Bracing himself for the day wasn’t as easy as it used to be. Slow, deep breaths moved through him. The door opened under the pressure of his hand. The same old scene met him; kids glancing his way before turning back to their conversations.
‘The easy part is over,’ he mentally checked in.
The most direct route to his desk was taken. The hope always being that if he could get there quickly, he would be unmolested. As it came into his lowered sights, he could feel his breathing come easier. The bag started to slip from his shoulder.
“Worm,” Silas’ voice made him cringe reflexively.
Silas’ fist was coming into view. The goal was to hit him causing him to drop his bag. Then the guys would take it away to take what they wanted. Knowing this familiar scenario didn’t mean he could stop it. A hand coming in behind Silas did something Kuro would never be able to; Silas was pulled off his feet and slammed into the ground. Bryson stood uselessly to the side. The gum he was chewing fell out of his open mouth.
Hand holding Silas to the floor, Dasai gestured with his head to the gum, “pick it up.”
“Who the fu…”
Dasai’s fingers curled painfully into Silas’ vulnerable neck, “shut-up, and put it in your mouth.”
The order was cold. Kuro stared with wide eyes. There was hesitation, but Dasai wasn’t backing down and he wasn’t joking. A trembling hand placed the gum lightly on his tongue. There were snickers from those around the room. Everyone was watching!
Dasai slapped Silas’ cheek rather hard. His gesture along with the coldness in his expression was enough to convey his orders. Silas didn’t move when Dasai stood up. Fearful, Bryson stepped back.
Kuro swallowed nervously when Dasai’s glare moved in his direction, “move it.”
He nodded mutely. Then he moved to claim his desk.
“Not there!” Dasai barked, making him jump.
It was easy to see that Dasai was frustrated with him. Kuro just didn’t understand what about exactly. Dasai’s strength made no issue about the weight of Kuro’s desk. He carried it across the room, which left Kuro to stare blankly at him.
“Get over here, Kuro,” Dasai snarled!
He scrambled to follow, making a submissive skirt around Silas and Bryson. There was a heavy bang when Dasai slammed the desk down right beside his. Kuro walked up, his eyes wide.
The deadly stare Dasai gave him stopped him cold. Without another attempt, Kuro claimed his seat. Satisfied, Dasai did the same.
“Umm, hi!” the bright-eyed girl with the wavy brown hair smiled warmly at him. “I’m Darcy. This is Emmett.”
“Kuro,” he murmured the introduction.
“It’s so nice to meet you, Kuro,” Emmett practically purred the words.
Kuro felt a blush come on from the attention. It was almost better back across the room.
As though he’d heard the thought, Dasai sharply addressed him, “get your books out, trash.”
“Dasai!” Darcy scolded him.
“Act like trash, you get treated like trash.”
Kuro did as ordered. And he did it quickly.
“You’re sharing with me,” Dasai pulled the textbook closer to him.
“You didn’t bring your books again?” Darcy sounded disappointed.
Emmett chuckled, “is that why you brought him over here? Because Kuro’s the smartest guy in class and you want to copy off him?”
“Until a second ago, you didn’t even know his name,” Dasai pointed out coldly.
“Well, it’s not that I didn’t know he was smart,” Emmett shrugged with a light smile. “He’s kept his name a secret from even the teachers. That’s genius!”
“That’s what you got from that?” was the challenge presented. “You’re best buds.”
Kuro had his notebook out. Even if the only reason was to copy, Dasai had taken the effort. And that was something Kuro didn’t know quite how to deal with. He opened the textbook that sat on both their desks.
Emmett waved a hand about in a helpless gesture, “I also know that no matter the season, for the last two years Kuro here always wears long sleeves. So see, I do know something!”
“Wow, insightful,” Dasai held a flat look.
“Ok, I know nothing,” Emmett confessed. Elbows upon the desk and chin in hand, Emmett’s eyes sparkled dangerously, “but now that you’re over here, you can tell us all about yourself.”
Kuro wanted to disappear!
“Good morning, class.” The arrival of their teacher was a saving grace.
