She dumped her heavy bag on the bed while she struggled to drag her suitcase across the carpeted floor. She mentally chided herself for sending her dad away by the front gate instead of letting him persuade her to help her to her room. She had known that she had not hidden her embarrassment to be seen with him well enough, and his evident hurt and disappointment in her still hung over her like a dark cloud. It was immature and unkind on her behalf, she knew. He was working himself into the ground to pay for her tuition fee, and while she appreciated it more than she could ever tell him it was also one of the sources of her embarassment.
The fact that her father had to grind away at his manual tasks at their family farm to pay for what her academic scholarship didn't cover made her a rare bird at her new school. She was a blue collar scholarship kid at a white collar boarding school for the rich and privileged. Scholarships were rarely handed out, not because the academic standards were so high, but because the families that sent their kids here could afford to pay the full fee with such a margin that they rarely thought to apply. April was one of twenty students that had earned a scholarship this year, and the other 580 or so girls and boys filling into the dormitories around campus had no idea that she was significantly less privileged than them. Yet.
After manoeuvring her suitcase fully into the small dorm room she flopped unceremoniously onto her bed and began to scan her new surroundings. The room was long and narrow with two small single beds on either side of the room, two desks intersecting the corner by the window and two small wardrobes sandwiched awkwardly in between the desks and the beds. She had been warned that the room she would be sharing with a girl she only knew as an abstract name for the next six months was the smallest in her halls. The too-perky light blue paint on the walls paired with the non-descript beige carpet didn't help. April sighed heavily and groaned softly as she could feel a sharp pain in her neck. She really should have let her dad help her with her bags.
She had been desperate to come here, to get away from her three sisters and the family farm in rural Ohio. It hadn't really mattered to her where she was going, as long as she was far enough away from the oppressive familiarity of her birthplace. Moline felt too small for her, her parents too protective, her sisters too overbearing. She had big dreams for herself, but at home she had felt like she was drowning, like her life was passing her by. She had begged and pleaded with her parents until they caved. Her mother had cried when they sat her down at the kitchen table and told her they would let her go to any boarding school of her choice provided she could get a scholarship to cover most of the fees. She had spent every night after school for two full months researching east coast boarding schools before she had decided on Hartwell. She couldn't really explain why she had chosen to come here, other than she had liked the brochure. The glossy pictures showed bright green football fields, beautiful old brick buildings, blonde girls in pleated skirts holding hockey sticks and laughing. It couldn't have been further from her parents dusty pig farm and the run-down boxy middle school she had been attending. As soon as she had seen it she had considered it her escape and had worked tirelessly to pass her scholarship exams. Now that she was finally here she was beginning to wonder how she would ever fit in here.
She had almost finished unpacking her things when the door swung open and a tall blonde stepped in. She didn't look real, she looked like she could be one of those girls holding a hockey stick in the school brochure. In fact she was wearing a navy pleated skirt and a school blazer. April had wrongly assumed that the students wouldn't dress so formally in real life.
"You must be April", she shrilled.
It wasn't a question, more a statement of fact.
"I'm George. I was supposed to have a single room this year, but they fucked me over."
She offered no further explanation, and clearly expected no verbal response from April as she dumped her bags on the floor, jumped up on her bed and expertly produced a cigarette and a lighter from her inside pocket. April had always been timid, shy even. Her brazen roommate had temporarily rendered her speechless.
"I-i... Umm..", she attempted.
George looked at her briefly with one eyebrow arched into a question mark before proceeding to light up her cigarette, blowing out big puffs of smoke whilst producing a gleaming white brand new iPhone.
The first two weeks at Hartwell went by painfully slowly for April. Conversations with George had barely progressed beyond short factual statements from her and monocylabic responses from April, usually in the form of apologies. Her fellow classmates all seemed to know each other from middle school, and had little interest in making new friends. April had tried to approach a few of them after class, but she could tell they thought she was either too perky, too geeky or just plain awkward. It was as if they could smell her scholarship money, or lack thereof. Her clothes weren't quite right, her shoes were just slightly too scuffed and her hair was altogether... too much.
Mealtimes were painful. April had never had any problem finding people to sit with at lunch back home, but the massive communal dining hall had become a source of deep anxiety within the first two days here. She tried to find a quiet spot in the corner to pick at her overlooked vegetables and unidentifiable meat product, but the dining hall seemed to fill up so much quicker here that she usually ended up sitting with groups of strange boys who proceeded to completely ignore her for the entire meal. George would usually completely ignore her outside their room, plainly too important and too popular to be friends with someone so different from the Hartwell mould. George's friends were all blonde or black haired, groomed but not made up, beautiful but discreetly so. Perfect teeth, athletic bodies, perfectly manicured nails, au naturel of course. They all wore their formal school clothes like it was the most natural thing, whilst April either looked like a middle-aged business woman or a deranged art teacher on alternate days. Her Ohio wardrobe was letting her down in a dramatic way in Conneticut.
