My heart leapt in my chest as the bell ending seventh period sounded out. I’d have to deal with Niall. Really, there was no telling how he’d act. I hoped that he’d at least be somewhat different, but that was just wishful thinking.
I tried to delay my entry as much as possible without being late, but I only succeeded in making myself more anxious. My lip was taken between my teeth as I entered the classroom, clutching me notebook and pencil tightly. I wasn’t exactly ready for the bad side of Niall. I hadn’t gotten much sleep last night because of the homework I had to do for history and math. Though I was generally smart, I’d had a bit of trouble focusing. I was sure I’d forgotten something, but I didn’t know what.
I sat down at our table, stiffening as Niall glanced at me. Placing my notebook on the cold table’s surface, I looked at Niall through my peripherals. Finding his eyes trained on me, I didn’t know what to do. They didn’t show the hatred usually given to me, but they also didn’t show the joking tint from the night before. In some ways I froze. In other ways, I wished I would’ve just frozen. I smiled at him.
All I got from him was a huff out of his nose, then a drawing together of his features as Mrs. Dillard walked into the room. I let some of my hair fall from its tucked-behind-the-ear position, giving my face some cover as a mixture of emotions went through me. There were too many emotions to count, too many to name. So I settled for just suppressing them.
“Alright, kiddos,” Mrs. Dillard said, clapping her hands together with her usual cheer. “I assume you all got your reading done that I assigned via the school’s blog? We’ll do the worksheets in class today.”
My chest tightened in that way it did when I forgot to do something, a school assignment in particular - I didn’t get it often. Though it wasn’t too big of a deal, I hated not completing homework. It just had an odd feeling to it. But I stiffened a bit anyway.
Niall scoffed beside me, obviously taking notice in my changed posture. “Didn’t do it, I take it?”
I chewed the inside of my cheek for a second, then turned my head to look at him. “No,” I said, trying to keep my voice unwavering. Talking to him had always done that to me. I was always afraid that something would go wrong - that I would say or do something he didn’t like, then show his bad side an hurt me. More often than not, I got his bad side.
Niall huffed a hostile laugh. “You’re going to have trouble with the lesson, then.”
I bit my lip and nodded. “I know.”
But I wasn’t too worried. Physics had always been easy for me. I knew kinetic and potential energy, I could apply different types of simple machines, and somehow, I could figure out complicated things in a small amount of time. I assumed the reading was relatively simple, since we were only doing a worksheet today, so I’d have it down in no time. At least, that what I thought.
As soon as I had the worksheet in my hand, I knew I was in trouble.
“Alright, now,” Mrs. Dillard said, returning to her desk. “You’re allowed to work with your table partners on this sheet, but other than that I should be pretty quiet. Go for it.”
And with that, the class erupted in murmurs. Niall and I sat there for a second, an awkward silence hanging between us. I was almost sure that he’d make me work on this alone. But to my surprise, he read out the first problem.
“From the data listed, you can see that the eccentricity of the orbit is nearly zero; this means the orbit is almost perfectly circular. You can also see that the semi-major axis of the orbit is about 6730 km. Using this information, determine the speed of the space station along its path of travel. Look up the value of any constants you need such as the mass of the Earth. Your work should show the derivation of relevant formulae starting from Newton's Laws of Motion and Universal Gravitation in conjunction with the equation for centripetal acceleration.”
Yep, I was screwed.
“Er-” I said, brushing back a stray lock of my hair. “What was that?”
And to my complete and utter surprise - Niall laughed. Niall actually laughed. Just like he had last night, when we were goofing around like two good friends. Just like he hadn’t put me through almost unbearable torture. Just like I’d told him - like we were friends.
The look on my face must have betrayed me, because as soon as Niall’s eyes hit my face, his laugh was gone. And just like that, his look was back. Not hostile, yet not the welcoming gaze I’d witnessed the night before. Neutral. It was neutral.
He read the problem again, but I still had no idea what the subject matter was. We must’ve started a new chapter in the textbook, and I always kept my book at home just in case. Bad move, I guess.
