How had I managed to make an outcast of myself on my first day? Nearly every person I passed on the way to my locker in the morning gave me a strange look and a wide berth. I reviewed the previous day but the only time I'd drawn any attention to myself at all was in calc and surely a class full of math geeks wouldn't have the social standing to pull this off. I sighed to myself. It was unnerving, but nothing more. It's not like I wasn't used to being stared at and talked about.
Oh my God, was that it? Had news of my mother's accident caught up with us already? It was a mistake to move here. This town may have come with a support system but it also came with people who knew my mother and would know what had happened. I slammed my locker out of frustration. Too hard, because it bounced back before it could latch. It stopped about an inch from hitting me in the face. I looked up to see a guy I recognized from a few of my classes holding the door just above my head. He was taller than me, a little lanky, and had a seriously adorable mop of curly brown hair. "Whoa, uh, thanks," I said.
"You done here?"
"Huh?" I was so articulate I could hardly stand it. He nodded toward the locker. "Oh, yeah. Sorry." He closed the door gently and tested the the latch.
"Bad morning?" I shrugged.
"Just the usual new school stuff. I'll be happier once the shine wears off and I don't feel so much like I'm under a microscope."
He laughed a little and I thought it sounded bitter. "Let me know how that works out for you."
We were walking toward American History, the first of several classes that we shared, and the crowd in the hallway was parting like the Red Sea. I wanted to ask him what he meant by his last statement but instead I leaned toward him and asked, "Have I grown a third eye or something?" He came to a halt and his eyes widened briefly, then his face relaxed and he seemed to study mine.
"No," he gently touched my chin and moved my head back and forth, "not that I can see." My face burned. I was so very grateful that my olive skin hid at least some of my blushes. "I'll keep an eye out for you though." His raised eyebrows encouraged me to get the joke. I got it but couldn't bring myself to laugh. Some bad jokes don't deserve a fake laugh.
"Then what is with everyone?"
"It's that new girl shine," he said, resuming his trek toward class, the humor draining from his face even quicker than it had arrived.
"Right," I scoffed. I wanted to believe it but no one had acted this way yesterday. I just couldn't figure out what had changed.
"I'm Caleb, by the way." He offered his hand to me. It felt large and warm and soft when I took it.
"Belinda," I said, "Which you already know. But you can call me Lin."
He bowed slightly before releasing my hand. "An honor." Then he turned and went into the classroom so quickly, I wasn't sure if he even noticed the questioning look on my face.
I sighed and slid into the same back corner seat I'd taken yesterday in all my classes. At least one person didn't hate me, even if he was totally weird. Beggars can't be choosers.