After my dad had taken me out to eat that night, I realized that he really was excited about his “new job” working as a renovator.
He originally started working for a company that paid him to build things for their clients, but the pay was low and the work was hard. This job would pay more, and would probably offer him more of a business-like approach. He had chattered about different, useless things after that, and I had quietly eaten my food, and nodded when I needed to.
It was beginning to surprise me how easily this was coming to me now. It wasn't like I didn't care about what people were saying, it's just that I had other things to think about, and I didn't want to react the wrong way and hurt someone's feelings. So now, I focused on nodding and smiling when I needed to.
This way, I was friends with pretty much everyone. The only people who had a mutual dislike of me was a group of girls that in some classic high school scenario, they'd be the plastics, the girls that everyone wishes they could be. For some reason, it wasn't truly like that here.
Everyone knows they're pretty and everything, but they didn't really seem all that mean. They were just pretty girls with gossip mouths and too-big-for-their-britches attitude.
Saturday and Sunday passed quickly, and I surprised myself by studying for most of the weekend. I didn't worry too much about my dad, and completely forgot about the oncoming problem of the transfer kid. I got what some people consider "too much sleep".
By the time Monday rolled around, I was feeling better about finding a way to get the new kid off of my hands. Apparently I would have to be creative, because no one else seemed to care that there was a new kid. Maybe they knew what I was up to.
"Why should I have to be the one to lead him around?" I complained to Maggie, as she picked me up for school.
"I don't know, but it was rude for you to try and dump him onto Tammy, you know." She said, pulling out of my driveway with a rough jerk. Her high blonde ponytail swung as the car jolted onto the road, and she brushed the stray locks behind both ears.
"I know, I know," I said, rolling my eyes and smiling. "I already apologized, didn't I?"
"Yes," she said. "Tammy forgave you, so don't worry."
"Good to know," I said. "How'd Trevor do for soccer try outs?" Her boyfriend had been playing soccer for a while now, and Mags had just convinced him to try out for the school team.
She bit her lip worriedly. "He says he did fine, but I'm not sure if he was telling the truth."
"I'm sure he'll make it," I added, giving a reassuring nod. "He's a really talented player."
"You think so?"
"I know so."
"Are you ever going to wear your hair up?" Maggie said, touching a lock of hair that I had tucked behind my ear. "It's so perfectly straight all the time, and you could do something pretty with it."
"I like it down, that way I don't have to worry about it. Besides, if I curled it you know it falls out within a few minutes."
"Whatever," she said, not unkindly.
We sat in comfortable silence until we got to the parking lot. I turned up the radio, and we both sang along to whatever happened to come on.
"So what's his name?" Maggie said suddenly, snapping me out of my day dreaming.
"Who?" I asked, not following her train of thought.
"The new guy," she said, motioning to the packet of papers I had in my lap.
I glanced at the top of the page, where his name was scribbled in curly letters. "Braden Noble."
"Sounds cute enough," Maggie said, not looking at me. I knew where she was going with this. "Maybe he'll change your mind about Mr-I'm-Too-Good-For-You over there." She pointed at where a group of guys crowded around a nice-looking car.
I followed her finger to where it pointed at my boyfriend, Justin. I refused to acknowledge her nickname for him, and just reached for the handle to the door.
"I'm just saying, you deserve something more, you know?" Maggie called, as I was about to close the door behind me. "I just worry that you're not paying attention to what's going on around you."
"I do," I said, shutting the door behind me.
I walked up to where Justin was standing, and he greeted me. "Hey babe," he said, motioning for the guys to let me through. He wasn't an unattractive guy, if you looked at him. Sometimes, I wasn't sure why or how we were dating. I just shrugged and moved on.
"Hey," I said, standing next to him. "You coming inside?"
He shook his head, and then motioned to the four guys standing around us. "We're talking about the football game yesterday. You go on ahead, okay?"
I nodded, and turned away from them. As soon as they thought I was out of earshot, I could hear James,one of the guys, start talking about some waitress that worked in a sports bar. I knew that Justin would be joining in on that conversation, but I couldn't bring myself to care. I followed the sidewalk to the front building, lost in thought.
It wasn't that it didn't bother me that my boyfriend was eyeing other girls, it was just that I didn't think we were all that serious, and we'd probably break up when we had to go off to college. There was no way I'd change where I was going to school for some guy I didn't connect with.
That should have been the first sign that I should have broken up with him by now, but I ignored it, like always.
"Mrs. Farrow?" I heard a voice call out as I pushed the front door open.
I turned towards the principal, wondering what was up. "Hello, Mr. McCauley," I said.
