"Congratulations, Chels," Melissa said when she got to my desk.
"You landed your first detention of the year!" Ashley's disbelieving voice reached my ears as she bounded up to me.
I did not want to listen to this right now.
"Stop talking, please," I moaned, my face still in my hands since English class ended.
"No, I'm congratulating you on managing to hold off on getting a detention up until today," Melissa insisted, resting a hand on my desk and leaning against it. "You did well."
Ashley snorted. "That's not an achievement—she's not you."
"Stop," I said, letting out another groan. "You make it sound like I've fallen in battle or something. Can't you see I'm trying not to cry?"
"I thought Mr. Jameson was going to have a heart attack when he saw them both sleeping," Ashley said.
When I woke up, Mr. Jameson was towering over us. While his expression was thunderous, it looked like he didn't know who he wanted to reprimand more—Nolan or me. How could I have slept in my beloved teacher's class? All this after I had nagged Nolan to stay awake in class, too. He had to think I was a complete hypocrite.
"Seriously, you never sleep in his class," Melissa said to me. "Did you not sleep well last night or something?"
"I slept late last night; I was so tired when I got up this morning! Did you see the disappointment in Mr. Jameson's eyes?! He's never looked at me like that before!" I wailed, burying my face into my arms.
"He was just upset his favorite problem student has rubbed off on you," Melissa said, patting me on the shoulder. "He'll get over it."
"Cheer up, you'll live." Derek's hand on my other shoulder had zero comforting effect. "This is nothing compared to the time he probably heard you call him hot."
"Derek," both Melissa and I snapped.
Using up all the strength I had left—since most of it deserted me when Mr. Jameson stared at me like I had let him down—I forced myself to stand up.
Dessert was the only thing that could bring me comfort now. "Let's just go to lunch."
"Good idea," Melissa said. "You'll need the energy when you go to detention later. You got detention with Nolan."
I glared at her. "Are you never going to stop reminding me of that?"
"Hey, I was just trying to be encouraging," she said, snickering.
"I don't need it!"
Group projects were the worst when the teachers assigned your group mates to you. Why couldn't they just let us choose who we wanted to partner with?
Miss Wheeler continued reading off the list she had prepared, acting as if she hadn't just shattered everyone's hopes and dreams when she told us that the grouping would be arranged by her. "… Sheila, Jordan and Derek—you're all in group three. Group four will consist of Nolan, Chelsea and Cheryl."
Although she was still announcing the other groups, I stopped paying attention to glance at the boy sitting next to me. Weeks ago, if she had placed us both in the same group, I would have been complaining about it nonstop to Ashley. Now, after learning that he could be nice if he tried, all I felt was resignation that I would have to wake him up today after all—after I had promised myself last night that I wouldn't do it anymore.
When poking him produced no results, I moved on to shaking his arm.
"Nolan," I whispered, afraid that I would attract Miss Wheeler's attention if I were any louder. "Wake up."
He stirred very slightly.
I tugged at his arm again, this time using all my strength. Finally, as our teacher was reciting the names belonging to the last group, his head rose from his arms.
The murderous scowl that always appeared on his face whenever he first awoke greeted me when he turned around. "What?"
I pointed to the front of the classroom, where Miss Wheeler was saying, "Now that you all know your groupings, please gather together to discuss the topic you'd like to work on. You can use the rest of this period to decide on your project details. You may move your chairs around. I'll be walking around to facilitate your discussions."
"Group project?" he asked me,
I nodded. "Group project."
"Thanks for waking me," he said, though it sounded insincere since he still looked a little irritated.
"No problem," I said, scanning the room for Cheryl. "Actually, I woke you because we're in the same group."
Cheryl waved back at me when I raised my arm in the air to get her attention. She motioned with her hand that she would come over to us, so I smiled at her and waited for her to move her things.
"I hate group projects," he muttered as his gaze focused on the whiteboard where Miss Wheeler had written the project requirements.
"I hate to break it to you, but that's not an unpopular opinion," I said with a short laugh.
"I guess it's not as bad if it's you I have to work with," he said, and I snapped my head to stare at him in surprise.
Cheryl's chair produced a terrible screeching sound as she dragged it across the classroom floor. I tried not to cringe too visibly. Was carrying it that difficult a task?
"Hey, Chelsea. Hey, Nolan," she said, seating herself in front of us.
"Hi. What's your name again?" he asked, his face blank.
Her mouth opened and closed without any words coming out from it.
"… Cheryl," she said, narrowing her eyes at him.
Well, someone looked offended. Come to think of it, I did remember seeing her giving a couple of class presentations with Nolan in the past. They must have had worked together before—if I were her, I'd feel insulted, too. I couldn't imagine doing several group projects with someone and never remembering their names.
