The first thought I had as I stepped foot inside the old building was why the fuck am I here? It had been six years since I’d attended school at Tempest High, where the school was wealthy and the students were even wealthier. Nothing had changed. The gates were still rusted and creaky, making everyone scared to walk through them. The trees were still tall and gloomy, hovering over everyone’s heads as they walked to beneath them to get to the building. The old fixtures of the rich brick structure were still pristine and classic.
Nothing had changed, but everything had.
With my little sister by my side I strode towards the entrance, my chin held high as I ignored the lingering looks. I could feel the judgment burning through the back of my head but I had to remember what was important. Curious looks didn’t qualify. Seeing out my last year of high school did.
“Where are your friends?” Ada asked, her hands grasped tightly around the straps of her backpack. It was a different experience for her. She was still in primary school when we were last in the country. Now, she was fourteen turning fifteen, held back a year due to the unjust schooling in the country which had grown to be our home. Celti.
“Hayden said they’d meet me at break. We have to do paperwork first,” I told her, the bell ringing to drown out my words. It was a comfort to know I had Hayden and the other two idiots I called friends to make the transition a little easier. Ada wasn’t so lucky.
“Yay, paperwork,” she drawled with the sarcasm she got from spending far too much time with me.
I laughed, holding open the door to admin for her. “Let’s just get this over with, shall we?”
Mrs. Barden was still the head of administration, a cringe worthy fact to note. On my last day here six years ago we had spray painted obscenities on the floor to her office and filled it with plastic balls we had nicked from the local play centre.
That reminded me; there was one person I had to see.
“Mr. Beck,” the nasally voice greeted, acid dripping off her tone. Mrs. Barden’s eyes had narrowed into slits.
“Happy to see me, ma’am?” I smirked, leaning against the counter. “I’m sure you’ll be glad to know I’m back for the year. Could we please fill out our paperwork?”
“Are you going to fill my office with plastic balls again Mr. Beck?” She asked, as if whether we could do our paperwork was dependent upon my answer.
“No ma’am,” I said with the most serious expression I could muster. “I grew out of going to The Playhouse.”
Ada stifled a laugh.
“Hmph,” Mrs. Barden grumbled, handing me the paperwork never the less. I handed it to Ada, whose writing was much neater than my scrawl. She also wouldn’t be tempted to fake it to get under Mrs. Barden’s skin.
She handed it to me once she was done, giving me the chance to look over it. Everything seemed in order, but I was yet to check the emergency contact numbers. I hid my grin and handed the papers back. Mrs. Barden gave us our class schedules and subtly gestured for us to bugger off.
“Remind me to tell Royce and Milena that they are our emergency contacts,” Ada said, referring to our older siblings. Two of the five of us kids.
“How did you know?” I had to ask, snatching her schedule so I could see where she was going. English, in the language block. I started leading her towards the room which used to be my English classroom.
“With the trouble you get into, you think I’d be stupid enough to put Mutti as our contact? Vati? I don’t think so.”
“You’re much smarter than I was at your age,” I complimented her, the halls barren bar a few young kids looking lost.
“You filled an office with plastic balls when you were my age.”
“I was younger, actually.”
“Not by much.”
We stopped outside her classroom, the one I used to sit outside of to eat my lunch and discuss the juicy gossip of thirteen-year-old lives. Ada took her schedule from my hands and tried to smile at me. It faltered. She was nervous.
“You’ll do great, Ada. Just remember everything you’ve learnt over the last few years and you’ll be fine. Good luck.”
“Danke, Jacob. But I think you need more luck than me.”
“I’ll be fine. I’ve got this.” I just had to act confident and even a little bit arrogant and I would make it through.
My little sister rolled her eyes and opened the door to her class. As soon as she went I turned and walked back the way I had come. The hallway was deserted, lockers lining the walls, sun shining in through the windows. Classes were full of students but here, it was dead quiet. I started to get nervous but shook the feeling away. What’s the worst that could happen?
I strolled into the science wing and quickly found the room. I could see through the window in the door that the teacher had begun her lesson. She looked in her mid forties, dark graying hair and a voice so loud it filtered through the door. It had been drilled into me that it was rude to interrupt but I had no choice. I took a deep breath and grasped the handle, twisting it and pushing the door open.
I stepped into the room to find it had fallen silent, every set of eyes staring at me. My eyes roamed across the room, scanning up and down each row of my peers. Most of them I recognized and one of them I knew.
I swear I stopped breathing.
Gray blue eyes were staring up at me, as wide as if she’d seen a ghost. Maybe that’s what I had become to her. Her dark hair was dead straight down her back, dressed in plain simple shorts and a t-shirt. She hadn’t changed a bit.
“You must be Jacob,” the teacher said, catching my attention. I reluctantly turned my gaze to the woman, who had a welcoming smile on her lips. “I’m Ms. Patterson. Welcome back.”
