I waited until the last two years of high school to take Spanish and am now one of only three seniors; Sam and Rob are the others. Every day we have to conjugate verbs and today, the teacher was in a rare mood.
Amar: to love
That's what I associated with Rob Holland, the newest student at Naylorville High who somehow has the power to make me blush, stammer and trip all at once.
Molestar: to annoy
That should be Sam Seeley's middle name. Since seventh grade he has annoyed me to the point where I should earn a gold medal for ignoring him.
Matar: to kill
This is what I want to do to the person putting black origami roses in my locker, writing hateful notes, rude emails and texts and throwing a rock at my bedroom window.
Nadar: to swim
My one talent. A college scholarship I desperately need. Something I never thought I wouldn't be able to do until an "accident" cuts my swim season short.
Aprender: to learn
I have a lot to learn. About Rob and how emotionally stunted a person can be. About Sam and how his life isn't better than anyone else's. About how one friend's mental illness can have lasting effects. About love. About myself...Lane Meyers.
Read Chapter 1:
Chapter 1- Lane Open
Two hours before I derailed from the path I worked hard to maintain, I was asleep in my bed, curled up under my warm purple comforter.
An hour before my life went on a detour, I stumbled out of bed, trying to beat my sister, Angie, to the shower. My hair was beyond taming after I used the blow dryer, so I pulled my dark curls into a ponytail and ran across the hall to my room. Clean jeans, a red sweater and socks sat on top of my antique dresser, ready to face the day with me. I crossed the hall back to the bathroom and noticed my mom's bedroom door was shut. Good. She had made it home from work before seven this morning.
I found I was remarkably awake and put in my contacts in record time, brushed on some makeup in attempt to cover my ever-present freckles and darted downstairs to make the coffee.
Ten minutes later, Angie and I ran around, trying to locate her shoes for school. I offered to help as she peered under the coffee table while I bit back a yelp as I stubbed my toe on the sofa. Bending down to rub it, I saw Angie's shoes on the bottom shelf of the entertainment center and tossed them over to her. Whirling around to the foyer, I doubled checked my homework folder and found my Spanish homework was missing. I rummaged through my backpack again, looked under the newspapers on the table and after thinking of several excuses I could give my teacher I finally found it--under the microwave on the counter. Pausing for a moment, I took a quick glance around the first floor, making sure the lights were off and the back door was locked. Nodding to Angie I had everything we ran out to the car.
At school, I stared at some black confetti; little accordion shaped pieces of black paper, two inches long, sitting on top of books in my locker. Halloween was yesterday, so it wasn't a holiday related joke. My locker wasn't in the vicinity of the football players', who had a home game this Friday, so it couldn't have been mistaken for one of theirs. In fact, I didn't think it was related to school at all: our school colors were yellow and green and our mascot was the owl.
"Hey, Alaina," Alison Miller chirped as she shut her locker. Her gaze drifted to the black slivers of paper at my feet. "What're those?" She reached up and ran her hand through her tight curls, then wound one around her finger as she stared at my feet.
Call me Lane! I wanted to shout. Every time I suggested it she seemed to not hear me. So, I stopped trying months ago. "No idea. Trash I think."
Alison cocked her head, but her boyfriend caught her arm and guided her towards the cafeteria. I took what I needed for my first three classes, pressing closer to my locker as someone jabbed their elbow into my back. Hearing someone yell "Adam" down the hallway helped me remember I wanted to review my Chemistry notes on atomic weights before the exam in—I looked at my watch—twelve minutes. Cleaning my locker would have to wait.
I rushed through the halls, navigating like a fish; sliding around chairs against the wall, pushing past people standing still. Why must people stand still in the middle of the hallway? I caught a whiff of too much cologne as a junior from my swim team walked by. My guidance counselor was walking out of the library and nodded at me. We had met yesterday to go over my scholarship application to the University of Maryland.
Shouts, yells and laughter filtered away as I turned the corner and headed towards the back of the school where the science classes were. A faint smell of sulfur hung in the air. The Physics teacher across the hall slammed a cabinet door closed as I slid into my Chemistry class. First one, as usual.
I reviewed my notes until the bell rang and students settled into their seats. I leaned across our three-person table reaching for the Chemistry exam Sam Seeley was passing back. He flashed his captivating smile, which would’ve been charming if he hadn’t winked an eye and licked his lips at the same time.
"Lane, do guys really think that's attractive?" Julia asked loud enough for Sam to hear.
