He had swallowed visibly before letting out that single word and afterward scrunched up his face like it was a painful experience. Weird behavior, yes, but I couldn’t have cared less. He was here, not just to my eyes, but to everyone else’s. I could see the curious glances my classmates were casting him. Him, not at me for talking to myself. A weight lifted off of me as that rising fear of a mental trouble floated away.
“Nice to meet you, Jadin,” I said cheerfully, my hand still floating in front of me.
He stared at it with trepidation and maybe even repulsion. Then he balled his own hands into fists and crossed his arms protectively.
I let my hand fall and I let my smile go with it. I was thrilled to see him up close, to know that he was real, but there was something dark in his countenance that was undeniably daunting.
He seemed to recognize this, and follow my thoughts. He turned in his seat to face me fully and his face--even more striking and unique up close--opened up with a fraction of a smile.
“You too,” he said shortly. There was another wince, but this one didn’t look as painful.
I had realized in that wince that it wasn’t just his appearance that made him look so out of place; it was nerves too. He was obviously very uncomfortable and now that I looked, I could tell that he was nervous too. Blaming it on a new school solved all of the questions about his behavior, even his sudden appearance on the street the other day.
He raised expressive eyebrows at my comment. “What makes you think that?”
I used sarcasm enough to know when it was being used against me. Nerves, I reminded myself, but I wouldn’t put up with that excuse for long.
“I’ve seen you before though,” I pressed. I needed to hear him admit it. For some reason, that was important to me, like a final test to make sure I hadn’t been seeing things. On that day at least. My fears hadn’t floated as far away as I’d thought. “Right?”
His smile came back, bigger but more wry this time, like I’d confirmed some private joke.
His next words came easier, “I think so. The other day. You were with your boyfriend.”
The inflection in that last sentence turned it into a question and I was quick to stomp on it. “Yes. Chris.”
“Okay,” he agreed. I could almost see him creating a mental list that started with Chris’ name. With barely a pause, he asked, “And your friend?” He pointed over my shoulder.
“That’s Eve.” I hadn’t looked, but I hadn’t needed to to know who he meant. I only had one person whom I classified as a real friend in this class.
It didn’t occur to me to wonder how he could know that until after I’d already answered. It was disconcerting and, I was starting to realize, so was he. It wasn’t a bad vibe, exactly, but he made me want to be unusually cautious all the same.
“Eve.” He nodded, another mental check mark.
Suddenly I really wished that Mr. Silvey would get over here and start class. That was still a while away though, my reward for leaving lunch early.
“Do you live nearby?” I asked to deflect attention.
It worked better than I’d wanted. He turned his head away so that I couldn’t see his expression. “Near the park,” he said distractedly, after a noticeable pause.
He thought about it. I could see his eyebrows crease over his bright eyes. Even in profile those eyes stood out, the color of muted chrome under the florescent lights.
“I can’t remember,” he finally admitted. He seemed genuinely frustrated by the shortcoming.
I shrugged it off. “That’s not really a surprise with all those new names to remember.” I gave him an encouraging smile. He was looking at me again, but he didn’t return my offering or even acknowledge it. “Where are you from?”
I didn’t know why I was bothering to press him. If I were honest I would have to admit that he really didn’t seem to want to talk to me. His resistance had pulled me away from the joy of discovering that he was real. I kept thinking about that other image, the one where the wings from the party had fit him perfectly. His being real didn’t explain that part. I couldn’t bring it up, but I couldn’t shake the image either. And I couldn’t ignore the equally crazy idea that if I got to know him it would eventually give me permission to ask.
So I waited eagerly for him to answer my question and hoped it would be a gateway.
He didn’t give in right away. It looked like sarcasm was the only thing that came easily to him. Shy? Maybe, but the rest of his body language didn’t suggest that.
“How far away are we talking?” I asked pointedly. “Other side of the country? Another country?” I wouldn’t doubt the latter. He didn’t have a perceptible accent, but his mannerisms and looks really did feel foreign.
That wry smile came back, the one that said he knew something I didn’t. “It’s a different world,” he said cryptically, rubbing one of his wrists like it was cold. I didn’t even think he realized he was doing it.
It was the kind of sentiment that I expected to be followed by at least a wink, a pick-up line that implied the next half about taking me there himself. But instead of turning coy, Jadin’s expression darkened. What in any other mouth would have been a proposition fell out of his like a threat.
I stared at him now with something more than caution. Maybe sating my curiosity wasn’t worth it.
“Um,” I inched forward, ready to go back to Eve. Not that it would matter. I knew where my thoughts were going to be for the entire class. “I’d better get back to my seat.”
“Wait,” he half rose, leaning forward and reaching out to stop me.
When I made no move to leave right away, he settled back.
“I’m…sorry. I just…I miss my home. This is so different.”
He tried to speak casually, but his eyes betrayed him. They filled with pain and sadness that seemed deeper than just moving could cause. The expression changed him, took away the calloused exterior and showed a peek of someone who was surprisingly vulnerable. It wasn’t something you ever wanted someone else seeing by accident.
