I can’t believe what that new boy just did. I am in English, and Mr. Stratford was talking about poems when we heard the door open, and, of course, we all turned to see who was coming in. We all love a distraction.
And there was Zippy Hermes, an office girl, with a new boy. You could hear a collective gasp when he came in—from both the boys and the girls. A lot of the girls were gasping because this new boy (we found out shortly his name is Brian) is so big—bigger than a lot of high school boys. And in a football sort of way he’s good-looking, too. Tall, sturdy, broad shoulders, an athletic build. He’s wearing old soft jeans, faded by time not by the manufacturer. His T-shirt is black, no emblems or names of companies or slogans. Solid black. His hair is also black, and bushy—and seems never to have met a comb or a brush. I just got a glimpse when he came it, but he has the bluest eyes I’ve ever seen. “Cerulean blue” is what they say in some of the books I read. (“Sky blue,” in other words.) Like a bright sky on an early fall afternoon when the air is so clear and so darkling blue that it looks unreal—so rare is such a sky.
So anyway, this is why some of the girls were gasping. (Not me, though. I do not express my feelings in public.) I can only imagine why some of the boys were gasping, probably from fear, that’s my guess. This Brian is bigger than any other eighth grader in the school—bigger than a lot of the teachers, too.
Anyway, while Zippy was telling Mr. Stratford about Brian and was giving him Brian’s schedule to look at, Brian took a quick glance around them room—his expression never changing—and he saw that the only empty chair is … next to me. At my table. So even before the teacher said, “Brian, why don’t you take that empty seat over there by Emily?” he was moving my way. Boys were getting their legs out of the aisle—quickly—as he moved among them. Girls were staring at him as if Apollo had just descended in his chariot to be in 8th grade English here at Spoon River Middle School.
And I? I was just startled. I don’t like people sitting beside me—I never have—and no one really likes to sit with me, either, so things usually work out just the way everyone wants them to. Most teachers let me sit off by myself, and most of them don’t even mind when I read a book instead of pay attention in class. I think they’re so glad that I’m quiet and don’t ever bother them that they’re willing to let me just do what I want as long as I do all right on my grades, which I do because most of the homework in this school is ridiculously easy.
So anyway, Brian was sitting down even before Mr. Stratford told him to. And then he said, “Brian, would you like to tell us a little about yourself?”
And Brian just stared at him as if he weren’t even there. Stared at him, with no change of expression at all.
So finally the teacher blushed—blushed!—when he realized Brian wasn’t going to answer, and he just said, “Well, welcome to Spoon River Middle School, Brian. You’ll be happy here.”
But he said nothing in reply, nothing at all. Just stared.
In a moment Mr. Stratford turned his back to write on the board. And with a flick of his arm, Brian knocked half my books off the table. He never even gave me a chance to move them. I would have moved them. Of course I would have moved them. But he didn’t even give me a chance.
I just looked at him in total shock. And he looked right back.
The class was laughing. And so Mr. Stratford turned around and saw what had happened. “Emily?” he asked. “Is everything all right?”
I could not look away from Brian. But I answered, “No problem.”
So he turned back to the board. I got down out of my chair and picked my books up, and when I got back in my seat, I saw that Brian had drawn a line with a marker on the desktop, right down the middle of the table, dividing it in half. Only his “half” was quite a bit bigger. “See that?” he whispered fiercely. He didn’t wait for an answer. “You get your stuff on my side of that, and you’ll wish you didn’t.”
I turned to him. In his blue eyes I saw something—something ancient and awful, something I could not bear to look at for another second. And so I turned away. And now I sit here, wondering what sort of primordial creature has crawled up out of the slime to sit beside me.