"Of course they do. Even Ask Libby said girls like guys who will smile at them," Sam retorted, rolling his dark eyes.
"That was so not a smile," Julia mumbled, as she stowed her cane under the table. She had hip problems, which led to balance issues so she used a cane decorated with different kinds of duct tape.
I noticed the stress he put on "Ask Libby" and for a moment my heart stopped. I was stunned he even knew our town paper had an advice column, let alone he admitted to reading it. Julia's foot touched mine under the table, letting me know she caught the "Ask Libby" comment. Only my mom, Julia and my sister knew I was "Libby"; there was no way Sam could possibly know.
"Everyone, quiet down!" my chemistry teacher, Mrs. Grimes, ordered. "You have 20 minutes for the written portion of the exam and then forty for the lab. Good luck!"
I sighed, blowing my bangs up off my forehead for a moment. Only 20 minutes? I studied all week; I understood everything Julia had quizzed me on, but I was nervous with what Mrs. Grimes would surprise us with on the exam.
I turned my attention to the dreaded paper in front of me and read through the ten questions, squelching my excitement that I didn't see any surprises on the written part of the exam. A quick glance at the clock told me I had 19 minutes left until the lab portion of the test.
I was well into question six when sudden murmuring from the front of the room grew louder by the second. Looking up, I felt Julia simultaneously nudge me with her foot as my pencil froze above my paper. My heart began slamming against my ribs like it did after finishing a race.
I was suddenly more aware of the green chalkboard behind my teacher. Maybe it was because the white movie screen fell over the top half, to block the Periodic table. A student stood at the front of the room, a stark contrast to the plain white screen.
Mrs. Grimes introduced us to Robert Holland. He wore faded black jeans with a belt and a plaid flannel shirt hung off his thin frame. His russet brown hair, which fell unevenly over his forehead and around his ears, was a bit longer than the other guys who went to my school.
He looked to where our teacher pointed and his eyes locked with mine. I forgot what I was doing and stared at him, feeling my life change direction. Every day, I woke up knowing where I needed to be, what to do during the day, how to survive the tortuous teenage world of my high school which meant ignoring most students. Now, I felt a flush creep up my neck, as a sweat broke out on my forehead and my heart thundered like horses in my chest. I was sure everyone, including him, noticed.
She handed him a copy of the test and directed him to my table, which had the only free chair. Heads turned toward the aisle. The buzzing of whispers and the stares, which followed, didn't seem to faze him. He stood straight, his eyes met mine and he gave me a small smile. I think I smiled back at him.
Julia's kick against my ankle woke me up and the hamster in my brain began running on the wheel again.
Robert. Holland. My mother had mentioned a Robert who was going to be fostered by Dr. Tucker from the hospital. Teenage foster children had been coming to Naylorville High by means of Dr. Ronald Tucker who lived down the street from me. I felt awful for most of the students; they were shunned, made fun of, or assaulted on occasion. It didn't matter about their culture, skin color or sex because if they weren't Naylorville born, and raised, they were outsiders. This behavior, by most of my peers, was the reason I couldn't wait to graduate and escape this town.
Mrs. Grimes told us to continue our test and glancing down at my paper, I stared at the question about our sulfur lab from last week. I tried taking quiet deep breaths to bring my heartbeat back to its normal rhythm.
Ten minutes passed from when Robert sat down to when I finished my exam and it seemed like an eternity. I looked sideways a few times and caught him glancing at the teacher, then at me. He gave me a lopsided grin to which I blushed and looked down, double-checking my answers. I couldn't even think because I was so aware of him sitting to my right. The heat of him radiating towards me jumbled my thoughts. I closed my eyes trying to shut it out, but then I could hear the sounds his pencil made and the soft breaths he drew in as he paused between writing. He was probably just thinking but the brief silence closed around us like a bubble and the only thing I could hear and feel was him.
Robert flipping a his test over burst that bubble and I tried to appear nonchalant as I flinched, turned my test over, then began picking at a jagged fingernail. Julia turned her exam over seconds later. We sat for the next minute dividing our attention between watching the other students slowly finishing one by one or doodling on the back of our exams. Robert made the twenty-third student. Odd numbers. We were paired up in Lab. Where would Robert go during the labs? Julia's foot pressed against mine, she glanced sideways at me, raised a blond eyebrow, and then dipped her head back towards our lab.
As the last student looked to the front of the room, Mrs. Grimes had us pass our papers to the aisle. She caught my eye as she wandered toward us, collecting papers.
