"Who's the new kid?"
"I heard he's called Kieran. Is he really as good looking as they say?"
"You mean you haven't seen him yet? He's like a god..."
Nate groaned and let his forehead sink to the desk. He was tired, he had a headache, and no one would shut up about the new transfer student. Every girl in the school seemed to want to not only talk about him, but squeal and gossip across the classrooms. What happened to note passing, secret diaries and whispered confessions when it came to girls with crushes? Nate wondered bitterly.
"Good morning!" came a sing-song voice to his left. Nate muttered something unintelligible in reply. As he turned his face to watch the bouncy brunette sit down in the empty neighboring desk. Her elbow length hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail and adorned with a very loud, scrunched up black and yellow hair tie.
"Hung over?" Stephanie asked cheerfully as she pulled her English books out of her bag. Nate closed his eyes and focused on enjoying the feeling of the cold wood against his cheek. He wasn't hung over – he had been up all night working on his essay and she knew it.
"You could have helped me," he muttered, flinching at the sound of her pens as they clattered to her desk. "I could've gone out this weekend."
"Oh, I forgot you hadn't finished that essay!" said Stephanie in exaggerated surprise. Nate knew she hadn't forgotten at all. "You want to go to uni, right? You need your English credits. You'll fail your exams if I do the work for you."
When Nate opened his eyes again Stephanie had arranged her stationary in an orderly fashion and was underlining the date at the top of her page. Nate hadn't even gotten his books out.
"It's not like you had anything better to do with your weekend anyway," Stephanie continued with a grin. "I mean, you don't have a girlfriend."
Nate scowled. Thanks for the reminder. "Why am I friends with you again?"
"Because you need me," said Stephanie simply. "Get your books out! The teacher's here."
Nate groaned again and was about to reach into his bag when the fire alarm went off, surprising the girl in front of him enough that she nearly fell out of her chair. They had been warned they would be having a drill sometime that week, but Nate hadn't been expecting it to be in the first lesson of Monday morning. It was loud and irritating and did nothing to improve his headache, but it meant that he could escape most of his dreaded English period.
Stephanie looked crestfallen as they left the classroom and entered the packed corridor. "I was hoping that we'd be starting Othello today, too," she complained loudly, clinging to the back of Nate's shirt so that they wouldn't get separated.
Ugh, no thanks, Nate thought as they were pushed into a wall by an older student. They were suddenly surrounded by people, everyone pushing and shoving as they moved through the too-narrow corridors.
Nate hated being part of a large crowd. It made him feel claustrophobic. He hated being part of a crowd even more on Mondays, when he was usually groggy from sleep deprivation. He banged shoulders with older and younger students alike; a lot of students still had their schoolbags on their backs, taking up even more space.
"Oh, look, there's Jason. Jason!" Stephanie shouted, calling out to the boy who made up their little trio, Jason Hunt. Jason was tall, lanky and obnoxious. There were two things that made Jason stand out from a crowd; one was his height and the other was his shocking hair. Last month it had been electric blue, but now it was a faded, murky mix of teal and regrowth.
Jason grinned at them and waved, but continued with the crowd, shouting something that sounded vaguely like "meet you outside." Stephanie sighed, but catching a glimpse of an opening in the crowd, directed Nate with a push to the back.
"I know," Nate grumbled.
"Nathan?" questioned a sudden voice from somewhere behind them. Stephanie stopped dead, pulling Nate to a standstill with her. There were a few disgruntled mutters at their abrupt halt. People pushed around them as Nate turned around bitterly.
The voice belonged to a tall and well-dressed senior with arching eyebrows and a quiff reminisicent of the 1950s. He looked like a model and Nate hated him for it.
"My name's Kieran," the boy introduced himself unnecessarily. People made room for him as he stepped back, smiling at him as they squeezed past.
Nate scoweled at Kieran. "Right," he said. "Do you need something? Only we're holding up half the school."
Kieran laughed. "Perhaps we could go somewhere a little quieter?" He shot Stephanie an aplogetic smile. "Is it alright if I borrow him for a second?"
Stephanie squeaked slightly and - much to Nate's dismay - nodded and let go of his shirt. "Seeya later," she whispered, wiggling her eyebrows and stepping into the crowd.
"Well then," said Kieran, turning and motioning for Nate to follow. "There isn't actually a fire, so..."
"Where are we going?"
The crowd thinned as they left the corridor. They passed a few stragglers, a couple who reminded them halfheartedly they were going the wrong way. But even once they were walking through perfectly empty corridors, lined with terrible paintings from the first formers, Kieran didn't stop.
As they reached the stairway, the alarm still echoing through the halls, Nate stopped. "Isn't this far enough?" he said. "I don't want detention because of some pretty boy I don't even know."
Kieran laughed, but it sounded colder than it had before.
Maybe it was the echo of the now empty hallway, it made Nate feel instantly inferior.
"You think I'm pretty?" Kieran asked, turning to lean against the stair rail.
Nate scowled, but he bit back his retort and crossed his arms over his chest. "What do you want?"
Kieran motioned Nate towards him, casting a glance past Nate and down the hallway. Nate looked over his shoulder; there was no one there. He snorted and stepped closer. "What?" he repeated.
In a flash of movement, Kieran moved forward. Too quickly for Nate, his fingers were in Nate's hair and lips soft against his ear, and Nate was tripping over his feet as they stumbled backwards.
"I think you're pretty too." Kieran's breath was warm against Nate's neck, his fingers winding around Nate's wrist and pinning it gently to the wall.
Nate panicked, but he couldn't move. He felt the rush of heat to his face and the prickle of sweat on the back of his neck. Kieran's fingers burned into him. The heat was overwhelming.
"I like you." Kieran stepped closer, his green eyes inches from Nate's. He leaned in closer, parting his lips.
"You creep!" Nate suddenly found his voice and his legs. He pulled away violently, and at the same time Kieran relaxed his grip and Nate stumbled from his own force. He pulled himself up and caught Kieran's expression briefly - of amusement - before stumbling away. He could hear Kieran laughing as he ran down the corridor, but he didn't look back and Kieran didn't chase him.
Nate was panting as he reached the school field. All the students were there already being organized and checked off of the class lists by their teachers. Nate put a shaking hand to his face and could tell by the iciness of his fingers that his cheeks were still on fire. He swore and kicked an abandoned waterbottle, ashamed and confused.
Ten minutes later as he was being scolded by his English teacher for being late, and blatently ignoring Stephanie's attempts to catch his eye. He waited for her to turn her attention to Jason, explaining something with exaggerated hand movements, before sinking into an empty patch of grass and digging his nails into the dirt.
Kieran never joined the assembly, and Nate feigned a headache for the rest of the English period.