Chapter Sixteen: Vulnerable

August 8th, 2012

Blue eyes fluttered open as Scarlet stirred. Snuggled up to his side with an arm laying across his stomach, she could feel Kai's breathing. She drew in a breath, filling her nose with the scent of him. The alarm he'd set on his phone had him shifting.

In the shadowed room, the blond watched his face as he came to. His eyes cracked open and he groaned. She felt his muscles tense as he was about to get up to turn the noise off when he froze. His gaze flicked down to her arm and followed it up to her face. Their eyes met and he smiled before dropping his head back down to the pillow.

"G'morning," he muttered.

"Good morning." She shot a glare towards his phone on the desk. "Do you think they'll notice if we just skip the whole day?"

He frowned at that and looked back down at her. "Are you sick?"

She looked back up at him. "I don't think so."

"The dedicated student wants to skip. Must be a sign of the apocalypse." He rubbed at his eyes with his left hand. "Alright, you have to get off my arm. If I don't shut that thing up, it's going to drive me crazy."

She rolled away from him onto her back and let him slide his right arm free. He pulled himself up to a sitting position. Putting his hands up over his head, he stretched. A wince interrupted and he rubbed at his stomach before sliding off the bed and making his way around to the desk. He plucked his phone from its cold surface and it went silent in his hands. Setting it back down he looked back to Scarlet.

A mischievous grin slid onto his lips. "I could get used to seeing you in my bed."

"Oh, really." She smiled. "I'll have to do it more often then."

He knelt next to her side of the bed and clasped her hand in his. "I just wish it wasn't after such a rough night." He skimmed a finger over the new hand-shaped bruises on her arm.

"How's your stomach?" She rolled onto her side to face him.

"It's probably turned purple and gross." He shrugged a shoulder. "I'm going to take a shower." The brunet stood and leaned forward to leave a kiss on her cheek, then disappeared into his closet.

When she finally pulled herself out of bed, Scarlet dressed in her uniform. Unlike most days, she decided to include the optional blazer to hide the bruises. She pulled her phone out, hoping for news about Pete. Nothing.

The walk to her first class was quiet. An unease settled into her stomach as she passed through the halls. Perhaps it should have been a comfort, but the suddenness was jarring. Not a single person uttered even the faintest of slurs as she passed. Kai must have noticed as well because she caught him giving people suspicious glances as he led her to her first class.

Sitting through Mr. Satu's droning lecture in Economics was torture for her. Her knees bounced with impatience from beginning to end. She couldn't wait for the school day to end so she could go to the hospital.

Before she'd been allowed to leave campus the day before, she'd had to have Mrs. Alcott call the school for permission to leave the grounds on a weekday. Her adoptive mother seemed to know how important it was to the blond and had gone ahead and granted permission for the remainder of the week. Scarlet was grateful for it. She just had to make it through her classes.

As she entered Mr. Clyde's classroom, she checked her phone again. Still nothing. Releasing a growl of frustration, she looked up from the screen to see Liz sitting on the desk right behind the blond's chair. Hayden's desk. "I know you hate them, but rather than get in a fight with your dad over whether or not you're coming, you could save yourself the hassle and be my date," the red head was saying.

"Except he's not the one that keeps bringing it up." The dark-haired boy let out a sigh. "I loathe monkey suits."

"But if you don't wear the suit, I don't get to strip you out of it at the end of the night," Liz purred.

Scarlet stood awkwardly at the front of the row, not wanting to be any closer to them than necessary. She tried to keep her eyes elsewhere.

"Are you trying to tempt me?" He raised an eyebrow.

"That depends, is it working?" The red head smirked.

His eyes swept the room and landed on the blond. A frown formed on his lips as he looked at her jacket.

"Hello?" Liz crossed her arms then turned to see what he was staring at. "Oh, hi, Rosie."

"That's still not my name." The blond gave a tight smile.

"And I still don't care." Mint green eyes rolled. "Are you coming to the charity ball on Saturday?"

"The what?"

"My God, what did Sylvia see in you?" Liz looked away, disgusted.

"The Red Tulip Society has organized another charity party. Mrs. Alcott is hosting. I'm surprised she didn't tell you," Hayden said.

"Oh, then, yes, I'm going. She likes for me to attend as many events as possible."

"Apparently not if she didn't even tell you about it." It seemed as if the red head couldn't resist taking a jab.

"To be fair, our conversations have mostly been about me visiting the hospit—" she stopped, realizing she didn't want to share her personal problems, especially with Liz.

"Hospital?" Hayden sat up, and his eyes seemed to bore into her.

Flustered, the blond looked away. "Yeah." She took a breath to steel her nerves. "My foster brother was in an accident yesterday."

There it was. She felt exposed, too open and vulnerable. She'd shared more than she'd ever planned to. Watching Hayden's expression, she saw him work out the puzzle pieces. His eyebrows shot up and she knew he'd figured out that she was adopted. He glanced at the floor in contemplation, then met her gaze again.

Before he had the chance to speak, Mr. Clyde entered the classroom. "If you aren't here for class, please find your way out. Those who are supposed to be here at this time may take their seats." Liz slid off the desk and turned to Hayden. Without even a hint of shame, she leaned down for a kiss. He let her steal his attention and returned the kiss.

