Better Off, chapter 1

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Raphaela sat on top of the lockers, watching Gary, the janitor, mop up the linoleum floor. He was her only friend, a forty-five year old single man with one kid. She looked down at him as she tore down the "Do Not Sit On The Lockers" sign.

"Homecoming is Saturday," Gary said as an effort to start a conversation. There had been an awkward silence hanging over them for at least twenty minutes. Raph shrugged.

"I know," she said. Gary chuckled.

"I hear that Wright boy wants to ask you." She rolled her eyes and brushed her red hair behind her ears.

"Yeah, sure." Gary frowned and looked up at the young girl.

"It's true. I saw him talking to himself in the mirror today. 'Raphaela, will you go to homecoming with me?'" They shared a laugh, and Raph threw a piece of dried-up gum at him. He dodged it, still laughing.

"He was probably joking," she said. Gary knew how long she'd loved Frankito, why would he be saying this? Gary frowned.

"He was completely serious." Raph shook her head in disbelief.

"He pushed me into a locker today." She checked her watch. "Well, I have to be going." She jumped off the lockers and slid on the wet linoleum, Gary catching her by the forearms. She smiled gratefully at him.

"Bye, Gare," she said. He ran his fingers through his graying brown hair.

"You know, you remind me of Ahna so much," he said, referring to his daughter. Raph smiled half-heartedly. He sighed and hugged her briefly. She let herself out of the school and started to walk home.

It was almost nine, which made it near pitch black. She pulled her jacked tighter around her thin frame, flipping the hood up.

Her eyes widened as she heard footsteps behind her. She quickened her pace, only to hear them do the same.

Great, now someone was following her.

She sped up, but they caught up with her and spun her around. She gasped as she saw who it was.

Frankito Wright.

She blushed and put a hand to her forehead, trying to calm down. He flashed a grin at her.

"Did I scare you? I'm really sorry," he said, his blue eyes twinkling in the starlight. She smiled.

"It's okay." Her skin burned pleasantly where he still held on to her upper arm. The pleasant sensation faded as he shoved his hand in his pocket.

"I just wanted to say sorry about the locker thing today. It was purely accidental." She nodded.

"It's okay, I'm kind of used to it." He frowned, trying to look into her green eyes, but they rested on the ground.

"Um, would you mind if I walked you home? It is Oakland." She chuckled and nodded.

"Sure, Frankito."

"Frankie," he corrected, grinning. She smiled back.

"Frankie," she whispered. They proceded to walk down the sidewalk, a silence falling over them. She watched her shoes kick the stones into the street.

"So what are you doing out here this late? Won't your parents be worried?" he asked. She shrugged.

"I'm legally emancipated, so I live alone."

"Don't you get lonely?" She shook her head.

"When your only friend is the fucking janitor, you get used to being lonely." Frankie frowned and looked away from her.

"Look, Raphaela, I'm really sorry," Frankie said suddenly, turning toward her. She blinked, confused, and stopped.

"For what?" She asked. He blushed and looked at his feet.

"For teasing you and letting the other people make fun of you. I could have stopped it, and I'm really sorry I didn't. I suppose I only messed with you because...becauseIlikedyouanddidn'twantanyonetoknow," he said, mushing the last few words together. She blushed and brushed a tendril of hair out of her face.

"It's okay, really." He stopped her, gently gripping her upper arms.

"No, it's not." He bit his lip, worrying it between his teeth. She smiled at the adorable habit he indulged in when he was thinking. She'd always loved it.

"Raphaela-"

"Raph," she interrupted. He grinned at her.

"Raph, what I want to say is... Will you go to homecoming with me?" Raph froze, completely shocked at his question. So Gary hadn't been lying. She gaped at Frankie.

"I understand if you don't want to, it's completely understandable-" he started, but Raph interrupted.

"I'd love to." He shook his head and beamed.

"Great, um, I'll pick you up at eight?" She nodded, and he hugged her. She laughed as they pulled out of the embrace.

"Well, I'd better get you home," he said, blushing. She nodded, and they resumed walking.

Suddenly something caught Raph's foot, and she went flying into the street, scraping her face, hands and knees on the asphalt. She winced and lay down, not caring that she was still in the street. She felt completely mortified. She did this type of thing all the time, but this time it was in front of Frankie. She sighed.

Frankie ran to her and pulled her up.

"Holy shit, are you okay?" he asked, a look of concern in his face. She nodded.

"Yeah, I'm good." He lead her underneath a streetlight and inspected her wounds. She blushed when his hand rested under her chin, turning her face to get a better look.

"It's not too bad. Do you have a first aid kit at your house?" She shook her head.

"I'll be okay." He frowned.

"You're coming to my house."

"No, it's okay," she protested, but he just shook his head stubbornly.

"Nope, we're cleaning you up." He wrapped his arm around her waist, and she balanced her arm across her shoulders. He helped her limp back to the sidewalk. Frankie whipped out his cell phone with his other hand, but then looked at Raph, frowning.

"Have you heard of Green Day?" he asked.

"Yeah, I love their music. I'm not obsessed or anything, I just have a few of Ahna's CD's."

"Ahna?" he asked, confused.

"The janitor's daughter."

"Ah," he said, nodding. "So you're not a teenie?" She laughed.

"No. I'd love to meet them, but, to be honest, I wouldn't know what they looked like if they bit me in the face." Frankie chuckled.

"Alright." He proceded to dial the number.

A few minutes later, a black BMW pulled up. Raph backed up cautiously, but Frankie gently pulled her inside.

"It's okay, it's my dad's ride," he whispered comfortingly in her ear, sending chills down her spine. She nodded numbly and let Frankie guide her in. He slid in beside her, closing the door behind her.

There was a burly man in the front seat. He looked like a Bruno or Brutus, or some macho name like that.

"Where to, Frankito?" Bruno/Brutus asked in a deep voice. Raph turned to Frankie, her green eyes wide. He chuckled at her.

"My house, Bruce." The burly man nodded and proceded to drive. They sat in silence, Raph staring at the back of Bruce's head, a look of sheer terror on her face. Frankito reached over and squeezed her hand comfortingly.

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