"Hello, Mrs. Farrow." He stepped towards me across the large lobby, trying not to be too loud. "There has been a change in plans today. It seems our transfer student is running a bit behind today. His car broke down, and he just recently phoned that he'd be a little late. He'll probably be sent to join you at the end of your first class."
"Oh, thank you for telling me," I said, trying not to seem to relieved.
"No problem. We'll send him over soon, alright?" He seemed pleased with himself for being able to tell me in person. He strolled off.
I fell in line with the clumps of students in the hallway, all fighting to go one way or another. Some went to their lockers, some were fighting to get into a class room. I just followed the flow towards my locker.
I held the stack of books up with one hand, trying to keep them from collapsing on top of me. I grabbed what I needed and stuffed my bag over my shoulder. I practically had to drag myself to get to my first period class- American Government. I understood the subject really easily, but it didn't save me from the boredom of the class. If it weren't for the teacher, Mrs. Caldene, it would be worse than it already was.
About halfway through the power point on the Supreme Court, half of the class groaned as the lights flickered on and Mr. McCauley stood in the doorway.
"Sorry to interrupt," he said, in a manner that was clear he wasn't sorry at all. He gestured towards a boy standing behind him, who looked almost as uncomfortable as I felt. I hoped I didn't have the same facial expression that he had.
"This is Braden Noble," he said. Braden was a tall kid, with sandy brown hair and bright green eyes. He had a beanie covering all of his hair except for the strands that had fallen out. His cheekbones were sharp, and his body was well defined by muscle. For some reason, I pictured him to look more like an outsider. His style fit in with everyone else's, and I wasn't sure if I should be shocked. I could feel him tense up under everyone's intense scrutiny. I could tell it felt as if this moment would never end.
"Mrs. Farrow," said the principal, clearly annoyed at how slow we were all reacting.
I offered a tiny wave, but only to let him know which girl I was. He seemed relieved as he moved towards the back of the room, and I pulled the chair out from the empty desk between me and the corner. He slid into the desk, and stretched his long legs out underneath it.
"Hello," was all I would offer. "I'm Grace."
He nodded, and whispered back, "I'm Braden." His voice wasn't as deep as Justin's, but it didn't sound bad.
When the bell rang, everyone stood to leave. "I have Spanish next. Do you know if you take that class?" I wasn't making an effort to be too friendly, but I could feel myself itching to be rid of this guy. Everywhere we went I could feel the weight of everyone's stares.
"I got a copy of my schedule, hold on." I waited impatiently as he dug through his backpack. He pulled out a wrinkled piece of paper, and gave it a quick glance.
"I have exactly these two classes, and then I have Geometry." I had to keep myself from groaning then, because as I took his schedule from him, I saw that it was exactly the same as mine.
"Looks like you've got all the same classes as me," I stated, no emotion whatsoever.
"You don't seem to happy about that," he said, not bothering to be polite. "I won't get in your way."
"I'm sure you won't," I huffed, opening my locker. I squeezed my hand into the gap before I opened it fully, and I saw him raise an eyebrow. I normally did this to keep the books from falling, so I ignored him.
Just as I was about to shut the door, the books toppled. It seemed to happen in slow motion, and I barely had enough time to react before a strong arm reached over me and held the stack up. "You really, really, need to clean your locker out."
I laughed, "You think?"
He nodded, returning a smile.
"Let's go to Spanish, then." I led him confidently towards Mrs. Madison's room.
He seemed content to sit beside me, and listen to the class drone on. I didn't speak to him, and he didn't feel the need to say anything either.
Right after the bell rang for lunch, he finally spoke up. "Okay, what is with that bell? Why doesn't it, I don't know, ring?"
I nearly dropped the stack of papers I was holding, and grinned. "I wonder that all the time," I said. "We actually have no idea."
"I thought it was a fire alarm the first time," he said, chuckling. "I almost got up and went outside."
I started laughing. "Me too! I was so embarrassed when I got up and left all of my stuff on the table to leave." I didn't know why I was telling him this, and my mouth snapped shut when I saw his easy smile.
I walked without another word towards the cafeteria door.
Maybe he's not so bad? I thought. No, no. You still don't want the attention.
I took a deep breath, and opened the door to the chaos that was our lunch.
"Don't get lost," I said, leading him inside. "I won't be able to rescue you if you get sucked into some freaky group.
"I'll try not to," he said suddenly walking directly behind me. The cafeteria was almost always this packed. People pushed and shoved, trying to reach the table where their friends were sitting. Most people went in shifts; first person going to get food, and second to find a table. Then, they swap.
