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I guess I didn’t really see how much people cared about sports until I had a reason to care. Today is the day that I have Reece’s game to attend and to be honest, I’m pretty excited.

There are papers on the walls advertising the game and there are people wearing their favorite players’ jerseys numbers.

For such a low-budget school I’m surprised at the amount of work put into the games. The fields we have for baseball and football are a little overgrown, but not too bad considering if we’re going to have other school teams around us, our fields need to be actually playable. The fences surrounding them are a bit rusted and bent due to people climbing over and under them.

There’s hustle and bustle all through the crowded hallway and I’m jostled a few times before I make it to my locker. When going through my things a throat is cleared next to me. I peer past my locker door to see a girl leaning against the lockers next to me.

She peers through black-rimmed glasses at me with curiosity. She extends her hand and I take it hesitantly. She runs a hand through her hair quickly, nervous-like. “Hey, Thea right?” she asks as she shakes my hand

I nod as we pull our hands away “yeah, that's me”

“I'm Samantha, well, Sam” she touches the side of her glasses “I just wanted to introduce myself, I’m in your English class but we’ve never really talked”

I nod along as she talks “yeah, what class do you have? We can walk together” I say trying to be polite. The boys came out of nowhere in my life and somehow I got myself together enough to become what I would consider friends, I can do it with Sam.

I talk myself up and smile at her, hoping to come off friendly and not dismissive. She smiles brightly and I’m happy to have done enough to make her happy “okay”

She seems shy so I want to make her as comfortable as possible. However, I’m also pretty shy with new people so this is unknown territory. “So Sam, what other classes do you take?” I ask trying to learn a little more and get her comfortable talking with me. I can see she’s nervous with how she holds her hands tightly together, and how her eyes are slightly wide like she’s panicking inside.

“I take chemistry, algebra 2, history, AP English, and Theater” she seems a little more comfortable now that I’ve got her talking.

“Oh, theater’s cool, what are you doing in that?” I’ve never considered doing theater, I don’t think I would like being on stage in front of so many people, but also, neither does Sam, but I don’t really know her.

She seems to perk up a little at this, seemingly to really like it. “Oh, well the members are really nice. The budget is kind of lacking but I don’t really doubt it considering how the rest of the school is. But we put on performances a few times a year and that’s pretty nice but not many people come to them unfortunately”

I understand that most people just want to get done and get home when they come to school, I guess I just forgot that we even had a theater program. I’m surprised at that too. We have teachers with little care for their job, students with little care for their learning, and an overall low-budget school, so it’s surprising how dedicated we are to our sports teams and extracurricular activities.

“You said you were in algebra and chemistry right?” I ask

She nods her head “yeah, I’m a junior right now, but I was able to be bumped up in English because, well, I’m not too bad at it and wanted the extra challenge”

I tilt my head at her. Why does she look so uncomfortable when she mentions that? “That’s really cool Sam” I tap my head “it means you’ve got extra power up here”

She giggles slightly “I don't think that's how it works, but thank you”

I smile at her as we get to my class “well, that all sounds really nice. I don't think theater is for me but I’ll come to watch one if you want”

She nods, her eyes going wider “that would be wonderful. We’re constantly losing members because of the lack of audience”

I wish I could do something more, but I’m only one person. But I don’t feel good knowing that people are leaving what she seems to enjoy so much. But I can go, and maybe I can get one of the guys to come along. I doubt Alex would come, Benny seems like he would talk through the whole thing with commentary, Ethan probably would also talk through it. I’m not sure Reece would enjoy it, maybe I could convince Levi or Connor to come. I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out.

I nod in the direction of my class “I’ve got class right now, but it’s been nice talking to you Sam”

She smiles like a huge weight has been lifted off her shoulders like she was worried I would respond negatively to her. “Yeah, I’ll see you around Thea” she waves as she turns down to the other end of the hall and begins making her way to her class.

