A Story of Out Come(ing)s

She was ugly. She was convinced of the fact. Ugly as dirt, her grandma liked to say. Nothing about her was pretty. Her hair was a plain straggly dirty blond color, and her eyes were grey. Not the sparkling type of eyes. Even the end of her nose turned up, giving her the appearance of looking down her nose at people all the time. Her skin was a ruddy color that didn't go with her hair and eyes at all, she was always told. Every time she looked in the mirror, she would disdainfully tap her reflection's nose and say "You are ugly, and you know it, but what can we do about it? Hm?" As always, her reflection wouldn't reply.

When her grandmother came to visit her for the first time after she was born, Claire was already two. The first thing Claire remembered her grandmother saying was, "My word, Charlotte, I knew you had a daughter, but could she possibly be any uglier? You gave her a beautiful name, but she simply doesn't live up to it!" As a very little girl, Claire wasn't at all sure what her grandma meant, but her tone of voice filled in all the gaps. When her mother didn't step in and tell her differently, Claire, not understanding the small pain filling her little stomach, went to play silently with her dolls.

Things didn't change as Claire grew up. Every time her grandma came to visit, Claire would try to hide in her room for as long as possible because the moment she'd emerge, her grandmother would find little things wrong with her. Normally her grandmother's first words would be, "Still as ugly as ever, eh child?" while her mother and father wouldn't say a thing.

It didn't help that while she was in middle and high school, her only friend was incredibly beautiful, and Claire, always thought that the reason Jess was her friend was because Claire could never compare to Jess. Jess always had no problem getting the boys to look at her and be her friend. Several even dated her, while Claire was left on the sidelines, watching Jess enjoy her friends. Claire was a social outcast, so much so that she basically didn't have a social group.

The summers of her junior and senior year in high school, Claire worked at a library. It was a quiet job and she rarely had to answer that many questions. Instead she spent time in the stacks, quietly shelving books, finding books that looked interesting, and reading them. This was where Claire found the love of her life. Books wouldn't judge her by appearance, but instead, let her lose herself in them. She read them voraciously. Because her grandfather and mother had glasses, Claire eventually found that she too needed glasses. She blamed it on the books. Her mother took her to get glasses and Claire found one more reason to hate her appearance.

Granted, Claire had occasionally thought about changing her looks, dying her hair a different color, or getting contacts, but part of her stubbornly clung to the fact that she wasn't going to be like all the other girls in her school who would change their looks to get people, more specifically guys, to notice them. She'd always found those types of girls shallow, and more then anything in the world, Claire didn't want to be shallow. So, instead, Claire would read books, try to make intelligent conversation when called upon to do so, and would try her hardest to keep from becoming shallow.

Then came the big transition between high school and college. Claire looked forward to getting into a new life, away from family and from the people in her high school. Perhaps, she thought hopefully, I will make more then just one friend. Jess wasn't going to school with her, but was going to a slightly more expensive school, out of state.

End of July rolled around and Jess insisted on spending as much time with Claire as possible. Claire didn't mind spending her free time with Jess, because it helped the days go faster and she was just a bit nervous about stepping out on her own. Often, too, her mother took her shopping for dorm supplies. Then came move-in day. The boxes and bags that accompanied her and her parents were just a little bit overwhelming to Claire. As she looked over everything in her new room for the last time, she sighed happily to herself, knowing that this was going to be her new beginning.

After she said good-bye to her parents, she sat on her new bed, staring at the other side of the room which her roommate would occupy. She hoped to high heaven that her new roommate would become her friend. They'd exchanged a couple of emails to figure out what the other one was bringing, and Claire was pretty sure that everything would turn out well. Her roommate seemed pretty nice, but Claire reminded herself that her roommate hadn't seen her in real life yet, and therefore, Claire could not get her hopes up.

As she set her side of the room up, her brain worked away at all the different scenarios that would engulf her during her first week. Everything from becoming instantly wildly popular, to going through her college life as just a number flitted through Claire's head as she finished making her bed, rearranged her dresser and finally outfitted her desk.

