She knew that she was going to stick out like a sore thumb this time too.
Molly Hooper, with her long auburn hair tied in a perfect plait behind her and with strands which were coming loose tucked behind her ear neatly, was the perfect picture of a future morgue girl who was destined to do autopsies for the rest of her life. Her secondary school life had been boring, very, very boring up till now except for those not—so—frequent occasions where she found an abnormality in her dissected frog's anatomy and those very frequent occasions where she was dismissed trying to point it out excitedly.
Or at least, it would ultimately prove to be boring, she thought. She was going to stick out. All people who did not even know her would recognise her from her tell—tale appearance and call her the Molly "morgue" Hooper, a middle name she rather wasn't fond of. However, she was hoping that because this was Lower Sixth Form, she would at least meet some new people. New, interesting people, perhaps.
There was one decent friend that she had who was going to attend Sixth Form with her and who had also been with her since prep, Mike Stamford. Mike didn't qualify as a best friend, not really. Molly Hooper did not have any best friends. She was the sort of girl who liked staying indoors, spending her Christmas curled up in an armchair in front of a cosy fire and writing away into her diary about her life and defining her goal and spending the next morning trying to remember them instead of simply looking into her diary.
She liked writing. She was fond of writing because writing was the one thing (Except her ambition to perform autopsies for the rest of her life) which was true to her, which was a part of her. . .
So anyway, back to Mike Stamford. Mike was a decent fellow, he always respected her and her intellect, and unlike his more sexist peers, he never shirked away when it came to asking for help in his homework from Molly. One could say that they were best friends, but Molly knew the difference. If time came, if everything went against her, she knew that Mike won't stand by her side. And neither would she.
So, that's how she knew that Mike wasn't her best friend. And she wasn't disappointed. She was perfectly happy, and she could turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to some names which she had been called during Year 7 and 8. It used to hurt her, but now it didn't. She had grown up, she had grown past that stage.
"Hey, Molly!" Mike's voice came from behind her as she got down from the bus, "How have you been?"
She turned to him and smiled, "Hey, I was just thinking about you," said she, and Mike looked surprised. A couple of boys behind him cackled up at the sight of Mike talking to her. He immediately looked apologetic, forgetting her initial sentence. She smiled sympathetically. She wasn't the one to be influenced by the impression her peers had of her, but she understood that not everyone was like her.
"It's okay," she said, trying not to make him feel uncomfortable. If anything, she felt incredibly lucky that she had a friend like Mike who still talked to her and still cared for her, "I'll see you in class, alright?"
He shrugged, and with an incoherent apology he walked away. Her smile dropped and she continued walking. A friendly face was always good, she told herself. And Mike was a sweetheart.
Walking into the St. Bart's secondary on the first day of the final two years of her school life should've felt dramatic to her, like there should've been at least a band, or an orchestra to mark the beginning, to commemorate the moment her footfall crossed the threshold of the school entrance. She thought she would've felt a little more grown up, a little more responsible, like adulthood would come up to her (although she was still fifteen) and hit her right in the face like a virtual wave. She thought she would feel. . . different.
Story of her life. Her life was bland, like a painting with all its colours taken out and leaving the dull canvas. Maybe that was a good thing, she reasoned, that maybe now she would be able to fill it with her own colours.
She now knew she had been watching far too many "Chakra" and "Yoga" videos on YouTube.
Instead, walking into the school felt like she had surfaced from a long time time spent underwater, like this was now air and finally she could breathe. She didn't know why she was feeling this way, like the summer had smothered her. Everything had been perfectly normal. She had begun to study for her future, planning it ahead meticulously, every day, every hour, and in a few months, probably every minute.
So, when she found a group of fifth years in skank clothes looking at her like she was some sort of a misplaced mental home worker with daddy issues (which she wasn't, thank you very much), she found that she didn't mind. It was better to have a minute gone unplanned and spontaneous. Nevertheless, she did not smile back at them, knowing that she would come across as weird.
