I stepped off the school bus, my brain still foggy and my eyes still sleepy. But when I saw the janitor re-painting my locker again, my early morning funk was slapped right off my face. Someone must have used spray paint that time, or maybe a permanent marker—not so easily cleaned as lipstick or a simple splatter of oozing garbage. My eyes scanned the lockers on either side of mine, all faded and chipped orange paint, while mine was a bright beacon of fresh lacquer. I wondered what graffiti Henry had seen that morning on his 5 a.m. arrival to campus. Maybe just a word: “slut.” Maybe something more creative, like the enormous penis, complete with pubic hair and a little squirt coming from the tip that had been drawn on my locker door a few weeks ago. Luckily, most sharpie-wielding dipshits at my high school weren’t so clever. Clever was remembered better.
It looked like Henry was almost finished covering whatever new allusion to my reputation had been left for me to find. I didn’t need to guess whether or not anyone else saw the graffiti before it had been painted over—darting eyes and stifled giggles nearby told me they had. Thankful that I already had the book I needed, I changed direction, and headed for my first period class instead of my locker.
How did people even get into the school at night? I walked to class, keeping my gaze focused straight ahead and my face expressionless. Who had I newly pissed off—and how? Whose boyfriend had been caught with his eyes glued to my ass as I passed? Or, maybe a jealous underclassman brat hadn’t developed quite as well as I had yet? I had been the first girl to grow breasts in grade school, years ago, and it hadn’t escaped anyone’s notice, no matter how baggy the shirt I wore was. Those babies just kept growing over the years, while the rest of me stretched out tall and lean. Most guys can’t help but stare, and most girls hate me for it.
But I don’t wear baggy shirts anymore. I pushed my shoulders back and straightened my spine, the shock and embarrassment of morning graffiti already wearing off. It never took long to remember who I was, and shrug off the ridicule of who people thought I was. Who they needed me to be. I readjusted my backpack and fluffed my hair. Screw them.
A pair of eyes locked onto mine. Tristan Jameson, Andrew Jackson’s star quarterback, was walking down the hallway in my direction, staring at me. He was holding the strap of his backpack over one shoulder, the other hand in the pocket of his jeans, strolling slowly with a half-smile playing on his lips.
“Hi,” he said in a low voice as he passed, so close we almost bumped shoulders.
“Hi.” I glanced back. He was looking back at me.
“Oh, sorry.” I stopped short just before slamming into the oncoming student traffic. Several girls were walking together like a wall of bodies, chatting and laughing. I shot my elbows in front of me for protection, and accidentally toppled the books from one of the girl’s hands.
“Why don’t you look where you’re going?” She stooped down to gather her things, tugging the hem of her miniskirt down and muttering under her breath.
“Here. Sorry.” She snatched the book I held out for her and pushed past me with a scowl, running to catch up with the herd.
“Why don’t you get a backpack?” I mumbled, watching her bustle away in the direction Tristan had been headed. He was already gone.
I sat on my favorite table in the outdoor courtyard, my feet propped on the back of a conjoined concrete bench. The yard was all brick and concrete, with a lone tree springing up from the center, a square space open to the sky where four school buildings met. The tables were mostly empty, with only a few guys loitering by the doors to the cafeteria. The cafeteria was where the bulk of the student body preferred to eat. I prefer solitude. I leaned back on my hands and closed my eyes, knowing that extending my tan was hopeless. I let the late morning sun warm my shoulders and face, soaking it in with greed. It was the last of the summer heat, the days already shortening and the shadows lengthening into autumn.
A burst of laughter erupted nearby as a group of girls swarmed around one of the empty tables, flinging their purses and book bags on top, and my moment of peace vanished. I opened up Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, the pages blue after letting my closed eyes bake in the sun. I had been slogging through the book for days, and I thought once again about seeing the movie before I finished. I hate that seeing a movie changes the way a character looks in my mind, but I detest how much a movie stinks after I’ve already read the book. I thumbed a few pages forward to see where the chapter ended, not really in the mood for reading, but always more comfortable to have a book in hand at lunchtime.
I gasped. He was standing just behind me, his head cocked to one side, looking over my shoulder at the Tolstoy.
“Hi, I’m Tristan.”
He was squinting into the sun, and it was hard to tell if he was smiling or frowning.
“Yeah, I know who you are.”
He shaded his eyes and laughed. Didn’t everyone know who he was? He was on the billboard in front of the football field, for god’s sake, his arm cocked back to throw a winning pass. Go Bobcatts!
“What are you reading?” His voice was soft and curious, and he squinted to read the pages I held open in my lap.
“Uh…” I stammered. The sun shone through his light irises like glass, shocking against his dark hair. His black polo shirt was gathered loosely around one hip, the hand in his pocket pushing it up casually over the waistband of his jeans. A slice of flesh was made visible. He stood in perfect contrapposto, a bookbag slung over his shoulder like Michelangelo’s David holding the slingshot. I closed my book and tossed it onto the table, pretending not to notice how his jeans hung, low and delicious on slender hips. “Just something for English Lit.”
“Man, that’s a fat book. We never have to read stuff like that in my class.”
“Aren’t you a senior, too?”
“Yeah. What English class are you in?”
“AP,” I shrugged.
“AP. What’s that stand for?”
He furrowed his brow.
“Based on college reading lists.” I held up my “fat” book in illustration. “You take a test at the end and get college credits, depending on how well you do.”
I could tell he was surprised I had a brain. Most guys were. I wasn’t sure what to say next, so I held his gaze, challenging him to ask me more about books.
“How can you read out here? It’s so bright.”
Because I’d rather read a book than sit alone with no one talking to me. “I heard that people with light eyes have a harder time adjusting to bright light.”
He stepped closer to me, shifting his weight and putting his back to the sunlight. The color of his eyes reminded me of Halls Mentho-Lyptus cough drops after I’d sucked on one for a while and the zing got too strong to keep it in my mouth—icy blue and transparent.
“I don’t want to bother you or anything,” he said, dropping his voice lower, since we were face to face then. He smelled like soap and clean laundry, with something gritty underneath. Something undeniably male.
“No, I—” I cleared my throat. He was even better looking up close. “I’m not busy.”
He glanced back over his shoulder and the group of girls who had been watching suddenly picked up their conversation again, all of them talking at once and fumbling with their lunches. I was waiting with as much anticipation as they had been—why on earth was he talking to me?
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Read an excerpt from The Tramp HERE.