She was so engrossed in the task of making the tape stay in the tape dispenser that she didn't hear the door open. A startled girl's voice brought her out of her reverie and she whirled, looking for the girl who was already dumping a large box on the other bed.

"Sorry, what did you say?" Claire asked. "I was busy with the tape dispenser."

"Hi, I'm Kelly." The girl said turning around, helping her dad who had just come in with a box. "I was talking to my dad, so don't worry about it. And you're Claire?" she added, stretching her hand out in a friendly handshake.

Claire took it, thinking that she really liked this girl, and desperately hoping that the girl would like her back.

"Yes, yes, I'm Claire. Is there anything I can help with?" She offered, seeing that Kelly's dad was already heading out the door.

"That would be wonderful." Kelly said swiftly. "There's a bit more to bring up."

As Claire followed Kelly out to her van, she studied her roommate. Kelly was pretty and bouncy, and Claire, looking at Kelly, could feel herself drawing inwards. This blonde bombshell looked genuine enough to actually care about other people, and yet get all the guys to fall for her at the same time. Claire felt she had another Jess on her hands, and while she liked the idea that she might become friends with the girl, Claire didn't want high school to happen all over again.

As she piled her arms up with boxes, Kelly looked over at her.

"Isn't this weather outrageous? What type of person expects people to move heavy equipment on a hot day like this! It's like someone could have a heart attack, or heat stroke!" Then she winked at Claire.

Claire, shocked a little by Kelly's remark and then the friendly wink, managed to sputter out a small chuckle, then turn towards the dorm.

"Well, in this weather, you don't expect people to freeze to death, while going outside." Claire said, almost without thinking. Where had that remark come from? That wasn't like her normally.

Claire could almost feel Kelly grinning behind her.

"Yeah, I'd so much rather freeze then have heat stroke." She said jokingly sarcastic.

The girls entered the elevator and the trip to the fourth floor was silent. When they got to the room, both girls set the boxes on the beds, and Kelly's dad entered with the rest of the miscellaneous things that couldn't be fit in boxes.

Claire fell silent as both dad and daughter finished putting things down and then said goodbye. Claire liked the way Kelly's relationship with her dad seemed genuine. She really seemed a little disappointed to be seeing the last of him for several months. Her dad looked very proud and almost "mother-hen-ish" to have a daughter going to college for the first time.

After Kelly's dad left, Claire went about organizing her side of her room. Kelly took one long look at her and followed suit. After about thirty seconds of silence, Kelly started talking, and Claire, subsequently, went into shock. Kelly chattered away and Claire listened, still not quite comprehending why Kelly was talking to her. Didn't Kelly know that Claire was the loner here? Didn't she know that Claire didn't have a social life, and that all the lowlifes looked down on her?

As Kelly talked, Claire listened, and occasionally found herself saying something witty and wondering where it was coming from. She never said witty things. To Claire's great surprise, during the following three days before classes started, Kelly dragged Claire with her everywhere. They had orientation together, they ate lunch together, they explored the campus together, and Kelly talked. Claire thought Kelly had the most annoying habit of turning unexpectedly, in the middle of a long rant and asking Claire for her opinion. More to Claire's surprise was the fact that she actually had one.

By the time classes started, a friendship had begun. Granted, from Kelly's point of view, it was rather one sided, but Claire was beginning to hope that things would turn out for the best. When Kelly asked Claire to meet her for lunch the first day of classes, Claire was slightly surprised, but agreed readily.

Classes and a schedule of sorts, which included meeting Kelly for lunch every day, slowly sorted themselves out, and Claire, being Claire, always made sure she had brought a book with her to class. This was a good excuse, she reasoned for someone to not speak to her. She'd give herself enough time to get to class while reading a book, and one cool morning in the middle of October, because her nose was buried in a book, she felt something large and rather hard hit her. Her book flew from her hand as she stumbled backwards, into part of a body of students trying to get to class, and then she found herself sitting, partially stunned, on the ground, warm liquid trickling down between her eyes.

