The smell of toast and freshly brewed coffee fills the kitchen. My mum flurries around the dining table, setting out breakfast plates. I’m dreading heading back to school after the Holidays. All the festivities are over, decorations packed away. January is such a bleak month.
“Hurry up Lucas, you don’t want to be late and neither do I!”
Mum works as an English Teacher at Sacramento Charter High School, where I attend as a sophomore. Although, nobody realises. My mother has never taken my father’s last name. Mrs Walker is her title. Thankfully, she doesn’t teach the 10th Grade. I insist on her dropping me off around the corner from school so that I don’t have the embarrassment of being seen together. I’ve worked extremely hard on drawing as little attention as possible, and I don’t intend for that to end anytime soon.
“Hello? Earth to Lucas? Can you hear me? Get some breakfast down you, pronto. We leave in ten.”
The buttered toast crunches between my fingers as I chew. Donned in a pale suit, my father wanders through the doorway.
“Morning, kiddo. Ready for your first day back?” he asks in his chirpy, morning voice.
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I mumble, my mouth filled with bread.
“That’s my boy, fake it ’till you make it!”
I start loading my bag with schoolbooks and stationery by the front door, still in earshot of the kitchen. I overhear my mum informing my dad about the recently purchased house across the road.
“Have you heard Jim, the new neighbours will be moving in later today. I wonder what they’ll be like?”
“Oh that’s great, I’m sick of seeing that garden overgrown. We should invite them round for dinner, introduce them to the street.”
“That’s a great idea. They might even have children Lucas’s age. I’ll keep an eye out for new pupils today.”
The thought of strangers coming over for dinner fills me with fear. I cough loudly, indicating my readiness (and desire to stop discussing such matters). Mum takes the hint and begins putting on her forest-green parka. We venture out in the brisk morning air. Cold bites at my fingertips as we make our way to the silver Ford. Settling in, I turn my attention to the scenery out of the window. The radio crackles with country music, my mum’s favourite. Outside, people of all shapes and sizes go about their daily commutes. Unaware of my glare through the transparent glass. The trees are still bare and naked, in the midst of winter. Everyone wraps up warm against the bitter chill. By midday, we will all be shedding our coats. The weather here warms up quickly. Before I know it, we reach my pitstop.
“See you later darling, have a lovely day.”
“You too mum,” I call back, over the creak of the car door.
I blend into the flock of people making their way to school. With my head down, my overgrown hair dangles in my eyes. I despise the hairdressers so suffer through it. Inside the school halls, I make my way to my locker. Nearby, a group of friends screech as they reunite. I’ve never understood such banal behaviour. Pulling out my timetable, I see my first class is Chemistry. The bell rings and homeroom beckons.
Inside the rectangular classroom, I look at my classmates’ faces. Girls caked in cosmetics, guys beginning to grow stubble, and then I notice a new face. A face unlike anyone else in the room. She sits fidgeting in her seat, pulling at her skirt and blouse. Her skin void of foundation is milky white. Bold, brown eyes dart around the place, taking everything in. She bites briefly against her bottom lip and tucks her long hair behind her ears, yet to notice me.
“Good morning all, and welcome back. I hope you all enjoyed your Holiday break and are looking forward to getting back into your studies,” Mr Morris says with hands thrust into his brown, corduroy trouser pockets.
A grumble erupts across the room.
“Before we take the register, I wanted to start by introducing a new member of Sacramento Charter High School. Let’s all give a warm welcome to, Sophia Andrews.”
Mr Morris indicates towards the new girl in question as the class clap at her arrival. She smiles nervously and gives the class a subtle wave, practically under her desk. I wonder what her interests are and where she’s come from. As if reading my mind, Mr Morris continues.
“Sophia joins us all the way from Richmond. To help Miss Andrews familiarise herself with the school I need a volunteer. Someone who wouldn’t mind giving her a tour of the school premises and taking her to each of her classes this week.” Mr Morris scans the room. Nobody moves an inch. “Anyone?”
I raise my hand. Sophia’s gaze finally rests on mine.
“Oh…Lucas. Excellent! The job is yours.”
After registration, Sophia makes her way towards me. My heart thumps hard in my chest.
“Thanks for offering to help me this week. For a moment there, I thought nobody would,” she laughs self-consciously as she squeezes her hands.
Up close, she looks even more pretty. I turn to the floor, not wanting to stare. As I inhale, I take her in. Sophia has a flowery, tropical scent. I lick my lips instinctively.
“Sure. It’s no bother. What is your first class?”
“Chemistry. Math is on route though, I can walk you.”
I lead Sophia down the maze of corridors and call out key landmarks to help her find her way. The cotton of her blouse brushes against my arm as we snake around the corner. I close my eyes for a second, surprised by the sensation.
“Here we are. I’ll come and meet you here afterwards to take you to your next lesson. I’m just down the hall.”
“Great. I’ll wait for you.”
Our faces are inches away from one another. Still, I avoid direct eye contact and fixate on her sneakers.
“Perfect. See you then.”
As I march towards Chemistry, I hear her thank me and wonder if she can hear my sigh of relief.