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There are only two rules which you have to follow, above everything else:
Do not tell anyone about who you are, where you are from or what you are doing there.
Whatever you do, do not get attached to anyone.
Simple, right? Nothing could possibly go wrong. Taking a deep breath, Alex stepped into the light.
That Tuesday started the same as any other day. Poppy was sat at her usual desk in form, looking over her history notes for the test next lesson. Most of the class was present, but Mr Thomas was still conspicuously absent. Unusual, Poppy thought, normally he’s here before all of us. The bell rang, and the last couple of stragglers rushed in, looking round arrogantly at having made it just in time. But still no Mr Thomas. The eccentric old science teacher was Poppy’s form tutor, and as far as she knew, he’d never been late, never mind absent, in all of his fifty-odd years of teaching.
The rest of the form didn’t seem to notice his absence. Georgia Hamilton and her gang of wannabes lounged around at the back of the room, with the popular boys. The gamer guys were on the opposite side of the room from Poppy, clustered around two spotty boys playing on games consoles. The music freaks were in the far back corner in a tight group, glaring at any one nearby. At the front were the geeks, sat up straight with their books and pencil cases lined up in military order. And somewhere in the middle, neither here nor there, sat Poppy and her friends, Leanne and Amy.
They didn’t belong to any of the strict social categories that most people at West Brooke High conformed to. Neither popular nor unpopular. No special talents or interests - nothing to distinguish them in any way. They were just mind-numbingly average. Forgettable.
Poppy didn’t mind being invisible. It saved you the trouble of people disliking you because of what clique you were part of, or having to pretend that you liked people in the same clique as you even if you didn’t. Poppy, Leanne and Amy were the outsiders, who banded together because they had no one else. That morning in form, Leanne and Amy were chatting about some TV programme that they had both watched the previous night, but as Poppy hadn’t seen it, she couldn’t join in. Instead, she was staring at the door, daydreaming, when he walked in.
At first glance, there was nothing particularly unusual about the way he looked. But there was something about him that made Poppy unable to look away. The teenage boy that stood in the classroom doorway was fairly average to look at, nothing particularly remarkable. He had brown hair that was mussed up and untidy; golden skin that looked like he spent all day in the sun; and chocolate brown eyes that Poppy found herself drawn to...
The boy looked up, directly at Poppy. Had he seen her staring? Poppy felt her cheeks going red, and she ducked her head so her long hair covered her face. She stared down at the desk intently, waiting for his gaze to pass onto someone else. When she finally judged it safe to look up, he was looking at the back of the room, nowhere near her. She sighed inwardly with relief.
Mr Thomas followed the boy into the room. “Class! Er... can I have everyone’s attention please?” The room quietened down a lot quicker than usual, probably because everyone was curious about the new boy. Who started school on a Tuesday, in the middle of term? Had he got kicked out of his old school? Poppy could already anticipate the rumours that would be going round school by break time.
“Class, this is Alex...” He broke off and conferred with the boy for a moment. “Alex Green. He’s new here, so I want you all to make him feel welcome. Would anyone like to volunteer to look after him while he settles in?” Immediately hands shot up. Most of them were at the back of the room, but there were a few elsewhere. Mr Thomas looked around thoughtfully for a moment, before deciding. “Georgia, I am putting you in charge of making sure Alex here settles in to his new school, okay?” Poppy looked around in surprise. Georgia Hamilton had actually volunteered for something? She looked again at the new boy. She could see why Georgia might find him attractive. Only for a few weeks though. That was as long as any conquest of Georgia’s ever lasted.
Alex was making his way towards the back of the room, not taking his eyes of Georgia. Typical, Poppy thought. Because she was pretty, all the guys ignored the fact that she was a complete air head. Oh well, it’s none of my business whether the new boy becomes another of Georgia’s adoring worshippers. Poppy pushed Alex from her mind, and turned her attention to the front of the room.
Alex settled into his seat near the back of the room, looking around him. The room itself was fairly utilitarian, with large windows looking out onto a concrete courtyard, yellowing blinds and cheap furniture. Even the way the other students were sat, in clearly defined groupings, was textbook 21st century high school, exactly like he had been taught. The group he was sat with now was clearly the popular kids. He could tell from the way they acted like they were above everyone else.
The girl next to him who had volunteered to be his mentor was also obviously the leader. She was by far the best looking (although the rest of the girls certainly weren’t bad). Alex wondered why she had wanted to look after him. He looked at her sideways. She had long curly black hair, tanned skin and symmetrical features. He didn’t normally go for the obviously beautiful (and usually airheaded) types, but he might make an exception this time. Only for a bit of fun, mind. Nothing serious. But he didn’t figure she was the serious type, which suited him just fine.
His eyes wandered towards the window again, and the girl with brown hair who was sat next to it. He’d caught her watching him when he’d walked in, and since she’d been avoiding his eye. Alex felt the stirring of curiosity. Who was that girl? Not like it mattered anyway, he reminded himself. I’m only here for six months, and after that... He bit his lip. No, he wouldn’t think about that now. He needed to focus on the mission in hand.