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**Unedited and subject to change before publication**
Dean Collins is the most irresistible asshole at Central High School.
He’s your typical cliché, Mr. Popular. The “guy’s guy” who’s been voted “Homecoming King” two times in a row (minus my vote); the sexy star quarterback who’s capable of making grown women swoon from the sidelines (it really is sad), and the guy who can charm the hell out of any admiring girl with a simple smile, and a “Hey…What’s up?” in five seconds flat.
His face is the stuff of sculptures—hard and strong jawline, deep and piercing green eyes and dimples that show even when he’s not smiling. And, as if that wasn’t enough for the gods to endow him with, he has a six pack of abs that he always shows off, and full and defined lips that sometimes even make me wonder what they would feel like.
Nonetheless, I always do my best to avoid Dean Collins like the plague: I leave the four classes we take together early, never go to pep rallies to cheer on the team (Dean is the team), and the few times that he’s attempted that “Hey…What’s up?” thing on me, I’ve offered a blank stare and walked away.
Today my usual avoidance routine seems to be getting tested. Especially since he’s currently standing five feet away from me.
“Yes?” I look up from my canvas and stare at him from across the classroom. “May I help you with something? You’re not in art club.”
“I’m aware.” He smirks, looking around the empty classroom. “But it doesn’t look like anyone is in art club…”
That part is true. There’s actually no such thing as “art club” at Central High. It’s just me taking over whatever classroom I can find to paint for a few hours.
“We’re currently accepting applications for membership,” I say, setting my paintbrush down in the easel tray. “What can I help you with?”
“I did come here for something…” He steps into the room and pulls the door closed. “But, now that you claim that you’re accepting applications for your club, can I fill one out?”
“We don’t accept douchebags,” I say flatly. “Your application wouldn’t make it past round one.”
“Yes, douchebag. Would you like me to give you the definition?”
Laughing, he tilts his head to the side. “I’m well versed on the definition, Mia Gray…” He stares at me for a long time, looking right into my eyes, giving me his usual charm.
I immediately break our gaze and clear my throat. “You said you came here for something? Can you hurry up and tell me what it is so I can get back to addressing my art club? Today is a very important day for us.”
“I can see that…” He pulls his backpack off his shoulder and opens it, pulling out a black notebook. My black notebook.
“I found your notebook this morning,” he says, “so I wanted to find you and give it back. I tried to give it to you after Physics class but I couldn’t get your attention.”
I reach out for it, but then I stop. “Where exactly did you find it?”
“It was in the Lost and Found. I just saw it on top of everything in there when I got to school.”
“You know, that’s funny,” I say, crossing my arms. “Because I’ve been checking Lost and Found every day and in between every class for weeks and it was never there…”
“Maybe you just didn’t look hard enough.”
“I even checked it this morning, and it wasn’t there. It. Was. Not. There.”
He smiles and flips through the pages. “You have a very pretty handwriting…”
“Where did you really find it, Dean?”
“You take pretty detailed notes, too.”
“Did you steal my fucking notebook?”
“Maybe.” His lips curve into a smirk.
WHAT?! I nearly scream, knowing that that’s exactly what has happened. “I had to rewrite the entire thing in one night! The night before our midterm!”
Still smiling, he walks over and sets it on my easel. “Well, good thing you somehow managed to still get an A, right? If it wasn’t for me, you probably wouldn’t have known that you were capable of rewriting a notebook in a night. I helped you push your boundaries, so I think I deserve a thank you.”
It takes everything in me not to pick up my canvas and knock him out with it, but I remain calm. Kind of. I stand up from my chair and push the easel by the window. Then I pick up my backpack and storm out of the room, biting my lip to prevent myself from screaming.
I make it to the parking lot and head straight for the after-school bus stop, muttering curses under my breath.
“Mia?” Dean calls my name from behind. “Mia?”
I say nothing. My mind is still stuck on the fact that he stole my notebook; that he was in class the day I pleaded for everyone to keep a look out for it and let me know if they knew anything.
“Mia...” His hand suddenly grabs my elbow and he turns me around to face him. “Mia, I know you can hear me.”
“I really can’t. I’m completely deaf to assholes who steal things, assholes who steal things on purpose.”
He gives me that gorgeous trademark grin and I almost smile back—that’s how charming he is. I quickly come to my senses, though, and snatch my arm away.
“Thank you for stealing my notebook and having the decency to give it back,” I say. “Now, if you would please continue to leave me the hell alone for the rest of the day—No, the rest of the year, I’d gladly appreciate it.” I don’t give him a chance to respond. I rush to the bus stop and lean against one of the posts.
A slight drizzle begins to fall and I look down the street, hoping that the headlights of a yellow bus appear soon.
I take out my earbuds and turn my music up loudly. It’s going to take me a minute to get back into my original happy mood.
Just as I’m starting to calm down, I see a black Camaro stop in front of me. Dean. Again.
I turn around and give him a great view of my back. I turn my music up louder, just in case he tries to talk to me, but my headphones are the cheap, flimsy kind and they don’t have outside sound block.