As their teacher looked out over the room, his eyes spotted Kuro and Dasai’s desks next to each other. The void across the room caught his eye. But whether it was true that the teacher didn’t know his name, or if it was Dasai’s threatening glare, their teacher remained closed mouth about the situation.
And class began.
“Emmett’s really taken a shine to Kuro,” Darcy tucked her hair behind her ear.
Dasai put books into his locker. He didn’t bother with a comment.
Darcy kept pace with him as he moved down the hall. “It’s nice when classmates can become friends. Or more than friends.”
“Kuro’s not his type,” the flat reply didn’t show any interest in the topic.
They were headed down the stairs. Their next class was in the shop. The year was starting off with mechanics; something that interested Dasai. Why the hell Darcy signed up for this class was a mystery. She sucked at most of it, and hated breaking her nails. If there was a group project, she was always holding the others back. Most often, she was on his team, though he didn’t encourage it.
They walked in. Thirteen sets of eyes turned to them; three female and the remainder male. There was nothing but friendly greetings. Dasai blended in with them easily. Darcy seemed to follow.
“Barely saw you all summer, man,” he was greeted.
“Had classes,” he shrugged. “But I still made it to all of Tam’s races.”
He kissed Tam on the cheek. A platonic gesture that she accepted as an old habit.
“How’s the back?”
Her grin on a freckled face was so classic girl-next-door, “almost cleared to be back behind the wheel. I can’t wait!”
“You’d think crashing your car would put you off racing,” Vince laughed. But behind that laughter was worry. This was a tightknit group of friends. Most of them were on Tam’s pit crew!
“Crashing is part of the course,” she brushed this off with a laugh. “I just need to be back on that track before it closes for the season!”
“All right class,” their teacher walked into the room. “We all want an update from our star racer, but class has started. So, let’s spend the next twenty minutes pretending that you don’t all know the inner workings of an engine. And then we can watch clips of the last races to get a feel for the competition out there.”
Cheers all around the class made it a nearly unanimous vote in favor of that suggestion. Darcy was the only one that didn’t look enthused.
“Thank you,” Kuro smiled with a polite bow of his head. He handed over two lunch chits; proof that he wasn’t being greedy. He was picking up two lunches.
The heavy tray wasn’t a burden. And for the first time in years, lunch wasn’t a burden. ‘Is this what school is supposed to be like?’
He hoped that it was, because then it meant that Dasai was getting the experience owed to him. And that thought made Kuro happy.
“Well look who bought us lunch today,” Silas appeared suddenly before him. The tray was pulled out of his hands.
An expression of fear preceded actions Kuro never thought he’d have the courage for. The tray came back into his possession.
“What the hell?” Bryson was shocked.
“You little bastard,” Silas was mad.
Kuro was terrified! He stepped back to get away from the two of them. This wasn’t his lunch. It actually mattered if he lost it.
“I’m sorry! But this is Dasai and Darcy’s lunch.” He was explaining with his eyes upon the tray. “I have to get it to them.”
“Then go buy them their own lunch. We’re taking this,” Silas wasn’t giving him the option.
Kuro danced away, “I’m sorry!”
It was all he was able to get out for the exchange was depleting. He ran! It was a coward’s way out, but it was the only option that he had available to him. Kuro wasn’t a strong person like Dasai. He couldn’t look people in the eye. He couldn’t fight back. All he could do was try to help out in any little, meaningless way that he could. And today, that meant bringing the others food as they worked on their project.
Somehow, he made it up to the others without having another interaction with Silas and Bryson. He claimed his seat, using his own desk as a table before handing the food over.
“You look flushed, baby. What’s going on?” Emmett was kind. Seemed Emmett was always kind!
Kuro shook his head, a smile of assurance emerging, “just wanted to hurry to bring the food up.”
“Oh darling,” Emmett sighed dramatically, “there is nothing that’s going to make our cafeteria food less awful. It’s why I only bring homemade. Today’s is particularly scrumptious! You wanna try some?”
“Careful,” Dasai muttered absently. “Kuro makes all our meals from scratch. He might critique your work.”
Kuro blanched, “I wouldn’t!”
