I glance over my shoulder. A man dressed like Spiderman is following me through Adam’s Park towards Baldwin Hill Academy. If I was back in Ohio there wouldn’t be a guy dressed as Spider-man following me, but I guess in Los Angeles anything is possible.
“Slow down. Don’t you wanna be my Mary Jane?” He calls after me.
I shudder and wish I had stopped by Danielle’s before leaving. She seems really nice and genuine, but after hearing her and Wonder Boy reunite, I’m not sure there’s any room left for me in their group. Besides, she was probably just being nice. I’m sure she didn’t really want me crashing her table in homeroom.
And, the last thing I need to do is make a fool of myself on my first day.
I pull my fingers tightly around my backpack straps and break into a sprint; I do not want to start the day getting cornered by some weirdo on my way to a new school in a new city.
I suck in a breath, as a black gate with a large archway comes into view. The gate surrounds the campus, fencing it in. The name of the Academy is written in a fancy script at the top of the archway. Baldwin Hill Academy is unlike any school I’ve ever attended. How could my dad think I was ready to live on my own?
The crosswalk signal flashes. Students cross the street, but I can’t move. This school is three times the size of Cedar Heights High and I don’t know where any of my classes are.
Did I even remember to put deodorant on this morning?
I walk through my morning routine, once more, trying to convince myself that I have everything I need: map of the school, dorm key, a book to read . . . just in case.
“You know, it won’t bite.”
I jump. “Excuse me?”
A man wearing a leather jacket, with a motorcycle helmet in his hand, stands behind me. “The school,” he laughs. “It’s really not as bad as it looks.”
“Looks pretty terrifying from here.”
His dark, curly hair bounces as he shakes his head and laughs. “Most of the teachers are harmless.”
Then he crosses the street.
I muster the courage to follow his lead, I guess this is happening, even if I’m not ready.
The academy is huge and crowded with buildings. Colorful flowers, trees and man-made waterfalls leading to little streams cover the walkways, creating paths to each building. Palm trees line the cobblestone path and a statue of the school’s mascot, Thor, sits where the paths intersect.
I enter my building for homeroom. The first floor is crowded with students as I try to push my way through to my classroom. The school smells faintly of dry erase markers, new books, mint gum, and lemon-scented cleaner. The white walls are covered with inspirational posters, fliers for future classes and display cases for the school’s various sports teams.
I stop in front of a display for field hockey and glance at my orientation packet, double-checking the room number for homeroom, when someone slams into my shoulder and knocks it out of my hand.
“Hey watch it!” I say, but when I look up whoever bumped into me is long gone. Rubbing my shoulder, I pick up my packet and find an opening in the crowd. I begin to shuffle along with the other students, looking for room 309.
The classroom is big with seven circular tables, a wooden desk, and the latest Macintosh computer. Most of the chairs are filled with students gossiping to their friends, or sharing stories and inside jokes from their summer vacations. I stop in the doorway, trying to muster the courage to walk in.
Students brush past me, walking in different directions to meet up with friends. My stomach clenches. If I sit by myself I could be labeled as a loner, and if I sit next to the wrong person I could be labeled as a freak, a geek, a slut or a prep.
I’m startled when I hear someone calling my name. I scan the room and see Danielle sitting in the far back corner with her group of friends. She’s waving me over and pointing to the seat next to her. My stomach feels tight.
Would she have walked to school with me if I hadn’t chickened out and asked her?
My legs feel as if they are filled with lead as I make my way towards her table, but all of my insecurities and doubts wash away as I see Danielle’s warm, beaming face.
“Where were you this morning? I stopped by your room before heading to school at 7:15, but no one was there.”
“Sorry,” I say as I drop my bag to the floor and take the seat next to Danielle. “I left earlier than planned this morning. Thanks for saving me a spot.”
There are two more people sitting at the table, a boy and a girl I recognize from the photograph on Danielle’s memo board. I’m nervous, again, and start playing with a piece of fringe on my mini skirt.
What if they don’t like me? What if this is all just a joke? Ha Ha, let’s pick on the new kid. “This is Emily.” Danielle says, smiling at her friends. “The girl I was telling you about.”
A lanky guy with messy I just got out of bed hair and I don’t care looks up from doodling in his notebook. “Liam,” he says. “And, this is Calliope.” He nods to the girl sitting next to him. She’s tall, blonde, and beautiful.
