Standing before the mirror in the school bathroom, I took a deep breath out. There was something about the bathroom that calmed me. It was painted a soothing shade of white and was nearly always empty. The girls never used the bathroom at school because they deemed it full of germs. Little did they know that the school cleaner had OCD and cleaned it eight times a day while we were in class.
Staring back at my reflection, I didn't feel too good. I'd never been overly confident about my appearance and in that moment, it was all too obvious that I would never measure up to any of my female peers. With large hips and pale skin, I was the opposite of beautiful. My mother always went on about my long legs and shapely cheek bones but really, what kind of advantage was that? If I had to choose anything that I liked, I'd probably choose my eyes. Blue with specks of grey, in the right light, they appeared subtly mysterious and alluring. I breathed out again, refusing to be nervous about the fact that my first English class of the year would be with a new teacher that I'd just called "Lord West."
As I walked out of the bathroom, I ran right into somebody's side.
"Ouch," I muttered, rubbing my head, eyes scrunched tight in pain.
"Are you okay?" A deep voice asked, briefly touching my hand.
I opened my eyes, startled, to find two bright blue eyes level with my face as Christopher bent down to look at me.
I shook my head in exasperation.
"You," I sighed.
His eyebrows drew together in confusion again.
"Me?" He asked.
I ignored him and walked past him in the direction of our classroom. I paused outside of the English corridor, trying to juggle my bucket load of books in my arms in an attempt to open the ugly maroon glass door. I muttered to myself angrily, standing there for several moments. Then, I felt the books leave my arms and the door swung open in front of me. For a moment, I was bewildered, half daring to believe that the magic of Hogwarts had inhabited Walden High. Then a deep exaggerated cough sounded behind me and I whipped around to find Mr Helpful with his books in my arms. His eyes mocked me.
I snatched them from him, muttered an angry "thank you," and stalked off. Once in the corridor, I was lost in the sea of students heading off to class. Loud voices shouted over one another as people called out rude remarks and fought each other for attention.
Teachers pushed their way through, confiscating various illegal items and warning students that they'd better get to class unless they wanted an after school detention. I rolled my eyes at the vulgar comments being made about Lucy, the girl whose dress was so tight that you could almost see the shape of the veins in her thighs.
By the time I got to class, I was just relieved to escape the noise and chaos of it all. Unluckily, I was the first one there and somehow Christopher had managed to beat me there. He stood at the whiteboard, writing the names of novels all over it in different colours. I had read all of them. He was only alerted to my presence when I dragged back the chair and sat down.
His eyes did not darken with anger or annoyance like I expected. On the contrary, he seemed glad to find me there.
"I need to talk to you," he said.
"What about?" I asked, perfectly casual.
He raised his eyebrows, his eyes conveying just how idiotic he thought my show of indifference was.
I sighed and dropped the act.
"Well...you ran into me," I said accusingly.
That was the best I could offer because truth be told, I didn't know why I was so angry. Why did my blood boil at the sight of him? Why was there so much adrenalin coursing through my body? When I looked at him, I felt bombarded by angry emotions. It must have been that whole conversation at lunch, that disturbing exchange of eye contact that had muddled my thoughts and unnerved me. I didn’t connect with people well but something in his facial expression told me he would know all my secrets soon enough; as if he could just open me up and dissect me to find what he needed. I didn’t want to be some lab experiment. I’d had more than enough of his probing looks. Still, something more was bothering me. Why had his running into me pushed me over the edge? Why did I want to run from the room?
"Liar, that's not why you're so angry," he retorted, but he was smiling.
I was no more confusing than him, surely.
I couldn't help but return his smile, it was so infectious. We were both still for a moment, just smiling at one another as if I hadn't just snapped and been completely rude a few minutes earlier. My heartbeat started to race, my palms felt sweaty and yet I found I could not look away. At the creak of the door, we both snapped out of it, him turning to greet the student entering and me, casting my eyes down to my exercise book. I took a deep breath, trying to steady myself and return to my former state of calm.
Eventually all the students had filed in and he turned from the board where he'd continued writing the names of books.
"Now," he addressed us, looking around the room, "who here has read at least one of these books?"
A few hands hovered tentatively in the air, including mine.
He looked around the room, his eyes falling on me. They sparkled in the light, the right corner of his mouth twitching as he fought a smile.
"Keep your hand up if you've read more than one," he commanded.
