“Hi, I’m Faith Watters.”
Those are the first words I speak to the new Cuban guy in the front office. He grimaces. He’ll be a tough one. I can handle it, though. He’s not the first.
I can’t help but notice that he looks a lot like a model from the neck up—eyes the color of oak, strong bone structure. Everywhere else, he looks a lot like a criminal. Chiseled, scarred body … I wonder for a second about the meaning behind the tattoos scratched into his arms.
One thing’s clear. He’s dangerous.
And he’s beautiful.
“I’ll show you to your classes,” I announce.
I’m one of the peer helpers at our school. It’s not my favorite thing to do, but it counts as a class. Basically I spend the first two days with new students, introducing them around and answering their questions. Some parents with kids new to the school voluntarily sign their students up, but it’s only mandatory for the international students, of which we have a lot. Mostly Latinos.
This Cuban guy towers over me. I’m five six. Not tall. Not short. Just average. Average is good.
This guy’s not average. Not even a little bit. He must be over six feet.
I glance up at him, kind of like I do when I’m searching for the moon in a sea of darkness.
“Looks like you have math first. I’ll walk you there,” I offer.
“No thanks, chica. I can handle it.”
“It’s no problem,” I say, leading the way.
He tries to snatch his schedule from my hands, but I move too fast.
“Why don’t we start with your name?” I suggest.
I already know his name. Plus some. Diego Alvarez. Eighteen years old. Moved from Cuba two weeks ago. Only child. No previous school records. I read it in his bio. I want to hear him say it.
“You got some kinda control issues or somethin’?” he asks harshly, voice slightly accented.
“You got some kind of social issues or somethin’?” I fire back, holding my stance. I won’t let him intimidate me, though I’ll admit, he’s hot. Too bad he has a nasty attitude.
The side of his lip twitches. “No. I just don’t mix with your type,” he answers.
“That’s what I said.”
“You don’t even know my type.” No one does. Well, except Melissa.
He chuckles humorlessly. “Sure I do. Head cheerleader? Date the football player? Daddy’s little girl who gets everything she wants?” He leans closer to whisper. “Probably a virgin.”
My cheeks burn hot. “I’m not a cheerleader,” I say through clamped teeth.
“Whatever,” he says. “Are you gonna give me my schedule or not?”
“Not,” I answer. “But you can feel free to follow me to your first class.”
He steps in front of me, intimately close. “Listen, chica, nobody tells me what to do.”
I shrug. “Fine, suit yourself. It’s your life. But if you want to attend this school, it’s mandatory for me to show you to your classes for two days.”
His eyes narrow. “Who says I want to attend this school?”
I take the last step toward him, closing the gap between us. When we were little, Melissa and I used to collect glass bottles. Whenever we accumulated twenty, we’d break them on the concrete. When the glass shattered, the slivered pieces made a breathtaking prism of light.
I cut myself on the glass by accident once. It was painful, but worth it. The beauty was worth it. It’s funny how the bottle was never as beautiful as when it was broken.
You will not shatter me, I silently tell Diego. Somebody already did.
“If you don’t want to be here, then don’t come back,” I say.
A taunting smile spreads across his face. My first thought is that he has nice teeth, but then I scold myself for thinking about him like that.
“My name is Diego,” he says, like he’s letting me in on some kind of secret.
“Well, Diego,” I say, “better hurry. Class starts in two minutes.” I step around him to lead the way.
While we walk to math, I feel Diego’s eyes on me. I don’t know what it is about him. All the other confident students had nothing on me, and I swear I’ve heard it all, but he seems different. He shines. In a dark way. When he looks at me, I get a tingly sensation, like I’m being zapped by electricity.
It doesn’t matter. He’s rude. And besides, I have a wonderful boyfriend. Jason. Think about Jason.
“Quit staring at me,” I say, glancing at him.
He laughs, and strands of black hair fall into his eyes. I imagine it’s a little like looking at the world through charred silk.
“Why? Does it make you uncomfortable?”
He’s messing with me to get under my skin, like a pesky little splinter.
“Yes,” I answer.
In his white shirt, Diego’s skin is dark. Perpetually tanned by heritage.
I keep Diego’s schedule out of his reach. He inches closer, no doubt to grab it and run. I try to concentrate on the newly painted beige walls and tiled floors. Every few feet hangs a plaque about achievement or school clubs or tutoring programs.
When we come to the door, Diego rests an arm on the wall and leans toward me.
“I have a proposition for you,” he says in a sultry voice.
It’s hard to seem unaffected.
“I don’t do propositions,” I say dismissively.
He grins, his mouth arching up like the curl of a wave.
“But you haven’t even heard me out,” he says.
“Don’t need to.”
He ignores my comment. “What do you say we forget about this thing where I follow you around like a little dog? And when the guidance counselor asks, I will say you were superlative.”
“Big word,” I mumble. This guy did not do well on his entry exams, but he says things like superlative? What’s with that?
He glares at me; I sigh.
“You know, it wouldn’t kill you to drop the tough-guy act for two days. You’ll be rid of me soon.”
I turn to leave but Diego grabs my arm gently. My breath catches.
“It’s not an act,” he says, jaw hard.
I wave him away nonchalantly, like his touch didn’t just do all kinds of crazy things to my body—things that make me want to forget about the warning blaring in my mind.
I need to stay away from him.
I need to forget him.
Will you touch me again please?
I walk away. He watches me go.
“By the way,” I say as I flick a look over my shoulder at his hardened face, “I see right through you.”