It was a clear day for a monday. I had been very lucky to have a whole weekend to recover from my last experience and wasn’t willing to go through it again, even though I knew the time would come.
Pipoh had stayed by my side most of the time because I had spent it in my room, given that my parents were still busy with their business and I was… well, not feeling in shape.
My scratches were now less nasty and the pain in my ribs had faded a bit, making it less painful to move.
I had taken a break from my majorette’s lessons with the team though. Sitting on the grass, I had seen the others practice and cheered them while trying to memorize the new moves Agatha had taught us. Not easy.
Now in our classroom, I was chatting from my actual seat while waiting for the teacher.
“I say we should find a better costume this time.” Said Rita. “I don’t wanna dress up like a silly elf again.”
“It wasn’t that bad last time.” Recalled Pooja. “Moreover, stripes make you look slimmer.”
“Speak for yourself.” The other one groaned.
“We can always use a traditional majorette costume” I suggested, right before Mar added something to my words.
“Hey, what if we try designing one like Majorette’s? You know, the one that appeared with the snake last friday. I’m sure nobody has thought about that yet.”
Not again… I thought they had forgotten about it. Seems that my performance was still ‘trendy’.
“Wow, that’s IS a good idea!” Rita got all excited about the idea. “And we can even wear wigs!”
“Is that really necessary?” I didn’t want them to find out who I was and the whole costume idea could put that at risk.
“We have to do it right.” She insisted. “Moreover, I’m sure she’d feel honored to have followers dressing up like her”.
No, I wouldn’t. I thought, biting my tongue.
At that moment, Alexander entered the room and the conversation quickly evolved to a meaner one.
“Ugh… couldn’t he have stayed home?”
“Rita… I still don’t get what you have against him.”
“What do you think?” She practically spit the words. “I mean, look at him. He’s a jerk and ugly as sin.”
“For you, anybody who can’t wear tight clothes is.” Mar mocked her.
“Not my fault that ugly and sexy don’t mix.”
“Good looks aren’t everything, Rita” I added.
“Well, I doubt he even has brains” she replied. “If he goes to the library so often it’s probably because it’s the only place cool people don’t step in. Otherwise, he would be with other brainiacs”
That hurt. I didn’t consider myself an ‘uncool’ person, but I did go to the national library sometimes when I lacked of information or wanted to have some quiet time doing homework. I opened my mouth to tell her that, but our Philosophy teacher, Mr. Bukowski, came in before I could.
“Everybody sit down!” We all took our places and he opened his folder to call the roll. Once done, he left it on his desk and looked at us all. “Well, we’ve nearly finished Lesson 1 and I was thinking about doing a surprise exam today…”
“WHAT?! No way!” “We just began the semester!” “It’s not fair!”
The whole class began to complain and he smiled mischievously.
“It would be a pain for you all indeed. And since I’m feeling generous, I decided to turn it into a simple teamwork exercise. No ‘copy/paste’, of course. You’ll have to write a 500-word essay on everything we’ve seen in unit 1 about the rational knowledge and do a presentation... in groups of two. And I don’t wanna hear anybody else or you’ll also get the test.”
And everybody zipped it.
“Now; since you always stick to the same old friends of yours, every-single-time “, he pointed out, “I’ll name your partners this time. AND NO ‘BUTS’!” He added with his polish accent, making everyone shut their mouths. “These are the groups: Ariadna Delgado and Marc Álvarez; Bibiana Bonnet and Pooja Mishra; Alexander Jedynak and Rita Moreno…”
“NO!!!” Rita hit the roof. “Are you kidding me?!”
“Moreno, sit down!”
“You can’t do this to me! I don’t wanna go with that freak!”
I couldn’t believe what was happening here. I knew full well that Rita didn’t like Alexander, but at this point I was sure she’d get detention, if not something worse. Insulting a classmate was bad enough, but confronting a teacher in front of everybody could get her expelled. She probably deserve it… but I felt I had to do something…
“ENOUGH!” Shouted Bukowski. “I said you’re going with Jedynak and that’s it!”
“I’ll do it, Mr. Bukowski!” My tongue was faster than my brain when I stood up.
“No, Bonnet!” He moderated his yelling a bit. “I know pretty well how you two girls work together…”
“No, I mean I’ll do the project with Alexander.”
All of a sudden, the classroom became a silent amount of eyes focusing on me. Mr. Bukowski and Rita were speechless, but Alexander was also staring like I was crazy.
