John Sam Osborne was supposed to be early to his first class. His adopted mother, Theresa Jones, dropped him off in the subdivision behind the high school, two blocks from the back gates, just as he requested. She hugged him and kissed his check and said, "It'll be okay honey. Remember, we love you," and she squeezed him twice more before letting him out of the car. Slightly confused, John smiled and frowned at the same time. He said, "Are you okay, mom?"
"Yeah, honey. I'm good. Love you! Go!"
"I'm, like, an hour early!"
"But I don't want you to be late for you, either, baby! Go go go!"
John smiled with he mouth and eye brows. He said, "Thanks, mom. Love you."
The back gates let onto the school property by the football field and the gigantic set of bleachers. The school track surrounded the football field and in the early September cool thin fog dampened ankles and frizzed hair.
It was cloudy.
John zipped his hooded sweater all the way up and pulled on the hood. It was a light blue hooded sweater. He also wore black jeans and a dark grey t-shirt. He wore well taken care of black work boots, freshly polished and shined. His right boot had a two inch lift on the sole. John kept his hair short, not particularly liking the frizzy curls that sprung out and wafted around like sea anemones when it grew longer than a few inches. His dark skin and dark eyes were soft and full of love even if his cheeks were full of acne. He had an easy, full smile and all of his top teeth and most of his bottom teeth were straight.
He walked slowly and purposefully, and knew that as long as he kept his pace steady, his limp wouldn't be too obvious.
"It's cool. I'll see Mercedes in third hour, and that means we can eat lunch together. It'll be cool," he said to himself.
He tucked his ear buds into his pocket and pulled out the paper map of the school buildings. His first hour class was math, in the portable classroom closest to the football field. The classroom was a modified prefabricated house, marked on his map with :#1
John double checked the room number and decided to get a breakfast snack. According to the map, one of the lunch rooms was to his right, through a courtyard with recessed seating that sometimes served as an amphitheater for drama classes.
Indeed, the cafeteria had huge, floor to ceiling windows and through the cloudy, morning gloom John saw clumps and clusters, duos and trios of students milling about or hunched or sprawled on the lunch room tables.
"Cool," he said, and stopped. There were butterflies in his stomach. John stared through the glass wall into the bright cafeteria. "It'll be fine," he said, out loud. "I got this." He smiled to himself and, slowly and purposefully walked into the cafeteria.
"Excuse me," he said to the first group of students he came to, "I'm new here. I'm a freshman."
"UH huh." said a white girl with short, blonde hair and dark brown eyes that matched her lipstick. "So?"
"Can I get coffee here?" John asked.
"Oh, sure. That way. Go in there." She pointed vaguely behind her.
John said, "Cool. Thanks." and, slowly and purposefully walked into the cafeteria. The cafeteria was very, very wide and had three tiers, with gentle ramps on either side. from the top down to where he had been previously.
The tile was mottled, faux marble and the walls dividing the tiers were made of small, red bricks. It smelled of good grease and citrus cleaning agents.
As John walked slowly and purposefully toward where he now noticed an ENTRANCE sign. He noticed too that conversations dipped as he passed and rose once he passed. He looked around, and everywhere he did, he caught people looking away. "I just want some coffee," he mumbled, but didn't slouch or slow or speed up. "It's coffee," he said.
The line was long and languid. "I want coffee," John affirmed to himself. There were three people in front of him when the five minute warning bell ran. John's shoulders fell, just a little.
The girl next in line started to argue with the cashier. John shuffled back and forth between feet. He looked around; he was the last person in line.
The girl in front of him ordered.
The late bell rang.
The cashier handed the girl her drink and, pointedly avoiding John's gaze, turned off the cash register and walked away through a set of rodeo doors marked: Kitchen: Staff Only.
"Excuse me?" John called out.