"Robert, you can work with Julia and Lane on the lab part today. If you don’t understand a problem or haven’t learned it yet just skip it for now."
He nodded, his hair falling across his face and with one fluid movement he pushed it back and glanced at Julia and I. His leaf-green gaze settled somewhere on my face and he raised a corner of his mouth into a smile. I blinked owlishly, feeling confused with what I was supposed to say.
"I’m Julia Wiles, and this is Lane Meyers in case you were confused."
Thank God for her. I took a deep breath and lowered my eyes mumbling "hello". I think he said for us to call him "Rob" as I managed to gain my composure by gathering my calculator and storing it in my purse. I glanced down at his open backpack between our chairs and saw the edges of three textbooks, the header for our school paper and a few notebooks. Nothing special.
"Okay, you have 40 minutes to complete your labs," Mrs. Grimes announced and the sound of students' chatter, and chairs scraping the floor, filled the room. "Girls, don’t forget to pull back your hair. We don’t need anyone catching fire." I pulled my ponytail a bit tighter, working on forming my first words to Rob. I saw him look towards the sides of the room where everyone else was preparing for lab.
"We go right here," I choked out, gesturing to the lab space behind us. For some reason, whoever designed this lab had built four lab spaces in the left corner of the classroom. It was out of the way of the teacher's desk, and secluded from the other students who were stationed on either side of the room. It worked for us because Julia didn’t have to lug her cane and find a place to put it while we stood. Three weeks ago, Mrs. Grimes had moved us back here after Julia tripped Sam with it. I think she did it on purpose because of a smart remark he made about my new University of Maryland shirt enhancing my all too normal chest. Julia had even made a show of trying to help him off the floor as he shot her nasty looks.
Julia is the best friend anyone could ever have.
Minutes later, Mrs. Grimes appeared, set a paper in front of us and I quickly shut my book. I had to know if I had remembered the atomic weight for gold. I did. I flicked a piece of black paper that came fluttering out of my book into the trashcan. They must've burrowed themselves deep into the creases of my Chemistry and Spanish books, which got me wondering who would have the time to stand at my locker and insert these pieces of paper through the vents? I made a mental note to ask Maggie, who had the other locker next to mine, if she had some in hers also.
"Have a pencil I can use, Meyers?" a low voice asked. "No lead in mine." I turned and found Sam leaning back against our table, arms crossed casually across his chest, talking to me but his eyes fixed on Rob's back.
"No. Sorry." How could you take the exam without lead?
Sam's gaze narrowed, seeming to study Rob's shirt for a second. Then, Sam's hand came up and brushed off something I couldn't see from his own arm. The movement drew my attention to the symbol embroidered on the left side.
"Maybe New Kid has one here I can use?" Before I could kick him in the shins, Julia spun around, her notebook falling to the ground, bouncing off my foot.
"Here, you can use my lead," she said handing it over to Sam. He smirked but took her hint and started toward his desk, bumping into Rob as he passed.
Julia nudged me, while giving me a small smile. Ignore Sam, she mouthed and I gave a small nod, handing her her notebook.
Turning over the lab exam, Rob, Julia and I silently read the instructions. I tried to ignore the flutters in my chest, the feeling I got when I was in a new situation and was unsure what to do. I didn't like change as it had been just Angie, my mom and I for so long—nothing really had altered in my life. Our father died fifteen years ago, and mom worked hard to keep our house, pay bills, and put a little money away for two college educations. Her work ethic embedded itself into Angie and I. So, between sports, school, and my job at the movie theater, it left little time to cultivate a romantic relationship.
I read about relationships. I've even heard about and tried to ignore to the ones in school; why were they all so full of drama? I wanted to think they weren't and tried to channel my thoughts through my incognito persona in our local newspaper advice column, "Ask Libby". There I could say what I felt and let my alter ego kick in, giving my well-filtered brain a rest. Even then, I spouted off advice from what I learned by observing, my intuition, reading up on psychology or asking the three people who knew I wrote that column for their advice. The Internet came in very handy, also.
However, today, I was becoming more aware of a male in a way I hadn't before, which scared me because I had no answers as to why Rob had this affect on me and other males had not.
"Ready, guys?" Julia asked, anxious to begin our lab. An exam I needed an ‘A’ on wasn’t the place to contemplate my issues with Rob. I took a deep breath and read the first step aloud.
"Are we allowed to talk during lab?" Rob asked and I nodded, taking great care to put the test tubes in the rack without breaking them.
"Yeah, and the lab is more of a group grade rather than individual," Julia expounded.
