Sam frowned as she glanced around. The hallway was dwindling down to a few students, doors slamming to a few classrooms, but she still didn't catch sight of any doors that seemed to lead to a gymnasium.
"What's the matter?" Will asked, walking besides her with his backpack slung over one shoulder.
"Where is the gym?"
"Oh, third floor."
"Then why are we on the second?"
Will raised an eyebrow and stared at her strangely. "Well, we sort of need to go change first."
"Change?" Sam squeaked, steps screeching to a halt.
"Yes, change . . . as in change into our gym uniforms."
"As in boys locker room changing?" Butterflies dropkicked her stomach.
"Well, I would think so," Will laughed. "Jeez . . . did you just go to gym in your regular clothes in your old school?"
No . . . but I sure didn't change in the boys locker room! "Uh … do we have to?" she asked weakly.
"What's the matter? You got your uniform already. You're not shy, are you?" he joked.
"Uh . . . no . . . of course not . . ." she replied feebly. How am I going to get out of this?
"Here we are!" Will cheered and she looked up. "After you!" He opened the door with a flourish and all but shoved her in. She stumbled through the doors and Will came in after her, closing the door with an ominous bang. "Hey guys!" he called out.
Jack pretended to cover himself. "No, Will! What have we told you before? Don't come in until we're all safely dressed! We can't have you go around taking advantage of us poor innocents!" Everyone laughed.
Will grinned cheekily. "Yeah, well, I just can't help myself. You're too delectable to keep unspoiled, Jack dear."
Jack gasped in mock disapproval. Vincent smiled in amusement over his friends' antics. Marvin snorted in disgust. Tristan showed no response and Sam was too busy trying to back into a corner with her eyes locked to the floor.
"Sam! Where you going? Come! You can have the locker next to Vince," Will hauled her back despite her dragging feet.
She stood there for a long time, staring hard at the ugly grey lockers. She tried to block out all the noises and the clamor. Don't look to your right, Sammy. Don't look to your left. Don't look anywhere. Keep your eyes -
"What are you doing?" Vincent's voice cut through her mantra. He frowned at the motionless boy as he shrugged off his sweater.
She started and began to turn around - then quickly changed direction and stayed put, squinting her eyes at the ground. "N – nothing."
Will teased her, "What's the matter? Forgot how to take off your clothes? I'll be more than happy to do so for you."
Sam shook her head furiously. Her face was turning red again. If this keeps up, my face is going to be permanently stamped crimson. "I – uh – is there a bathroom stall in here?"
"Yeah, over there."
"Where?" She refused to look up.
Vincent sighed and pushed her gently toward the general direction. "Just walk straight," he ordered.
"Thank you," Sam replied softly. Vincent stared after Sam, who stumbled off without lifting her eyes from the ground. A small smile tugged on his lips whenever she bumped into someone with a squeaked apology.
Jack's brows knitted. "What's the matter with him?"
Vincent shrugged as he slipped on a T-shirt. "Maybe he just has a phobia around people changing."
Sam sighed in relief. She'd finally made it out of the locker room. After changing in the stall, she'd waited patiently until everyone else evacuated. Trudging up the stairs, she walked into the gym and immediately wanted to fade away. Oh dear. I'm going to have gym with thirty huge, strong teenage boys who all look like they can snap me in half like a twig.
The gym teacher, a tiny balding man named Mr. Harth, blew his whistle and everyone turned silent. "We are going to have a little fun today. Basketball!" Everyone cheered and Sam wilted. I can hardly dribble, let alone play. Maybe I can fake a stomachache? Cramps still work?
"Sam! You're on our team!" William cried out cheerfully.
"Huh?" Before she could protest, he had dragged her off. She stood there, nerves building up in her while she bit her nails to the quick, as William whispered, "It's same as always. Vince against Tristan. Watch out for two guys on Tristan's team: Marco and Polo - they're twins - double the ugliness and stupidity, just as nasty as Marvin, too. We have a notion that their mother took one look at them and named them like idiots to warn the world."
Her stomach churned as she tilted her head back to take in two huge giants who sneered across the room at her. Oh lord . . . oh lord . . . oh lord . . . She breathed in deeply and swallowed hard. No reason to panic . . . I mean, our team is just as big. I probably won't get trampled much . . . no, just have confidence . . . you can just run around . . . yes . . . An image of her darting pounding feet like a cockroach suddenly came to mind and she felt faint.
Tristan and Vincent stepped forward to the center. The teacher blew the whistle again and the game began. Vincent leapt into the air and knocked the ball to their side. She moaned softly and ran around, trying to look unimportant. Vincent shot past her and grabbed the ball Jack hurled through the air. Tristan flew across the court and blocked the dark haired boy. William caught the ball and dodged the rampaging twins, only to lose the ball to Marvin. Marvin dribbled triumphantly before finding himself with thin air after Jack flew by. Another boy on Tristan's team waved his arms frantically in an attempt to block Jack, but was expertly brushed past.
Sam chewed her lip anxiously, trying to run in the other direction away from the ball. As it turned out, that was a major mistake. The sudden motion caught Jack's eye. Seeing as no one bothered to cover her since she was so puny and everyone else was too busy, Jack decided she was the best choice to throw the ball to. She shook her head desperately. No! I wasn't called butterfingers for nothing! When he paid no heed, she reached up wearily in a weak attempt and to her astonishment, the ball landed in her hands cleanly.
Wow . . . I love this ball. She suddenly refocused and panicked as she saw Tristan's team pounding toward her. She spun around in alarm and tossed the ball toward the hoop - and to her astonished delight, it hit the backboard, but sailed through the hoop nicely. That is a really, really good ball.
