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The Coldest Heart

The Classic Crime

Chapter One

“Welcome back, Brooksburg Bears!” blared on the PA system, echoing through the student-packed halls. The sound was loud and abrasive, slightly garbled with a small screech at every new inflection. It was enough to make you want to cover your ears. “I know you’re all sad summer is over,” it continued. “But do we have an exciting year for you!”

The announcement barely elicited any noticeable reaction. Instead, the hallways continued to bustle with a flurry of desensitized teenagers, stuffing belongings into lockers and chatting amongst themselves— the tension, dread, and first-day jitters of a new school year could be felt in the air. 

“Exciting year, my ass.” Tessa sassed. She was walking casually with her best friend, who had made the pair arrive extra early that morning. They had both made stops at their lockers already and the first bell hadn’t even rung yet, so there was plenty of time to make their way to their first class.

“Aww, come on. I’m excited,” her friend replied.

“For tenth grade, Annie, really?” Tessa shot back, her words dripping with skeptical sarcasm. “Nothing exciting happens when you’re a Sophomore. It’s like the sad middle child no one pays attention to. Trust me, as the Jan of the family, I know. I’ll take a raincheck for the excitement when it’s Junior year.” Tessa’s full, dark lips fell into a pout, a bit exaggerated to egg Annie on.

“There, there.” Annie joked, seeing her friend’s expression. “Let’s get through this year first.” A spry smirk crossed her face, framed by bouncy, soft waves of short, light brown hair. 

Annie, for one, could barely contain her excitement about the upcoming school year. She prided herself on her brains and school work. Returning to school was met with an anticipation matched by next to no other high school student. “We have all but one class together this semester, so it’ll be good.”

Tessa smiled and wrapped her arm around Annie’s shoulder with a light squeeze, ensuing another smile in return. “Right?” she replied. “What would I do without my bestie?”

The friendly moment was cut short by a small group of students shuffling by. They huddled together as they moved like a school of fish, exchanging murmured whispers behind cupped hands that were not as inconspicuous as they believed. The apparent gossip piqued Tessa’s ears as she attempted to listen in on the covert conversation. All she could gather were a few short phrases here and there, but it was enough to confirm there was drama unfolding at Brooksburg Public High School.

Unlike her friend, Annie paid little attention to drama. Gossip was rarely founded in truth or facts, so it wasn’t worth putting much stock in it. But this time, there was something quietly alluring about the boy who passed like a shadow, as she overheard someone say, “Shh! I think he just walked by!” 

Though Annie didn’t catch his face, there was a stoic, even mysterious, air radiating from the boy like a pulsating beacon of angst that had momentarily engrossed the entirety of her focus. The dark hair matched the black t-shirt he was wearing, which hung taut across sloped shoulders. The folds between his shoulder blades creased with every stride, and Annie watched as his silhouette got further away. The gossipy group interrupted her trance with a cautious whisper. “Whoa, keep your head down!”

Tessa closed in on the huddled teenagers and gave a sharp tap on the shoulder of the girl standing closest to her. As the girl turned, a little startled, Tessa asked, “What’s everyone whispering about?” 

Annie leaned in to listen. Gossip or not, there was one thing that never failed to command Annie’s intrigue, and that was a good mystery. 

“Oh,” came the much anticipated reply. “There’s a rumor about some new kid.” Then sounded the untimely ring of the first bell.

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