"Makes sense though I'm not great at Chemistry. Computers are more my thing."
"My sister loves computers!" Before I could stop them, the words were out of my mouth.
Where the hell did that come from? I sounded like I was five so I kept my mouth shut unless it pertained to the task at hand, intent on not embarrassing myself any further.
At the end of class, Julia offered to hand in our lab papers. I learned, in seventh grade, not to stop her or think she's inhibited in any way. Rob’s gaze followed her up the aisle as he helped me clean up.
"She’s been like that since she was little, fell on some ice then down a set of cement stairs. Her doctor won’t operate on her hip until she’s over eighteen, or has stopped growing. She doesn't want our pity," I warned quietly, turning back to our table.
"She doesn’t seem like the kind to want it," was his reply. His astuteness surprised me, noticing Julia’s sassy, stubborn attitude.
"Do you know where," he started, pulling a piece of paper out of his pocket, "Spanish Two, Room 219 is? The teacher's MacDonald."
My heart vaulted into my throat and I smiled.
"I’m going there next. Just follow me. What else do you have?" I discovered we had two more classes together: English and Gym. I scrutinized his schedule looking for new pieces of information. His address was the Tuckers but I didn’t see his birth date anywhere. As the bell rang, I told Rob between Julia and I, we could direct him to his classes throughout the day.
"We need to go upstairs for Spanish." I led the way out of the room towards the nearest set of stairs and we merged with the line of traffic moving up. I could see the nudges, the inquisitive stares, and could only imagine what the girls were saying about his attire. Button down shirts, rugby’s, designer sweaters, sports jerseys or related gear is worn but no one had ever donned, in the history of Naylorville High School, a plaid flannel shirt. As we turned to maneuver our way up the second set of stairs, something plopped down on top of my books. My feet faltered on the steps as I looked down, aware of Rob's hand touching my elbow to steady me.
"What is that?" he asked and having a free hand, he took it, turning it over with long fingers.
"I'm not sure. It looks like a black flower of some sort." I looked around as we approached the landing and turned left into the hallway. Everyone was rushing to his or her classes; no one met my eyes except Rob who stood silently near the water fountain, the black object in his hand.
"Just pitch it." I nodded to the three-foot high cylinder next to me. "I have no idea what it is."
We walked into Spanish and he stood back a bit letting me enter the room first. Had I ever noticed the other males at the school, standing back and letting a female enter a room first? I couldn't remember! Flustered, I scooted by him and took my assigned seat, while Rob walked to the teacher’s desk.
Señor MacDonald pointed to a chair diagonally in front of mine then handed back Rob’s schedule. Rob kept his eyes to the floor as he meandered towards his seat, but I knew if I could hear the girls giggling and making rude comments about his hair, he could too. Eventually, everyone settled down as the class bell reverberated throughout the room, and Señor MacDonald began listing verbs on the board for us to conjugate.
Buscar: to look for
Amar: to love
I had waited until the last two years of high school to take Spanish and am now one of only three seniors; Sam and Rob are the others. Thankfully, Seeley is further down in the alphabet so Sam sat across the room. It didn’t stop him from throwing little paper footballs at me when the teacher wasn’t looking. I'm sure Sam was bored; he spoke Spanish better than anyone else in class did.
Molestar: to annoy. I applied that one to Sam every day.
I must’ve sighed aloud as the fourth paper football landed on my open book because Rob turned and glanced at my desk. Then his eyes settled, just for a moment, upon my face. They slid to Sam before he could see the blush rise on my cheeks as I busied myself with conjugating verbs.
What is it with this guy? I stared at my paper. The footballs stopped, and I looked up wondering if Sam had left the room for some reason.
Matar: to kill.
That was the look in Sam's narrowed eyes, fixated on Rob.
That was also the next verb we had to conjugate.
My Spanish teacher was half-deaf, so he never heard anything that went on in the back of the class. I could hear Rob shift in his seat and continue his work as Señor MacDonald cleared his throat and began talking.
Whatever Rob did shut Sam up for the moment, something I hadn’t been able to do in the six years he’d been taunting me. It took all my self-control to look back down and finish the verb assignment until our teacher launched into a lesson about the culture of Mexico. Forty minutes never took so long.
About Anna J. Adams
In addition to writing, editing, reviewing and reading, I enjoy traveling, board games, volunteering; all while fostering cats/kittens. A native Marylander, I support the Redskins, Capitals and Orioles. I reside outside of Washington DC with my family, a dog and 20-pound cat.