"I wonder to myself, 'Could life ever be sane again?'"
The Honors Trigonometry students of Room 112 sat quietly in a collectively furtive silence as they stared at the balding man at the front of the classroom.
Mr. Lance Jackson angrily scrawled his name across the whiteboard and then proceeded to slam his yardstick upon his desk, making several of the students jump right in their seats. Of course, he only did this sort of thing for the shock effect, as he took great pleasure in watching all the kids squirm on the opening of a new year. Most of them in the room did, but a couple of them had already had him as their mathematics teacher in their previous years, so they barely flinched. Not only were they used to his unprecedented and rather obnoxious displays of authority, but they also knew that behind his stubbornly protruding bottom lip and brooding gaze was a man who was completely slave to the idea of Baconnaise, Battlestar Galactica, and his overbearing wife. He was also terrible both at teaching math and doing math itself, which made it quite difficult to win over the respect of anybody, really.
"What a dickmonger," Jules Powell said quietly to his friends in distaste, shaking his head. Jules had made it a point to sit at the very back and was one of the few students who were accustomed to Jackson's decidedly unpleasant behavior.
Jules' friend Gabriel sat to his right, narrowing his eyes to slits at the dreadful teacher. Gabriel's girlfriend sat on Gabriel's other side, and as she tossed back her long golden tresses, she rolled her eyes, looking very disgruntled.
"Right? He just exudes insecurity," replied Violet as they watched him jump into the classroom rules. She grimaced. "I bet his wife beats him all the time."
"That's why he's always trying to look like he's in control all the time, to make himself feel better about being completely whipped," added Gabriel, ruffling his girlfriend's hair. He kissed her on the cheek and then said, "You are very pretty, Beatrice."
A slow smile spread across Violet's face. "Yes, I know this, Dante."
Jules's eyebrows furrowed."Uh, what the fuck?"
He waited for an explanation, but the two of them merely stared at him until he scoffed in annoyance. "God, I hate you guys," he groaned.
"Oh, my God," said Violet. "Dante Alighieri? And his muse, Beatrice? We explained this to you three years ago, Julian Powell."
"Well, you can't expect me to understand every time you try and explain to me whatever the fuck you—"
"YOU THREE," thundered a booming voice from the front of the room, startling the entire class. Violet, Gabriel, and Jules all froze in place as Mr. Jackson's voice grew menacingly quiet.
"Would you care to explain why you are wasting your time, your classmates' time, and my time?"
Deciding that even just attempting to look guilty was too tiresome, Jules rolled his eyes.
"We were talking about how much Battlestar sucks," he explained, grinning sardonically. "Like the whole thing. It's entirely derivative of Stargate, don't you think?"
Jackson glared at him as the whole class broke into peals of laughter at the remark, his hands shaking slightly at his sides. Forcing himself to pretend as if the interruption had simply never occurred, he jumped right back into his monotonous speech about classroom etiquette. Jules turned to his friends and said, "You see, guys? Press the right buttons and he doesn't do a thing. I love him."
Out of the corner of her eye, Violet noticed the boy sitting to the right of her, his head of dark blonde hair ducked down and his rapid hand scribbling anxiously. They were all sitting in the very last row, and he was right in the corner, all alone. She turned to him and gasped when she caught a glimpse of what he was drawing in his notebook.
Mesmerized, she whispered, "That's gorgeous."
The boy's head shot up immediately at the sound of Violet's voice, and when his eyes fell upon hers he looked back down, looking deeply ashamed. "Thanks," he muttered nervously.
And then, because it was in her nature to be so forthright, she grabbed the notebook from his desk and gaped at it. Violet grinned broadly. The boy, however, blushed furiously as his lips pressed into a hard, straight line. "Give that back," he said, struggling to keep an even tone.
She giggled. "No."
"I just want to look at it, honestly, it's amazing."
"Please give it back," the boy repeated, his tone pleading and desperate. Violet sighed. She searched his eyes as he stared at her with his arm outstretched for his notebook, and she found that of all things, he looked deeply despaired. Not annoyed, which was a reaction to her that she'd grown quite comfortable with, but miserable. She'd made him sad.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly, suddenly feeling ashamed.
"It's okay," he replied, and then all the dark fire in his eyes seemed gone.
Violet eyed the drawing once more before giving it back to the boy. When the notebook was returned safe in his hands, he didn't hesitate to bow his head down again to resume his work.
