Everyday I look at him in awe. I admire his perfect dark blonde hair, his gorgeous amber-colored eyes. I gaze at his ever-present smile and at the sparkly white teeth behind. I watch with pleasure his daily actions, admire his little habits. I'm astonished at the way he takes such care in everything that he does. How he always manages to make me smile, even after I've had the worst day possible.
Yes, I'm quite smitten with him.
His name is Jonas Theodore Bartlett. He's seventeen years old, and attends Gordon Bailey All-Boys Preparatory School in Salisbury, Connecticut. My one problem? I go there too, and my name is Andrew Josh Stevens.
Yeah, I'm a boy.
It was the first day of the Fall Term, and I sat rigidly in the front seat of Grandma Nandine's black Cadillac as Grandma steered the car along the main drive leading to Gordon Bailey All-Boys Preparatory School. As the Gordon Bailey School came closer into view I stared, wide-eyed, at the cheerful terra cotta colored school building standing before me. The brick building blended in so well with the surrounding brightly colored maple and sycamore leaves, that it seemed as if the school was crouched down and hiding among the trees. The school lawn was dotted with small circular beds of purple hollyhocks and blushing peony bushes, the last remnants of summer flowers, and the purple and light pinks complemented the bright scarlet, gold, and orange colors of the just-turned leaves.
As the building grew larger and larger with our approach, the thought came unbidden to my mind. This is it. This is your new school, Andrew. You really aren't in Chicago with Mom anymore. You really are living with Grandma in Salisbury, Connecticut. This is it.
Grandma Nandine turned off the main drive and into the visitors' parking lot. She stopped the Cadillac and shifted the gear into park before turning to face me with a softened look of concern shining through her dark brown eyes. "Andy, dear, now you're sure that you don't want me to go in with you?" she asked, smoothing a stray lock of pepper-gray hair from her face.
"No, Grandma. I'm alright."
"Are you sure?" She asked again. "Because I really don't mind."
I smiled reassuringly. "Yes, Grandma Nandine, I'm sure," I said fiddling with the car door handle, as I tried to cover my embarrassment. After years and years of my mother's neglect, I found my grandma's concern a little awkward—a welcome awkwardness—but awkward nonetheless. Still, it felt good to know that Grandma Nandine cared about me. I hadn't been really cared after since my older sister Katrina had left for college when I was eleven.
"Well then, I'll meet you here after school," Grandma Nandine promised. She smiled warmly. "You have a good day at school Andrew. Good luck."
I smiled back before opening the Cadillac's door and exiting. I waved jauntily as Grandma Nandine pulled the Cadillac out of the parking lot; unsure if my effusive salutation was meant more to reassure Grandma Nandine or myself.
As I watched the black car disappear down the private drive, I felt a distinct quelling in my heart. I was truly alone now. Everything seemed so strange, so surreal almost, and yet with a definite air of finality.
Chicago was a very long way off; I was here now, and for that I was grateful. I had too many bad memories of my hometown. Memories of bully beatings at school and a mother who didn't love her son.
And yet staring at the terra cotta colored school building before me I couldn't help but wonder if I could fit in here.
It was a prep school for rich kids, afterall, and I was anything but. Grandma was affluent, but I'd lived my entire life, crammed into Mom's dirty little apartment in the inner-city Chicago. Gordon Bailey was way out of my league. Could I really fit in here?
As if to reassure myself, I glanced down at my school uniform: at the polished black wingtip shoes, the freshly ironed khaki trousers, the crisp white button-down shirt, the silk navy colored tie, and the sharp navy colored suit jacket. The school's golden crest was emblazoned on the navy jacket, branding me as a pupil of Gordon Bailey. I belonged here, the crest assured me. I belonged here.
And things would be different here in Salisbury.
They would be better. They had to be.
A harsh clanking signaled me back to the present, the fifteen minute warning-bell had just sounded, heralding that the school day was going to begin soon. I should start heading for class.
With a sigh, I heaved my new brown leather backpack over my shoulders and headed off in the direction of the school building. As I neared the red-bricked building I passed by throngs of boys, each garbed in clothing identical to my own. Even though we were all dressed the same, I still felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb. All the other students were clustered in groups, chatting animatedly amongst themselves—laughing, joking, and relating summer vacation stories. I walked by myself, alone and disoriented. I knew no one.
Not that being alone was a new thing for me. I could count on no fingers the number of friends I'd had at my public high school in Chicago.
Although it was only early September, the air was already starting to get that autumn chill. As a sly wind breathed wispily beneath my collared shirt, I opened the main doors to the school and stepped inside.
