Brooksburg was a quaint town nestled in south-central Pennsylvania, not far west of the state capital. The town’s rolling hills were tamed by middle-class suburbia, dotted with small farms on the outskirts, and centered around a downtown strip that looked like it had barely changed since the late-19th century.
It was the kind of place that worshipped high school and college football. Where Friday night games looked like Mardi Gras except everyone was draped in the high school team colors of sky blue and yellow. It was the kind of place that bustled from church to the local diners every Sunday. Where children played in the street, front doors were often left unlocked, and big box superstores had barely penetrated the tight-knit community.
It was the kind of place where everyone knew each other; where secrets were vulnerable and gossip spread fast.
A week had passed and the novelty of the rumors about the boy in Annie’s second period class were only just beginning to wear off. Students were finally getting their heads in the game, while teachers handed out assignments left and right. Fall semester was getting underway and Annie largely forgot about the mysterious boy until each day when World Religion rolled around again.
Another Monday and as always, Annie was well-prepared with a weekend’s worth of completed homework and then-some. It was less than ten minutes until first period, and she had just arrived at her locker, a little later than usual. Kneeling down to the bottom row of lockers, she twisted the padlock then extracted her Chemistry book and some folders from her backpack before stuffing the still-heavy bag inside. Over twenty pounds worth of books was an obnoxious load for such a petite girl—not that she complained.
The bell rang and students scattered like cockroaches do when a flashlight is shone on them. Annie, following suit, shut her locker door and popped up from the ground with books in tow. She had to make her way to the other side of the building and the idea of arriving anywhere late had always made her sort of nauseous. She rushed down the hallway and quickly turned the corner, when she suddenly hit a solid, unyielding force.
Annie watched as he slipped away into the crowd, swallowed up by a mass of other students. She crouched down to pick up the books and papers that had spilled out of her arms upon collision; there was no offer to help pick them up. Not out of malice, she deduced, but more likely from complete apathetic disregard.
The encounter not only left Annie startled, but also more confused. Did she expect more of a reaction from the kid who’s reputation was stained with aggression and violence? Or maybe she was bothered by the fact that she couldn’t read any emotion, save for a slight annoyance, from the boy’s icy blue eyes. The stare had her paralyzed and she didn’t understand why. She felt a yearning to understand. To understand what his story was, what he was thinking behind those cold eyes, and why he seemed to be the very epitome of teenaged angst.
The hallway incident marked the first time Annie had an intense stare-down with the boy, but it would not be the last. In fact, Annie hadn’t even expected to have another one that very same day.Continue Reading...