This was going from bad to worse. My science lessons had turned into a two hour incarceration with Mr Bennett. He didn't like me from the start. He liked me even less when I started asking questions. After that, he seemed to find any excuse to pick on me.
"Everybody turn to page twenty-two in your workbooks. We are going to start on kinetic energy equations. Mr. Lui, do I have to tell you to sit up straight?"
I resurfaced from under my desk and leaned back in my seat. I deliberately slouched and looked him square in the eyes. "I was tying my shoelace!" I couldn't stop myself from reacting. This was so unfair.
When Mr. Bennett stalked down the rows to check we were filling in the book, he hovered behind me.
"You'll have to get a black pen for the next lesson, Mr. Lui. No red pens allowed."
"Fine," I said, through gritted teeth. It was really bothering me that he called me by my surname. It was a name so foreign to me now, I barely recognised it as myself. Every time he said my name, it shot an extra dose of irritant through my body, making everything worse.
"And those boots are not appropriate school uniform."
"It doesn't say anything in the workbook about boots."
"Suitable footwear tomorrow, please."
I took a deep breath and spoke louder. "The guidelines I got only say black and leather."
"Focus on the work, please, Mr. Lui."
"You started talking to me about my shoes!"
People had started to turn their heads and look. Somebody sniggered. I tried to slow my escalating heart-rate. It was making me tetchy. This jumpy feeling that I hated - like I wanted to crawl out of my skin.
"Focus on the work, everyone. This will be in your exams!" He left me stewing.
"I thought physics was supposed to be practical," I said.
"Yes!" Mr. Bennett said. His voice was like gravel crunching. Clearly, he found me as distasteful as I did him. "We will be doing practical lessons later in the year. Today is an introduction."
"To what?" I didn't even know what I meant. I was just so annoyed. "This book is…" I trailed off.
"Do you really want to continue with this attitude, Mr. Lui?"
I felt like he was leading me into it. I had to phyically bite my tongue to stop myself responding. A string of expletives ran through my head. I knocked my steel-toe caps against the leg of the desk as a distraction. He was lucky, I thought. He was lucky I had some kind of handle on myself. Wouldn't he like to find out kind of shit I was capable of?
"Okay everyone, let's feed back what we've learned so far."
Mr. Bennett went around the class, calling out a few peoples' names and asking them a question. He gained some stumbling answers in return. I had left a lot of my workbook blank. I knew that he was going to ask me something, trying to humiliate me. I glared at the blank page in front of me, rigid in my chair. I felt like I could vibrate with pure hatred.
"How about you, Mr. Liu? You've been very vocal this morning. Can you give me an answer?"
I looked up, keeping my expression stony.
"Can you give me the definition of thermal energy?"
"The total kinetic and potential energy of the particles in an object, usually from the vibrations of particles."
His look of surprise was priceless. His furry eyebrows shot up and his milky eyes widened.
"Very good," he stammered. "Well done."
I put all my venom into the look I gave him. The bell rang for lunch like my own bugle fanfare. I stood up, without waiting for permission, and grabbed my bag.
"Class dismissed," he called, but I was already yanking open the door.
Stepping out into the fresh air and the wide open sports field, I tried to shake the stress out of my limbs. I grinned at my victory, but truly the twisting, angry feeling wouldn't leave. The loud, gleeful chatter of everybody was getting on my nerves. I needed to get out of this place. Lunch was an hour long. I thought about walking home to Dave's house. I hunched my shoulders in a physical cringe. How embarrassing would it be to sidle back to Dave on my first day? I put my headphones on and started to stomp across the field towards the gates. I needed a walk - anywhere. It didn't matter.
"All of your teachers have been told about your history," Dave had assured me. "You can talk to any of them, if you have any problems."
It didn't seem like Mr. Bennett would be interested in discussing my problems. The image of his surprised face made me smile. Clearly, he had expected me to be stupid or ignorant, but it was easy for me to flick through a couple of textbooks over the summer. Did he pick on me because he knew I was from Bright Star? He couldn't have known in the corridor, but afterwards? People reacted weirdly when they knew I had been at that school. I didn't know if they were scared or jealous. I looked around at the other kids eating on the benches or pushing each other onto the wet grass. No way was I going to tell anybody else.
I reached the gates and took a left at random, heading into the centre of the town. The question was what exactly my teachers had been told. Bright Star House was common knowledge now. It had been in the newspapers, but which story did they believe? It had started with: 'We can teach your child to unearth their unique abilities'. Then it became 'The boarding school where children were treated like experiments' or 'The cult school: delusional teachers and trapped children'? The headlines were overly dramatic. The actual details were still so secretive. The truth was somewhere in the middle.
Shut up! Before I could stop, my hands grabbed at my hair and I dug my fingernails into my scalp. I promised myself I wasn't going to think about this stuff.
"Come on!" I said to myself, rapping my knuckles against my forehead in an effort to knock the thoughts out of my head. I turned my music up louder, shoved my hands into my pockets and took a deep breath. My fingers curled around the cloth bag. Just the thought of it there was enough. I let the breath out, slow and even.
That was when I saw him. There was a shape hunched over by the wall. My stomach sank. It was all so familiar.