The halls are 99 percent clear by the time Liam leaves the front office with his new schedule of classes, a pass, and a map in hand. It’s the way he prefers it, if he’s being honest, and also the reason he declined Mrs. O’Loughlin, the secretary, leading him to the classroom.
He’s not ready to be thrown into a mass of new faces, to introduce himself from the front of the classroom, facing rows of desks filled with people he must call classmates when all he wants are the ones he left behind back home.
Which means he’s going to take his sweet time officially kicking it off. If he had to leave friends and start his senior year anew in a school across the country, at least some of this transition is going to be on his terms.
Slowly, he walks down the hall. His class is in the first wing on the left, he knows from the map, but he doesn’t make the turn. Instead, he slowly continues. If anyone asks why he’s wandering around, he’ll just say he’s lost, an excuse he anticipates will work for at least the first few days. For all they know, he has the memory of Dory from Finding Nemo, and he doubts anyone will want to make the new kid feel uncomfortable.
On the first try, the lock unlatches, and he opens his backpack to empty out the few things he has. A Colorado Rockies sticker, a picture of his dog, Simon, and another photo of his old robotics team. He doesn’t hang any of his family. If it weren’t for his parents’ divorce, or if his dad hadn’t gotten into prescription drugs, he’d still be at home.
As soon as his dad got arrested for narcotics possession, his mom brought him to Pennsylvania to live with her and her new husband, Chet.
His dad calls him once a week, but as soon as he hears the You’re receiving a call from an inmate in the Colorado State Corrections System robo voice, he hangs up. His communication with his mom is a lot of nonverbals. Other than his name, Chet is actually pretty decent, but for being part of his parental unit, he’s guilty by association.
After he rearranges everything a few times, he decides he might’ve delayed himself long enough, and heads back down the hall, retrieving his schedule from his planner. As he reads the room number, his body collides with another. The planner frisbees out of his hand, and he hears something else hit the ground—a mix of metal and plastic.
“Shit,” a voice says. “Are you okay?” In front of him is a girl, red flooding into her tan cheeks, her lily pad green eyes all worry. Long brown hair curls down past her shoulders, and over her chest, her shirt reads South High Yearbook. “Sorry, I wasn’t looking where I was going.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I wasn’t either. Are you?” Liam doesn’t want to judge her only on her looks, so he won’t: She seems friendly. And pretty.
“Yeah.” She squats down to the ground to pick up what landed there. She reaches for her textbook and Liam’s planner, while he collects her phone, which skidded across the hall to the garbage can’s base. When he lifts it, the screen illuminates a spiderweb of broken glass, and he winces for her as he walks it back to her.
She looks up from the pile she’s formed and swears. “God, I hope not.” Tucking her hair behind her ear, she takes the phone.
He’s glad it’s not his. If that happened today, he might just give up. But she lets out a sigh, smiles, and flips the phone around to face him. “It’s just the screen protector,” she says, pulling the film off to reveal a perfectly in-tact screen.
“Very.” She straightens back up and hands him his planner. “I believe this is yours.” He nods. “Have we met before? You don’t look familiar to me,” she says, cocking her head and giving him a once over.
His mom had bought him a new outfit for his first day, but rather than pleasing her, he threw on his wrinkled Colorado Springs High School shirt, barely brushed his lemon hair, and left the house. Now, he wishes he would’ve done more.
“Uh.” He smooths down his shirt with his palm, switches the planner into his other arm, gripping it by its black coils. “No, this is my first day. I’m Liam.”
“Ah, okay. I’m Maddie. Nice to meet you.”
“You, too.” Very nice, he refrains from saying.
“Do you need help with anything? Directions?” she asks, slipping her phone into her pocket.
“I think I have to go that way,” he says, pointing down the hall in the direction he first came from. “I’m in Room 129. United States History. That right?” He knows it is, but he also wants to extend his time with her, and it’s all he’s got as a talking point.
“It is,” she grins. “It’s actually where I’m headed, too.”
Is the universe finally paying him back for all the misfortune of the past couple months? Hell, past couple years?
“Yeah.” Taking a few steps that way, she turns her body half away from him. “You want to walk with me? You could even be my excuse for being late. I think Mr. Davison is done hearing I got caught up in the yearbook room. I’d be forever grateful.”
“Sure,” he chuckles, and falls into step at her side. He might not want to be here, but if this is what karma has coming his way, he’ll take it.