Colors of You ~ The Academy #1
(Baxter Academy Series ~ The Academy)
Alexia Deme likes her quiet life as an art teacher at the Baxter School of Art, a high school for the talented and troubled. It was a long journey to get here, but she’s finally on her own and where she wants to be. Though nothing is ever permanent, this might be the first place she can stay for a while. At least she thinks so until that peace is disrupted by a fleeing felon, turning her world upside down and bringing the past to her present.
It was a normal, typical day when Officer Kian O’Brien got the radio call and took off after a fleeing suspect, over the walls of the Baxter Academy of Art and to the side of Alexia Deme right before she nearly collapses in his arms. In one moment, everything in his life is altered and the more Kian comes to know Alexia, the more he cares.
But, can he keep her from fleeing when the past comes back to haunt her? He’s not ready to let her go, but can he convince her to stay?
***Recommended for adult readers due to language, sexual content and adult situations***
***Recommended for adult readers due to language, sexual content and adult situations***
“Hey, Miss Alexia, when you gonna let me tag this wall?”
I roll my eyes and lean back against the stone wall, setting my charcoal drawing aside for the moment. Louie always asks to tag the ten foot walls surrounding the school whenever it’s nice enough to be outside. As its November, days like this are nearly non-existent. But, by some fluke it’s warm. So much so that the kids are wearing short sleeves and modest shorts. Naked trees are outlined by a hazy sky and the ground is covered in a blanket of red, brown, orange and yellow leaves. This just might be my favorite time of year.
“Those dull stones are borrrring.” He stands back and studies them. “What color do you call that anyway? Dirty white?”
I can only laugh at Louie. He likes color. Everything he paints is bold and bright. That’s one thing we have in common. These walls could use some color. A magnificent piece of art that would make people stop and take notice.
“It is a cream, ecru or light stone,” Marissa answers without taking her eyes from the watercolor she was working on. Her voice is as crisp as the air should be. “It is calm and soothing. I would appreciate you not defacing it.”
“I call it boring as hell.” He flops down next me. “Come on, Teach, let me tag it.”
I bite my lip to keep from laughing. Louie always makes me laugh and I find it hard to believe he is only eight years younger. It feels like there are decades between our ages.
“Her name’s Miss Alexia, not Teach,” Carlie disciplines. “Show some respect, dumbass.”
“You calling me a dumbass?” Louie laughs. “It’s over seventy degrees and you got those long sleeves on. Bet you’re sweating like a motherfucker.”
“Louis!” No longer finding him funny. It’s one thing for the kids to give each other a hard time, tease and have fun. It’s an entirely different matter to mention a sensitive subject. In Carlie’s case, she wears long sleeves to cover the scars on her arm. She may have stopped cutting, but white lines are still there and she doesn’t like to see them.
I know very little about the students’ backgrounds. It isn’t my business. I am here to teach art, at least until the end of the December. I still haven’t heard if they’re going to keep me on. It makes my stomach churn. They need to keep me. I love this job and have no clue what else I would do. Well, I do have other skills, but I don’t exactly want to rely on those and I make a shitty waitress.
As far as the kids are concerned, we’re told only what’s necessary. In Carlie’s case, we’re to watch for any signs that she may be cutting again. How the hell I’d be able to tell that is beyond me. She’s always covered from head to foot regardless of the temperature. If she’s cutting, I’d never know it. All I can do is what I’ve been told, and that’s to keep a careful inventory of our art supplies. The brushes and paints might be innocent, but I also have X-acto knives, scissors and any number of items that could be harmful, whether the person wants to use it on themselves or someone else. So far, at least since May, the only thing that’s gone missing is a stack of post-it notes. For all I know, those could have been taken by anyone, or fallen behind a cabinet.
Besides, Carlie meets with a therapist or psychologist twice a week. Aren’t they supposed to be watching for these things, questioning the girl, or even inspecting her body? I really don’t know how it works. I just teach art. I am not a therapist by any stretch of the imagination.
I asked when I got here where these kids would be if they didn’t have this high school and was told that they’d have been released from wherever facility or home they’d been a resident and returned to their parents, guardians or foster care. But, because of their talent, they were accepted to come here instead. The kids still have issues and meet with therapists, but for the most part, seem to be doing okay. Well, at least to me they seem to be doing fine.
