Counting the Stars
Kellan was waiting for her.
“Your tutoring is taking up too much time,” she said, leaning against the door.
Ruby ignored the statement. “Why won’t Rose let you in?” she asked instead, pulling her keys out of her pocket.
“She thinks I’m naughty,” Kellan said with a smirk. “She’s not wrong.”
“Took the words right out of my mouth,” Ruby said. She pushed the door open. “Come in.”
“Sorry, pal.” Kellan took a step back. “You’ve got company that I don’t want to mingle with. Not to mention the... errands I have to run.”
Ruby’s brow furrowed, but she didn’t ask. Instead, she waved goodbye to her friend and stepped inside, bracing herself for the worst. It wouldn’t be her parents; they were never home. But an aunt? Grandparents? Cousins? Ruby had a lot of extended family, and dealing with them sucked. Taking a deep breath, she walked into the kitchen.
“Hey, Ms. Heart-Breaker,” said a low voice.
Immediately, Ruby relaxed. She knew that voice, the person who it belonged to, and the person knew her in a way nobody else did.
“Jett,” she said, not turning to look at him. She knew what the sight would hold: Jett sitting at the kitchen counter, head resting lazily in his palm, face relaxed and an unfairly attractive smirk gracing his handsome features. Jett was more aware of his good looks than any other boy Ruby’d ever met, and he used it to his advantage. He made girls left and right swoon for him, with only a few exceptions. Ruby being one of them. She was crushing on him because he was cool and interesting (and “bad, but not as bad as me”), but she didn’t swoon.
“Ruby,” he said. As she grabbed a snack from the fridge, she heard the boy stand up and walk towards her. Felt his arm slide around her waist.
“Hello,” she said cooly.
Jett chuckled and pressed against her, resting his head on her shoulder. “How’s my girl doing?”
“I’m not ‘your’ anything,” Ruby snapped, but she leaned into his touch.
“Sure, sure.” He laid a kiss to her shoulder. She hummed noncomittally.
“What’d you say to get Kellan to leave?” she asked. “And Rose, where’s she at?”
“Told Kellan we’d be up to some icky romantic business,” Jett said. “She was grossed out. Rose just thinks I’m a good influence.”
“She’s probably the only kid in this town who thinks that.”
“Side effect of never leaving the house.”
Ruby hummed again, pulling away to shut the door. In her hand was a carton of milk, which she set down to reach for a glass. “So what brings you here?”
“I was wondering if you wanted to go out,” he said. “My brother let me use his car for the night, so I figured we could get lost.”
Ruby winced. “Can’t. I’ve got a ton of stuff to do.”
“Oh, ‘stuff’?” Jett asked. The question was phrased jokingly, and on the surface he was teasing her, but there was a sudden edge to his voice that had Ruby tensing apprehensively.
“Stuff.” She poured a glass of milk and raised it to her lips to avoid having to elaborate.
“Would this ‘stuff’ have anything to do with your class’ future valedictorian?”
Ruby didn’t spit her milk out, but it was a close thing. “Jacob Whitman?”
“Is that his name?” Jett scowled. “Ew, we have the same initials.”
“Who told you I was getting tutored?” Ruby said.
Jett’s eyes widened, then narrowed. If the two were in a movie, the lighting would’ve dimmed suddenly.
“Nobody told me you were getting tutored,” Jett growled. “Kellan said you were hanging out with the nerd kid in your grade, not that he was tutoring you.”
“Um. Surprise?” Jett’s anger wasn’t making any sense to Ruby. Wouldn’t just hanging out be more of a cause for concern than having there be an actual reason? Hanging out implied cheating on, even if Ruby and Jett weren’t technically officially dating. “My parents are making me get a tutor–”
“Oh, don’t give me that excuse,” Jett snapped. “If you needed a tutor, why didn’t you ask me?”
Oh. That. Ruby’d thought of asking Jett, seeing as Jett was on his way to being salutatorian for the senior class, but she’d decided on Jacob because...
“Listen, Jett.” She placed a hand on his shoulder and rubbed her thumb in a slow, soothing circle. “I totally would have, but my parents want to see results, and half the time we’re alone we end up making out on whatever flat surface is available.”
Jett sneered. “Then you’d have to stop flirting with me for two seconds. Is that really so hard?”
“Wait.” Ruby pulled her hand away. “Flirting with you? Jett, almost every time we end up making out it’s because you initiated it.”
“Oh sure, I’m the one who leans in and starts the actual kissing part, but it’s not like I don’t see how you look at me. Just last week, when we were in the caves at the Rock Park, I made out with you because I could see how much you wanted it.”
“See how much—Jett! I wanted to go hiking! I told you that!”
Jett scoffed. “You wanted to play hard to get, that’s what it was. If you wanted to go hiking, why would you wear the shirt you were wearing?”
Ruby spluttered indignantly. “What—I wear that shirt all the time! I have a million shirts like it! Why would it be an invitation to make out with me? Do you think my clothes are always an invitation?”
