An obnoxious blare sounds. I snap my eyes open and slap it off before I fall back onto my warm nest of covers. I am much too tired to get up, but as I lay there, reality comes flooding back, bring with it the realization that it is Monday, the day of my dreaded return to school. I groan. I have to get up. So I do.
I go shower, taking extra care with my appearance. I even attempt to straighten my hair before I give up and just pull it up into a high ponytail. At the last minute, I slip on my favorite bracelet, pick up a book I've been wanting to start and dash to my car.
The drive to school is the shortest ever. I pull into the lot and find a parking spot right off, which is incredibly rare. I'm calm until I turn off the key. Then as the engine dies, uncertainty crashes over me. My stomach instantly sours. I sit there in the driver's seat a moment shoring up my courage before I can make myself slide out only to pause in the open door, pretending to gather up my things as I sneak looks at the teens around me. No one is pointing. No one is whispering or casting furtive glances in my direction. Most of the kids are seniors with friends or younger siblings in tow.
“Hey Rachel, glad to see you're back,” says a voice at my shoulder and I give a start before I turn to see Libby Holland, her fine blond hair puffing in the breeze. “I hope you finished the report on, Into the Wild.”
“Yeah, I finished it.” I hoist my backpack over one shoulder and lock my car.
“So what'd you think? Is he the perfect existentialist—”
I start to answer but her next remark knocks the words from my mouth.
“—or just a bum? His story made me so mad. I mean, the way he selfishly threw everything away and hurt his family like that. After they gave him everything he needed to be successful.”
I feel my brow furrowing and I quickly work to smooth it as her words wash over me. I found the story touching and brave. Her point of view takes me completely by surprise and I just stare at her for a moment blinking. I am willing my mouth to fill with a watered-down response when I am saved by a voice screeching from across the lot. “Libby!”
Libby turns to wave to a girl with short black pigtails and I figure she is going to go and leave me to brave the walk alone but she just shouts, “See ya in third hour!” before she turns back to me. “Come on, Rachel. We’re going to be late.”
I shift my backpack and follow her into the building and the day becomes just another Monday. Other than a few, “how's it going?” and “glad you're back,” no one makes much of my week-long absence, no one but Michael Judson.
I pause before the closed door of AP Biology sharply aware that each and everyone in this room witnessed my mortification. Patrick must sense my apprehension because he shoves the door open and sticks to me long after I've slid into my desk.
I get a few nods but that's it until Michael yells across the room, “Hey Rachel, feeling alright? You're not going to like pass out again or anything, are you?”
Patrick turns to fix him with a glare and I grab his arm and reply, “Thanks, I'm fine.” Suzie Wilson's shoulders tremble and even though I can't see her face, I know she is snickering onto her palm. Then Sean slugs Michael in the arm and Michael barks, “Hey, I'm just trying to be nice.”
I roll my eyes as Patrick watches the pair for a moment longer. When they don’t say anything more, the tension goes out of his shoulders. He turns back to me to offer a hesitant smile. “Did you hear there's a new creature movie coming out?”
I nod. “Yeah, I heard.”
“Want to go see it next week?”
I smile up at him, appreciating his effort to distract me. “Sure. Sounds like fun.”
Mr. Addison comes into the room. When he turns to the class I feel his eyes settle on me. “Good to see you back, Ms. Sparrow,” he says before he segues into a lecture about the midterm we are having later in the week.