There was a concerned voice at her shoulder and someone was removing her glasses. The girl who was bending over her, gasped when she saw the blood trickling between Claire's eyes and dripping into her lap.

"Oh my gosh!" was the girl's reaction, and Claire was vaguely aware of the girl turning and looking over Claire's shoulder, calling an obscenity to an unknown person. "Come on, up!" The girl commanded, and because Claire didn't have her glasses, or her ability to reason at that point, she obeyed. The only fleeting thought that hit her was her book.

"Where's my book?" she asked, still only barely aware of the fact that she was bleeding profusely.

"Here, I have it." The girl said briskly. "Hold this to your face," Claire heard as her vision was blocked by masses of white tissue.

"I can't see," she mumbled feebly as she held the tissue to her face as commanded.

"Don't worry, I'll lead you. We're going to the infirmary. Now. That stupid boy," and here the girl went off again.

Claire felt a gentle tug on her arm and followed dumbly along, wondering what had happened and why in the world her head hurt so badly. When they came to a set of steps, getting up them was harder then Claire thought, even though the voice at her elbow told her where the next step was. When they finally reached the infirmary, Claire was stumbling, and the girl was practically dragging her up the stairs.

For some reason, the nurse didn't think that Claire's wound was bad enough to require immediate attention, and instead tried to get Claire to fill out medical history. The nurse insisted that this was a necessary procedure. The girl at Claire's side, who was still nameless, seemed furious. As she grabbed the paperwork and pulled Claire away to sit in the waiting area, she began calling the nurse names.

At this Claire stopped walking. "Please, please, stop. No cursing please. It hurts my head." She said in the general direction of the noise. Claire had always been of the opinion that if a person couldn't make themselves and their anger known without cursing they probably weren't educated enough, but she wasn't going to say that to this girl because the girl had been kind enough to help her with her problem.

The girl stopped and said, a bit huffily, "Come sit over here with me. We need to fill out this paperwork. It's kinda important if we're going to get you in there. What's your name?" With that, the girl launched into a veritable plethora of questions, ranging from "are you allergic to any medicines," to "have any of your family members had blank diseases," stopping only to introduce herself as Lee after she learned Claire's name.

When all the paperwork had been filled out and Claire's student ID shown to the nurse, the girls were finally brought back to a room where a different nurse appeared, took on look at Claire, still blind because of the tissue on her forehead, and crossed the room quickly. She had Claire sit on the table and took the tissue from Claire's forehead.

"You were a good friend to bring her here," the nurse told Lee and added, before giving Claire more tissue, "I'll go get the doctor. I think that needs stitches." Behind her, Lee was mumbling something about how glad she was that the stitches were paid for by tuition. Before she knew it, Claire was on her back on the table, both the doctor and the nurse standing over her. The doctor was poking and prodding at the wound, and asking her what had happened.

After Claire had explained to the best of her ability, Lee helped fill in the gaps, handing Claire's bent and broken glasses to the doctor to look at. The doctor nodded, prodded the wound a bit more and then prescribed stitches. As the doctor got ready to sew up the wound, the nurse helping him, Claire looked towards Lee and held out her hand desperately.

"Do I have to?" She asked Lee, guessing what Lee's answer was going to be.

"Yes! Of course you have to!" Lee said, right on cue. "What else is going to help that wound heal? You haven't seen it! It's nasty looking! Yes, you have to. Here, I'll hold your hand." With that, Lee got up and came over to hold Claire's hand.

Three stitches and quite a bit of blood later, Claire sat up from the table with what looked like stubble growing between her eyebrows.

Lee giggled a bit at Claire's appearance, and Claire reached up to feel her stitches, and had her hand immediately swatted away by the nurse who was trying to put a bit of gauze over the stitches.

"No touching this now, Love. You need to let it heal for at least three days before you can think of letting it air out. The doctor's prescribing some antibiotics for you that you'll have to take twice a day for about two weeks. And you might have to get new glasses."

Claire groaned. "Get new glasses? That means that I won't be able to read until I do! And I can't do homework without my glasses! What will I do?"

