The boy shrunk down into his car seat, hunched over, black canvas satchel bag resting on his knees, trying not to look out the window. The car rolled gently to a halt in the turning area, and finally he dared to look up. The school loomed up at him like a giant castle. It was huge, and modern, and full of other teenagers he didn't know. It was nothing like his old school at all. His bottom lip pouted out even further, and he frowned, his fists balled up in his lap.
"Well, come on, sad sack – you'll be late!" his mother chided good-naturedly, "Give us a kiss then," She planted a wet lipstick kiss on her son's cheek, which he quickly wiped off -
"Mom!" He exclaimed, half embarrassed in case anyone saw, half comforted by the loving gesture.
"Go on, you'll be right, love – have a good day!" she said, almost pushing him out of the car.
He gathered up his satchel, slung it over his shoulder and waved to his mother as she drove away. He turned around, jammed his fists deep into his jeans pockets and looked up again at the monstrous school.
He started towards the entrance, hoping the office wasn't going to be too hard to find. He was to report there to collect his timetable and student ID Card. An ID card! How many kids were here!
Luckily, he caught sight of a sign which read "administration" and pointed him in the right direction. Just as he started towards the office, the bell went, signalling the start of classes. The scores of teenagers milling around him became a stampede, and instantly, he was enveloped in a mass of kids running in every which direction. He started to feel panic, he knew he would be late, and he didn't even know which class he had first. He closed his eyes momentarily trying to calm and wait for the pushing and shoving chaos around him to be over. As he stood there, he felt a shove, and a big Year 12 boy turned around and yelled "Oi! Watch where you're going!" before continuing on. This school wasn't turning out to be that great at all.
Minutes later, the halls and courtyards were empty – silence echoing off the brickwork and stray leaves blowing across the pavement. Somehow, this was worse than the noise and he had never felt so alone. He sighed, and resolutely continued on towards the office.
He pushed open the heavy glass door, and stood in the reception area for a minute – a middle aged woman was there behind the desk, chatting away on the phone and not looking the least bit impressed that there was a fourteen year old boy standing in her lobby.
He stood there awkwardly, looked down at his canvas sneakers, shifted his bag, scratched his head. It took a minute for him to realise that the woman was now talking to him.
"I said, what can I do for you, young man? Class started five minutes ago!" She was very cranky. He jumped, and mumbled something about being new and needing his timetable. The woman sighed and turned to her register, evidently quite put out at being required to do some work.
"Name:!" she said sharply.
"Roy!" he said quietly, hunching up his shoulders miserably, "Roy Tenneman."
She scanned through her register, finally picking out his name.
"I have you down as 9th grade," she said, lifting one eyebrow. Roy nodded quickly, yup.
He had got through three quarters of Year 9 back in Ireland and had tried to convince his mother that he could not worry about school for the rest of this year, start the new year for Tenth grade with the other kids, but she wasn't hearing of it. So here he was, starting at the end of the year at a horrible new school, in a horrible new country.
The office woman frowned yet again, looking Roy up and down, and he knew what was coming next.
"You look a little short to be in 9th grade – how old did you say you were?" Clearly this woman was not hired for her diplomacy. Roy sighed quietly - he wished he was taller. Bigger. Stronger. He patiently replied to this prickly woman, "Fourteen. I'm turning fifteen next week." She waved this away, as she finally found his timetable and ID card, dumped them onto the desk, marked his name off, and turned away to resume her phone conversation.
Roy picked up his timetable and scanned the top line – Mon 8:30 -9:30 Sc. In Act. -Blck C Rm. 305. . He was hoping this office woman would direct him, but she was already well occupied and he figured it wouldn't be a good idea to disturb her again.
He wondered what was Sc. In Act., and where was Blck C, and most of all, he wondered if his mom would be real mad if he just went home and tried again tomorrow. He wandered down the path away from the office, trying to get an idea of where he was. By chance, he noticed a sign which pointed out "Block C – Science Department" Ah. Science. Sc. In. Act. Science. He headed that way, past classrooms and empty courtyards. Finally it stood before him – Block C. He glanced quickly at his watch, 8:55. He shook his head in frustration. By the time he got there, he would have to leave again. But still, he had got this far. He wandered past classrooms, some empty, some full. Some were noisy and some were quiet. He could see through the glass window on the doors, and occasionally a teacher or student glanced back at him through the glass. But no one questioned him; and, frustratingly, no one offered to help either.
Before long, the classroom numbers seemed to make sense, and he was following some kind of logical sequence. It was a couple of flights of stairs, and a couple of more random twists and turns, and finally he was standing in front of classroom 305.