She spotted Mr. Lestrade near the ground floor staff room. Mr. Lestrade was a good teacher, she had heard from some of the seniors and even the alumni, and she looked forward to be taught by him. Behind him, there was Mrs. Donovan, another teacher. She was fond of Molly, very much so, and Molly was fond of her too, except for those occasions where she didn't answer her queries about certain things. You'll learn it in higher classes, she chanted everytime, and Molly sat back in her seat with a pout and a dejected expression. There weren't any higher classes left, but she knew better than to verbalise that.
"Hello, Molly," called Mrs. Donovan to her in a friendly manner, "How was your summer?"
“All right,” she halted in front of the teacher, as she dodged tin lunch pails and stray elbows coming in her direction. For a moment, she was tempted to tell her the truth, but then Mrs. Donovan was a teacher and she thought that she wouldn't be comfortable if she started telling her about how her dad had recently lost his job and that he had taken to drinking. She chose to tell her about what she had done in her last summer. “I spent it with my grandmother in Camden. How about yours?"
"You know, the usual," said she with a hollow laugh, "Getting a divorce, getting broke getting a divorce. . ."
Molly let out a laugh, only to understand that she wasn't joking, "Oh—oh no! I'm—I'm—I'm—sorry, I'm so sorry! I—I thought you were, you know, joking."
Mrs. . . or rather, Ms. Donovan now, or whatever her maiden name was, just stretched her lips across her cheeks insincerely, "See you around, then." Molly coughed in mortification. She probably looked like a fool there. She stood outside the door of her classroom and took deep breaths. She shouldn't let it affect herself. She shouldn't let it affect herself, she repeated it over and over in her mind.
When Molly entered class, she saw Mike sitting with a blond boy quite short for his age, but otherwise sturdily built. Even if she didn't know half the people there, and half the people didn't know her back, she decided to take her usual seat in the back benches. She never liked admitting it to herself, but she felt like she had an advantage over other people when she got to see others' heads, instead of others seeing hers. She just didn't like the idea of knowing that others could see her but she couldn't see them.
Beside her, in the next row, a head full of shaggy and unkempt dark brown curly hair lay lay resting on the arms of a lanky boy with his legs stretched to their longest. He looked like he had been thrown out of his house for cooking meth. Well, except for the starched and spotless white shirt. Molly's eyes narrowed and she decided to ignore him and the soft snores that came from him. Even though she hadn't seen his face, he seemed like the kind of boy who who was too sullen to talk to anyone properly.
To her delight, Mr. Lestrade arrived and bid everyone a cheerful hello, and then plunged straight into the most detailed and complex lecture about the pulmonary system that she had ever heard. Her head was buried deep in her notebook, her hand cramping with the rapid and furious note—taking after a long summer of rest and taking care of and watching her dad, and it wasn't until she came up for some air halfway through that she noticed the boy in the row beside her still sleeping. She squinted on him, focussing and taking the sight of him in. He didn't seem to own a bookbag.
Molly wondered whether she should say something, because she had heard that Mr. Lestrade was quite the strict teacher when it came to making his students learn. For some incomprehensible reason, she felt like she really shouldn't interfere with his what looked like much needed sleep. And then she looked in front to see that she had missed a part about the bronchi. She snapped her head in the direction of the board and furiously took down her notes, looking up into her textbook for the missed portion whenever Mr. Lestrade was busy labelling a diagram.
When Mr. Lestrade finished his lecture, he asked them all a series of tricky questions, not just a review from the lecture but things that they really had to think about. The whole class was struggling, their brains clearly out of practice, though all Molly's studying over the holidays was paying off pretty well, as was of the blond boy sitting in the first bench with Mike. He seemed like a scholar. Maybe she could go and be friends with him.
