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New Kid

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The new boy at Rincon Valley Middle School was pale, small, and quiet. The teachers never acknowledged him, most of the students didn't either, so he simply faded into the wallpaper. Nobody knew his name. Nobody could clearly remember his face; he might have had white hair, or maybe it was just blonde, but that was it. Beyond the fact that he'd transferred into the school in December, nobody knew anything about him whatsoever.

He didn't raise his hand, and somehow even when the teachers pulled popsicle sticks out of coffee mugs he was never called on. He didn't speak, and nobody spoke to him. He barely moved. He didn't make eye contact. He kept his limbs close to his body and tightly in check like he was trying to shrink.

His classmates all knew there was a new student, of course: the old empty desk in the back was filled, and there was one extra person in the classroom; but they couldn't have told you anything about him. None of them really cared — a student, even a middle schooler, has more important things to worry about than some random kid whose name they can't remember.

But as time went on, more and more people started to recognize the boy. They learned his name (Liam Grey), they learned his face (shaggy blonde hair, pale blue eyes, sharp cheekbones, pale skin, freckles), and as they got to know him, he won them over with interesting facts and odd insights. Girls, and a few guys, noticed how pretty he was; guys, and a few girls, noticed what a good basketball player he turned out to be.

The coach didn't notice anything odd when Liam started showing up at basketball practices. He'd always been on the team.

Teachers didn't notice anything odd when he talked about events that had happened at the beginning of the school year, or things they'd learned about in October. He'd always been at the school, and he'd always been in that class. (Except, of course, for Mrs. Macchia, his science teacher, who kept insisting that he'd transferred in that December. But then, she'd always been a bit odd.)

Students laughed about that one time in seventh grade when he'd corrected the principal during a school assembly — "The most common cause of earthquake-related injuries actually isn't shattered glass, Mr. Milgrath. It's objects falling off of shelves." — and turned out to be completely right. That great over-the-shoulder shot he'd made in the first basketball game of the year.

Liam had always been a Rincon student. Of course he had.

Alana Carpenter, a vivacious eighth-grade girl with red cornrows, sat directly behind Liam in science. She admired him, like every other student, but didn't count herself lucky enough to be one of his friends.

It started with little things, like her best friend Julianne forgetting her birthday (February 26th), or her favorite color (green, ever since preschool.) But it progressed from there, with teachers no longer calling on her even though she'd had her hand up for twenty minutes, the soccer coach looking at her oddly when she showed up for practice even though she'd been on the team since August of seventh grade, and people who'd always given her friendly waves in the locker halls passing by like they didn't even see her.

By April she'd accepted that they didn't. And by May she stopped attempting to start conversations, stopped raising her hand in class, stopped making eye contact. Stopped trying.

If you had asked anybody where Alana Carpenter was, you would have gotten a confused look and a "Who's Alana?" (Except for her science teacher, Mrs. Macchia, who kept insisting that the redhead in the back of her class whose name nobody knew had once been a quite popular student. But then, she'd always been a bit odd.)

The new girl at Maria Carrillo High School was pale, and tall but skinny, her red cornrows swept into a neat ponytail. Teachers didn't acknowledge her, and most of the students didn't either, and so she simply faded quietly into the wallpaper. Nobody knew her name, and nobody remembered her face.

The other students knew they had a new girl in their class, but they couldn't have told you anything about her. None of them really cared — a student, even a freshman, has more important things to worry about than some random kid whose name they can't remember.

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