Very observant, Mr Know-It-All. “Fine. I’ll pay that one. But next time, a little warning, thanks.”
“Sure. Well, in that case, maybe you should ditch History class,” he said, holding back a smile. “That guy gives really boring lectures.”
“Thanks, I’ll keep it in mind.” I rolled my eyes, not really meaning to smile as well. It was hard to be annoyed at David—he was just so sweet, and I had to hand it to him, he was right. I could handle it. I did handle it. I was grateful to Mrs Baker now for the three hours every Tuesday and Thursday, where she would painstakingly force me to play piano until my fingers seized up and turned bone-white. Mrs Baker was one thing I would not miss about my old life.
“Seriously,” David whispered in my ear as the hovering crowd dissipated and went back to their projects. “There was a reason I didn’t tell you about Mr Grant.”
“I’m listening,” I said, shuffling over so he could sit beside me.
I would have. “I’m not that weak,” I said. “But I could’ve at least prepared myself.”
“I'm sure.” He smiled to himself, placing his fingers on the keys. “Heart and Soul?”
“Huh?” I looked up at him.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Mozart,” he said with a breathy laugh. “Would you prefer a more complicated duet?”
“Young lady, I can handle anything you can dish out.”
After David escorted me all the way to third period Math class—even though he wasn’t in my class—I watched him walk away, and fell inside myself at the back of the room. I didn’t recognise anyone from Music class and, for the most part, no one bothered to strike up a friendship. So, I sat quietly and thought about David until the teacher said, “Five minutes left to finish those questions and hand them in. If you’re done already, you can leave.”
A few students jumped up, placed their work on Miss Chester’s desk and left the room. I pushed my unfinished paper aside and reached into my bag for my map—to hopefully locate the nearest bathroom. But as I pulled my schedule and pencil case out, then my purse and keys, and looked into the empty space, a wave of panic rushed over me.
Oh my holy God! It was gone.
I checked the ground, the desk, even in my pencil case. Nope. Definitely gone. But I was sure I had it in the library.
The familiar heat of panic flushed through my arms, rising into my cheeks as I dropped my face against my hand. I was ruined! I could see the headlines now: New Girl Asks Where Bathroom Is—Gets Laughed at for Needing to Pee.
The bell screeched. I stood, packing my stuff into my bag with the speed of an old, arthritic lady. As the last of the gossiping dregs shuffled from the room, I herded out behind them, dumping my paper on the teacher’s desk before stepping into the corridor. The hot, damp air trickled over the balustrade from the courtyard below, wetting my lungs as I breathed it in.
Of all the doors nestled into the brown bricks around the square lot, not one of them looked like a bathroom, and of all the kids hanging over the guardrail, tossing things to their friends on the ground floor, not one of them looked like the kind of kid I could ask for directions without being laughed at.
So, I swung my bag over my shoulder, and as I looked up, my gaze met a pair of amazing green eyes, shining out like emeralds.
God, yes. “Well, I wouldn’t if someone hadn’t taken my map,” I said accusingly, then smiled back as I stood beside him.
“Sorry. But those things are impossible to read, anyway.” He looked down at me. “You’d have gotten lost without me to show the way.”
“Is that so?” My playful tone drew a smile to his lips again.
“You seem pretty sure of yourself.”
“So, are you saying I’m incapable of finding my own way?” I said.
“No.” He shook his head. “Only that life’s easier when you have someone to walk beside you.”
“Er, yeah, I meant…in the context of getting from A to B.” He rubbed a hand across his mouth. “That was kind of awkward, wasn’t it?”
“Uh, yeah.” I let the laughter out with a breath. He had foot-in-mouth-disease almost as bad as me. “You know, Emily warned me about you.”
“She did?” He turned and looked forward as we started walking, his natural cool spreading calm out over my awkwardness.
I hugged my books tightly to my chest to stop from flinging my arms around his waist. “Yeah, she said you had a tendency to snatch up lost lambs.”
“Did she tell you why she thought that?” He stopped then, and took my math book from me, tucking it under his arm—beside his books.
I watched it for a second. “Not really. I came to my own conclusions, though.”
“And what might they be?”
“Well, it’s not the lost lamb thing you’re into. It’s fresh meat.”
“Fresh meat?” He laughed, looking away.
“Yeah. You know? A new toy—something different to play with than all the old ones.”
David stayed quiet for a moment, and I watched the other students file past us in a hurry. “You don’t think of me like that, do you? That I am only talking to you because I want something more interesting to play with?”
I shook my head. “I did. But, I actually think you might be a very genuinely nice guy.” I tried not to let the surprise seep out in my tone; it did anyway. “I mean, I’ve never had a guy carry my books.”
We both looked at the books.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever carried a girl’s books. Not at this school, anyway.”
I ran my tongue along the ridges of my back tooth. “Longer than a year—less than a year?”
“And, um...so, you don’t really talk to many of the girls?”
“Because you don't really like them.”
“Why?” We came to a stop, and David scratched his ear as I leaned on the wall. “Tell me why?”
“Why do you ask so many questions?”
“Because you evade so many answers.”
His lip tugged on one corner, his eyes smiling. “Yes, I suppose I do.”
“So...” I twirled my hair around my finger, vaguely noticing a few girls giggle as they rushed in through the door beside us. “Are you going to tell me why don’t you like the girls here?”