“You go to his place to make meals?” Emmett was intrigued.
“Are you a…chef?” Darcy was searching for a reasonable explanation.
Entertained by the moment he’d created, Dasai looked up, “chef, maid, gardener. He’s the perfect little househusband.”
Kuro stared at the imperfections of his desk.
“What?” the other two were at a loss. But Kuro didn’t have the words to try and explain.
Dasai filled them in, “Kuro’s been living with my mom and I since he and I were in elementary school.”
“Why do you have to live with Dasai?” Darcy sounded almost wounded. That worried Kuro.
Emmett’s eyes sparkled, “why is this the first we’re hearing about it?”
“Because it’s none of your fucking business,” Dasai was very clear on this stand. “We have a project to get done. Kuro, where’s your lunch?”
Silently, he shook his head.
An annoyed sigh left Dasai’s lips. His lunch slammed down in front of Kuro. “Eat it.”
Arguing with Dasai when he was in this mood wasn’t advisable. Kuro got to work on eating. Because he was looking down, he missed the uncomfortable look Darcy shot Emmett, and the amused one Emmett shot back.
“Since Kuro hasn’t worked in a group with us before, I’ll explain,” Darcy spoke around bites. “I’m the creative one. Emmett’s the slacker. And Dasai’s the workhorse.”
“Workhorse?” he questioned with a vaguely threatening tone.
“It’s a compliment,” she waved off the concern. “What’s your talent, Kuro?”
He shook his head. The threatening glance from Dasai that Darcy had ignored was felt acutely by Kuro now. He pushed himself to answer, though it was barely more than a whisper, “I’m good with details, like dates and stuff.”
Dasai didn’t look any different, but it seemed he was satisfied with Kuro’s response. He told the others, “Kuro’s the only one that remembers birthdays in our house. He makes mom and I’s favorite meals and buys us gifts for each other.”
“You knew?” it slipped past his tongue before he could catch it!
“Mom doesn’t even remember what day of the week we’re on without her assistant. Like she’s going to remember my birthday, or that I wanted those exact boots.”
“So, you’ll be the brains of our group,” Darcy nodded.
“That’s great, because we’ve been muddling along until now,” Emmett laughed at them.
Kuro stared down at his lunch, feeling lost.
Darcy was pushing on, “since it’s a history project; we’re relying on you, Kuro.”
He chewed on the plastic fork, forgetting to remove it before biting down.
“So, what do you think of our little group of friends?” Darcy was putting her books into her locker.
He nodded, not wanting to share an opinion.
Emmett leaned back into the lockers, looking completely comfortable. Feeling drawn as well as scared, Kuro could only steal small sidelong glances.
Emmett scratched the back of his neck as he watched the other students walk by, “I think you lived up to your end.”
He stared into his locker.
A nudge at his shoulder was Emmett’s way of easing the tension, “you sure have the facts down. You made the project fly along! We’ve never finished in one class.”
“Yah Kuro, you were great!” Darcy shut her locker. The smile on her face warmed the entire hallway.
He nodded softly. He wanted to return the kindness. Staring at the floor by Emmett’s feet he tried, “you were really creative. I liked the backstory you made up.”
“That wasn’t the task though,” Darcy pointed out.
“But I think, maybe,” he wavered, “it made it better.”
“Thank you, Kuro,” Emmett put his arm around him. “So, that would make Darcy the slacker than?”
“I am not!” she was quick to deny
Kuro shook his head, “she carried the project.”
“Exactly,” she grinned, feeling as though she’d won something.
“That would make you the workhorse, sweetie,” Emmett laughed. “And Dasai the slacker.”
Kuro’s eyes went wide!
“Who the hell figured it out?” Dasai’s annoyed voice reached them.
“Kuro,” Emmett gave him up with a grin.
Kuro felt a tremble from his core.
“Just for that, I want Thai tonight.” Dasai pulled Kuro away from Emmett, “and you’re sitting on the couch.”
It was a punishment that made Kuro pale. With Dasai’s arm around his neck, they walked to their next class. Behind them, Emmett and Darcy stared in question.