Khalil wasn’t sure why he had agreed to sit with Mina and her friends at lunch, but he was sure it had something to do with the fact that he couldn’t stop imagining the image of her eyes wavering over him in the hallway. Though he remembered her, it was clear from their interaction that she had lost all recollection of him and Khalil planned to take this new opportunity to reinvent himself in stride. He could create himself from scratch in his own image, he could be whoever he wanted to be and no one would have a clue, Mina wouldn’t have a clue. He could hardly hide his unwavering ebliss and not even the jeers and gossip of the students around him could make him dissipate his elated mood, that is until the brass bell rang overhead, signaling the start of fourth period. Khalil had come to hate that sound, there was nothing worse than being trapped in a large open space where you were an easily spotted target of annihilation, nothing worse except for willingly volunteering yourself to be made fun of for the next twenty-five minutes. Suddenly he was regretting his very existence.
“Hey!” Mina’s smiling voice appeared beside him, nudging his arm in a curt greeting. She was holding her white plastic lunch tray in both hands, oblivious to the disgusted stares and whispers they were attracting from the growing wave horde of students. More eyes were on Khalil than ever before, and suddenly all he wanted to do was explode into a million irreparable pieces. He tried to give her the best attempt at a smile he could muster in the situation, but by the slight smirk written across her lips, he could tell she wasn’t buying it.
“It’s ok if you changed your mind.” she tried to reassure him, but her words were only making her more anxious. He had changed his mind. “If you don’t want to go over there you don’t have to.” He didn’t want to go over there, but his options were fraying thin and he wanted to be near Mina, so instead he quieted his internal opposition and gave Mina a small smile of confirmation beside him. It was worth it to see the grin that spread across her face.
“Come on” she sung. Khalil had a feeling he was going to regret his decision as soon as he sat down, and the looks that he received as he walked hand in hand next to Mina only confirmed his thoughts. He wanted to sink into the floor and disappear forever.
“Hey guys!” There seemed to be a distinct pause in all action at the table. Voices were silenced, forks and phones were put down, and the entire table looked upon he and Mina’s close vicinity with disgust. Mina’s smile never wavered.
A tall boy with curly black hair and dark eyes to match stood from the table with surprising speed, Khalil recognized him from his time spent scrolling through Mina’s Instagram feed and if he remembered correctly his name was Asher: the boyfriend. He found their relationship quite cliche, but high school movies were built on cliche stereotypes like Mina and Asher, in fact he bet that Asher was the varsity lacrosse team captain.
“Hey!” Asher bent down to kiss Mina swiftly before he diverted his attention back to Khalil behind her. His eyes held less malice than those of his friends, but there was still something about the way he was looking at Khalil that made him cautious.
“You guys know Khalil.” Mina gestured to Khalil’s awkward form behind her, yet still no one spoke a word. Asher sat with a curt nod in Khalil’s direction and Mina followed him, Khalil followed her, receiving even more daring stares from the table around him.
“So, Khalil” the boy across from his spoke, and he could hear the faintest sigh emanate from Mina beside him. She clearly didn’t like whoever this guy was and Khalil didn’t the like the sound of his name on his lips.
“Chris” she interrupted him before he could get another word out, shaking her head, lasers shooting from her eyes.
“Asher” the boy spoke, turning to Mina’s boyfriend. Khalil wasn’t sure what had happened, but he could see Mina’s body grow less tense in a matter of mere seconds. He hoped that his eyes hadn’t lingered on her figure for to long.
“As I was saying” the boy continued uninterrupted now, all the eyes at the table trained on his face with identical smirks. Something was definitely wrong. “Where did you move from?” Khalil felt like a trap was coming, but for the life of him he couldn’t see from where.
Khalil wanted to reinvent himself, now was his chance.
“Oklahoma” he decided to keep that aspect of his life the same. Chris nodded his head listeningly, though the smirk on his face suggested ulterior motives and so did the warned look across Mina’s face.
“Oklahoma?” he repeated, Khalil nodded his head wearily. “Family up there or something?”
“Uhm- yeah, or something.”
“What do your parents do?” Khalil hoped no one had noticed the slight hitch in his voice, or his writhing hands in his lap below him.
“I mean surely they must do something pretty extravagant if they can afford to send you to a school like this.” This conversation was definitely starting to feel more like a trap.
“Khalil” Mina began, shaking her head, her eyes boring straight into his, full of apprehension and concern. He felt like she was staring straight through him. “You don’t have to answer that.”
“Mina” Chris held up his hand. “Calm down, I’m just trying to make small talk with your new friend.”
“You’re making him uncomfortable.” Mina’s voice had regained it’s tense air from earlier, and even her boyfriend whispering in her ear beside her couldn’t calm her nerves.