“Guess I’ve just never really been interested in any of them, until—”
I smiled at the way he smiled. “Until what?”
He stepped into me, showing no respect for my territorial bubble; the length of his entire body hovered barely a centimetre away from mine, forcing my gaze to roll upward just to meet his lovely green eyes. “Until today.”
My mouth opened, but only a soft breath came from the very back of my throat, stopping on the sweet scent of his vibrant, chocolaty cologne. All I could do was squeak.
David nodded to the door beside us. “Did you need to go?”
Go? I forced myself to look right.
“Ur, yes, I kinda did.” Oh, God, awkward meter off the Richter scale.
“Okay, I’ll just be a sec.” I passed it to David, then pushed the door open to a nose-burning bleach smell, mingling with other rancid scents in the heat of the only non-air-conditioned room in this school. And as the door shut quietly behind me, a voice rose above the putrid smell with familiar content.
“The girl in the yellow dress?” it said.
I stopped dead, remaining in the concealment of the dividing wall.
“Yeah, the new girl,” another replied.
I cringed; this was that moment where you decide to either walk in there and act like you didn’t hear, or stop and listen, hoping they wouldn't discover you. I should’ve read up on this in the How to be a New Student Without Looking Like an Idiot guide.
“What’d you think of her?” she continued.
“Yeah, I mean, did you see how blue her eyes are? Like, so wasted on her face, hey?”
“Yeah, totally. You want some?” the other girl said.
“Yeah.” A long hiss of a spray can sounded before the sharp, choking fumes of deodorant filled the tiny bathroom. I covered my mouth, silently coughing into my hand.
“And did you hear? She’s already got her claws into David Knight?”
“Yep. Typical. He doesn’t like her, I heard. He’s just interested in her because she’s wearing a dress and it’s, like, easy access.”
My eyes all but jumped out of my head, but as soon as the echo of her voice retreated, I felt my heart break a little.
“That must be it, I mean, come on. He’s way out of her league.”
“Yeah, I don’t know what she thinks he wants with her. Did you see her outside just now?”
“Yeah, oh my God!” The other laughed. “She has so never had a boyfriend before.”
“Mm. I give it a week before he loses interest.”
“A week? That’s generous. Maria said the girl has, like, scars on her face.”
My breath froze halfway through a gasp, the walls closing in around me.
“True? No way? That’s so gross. I wonder if he’s noticed them.”
“How can he not? Apparently they’re—” A face appeared right in front of mine and everyone took a breath.
While I stood frozen in humiliated stillness, a blonde girl just looked me over—focusing on my scars, then threw her hair back and opened the door, dragging a dark-haired girl behind her. I hid myself in the corner as bright light from the corridor filled the room, disappearing with their sudden high-pitched cackles.
A layer of my soul slowly peeled away like an unfurling blossom, petal by petal. I blinked the tears free, unable to move or think or breathe, focusing only on the impression of my nails digging into my palms.
They were right. David was probably showing interest in me as a joke or a bet he made with a friend. I was stupid to think he hadn't noticed my scars.
I touched my jaw, my fingertips shaking, and as my desperate urge to go to the bathroom faded, a longing to go home came in its place, stepping aside for the rolling in my stomach; I lopped a hand across my gut and ran for the toilet.
Even as I rinsed my face and washed my mouth out, the voice of that girl played in my head: “Out of her league; A week before he loses interest.”
Somehow, the idea that David would be grossed-out by me had taken over my fear of being new.
In the mirror, my face looked pale and washed-out, which made the scars look red and menacing, worse than they did this morning. I leaned closer and poked about my face, moving my skin to get a good look at them; tiny little dots covering one side of my neck and along my jaw, like a fine sprinkling of nuts on a sundae. The weird thing was, I hardly ever noticed them; it was like my mind subconsciously blacked them out. But I knew they were there, and I knew everyone else could see them. Including David.
The real world sucked so much more than my mum said it would.
I splashed another handful of water over my face and grabbed a few sheets of paper towel, pausing when the door opened, but no one came in.
I laughed. He probably thought I fell in. “Um. I’ll be out in a sec.”
“Ara?” he said, his tone a little flat. “Answer me, or I’m coming in. Are you okay?”
“I...I’m good.” But I wasn’t, and the mirror too clearly reflected the sadness in my eyes. The mask I’d become so good at holding in place hadn’t slipped, but cracked completely, and the self-pity I’d battled so hard against suddenly won the war. But I took a deep breath and looked my reflection square in the eye. “Every ache is step toward redemption,” I told myself. I still didn’t believe it, though. Nothing could undo what had been done and I knew, eventually, David would find out, and he’d hate me too.
I straightened my shoulders. Not yet. I just wanted a little more time with him. Give me that, I said to myself, hoping it’d reach some magic fairy godmother. Just him. Just for today. And I’ll never ask for anything else, ever again.
The summer sun streamed into the corridor, and as I stepped into the light, drew a deep breath and looked sadly at the boy leaning over the railing on the other side. The shadows highlighted the contours of his shoulder blades and the arch of his spine. If I knew him better, I could slowly trace my finger down his back, feeling how solid and real he was under my touch. Except, right now, I wanted nothing more than to run over and tell him everything those girls just said. Only problem was that, in the real world, he wouldn't care if my feelings were hurt; he’d probably just freak out and dust me off like a cobweb.