Lost, I am hopelessly lost. The first day of school and I can’t even find my first period classroom. English was first up on my schedule, room 223A. I begin to panic, lifting up my wrist to view the time on my worn out watch. It reads 8:27, my heart drops. I only had three minutes left to get to class.
With the hallways being deserted, I forget of the no running rule and sprint down the endless corridor, moving my head from side to side seeing foreign numbers, none of which belonging to my core class. Oh crap, oh crap, oh crap!
No teacher was in sight, they were all in their own room, probably beginning their first lesson of the year. This only makes me more upset. Right before I had gotten out of Papa’s car, he had bid me yet another good day, and specifically asked me to make it to class on time just this once. And that was almost fifteen minutes ago, and even though I had practically traveled around the entire school, I just couldn’t find my classroom. Now, my stamina was heavily decreasing, my breathing coming out in heavy huffs.
Just when I had given up and decided to slow down to a stroll, I turn a corner and am abruptly knocked to the hard floor. Unprepared, I fell to my back, the wind getting knocked out of me. As I struggle to return the air supply to my lungs, I feel a heavy weight being pressed upon my chest. I look up to see a boy, just about my age, his lips only inches from my own. For a while, we lay like that, his uneven breath tickling my nose. He had been running as well, no doubt a lost individual such as me. His eyes were a soft hazel, reflecting back a bewildered me, staring curiously at him. A hint of spearmint is detectable, and I’m relieved at this. The last thing I needed was for a cute looking boy to be on top of me with coffee breath. Oh god, coffee breath.
My face goes beet red as I try desperately to hold my breath, fearing I’d get him to collapse from the overwhelming stench of bitter coffee. I begin to wonder if anyone is going to attempt to move away, when the tardy bell rings and the announcements go off. Finally, the attractive youth backs up away from me, stumbling on his feet. When I’m relieved of his weight, I try getting off the ground with great difficulty. He offers his hand to help me up. I took his warm hand in mine, dizzy from the power of his concerned stare. As I get to my feet and release his hand, I make a dumb attempt to brush myself off, not that there was anything on my clothes. The guy looks as me apologetically, waiting for the announcers to quite blabbering. Once they finish, saying something about good luck and first day of school, he immediately dives into the, I’m so sorry stage.
“Oh god, I’m so sorry about that, Xing,” my head jerks up at the sound of my name, “I was kind of running late and well, I guess I wasn’t really watching where I was going, I just can’t find my freaking class.”
“Wait,” I held my hands up to give me time to speak, “It’s fine, really, but how do you know my name?” He looks hurt when I say this.
“Well, I’m from your middle school, remember?” Carefully eyeing him up and down, I blush, I did recognize him. How could I have mistaken him for a stranger? He was my crush from seventh grade.
“Oh yeah, hey Matt, sorry, guess my contact shifted when you rammed into me,” I come up as an excuse, poking around at my eye for emphasis. In truth, I couldn’t recognize him at first due to his hair length. Before it had been so terribly short, a small patch of scraggly dark brown hair that changed into a gold color in the sunlight. Now it was longer, not so much to be able to put into a ponytail, but a more sophisticated length. I could already picture him in a tuxedo and making it look amazing. However, it did bother me that someone I had liked in the past now appeared before me, just the two of us, alone. My feelings for him had already diminished during the 8th grade and he became nonexistent to my life, but now here he was, looking more charming than ever.
He looks at me even more guiltily now, apologizing once more. I look down at my feet, avoiding any eye contact. I was still a bit stunned from our encounter, and by occasional glances, I could tell he was too. He rubbed his neck nervously.
“So… what brings you to being tardy in the hallway?” he asks. I shrug.
“I’m pretty much in the same situation as you, can’t find my stupid class,” I answer, peeking around the corner where I had come from, searching for any eavesdropping students. I found none.
“Well then, since I’ve already explored the entire school, perhaps I can be of assistance,” Mat continues, mocking a retarded looking bow as if to amuse me. “Allow me to be of assistance, least I can do from running into you, what’s your first period?”
“English,” I say all too excitedly, disregarding his previous gesture. I was beginning to sound like my father, but English was my favorite subject. Mat seems stunned to hear this.
