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We met when we were kids, 6 and 9 year-olds running around the courtyard outside the school. The intensity in his eyes reminded me of my grandfather before he died. He looked past the girls playing hopscotch and ignored the boys foot-racing. It was his first week at Laurent Lowell Academy, a posh estate-turned-school for the families that could afford such luxury, and he hadn’t said a word to anyone. In fact, I only knew his name was Huyat because of his announced arrival days before. He was an orphan, and we were to treat him like we treated every other kid. To the others that meant he was poor and invisible. He had been left alone sitting Indian-style in the far left of the courtyard, under the shade of dark green leaves.
I stared into the pages of my book, peeking over the rim constantly to catch glimpses of the Mystery Child. The ruffled sleeve of my light pink dress made a soft crunch as I adjusted my shoulders. His green eyes looked in front of him, only moving to blink every fifteen seconds or so. What is he thinking about? I put my book down and flailed my pale arms, hoping to get a reaction. His gaze shifted slightly in my direction, but he kept his unfocused intent. I left my seat on the stone wall that encircled the play area and ran over to him, huffing and pushing butterscotch blonde hair out of my face as I stopped and leaned into his view.
“What’s the big idea,” I asked while tapping his forehead with my index finger impatiently. It was a little rude, but I honestly worried he was in a trance of some kind.
“Huh?” His gaze lifted, light brown hair shone in the twinkling sunlight as he focused on my reddened face.
“You heard me! What’s the big idea? You’ve been here for three days and haven’t talked to anyone, and all you do is sit around. Are you some kind of monk?” My arms crossed in front of my chest, slightly rumpling my blue bow. “So? Are you going to ignore me,” I asked, adding a tinge of annoyance to my voice.
“I'm not a monk, but I am different and you should ignore me like the other kids have,” he said. I smirked and sat down next to him.
“I like different,” I said. “You're not the same, and I like it. You should play Skips with me, and seal our friendship!"
“Skips is for girls, I am not a girl.”
“Skips is for everyone! Now, come onnnn!” I got up and pushed on his back, straining - he didn’t move a muscle, only smirked while I groaned and my arms grew tired. “This isn’t nice! Now, come play with me!” I pouted and crossed my arms. He wasn't phased at flaring my temper, he turned his head and stared smugly.
“Why should I? Nobody ever said I was nice, little girl.” He smirked a bit wider, his teeth poked from under his lip. They looked shiny and white, and very healthy for an orphan boy.
I stopped pushing and sat, leaning back onto my palms. I didn’t know why I wanted him to play with me. I didn't care for the kids around me. I was young, but I liked to learn and took my studies seriously. Huyat looked focused, and it made me want him around me. I shrugged, giving up with a huff at the seemingly impossible feat of moving the boy. He chuckled, a smile showing most of his pearly teeth. His pearly sharp teeth, I thought.
“Because you want to be nice, and nice people play with me,” I stated. I was already preparing myself for rejection as he surprised me and stood up to hold out his hand.
“Okay, I’ll try to be nice to you, Bella. Only because you’re pretty,” he said as he grabbed my outstretched arm and pulled me up. "Pretty short." His laugh was low, but I heard it dance clearly through my brain and etch itself into a huge grin.
“I didn’t need help,” I grumbled, pushing him in the chest. Once again Huyat stayed perfectly still. I tried to give the meanest glare I could give him, but I cracked up laughing when he gave me an equally bad face. We walked to the girls at the stone-etched board, now silent. Genevieve, the oldest girl in the class, gave us a genuine glare.
“Boy’s aren’t allowed near the board, Bella,” she sneered. Her nose wrinkled when she got mad, which was a lot. I didn’t take Genevieve seriously and never listened to her opinions, she spent her time bossing kids around and playing leader. I pulled Huyat past her and positioned him in front of the first square. Genevieve stomped her feet and the other girls laughed at her tantrum. I believe they secretly thought Huyat was cute, and wanted any excuse to look at him up close and his intrusion was only opportunity for their bedtime gossip.
“Huyat isn’t just a boy, he wants to seal our friendship. So he can play. It's ceremony.” I turned to face her and stuck my tongue out, making the girls snicker and Huyat blew air out of his smirk, his way of laughing. Genevieve stomped away with her arms crossed, muttering to tell the headmistress about the boy.
Huyat looked at the blocked numbers on the ground.
“What do these mean?”
“Seriously?” He nodded in response. “They don't have Skips where you come from?” He shrugged. “The number are the squares you hop on.” He stared at me. “You throw the stone and whatever number it falls on, you can’t hop on. We add extra stones, to make it harder, but you'll do one.” He nodded again, and threw the stone over the wall of the courtyard. The girls groaned and yelled their disappointment.
“What did I do,” he asked. His brow was furrowed, his confusion was visible. The boys noticed and laughed, bending at the knees for emphasis. I put my hand on his back.
“It’s okay. You throw it on the board, not as far as you can,” I said in a soft voice.
“That wasn’t as far as I could.” He ran and fetched the stone, dropping it on the number 6. He hopped with his feet together to the number 6, halfway across the board. The boys saw and whistled and clapped, no boy had ever played Skips with the girls before. The girls’ eyes were open wide in surprise, he actually hopped across the board!. I laughed and walked over to pick up the stone.
“You’re never gonna be good at this game, Huyat.” I put the stone in his upturned hand.
He suddenly turned to me and stopped smiling, no emotion showing in his eyes. "We don't have anything where I come from." In an instant his smirk was back on his face and he looked up at the sky.
“Guardians don’t play games, Bella.” His eyes got intense again, and he sat the stone down and went back to his spot in the shade of the dark green leaves – sitting Indian style.
My eyes followed him all the way there, I ran to the wall and retrieved my book then headed straight for his tree. I sat next to him, and even though his gaze remained blank he smirked. I continued reading, sitting next to the boy under the tree.