“That was good spaghetti last night,” Jack spoke up while pulling on his jacket in the kitchen, Arty leaning against the counter beside him and drinking coffee while the kids ate scrambled eggs and toast. Arty smiled and motioned to the table with his mug.
“The kids agreed on it, Daniel picked the basil.”
Jack nodded, eyebrows raised. “Wow, that must have been some trip.”
“We saw Uncle Henry!” Geil called through a mouth of eggs and Daniel glanced away so that he wouldn’t see the mushed food. Jack looked at Arty.
“Yeah, he just said hi.” Arty finished his coffee, pushing off of the counter to walk to the sink and put it in.
“Well, he’s always nice,” Jack said before looking down at his watch. He clapped his hands together before walking after Arty, grabbing him around the waist and pulling his body to him so that he could kiss him. “I’m gonna be late to work.”
Arty nodded, giving a small smile to Jack before pecking him on the lips. “Okay. Have a good day at work.” His voice was soft as he watched Jack, still being held by the man. His spouse seemed to notice, though, and he quirked an eyebrow.
“Are you okay?”
Arty nodded again, dropping his gaze. “I just… It’s my necklace.”
“You’ll find it, babe. I’ll even,” Jack let Arty go, patting his head and kissing his cheek, “Look when I get back. Okay?”
Jack watched Arty for a moment before sighing and dropping his hand from the brunette’s head to his butt, patting it. Arty laughed and swatted the man’s hand away. “Okay, I won’t mope.”
“Good.” Jack kissed Arty’s cheek again, the brunette turning his head so that their lips met. Then Jack walked to the kitchen table to pat Geil’s head.
“I’m off to work, kids,” he said, Geil turning in his seat to hug his dad. Daniel just looked over, smiling to the man.
“Good luck,” he said, making Jack laugh.
“Me? Good luck toyou- it’s your first day of school, you know.” The man kissed Geil’s cheek before working himself away from the child’s hugging arms to Daniel, so that he could pat the teen’s head.
Daniel’s smile didn’t falter, the teen looking down at his plate. “I’m ready for it.”
“Good, because Arty has to take you in a few minutes unless you want to be tardy,” Jack said, stepping away from the table. “Alright, have a good day, kids.”
“You too, Daddy!”
“We’ll see you tonight,” Arty said, Jack nodding and waving to them all before turning and leaving so that he wouldn’t be too late. Arty went to the kids, taking their plates. “Go on and get your coats and shoes.”
Daniel helped Geil out of his seat and the two walked off, to their separate rooms. Daniel pulled on his coat and boots before looking at the backpack his new parents had gotten him. It was black with some green, just a normal pack. Putting it on his shoulders, he knelt in front of his bed and stuck his hand between the mattresses and grabbed the locket, pulling it out and stuffing it into his pants pocket.
“Come on, Danul,” Geil passed by Daniel’s room, some light books in his bag bouncing as he hurried.
“Daniel,” Daniel muttered to himself as he stood, turning to his bedroom door.
Downstairs, Arty helped Geil zip and button his jacket. He glanced at the staircase passed the child to see if Daniel was coming down yet. He wasn’t.
“Come on, Daniel, you don’t want to be late!” he called, looking back at Geil and smiling. “Does he?”
The blonde child shook his head, smiling big in return. “Nope!”
“Daniel, I’m putting Geil in his car-seat! Come out when you’re ready!” Arty picked Geil up, looking at the staircase again before taking the younger son out.
The air was bitter, nipping their faces immediately as they walked outside. Hurrying to the family car, Arty opened the back door and put Geil in the back, in his seat so that he could start buckling him in.
“It’s cold!” Geil complained, shuddering in his seat. Arty chuckled lightly.
“I know- Daniel’s taking his time.” Making sure that the buckles were secure, Arty climbed out of the back seat and shut the door, moving to the driver’s so that he could start the car and turn on the heater.
The air ran cold for a few minutes before getting hot, Arty sighing at the warmth. He almost got out of the car again to get Daniel, but the teen suddenly came outside, a paper bag in his hand at his side.
Walking to the car, Daniel got in the passenger’s side, shutting his door and putting the bag in his lap. Arty looked at him, surprised.
“Did you make your own lunch?”
