First days of school are always the same. There's always the same tight feeling of your insides twisting in fear and anticipation. Always the dark circles under your eyes from tossing around in bed the previous night. Not to mention, the slightly nauseous reluctant feeling mixed with a contradictory curiosity as to what this new alien planet would hold for you.
It was no different for me.
On Monday morning, two days after we had moved into our new home, as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, I couldn't help but groan in frustration. My usually bright green eyes were slightly bloodshot and there were faint dark circles under them, giving me the look of a human halfway through the process of morphing into a panda.
I had actually been planning on not looking like a certain species of endangered bear on my first day of school.
Sighing dejectedly, I quickly got my toiletries done, making a mental note to get Andy to get a plumber to fix the shower which gave out only a lukewarm trickle of water. Not so good for early in the morning in a generally cool place.
After wolfing down a quick breakfast of a single chocolate cupcake from the fridge, I quickly said bye to my ecstatic mom and hurried outside to the car. Brad was snoozing at the back and David was reading something beside him. Jake was sitting at the driver's seat, drumming his fingers impatiently on the steering wheel.
"What took you so long?" he asked me, annoyed, as I got into the seat beside him.
I raised my eyebrows at him and pursed my lips.
"Never mind. Don't answer that," he said hastily and turned away, muttering something under his breath, out of which I caught the word 'girls'.
Rolling my eyes, I buckled the seatbelt and arranged my bag on my lap into a more comfortable position. Then, as the car started moving along the driveway, I rolled down the window and took a deep breath of the rush of clean, cool air.
Asking Jake to slow down a bit (which he grudgingly did), I stared out the window. During the past couple of days, I hadn't had the chance to get out much because of all the unpacking left to do in the house. Now that I was out, I got my first real good look at the town, trying to take in all the details.
The sun was glowing above the treetops, tiny streams of light finding their way through the holes between the emerald green leaves. The grass beside the road was cut short but I could see it growing longer and longer in the distance. Wild flowers growing amid the spread of thick oak roots danced in the light morning breeze.
We drove along the smooth, dark grey road, the silence punctured only by Brad's loud snores. Even though the environment outside was as peaceful as it could get, I could feel the slight tension in the air. My stepbrothers and I were all anxious to find out what the kids here were like.
Questions drifted through my head. What were the children in my grade like? Were they prejudiced against city people? Would my snug little white tee and denim jacket with my black capris be considered overdressed according to small town standards? Did small town people even wear black?
As we pulled up in the parking lot of the red brick building that was our new school, I dismissed those thoughts. Who cared, anyway? I hadn't exactly been Miss Popular at my old school. My only friend in all my sixteen years in New York City was Gina. My only and best friend. So it didn't really matter whether people here liked me or not. I was used to being invisible.
Walking into the building, trying to ignore the stares of the other kids, I could almost forget all my fears. But my one object of curiosity, a matter which had been tickling me all through the weekend, could not fade out as easily.
I couldn't forget the enigmatic Spanish 'furners' who I was going to see for the first time today.
First period Math was turning out to be as boring as I had expected it to be. Seriously, who would ever want to do loci at nine in the morning? If I ever had the responsibility of making timetables for high school students, I would make sure not to put any subject starting with the letter M first thing in the morning.
Just as I was about to fall asleep, something poked my shoulder. Looking up, I saw a girl with the whitest of white skins, matching white, stick straight hair, and peculiar but pretty violet eyes looking at me. She discreetly passed a piece of folded paper onto my desk, and then turned her attention back to the balding teacher in front.
One eyebrow slightly raised, I took the paper and unfolded it.
My name is CeeCee Webb. Want to sit with me at lunch?
Now both of my eyebrows were raised. Pulling my pen out of the spiral ring of my notebook, I turned the paper over and wrote:
Hey, CeeCee. I'm Suze. But you already know that from the introduction old Baldy there made me give. Sit with you at lunch...what's the catch?
She read my message quickly and, tearing off another piece of paper from the notebook, scribbled a few lines and then threw it over to me. Opening it, I read:
Haha. Baldy. I'm the editor of the school newspaper. I think an article on NYC would create some interest in it.
Ha. I knew it. I mean, why would anyone ask me to sit by them at lunch just like that? Still, she had been honest. Not being a pretend friend and then ditching me once she'd gotten her information.
Glancing over at her, I saw her looking at me sideways, her slender, white eyebrows raised in a very business-like manner. Turning back to the paper, I wrote below her message:
A huge smile broke across her face once she opened up the paper. She looked at me, this time her smile devoid of any business-like edge in it. I offered her a half-smile and then brought my head down to the desk, resting it upon my arm, and drifted off into a light doze.
It was lunchtime.
I was waiting for CeeCee outside that same classroom in which we had had first period Math, again trying to ignore the way the other kids would stare at me as the passed by on their way to the cafeteria.
Seriously, what was with these people? At first, I had thought that my mascara was smudged or my hair was sticking out of the high ponytail I had tossed it into. But one visit to the toilet had told me that nothing was wrong with my appearance. Even the dark circles weren't all that visible because of the foundation I had stolen from my mom's vanity this morning.
And, just in case, I had also turned around and checked my back. Nope. No 'I AM A BITCH' sign stuck there.
Yes, I had noticed that my clothes and bag looked slightly more expensive than my classmates', and if that was the reason for the staring then I would definitely have to remember to wear my non-designer stuff from the next day onwards.
Anything for the staring to stop.
Sighing impatiently, I glanced at my watch again. Where the hell was she? I was getting hungry too. One cupcake was not enough to last me until lunchtime.
Finally, she came bouncing – yes, bouncing – into view, a boy trailing behind her.