“Sorry, Carlie,” Louie says after a moment and I know he feels bad. He’s got a good heart, despite what nightmare he might’ve lived through before coming here.
Marissa purses her lips and looks away from her painting only long enough to glare at Louie.
Louie shrugs and goes back to his drawing. “That art would be epic, I’m telling ya.”
I’m sure it would be. “I’ll speak with the dean.”
He looks up at me with a gleam in his hazel eyes.
“But don’t get your hopes up.”
He snorts. “I learned long ago never to get my hopes up, Teach.”
He says this so matter-of-factly that it’s almost painful. For many years I never allowed myself to get my hopes up either. A part of me is still afraid to.
At the blare of sirens coming from somewhere in the distance the students stiffen, look up and listen. Fear registers in some eyes and while others only seem slightly curious. Anxiety sweeps through me. It’s automatic. For too many years I ran whenever the police were near and I suspect a number of these kids have as well. No one is painting or drawing anymore, just listening. Do they have the same instant reaction as me? Never, ever trust a cop, or fucking pig, as my father was fond of calling them. From before I could remember, if the cops were around, you ran. It was instilled in me before I could walk.
A few of the students lay their brushes aside and I push down my own anxiety. I haven’t needed to run from the police in six years, but it’s instinctive. I wonder if this is something that I’ll ever get over.
A highway runs along the other side of the wall and this isn’t the first time we’ve heard sirens, but there’s more than one car and they’re getting closer. Even though I know we’re safe, I can’t relax. I listen, waiting for them to pass.
“I wish we had some loud music,” Mick complains. He’s Louie’s best friend, at least since shortly after they both arrived at the school. I am actually surprised he isn’t begging to tag the wall right along with Louie.
“Me too.” Marissa’s hands shake as she dips her brush into the water.
Emma unplugs the earphones from her iPod and classical music fills the air. The school provides iPods to all the music students. I can’t believe that’s where a portion of our funding goes.
I normally don’t allow the kids to have them in class, but today we’re working on individual projects and it’s more relaxed. Besides, Emma works better with music playing, so I let her keep it today.
“What the hell is that?” Carlos asks.
“Pachelbel!” Emma answers as if it’s obvious.
Tires squeal and something crashes into the other side of the wall, right behind me. Had the car taken the tight curve too fast and wrecked? It wouldn’t be the first time, but nobody had ever struck the wall before. Usually they hit a tree or one of the guardrails.
I jump up. My pulse is racing and my heart may very well pound right out of my chest. We’re safe. We should be safe, but something in my gut warms me otherwise. Nothing good ever happens when the cops were around.
More tires squeal and the sirens stop just on the other side of the wall. “Everyone, inside.” I urge them toward the art building. Even though the wall around the school is ten feet high, the safety and security I felt not ten minutes ago is gone.
The kids drop their brushes and jump to their feet. Some run, others walk more casually. I wish they’d hurry. I can’t go in until each of my students are inside, safe and secure.
There’s a scuffling sound on the other side of the wall and I hold my breath, wishing I didn’t have to be so close to it, but I have to stay between the kids and the potential danger.
Something heavy drops onto me, knocking me to the ground. The back of my head slams into the stone and pain shoots down my arm.
Just as quick, the weight is gone.
“Miss Alexia,” Carlie cries, rushing to my side.
“You fucking asshole,” Louie yells. I want to tell him to just get inside, but I can’t focus long enough. Everything is happening in a fog, quickly but in slow motion, a mass of confusion as my brain tries to focus. I can’t seem to voice the words in my head.
“Get him,” Mick yells and I struggle to get my bearings.
I finally pull myself to my feet. My eyes are a bit blurry but I can see a man is running away with Louie and Mick chasing after him. “Don’t,” I scream just as Louie lunges, grabbing the man around the thighs, bringing him to the ground. Something flies out of the stranger’s hand, but I can’t tell what it was.
“Get the gun,” Louie yells.
Oh my God! The man has a gun! My chest tightens.
Before I can respond, Mick races forward and kicks the gun further away so that the stranger can’t reach it.
Thank God he didn’t touch it.
