How on earth have I agreed to this?
With that on my mind I opened my eyes in the morning, lying in an unfamiliar bed in an unfamiliar room. I heard Matthew flush the toilet behind the thin wall, and then he wandered back into the room, scratching his backside. His eyes slipped over me as if I was a piece of furniture, and then he began getting dressed.
I didn’t belong here. I felt it with every fiber of my being as I was putting on the white shirt, blue blazer and trousers. I knew it when I left the room and trudged after Mathew to the Dining Hall. He walked in front of me with a detached expression, only occasionally glancing back to make sure I was following, like a big kid reluctantly babysitting his little brother.
We arrived in the large hall, already half filled with people. Morning light streamed in through the tall windows. The voices and the clanging of dishes filled the space, reaching the volume of noise that brought a layer of sweat to my forehead and made my heart rush. I paused in the doorway, looking around, breathing deep as my therapist had taught me; when I looked ahead again, Mathew was gone, swallowed by a whirlpool of students.
I made my way to the stands with food, found where the clean trays were stacked, and retrieved one of them, all the while avoiding eye contact with anyone. I had to get something to eat and find a place to sit, preferably in the corner, which always felt safer. I could tell that people were looking at me, though, and a couple of giggles nearby I could swear were directed at me—or maybe I was just being paranoid.
I got into the line and received my portion of scrambled eggs and salad and orange juice, and then I turned away from the stands and paused, observing the place. There were many round tables, some of them taken, some partly vacant.
Then, I saw him.
Even though some of the heads in the crowd were blond, his yellow hair shone like gold—or maybe it was just my perception, an echo of that moment the day before when I had first seen him and branded him as perfect. He sat not far away from me, at a table surrounded by five empty chairs. He was alone but didn’t seem bothered by that, picking casually at his plate. He wore a white shirt under his blazer, like most of the boys did, its top button undone, and he looked as beautiful in the light of day as he had the previous evening.
I was still taking all that in when I realized that my feet were already moving in his direction. As his table grew nearer, my heartbeat got faster—yet if I had decided to stay here because of him, it would be silly to not take this opportunity to introduce myself.
I stopped in front of his table, feeling extremely awkward, not sure if I should just put my tray down, or ask for a permission, or just run away before he noticed me.
"Hi," I said at last.
He looked up from his plate. His eyes were a soft shade of blue that bordered on grey, a color that went beautifully with his hair.
"May I…sit down?" I nodded at an empty chair.
He blinked, his eyebrows going up.
"No," he said calmly, as if the answer was self-evident.
"But…" I knew I should leave it at that, yet for some reason couldn't do so. "But there's…many chairs."
"All five of them?" I said, hating myself already.
He gave me a long look, his eyes two deep blue lakes outlined by long lashes.
"All five of them."
"Okay then." I turned around, clutching my tray, sweating profusely. I half-expected, despite everything, to hear him call for me, perhaps change his mind, but he made no sounds behind me, and I didn’t have the nerve to look back, afraid to find him still looking at me with that cool, indifferent gaze. So I just started walking, not sure where I was heading, just concentrating on not bumping into anyone or dropping my tray.
"Hey!" someone called, and I whirled around, hopeful, only to find an unfamiliar red-haired kid standing in front of me. His eyes were alert and evaluating behind his glasses, but there was a smile on his face, an automatic one that that politicians and salesmen seem to always have ready.
"You're the new kid, right?" he said. "Gordon, right?"
"Great," he said. "Want to join me?"