The Impossible Vastness Of Us
Two classes passed and I already had more homework than I’d ever had back at Fair Oaks High. I wasn’t freaking out about it just yet, considering I had no friends and no extracurricular activities to distract me from all the schoolwork, but once I did I’d have to find a way to juggle it all.
As I was walking toward my next class I noticed the glances and full-on stares from my new schoolmates. Their looks varied from curious to sneering and I felt a tingle of wariness across the back of my neck. Turning a corner on my search for my Modern European History class, I came face-to-face with my stepsister-to-be and her girls. They sashayed down the hall like an ad for a TV show about beautiful popular high school kids, long hair fluttering out behind them like silk, long trim legs on display in their designer dresses and elongated by their Jimmy Choo sandals.
Eloise saw me, looked right through me and kept on walking without a word.
My skin felt hot with embarrassment at her obvious cut.
I watched her disappear around the corner with her best friends before looking around the hallway. That’s when I realized I hadn’t been imagining the sneers of my classmates.
A sick feeling settled in my gut as I wondered what the hell was going on.
Determined to pretend I didn’t care, I threw my shoulders back and continued on my search for my class. To my relief I discovered the classroom without having to ask anyone for directions. The last thing I wanted to do right then was interact with anyone. I strode inside, cursing Hayley all over again for bringing me to Massachusetts, unaware of anyone else but the tall faculty member standing by the whiteboard.
He caught sight of me in his peripheral vision and turned. He was my youngest teacher so far, probably in his late twenties, and he was cute in a nerdy, intellectual kind of way.
“Hi.” He smiled.
“I’m India Maxwell. I’m new.”
“Oh, India, yes. I knew that.” He held out his hand for me to shake. “I’m Mr. Franklin, but most of these guys drop the ‘Mr.’”
I smiled back, liking his down-to-earth vibe immediately. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“You, too.” He looked out at the class and I followed his gaze.
I felt a horrible jump in my heartbeat at the sight of Finn Rochester sitting in the middle of the room and things pretty much got worse from there.
“Finn,” Franklin said, “you’ve got an empty seat beside you, right?”
No. NO. NO!
I did not want to sit beside that stuck-up ass. Only seconds into the class and already I knew it was going to suck worse than anything that had happened in my day so far.
Finn glanced at the table and chair beside him and then looked over at me. His expression was carefully blank. “Yes, it’s empty.”
Franklin gestured toward it. “Take a seat, get comfy and we’ll get started.”
I murmured my thank-you and slowly made my way to the chair I’d just been allocated. Finn stared straight ahead at Franklin, much like he had done in our Microeconomics class. As I sat I glanced at his profile.
There was a weird flutter in my stomach that I put down to nerves. After all, it was messed up that someone as influential as Finn had decided I wasn’t good enough. It would make the school social climbing that much freaking harder. More than that, I realized...it hurt. I didn’t want it to hurt. But it hurt nonetheless. It reminded me too much of a time spent with a man who thought I was worthless.
Shaking that black hole of memories away, I found myself studying Finn.
The flutter in my stomach intensified.
It was a damn shame that someone so good-looking was such an incredible dipshit.
I noted his broad shoulders tense. Slowly, he turned his head to lock eyes with me. His look was dark and fathomless; mine was challenging.
Something weird happened to me as our silent interaction drew out. Franklin’s voice became just a murmur in the background and my blood turned hot. The whole world faded out—everything but Finn’s eyes and the squirming heat under my skin.
I began to worry that the longer he stared into my eyes, the more he’d see, because the longer I stared into his, the more I saw to my surprise that Hayley was right—there was a sadness in Finn’s eyes. And what surprised me even more was how curious I was to know what put it there. I hadn’t expected it. What could ever have made someone as lucky as Finn sad?
Finally his eyes narrowed and I could have sworn his expression turned wary a split second before he wiped it blank and turned his head away.
Feeling strangely unsettled, I decided to take a page out of Finn’s book and pretend like he didn’t exist.
When class ended Finn shot out of there before I could dare to say a word to him. I was okay with that. In fact, I waited for everyone to filter out before approaching Franklin.
“India, great job today. I’m delighted you did all the reading before joining us. Tobias Rochester is a competitive school. Sometimes it’s hard for new students coming from a less competitive environment to keep up with us.”
I thought that was an extremely diplomatic way to put it and knew my smile said so.
I pulled out one of the leaflets Ms. Llewellyn had put in my packet. “I see that you are the faculty member that oversees the school newspaper.”
“Yes. Usually it would be an English teacher but I minored in journalism so...” He shrugged modestly, as if to say, Here I am.
“Great. Well, I was coeditor of my paper back in Arroyo Grande. I was hoping that there might be a place for me on this paper.”
“Oh. Well, you know, we’ve got most of the team together already because we’re a few weeks into the school year...however, we are looking for a book reviewer. I know a critic isn’t a journalist but is that something you might be interested in?”
“Yes.” I nodded eagerly. “I love books. And really, I just want to be part of the team on the paper. It’s a start, right?”
“Definitely. We do have a couple of other students interested. However, I always choose those who have potential to bring more to the paper over time. So why don’t you email me some of the work you’ve done on your previous paper if you can?”
“I can do that.”
He chuckled at my eagerness. “Great. My email is on the intraweb. Send it to me ASAP.”
“I will. Thanks, Mr. Franklin.”
“You’re welcome, India.”
There was a little skip in my step as I left his class. I was hopeful that things were looking up.
* * *
That thought was quickly dashed when I wandered into the cafeteria for lunch period.
Tobias Rochester was a much smaller school than my last, which made the cafeteria drama much more pronounced. And today’s drama? Me. New Girl.
No one had made any friendly overtures yet and I was still receiving weird looks. Everyone was gaping at me: disgust in some cases and curiosity in others.
The disgust was worrying.
As I strode to the lunch line to be served, I searched for and eventually found Eloise sitting at a table smack-bang in the middle of the room. Of course she’d want to be in the center of it all.
Bryce and Charlotte sat on either side of her, and Finn, Gabe and Joshua sat opposite them. The girls saw me and immediately looked away. Bryce said something and whatever it was made the boys glance over their shoulders in my direction. Finn and Joshua quickly looked away but Gabe grinned over at me and started to get up.