I wanted to tell her that she wasn't alone, because he couldn't even remember my face until I supposedly 'blinded' him and incurred his ire.
"Don't take it personally," I said with a nod in his direction. "He doesn't remember anyone's face."
Except mine, and that was because I incurred his ire after supposedly 'blinding' him.
Nolan ignored me, of course. He didn't even bother defending himself. Then again, that something that was pretty hard to defend, on account of it being a fact.
Cheryl gave me a begrudging smile; I could see how forced it was when she did it slowly, like it was taking her some herculean effort. "Let's get started."
After this, Cheryl refused to directly address Nolan, choosing to only talk to me when we were deciding on details like our next meeting and our individual tasks. It was only mildly awkward because Nolan didn't seem to care at all, and he answered her questions even when she made it clear she was speaking to me. We agreed to meet again on Thursday and compile our work.
The tenseness of the atmosphere that hung over our little group was so heavy I was glad when the period ended.
I didn't look forward to having to work on it together for the next few weeks.
Mr. Jameson led us to the library when we met him for detention. He informed us that the head librarian had recently fallen ill, and they only had the assistant librarian, along with a couple of student helpers, to run things in the library. For our two-hour detention today, we were to reshelve the books that were on the return trolley, as well as organize and tidy the shelves to ensure that any misplaced books were returned to their right spots.
He briefly introduced us to Ms. Johnson, who had to stay behind the counter in case students wanted to check out books or ask questions.
Before leaving, he warned us that she would be keeping an eye on us to make sure that we weren't slacking off.
After showing us the trolley, Ms. Johnson went over the classification stickers on the book spines with us. She handed us each a reference sheet and waved us off in the direction of the bookshelves.
Nolan wheeled the trolley past the tables to where the library shelves began, and I walked along with him.
"I'm surprised that you fell asleep too," Nolan said, running his fingers along the spines of the books stacked on the trolley. "So much for asking me to pay attention in class."
My face burned. "We're not supposed to talk in the library."
"And we're not supposed to sleep in class, yet you did." He grinned at my threatening glare. "Did the melatonin help?"
Startled by the change in subject, I paused before answering. "Yeah, it did! Thanks. The thing is, since I slept so late, I was just too tired anyway."
"Yeah, I wondered why you dozed off even after I gave you that." He picked up a book and headed to a nearby bookshelf.
I grabbed a book myself and looked at the categorization list Ms. Johnson had given us. This one was under the fiction section. When I found the right bookshelf with the same kind of numbering as the book I was holding, I realized that the spot I needed to place the book in was on the highest shelf. It was at least two feet above my head.
Why were the library bookshelves so tall? This was blatant discrimination against short people!
I tiptoed and tried to shove the book in between the right numbers, but even with my slightly elevated height I didn't have enough leverage to slot it in because it was still too high.
Falling back onto the soles of my feet in exhaustion, I let out an indignant sigh.
"You do know you can use that, don't you?"
Nolan's voice was so distinct; I knew it was him even before I spun around.
He was standing next to me, returning a book to the section right beside mine. When he caught my eye, he lifted his left hand and pointed to the side.
A lone black stepstool sat on the floor, only a few feet away from me.
How had I not noticed it before this?
"I'm surprised you didn't look around for it first, considering how short you are."
I said the first thing that came to my mind: "I'm not that short!"
Nolan shrugged, an offhand smirk on his face as he took the book from me. Effortlessly, he pushed it in between the other books on the shelf that I couldn't reach.
"Don't get all huffy just because you're short."
"I'm not huffy because I'm short—and like I said, I'm not that short!"
His eyebrows rose. "Are you sensitive about your height? It's okay that you're short. You just have to learn to use other things to make the best of it."
"You're doing this on purpose," I whispered, following him back. "Don't rub it in."
"Who's rubbing it in? I have to make use of what I have, too," he said, looking back over his shoulder at me.
"Please, tell me all about your tall person woes." I examined the row of books crammed in the trolley.
"If I don't watch where I'm going, sometimes my head brushes against low-hanging tree leaves."
"Does that really happen?" I said, fascinated.
"Frequently." He handed me several books he had just stacked together. "These should all be on the lower shelves in the history section."
"Thanks… You seem really familiar with where everything is," I said, watching him gather up a bunch of books in his own arms.
"I'm here almost every day."
As he walked away towards another bookshelf, I found myself gaping at him. I never pegged him for a bookworm.
Thanks to Nolan's help, the time we spent reshelving the books was greatly shortened. He worked faster than I thought he would, considering how sluggishly he always seemed to move.
"Don't tell me you're also a student helper," I said when we were done with the return trolley. "Because while that would explain this amazing efficiency, it would raise more questions."
He scoffed. "Do I look like I'd make a good student helper?"
I was impressed by his self-awareness.