My friends didn't really worry about it. You'd think after half a year they'd learn that there really didn't need to be so much shoving. They never did.
I led the way down the long line to collect the nasty cafeteria food, and was pulling out my wallet to pay. The lunch lady eyed me impatiently, waiting for me to hand her cash.
"That's all your getting?" He asked, motioning towards my apple and bottle of water.
"Yes, that's all I normally get." I told him, pulling out a couple bills.
"Since you're stuck dealing with me all day, I'll pay." He handed a ten to the cafeteria lady, who looked as uncaring as ever. She waved us on, and I stepped out of line.
"Why'd you do that?" I spun around to face him. "I can pay for myself, you know."
"I get that," he said, suddenly not sure of himself. "I just feel bad because you obviously don't want me to be here right now."
I didn't know how to answer. I hadn't meant for Braden to catch on about how I didn't want to deal with him. Not that I didn't want to be rid of him, but I was starting to not feel so forced now that I had spoken to him. "This way," I said, walking towards my friends.
They had managed to grab the small table in the back of the room, where we wouldn't have to deal with too many people ogling us.
"Hey," I said, snatching the seat next to Maggie. I glanced up to see Braden standing awkwardly next to the table. I pointed to the seat across from me, next to Tammy. "You can sit with us if you want, dude."
"You sure?" he asked, unsure if I was offering to be polite.
"Yeah," I nodded, not meeting his gaze.
I waited while Tammy and Maggie made their introductions, and when they were finished we talked about idle things. It wasn't that we didn't want to talk about important things, it was just that we didn't want to make him uncomfortable.
"So," Maggie said. "Why'd you transfer so late into the year?"
So much for making him uncomfortable, I thought, smiling to myself.
"What?" Maggie said, narrowing her eyes at me. "I just wanted to know."
I couldn't help but gape at how blunt the question was. It didn't seem to bother anyone else, because neither of them missed a beat. I shrugged, and they turned their gazes back to Braden.
"Well, my parents told me I was adopted a few years ago, and I just now worked up the courage to ask them about where I was born. Apparently, I was born here in Maine, although I don't know anyone here. I decided I wanted to come live here for a while, and see if I can find out about my birth parents." He didn't seem fazed by our reactions, but he glanced between us. "Sorry if that was a bit too outspoken."
"Oh please," Tammy said, waving away his insecurity. "You should hear Maggie talk sometimes."
"Hey!" Maggie said, feigning a hurt expression.
"Hey girls," I heard a familiar voice behind me. "Oh, and guy I've never seen before."
"Braden," I said, motioning behind my back, "this is Trevor, Maggie's boyfriend."
"No hello for me, huh Grace?"
"No way," I laughed, scooting over one so he could sit next to Maggie.
"Hey Mags," he kissed her cheek. "Guess what, losers. I made the soccer team."
"That's great!" Maggie cried. Tammy and I gave him a silent applause, while Braden looked impressed.
"That's really cool," he said. "I'm Braden, by the way."
Trevor seemed to see his face for the first time, because he looked back and forth between the two of us a few times. "Yeah... thanks dude."
It's not like that! I wanted to shout. I did not have any romantic feelings whatsoever to this new kid. He was attractive, I'd give him that. But I absolutely did not feel attracted to him.
I shook off the odd glances, and finished off my apple.
Now that Trevor was here, I could see Braden relaxing visibly. By the way he fit in to our conversation, it was like he was a part of the gang.
Before I knew it, I was joining in too, and laughing at their stupid jokes. Tammy grinned at me and motioned slightly with her head. I could see the question on her face.
Do you like him? She asked, using her facial expressions.
I shook my head.
I shrugged with the most non-committed face I could manage, which I hope sent her the message that I wasn't attracted to him. Truthfully, we shouldn't even have had this almost conversation, because I did have a boyfriend.
I guess Braden noticed our back and forth conversation, because he raised his eyebrow. He didn't ask, even as the bell rang, which I was grateful for.
"Next class, yeah?" I said, when we had gotten out of the cafeteria.
"Sure," he said, running a hand through his mop of brown hair. "How come you keep adding in those extra 'yeahs' into your sentences? You do that a lot."
"I do?" I hadn't ever noticed. "It's what my dad says all the time, so I guess I kinda picked it up."
"That's cool," he answered following me down the almost empty hallway.
"Were you serious," I asked, "about coming here because this is where you were born?" I wasn't sure if I believed him or not, so I couldn't help but ask for confirmation.
"Yeah, believe it or not. I have no idea who I really am," he said. Quickly, he added, "Not that I don't know anything about myself..."
