That first day of school was when I started to notice things off.
I snuck into the classroom ahead of the herd, before the bell, and claimed a seat toward the middle of the room, and right next to the windows. I'd repeat the process for a few days until the class had gotten used to their established seating arrangements, then I could leisurely stroll to the classroom instead of being in a rush. The unusual stuff started happening right away. Instead of my usual quiet time, reading a book until class started, there was movement inside the room, and not the adult-y teacher kind of movement.
I glanced up, wary. There was a new guy with a single notebook and a single folder held at his side. He surveyed the room and our eyes locked for a moment and I attempted to break the contact as casually as possible. His hair was a strikingly platinum blonde, right to the root where it's usually left natural or dyed a darker shade. His clothes weren't particularly noteworthy, just a dark grey t-shirt and some jeans.
He sat behind me, though I fought every urge to look. I didn't recognize him, even if he had been around before without the bleached hair, I would recognize him somehow. My school wasn't very big. There were a hundred students per year, max. Everybody knew everybody else, if not by name then by face. Which made him a stranger.
He just sat there, undoubtedly nervous. Probably too shy to talk to some random girl he happened to sit down with. Mr Mandez didn't pay much (if any) attention to us.
Before long, though, after I'd been debating introducing myself or not, the bell rang and other people started to trickle in one or two at a time. Within three minutes the room was full and Mr Mandez closed the door, and started passing out the syllabuses.
I spent that entire period drifting off into space and slowly doodling my best cat into the margins of the paper and nothing of interest really happened.
The next class I had was Biology with Ms Osling. I repeated my process of claiming a seat ahead of everybody else. And again, the new kid repeated his process of sitting behind me, though this time he was two seats back; a signal, I think, that he wasn't trying to stalk me. And again, the other kids started to trickle in and once the second bell rang we were given syllabuses and again we spent an hour doing nothing other than going over grading policies and breakdowns, and a bunch of other stuff few of us paid attention to.
Geometry and Photography were both exactly the same, except the Photography teacher, Mr Spint, was a pretty laid back guy and spent the latter half of class showing us all the cool things you could do with a camera.
But I was distracted by then, by the new kid. He had, so far shared every class with me. And photography was an elective with only fifteen students per class, mixed between all the grade levels. Which made the chances of use have the same class and the same section about 20%. Which made this odd. Because even having all of the same core classes was odd. Each had at least four sections, which made a chance of getting into each one a one in four chance or 25%, to have the exact same sections as me for each of them was one in four, multiplied by itself four times now. Which was one in sixteen. Or in other words, 6%. I doodled the math out in the margins and pondered on it as Mr Spint was going through slides. What was the proper term for this kind of thing? An abnormaly? No, it's an anomaly. That was right. New guy was an anomaly. That was ignoring the fact that the guys around here didn't typically dye their hair platinum blonde or quietly sit in the corner behind the only girl in the room. My fingers drummed against the syllabus on my desk.
The breaking point was lunch: when he went from 'anomaly' to 'mysterious stalker guy.' Our cafeteria was divided into clicks. Jocks and cheerleaders occupying one the long tables, and quieter artsy people at another. Non jock athletes and 'cool gamers' at another still. That kind of division. For me, I sat at the 'freak' table. Which ad several small clusters of those individuals who didn't quite fit into the larger clicks. But I didn't sit with anybody else. I sat alone, and opened my lunch and began to ingest nutrients in the form of a juice box and a sandwich.
Anomaly guy sat diagonally across from me, which made me look at him, and wonder, what the hell was he doing? Was he stalking me? He'd kept a couple seat between us but he still always kept me within sight. Which was creepy no matter how much distance there was. That being said, my open staring gave me chance to give him another look over. He kept a very average appearance, but where his skin was visible, on his forearms and lower upper arms, I could see he was muscular, in an athletic kind of way. But he didn't have the demeanor of an athlete. He leaned on the table with a cafeteria tray in front of him, and used a fork to push food around, bored-like. Not shy or nervous, but bored. Which meant... he was choosing not to talk to people.
