It's Ryan's first day of school, what could go wrong?
“You do realize that I’m not getting out of the car, right?”
My mom chuckled and ruffled my hair. She thought that I was the funniest person in the world, but I was dead serious. There was no way she would make me go to my new school. Not today, not ever.
“You’re so silly, Ryan. Why wouldn’t you be excited for your first day at Palo Verde? You get to have a fresh start and make new friends!” she smiled brightly at me like this was the greatest day of my life.
“And new enemies.” I muttered to myself.
My mom obviously didn’t hear me. “Grace from my book club told me that her son - Brendon, maybe? - goes here. I’m sure you two will be great friends.”
“As long as he doesn’t beat me up first.”
“What was that?” she inquired.
“Nothing, mom. Never mind.” I crossed my arms over my chest and huffed.
“You know, Spencer goes here too.”
I perked up a little at that before slouching in my seat once more to hide my slight excitement. Spencer was my best friend since we were eleven and for the past four years we’ve been nearly inseparable. Maybe I wouldn’t feel so lonely at school after all.
“Whatever. I’ll see you later.” I replied coldly as I climbed out of the car.
“Just be yourself and you’ll be fine.” my mom called after me before driving away from the school. No turning back now.
I walked into my first class with my head hung low to avoid the stares I knew were coming. They always did. Kids would look at me like I was a freak show or something. I guess that’s what I get for wearing a scarf.
“Ah, Mr. Ross! What a pleasure to have you in our class!” my head shot up to see a man in his mid-twenties standing in front of me. He had a huge, let me repeat, huge afro and a face that reminded me of a teddy bear. His voice was rather high-pitched as well. I could tell right away that he was definitely not a normal teacher.
“Oh, uh... hi.” I felt the eyes of the entire class fall on me as the room hushed. Color rushed to my cheeks and my hands started to sweat. My heart was pounding against my ribcage with so much force that I bet the entire classroom could hear it. If there was one thing I hated the most it was attention.
“I’m Mr. Toro, the history teacher,” he grinned at me and stuck out his hand. I shook it timidly, afraid that he could sense my nervousness. “Class, say hello to Ryan.”
“Hey Ryan.” they called out in unison.
“Why don’t you take a seat next to Brendon?” he suggested and pointed to an empty desk towards the back of the classroom.
I complied without a second thought and Mr. Toro started his lesson. I walked over to the desk as fast as my feet would carry me. Unfortunately, some jerk decided to stick out his foot, and we all know what happens when someone sticks out their foot in front of the new kid. I found myself laying on the ground with my books spilled before me.
Great. Just great.
“Nice move, Saporta.” a few high fives were exchanged while others snickered. I collected my belongings and crawled over to my desk.
“Don’t think about it,” I shouted in my head repeatedly as my eyes began to sting. This had happened to me before, but never on the first day. My plan seemed to be failing, so I tried to focus on the lesson.
I found myself spacing out constantly throughout the class; my thoughts were always completely askew after I got picked on. My thoughts were pretty much always jumbled.
“Ryan?” someone whispered. I snapped out of my daze to see the kid sitting next to me watching me with concern-filled eyes. “You alright?”
“Fine.” I replied quietly and shrugged off his question. My gaze snapped down to my converse in a split second. Maybe if I didn’t look at him he would leave me alone.
“I’m Brendon.” I continued to ignore him, hoping that he would leave me alone. Realizing that I wouldn’t answer, Brendon lowered his voice even more, barely loud enough for me to hear, and stated, “I know you’re not.”
I was taken by surprise. How could he tell? And more importantly, why did he care? I was about to ask him, but the loud ringing of the school bell signalled the end of class. Brendon collected his stuff and rushed out the door before I could even blink. The other class started pouring into the room so I grabbed my stuff and made my way out into the hall to find my next class.
Navigating the halls was just as difficult as I expected. I squeezed past groups of cruel looking jocks and disgusting cliques of girls wearing barely anything. My eyes watered from the repulsive smelling perfume and overly sweaty letterman jackets. I trudged through the swarm of students nonetheless, desperate to get to my next class, which happened to be on the other side of the school. It felt like hours before I burst into the classroom, holding my nose and gagging.
“Well look who it is.”
Uh oh. That voice sounded very familiar, and not in a good way. I looked over hesitantly to find a kid with pitch black hair in his face and a devilish grin adorning his lips. He was the one who congratulated his buddy for tripping me.
