from Secrets of the Sleeper
….the classrooms opened to outdoor covered sidewalks, which spread like a web to all the other buildings scattered across campus. I was rounding the corner in a rush because the bell was about to ring when two girls sideswiped me going different directions. This spun me in a circle, sending my books flying, and I threw out my hands to stop my fall. I looked up to catch the mock surprise from my assailants—who just happened to be Zena groupies.
“Oh my gosh! I’m sooo sorry.”
“You should really look where you’re going! You could hurt someone.”
Then they hurried off giggling, just as the bell sounded. I caught the words “psycho” and “brain damage.” I gathered up my stuff, and in the process noticed that my hands were bleeding. As I rubbed them on my pants, I noticed a small tear across one knee, ruining one of my new pairs of jeans. A long sigh escaped me and I continued on to class. Maybe Mr. Mac wouldn’t notice me sneaking in.
He was writing on the chalkboard as I walked quietly toward some empty seats in the back.
“Just getting here, Tru?” Zena’s voice was loud and clear, and Mr. Mac turned from the board. Zena smirked. I closed my eyes in defeat.
“Ach, Ms. Parker. You know how I feel about being late, lass. I’m afraid that will have to be a tardy.” He marked his attendance book with a reluctant look. I knew he was making a point for the whole class. I was probably the first tardy of the school year. It was way too soon to start collecting tardies. I had a feeling I would need some later.
By now, my hands were really stinging. I slipped into a seat and took a look at them. Deep and dirty scratches stretched across each palm, blood still oozing. There was nothing I could do for now, unless I asked to go see the nurse. But I didn’t want to, especially in front of Zena. I knew she was responsible for this. I couldn’t give her the satisfaction.
Gratefully, this was the last class of the day. Mr. Mac cleared his throat and announced that he wanted everyone to pick a partner for our first project. He would give us a few minutes to exchange contact information and get to know each other a bit better. We were supposed to team up with someone we didn’t know very well. Kids jumped out of their chairs, racing for their friends. Typical. I didn’t feel like even trying, so I just laid my head on the desk, cradling my sore hands on my lap.
“Here, let me see them.” Zander’s voice drifted over from the empty desk next to
me—at least it had been empty when I sat down. I lifted my head with a questioning look.
“Hands. I can tell there’s something wrong with them.”
So he had great powers of observation. Goodie for him. My life sucked.
I felt a hate laser stabbing at me from half the classroom away. I turned my head. Zena was the shooter. Whatever, I thought, not understanding what I had done to her this time.
Zander carefully picked up my hands and opened them. A warm hum enveloped my abused appendages. This time we didn’t pull away. He brushed his fingertips across my palms. It didn’t sting, but I was afraid it would and pressed my hands together again, sucking in my breath. So, he just held my hands between his. Waves of heat pulsed across my injuries. I didn’t want him to let go. I felt like drowning in his endless, deep, sea-blue gaze.
“I kinda fell before class,” I whispered, hoping to prolong the contact.
“I thought athletic people weren’t clumsy,” he said, the corner of his mouth turned up. His thumbs rubbed against the backs of my hands.
“Yeah, well, I had some help falling.” That’s all I was going to say. No need to point fingers. I mean, what good would it do? The culprits were part of Zena’s girl gang, which meant there would be no justice. And I really didn’t want to sound like a whiner.
“Um, yeah, but if you think I look bad, you should see them.” I tried to joke.
He smiled. “Them? Seriously? What kind of school is this?”
I laughed weakly.
He grunted. “What did you do? Steal their lipstick?” His eyes crinkled at the corners.
“I know. Really. Military school would be too good for them.”
“Girls are so weird,” he smirked. “Why can’t you just have a good clean fight and make up like us guys? You are so complicated.”
“Hey, I’m with you!” I agreed. “I hate that stuff. It’s not like I’m trying to be Miss Popular, anyway.” Inside, I cringed because that’s exactly what I was doing this year with Ruthie’s help.
“That’s probably why bullies do what they do. When someone else has something they want, they get jealous and strike out.”
“Ha! I don’t have anything anyone else would want!” I rolled my eyes at his absurdity.
His face was so close. “Oh yes you do.” I forgot about Zena, Mr. Mac, and the rest of the chattering kids in class as we shared a long glance. Was that admiration in his eyes? My heart flip-flopped.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I whispered, breathlessly.
“Really?” he said doubtfully. “You do have mirrors in your house, right?” He gently let go of my hands and brushed a thick wave of hair from my eyes. I felt the lack of warmth around my hands like a coat removed in a blizzard, and shivered. At least that’s the reason I told myself I shivered. I was still processing his subtle compliment. He reached for his backpack and rummaged in it until he came up with a small tube.
“You carry antibiotic ointment with you,” I stated. “Very prepared. What are you? A Boy Scout?” I felt my lips curving up at one corner. Suddenly, despite high school rivalries and my own numerous inadequacies, I felt happy.
He smiled. “I’ve been known to get into a few scrapes, myself, so I learned to be prepared. Here, let’s see your hands again.”
I laid them open, still drinking in his face. His eyebrows pushed together in perplexity, and I followed his gaze to my hands. The scratches were gone, the skin totally healed as if it had never been injured. Only the blood and dirt remained. I realized they didn’t hurt anymore.
“What?” I gasped. We looked at each other, amazed. “I don’t get it!” I was shocked. Was I losing it? “You saw them, right?”
Zander ran his hands over mine, turning them over and over.
“All right, class. Back to your seats,” ordered Mr. Mac.
Zander and I pulled apart slowly. He looked warily at me. I wondered what he was thinking and hoped he didn’t think I was making it up, because I was just as mystified. If I didn’t have dried blood and dirt smeared all over my hands, I would not have believed that they had ever been hurt. I pulled out my notebook and peeked at him. He was turned forward, rubbing his face with his hands as if tired. He blinked his eyes a few times and then squished his eyebrows together in concentration. He looked confused, but no more than I did. I started to turn back and noticed him skillfully hiding a cell phone to one side, out of sight for most people. He was texting someone.
A shiver went up my spine. Something really miraculous had happened, I thought. My hands had healed or I was hallucinating. I felt like an idiot just thinking it. Did someone slip me something?
Check out Secrets of the Sleeper by Karen Lynn Bennett available exclusively at Amazon.com beginning September 2014.