“I said I’m fine,” Jack said, pulling his arm from Patty’s grip for the third time. “Look, we’ll just forget it happened, okay?”
“I most certainly will not forget it happened!” Patty said. “You— you saw—“ Her face was nearly as red as her—
— hair, Jack reminded himself.
“It’s no big deal. Really.”
“Oh,” Patty said, the word coming out more like a huff. She tugged at the hem of her skirt again, which poked all of an inch from below the bottom of her furry brown coat, which itself came nearly to her knees. “So I guess she must show you her panties all the time, then.”
“What? No!” Even though his balance had come back, Jack felt for a moment that he might just plop right back down in the snow. “I never — she never—“ He took a couple deep breaths, waiting for his cheeks to stop burning. He rubbed at his eyes. The headache was nearly gone, just a dull throbbing at the back of his head, and a burning behind his eyes. “I’m going to go sit in the art wing.”
“Are you sure you don’t need to go to the nurse’s office?”
Jack turned, his embarrassment evaporating under a sudden wash of annoyance.
“I told you—“
He stopped, his anger dying as if someone had dumped an armload of snow on it.
Patty’s face was still red, and she sniffled. Tears glimmered from behind her glasses.
“I didn’t mean it to come out so mean,” Jack said. “I just… I don’t want all the trouble, like last time.”
“I would go with you, like last time,” Patty said, her voice quavering. She sniffled again. “I stayed with you, Jack. I was there the whole time, until they wouldn’t let me go. Where was she?”
Jack gulped at the cold air. He couldn’t very well tell her that Beth had been there, too, that she’d been more real to him that whole time. He didn’t know how to explain it, didn’t think Patty would believe any of it anyway, and if she did believe it….
“Well?” Rather than wipe at her eyes, or nose, Patty stood, hands on her hips.
“How would I know, I was out cold, remember? Besides, what does it matter?” Tears or no tears, the anger was beginning to warm again. He hefted his backpack, gingerly, across his other shoulder. “I’m going to go wait for art class. See ya.”
He turned, clenching his teeth, rubbing at his eyes, and tried to ignore the sound of Patty sniffling.