“What…?” The three of them said at unison, followed by a general ‘huh???’ from the rest of my classmates.
I’m pretty sure our teacher didn’t really want to argue that much so, after some more mute minutes, he sighed and agreed to my proposal.
“Fine… but not any more changes!”
I sat down and he continued naming the rest of the groups while Rita kept gazing at me from her desk, her mouth widely open like most of the others.
Sometime after, the lesson officially began and everybody seemed to forget about the incident, much for my own peace of mind.
When it ended, once the teacher put a foot outside the classroom, Rita jumped on me, hugging my body so tight that it was difficult to breathe.
“OH MY GOSH BB!!! You’re such a good friend you sacrificed for me! Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!”
“Rita, wait…” I tried to push her away with no success.
“I can’t imagine the torture you’re gonna go through but I promise I’ll make it up to you. I will…”
“STOP!” I shoved her because I couldn’t stand it anymore. “I didn’t do that just for you. I really wanna work with Alexander:”
“The heck?!” She probably thought I was completely nuts, just like Mar and Pooja, who had joined us. “You’re serious…?”
“I am.” Sure I was!
“Do you wanna go to the nursery again, honey?” Mar put a hand on my forehead. “You may have a fever or somethin’...”
I stepped away and frowned.
“Girls, I really mean it. I’m sick of everybody bad mouthing about him and I’m sure he’s a good guy. If only we tried to give him a chance…”
“A chance?” Mar raised her eyebrow and smiled ironically. “Don’t you remember the ‘chance’ he took to ignore you the other day in the hall?”
“Yeah, BB. He’s a jerk; period.” Added Rita.
“Well, I believe you’re wrong.” I insisted. “And I’ll show you that he…” I looked at Alexander and found out he had disappeared. “Where is he?”
“Well, he’s not studying for the same A-levels than us.” Pooja replied. “I guess he’s headed to another classroom now.”
I had forgotten we weren’t in the same programme, even if we shared the same age. High school was over and we had begun the two most important years of our teenage lives before deciding to go to university or not. I still felt like a kid though.
“Whatever.” Rita got me out of my thoughts again. “If you gonna work with him try not to spend much time together. His nerdiness could be contagious.”
You definitely ARE a drama queen. I thought, sitting down again when our Language teacher arrived.
I spent the next hour taking little notes and thinking, not focused at all on the lesson. It bothered me that my friends —who probably were the most open people I knew in the class —felt that close-minded about a guy who was just a little… different. And I wasn’t talking about his origin. I mean, c’mon. Pooja was half indian, our friend Cho was japanese and Rita herself had the darkest skin of us all; and we loved each other, respecting our differences and cultures. And Alexander —if I recalled —was probably polish. What was different? His temperament? We all had ours and sometimes it was a pain (specially Rita). His inability to make friends? Isn’t that something anybody can go through when coming to a new school full of bullies? Seriously, what was the point of going against Alexander if he was the real victim here? Nobody had ever tried to help him… and maybe that was the reason why I felt it was my duty. Helping others feel accepted was something I was good at; and lately I’d even proven myself to go further and actually save lives. I definitely could do this... and I had to. So, when the class was over, I went straight to the library, not caring about my break. I knew he’d be there.
I crossed the room along the bookshelves’ corridor and look for him around. There were just a couple of students in the main desks but there was another table at the back of the room, hidden by a very big bookshelf; and when I approached, there he was: all by himself with a pile of books on the right side of the desk, quiet and concentrated.
I didn’t want to interrupt him but I cleared my throat in order to call for his attention. It worked. He raised his eyes to me and I felt weird for some reason. Did they look this dark before?
“Em…” I tried to talk in a very low voice. “Sorry, I… wanted to ask you about the project we…”
He suddenly sighed and looked at me straight.
“Ok, listen.” He spoke firmly but low. “I have no intention to do this together with you so, if you don’t mind, you can take the first part of the unit and do a recap. Pass it to me when you finish and I’ll handle the whole presentation after correcting your mistakes.”
I stood there, staring at him like a fool and not able to speak a word. I knew he was special but… this? Had I heard correctly?
“Actually, you know what?” he added. “I’ll take care of the whole essay and add your name later. I’ll be easier and we won’t have to meet at all. You’re welcome. Bye.”
And as he said that, his eyes went down again to his book, completely ignoring me.
This… will be harder than I thought… I always did my best to accomplish something but… this time, I really felt my mission was doomed. That guy was a lone wolf!