Handle With Care

[Cyden universe] Will didn't know what to expect from his family's new foster child, but it certainly wasn't a standoffish, recluse of a girl. Even though she wants nothing of the sort, Will still hopes to befriend her, which proves to be quite the challenge. For once, it's a challenge that Will's girlfriend Natalie isn't helping him face, and Will is left to figure things out as best he can.

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3. Chapter Three: She's Got a Way

 

    Will hesitated for a minute before knocking on Alex’s door. There was no immediate reply. “Alex?” he asked. There was still silence, so Will glanced impatiently at his watch. They only had fifteen minutes before they had to leave to catch the bus, and Will really didn’t want to miss that on the first day of school. Just as he was about to knock again, Alex ripped open the door, looking like her normal, surly self. 

    “What?”

    Blinking at her, Will replied slowly, “There’s cereal and toast and stuff in the kitchen. We have to leave in fifteen minutes.”

    Alex looked at him for a second more, then brushed past him, presumably towards the kitchen. Will followed, not even bothering to feel offended at her lack of warmth towards him. It had only been two days, but he was already used to it. It occurred to Will, briefly, that that should’ve been a sad thing, but it just seemed normal. 

    When Will caught up with Alex in the kitchen, she was pouring a bowl of cereal, glaring at it as if it had offended her on a personal level. He opted for toast, glancing over at Alex and wondering how this day was going to end up going. 

    Alex looked as if she had stepped out of a grayscale photograph. Her baggy, cut off t-shirt hung off her relatively thin frame and matched the inky black of her jeans and hair. Her makeup was gray, and even her face seemed pale. If she kept glaring like she was, she was bound to make tons of friends, or so Will thought sarcastically. 

    “What’s your first class?” Will asked, pulling his toast out and dripping it lightly onto a plate. He grabbed the butter and sat down across from Alex. 

    Alex’s gaze shifted up to Will for a brief second, then back down at her bowl. “Honors English.”

    Will nodded. “Me too. After that, I think our schedules are mostly different, but I’ll make sure you get to your next class.”

    She offered no thanks, but Will wasn’t expecting any. They finished eating with only a few minutes to spare, and then Will grabbed his bag and headed for the door. “Do you have your stuff? We have to walk to the corner; that’s where the bus stop is.”

    Alex disappeared into the living room and returned a minute later with her bag, predictably black, draped over her shoulder. Will didn’t wait for verbal confirmation that she was ready; he knew it probably wouldn’t come. 

    When Will stepped outside, it was with a unique mix of dread and excitement. There were the usual end of summer blues, but it was also good to get back into a rhythm. He would have less time to hang out with Natalie and his friends outside of school, but at least he’d see them regularly every day now, rather than once or twice a week. Plus, as much as Will loved summer, it did get a bit monotonous after a while.  

    The walk to the bust stop was silent, of course, but it wasn’t nearly as tense or awkward as previous interactions with Alex had been. Perhaps it was the warm, humid morning breeze or the quiet light that filtered in through the clouds, but there was something relaxing about the atmosphere. It was about the only relaxing thing about that day. 

    No matter how much Will tried to psych himself up, he would never be able to escape the underlying nerves that came with starting each year of high school. Despite his excitement and Cyrus and Hayden’s encouragements, there were still so many opportunities for things to go wrong. Will didn’t know what to expect, so he did what he did best: smiled and tried to look friendly. 

    A few minutes later, two other boys from down the street joined them at the bus stop. They, too, were sophomores, and they gave Will nervous smiles. “Hey,” Will said.

    “Hi,” they muttered a little out of unison. 

    Will figured he should introduce Alex, since it didn’t seem likely that she’d do so herself. “This is Alex. She’s new.”

    They muttered their hellos to her as well, and introduced themselves as Lucas and Miles, which Will already knew. Alex reluctantly said hello in return, but didn’t opt for anything more.

    The bus pulled up to the curb two minutes late with an odd sort of groaning sound overplayed by a squeal. It didn’t sound promising for the future of the vehicle, but Will was only interested in the present for the moment. He spared Alex a glance before taking the first step towards the open doors. 

    Will slowly headed up the few steps and into the main aisle of the bus. He immediately scanned for seats and found that only two were open; one was near the front, surrounded by kids who looked more or less “safe.” The other, though, was way in the back, and the people on either side glared out from underneath hoods, their earbuds dangling at their necks. Will swallowed, thinking quickly. If he took the seat near the front, that would condemn Miles and Lucas to the one in the back. They were timid boys, and Will didn’t know how that would go. Will didn’t want to find out. He headed for the back, all eyes on him. 

    Halfway down the aisle, Will glanced behind him, expecting to see Alex but instead finding himself confronted with Lucas. He started, craning around Lucas’s bushy afro to see the top of Alex’s head peaking over the seat in the front. She hadn’t followed him, but had taken the front seat for herself. Miles, too, had abandoned his friend to instead sit with Alex. That was unexpected and a little rude, Will couldn’t help but think. 

