“Ren, wait up,” calls an obnoxiously familiar voice. The school grounds are mostly empty at this time of the morning, which is the entire reason why I usually arrive earlier than necessary, yet somehow this guy always manages to find me. I don’t turn, but in my peripheral vision I catch a glimpse of blonde hair. My ears begin to fill with a loud, vivid ringing, and I flinch.
“Hey, I said to wait,” Kai grins, easygoing as usual, as he jogs nearer to walk beside me. The ringing intensifies as he draws close, then fades away completely. My tense shoulders loosen and the sudden cold I feel urges me to pull my collar up higher. Greetings are a foreign subject to me, so I just glance sideways.
“Shouldn’t you be in school uniform?”
Kai is wearing the same thing he has been wearing since he transferred here a few days ago: casual jeans and a t-shirt, with a thin gray hoodie thrown over the ensemble. It sticks out in the hordes of students wearing an all black fall uniform, yet the teachers don’t bother him about it, and he doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to get a uniform.
Although he is the one who approached me, Kai raises his eyebrows slightly, surprised that I responded.
“Because of my situation I figured I didn’t need to get one, they cost too much to use for just a month.”
Ah, that’s right. He didn’t specify the exact reason, but he did tell a few of us on his first day that he’d only be staying at our school for a month. I sigh, vaguely relieved. He has been a nuisance to me since he transferred, always seeking me out for some reason or another. I am aware of my unapproachability, as are the others, yet ever since he came I have been hassled and questioned and sought after to the point of ridiculousness. Moreover, he gives me a headache.
We pass through the school gates, next to which a few of our teachers are gossiping and smoking on a bench. They aren’t supposed to, but the rule has been for years that we don’t tell on them and they won’t tell on us. It’s the reason why the hallways always smells faintly of smoke, though of course the principal doesn’t know this. They wave us through, and Kai waves back. I scoff under my breath.
To our right, a vine covered chain-link fence partially obscures our view of a few unlucky people’s backyards. To our left a patchy field is empty except for a scruffy cat that is padding down its length and finally disappears behind the cafeteria. As we reach the end of the gravel path, a medium sized brown and tan dog that had been sniffing around the fence yips at us. I keep walking, but Kai pauses. A few seconds later a muffled yelp resounds, and I reluctantly turn. Kai is pressing a wounded hand against his chest, wincing. The dog was nowhere in sight. The idiot had stuck his fingers through a gap in the fence and got bitten. He looks at me pitifully, in a way that I haven’t been looked at in a long time, like he is expecting my help. Maybe I am more of a sucker for people’s expectations than I had thought, because instead of turning back around and leaving him there, my usual reaction, I instead beckon.
“Come on. The nurse is usually here at this time.”
He follows me, grinning like the idiot he is, and I wonder what has gotten into me. Behind us, nimble fingers flick away their cigarette and crush its embers under a heel.
I was wrong. The statement I had made about the nurse usually being in at this time was just a prediction, and although the secretary had arrived when we entered the office, the nurse is still out. We are still permitted to use the supplies to clean Kai’s bite, just as long as we don’t disrupt anything. The infirmary is rather small, with just the nurse’s desk and a cot placed in a corner. On top of the desk are a few conveniently placed first aid kits, and I take the liberty of digging through the contents of one. Kai sits on the cot and gazes dreamily at the health precaution posters pasted on the walls. He holds his injured hand out when I perch beside him on the cot. It’s bleeding, but only a bit. He had washed most of the blood off at the water fountain in front of the office, but still wanted to disinfect it. I take a piece of toilet paper, damp with hydrogen peroxide, and swipe it across his hand. Looking up to see his reaction, I find that his eyes are still on the posters. Once I finish wrapping the bandages around his hand, he flexes his wrist and laughs.
“Thanks. At first I thought you were a bit standoffish, but you aren’t so bad.”
And with that statement we are back to square one. He has different motives, but probably thinks the same as everyone else. Once again, instead of disappointment I simply feel relief. The clock above our bowed heads ticks closer to eight o’ clock, and the nurse pokes her head in through the door. She is a small woman, hard to notice and seems to be painted of muted colors. However, her brilliant red hair always comes as a surprise, even if you’ve it before. We startle at her presence, but she comes in as if we weren’t there and begins to settle into her chair. I am just about to grab the hydrogen peroxide bottle and bandages when she says,
“You should get going, Ren.”
I nod my head and proceed. She gestures to Kai and he strides over to stand next to her. Although the room is tiny I can’t hear a word she is saying, but her eyes occasionally stray in my direction. I leave before they finish, and am comfortably in my first period class seat before the bell rings. Sometime during the lesson I find myself wondering what’s taking Kai so long, he still has not returned from the office, but quickly I urge my thoughts in a different direction.
Don’t get distracted, I tell myself.
I like to think of myself as a very controlled person, and this self-given task is not difficult. The next thirty minutes my mind is instead on the pencil clutched in my left hand.
It needs to be sharpened.
Ms. Olsen has very sharp, observant eyes. They scan me up and down with virtually no interest whatsoever. I know I appear to be fine, so I let her.
“I still don’t understand why you’re doing this,” she sighs.
Well, that’s to be expected.
“It’s because I want to,” I reply, expressionless.
I have known Ms. Olsen for many years, but she has known me for even longer, which is how she can call my demeanor petulant.
Rolling her eyes, she rifles through one of her drawers and pulls out a folder. Kicking off her shoes, a strange ritual of hers, she pulls her feet up onto her chair.
“You’re just going to make it worse,” she tells me matter-of-factly.
That’s untrue. I could possibly make it more painful, but making it worse than it already is would be difficult.
Without answering her, I walk out. She wasn’t expecting an answer anyways.