When I finally finished eating and downing a sugary coffee, I walked outside with a plate of toast and eggs and bacon to my uncle, who was sitting on his usual chair, his feet up on the rail of the porch. He was a lean, sharpish man of probably thirty-three or thirty-four, with dark hair and a beard that attacked his jaw with a vengeance. Keen blue eyes met mine as I dropped my bag by the door and handed him his food. He grinned his thanks at me and took another draw at his pipe. My uncle, being a writer, needed some kind of outlet for his stress, and smoking a pipe seemed to be the way in which he took care of that. It wasn't a very common habit now by any standards, but it suited him perfectly. You could've mistaken him for a rich gentleman of leisure from the late 1800s if you weren't careful.
"Thanks, Todd. Sleep well?"
I shrugged in the way of a reply.
"Not bad, eh?" He grinned and glanced out over the sea. "Looking forwards to school?"
I rolled my eyes, and scooped up my bag. He knew that I didn't like it much.
"Well, don't be all huffy about it. Get there, get it done, come back. I've got a plan for tonight."
That made me look up at him. My uncle didn't often had plans outside of his usual routine.
He saw my question and grinned. "All in good time. I'll see you tonight."
I rested a hand on his shoulder for a second, digging my fingers in, just like I always did. I wasn't much of a hugger - never had been - but that simple gesture was enough for my uncle. He knew me better than anyone. He could read my words on my mouth even if I had no voice to accompany them. Not that I normally did, though. Not around him, if I could help it. It just never felt right.
I followed the road that snaked past the back of our house, my sneakers crackling on the loose pieces of asphalt. It was a good ten minutes' hike into town, and from there, a further five to Flagstaff High, the breezy centre for the youth of the town. I grimaced as I strode along the side of the road. Society at school was extremely predictable - there were the jocks, the genius-level intellects and the beautiful people. It was that simple - everyone stuck to their group, with the occasional relationship that involved a few friends switching back and forth. It was almost like politics, really. The funniest thing was, I could've fit easily into two of the classes - my grades were as high as the intellectuals, and I had plenty of experience in boxing and wrestling, which would have helped me fit into the jocks. Problem was, of course, my lack of voice.
Not being able to talk set up barriers around everything.
I heard a car, and glanced behind me.
A sleek BMW sports model, lowered and done up with a body kit, slowed beside me. I glanced at the driver, and a familiar curtain of brown hair suddenly made the entire car make sense. Millie. I slowed, and she matched my speed, keeping the windows in perfect sync with me. I waved, and she grinned, nodding at the door.
"Want a lift?"
I remembered my thoughts last night and hesitated. The fact that the girl had a gun should have been enough to put me off. It should've scared me. It did, but not as much as I thought it would've. I grinned, and pulled the door open, sliding onto custom black leather seats with silver stitching. I couldn't hold it against Millie - she had a good taste in cars. This was an absolute monster compared to the rides that the jocks liked to show off in the school parking lots.
Thanks, I said in my silent way.
Millie grinned. "Not a problem. You can tell me how to get to school."
I pointed left as I settled back into the seat and clipped the seatbelt in.
She looked completely different this morning - dressed in black jeans, and a red sleeveless top that displayed a curling black tattoo attacking her entire upper arm. Her skin was tanned, and I was surprised at how lean she was. Not that she looked like a bodybuilder, but she obviously exercised a lot. The tattoo was a tribal-style rendition of a dragon, and Millie laughed at my stare.
I nodded. It suited her.
"Hey, sorry about last night. I didn't mean to run into you like that."
I shrugged. No need to apologize.
She smiled. "You know, Todd, you don't say much."
That made me grin. Bit hard.
Then she remembered.
"Oh, Jesus... I am so sorry..."
I tapped the dash to get her attention, and then made a negative gesture with my hand, telling her to drop it. I liked the fact that she treated me like I actually existed. As we finally arrived in Flagstaff, I gave her directions to the school. People stared at the car as we drove through the streets, and when we finally pulled into the parking lot of Flagstaff High, jaws dropped and I tried not to grin to myself.
Millie shook her head at the crowd gathered to watch her arrive, and looked at me.
"What should I know about this place?"
I shrugged. Plenty of people.
She caught what I'd said after a second.
"So you don't like it much?"
I'm not a big fan of people.
"Well, I hate being the new kid," Millie said, biting her lip. "OK... if anyone asks, we know each other from way back, OK? I'm like a long-lost childhood friend of yours."
I could see a staggering amount of flaws in this plan.
She saw my grimace and raised an eyebrow. "What?"
You DON'T know me, that's all.
"Better that than being a loner."
I AM a loner, I tried to tell her.
"Not anymore," she said, and stepped out of her car.
