Noah grabbed his shoes from under his bed and hopped around the room, trying to put them on. He grabbed his brush at the same time and hopped around, trying to comb his dirty blond hair. Unfortunately, he tripped over his stack of textbooks and crashed into his bed. One shoe was half on, and the comb was stuck in his hair. He lay there for a moment, trying to catch his breath before he heard his sister yell at him from downstairs.
“Noah! The bus driver won’t wait much longer. Get your butt down here now.”
“Gimme a sec!” he roared down, scrambling to find his other shoe. He gave up on the comb and patted his hair down before slinging his backpack over his shoulder. Racing down the stairs, he grabbed his lunch. He kissed his sister, Kiara, on the cheek and ran down the front porch steps. The waiting school bus was full of his schoolmates, his house being the last stop. He gave the old bus driver a sheepish grin before heading down the aisle. He plopped down in the only empty seat next to his best friend, Gillian.
“If I ever tried to pull a making-the-bus-driver-wait-for-me stunt, it wouldn’t work. And you manage to do it every single day.” She commented as he tied his shoelaces. He rolled his eyes.
“Old Gus loves Kiara. It’s the only reason he waits.” He said. She snorted and handed him a piece of paper from her backpack. Her eyes were shining as he took it from her and glanced at it.
“You got accepted?” He turned and hugged her. “Well done!” she beamed as she took the piece of paper back from him.
“I’ve been waiting a long time for Diamond Softball to accept me. I was thinking, this would look great in a white or brown frame.” She said, squinting at it. He laughed.
“When do you start?” He asked. She examined the paper.
“On Thursday, but since the season’s already started, I’m going to have to train a lot to catch up to the rest of the team.” She said.
“Well, do you want me to help? I can come over on the weekend and help you out?” He asked. She looked at him, wide-eyed.
“Can you make time? I know we have finals coming up, and I know how much you study before finals. Are you sure?” She asked. He nodded.
“G, of course, I always make time for you. You’ve waited so long, and I know your parents won’t help-” He started. He winced at the sadness that flickered across her face at the mention of her parents. Gillian never had a connection with either of her parents before they divorced. After her dad moved out, she’d been relying on her older brother, Ryan, to take care of her since her parents refused to. “Sorry, didn’t mean to bring them up.” He added. She shook her head.
“It’s okay, don’t worry about it,” she muttered but was silent for the rest of the bus ride. As they hopped off the school bus, she shoved him. “Hey, I’m not mad at you. See you at lunch?” She asked. He smiled at her.
“Of course.” He said. He waved as she headed off in the opposite direction, down to her first period, English. He headed to Geometry and started walking down the hallway to the math department. Central Valley High School separated into three big buildings. Each of them had a courtyard between them. Math, History, and the Gym were in the West building. English, Music, and FACS in the East. And Science, Business, and the cafeteria in the North. The upperclassmen got to eat lunch in the courtyards if they wished. Both he and Gillian had taken to eating lunch between East and North.
“Noah!” As he was walking across the wide courtyard between North and West, his classmate, Evelyn, jogged up to him. Evelyn was Class President and took every opportunity to ‘help’ as many of her classmates as she could. Unfortunately for her, that earned her the nickname ‘not-so-genuine Evelyn’. He sighed.
“What’s up Evie?” Her perky smile didn’t dim at the shortened version of her name. Even though it was something that she told everyone was her biggest pet peeve. She only seemed to brighten. That only aggravated Noah even more. She handed him a flyer. He read it and then handed it back to her. He was walking so fast she needed to jog to catch up.
“Oh, but speech class would bring out the social side of you!” She said. He rolled his eyes.
“No, thank you, Evelyn, I’m not interested in speech.” Undeterred, she leafed through the various pamphlets and flyers in her arms.
“OK then, how about cooking? You seem like you could take out your frustrations on a helpless ball of dough?” She countered. He groaned.
“No, thank you, Evelyn.” He repeated. She was about to bring up another of her blasted flyers when he decided he’d had enough. “Oh, I almost forgot. I have to talk to Principal McMartin before class starts.” Before she could reply with another damned club for him to join, he jogged over to the West Building. Ducking into the men’s bathroom, which was the only place he could avoid her. He walked over to the sinks and looked at himself in the mirror with a sigh.
With his dirty blond hair, defined cheekbones, and dimples, he seemed like he would be a popular guy at school. But his quiet nature and shyness left him without many friends. Also, having vivid violet eyes didn’t bode well for him. He had gotten teased all his life about his purple eyes but didn’t take the insults to heart. Also, his love of poetry didn’t mean people lined up for the honor of being his friend. Only two other people in the world knew about his poetry, Gillian and Kiara. And he wasn’t keen to get made fun of, so he kept to himself.
He reached into his backpack and drew out a half sheet of paper with his favorite poem on it. “A Bird Came Down the Walk”, Emily Dickinson. He read the poem as he had done many, many times before, but one stanza stuck in his mind.
He glanced with rapid eyes
That hurried all around—
They looked like frightened Beads, I thought—
He stirred his Velvet Head
He had always imagined himself as the bird in the poem, stuck in an unfamiliar environment. And he’d always believed that the poem spoke to him. He took a deep breath, tucked the paper in his backpack, and glanced one more time at himself in the mirror. He walked outside and down the hallway to his Geometry class.
As always, Geometry was boring and seemed like it took forever to get done. The teacher was handing out homework when the bell rang, and he got the paper before racing out of the class. Passing periods were tedious, people milling about everywhere, getting in the way. It was a relief when he finally got out of the West building and into the peaceful courtyard beyond.
His second period was study hall, but the teacher was never there. So he had started hanging out in the courtyard and finishing his leftover homework at that time. The courtyard was somewhat deserted. There was only one other kid sitting over on the far side, so Noah sat down under one of the big oak trees. He reached into his backpack and drew out his wallet. He pulled out a photo, creased and worn from all the times he’d studied it. The photo was of Kiara and his parents, his mother pregnant with him. They were at Disneyworld, evident from the giant-sized Mickey Mouse walking behind them. His mother had light dirty-blond hair with a smattering of freckles across her nose. Kiara had inherited those freckles, while also getting her father’s messy dark hair. Noah had taken after most of his father. The tall body, defined cheekbones, and messy hair evident in his father’s relaxed stance.
Both his parents had gotten killed in a car crash, the crash so severe, there were no bodies left, only piles of ash. Kiara was turning eighteen the next month, so they allowed Noah to stay with her. The two had gotten lucky, staying together instead of both being in foster care. He heard a rustle of branches above him, and tilted his face up, letting the sun caress his skin.
A white bird was hopping on the branch above him, but he couldn’t tell what kind of bird it was - he wasn’t much of a bird person. He folded up the photo and placed it on the side, digging in his backpack for his poetry journal. He heard a ‘tweet’ from beside him and turned to see the bird perched next to him. It was pure white, with a dark orange beak. It cocked its head, studying him. The bird took off with a flutter of wings, clutching something in its feet.
Noah searched for the photo but realized that the bird had stolen it. He got up and ran toward the bird, who was perching on the low branch of a nearby sapling. It didn’t notice him, so he crept up and snatched the bird in his hand. Tweeting, the bird pecked at his fingers, and Noah tightened his grip.
“Argh, hold still,” he cried, but he heard a crack. The bird went still. He went still. They looked at each other. With a whoosh, the bird expanded into a vaguely humanoid shape and slammed into Noah. They both crashed into the ground.