|September 8, 1998
||[Sep. 18th, 2006|11:28 pm]
|||||Under Pressure, by Queen||]|
This morning, David had assured his mother he wasn’t nervous in the least. She had looked at him skeptically, but simply pressed his bagged lunch into his hand and said nothing. Now, he sort of wished she hadn’t.
It’s for the best, he chanted to himself as he pressed his notebooks closer to his chest. He had finally convinced his parents to let him transfer out of Metropolitan Schechter High School and into a public school, but now he couldn’t quite remember why he’d worked so hard. He couldn’t decide which felt worse; the way the kids at school used to tease him, or how horribly out of place he was feeling right now.
At the end of the hallway, he perceived a congregation of the most menacing sort – large boys in letter jackets. David squared his shoulders, hoping he didn’t exude new-student fear too obviously. One of the boys – broad shouldered with wiry red hair – looked up and, seeming to spot David, nudged his friends. Their heads sprang up one at a time, and like any good prey, David froze.
To David’s relief, the source of the disturbance soon revealed itself as something other than him. A boy with messy, dark hair and what looked like a red bandanna tied around his wrist like a cuff came barreling past, jostling David so hard he nearly lost his books.
“Sorry!” the boy shot back, his outstretched hand heavy and warm where it brushed against David’s shoulder in apology. David watched, fascinated, as the boy dashed up to the pack of letter jackets and began to chatter excitedly.
“Hey guys, how were your summers? Go to the beach a lot? Bang each other in the pool?” One of the boys lunged for him, but the dark-haired boy danced out of reach. “Nice chatting with you, see you soon!”
The audacious boy flipped one of their baseball caps onto the floor, then took off running, his laughter echoing down the hall. David moved away while the pack was still busy shaking fists and glaring after the gangly boy. He watched the room numbers until he could duck into his first period classroom.
By lunchtime, David was feeling considerably better. His classes seemed bearable, and a few people had even been friendly. He didn’t relish the idea of eating alone, but figured that would change in a few days.
He slid carefully into a seat at an empty table, letting the contents of his brown bag spill out in front of him. He nearly jumped out of his skin when a warm body slid into the chair beside him.
“Hey,” the boy said, smiling. It was the same boy from that morning, his hair falling gracefully into hazel eyes.
“Don’t look now,” the boy’s grin was infectious, “but they were headed your way.”
Unwittingly rebelling, David’s head shot up, gazing around the cafeteria with large eyes. Sure enough, the redheaded boy with his letter jacket gang were dawdling a few tables away. Next to David, the boy with the bandanna was chuckling softly.
“You couldn’t be more obvious if there was a neon sign over your head, flashing ‘new kid’.”
David reached for his juice, blushing. “Are they still coming over here?”
“You kidding? I’m here, they wouldn’t dare.”
One eyebrow raised, David looked the boy beside him up and down. Nothing about him looked particularly intimidating, in fact, he seemed a little skinny.
“See the red haired, freckle-faced one?”
David nodded without taking his eyes from the boy.
“Justin. I took care of him good last year. He wouldn’t lay off my friend Tony, so I let him have it, embarrassed him in front of his buddies, and gave him a black eye that lasted for a week. He ain’t coming over here.”
“Isn’t,” David corrected without thinking. There was a beat of silence before his eyes went wide. “I’m sorry, I mean, I didn’t mean to –”
But the boy was laughing, head thrown back, one hand clutching the edge of the tabletop. “Oh,” he said, as he recovered his breath, “you should see your face!”
David smiled weakly, taking as big a bite of his apple as possible, willing his blood to cool the fuck down, and flow somewhere other than his face, please.
“I’m Jack, by the way. Jack Kelly.”
With a start, David realized the boy – Jack – had composed himself enough to offer David a hand. David wiped his palm on his jeans self-consciously, and returned the gesture.
“Hi David. Don’t worry about those guys anymore, trust me.” Jack accompanied his grin with a wink, and David’s face heated just as quickly as it had cooled the moment before.
David furrowed his eyebrows in thought. Something very strange had happened. Somehow, despite what David felt were overwhelming odds, he had just made his first friend since the second grade.
This realization was accompanied by the strangest shift in his senses. The hallways that had seemed so impossibly large this morning were smaller, more familiar. The faces were less scowling, more open. The walk from the cafeteria to his next class was shorter than he could have hoped.
David was, as was quickly becoming his trademark, the first student in the classroom. He chose a desk near the back, hoping to blend in a little. Taking out a fresh notebook and his pen, he labeled the first page neatly. English 11 September 8th.
About two minutes before class was scheduled to begin, students began to file into the classroom. David watched as the more studious ones took desks closer to the front, pens ready, and the empty-handed students took seats near the back. All at once, to David’s horror, Justin and a few of his friends pressed their way through the doorframe. Hastily, David averted his eyes.
“Hey,” an unfamiliar voice made David look up, frightened to find Justin towering over him. “What’s your name?”
“Um… David?” he grimaced as the end of what should have been a statement curled up like a question.
“David. Yep, you guys were right.” Justin looked smug amongst his cohorts. “He does look like a fag.”
David felt color rising in his cheeks, and he leaned back, unconsciously putting as much distance between himself and the boys as possible. He opened his mouth to defend himself, but words got stuck, and all that came out were a few half-formed, half-choked syllables.
One of them picked up his book bag, forcing a sentence from David’s throat. “Give that back.”
“Why, what’s in it?” Justin sneered in a most unbecoming way. “Love letters from your boyfriend?”
“Justin!” A voice suddenly echoed from across the room. “On the prowl for a new boyfriend?” His usual air of confidence tinged with an edge of anger, Jack sauntered over, dropping gracelessly into the desk beside David’s.
Justin scowled. Despite himself, David found himself smiling. Somewhere, sounding distant, the bell rang.
“Oh!” Jack reached out, snatching David’s bag from Justin’s hands. “Nice bag. Is it new? Oh, it’s David’s? Well, I should give it back then.” Leaning, Jack settled the sack on the floor near David’s feet.
“Look, Sullivan –”
“Settle in, class!” The teacher’s voice rang over the din of the classroom. Darkly, Justin turned and slid into an empty seat, his goons following silently. At the front of the room, the teacher cleared his throat, and began to speak.
Thanks, David wrote on the first line of his notebook, handwriting neat and compact. Silently, he set it on Jack’s desk.
No problem, Jack replied. His handwriting was much wider than David’s, and much harder to read.
Jack seemed content to leave the conversation at that, but David couldn’t stop fidgeting. He tapped his toe impatiently, drummed his fingers on the desk. When the teacher took role call and called out “Francis Sullivan”, he could take it no longer.
I thought your name was Kelly? David wrote.
You think I’m lying? It will be, once I’m eighteen. David nodded. That made sense, he guessed. He didn’t know why someone would want to change their name, but he realized he didn’t know this Jack (Francis? No, David thought, looking him up and down out of the corner of his eye, Jack.) very well to begin with.
The thought made him nervous – this boy he had just met, this person he was now relying on for protection, this friend – David didn’t really know him at all. But despite his cynical nature, David’s instincts told him Jack was trustworthy. He glanced at him out of the corner of his eye, watching Jack slouch back in his seat, tossing his hair out of his eyes.
Taking a deep breath, he turned his attention towards the teacher. Only time would tell.