“Are you sure you want to go to school already?”
I stuff my notebooks into my backpack. “Yeah, don’t worry about me,” I tell my brother. “Education is free here, right? I should take advantage of it.”
Henry frowns. “You just came from the hospital though.” He pats my back. “Are you sure that you’re ready to come back so soon?”
“No worries,” I say. “I feel great.” I honestly can’t remember any of my classmates’ appearances, but just sitting in a classroom environment excites me. To learn from another person, lecturing, rather than just reading a textbook on a hospital bed.
I can’t wait.
Henry looks at his watch. “Ah!” he exclaims. “I’m late! Uhm… Breakfast is in the fridge. You can heat it up in the microwave. I packed your lunch too. It’s on the counter. You okay going to school on your own?”
“Of course,” I reply. “I’m not a kid, gōgō.”
“Right,” Henry says, a slight tone of sadness in his voice. He gently pats my head, messing up my hair a bit. “That’s right. You’re grown up now.”
Ah. I shouldn’t have said that. I really shouldn’t say anything related to my age. Not with our circumstances. Henry quickly smiles at me, hiding his distress, and waves goodbye as he leaves the house. Henry… I’m sorry. Because of me, you always have to hide yourself with a smile. Hide how you’re hurt. Hide how you’re lonely. To make me happy. To reassure me.
Yet I can’t do anything about it.
I don’t have long.
Getting closer to school. My school is in sight. Climbing those cement steps. Up. Up. Getting higher. Then the hallways. Nearing my classroom. This familiar, yet unfamiliar place.
It’s my homeroom.
I take a deep breath. It’ll be fine. I covered all the topics that I’ve missed while lying around at the hospital. I’ll be able to follow along. It’s no problem. No problem at all.
I open the door.
Chattering fills my ears. Laughter. Smiles. I rarely see those at the hospital. As I walk to my seat, people I pass suddenly stop talking and stare at me, as if I were a parasite, an abnormality. My heart feels heavy and unwelcomed. I sit on my assigned seat, at least I think this is my seat. I don’t really remember. It’s been a while.
“Hey,” I overhear a girl whisper. “It’s that girl, right?”
“She never comes to school.”
“I heard that she was in some gang.”
“She just skips all the time.”
“Ha, so that’s what she looks like.”
Don’t listen to them. I can’t hear them. I don’t care. I’m just here to learn. I’m here for the education. I’m not here to make friends.The other people don’t matter. My classmates don’t matter. I don’t need others. I just need Henry. I don’t need anyone else. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t hurt.
“What’s with the silence today?” a loud voice pierces through the talking. Instantly, everyone looks up. It is the teacher. “Everyone is unusually quiet.” He looks over at me and nods. “Welcome back, Taylor.”
“T-Thank you,” I say. The first person who talked to me today. Who welcomed me. What was the teacher’s name again? Mister… Mister… Argh, I can’t remember. How many times have I been in his class? Perhaps twice? Then I had to return to the hospital again. I think this was the teacher who sent me the material every day to make sure I was keeping up with my work. My health is so inconvenient, but I am thankful for his help.
Suddenly, a figure bursts into the classroom. He is panting, holding onto two crutches. His leg is fully wrapped. Hm… it reminds me of someone. His hair is slightly bleached and his skin is tanned. Hold on. This person…
“Connor Kim,” the teacher says. “Late again.”
“Hey, it’s not my fault,” the boy with bleached hair replies. “C’mon, Mr. Soto. Let me off this time.”
“Late,” the teacher, Mr. Soto, blatantly says. He proceeds to check him off in the attendance sheet. Connor, the boy, groans as he turns around, making eye contact with me. Wait. This guy. Both of our eyes widen. His mouth drops.
“You…” he says. “The girl from the hospit—”
“WOAH!” I shout loudly, standing from my chair. I am so abrupt that my chair tips over, crashing onto the floor loudly. Everyone stares at me odd. Crap. I bite my lip. What should I do? What do I say? I was so panicked that he’d say “hospital” that I didn’t even think about what to say.
“Y-Your hair,” I say. “Uh… Well… Uh… It looks cool. Er… Where did you get it done?”
Nice job me. Now I sound like I have a crush on him.