"Purely judging by capabilities and not by looks, I'd say yes," I said, ignoring the flat stare he sent my way. "What? Is there some sort of a cookie cutter list of how a librarian should look like that I don't know about?"
Nolan responded by turning his back on me and reorganizing the books on the bookshelf. I withheld a laugh, aware of Ms. Johnson's gaze on us from all the way over at her counter.
We systematically combed through each one with unspoken teamwork, with him focusing on the higher shelves while I went through the lower ones.
At the end of the two hours—although I was surprised, because it hadn't felt like that much time had passed—Mr. Jameson came back. He seemed surprised that we had completely cleared the trolley and had done a significant amount of reshelving.
He walked down the different sections and performed a quick check of our work before dismissing us.
"Chelsea, you've always done consistently well in my classes," Mr. Jameson said, turning from Nolan to look at me. "I hope that today's incident was just a one-off; I'd hate to think that someone's been rubbing off on you."
"Again, I'm so sorry, Mr. Jameson! I promise I will never fall asleep in your class ever again," I said, hoping my sincerity would shine through my voice. "I just hadn't slept well the day before. I'll make sure to sleep earlier from now on!"
His frown dissolved into a comforting smile. "It's good to hear that. It's inevitable for people to make mistakes; what's important is how we take steps to ensure we don't make the same ones again."
I could barely believe it; I got to see another rare smile from him, and it was when barely anyone else was around! This smile was all mine to stare at.
It took all I had not to grin dopily at him like an idiot. "Of course!"
I left the library with Nolan, who kept the door open for me since he was walking ahead of me.
I wanted to gush about Mr. Jameson's smile to him, but I had a feeling Nolan, as a guy who was completely indifferent to people as a whole, would not be interested. I'd have to save that for when I saw Ashley later, or, better yet, Melissa if I managed to find her.
Deciding instead to pick up where we left off in the library, I asked him, "Hey, so why are you so familiar with where so many of the books are? You clearly aren't a helper."
"Didn't you hear him? I'm a bad influence," Nolan said, snorting. "Don't talk to me."
"What? Who? Wait, do you mean Mr. Jameson? He didn't say that!" I protested, speeding up to keep up with his suddenly increased pace.
"He implied as much." His voice was cool and even.
When I peered up at him, however, I noticed a certain tenseness in his face. Nolan seldom looked neutral; he was either bored or in a bad mood. As it was at the moment, his facial expression looked like it was deliberately schooled into flat nonchalance.
"Stop staring at me," he said.
Whoops, I was probably being too obvious.
"Hey, I'm pretty sure he was only referring to you sleeping in his class," I said, deliberately averting my eyes from him. "Which he has every right to say as a teacher, by the way, since you really shouldn't be doing that."
When he didn't reply, I pressed on, "Anyway, your grades are so good, and you never give him trouble—apart from not paying attention. I'm sure he didn't mean it that way, so don't be upset."
He snorted. "I'm not upset."
Yeah, right. I believed that as much as I believed Ryan would bring home a girlfriend this Christmas.
Instead of confronting him, I clapped my hands together. "Great! I was worried you'd get the wrong idea about him. Now that I know that isn't the case, are you going to answer my previous question?"
He eyed me with clear wariness. "What?"
"Why are you here every day? I thought the astronomy club was your only commitment."
I didn't comment on how his strides slowed back down.
"It's not a commitment," he said, fishing out a black cap from his bag and putting it on. "I just come here during lunch periods. Sometimes after classes when we still aren't allowed to be back in our rooms."
"Wait, so you don't eat during lunch?" No wonder I had never seen him in the cafeteria. "Don't you get hungry?"
He cast me a sharp sideway glance. "Do all short people love asking questions as much as you do?"
Heat surged up my neck and flooded my cheeks. "Hey, you didn't have to go there!"
"Neither did you."
"Since when is lunch a sensitive question?"
"I don't see why you're so sensitive about being short. It's a fact."
"You'll never understand my problems! Nobody likes being short!"
Nolan snickered. "As if short people are the only ones who have problems."
"Oh, yeah? What other problems you could possibly have apart from accidentally bumping against low-hanging signs? At least you can reach for all the things you need without climbing ladders!" Or using tall friends. I wasn't above pleading Derek or Melissa to help me get stuff that were placed way too high up for me to get.
"Do you know how hard it is to sleep without being noticed during school assemblies when I'm sitting up? I always have to slouch in the chair. It's hard on the back."
Appalled by how casually he complained about it like it was a legitimate issue, I said, "What kind of problem is that? You're not supposed to be napping during school assemblies anyway!"
He stretched his arms above his head and yawned. "Whatever. It's not like I care about anything they have to say during those time-wasters."
"They're not all useless," I said, shaking my head. "Some of them are important announcements or helpful programs!"
