“Stop! Put me down! I don’t want to go in the car! Stop!”
Zac struggled unsuccessfully against his bodyguard’s strong hold as he carried him towards the fleet of black vehicles lined outside his grandfather’s house.
“I apologize, Master Zac, but your grandfather clearly stated that you absolutely must attend the luncheon at your uncle’s farmhouse today,” his butler said as he followed close behind them, “and given the location’s distance, it would be impossible for me to escort you there on foot, as I normally do. So, please. Do cooperate just for today.”
Cooperate? They made it sound as if he did it on purpose. As if he hadn’t tried to stop it.
And they knew. They knew how his chest tightened and how his throat burned, how his head spun and the images – the images that he couldn’t stop from plastering themselves in his head every time… every time he sat in a car.
He couldn’t stop them. And he couldn’t stop the nightmares and he couldn’t… breathe.
He cried as they fastened the seatbelts around him.
They knew yet they refused to understand. He refused to understand. He was forcing Zac to go through this and all because of some stupid meal that he wouldn’t even show up for himself.
As the engine started, their voices started playing in his head again.
“It’s been a year now, hasn’t it? And he’s still like this?”
“Don’t you think that kid needs a doctor?”
“The poor thing, it’s so hard to look at him now.”
It was hard to look at them too! They were supposed to be his ‘family’ yet all they ever did was talk about him when they thought he wasn’t listening. They made it sound like he was crazy, like he was bad luck, like they didn’t want anything to do with him… his grandfather didn’t want anything to do with him either. He hadn’t once actually met him despite living in the same house for months.
He hated them. He hated all of them. He hated his relatives, he hated the staff that would gladly kill him as long as they were paid for it and he hated the shallow kids at the stupid prep school his grandfather was forcing him to attend!
If only his parents were still here…
A flash of bright light, a crash and blood… a lot of blood…
His body went numb and the world seemed to darken.
Before he knew it, he found himself outside the car and hunched over the sidewalk, panting heavily.
“Master Zac, Master Zac – are you all right?”
His butler’s distressed cries sounded much more distant than they should have.
Zac pushed himself off the ground, inhaling deeply as he closed his eyes.
When he opened them again, he realized they were standing outside a school.
“Everstone Elementary School,” he read off the sign.
Suddenly, he felt a strange pull. An invisible force tugging on his heart. He didn’t know why but he felt like… this was where he needed to be.
“Tell grandfather I want to transfer to this school.”
Everstone Elementary School
“I can’t believe it. She actually messed up our anthem?”
“And then she started blurting random Japanese! You should’ve been there, it was hilarious.”
It really wasn’t.
No matter how much Samantha ran and no matter how much she hid, she just couldn’t get away from it. She was the talk of the school, had been for a few days now.
“And she calls herself one of us!”
But it was just a mistake, an honest mistake.
She had just been so nervous. It was her first time on stage, first time facing such a large audience and she knew the words – she knew them, she could swear on it – but her mind had just blanked out.
Her teacher had assured her that it was nothing to worry about, that it was something everybody might have gone through at some point in their lives, and that no one would laugh at her or hold her responsible for it.
But nine year olds could be extremely cruel.
They mocked her, imitated her, even shoved her into the dirt at times, but worst of all…
… was their new nickname for her.
“Leave me alone,” she mumbled, starting towards the small school building.
It was better if she went inside, it was safer. Who was she kidding thinking she could play out during recess like everyone else again?
“Wait up, Samanthem,” a giggling girl called after her.
And she wasn’t alone. There were others, who were now running up ahead of Samantha to block her path.
They corned her, against the building’s wall, laughing and laughing and laughing. Samantha clenched her fists as the tears stung her eyes.
“Hey, can we hear you sing the anthem again? In English though.”
“Pretty please, Samanthem?”
She tried her best to make it out of the huddle they’d formed around her, only to find herself tackled to the ground again.
“Leave me alone already!”
And at the time, she didn’t know what it was. She didn’t know what happened. She didn’t know what they saw around her to have them back off and run away so quickly, but they did.
“You freak!” she heard them call back.
And she was glad, glad that they were gone. Yet… she found herself unable to stop the tears rolling down her face.
“It’s not fair,” she mumbled, her eyes travelling from her scraped knee to the strangely burnt grass stuck to her arms.
She was trying to brush it off when a pale palm entered her line of vision.
She blinked the moisture out of her eyes as she looked up at a skinny, black-haired boy holding his hand out for her.
“You need help?” he said quietly.
His face was like a mask, pretty and devoid of any emotion, but Samantha let him help her up nevertheless. There was something about him, she didn’t know what, but it drew her towards him, almost like a magnet.
Besides, someone had actually addressed her in a non-hostile way after what seemed like an eternity. And that… that felt nice.