“Yes!” Jett shouted. “Yes, what you wear is an invitation, and what you’re wearing right now is an invitation! Which is why I’m so mad– you wore that shirt to go see Jason.”
“His name is Jacob,” Ruby seethed.
“Who cares!”
“I do!” Oh man, Ruby hadn’t gotten this mad in years. “What I wear is not an invitation, ever! I am not flirting with Jacob, I’m tearing my hair out as he tries to explain boring math problems to me! You have no reason to get jealous or possessive right now, because there is literally no need to worry!”
“Stop dressing like that when you go see other guys, and maybe I’ll stop worrying if the girl I’m basically dating is ‘basically dating’ other people.” Jett stood up suddenly. “I’m leaving now. Have fun with Jacob.”
“Oh please, let yourself out, I’m happy to see you go!” Ruby shouted. Jett didn’t even look at her as he stormed past, out into the main hall and out the front door.
With the door shut, everything in the house went completely silent, and Ruby was left standing in her kitchen with unresolved anger boiling under her skin.
“Rose!” she called up the stairs. “I’m going out to blow off steam before I take my anger out on you!”
“Be my guest!” he sister called back. “Just be back before dark!”
“Okay, mom!”
It hadn’t even occurred to Jacob to be worried about what would happen if word got out about his new tutoring gig. As far as he knew, the only people who were aware of the tutoring were the teachers, his family, and Nikolas. Unfortunately, he’d forgotten about his best friend’s lack of understanding when it came to the intricacies of the high school social sphere.
Basically, because he hadn’t told Nik not to tell anyone, he’d told everyone.
Of course, Nikolas did have enough sense to understand what a huge mistake he’d made, once the gossip mill started churning. As a morning bus-taker, he got to school before Jacob every morning. And when Jacob finally walked into homeroom, just before the bell rang, the first thing his best friend did was throw himself at Jacob’s feet and start apologizing profusely.
“I’m so sorry, man, I wasn’t thinking! I thought it was a cool thing to brag about, but now everyone’s talking about it and–”
“Woah, woah, calm down there,” Jacob said, cheerful despite the sliver of dread crawling down his spine. “What happened?”
Nikolas stood up and began wringing his hands anxiously, glancing to the side and hunching up defensively. “I... may have accidentally started a rumor that you and Ruby are secretly dating.”
It’s... not the worst thing that could’ve happened, all things considered. Except Nikolas is still glancing around anxiously, even when Jacob’s breathed a sigh of relief. Meaning...
It’s worse than that.
“Who did you talk to?” Jacob asked with a sigh.
“Just all the guys from the sci-fi media club,” Nikolas said. “And the guys in my gym who don’t hate me, and the people we sit with at lunch, and–”
“Ok, on second thought, just tell me what you told everyone.”
“Oh, uh.” Nikolas shrugged. “That you were tutoring Ruby, and I made a joke about spending one-on-one time with her. But then it spun out of control, and uh...” He trailed off.
“What is it?” Jacob demanded.
Nikolas sighed. “Shannon found out.”
Jacob’s heart dropped. “Oh.”
Just then the bell rang, and the teacher shouted at everyone to find their seats. Jacob spared Nikolas a quick “it’s not your fault” smile before sitting down.
Shannon was a complicated puzzle. She was essentially Jacob’s “rival” when it came to grades, except she never seemed like she wanted to win. She perpetually occupied second place, and that was apparently all she was shooting for.
In addition, she and Jacob held a friendly relationship, but sometimes Shannon acted a bit... too friendly. Everyone knew she had a crush on Jacob, and Jacob dealt with it by playing dumb. He really wasn’t interested, but he didn’t know if he’d be able to directly refuse an advance from her. He tried his best to not lead her on, but Shannon was known to be an overly possessive person.
And then there was the fact that Shannon was the biggest victim of the infamous Ladybug Disaster. Shannon hated Ruby. This rumor was going to send her over the edge.
Jacob wasn’t looking when Shannon walked in, but he knew she was there when someone sat down loudly in the desk next to him, snapping gum aggressively.
Jacob glanced over at her. Shannon wasn’t looking at him, but he could tell from the way her fingers tapped angrily on her desk that she was pissed.
He tried to think of something to say, but before he could force something out the morning announcements began. Jacob stood and placed a hand over his chest and began to recite the pledge.
“I pledge allegiance to the flag...”
Jacob jumped in surprise as the door to the classroom burst open. The entire class stared as Ruby Scott, jaw set in determination, marched into the classroom and grabbed Jacob by the arm.
“Come with me,” she said.
“Excuse me!” the teacher cried. ”Who do you think–”
“It’s an emergency!” Ruby called as she dragged Jacob out of the room.
Jacob cast a wild glance behind him. Nobody was reciting the pledge, instead staring at him with wide eyes. Nikolas was grinning, his eyebrows wagging up and down. The teacher gaped. And Shannon, well.
If looks could kill.
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