Entering my class, I take a seat by the windows and gaze out into the courtyard. This less than wonderful school is contrasted by the beautiful weather outside. I'm glad today is the day that I have Reeces baseball game. It wouldn’t have been very enjoyable in the cold.

Someone takes a seat next to me and I smile at Alex as he sits. I’m still figuring out our dynamic in our friendship so I’m a little hesitant with the things I do.

“Hey Alex” I wave a little and he bobs his head in greeting back to me

I fiddle with my pencil as I wait quietly for class to begin. I jump a little when I feel a tap on my shoulder. Alex taps his pencil on my shoulder then on the top of my head, making me blink at him, before retracting his pencil back towards him. “How- how was your day?”

I smile slowly at him and he actually looks a little embarrassed “I met someone today” I begin

Suddenly that embarrassed look he had hardened and his eyes become cold again “excuse me?”

My head jerks back at his sudden change in mood and I suddenly feel hesitant again. It seems I never know what to expect with Alex. “yeah, she came up to me by my locker, and while it was strange, she seemed nice enough” I twirl my pencil around my fingers as I watch as his face softens and his tense shoulders relax.

I reach out to him halfway before retracting my arm back to me “are you alright?” I try to take the soft approach in hopes of not angering him once again.

He runs a hand through his hair and lets out a breath “yeah, I’m fine. Just thought of something I didn’t particularly like”

I tilt my head curiously but before I can ask a question, the teacher finally comes in about ten minutes late talking hurriedly and loudly about our next topic.

I hurriedly take notes as best as I can but even though I consider myself good with a brush and paint, I’m not the best writer, certainly not at high speeds.

I raise my hand in hopes of asking him to slow down. When I do, most people in the class look towards me considering not many people care enough to actually pay attention let alone ask questions.

The teacher, Mr. Bowe, looks toward me tiredly. “Yes, Ms-” he pauses, clearly not remembering my last name so I supply for him “Gray”

He nods like he knew it all along “Ms. Gray, what can I do for you?”

“Well, I was just wondering if you could slow down a bit? I'm having a bit of trouble keeping up” while I felt a little more confident at the beginning, my voice loses its strength at the end seeing the gaze of all my classmates and Mr. Bowe's blank stare.

“Ms. Gray” lifts his chin, looking down at me “if you cannot keep up with the work, I would suggest going to a different class. This class is for seniors and if you cannot be among the seniors at an average speed, then I will gladly send you to the juniors class, where you can keep up

My eyes are wide, my mouth hanging slightly open in astonishment. I had asked such a simple question. A yes or no would have sufficed, there was no need for such a snarky remark. especially such a rude one.

The class’s loud laughter brings me from my stupor and I flush from embarrassment, ducking my head, hiding behind my hair.

He mocked me and my question. Aren’t teachers supposed to be helpful? I can feel embarrassed tears fill my eyes and I try to breathe through it.

“You all need to get the fuck off her case” a loud voice from the seat next to me. Alex scowls at everyone and everyone’s heads turn away from me and I couldn’t be more grateful.

He looks at me and gives a slight nod in my direction and I give a pained smile, still upset from the interaction

“Alright class, let’s get back to the lesson” the teacher calls back everyone’s attention and the lesson continues. Luckily, I am ignored for the rest of the class.

I’m basically running out of the room when class is over. It’s kind of hard to do considering how crowded the halls are but I eventually make my way outside.

I sit under one of the trees just outside the school, out of view of most people and I pull my backpack in front of me.

I still have lingering feelings of embarrassment, anxiety, and anger in me. I take out my sketchbook and my pencils. I can’t get to my paint right now, which would be preferable, but this will do for now.

My emotions cloud my head and overwhelmed tears start filling my eyes. I sketch anything I can see. I’m better at drawing from reference rather than imagination. I actually prefer it. It gives me something to focus on.

