“Jonah, this is Roman. Roman, this is my brother Jonah.” She’s excited to introduce us, but I don’t offer my hand to shake or say anything to him.
He looks at me for a moment, and I turn back around.
“I guess they don’t have much in the way of manners where you’re from.”
I still at the words, but refuse to respond. His Southern is accent giving him a good ol’ boy vibe that I already know is utter bull. I can’t let him see how he gets to me or it’ll be all over. He likes to mess with people; it’s obvious to anyone with eyes and half a brain. This guy rules and enjoys the power.
I look around the table quickly and notice almost every pair of female eyes staring in absolute admiration.
“Jonah!” my sister hisses at me. “You’re being rude!” Her voice is lowered, but she’s close enough that I can hear her just fine. “Mama raised you better than that!”
“I’m glad you made a friend, Mary,” I say over my shoulder.
“Seriously? What is wrong with you?” She all but stomps her foot, and I hear Roman chuckle at her abrupt outburst.
“Ah, don’t worry, sweetheart. I’ll take awful good care of you.” His tone has just enough innuendo for my spine to straighten.
In my peripheral, I watch him wrap an arm around my sister’s shoulder. My eye quickly catches his. With a slow, burning grin and a sly wink, he turns her away from me and walks straight toward the group of football players in the back. Glancing around, people are standing up at their tables trying to catch a small glimpse of what was going on. I have a feeling I just committed social suicide.
“Jonah.” Anna says my name again, but at this very moment, I can’t pay her any mind.
Mary is with him. The one that shakes me to my core. I don’t know him, but I don’t need to at this point. He’s dangerous.
“What?” I almost growl, my head jerking up to make eye contact with Anna. I take a deep breath and let it out slowly when I see the hurt wash over face. “I’m sorry.”
“You need to get your sister away from him. He’s bad news,” Anna states uneasily as she leans over the table, voice so low even I can barely hear her.
“Who is he?” I ask nervously as I lean closer to her, to not be overheard by mindful ears.
“That’s Roman King. He’s the quarterback for the school, and the best one we’ve had in about twen’y years. He does whatever he wants ‘round here. He isn’t just a ‘king’ because of his last name.” Her eyes are telling me a much deeper story, a darker one, but I’m in no position to push her on it. “Look, you seem like a nice guy, so I’m gonna assume your sister is a nice girl too. Roman King gets what he wants and walks away. Ya know what I mean?”
My gut cramps with dread. I know exactly what she means, and Mary is so desperate to be accepted that she would probably let him have his way.
“I had a run-in with him this morning. I bumped into him, and he threw me into the lockers.”
“That don’t surprise me at’ll. Though I am surprised you don’t got a black eye.”
“Really? He’s violent?”
“I’ve ne’er heard of him hitting a girl, but getting into fights? Oh, yeah. He normally starts them, then the entire offensive line steps in and handles the rest of it for ‘im. He can’t risk getting hurt bad enough to not play.”
This is not making any sense. What kind of place have we moved to?
Anna chuckles at my confusion. “Honey, you live in the South now. Everyone ‘round here cares about two things: football and God. The local high school teams are just as important as the professional players in the NFL. Damn near the entire town shuts down when there’s a game on Friday nights.”
I can’t wrap my head around this. It’s like moving to an entirely different country. The entire town shuts down for high school football?
“Is that even legal?”
“Come to the game next Friday and ask the Sheriff for yourself.” She smiles at me.
The last bell has rung, and everyone is heading out as quickly as they can. I stop by my locker, drop off the books I’ve picked up in my last classes, and head to the entrance, expecting Mary to be waiting for me. When I get to the front doors, I look around, and she’s nowhere in sight.
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