“OKAY! I can’t take it anymore.” The cute blond boy slammed his textbook shut for effect.
Faith looked up surprised and smiled.
Christian adjusted his position against the tree. “No more studying, Faith.” He began stuffing his books into his backpack. “Besides, it’s too much of a nice day.”
Faith followed his gaze around the school yard. Saint Ignatius Catholic School sat on a small grassy hill overlooking Main Street. It was a private institution with strict ethics and rules, followed, in few cases and reluctantly so, by the boys and girls from eighth to twelfth grade. Fir trees, oaks, red maples, and professionally landscaped bushes surrounded the red brick exterior, adding to its splendor.
As the New England sun kissed the late summer afternoon, enticing the lunchtime crowd to venture out in their usual cliquey clusters, Faith inhaled a deep breath. The smell of lilies, roses, and sunshine filled her senses, and she felt a happiness she had never experienced before. She packed her own book into her bag and wondered if her inner joy was a product of the beautiful day or the handsome boy sitting beside her. No contest, she concluded.
“You’ll get it.” Faith dipped her head to the side and stole glances at him.
He shoved his last bite of sandwich into his mouth and looked at his phone. Then he stood up and she rushed to her feet also, dusting grass off the back of her school approved navy skirt.
“I have to go,” he said absently. “We have an early practice.” He slung his bag over his shoulder, ran his right hand through his short, dirty blond hair, and looked at her with a wide grin.
The expression made her giggle. But it was a response she immediately regretted, for its lack of sophistication. So she stopped it quickly, and offered instead, a short cough.
“Thanks for your help. I’m sorry I’m such a dope when it comes to this.”
“Christian, you’re getting better,” she said. “You’re getting it. Really!” They stood facing each other now and she wondered how her complexion was behaving at that particular moment, and whether she had any carrot stick remnants stuck in her teeth. She sucked on them discreetly, just in case.
“Well, I’ll trust your judgment, since you’re the Chem. expert.”
“I’m not sure I’d call myself an expert. But so far, I understand what’s going on in class.”
“That’s good enough for me. I can’t afford to be kicked off this team. At least, that’s what my dad likes to keep reminding me.”
She searched her thoughts for something funny or smart to say to him. But she was left speechless. She’d lost him to his phone now, anyway.
He was sending a text message to someone, clearly oblivious of her existence.
“Hey, Christian,” a voice spoke from behind Faith.
When she turned, she watched a tall, dark-haired girl with a tight ponytail and glossy, crimson lips sidle up to him with two other girls close behind.
One had curly blond hair and was chewing her gum with her mouth open. The other girl had bright red hair and was lost in her own phone, tapping away with pink bedazzled finger nails. All three girls wore their school skirts shorter than the mandated knee-length, and Faith watched as the blond girl moved in closer to Christian.
“What’s up, girls?” Christian looked up from his phone.
“You guys having a study date?” The blond girl snapped her gum and threw Faith a thin smile. Faith looked down. “You going to introduce us?”
“Ladies, this is my Chemistry tutor, Faith.” Christian gestured to her with a nod while still texting on his phone. “Faith, these are my…friends, Maria, Carla, and Jules.”
“Hey,” Maria with the ponytail said.
“Charmed.” Carla, the blond girl tossed her hair and looking away briefly.
The redhead on the phone just looked up quickly and smiled.
Faith greeted each girl with a smile and a nod, but she was more interested in watching Carla close the gap between herself and Christian.
The girl brushed an invisible strand of hair from her forehead and turned her body from side to side as she watched him tap on his phone. Then she cleared her throat. “Christian, can we talk?” she asked in a lower voice.
Faith noticed the other two girls look at each other and then Maria rolled her eyes.
“Omg, Carla, really?”
“What?” The girl glared back at her friend.
“Actually, I have to go.” Christian quickly glanced up at Carla and the girls.
“Another time, then.” Maria grabbed a protesting Carla by the shoulder, and dragged her along with them. “Why you gotta embarrass us all the time,” Faith heard Maria say as they walked off.
Carla pulled her arm from her friend’s grip.
Faith said nothing as she waited. Christian’s phone buzzed and he looked at it again, and then to her disbelief, he turned and slowly walked away with his head down and fingers still tapping.
“Well, I guess I’ll see you tomorrow, then,” Faith said half-heartedly. She picked up her bag and was about to walk away, but then paused when she saw him stop and turn back to her.
His face was blank for a few seconds, and then realization flashed over his expression. “Oh, right,” he said, adding, “sorry,” while lifting his phone and shrugging. He walked toward her, pushing his phone into his back pocket. “Thanks again.”
“My pleasure,” she said.
“Yeah?” He raised his eyebrows and offered her a crooked smile.
She loved that smile, with its puckish curve at the corner that hid many a secret, she was sure. And she loved the way his soft brown eyes just seemed to beckon her. He stepped closer to her, invading her personal space. She didn’t mind. She just hoped that he couldn’t see through her cool façade.
He shoved his palms into his khaki pant pockets, “You mean that?”
“I don’t know.” Her face flushed, suddenly unsure.
“You’re sweet. Same time, same tree, next week?”
“I look forward to it.” He reached his right hand to her hair and tucked a blond strand behind her ear.
She didn’t step back like she had the first time he made that move. She was accustomed to it now, and so she just smiled, because the touch of his hand had that effect on her.
She watched him walk away, just as a voice called her name.
“Faith!” She turned and waited for her friend, Nina, to reach her. “Where were you?”
“I had lunch out here today,” Faith said. “It’s a beautiful day.” Nina looked around her, confirming her friend’s observation.
“You should have told us. Tate and I would have come out and eaten with you.”
“Well, it was kind of a study lunch. I’m tutoring a friend in Chemistry.”
“Oh, okay…hey, are you wearing makeup?” Faith saw Nina’s forehead crinkle with curiosity.
“Just a bit. Covering some zits. We better get going.” She started walking away.
“You have zits on your lips?” Nina rushed to catch up with her friend.
THE CROWD ERUPTED, sending the packed bleachers on the left side of the small school gym into complete pandemonium. The sound of cheers and heckling filled the space.
Christian aimed a front punch to the chest of his opponent. In perfect timing, the short, stocky boy lowered his left arm to shove the threat down, while at the same instant, he turned his body and threw a fast roundhouse kick that connected to Christian’s right side.
“Aahhh!” Christian yelled out to no one in particular. He stomped with one foot and then he saw his opponent’s look of feigned sadness. Christian walked back to his starting point, trying but failing desperately to ignore the feeling of anger rising quickly in his chest. He pretended he didn’t see his coach’s flaying arms and yells of, “Stay focused, Slade.” He turned his back on his opponent and took a knee, allowing himself a moment to adjust his sash and determine his next move. Then he stood and faced him.
Both boys were poised in fighting positions. They each needed one more point to win.
“Begin,” yelled the chief judge.
The boy came at Christian. Both gloved hands sardonically beckoned him as he swayed from left to right.
Christian’s cheeks burned. He looked into the gleaming eyes that taunted him and then he stepped in also. His opponent rushed at him and there was something about his look that made Christian want to punch him in the face.
His coach had warned him against such a reaction in past episodes of complete abandon, when the rage had built to such an extreme that nothing else seemed to suffice, but the teaching of a brutal lesson. Regardless, he chose to ignore his coach, and instead fulfill his immediate desire by releasing a solid blow square into the offending face.
END OF CHAPTER 1
Freeing Tanner Rose is available at Amazon.com Or ask for it at your local or online bookstore!