"I get it," I said, not in a rude way. I wanted to let him know I understood, and he gave me a relieved smile.
The rest of the day passed quickly, and I guess I sort of lost track of how I was supposed to get him off of my hands. I decided he wasn't so bad, so I could put up with him for the rest of the day. He made stupid jokes all the time, that normally I would ignore from other people. When he said them, however, he put a goofy smile on his face and moved his eyebrows up and down expecting me to laugh, and I couldn't help it. I laughed.
He was a sweet guy, and I assumed that he'd probably stick around my group of friends for a while. I wasn't really opposed to the idea, because it seemed like we got along well enough.
"So," I said, as the bell rang in Biology. "Are you ready for the best class of the day?" I asked, trying to hide my excitement.
He glanced at his schedule, now torn from rough handling. "English?"
"Yep." I answered, practically skipping down the hall.
He followed me into the room, and we found an extra chair to pull up to my desk for him. Mr. Pierce looked happy enough to have a new student in his class, and I think that he may have had other plans than a review game for us. For some reason, he decided to go with the game.
Another girl in the class, as the game was almost done, raised her hand.
"Kate," Mr. Pierce acknowledged her.
"Aren't we supposed to be choosing our partners for the story-writing project?" she asked.
"Oh, yes! Thank you for reminding me. Let's do that." I caught Tammy's eye, and she shook her head for some reason. I raised an eyebrow, and she nodded her head towards Braden, who was trying to not look uncomfortable. I realized her meaning.
I slumped in my chair, knowing that I couldn't just let him stand awkwardly until Mr. Pierce put him with someone.
Fine, I thought. I'll be stuck with him on this, too.
"You can be my partner," I said, not bothering to sound unaffected.
He must have caught the annoyance in my voice, because he didn't know what to say at first. "I don't want to bother you, honestly. I can figure it out. I'm a big guy."
I could easily see that he was not as comfortable as he seemed to be trying to make me believe.
"It's okay," I said, softening my tone. "I don't want to leave you stranded."
He breathed out suddenly, seeming to be grateful.
"Don't mention it," I whispered, elbowing him in his side. He grinned slightly, and Mr Pierce began talking.
"I'll let you all pick your partners, but just remember to pick someone you can write with. If you can't, you'll be stuck not knowing what to write or how to start." Oddly enough, I wasn't worried about that at all.
When the bell rang, Braden followed me out of the room.
"That was the last class," I said, opening my locker. He braced himself to grab the books from falling out of my locker, but they stayed up this time.
It struck me as odd that he was already used to helping me. For some reason, I wasn't uncomfortable.
"Okay so, you're going home now?" He asked.
"Yeah," I said, not looking at him. Again. I had a bad habit of not meeting his gaze. "I normally ride with my boyfriend."
He looked unaffected by the word boyfriend, and I was relieved. I realized I had just tested to see if he cared that I was dating someone. I wasn't sure why. I think it was because I truly didn't want him to be attracted to me either.
"That's cool. So, I was hoping to ask you if I could still follow you around tomorrow, if you don't mind." I could tell he was very uncomfortable asking me this. "Just until I figure out my schedule."
"That's fine," I said. "I know how it feels to not know where to go."
"Thank goodness," he said.
I felt a body come up behind me, and my blood ran cold as I expected to have to bring my heel into this person's groin.
"Hey, babe," Justin said. I relaxed a little, but turned around just enough to be able to see him and Braden at the same time.
"Hello," I said, giving him a hug as quick as I could. He didn't release as quick as I did, but that was probably because he didn't realize he smelled.
"You smell like cigarettes." I said, wrinkling my nose. I hated that smell. I don't even remember him smoking.
"Sorry," he said, rubbing the back of his neck. He pushed back the blond hairs on his forehead and smoothed out the wrinkles on his shirt. Pretending to just notice Braden, he looked surprised. "Who are you?"
"I'm Braden," he said, offering a hand. Justin didn't shake it. Braden dropped his hand once he realized Justin wasn't going to shake it. I rolled my eyes in his direction, and Braden grinned slightly.
Justin eyed the other boy warily, and I couldn't help but be annoyed by his stupid territorial instinct. This was getting ridiculous, so I elbowed him in the stomach gently.
"Justin," he said finally, seeming to realize he had to answer. He turned back to me. "Listen, babe, I can't give you a ride today. The guys and I are going to a sport's bar that just opened up. I'm sorry."
"It's okay," I said, nodding. I offered the sickest, sweetest smile I could muster, and this eased over his guilt. I just wanted to get him to leave now, since he was more concerned about a waitress than driving me home.
