Into the Deep Page 52

I felt like a leper and the only one brave enough to be around me was Alex.

Today, however, there was a tension among all the students. The pall that had cloaked the school on Monday was back as Brett’s funeral approached, and honestly I just couldn’t be around it. All it did was give me flashbacks to pleading eyes and bloody hands.

Not exactly feeling like an exemplary student these days, I’d decided to head out of school grounds for lunch and drop by my mom’s store. I needed a friendly face. So Mom it was.

As soon as I stepped out the front entrance to the school, I heard the commotion. My eyes darted across the parking lot, following the sounds. I saw a small crowd had gathered around something. I was going to ignore it, but then I saw Damien’s hardened face appear in the center as he stared down at something or someone on the ground. When I saw that Jackson was with him, instinct told me what was going on.

Fury fuelled me as I dropped my backpack and tore down the stairs and across the lot, shoving people hard out of my way, my eyes dipping to the ground to see Lukas in a fetal position on the ground, bleeding.

“You ass**le!” I screamed, shoving Damien back with all my might.

It sent him stumbling into Jackson. I stepped around Lukas, putting myself in front of him.

“Get out of the way, Charley,” Damien hissed. “This has nothing to do with you.”

“You want him, you go through me.” I beat a hand against my chest.

He narrowed his eyes.

“Come on, Damien!” I cried disdainfully. “You can beat up a freshman, two juniors against one freshman kid, but you won’t lift a hand against a girl? That’s a f**ked-up set of principles.”

“I won’t warn you again. Move, Charley.”

“You want Lukas? You’re going to have to hit me to get to him.”

“Charley, don’t,” Lukas grunted, and I felt movement behind me as he tried to sit up.

“Move out of the way, Charlotte,” Damien took a step toward me, “or I will make you move.”

“Dude,” Jackson didn’t seem so sure, putting a hand out to stop him.

Damien shook him off. “She’s on their side. Brett’s dead, her boyfriend saw to that, and this kid is smart-mouthing us about it and she’s trying to protect them both. She’s a traitor to this town. She deserves what she gets.” He moved toward Lukas as Lukas stood but I pushed Jake’s brother behind me, jutting my chin out in determination.

“I mean it, Damien,” I warned him. “You’ll have to fight me first before I let you touch Luke. And I fight dirty.”

“Bring it.”

I braced myself, ready to take a beating so Lukas wouldn’t have to.

In the end I didn’t have to either because suddenly Alex was there, fury on his face as he shoved Damien away from me. “Are you crazy!” he shouted, pushing him harder.

Damien stumbled, shock and betrayal in his eyes. “They killed Brett, man.”

“Fuck you, Damien. I was there. So were you. Brett fell on his own knife. It’s not Jake’s fault and it’s definitely not Lukas’s and,” he dropped his head, getting in Damien’s face, “it’s definitely not Charley’s. She tried to save his life, remember? I swear to God, if I ever see you come at her again, I will kill you.”

The two friends started to argue in quiet voices so I turned to Lukas, cradling his left side. His nose was bleeding and his right eye was swollen shut.

The anger caught in my throat again and I glanced up across the parking lot to the security cameras. Those bastards were going down. Without saying a word, I grabbed Lukas’s bag and held his arm, gently asking him to follow me. He did, his head bowed in humiliation.

“You have nothing to feel embarrassed about, Luke. They’re bigger and older than you and it was two against one. They’re the pathetic ones.”

“Where are we going?” he sucked in his breath as he tripped on the curb. I winced in sympathy.

“To see Sheriff Muir.”

“Uh, why?” he stopped.

“Because if we report it to the school, the likelihood is that Coach will try and talk the principal into letting Damien and Jackson get away with it. I tell Sheriff Muir and also give him the heads-up that the school security cameras caught the whole thing, he’ll make sure Principal Watts does something about it.”

“It’s fine, Charley.”

“It’s not fine, Lukas,” I snapped. “Jake gets dragged through the mud and he’s completely innocent while those ass**les are the biggest bullies I’ve ever seen and they get away with it. Even now … Brett is the one who pulled the knife. It’s tragic what happened but he did it to himself. Not Jake. And I won’t have Damien and Trenton Thomas try to say any different, or bullying people into believing different. Not in my town.”

Luke cocked his head to the side, giving me a small, weary smile. “You’re hot when you’re mad, Charley Redford.”

Affection and tenderness and anger for what had been done to him warred within me. “I’m sorry that they did this to you, Luke.”

He winced and hobbled beside me. “Don’t. You’ve got nothing to be sorry for. You’re, like, one of the best people I know.”

And that just made me want to go back and smash Damien’s face into the ground.

Instead I settled for getting Lukas to the station. Sheriff Muir took our statements and called Mr. C. out. I insisted on going with them to the nearest hospital a half hour outside Lanton. The doctor had just finished telling us that Luke had probably fractured a rib or two when I felt him enter the room.

I turned, my breath catching as Jake strode in with his mom, his hard eyes on Luke. They flickered to me for a second before moving quickly back to his little brother.

As he took in the mess of Luke, Jake’s fists curled around the foot of the hospital bed.

Mr. C. saw. He shook his head at his eldest. “Don’t even think about doing anything stupid. Charley saw to it that those boys will pay for attacking your brother. Don’t make your situation worse by demanding your own retribution.”

“They can’t get away with this, Dad. They should leave us alone.”

“They won’t get away with this. I told you Charley saw to it.”

“She was awesome,” Luke grinned up at Jake, his eye now completely swollen shut. “She jumped in front of me and told them that if they wanted me, they had to go through her. If it hadn’t been so emasculating, it would’ve been hot.”

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