“Just leave me alone.” My voice cracked mid-sentence, revealing my fright.
“Aw. Poor Ryan’s scared of Pete,” a scraggly looking boy crooned from behind him.
“No, I’m not! Just leave me alone!” I demanded weakly. I started walking to the back of the class, only to be shoved to the ground by Pete.
“Where do you think you’re going, homo?” he sneered, obviously referring to the scarf around my neck.
“But I’m not-”
“Don’t deny it. We can all tell.” the kid named Saporta cut me off as he swaggered over.
I bit my lip as tears threatened to spill.
“Look, William. Gabe made the little homo cry,” Pete laughed to the scraggly kid.
“Leave him alone.” I looked up at my hero. It was none other than Spencer coming to save the day. He had changed his appearance since I last saw him; his caramel-colored hair that used to stick out at all ends was combed to the side neatly, giving a clear view of his pale blue eyes. Those eyes held a brightly burning flame of fury that was aimed directly at the kid standing over me.
“Why should we? He deserves it.” Saporta, now known as Gabe, stepped forward so that his nose was inches away from Spencer’s. Pete and William flanked him with matching looks of disgust on their faces.
“Go to hell, Gabe. He hasn’t done anything to you,” Spencer spat back, infuriated by the jock’s comments.
Seeing this as an opportunity for escape, I scrambled to my feet and found a desk to sit in and take cover. Gabe and Spencer continued arguing, their voices getting louder every second. I watched Spencer in awe from behind my math textbook. I didn’t understand. Usually when I was picked on, other kids would either crowd around to watch or pretend that nothing was going on. This was the first time that anyone had ever stood up for me. Why did he want to defend me? I could manage on my own. It’s not like Gabe and his goons could do anything beside throw a few good punches. I would be able to recover... eventually.
The teacher finally walked into the classroom and put an end to the bickering. Gabe shuffled back to his seat with his head hung low in temporary defeat. Spencer, on the other hand, walked towards me with a victorious grin. He settled into the seat beside me, and when Gabe turned around to glare at us, Spencer flipped him off.
“Thanks, Spence. I owe you one,” I whispered as the teacher droned on about triangles.
“Don’t mention it. Gabe’s always messing with people for stupid reasons.” he waved it off while scribbling down the last thing the teacher said.
“He’s a jerk.”
“Tell me about it,” he replied before going back to his work.
I tried to follow suit, but my mind kept drifting away. Pete, Gabe, and William were wrong. I wasn’t gay. Or was I? No. I was completely straight. But maybe... No. It was totally wrong. I just liked wearing a scarf, what was so wrong with that? They were the ones who were wrong. I wasn’t gay. I couldn’t be. I just couldn’t.
The rest of the day was rather uneventful. I managed to avoid any issues until my ninth and final period, which was English. As soon as I walked into the classroom, the teacher greeted me kindly. She introduced herself as Mrs. Williams, but I was too focused on her bright orange hair to hear her. She was the only teacher who actually acknowledged me besides Mr. Toro. But unlike him, Mrs. Williams didn’t make me stand in front of the class as they said a unanimous, “Hey, Ryan.” She simply pointed me to an empty desk in the second row. I took a seat quickly, eager for class to start. English was my favorite subject; the ability to have creative freedom was just so exhilarating, like tumbling down a hill then laying in the grass and breathing in the fresh air. Spencer and I used to do that all the time, that is, until homework started piling up and trapped us in the confinement of the indoors. I secretly wished that we could just forget the homework and-
A sharp poke in the back accompanied with an urgent whisper of, “Earth to Ryan!” brought me back to reality. I whipped around to see that Brendon-kid trying to get my attention.
“What?” I hissed back in annoyance.
“I-I’m sorry. You were spacing out.” I was going to reply with some snippy comment, but he looked genuinely sorry. The way his big chocolate-brown eyes searched my face from behind his dark, silky hair-
“Stop it!” a small voice in my head snapped me back into reality. Was I really just describing Brendon like some lovesick girl? “Yes you were. He’s a guy and so are you. This is so wrong!”
I turned back around and focused on Mrs. Williams writing on the whiteboard before Brendon could say anything else. He didn’t speak to me for the rest of class, and I didn’t talk to him either. Meanwhile, an even tinier voice whispered over and over from the back of my mind:
“You know you liked it.”