Bring Down the Stars (Beautiful Hearts Duet #1)(4)

Now it mattered.

“So your dad took off and left the sock behind?” the redhead said. “Sucks to be you.”

“That does suck, Sock Boy,” Jason said, plucking a green bean off my tray and chewing it. “You must feel like shit.”

“Sock Boy,” the redhead snickered. “Good one, Jason.”

“Really? Sock Boy?” I said. “That’s the best you can do?”

“I don’t know,” Jason said stiffly, tilting his chin up. “Maybe you’re not worth more than Sock Boy.”

Redhead picked at a zit on his chin. “You think you could do better?”

“I can think of a crap-ton better insults, just off the top of my head.”

“Prove it.”

“Sure. No problem.”

I cracked my knuckles, thinking fast. But the insults came easy; I’d twisted that knife in my own guts a thousand times since Dad left.

“What about…Your dad abandoned your family and all you got was a lousy sock?”


Jason crossed his arms. “Lame.”

I shrugged casually, while my mind revved like a racecar at the starting line. “Mmmkay. You’re lucky; on Take Your Son to Work Day, you get to stay home.”

The redhead kid snorted a laugh, earning a glare from Jason. I kept going, and my audience warmed to me quick. With each insult I hurled at myself, the other guys got more and more into it, covering their mouths, laughing and oohing, like a rap battle, where I was the attacker and victim, both.

“I hate to say you have a deadbeat dad, but if the sock fits…?”

“If you need a man-to-man talk, does your mom take out an ad on Craigslist?”

“Are you a Jehovah’s Witness now? They don’t celebrate Father’s Day either.”

The guys were in an uproar now, but Jason’s jaw clenched. I leaned over the table.

“Knock knock,” I said, glaring at him.

“Fuck off.”

“Knock knock.”

He sniffed, not meeting my eyes. “This is stupid.”

I cocked my head to the rest of the table. “Knock knock.”

“Who’s there?” they answered in unison.

“I don’t know,” I said, “but not your dad, that’s for goddamn sure.”

The peals of laughter seemed to strike Jason in the back as he hunched over and flinched as if the insults were directed at him, instead of me.

“You look confused, buddy,” I said. “You need me to explain that one?”

“You think you’re so fucking smart?” Jason said. “You just insulted yourself ten times over. But you know what?” He smiled darkly. He had the simple truth on his side, and he knew it. “It doesn’t matter how clever you think you are. You’re just Sock Boy, and that’s all you’ll ever be.”

His hand snaked out and he shoved my half-full tray of food into my lap, painting my pants and white dress shirt with spaghetti sauce and milk.

“Ooops!” Jason said, jumping out of his seat. “My bad.”

I shot to my feet, ignoring the cold milk in my crotch and hot spaghetti sauce on my stomach, and stared him down, nose to nose. My hands were balled so tightly into fists that my knuckles ached. Jason didn’t back down and the entire cafeteria went quiet, watching.

“Go ahead,” Jason seethed in a low whisper. “Take your shot. I got six witnesses who’ll say it was an accident. You’ll lose your precious scholarship. You wanna take that chance, Sock Boy?”

I sure as hell did. But hitting him would get me kicked out. Ratting on him was out of the question. That left letting it go like a goddamn chump.

“What’s going on, guys?” asked a friendly voice.

Out of my periphery, I saw a tall guy, dark hair, big. He looked older than the rest of us.

Lots of kids talked on the first day of school, informing incoming seventh graders of their place in the Sinclair caste system. Jefferson Drake, a football-playing senior at the Academy, was the most popular kid in school. King of Sinclair. His little brother, Connor, was the prince.

I guessed this was him.

Connor stood with his hands in his pockets, casual, as if he owned the school, instead of being just another twelve-year-old kid.

Jason smirked and turned away. “Nothing,” Jason said. “Sock Boy had a little accident.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Connor said, frowning at the mess on my uniform. “Why you gotta be an asshole, Kingsley?”

“I’m not. Just clumsy, I guess,” Jason said, but he backed off. “See you around, Sock Boy. Shame about your shirt.” He clucked his tongue. “You can always write another essay. Call it ‘Laundry Day’ and maybe the school will pay for a new uniform.”

“Maybe your mom will,” Connor said, grinning.

Jason laughed and the two bumped fists. “See you at practice, Drake.”

“I hope so. You need it.”

Jason flipped him two middle fingers and took his crowd away with him.

Fuck all of these guys, I thought.

I angrily brushed cold spaghetti noodles off my pants. The slacks were black and hid the stain, but my shirt looked like I’d been shot in the gut.


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