Jay flat-out sprinted across the yellow grass toward Canterbury Hall, quite aware that he was late for class for the first time ever. He was sweating slightly, and his coat stuck to him, but the savage wind sneaked under his hood and whipped at his face with such force that his teeth chattered. He drew closer to the sleet-topped building, closer to the rattling gate, closer to the familiar warmth of insulated classrooms. For a second he thought the doors were getting farther away, purposefully mocking him for being late. I know. I’m sorry, he thought, hoping doors could read minds.
He nearly stopped when he saw an actual person sitting on top of the tall brick gate. Jay had thought it was a statue, but then he saw it was a girl leaning against the flickering lamppost like it was a hot summer day. He feared the angry weather would bring her dark red podium down in a blur of dark hair, long limbs, and chipped brick. She clearly didn’t think so.
Bewildered, he slowed to a jog, then stopped, watching as she turned the page of the book in her lap. She looked serene, even comfortable. A completely inadequate jacket was wrapped around her like a blanket.
“Hey!” Jay called from below. The air stole the words from his mouth, but she heard and locked eyes.
“Hey yourself!” Her reply was loud somehow. It seemed to float straight through him, around him. He shivered.
“What on earth are you doing?” Nice one, Jay.
“Reading,” she answered, like he hadn’t just asked the stupidest question in the world.
Jay paused, wide-eyed. She did not elaborate, so he hesitantly went on. “It’s, like, zero degrees out. And when you sit on the fence like that, you literally get twice as much wind. You’ll get hypothermia.”
Jay felt even more foolish; his gut twisted as one of her eyebrows raised. She was holding back a laugh.
“Why do you care?” she asked.
The heat of Canterbury Hall was calling him, and he knew he was wasting time. Nonetheless, he stood his ground. His stupidly icy ground.
“Why don’t you just read inside?”
“Brilliant art cannot be contained within those flimsy cages.”
Her eyes widened at that, and then she really smiled, all white teeth and crooked lips. “What’s your name?”
“Dude, go inside.”
“Your name first.”
With a small surge of victory, he answered, “Jay.”
She chortled. Her chortle wasn’t embarrassing, and that was not fair at all. “That’s not your real name.”
Jay’s ego would have been besmirched had she not been right. “Julius,” he said honestly. “My mom was a Shakespeare fanatic.”
The girl’s lips drew into a thin line. She nodded.
“Are you going to come in now?”
“No, thank you.”
He guffawed awkwardly, fiercely. “But you promised.”
The girl looked Jay right in the eye, not exactly serious but more serious than before. “I didn’t. It wouldn’t matter if I had. People are liars, Julius. That’s lesson number one.”
Later, when Jay finally persuaded her to go inside (he’d had to resort to letting her call him Julius and, presumably, swearing an oath of eternal friendship), she hopped down from her brick gate tower and landed on the frozen ground somewhat gracefully, despite her legs being numb from the cold. As they began to walk, the light bulb in the lamppost exploded, freezing without her heat, sending crystalline shards flying over their heads. She turned and smiled the smile again, all white teeth and electricity.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.