“Hey, that’s where I’m heading too! Room 223A right?” he exclaims, his jaw dropping open too dramatically. I chuckle to myself, and then breathe out a sigh of defeat.
“Well then, so much for my professional tour guide. We’re both hopelessly lost now.” I watch as Mat’s broad shoulders kind of sag and he groans with frustration. For more of an effect, he bows his head down in a look of shame. My bubbly side shows up, giggling like a flirtatious youngster looking for trouble. “Hey, since we’re both heading for the same class, should we team up in finding this hidden room? Two heads are better than one right?”
My offer hangs heavily in the air for a painful few moments. I began to fear he would resort to insulting snorts and admit to never wanting to have anything to do with me. Nonetheless, go walking with someone like me. I was of the lower class, and he was perhaps the most popular kid in the whole school.
“I’d love to join you Miss Xing,” he finally replies, his eyes now staring patiently at mine. My face feels hot as I do my best to keep myself together. I hadn’t felt these feelings for a couple years, why were they returning so suddenly now?
Too eager to get myself out of that suffocating spot, I start to walk past him down the hallway where he had come from. “Well, I know for sure the hallway I came from is pretty much a dead end. No 223A in sight anywhere. Were there any additional routes where you came from?” I stop where I am, listening for his reply.
His shoulder barely brushes against mine when he comes up to stand next to me. It starts to feel numb at his touch. I try to weasel my way away from him when he says, “Well, I guess there was a corridor down that way,” he points straight down to the far end, “and then I came from the right, so go left?” Facing him again, I asked why he hadn’t just gone straight. “Well, I just thought that going right and left before straight was a good enough plan for me. I could have just retraced my steps and gone straight afterwards. Is that bad?”
Embarrassed, I shook my head. Why had I asked him such a ridiculous question? “Well, you know, I’m just kind of picky of how I travel. I usually go straight and then come back to right and left.” I felt dizzy at the sudden change of topic, we weren’t getting anywhere with this. I clear my throat before he can say anything else. “Well then, I guess left is our best option huh?” and with that, I was on my way, Mat staying uncomfortably close behind. Imagination or not, I could have sworn he was smiling.
The far end of the hallway seems longer than I remember it looking before. My nervous habit of having my hands sweat profusely had already started. I think back to when Mat had helped me to my feet. Had my hands been sweating then? I shake away the thought. This was the wrong place to think about that, it wasn’t like he was going to hold my hand again. Just, don’t think of anything, focus on not tripping on your own feet.
Listening to the soft echoes of our footsteps, I kept my eyes to the end of the hallway, still miles and miles away. My head starts to throb, my stomach begins to ache. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten so fast! And oh my dear god, why is it so quiet?! I began to panic, realizing just how wordless Mat was being. Was I boring him? Should I speak? I roll my eyes. Quite getting so paranoid, he’s just a friend you ran into.
Mat coughs, triggering something in my brain to go nuts. A friend that you were close to falling in love with in the 7th grade, this is no friend! Say something damn it!
“So… do you read much?” Again, that painful silence leaves me screaming in my head.
What the hell? So do you read much?! What kind of retarded question was that?! You were supposed to ask how his summer was! Ask how he was! Anything but that!
“Hmm…” he really seems to consider the question, taking a few more seconds to continue, “Well, I was really wrapped up in a book called The Glass Castle. I’ll admit that was pretty good. One of my favorite authors is Stephen King. Oh, and Dean Koontz is a heck of a writer too. I really enjoyed King’s The Shining. That gave me endless nightmares for a couple of weeks, and The Mist was creepy too.” He pauses, racking his brain for more things to say, “I’ve read a ton of books, ah, but none can compare to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. It was nearly impossible for me to put those down, so yeah, you could say I read a lot,” he says casually, speeding up to match my pace beside me. My jaw could have easily dropped at that moment. Praise the lord, he’s a reader! I must have been staring at him for too long because he then looks at me confused. “What? Is it shocking that I like to read?”
“I-I didn’t say anything,” I stutter, baffled by his sudden tone of mockery.
“So first you have a thing against me choosing right and left before straight, and now you have a thing against me for reading?”
“E-Eh? Wait, what? I didn’t imply that at all!” I say, holding up my hands innocently. “Where are you getting these ideas?” It was then I broke my streak of staying balanced. I tried to turning towards him, walking sideways awkwardly, until I tripped and felt myself falling to the floor for the second time that day.