I start forward as Louie rolls the man over, straddles him and then draws back his arm before hitting him in the nose. Blood splatters everywhere and Louie is yelling in the guy’s face. “You hurt Miss Alexia, you son of a bitch.”
“Stop,” I cry.
Louie doesn’t seem to care and hits him again.
Officers rush by me from behind as more cops start pouring in from the front of the campus.
“Hands in the air,” one of the cops orders.
I blink, trying to clear my vision again as I stumble forward.
Mick, Louie and the stranger are now down on their knees, hands locked behind their heads. This is all happening too fast.
“Stop,” I shriek. “The boys didn’t do anything wrong.”
“We’re taking them in,” an older cop bellows. He yanks Mick off the ground and I watch as the cop cuffs him like a common criminal. Louie is being cuffed by another cop. Mick doesn’t deserve this and neither does Louie.
“They’re innocent,” I cry, swaying slightly. Why am I so dizzy? I need a clear head. I need to stop them before they harm the boys.
“We’ll question them at the station,” one of the cops tells me.
“Don’t worry none, Miss Alexia.” Louie gives me a lopsided grin. “We’ll be okay.”
How can he smile? Doesn’t he know what this could mean? He’s come too far and if he’s charged with something he’ll get kicked out of Baxter.
“You can question them here.” I’m finding it hard to breathe as panic takes hold. “They didn’t do anything wrong.”
“We only need to get their statements.”
An officer steps in front of me and puts a steadying hand on my arm. I look up into his light blue eyes.
“Do you understand?” He’s looking at me with such concern. All I can do is nod as stars begin dancing in my peripheral vision.
I grab the young teacher’s arms as her legs give way. Slipping an arm around her waist and supporting her the best I can, I lead her to a cushioned, iron-bench beneath a shade tree. Blood drips from the back of her head and soaks into my shirt. She sits and puts her hand down at her side as if to support herself. I settle beside her for fear she might fall over. She needs medical attention and I radio for an EMT. Not only is her head gushing blood, but she’s unstable, and it looks like her right wrist is swollen and injured. I don’t have the medical knowledge to know if it’s a break or a sprain.
“Look at me.”
She slowly tilts her head up then squints her eyes at me, trying to gain focus. They are such a beautiful, dark brown, framed with such thick lashes. I blink and look more intensely, studying the size of her pupils since she did hit her head pretty hard.
“An ambulance will be here in a moment.”
“Don’t need one.”
I don’t argue the point. She’s in no condition to make any decisions right now.
Her glance drifts lower as she sways, and her gaze locks on the badge at the left side of my chest. “Fucking pig.”
Okay then, I laugh to myself. This one obviously has no affection for cops, but I won’t hold it against her. Besides, in my short one year career, I’ve been called much worse, though nobody’s ever called me a pig before. That’s what my dad was called, and usually by people who were old enough to have been at Woodstock.
“Why don’t you lie back?” The way she’s swaying from side to side, she won’t be able to hold herself upright much longer.
“No.” She glares at me. “The boys. Bring them back.”
“They’ll be returned after questioning.”
She groans and lays back and then winces as her head comes in contact with the cushion. “They didn’t do anything wrong.”
She’s right. There’s no reason the kids had to be treated like criminals, but that’s an issue I’ll take up with my sergeant later.
There’s no color to her lips and she’s grown pale. I hope the EMTs get here soon.
“Bring them back,” she mumbles, nearly slurring her words.
Her eyes are drifting shut. Shit. I can’t let her pass out. Isn’t that the first rule of a head injury? “I promise, I will.” She’s still bleeding and I know heads can bleed a lot, but what if it’s worse than I thought? I shift and turn her so her legs are resting on the cushion and she’s practically lying down. I squat on the ground beside her. Her breathing is even. That’s good, but she needs a doctor now.
She opens her eyes slightly. “I don’t trust cops.”
I’m not surprised. She had just called me a fucking pig. “You can trust me.”
She snorts. “That’s what they all say.”
Her arms stiffen and she grabs the cushion, sitting forward as she groans. I know the look and sound too well, but can’t move quick enough to avoid her puking in my lap. Given her feelings for cops, I don’t ever expect an apology.
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BAXTER ACADEMY SERIES ~ THE ACADEMY