I realized the two guys were staring at me, waiting for an answer. To what? I thought.
Then I realized. How am I supposed to get home? I don't want to walk again.
"I can walk home," I said, confident this would make Justin leave. True to my suspicion, he didn't waste many more words. He left me alone with Braden, the halls already cleared out.
"You can't just walk home." Braden said.
I wasn't sure why he was still here, but I was afraid of his next words. "It's fine."
"No," he said. "Where do you live? I'll drive you."
"Honestly," it takes twenty minutes to walk there. I'm okay."
"It's the least I can do for you being stuck with me."
I saw no way to get out of this, and I didn't really want to walk home today. So, with a serious lack of judgement, I begrudgingly agreed.
The drive was awkward at first, but I relaxed when his mood didn't change. He was still acting the same, and I kept my eyes glued out the window, as if I wasn't used to this scenery.
Then, it hit me. I had just gotten into a car with a man I met earlier today. How stupid can I get?
Seriously, it's like a new time low.
"How old are you, anyways?" I asked, breaking the silence.
"I'm turning eighteen soon," Braden answered, staring out the windshield.
"So you're seventeen?"
"Yes," he grinned, "but I'll be eighteen soon."
"Soon. Don't try to sound older," I said.
"Just stating the facts," he said laughing.
"I'm seventeen, but my birthday already passed." I wasn't sure why I was telling him, but I liked how easily the conversation flowed between us.
"We're pretty close in age, huh?" He said, almost as if thinking out loud.
"Yes, but don't get weird ideas."
I could almost see the steam coming out of his ears. He turned red around his nose, and it spread over his cheeks like a wildfire. I could help but giggle.
Soon, I was laughing so hard I couldn't stop.
"Don't make fun of me!" He cried. "I wasn't being perverted, jerk."
"How would I know," I said, "I got into a car with a complete stranger!"
"Not complete," he added, "although that kinda means you trust me."
Even though I knew that should sound weird to me, it didn't. I was shocked to realize, I do trust him. More than I care to admit, despite just meeting him. Weird. Really weird.
"Is this it?" He said, pulling in front of my house.
I nodded, still thinking. "Thanks for the ride," I said. "And not kidnapping me."
He grinned slightly. "Of course."
Before I shut the door, he stopped me. "I just want you to know..." He trailed off.
I tapped my fingers on the door, waiting for him to answer.
"I don't want you to think I'm just coming on to you," he said, suddenly serious. "I like you, but just... not in that way."
"I think I'm actually relieved to hear that," I said, honestly. After a moment's hesitation, I added, "This is weird, you know." I don't really want him to like me. I don't want to like him, either.
"I know. It's just like I already know you, even though we just met. I'm sorry I'm kinda crazy."
"You're okay," I said. "I'm just glad we got this out of the way. I don't want to have to break your heart."
"As if," he snorted. "Besides, you've got a boyfriend, right?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure how long it's going to last. He's a bit... distracted."
I wasn't sure how he could get more serious than he was earlier, but he did. "What do you mean?"
"He's interested in people..." I said, shrugging. "It doesn't bother me the way it did in the beginning."
He didn't answer, and we sat in silence for a few minutes. I was utterly shocked at how much I was telling him; I hadn't even told Tammy my suspicions about Justin. I decided I should probably shut my mouth.
"That kinda pisses me off," Braden said, making me look up.
"Don't worry about it," I said, hoping he'd take the hint. He didn't.
"No," he said, determined. "I don't think it's really right for you to have that kind of doubt."
"I don't really care any more." I said, trying to make him understand. "I think I'm waiting for an opportunity to end it."
"Oh," he said, watching my face to make sure I wasn't about to cry, which I wasn't.
"Please don't do anything," I said, trying to put force behind the words.
"I won't," he reassured me.
"Promise?" I said, narrowing my eyes.
He turned in his seat so that he was facing me completely, and we both locked out pinky fingers.
"Promise," he repeated.
"See you." I said, opening the door. Cold air rushed in, and I shivered. The temperature had suddenly dropped.
"You don't need a ride to school, do you?" He asked.
"No, Maggie picks me up in the mornings."
"Alright," he said finally. "Later."
I unlocked the door, but before I opened it, I turned around to see him waiting for me to get into the house.
When I had shut the door behind me, he drove off.
I didn't really understand what had just happened, but it seemed too fast to be real. It was like I had just made a really great new friend.
In some ways, I had.
When my dad got home, he barged into the house, same as always, but dinner was already covered up waiting for him. I left a note so he'd know I'd already eaten and gone to bed. He ate quietly, and I slept soundly through the night.