Lee sighed. "You'll have to find someone in your classes, or talk to the teacher about the homework, and as for seeing, I can take you to the optometrist to get your new glasses. It shouldn't be that hard."

The nurse patted Claire's hand gently as the gauze was finally secured, and told her that she could get up and go home.

Claire gripped her glasses and her, now unreadable, book tightly as Lee lead her from the room. As they left the infirmary, Claire stumbling, Lee asked her which dorm she lived in. When Claire told her, Lee took Claire by the arm and started walking her back Cleary Hall.

"You need to sleep. And rest. This has been a traumatic morning. When's your roommate coming back from classes?"

"What time is it?" Claire asked in return.

"Almost twelve o'clock. Why?"

"Crap!" Claire exclaimed. "How close are we to the cafeteria? I can't see without my glasses, and this blasted bit of gauze isn't helping matters."

"We're about 10 minutes walk. Why?"

"I'm supposed to meet her there for lunch. I do every day. She'll freak out if I don't show up. Will you take me there? You're welcome to join us."

"I'm not sure you should be meeting anyone for lunch in your present condition."

"Please?" Claire merely pleaded, not mentioning that "in your present condition" made it sound like she was pregnant.

"Fine," Lee relented.

"Thank you," Claire told her, and then fell silent, letting her lead her to the cafeteria.

Kelly experienced three things when she saw an unknown girl leading an injured Claire into the cafeteria. First she was shocked, then angered, and then she felt worry. When the girl introduced herself and told Kelly what had happened, the anger flooded back heavily, replaced almost instantly by worry when she saw Claire's peaked look. Much to Claire's relief, both Kelly and Lee hit it off at once and instantly a trio was born.

Between the two of them, Kelly and Lee managed to get Claire to eat and back to the dorm. With Claire in bed, Lee left, assuring Kelly that she'd call and make sure Claire was doing ok, and promised to meet them for lunch the next day.

About two hours after Lee left, Claire sat bolt up right, and immediately regretted it.

"My classes!" she said, moaning and holding her head. "What am I going to tell my teachers?" She asked, desperately hoping that her teachers wouldn't be terribly disappointed.

"Well, you can go to class tomorrow, and give them the slip of paper that the doctor gave you. It pretty much excuses you from class because of an injury."

"The doctor gave me a piece of paper?" Claire asked, wondering when she'd missed this.

"Yeah, Lee told me that the doctor had handed it to her as you two were walking out. She kept it for you, and then handed it to me as she left. I'll hold on to it until you're ready to use it."

Claire nodded and lay back down.

The next morning in each of her classes, once her teachers had seen the small slip of paper and the gauze still decorating Claire's forehead, they nodded sympathetically and gave Claire a list of homework due. Each class, Claire sat in back and merely listened. She didn't try to answer any questions, or to draw attention to herself and her wound, but some how, she could feel stares on her during a good part of each class time.

Saturday rolled around and Claire gratefully slipped into the peace and quietness of the weekend. Kelly, of course, had decided that the weekend was a good time to go to the optometrist in town and get Claire glasses, so off they went to get Claire new glasses. They came home with a new pair that, while not exactly screaming "look at me," seemed to accentuate the nice parts of Claire's face. Or at least that's what Kelly assured Claire when Claire put them on.

Of course, now that Claire could see, she could also do homework, and this she did readily. She'd missed the ease with which she could do homework when she could see. Of course she didn't miss the homework itself. That she'd had to do anyway. Also, Claire figured that now that she could read again, Kelly and Lee wouldn't have to overwork themselves by reading to her.

The first class Claire attended with her new glasses was her favorite class, English. She sat in the back for this class as well, but she paid attention and loved the ideas presented in the class. This particular class, she had her nose in a book as she normally did before class started. She was at least ten minutes early, and looking forward reading perhaps a chapter. However, not two minutes into the book, there came a small shuffling noise to her right. A person lowered themselves into the chair next to her and coughed. It wasn't necessarily a "sick cough" or even a "clearing my throat" cough, but more of an "I'm trying to get your attention" cough. Claire heard this, and ignored it. Perhaps she had imagined the tone of the cough. Who could possibly want to talk to her?

