Life is one long gossip chain about designations, and as a Beta, it’s fucking exhausting.
I’m over it by senior year of high school, when everyone is going through the big change at the same time. Poe Dameron turns Alpha over winter break and comes back with a swagger in his step that somehow makes him even more insufferable. He triggers another guy who triggers an Omega.
Then we move on to the same freshman year of community college and it just keeps going.
And everyone laughs and chats and tries to guess who will be next. I try tuning it out and stick to the art room where I spend most of my days, anyway, and I’m in no danger of running across an Alpha.
They’re all those big burly jock guys like Poe. Athleticism and stuff is written in their blood, and there’s nothing they can do about it. It must suck to have so much of your destiny determined by a flip of the coin.
“I heard he’s gay.”
“Kaydel! Just because he’s an O doesn’t mean he’s gay.”
It’s a quiet lunch outside and I’m eavesdropping like I always do. I frown, distracted by the chatter about our new calculus professor and football coach. An Omega? And a man? Huh.
It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does they usually end up in psych wards.
Poe trots across the grass to Kaydel and Bazine where they’re sitting on a ledge. Kaydel is still Beta and brags loudly about having sex with an Alpha, which I guess is a big achievement for a Beta. I don’t want the knot thing in my body. Health class said it can cause ‘irreparable damage.’
I turn back to the math homework I didn’t bother doing over the weekend. Whump. Maybe the new professor will give me an extension.
Lunch ends and I text my (sick) friend Rose about the new professor. She’s out from heat sickness and I try keeping her up-to-date, especially about other demi-humans and our Beta athlete friend Finn. He’s nice. He and Rose kind of have a thing but it’s hard now that’s she’s presented.
Things don’t… work.
But they still like each other and Finn’s adoptive parents said his dad was Alpha. It can take a long time before the genes shift the right way.
It’s easy to blend in in the sea of Alphas and Omegas. Well, not a sea, but it seems like there’s a lot of them floating around the campus. I keep to the edges and try not to attract the wandering, aggressive eyes of an Alpha with too much energy to burn. They’re awful: mean, aggressive, misogynistic.
Omegas just whine. They like being coddled and I’m always thinking, ‘grow up.’ Bazine drapes herself all over Aaron Hurley even though she’s on suppressants and she makes that creepy chirping sound like a bird with a broken wing.
That won’t be me. I’ll keep being normal and as bland as possible, just skating by the skin of my teeth. I’ll be an accountant when I graduate and move somewhere sunny. I like the ocean.
We all pour into the math hall and take our usual seats. I’m right up front where I don’t want to be and shift a little to hide further in the corner. Our old calculus teacher was a half-blind ninety year old woman with a lisp; maybe we’ll get that again.
The door opens and Kaydel actually gasps.
It’s not gasping material. He’s young and tall and broad, more like a linebacker than a math teacher, and he has black hair looped back in a bun. He does have some gnarly black tattoos coming out underneath his rolled back sleeves—and he has an equally gnarly black brand on the side of his neck.
I blink. It’s an Omega symbol.
He drops a messenger bag on the desk and doesn’t turn, but starts talking.
“I’m Kylo.” Couple pens. Calculus book. A registration bracelet clicks on his wrist. “Professor Ren to you. I’m not gasping material and if you ask about the brand I’ll break your legs.”
Everyone falls silent. Professor Ren hangs his bag over the back of the chair and takes a drink from his travel mug, probably coffee but maybe whiskey, and I can’t help but stare. He’s an Omega? But how is he so big? And the tattoos? And a man?
There’s no mating bite, just the big brand. I read that it used to be done in some parts of the country because ‘aberrant’ presentations were so unpredictable. That’s why he has a registration bracelet, too. They get followed around.
He scratches stubble on his chin and dark eyes flicker up, brow furrowing—then snap straight to me.
I stiffen. What’s he looking at? What’s his problem? I’m minding my own business and staring just as much as everyone else is.
Professor Ren narrows his eyes. I’m afraid he’s going to fucking punch me.
“Sir, do we have practice today?”
Poe attracts his attention and I’m set free. I redden and look down at my notebook and old iPad I bought off Craigslist. Holy shit. He can’t be an Omega.
Professor Ren goes to the white board. “Yes, Dameron. Come by my office after class.”
