"Aaron. Now that's an unusual name for a girl." The substitute teacher remarked as she glanced down at the attendance list.
"I am acutely aware that Aaron is a Hebrew masculine given name and that I am neither Hebrew nor masculine." I replied easily, regarding the middle aged woman peering over at me behind thickly rimmed glasses.
"The not being masculine part is debatable." Sneered Matthew Valentine behind me. The substitute teacher, who had openly stared in appreciation at Matthew Valentine upon his entrance, stole another glance in his direction.
"That's hardly a kind thing to say." She said, although her tone of voice indicated that she wasn't completely disapproving. Her evident infatuation with Valentine was earning a few amused chortles from the class.
"The truth isn't always kind." He replied. I didn't have to turn around to know that Matthew Valentine was smirking. I could see it in Ms. Whatever Her Name's eyes; she adored him. The words leaving his mouth were irrelevant.
"I mean this in the most respectful manner possible," I drew out, "But I fail to see how poorly disguised flirting with Matthew Valentine is pertinent to today's lesson."
The substitute teacher's cheeks flushed red. Matthew Valentine laughed lowly behind me. I had only confirmed his probable suspicions that this middle aged woman was trying to make a pass at him. "Aaron Blare." She hissed, "How dare you make such an accusation. I have half a mind to send you to the principal's office for that smart mouth."
We had yet to divulge into the fifth chapter of the novel we were reading, and our class was already behind due to our regular teacher's ineptitude. All I wanted was to get started, and Ms. Ugly Glasses was making me very impatient. "Feel free to send me to the principal's office." I said, keeping my tone even despite my growing irritation. "But keep in mind that you are not the first replacement teacher to succumb to Matthew Valentine's cheap charm, and that I am the last person known to be causing a hassle in class."
Matthew Valentine growled under his breath behind me. I had insulted him, and it was a well-known fact that he did not take kindly to anything except flattery. The woman before me huffed angrily.
"Both of you, then." She decided. "To the principal's office." I raised an eyebrow. No one had tried that one yet. Perhaps I had underestimated Ms. Bernard, or was it Ms. Burk-
"Ms. Bennett," Matthew Valentine spoke in a smooth tone that had a visible effect on the substitute teacher. "Aaron Blare is telling you blatant lies. I do not see why I should be sent to the principal's office, I have neither insulted you, nor disrupted the class."
I rolled my eyes. Was it so much to ask that we merely move on and begin reading the fifth chapter? Unlike the rest of the class that was going to read about the chapter on Spark Notes, I desired an in depth class discussion as well as an annotation period, as was a promise made by any competent teacher. And clearly Ms. Bennett was anything but competent.
"Irrelevant." Ms. Bennett decided, surprising both of us with her change in tactic. "The two of you have prevented the rest of the class from beginning their work. So, off to the principal's office."
I remained seated out of sheer stubbornness. To my genuine astonishment, Matthew Valentine rose without complaint, running a hand through dark hair before pushing in his chair.
"Come on, Aaron." He addressed me coldly. "Wouldn't want to disappoint Ms. Bennett, would we?"
Ms. Bennett smiled approvingly, too dimwitted to catch Valentine's clear jab at her lack of aptitude. I kept my appearance stoic as I rose to follow him.
As soon as the door shut behind us, the insulting began.
"Can you ever calm your temper?" Valentine growled threateningly. "You deserve whatever Mr. Peterson gives you."
I scoffed. "Mr. Peterson will never assign me a detention or any punishment, Valentine." I blew a strand of hair out of my eyes. "Just because you're the son of a powerful man and abuse this authority to get out of detentions does not mean that you are the only one immune to them. Some people are actually dedicated students and earn a title through real and consistent work. Mr. Peterson will point the finger at you before he will ever point it at me."
"In your dreams, Blare." He spat back, "I did nothing wrong back in that classroom and you know it."
Dark green eyes briefly met mine. I did not dignify him with a response.
"You should admit that you're wrong." He persisted, voice low and intimidating.
I wasn't fooled. "I will." I said, "When I am wrong."
We reached the principal's office, but neither of us made a move to go inside.
"You're too stubborn for your own good, Blare." He said.
"And you're too arrogant for your own good." I retorted, "Was hitting on Ms. Bennett entirely necessary?"
Valentine smirked. "I'm sorry you're jealous that my charm isn't directed at you." I opened my mouth to tell him off, but he ignored my irritation. "I merely gave Ms. Bennett the eyes she wanted to see."
