Nicholas jerked his head up at the sound, the word ‘hypothesis’ left unfinished on his paper.
His grip on his pencil tightened.
He hated blood. And he hated Alex Constantine. It only made sense that today, the two had been combined.
At the back of the classroom, Alex swore profusely, and loudly, considering that Mr. Hilston wasn’t in the room. He had gotten glass stuck in his hand, the remaining shards scattered around him.
Where was Mr. Hilston?
He had told the class to work on the lab write up before walking out to talk to another teacher. Alex and his friends, per usual, didn’t. Nicholas had already been flinching at the noise they had been making, banging together the metal tools and throwing glass flasks for each other to catch from across the room.
One of the flasks had shattered just moments ago, assumingly smack dab on Alex’s palm.
People silently snickered at Alex’s stupidity as he swore. His friends gathered around him, making loud remarks. Laughing a little, too.
“Dude, what’re we gonna do?” one of them said, his tone far from worried--more of a perplexed and amused way. “That’s a lot of blood.”
Nicholas bit his lip, cringing at the thought of the wound. He hadn’t even gotten a proper look. He was too terrified to.
Tentatively, he returned his focus to his lab.
Alex deserved it.
Nicholas couldn’t get himself to believe that.
“Ugh, can someone find Mr. Hilston?” Alex finally said. “It hurts.”
He received a chaotic chorus of ‘no, we’ll get in trouble’’s from his friends, who were apparently dumb enough to think they could clean the mess up in mere moments.
Alex swore again. Then, rather than looking back to his friends, he instead glanced around the room. His eyes found their way to Nicholas’s.
Nicholas’s heart jackknifed. Alex was holding the stare and that wasn’t normal.
“Get Mr. Hilston,” he ordered. Directed towards Nicholas.
The pencil slipped from Nicholas’ shaky and sweaty hands. His cheeks burned. He couldn’t quite process that the sophomore bully was talking to him in a non-violent manner.
So many years of Alex Constantine calling him names and at this point, it was primal instinct for Nicholas to refuse to help. He wouldn’t have helped if Alex never met eyes with him. If he never directly asked for it.
But Alex was directly asking Nicholas, and Nicholas didn’t have time to think of the hypothetical right now.
“Are you deaf? Get help.” Alex’s tone sharpened.
It’d been weeks since Alex said or did anything to Nicholas. Nicholas had learned to stay out of his way. To ignore it.
He couldn’t ignore it now.
His entire class watched him with surreptitious glances. They talked to each other with whispers.
Nicholas couldn’t move. Couldn’t think right.
Alex’s stare remained steadfast. It almost seemed... it seemed like he was pleading.
All eyes were on him. But, Nicholas’s thoughts screamed for him to do nothing.
Because Alex deserved it, right? Maybe?
After all the shoving, the after-school heckling, the stealing of his homework—
His heart felt like it could burst from beating so fast. Too long had passed and he needed to make a decision. Now.
He could end up in the hospital if keeps on clenching his muscles like that. And the blood’s so nauseating.
Nicholas could put all differences aside for something important like this.
Shakily, he rose from his seat and went out the door--his classmates’ eyes followed him--frantically looking down both sides of the hallway for Mr. Hilston.
Mr. Hilston stood by the lockers, near the water fountains, with the other teachers, probably talking about something important. Nicholas swallowed.
“Mr. Hilston, um, uh—someone’s hurt.”
Mr. Hilston’s eyes lit up in concern. “I’m sorry, let me deal with this,” he told the other the teacher before walking over to Nicholas. “What’s wrong?”
“Alex—Alex got glass in his hand.”
“Oh no. He wasn’t following directions?”
“Yeah.” His response felt like a whisper.
When they re-entered, Mr. Hilston rushed towards Alex. The rest of the class--those who were snickering just moments ago--gave Nicholas an ironic round of applause, accompanied by excessive cheering.
Mr. Hilston told everyone to get back to work.
The class returned to their normal whispering.
Mr. Hilston gave Nicholas a quick thank you. Nicholas nodded, his heart still beating too fast for his own comfort. He made his way back to his desk, not quite processing everything.
The rest of the period was a haze. He could only focus on how Alex would approach him after this. With threats? A punch to the face? A thank you? Nicholas continued to sweat at the thought of it.
Why did he even ask Nicholas, specifically, for help in the first place?
His hand shook as he wrote.