It took her the entire three weeks before school started to clean her new room thoroughly, and the last four days to clean out the inside of her car. With Jacob's help and a spare toothbrush, it took only one day to clean the outside of her new Toyota Camry.
She loved her car, despite the fact that it had ten years' worth of someone else's germs inside it and the traveling brake pedal. She loved it despite that stain on the floor that no amount of scrubbing had removed. She loved the car despite the fact that her father had bought it for her as a consolation prize. Here, Em. Leave behind the few friends you have and the life you've always known to move nine hours away.
Emma had learned that everything in life was conditional. Friends were always there for you, until you started refusing sleepovers and parties and wouldn't eat over at their house. Boys liked you until you asked them to sanitize their hands before you would let them hold yours. This is your new room, but the walls are smudged with dirty fingerprints and there are soda stains in the carpet. This is your new car, but you have to move away to get it, oh, and you'll have to figure out how to pay for gas yourself.
Luckily, the gas tank was full, and if she was careful, it would probably last until she could find a job. If it didn't, she was sure that she could get ten dollars or so from Jacob in exchange for doing his chores.
Her brother had never fully forgiven himself for 'messing her up' as he put it, and because of that, he had gone out of his way to protect her. Back home, everyone knew better than to mess with Jacob Pillsbury's little sister. The two of them fought like siblings are wont to do, hurling insults at each other, each word more venomous than the last, but neither of them ever brought up the incident of their youth. He never told her that she was a freak because of her problems, and she never wanted to make him feel the guilt of remembering that it was his fault.
But Jacob had graduated last year, and was now enrolled at the local community college. Emma would be starting her junior year at William McKinley High School alone, with no big brother to protect her from the verbal barbs that would be thrown her way, the vicious whispers that she was a freak, unnatural. She fought back a wave of nausea at the memory of people licking their hands and touching her, or that horrible time that Amber Christianson spilled milk down her dress because of a rumor that Emma had kissed Amber's boyfriend.
All this went through her mind as she drove to her new school, and by the time she parked, she was shaking so hard that she could barely put the car in park. She couldn't do this. She had moved from one small town to another, and she knew perfectly well how badly people in small towns treated outsiders. New people like her. Even people who didn't have her quirks were outcasts for a few months. She would never fit in.
She dug though her purse for her cell phone, calling Ally. "Hey girl. Bit early, isn't it?" Ally had been Emma's best friend for as long as the mysophobic teen could remember, the only constant in Emma's life. One of the two things that weren't conditional. The second thing was her mysophobia.
"I can't do this, Ally." Emma said in a rush. "There are so many people, and all the germs, and-"
"Emmi Bear, listen to me." Ally interjected, heading the panic attack off before it could really start. "Not only can you do this, you will. They're just people. You can do this. Say it, Emma."
"I can do this." Emma repeated, still staring at the students milling around.
"Good. Now hang up, keep that in your head all day, and go. Good luck."
"Talk to you later, girl. Text me."
"Will do." Emma hung up the phone and took a minute to compose herself before getting out of her car. Her plan, to go straight inside and avoid eye contact was disrupted by music. She frowned, listening.
What day is it?
And in what month?
This clock never seemed so alive….
She recognized the song. You and Me by Lifehouse. She followed the sound, curious. They were by the bleachers. There were two boys on the bleachers, playing acoustic and bass guitar, and another boy playing a smooth drum beat on the metal bleachers with a pair of well-worn drumsticks. It was the four boys standing on the track that really got her attention, though. She flipped her phone out, taking a video before sending it to Ally.
The four singers were alternating between solos with a smoothness that told her that they had done it a million times. The first was a blonde boy with short hair and blue eyes. His movements were a little ragged, though she couldn't tell whether they were supposed to be that way. Then came the tallest. He had dark, spiky hair, and a crooked smile as he crooned through an imaginary microphone to the cheerleaders around him. Emma took a seat on the edge of the bleachers, pegging this boy as a troublemaker. Someone to avoid. The shortest was obviously young, possibly a freshman or sophomore. His hair was longer, falling in his eyes and around his ears. He had a good, if hesitant, voice, and was watching the fourth boy with an expression akin to awe.
Emma understood completely when the fourth boy turned around and started singing. She lost herself for a moment in those green eyes, the wide smile, the short curly hair… He moved with the easy grace of a natural dancer, his tall, lean form fitting the profile perfectly. But it was his voice that really captured her attention. He was an amazing singer. They all were, really, but this one was… something else.
What day is it?
And in what month?
This clock never seemed so alive…
He winked at one of the cheerleaders, who was standing there looking bored, and the song ended. Emma's phone buzzed in her pocket. The resulting text was in all capital letters.
WOAH, HOT! INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO HIM!
Ally, how am I supposed to do that?
Walk up to him and say 'hi, I'm Emma. Want to do it?'
Emma burst out laughing, staring at her phone. "Hi."
She jumped and looked up into the kind brown eyes of the ridiculously cute boy who had so easily gotten her attention. "Uh… Sorry."
He laughed. "Don't apologize. You're new, right? I haven't seen you before, and it's kind of a small school…"
"Um… yeah. I just moved here." She nodded, a delicate shade of pink.
He held out a hand. "Cool. I'm Will Schuester."
She stared at his hand for a long moment, arguing with herself. He would find out about her issues eventually, so why touch his dirty hand now? But he was so cute, and she had sanitizer with her. Couldn't she at least have five minutes of not looking like a freak? Hesitantly, she placed her hand in his and shook it. "Emma Pillsbury."
"Cool." He said again, grinning and letting go of her hand. "What grade are you in?'