"I'm sure the school authorities would be over the moon to hear that at least some people enjoy and want more of them," he said dryly. "Why don't you drop that into the feedback box?"
"I don't want more of them!"
"Could've fooled me. Are you sure they aren't the best thing since sliced bread?"
Okay, now he was definitely mocking me.
"You know what? Maybe I should put that in as a suggestion." I placed my hand under my chin in fake-consideration. "And then you'd be forced to attend even more assemblies!"
Whatever he was about to say was interrupted by Ashley's voice calling out to me. "Chelsea! You're done with detention?"
With her whole arm raised in the air and waving eagerly at me, she was easy to spot in the hallway leading to the dormitory.
I grinned and waved back at her. "Yeah!"
"See you," I heard Nolan say before I turned to see that he was already a good distance away.
"Bye!" I called out.
This time, he tilted his head back to acknowledge me before continuing on his way.
It struck me then that his natural walking pace on his own was so fast.
Had he been slowing down all along to allow me to keep up?
"So, what's Cody up to?" I asked in the most casual tone I could muster.
I was sprawled across my bed, stomach facing down, reviewing the textbook chapter we had just gone through in class today. Ashley was seated in my chair, working on her geography assignment. Well, she had been working on it—up until five minutes ago, when her phone vibrated. She had only just put down her phone after being glued to it for the past few minutes.
Ashley hardly ever used her phone this extensively. She was one of those people who posted maybe once a year on her social media accounts.
"Playing basketball—wait," she said, and I could see the exact moment the lightbulb went off in her head. "W-why are you asking me this sort of question?!"
Ashley spun around in my chair to glare at me accusingly.
"I knew it!" I pounded my fist triumphantly against my bed, where it produced only a vague dissatisfying thud upon making contact. "You were just texting him, weren't you?"
"No! I was just browsing Insta …" she trailed off when I shook my head at her in disappointment.
Her shoulders sagged and she lowered her head.
"Okay, okay," she said, a pinkish hue spreading across her cheeks. "I'm sorry. You're right, I was. Was it that obvious?"
"You never use your phone this much," I said, grinning when she narrowed her eyes at me. "Plus, don't think I haven't noticed him gravitating towards our table at lunch just to say hi to you."
"He says hi to everyone! It doesn't mean anything," she insisted, folding her arms. "You're thinking too much."
"Yeah, well, you're not thinking enough!" I rolled my eyes. "Come on, the first one he greets at our table is you."
Ashley snorted. "Well, that doesn't mean anything. I greet you before the others."
Enough beating around the bush. It was time to go on offense. "Hey, what do you think about him?"
She swiveled back to face her notes on my desk. "He's pretty nice. I like talking to him."
I cooed at her obvious shyness. "Do you like him?"
"Well, he's pretty cute," she said, then clapped her hand over her mouth. "Ugh! Please don't tell Melissa or Derek I said that!"
"What? Why? It's not like you've never gushed about a guy in front of us."
She covered her eyes this time. "This is different; I never hung out with any of those guys! They were just people I admired from afar, you know? It didn't matter because they would never find out that I thought they were cute."
"But it's not like they would tell him you think he's cute."
"They wouldn't do it on purpose, but if they ever implied it or let it slip…"
"They wouldn't! They're not that careless …" I paused and considered it for a moment. "I think."
"Let me put it this way: you don't exactly feel good walking around school knowing that Mr. Jameson probably overheard you calling him a fine piece of delicious eye candy, do you?"
"Okay, I get it!" I squealed, covering my ears with my hands. "Stop bringing that up—I never want to hear about this incident again for the rest of my life."
It was her turn to laugh at me. "Then let this matter rest."
"You're no fun," I complained, sighing exaggeratedly.
I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling, trying not to drown from the tsunami of embarrassment that had crashed over me. No wonder she was my best friend; she knew just how to shut me up.
Maybe it was a sign that I should give up on prodding the two of them together. They clearly seemed to already show some form of interest in each other.
"Oh, yeah, have you seen my watch? I've been looking for it the past week, but I just can't seem to find it," I said, remembering that I'd been meaning to ask her this since yesterday.
"No, I haven't. Why are you always losing all your things? You just recovered your water bottle the other day from the lost and found," Ashley said, her tone reprimanding. "That's what you get for always keeping it in your pocket. Why can't you wear your watch like a normal person?"
"Grandma Ashley, please just let me off," I begged, sensing her nagging coming.
She looked as if she was about to implode. "Chelsea—"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" I cackled under her furious glare. "Clearly you're too young to be a grandma. I take it back! You're obviously my Aunt Ashley!"
I died under the great storm that was her unprecedented lecture that day.
AN: Thanks for reading! :) Drop me a review if you enjoyed it!