Highbridge was no worse than my old school, but it wasn't any better, either.
Academically, it wasn't hard. In fact, it quickly became clear that while I was no match for most of my classmates in terms of their privileged upbringing, they couldn’t rival my learning skills and my knowledge. Since my spectacular entrance as 'the-kid-who-tried-to-escape-on-his-first-day-but-couldn't-find-the-exit', which secured the base for my reputation as a weirdo, I've quickly become famous as 'the-kid-who-can-solve-anything' and 'the-kid-who-doesn't-talk-to-anyone', alongside a few more questionable titles.
I didn’t care. As long as I kept ignoring the giggles and the whispers and the occasional stingy remarks thrown my way, I was fine. I stayed out of the Common Room when other boys gathered there in their free time, kept away from the group sports activities, and only saw from the window how the boys headed for their running, tennis or golf practices. I tried to be as invisible as possible to everyone—except for one person.
Yet to him I was the most invisible of all.
I didn’t get to meet Jesse often; we attended different classes, and he seemed to hang out with his friends every minute of his spare time. By the end of my first week in Highbridge, I already knew his time table by heart, and tried again and again to catch his eye in the corridors or in the dining hall. A few times, I even attempted saying 'Hi', but his blue gaze was always directed at someone else, his smile always ready for someone else's joke, and when I tried to get in his way in the corridors, he would just look through me and go round me as if I was a piece of furniture.
One could expect such indifference would extinguish my inexplicable obsession with him; yet it did just the opposite. I envied the guys who got to hang out with him. I admired his gestures, his laughter, everything about him; I couldn't understand how other kids could be so ignorant of how special he was. I craved his attention. Even a smirk or a mocking look would be better than indifference. Yet the short exchange we'd had in the dining hall on my first day still remained the only time we spoke.
I only had those precious fleeting moments in the corridors, when he would walk with a bunch of guys, laughing and talking, and I would pass him by, memorizing his voice and his expressions to feed my growing obsession.
I had that - and the utility room.
That was a different kind of a time-table that he had—a secret one, and it took me a few weeks of spying after him and Owen to figure it out. They met there on Mondays at 6 PM, after Owen's football practice and Jesse's theater club; and sometimes on Sunday mornings, a time particularly hard for spying because most boys were still asleep and every person out in the corridors could draw attention of the staff-on-duty.
The big surprise was that there was another rendezvous, on Fridays, at 22:00 just before the lights out, but the person who joined Jesse in the utility room wasn't Owen but another senior student, one of the rugby players I have seen from my window on the field.
When a week later I sat on the top step on the stairs above the utility room, hiding in the evening shadows, wondering if that would be Owen or the other guy this time, I was surprised to see a different boy slip into the utility room before being joined there by Jesse.
Elliot's words about 'many people want to 'hang out' with him' and all his air quotes were beginning to make sense to me, and yet all that bothered me was why couldn’t I be one of them, why couldn’t I get even some eye contact or a word from someone who didn’t seem too picky after all.
There was only one way to get closer to him, and even though I knew how creepy it was, I couldn’t resist.
The next Friday, I found myself in the familiar utility room with its soothing darkness and the smell of detergent. I squeezed into the corner, hidden by the storage rack, and spent about half an hour there, torn between the fear of being discovered and the desire to see again what I had inadvertently witnessed on my first day in Highbridge.
I was on the edge of leaving when the door creaked and two people slipped in, and then all my fears didn't matter, because all I wanted was to be with him, and if the only way for me to achieve that was to witness someone else being with him, I was prepared to take that.
It was only after they'd left, and the feeling of excitement have dissipated, that I began to really comprehend what I'd done. Stumbling upon them by mistake had been one thing, but now I did it on purpose. I was officially a stalker. A freak. They were right, all those telling jokes and whispering about me, they knew what I was even before I did, even without knowing the things I had done in my old school, they sensed it anyway, how depraved and fucked up I really was.
I sat there, in the corner of the small room, my face in my hands, and I knew that I had to deal with my obsession before it drove me completely nuts.
I had to get his attention somehow.