Nero (Made Men #1)By: Sarah Brianne
High School Dropouts
Elle sat in Spanish, staring at the clock. She swore the classroom was a hundred degrees.
With three minutes until lunch, she really missed Christmas break. Not once during the entire break had she gotten this sick feeling. No matter how many times the sensation took over her body, she could never become used to it. It was like an impending doom kind of feeling.
Elle hated school. No, Elle despised school with all her being. The one reason she was surviving Legacy Prep High was because of her only friend in the world, Chloe Masters.
Chloe needed her. Yes, Elle was bullied, but Chloe, now she was tortured. Elle would do anything to keep her safe. She deserved a protector, especially after what had happened.
All the money Elle had saved up working this Christmas break had to go to her high school tuition. Otherwise, she would get kicked out, and that would mean no protection for Chloe. Elle luckily had a scholarship to pay most of her tuition because of her grades, but she had to pay the rest by working at the diner almost every night.
Two minutes until lunch. I thought when you stared at a clock, it was supposed to make time go slower.
Elle was dreading lunch. The students hadn’t been able to pick on her and Chloe since the last day before break, which meant they were all going to let out their pent-up aggression on them. God help them.
With one minute until lunch, Elle turned her head to see Chloe since the clock was no longer serving her any purpose. Her heart broke a little. Chloe’s head was, of course, hung down, and she was wringing her hands in her lap. That was her thing whenever she was nervous.
She pictured her sweet face under her sheet of hair, marred by the deep slashes on her features. One stretched from two inches above her eyebrow down to the hollow in her cheek; the other slash was one inch above and below her lips. Both were on the right side of her face.
Elle shivered at the memory of seeing her for the first time since the new markings and then jumped when the lunch bell rang. She grabbed her satchel and stood.
You can do this. However, the sick feeling was because she really didn’t believe she could.
She went to the door and felt Chloe at her back. This was where you could always find Chloe, right behind Elle, for the last three-and-a-half-years. Slowly, Chloe had started inching over every day until she walked just one step directly behind Elle. They had quickly learned that walking side by side meant a bigger target.
She stepped over the line into the hall and headed toward the cafeteria, walking a slow pace. She had a system down for the usual hall breaks; you wanted to take the shortest route to the next class unless there was a huge crowd. A huge crowd meant the ones who picked on them like Cassandra, the school’s queen bee. She had learned to never linger because they were always better off in a classroom; the teachers usually stayed in it during hall breaks, waiting for their next class. Lastly, don’t look anyone in the eyes. Although, Elle never kept her head down to the floor; that was a bad idea, plus she was never that type of person anyways.
This was the only time the halls were safe for them, though. The cafeteria awaited with far greater dangers for her and Chloe.
Elle reached the lunchroom and looked at her options. Here there were two lines. Line one was different each day, whether it was pizza, turkey, or meatloaf; it was whatever had been decided for the menu at the beginning of each month. Line two was always the same; chicken patty or hamburger and fries every day. However, Elle and Chloe didn’t have two options; they had one—whichever line had the less scary people in it. It also meant they usually got stuck in the line that didn’t taste the best.
Elle walked toward the back of the shortest line, all of the other students having thought the other option was better. Elle looked over to it, coming to the same conclusion.
Far better, she thought.
Elle saw two figures cut farther up in the line. She and Chloe didn’t make a move to call a foul on it, though. It was better not to draw attention.
“You didn’t call or text me one time over break. Didn’t you miss me?” Cassandra wrapped her arms around Nero’s neck.
Nero grabbed her waist. “Sorry, babe. I’ve been busy.”
Nero Caruso. He was the definition of tall, dark, and handsome. He was more muscular than almost all of the other seniors but still slender. Cut is how Elle described that body-type. She could tell he had trimmed his hair over break. She thought it was strange because he’d always had it longer and slicked back for as long as she could remember. Now that it was much shorter, his hair had movement. She liked it better this way. “Does that mean you’re too busy for me tonight?” Elle could see Cassandra’s breasts rise higher.
In the next instant, Nero caught Elle staring. He held her gaze with his green eyes and then leaned down to whisper something in Cassandra’s ear.
“Get a room!” someone yelled in the line.
Cassandra snapped her head back and caught them staring at each other, giving Elle a menacing look. With that, Elle was able to break the eye contact. She felt embarrassed to be caught gawking at them. She had trained herself to never look any of the students in the eye, especially during PDA.
Geez, what is wrong with me today? All Elle needed was to piss Cassandra off. She’d had it out for her since freshman year when a boy Cassandra must have liked complimented Elle on her hair. Cassandra made sure to make Elle the school’s target, and the boy had nothing to do with her from that moment on.
The line finally moved along and they were able to grab a tray. Lasagna, green beans, and applesauce were on the menu today. Honestly, it could be worse.
Taking a water out of the cooler, she reached the lunch lady, giving her lunch number to her. “1089.”
“You can charge the first week only, Elle, then you need to either put money in your account or bring money with you every day.” The lunch lady spoke louder than Elle thought necessary. “We are not going through this again this year.”
Elle didn’t think she could have felt any sicker. “I will.” She moved over so Chloe could give her number.
“1072.” Elle knew she could have, in fact, gotten sicker at the look on Chloe’s frightened face knowing they would have to make it to their table now.
Elle started walking to their usual spot. There were several tables scattering the cafeteria. The studious students used the tables closest to the lines; they weren’t picked on, just ignored really. The tables in the back of the cafeteria were used by the popular crowd. Elle and Chloe, on the other hand, had always eaten at the same table for the past three and a half years—the one closest to the door. This table was in-between the two sides but closest to the studious side. Just one table full of nerds separated Chloe and Elle from the popular kids. The robots.