I was sitting in psychology minding my own business when a ghost walked in. A metaphorical ghost of course, but a ghost none the less. He strutted into class with a smirk on his face, looking over everyone as if he was reminiscing. It wasn’t until he locked eyes with me that his smirk faltered.
“You must be Jacob,” Ms. Patterson said to him, a breezy smile on her face. “I’m Ms. Patterson. Welcome back.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Jacob grinned back, his famous grin. He had changed a lot in six years, but that grin had stayed the same.
“I’m presume you know a few people in this room,” Ms. Patterson chuckled. “And I’m certain you don’t need an introduction. How about you sit down in the empty seat across from William and we can keep on with the lesson.”
“Of course,” he nodded, heading down the aisle and sliding into the seat behind me. I didn’t know what to think. The rumour of his return spread like wildfire on Friday afternoon, but it was only confirmed last night when someone saw him and his family out for dinner. That circulated the gossip chain, a more popular item than Saturday’s party dramas and details or the teen pregnancy scare of relay runner Paula Wilfried.
“As I was saying. You’ve chosen this class as one of your six subjects for year twelve, meaning you all have at least a slight interest for it. I hope for your sake that’s true, because you will find it difficult if you don’t. That being said, it’s Monday morning on the first day of school and no one wants to be here, so I’m going to put on a video that will see us through to the end of the lesson.”
The class erupted into cheers and Ms. Patterson turned off the lights. A minute later, the projector flickered to life and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest started to play. I cringed. At the end of primary school Hayden Porter had a movie night with about fifteen of us graduates there. It was the last movie we watched and I was forever scarred from it.
So instead, I got my book from inside my folder and read it under the table. At least I tried to read it. I got to the stage where I had read one sentence ten times and still could not process it. A question was overbearing the sentence in my head, focusing on the very grown up boy sitting behind me.
Where had he been?
He didn’t leave quietly, but he didn’t tell anyone where he was going. From the slight accent he’d acquired, I could guess it was somewhere in Europe. But what was he doing there, and why was he back?
The bell rang to signal the end of first period so everyone began to pack up their books, teacher included.
“We’ll watch the rest of that tomorrow and write up our first analysis.”
We were dismissed.
Parker was standing outside the door, waiting for me with a bored expression. She was my polar opposite, my sister, my best friend. She glanced up when I came out, but her gaze moved past me to the person following. From the widening of her eyes I knew it was Jacob.
I couldn’t deny myself a look and when I did, his eyes were on me. I thought he was going to talk to me, but he just let out a low chuckle as if saying like hell I would talk to you and walked right past. Of course, he wouldn’t want to talk to me. Why should I have thought otherwise? Six years is a lot of time to change, and from what I’d heard he hadn’t been a good boy.
“So the rumours were true,” Parker sighed, pushing off the wall. We fell into step and headed to our next class, pushing against the current of students trying to do the same.
“Do you really doubt the rumour mill? When has it ever lied?” I drawled, causing Parker to laugh, flicking one of her shoulder length braids over her shoulder.
“When it said you and Marcus broke up because he slept with me?” She phrased it as a question.
“How could I forget?” About a month ago it was rumoured that Marcus was cheating on me with my sister. I was right not to believe it, with both Marcus and Parker quick to assure me it didn’t happen.
“You’re going out with him tonight, aren’t you?” She clarified, stopping by the door of our English class where little year eights were filing out. They looked so ready for school with their freshly pressed clothes and neatly styled hair. I gave it a week for all of that to be gone. Maybe a month. Everyone put more effort into their appearance in younger years, especially at the start of term.
I nodded, my eyes catching sight of a brunette with striking familiarity. I knew her, but I couldn’t put my finger on how.
“Speak of the devil,” Parker mumbled, walking into the now empty classroom. An arm was slung around my shoulders as my boyfriend kissed my forehead.
“Talking about me again, are we?” He asked, walking with me into our English classroom.
“Less and less every day,” I told him, relieved when he laughed, taking it as a joke rather than a fact. We’d been dating for six months now, two months too long. The more time I spent with him the more I questioned how I’d ended up with him in the first place. Tonight was the night I was going to break up with him.
“So what are we doing tonight, babe?” He fell into the seat across from me, my sister on the other side. She didn’t try to cover her laugh as I rolled my eyes. I hated pet names.
“I was just thinking I could come over after school for a bit. I’ve got dinner with my family so I can’t stay long.”
“Family dinner? Who cares, it’s just family. They’ll always be there.”
I stopped. I knew too well that family wouldn’t always be there. Natural disasters happen. Accidents happen. There’s always a chance you’ll wake up one day and your family will be gone.
“I can’t get out of it. Sorry.” I did my best to be polite when it was the last thing I wanted to do. I wanted to scream that he had no idea how important family was, how lucky he was to still have a functioning one. But I bit my tongue, on the hopes it would make tonight a little smoother.
The class was almost full as Parker handed me a note, torn out of the back of her binder.
I hate to say I told you so. What a jerk.
I sighed, nodding in agreement. He was a jerk. At least after tonight, he wouldn’t be my jerk.