Which made him a loner, like me.
I turned back to my lunch, deciding he had decided to sit here to be alone, not to stalk me. So we would be alone together, six feet apart.
Neither of use could enjoy solitude for long though. I could smell her boyfriends cologne before she was visible. And I sat up and looked around. Melissa and Lill had come up the table. They were nuisances on a good day, and my personal hell on a bad one.
Melissa sat across from the new guy, and Lill sat across from me. I took a breath, and started this off with ignoring them.
"So what's your name, cutie?" Melissa asked anomaly guy. I rolled my eyes and opened my book. Melissa couldn't be aiming to actually get his attention in a romantic way. Because she already had a boyfriend, who wore an obscene amount of cologne.
"Adam," the anomaly who was apparently called Adam said.
"Where're you from?" she asked. I was grateful that they were currently distracted and tried to bury myself in my book more but even I couldn't resist eavesdropping.
"Uh... Springfield," he said.
"Washington," he said. I frowned and discreetly took out my phone.
Melissa nodded with a 'cute' smile. "And are you some kind of athlete? I noticed you have some uh... athletic muscles."
I confirmed on my phone that Washington did not have a Springfield county, city, town or village. But why lie?
"I don't. Really, and I'm not really uhm, interested in getting in a relationship right now."
"Oh no," Lill jumped in, making me flinch. "Melissa has a boyfriend already, we're just curious."
"Oh really?" he asked.
"Yeah, sorry, didn't mean to be a heartbreaker," Melissa said. "But you should come sit with us, instead of alone."
"I'm good, but thanks."
"Oh come on," Lill bolstered in again. "It'll be fun."
"No, I'm good," Adam insisted.
Melissa made a pouty face, the kind which usually forced people to do what she wanted. "Please?" she asked. "You wouldn't even do it for me?"
"No." Adam's brow furrowed ever so slightly.
"Pretty, pretty please? With sugar on top?"
Lill leaned in, equally stubborn on this point.
"I said no."
I let my book smack open onto the table. "He said no, Melissa," I snapped.
Her glare snapped to me so fast I swallowed back the next couple words I was gonna say.
"What was that, Aria?" she asked, with no attempt to mask any hostility.
"I said, 'leave him alone,'" I clarified. My heart was pounding in my ears, and I clenched my hands into fists in an attempt to keep them from shaking.
Adam quietly witnessed this exchange, determining who was what here. Though, it didn't take him long to figure it out.
"Fine," Melissa said venomously. She grabbed my book's cover and snapped it shut before solving me hard enough I fell off my stool and sprawled out onto the floor. "Oh my god," she said dramatically, "Aria, are you okay?"
The cafeteria lady looked up at us from her post by the door, where she was reading some celebrity magazine.
Melissa grabbed my arm and 'helped' me to my feet and back onto my stool. Her grip was like iron, and dug in deep enough with her sharp nails to cause a great deal of pain.
"Be more careful you clumsy oaf," she laughed off, and the cafeteria lady lost interest in our squabble.
And then she walked away, with Lill quickly following behind. I took a deep breath. There was pain all cross the right side of my body, from making contact with the floor and the stool next to me. And my arm was killing me, and there was already the red of early bruises from her fingers. I grimaced and slowly picked up my book, and opened it back up and tried to read, keeping myself calm.
Adam leaned over and asked, "are you okay?"
I nodded, and did my best to pull the fear and pain back in. "I'm fine," I said shakily.
He went back to pushing food around on his lunch tray for a while.
"Thanks," he said finally. "For making them leave me alone," he elaborated.
"No problem," was my automatic response. I still had my book open in front of me, but the words were meaningless. They were just words for a moment. Meaningless words.
"Does she uh... normally treat you like that?"
"Yeah," I said.
"She's a bitch," he said under his breath, just loud enough for me to hear.
We didn't exchange any other words for the remainder of lunch and I got myself back into my book.
The second half of school was exactly like the first. Adam shared each of my classes. And in each, he sat behind my place along the windows. The fact he'd lied about his hometown was long forgotten by then.