After two weeks April was so starved of real conversation that he practically chewed the ear off the nurse at the health centre during her admissions check up.
"Honey", she smiled. "Breathe. I'm not going anywhere".
April realized she had been ranting on while the nurse had unsuccessfully tried to listen to her heartbeat. As she sat back down in the waiting room, she noticed a short, pixieish girl on the other side of the room. April decided she had to extend her social circle beyond curt exchanges with George and verbal dihorreah in the school nurse's office, so attempted to catch the attention of the bird like creature sitting across from her.
"Hey, I'm April", she started. "You new around here too?"
The brunette turned towards her, brown eyes blinking at her in confusion.
She almost whispered as she pulled out her earbuds, and April quickly realized she hadn't heard a word she had said.
"Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to disturb you. I was just introducing myself. I'm April. And you are...?"
The other girl looked at her as if she had slapped her across the face. April fleetingly wondered if she was high or something.
"I'm Hannah", she finally said. "Sorry, it's just that I haven't had a proper conversation with anyone since term started".
April could have hugged her.
She had finally made a friend. Hannah turned out to be Aprils salvation from the dining room awkwardness. Just as April, Hannah didn't know anyone else at Hartwell, but instead of braving the dining hall she had been eating contraband food her mother had sneaked into her suitcase for every meal since she got to campus. Thankfully for Hannah, April came into her life just as she had finished her last protein bar. Hannah clearly came from money, with her perfectly polished hair and expensive clothes, but she was still different from George's uber perfect posse. Hannah laughed a little too loudly at April's jokes, ate her lunches far too quickly and seemed completely oblivious to anyone but April when they were together. Hannah made April thrive at Heartwell. She finally stopped caring about not fitting in with her classmates and not speaking to her roommate, and was finally able to focus on her schoolwork. They even joined the student newspaper together, April already had her college admissions in mind and was acutely aware that any extra curricular activities would help her get closer to her dream, her reason for pushing to come here.
Hannah had left school two days before half term, her family were going on some exotic adventure for a week. April was staying at school for the week, since her parents couldn't afford her plane ticket home and refused to let her take the bus. She was dreading it, being alone in the dining room yet again. Today the dining room was emptier than usual, many kids having already left to go home to big mansions or flewn off on expensive holidays with their families. She found an empty table towards the back of the room and sat down with her red plastic tray filled with dubious looking sausages and some sort of potato mush. She was almost half way through her meal when George unceremoniously dumped down next to her.
"My friends have basically abandoned me" she offered.
"Mine too" April chirped back.
George shrugged and turned her focus on her meal. A salad of course. No dressing. They churned away in silence when April suddenly became aware that someone was staring at her. She looked up and all she could see were liquid pools of bluish green. It took her a while to even register that she was staring someone right into their eyes, it wasn't until eyelashes fluttered to break the staring contest that she became acutely aware that those eyes belonged to a boy. She quickly averted her gaze and felt her cheeks burn hot.
"Hey George, ok if we sit here?"
He didn't address her, or look at her again. Thank god too, because she was unable to lift her gaze above his cheek. He sat down, as did his two other friends. They all seemed to know George, and April vaguely recognized them as part of her regular crew. Not that she dared look directly at any of them. She had a strange feeling that she was somehow not supposed to be there, as if she was flying too close to the sun. The four other people at the table completely ignored her throughout the rest of the meal. George never bothered to introduce her, and the three boys never addressed her. She was a slow eater, so the three boys finished their lunch and got up to leave just as she pushed the last mouthful past her lips.
"Laters, boys" George smiled.
April thought to herself that it was the first time George had smiled in her presence.
"See ya George" the shorter blonde boy looked hesitantly towards Aprils roommate.
"You staying on campus for half term?"
George shrugged and gave him a short confirmatory nod.
"Right, well I'll see you when I get back then I guess".
April figured they probably lived in the same town and he was disappointed he wouldn't get to see George during the school holiday.
"Avery here is staying too if you get bored and need some company" he gestured towards the taller, darker boy.
April quickly glanced in his direction, and was immediately sorry, because those eyes were there again, boring into her.
"Laters, ladies" he smiled, and as he did the hairs on her neck pricked up.
Of course, the eyes she had gotten lost in belonged to none other than Jackson Avery. The one and only Jackson Avery. The very same name she had heard uttered by nearly every girls lips in her dorm and in her class, usually followed by a deep sigh or soft moan. The very same. That night she woke up at 4 am covered in sweat, unable to remember what dream had woke her up so abruptly. When she fell back asleep she could think of nothing but searing bluish green eyes.