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My Wolf’s Bane

By:Veronica Blade

focused on my tray, tracing little circles with my index finger. Hopefully, she’d drop the subject.

“On the way here, I saw him talking to some of the math geeks in the hallway. It’s like he’s not too full of himself to be seen with the unpopular kids. Can’t say that about Gina or Daniel.” Maya slid her sandwich out of the baggie. “John told me you’re grounded.”

My gaze shot to Gina’s hand resting on Zack’s forearm. She certainly moved quickly. “Yeah, but I haven’t told Gina yet, so don’t say anything, okay?”

“You want me to come over Saturday night and keep you company?”

“You’re not going to Daniel’s party?”

“Are you kidding?” She grimaced and waved a hand. “His last party was a drunken hook-up fest. I’d rather have a girl’s night with you. Do our toes, rent a movie.”

“Sounds awesome.” The ick factor that had slowly built all morning fell away. What would I do without Maya? Oh, God, if my parents followed through with their plans, I’d find out soon enough. As if on cue, my phone vibrated.

“Wow, your parents just don’t let up.”

“I know,” I said, answering my mom’s text with what I wanted for dinner. She couldn’t have asked me this morning? I theorized making me reply throughout the day was just another way of keeping tabs on me. I pressed the send button and focused on Maya again. “Uhm…”

She eyed me with a frown. “What’s wrong?”

I took a deep breath and pushed away the threatening anxiety. “We’re moving again.”

Her face fell. “When?”

“Not sure. Before graduation, most likely.” I pressed my lips together at the thought of leaving our pretty little home in the foothills north of Los Angeles. But it wasn’t just that I liked the house and the city. I’d live in a hut if it meant I could grow roots. I hadn’t known Maya long, but I’d become closer to her and John than any friends before. “I can’t bear the thought of moving again and leaving you guys.”

“Then stay with me. My mom and dad would love that. They’re so not over my brother going away to college.”

Live with Maya? For a second, I fantasized about taking a class or two at the local college. But even if her parents said yes, I couldn’t mooch off them forever. Eventually, I’d have to get a job to pay for food and somewhere to live. I had a lot to do before striking out on my own, starting with earning money for a new car before the old one choked out its last sputter. The way it died in the parking lot this morning, that last sputter could be sooner than I expected.

Butterflies did a march in my stomach, but I forced a smile. “That’s something to think about. Thanks.”

Gina sauntered back to our table and reclaimed her seat. “He has a girlfriend.” She didn’t seem too broken up about it though.

“Bummer for you.” I bit into my sandwich, trying not to imagine Zack with a girlfriend, his deep green eyes gazing into hers, his full lips... My attraction to him was ridiculous considering how he scowled at me.

“Maybe, maybe not.” Gina snuck another peek at him.

I hurriedly swallowed to talk. “You can’t go after someone else’s boyfriend.”

“I won’t need to.” She gave a half laugh. “People break up all the time. And I doubt she’s prettier than me.”

“There’s always someone prettier, Gina.” Maya rolled her eyes. “Besides, some people care more about substance than appearance.”

“Only the average girls say things like that.” Gina’s cold stare would have come in handy during last summer’s heat wave.

“What’s the matter with you?” I asked. Her bitchiness had reached new heights.

Maya picked up her tray. “I’ll catch you later, Autumn.”

I gave Maya an apologetic look, then turned and glared. “Gina!”

“What?” She gave me her innocent face.

“You make no effort with her.”

Her face scrunched up as if I’d suggested she spend the night locked in a room full of roaches. “Why would I want to do that?”

“Because she’s my friend? Same reason I try to be nice to Natalie.” I lifted my brows expectantly.

“Oh, my God!” She giggled. “You should see the dress she bought for Daniel’s party. Wicked. But mine is sexier. You and I will be the hottest girls there, easy.”

Knowing it was a losing battle, I sighed. “Uh, speaking of Daniel’s party, remember our last couple shopping sprees?”

Sure.” Gina scanned the room, probably hunting for Zack, but I steeled myself to stay tuned to Gina. If Zack caught me staring again, I’d look stalker-ish. Or, even worse, desperate.

I hesitated, my teeth holding my bottom lip hostage. “That money I spent with you? I borrowed it from my parents, planning to work it off during the week.”

“Yeah, so?” She brushed her auburn hair off her shoulder, then stiffened, her eyes fixing on me and narrowing. “Don’t even tell me you’re grounded.”

“I’m sorry, Gina. I—”

“We’ve been planning this for two months.” Her nostrils flared, lips tightening. “I can’t believe you did this to me.”

I sighed. “You act like you have no one else to go with. What about Natalie?” Yes, I’d broken my word, but her attitude was over the top. “And at least you get to go to the party. I’ll be stuck at home with my parents. I’m not any happier about this than you.”

“Whatever.” She crumpled her napkin, tossed it on the table, then stomped off.

Now I was free to spend the rest of lunch with Maya. But beyond Gina’s retreating back, John and Maya stood with Zack, who seemed engrossed in something she’d said. Just great. Seemed like I was the only one at school he didn’t like.

As if knowing I was watching, he turned. I silently cursed for getting caught staring, yet couldn’t take my eyes off him. After a long moment, he returned his attention to my friends.

Was it extra noisy in the cafeteria today or just my imagination? Whatever. I took my tray to the trash bin, knowing the warning bell would ring soon.

Daniel waved at me from across the cafeteria and mouthed, “See you later.”

I hoped not. Except I still needed to break up with him.

Gina approached