“...Wow. Sorry- I thought you would want to eat the school’s lunch.” Arty started the car, pulling out and onto the road. Daniel shifted in his seat.
“I thought I was supposed to,” the teen said quietly.
“Well, not really. But if you want to start taking your own lunch, then I can start packing it.” Arty glanced at Daniel while driving. The teen seemed to just be watching the road. After a moment of them driving, he nodded.
“Alright, I’d like to take my own lunches.”
“I want to take mine!” Geil called from the back seat and Arty chuckled at them both.
“Okay, we can do that. Right now, let’s try and get to school on time.”
Since they were out in the country, Arty accelerated the car's speed, which prompted Geil to get excited. Daniel made sure that his seat belt was secure.
“How long of a drive is it to the school?” Daniel asked.
“Well, it's about fifteen minutes to the city, and then a little over ten more for the school because of morning traffic.”
The teen looked back at Geil, who was now looking out the side window.
Looking back at Arty, Daniel asked, “Geil doesn't pay much attention to things, does he?”
Arty glanced at Daniel, an eyebrow raised, and he shrugged. “Mm, no, not really. He has some attention difficulties, so he sort of goes in and out when he wants,” he answered.
“Yeah.. You like the radio?”
Parking in front of the high school, Arty turned in his seat to Daniel, smiling. “Ready for your first day?”
Daniel looked outside, at all of the kids hurrying to classes and play fighting- roughhousing. Then he looked back at Arty, pointing back at Geil.
“Is he not coming?” he asked.
“Uh, no- he has a special school he goes to. But hey, you'll be okay,” Arty reached out to pat Daniel's shoulder, the teen watching him.
“...Are you sure?” He hadn't been to school in two years- the orphanage had its own learning program. Daniel would be a freshman, going into his ninth year… here.
Arty scoffed and ruffled Daniel's hair. “Of course! I mean, who doesn't love accents! You're gonna have all sorts of girls after you, trust me. I'm gonna have to spray them with the water hose, they'll be following you home.” He smiled, softly. “You're gonna be okay.”
Daniel looked out the car again, at the students. A bigger kid grabbed another's shirt, pulling it up over their head and blinding them. Daniel let out a breath and looked back at Arty.
“Alright. Where do I go, exactly?”
“Well, see those front doors? To the right is the office, and I already talked to the school about giving you a guide. Do you need me to come with you? I can grab Geil-”
“No, it's fine.” Daniel opened his door, stepping out and holding his lunch.
“Okay, well, good luck. Say “Bye, Daniel”,” Arty said to Geil, looking back at the boy. The child leaned forward in his car-seat.
“Bye bye, Danul!”
Daniel didn't bother forcing a smile to the child, simply waving to both and smiling at Arty.
“Bye.” He shut his door, leaving the car to walk up to the front doors.
“To the right is the office..”
Once inside, Daniel looked to the right. There was a hallway that, above, said MAIN OFFICE. Walking to it, the teen looked around.
The school seemed to be under construction, the walls bare with dusty plastic on the floor beside them. There was an unattended ladder beside an open ceiling, surrounded by CAUTION tape.
Walking down a slight curve in the hallway, Daniel finally came across the office, which had windows with closed blinds and a few chairs outside. The office door was closed.
Stepping to the chairs, the teen sat in one to wait.
There was indistinct talking from inside the office, like someone was in trouble and begging for their parents to not be called. After about ten minutes, the door finally opened to a man and teen, the younger wiping his damp eyes. Daniel looked up at the man as the teen left down the hallway.
“Hello,” he spoke, getting the man's attention. The man snapped his fingers and pointed.
“Mason kid, right?”
“Come on in, then.”
The man looked like he went to the gym regularly, like an angry muscle head gym coach. His attitude was charismatic, though, and he smiled to Daniel when sitting at the principal's desk. This was the principal. A muscle head.
“Go on, take a seat,” he said, his voice sort of loud. He should be the gym coach.
Daniel sat in the chair before the desk.
“So, what's your name?” Muscle Head asked, putting his hands on his desk and lacing his fingers together.
“Daniel. Mason. Daniel Mason.”
“Okay…” Muscle Head unlinked his fingers, grabbing some glasses from the edge of the desk and putting them on before looking at a file in front of him. Grabbing it and looking at it, he put it aside and looked at the one under it. This one, he opened.
