He is the silent one, the one that always seems to slip away when the bell rings, the one that can sit in the corner all day and no one will notice. Watching.
Gossip travels around. They whisper in hushed tones that he might be a druggie. Or maybe he has some sort of mental disorder. That he's a psycho.
But she takes the time to see the intelligence in his eyes. And it scares her. It's not like anything she's seen before. It's not like what she sees when in the mirror every day, or when she talks to the other kids. Instead, they remind her of what she sees on TV in the eyes of soldiers coming home from war; that weary, beaten-down look, as if to say, You'll never understand.
She knows she never will.
When the balding principal with the unpronounceable name brings him to their classroom a few months after the beginning of the school year – "Class, this is Edward," – she takes notice of his long blonde, no, golden hair – golden? I've never seen golden hair before – and is immediately enraptured. She observes his defined features, his pale but healthy complexion, his strikingly red coat, his black pants, his white gloves.
And then when he turns to look at her curious peers, her breath hitches. His eyes are the most amazing shade of molten gold. It makes her think of the honey in a jar sitting on the counter at home that her mother never uses, but a whole lot brighter.
Very exotic. She wonders what his ethnicity is. She's never heard of golden hair or eyes before. He might have been wearing contacts and he could have dyed his hair. She makes a mental note to ask him about it later.
He heads straight for his seat – pretty close to hers, yay – without talking to anyone. When a few people introduce themselves to be friendly, he half-smiles, half-grimaces and says Hi, I'm Ed. When they ask him, What school did you transfer from? and, How old are you? he answers vaguely, Another school and Your age. He's secretive, and she thinks that's very cool. She likes his voice. It has a faint accent of something almost European, but not quite. She can't place it, but she thinks that makes him all the more mysterious. When she seizes the opportunity to ask him about his hair and eyes, he smiles… skeptically? Amusedly? She can't quite read the expression.
He's smart, too. He has an answer to everything the teachers ask him, and lots of students ask him for help with homework or if he wants to study together or something like that. But he stays mysterious and avoids them, and soon everyone gives up on talking to him and start spreading the rumors instead.
He doesn't seem to mind kids whispering behind his back whenever he passes them in the hallway. During free periods, he goes to the library or just goes outside to stare at the sky or the clouds or the trees or whatever for the whole period. She watches him do it once, and she can barely stand it. She wonders what he finds so interesting about it.
She notices things. Like how he seems to stare right through you, like you're a ghost or something. Like how he wears the same outfit every day. Like how he tugs on his gloves as if to hide his hands all the time, even though winter has already ended months ago. Who wears gloves in summer? Or long coats, for that matter. It's another question that settles itself into a crevice of her brain.
Eventually she comes to see him as a puzzling enigma rather than a crush, a complicated maze of which she can't find the exit. She's certain that if she can open this wrapped box, the contents will be exactly what she wanted for Christmas.
And when she follows him outside one day during free period, and he embraces the sky and shouts something that is lost in the wind, she knows she has to ask.
The wind whistles in her ears. She almost thinks it's laughing, but that's impossible. Wind can't laugh.
"Who… are you?"
He tenses and claps his hands together, a sharp, cutting sound like static in the air. She doesn't know what clapping will do, but she freezes.
Right now he reminds her of an alert dog. If he had dog ears, they would be pricked up.
He relaxes and turns around. She lets out a breath.
"You want to know who I am." It's not a question.
She is intimidated by his golden eyes. Underneath his intelligence, there is something else. Something fierce. Anger? Determination? Love? She can't tell. No, wait – she can. It's all of them mixed together, into something so undefined that mostly what she can see is confusion. He's confused.
She gives a barely perceptible nod. She's having second thoughts now that she's actually doing this.
And then he smiles. It's the second time she's seen him smile for real, and she realizes it's the same smile as the first, back on the first day he came, before he filled her life with curiosity and a stupid sense of unfulfillment. And she realizes what it is – not skeptical or amused, but bitter, like a bad aftertaste.
He leans in closer. She's fidgeting uncomfortably. She feels like pushing him away. His breath is warm on her neck, but she shivers. It's very distracting. There's an unreadable expression in his eyes as he says, "You don't need to know."
His hair is tickling her cheeks. He turns. She's standing, but somehow she feels like she's falling.
She feels so inexplicably desperate right now. She doesn't understand why. Her hand darts out of its own accord and grabs his arm. It feels wrong. It's hard and cold and has a lot of unusual edges that bite into her flesh.
One look from his feral eyes, wild like the wind, and she is lost, so lost, that her grip loosens.
Nothing registers in her mind until after he dashes back inside. The door shuts oh-so softly with a click.
She stares at it.
The wind is nipping at her. It rides on air and plays with her hair so that it hits her in the face. She almost certain that it's laughing. But that's impossible.
As she is lurching back home, squinting through gusts of wind, she replays the scene in her mind and sees the words I'm done on his lips.
He isn't at school the next day. The teachers say he transferred. Somehow, she doubts it. She can't shake this sense of unfulfillment.
Outside, the wind has stopped, and the sun is shining.