“I can’t really relate,” I told him honestly. “I used to live in the northern part of the state, but I was about four. I’ve changed houses a couple of times, but I don’t remember anywhere else but here.”
The change of focus wasn’t helping. That new depressing aura hadn’t left him. It felt out of my reach to make him feel better, but I couldn’t help trying. “Did you leave a lot of family behind?”
He shook his head. “No.”
He considered this very seriously, and then shook his head again. “No.”
“What brought you out here?” There could possibly be a clue to his feelings in that since everything else was a dead end.
We both turned towards the new, argumentative speaker who was standing next to Jadin. I hadn’t been paying much attention, but now I noticed that the classroom was filling up. Before, there had only been a few of us in here, taking advantage of Mr. Silvey’s open door to get some warmth in the last few minutes of lunch. Now it was nearly class time and people were pouring in. I knew most of them by sight and not much more than that. They were the kind of students who came in late and left before interacting with anyone else. I happened to know that the guy who was standing near Jadin was named Mason.
“Get out of my chair,” Mason said when he had Jadin’s attention.
Attention wasn’t exactly what I would call it. When Jadin turned to Mason, that tiny chink of responsiveness I’d exposed sealed off like a vault door. His face became hard, not a mask of attentiveness, but of obvious disdain.
“Excuse me?” Jadin asked flatly.
I expected Mason to back off without question. Jadin’s sudden switch was scaring me and I wasn’t on the other end of that stare. But Mason was a self-designated tough-guy, twice Jadin’s size with an attitude to match. His only response was to cross his arms in a menacing gesture.
“I said move. That’s my seat.”
I could see that Jadin was about to boil over and I was sure that the other students who were starting to watch could see it too. He wasn’t exactly trying to hide it. I stepped in to break them up without making any conscious decision to do so. I just knew that I didn’t want Jadin to look like that anymore.
“Back off, Mason,” I said, firmly, but not without a persuasive smile. Mason turned to me like he was surprised to see me sitting there. “He’s new.”
“Yeah, so?” Mason asked. His tone was slightly less piqued now that his testosterone had a different outlet. I amped up my smile just a little bit.
“You know Mr. Silvey will reassign him. Here,” I half-stood, offering my seat. “You want this one for now?”
Mason looked between the two desks and shook his head. He obviously did not want to end up sitting next to Jadin. “Just forget it,” he grumbled and walked across the room to find an absent student’s desk.
At first Jadin just remained staring, his posture stiff and agitated. When he looked back at me though, his face had softened to wear a look of mild surprise.
“Impressive,” he commented.
I felt my face heat up and shrugged dismissively.
His surprise had morphed into consideration. He was studying me closely. “They respect you,” he announced decisively.
“You think so?” I asked in surprise. I had never thought of it in that way.
Jadin didn’t answer and he didn’t lose that contemplating look either.
I jumped and turned to find Mr. Silvey at the front of the class at last. The droning buzz of the bell drowned out his next words.
“What?” I was forced to ask.
“Back to your seat please.”
I looked at Jadin one more time, then rose reluctantly. Not very long ago, I had been ready to run from him, but I couldn’t deny how intriguing he was. That curiosity felt dangerous, much too related to recent events to ever develop into a healthy relationship, even a friendly one. Still, I didn’t even try to suppress it. There wouldn’t be a point.
My last glance at Jadin seemed to have brought him to Mr. Silvey’s attention for the first time. As I walked through the aisles, Mr. Silvey asked, “Office assistant, or new student?”
“New student,” I heard Jadin answer, bitterness in the words. Mr. Silvey was nodding as I reached my seat.
It was going to be very hard to keep my eyes forward and my head on task today. If I’d been sitting closer to the back, I might at least have gotten away with a few backwards glances or even shared expressions.
“Turn to Chapter 6 and start reading quietly,” Mr. Silvey was saying to the class. “I’ll be with you in a minute.” He went back to the corner of the room and in the sudden quiet I heard him ask, “May I see your schedule?”
I sighed and opened my history book unenthusiastically. This was going to be a long class. I tried reading, but my ears were tuned in to the snatches of hushed conversation behind me.
“You need to bring that to me as soon as possible…What’s your name?...You don’t have any supplies?”
Jadin was quieter than Mr. Silvey. I couldn’t hear any of his answers no matter how hard I listened.
I felt a tug on the hood of my sweater. Eve. Without turning, I reached back, palm open. She dropped a folded piece of paper into it. I’d known this was coming; I’d seen Eve giving me curious stares all the way back to my seat.
I opened the note and read: Do you know him?
I wrote No as an answer without thinking about it. That only felt half right, though. He was just so familiar, disconcertingly so. I saw him around the other day. I added and passed the paper back.
New neighbor? was the almost immediate response.
I felt myself shrug, knowing that she would see it. Not that I know of.
I was still annoyed at not getting a direct response to the question of location. How hard would it have been to give me a street name?
Well, let me know if he needs a tour guide ;)
I made a quiet noise of amusement. Eve was good at bouncing back, always had been. It was just that usually she bounced right back to Tyler. I was proud of her, though I knew that right this second I was more concerned with my own thoughts.