Much to her dismay, the cough persisted, every couple of seconds, and then suddenly her book cover was tapped with a fingernail.

"Uh," came a very distinctly male voice. "Can I, uh, talk to you?"

Claire, slowly lowered her book, slightly annoyed at being drawn from her book, but also curious as to who would want to talk to her. The male beside her took the lowering of the book as a go-ahead, and started talking.

"I'm Phillip. I, um, I wanted to apologize."

"Why?" Claire asked when no more was forthcoming.

"You don't recognize me?"

"No, should I?"

"Crap," the guy muttered. "This is going to be harder then I thought. Um, I see you got new glasses. I'm sorry for knocking you over the other day. I was in a hurry and I didn't think you were that hurt. I see you got stitches. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you."

Claire was stunned. "Um, ok." Was about all she could stutter out.

"So, uh, yeah," the guy trialed off at Claire's halting acceptance. "What are you reading?" He asked after the silence had gotten awkward.

Claire started from her daze, and looked at her book cover. "Uh, it's a romance. I don't know that you'd like it."

"Oh," Phillip trailed off, and suddenly there was no more time for words because the professor had called the class to order.

Claire was thrown into turmoil by Phillip's question. She'd never had a guy ask her about a book before. She finally figured that he probably asked because there was nothing else to talk about and brushed it off, glad that she could now concentrate on the class.

However, as she was packing up her books after class, Phillip turned to her. "Where's your next class?"

"I don't have a class after this. I was going to the student union to read." She told him, rather reluctantly.

"Ok," He told her, falling into step beside her.

Claire pulled her book out and buried her nose in it, ignoring this guy beside her who was an anomaly in her life. Claire hated anomalies. They were so confusing. Every time she looked up to make sure she was going in the right direction, he was there, one shoulder slightly in front of her, not blocking her way, but instead almost leading her, making a path for her to walk. Why was he doing this? Surely he didn't feel bad, did he?

When they got to the student union, Claire put her book down and turned awkwardly to Phillip.

"Look, I'm not used to doing this, but I'm going to ask anyway. Why are you following me?"

Phillip's answer was more shocking then anything Claire had ever heard before.

"Can I buy you a coffee or something?"

"Excuse me?"

"Can I buy you a coffee or something?" He said again, stressing coffee.

"Why?" She asked him, still not understanding why he was asking.

"Because," he mumbled, scratching self-consciously at the back of his neck.

"I-I," Claire stumbled. She wasn't used to this, even if the guy was suffering from a guilty conscience. "I really can't." She told him, panic starting to infuse her voice. She wasn't supposed to be hanging around anyone. She was the loner. "I'm sorry, I really can't. E-even if you have a guilty conscience. Please, just leave me alone."

Phillip looked a bit hurt. Maybe it was the mention of his guilty conscience. Claire really didn't care. She just wanted to get rid of this, this thing—this person who totally threw her for a loop.

"Fine, I'll go." Phillip said, "But I really am sorry. I didn't mean to bump into you that hard." But Claire wasn't listening. She'd already thrown the book up and was walking inside the student union to her chair, where she knew no one would bother her anymore. Besides, they weren't supposed to.

By the end of the day, Claire had pushed the incident to the back of her mind and had decided that she really couldn't wait to get the stitches out. People kept looking at her as if she had a caterpillar between her eyes. At least, that's what it felt like.

During lunch the next day, Lee asked Claire if anyone had said anything about her stitches, and Claire looked at her as if she were crazy.

"Why would anyone want to say anything to me? Much less about my stitches?" She asked, completely forgetting about Phillip and his apology.

Lee sighed. "I don't know. I just thought maybe someone would have noticed."

Claire gave a small bitter snort. "Oh, believe me, no one's going to be noticing me just because of some stitches. They don't notice me anyway." She added in an undertone.

"Nonsense!" Lee objected. "Kelly and I noticed you!"

"Kelly's my roommate! She can't not notice me, and you, well, there was blood, and people notice blood. Speaking of noticing things, did you notice the preacher on the lawn today?" Claire effectively changed the subject and Kelly and Lee let it slip with a slightly aggravated glance towards each other.

