I put my head down and trudge through the front gates at Redstream High. I have to go to the office first thing to get my timetable. I stomp through the office doors and up to the main desk. I inwardly groan as I realise it’s the same admin women as last time. They must think I’m deranged.
‘I’m Locke. I’m new here? I need my timetable.’ The woman I’m speaking to looks up at me.
‘Excuse me? I don’t know about you, but where we come from, we use manners to speak to other people.’ She says in clipped English.
I resist groaning audibly. ‘I’m sorry, ma’am.’ I mutter. ‘My name is Locke Munday and I am a new pupil here. I would like to collect my table of times.’ I pull my lips away from my teeth as I attempt a smile. It feels more like a grimace.
‘Oh wow, he does have manners.’ The admin woman behind the one I’m talking to comments.
I really want to flip the bird at the old bird but I daren’t. I kind of want to try and make an effort here. At least for the first day.
The admin woman passes me a sheet of paper covered in little coloured boxes.
‘Your form class is in B wing, on the second floor. Room 49. Your teacher is Mr Brown. Have a nice day,’ she smiles sweetly at me, but her eyes are cold.
I fold the timetable and shove it in my pocket. I turn to duck out of the office, but I walk into someone. I look up and our eyes connect for half a second. My stomach clenches and I feel a rush of heat travel up my spine. His blue eyes are almost glowing under the dim lights of the office.
‘Sorry,’ I mumble. My face burns as I turn away and back outside. The biting wind cools my burning face off as I make my way to B wing.
I make it to room 49 just as the bell for form rings. I’m not sure what to do; should I go in or wait outside? I am about to go in when I catch a glimpse of the electric blue eyes again. My hand freezes on the door knob as he walks towards me.
‘Hey, didn’t you run into me at the office?’ He asks. His voice is deep and husky.
‘Uhh,’ I stutter. My face is burning again and my stomach is doing uncomfortable flip flops.
‘Oh, it’s fine,’ he smiles. ‘I just haven’t seen you around before. You must be new.’ He smiles again and puts out his hand. I cautiously take my hand off the doorknob and shake his. It is warm, soft and I just want to hold onto it forever. But of course, I let go before it becomes awkward. ‘My name is Hayes.’
‘Locke,’ I reply.
‘Locke?’ His perfect eyebrows pull down in the middle into a frown. ‘Like a lock and key?’
‘Uhm, yea. But it has an e on the end.’ I laugh nervously, wondering how he’ll react.
‘Well, nice to meet you, Locke. And don’t be nervous, I like your name.’
The tension in my stomach loosens off, just a little.
* * *
We talked all through form class about nothing much. He asked what school I came from, and I just told him that it was one in London. He then asked why I left, and I stared at the desk and said that I would rather not answer. I didn’t want him to know that I am gay. It would have ruined my one chance at actually having friends here. He said that it was okay, and that if anything bad had happened that I needed to get off my chest, I could talk to him. It was nice.
I make my way to my first class of the day: English. I don’t enjoy school at all, and English is just the pits.
I get to room 24A ten minutes after class has started and swing open the door. The teacher looks up at me with a glare. Every pair of eyes is on me.
‘Uhm,’ I say to the teacher once I’m at her desk. ‘I’m new here. My name is Locke.’
Snickers wash around the room when they hear my name.
‘Well, Locke, we are presenting short stories today, so I guess you’ll just have to watch and learn. Find a seat.’ She motions to some of the empty seats around the room.
I move towards a seat that’s in the middle, on the left side of the classroom. I drop my bag on the floor and plop down into the chair. The boy next to me glances up at me from his phone, but looks back down again after a moment.
The first girl gets up and walks to the front of the classroom to present. Judging by the whoops from the boys and the way that she swings her hips as she walks, she’s one of the popular girls.
‘Smoking hot,’ the boy next to me whispers. ‘Don’t you reckon?’
I can see that she has a petit frame with a busty chest and a pert bum, but it doesn’t appeal to me for obvious reasons.
‘Sure.’ I reply, not wanting to disagree.
* * *
I survive through science with much the same reaction as English. Stares from classmates as I walk in and snickers as they hear my name. By the time first break rolls around, I’m exhausted and in desperate need of a cigarette. I obviously can’t smoke at school, but I’m seriously considering sneaking off campus to relieve the craving.
I walk into the cafeteria, hoping that something to eat will take the edge off the craving. I line up and order some potato wedges. Once I have my wedges, I wander into the cafeteria and look around for any empty tables. I can’t see any. I’m about to turn back out of the cafeteria to wander around the hallways until break is over, but a pair of blue eyes catches my gaze at the back of the cafeteria. Hayes’ arms are waving in the air, clearly motioning for me to go over to him at his table.
