I was probably the first kid ever excited for summer to be over. There was too much free time that summer, which can lead to too much thinking, especially for a loss-stricken eleven-year-old. I couldn’t wait for seventh grade to start. To dive into schoolwork. To distract myself from the loneliest facts. At one point, I regretted turning down Dad’s offer to spend the summer in Ireland with Mom’s family. But I knew that if I went, there would be reminders of her everywhere. Not like there wasn’t one every time I looked in the mirror.
So the only escape I had was school. When I got the message that I was to report to the main office before class, I was worried I’d be faced with another year of forced visits with the school counselor, looks of pity from my fellow classmates, and well-meaning but oblivious faculty members who kept telling me it was “important to keep her memory alive.”
Like I could ever forget her.
I wasn’t ready for any additional drama that morning. It was already the first day of a new school year since.
“Do you want me to go with you, Macallan?” Emily asked after I received my summons to the office. A tight smile on her face gave away the concern she thought she was hiding.
“No, it’s okay,” I replied. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
She studied me for a second before adjusting my hair clip. “Well, if you need me, I’ll be in Mr. Nelson’s class.”
I gave her a reassuring smile and kept it on my face as I entered the office.
Principal Blaska greeted me with a hug. “Welcome back, Macallan! How was your summer?”
“Great!” I lied.
We both stared at each other, neither knowing what to say next.
“Well, I’m going to need your assistance today with a new student. Meet Levi Rodgers — he’s from Los Angeles!”
I looked over and saw this boy with long blond hair pulled into a low ponytail. His hair was even longer than mine. He tucked a loose strand behind his ear before he reached out his hand and said, “Hey.”
I had to give him credit — at least he had manners … for a surfer dude.
Principal Blaska handed me his schedule. “Could you show him around and take him to his first class?”
I led Levi out into the hallway and started giving him the five-cent tour. I wasn’t in the mood to play What’s Your Life Story?
“The building is basically in the shape of a T. Down this hallway you have your math, science, and history classes.” I started motioning my arms like a flight attendant. “Then behind you, English and language classes as well as study hall.” I started walking fast. “And there’s the gym, cafeteria, and music and art rooms. Oh, and there are bathrooms at the end of each hall as well as a bubbler.”
His eyebrows shot up. “What’s a bubbler?”
My immediate reaction was one of disbelief. How could he not know what a bubbler is?
“Um, where you can get water. To drink.” I walked him over to it and turned the handle for the water to come out of the spout.
“Oh, you mean a water fountain.”
“Yes. Water fountain, bubbler — whatever.”
He laughed. “I’ve never heard it called a bubbler before.”
My response was to walk faster.
As his eyes swept the hallway, I noticed they were light blue, almost gray. “It’s so weird,” he went on. “You could fit this entire school in my old school’s cafeteria.” His voice went up at the end of everything he said, like it was a question. “It’s, like, going to be a lot to adjust to, ya know?”
I knew this was supposed to be the point where I politely asked him about his old school, but I wanted to get to class as soon as possible.
A few friends passed by to say hello, everyone checking out the new guy. Our school was fairly small; the majority of us had been together since fifth grade, if not kindergarten.
I stole another glance at him. It was hard to decipher if he was cute. His hair was practically white in places, probably from the sun. His tan made his light hair and pale eyes stick out even more — but this wouldn’t be for very long, since in Wisconsin we rarely see the sun past August.
Levi had on a checkered button-down paired with long cargo shorts and flip-flops. It was as if he couldn’t decide whether to dress up or be casual. I luckily had Emily to help me pick out my first-day-of-school outfit that day: a bright-yellow-and-white-striped sundress with a white cardigan.
Levi gave me an eager smile. “So what kind of name is Macallan? Or is it McKayla?”
My initial instinct was to ask him if the name Levi came from the jeans his mom was wearing on the day he was born, but instead I behaved like the good, responsible student I was supposed to be.
“It’s a family name,” I said. Which wasn’t a total lie — it was someone’s family name, just not mine. While I loved that I had a unique name, it was always a little embarrassing to admit it was because my dad liked a certain kind of Scotch whiskey. “It’s Ma-cal-lan.”
“Dude, that’s cool.”
I couldn’t believe he’d just called me dude.
“Yeah, thanks.” I finished the tour at his first class, English. “Well, here you are.”
He looked at me expectantly, like I was supposed to find him a desk and tuck him in good night.
“Hi, Macallan!” Mr. Driver greeted me. “I didn’t think I had you until later today. Oh, wait, you must be Levi.”