Two days after the Phillip incident, Claire had to go back to English class. As she found her seat in the back of the class, her book in one hand, she made sure to refrain from glancing around the filling room. She didn't want anyone to think that she was looking for them. Two minutes after she sat down, a male body lowered itself into the desk next to her and the attention getting cough began.

Exasperated after thirty seconds, Claire threw her book on her desk and glared darkly at Phillip. "What do you want? You apologized, didn't you? What more can you want from me?"

"To show you that I'm sorry." Was Phillip's shocking reply.

"You—you want to show me that you're sorry for knocking me over?"


Claire was speechless.

"When do you get your stitches out?" Phillip asked.

"Um, six days." Claire replied, just a bit dazed.

"That long?"

This brought Claire back. "Well, it has to heal you know! It can't just quickly heal itself! It needed stitches. Geez." She wasn't sure why Phillip was hanging out with her, or if he was even serious about trying to show her that he was sorry, but he was annoying! Why did he ask stupid questions, and why did he constantly throw her for a loop?

Phillip huffed and fell silent as the teacher called the class to order.

When class finished, Phillip waited while Claire packed up her things, and then fell into step with her as she left the building. Once again, he walked with his shoulder slightly in front of her as she read her book. When they reached the student union, he walked up the stairs with her.

"Can I buy you a coffee or something?" He asked before she even had a chance to spit out her protests that he'd come this far with her.

"Why?" she asked, as he had expected.

"Because, you look cold."

"You might just as well have said 'I have a guilty conscience and I want to make it feel better.' Just say it!" Claire said, tiredly.

"You look cold." He told her again, and reached out to pull her towards the student union.

Claire flipped. He wasn't supposed to touch her. Nobody ever did! She yanked her arm from his hand, book slipping from her grasp at the same time. With exceptional ease, Phillip's hand shot out and caught her book in mid-air, saving it from a puddle left over from the rain the day before. Instead of handing it back, however, he looked at the cover of it and grinned.

"Give me back my book." Claire demanded holding her hand out.

Phillip looked at her, and then at her book, and then back at her.

"Nope," he said finally.

"What?" Claire was shocked. "Why?"

Phillip tucked the book under his jacket and looked at her. "Can I buy you a coffee or something?" He asked, with a meaningful glance.

"If I get coffee with you, you'll give me my book back?" Claire asked him, amazed.

"You got it. Now, come on, you look cold."

Claire huffed. "You mean I look like I want my book back."

Phillip looked at her as he held the door open. "Hmm . . . nope. You look cold. And maybe just a little bit annoyed."

Claire stepped inside the student union and was immediately greeted by a wave of warmth. That was when she realized that she was shivering.

"Wow it's nice and warm in here," she said before she realized that she had said it.

Phillip smirked. Claire almost stomped her foot, but then realized how childish that was and instead walked huffily towards the coffee shop that was ingrained in the student union. Phillip trailed behind, watching her.

Once they'd entered the coffee shop, Claire turned to Phillip. "I'd rather have a hot chocolate please."

"Ok," Was Phillip's response. "Why don't you go find a table?"

"A table? I thought all you were doing was buying me hot chocolate!"

"A table, please."

Claire growled in frustration. This was so weird.

The table was the largest one Claire could find. Phillip saw it and looked at her with amusement. When he sat down next to her, she protested.

"I got this perfectly large table just so you wouldn't have to sit next to me! Why are you doing this? Why are you tormenting me? How come you have to bump into me to notice me?"

"Am I really tormenting you?" Phillip asked, puzzled.

"I don't know, you tell me! Aren't you planning on laughing with your friends behind my back at how gullible I was to think that you were serious about trying to say 'I'm sorry'?"

"What? No! What gives you the idea that I'd do that to you?"

"I don't know, maybe the fact that almost everyone else I know has done that to me!"

