It was the first day back at school after the winter break of Liam’s sophomore year. The West District State High School of Downtown, Rosedeer, was lousy with people. Like in those comic books for Uptown teens, who – for some reason – idealized the “hard” Downtown life, it was full of douchebags, stoners, delinquents, hormonal teenagers making out in every corner, girls in love, and some unpopular kids trying to live a normal high school life in spite of the others. If Liam had to put himself in one of those categories, he’d have to say that he was in the last one; but more than living a normal high school life, make friends and over-sentimental similar things, what Liam really wanted was only to study in peace. That was what school was supposed to be about, after all. Of course, he was the only one to think that, and his classmates seemed to find him hilarious.
“Look, guys, lame-Liam is already in class! Don’t tell me you spent your winter break here at school studying,” Peter Dorian said, a blonde idiot with spiky hair, whom Liam had had the luck to have as a classmate since middle school. Liam glimpsed at him and went back to reading his math textbook. Those formulas weren’t going to get memorized by themselves.
“Now that you say that, aren’t those the same clothes he was wearing on the last day before the break?” Peter’s fat friend shouted, a bully whose name Liam never bothered to remember.
“This is our school uniform, dumbass,” Liam found himself saying, annoyed and sort of stunned by his classmate’s stupidity. In his class Liam was pretty much the only one who wore the uniform everyday.
If they can’t even respect such a simple rule, how are they supposed to find a job or go to college after graduation?
Apparently, he was the only one who used to think that, too. Was it so strange to make plans for the future? Was it so strange to want to get out of Downtown? All the other kids seemed not to care.
Aren’t all of them aware that they’ll be stuck here all their lives if they don’t try to stand out now and earn some credits?
Liam hated their superficiality.
“Look your tongue when you talk with me, carrot head!” fatty sentenced, pointing his finger at Liam. Liam rolled his eyes; he had got tired of hearing jokes about his hair and height already when he was in grade school.
Yes, I’m short and my hair is red, so what?
“It’s ‘watch’ your tongue, ignorant,” Liam said, almost unthinkingly. Before he could say or do anything else, Peter took his book from him, threw it at another classmate, and they started passing it around as if they were playing catch.
“Sorry we’re not smart like you, lame-Liam,” Peter said. “Why don’t you take it back, since you’re so intelligent?”
Liam knew that game very well. In middle school he had actually tried a few times to take his things back from Peter, running around the entire school, but soon he had figured out that his books’ last stop would be in the school incinerator, so at some point he had stopped chasing them at all.
At the beginning of middle school, Liam used to buy all his books brand new, liking the idea of being the only one to study on them. There was nothing that could give him the enthusiasm to study more than the smell of a new book. When they all got burned, one after the other, Liam regretted being so naive, and started buying only second and third hand books. Fortunately, in high school, he found what he considered his consolation prize: if he wanted to read a clean book, he could go to the school library.
And to think that in Uptown textbooks are completely digital and students can even upload their homework on the school’s database through their watchpads, getting real time assistance from the professors online on the website.
Liam let a sigh of tiredness out, stood up and left the classroom, heading for the teachers’ office. First period had already started, but the math professor was late again. Good way to start the new trimester.
“Prof. Denton is sick, Carter, you have a free period,” told him his literature teacher, busy dealing with some punks caught fighting in the boys bathroom of the third floor. The professor gave him one of those “I’m sorry but we’ve got our hands full too” smiles, and Liam left, disappointed, to go to the library. The library was the newest part of the school building; completely ignored by everyone else, it felt to Liam like it was his own territory. Most of the books there had never been touched, and he could take whatever he wanted at any moment, and study undisturbed. Liam sometimes wondered why he even bothered to go to class, when he could just spend all day in the library, but then he told himself that it was one of the school’s rules, and he wanted to follow it, as a matter of principle. He went in, going straight for the math section, and took some books from the shelves. He was about to go and sit in his favorite spot, next to the window in a corner seat farthest away from the door, when he realized he wasn’t alone in the room. A fourth-year student had stolen his favorite seat, and was so focused on reading that he didn’t even seem to have noticed Liam’s presence.