    “Sit down!” the bus driver called impatiently, breaking Will from his thoughts. He hurried the rest of the way down the aisle, making eye contact with the girl in the seat behind the empty one. Will was relieved to find that it was Krista, a junior from last year’s social studies class. She and Will could hardly be considered friends, but she sometimes laughed at Will’s jokes, and they had talked on a few occasions. They could probably be considered acquaintances. 

    Will stepped past and let Lucas go into the window seat, which offered at least some protection, not that he expected to need it. After all, Will was no freshman; even though he didn’t know most of the seniors who occupied the back seats, he hoped that his height and looks might spare him from garnering attention as a weak younger kid. Will nodded casually to Krista, then slipped into his seat, sitting straight up with an air of confidence. He was pulling off the look of a junior at least, or possibly even a senior, and no one would’ve paid them any attention if it weren’t for Lucas nearly cowering by the window.

    “What’s a freshman doing back here?” one of the older boys asked. He looked like he had a bad attitude judging by the scowl on his thick face. His glare was directed at Lucas. 

    “He’s a sophomore,” Will replied. 

    “Sure,” the boy scoffed, and a few of his buddies turned in their seats to watch the interaction and glare along with it. 

    “Besides,” Will continued, swallowing, but keeping his voice level, “there aren’t any seats left in the front.”

    “You can fit three people in a seat.” 

    Not three people as big as you, Will almost blurted, thankfully cut off by Krista, who said, “Oh, give it a rest, Ian. We’ll be at the school in, like, two minutes, and he’s not hurting anyone.”
    Ian shifted his glare to Krista, who gave him a firm look. After a tense moment, Ian backed down. “Fine. Better not happen again, though.”

    “Believe me, it won’t,” Will muttered under his breath. Only Krista heard him, and she smiled. “Thanks,” he said to her as the others returned to their conversations and stopped paying attention to them. 

    Krista, who was sitting alone in her seat, flipped her brown hair over her shoulder and smiled. “No problem. They get off on messing with people, but they’re actually not bad people.”

    “I’ll take your word for it,” Will muttered. 

    Smiling again, Krista said, “It’s Will, right?”

    “Yeah,” Will confirmed. “We were in Mrs. Teatry’s class together last year.”

    “I thought so. You looked familiar,” she replied. The chatter in the bus grew louder so that when Krista lowered her voice, only Will could hear her. She asked, “Is your friend alright? He looks traumatized.”

    Will glanced over at Lucas, whose hands were bunched in the fabric of his t-shirt as he stared out the window. “I think he’s ok,” he told Krista. “He’ll be better when we get there, probably. And I’m not really his friend; we’ve only met once before.”

    Krista looked surprised. “Really? Well, it was nice of you to stand up for him, then.”

    Shrugging, Will replied, “It seemed like the thing to do.” Looking at Krista, then, Will got the sudden sense that he could trust her to be a nice person. “Hey, can I ask you a favor?”

    “Sure,” Krista said easily. “Within reason.”

    “There’s a friend of mine who’s new this year, and she’s kind of… unusual, I guess, would be the nice way to put it,” Will explained. “I’m afraid guys like those,” he said, nodding across the aisle, “might target her. If it’s not too much trouble, could you just keep an eye on things, whenever you’re around?”

    Krista nodded, brushing a hair behind her ear. “Yeah, of course. They take things too far, but I can usually keep them in check. Who is it?”

    Will looked towards the front of the bus. “She’s in the front now, but when we get off, I’ll introduce you?”

    “Cool,” Krista said, and a few seconds later, they were pulling into the parking lot of the school. 

    Krista turned to slip her backpack on, and everyone stood, pushing and shoving to get into the aisle. As the sea of people carried Will out of the bus and onto the pavement, he scanned the lot for Alex. He didn’t see her. Someone tapped Will on the shoulder and he turned, expecting to find Krista, but surprised to see Alex there instead. 

    “Hey, Alex,” Will said, not saying anything about how she had deserted him, “there’s someone you should meet.” Will waved Krista over as she got off the bus, saying, “Krista, this is Alex. Alex, Krista.”

    Krista offered her hand with a bright smile. “Nice to meet you.”

    Crossing his fingers, Will prayed that Alex didn’t just stand there silently and look at her hand like it was an offering from some foreign species visiting earth. It wouldn’t be surprising. Instead, much to Will’s shock, Alex smiled back, shaking Krista’s hand graciously and saying, “Nice to meet you too. Are you a sophomore?”

    “No, I’m a junior,” Krista said, hefting her backpack. “Listen, I have to run, but I’ll see you guys around!” With a smile and a little wave, she disappeared into the crowd. 

    Will was still standing in shock. Alex had just spoken the most words that Will thought he’d ever heard her say at once. Now that Krista was gone, however, she seemed back to her silent, stoic self. After waiting a beat, Alex apparently determined that Will wasn’t about to move any time soon, so she headed off into the building. Will blinked, then followed. It was going to take a while to figure Alex out, but Will was determined to try. 

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