She has gorgeously tanned-skin, wavy blonde hair, and piercing blue eyes. She looks like she could be a runway model. She looks up from Liam’s drawing and smiles, “My friends call me Callie.” “That’s pretty,” I say now wrapping the fringe around my finger. Homeroom hasn’t technically started and the teacher isn’t here yet, so I pull out my phone and send Mads a quick text:
Me: Hey. Miss you!
Mads: Me too. You suck, come home . . . please.
Me: Getting on the next flight.
Mads: You better. Punk.
I smirk. I really wish it was that simple to get home. Danielle cranes her neck glancing around homeroom, “The only person we’re missing is Ian.”
I glance up at the mention of his name . . . Wonder Boy?
“Uh . . . I think I met him last night.” Danielle looks at me and raises her eyebrow clearly asking when since I spent the day with her. “In the hallway.”
“English accent and a devilish grin?”
I nod my head, trying to keep my cool. So he did have an accent.
And, as if he heard the mention of his name, Ian walks through the door. He is wearing the most ridiculous cow patterned pants—they’re white with black splotches and flare away from his legs—and a black t-shirt with the words ‘Kiss me I’m British’ above the Union Jack. His hair isn’t long like Mason’s, but it isn’t a crew cut either. It’s the kind of hair you want to run your fingers through and play with.
Ian is a little chubbier than Mason, but I can tell he works out. He is tall, like really tall, and this startles me. He towers over the majority of the students as he makes his way to our table. I avert my gaze.
How did I not notice he’s a whole foot taller than me?
Wonder Boy drops his bag, grabs a chair from the table behind us and wedges it between Danielle and I. Then he flashes me the kind of smile that makes your heart want to stop, and slowly says, “Emily.”
Oh. My heart does a back flip. His accent. Right, probably why I didn’t realize our height difference last night.
“Nice shoes,” Ian says, tapping my yellow Chuck Taylors with his shoe. He lifts up his pant legs to reveal a worn-out pair of black Converse. He grins. “I’m long overdue for a new pair.”
“I don’t know. I kind of like the vintage-hipster look you’ve got going on.” I smirk, “Especially those cow pants.”
“Oi.” He says, “Don’t diss the pants.” And flashes me that crooked smile again.
The bell rings signaling the beginning of homeroom. Mr. Libbert, a short man in his late forties, with a massive beer belly, shuffles into the room. He walks to the front of the room and starts writing back to school announcements on the blackboard, and then calls students with the last names A-G to his desk and hands out their schedules. Calliope (Black), Liam (Carter), and Danielle (Fisher) leave the table, leaving me alone with
“Hey, Ian. How was your summer?” A high-pitched voice shrills behind me as soon as the others leave. The girl is short, skinny, and blonde, but it’s not natural. It’s the horrible platinum blonde that makes you ghostly pale. She’s wearing entirely too much makeup and is leaning across the table, staring at Ian.
“Hello, Chelsea. Fine.” Ian says, and I’m pleased there’s a tone of indifference in his voice. “Did Sarah go to England with you?” She asks smiling, flipping her hair over her shoulder, and emphasizing a word in every sentence. She narrows her eyes at me when Ian isn’t looking.
“Uh, no.” He says, looking down at the table. “She didn’t make it this year.”
Chelsea pouts her lips. “That’s to bad. She would love all the shopping, and England can be so romantic.”
“Yeah,” Ian says slowly, letting his voice trail off.
Is there trouble in paradise?
Ian and his girlfriend looked so happy in the picture on Danielle’s wall like they were made for each other.
Emily, I chide myself. You have a boyfriend. Stop it.
“Well,” Chelsea says, her eyes cutting to me again. She looks me up and down and then turns back to Ian. “I’ll tell Sarah I saw you! She’ll be so happy knowing I’m here to keep an eye on you.”
Ian doesn’t mean her gaze, all his charisma gone. “Yeah, I bet.”
Mr. Libbert calls students with last names beginning with H-P. Chelsea looks at Ian apologetically waving her hand daintily. “I’ll see you around.” She says and then walks off.
The way she says it sends a chill up my spine. Trouble or no trouble Ian’s girlfriend does not sound like someone I want to cross.
As the others are walking back to the table, Ian is filling me in on what to expect with my first day of classes, but all I notice is his beautiful accent forming words and slurring r’s, his lopsided smile and his big deep-blue eyes. I feel a surge of energy as his eyes look into mine for a brief moment. The excitement is bubbling up and I don’t know how to contain it.
Mason was a security blanket. I was always safe and warm with him, but Ian. Ian is something new; he is an energy I cannot contain, and maybe I don’t want to. I’m afraid that soon I will bubble over and all of these feelings will come rushing out, but maybe . . . Ian is exactly what I need.