Unfortunately, I knew myself well enough to recognize that my habit of obsession had shifted from concern for my mental health to trying to figure out why Jadin made me think so much about my dreams and strange visions. Same action, different outlet.
“All right,” Mr. Silvey said as he finally walked to the front of the class. “As I’m sure you’ve noticed, we’re starting our unit on medieval culture today.”
A collective groan went around the class, indicating that no one had bothered to read long enough to notice that.
Mr. Silvey dismissed it rather than commenting on the general inefficiencies of the class. He started lecturing, but by the time he’d pulled up a PowerPoint on the subject I’d drowned him out.
As inconspicuously as possible, I turned and looked at Jadin, promising myself only that one indulgence. I’d had the crazy idea that he’d already be watching me, but he was only staring straight ahead. He wasn’t concentrating on the head of the person in front of him, or the PowerPoint, and he wore a grimace I couldn’t interpret. I would have said that he looked sick except that after seeing his response to Mason, I figured that an expression like that could reasonably be considered a commentary on the class.
I faced forward again before anyone noticed. I tuned my ears if not my entire mind to the lecture and tried to take notes.
When the bell finally rang there was a mad dash for the door before Mr. Silvey could even finish his sentence. Usually, I disapproved of that kind of thing and thought of students who did it as rude. However, there was something dark and depressing about the medieval period that made me want to rush for fresh air too. Jadin was one of the first out the door; he leaped up and out like his seat had burned him. I’d cooled off enough during class to be glad that he was gone. Tomorrow I’d try talking to him again, after we’d both had a break.
“God that was painful,” Eve said behind me.
I glanced at her as I gathered my things to see she was stretching like she’d fallen asleep.
Mr. Silvey was still too close for me to feel comfortable agreeing aloud, so I just nodded.
“You want to come over later?”
I looked at her in surprise. “I can do that? I thought your parents had you in solitary.”
Eve shrugged like riding out her punishment was nothing. “It can’t hurt to try. My parents still love you, so if you just showed up…”
I imagined the scenario and decided that Eve was probably right. “I’ll think about it,” I said. I didn’t feel good about manipulating the Davis’s. “Maybe with a study excuse.”
Eve made a disgusted face. “Ugh. Never mind. At this point they’d sit us at the table and actually make us work.”
I grinned and stood up. Eve reluctantly followed. We didn’t have any more classes together, so the odds were good we wouldn’t see each other again today. We walked outside together, embracing the fresh air and our last few moments of companionship.
“One month,” I said optimistically. “That’s not so bad, considering. It’ll go by fast.”
“Easy for you to say,” Eve muttered. Then her tone changed and she poked me playfully in the ribs. “Someone’s waiting for you.”
Jadin was standing at the end of the ramp, leaning against the trailer’s base with his arms crossed. Apparently I wasn’t as ready to wait until tomorrow as I’d thought, because the first thing I felt was gladness at the sight of him.
Eve and I walked down together and stopped in front of him.
“Hey,” I said.
He was too busy staring at Eve to answer.
“Oh,” I said, as if I was the one being rude. “Jadin, this is Eve, the friend I pointed out in class.”
Jadin’s eyes looked over Eve with barely disguised dislike. “Hello,” he said curtly.
“Okay…” Eve said, more confused than upset by his slight. “I’m gonna head to class. See you later, Alli.”
I watched her go for a second before telling Jadin, “That was…” mean. I turned to face him head on and say so, but when I looked at him I knew he really wouldn’t care or listen to a reprimand. I breathed in and tried to press down my indignation. “How did you like Mr. Silvey?”
Jadin swallowed shallowly before he spoke. “Honestly?” he paused again and a wave of grayness washed over his face like a visualization of nausea. He put a hand to his head and closed his eyes. “I wasn’t even paying attention.”
“Are you okay?” I asked with real concern. At first I’d thought it was just the different lighting, but now I could tell how pale he’d become, his skin stretched thin across his face.
He opened his eyes, dropped his hand, and breathed slowly as if to steady himself. “I’m fine.”
I gave him a dubious look but he obviously wasn’t going to admit to anything so I went on. “I heard Mr. Silvey talking to you about supplies and things. If you need anything, I’d be happy to help.”
He tried for a grateful smile but it only looked pained. “That’s very nice of you.”
“It’s no big deal. Do you know what class you have next? I heard about your schedule too.”
“It must have fallen out of my pocket,” he agreed. The look on his face had made its way into his voice. It was harsh and shaky, like he was having trouble concentrating on the words. “What class do you have next?”
“Hey, are you sure you’re okay?”
He nodded insistently. That was a mistake though, because he grabbed his head again. I reached a hand out, sure I might need to catch him at any second. He waved me off. “What class?”
“Um. English with Miss Glance.”
He nodded again, more carefully. “That sounds familiar. Will you show me where?”
“Sure, I’ll walk with you,” I agreed warily, putting my hand out again to help him.
“Thank you,” he said.
He ignored my hand, pulled himself away from the wall, and made it about three steps before collapsing.