"So you were hitting on her." I clarified.
"Jealousy doesn't look so good on you, Blare." Valentine remarked, "The stick up your ass look is so natural to you that any other look doesn't quite fit."
I was seething. "Valentine I swear-"
Before I could scream any expletives in Valentine's direction however, the principal's office door opened, and none other than Mr. Peterson was staring over at us, impatience gracing his features.
"Evidently waiting for the two of you to walk in of your own accord before the end of first period was hoping for too much." Mr. Peterson stated, swinging the door open the full way and motioning for the two of us to walk in.
I sullenly collapsed into a chair across from Mr. Peterson; irritated that Valentine had been able to get the last full sentence into the argument. I could lose any fight without feeling bruised as long as I got the last word in. So bruised was exactly how I felt as I peered over at Mr. Peterson, who was in the process of sighing deeply as Valentine sat down beside me.
"Ms. Bennett sent you here?" He asked simply.
"Yes, sir." I said. Valentine nodded.
"What was her reasoning for sending you here?"
"It was a misunderstanding." I explained, at the same moment that Valentine said, "There was simply some confusion."
Mr. Peterson sighed again. "There is no reason for either of you to be here. You are both moderately well behaved students."
He said moderately because I was known to run my mouth off like an idiot, and Valentine was known to do whatever the hell he wanted without worrying about consequences.
"I'm going to take your word for it." He continued, "However, I hope the two of you can learn to get along."
"Right." We chorused sarcastically. Dark green eyes met mine again, amused. I looked away.
"Thank you, that was all I needed." Mr. Peterson said. "Matthew, if I could speak to Aaron alone now, that would be fantastic."
I frowned, but waited for Valentine to leave. He pulled his chair back and looked towards Mr. Peterson, "Sorry for the inconvenience, sir."
He always knew what to say to make the right people take his side. If only he could act this cordially towards everyone else.
"Aaron, I have asked you to stay out of concern for your brother." Mr. Peterson said after the door shut behind Valentine. Of course he was concerned about my brother. Seemed like everyone in the whole damn world was concerned about him. Everyone except the person that mattered most, that is, his mother.
"We have made many an unsuccessful attempt to get in contact with your mother about the situation." Mr. Peterson continued delicately. I was having a hard time listening to the same spiel I had heard from Mr. Peterson countless times already, especially now, when my mood was still edgy after my encounter with Valentine. I thought warily of having to read the fifth chapter of the novel at home tonight, alone.
Mr. Peterson was clearly feeling uncomfortable due to my lack of response. I knew what he wanted to hear. He wanted to hear me feed him some bullshit excuse about my brother's below par behavior and attendance in school. He wanted me to feed him an equally false statement about my mother's hectic work schedule causing her to be unavailable a large percentage of the time.
But I was not one to beat around the bush and tell blatant lies, as Matthew Valentine had earlier accused me of. My brother's attendance left room to be desired because Chris would much prefer to be burning or snorting substances rather than sitting in a classroom. God forbid that Chris Blare was forced into a classroom; his behavior would reflect his foul mood. As for our mother, she wasoverwhelmed by a hectic work schedule. However, this schedule did not prevent her from visiting the principal or meeting with Chris's teachers. She merely opted not to visit them. She would far prefer to knock back a bottle of strong liquor than talk to a teacher that didn't particularly care for her son.
Yes, I was the only one in my family that strayed away from substances of any kind. It didn't take a genius to see that Blare blood was easily succumbed to addiction.
"I apologize that Chris's behavior isn't ideal." I finally said. "And I also apologize that there has been difficulty when attempting to contact my mother…" I trailed off, knowing that no matter what I said next, it would not please Mr. Peterson.
"No need to apologize, Aaron." Mr. Peterson consoled me, "None of this is your fault."
Of course it wasn't. "Well, I will do my best to find Chris and talk to him." I offered lamely, pushing my chair back and rising. Mr. Peterson could not force me to stay.
"Thank you, Ms. Blare." He said, as I swung the door shut behind me.
My mood left room for improvement. The morning had not run smoothly. And if there was anything I despised, it was having to deal with Matthew Valentine. The boy acted as though he should be placed upon a pedestal and worshipped; and seemingly all of his peers at our school, along with the majority of his adult acquaintances agreed. Through their eyes, Matthew Valentine could do no wrong.