“Y-You’re that new kid from the classroom across ours… aren’t you?” she said, sniffing.
He didn’t respond, instead lowered his gaze to her knees.
“You should go see the nurse,” he said, then hastily walked away.
He didn’t. He disappeared into the building within the next few seconds and Samantha didn’t go after him.
But from that day onward, Samantha always volunteered to go fetch chalk from the classroom across the hall.
Everstone Middle School
Dylan thought it was nice, his new school. To be honest, he’d picked it out of the pamphlets his parents had shown him on a whim, but he was glad his choice was proving to be a good one.
The classes didn’t last too long, the cafeteria had good food, there was a huge basketball court and even though it had only been a few weeks since he came, he’d made a lot of friends.
“Dylan, you stayin’ for basketball practice, right?”
Dylan nodded at the tall upperclassman who gave him a nudge as he walked by. “Of course,” he said with a grin.
“See you in five then,” the boy called back.
Dylan loved basketball more than just about anything in the world. And could anyone blame him? His dad had had the two introduced as soon as Dylan could run without toppling over.
That, of course, meant that he had become fairly good at it over the years too.
“Pass it to Dylan!”
And naturally, the other boys were excited to have him on-board.
A whistle declared the end of the quarter and Dylan stepped out of the court to grab a towel.
As he wiped the sweat trickling down his neck, his eyes met those of a boy Dylan had seen watching them play on more than one occasion.
He was pale with messy, black hair and alone more often than not and though he didn’t really do anything to stand out, there was something about him that demanded Dylan’s attention.
He made Dylan feel curious, he made him feel like… he needed to reach out to him.
‘What is wrong with you?’ he chastised himself mentally. ‘Just go talk to him.’
Right. He was just another guy after all. There was no reason to overthink.
“H-Hey, you,” Dylan called out, breaking into a jog to catch up to him when he turned to leave. “Hey, why don’t you come and play with us?”
The boy stopped and spun around with a raised brow. “You talkin’ to me?”
“Yeah, who else?” Dylan chuckled. “I’ve seen you around here a couple of times. Come on, we need more players anyway.”
The boy scoffed and Dylan blinked, surprised by his unexpectedly cold nature. “No, thanks,” he said. “I only come by here because it’s the only part they leave open after school ends these days. It has nothing to do with your stupid game.”
“Hey, don’t say that,” Dylan snapped, immediately going on the defensive. “Basketball is a great game. Why… why don’t you give it a go?” he continued, his tone softening again as he put a hand on his shoulder. “Maybe you’ll like-”
“Don’t touch me,” the boy said, immediately slapping his hand off.
“What’s your problem, man?”
“What’s my problem? You’re the one who’s all up in my business.”
“Because unlike you, I actually have the courtesy to-”
“To be annoying?”
“At least I’m not a jerk!”
Dylan wasn’t sure when the bickering progressed to something more physical and he wasn’t even sure who threw the first punch, what he was sure about was what the coach said after separating them.
“Ferrante, Hayden – detention!”
In detention, that jerk didn’t even show up. But, on the other hand, Dylan met another interesting person.
“Pssst. Hey. Hey, tall guy.”
Dylan turned in his seat to find a small, brown-haired girl grinning at him. “What’s up?” he said.
“Could you please move a little bit to the right?” she said, her eyes sparkling with both hope and mischief.
“So the teacher can’t see me sleeping behind you of course. I got lucky today since you’re so tall.”
Dylan chuckled. “Okay, sure. No problem.”
She grinned again before contently resting her head on the desk.
Everstone High School
It was only her second week at the school when it happened.
“Hi there,” a chirpy voice sounded. “My name’s Lisa.”
Rebecca looked up from her desk to find a beautiful, green-eyed girl holding a hand out for her. Her long, wavy hair possessed enough volume to almost completely block out a group of very similarly dressed girls standing behind her.
“Uh, I’m Rebecca,” she replied, shaking the hand uncertainly. “Nice to meet you.”
Lisa cleared her throat rather dramatically before placing her hands on her hips and Rebecca held back a giggle, half-expecting an upbeat battle song to accompany her, which didn’t happen, of course.
“As captain of the cheerleading team,” she began authoritatively, “I would like to extend this once in a lifetime invitation,” she emphasized, “for you to join our squad!” She then winked. “You won’t regret it.”
“We practice every alternate day after school in the gym,” someone said from among the group standing behind her, which Rebecca now realized was probably the rest of the squad.
“Oh and we sit at the best table during lunch, right next to the jocks,” another girl giggled.
“Plus, it’ll be a great addition to our CVs, don’t you agree?”
Rebecca had to admit that it was a little overwhelming to have all these older girls encircle her desk and look at her so expectantly, but their enthusiasm for their club made her chuckle.
