It was the second day of school, but technically my first since I'd spent the entirety of the day before sitting in the library with the rest of the kids who didn't have class schedules yet.
The bell had just rang signaling the end of third period. One more class to go, and I would be free like Willy.
Passing periods between classes were eight minutes long. More than enough time, you would think, to make it to the next class on time. But the hallways were a turbulent sea of teenagers; loud, sweaty bodies moving together in an angry slow dance. Everyone pushing their way through the wall-to-wall chaos, breathing down my neck.
The school walls were busting at the seams, having never been intended to hold this many students at once. Trying to play nice in a new school, I was hesitant to shove my way through. And all this close bodily contact with a bunch of strangers felt vaguely violating. Getting to the other side of just one hallway was taking minutes. Not an issue when my first three classes had all been on the same end of the same building.
I had a death grip on my class schedule, warped from the sweat on my hands. For the hundredth time, I read my schedule. 4th Block. American History. Mr. Allie. Room 307*.
I didn't know where room 307 was, just that I needed to be on the other end of the other building. After a mad dash to the bathroom, I was making slow progress, the sea of students in my way. I was never going to make it across to the other end of the second building in enough time to locate my class before the last bell rang. Embarrassment was already burning my ears.
Once in the second building, the crowd dispersed enough that I could pass people and pick up speed. Weighed down with math and biology books so heavy it should've been a health violation, I was power-walking, playing beat-the-bell. Sure I had a locker, just no time to find it. The crowd in the hallway was getting smaller. I raced passed the cafeteria. After making it to the hallway I thought my class was on, I hurried down one end reading room numbers looking for 307. After checking my class schedule again, I raced back down to the other end of the hall with no luck.
I was lost.
The warning bell rang.
The remaining stragglers scattered like cockroaches in the fluorescent lighting. Apparently, I was the only roach that didn't know where it was going. After another minute of walking around, scared and embarrassed, some kind soul took pity on me and directed me to the exit door outside to one of two trailers.
As I ran for the trailer, the final bell rang.
I cringed. I was late.
As quietly as I could, I stepped up the ramp leading to the door. I threw up a prayer of gratitude that this day was almost over. It took the rest of my nerve to take hold of that door handle. Apparently it was a little more nerve than called for, as I swung the door open too hard. The thing was weightless and surprised me by nearly slipping out of my hand. So much for my inconspicuous entrance.
Over the course of the next few months, I would come to like Mr. Allie. An intense teacher with a passion that ran deeper than a paycheck. But in that moment as I stepped into his class 30 seconds late, interrupting whatever it was he was saying, he looked at me like he would've gladly eaten my dog for dinner.
My daily ration of luck had run dry, as the door was at the front of the class and every eye was watching as I turned crimson and took one of the only available seats at the front of the room. I tried to stifle my body's urge to draw in more oxygen to replace what it had burned through to get here.
The classroom was set up in groups, with chairs around tables. I was seated sideways with the front of the class to my right. As I slipped my bag to the floor, I got the feeling I was being stared at. My face and ears flushed again. My embarrassment was the new never ending story.
I tried to tell myself I was being too self-conscious. Of course everyone was looking in my direction, I was sitting right in front of Mr. Allie's podium. I shifted slightly to glance to my left, trying to be sly about scanning the back of the room.
When mine found the brown eyes staring at me, the axis of my world shifted.
The culprit didn't look away when I caught him, but stared me straight in the eye. Reflexively I looked away, but couldn't stop myself from doing a double take. As we made eye contact a second time, the corners of his mouth twitched.
He looked so out of place in that classroom. There was no way he was a high school boy, he looked like a man in his twenties. How many years of high school had this guy failed?
His full grown beard was shaved into a thick chin strap with a mustache and goatee, making the facial hair on every other boy's face look like they ought to just go home grab their daddies' razors and throw in the towel. His thick, wavy hair was so dark it was almost black. The sleeves of the polo he was wearing were strained around suntanned muscles. And peeking out of his undershirt, right beneath his throat, was chest hair. A lot of it.
He was way too good looking. Definitely not a boy, man, or whatever he was, that needed to be on my radar. And here I was staring at him, and him staring right back. There was no way he was seriously into me. This had to be a game.
Then I remember I was the new girl. Of course.
Frowning, I gave him the hint to take a visual hike. Instead of breaking eye contact with me, he broke into a devilish grin, like he knew something I didn't.
I looked away. His smile was doing things to my stomach.
And for the entire hour and a half class, I could feel him staring at me. A few more times, I chanced glances making eye contact with him every. Single. Time. Not once did he look away, his mouth would just twitch holding back a grin. I was growing more self-conscious each time our eyes met.
Why do I keep looking at him?!
By the time that last bell of the day rang, I was about to explode. And without looking at him again, I was out of there as fast as my wobbling legs would carry me.