Savage Delight (Lovely Vicious #2)(10) by Sara Wolf

I wince. After a long staring contest with a bit of cheese I take a slow bite. Only then does Mom relax marginally, and starts eating her own. Something like resentment takes root in my heart, but I quickly prune that shit. She has no idea who Jack really is. I barely know who he really is. So it’s understandable that she’d defend him.

Halfway between our slices of slightly stale store cake, Mom breaks her stony silence with a single tear that plops onto the tablecloth. She buries her face in her hands.

“I’m sorry, Isis. God, I’m so sorry.”

I get up and go behind her and lace my arms around her neck, resting my cheek on her shoulder blades. I can see the court papers and police statements piled on the coffee table in the living room, my medical bills among them.

“It’s okay,” I whisper. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”

-6-

3 Years

26 Weeks

3 Days

East Summit High could take a nuke and nothing about it would change. Except the P.E. field. And maybe a bit of architecture. But the food would survive the blast because I’m ninety-nine percent sure it’s cockroach flesh, and Mrs. Borsche would remain standing because let’s get serious, everyone knows she’s an undercover Cold War agent genetically engineered to survive minor things like rapid atomic decompression.

When I pull into the parking lot, Kayla is standing there on the curb, waiting for me. She dashes over whilst someone almost runs her over and we smash into each other hug.

“You’re alive!”

“Marginally,” I laugh. She smells like coconut and the tears of every boy who will never have a chance with her. It’s like coming home. Hugging her is the best feeling next to the feeling I got sleeping in my own bed last night. And then I see Wren walking towards us. And Kayla sees him too. She darts to his side and drags him over, his glasses nearly falling off but a small half-smile on his face.

“Isis!” He exclaims.

“Yes, it is I. Alive in the flesh. Temporarily. In roughly seventy years I gotta die again.”

Wren laughs, and one-arm hugs me in that awkward way boys sometimes do. “It’s good to have you back.”

“Things have been totally boring around here,” Kayla laments. “Avery’s been quiet and weird and Jack’s been quiet and weird, like even more quiet than his iceberg days. It’s so weird!”

“Global warming,” I offer.

“ – And no one’s tried to escape out the science lab window –”

“Cowards!”

“- and Principal Evans won’t shut up about Jack –”

“A crime worthy of execution!”

“ – and someone wrote ‘Isis Blake is a crazy fat bitch’ on the bathroom stall in F building -”

“Let us give them a standing ovation for originality.”

Wren laughs, and Kayla frowns, but it doesn’t take her long to start laughing, too. And unlike five months ago when I first started here, I walk under the brick arch that reads; East Summit High. But this time I’m not alone. This time, I walk under it with two people who are my friends. I have friends. I have friends. Do you hear that, past me? You have friends. Ones who care about you, who laugh with you. You get them, someday.

So don’t cry.

You have friends.

I bite my lip and walk faster so they can’t see the unsightly water oozing from my ducts.

“Hey! Isis! Slow down!” Wren calls.

“What’s the rush? It’s just Benson’s class! All he’s gonna talk about are plant vaginas!” Kayla shouts. I laugh and walk faster. A familiar shaved head passes me, and I back up and explode.

“Knife-kid! How’re you doing, old pal?”

“We’ve known each other five months,” He corrects. I sling an arm around his shoulder.

“Five months in dog years is like, ten years. We’re practically family.”

“Are you crying?”

I sniff. “What, this? Nah, just a piece of teen angst stuck in my eye. Nirvana would be proud.”

Knife-guy grunts. “It’s good. That you’re back.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Jack was a pain without you to take him down a peg. Or nine.”

He grumpily stares at nothing. I ruffle his almost-forming mohawk.

“Stop touching me. People might think I’m normal.”

“God forbid that,” I laugh.

“And Jack will kill me.”

“Jack?” I buzz my lips. “Jack doesn’t give a jackshit about me. No, wait, I got that backwards. I don’t give a jackshit about Jack the Shit.”

Knife-guy ducks out of my arm. When I give him a quizzical ‘why spurn my beautiful friendship arm’ look, he nods behind me.

“I’m smart enough not to get between you two.”