“Sounds… very exciting,” she said.
“Does this mean you’re in?” said Lisa, quickly grabbing her hands. “You know, our squad has always placed second in the regional meets for the past four years and it’s not that we lose because our routines fall short, it’s because Padingten High has this really cute girl that always wins them the public vote! But with you as our new secret weapon, there’s no way we’ll lose.”
“Uh… I… if you say so?”
“Great, then it’s decided!” Lisa declared. “See you after school today.”
“Oh – wait,” Rebecca called out hastily as they turned to leave. “I can’t make it today. I have book club after school on Mondays and Fridays.”
Their expressions changed immediately. It was like she had uttered some sort of taboo word.
“What are you going to book club for?” Lisa questioned.
“Well, because I like reading?” Rebecca replied. ‘Obviously,’ she thought.
“We don’t usually associate with those people though. Plus, how can you be part of two clubs at the same time?”
“Well, why not?” Rebecca chuckled. “There’s no rule against it. And everybody has a right to be their own unique person, don’t they?”
There was a brief silence after that and she was now under the observation of not only the cheerleaders, but everyone else in the room as well.
Had she really said something that strange?
“I… I suppose you’re right,” Lisa finally said with a shrug. “See you on Wednesday then.”
As the final bell rang and Rebecca walked out of the classroom, she ran into someone – and quite literally.
“Oh, oh, I’m so sorry, I was running and… and… whoa.”
The bronze-haired guy who’d almost knocked her over had stopped talking rather abruptly and was now simply staring at her.
She felt strange too, shook at some core level, more than what a collision like that should’ve lead to, but she was certainly not going to lose her sanity over it, like this guy.
She was just about to wave a hand in front of his face when a group girls forced themselves between them and started chatting away like there was no tomorrow.
“Oh, hi.” “How are you?” “Oh, thank you.” “You too.”
Those were his only responses and he kept repeating them over and over with a ridiculously laid-back smile. And the girls… they seemed to be over the moon.
So, that’s what he was.
Rebecca shook her head and continued on her way.
Everstone High School
Eddy couldn’t stop thinking about it. That kid’s face…
“Hey, tiger, is that the best you got? Aren’t tigers supposed to be strong?”
“Looks like there’s no tiger here, just a little scaredy-cat.”
It had been hours since he went to bed but sleep was still making sure he wouldn’t catch it. And all he could think about was that kid… the kid he’d seen get beat up in the bathroom.
Eddy hated himself for not having the courage to intervene, for simply… running away. As someone who was frequently subjected to the same treatment, shouldn’t he have… known better?
It wasn’t fair. Poor guy was getting picked on simply for being the school mascot. That was an honor though, wasn’t it?
But he guessed bullies just needed an excuse.
He wanted to help him… but how?
The next day, Eddy found the guy in the bathroom again, this time alone.
He jumped a little as Eddy approached him.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Eddy said hastily. “I come in peace, I swear.”
“I-I don’t know you,” he replied shakily.
“Yeah, I’m new here,” said Eddy, trying his best to smile. “I… I was just wondering if I could, you know, take over your role as the school mascot, if you don’t mind that is.”
The guy laughed – a loud, incredulous laugh. “You… really don’t want the job, trust me. You’re just going to get beat up.”
Eddy hesitated. “I know,” he then said. “I’m familiar with the process.”
“Wait… no way, no way, are you… are you doing this for me?”
“No, no,” said Eddy, rubbing the back of his neck. “I just think it’s a cool job, that’s all.”
It wasn’t long before the guy burst into tears and embraced Eddy. “Thank you, thank you.”
It was heavy, the costume. Eddy was having an exquisitely hard time simply taking it out of the locker and would have certainly fallen backwards if it wasn’t for two slender hands quickly pushing him back.
He turned on his heel and found a very pretty girl with short, blonde hair and kind, grey eyes standing before him.
“You want me to help you carry that?” she said.
Now, Eddy was sure this was the first time they were talking, but weirdly enough, he felt like… he knew this girl somehow. A connection of some sort…
“Hey, are you all right?”
“Oh, yes, yes, thank you. Thank you very much.”
She smiled. “You’re Eddy, right? We have Math together.”
“Really?” he said, grinning. He wasn’t one to pay much attention during class, especially in a class like Math, so he hadn’t realized it, but he thought it was great that there was somebody as nice as her in it.
“Yeah, my name’s Rebecca,” she said, extending a hand. “I know you just transferred here and well… Everstone High isn’t the easiest place to get used to very quickly, so let me know if you need any help, all right? Don’t hesitate.”
“Wow,” he blurted, genuinely surprised but touched by her warmth. “Thank you.”
“Don’t mention it, Eddy.”