Tristan and Vincent blinked when they saw who had made the first shot. They both smiled in amusement when they saw the bewildered joy on the Sam's face until they nearly ran into each other. Vincent shoved Tristan away and they shot each other lethal glares.
Marco and Polo weren't as pleased. Marvin gave them a slight imperceptible nod and they grinned darkly. Shouting to each other gleefully across the court, they ran toward the new kid.
Sam turned around and stared numbly at the two running brutes. Oh, I'm going to die. They crashed into her and sent her nearly flying through the air. With a leaden thud, she wound up sprawled on the ground in a haze of pain.
Jack yelled angrily, "What the hell! Foul! That was a foul!"
William knelt beside her and asked, concerned. "Are you okay, Sammy?"
She groaned and croaked, "Huh?"
Vincent snapped darkly, "Harland, get better control of your team."
Tristan came in close, staring down at the prone girl on the floor. "I don't need you to tell me that, Grenford," he retorted, jaw clenched.
Mr. Harth fluttered anxiously over them. "Is he all right? Oh dear! I hope he didn't break anything. I'll have a lot of accident reports to fill out."
Jack continued yelling, "FOUL! FOUL!"
Marvin snapped, "It wasn't a foul! They just didn't see him since he's so small and everything. Right, Marco? Polo?"
"Yeah. Right," they muttered.
Mr. Harth continued to blabber on. "Boys, boys, I just want to know if he's going to be okay."
Will asked again, "Are you okay, Sammy?"
"Sammy? My brother calls me Sammy," she mumbled dazedly as she struggled to sit up straight. A spasm of pain shot through her and she clutched her stomach, sucking in a quick indrawn of breath.
"IS HE GOING TO BE ALRIGHT?"
"Harland, shut up your people."
"Do the same with yours, Grenford."
"IS MR. WESTLANE GOING TO BE ALRIGHT?"
"Sammy? Are you okay?"
"WHAT ARE YOU DOING?"
Everyone turned to stare at Sam in surprise. She flushed at her sudden high-pitched shriek and turned her eyes downward.
Will blinked, "I just wanted to see if you broke any ribs. I didn't know I'll get such a huge reaction for lifting up your shirt."
Sam coughed in embarrassment, clutching onto the hem of her shirt. "It's okay. I'm fine." Her hands continued to tighten on the bottom of her shirt. She sat up, drawing her legs up. As her knees grazed against her sore stomach, a wince flitted across her face.
Tristan frowned and stepped up. In a flash, he hauled her up into his arms and said, "Let's go to the nurse to make sure. Just in case." His eyebrows raised. "Wow, you're kinda light, aren't you?"
Sam turned red, eyes darting around to her other classmates. Vincent's face was dark, but no one made a comment as Tristan started to walk off. She stammered, "It's okay really. I can walk . . . really."
Tristan ignored her comments as he walked out of the gym. "It's okay. You really don't weigh a thing - and you're really very skinny." Even though he was the one carrying her like she was a "girl", he gave her a weird look. "Don't eat much?"
"I eat," she mumbled. "Uh, don't you find carrying me like this kinda funny though?"
His blue eyes pierced hers. "Would you prefer a piggy back ride then?"
She wanted to die. "No, thank you. This is fine."
They turned silent as Tristan walked up the steps. She mumbled again, "You really don't have to do this. I'm not that hurt."
"They were on my team," he said abruptly. "I'm just taking responsibility for their actions."
"That's kinda admirable."
Startled, his eyes cut down to the top of her head. She ducked her face even lower. "Admirable?" he asked, eyebrow raised.
"I don't think there's much loyalty in the world, even with family." She shrugged, voice low. "So it's nice that you seem to dedicate this level of loyalty to your friends."
Tristan cleared his throat awkwardly. "I wouldn't exactly call them my friends, but it's no big deal. Better than staying around, listening to Vincent."
Her eyes lowered as she nodded. "Still … thank you."
He stared down at her red hair, ruffled and straggly, and he felt strangely self-conscious. His grip tightening, he climbed the final steps.
Meanwhile, the game had continued without Sam and Tristan. Vincent was busy immersing himself in the act of pulverizing Marco and Polo. They were up twenty to two and Vincent began to leisurely chuck balls at their heads.
He was furious that they dared take advantage of someone smaller than themselves and he was seething with rage that they gave Tristan an inadvertent opportunity to cart Sam off. This unreasonable possessiveness was stupid, but for now, he was content with hurting the two idiots as much as possible.
A motherly woman with soft chestnut hair and a warm smile was Nurse Clairol. "Oh, you poor dear, you must be in a lot of pain."
She suddenly looked menacing as she turned to Tristan. "Shame on you boys. You all play too rough."
Tristan backed away with an uneasy smile, running a hand through his blonde locks sheepishly. "Sorry, Ms. Clairol."
She nodded, appeased for the moment. Her voice softened as she smiled down at Sam. "Lemme see how bad it is." Her hands reached for Sam's shirt.
Sam shook her head furiously, clapping her hands down on her hem. "It's okay. I'm just a little bruised. I feel fine."
Nurse Clairol frowned. "Still, I think I better see if –"
"No, really –"
"I think we should check –"
"No, it's really okay –"
"You know this is strictly professional and there's nothing to be shy of, young man –"
Sam dodged her hands and all but ran to the door. "Reallyit'sokaybutthanksanywaybye." The door slammed.
Tristan stared blankly and then turned to the perplexed woman. Tucking his hands in his pockets, he smiled, "I believe he's going to be okay after all."
© Copyright 2003 Maeven (FictionPress ID:349779). Reposted 12/26/2008. All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Maeven.