I turn around, and there he is. Jack’s less than six feet away, scowling like he’s sucked an entire lemon farm. His ruffled, tawny hair and ice-blue eyes look different in the light of day versus the pale sickly light of the hospital.

“Ah! If it isn’t Jack. Jack the Ripper of female self-esteems everywhere. Jack Sparrow who flies around and shits on heads. Jackoff into everyone’s punchbowl and ruin their day.”

“The head injury’s certainly made you more creative. And fortunately, less coherent,” He drones, and looks at Knife-guy. “And who is this charming young man? An admirer?”

Jack waves a hand in front of his face.

“Is he blind? Or just stupid?”

Something in me draws taut and snaps in a split second. I can’t remember much of Jack, but I sure as hell remember Knife-guy, and the way he was nice to me. Small, disturbing ways, but ways nonetheless!

“Why do I have the sudden urge to perform violence on your face?” I c**k my head. I could be imagining it, but his chest swells slightly. Anger? Of course it’s anger.

“That would be your body remembering the time you socked me so hard I saw through time and space,” he says.

“Did you like what you saw? Goopy aliens? Supernovas? Mantorok, God of Corpses?”

“I saw an alternate universe without you. It was like paradise.”

Knife-kid suddenly chuckles. Jack sneers at him.

“Something funny?”

“You haven’t talked to anybody in school in two weeks, and now she’s back, and you’re –” Knife-kid shakes his head. “Whatever.”

I watch him leave. Jack’s quiet, his lips drawn. I take a deep breath and rock on the balls of my feet.

“You really hate me, huh?” I ask. Jack’s ice-blue eyes snap up to lock with mine.

“What?”

“Like Knife-kid said. You don’t talk when I’m gone, and I come back and you’re slinging the insults. So you must really hate me to bother breaking your silence. I get it.”

I read the letter you sent Sophia. I know how much you despise me.

***

Knife-guy has no idea how much it means.

Isis slung her arm around his neck like it meant nothing. She’s only ever done that to Wren, and that’s because he’s less intimidating than a puppy. But Knife-guy is different. He’s intimidating, he’s angry-looking, he’s tall, and he has muscles beneath those Black Sabbath shirts. He’s not Wren. He’s a man. A month ago, my touch reduced her to panic and tears. It was a memory so painful she blocked it out, and now here she is, touching him like it’s easy for her.

My heart beats so hard I can feel it in my fingertips. I’m hot all over, a heat wave sweeping through me like wildfire. I should control it. I should turn on my heel and walk away. I buried my hope. I thought it was dead. But then she revived it that night in the hospital, like a skilled necromancer. Like I hadn’t buried it at all. And now I can’t possibly control myself. Not when she’s there, not when she’s touching –

I’m behind her. Knife-kid glances warily at me, and she turns. Her purple streaks are a little more faded. She’s not as pale as she was in the hospital – a rosy bloom on both cheeks. A little smile plays on her lips, and like the moron I am, I let that smile fuel the heat wave in me hotter and higher.

“Ah! If it isn’t Jack. Jack the Ripper of female self-esteems everywhere. Jack Sparrow who flies around and shits on heads. Jackoff into everyone’s punchbowl and ruin their day.”

The insult brings me back to five months ago. To when the war first started. It’s like nothing’s changed at all. She still dislikes me. But it’s better. I can settle for being disliked, as long as she notices me. Remembers me. Considers me worth knowing. I have to be normal. I have to show her who I used to be. If I’m lucky, it might spark her memory. I can’t be slow, or gentle. I have to be the old Jack.

“The head injury’s certainly made you more creative. And fortunately, less coherent,” I say. I look at Knife-guy. “And who is this charming young man? An admirer?” I wave a hand in front of his face. “Is he blind? Or just stupid?”

Isis’ smile fades. A twisted little grimace forms on her lips.

“Why do I have the sudden urge to perform violence on your face?” She cocks her head to the side, like a little angry bird. That one motion reminds me so much of the night at Avery’s. I inhale sharply as the memories flood back – her bare collarbone, her smile as she told me she could feel my pulse, her soft sighs –

Control, Jack. Control yourself. You’re the old Jack. The one who thought her an annoying nuisance. I clear my throat.