It was quiet, which bothered him. A noisy classroom he could have slipped in quietly, spoken to the teacher, and made his way to the back without everyone staring at him. He squinted through the glass, looking at the teacher. M. Gillett. He was an older guy, but he didn't look too strict. Roy took a bit of a breath, and was about to knock, when the teacher looked up and noticed him. He jumped up and went to the door, and Roy backed off. The teacher flung the door open, and boomed "What can I do for you, son! You have business here, or do you just like looking into classrooms?" The other kids craned their necks around to look at the newcomer. Roy fumbled with his timetable, dropped his ID tag and mumbled something as he held out the timetable almost as a shield. He scrambled around, picking up his ID tag, feeling like an idiot.
Mr Gillett took his timetable from him, had a quick read, and, realizing this was a new student, exclaimed,
"Roy! Better late than never. Welcome to the fascinating world of science!" He gestured at the class, who looked as if they were all about to drop off to sleep.
"Take a seat, my boy, anywhere you like! Here's a textbook, we're on chapter eleven!"
Roy accepted the book, and looked around at the seating. 'Anywhere he liked' obviously meant the only remaining seat left in the classroom, which was towards the back, next to a boy with thick curly black hair who was busy scribbling notes. He made his way down the centre aisle and took his seat, dropping the book gently on the desk with a soft thud and placing his bag underneath.
He let out a long breath as he relaxed into the chair. He looked sideways at the boy next to him, who was still furiously writing notes and noted with some curiosity that the boy was not just writing notes, he was actually copying out the entire contents of the book. Roy watched for a little while, before supposing he should get on with his own work before he got in trouble. He opened his own book, just managing to find the correct page before Mr. Gillett called out
"Ok, Gentlemen, close books now, and hand them forward - we are having a little quiz about this chapter! There will also be homework, so I expect you will have taken detailed notes!"
Roy closed his book, not expecting much success in this quiz, considering he had only managed to read the title of the chapter "Homeostasis in the Human Body". The boy in front turned around, taking Roy's book but not looking at the curly-haired boy.
"Dennis! What is the definition of 'Homeostasis'?" Mr Gillett called on a thin, nervous looking boy in the front row. Dennis stuttered and searched through his papers, trying to grasp onto an answer that might satisfy.
Mr Gillett gave up quickly, and scanned around the room, suddenly noticing the textbook laying abandoned on Roy's desk. "Maurice! Did I not say to hand your textbook forward son!" Mr Gillett was not pleased, and the kid next to Roy jumped and grabbed the textbook, rushing to stand up, and knocking his knees painfully on the desk as he did so.
"Yes sir, sorry sir, here you are sir. ." his words came out in a jumbled rush as he willed the book forward faster than his body could humanly convey it. Roy sat back amazed. This kid was awkwardness personified. He seemed all legs and arms. Mr Gillett took the book from him, tucking it under his arm and leaning back against his desk. "Maurice! Now we are organized, perhaps you could tell me - the definition of homeostasis!" Maurice tucked his head down as everyone's eyes burned into him. But, without missing a beat, he mumbled "Homeostasis is the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between ..."
Roy stared at this kid, then glanced to his right at the notes lying on the desk, reading the end of the sentence as Maurice finished
". . . .interdependent elements especially as maintained by physiological processes such as metabolism..." He finished his sentence as he returned to his desk, and proceeded to sit down. Roy stared at him, dumbfounded. The rest of the class seemed less impressed, yawning in their seats.
Mr Gillett, satisfied with this answer, moved on to his next question, thankfully not directing it towards Roy who was still gaping at the unusual boy next to him. A few questions later, more or less answered with the same uncertainty of the first boy, and Mr Gillett was done with his pop quiz. He sighed, moving towards his desk, and speaking aloud as he did so,
"Well, Gentlemen, that was not the best effort I've seen this year. I'm expecting a little more effort with your homework sheets - due tomorrow, no excuses!" He pulled a stack of pages out of his desk drawer, and handed them to a wiry dark haired teenager sitting in the front row, who dutifully took one and passed the rest back.
"Hey, Mate, " Roy whispered to Maurice, who looked up, then quickly looked back down again.
"Mate . . .can you show me where this next class is?"
Maurice squinted at Roy curiously through his heavy black spectacles, seeming surprised that someone was actually talking to him. He stared at Roy for a long time, making him feel nervous. Roy grabbed his timetable and pushed it towards Maurice, pointing at the next entry on his sheet "Mon 9:30 -10:30 Art Princ. -Blck G Rm. 117. S. Hestor"
Maurice looked down, examined the timetable, looked back at Roy, cleared his throat and, in a low voice, said, "ok."
