Logan’s car rolled through the school gates. It made its way to its usual parking spot. The others had already filled up the spots beside it and on the other side of the front stairs. A number of people loitered around, forcing the convertible to make stops. They didn’t take long but they did happen many times.
A few students, glimpsing through his windshield, did a double take.
Alex stared out of her window and looked up at the sky. She lifted a hand, intending to run its fingers through her hair. The tips touched her fringes before she remembered the texturizing spray. She dropped her hand and groaned.
It seemed like she needed to forego the habit for the day.
Logan passed by their friends, clearly waiting for them to arrive. He chuckled.
When the engine stopped running, Alex climbed out of the car. She left the door open and shrugged off the leather jacket. She initially intended to remove it at her locker. Then, she realized there would be hundreds of eyes present and found it uncomfortable to reveal her bare arms that way.
She took her bag and finally closed the door.
The lock and alarm beeped.
She walked to the trunk and met the eyes of a blonde cheerleader.
“Oh my gods, Alex!” Lauren gushed loudly, giving Alex a brief hug. She stepped back and assessed the new look, “Okay, I have to admit. A part of me is thrilled to see this earlier than graduation.”
Max whistled as he reached the group. He had his hands tucked in his jean pockets, “Man, why couldn’t I have been the one to find out about your secret?”
“And why would you want that?” Jae frowned beside him.
Two palms smacked the back of his head.
“Hey, hey hey!” Max complained, rubbing the sore spot. He directed his glare between Lauren and Jae, “I would have treated her well, you know. Don’t think so lowly of me.”
“Next, you’re going to say that you could have met Emily,” Lauren snorted. She crossed her arms over her chest. Colin pulled her to his side—for insurance that Max would stay in one piece.
A pleasant surprise stretched across Max’s face. He peered at Alex with wide eyes, “That’s right! She’s not your girlfriend, is she? Then, can I meet and date her?”
“I believe someone is already pursuing her” Alex smirked. Her jacket laid on top of her folded arms. She felt a warm presence behind her back.
“Psh!” Max protested, “I am sure I can prove myself to be the better option.”
Logan coughed, “Max, bros or hoes?”
“Bros, of course!”
“Then, stop or Jae will pummel you to death.”
Colin blinked at the older Parker twin. The memory from the Stitz Diner replayed in his mind. It seemed to make sense now on why it was Jae, and not Alex, who sat beside Emily.
“Best of luck with that one, Jae” he said, “I think the two of you would be a good match.”
“If Emily doesn’t kill him in the process…” Logan muttered.
Among the group, only Alex heard him. She tried to elbow him in the ribs while she held back a laugh. It didn’t meet its target but she hardly cared. An arm embraced her chest, covering her collarbone. Its hand rested on her left shoulder.
Meanwhile, Max was busy digesting the newly discovered information. Jae stayed relaxed in his position—even when his best friend grabbed his shoulders and shook him, he remained calm.
“Yo! Jae! My man! You mean—that girl…?! Alex’s girlfriend?! What?! When did this happen?!” Max fired question after question, “What else should I know?!”
“That we’d be late if we don’t move,” Colin supplied for everyone. He led Lauren to the front stairs, “See you later, guys.”
Lauren glanced over her shoulder, meeting a pair of gray eyes, “Call us if anyone is giving you a hard time.”
Alex took a deep breath. Logan released his hold on her and let her walk in front of him. Soon, they made it to the front doors. He watched both her and the crowd of students ahead of them.
She walked with her back straight and her chin high. Then, she craned her neck, flipping her hair on both sides. The strands waved behind her like a stream. The light from the entrance glistened against the honey brown.
Whispers and stares surrounded their path. Eyes averted whenever Logan looked back. The experience baffled him. He couldn’t imagine what it would be like to grow up in this kind of environment—a place where he’d be misunderstood and judged. None of these people had the full story. Yet… they had the audacity to act and to sound as if they did.
It was a sickening sight to behold.
Alex ignored everyone and headed for her locker. Now that he saw it first hand, Logan felt that he understood her more. The closed off attitude she had before wasn’t only because of her secret but it was also because of people like this.
With them around, where could she turn but to herself?
He leaned against the locker next to hers, “You are a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for.”
Alex’s hands paused. He raised an eyebrow at him. His words seemed out of the blue, “Why do you say that?”