“Whoa there!” Mat exclaims, his hand clasping tightly to my arm. Once his grip is set, he pulls me back up to stable ground in one quick, swift motion. “Don’t want to fall down again do we?” He keeps his grip, loosening it a bit, holding me in place. My face flushes.
“Uh, thanks, I guess I have two left feet,” I say softly, tugging my arm away from his warm hand. He lets go, trying to determine whether or not I was alright.
“Hey, you actually don’t look too good. Your face is an odd mixture of red and pale white, you feeling alright?”
“Y-Yes! I’m feeling fine!” I answer too abruptly, too loudly. Then I look down shyly. “Er, I mean yeah, just feeling a bit dizzy.” It was true, my throbbing headache now delved into a slight nauseating dizziness. Perhaps I wasn’t lying to my father earlier today, I felt kind of ill. A warm hand then presses onto my forehead.
“You’re scorching hot, sweet Jesus!” he exclaims, brushing aside a couple of my bangs. He takes back his hand, observing me, furrowing his brows with concern, expecting me to fall flat on my face at any moment. “Maybe you should head on home and get some rest. I mean it is the first day, we’re not going to do anything really.”
“I’m alright, at least I feel fine,” I answer, recovering from the frequent times he had touched me. “Besides, then I’d leave you to looking for this this classroom all by yourself. I thought we were a team.” I try giving him my Papa smile, the dizziness becoming more unbearable. For the first time ever, someone doesn’t buy it.
“Oh come on, don’t give me that. I can practically see the heat waves radiating from your head. I’m pretty sure a guy like me can look for a stinking class.” He pauses to rub his neck. “Or, you know, at least wait out first period and head to second. I know where that one is for sure.” I sniff stubbornly.
“Hey, I’m a tough one, and we can’t let this door get the best of us. I am determined to find it before the second bell goes off. I’ve got fighting spirit, let’s go,” I recite my corny speech, praying he was the type of guy to just go with it. I began to stalk my way back to the end of the swaying hallway. He only laughs.
“You’re a strange one, alright, but if you collapse, I’m carrying you ok? I’ll be sure to lead you to that classroom no matter what, even if you’re unconscious.”
When he says that, I find myself feeling hot once again, but proceed on forward anyways. I find myself beginning to sway constantly, probably looking like a drunken fool. Mat takes notice right away and runs up beside me, providing a type of barricade to keep me more balanced. I feel like I’m being driven to the wall when I realize Mat was actually steering me towards it, trying to close in the space where I was at risk of collapsing.
“No offense, but you look like a drunk hobo looking for a public bench to crash,” he chuckles, “Don’t go dying on me now alright?” he teases. I narrow my eyes, offended, yet at the same time, happy he was making conversation. I hated awkward silences.
“Shut-up, I’m perfectly fine, just feeling a little under the weather.”
“So little, meaning having a tendency to sway off balance when walking? C’mon, let’s get you to the nurse’s or something.” I laugh at the suggestion.
“Ha, do you even now where that is?” Mat becomes silent for a while, looking away. His hand went back to rubbing his neck. That seemed to signify his nervous habit.
“No…” he whispers then glances back at me. “So… do you read much?” I flinch at the topic change. Was he mocking me?
“Yeah, I suppose so,” I answer dully, taking a quick note of what time it was. 8:37, we were already seven minutes into class.
“I don’t believe you,” he says, causing me to snap, but when I glare at him, I see a playful look in his eyes. He was just messing with me.
“I’ll have you know, I’m quite familiar with Stephen King. I read those two titles you spoke of before, as well as Cell and The Stand, so there. And if you’d like proof I’d be happy to fill out a questionnaire if you are willing to provide.”
Mat’s mouth hung open, shock reflecting from his hazel eyes. I blink a couple of times, wondering what has gotten him so shaken up, when he yells for me to look out. He spoke too late as I run straight into the wall. We’d finally reached the splitting pathway.
“Ow,” I say, clutching to my right temple, throbbing with pain. Mat is in a fit of laughter now. I shoot him a dirty look, rolling my eyes. “Yeah, I ran into a wall big deal, drunken hobo had too much to drink, now what was with that shocked look earlier?”
