Thirteen year old Erin Ulmer groaned as the alarm clock on her nightstand began ringing loudly, letting out a sigh as she turned it off and dragged herself out of bed to get ready for her first day at her new school. Her family had moved to McKinley, Pennsylvania last month for her mother's new job. She'd been offered a promotion and uprooted them an hour away from the town in which Erin had grown up. Not that she minded much, her home town was boring and she didn't have any friends. But honestly, she wasn't expecting McKinley to be any different.
She pulled on a t shirt and jeans, the most plain, uncontroversial thing she could think to wear for her first day of eighth grade, not that anything she owned could be considered controversial in any way shape or form. She didn't even know if she liked the clothes she owned, if they captured who she was. Either way, she didn't want to make a big entrance at her new school. Erin was shy, something for which she'd been frequently bullied at her old school, and something she was at least hoping to get through her first day at the new one without.
After brushing her teeth and grabbing a light blue hoodie, she made her way downstairs with her school bag. Her parents, Richard and Karen Ulmer, were sat around the dining table eating toast when she wandered in.
"Are you ready for your first day honey?" asked her dad from behind a newspaper. He wasn't due to start at his new job until next week, which meant that for her first week of school Erin could at least avoid the hell of the school bus.
"I guess," she said unconvincingly, sitting down and grabbing a slice of toast from the rack in the middle of the table. She screwed up her nose at the thought of eating, first day anxiety filling her stomach.
"Oh honey," her mother began, in a patronising tone that would have made Erin roll her eyes if her mother's weren't aimed right at her. "Are you really wearing that?"
"What's wrong with it?" she replied meekly, almost expecting to be scolded for questioning her mother's statement at all.
"It's so." Her mother sighed. "Plain. It's your first day, your only chance to make a first impression. If you wear that nobody will even notice you're there."
Good, Erin thought. She'd stopped trying to tell her mother things after the way she'd reacted to her being bullied. Her mother had told her that she was being too sensitive and needed to brush it off, which Erin thought was rich, considering her mom flew off the handle whenever something slipped just slightly outside of her control. She'd been ten when she realized her mother wasn't going to be who she needed, so she stopped trying to rely on her.
"It's a t shirt and jeans," she argued. "It's normal. Aren't you always telling me to make more of an effort with other kids?" her mother pursed her lips, clearly unimpressed with Erin's 'attitude'.
"Yes," she said, almost begrudgingly. "But you might look so normal that you'll just blend into the background." Erin resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Either you want me to fit in, or stand out. Pick one, she thought.
"Right, I have to go," said her mother, grabbing her briefcase from the floor and springing out of her chair. "I'll see you later." She headed for the hallway. "Have a good first day honey, make friends."
"I'll try," Erin called back as her mother left the house, relaxing slightly once she'd left. Between her two parents, Erin definitely preferred her dad. Her mother was a successful manager, who was always either too busy, or making constant small criticisms, of both Erin and her dad. Erin knew that her mother wanted her to be more like she was, but she just wasn't, and knew that trying to be was useless. It was just a shame that her mother couldn't see that. Her dad was much more down to earth but went away a lot for work, which as she got older Erin was beginning to think was deliberate, and she didn't blame him. They finished their breakfast in comfortable silence before he drove her to school, and actually asked her about her nerves before she went in.
Erin tried as best she could to swallow the anxiety that ate through her as she walked through the doors to her new middle school. They dissipated a little as she collected her class schedule and locker number from the office. She managed to locate the locker fine, unlocking it and shovelling her stuff in as quickly as possible to try and avoid the humiliation of being late. She was almost done, when a voice behind her caught her attention, making her turn around.
"Excuse me," the boy said. "You're standing in front of my locker." Erin turned around. The boy was a little shorter than most boys their age, with pale skin and black hair, wearing a loose black t shirt over a red long sleeved shirt. He pointed to the locker beneath hers. With an awkward smile she stepped out of his way.
"Sorry," she replied, clinging to the notebooks she had yet to place in her locker.
"You're new here, aren't you?" he asked as he unlocked his locker, not even turning around to look at Erin.
"Yeah," she admitted quietly. "How'd you know?"
"This town has one middle school," the boy replied, aggressively shoving a notebook into his locker that was reluctant to stay there. "And the last time we had a new kid was the sixth grade."
"Oh," said Erin, sounding disappointed. "So much for my plan of not getting noticed."
"And talking to me definitely won't improve your odds of that happening," the boy said, a humorous, sarcastic tone to his voice.
"In case you hadn't noticed," the boy began as he got up off the floor. "I don't exactly blend in with the crowds here." He comically ran one arm down his side, motioning for Erin to examine his clothes in closer detail. She realized that his dark attire was far from coincidental, and even noticed chipped black polish on his nails. Erin smiled slightly. She'd never properly met a goth kid before. There were a few kids at her old middle school who wore a lot of black, but she'd never interacted with them. She figured though, that if there was anyone who wouldn't treat her weirdly for not being like the other kids, it would be someone who made a great deal of effort to separate themselves.
"I think that might be a sacrifice I'll have to make, since we're locker neighbours," she replied, which made the boy smile slightly. "I'm Erin, by the way. Erin Ulmer."
"Ian McKinley," he replied.
"Unfortunate coincidence?" asked Erin, remarking on the fact he shared a last name with the town.
"Not really," said Ian, grimacing slightly. "But that's a story for another time."
"Now I'm interested," Erin replied, shoving the last of her books in her locker before locking it.
"Trust me, it's not the story you're imagining," responded Ian, pulling his class schedule out of his pocket and examining it. "I'm in here for homeroom, what about you?"
"Me too," Erin replied, showing him her class schedule.
"We're in the same class first period too," Ian observed, humming as his eyes scanned the schedules. "Interesting. We have quite a few classes together."
"At least I'll have someone to show me where I'm going," Erin said, checking her watch. "Speaking of which, we need to head off or we're going to be late."
"As long as you're ready for all the looks you're going to get walking in with me," said Ian, sounding like he was kidding. "Which some may argue, is worse than turning up late."
"I'm used to staring," Erin replied, continuing the playful tone. "And besides, I'll finally have someone to complain about stupid classmates with, who actually gets why they're stupid." With that, they walked off to start their first day of eighth grade.