The early morning air nipped at Maya’s ears and cheeks as she sat down on the edge of the rooftop, letting her legs dangle over the side and her hands rest behind her. With the rising sun off in the distance, the sky became a lighter shade of blue allowing Maya to pick out the clouds’ outlines as they traveled overhead. A gust of wind sent shivers down her spine. Quickly fiddling with her sports jacket’s zipper, tugging it up until the cold metal brushed against her chin, making her cringe and recoil with a hiss. She sniffed and buried her mouth in her jacket, shoving her hands in her pockets and wiggling them further into the worn lining, nails catching onto the holes. For a few seconds, the world was pleasant and quiet.
Sun City stretched out as far as she could see. Few cars were on the road, the streetlamps flickering as the morning sun came to take their place, and only some people milling about on the streets. Though once they disappeared from in front of Star Middle School, Maya lost sight of them and wondered where they might’ve been off to. Her nose twitched with the cold, trying to hold a sneeze at bay, rocking back and forth until she rocked too far forward and nearly toppled head first.
Pulling her mouth from her jacket, her warm breath fanned across her face as she sighed with relief.
“Wouldn’t want to die on the first day,” she grumbled, rolling her eyes to the sky, then busying herself with her phone.
The metal was cold and weighty in her hand, the glass screen ice against her numbing fingertips but she paid it little mind as she scrolled through her contacts to find Denzel amidst the short list of people. Tapping out a quick message, she leaned to the side and balanced her phone in one hand while pulling out her tangled headphones from her pants pocket. Giving them a quick shake, she laid her phone down behind her on a pile of leaves stuck in the corner of the rooftop’s edge. Her fingers make quick work of the headphones while her phone vibrates, the picture of a young boy with thick square-framed glasses, low-cut black hair shaved at the sides, dark brown skin, light brown eyes, and a widening grin underneath the notification ‘Denzel is calling’.
Plugging in her headphones to the jack, she answered and put them in her ears, making sure to brush her hair over them afterward to stave off the cold.
“You’re up early, May,” Denzel pointed out matter-of-factly, his voice popping and clicking over the receiver. “On a Monday no less.”
“Early bird gets the worm, right?” Maya replied with a poor attempt at stifling a yawn, her hand covering her mouth.
“Yeah,” Denzel scoffed, and she could practically feel the skepticism in his tone. “But you’re neither a bird nor a worm.”
She rolled her eyes to the sky, settling back and watching as the sun slowly made its ascent painting the sky in shades of light blue and honey gold. Shuffling and mumbling came from the other side of the phone, Denzel’s quiet curses making her grin as she stored the memory away for future teasing. A slight scuffle followed before he spoke again.
"And you barely get out of bed past twelve on a weekend."
It was Maya’s turn to scoff. Weekends were a perfect time for sleeping in and with no obligations over the summer aside from the usual, when would she ever get quality sleep like that again? Though she supposed being awake more often in the afternoon and night wasn’t the most healthy thing. Not that she would tell Denzel that.
“So what’re you doing conscious?” Denzel asked.
“Ouch, Den,” Maya laid the back of her hand against her forehead, pretending to faint, her legs flying up as she lost her balance for a second then scrambled to grab onto the edge to keep herself upright. “You’d rather me unconscious?”
Her heart was racing with the prospect of almost falling over for a second time. Glancing down at the drop below her, she grimaced and kept a hold on the edge. Another autumn breeze howling through the streets and ruffling her hair, muffling the sound of Denzel’s voice.
“You know that’s not what I meant,” he scolded, speaking a tad louder until the wind died down. “Where are you right now?”
Maya twisted around, glancing at the empty rooftop and then down between her feet. Star Middle School was much bigger than the last middle school she’d gone to. With several trailer buildings in the back, a cafeteria split off from the main building, and a gym on the far left. The campus itself was a maze and anyone could have wandered onto it with the lack of security and a proper fence. Though she couldn’t imagine why. At first glance, Star Middle School was a modern miracle of a school resembling a college campus. However, with its bland coloring of beige, white and dark brown — Maya imagined that if the school was truly a star, it’d be a dull one.
“Oh y’know, hanging around,” she shrugs, shrugging despite knowing he couldn’t see her. “What about you?”
Denzel makes a noise that sounds like a cross between clearing his throat and a hum. Maya bites the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing. That noise was something she’d heard plenty of times in the past. When he didn’t believe her but couldn’t form an argument against what she’d said. Despite herself, Maya grinned as he gave a withering sigh.
“Just getting up.”
“I forgot Meteor is an hour behind us.”
Looking at her phone, Maya whistled. It was only seven o’clock in Sun City. Though she’d been awake for hours before that and so restless that she left the house early. Somewhat glad that no one else was awake to stop her or see her off. Another shiver running down her spine, she tucked her phone away and wrapped her arms around her body, rubbing her hands against her forearms to try and chase the chill away.
