Hayden plops into his seat-the same corner desk by the door. It's the same seat he always chooses regardless of the room he's in. 'Makes it easier to just run off and leave' is what he tells himself often, but the real reason is a little different. Each and every day, Hayden has to face everyone's sharp stares with a straight face that he's gotten used to being under the limelight at this point, and thus all their gawking are no more sharper than butter knives. Still, he feels that all the unnecessary attention is too overwhelming at times that all he wants to do is stare back at them, and his best bet would be at the topmost row of each classroom. Petty, but that's just Hayden being Hayden.

But this time, all the dulling he had worked on for yours feel like they've been reversed in one fell swoop. His classmates and professor watch him with judging eyes-long and hard enough to burn him if they look at him any longer. He has bandaged cuts and bruises on his face-the only proof of last night's predicament visible to everyone else. His other multitude of injuries are hidden under his thick grey hoodie and denim jeans. Still, the wounds on his face make are enough to make him the star of the show.

And Desmond, of all people, just had to be in this class.

"What on earth happened to you, Mr. Zahle?" His economics elective professor-a woman in her late thirties-adjusts her glasses and eyes him from tip to toe. Hayden just puts up his hoodie and bows his head to block their sight, but the constant whispering from his fellow students are still loud enough for him to hear. 'Should've gotten some fucking earplugs', he murmurs to himself with gritted teeth.

Unable to take it any longer, he raises his head and pulls back his hoodie. "Oh," he smiles, slightly wincing in pain. "Just a small accident, is all."

"An accident? Or was the fucker who drilled your ass into some fucked up shit this time?" One of his classmates-a fellow chemical engineering student-jeers. The rest of the class either silently scorn her for her tactlessness in their seats or try to curb their laughter, but everyone's attention immediately returns to their professor after she hammers her desk with a thick book.

Everyone, but Desmond.

"That's enough," she bellows, and the class goes on like nothing happened. Hayden prefers it that way-people mind their own business, and he won't mind theirs. But deep down, he's almost always in a mood to talk back. Sass them. Give them a taste of their own medicine. And yet, doing that grants them the satisfaction of reaction-something Hayden hates. Thus, silence is often the option he chooses, even if it usually ends up making matters worse in the end.

But as what they say, rumors are rumors. No amount of words can save him unless he has proof to counter their claims, and doing so is nothing but a waste of time.

Soon, the bell rings and the students begin to depart through the doors. Hayden stuffs his notebook into his bag and is about to leave until Desmond grabs him by the wrist.

"What do you want, Irvine?" Hayden scowls. The memory of last night's mishap is still fresh, after all.

"Oh, so you decided to remember my name now?" Desmond scoffs.

Hayden pulls his hand away and studies him. Something on his wrist catches his eye, and Hayden immediately realizes that it's the same watch one of his clients-a wealthy businessman secretly having an affair on his wife with him-wore many moons back.

"Guess the rumors were right after all," he mutters under his breath as he turns away.

Desmond crosses his brows. "What're ya talkin' 'bout?"

"I don't suppose you can just buy that thirty-five thousand-dollar Rolex Daytona watch without the means now, can't you?"

Desmond swiftly stuffs his hands into his pockets and purses his lips into a thin line. "That's none of your business, Zahle."

"Then don't bother with mine."

"Don't you have your own rumor mill to deal with, too?"

As Hayden attempts to storm off, Desmond's words catch him off-guard. "And so?" he snorts. "What're you gonna do about it? Join them? Add fuel to the fucking wildfire?"

"No, I don't give a shit about that. As they say, rumors are rumors."

"Then stop wasting my fucking time."

"But how're you going to explain those men you were with last night?" Desmond takes out his hand-the watchless one-and studies his nails in a coy fashion. "If it were someone else who saw that, then I guess they've finally found something to prove themselves right, eh?"

Hayden leans close towards Desmond's face, fists gripping tightly on his cotton shirt. "You're no different with your little 'sugar daddy' bullshit spreading around the campus, you know? And if it weren't me who found you last night with some older dude, then wouldn't that make us even?"

Desmond's eyes widen, appalled, and Hayden later lets him go after they hear the bell ring for the third time. While he truly doesn't care about what the rumor mill has in store for him as he's got a bigger problem to deal with, he does feels a tad concerned over Hayden 'believing' what they have to say about him. He's never been bothered by such a thing since he first heard gossip about himself. But something about Hayden bothers him, and he can't quite put his finger on why.

• • •

As Desmond leaves the room-still peeved-several students standing in the hall caught his eye, blathering and giggling about what unraveled between him and Hayden back in the lecture hall. He stops in his tracks and pulls out his phone, feigning ignorance as he tries to eavesdrop. But the longer he stands there, the heavier his heart feels.

"Did you see that?" the blonde sneers. "Looks like the campus sluts are having a fight."

The hell are they talking about? Desmond wrinkles his face in disgust. Although he's relieved that not everyone was able to catch on with what he and Hayden really argued about, Hayden's aggressive tone and body language leave little to the imagination. And with all the nasty stories the students strung up about each of them, it's to no surprise if they start assuming that they've been fighting over someone.