Scarlet shifted on her feet and diverted her attention to the board where Mr. Clyde stood. If possible, he seemed even less comfortable than her.

"Ew." Hearing Noah's voice, she turned to the door. He and Sophia had never looked more like siblings than right then. Both of them had scrunched up their faces at the sight of Liz.

"Jealous, Alex?" Blair said as she entered the room. She moved to stand at his left and reached out. "I can help with that." She walked her fingers up his arm.

His body jumped at the contact, muscles tense. Balling his fists at his sides, his teal eyes narrowed at her. Irritation vibrated through the mountain of a man. Next to him, Blair looked like she was made of glass. How she had the courage to keep going, Scarlet didn't know, but a smirk appeared on the brunette's lips.

From Noah's right side, Sophia grabbed his wrist and pulled him towards her and away from Blair.

"Have something to say?" Blair's brown eyes shot daggers at Sophia.

Scarlet felt a prickle on her skin, fear creeping in. She took a step forward in defense of her friend. With the conversation taking such an aggressive tone, the blond spared a glance to Mr. Clyde. He'd turned his back to them. She could only assume that was deliberate. However, his knuckles were turning white from how hard he was gripping the dry erase marker. Why doesn't he do something?

Liz, having heard the change in her own friend's tone, slid off the desk and started towards them. Hayden caught her wrist making her give him a stern look. "They are not immune."

"Immune or not, he doesn't owe Blair a damn thing," the black-haired boy said. "She made sure of that when she dropped him like a rock last year."

This was a poor choice of words. "If that's true, I don't owe you a damn thing either, Hayden."

Like a child with their hand in a fireplace, he recoiled away from her.

"This is hilarious." Blair's glare was fixed on Liz now. "So, kind of you to come to my defense now. Where was this yesterday when your idiot goons were beating up my brother? He has a bruise now because of you."

"I didn't tell those idiots to do that." The red head tried to defend herself. "And if your brother had just stuck to the plan, he wouldn't be in the middle of this mess."

"Don't you dare try to turn this on him." Blair's face was red now. "He should have been immune from the start."

"I didn't—I'm—Can we talk about this later?" Liz managed. To see her waiver was such a rare thing. Most of the time she exuded confidence and absolute control. Now her arms were drawn into her torso, as if to shield herself.

The bell rang, cutting the tension in the air to shreds. "Fine, I can't wait to see how you plan to make this up to me." Blair marched forward, brushing past Liz to take her seat in the back row.

The red head looked as if she had more to say but didn't. Instead, she walked out the door. The usual swing of her hips was gone, leaving her looking stiff as she exited.

Mr. Clyde finally turned around and raised an eyebrow at Noah, who took a deep breath then went to his own seat, followed by Sophia. They were on the far end of the classroom from Scarlet, so even after they'd realized they had a class together, they didn't get to socialize in it much.

Sparing a glance at Hayden, the blond went to her own seat. His eyes were fixed on the top of his desk with a crease between his brows. When the class settled, Mr. Clyde began his lecture as if nothing had happened.

A few minutes in, Scarlet felt a warmth on the back of her shoulder just as Hayden whispered, "How's your brother?"

Her heart squeezed. In all that mess, he hadn't forgotten what she'd said about Pete being in the hospital. "He's stable. They think he's going to make a full recovery. Hard to tell right now though."

"I hope they are right." He leaned back in his seat and they both focused back on the class.

Scarlet made her way through the hospital to Pete's room. She hadn't heard anything all day. Mere feet away from the door, she heard laughter. With tears welling up in her eyes, she stepped into the room.

His smiling face turned to her. "Scarlet!"

"Pete?" Relief crashed down on her. And in the moment, she was grateful. Both to the universe for her brother's health, but also to herself. She'd nearly cut last night. An act that would have brought so much shame with her that she would have spent this moment wracked with guilt rather than relieved.

Luke, who had been standing beside the bed, moved so that the blond could take Pete's hand.

"They said you were here yesterday." He squeezed her fingers. "Oh, you're crying."

She wiped away at the tears with her free hand. "If you ever worry me like this again, you'll be in big trouble."

"Oh no, can't have that."

"Don't worry, Scar. I'll keep him in line," Luke said.

"Where are Judy and Adam?" the blond asked, looking around the room.

"They went down to the cafeteria. They'll be back up in a little bit." Standing as close as he was, Luke's arm brushed hers. He felt warm, familiar, and comforting.

"How long have you been up?"

This question made his brow furrow. "I don't know. I can't keep up right now." He looked at the tube leading to a pouch that was dripping pain medication into his system. "Stuff makes my head fuzzy, but it sure as hell beats the alternative. I regretted waking up at first. It hurt like a bitch. I must be pretty badly busted up."

Scarlet stifled a laugh at him cussing. He usually only did that when he was mad. He was supposed to be the good child.

"It's been just over an hour. He was moaning in pain, so they upped his dosage." Luke smirked. "If you ask me, he was just being a pussy."

"Hey! I was hit by a pickup! I'm entitled to some whining."

"Yeah, yeah, excuses."

The two best friends laughed, and the sound reminded Scarlet of home.

Chapter End

The last chapter of the year. I hope everyone had a good holiday and I wish you all a Happy New Year!

A special thanks to kyhoney3 for the favorite and the follow. Much appreciated.