The inside of the Gordon Bailey School was even more cheerful than the warm terra cotta color of the brick frame outside. The inside of the building was decorated in a red, gold, and white motif. The walls were clean white, with a burnished red and gold trim that complemented the tanned oaken floorboards. The hallways had high ceilings with hidden recessed lighting that seemed to glow out of the walls. Bright red classroom doors and smaller bright red lockers stood out boldly against the stark white walls. Everything in the school seemed newly painted, and freshly polished—a far cry from the dingy, ill-light hallways of my high school back in Chicago.
Grandma Nandine had dropped me off early so I'd have plenty of time to walk to my class on my still recovering ankle. My ankle was much better now; the hard cast had been removed in late July, but I still had to wear an ankle brace. Walking was still a little slower than I'd like, but the doctor assured me that if I kept easy on my ankle it'd be back to normal in a few months.
What was my first class of the day? I wondered as I made my way slowly down the hallway. I fished a crumpled copy of my class schedule from my navy suit jacket. I quickly scanned the paper, searching for my eight o'clock class. Trigonometry, my class schedule informed me. Trigonometry with Mr. Lawson in room 2.21C. I muffled a groan. Math, my least favorite subject, first thing in the morning: what a wonderful treat!
As I slowly wandered down the hallway searching for 2.21C, I spotted them. Don't ask me how I knew them, but after all the years spent as a punching bag in my Chicago public high school, something in their faces alerted me: bullies, three of them. The three boys, dressed in the Gordon Bailey standard uniform, were each tall, as stout as a lumberjack, and appeared to be an upperclassman. Their faces were etched in various degrees of cruelty. As the three boys strutted down the hallway cocky as peacocks the other students—especially the smaller boys—moved quickly out of the way. I swallowed nervously, watching the three boys tromping in my direction.
I needed to move, my brain belatedly informed me. Move. Move before they spot you. Before they decide to go after you.
I felt my legs propel me down the hallway away from the three boys, my bummed ankle forcing me to go slower than I wanted. There was a bathroom at the end of the hallway; I could hide there. With what I hoped was a casual gait, one that wouldn't draw attention to me, I headed in the direction of the bathroom.
But it was too late; I'd been seen. The tallest boy, the leader I assumed, smiled crookedly at me, catching my eye. I halted then and shrank back into the wall of red lockers, wanting nothing more than to be enveloped into the red metallic doors.
I knew what the boy's smile meant. It said 'Hello, my dear. I'm looking forward to kicking your ass today.'
And then the three boys were standing in front of me—looming more like it since I was a measly 5'4" and they were each within standard deviation of 6'.
What is it about me that attracts bullies? I couldn't help but wonder as I felt my heart beginning a lively polka. Do I stand out because of my bright red hair and large blue eyes? Is it because I'm short and scrawny? Or maybe I have a 'come hither and kicketh my ass, I beggeth thee' sign pasted to my forehead?
"Well looky here," the leader began, peering down at me maliciously. He was a massive figure with black hair and black eyes. His dark eyes flashed gleefully. "And who might you be, pretty boy? I don't think I've ever seen you around here before. You a freshman?"
I gulped, but found my mouth too dry to speak. Not that I would say anything; I'd learned long ago that when I was being picked on it was easier to remain silent. The more that you cry, the harder that they'll hit.
"Aww not going to answer me?" The tall boy asked with a mock pout. He turned to his two companions: an equally massive brunette and a shorter but well built blonde with frosty blue eyes. "Guys, do you think he's shy?" the leader sneered, seemingly thoughtful.
"Nah Devin, I think he's just tired, prolly got up too early this morning," the brunette replied with a smirk. "Maybe we should give him a nice toilet-swirlie to wake him up."
"What an excellent idea Seth," Devin, the leader, replied too quickly. "What do you think Brad?" he addressed the blonde boy with the icy blue eyes.
"I think a swirlie would do nicely," the blonde boy replied, and I felt the three eye me hungrily, already anticipating my humiliation. "Although," Brad continued thoughtfully. "I don't know if we have enough time for a swirlie before class. But we can still have a little fun with him."
And the way that he said that, like I wasn't even there, made my pulse race. Shit! This couldn't be happening! I hadn't even started school here yet! This couldn't be happening!
A large hand was thrust painfully against my shoulder, and I was forced-walked into the bathroom, my ankle protesting painfully at the quickened pace the three set. The blonde boy, Brad, opened the bathroom door, peering in quickly to make sure that it was vacated before announcing "Everything's cool Dev."