Fed up, Desmond storms off until he hears a voice call out from behind him.

"Hey Irvine!" It's one of the girls chatting in the hall. "Why the long face?"

For once in such a long time, Desmond feels touched at the concern. But the words that slither out of her mouth right after feel like a dropkick to the balls.

"Let me guess, your daddy left you for Hayden, didn't he?" she yells with amusement. Her friends continue to giggle among themselves, and other passersby begin to turn their head towards Desmond. Not willing to leave without a fight, he turns around.

"You can do better than that, love," he retorts with a grin and flips them off.

"Ooh, how feisty." The girls look at each other, clearly surprised that he finally talked back. "Say, how much do you charge a night? Are your rates too absurd now that your daddy ditched you for someone else?"

Desmond shakes his head and the ridge between his brows deepen in distaste. He's heard rumors about himself, yes, but he only knew how bad they were today. Two years into college and he already feels like he's been harassed in hell since forever.

'What the hell are they even talking about? Bold of them to assume such bullshit' , he tells himself. Indeed, there's no way he can comprehend how everyone else just started making their own presumptions, particularly about him and his supposed relations with 'sugar daddies' or whatever. At first, he believed that all the hearsay about him are mere horseplay on his fellow students' part-plain ol' 'harmless' rumors that are easy to kill-but the gossip was worse than he initially thought. And if Hayden knew about them, then the stories clearly spread to the other colleges as well.

Then again, Desmond's no stranger to loneliness-especially at school-but he only felt truly alone just now. He's never tried to associate himself with anyone else at school due to his busy schedule. Peers and socializing just didn't have a space among all the schoolwork and writing deadlines he has to deal with. His career is worth millions, after all, even if he worked in secrecy. However, he often ponders if his life would've been easier if he made everything public instead.

Nah. It's not worth having annoying people and latching pests around.

Desmond sighs, tired and absolutely done with everyone's ridiculous shenanigans. He leaves with gallancy, and everyone else watches him walk away in dismay. He could've went on with the verbal exchange, but that will only provoke them further until he has nothing left to say or do but stand alone in shame.

"How can a slut like him be so proud and dismissive?"

Such are the students thoughts as he disappears into the crowd.

As Desmond enters his next class, his classmates start clamoring among each other. Just watching them glancing at him every ten seconds or so gives him a headache, but the nonsense that spews from their mouths piss him off the most.

"Is it true and he's still fighting with Hayden?" "Who the full does this fucker think he is?" "Do you think he's gotten STDs at this point?" "What an arrogant cuck." "I bet he broke families before."

Their voices and whispers flood his mind. They're louder than his thoughts and the longer they go on, the more they fuel his rage. The absurdity of it all drives him mad. He ponders and asks himself how and what did he do to earn their hate, and then slams his palms on his desk without hesitation.

The room falls silent in mere seconds.

"The hell did I fucking do to you? Where the fuck did you get all that shit?" he growls.

All he sees is red, and his anger is potent enough to blind him from their mocking gazes. 'Who does he think he is,' their eyes read. No matter how overbearing and aggressive he makes himself look, nobody seems to care. As he stares them down, his phone vibrates in his pocket and he picks it up without hesitation.

Sender: Luke
Subject: so cute my beloved Lucca Brianne
God I wanna fuck ur little ass and make u cum all over urself and...

Desmond's face distorts at the notification. He slides his finger over it to view the rest, and an image of him standing in the same classroom taken from the hallway appears. Horrified, he rushes outside and scours the hall with wide eyes, but no one around fit the bill. His heart beats twofold in his ribcage, and he can feel his pulse all over his body. His head's spinning wildy and out of focus and every step he makes feels light as a feather. He feels alone, trapped, and in despair with no one to turn to. Not only does he have to deal with the stupid rumors at school, but his creepy stalker as well.

Out of sheer desperation, he rushes out to the other side of the hall-lost and unsure what to do and where to go. His endless running leads him to the cafeteria and he grabs some coffee while he's at it. With the terrible blend of anxiety and caffeine making him feel ten times shittier than he is, he takes a seat at an empty table by the stairs and takes a sip-trembling and frantic with panic and fear. When his phone rings again, he jolts in his seat and nearly spills his drink as he frantically takes his phone out.

Sender: Luke
Subject: I'm close by let me comfort u
My Lucca is cute af y don't u ride on daddy's cock while ur writing <3

Attached to the message was another photo of him, this time he's sitting in the cafeteria while sipping on his coffee. Now clearly horrified and at a loss, Desmond's paranoia skyrockets as he scans the area for a possible lead to who this crazed stalker is. Still, no one in the sea of students, faculty, and staff vaguely resembles the freak he's looking for. Tears began to well in his eyes. He never expected this weirdo to be in his school, especially with all the tight security. The rumor mill's another problem in itself, but the stress they all bear on him is all the same. He grasps his phone with a tight fist-unsure and confused-as he lets his tears stain his cheeks and sobs in silence.

"Hey," a familiar voice calls out. "Are you… Are you crying?"

Desmond looks up-his vision blurred with tears-and sees Hayden with a look of disbelief.

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