“That would be your body remembering the time you socked me so hard I saw through time and space,” I say.

“Did you like what you saw? Goopy aliens? Supernovas? Mantorok, God of Corpses?”

“I saw an alternate universe without you. It was like paradise.”

Knife-kid suddenly chuckles. I throw a glare at him.

“Something funny?”

“You haven’t talked to anybody in school in two weeks, and now she’s back, and you’re –” Knife-kid shakes his head. “Whatever.”

He turns and leaves just as I consider ripping into him. He’s right, and that’s the part Isis doesn’t need to know. Ever.

“You really hate me, huh?” She asks.

“What?”

“Like Knife-kid said. You don’t talk when I’m gone, and I come back and you’re slinging the insults. So you must really hate me to bother breaking your silence. I get it.”

“No –” I blurt, and stop myself. No, jesus, that’s not it at all. But how can I tell her that? How can I tell her how I –

“Look, it’s fine.” She smiles. “I’m still grateful you saved Mom. That’s the only reason I didn’t hit you just then. Also, I’m becoming a beautiful mature butterfly. But mostly it’s for Mom. We clearly rubbed each other the wrong way back then. You stay away from me, I’ll stay away from you. We both go on with our lives. Sound good?”

My stomach drops. No. No, it doesn’t sound good at all. It’s the last thing I want.

“So you’re running away? That’s your solution?” I snap. “I’m part of your past, Isis. You ran from Will Cavanaugh, but you can’t run again. Nothing will be solved that way, and you won’t get any peace.”

At the mention of his name, she recoils, curling in on herself before straightening and glowering at me.

“What the hell do you think you know about me?”

“You can’t just write me out of your life like you did that scumbag. I’m not him. So don’t treat me like him.”

“You hate me,” she says dully. “He hates me. I find it better to cut the people who hate me out of my life.”

Everything in me screams to move to hold her. To hug her. To show her I don’t hate her. But that’s not something the Jack she can barely remember would do.

“You annoy me,” I say coldly. “I don’t hate you. There’s a difference.”

She laughs. “Not much of one.”

“I respect you. I don’t agree with you on most things, but I respect you.”

She scoffs.

“Believe it or don’t, I don’t care. It’s the truth. Before Leo attacked you, we respected each other. I hope someday you can remember that much.”

“All I can remember is that dumb kiss.”

“Which one?” I blurt it before I can stop myself. I’ve longed to know which one since she talked about it in the hospital. Her eyes widen, slowly, until they’re the size of amber coins.

“Which one? What are you talking –”

The bell rings shrilly just above it. She winces at the noise, and I take the opportunity to duck into a stairwell and leave her behind. Calculus can’t even penetrate my haze of disbelief. I nervously jiggle my leg the entire lesson, tapping my pencil on my paper. What the hell did I just do? I can’t control myself around her. I thought I could. I promised I would. But the idea of her presence and her actual presence are two very, very different things. I blurt things. I let slip betraying body language.

I’m not in control when she is around me physically.

And it terrifies me. Because what she needs the most from me – no, from any man – is for them to control themselves.

After Calculus is over, I glance out the window. She walks by just under me, with Kayla. She’s happier – a smile on her face in place of the frown I caused earlier. And that’s when I see it. There, on her scalp, is a pale white scar. It isn’t big, but it isn’t small. It’s jagged, and pink on the edges. Just healing. Just barely healing. The sight of it sends a surge of anger into my throat, my lungs.

She got hurt because I wasn’t fast enough.

It is Sophia, all over again.

I grab my books and push out the door. I need air. I need not-air. I need silence and not-her. The wall behind the cafeteria is the only place in school people can smoke without being seen. A few other people are here, too, laughing. I lean against the wall and light one. The smoke spirals up and the burn in my throat finally matches the burning guilt in my chest.

“Hey,” A voice next to me. Knife-guy.

“What do you want?” I grunt. He shrugs.

“You don’t look so good. Thought I’d ask if you were gonna throw up. You know, just so I know not to stand too close.”

“You’re standing close now.”

“If you can talk, you aren’t gonna throw up. So I can stand here.”

He’s irritating, but not untrue.