“Well—I’m an Alpha, y’know.”
Kaydel groans and slaps Poe’s arm. I watch from the corner of my eye as Professor Ren slowly turns to stare at Poe, still holding a red marker in his thick fingers. He raises his eyebrows.
Poe laughs uncomfortably. “I’m just saying. Since you’ve got that brand—”
The marker sails across the room and hits Poe right between the eyes. He yelps and scrambles for the door when Professor Ren hurls a green marker next. Kaydel turns to watch him leave and giggles with Bazine. I blink at the scene and when I turn, find my math professor glaring at me again.
Jesus. What did I do?
He pushes up his gray sweater sleeves again and turns to the white board.
“Miss Elms is dead. Open to page sixty.”
I’m determined to keep blending in, so I move to the back of the classroom the next day.
There are extra seats and no one notices or cares. It gives me a great spot to avoid Professor Ren’s penetrating stare, but I figure he’ll move on to harassing Poe, anyway. Since Poe is an ass.
Our professor is already at the head of the classroom sitting at the desk. He doesn’t look up, too busy looking at something on his tablet, but I can tell he’s tired. His hair is messier today and his tie is loose.
Everyone shuffles in and sits. I give the room a glance and open up my book.
I’m suddenly the center of attention. Bodies shift and dozens of eyes stare at me, curious to why Professor Ren is calling my name. My heart pounds and I get a strange prickling sensation down my nape.
“…Yes?” I rasp. Clear my throat. “Yes?”
“Come here, please.”
Giggles wash through the room. I slowly get to my feet and wish I wore a nicer outfit to be stared at in. It’s just the same sweater I’ve had since high school and old tennis sneakers. I usually look like I just rolled out of bed.
Professor Ren’s dark eyes flicker to mine as I come to stop a couple feet away. He smells nice, like laundry; it’s the same way Rose sometimes smells during heat. But there’s an undercurrent of woodsy… something. It’s relaxing. Where does he get his cologne?
He picks up my assignment and I see it’s covered in red marks. My cheeks burn as he offers it to me, and I and try to hide the failing grade. He just leans back in his chair and gives me the same cold glare.
The prickling gets worse. My throat itches, which I figure is because I want to cry. People are staring. Why would he embarrass me like this? I haven’t done anything to him—I didn’t make offensive comments or ask stupid questions.
“You should find a tutor,” Professor Ren says, still staring at me. He points to the front corner desk. “Please return to your assigned seat, Miss Niima. It seems you need the extra attention.”
Humiliated, I scurry to the back and bring my stuff up to the front. People stare. I’m on the verge of tears.
He stands, red marker clenched in his fist. I don’t look up or directly at him for the rest of class, determined not to cry, but I still feel him eyeing me. I’ve never annoyed anyone in my entire life and this guy hates me after one day and one bad grade.
The lecture starts. I doodle a little to keep myself occupied, at an odd mix of angry and mortified and not sure how to deal with it. I’m not angry a lot. I usually go with the flow so everyone will like me, but this guy is getting on my nerves.
What an asshole. I’ve never met an Omega who was such an asshole. They’re usually sweet and gentle and I have no problems—
“What did you find for question six, Miss Niima?”
My gaze snaps up at his voice and I find I’m being stared at again, faced with an unfamiliar proof on the white board. Shit.
I scramble. “Uh—I think I got it wrong.”
People laugh softly as I scan my homework. Question six: yes, got it wrong. I’m not very good at math. Or anything else, really.
My professor ambles to my desk, pushing and closing the marker cap with his thumb. I clench my jaw as he pushes aside my homework, which flutters to the floor, and turns my notebook around to face him. The classroom falls silent.
Long, calloused fingers flip through pages upon pages of random doodles. I like drawing, even if I’m not very good at it. Eyes, shapes, hands. I don’t draw cohesive things; I’m more of a small picture type of person. Here and now has been the only thing I’ve ever had control over.
I stare at the notebook until he stops. He lifts it to close the front and takes the entire thing away, turning back to the whiteboard. Before I can ask, he answers the question.
Mortified, furious, I grab my backpack and stuff my iPad inside. Poe laughs and Professor Ren snaps at him to get out, too, but I’m already halfway down the stairs before we can meet each other.
What a fucking asshole. Fuck him.