I slowly walk over to his table.
‘Hey Locke!’ He calls. ‘These are my friends.’ He motions around the table to the three other boys sitting there.
‘Hey.’ I mumble. I nod at each of the boys in turn and slide into the chair next to Hayes. I open my bag of wedges and begin to eat them. I am just staring down into the brown paper bag when I hear them ask me a question. I look up as I wait for them to ask it again because I obviously wasn’t listening.
‘I said,’ the boy with cropped black hair says slowly, ‘why did you move here? I mean, it’s the middle of the term in the middle of the year.’
‘Uhh,’ I mumble. I cast a glance at Hayes, hoping he’ll help me out here.
‘Oh,’ Hayes gets the message. ‘I asked him this morning and he said that he didn’t want to answer. You guys should respect that.’
‘Yea, okay.’ The brunette says. ‘You’ll tell us when you want to. I’m Caleb, by the way. This is Jensen –’ he motions the blond boy with freckles to his right, ‘– and this is Charlie.’ He motions to the boy on his left who has floppy brown hair and striking green eyes. I give a small smile to each of them.
I’m about to go back to my wedges but Jensen asks another question.
‘Where are you from? You don’t sound like you’re from Yorkshire,’
‘Uh, no, I’m not from Yorkshire. I’m from East London.’
‘Oh. So I guess you still don’t want to tell us why you moved?’ He’s pushing me. If he’s not careful, I’m going to snap at him. I’m already suffering from nicotine withdrawals so if he keeps asking me questions I’m going to lose it pretty quickly.
‘No.’ I say coldly. ‘Stop asking questions. You’re pissing me off.’ I stand up and grab my backpack before he can answer. I walk swiftly out of the cafeteria and out into the hallways. I don’t know if it’s the stress of the day so far or the withdrawal of nicotine or the crappy cafeteria food but I can feel my wedges threatening to make a reappearance in the hallway. Luckily I remember seeing a bathroom on my way to the cafeteria because I pretty much run into it. I slam one of the stall doors shut and bend over the white porcelain bowl. I heave and my breakfast and wedges comes back up and into the bowl. I heave again and again until nothing comes out. I lean forward to flush the toilet and slide down the cubicle door until I’m sitting with my knees against my chest. I run my fingers through my hair and try to control my breathing. I’m digging through my bag trying to find a packet of gum when someone knocks on the cubicle door.
‘Locke?’ I hear his voice and my heart rate rises again. ‘Are you okay? I saw you run in here and I heard you being sick.’ His voice is laced with what sounds like worry.
I run my fingers through my hair again and wipe the clammy sweat that has collected on my hair line. I look down into my bag and see the packet of gum sticking out from underneath one of my books. I reach in and take it out. I open all the sticks and shove them into my mouth, desperate to get rid of the taste of vomit.
Hayes knocks harder on the cubicle door. ‘Locke? Are you okay? Can you please reply?’ He sounds a little desperate.
I want to answer him but I don’t have anything to say. I move forward, away from the door and lean back on my hands. Suddenly, I feel a warm hand encase my cold one. I jump and pull my hand away.
‘Dude!’ I gasp. My heart is racing and blood has rushed to my face and to the base of my spine.
‘Sorry,’ I hear a mumbled apology. ‘I just… you looked…’ He falters and says no more.
‘Why?’ I ask. ‘Why did you follow me?’
‘I just thought that you need someone to help you.’ His voice is barely a whisper. I can feel more than my face burning now. It sounds almost like he wants me.
‘Are you gay?’ I blurt out.
‘What?’ He gives an unconvincing chuckle. ‘Of course not. I told you, you just looked like you needed a friend, and that’s what I’m trying to be. A friend.’ He says it like he’s trying to convince himself and not me.
‘Okay,’ I say. I have a suspicion now that he likes me, but I’ve never had a proper friend before so maybe he is just being a friend.
I run my fingers through my hair one last time and stand up. I zip my bag up and swing it on my back. I unlock the door and walk past Hayes to the sinks to rinse my face.
‘Locke,’ Hayes makes a move to put his hand on my shoulder but thinks better of it and drops it to his side. ‘I’m sorry if I’ve come across as pushy or desperate. It’s just that I don’t really have many friends and I jumped at the opportunity for a new one.’
‘It’s okay,’ I mumble. I splash cold water on my face to revive myself. I wipe it off with my sleeve and attempt to fix up my hair in the mirror. I sigh and realise it’s not helping.
