The boy had brown hair and brown eyes, his slim body swimming in his grey shirt. I looked at him through the gleaming blonde shroud of my hair. Alejandra watched him from the other end of the table, chin tipped up and crown tilted sideways on her head. Her small pink mouth was pinched with distaste.
No one spoke as he slowly made his way to his seat, sliding the chair back and sitting without meeting anyone’s eyes. He picked at his nails, dropping the torn off ends onto the carpet below his chair. My eyes flicked to Julian, but he was watching the newcomer, transfixed, and my gaze caught Alejandra’s instead. Her face had settled into a frown, her green eyes dark like a raging sea under a stormy sky.
Her chair creaked as she leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table and pillowing her chin on her fists. Her eyes narrowed. The boy looked up, thumbnail half-ripped from his finger.
“What’s your name?” Alejandra asked.
The boy’s eyes darted to the name card in front of him. “Jacob.”
“Jacob,” the boy said. His hair fell into his face, shading his chocolate brown eyes. Like his shirt, his hair was too long, covering too much, drowning his delicate features. He was very pretty.
I bit my lip, wishing I could talk to him, but Alejandra was already speaking. Alejandra did everything first.
“Aren’t you going to ask us our names?” she huffed and crossed her arms. Jacob opened his mouth, but she cut him off. “I’m Alejandra,” she said, “and this is Millie and Julian.”
Millie nodded hello, shoulders hunched, hiding her face behind her long blonde hair. When Jacob looked at me, I wished I had hair to hide behind too. His eyes were deep like pots of honey. He was too pretty.
I frowned and looked away from him, directing my eyes to the wall behind him, which was covered in colorful paintings. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him look down at his lap, where he was tearing at his fingernails. Most of them were already too short, edges jagged and sharp where he had ripped them again and again. I wanted him to stop. It looked like it hurt.
“Where are you from?” Alejandra asked, voice sharp. I cringed. She was being too mean to him. Alejandra was always too mean.
“Tamalpais Valley,” Jacob said. His voice was small and high, soft like a whisper. His teeth gleamed white as he spoke. I forgot that I wasn’t supposed to be looking at him and stared with wide eyes. He had freckles scattered across his nose. His cheeks were sunburnt and peeling.
Noticing my gaze, he glanced at me and then glanced away, back to his lap.
“Where’s that?” Alejandra asked, demanding his attention again. A stab of jealousy behind my ribs. I frowned at it. Alejandra always took things that were mine.
Jacob’s brow furrowed underneath his hair, and he shrugged. “Far.” He flicked away a thin sliver of fingernail, and my eyes followed it to where it landed on the carpet before they returned to him. “Where are you from?”
Alejandra rolled her eyes, “Here. I was born here.”
Jacob hunched away from her, eyes down, “Oh.” His voice was even smaller. Everything about him seemed to shrink a little bit, like a tulip closing up in the rain. “Cool.”
I already hated Jacob. He was too quiet, like half a person, his soul swallowed up in his body like his body was swallowed up in his stupid too-big shirt.
I didn’t think Julian agreed with me. His eyes were stuck on Jacob, following every twitch of his head, every jerk of his hands as he tore off his fingernails. Why was he tearing off his fingernails? Why did he have to scatter those tiny, ripped-off pieces of himself across the carpet?
Millie was hiding behind her hair, but I don’t think she liked him either. Millie didn’t like anyone but me.
I adjusted my crown and crossed my arms tighter across my chest, digging my fingers into my skin and glaring at Jacob. I hoped he knew I didn’t like him.
He glanced up, “I like your crown.”
“It’s because I’m a princess.” He should have known that.
He ripped off another fingernail. “Did you make it yourself?”
“No,” I frowned, “My parents got it for me. They’re king and queen.”
“Oh.” He looked down again. Jacob didn’t seem that smart.
The girl called Alejandra had thick brows and a dark expression, eyeing me from across the table with a fair amount of hate in her eyes. I did not think I had earned it.
The boy in the blue shirt, Julian, had barely taken his gaze from me since I sat down, and his attention was heavy and creeping over my chest and shoulders.
Millie sat hidden behind her pale blonde hair, but I could feel her gaze too, tracking over my face and down my arms to tangle in my fingers.
It was all too much. I tore off another fingernail, ripping it to the quick. I flicked away the fragment and it landed on the carpet below my chair. The gazes of the others at the table still didn’t leave me.
Alejandra glared at me, brows furrowed over her ice blue eyes, attention unwavering until the teacher breezed by behind her and plucked the cheap plastic crown from atop her head. Then she looked up, lips parted in surprise and anger, at Ms. Stevens’s smiling face, and I felt a little of the weight lift from my chest.
“No hats in class, silly,” Ms. Stevens grinned, setting the crown down on the desk.
Alejandra pouted, “But it’s a crown, not a hat.”
“Still not allowed,” Ms. Stevens sang, walking around the table to stand behind me.
She settled her hands on the back of my chair for half a second before raising them again to clap three times. “Cla-ass! Welcome back to first grade. It’s our 71st day here. Can you believe it?” She beamed, resting her hands on the back of my chair again. “Today is a very special day because we have a brand new student. Everybody say hello to Jacob.”