Jay is a foster kid and dyslexic, which leaves him at odds with his foster parents' extended families and feeling more alone than ever at the holidays. He's not good with crowds and tends to shy away from people, which makes summer school not much better than his home life.
While avoiding his problems, he meets popular transfer student Seiji, who frequently feels alone even in the midst of an adoring crowd. The two grow close over the summer, but come the school year, Jay starts to think their friendship was really just a momentary distraction to Seiji...
Walking through the school halls was just as uncomfortable as always.
It was unusually crowded even though it was summer—though, really, crowded for me meant something different from other people; even having a few people around was too much. Schools should have been cleared out, the number of students attending summer school low. Then again, it was a huge school, and a lot of the students attending were hoping to join as freshmen in the fall, either trying to make up for a grade deficit or hoping to be put in for the advanced program.
Classes were over for the day so everyone was heading outside. It wasn’t everyone else’s fault that I was heading in the opposite direction.
Like the rest of them probably, I was sick of school and more than ready to walk out. Most high schoolers were free during the summer. But the reason I was here, and why most of them were here was probably different. I had a special case so the classes weren’t mandatory for me, and my grades didn’t matter.
The halls cleared as I moved farther from the exit. When I got to the library, I found the doors closed. It was kept shut while classes were ongoing so students couldn’t hide in there. Since school ended at lunch, it was open for most of the afternoon. They were open at the same time every day, so class must have ended early. I checked the time to confirm, and frowned at the doors, wondering why they couldn’t just open earlier if classes were going to end early, but gave up and sighed. Getting annoyed at the doors wouldn’t make them open by themselves.
I sat in one of the plastic seats lining the wall just a few feet from the library doors. I could have most of the afternoon in there and work on my practice assignments, extra work I never asked for but apparently needed, then go for a walk… I didn’t have friends I regularly hung out with, and I didn’t have a phone anyway. Unless I found someone walking around that didn’t mind my company, I was on my own until dinnertime.
I put my bag on the ground, pulling out my sketch pad and a pencil, and the Snickers bar I bought at the vending machine earlier but only managed to take a single bite out of before classes started.
I opened the sketch pad to a blank page and stared at it as I unwrapped the chocolate bar, thinking about what to draw. Taking a bite, I brought my other hand with the pencil down to the page and started tracing an outline.
I wasn’t as good at art as I would have liked to have been, the best I could do were rough sketches or abstract, nothing solid and precise. A lot of people found it unimpressive, but doing the mainstream stuff was difficult for me, so I just stopped showing my work to people.
I lost myself in what I was doing, fleshing out a building, a street, figures walking around and what vaguely passed for cars, a bike, a couple of trees. Then someone startled me and I drew a long, crooked line where it wasn’t supposed to go.
I looked up automatically, partially annoyed but mostly regretful—it had been coming along nicely and I would have added it to my collection of finished drawings—and saw the last guy I expected to see.
“Sorry about that, but are you okay? I thought classes were over.”
Sei Ruizaki, a transfer student from Japan that had made waves when he had suddenly transferred to our school mid-freshman year. A month to senior year and he was still just as popular. It helped he spoke perfect English, even though when he’d first arrived everyone had assumed he’d speak it terribly.
He wasn’t particularly tall, though he was about half an inch taller than me. He had light brown hair that he sometimes cut short but now had it long and thick enough to fall into his eyes and down to the nape of his neck, though it didn’t make sense with the weather. His eyes were the same color brown as his hair, and his skin had a slight tan.
I just blinked for a moment, wondering why he was even talking to me. In my confusion, I answered honestly. “Um, they are, I just can’t leave yet.”
“I… can’t go home yet.” And aside from home and the library, I didn’t have anywhere else to be.
The ‘rents were having visitors over and I was to stay out of sight those days—except these visitors were around for the whole week. I was allowed in, but only at night, so I had to waste the time away somewhere. I was lucky to have classes for half of the day, but it was Friday. What the hell was I going to do for the weekend?
“And you’re still here because…”
“I’m waiting for the library to open so I can do some homework.”
“They won’t be opening it today.”
I frowned. “What?”
“Yeah. I just passed by to return a book. I noticed they were a little late opening up so I went to the teachers’ lounge to ask. I’m not sure what the problem is, but they won’t open today.”
Dammit. I slumped back in my seat, dejected and forgetting about the sketch. What was I supposed to do now? If the library wasn’t going to stay open for the afternoon, they were probably going to close the school early. I checked my watch and saw it was already two-fifteen.
The best I can hope for is three o’clock, and I can’t make my way back home until around six… I could stay at the park, but it’s a bit far, and it would more than likely be crowded. I could go find a restaurant or a coffee shop or something, but I don’t have all that much cash on me and the most they’d probably let me stay is an hour, even if I did buy something. Where else could I go…?
“Come home with me.”
I shot my eyes up to Sei—I’d forgotten for a moment he was even there—sure I’d heard him wrong. Maybe I looked pathetic but that was a bit extreme just to help someone you barely know. “What?”
“You can stay at my place for a while if you don’t have anywhere else to go,” he offered, and he looked serious but I couldn’t take him seriously. He raised his eyebrows at my reticence. “Unless you do?”
“Well, no, but you don’t technically know me…” I said tentatively.
He shrugged, leaned his shoulder against the wall. “We have classes together, and I’m pretty sure we’ve had a group together at least twice. We’ve never talked, but you don’t really talk to anyone.”
“Neither do you,” I shot back defensively, regretting it almost immediately.