“Let me take you home to make up for stealing your notebook, Mia,” Dean says, actually sounding sincere.
I ignore him and start nodding to my music, hoping he’ll just go away.
I knew I was right for hating him…
“Mia…” He speaks again. “Mia, have you noticed you’re the only one at the bus stop? The last one left ten minutes ago.”
Discreetly, I glance at the watch on my wrist and groan. I’ve forgotten that the first day of the new after-school bus schedule starts this week.
Shaking my head, I turn around and start to walk. There’s a city bus stop about six blocks down.
I expect Dean to go away, but he doesn't. He stays on pace with me in his car, driving alongside me as I stroll on the sidewalk.
When I speed up, he speeds up. When I cross streets, he makes a U-turn and does the same. And when I reach a crosswalk with a pedestrian stoplight, he tries his luck again.
“Look, Mia,” he says leaning over the passenger seat. “Let me take you home.”
“Well, at least let me take you to the next bus stop.”
“A four block ride? No thanks.”
“So, you’re really going to walk all the way home in the rain?”
I hesitate, now realizing that the slight drizzle has turned into actual rain, and that by the look of the skies above, it’s about to fall even harder.
“Yes,” I say. “Yes, I guess that I’m really going to walk all the way home in the rain.”
He parks the car and gets out, walking over to me. Without saying anything else, he puts his arm around my shoulder and leads me to his car, opening the passenger door.
“Get in, Mia.”
The pedestrian light turns green, and I want to back away, but hatred of Dean or not, I’m not going to last four more blocks in the rain.
I slip inside, and he shuts the door behind me. He returns to his place behind the wheel and drives through the light.
“Where do you live?” he asks, looking over at me.
“The corner of Seventh and Broadway.”
“Okay…” He turns on the radio, and I’m surprised to hear my favorite band blasting through the speakers. I almost compliment him on his good taste, but then I remember he’s a thief.
Thieves do not have good taste.
Neither of us speaks as he coasts through the suburbs and onto the backstreets, but I can feel tension between us; I even feel butterflies in my stomach.
As we approach Seventh and Broadway, he shakes his head and slows his speed. “Mia, you do not live here...This is just the entrance to your subdivision.”
“Okay, and? Do you really think I would give you my real address? I’ll walk the rest of the way. The rain isn’t that bad now.”
Smiling, he drives past the entrance, far down the street, and parks the car in an abandoned lot.
“What are you doing?” I ask. “Go back. Go back right now.”
“I need your help with AP English.
“I need your help with learning directions...My neighborhood is back there.”
He ignores my comment. “AP English is the only class I don’t have an A in.”
“You make A’s?”
“Yes.” He smirks. “I make A’s, except for English. I have a C plus and I need at least a B minus if I’m going to look appealing to colleges.”
“Wait a minute, what?” I try to temporarily put my annoyances aside. “You’re the star football player. You don’t need to make good grades to get an athletic scholarship; you just need to keep playing football. Isn’t that what you want?”
He doesn’t answer that. Instead he sighs. “I need you to help me with the literature components and help me strengthen some of my essays.”
“Why do you want me to help you?”
“Why wouldn’t I? You have the best grade in the class and I’m pretty sure being a smart ass, which you clearly are, requires quite a few brain cells, so I figure there’s no one better to ask.”
“Maybe, but I’m not interested.”
“I’ll pay you.”
I look at him for a second to see if he’s being serious. “Is that how you get what you want?”
“No, that’s not my usual method, but I figure you won’t go for that.” That stupid grin is on his face again.
“My services don’t come cheap,” I say. “They’re not cheap at all.”
“Honestly, I’d be disappointed if they were.”
“Then in that case, I’m sure you can’t afford me.”
“Try me.” He cranks the engine and starts to drive, heading toward my neighborhood again.
I think for a moment, unsure of what tutors usually charge. I come up with a number I know he won’t agree to. “Twenty dollars an hour.”
“Deal,” he says smoothly.
“Deal? Just like that?”
“Because that’s a lot of money.”
“I’m sure you’ll be worth every penny.”
“Fine. We’ll start next week.” I wait for him to drop me off at the corner, where I told him I stayed, but he drives into the neighborhood instead.
Looking over at me, he warns, “I’m not letting you out of the car until you tell me which of these houses is yours? I need to make sure you get home safe.”
“So, you’re a gentleman?”
“Only for some girls.” He smiles and I roll my eyes, deciding to give in so I can get this ride over with.
“5632...Down a few more houses and on your left.”
He nods and speeds up a little, eventually pulling right in front of my mailbox.
I immediately unbuckle my seat-belt and collect my bag from the floor. "Thanks for the ride.”
“Wait a minute,” he says. “I need your phone number...For tutoring purposes of course,” he adds with a sly smile.
He hands me his phone and I reluctantly type in my number. I save it under “For Tutoring Purposes of Course” and give it back to him before getting out and rushing inside my house.
As soon as I make it upstairs to my room, my cell phone buzzes with a text notification. It’s an unknown number.
This is Dean. Here’s my number, you can save it under “For ANY Purposes Of Course…”
I should’ve known to stay away from him that very day...