‘I’m heading off to my next class,’ I announce before the silence gets too awkward. I turn away from the mirrors and walk out into the hallway.
‘What is it?’ Hayes asks, falling into step beside me. I inwardly groan. Will this dude leave me alone? Sure, he’s hot, but he’s a little desperate.
‘Modern history,’ I reply.
‘Same!’ Hayes exclaims. ‘Is the teacher Mr Pearce? Because he’s my teacher.’
‘Yea, he is,’ I sigh. ‘But, Hayes,’ I turn around and stop him in the hallway, ‘you said in the bathroom that you don’t want to sound desperate. That’s kinda how you’re coming across at the moment.’ I wince as I wait for his reaction.
‘Oh,’ is all he says. We continue on to the history classroom and wait outside until the bell.
* * *
By the end of history I’m almost dizzy with cravings. I have a headache and I feel like I could scream at everyone in this stupid school. I manage to shake off Hayes as I wander out of the main building and into the courtyards. I’m leaning against a wall, breathing in the fresh air when someone walks up to me.
‘Hey,’ she says. ‘I’m Molly. I haven’t seen you around before. Well, I guess I have because you were just in my history class but I’m not sure that that counts or anything and I know your name; it’s Locke. I felt sorry for you when everyone snickered at it but I think it’s a supercool name. It’s actually a little cute.’ She rushes through her little speech and I’m standing against the wall, staring at her in bewilderment. I have no idea how to reply to her.
‘Uhm, okay,’ I say. ‘Nice to meet you too.’
Molly giggles nervously and wrings her hands as a blush creeps along her cheeks.
‘Do you think I’m pretty?’ She blurts out.
‘Oh. Yea, I guess.’ I say, not wanting to be rude. I mean, she is pretty. She has curly but not frizzy brown hair and bright, round hazel eyes. I glance down and she has a small, curvy body.
‘Hey,’ she says. ‘My eyes are up here.’ She puts a finger under my chin to lift my gaze from her body. A hot flush creeps up my neck as I realise what she must be thinking.
‘Sorry,’ I mumble as the heat reaches my cheeks.
‘It’s okay,’ Molly smiles shyly at me. ‘I think you’re pretty cute too.’
Crap. Crap crap crap crap. She thinks I like her. I don’t want to hurt her, she’s sweet, but I can’t let her get the wrong idea.
‘Look, Molly. You’re sweet but I’m not looking for a relationship at the moment.’ I say to her as her face crumples. I immediately feel bad and I know that I need to leave before I say something I’ll regret.
‘Okay,’ she whispers. ‘I’ll see you ‘round then, I s’pose.’
I groan and rub my face with my hands as she walks back inside.
* * *
I manage the rest of the day without any more incidents. I walk out the main doors of the school and make to walk out the front gates when I feel pressure on my shoulder and a stinging erupts over the right side of my face. Someone has just slapped me.
‘What the fuck, man!’ I yell as I turn around to see who hit me. I come face to face with the popular girl from my English class.
‘I heard that you blew Molly off,’ she snarls. ‘That’s not cool.’
I frown as I try to remember who Molly is. Then I remember; she’s the one who tried to get me to ask her out. I tilt my head back and stare at the steely grey sky as I answer her. ‘I didn’t do anything. She came up to me and asked if I thought she was pretty. I said that I thought she was and she seemed to think that that meant I wanted to go out with her or something like that.’
The popular girl slaps me again; on the other cheek. ‘Obviously it does, fucktard!’
‘I didn’t know that!’ I yell at her, getting angry. ‘She asked if she was pretty, and I replied! Is that a fucking crime now?’
The girl steps forward until she is right in my face, although I am several inches taller than her. ‘We own this school; and no-one blows us off. Now, let’s try this again. Are you going to go out with Molly?’ She growls into my face.
‘I don’t want to be forced to go out with anyone!’ I try to push her away but she grabs my arm.
‘I said,’ she sneers, ‘are you going to go out with Molly?’
This seems so cliché and pathetic at the same time but I don’t know what this crazy girl can do, and I don’t particularly want to find out.
‘Fine!’ I spit. ‘I’ll go out with her, but you have no more say in my life!’ I stalk away from the girl and out the gates. I briefly dig through my bag for my packet of cigarettes and lighter and pop one in my mouth. With shaking hands, I light it. I inhale so deep my lungs scream, and blow the smoke back out. My headache and irritability disappears almost instantly as I walk home, finally relieving the craving for a cigarette.