Oh God. He probably thought she was a freshman. She was so short, so small. "Um. I'm a junior. What… what about you?"
"Senior. Need someone to show you around?"
"That would be amazing." Emma admitted. He smiled again, a slow, easy grin that left her weak at the knees. She gave him a hesitant smile in return, one that quickly faded when the bored-looking cheerleader he had winked at slid her hand into his.
"Baby, who's this?" She asked, a threatening undertone in her voice that he didn't seem to notice.
"New student. Ter, this is Emma Pillsbury. Emma, this is Terri."
"I'm his girlfriend." Terri said, putting subtle emphasis on the word. Emma got the translation. He's mine. Stay away from him. Again, Will didn't seem to notice.
"I've offered to show Emma around." Will informed her.
"But Will!" Terri pouted. "You always walk me to class!"
He gave her a bemused smile, obviously not seeing the problem. "Yeah, but you know where your class is already."
"Oh, so I should just let my boyfriend walk off with another girl? What does that say about me? How do you think that makes me look?" Terri demanded indignantly.
"Who cares? Next year, we'll be in college and no one will think twice about us."
"He-llo? The running for homecoming court has already started. If we want to win king and queen, we need to be seen together!"
"Ter, it's a popularity contest. It's not that important." Will sighed. Emma felt her respect for him grow.
"Being popular is important!"
He laughed. "Now I know why your grades are so bad. You spend all your study time cultivating your popularity." He teased.
Terri scoffed. "Everyone knows grades aren't important. I am this close to being promoted to supervisor at Sheets N Things, and you only need your associate's to be an accountant. Two years at the community college-"
"Terri, I don't want to be an accountant!" Will protested. "I want to be a teacher."
"But how are we going to live off of a teacher's salary, Will?"
Their tone made it plainly apparent that this was an argument they had already had many times. The bell rang, and the bickering couple didn't notice.
"Um… excuse me?" They didn't notice Emma either. "Excuse me."
"I don't care, Terri! I'm not going to be an accountant!"
"What?" Terri rounded on a stunned Emma. Had she really done that?
"Um… sorry. It's just… the bell rang, and I don't…."
Terri looked around the empty field, then turned on Will. "Will! Late people do not make homecoming court!"
"Oh my God, Terri! Go to class! We'll talk at lunch!" Terri stormed off and Will sighed, running a hand through his curly hair before turning to Emma. "Sorry 'bout that. Lemme see your schedule?" Emma handed the sheet of paper over wordlessly, and he glanced at it. "You're in a senior English class? You're in my senior English class. Alright. C'mon."
She followed him, almost running to keep up with his long stride. They barely made it to class before the late bell rang. "Where…. Where do I sit?" Emma asked uncertainly.
"I don't see a seating chart, so anywhere you want, I guess." Will replied, looking around. "There are two seats in the back."
"Park it, Schue." The teacher commanded, watching him with a raised eyebrow. Will grinned at her.
"Sorry, Mrs. A." He grabbed Emma's hand, leading her to the two seats in the back, and she wiped the seat down quickly before sitting and pulling a notebook out of her bag.
"Alright. We'll start with roll, then introductions…. If I pronounce your name wrong, tell me…. You guys all know how this is done."
When introductions rolled around, everyone had to stand up, say their name, and 'one interesting fact about them.' Emma tensed, turning red very quickly. All those eyes on her? How was she supposed to do this?
Will stood up with that easy grace Emma was beginning to equate with him, smiling lazily. "Will Schuester. I'm in Glee club."
"Um…. Will, auditions for Glee club aren't until Friday." Mrs. Adler reminded him. Will shrugged.
"Will Schuester. I'll be in Glee club on Friday." He edited. The class laughed, and Mrs. Adler gave him a fond smile.
"You usually are." She admitted. Then she looked expectantly at Emma. The red-head stood nervously.
"I'm… uh…. E…Emma Pillsbury, and I, uh…. I…-"
"Stutter." Interjected the boy who had introduced himself as Mark, who played football.
"Well you're probably not going to pass this class, but you didn't see fit to mention that." Will cut in dryly, that amiable smile still on his face. The entire class, including Mark, laughed.
"I just... moved here from um…. V… Virginia." Emma finally managed. She sat down again quickly, her face red.
"Ignore him. He's not a bad guy. Just thinks he's funny." Will said, giving her a reassuring look. She was amazed when she actually felt reassured.
The day passed like that, roll call, introductions, and teachers explaining what to expect. Emma was grateful when lunch rolled around, and almost panicked when she saw Will walking in. He saw her too. "Em!" He waved her over, and she clutched the little bag she had packed her lunch in tighter. Oh God. How would she possibly get through lunch without showing off her problems? He strolled up to her. "Senior courtyard. C'mon." She had little choice but to follow him to the courtyard, wiped down a bench before sitting on it, and jumped when Terri sat next to her. Will and a few other guys started singing something, and from the looks of it, this was a regular lunchtime occurrence. When she was sure her boyfriend was distracted, Terri leaned over, whispering harshly in Emma's ear.
"Stay away from my boyfriend, you little freak, if you want to have anyone at this school like you. I will bury you. Don't think I won't."
Emma flushed, but didn't speak, focusing instead on eating her lunch, trying to ignore Terri watching her in satisfaction. She left lunch early, disappearing into the library, trying to escape.
Her final class of the day was after lunch, and she found it on her own, with some difficulty, and found a seat in the very back of the class, where she could hopefully avoid attention until she could go home. Finally, she hurried out to the parking lot to her car, climbed inside, and sped home, Terri's threat ringing in her ears.
School was tough sometimes.