Suddenly, Molly had the feeling that Mr. Lestrade had seen the way the boy beside her was sleeping openly in the classroom on the first day itself. With a sharp clear of throat, the teacher motioned to her with his eyes to wake him up. She poked him with the end of her pencil, even shook him gingerly by his slender shoulder, afraid of whatever contagious epidemic she might catch from his starched white shirt (maybe he was Puerto Rican or Mexican, no Molly, that's not a good thing to say, that is racist), but there still wasn't any response from his side. The entire class turned to look at her and her futile efforts at waking him up. But the boy was more stubborn than her own dad pissed on the couch. Not able to take it anymore, she opened her water bottle and poured it down his head. The entire class started laughing as the boy came to consciousness and looked at her with supreme annoyance.
"Why did you do that for?!" He demanded angrily, not caring that he was there in front of the teacher. Molly had seen such boys in movies. She did not know that such people existed in real world as well.
"I'm sorry," said she, returning to her seat, "You weren't waking up."
“And what about you—Sherlock Holmes, isn't it?” Lestrade said, crossing his arms across his chest and giving Sherlock a look that somehow contained all the elements of amusement, annoyance and impatience, "Have something to contribute?"
The boy, Sherlock, suppressed a yawn that had been bubbling up in him and scratched his head untidily, "What's the—uh—question?"
"Effects of a malfunctioning conus arteriosus in frogs versus humans," he snapped, but Molly suspected that Sherlock did not seem to notice that. Instead he simply said, "Page number hundred and thirty five, column two, paragraph three. There you have it."
With that, he promptly went back to sleep, leaving Mr. Lestrade dumbfounded. Molly turned to page number 135, column 2, para 3, as did everyone in the class. It was sure there. The boy, Sherlock, did give a very misleading impression. He had memorised the textbook? She couldn't help but let a small smile creep up her face, even if he had thrown the answer right in the face of her decidedly favourite teacher.
Lestrade gave an uncomfortable cough, "Ah, well, thank you, Mr. Holmes."
When the class ended, Sherlock did not seem to get up. He was still sleeping. Molly thought that she should try and tell him to. . . go to his next class perhaps? She needed to do that, didn't she, as a human being? Although she wondered if poking Sherlock into wakefulness was a 'human' thing as well.
Nevertheless, she did poke him into wakefulness. She noticed that Sherlock's eyes were surrounded by black circles, his hair mussed and unkempt and he looked like he could lapse into a micronap anytime. Well, he looked like that before a pair of piercing steel—gray eyes narrowed as he took in her appearance with a Grand Canyon valley—deep crease between his eyebrows.
"Um. . . the bell rang," she offered.
"Means you should get out of the class?"
His eyes narrowed further, "You aren't a teacher, why are you lecturing me?"
Because the next teacher surely would, wouldn't they, she resisted the urge to say anything like that, instead going with, "You look like you haven't slept in days."
Sherlock sat up straighter, "Unless that's an exaggeration that you're using for the phrase 'missing sleep for a few hours', I'd say that you've got it spot on."
She looked at this weird boy, weird but now she could see intelligence in his eyes and his broad pale forehead, "How many days?" She asked him instead.
"Two," he replied and she frowned.
"That's impossible. You would've been dead by now."
Sherlock rolled his eyes, now taking her water bottle peeking out of her bookbag without even asking her and washing his face there in the class itself, "Wrong. You need to rob yourself of sleep for eleven days, of approximately two hundred and sixty four hours, the statistics vary from person to person, that is if you don't lapse into a coma or a micronap, instead of the forty eight hour window you are suggesting."
Molly wanted to ask him if he really had been kicked out of a crystal meth—cooking gang (he might have been, if he did go on rapid-fire like that in front of them), but something about Sherlock's cool, nonchalant manner made her believe that it was a wrong idea. She had no idea why she was still talking to him. She knew the species that Sherlock belonged to, she had never met one of him before and neither was she fascinated by that.