“I did it myself,” he replies. “Just bought dye and bleached it myself.”
Awkward. Awkward. Awkward. Someone kill me. Actually don’t kill me, I want to live. Oh my god. I want to hide in a hole. I quickly set my chair up and sit back down. I stare out the window and use my notebook to blow some air on my face. I am probably so red right now. Cool down. Cool down. It’ll be okay. It’s not like the whole class is watching.
The whole class is watching.
Oh shut up, inner me.
Connor walks down the aisle and sits on the empty desk next to me. Crap. Why is he sitting there? Was he always assigned that seat? I don’t remember him! Then again, I don’t recognize anyone in this class.
Mr. Soto continues to call our names, taking attendance again. Connor leans toward me, whispering in my ear. “Hey,” he says. “You are that girl from the hospital, right?”
“I-I don’t know what you’re saying,” I say, stuttering.
“How’s your fever?” he asks. “Are you feeling better?”
Oh, that’s right. I told him that I was hospitalized because I had a horrible fever. He doesn’t know the actual reason, so it should be okay.
“I’m feeling better,” I say, smiling a bit. “Thank you.”
He grins. “Good to hear,” he says, giving me a thumbs up. “Sorry for being so insensitive earlier. You didn’t want people to know you stayed there, right? I’m sorry.”
Ah, he understood my signal earlier. I shake my head. “It’s okay,” I say. “Please do keep it secret though.”
“You two at the back!” Mr. Soto shouts. “Be quiet! We are starting class.”
Connor makes a nervous laugh. “Talk to you later,” he whispers.
“CONNOR KIM!” the teacher says in a deep loud tone.
“Sorry, Mr. Soto,” Connor replies with a sigh.
Homeroom ends. It is time for me to go to my first class. I check my schedule. AP Microeconomics. Period 1. Room 247. Why am I taking AP classes anyway? AP classes are for college credit. I’m not going to college or university. There is no benefit for me by taking this class. Why even take this class? I guess part of me doesn’t want to give up on the future.
I grab my backpack and make my way over. The hallways are filled with people. I can’t even see the room numbers. Suddenly, a hand grabs my wrist. “Hey!” a familiar voice shouts. “Wait up!”
“Hm?” I look behind me and see Connor.
“Your name,” he says. “Are you Taylor Lee?”
“Yes,” I reply. “How did you know?”
“Ah!” he exclaims. “You’re in my AP Econ class! You were always absent, so I wasn’t sure if it was you at first.” He tugs my wrist. “Come on, I’ll show you the way.”
Ah, maybe he noticed that I was having trouble during homeroom. This person is surprisingly observant. He seems to be a nice guy. We talk for a bit and I find that we don’t share any other classes, but it is reassuring to know that there is someone I know in my first class of the day. Connor is kind. He is the only person who welcomes me, other than the teacher. He tells me about the school events that happened while I was gone and makes jokes about little things. I feel welcomed, despite the number of people talking behind my back.
“Connor,” I say. “Thank you.”
“Hm?” he asks. “What for?”
“Talking to me,” I say. “And not assuming things like others.”
He grins. “No problem,” he says, scratching his head. “It’s my fault anyway for finding out your secret. But you said that you just had a fever. Why else were you absent for all these days?”
I feel a lump in my throat. What do I say? “Uh,” I say. “St-Studying abroad!” Technically, I’m not lying. I wasn’t overseas, but I wasn’t studying at school either. Studying at the hospital counts as abroad, right? Okay, I know it’s a stretch, but close enough.
“Oh wow,” he says. “Where?”
“Somewhere close,” I reply. “But also very far away.”
Connor tilts his head, a bit confused. He opens his mouth to ask more, but we have already arrived at our classroom. I wave to him as we both find our assigned seats. If I recall, the teacher gave me to the seat on the left.
Connor sits on the opposite side of the room. Once he sits down, a crowd of people circle around him. He must be popular. Well, he does have a nice personality. He just has that comforting aura around him. That must be why so many people admire him.
Wait what did I say? Why would I be jealous? I don’t care about other people. I don’t care about what they think about me. Delinquent? I don’t care. I don’t care. All I need is for Henry to understand me. I don’t need anyone else. I don’t care.