Counting the Stars
CHAPTER
5
Ruby Scott didn’t know who the boy in the Batman t-shirt was, but he wouldn’t leave the kitchen. He’d already eaten five pieces of toast and downed two whole Mountain Dew drinks, but he was still rummaging around Jacob’s kitchen like he owned the place. It made Ruby feel like she was being watched by a poorly-trained government spy.
(She probably wasn’t far off, actually.)
Usually, this kind of scrutiny wouldn’t bother her. She couldn’t let it bother her. She was Ruby Theresa Scott, fearless and unshakeable, and even after running from the police she never lost her calm demeanor.
But she was out of her element now. Here, she wasn’t the cool and reckless daredevil that the whole town looked at with awe. Here, she was a failing student who was barely understanding a word her tutor was saying.
“Oh!” Jacob said, pushing away his copy of Romeo and Juliet. “I forgot to ask, did you talk to your teachers?”
Wrenching her gaze away from the mysterious boy in the batman shirt, she turned back to Jacob.
“Yeah, actually.” She didn’t smile, but anyone who knew her well enough would understand that the twitch of her lip and the shrugged shoulders was the Ruby Scott equivalent. Finally, something she’d done right.
Well, almost right.
“Some of them haven’t responded, but most offered to give me a packet of the first semesters’ curriculum,” she explained. “That was a good idea.”
“See?” Jacob smiled and pushed his glasses up his nose. “I told you they’d listen.”
“Well, Mr. Binns said I was on my own,” she said glumly.
“He’s history, right?”
”Yeah. And...” Ruby bit her lip and glanced away. “I... didn’t talk to my math teacher.”
“Oh.” Jacob paused. There was a beat of silence, before his eyes widened. “Ohhh, you have Mrs. Viola, right?”
“Yeah.” Ruby relaxed a little. Jacob understood.
“Yikes. She really—“ The boy cut off suddenly, looking guilty.
“Hates me?” Ruby finished for him, a wry smirk playing across her face.
“Yeah. Well, you can’t—“
“I have Viola,” interrupted the boy in the Batman shirt.
Jacob put his head in his hands and groaned.
“Okay, and?” Ruby asked, staring at Batman-boy from the corner of her eye. “And who are you, anyway?”
Batman-boy stared at her incredulously. “I’m Jake’s brother,” he said, offended. “We literally have the same exact face.”
Ruby squinted, eyes darting between Bat-boy and Jacob. They were similar, she guessed, but Jacob’s hair was lighter and thicker than Bat-boy’s limp black mop. That, along with the larger nose and wimpier figure on Bat-boy, made enough differences that Ruby figured she couldn’t be blamed for not putting two and two together.
“Anyway, as I was saying,” Bat-boy said, “I could talk to Viola, if you want.”
Oh. Of course. Ruby should’ve seen this coming.
“You don’t have to try and impress me, you know,” she said in a perfect deadpan. “It’s not going to work.”
“Wh-what, I-I don’t–th-that’s—“
Ruby raised an eyebrow at Bat-boy’s spluttering. With a gulp, the boy shut his lips and spun on his heel to march out of the kitchen (finally).
“Fine, don’t take my help!” he shouted as he stomped up the stairs. “Have fun talking to her on your own!”
Ruby inspected her fingernails in disinterest. Beside her, Jacob was silent. It wasn’t until she heard a door slam that the boy beside her took a breath.
“Wow,” he said, then burst out laughing.
Ruby Scott would be the death of him. He was going to die, and it would be entirely the fault of the teenage girl sitting at his kitchen table. His death would be slow and painful, like raising the heat gradually to boil a frog, and if it somehow didn’t kill him, he’d never be the same.
No. If that didn’t kill him, then Ruby Scott interacting with Mike would be the ultimate death of young Jacob Whitman.
He’d watched her watch Mike all evening, her eyes following the gangly teen with suspicion and wariness. She didn’t let it distract her, though, so he figured it wouldn’t be a problem as long as Mike got himself a snack and left quickly.
But he didn’t. By Mike’s second piece of toast, Jacob knew what he was doing: Mike was spying. The little twerp.
(Jacob stifled the tiny voice that reminded him that Mike was both older and taller than him.)
There was no way to get Mike away without possibly igniting Ruby’s rage (haha, alliteration), so he was forced to continue the lesson as if nothing was wrong. Still, that didn’t stop him from shooting death glares at his brother as he and Ruby worked their way through geometry, history, and English.
And then Mike actually talked to her. And it was so painfully obvious how he was trying to impress her. Jacob wanted to die.
And then she told him off.
“You don’t have to try and impress me, you know. It’s not going to work.”
She certainly lived up to her reputation.
Jacob couldn’t breathe from laughing so hard. In the hallway, the sound of Mike screaming curses at him wafted through the closed door, but all that did was make him laugh harder. Mike’s face when she’d called him out–she might have just slapped him. It’d warrant the same response.
A few seconds after Mike gave up on yelling, Jacob noticed Ruby staring.
That shut him up real quick. The expression on her face was unreadable. Like, more so than usual. Her usual bored deadpan was gone, replaced by wide eyes and a mouth that hung open just half an inch. When she caught him looking, her eyebrows shot up and her mouth twitched into the ghost of an incredulous smile.
“You okay there?” she asked.
Nothing about her tone seemed rude or insulting. The only emotion he could detect was... amusement? Whatever the case, Jacob decided she meant well.
“Yeah, sorry,” he said, sheepishly rubbing the back of his neck. “Mike’s an idiot, and the look on his face was so priceless.”
“No need to apologize,” she said, shrugging. “I’m glad you enjoyed the show.”
“Oh boy, did I?” he said. “That was great! You were great! The way you just–” Jacob froze. “Um, I mean...”
Ruby’s lips twitched again, more amusement twinkling in her eye. He wished he knew what she was thinking.
“We got pretty far with the work, didn’t we?” Ruby asked after a moment of silence.
“Yeah, we did,” he said, grateful for the change of topic. “But it’s only five thirty, there’s still plenty of time to–”
“To start on my half of the deal,” Ruby interrupted. “My brain is fried, dude, and this is our second time meeting together. Take turns, alright?”
“Your half of the deal?” Jacob asked. “You mean, like—“
“That’s right, Whitman,” she said, mouth stretching into a wide grin. “Your teen movie makeover start now.”
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