“Are you uncomfortable?” Chris turned back to Khalil inquisitively. Yes.
Something about the way Chris’s mouth was set scared Khalil, and though he hadn’t told him anything about him, he had a strange feeling that he already knew everything. The more they stared at one another, the more Khalil began to think that they already knew each other, and from the way Chris was staring him down he had a feeling the same thoughts were already tumbling through his mind.
Khalil hoped his rapidly beating heart, wouldn’t beat out of his chest and give him away.
“No” he shook his head in, what he hoped was, a convincing lie. “Uhm-my parents” he started, his hands clammy and sweating profusely in his nervousness. “My parents-” he tried again, but the words kept getting stuck in his throat and he couldn’t force them to come out.
“Are you alright dude?” No. In his peripheral he could see Mina’s doe eye scanning his face feverishly, as if she were waiting for him to break down at any second, like they were all waiting for him to break down at any second.
“My parents travel a lot” he finally managed to sputter out without a single stutter, though Chris looked like he still had a thousand tricks up his sleeve, Khalil prayed that their twenty-five minutes for lunch was drawing to a close soon.
“For work” he added, trying to make his lie more believable. “They’re doctors.” He couldn’t stop himself now.
“Oh yeah? What’s their specialization?”
“Specialization” Chris lips were turning up at the corners even more. He spoke slowly, enunciating each letter as if he were talking to child. “What kind of doctors bud?” He was talking down to him, and the only thing that was keeping Khalil from throwing his body across the table at Chris was the image of Beau’s bloodied body in the basement of the bungalow.
“Cardiologists” Khalil blurted out the first thing that popped into his mind. He didn’t even know what a cardiologist was, he had picked up the term from a television show he had seen Donna watching when he was younger.
“Wow” Chris pursed his lips, raising his eyebrows as if he were impressed. Khalil could tell it was a ruse.
“So, how come your parents are rich cardiologists but they can’t afford to buy you clothes that fit.” There it was, Khalil knew he could only sit at the table for so long before someone brought up the elephant in the room, but he had to admit, it was a question he had been asking himself since he stepped through the class double doors of Palm Valley Prep. He could have gone to any other school in the distract, all the combined still more affordable than private school tuition, and yet he was placed here with rick and stuck-up jerks.
“Are you serious!” Mina exclaimed, her hands resting in fists on the table. Khalil watched as Asher attempted to grab her hands in his only to be pushed even further away by his girlfriend.
“What the hell is wrong with you?” her words were directed towards Chris’s gleaming figure, but his painted on smirk remained in place. Khalil couldn’t understand why she would hang out with people like this, maybe there was something he was missing.
“It’s a valid question MJ” Chris shrugged his shoulders unbothered. “Cardiologists make hundreds of thousands of dollars every year, and you’re telling be they can’t spare a couple bucks to buy their son clothes that actually fit him, or shoes that are raggedy and falling apart.”
“Chris!” Asher’s voice boomed across the table. “Chill out man.” Khalil wasn’t sure that Chris had any intention of ‘chilling out’.
“He looks like he sleeps on the streets. Who knows what diseases he might carry-” Khalil didn’t wait to hear the rest of the conversation, banging his clenched fists on the table, he grabbed his backpack from the floor and began to storm his way back across the booming cafeteria. Eyes followed him as he stomped, surely all of them wondering what the murderous new student was angry about and if anybody got to curious he would be happy to show them a real murder, starting with Chris.
Khalil had barely crossed the threshold of the cafeteria voice before he felt the light touch of fingers brushing against his skin and, without thinking, he swung around briskly, ready to punch whoever it was right in the stomach.
“What the fuck do you want?”
He stopped at the sound of the soft and airy voice that met him. Her eyes, once filled with worry, had now been replaced by sudden apprehension and fear. He could deal with the stares and jeers from his classmates, he could deal with their unbridled fear that he would snap their neck when they weren’t looking, but he couldn’t deal with the sorrow that had filled Mina’s eyes. She was the last person he wanted to scare.
He immediately began to curse under his breath, spewing a string of apologies to her once more.
“Mina” he breathed aloud. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean-I didn’t know it was you.”
“It’s fine” she replied much to quickly. She wasn’t fine and the terror in her eyes shown. The whole reason Khalil had wanted to start from scratch was to avoid situations like this, when people found out who he was, what he had done, they ran, and he didn’t think he would be able to forgive himself if she ran. She was pure, naive to the soul-crushing world around her, everything that Khalil wished he could return to and now he had had scared her away just like everyone else.
His anger was uncontrollable.
“I-I’m-I need to go.” Khalil began to sputter, Mina opened her mouth to respond, but he never got to hear what she was going to say, instead drowning out her words with the sound of his trainers against the shiny linoleum floor.