And then I was shoved into the bathroom and slammed into the far wall. As I fell to the floor, my eyes noted dully that the school's red, white, and gold motif extended into the bathroom. Not that I cared at the moment.
I crouched down into the farthest corner from the door, huddling into a ball, making myself as small as possible. Close your eyes, a little voice suggested from the recesses of my mind. Close your eyes, and it won't be so bad.
As the three imposing figures moved towards my corner, effectively obscuring my vision, my eyelids fluttered shut, and I clamped them down tightly.
It was just like Chicago, I thought bitterly. Just like Chicago.
I wished I were back home at Grandma Nandine's house then, munching on some of her homemade lemon cookies and sipping sweetened iced tea. Damn, at that moment I'd even take my mother's dingy little apartment. Just anywhere but here.
As I huddled into my corner, I heard the bathroom door creak open and the tapping of someone entering the small-enclosed area. So this gang had a fourth member. By the thick sounds of shoes on tile floor, I knew that my new assailant was just as large as the other three bullies.
Four against one, this was going to be bad.
I huddled even smaller, waiting for the first punch.
But it never came.
"Devin, I thought that we talked about this last year," a deep masculine voice rumbled dangerously. "You keep away from my friends and everything is fine."
My eyes snapped open in confusion, and I gazed at the scene before me. The three boys were no longer facing me but were instead facing the fourth figure. From my position on the floor and crowded behind the three bullies, I couldn't see the new boy's face. But I could see the way that the bully leader, Devin, seemed to hunch over slightly; his posture informing me that he was pretty pissed off with the new boy's interruption.
"Why Jonas, whatever are you talking about?" Devin hissed, and the three bullies drew closer to my huddled form, effectively concealing me from the fourth figure.
"I think you know exactly what I'm talking about," the deep voice said lowly. "Leave the kid alone, and get out of here. Now."
"Kid?" Devin asked dumbly. He turned thoughtfully to the blonde haired boy and then to the brunette. "Brad? Seth? Do you know about any kid?"
The other two boys shook their heads dumbly, and the three backed up even closer to me, trying to hide my small figure. As the tallest one, the brown-haired boy Seth, moved backwards he stepped on my ankle.
My not-quite-healed yet ankle, wrapped securely in its brace. I hissed involuntarily.
"What was that?" the fourth boy demanded.
"Nothing," Seth replied stupidly. But the fourth boy was too quick, and in a moment he'd shoved Seth aside.
My breath snagged in my throat as I found myself gazing up into the face of the most gorgeous person I'd ever seen. The boy was tall, well muscled, with amber-colored eyes, and light brown hair. Those amber colored eyes—bright and luminous—gazed down at me then, considering me. I gazed back upon those honey-colored pools and beseeched him.
Please help me, I begged him with my blue eyes. Please.
And then the brown haired boy made his decision.
"Nothing huh?" He sneered.
"Wait Jonas," Devin's voice tittered nervously. "This pretty little thing is with you?" He asked indicating my huddled form, my flaming red hair contrasting sharply against the white-tiled floor.
Say yes, I silently pleaded to the brown haired boy with the beautiful face.
"Yea, Devin, this boy is with me," the brown haired boy all but snarled. "So unless you want the rest of the basketball team in here kicking your asses, I'd suggest you and your punk ass friends better get the hell outta here. Now!"
Devin, the black haired boy, glared fiercely at my protector.
"Now!" The brown haired boy insisted.
Devin shook his head angrily but then stomped for the door. Brad and Seth followed. As the three reached the exit, Devin sent me a murderous glare. This isn't over, his black eyes promised. Not by a long shot.
And then the door creaked shut, and the three boys were gone. I released a small breath I didn't even know I was holding.
"Stupid punks," the brown haired boy muttered angrily, his eyes fixed to the door. "Think they own the whole damned school just because their dads are on the Board of Alumni."
The brown haired boy was so focused on the spot where the bullies had just left that I think he had forgotten about me at the moment.
I sat up slowly from my huddled position in the corner, flexing my pained ankle experimentally, and my movement caught the attention of my protector. As he turned to face me, I eyed the brown haired boy with a mixture of wariness and gratitude. He'd saved me. I'd never seen this person before, and he'd saved me from being beaten up. Why? My own mother hadn't even done that.
"Hey now, are you all right?" The brown haired boy asked gently and offered me a helping hand.
I nodded dumbly. He was gorgeous, really: Adonis standing before me. I could hardly tear my eyes from him. And his hair was dark blonde not light brown, I decided upon closer inspection. A soft caramel hue with bright sun-streaks swimming within. His hair was short, cut about to his ears, and just curled a tiny bit at the ends.