“Yeah, we can’t all rise with the Sun,” Denzel quipped, his soft giggle bringing a slight smile to her face.
“Was that a joke about my city?” Maya feigned a loud gasp, folding her arms across her chest and raising a brow.
“I thought you said you hated it there.”
“Yeah,” Maya chuckled, leaning back on her hands and shrugging. “But it’s cold out and if false anger makes me warm, then I’ll take it.”
Realizing her mistake only a second too late. She cursed herself and squeezed her eyes shut as Denzel hummed triumphantly.
“So you’re outside,” he said in the same tune an old sage would use while stroking their beard methodically. “First day jitters?”
“Nobody says that anymore, Den,” Maya said, rolling her eyes, adjusting the cord of her headphones to keep it from brushing against her mouth as she tucked the lower half of her face in her jacket.
“Rude. I’m not nobody.”
Maya closed her eyes with a noncommittal hum. “No, you’re just an old-timey teenager.”
“I prefer the term old soul,” Denzel quipped and Maya rolled her eyes again, letting them flutter shut afterward. “And this isn’t about me and my timelessness, it’s about you. What’s up?”
Maya’s eyes opened in slits. Her warm breath fanning across her face, thawing out her cheeks and her nose that’d begun to grow numb with the chill. Looking around the streets and the sidewalks, she wondered if they held the answer to Denzel’s question. No one was awake to tell her to have a great day and she didn’t want to be caught in the middle of yet another argument. Dressing as quickly as possible, leaving through her window as to not set off the alarm, and high-tailing it to school for a moments peace — none of those things seemed normal.
No one in their right mind was excited for seventh grade. But then again, not all seventh graders hated being at home more than being at school. Her eyelids drooped. A heavy weight sitting in the pit of her stomach, her fingers curling into fists as she tried to find the words. There were so many things that were up. Her anxiety, for one. Her nervousness, for another. And this strange gloom that’d been attached to her for the longest time and made staying in bed far more appealing than getting out of it.
Closing her eyes for a moment, she could hear Denzel moving around in the background. His shuffling and cursing was a reprieve from the storm in her head and the words lodged in her throat. Swallowing hard, she sighed shakily.
“I never thought I’d make it this far.”
Her voice sounded small even to her own ears. Chest aching, heart clenching and twisting and the back of her eyes feeling hotter than usual.
“Well, you worked yourself hard,” Denzel reasoned, drawing a ghost of a smile to her lips. “The least they could do was put you in seventh grade.”
Maya swallowed hard and shook her head, clenching her fists tighter. It wasn’t as if she expected Denzel to understand without her saying so but — she was more frustrated that she couldn’t say it herself. Exhaling, she put on her best smile.
“Anyway, Mister High School Senior, what’s up with you? Found a job that takes shifters yet?”
Her voice was louder than before. Far more cheery, and so false that not even she believed it. But the stinging in her eyes was annoying and her clenching chest made it hard to breathe. At least like this she felt a little less —
“I’m fine, but May..”
“Hey! What’re you doing up there?”
A sharp raspy voice called from below her, Maya peering over the edge at the outline of a person standing right in front of the main building.
“May, what was that?” Denzel pressed. “And hey! I’m not even a senior, I’m a freshman!”
Swinging her legs over the side, she hastily swept up the strap of her backpack and started hurrying across the rooftop towards the exit.
Denzel’s yell echoed in her ear and she winced, holding up the microphone to her mouth as she slung her backpack over her shoulder and made a break for it.
“Gotta go, Den! Talk to you later, bye!”
Pressing the button, his voice was cut off in mid yell and she sighed, grabbing the door handle and swinging it open just as a person dressed in a brown jumpsuit, white scarf, black sunglasses and a beige wool cap came bursting through.
Maya screamed, wheeling backwards and falling onto her butt, scrambling away from the door with chest heaving. The person stepped forward and lowered the scarf from their mouth, looking up towards the rising sun before removing the sunglasses. Underneath the get-up was a presumably youthful young woman. Her skin was an ivory shade, covered in scales surrounding her cheeks and her neck, some showing behind her ears and flaring when she huffed while marching over. Silver-white eyes peered down at Maya with slitted pupils, Maya unsure when the woman blinked as a thin film covered her eyes first before her eyelids shut and opened again.
Her white hair pulled back from an angular face in a tight ponytail, a forked tongue flicking from between her lips as she practically hissed. Her hands resting on her hips, clad in thick leather brown gloves, wide curved talons peeking out from the tips of them, and a long thin tail sweeping the ground between her feet.
“Oh geeze..” Maya whispered, smiling sheepishly. “Good morning, Miss Jorah.”
“Maya Thurston,” Miss Jorah replied, drawing out the ‘s’ with a soft hiss. “What are you doing up here?”
“Oh y’know, just hanging out.”