The drawing was of the album cover from In the Aeroplane over the Sea by the underground band Neutral Milk Hotel, and because they were so little known, Violet would nearly cry every time she would come across someone who liked them. This was again one of those times.
As underground as the band may have been, they occupied quite a large chunk inside Violet's heart.
"You know, it really is very beautiful," Violet told him, hastily wiping away the annoying tears that were threatening to fall. She tried to get another glimpse of his impressive artwork, but his body and head had it shielded completely. Violet couldn't understand why he seemed so embarrassed of his work. She almost felt sorry.
When his quiet voice replied to her a couple moments later, she couldn't help but feel surprised. "They're a great band," he told her, and she didn't fight the grin that wanted to spread across her face upon catching it.
"In the Aeroplane over the Sea is probably one of the best albums ever made," she said. "I don't know too many people who like Neutral Milk Hotel. Your interpretation of the cover art is almost as good as the original."
"I've always liked it," he replied, his voice barely above a whisper. He looked over at her shyly. "I've never met anybody at all who liked them."
"THOMAS GREY," Jackson barked all of a sudden, jabbing a stubby finger in the boy's direction. Several heads followed to ogle at the tyrant's newest victim. "What the hell do you think you're doing?"
The boy's jaw dropped as he gaped at Jackson, utterly dumbstruck and speechless. He shook his head as his lips tried to form a sentence, but the paling of his face disclosed his guilt.
"It's like I'm just standing here and talking to myself," Jackson snarled. "You haven't looked up once from your goddamn desk. What the hell are you even doing? Are you sleeping in my class? God, you know what, Grey? Just get out of my classroom."
Violet gasped. As her head whipped from the seething Jackson to the astonished boy, a fiery rage coursed through her veins. Before she or anybody else could fathom what she was about to do, Violet stood up and looked Jackson right in the eye, her own blue eyes blazing with with fury.
"That's bullshit, Jackson. Leave him alone, goddamn it."
"Vi, what the hell?" Gabriel hissed from beside her. Jules buried his face in his hands at the reaction from Jackson that followed, trying very hard—and failing—to suppress his laughter.
"Just because your life is hell doesn't mean you have to make it so for everyone else," Violet snapped, and with that, she grabbed her backpack and the boy's hand and led him out of the room. She slammed the door behind her, leaving a very awestruck Mr. Jackson to face the judgment of the remaining students.
"Did you see his face? My God, I've never seen anything so beautiful."
"You shouldn't have done that," the boy said flatly, taking a seat against the wall in the middle of the empty hall. Violet plopped down beside him.
"But I'm glad I did," she said. "He deserved it." She gently took his chin and forced his eyes to meet hers. "You know, you didn't deserve what he said. Don't let him get to you. He's just a tyrant."
The boy shoved her hand away and growled, "You don't even know me, so don't pretend like you do."
"Kid, what's your problem?" Violet said brusquely, glaring at him. When he looked at her then, he noticed that her steel gaze was far worse than Jackson's. Geniuinely fearing her stare might burn holes into his face, he looked away anxiously.
Scowling, he murmured, "I'm sorry."
Violet sighed. "Look, I'm Violet Griffin."
When the boy glanced at her again, his eyes fell to her manicured, outstretched hand. He took it carefully, and her handshake was firm and confident.
"Teddy Grey," he replied, noting with shame that his handshake was similar to that of a wet noodle.
"So you're a freshman?" she asked.
"Yeah. How'd you know?"
Violet's lips twitched into a smile. "I mean, you're in a Trig class, but you definitely look and act like one. You're fresh meat, I can feel it." When Teddy nodded shyly, Violet beamed.
"You got any friends, Teddy?" she asked then, already guessing the answer.
Teddy frowned. "Not really, no."
"That's about to change, Thomas Grey."
"Do you like high school so far?" Violet asked, ignoring his bemusement.
"Uh, not at all, actually."
"Oh, I'll be damned if you don't walk out of this place saying you've had the best time of your life," she said, her expression turning oddly serious. "I won't let you."
A bewildered crease formed between Teddy's eyebrows. "Um, why?"
Violet exhaled. "I don't know. Maybe because you remind me of me as a freshman." She smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "It blew. Very much so. There's something about you, Teddy Grey. Something so good that especially stupid high school shouldn't tarnish."
Teddy flushed, of course, but he didn't feel embarrassed that she could see. He felt strangely comfortable beside her, like for once he didn't have to worry about being laughed at, or called names, and silently he admitted to himself that such a sensation felt very, very good.
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