Jake pressed his right shoulder into the wall, irritation sparking through him. Someone had decided to invade his personal bubble, sitting directly next to him in Lit class. He barely held back a groan. It was barely even 8am – way too early to deal with any problems.
Last semester, Jake had noticed he seemed to project some basic signals since his accident. Normal humans barely acknowledged him anymore, their eyes glossing over him like he didn’t exist. Magic users, however, liked to use him as a free punching bag.
But this dude sat down next to him like nothing was wrong. Jake gave him the side eye, suspicion causing him to shift uneasily in his seat. He wasn’t picking up on any magic. That was probably best for his health and safety. Then… what was it? Was he being tagged for later? Or was he a new guy and didn’t know better than to avoid him?
“Hi, I’m Damien,” the guy said, reaching out for a hand shake.
Narrowing his eyes, Jake hesitated several beats past polite to acknowledge the gesture, finally offering his left hand in a fist. Damien blinked once before bumping knuckles with a bright grin.
“I’m… Jake.” He was wary – he had to be – especially since this guy was so happy in a morning class.
Watching him out of the corner of his eye, Jake tried to assess how much of a problem this could turn into. Damien was tall and had a sturdy build. Probably did some kind of sport with that physique. Hopefully that would help if he attracted the wrong sort of attention to himself.
While Damien was unpacking his bag, placing his textbook and a notebook on the table, Jake had unconsciously turned toward him, studying him more closely. Damien was focused on his task, a small smile turning up the corners of his mouth. He had a few loose curls tumbling over the sandy brown of his forehead, offset by an undercut that showed off his strong jawline.
“Have you had this professor before?” Damien asked.
Jake startled out of his staring, glancing down at the desk to hide the flush burning his cheeks. “No, but I heard good stuff about him last semester.” A flash of fear singed his chest, having completely forgotten where they were. He quickly scanned the room to ensure no one had overheard the exchange. A hand on his shoulder made him lurch, almost falling out of his chair.
“Hey, you okay?” Damien’s eyebrows were furrowed in concern and he kept his hand hovered over Jake’s shoulder.
Frowning at the opposing emotions flitting through him, Jake hesitated for only a quick moment. He knew what he had to do, even if it hurt. “I’m fine, but you should stay away from me.” He tried to deliver the warning in a polite tone.
Shock crossed Damien’s face as the words sank in. “Umm, okay. Whatever you want,” he finally replied, taking his hand back.
Jake hunched over in his seat. He’d made the mistake of trying to make friends last semester and it hadn’t gone well for any of them. It was better to push people away than to see them get hurt because of him.
The professor walked in and the various conversations happening around the room quieted down. Despondently, Jake pulled up the e-book on his tablet, tugging the hood of his sweatshirt closer to make him feel a little more protected.
He raised his left hand when his name got called, tensing up when the professor paused, but he only gave a quick nod in his direction and moved on. Letting out an audible sigh, Jake sagged back in relief. One less thing to worry about for the moment.
Some of the teachers knew about what had happened and were moderately nice to him, but some liked to assert their dominance. He’d been extremely careful to only pick human teachers this semester in an attempt to avoid any added conflicts. The magic teachers had all but destroyed him the prior semester.
He sat up straighter, willing his thoughts back from the dark turn they’d taken. All he could do was hope and pray that this semester would be better than the last.