Someone on tumblr asked me if I’d write a bit about how things might have gone if David and Jazz had met in high school. At first I was thinking school trip to DC or something, but then I moved David to Duckler because I’m a terrible person and he’d hate it. A lot.
An unseasonably cold wind whistled through the gap where David’s bedroom window wouldn’t shut all the way. David hung over the side of the bed, quilt wrapped around him, to dig through a nearby moving box for jeans and a sweater. It was Monday, his first day at Duckler High School. Classes had started three weeks ago, but he and his aunt hadn’t arrived in Duckler until late Friday afternoon.
When he got downstairs, his aunt was making coffee. She offered him a mug. He ignored it. She sighed but got out of his way so he could reach the cereal boxes.
“How long are you going to keep up the silent treatment?” she asked.
Until they moved back to Maine, where he knew people, where he could go to the stable and ride, where there were things to do and places to see instead of cornfields, cornfields, and cows. He poured himself a bowl of Cheerios and didn’t answer.
His aunt took her coffee into the room at the back of the house where she’d set up her office. She closed the door. She’d always been good at knowing when to leave him alone.
The tight bar of anger in David’s shoulders eased. He poured himself a cup of coffee. At least he had his own car. The bus had been bad enough when he knew everyone and had someone to sit with. Here, with nothing but strangers and unknown school politics, the idea made his skin crawl.
After breakfast, he got into his Jeep, bought from a neighbor when his aunt still had money for that kind of thing, and turned out of the driveway toward Duckler. He passed mainly cornfields on the way, but also a boy about his age with a backpack slung over one shoulder and dirty blond hair shielding his face.
David frowned at him in the rearview mirror for a second. He couldn’t be walking all the way to school. He must be older than he looked and on his way to work, although — David glanced around. To work where? Maybe he was a professional cow milker.
A few minutes later, David saw his destination. It was a low, square building, made of old brick with metal letters over the door that said simply: HIGH SCHOOL. The parking lot held only a handful of other cars. He’d been told to get there early to pick up his class schedule and locker assignment and all the usual crap. The school office, just to the right of the entrance, held a water cooler with a spidery plant on top, some filing cabinets, a strong smell of coffee, and desks for the principal and the school secretary.
Both of them were women with dark hair and matching perms and hoop earrings. David wasn’t sure which was which until the principal took a phone call at the desk with her name plate on it. The school secretary gave David his paperwork and told him how to find his first class and his locker. Given the size of the school, David didn’t think he’d have much of a problem.
Finding the locker was simple. Getting it open wasn’t. As he dialed in the combination for the third time, the halls were filling up. He had a cluster of girls applying lip gloss on one side of him and a knot of jocks actually literally tossing around a football on the other. David had gone to private school all his life. His last school hadn’t even had a football team.
One of the jocks, a big guy with red hair and freckles, leaned toward him. “You’re new here?”
“No, you just failed to notice me for three years.” David yanked at the locker, but it only rattled, loudly enough that one of the girls looked over at him. She took in his predicament, didn’t quite roll her eyes, and turned back to her friends.
The jock leaned against his own locker, arms crossed over his chest and probably flexing his biceps on purpose. “Did they not teach you how lockers work at your last school?”
There was some light snickering from the others.
“The lockers at my last school actually worked. I imagine this one’s jammed with cow shit. At least I’ll assume that’s where the smell is coming from.” He looked down at the jock’s boots.
The jock leaned into David’s space. “If you want your locker filled with cow shit, asshole, I can make that happen.”
“Hey, Bud, move your ass.”
The jock and David looked up. Another boy was standing slumped in front of them. David recognized him — the boy from the road. Not, apparently, a professional cow milker after all.
“What do you want?” Bud said, sulky but not actively hostile toward the newcomer.
“I want my locker, dumbass. You think it moved from yesterday?”
Bud grunted. “Fine. Watch out for this weirdo though. See you at practice.” The look he gave David said he’d be seeing him later as well.
David ignored the new guy and dialed the combination in one more time. His hands were a little sweaty now, and he had an unpleasant knot in his stomach. One more try and he’d just leave it and hope this wasn’t one of those schools were you weren’t allowed to bring your bag to class.
“Hey. I’m Jazz,” the boy next to him said.
“Good for you,” David muttered.
“I had that locker last year. It’s weird. You gotta, like, sort of push in and up on the lock? There’s something loose in there.”
David paused. He dialed in the last number. He pushed in and up, and the lock clicked open. He glanced over. Jazz was just watching him, neither particularly friendly or hostile. He’d pushed his hair behind his ears, and David could see his eyes, which were an odd blue-gray color. Unlike Bud, he wasn’t trying to flex, but he didn’t need to try. David blinked and looked away from the curve of his bicep where it pressed against the sleeve of his thin white T-shirt. “Thanks.”
“What’s your name?” Jazz said.
“Where are you from?”
“Maine,” David said, going for most recent state rather than where he’d been born. He had a hard time remembering New York anyway.
“What are you doing here?”
“My aunt lost her job and decided to move us to the ass end of nowhere.”
“I’m pretty sure that’s in Idaho,” Jazz said. “This is more like the armpit of nowhere.”
David was too startled to react at all, and then the bell rang and Jazz was gone. David smiled into the depths of his locker for a second before he slammed it shut and headed for math class.
There is a continuation of this story on my Patreon.