I had known him my own fair share of time, and I was confident with my views of him. He held an arrogance rivaled by few, if not none, and a cold demeanor that many found mysterious and alluring. I found his cold demeanor frustrating and unnecessary. The boy had the picture perfect family, an abundance of wealth, and the entire school's adoration. His icy attitude was completely unwarranted.
I sighed as I leaned against the wall outside the main office of the school. The hallways were stone silent, classes in session, and the few that chose to cut class well hidden. I thought warily of Chris. Despite being two years my senior, he was in the same grade as me. If he continued with his lack of effort, his little sister might graduate before him.
I no longer possessed any desire to return to class. My patience with Valentine had run out, and the thought of having to sit in front of him while Ms. Bennett did disgusting things to him in her mind was more than reason enough not to go back.
My feet carried me automatically away from Mr. Peterson's office and towards the back exit of the school. Regardless of my geeky persona, I felt no guilt whatsoever as I slipped out the back door and stalked towards the small array of trees across the parking lot. Not five meters into the undersized forest, the sent I had been anticipating caught my attention.
I was about to call Chris out for being alarmingly predictable, when I noticed a second figure standing beside him. I scowled as I took in Matthew Valentine's tall, lean shape and dark messy hair. Standing with his hands shoved lazily in his pockets, I could hear his low voice more clearly than Chris's.
"Peterson was definitely trying to complain about you to your sister when I left." He was saying, as Chris continued to take slow drags from the joint he held in between two fingers.
Bloodshot and unfocused eyes met mine. "Looks like he was unsuccessful."
Green eyes were suddenly bearing into mine. His usually unreadable expression was now portraying surprise.
"Sorry if I startled you." I told Valentine unconvincingly. I turned to Chris. "He was right, though. Peterson's running out of reasons to back you up."
"Stay out of what doesn't concern you." Chris snapped rather harshly in my direction. I did not let my shock or offense slip into my features, keeping a steely gaze in his direction. "The next time Peterson tries to complain about me to you, you damn well tell him to bother someone that can actually make a difference."
Again, I attempted to disguise how his words stung. "I'm sorry." I stammered, frustrated when my aura of indifference slipped. It was no better that I could feel Valentine's gaze upon us. "Don't you have places to be?" I growled in his direction, taking out my irritation on him.
"We got kicked out of class." Valentine replied coldly. "Really Blare, I would have imagined for such a book smart student, you would have been able to put two and two together."
Chris wasn't an overprotective brother. He simply took another toke from his joint as though Matthew Valentine hadn't just insulted his sister right to her face.
"What on earth could she have possibly done to get kicked out of class?" Was Chris's delayed reply.
"I didn't do-" I began to defend myself, but Valentine cut me off.
"Your sister was jealous that the substitute teacher was taking a liking to me rather than her, and was openly rude." He drew out arrogantly.
Chris laughed a throaty laugh that was only apparent when his complete consciousness was absent. It didn't take much to guess that he had likely burned through more than what I had witnessed.
"You need to stop getting so worked up over everything." Chris addressed me after a pause. "If you ever want to unwind with me, you know I have the means."
Of course I knew his means of unwinding. Chris was never wound up in the first place. Not while there was a Ziploc baggie undoubtedly containing his favorite substance in his pocket.
"I'll pass." I said dryly.
"Like I said." Valentine muttered, "Stick shoved up your ass."
My ears burned in fury and frustration. Not only was Valentine being unnecessarily crude, but he was also baiting me by insulting me in front of my brother. He knew as well as I did that Chris wouldn't defend me.
I contemplated ignoring him.
But ignoring Matthew Valentine was never going to be easy, as I was going to learn.
The hard way.
New footsteps caught our attention. Mr. Peterson had reappeared and his patience seemed to have run out.
"Christopher Blare, you had better hope that there is nothing in your pockets to confirm my suspicion of what that smell may be."
I took a step backwards so that I was almost leaning against Chris. Moments later, I felt something slip into my back pocket. I didn't have to guess to know what it was.
"Matthew and Aaron, please return to class. I don't want to have to deal with you one more time today." Mr. Peterson sighed, beginning to walk back towards the school, Chris following him reluctantly.
After their departure, I was left alone with Valentine.
"Don't leave it in your locker." He muttered tightly before disappearing once more.
I touched the bag in my pocket.
I wasn't going to.