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My steps were intercepted when Tori and her followers stepped in front of me with their fake smiles. Well, crap. I cocked an eyebrow. As I was about to turn around, Tori placed her hand on my shoulder. “I just wanted to say sorry for yesterday. It was super immature of us to do that to your locker, so I’m sorry.”

My shields were up. I didn’t say a word.

“Plus, your haircut is totes adorbs,” one of Tori’s sidekicks said.

Silence fell. The three girls narrowed their eyes at me like I was an alien. What were they waiting for? Me to forgive them? Because that wasn’t going to happen.

“Okay, whatever. I just thought I would say sorry.” Tori looked over her shoulder and smiled at someone. When I turned to see Levi, I rolled my eyes. Of course this ‘heartfelt apology’ had something to do with Levi. The second he walked off, the three girls’ kindness faded away, too.

“You’re so fugly it’s almost embarrassing that you’re pregnant,” one of the girls said.

I assumed ‘fugly’ was the ‘popular’ word for fucking ugly.

“Did you wear a bag over your head when you let the guy all over you? You’re so pathetic.”

“It’s cute, really. How Levi sees you as a charity case. How he wanted to protect the little slutty freak’s feelings.”

They kept going. My fingers were digging into the palms of my hands, and I hadn’t a clue why they were so interested in me when less than twenty-four hours ago they hadn’t even known my name.

How can I go back in time to when they didn’t know my name?

Tears of outrage blurred my vision as I turned away from the girls and headed straight down the hallway.

“I don’t need you to fight my battles!” I said, marching toward Levi’s locker. He was switching out books for his next hour, and I sent them crashing to the ground. He didn’t break his stare from me. “Do you know how hard this is for me?! I don’t need you making it worse.”

My bottom lip was trembling as I fought the tears. Don’t cry. I felt like tears gave the person watching you a sort of power. I needed to hold onto as much power as I could nowadays. His eyes widened in shock. He stepped toward me. I moved back.

“Aria, I’m so sorry…” He reached out to touch my shoulder, but I flinched.

I took another step back. “I can’t believe I was going to apologize to you. You’re making it so easy for them to break me. Leave me alone, all right? Just…” The sadness in me deepened, my own self-doubt filling my mind with the words Tori and her friends had tossed my way. They were right. I was pathetic. “Please just leave me alone,” I whispered, feeling defeated.

9 Levi

She was beyond annoyed with me. I felt shitty about it, too. I wasn’t trying to stress her out more, but when Tori came up to me asking me to eat lunch with her and her friends, I thought it was a perfect chance to get them to apologize to Aria.

I didn’t know why I felt a pull toward her. She was emotionally shut off from the world, but every now and then she would give me a small smile that made me think she didn’t want to be so alone.

Plus, I still missed Alabama, and something about her uniqueness reminded me of home.

Our music class headed to Mr. Harper’s classroom with our instruments. I was half surprised to see Aria sitting at her desk. For some reason I figured she would’ve changed classes and moved to Florida to get away from me.

I slid into the desk next to her and pulled out my fact sheet from the day before.

“Sorry…” She scrunched up her nose and turned to face me. “Sorry for flipping out in the hallway, and for calling you a creep yesterday. I was embarrassed and hurt.”

“No offense, Aria, but I think I’m the one who is supposed to be apologizing.”

She disagreed. “My emotions are just all over the place.” Crossing her legs on her seat, she sat like a pretzel. “It’s like, I’m still me, but…different.”

“Different can be good.”

“No. Not this kind of different.” Aria’s voice shook as she tried to control it. “Anyway, we should probably fill out this sheet today.”

I didn’t oppose the idea. Honestly I was just happy she was even speaking to me. I learned quite a bit about her and her family. Her middle name was Lauren. She loved pizza of any kind. Her mom was a doctor and her dad was a plumber. Her favorite type of art was abstract (I thought abstract was weird). When she talked, she had a small dimple in her left cheek. She didn’t tell me that fact, but I couldn’t help but notice.

I told her how I love egg rolls and bacon—not together, but I wouldn’t be opposed to the idea. My middle name was Wesley, football was my favorite sport to watch, and I only drank root beer.

“What does the tattoo on your hand mean?” she asked, looking at the eye sitting between my thumb and pointer finger.

“Oh, it’s for one of my favorite songs, ‘These Eyes’, by The Guess Who. My mom let me get this one and this one,” I pointed to the quill pen tattoo on my forearm, “for my birthday. The quill is a reminder of how much words mean to me. If there’s anything I love as much as the sound of music, it’s the words that come along with the songs.”

“That’s so cool. My parents would never let me get a tattoo.”

“Yeah…my mom’s a little bit different than most parents.” I bit into my bottom lip, not wanting to talk about Mom too much. She must have noticed my need for a switch in conversation, so she continued onto the next topic.