Claire turned pale and clammed up as soon as she realized what she'd said. She'd never told anyone this before. Never told anyone that she knew. Claire's feet took a hold of her and she stood bolt up right and ran. Naturally, Phillip called after her, but Claire didn't care. She was glad when he let her go and when she got back to the dorm, she realized that she'd forgotten her book. Phillip still had it. Claire mentally burned the book. She never wanted to see Phillip again.

Claire blew in to the dorm room in such a frenzy that Kelly immediately asked her what was wrong.

"There is this guy!" Claire cried in aggravation. "He keeps bothering me! Asked me if he could buy me a coffee 'or something.' He's in my English class. Honestly! Why is he paying attention to me?"

Kelly looked at her. "Did he tell you why he was hanging around?"

"Well, he talked to me first to apologize to me. But after he'd done that, I figured he'd leave me alone. He hasn't yet!" Claire was so mad she was shaking.

"Is that all he's done?" Kelly asked patiently.

"No! He-he-he took my book!"

Kelly almost laughed, but at the distressed look on Claire's face she quickly hid it.

"It's almost time for lunch." Kelly said instead, looking at the clock. "Come on, let's go meet Lee."

Claire, still shaking, stood up and followed Kelly from the room.

When Lee saw Claire, who was still shaking, she immediately looked to Kelly for an answer.

"It seems she met a boy who won't leave her alone and he took her book," was Kelly's calm explanation.

"A boy?" Lee raised her eyebrow. "What's his name?" she asked, turning to Claire.

"Phillip." Claire spit out as if it were venom.

"Phillip? Really? The boy who knocked you down?" Lee asked.

"Yes!" Claire exploded. "He apologized to me about a week ago, and now he won't leave me alone! He tells me that he wants to prove to me that he's sorry!"

Lee's eyes widened. "Really? Did he really say that?"

"Yeah," Claire growled.

By this time the girls had gotten in line for food and were sitting down to a table in the corner of the cafeteria.

Then something dawned on Claire and she turned on Lee as she sat down next to her. "How'd you know he was the boy who ran into me?"

Lee did something very near akin to blushing and mumbled into her plate, "He's in one of my classes."

"He's in your class and you never told me?" Claire's eyes widened. "Did you tell him to apologize to me?"

Lee buried her face in her hands. "You weren't ever supposed to know this, but he didn't know who you were, and so I told him. He knew me from class, so he asked me why I'd cursed at him. When I told him who you were, and what he'd done to you, he realized that he had you in one of his classes. I told him to apologize to you, or I'd hurt him or something. I think he was going to anyway. I asked you if someone had asked about your stitches, and you said no, so I figured he'd chickened out. When I confronted him, he told me that he had. I believed him. I didn't expect he'd hang around."

Claire stared at her. "You told him to apologize to me? He asked who I was? Are you sure you didn't tell him to prove that he was sorry?"

Lee gave an exasperated sigh. "Yes, I'm quite sure. I didn't know he'd keep hanging around to 'prove that he was sorry'. If he's really doing that, I'd say he's serious. How'd he try to prove it to you?"

"He keeps trying to get me coffee 'or something'. He almost did today, but then he took my book and I ran."

Kelly snorted. "Geez, girl, attached to your books much?"

"Well, they were some of the only friends I had for my high school years!" Claire cried exasperated, and then paled again. What was it with her and saying unwanted things around other people today? Claire, not wanting to pull the running act again today, buried a forkful of lunch in her mouth.

Kelly and Lee looked at each other and sighed. Claire had just thrown up walls in their faces and they'd seen it.

"Well, all you have to do is get your book back from Phillip when you see him again in English." Kelly told her, purposely keeping the subject on Phillip.

"But don't you see?" Claire said, tucking her mouthful in her cheek. "I don't want to see Phillip ever again! He probably thinks I'm a moron." She turned to Lee. "You just wait, next time he sees you he'll probably give you my book so you can give it to me."

Lee snorted. "Not a chance. I'm not taking it from him if he does try. I don't think he even will though."

"Yeah, yeah," Claire said dubiously.

Shortly after lunch, Claire found herself a new book in her stack of many. Her world was almost complete again.