“She hit the ground pretty hard,” he says in a low, smooth voice. “Maybe she needs to go to see Miss Brady.”
“Excellent idea,” Mr. Ames says, nodding. “Let me help you up, Elizabeth,” he says, offering me a hand. Then, to everyone else, “Who wants to volunteer to walk her to the nurse’s office?”
“No!” I say, jumping up. I can’t go to the nurse’s office. She’ll call my mom, who will make me go home and then prescribe chicken broth and a bedtime earlier than a toddler’s. “Really, I’m fine,” I say. “I had dance last period and overdid it. I just got a little light-headed.” Mr. Ames is frowning at me, so I add, “I didn’t eat lunch.”
“Well, at least go get a snack,” he says, shaking his head. “You girls.” I can’t help but wonder whether he thinks I’m anorexic or something.
“Great,” I say quickly. “I’ll go right now.”
“Someone needs to go with you,” he says, “just to make sure you’re all right. Anyone?” He and I both look around the class; no one volunteers. I don’t blame them: We’re only a few weeks into the school year and I didn’t go here last year. Technically, I’m still new.
“I’ll do it,” Guy volunteers. The hairs on my arms stand up.
“That would be fantastic,” Mr. Ames says. Even in my slightly woozy state, I wonder: Really? Fantastic?
Mr. Ames writes us hall passes and hands them over. “Take your time.”
My legs are shaky as I turn to leave the room; Guy follows me. Mr. Ames resumes class before we’re to the doorway. “As for everyone else, please open your notebooks for a fun new writing assignment. I’d like you to write two pages that begin with the phrase, ‘It all started when the dog…’ ”
Guy laughs under his breath. Once we’re out in the hallway, I turn and face him.
“Thanks for coming with me,” I say. “But really, I’m fine. You can just hang out if you want.”
“No worries,” he says with that easy voice that seems to float over to my ears. “I’m hungry, too.”
“Oh, okay.” Now I get it: I’m nothing but a free pass to the vending machines. Even so, although we just met, I fight to keep from smiling in his presence.
We walk down the long spoke of the English hallway in silence. I desperately want to ask his name, but I can’t be sure that Ella hasn’t already, so I keep my mouth shut. Though we don’t speak, I am aware of everything: the hint of a strut in his step; the way he genuinely greets the few people that pass like he knows everyone in school; the way he laughs after pulling out his iPhone and scrolling around for a second.
“There’s a ghost in this hallway,” he says, tilting the screen so I can see the “ghost meter” app.
“I hope you didn’t pay for that.”
“Naw, it’s free, but I’ve paid for worse,” he says before moving to hold open the door to the center of the school for me. Woodbury is a sprawling wheel with all of the departments branching out from the common/cafeteria area.
“Thanks.” He nods with a half smile. When we reach the vending machines, he puts away his iPhone and pulls a few dollars from his pocket.
“What’s your poison?” he asks, gesturing toward the rows of candy, chips, granola bars, and beverages.
“You don’t have to buy my food.” This makes him smile full-out, which zaps me like I’m sticking a butter knife in a light socket, but in a good way.
“You left your bag in class.”
I look down, as if it would be dangling from my neck if I had it with me. But he’s right; I have no money. “Fine, then I’ll take a Twix.”
“Good choice.” He buys two Twix bars and two bottles of water and hands me my half.
“Least I can do,” he says.
“Huh?” I unwrap my candy while he does. “What do you mean?”
“I missed,” he says. When I scrunch up my face at him, he clarifies. “I tried to catch you, but I missed. The least I can do is buy you a candy bar.”
“How chivalrous of you.” I can’t help but laugh.
“Can I record you saying that and play it back for my mom?” We start back toward class.
“Sure,” I say, wanting to add something witty but coming up dry.
We’re quiet again through the English hallway, but just before the door to our classroom, he turns to face me.
“You look different today.”
“Uh…” I’m not sure what to say. I’m frozen, gripping my water bottle, probably with chocolate in my teeth.
“Not in a bad way,” he says. “Good different.”
He pauses for a second, like he might say more, but then he nods toward the door and walks into the classroom. I follow behind, the plastic bottle protesting in my viselike grip. Once again, I’m relieved that I’m not wearing the necklace: I’m pretty sure my heart rate just surged to somewhere near the red zone. As I sit down in the only open desk in the classroom—the one right behind Guy—I think about the enormity of what just happened.
Maybe for the first time in my life, someone noticed.
He noticed me.
“Hey, you know that guy in creative writing?” I ask Ella the next morning at breakfast. “The one with the hair? He sits in our usual seat? Thanks for the warning about that, by the way.”
She looks at me funny, maybe because she’s clueless, probably because she’s wondering why I’m asking. On the verge of blushing, I start buttering my toast so I have something else to focus on.
“Yeah?” she asks. “What about him?”
“He said hi to me and I felt like a moron because I didn’t know his name.”
Ella just stares at me.
I roll my eyes at her. “Ella!” I shout. “Quit messing around. What’s his name?”
She laughs a little, stands, and takes her plate to the sink. I think she’s going to ignore me completely, but halfway through the doorway, she says his name over her shoulder.
I use the last ten minutes of dance class primping instead of rehearsing. After my speed shower, I pull my hair back into a wet knot and then hurry to creative writing, charged by the thought of seeing a guy I don’t know at all. He doesn’t arrive until just before the bell, but when Mr. Ames turns to write today’s vocabulary words on the board, he turns around in his desk.
“Hey, Elizabeth.” Zap.
“Hi, Sean,” I say back, swallowing butterflies. I want to say his whole name, but that would be elementary school–style immature, so I just think it.
Hi, Sean Kelly.
I solo brainstormed a few conversation starters on the way to school, but unfortunately class starts, so I don’t get the chance to try them out. Sean’s forced to turn around and I’m obligated to stare at his broad back for most of class, pausing only to make periodic eye contact with Mr. Ames so he doesn’t call me out. I manage to stay under the radar. But then at the bell, Mr. Ames does call me out: He asks me to hang back after class for a few minutes. Disappointed, I glance at Sean as he leaves the room, then walk up front.