Well, she wouldn't have been if Sherlock hadn't hit so many hammers right on her head about facts and information that basically sounded like Latin to her.
"How far have you gone?" She asked him, "In terms of sleep—deprived days, I mean?"
Sherlock leaned back in his chair, and suddenly jumped to life when Mr. Lestrade almost yelled at them, "Very well, Mr. Holmes, it certainly was an effort to stay awake in the class, but not when you've got a girl talking to you!"
Molly blushed, but whether it was because of the way Lestrade had said 'talking', or whether it was because of what he had pointed out, she had no idea. To her horror, Sherlock answered him back, "Well, you'll manage one too, Lestrade if you don't look like you're trying hard and if you tear that price tag off your shirt."
She cast a glance at Mr. Lestrade, who had spun around to see if there was any price tag. It turned out that Sherlock was merely pulling his leg. Molly smiled at that. She didn't know why, but she felt it her obligation to follow Sherlock on his way out, maybe to hear how many sleep—deprived days this eccentric boy had spent till now. For some reason, Sherlock. . . he was different, like God had made her wish come true. She had asked for someone interesting, and here he was, in flesh and bone. For some reason, her brain kept telling her to back off, maybe because she couldn't take the disappointment that if she talked to Sherlock for long enough, he might turn out to be ordinary after all, and then she'd have to go back to her pissed dad and her second—hand books.
Suddenly, Sherlock turned around and smirked at her, "Three."
Molly's brain struggled to keep up, "What?"
"I can stay awake for seventy two hours continuously, but this time, I think I'll go off to sleep again. . . Unless you. . ." he eyed her coffee flask cautiously and expectantly. She kept it with herself just in case. She had pretty sleepless nights trying to get her dad sorted out, and she decided that it would be better if she just...
"You want my coffee? For your. . . experiment?"
"If you could call it that," he smirked, speaking in a low voice which rumbled pleasantly even amongst the din that surrounded them, and she felt, for some very, very obtuse reason millions of jagged—edged butterflies invading her tummy, "but at any rate, was it over the summer, or before that, or perhaps both. . . ?" he trailed off.
The butterflies in her stomach were replaced by a heavy thud, like she had collapsed to the floor in a heap of skin and bones even though she was still standing in her place, rooted to her spot as Sherlock continued to scrutinise her. There were only two things that had happened over the summer and right before that, and she had no idea how Sherlock knew that, because she hadn't told anybody that. They were very hurtful, and as soon as that introspective faraway look was lost on him, she regained herself from the earlier shock and tried to look unaffected.
"Where's your bookbag?" She inquired instead, and was fairly surprised when Sherlock opened his mouth to answer. Maybe he found her worth his time, because he seemed like this sort of all—important guy who never deigned to talk to anyone. And then she remembered that he hadn't even asked her her name, and she was aware of a stab of reluctance about handing over her coffee flask to a complete albeit weirdly charming stranger.
"Home," he replied, causing all her thoughts to come to a skidding halt, like a big red stop sign had been imposed.
"That's obvious. . . I mean, you usually bring your bookbag to school, don't you?"
He gave her a weird look, and Molly decided that it would be best if she just got over with it. Sherlock had clearly not understood anything. Forgetting everything, she simply handed him the coffee flask, "By lunch, I need it back," her voice hushed and almost reverent. She had no idea why she was doing this, how Sherlock could be so compelling—
"If you say so, Molly," said he, and sauntered out of there. It took her a few seconds to realise what had happened.
How did he know her name?
She felt oddly light, like she had been trying to push herself underwater only to feel the water buoying her upwards, not allowing her to drown. It felt like gravity wasn't enough to hold her in place, and everything else appeared blurred in contrast to the sharpness of the corner into which Sherlock had just turned and walked away.
He was brilliant, to put it in the most simplest of ways. He was different.
Molly only wondered if being exposed to uncharacteristic, eccentric brilliance was supposed to feel that way.