“I don’t think anyone can waltz by all those prying eyes.”
She breathed out a scoff. Turning back to her locker, she said, “I think it would have been different if it had been weeks ago. I probably would have gone home straight away…”
Alex was sure of it too. She remembered the first time her friends came over for lunch break. She protested strongly about it. When they didn’t leave, she did. The attention directed at her had almost caused her an anxiety attack.
“So… no” she continued, shutting the locker, “I don’t think of myself as strong. The only reason that I’m able to go through now is because I have you, guys. You lend me your strength.”
Logan pressed his lips together and nodded his head. His eyes flickered to the ceiling. A teasing smile curled at the corner of his mouth. He shifted his gaze in Alex’s direction.
“Does that mean you accept me as your best friend?”
“I’m sorry. I think I’m traumatized from having a best friend.”
“Oh…” Logan gasped awkwardly. He hadn’t thought about that. After the betrayal and manipulation she had gone through, it seemed reasonable for her to reject the idea.
Alex leaned in, smirking, “I’m joking. Emily is my best friend.”
Then, she spun on her heel and strolled down the hallway. Her feet followed a familiar route towards English Class. She felt less aware about the stares—which she took as a good sign. She skipped in her steps lightly, keeping a small smile on her lips.
If any of them wanted to bring her down like Skye did, well… they weren’t about to see it.
She took her usual seat at the back of the class. Logan followed behind her. Ever since their first project, he sat by her side. Neither their classmates nor their teacher cared about it. Eventually, the class arrangement became that way for the rest. It became easier to pair up and discuss whenever Ms. Smith handed out a new task.
The bubbly teacher soon came through the doorway. All chatter died down. She set her things down on the desk and combed her hair with her fingers. She took the center spot of the podium. Clapping her hands, she signaled the start of the discussion.
Yet, no sound flew out of Ms. Smith’s mouth.
Instead, she glanced at each student. She wore a pleasant look on her face. The kind that held tenderness. Her eyes contained no ill intentions. It also never wavered, making sure each student received the same expression.
If it weren’t for how long she kept up the act, it wouldn’t have been suspicious.
The class began to feel agitated. Her silence made them sense that something was off. Despite that nagging doubt, none of them spoke up. With Ms. Smith’s record for spontaneity, they wouldn’t be surprised if she pulled up another genderbender project for them to fulfill.
A part of them was also curious at what she’d do once she finished all the students in the room.
They followed her line of sight, focusing on the interactions. They waited for the surprise. Was it a jump scare? A sudden scream? A funny joke? The possibilities dampened their nerves. They were replaced by anticipation.
A loud bang rang into the room.
The door of the classroom slammed open and, under a white blanket, Mr. Smith cried like a madman. Then, he left as soon as he came.
The shouts had a mix of shock and horror. A student fell off his seat from the incident. Another dropped her phone to the floor. The quiet ones panted, trying to calm down their heartbeats. They didn’t notice that they had stopped breathing during the silence. If it weren’t for the fake ghost, who knew how long they could have held it for?
Ms. Smith bent forwards, hands on her knees. She cackled and sounded just as crazy. Her amused hysteria lasted for a solid minute. She heard the chorus of laughter around her midst. It gradually spread from one spot and to every inch of the room. A few mocking yells pierced through. Friends teased other friends about their frightened reactions.
Suddenly, the air lightened. The tension she arrived to had dissipated.
“Oh, wow…” Ms. Smith remarked, wiping a finger at her tear ducts, “That’s one way to break the ice, right? Don’t you agree?”
A resounding series of affirmations replied. She chuckled. She always treasured it when the atmosphere of the class felt good. The liveliness fuelled her. It pushed her to become more engaging. It felt more fulfilling when both teacher and students had the same amount of enthusiasm.
“Do you feel more awake?!” Her voice bounced off the walls.
The same ecstatic response vibrated in her ears.
Oh, how sweet did it sound. She inhaled deeply, absorbing the energy. She relished in the moment while it lasted. It pumped the blood in her veins. She needed the boost to keep the class spirit high. It would only take a few words for it to disappear.
Hopefully, it wouldn’t completely vanish.
Otherwise, it wouldn’t be just as fun.
“That’s good! Really good! Because you have 15 minutes to practice a scene from your previously chosen play. Then, you’ll perform it on this podium.”