“Ah. Freshman.” He pointed at the file, reading it. Daniel just watched him, his lunch in his lap.
Looking up, Muscle Head looked at Daniel through squinty eyes, like he couldn't see even with the glasses on.
“Know why they call them Freshman, freshman?”
“Because their freshmeat. Freshmeat.” Muscle Head pointed at him. “That's why, if anyone says anything wrong, ordoesanything wrong, you come here and tell me. I don't like bully's, more than they don't like snitches. Understand?”
No, Daniel didn't understand. Muscle Head spoke in riddles and Daniel didn't care to understand. He simply nodded.
“I will,” he replied. Then Muscle Head put a thick finger onto a button, and he spoke into a speaker.
“Laura Givens, come to the office.” He let go of the button, crossing his fingers again and looking at Daniel.
“Miss Givens is gonna walk through that door in a few minutes, and she's gonna give you a tour of the high school. She's a top student, so you'll have a good time. Right?”
“Good. Now, other than that, this is your list of classes- don't lose it, since it has your classroom numbers.” Uncrossing his fingers once again, Muscle Head grabbed a paper from the folder and held it out. Daniel took it, looking at it.
It listed English, mathematics, science, foreign language, history, and… art.
“I understand you haven't been around long, so your parent picked your classes for you. School starts at eight; if you're late, you come here and get a late pass. Lunch is at noon, but I see you brought your own. And, school ends at three forty. Any questions?”
“Good. Now, my principal always used to tell me: “Early is on time, and on time is-””
“Very good, Mason. You'll fit in fine, here.”
A minute later, Laura came in. She was blonde, but her hair wasn't as pale as Geil’s Norwegian. Looking at Daniel with brown eyes, she smiled.
“Hi, are you the new student?”
The tour went well. A few of Daniel's classes were all in hallway L, which was great. The others, art and science, were in M, which was a building outside. History was in H, a single building outside.
The only thing annoying, was that Laura seemed to grow to Daniel's hip. She walked incessantly close to him and she would say something and giggle, like she wanted him to laugh with her. He stayed straight faced, though, memorizing the hallways.
“So, you're from the UK?” she asked, peering at Daniel. The male teen glanced at her.
“Yes,” he said simply.
Laura gasped before laughing in amazement. “That's so cool! Can you say it again?”
Daniel closed his eyes for a moment, calming himself, before looking back down the hall and repeating it. “Edinburgh.”
“Wow, you have areallylovely voice.”
He knew it wasn't necessarily his voice, but his accent, rather. He had a relatively normal voice besides it's slightly lower pitch, his body already passing through puberty.
“So, why did you move here? Oh, and there's the student lounge, you can go there if you finish lunch early and don't have anything to do. I don't recommend it though, because Morrison and his friends hang out there,” the girl pointed to an empty area with chairs and a phone charging station. Daniel quirked an eyebrow.
“Oh yeah, he's a bully. I would just… stay away, if I was you.”
“Why? What does he do?” Daniel looked at Laura. She flushed at his gaze, but shrugged.
“He just, beats kids up. I think it's because of his eye, he's probably really self conscious about it.”
Daniel furrowed his eyebrows. “What's wrong with his eye?”
“Well, it's still up for debate, but my aunt is a nurse and helped with the surgery. His uncle attacked his mom and he intervened- lost his eyeball from head damage.” Laura shook her head. “He won't even tell his friends.”
“Do you like him?” Daniel asked, making the girl stop in her tracks and gawk.
Daniel stopped walking to look at the girl. “Do you like him,” he repeated.
“No, no I heard you, butwhat? What gave you that idea?” She laughed.
“You just seem to know some about him. Like, an investment.”
“Aninvestment? Wow, you have some vocabulary. Doyoulike someone?” she countered, crossing her arms while smiling at him.
“No,” he replied. She scoffed.
“You don't have any “investments”?”
“No. I invest in secrets.”
“You're… odd. What kind of secrets?”
“I imagine what sort of secrets people are hiding.”
“Hm. What secrets doIhave?”
“You won't be happy,” Daniel warned simply. Laura laughed and pushed him playfully.
“Come on, give me a guess.”
Daniel watched her for a moment before shrugging. “Okay.” He looked her over, from head to toe.
