She arrives in the cement-walled building with a smirk pasted on her face to hide the nausea clawing its way through her system. The bag on her back is as old and battered as the thin cotton hoodie she wears, faded through so many trips through the washing machine that the once colorful fabric is now a muted gray.
The other children don't seem to pay her any mind, too keyed up on sugary breakfast cereal and the excitement of a new school, prison-like as it is. If she were to look closely at any of their faces she'd see that she's not the only nervous one, but she doesn't. She's long-since trained herself to be frosty and looks for nothing from them.
Glancing at her hand for confirmation, she sees the number she'd messily scrawled on herself the night before. C-137, in smudgy black ink, down the side of her left thumb. Peeking through long brown bangs she examines the letter on the building before her: A. The buildings of the middle school are shaped as a triangle, and she chooses the next building instead; B. Feeling an uncomfortable squirm in her stomach as she notices the gradual dip in the population around her as the other students find where they belong, she hastens to the last building, chin held high and hips swaying in a defiant walk.
The C building is the smallest of the three; a dirty building set close to the strong sent of dumpsters weltering in the August heat. The bare lightbulbs flicker overhead with an electric buzz as she pushes the door open. She initially begins walking in the incorrect direction and immediately notices the numbers on each door decreasing instead of increasing as they should. She has to turn on one ratty-sneakered heel and has just reached 124 when the bell rings, tinny and obnoxious, over the speakers.
"Shit." It's the first word she's spoken all morning, and she immediately clenches her teeth over it. There's a small handful of other students in the hallway even now, speeding around with crumpled maps in sweaty hands, worry on their faces. She isn't worried; she's angry. Finally reaching her destination, she rips door 137 open without mercy and pushes her way inside.
Heads turn from every desk, eyes alighting on the girl who dared to be late on the first day of middle school. They travel from the toes of her sneakers to her skinny legs, traveling past sharp-bladed hips, a long bony torso and the small beginnings of breasts and finally find her face. Though her cheeks are hollow and her front teeth rather crooked, there's something quite appealing about her face, but the ice storm raging in her eyes pulls them back, draws them away from her.
The balding, middle-aged man in front of the class, too, looks up at her arrival. "Well hello," he greets, giving a twitchy little mouse-smile. "We were just taking attendance. Your name is…?"
She hates her name, down to the last syllable, but knows it must be said, if only this once. "Blessing," she says, teeth clenched as if not wishing to let the word leave her mouth. Her voice is low and a little gravely, but not altogether unpleasant. "Blessing Collins."
There's a slight titter among the class for the unusual first name; her scowl clears it up rather quickly. There's something a little feral about her; they sense it, and do not wish to cross any lines.
"You can call me 'B'," she informs her teacher, her tone making it all too clear that she won't be accepting anything else.
"O—oh," he says, and his smile falters a little, but he picks up a pencil and makes a note on the attendance roster. "Welcome, Miss B. Please have a seat."
Her eyes pick through the room, looking along the sides; she isn't one to choose a spot in the middle. She feels a tinge of relief when there's one on the far left side, almost in the very back, and begins to make her way to it.
"Aah," the teacher warns, lifting a hand. "Not that one, Miss B. The leg is broken and it wobbles."
She considers telling him that she could care less if it's wobbly but then realizes that she probably doesn't want to spend the rest of her year in homeroom with a desk that won't stand still; she isn't fond of instability.
"Alright then," she says, the heat of all the eyes on her getting to be a bit overwhelming. "Where can I sit?"
He gestures to the only other empty seat—front and center. She holds back a groan. Slipping her bag off her bony shoulders she trudges to the spot and flops down, only then realizing that it's not quite center, it's one off. That lofty spot goes to a fair-haired boy, the only one in the room resolutely not looking at her.
Wanting to finally put the stressful morning behind her, she forces a smile—it looks a little odd on her face; hers is a face made for sterner expressions than grins—and waves a hand in a 'carry on' gesture. Her teacher, visibly relieved to return to the planned schedule, finishes up the attendance and proceeds to a long-winded speech he'd likely practiced all summer, all about 'you're in middle school now', 'new responsibilities,' and 'class rules'.
"You're all about eleven years old now, right?" the teacher asks. He gets about three or four nodded heads and, satisfied by the response, continues speaking. "Well, there are more rules in place now. First off, attendance and tardiness…"
His eyes briefly flicker over to Blessing, who meets his gaze, holding his eyes until he clears his throat and looks away. She tunes out the rest of his rambling and stares off vaguely behind him, until some movement in her peripheral vision catches her attention. Flicking her eyes to the right, she observes the front-and-center boy scrawling out the teacher's rules word-for-word, determination etched in every ounce of his posture. Her eyes trail down to read what he's writing.
'More than two tardy days= detention' she reads to herself. His handwriting is immaculate, curled with small flairs at the f's and t's. She can't help but smile a little. Teacher's pet or what?
He seems to observe that he's being watched, because after a moment he glances at her, and Blessing's breath catches in her throat. Though his youth is more evident than her own, with his soft-looking skin, round cheeks, and massive blue eyes, the intensity of his expression is overwhelming, and for a moment even the most silly of school rules seem serious. This boy is taking them seriously, at least, and not to impress any teacher: it's clear that he believes and abides by all rules. His hair is almost white, feathered and tied at the base of his skull with a small black band. He has the clean and well-dressed look of the middle class.
Seeing her own reflection in his bright eyes, Blessing feels shabbier than usual. Her dirty hair is frizzier than it normally is, and the ripped seams and tatters of her clothes are all more visible in his eyes than in any mirror. Though she's long since given up on feeling shame or embarrassment, she feels the old stirring of it inside her, faint as an echo., and in response she juts her lower jaw out and stares back defiantly.
The boy does not smile at her; but he does offer a little nod before returning back to his work.
For the rest of the day, every time she closes her eyes, she can see his.