Most hands slowly fell due to the fact that most of the books were classics. There was just one girl and myself left. Emily was a girl that I’d battled all throughout school. We were both intellectuals and we had both struggled to make friends but somehow we had ended up as enemies. She seemed to despise me from the moment she’d learned that I’d surpassed her score on a geometry test. I’d congratulated her on her score, hoping to establish some kind of camaraderie and had thought maybe we’d be friends but instead, she took off her black glasses, flipped her short black hair behind her ear and then flashed me a piercing glare. I’ll never forget the angry look in those hateful brown eyes. From then on, my dislike of her grew. Nowadays, I aimed to triumph over her in every way I could.
He smiled at Emily and then his eyes made their way back to me. That was where they stayed as he spoke again.
"Keep your hand up if you've read all of them."
I couldn't fight my own smile, it was obviously a challenge. My arm was growing tired but I left it up. Emily glared at me and then let her hand fall. I laughed quietly and then covered my mouth, embarrassed. I could tell by the set of his mouth that Christopher found this very entertaining.
"Okay then, well seeing as we can't talk about these books...I hope you've all read the Great Gatsby, as you were expected to read it in preparation for the start of our coursework," Christopher said as he sat down at his desk, clasping his hands together in a businesslike manner.
"Now, can anyone tell me what defined Gatsby as a character? What made him the "great" Gatsby?" He asked, scanning the classroom.
As his eyes fell on me, I slowly raised my hand.
"Yes, Miss..." He trailed off, holding out his hand in a gesture that implied I should give my name.
His eyes were infuriatingly superior. He seemed to realise I did not want him to have this information.
"Eva," I said grudgingly.
"Eva," he repeated, eyes traveling over my face in a way that made my heartbeat quicken.
What was that sixth sense that kept telling me that he was important; that he would become important? I didn’t believe in fate but something was forcing me to meet his eyes even when my mind told me to look away. It was that clash again; between my head and my heart, between what I knew was right and what I felt was right.
"Anyway," I said quickly, feeling uncomfortable, "I think that what defined Gatsby's character was his devotion to his dreams. He dreamed of being the man Daisy loved and he was faithful to that dream....until the very end. Love was his most important conviction and he never let go of it. He never relinquished his hope.”
Christopher smiled, flashing his perfect white teeth.
"Great," he acknowledged, "now the rest of you, make note of what Eva has just enlightened us with."
As my classmates wrote around me, I spent my time watching him. He did not look at me during this period. His face had suddenly become less light hearted and I noticed the tension in his jaw and the way his whole demeanour seemed to reflect an internal source of tension. He played with the chunky silver watch on his wrist, twisting it this way and that in a way that made me think he was very much trying to distract himself. This puzzled me.
After my peers had left, I gathered my books and prepared to leave. Just as I passed his desk, Christopher stood quickly and grabbed my wrist. My stomach contracted painfully.
"Eva," he said, a strange desperate tone colouring his voice.
I glanced at his hand wrapped around my wrist, my eyebrows pulling together. He was unlike any teacher I'd ever come across. I didn't feel like I was in the presence of a teacher at all.
"I'm sorry," he said, pulling his hand back, "I just wanted to know why you wait. I mean, why do you wait for them to leave first?"
I smiled sadly at him.
"They bother me," I sighed
"Bother you how?"
He sounded angry.
"They call me a loner, a nerd, just stupid stuff but I get sick of it. I don’t need to be made to feel about myself, I already do." I replied, eyes cast down.
I drew my breath in quickly in shock as his finger coaxed my chin upwards.
"I'll talk to the principal. I'll make it stop," he promised.
"No, don't," I argued, turning my head away.
"Why the hell not?"
"It won't change anything. Don't you see? It'll just make things worse. I can deal with it, okay?"
I raised my eyes to his. They held strong emotions within them. I identified sympathy and anger but there were others I did not recognise or rather, did not understand. What was it about his eyes that had me so very transfixed at every moment? I wanted to paint them, to write novels about them, to study the way they changed from one moment to the next.
"Eva," he said sternly, refusing to give in.
I placed a hand on his arm, already far too comfortable with him than I had any right to be.
"Thank you Mr West," I said, trying to establish some air of formality, "but I can handle it."
His ocean blue eyes hardened as they observed me, trying to judge whether I spoke the truth. After a moment, he shook his head and turned away from me, muttering angrily. I took that as my cue to leave. As I reached the door, he spoke again.
“Yes?” I said without turning around.
“You should never feel bad about yourself. You have so much going for you.”
I resisted the urge to meet his eyes and quickly closed the door behind me.