“Oh that,” he wipes his eyes, still grinning, “Right before you ran into the wall,” he waits for me to grimace at that specific detail, “I was just going to say it’s impressive you read a complicated book like The Stand. I never had the chance to finish it. Actually you’re perhaps the first girl I’ve spoken to whose even started reading it.” He places his hands into his pockets, eyeing me worriedly, “You alright there, clumsy?”
“Yes, I ran into a wall, tripped on my own feet, and got rammed to the ground by some kid, I’m feeling pretty good. I survived. What did I tell you? Fighting spirit all the way, woo,” I make a sad attempt to throw a weak fist pump into the air, feeling like such a dork. I took a quick gander at my surroundings, my face going pale.
“You are one heck of soldier alright. Hey, why do you look so pale?” He outstretches his arm, prepared to catch me. Chuckling nervously, I shuffle my feet.
“Ah, you see, I kind of forgot which way we were supposed to go.”
Mat just stands for a moment, processing what I just said when he withdraws his arms and resumes his nervous neck rub. He gives me an open mouth smile, revealing a set of perfectly straight, blinding teeth then gestures toward the left side.
“I knew that,” I lied, making my way through the new, untraveled area.
For a while, we walk in silence, keeping our eyes on the numbered doors we passed by. I had the right side covered, Mat, the left. I find myself smiling as we searched for our room in hiding. The strange illness I had felt before now seemed to be disappearing. I was finally beginning to walk straight again, when I thought of how funny it was that it was the first day of school, and out of all the problems in the world, I just couldn’t find my freaking class. I would have never thought searching for a door would be so time-consuming. The more numbers we came across by, the more I began to feel like we weren’t getting any progress done whatsoever. Finding this room was flat out impossible.
As if sharing my thoughts, Mat broke into a heavy, deep sigh.
“We’re never going to find room 223A are we?” He stops suddenly, pondering whether or not to continue this pointless scavenger hunt. Stopping just a few feet ahead of him, I look back mockingly.
“Don’t tell me you’re giving up?” I tease, placing my hands on my hips for more of an effect, shaking my head in disappointment, “and I had high hopes for you, Mat.” He laughs at my insult.
“As if! I’m just resting a bit, give me a second. Don’t go anywhere, wouldn’t want you to get yourself hurt.” He grins mischievously at me, provoking me to come up with a stubborn comeback. I only roll my eyes then slip off down the hallway, leaving Mat scrambling up after me.
“Hey, hey, hey, wait up. I’m just messing with you, I’m sorry. Don’t be upset with me please.” He gives me some sort of puppy eyed look, begging for forgiveness. Confused I cut down my quickened pace, all too much enjoying his adorable face.
“It’s fine?” I say, making it sound more like a question. “I wasn’t mad or anything, I’m just eager to get to English I guess.”
He replies with a nod, his gaze falling to the side of me. For a while he stays like that, squinting as though reading something far away. Then without warning, his eyes lit up and excitement powdered his face. As I’m about to ask what had caught his attention, he suddenly exclaims past me, frantically waving his arms.
“Hey man! Think you could lend us a hand?” he asks loudly, pausing his mad gestures to pass me a trusting look. “Found another lost soul, a pal of mine,” he answers quickly, returning to his odd little ritual of hand motions. Curious, I turned to see for myself what had caused the commotion.
I felt my stomach drop ten stories.
Our new companion stood quite a distance away, a lone light resting over his head flickering with an eerie pattern. Times he would remain there, bathed in holy light at one minute and terrifying darkness the next. At the sound of Mat’s voice calling to him, he only moves to a point of having a perfect view of the two of us. He makes no further movement to approach, makes no attempt to grin kindly as a friend normally would to another, only watches with the eyes of an angelic spirit and a frightening demon.
I shiver despite the typically warm atmosphere in the hallway. The cold feeling is familiar, and I recall the dream I had the previous night. Once the memory settles in like an old friend, seeping it’s content snuggly into my restless mind, I ignore Mat now running up to give his pal a hearty handshake and instead try focusing more on the darker side of this stranger. I recognized the appearance right away, thinking back to the falling snow, the diminishing feathers, the distant waves.
The cloaked man.