"Hey, Suze! Sorry to keep you waiting, our Chem teacher wouldn't let us out," she said breathlessly. "This-" she continued, pointing at the guy beside her, "—is Adam. Adam, Suze."
The boy offered me a wide friendly smile, mischief twinkling in his hazel eyes. "It's great to meet you at last, Suze. Been hearing about you all morning," he said. His voice was not masculine or deep but it had a youthful playfulness in it which suited him and made me like him at once.
At hearing his statement, I raised my eyebrows. "Me?" I asked, trying to hide my incredulity.
His mouth widened into an impish grin, "Yeah, you. And your brothers."
My brow furrowed in confusion. Glancing from CeeCee to Adam, I asked, "Um…why us?"
"Well, its not often we have people from outside the town join us. And New York City is just…fascinating," Adam answered matter-of-factly.
"And," he continued, glancing slyly at CeeCee, "looks like you've already met your fan number one."
CeeCee punching his arm playfully. "Shut up. I just think it'll be good publicity for the newspaper. Anyway, let's get going before lunchtime is over," she said, and started making her way down the hall.
Adam grinned at me and started after her, making a 'c'mon' gesture with his hand. I followed, smiling at the two of them.
Maybe, I thought, I wouldn't be all that friendless after all.
Entering the cafeteria, we quickly chose a table in the corner and took out our food and started eating. Holding her cheese sandwich in one hand and her pen with the other, CeeCee asked, "So, Suze, tell us about New York. What are the differences between there and here? Similarities?"
After ten minutes of questioning, CeeCee was finally satisfied. Contently leaning back on her chair and munching on her sandwich, she asked, "So, Suze, how do you like it here?"
I shrugged, picking a mayonnaise-sodden lettuce out of my sandwich. "It's…cleaner and a lot more peaceful in here. But I don't know how I'm going to stand driving four hours before I can get to the nearest store selling Maybelline lip gloss," I answered.
CeeCee giggled and Adam rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
"I know. I need to get special makeup – being albino and all – and it's really frustrating, having to drive so far just to buy one pot of lip gloss. That's why, lately I've just given up applying any makeup," CeeCee said.
"Well, you still look as good to me," said Adam.
CeeCee blinked and turned slightly pink. I raised my eyebrows, but kept quiet. Something was going on in there. Although, Adam's voice had sounded mostly friendly, I'd heard a bit of something else in it.
I suppressed my smile.
Taking advantage of the silence that followed Adam's comment, I looked around huge cube of a cafeteria, seeing if any of my stepbrothers shared lunch with me.
I found both Jake and Brad sitting at different tables. I was not surprised to find a very 'booty-ful' blonde girl almost hanging off Brad. She was so obviously flirting with him that I couldn't help but snort at her antics.
Pointing her out to Adam, I asked who she was. He laughed.
"I see your brother's—"
"Stepbrother," I corrected.
"-already got his hands on the hottest girl in school. That's Kelly Prescott," Adam told me.
"Resident slut," added CeeCee.
I shook my head to myself. Trust Brad to get his hands on a couple of brainless dolls, first thing in a new place. That guy was beyond shallow.
Looking at Jake, I was a lot more satisfied. He was sitting with a group of kids who looked popular and, at the same time, sensible. A good-looking, smart, and a little over-confident group. Just like Jake.
Feeling a lot more at ease, now that I had a few friends, I sighed contentedly. My eyes continued drifting over the throngs of children, trying to discern the different cliques.
Scanning over the various heads, my eyes finally landed on two dark ones. For reasons unknown even to me, my breath caught. There were two of them. A boy and a girl. Both of them had glossy black curls and beautifully olive skin.
Suddenly breathless, I interrupted the conversation CeeCee and Adam were having. "Guys, who're they? Those two in the corner," I said, pointing subtly at the pair.
Turning to see who I meant, CeeCee's cheerful face immediately hardened.
"Oh, those are just the two eldest de Silvas," she said, waving her hand in a 'whatever' gesture. "Jesse and Marta de Silva. You'll be seeing Jesse around. He's in your English class after lunch."
"Oh," I said, trying to keep my tone light. The 'furners' at last. The mystery surrounding them was almost delicious. I knew I wouldn't be satisfied until I knew why exactly they were so hated.
"How many are there?" I asked back.
"Four…or was it five, Adam?" CeeCee said, distractedly, rifling through the notebook on which she had noted my answers about NYC.
"Hmm? Oh, there are five of them, I think. Jesse's the eldest and the rest are girls," replied Adam.
Obviously, they were already over the subject. I frowned, confused.
I was about to ask them why everyone seemed to hate them so much when the two de Silva siblings got up and made their way to the door, the girl in front. Unconsciously, my eyes followed them, or to be more precise, the boy.
He was handsome, no doubt. Not in the pretty boy kind of way or even the geeky cute kind of way that Adam was. His tall, muscular form emanated masculinity and intelligence. He wasn't even muscular in the beefy way that Brad was. As one of his hands came up to adjust the strap of his backpack on his shoulder, I noticed how large and tendony it was.
When they reached the door, the sister, Marta, pulled open the door and went out. Her brother, Jesse, had reached out over her head and grabbed hold of the side of the door, holding it open.
Then, with one foot already outside the room, maybe sensing someone's eyes on him, he suddenly turned and locked eyes with me. No warning, nothing. He just turned to look at me, his dark gaze suddenly making my ears burn.
And a second later, without any change in his indifferent expression, he turned away and disappeared just as suddenly as he had turned to look at me.
A/N: I hope it's better than the previous chapter which, I just realized, was one sucky piece of writing. :)