I followed suit, slinging my bag over my shoulder and trying to look inconspicuous as possible. I was practically a nonentity at school - I doubt that half of the people now staring from Millie to the car to me even knew what my name was. The only reason they were suddenly taking an interest in me was the BMW. And probably the gorgeous girl who was pulling her bag out of the back seat.
"Nice to see that they got a welcoming committee set up for us," Millie commented dryly.
I grinned at that. They're figuring out whether or not it's the car or you.
She didn't catch all of it, but she saw my smile and returned it.
Then we were surrounded by people, all of them commenting on the car, introducing themselves. Millie was incredibly cool about it, polite but not at all overtaken by the amount of praise headed her way. I tried to slip through the crowd towards the lockers, but someone caught hold of my arm, and I turned to see Millie, who kept her smile on as she walked through the swarm of teenagers beside me.
"Get me out of here," she said out of the corner of her mouth.
I grinned. You wish, my command.
Not that she could see what I was saying.
Finally, we got out of the swarm and found our way into the lockers. I was acutely aware of how close Millie was to me - she still had a tight grip on my arm - and as we drew closer to the lockers, she let go and shot me a grateful glance. I could still smell her cherry perfume, and my skin tingled where her warm fingers had been a moment before. I tried to banish the thoughts that suddenly came swimming to mind and turned to my locker, nodding down the hall.
That way, I told her.
Millie flashed me another quick grin and moved away, slipping through the teenagers that filtered their way towards the lockers. Time was short, and anytime now the bell was going to ring and herald the beginning of the day. The thought made me grimace. I could feel the effects of sleep deprivation already attacking me. I needed another coffee.
Math class was notoriously easy. I breezed my way through it half-asleep, and when recess finally came a-calling, I was the first out of the classroom and towards the cafeteria. The day's special? Home-made hotdogs, stuffed with fried onions, mustard and ketchup. I grinned at the cooking staff, paid them for three of the things and then took them to my usual nook, out of sight of most of the crowd, near the door so I could see who was coming in and who was going out. Gradually, the place filled up, and before long, Millie filed in, chatting away to a jock with a shaved head. I searched for his name for a moment, and then remembered that it was Travis.
He was a boxer.
I'd seen him training in the gym before. He was probably just half an inch over six feet, built heavily and knew his art pretty well. Although he'd let his size and his strength get to his head. I could see the reckless confidence in everything he did - the way he walked, the way he hit a training pad. Or, in this case, the way he was talking to Millie. She picked up her food and headed towards my table, Travis still in tow. The guy looked down at me and frowned, making his eyebrow piercing glint slightly in the light. I offered him a dry smile as I sipped at my latte and settled back into my seat a little more.
"You know this guy?" he asked Millie.
She smiled warmly at me. "Yep. We go waaayy back."
"How long are we talking?" Travis asked, pulling up a chair.
I frowned at that, but turned my attention back to my food.
"You remember, Todd?" Millie asked me.
My mind raced, and I shrugged, gesturing at both of us and then holding up ten fingers. About ten years? It was incredibly easy to lie when your voice wouldn't give you away. Not that Travis would have given me a second glance if the new girl hadn't decided to hang around me. I found the whole situation pretty funny, to be honest. Millie Higgins was making my life much more interesting.
"Yeah, about ten years," Millie told him. "Hey, do you have people to get back to? Todd and I have some catching up to do. It's been a while." She gave him a wave of dismissal.
Travis grinned. "Catch up? With this guy? Chrissake, he can't even talk!"
There was a pause.
My knife smashed into the table between his outstretched fingers, snapping the plastic blade with a resounding crack. Travis flinched backwards, his hands coming up, and I grinned at him. Millie stifled a laugh, and the jock glared daggers at me as he stood up. I held his gaze steadily. He finally broke away, and glanced at Millie.
"See you in gym class, gorgeous."
"Mmm," Millie said thoughtfully. "Maybe not."
Travis turned and walked away, leaving his friends staring at us. I held up my plastic knife for a moment before tossing it back to the table and just grinning to myself. Millie's delighted grin matched mine, and as I took another sip of my coffee, she shook her head as she attacked her hotdogs.
I shrugged. He had it coming.
"So, what have you been up to, bestie?" she asked, teasingly.
I held up my math textbook in the way of an answer, and then pulled my notepad from my pocket. I always carried it around in case I needed something desperately, but as I was generally able to take care of myself. I slipped my pen out of my sleeve, and then quickly wrote out my thoughts.
This is going to be a trick. To keep people believing all this.
Millie laughed at that. "I'm a good liar."
Me too. Probably better than you.
She raised an eyebrow at that.
I can't exactly hesitate in the middle of a sentence, I reminded her. Oh, and that guy who's chatting you up? He's the head boxing jock and he is NOT used to getting turned down. Thought you might want to know that. I paused a moment. Oh, and we've got double gym next. Think we're doing boxing. Just in case you're curious.