okay, that was a stretch, but they were the wealthiest family in the state. He was flanked by Mark Hardy and Arnold Conner, two flunkies if ever there were some. Steve was part of Ben’s crew and the boy but his hand on Steve’s shoulder. But there was nothing comforting in the touch. Rayne could see his fingers digging into Steve’s shoulder with enough force that the boy winced before looking away from Yancy. Ben stared at Steve, an unspoken communication passed between the two. Ben pulled Steve until he stood next to him.
“Are you alright?” Rayne asked Yancy, because she actually liked him. Not to date of course, but his crush on her was cute—like him.
“Yeah, sorry,” he said. His head was pointing down. The corner of his mouth was curved in a grin. She felt like pinching his cheeks.
“You have nothing to apologize for Yancy,” she said before looking at Marion. “Thanks.”
“For…” he asked, still with that easy smile.
Marion had lashes so thick and dark they lined his eyes like make-up. Said eyes were brown with flecks of gold in them. Not quiet hazel, but not true brown either. His smile sported twin rows of perfect white teeth. He was so handsome he was borderline beautiful. It was just as hard to look at him as it was to look away he was so good-looking. He had dark skin, darker than milk chocolate, and it made her think of words like: creamy and rich. He was six feet and built slim but not skinny.
Rayne shook her head. “Nothing,” she answered. “Have a nice summer Yancy.” She walked over and kissed him on the cheek she’d just thought about pinching. He blushed and brought his hand up to his cheek. The look in his eyes and the smile that rivaled the sun made her glad she’d done it. She winked at him before turning to leave.
“Rayne,” Steve yelled.
She didn’t turn around as she raised her hand and gave him the finger. If words didn’t work maybe sign language would.
The heat of the day engulfed her the second she pushed the door open at the end of the hall. She made it halfway to her car before O’Neal stepped in front of her like an apparition, which was hard to do since he was like twenty feet tall and the size of a small car. He was one of the only crushes she’d ever had. Marion didn’t count because everyone crushed on him at one point or another, most never recovered.
“Hey Rayne,” his deep baritone voice filled the heat filled afternoon.
“Hello O’Neal,” she sighed. Really, this had to stop.
“Going to the party tonight?”
“No,” she said starting her walk around him. He was so wide he should have had a detour sign taped to his chest and back.
“Because,” she answered speeding up, running not looking like a bad idea after all, she was feeling different lately…stronger, maybe faster was in there too.
O’Neal wasn’t bad looking; she’d even go as far as to say he was nice looking. But like the rest of the boys at her school, she wasn’t interested. Her mother probably thought she was a lesbian. She’d never say anything, and she wouldn’t care. She’d given up asking about boyfriends and dates last year.
Rayne stopped and if O’Neal hadn’t have grabbed her arm she would have fallen. The heat from his hand made her think maybe he was feverish. He didn’t look sick; maybe he just had hot palms. Her face was in perfect alignment with well defined pectorals and although his shirt was probably a quadruple X it hugged ever hill and valley of his upper body, his jeans did a similar thing with equally impressive thighs. He smelled sweet, like honeysuckle and roses. As odd as the scent was, it was odder coming from the massive person holding on to her arm. She would have thought he smelled…well…manlier, not so soft and dare she think it, comforting.
“Personal space O’Neal, heard of it?” She said taking a step back and glad that he released his hold on her. Was all the attention finally getting to her? Her steely reserve softening?
“Why aren’t you going to the party?” With Steve she jokingly thought he was mentally challenged, with O’Neal she wondered if he’d been dropped on his head as a baby. He was on the football team, he was too big not to be, but he wasn’t going to anyone’s college. He maintained his grades only because he went to special classes. They weren’t called special-ed anymore, politically incorrect, but he had maybe a fifth grade reading level. But he was nice and never threw all his height and weight around. Then again, no one teased him to test his gentle giant status.
She sighed, pinched the bridge of her nose. “Because I don’t want to O’Neal and please…please, don’t ask me to go with you.”
There was a stretch of silence where he considered asking anyway. She could almost see his brain working overtime to figure out what to do next.
“Alright…It was great knowing you O’Neal. Maybe I’ll see you around. If I don’t have a great summer,” she said. She left out the “and a nice life,” she was too polite. She left him standing there, kids in fact detouring around his massive body.