The remainder of the class was filled with my frustration and Niall trying to explain the chapter. I was completely surprised at his willingness to help, along with patience - the situation was usually reversed. I was supposed to be the tutor, but now I was the learner. Niall’s abuse wasn’t in the picture at all, and I began to grow more comfortable. By the end of the class period, I was already half as comfortable with him as I’d been last night. He was being a courteous boy.
“So there you have it,” he said, sliding his worksheet into his notebook. “Physics in a nutshell.”
I chuckled a bit. “Yeah. I should’ve check the internet, this wasn’t supposed to happen. I guess I’ll learn from this and check every day from now on.”
His previous grin faltered for a second, but was turned back up in an instant. “Being the tutor is fun. The learner? Not so much.”
I bit my lip. Was he talking about our tutoring arrangement? Was that why he was so mean? Maybe it wasn’t for a position on the social ladder, but because being the student was no fun. Maybe he wanted to make me feel small because having a tutor made him feel dumb? I’d sure felt dumb today.
I blinked, then subtly shook my head. “No, it’s not fun.”
Then, out of nowhere, Keaton - one of Niall’s friends, though not too close with him - walked up to stand beside Niall.
“Hey, bro,” he said, playfully nudging him on the shoulder.
I flinched unintentionally, knowing that if I’d done something like that... I didn’t even want to talk about it.
“You coming tonight?” Keaton asked Niall, completely ignoring me. By now I was used to it, though, so I wasn’t offended. I just began to fiddle with the edge of my notebook.
“I don’t know,” Niall answered him, scratching his arm. “Samm and I have to work on this physics project. And I don’t know if I can handle another one of your parties.”
My interest peaked at the mention of my name in a sentence other than an insult. Though I still played with my notebook, I was listening.
“C’mon, man,” Keaton said. “It’s Friday. Loosen up a bit, we have the rest of the semester to do that piece of crap.”
“I guess I could come,” Niall said, his fingers drumming subtly on the tabletop. I heard him shift in his chair, then suddenly I was being brought into the conversation. “Want to come, Samm?”
Keaton looked about as shocked as I was. “W-what?” I asked. furrowing my eyebrow as I lifted my head. Why in the world would Niall ask if I’d come to one of his friend’s parties? His friends only knew what he’d to them of me, and I assumed that my reputation with them wasn’t too good. Keaton wouldn’t let me come anyway.
“You know,” Niall said, leaning his elbows on the table. “My ‘plus one’. That’s alright, isn’t it, Keaton?”
Keaton and I shared a rather awkward glance before he turned back to Niall. “Uhm, I guess if you want - I mean, if she wants.”
I just looked at both of them, completely dumbfounded. Niall, for acting completely out of character, and Keaton for actually going along with it. Honestly, I’d rather have been told to my face that I wasn’t wanted than be lied to. I realized after about five seconds that I hadn’t said anything.
“Erm - I guess - I mean - it’s up to you,” I stuttered, watching Niall’s and Keaton’s reactions. I had the feeling that if I said no to Niall, it’d end badly. But on the other hand… I hadn’t been invited, and I didn’t want to intrude on anything - let alone earn more insults from Niall’s and Keaton’s friends.
“Alright, it’s settled then,” Niall said, giving a small smile. He turned back to Keaton. “We’ll be there around eight.”
Keaton gave a small side-smile, then nodded in my direction and walked away. I was still in shock, seeing as I’d actually been asked to come to a party that wasn’t for my own self-pity. I was even more shocked that Niall was being decent to me during school. This had definitely never happened before, and I feared that I was imagining it all, and that I’d wake up from a dream at any moment. But I didn’t.
“Ever been to one of Keaton’s parties before?” Niall asked, bringing me out of my thoughts.
I thought that the answer was obvious. But then again, Niall always acted oblivious to the fact that he’d tortured me when he was acting this way. In some ways it infuriated me that he didn’t understand what I’d been through because of him, and in some ways it helped me almost forget it ever happened. The problem was that I didn’t know if I wanted to forget or not.
“No,” I said, tucking a stray lock of hair behind my ear. For now, I’d just have to keep up my guard. Niall was unpredictable.
“Well,” he chuckled, scratching the back of his neck. “Just keep in mind that you’ll probably never wear the same outfit again.”