Esther feigned taking notes as Lampman dissected another algebraic equation on the over head. Each noise -- the scrape of a foot against the tile, a suppressed yawn -- amplified in her head, each nerve raw and on edge. Her hand slid to her satchel resting against her ankle, her fingers wiggling back the zipper on the front pocket. Her gaze dropped discreetly to the tiny torn edges peeking up amongst her pen case and loose change. The white among the silver...
A flash of white against crumbling color and oak grain. The soft skritch of bone on wood.
A gasp escaped her, too loud in the suddenly silent room.
Her attention snapped to Lampman. His was on her as well.
"The next step, Miss St. Claire?"
A few students turned in their seats. Her reddening ears caught Tobie's snicker.
Lampman sighed, scratching at one of the three band-aids across his cheek. "At least attempt to look like you're paying attention, Miss St. Claire. Can you do that?" The bell rang. "Alright. Page 36, odds only. Odds, Mr. Robles. Write it down. See you next period."
Esther lowered her head to her notebook as the rows scrambled, putting their things away and rushing to the door. She scribbled idly, waiting for her periphery to clear of blond hair and rolled up uniform sleeves. She counted three people passing and chanced a look: Tobie and Gus making their way to the door, Jacob catching them up, Rebecca hot on Tobie's heels.
A swing of gray caught the corner of her eye. Holon stood next to her, shrugging on his coat. He adjusted his satchel and glanced down.
Esther held his gaze, even as heat crept up her face. Her fingers curled over the math notes, covering three cramped, but carefully written sentences below the last equation:
Holon. Look at me. Look at me.
For an excruciating moment, she thought he'd bend over, see the words, alert the boys now at the door. But, satchel shifted, Holon continued down the row. Esther let out a breath, flipped her notes closed and hurried out into the hall.
With a click, Esther's locker sprang open. She swiveled her bag from her hip to her front and unloaded her math and history books. Her bag jerked backwards, strap yanked off her shoulder, and tumbled to the floor.
"Careful, klutz," Jacob called over his shoulder as he and Gus paused in the busy hall.
A flutter of white escaped the jostled front pocket. Esther knelt quickly, fingers scrambling around the torn edges.
"Jacob! Wait up." Tobie's voice carried down the hall, muffled by the lunch crowd.
Esther's hand circled back to her socks as if she were straightening them, and stuffed both pieces of the torn card against her shin as Tobie hurried passed. She scooped up the rest of the scattered contents, shoved it all into her bag, and shut her locker.
Chlorine assailed Esther's eyes as she opened the field house door to the pool. She shut it carefully, staying just inside the threshold as she searched for Ro.
A boy was climbing up to the high dive, a group of seniors in their red swimsuits sat along the first two benches of the bleachers, chatting loudly; one spinning their goggles on a finger, others reclining against the back benches. The one with the goggles glanced up at Esther, flicking the goggles into his palm, and then shouted something over the other's heads.
Esther scanned the edge of the pool and smiled.
Ro straightened up from a stack of freshly washed towels. Waving at the senior, she hurried up the alley along the pool and bleachers. "Where have you been?"
Esther gazed back blankly.
Ro snatched Esther’s satchel by its strap, viciously unzipped the front pocket and pulled out Esther's cell and rammed her friend's face. The screen blinked white:
Five missed calls. 6 texts
“Oh.” Esther reached for the phone only to have it drop away from her fingers as Ro huffed and dropped the phone to her hip.
"Oh? Just 'oh'? Es..." Ro took a breath and shut her eyes a moment. "It's ok,” she said as she opened her eyes once more. “Don't look so misty. Just tell me nothing happened."
"Well, uh..." Esther's grip on her satchel tightened, thoughts straying to the remains of the rail pass tucked into her sock. She gasped at a loud slap that echoed through the field house. A wave swelled over the edge of the pool and a boy's head surfaced, swim cap bobbing slowly in the settling water.
"Simon!" a voice barked, ricocheting off the tiles.
"Aww, man." Ro gazed sidelong at the pool. "Not again."
"Side!" Coach Ranfeld yelled, storming passed them. "Now."
Managing a wince of embarrassed recognition, the boy swam clumsily to the edge, left side sinking slightly below the water in a limping stroke.
"I said, 'No high,'" Ranfeld said as she came closer. "No. High." She squatted at the stairs. "What did I say?"
"No high, coach." Simon lifted a hand to the rail, a grimace shooting across his face.
The coach sighed. "You ok?"
Simon lifted himself from the water. A red whelp covered his left side all the way to his leg. "Missed the second rotation."
"Saw that." She straightened and stepped back, assessing the damage as he climbed up the stairs.
His eyes remained on the tiles. "Laps?"
Ranfeld glanced at the bleachers and the tittering seniors, then grinned. "Nah. Flopping like that in front of them is probably all the punishment you'll need." She shook her head and walked towards the office along the back wall.
Though his head remained lowered, Simon’s posture stiffened; a flush creeping up his neck to rival the brightening whelp on his back.
As soon as the door shut, the seniors let loose.
"Nice one, fish!"
Ro rolled her eyes. "Hey, Si, heads up." She tossed a towel.
He snatched it out the air, walking towards them.
"Nice one, man," Ro teased with a gentle smile.
Simon’s gaze shot over her shoulder.
"Forget them. They've all been there."
"Right." Simon yanked the swim cap from his head, winced at the movement and it dropped. Esther dipped. Their fingers collided around the slick fabric.
"Oh! Sorry..." Esther took a quick step backwards as his fingers scraped up the cap.
"Thanks Ro." He glanced at her, then to Esther.
"This is Esther St. Claire." Ro grinned and took Esther's arm, pulling her forward. "Esther, Simon Therras."
Simon nodded, running a hand through disheveled ginger hair. "See ya around," he muttered, walking towards the boy's locker room.
"Oh...uh. Okay." Esther frowned as he vanished into the locker-room. "Is he..."
"He's fine. Believe me, he's used to it. Ready for lunch?"
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