The boy coughed politely, the sound rumbling pleasantly in the back of this throat, and I realized that he was still waiting for me to grasp his hand. Tentatively I took the proffered hand, and as I did a small surge of electricity seemed to zap from his hand and into mine, galvanizing my body. The other boy seemed not to notice, and then with an easy tug, he had boosted me onto my feet. I hissed as I shifted my weight onto my ankle brace.
"You okay?" The boy asked in concern.
"Yeah," I clenched my teeth. "My ankle was broken last spring," I didn't mention how. "It's still mending. One of those guys just stepped his big foot on it."
"Must be painful."
"Yea, it is."
The other boy eyed me oddly, and I blanched as I realized that I was still grasping his hand. I dropped his hand then liked I'd been burned. Embarrassed, I tried to hide the sudden blush that seemed to rise unbidden to my cheeks.
"Uhmm… thanks for stopping those guys," I stuttered and my voice came out as a highly pitched squeak.
I did not just make a girl noise!
"Thanks for stopping those guys," I added more firmly, effectively reigning in the controls over my voice.
"Don't mention it," the dark blonde haired boy shrugged nonchalantly. "I can't stand Devin Egan and his bunch. When I saw them dragging you in here, I thought you meet need some help." He added by way of explanation.
"Yea well thanks," I repeated again.
The boy turned to me thoughtfully, eying my small stature, my chin-length red hair (it had been to my shoulders, but I'd had to cut it because long hair was against the dress code). Although his gaze was only curious, under the full weight of his eyes I felt my pulse begin to twitter.
"I'm Jonas, by the way," the boy offered with a congenial smile, displaying a perfect set of pearly white teeth.
Wow. I felt my voice lodge into my throat, sticky as paste.
"Jonas Bartlett," he added. Then he sent me a questioning look, waiting for me to introduce myself.
My throat constricted even tighter. What the hell was wrong with me? The first person I've met here, and I can't say two words. Talk, dammit!
"Andrew, Andrew Stevens," I forced myself to squeak, and even to my ears I sounded as high-pitched as a prepubescent girl.
Great Andrew. Great way to make a good impression.
"So you're new here, huh?"
I nodded, unsure if I could trust my own voice.
"Where you from?"
I coughed, clearing the chokehold within my throat.
"Chicago." I was pleased to find my voice had settled in a decidedly masculine tone and was no longer running along the entire gamut of the female vocals.
"So you're a freshman?" Jonas asked.
I blushed in embarrassment. Why did I always have to look like such a little kid? Did Jonas think I was immature?
Why did it matter?
"No, I'm a junior," I corrected the angelic face before me. "I'm just small for my age," I added lamely.
"Well don't worry, I'm sure you'll catch up with the rest of us." I was surprised (and pleased) that Jonas seemed to be defending me. "Anyways if you're alright, I need to head off to class now."
I nodded but then stopped him quickly with a question. "Hey, you wouldn't mind showing me where 2.21C is?" I asked hopefully.
I still had no idea where that classroom was.
"So you've got first period Trig also?" Jonas laughed. "Damn, I guess I'm not the only one who was just lucky enough to have math class first thing in the morning." Jonas smiled wryly, and I felt my pulse quicken.
I had a class with him?
"Sure I don't mind showing you where the room is," Jonas said as he led me out of the bathroom and back into the main hallway.
"You any good in math?" Jonas asked curiously as he guided me towards a classroom a little offset from the main hallway.
I grimaced. Math.
Noticing my frown, Jonas chuckled. "I'll take that as a no," he suggested. "Me, I don't mind the math. It's the English that I hate," he rolled his eyes.
"Now see, English has never given me a problem," I told Jonas, startled by my own admission. I never talk about myself, never. And telling people that I like English, that I enjoy writing poetry? It's like asking for them to hurt me.
"Really?" Jonas raised his eyebrows, and his face scrunched up into a hopeful grin. "Then maybe you'd like to help me? I'm really bad, and I could use the help."
I'd do anything for you, I almost said. Thankfully I stopped myself short.
Really? What was WRONG with me?
"Yeah, that'd be cool," I agreed, brushing a strand of my flame-colored hair out of my eyes and trying to hide my embarrassment.
As Jonas held open the door to 2.21C and ushered me inside, I felt the color rising to my cheeks once more as I drifted by his tall and well-muscled form.
Why Jonas was having this effect on me? And what THE HELL was wrong with me? I really had no idea, but as I found a desk near to Jonas and plopped down into it, I realized one thing: this was going to be one long school year.