You've got a friend
“Thanks for the help,” Maia muttered.
Maia slid her backpack around so that she could reach the zipper. Maia unzipped her bag and began rummaging around inside it until she located her class schedule. Just as the brunette pulled out the small slip of paper, a bell sounded above her head. Within minutes doors on either side of the hallway flew open as students flooded the corridor.
Maia flipped the schedule over to reveal her locker number and combination. Taking a deep breath, she tucked her chin into her chest and began bobbing and weaving through the crowd.
Reaching the opposite side of the hall without incident, Maia breathed a sigh of relief. Glancing down at the number printed on the sheet of paper and then back up at the row of lockers, Maia started down the hallway. The teen was so focused on finding her locker that she didn’t notice the girl walking in her direction until they collided.
As the other student sank into a squat to collect the books she dropped, Maia followed suit. Gathering her biology and geometry textbooks, Maia rose slowly and handed them to the other girl.
“Sorry about that. I was a bit distracted,” Maia apologized.
Maia studied her classmate for a moment. The girl looked to be about her age with curly red hair and a heavily speckled face. There was a warmth to the girl’s sea-green eyes that resonated deeply with Maia.
Shrugging, the redhead replied, “It’s cool. We don’t have to exchange insurance or anything. Having just braved rush hour was probably traumatic enough for one day.”
Gesturing towards Maia’s class schedule, the girl questioned, “You’re new here, I take it?”
“Is it that obvious?” Maia asked.
Chuckling, the redhead answered, “A little bit. Most of us have been going to school together since we were kids. A new face is pretty easy to spot around here.”
“I’m Rozene, by the way,” the girl added.
Maia extended a hand towards Rozene as she replied, “It’s nice to meet you, Rozene. I’m Maia.”
Rozene shifted the stack of books to the side before reaching out to clasp Maia’s hand. Leaning over to peek at the number on Maia’s class schedule, Rozene exclaimed, “Cool! Your locker is next to mine. I was just on my way there now. I will show you where it is.”
“Thanks,” Maia replied as she fell in step with Rozene. While Rozene stashed away a few of her books, Maia took the opportunity to test the combination on her lock. Satisfied that the combination worked, the teen turned to Rozene.
Can you show me where the biology lab is? My tour guide kind of left me hanging,” Maia inquired.
Rozene lifted a brow questioningly as she answered, “Really? William blew you off? That’s not like him at all.”
Maia shook her head as she explained, “No, William didn’t blow me off. I’m not even sure who William is. Alex Bergetti was supposed to be my tour guide.”
Rozene rolled her eyes and inhaled sharply at the mention of the name Alex Bergetti. It was beginning to become a common reaction, and Maia couldn’t help but wonder why.
“William Davenport is class president. He is usually the one that helps new kids get settled in. Not sure how you got tangled up with Alex Bergetti, but a little word of advice, steer clear of him,” Rozene said.
As Maia was about to ask her to elaborate, Rozene suddenly stumbled forward, forcing the brunette to reach out her arms to stabilize her. Helping Rozene back into a fully upright position, the fifteen-year-old lifted her gaze to find three girls standing behind them sneering. A blond within the group seemed particularly vexed.
“Watch where you’re going, freckles,” the blond hissed.
A soft sigh escaped Rozene’s lips as her gaze plummeted to the ground. With her shoulder slumping forward slightly, Rozene whispered, “Sorry, Ashley.”
Maia’s honeyed orbs narrowed as she regarded Ashley. “Excuse me, but you’re the one that bumped into her,” Maia retorted.
Ashley’s sky blue eyes darkened as she shifted her attention to Maia. “And, you are,” Ashley asked. However, before Maia could introduce herself, Ashley held her hand up dismissively.
“On second thought. Nevermind. If you’re hanging out with freckles here, you’re not important,” Ashley continued.
Maia’s hands clenched into fists at her sides as Ashley’s cohorts erupted into gales of laughter. Tears had begun forming in Rozene’s bright green eyes as she shot a pleading look in Maia’s direction. Maia breathed in deeply as she tried to force down the anger building up inside of her.
Stepping closer to Maia so that their faces were merely inches apart, Ashley said coldly, “Freckles has learned her place. It would be best if you learn yours.”
Placing her hands squarely on her hips, Maia stated calmly, “I’m in my place. It’s right here between you and Rozene.”
Watch it, new kid. You don’t want to get on my bad side,” Ashley growled.
“From where I’m standing every side is your bad side,” Maia shot back.
Ashley’s face then proceeded to turn a shade of scarlet that Maia had never thought humanly possible. Before she could respond, the bell sounded once more, prompting one of the brunettes to step forwards and seize Ashley’s arm.
“Come on, Ash. She’s not worth it. If we get one more tardy, we’re going to be in serious trouble with the coach.”
Reluctantly, Ashley allowed her friends to pull her away but not without a parting glaring in Maia’s direction. As soon as the trio was out of earshot, Maia turned back to Rozene. Staring at her wide-eyed, Rozene inquired, “Maia, what have you done?”
Frowning, Maia replied, “I’m sorry, but girls like that really frost my cookies. Why do you let her push you around? I mean she doesn’t even use your name. She calls you freckles.”
Shrugging, Rozene replied, “I prefer to take the path of least resistance, I guess. Besides, freckles is an upgrade from what she used to call me in middle school.”
Sensing what Maia was about to ask, Rozene quickly cut her off. “Don’t ask,” Rozene said.
Genuinely curious, Maia pressed,” Oh, come on. It can’t be that bad.”
“Yes, it can,” Rozene insisted.
Laughing, Maia added,” I’m going to keep bugging you until you tell me.”
Giving an exasperated sigh, Rozene answered “Fine. It was fire crotch. She used to call me fire crotch.”
Stunned, Maia could only lift a brow in bafflement. Rolling her eyes, Rozene explained, “Because the carpet matches the drapes.”
“Wow,” Maia remarked.
“Yeah, sixth grade was pure hell. We should probably get to class though. Mr. Snyder hates it when kids are late. I’ll explain more on the way,” Rozene said.