So I draw the grass I’m sitting on, shading in the shadows from the tree. I draw silhouettes of the people that pass by me, with question marks above their heads because of the way they look at me, wondering why I’m sitting outside my school, drawing.

I just draw until I can really think again. Until my tears that were falling down my cheeks dry up and stop smudging my paper. I draw the buildings and benches and birds and trees.

I only stop drawing when a shadow falls over me. Alex sits next to me and looks straight ahead. My concentration falters a bit as I see him from the corner of my eye.

From the side, you can see every sharp feature on his face. It’s not angry, or passive, just calm and peaceful. His dark hair moves in a similar way to the blades of grass in the wind. His eyes are soft, simply gazing out into nothing.

His long eyelashes brush against his cheekbones every time he blinks. And suddenly, my concentration is back when he speaks softly to me “I do this too, you know?”

I don’t get a chance to voice my question as he continues after a second, loosely gesturing to the sketchpad in my hands. “Draw”

He sighs and closes his eyes as a small gust of wind blows past us, making his hair loosely brush around “whenever things become too much”

His eyes are closed but I nod anyway in understanding. That’s exactly what I was out here for.

“I don’t mean to intrude. I know sometimes it’s better to be alone, but I don’t want you to be alone because you feel like you have no one, because that not true”

The tears come back slightly and I place my pencil down to wipe at my eyes. The rough material of my sweater irritates my eyes slightly but when my hands are gently taken and pulled away from my face, my eyes flutter open and they meet Alex’s as he wipes away my tears with his thumb.

I sniff a little “thank you” My voice is small as I watch him smile slightly. His thumb trails over my cheek before he brings his hands back to his lap.

I reach back into my backpack and pull out a smaller pad of paper. I take it in one hand and take a pencil from the side pocket. I look back at Alex who watches me curiously.

I hold them in his direction “would you like to draw with me?”

He bites his lip as he carefully takes the materials. “Yeah”

And then we just sit quietly, side by side, nothing is said. The only sound being the sound of pencils on paper. It’s a wonderful feeling and right now, I’m grateful that I’m not alone.

He was right, I’m not alone, even when I think I am. I have all the guys- my first real friends in so long.

We draw until it becomes peaceful instead of emotional. We draw until everything is forgotten and it’s just us in this moment.

He never asks to see my drawing and I don’t ask to see his. If he wanted to share, he would. He understands how sometimes an artist’s pieces are just for their eyes, something like a secret from deep in our souls.

As I’m shading in the different contours of his face, he breaks the silence, his hand never stops moving, and his eyes never straying from the page. “How are you?”

I flick my eyes up to his and try to subtly study his face and copy it onto my paper. “I'm much better. Thank you, by the way. For sticking up for me in class, and you know, sitting with me”

He places his pencil down and looks over his paper briefly before looking back at me. “There is never a need to thank me. I’m an asshole sometimes- most times- but that doesn’t mean I can’t or won’t do something nice for you. I want to be nice and do all sorts of weird friend things but I'm just not exactly doing a great job at it”

I smile softly and close my sketchbook, putting it back into my bag. When Alex sees this, he closes the sketchbook I gave him and hands it back to me. I shake my head at him “I don’t need you to be anyone but you Alex, I want to know the real you. Good, bad, and ugly”

His jaw clenches slightly before he composes himself “are you ready to go back inside? Or do you want to skip?”

I notice his lack of an answer and brief show of emotions but I don’t ask about it. It’s not like I’m being completely open either.

I don’t have to think super long on my answer. I’ve never really skipped class, I never wanted to become that ‘rebellious’ kid because I always wanted my parents to be proud.

But my idea of ‘proud’ has changed. I think that I only let my parents down when I stopped living. I don’t think that just because they’re not living, I can’t.

I shut myself down and simply floated through life. While I never used drugs or alcohol to cope, I just became numb.

I want to live for them. And I want to start with this moment. “Let’s get out of here”

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