I deliberately skip breakfast in the morning. If it's going to be as bad as I think, I'd rather put it off a little while longer. I still have some coffeecake left from the trip up. My mother always packs twice what the family could possibly eat for the drive up here. Besides, I'm not that hungry anyway.
Chemistry, Latin, trigonometry... the first few classes pass in a bit of a haze. Aside from Neil and Charlie being gone, nothing much is changed there. Of course, those are the classes that I've always enjoyed for the relative ease. All that's needed is to memorize and repeat back what you've memorized. There's no need for discussions of meanings and possible interpretations. Everything is simple, everything follows rules. It's right or it's wrong.
Then the class I've come to dread most. English. I feel as though everyone is staring at me as I hurry into the classroom and take a seat. Without a word, Gerard Pitts gets up from the desk beside me and moves to the other side of Steven Meeks. Before I realize what's happening, all the desks surrounding my seat have been vacated, leaving me alone. I look down, feeling my face burning. The room goes quiet as footsteps sound from the doorway.
“Mr. Overstreet, Mr. Anderson,” Nolan barks as he enters the room. “I see five vacant desks here. There is no reason you need to be sharing a seat. Over the years, I've come to accept a certain about of horseplay as normal, but I insist upon propriety in the learning environment. Mr. Anderson, you will kindly relocate to one of the vacant spots before I am forced to give you both demerits.”
I hadn't even noticed that Todd and Knox were trying to share a desk rather than have to sit near me. I see Todd's knuckles whiten on his books as he drops into the seat beside me. I notice a few doodles on the cover of his notebook. A heart containing the letter N catches my attention. That surprises me a little. As shy as Todd has been, I never would have figured him to have a girl back home.
Nolan waits for a moment, then moves straight into the lesson. “Open your Pritchards to page 105, the sonnets of William Shakespeare.” He glances around for a moment, then chooses, “Mr. Chapman, you will please read Sonnet XVIII aloud.”
Not me, not me, thank God not me. Two rows over, Jim Chapman stood, reading.
"Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature's changing course untrimm'd;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee."
Neil's summer should have been eternal. He ought to be here still, with that sparkle in his eye as he practiced his lines as Puck, or read from Mr. Keating's old book of poetry in the cave at the meetings. I drop my pencil as the words on the page before me blur suddenly, leaning over to pick it up before anyone has the chance to notice my expression... to notice that I am holding back tears. Not that they'd understand why.
As I straighten up, I can hear Nolan starting his analysis of the sonnet. Beside me, Todd sits very still, not taking notes at all. I sneak a glance over. His face is stark white, his eyes tortured. I just barely hear his whisper, “...one of Neil's favorites...”
I make it through class, barely, and hide in the nearest bathroom. I know I ought to eat something, but I'm not sure I can. It's all hitting me so much worse now, than when it happened. Something about seeing Todd's grief is making it that much harder for me to hide my own. Men aren't supposed to cry, damn it! I flush the toilet a couple of times, to hide the sobs I can't hold back. I don't want them to know I'm crying. And they'd never believe why. Or worse, they would believe it. And then... and then...
And then they'd have everything they needed to destroy my life as badly or worse than I destroyed Mr. Keating's. Maybe Neil's solution... but I'm too scared to try that, either. Still. Maybe I would get to see his face again if I did.
I wait until all the noises have stopped before coming out of the stall. I wash the tear stains off my face and sneak into the dining room for lunch. I still have the afternoon classes to get through.