A cold wave of panic swept over my body. Jesse knew. He knew I'd been following him. He knew I'd seen him in the utility room. He knew –
"Wow, wow, hey." He raised his hands, frowning, peering into my face. "Calm down, man. You look like you're about to faint. I didn’t mean to scare you or anything."
"I'm…" I swallowed hard, my mind still blank, white with panic. "Don’t call me stalker. I'm not a stalker." It still felt like the truth was written all over my face in flaming red letters, plain for him to see.
"Of course not," he said, his hands still raised in a pacifying gesture. "I was joking. You just stood in front of my door like you were spying on me or something."
"I wasn't," I blurted, trying to summon my few remaining conscious thoughts. "I was only…" A book. That was the key word. "I wanted to borrow a book. From Elliot. Elliot has books. I wanted to read a book."
"Okay." He nodded slowly. "A book. I get it. Don't worry."
He was beginning to adopt that horrible soothing tone people used with me sometimes when I was acting strange, that "don't-piss-off-the-crazy-kid" intonation that always annoyed the hell out of me. Still, with him, I didn’t mind. He could to with me however he wanted, as long as he was looking at me and actually seeing me, like he did now.
"Come in," he said, moving past me to the door, retrieving his keys.
Following him, I stepped inside. Unlike my room, where you could immediately tell which side of it belonged to whom, with me being a neat freak and Mathew the messy one, here you couldn't tell the difference. Both tables were orderly, the bunk bed was neatly made, and the walls were decorated with posters of waterfalls and forests. I wondered if Elliot was perhaps cleaning for the two of them.
Jesse walked over and threw his keys on the table, then sat down on the lower bed and nodded at me. I remained in the doorway, trying to process all the changes that had just happened. His sudden friendliness seemed inexplicable after his usual indifference, or the hostility he'd displayed when I tried to sit with him in the Dining Hall on my first day. Now I was talking to him, about to enter his room. That seemed like too much too fast.
"There," he said, nodding at the corner.
"Huh?" I said, dumbly.
"A book," he said. "You wanted a book, at least that's what you've told me, like, five times in the last half a minute."
"Yeah, right," I said, becoming aware of the Ikea-looking bookshelf in the corner. I strode over to it and pulled out a thick volume, then turned around, clutching it to my chest, desperately seeking a reason to stay a little longer.
"Won't you look at the cover?" Jesse said, a slight smile playing on his lips.
"The cover," he said, patiently. "Where they write the title of the book, you know. People usually look at it when they choose a book to read, not just pick one randomly."
"I…" I was ruining it, for sure. Why couldn't I just talk to people normally, like everybody else did? "I just…wanted to talk to someone," I blurted. "The dorm feels so empty with everyone gone."
He leaned forward a little. "Right? That's what I'm always saying, this place looks freaking haunted when empty."
"Yeah, and it's getting dark," I offered.
"Totally creepy." He nodded, and for the first time I felt like I said something right. "It's a good thing you've dropped by. I was looking for something to entertain myself. How about we light some candles and perform a devil summoning ritual?"
"Not your thing?" He shrugged. "Well, I just thought it could be fun to do that in an empty boarding school at night." He sighed, looking around. "Close the door. We'll think of something else."
I strode to the door, still clutching the book, my heart fluttering in my chest. We. I was included. It felt so strange to be included.
I closed the door and turned to him again only to find him retrieving what looked like a cigarette without a filter from under his pillow.
"What's your name?" he said without looking at me.
He shook his head. "Such a boring name. Mind if I call you Isabella?"
I blinked. "Why?"
"Why not? You don’t like female names? Are you a macho guy?"
"No, but…" This was weird. "It's just not my name."
He looked up. "Are you gay, by any chance?"
I just stood there, staring at him. Such a painful, deep question about my self-identification asked in such a casual tone was beyond my ability to process.
"Okay, get unstuck," he said, looking down again. "I was just wondering because of your haircut, and, you know, the way you look at me."
"Are you gay?" I said, surprising myself. Why did I even have to ask? I knew he was.
He grinned. "Sure. Everybody knows about me. I mean, not that I'm screaming about it from rooftops, but those who need to know, know." He showed me the cigarette. "Do you smoke?"
"No." I shook my head. "You know, nicotine is really bad for --"
"It's not nicotine."
"Oh," I said.
"Come on, have one with me."
"We deserve something to dispel the gloom."
I shook my head again. "You know, what you're doing, it's called peer pressure."
"Well, what you’re doing is called killing the fun." He sighed. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
"If you’re caught, you could get suspended."
"I'm already suspended."
"They could kick you out." I paused. "Or me, for knowing and not telling."
He rolled his eyes and sat up straighter.
"Gosh, you're such a bore. Do you just want to leave?"
"No," I blurted before he could even finish the question.
He grinned and relaxed again, leaning back on one elbow, his fingers playing with the unlit joint. His eyes traveled all over me, evaluating.
"So, what do you wanna do?" he said. "Wanna fuck?"