Liam knew him, or to be more precise, it was impossible not to know him. The boy was the son of a big fish in Downtown, and was friend with a quite famous group of delinquents who ruled their school until a couple of years before. Everybody feared and respected him. He didn’t attend school regularly, but when he did, everyone was talking about him. Most of the girls in Liam’s class could swear they were in love with him, probably thanks to his serious looks, elegant figure, and eyes of a blue so intense they said they’d steal your soul. Liam would never admit it openly, but he had often turned around to look at him too, being careful not to let anybody notice. Rumors about him being gay had already made his life harder in middle school, so he was determined to hide it properly this time, and focus on building a more solid future for himself. Also, for how fascinating that Dan Price was, he had stolen his favorite seat and was ignoring him, so Liam ended up being bothered by him. As to provoke him and make him understand that the library was his place, Liam sat right in front of him, at the same table, and opened his math books. Dan lifted his head for just a moment when Liam sat down, and their eyes met. Dan’s eyes really were of an incredibly intense blue. Liam had never had the chance to see them so clearly, looking at him only from afar, and he didn’t like the effect they had on him. He felt like he had suddenly forgotten how to breathe. He wondered how he normally got oxygen to his brain, since all the air he had inside seemed to be stuck in his throat like a fur ball. He ended up wishing he had just sat anywhere else, when Dan moved his gaze back to his book. Liam finally breathed out, hoping Dan didn’t hear him, and started reading. More accurately, he tried to read, but he completely failed to concentrate. His eyes continuously slipped past the book to take a glimpse at Dan. He had his uniform on, Liam noticed not without surprise, even though the jacket was open and he wasn’t wearing his tie. Also, the first two buttons of his shirt were unbuttoned. He had four piercings on his right ear, one of which, on the earlobe, was a red drop-shaped earring, that was unmistakably a woman’s jewel. Not that Liam wanted to, but if he ever happened to wear such a feminine accessory, he was sure he would draw the attention of all the bullies in school, and probably even the girls would make fun of him. And yet that earring looked simply elegant on Dan, and matched perfectly his figure. Liam was growing curious to see what he was reading, and his gaze moved discretely on his book. For some reason, Liam was sure he was reading a novel, but it was a science textbook instead. The fact that someone, other than him, actually studied in that school was surprising to say the least. Liam hated to admit it, but he found Dan likable. And the guy wasn’t even trying too hard; Liam was doing all by himself. The time ticked slowly, without Liam being able to memorize a single formula. Before second period started, Liam stood up to go back to class, trying not to make eye contact with the object of his attention. He put his books back on the shelf and, as he was leaving the room, he heard his voice.
“Hey,” Dan said.
Is he talking to me? There’s no way he’s talking to me, he must’ve answered a call.
Liam decided not to go back to make sure it was actually a call, and was about to open the door, when something touched his arm, startling him. Liam turned around in the blink of an eye and saw him right there, standing close to him.
“You dropped this,” Dan said, holding Liam’s keys in his hand. Liam used to keep them always in his pocket, since he feared somebody would steal them from his bag. He realized he must have dropped them while leaving the table.
“Oh…” Liam quickly checked his pockets and lifted his head to look at him, unable to react in any other way. Dan held the keys this time closer to Liam’s face, waiting for him to take them. Liam lifted his hand, and by grabbing the keys, their fingers touched for a moment. Liam felt his face turning hot, and looked into Dan’s eyes, lost in the indistinguishable expression he had on his face. The other boy held his stare for a few seconds, before breaking the silence.
“Are you a freshman?” he asked him. Probably because of his delicate looks, Liam thought Dan’s voice would be a little higher, but it sounded calm and deep instead.
Liam shook his head, trying to get words out of his mouth. “I’m in my second year… Thank you,” he finally managed to say.
“No problem,” Dan replied, going back to his seat.
Liam left the room, with his heart beating ridiculously fast. He needed to calm down, so he went to the toilet and splashed his face with cold water. When he lifted his head and looked at his reflection in the mirror, he noticed his face was still redder than his hair.
Shit. I have a crush on him now.