“Hey, clarinet girl!” a voice called from behind her back. “You’ve got the locker next to mine.”
Cory turned to find the tall boy from All-Star Band tryouts standing beside her, spinning the combination of a locker just above and to the right of hers. She’d gotten in the habit of watching him at regular band practices, sitting in the first clarinet section, far away from her seat in the back row. She hoped he wouldn’t bring up the tryouts now. She didn’t want to be reminded of her humiliating bolt for the door, much less talk about it. “Oh, hi,” she responded and turned to face the open lockers. His was nearly empty.
“Hey, whatever happened to you that day? You left band . . .”
Here it comes. Cory gave a noncommittal shrug.
“You get sick or something?”
It was weeks ago. “Oh, yeah.” She closed her locker with more attention than necessary. “The whole thing made me sick, actually.”
“Yeah?” He sounded intrigued. “You’re right, it was pathetic.”
Cory looked up at him. Auburn highlights tinted long brown hair that stuck out in every direction. It nearly masked his eyes, fringed with dark lashes and set in an angular face bisected by a long, straight nose. It was an unusual face, Cory decided, but altogether not bad to look at. A dark shadow of stubble covered his cheeks and chin. When she realized she was staring, she shifted her gaze down to the book in her hand.
“I have to get to class,” she said and hurried down the hall. He fell in step beside her with an easy, loping stride.
“Calc?” He nodded toward her book.
“Yeah. I hate it. Didn’t finish my homework, either.”
Breathless and jogging down the hall, she dodged a teeming artery of human bodies entering and exiting classes. He strode along beside her as kids stepped aside to make way for him.
“Let me see.” He held out a long-fingered hand, palm up.
“What?” Cory glanced at him but kept walking.
“Your homework. C’mon.” His fingers beckoned.
Her face felt hot. “Nah, no big deal. It’s okay.”
“This it?” He pulled out the manila-colored paper extending from her book. Her hand reached out to grab it back but instead stopped and dropped to her side. He was already reading it. After a few minutes, he stopped and placed the paper against the wall to jot down some figures. When he handed it back to her, he snapped a smart salute.
Cory gazed down at the paper in her hands. His tight, bold writing had completed the remaining three calculus problems and corrected the answer of one she had already done. She looked up at him. “Thanks. I guess.”
“Don’t worry. They’re right.”
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