Her hair was yellow, from how blonde it was. She had some light freckles that she was probably born with, because the sun didn't come around these parts. Her nose had a slight crook in it, as though she had been struck once and it stayed. And her lips were uneven, but still natural and pink. Her clothes looked nice, but they had their own niceness to them- probably from a thrift shop.
Looking into her eyes, Daniel watched the brown orbs that switched from both of his. Her eyes looked small, like there was something haunting her deep inside.
“I think you secretly want a nose job,” Daniel finally spoke, and it took a quiet moment before Laura laughed, like she had been holding her breath.
“You're a bullshitter, you know that?”
Daniel shrugged. Of course, he didn't tell her what he really thought, because then she wouldn't talk to him again; and he thought he could use her.
Once the tour was over, it was lunch. The reason it took so long, was because Laura extended the tour to the football field and the theater room. And, because she wanted to skip a few hours, so she used the tour as an excuse- and time to connect with Daniel, though he was relatively quiet.
Now, in the lunchroom, Daniel sat at a table with her, who had a plate of the school's lunch.
“This is a sloppy joe,” she said to him, pointing at her sandwich, and he gave her a look.
Laura rose her hands in defense with a smile. “Just making sure. So, what did you bring?” She looked at Daniel's bag, the teen setting it in front of him so that he could open it. Before he did, though, there was a voice from behind him, that made him pause.
“Who's this, huh? New kid?” the voice spoke.
Laura frowned. “Leave him alone, Morrison. How did you even find us?” She looked around the full cafeteria, actually amazed, since she had never sat at this table before. Morrison moved to sit beside Daniel and two more boys followed pursuit. One of the three stank, and Daniel lost his appetite.
“What'd you bring, new kid?” Morrison grabbed Daniel's bag, tilting it upside down and shaking out the contents.
It was: a PB&J sandwich, an apple, a banana, a bottle of water, some pretzels, a thermos of tea, and some butter crackers.
“What the hell’s in here?” Morrison grabbed the thermos, shaking it. Daniel didn't answer him, just looking off in the cafeteria. Until he was smacked upside the head.
“I said what's in this!” Morrison yelled at him, and Laura reached out to try grabbing it.
“It'shis, leave him alone!”
“Tea,” Daniel finally replied, looking at Morrison. Laura wasn't lying about his eye- its Iris was smaller than his natural, and it didn't exactly follow the other as it moved to look at Daniel.
Morrison grinned in excitement. “Say that again?”
“It. Is. Tea.”
“What's wrong with your voice? You got a stutter or some shit?”
“He's Scottish! From Scotland?” Laura scoffed, looking at Morrison like he was an idiot. The bully just scoffed himself.
“What the hell is he doing here? What are you doing here, huh?” He looked at Daniel. The foreign teen moved to stand up, but one of the other boys kept him down. Morrison grabbed the water and opened it, drinking it.
“That's good,” he commented, and Laura just looked at Daniel in apology. “And this is a nice thermos.” He grabbed the thermos, opening it and dumping the tea on the floor, the liquid coming back up and splashing the teens’ feet.
Morrison stole the thermos and turned out to be in Daniel's science class after lunch. That meant two hours with the bully. Laura wasn't in any of Daniel's classes, but she vowed to go to his house sometime and sit with him at lunch.
Finally, though, school was over.
Daniel walked outside, getting shoved for the umpteenth time by a kid running to the bus. He really was, relatively tired. This school day was exhausting.
Stepping down the front steps, the teen looked for Arty's car, a silver Honda. After a few minutes, it finally came into view and Arty got out, looking around for Daniel. The teen spotted him first and started walking over, his footsteps getting Arty's attention.
“Daniel!” The man smiled. “How was it?”
“Alright, like you said.”
“That's good- very good. Did you make any friends?” Arty asked as they both got into the car. Geil was asleep in the back, a blanket draped over his lap.
Daniel nodded. “I did.”
Arty waited, giving Daniel time to tell him more, but when the teen didn't, he motioned. “A-nd what's their name!”
“Um, Laura.” Daniel did his seat belt. Arty gave a sly smile, patting Daniel's shoulder.
“Itoldyou I'd need the waterhose.”
Daniel sat back in his seat, closing his eyes. He was tired.