By this time the stack of pages had reached the back row, and the bell had gone signalling the end of class. The classroom erupted once again into noise.
Roy hurriedly grabbed his homework sheet, crumpled it into his bag and handed the remaining homework pages to Maurice. He jumped up, ready to sprint to his next class, in whichever direction his guide would lead him. Maurice, however, was in no rush at all. He ever so calmly opened his binder, took a miniature paper punch from his top shirt pocket, smoothed his papers out, punched two perfectly symetric holes in the left margin, smoothed his pages out again, clipped them into his binder, replaced the miniature punch and closed his binder, before replacing it into his bag. He then stood up, picking up the left over homework pages, and began walking towards the exit, handing the remaining homework sheets to Mr Gillett on the way out. Roy had been doing a little ants-in-your-pants dance during this entire scenario, and at the first sign of movement, he breathed a sigh of relief, and dashed after his lifeline.
"See you tomorrow, Roy, on time ok!" Mr Gillett called as he raced past. Roy nodded, trying to catch up with Maurice, who had suddenly put on a burst of speed. Roy called out to him, "Hey, man! Wait up!" Maurice slowed his power walk ever so slightly and barely acknowledged Roy as he caught up. They made their way over to the Art block ( as Roy had surmised was their destination), and Maurice tilted his head slightly in the direction of a sign which pointed out "Rooms 111 - 121" . He paused a moment, as if gathering courage, then blurted out, "Meet you back here for Recess?" He cowered his head down, as if he expected Roy to laugh at him, but Roy only shrugged, and said "Sure, . . when's Recess?" Maurice jerked his head back up in surprise, then exclaimed "Cool! See you then!" He dashed off to his next class, leaving Roy standing there. Roy shook his head. This must be the oddest kid he had ever met. But then, at least he was friendly. Roy casually made his way to his next class, in no hurry now he knew where he was going. He could use the new student excuse for at least a week, he figured.
The bell rang at the end of class, and Roy gathered up his next homework assignment, and his bag and strolled out of the classroom to recess - he had made it through the first part of his first day. As he rounded the corner, he almost bumped into Maurice who had apparently been standing there for ages. Roy jumped, startled, and Maurice stood there, looking at him for what seemed like ages, unsure of what to say next. Finally Roy broke the silence,
"So where do you hang out at recess?" he asked, keen to get out of the middle of the walkway. Maurice bobbed his head up, "I'll show you, right this way," he said, as he again took off on his gangly legs, leaving Roy trailing behind.
Minutes later, after a bivouac through halls and doorways, they were standing in front of a classroom, Maurice proudly holding the door open as if he were inviting Roy into his palace. Roy looked skeptical.
"Inside?" he asked, glancing up at the sky, wondering why anyone would be sitting in a classroom by choice.
"Come on, it's great!" said Maurice, "No one comes out here, no one will find us!"
Roy jumped a little at that, 'no one will find us', but entered the classroom anyway and sat down at one of the clunky old desks. It seemed by the layer of dust on the desk top that this classroom was not used very often. He put his feet up on the desk and turned around to Maurice who had also sat down, "Now what?"
Maurice didn't reply, but was busy digging around in his backpack. He pulled out his carefully organized binder and began reviewing his notes from Science class.
Roy was frustrated. More school? He certainly didn't have any intentions of studying notes - actually, he reflected, he had very few notes with which to study from. He fidgeted in his chair. Maurice seemed to detect that Roy wasn't actually enjoying himself very much, and turned to him,
"Ok, um, . . . Roy, " he said, "What processes does the body use to regulate homeostatic activity?. .. . ." Roy stared at him, unsure what to say or do. No way was he doing pop quizzes every lunch time and recess for the rest of his life. But still, something made him feel bad about thinking of doing a runner. It was almost like this kid was trying his absolute best to entertain Roy, get him to stay, befriend him. Like he didn't know how. Roy sighed, Maurice looking at him expectantly. "I'll give you a hint, there are four main ones. . . .!" Roy cleared his throat, thinking of what to say, when suddenly the bell rang. Roy felt tired, pulling his crumpled timetable out of his bag and trying to determine the type and location of his next class. Maurice had already jumped up, collecting his belongings, and was craning his neck over Roy's shoulder. "Gym class, Roy - I've got Gym class too, come on, it's on the other side!" Maurice was already off and running, and Roy, with no other choice, followed behind him as fast as he could go.