Senior year was supposed to be easy.
Leah already knew where she wanted to go to college - and was fairly certain she’d get in. Her classes were easy enough. She didn’t have to take P.E. (thank god ). She didn’t have a slew of friends, per se, but she had enough. Friends she could talk to during classes she shared with them, nod at in the halls…and sure, she didn’t really hang out with people outside of school or sit with them at lunch or… maybe she couldn’t really call them friends , maybe she should call them acquaintances or-
It didn’t matter. That didn’t matter because she had Ian.
She had Ian before he had to go and kiss her on their friends’ camping trip. Before he had to tell her he was in love with her. Before she couldn’t say it back in good conscience. Before he stormed away and ignored her for half the summer, and…
Point being, senior year was supposed to be easy. But now it was the first day, and she was sitting in the quad by herself. She swore she felt everyone’s eyes on her. Pitying looks as they walked by, giggles behind hands, bitchy remarks and - right. No, that was too much. She knew, she knew people probably didn’t care. She was practically invisible during the rest of her high school career, so why would people start looking now? Who cared, you know? Who cared that she’s sitting by herself?
She still tugged her cardigan a little tighter around herself, stared down at her book a bit more intently.It was fine. Sure, being invisible in their school hadn’t mattered much before when she had Ian. Ian who looked at her, saw her, wanted to be around her and hear her rants and remarks. Liked hearing her “wax poetic” about romance she had never actually experienced.
But she was practically an adult now. And she could deal with a little bit of loneliness. Maybe she’d even make new friends. Not just acquaintances. This could be a year of opportunity, really. She could come out of her shell and maybe, just maybe, even find a nice guy to date. Hell, maybe she’d even go to a party!
Leah looked up to see Kirin O’Conner standing on one of the lunch tables in the quad. He had his hands thrown up, waiting for the rest of the quad to look up as he grinned widely.
“Listen up, East Bay! Back to school party at my good friend Joshy’s house! This Friday!” Kirin leaned down to slap his friend’s back as he spoke. His friend, Josh Herbert, was waving shyly at the crowd of people, ducking his head nervously.
They had always been a strange pair. Kirin, the lacrosse super star, well know fuck-boy with avid magician Josh Herbert. But there was something about the way Kirin, with his seemingly douche-bag persona, never talked down to Josh as far as Leaah had seen. Never ragged on him too hard when Josh said something even Leah would find herself cringing at. They way Kirin stood tall beside Josh when someone was brave enough to make a quip.
It reminded Leah that maybe high school wasn’t like the movies, and people were more than she gave them credit for.
“All invited, unless you’re a total loser,” Kirin had the audacity to point directly at a student - and yeah, maybe Leah shouldn’t put too much faith in high schoolers. “Bring your booze, bring your hot friends, and bring - Hey, Jadmani!”
Kirin was pointing at a girl, Fatin Jadmani, who had been walking by at the moment. She looked like she was on Facetime with someone, and she slowly looked up as O’Conner pointed at her. She raised a brow in question.
“Bring your fine ass to Joshy’s, please,” Kirin smiled his standard, “charming” smile, leaving Leah to roll her eyes subtly.
She wasn’t sure why she was even still listening to the guy. She wasn’t going to go to that party. Sure, she was just thinking about “getting out there”, but a party with half the school there? Led by Kirin O’Conner? Maybe not a good choice for her first dip into the party scene. She had heard the lacrosse boys could really get out of hand, and keg stands and beer pong weren’t exactly her thing.
She still found herself, like most of the quad, watching Fatin for her reaction.
Fatin smiled slightly. “Depends…” She trailed off. A smirk was drawing up on her face, and from her spot, Leah could see the slight raise of her eyebrow and the amusement in her eyes. Leah found herself waiting, actually caring about what her answer was.
It shouldn’t have mattered. Leah wasn’t going either way, and Fatin was far from being anywhere close to her friend. Sure, they had that one interaction. Fatin had asked to borrow a tampon during their sophomore year, in the bathroom of course, and Leah had made some terrible joke. Telling her, “No” but she could “Have one”, and yeah… it wasn’t Leah’s greatest moment. Leah appreciated Fatin had at least laughed; although, obviously out of pity. Admittedly Leah had spent around a month agonizing over the moment…
But she and Fatin Jadmani were nothing more than classmates. Classmates who rarely shared classes and tampons, and that wasn’t anything special. That was just like…Girl Code 101.
“Are you actually gonna have the good stuff? Or just some cheapass beer that tastes like piss?” Fatin glanced down at her phone momentarily before fixing Kirin with a challenging look.
Kirin grinned wider, if possible. “Only the best for you, baby.”
Fatin rolled her eyes and continued her walk. “I might make an appearance. But only for Joshy.” She sent a flirtatious wink toward the other boy, causing his entire face to flush. And Kirin, to his credit, simply laughed and patted his friend on the back once more.
The ordeal was over. And while the rest of the quad broke into conversation about the party, Leah found her eyes trailed after Fatin. She had gone back to animatedly talking to her phone, her free hand waving around as she talked. Leah couldn’t hear what she was saying as the girl walked away, but she still found herself watching. Wondering who Fatin was talking to. If Fatin was really going to show up to the party. She had heard Fatin was quite the party girl so the odds were high.
What kind of thing did Fatin wear to parties? What would she wear to this party? Something sparkly? Something tight? Probably something expensive, the Jadmani’s were real estate god’s in the area. If Leah went, what would she wear?
Blue met brown, and Leah suddenly found herself making direct eye contact with the girl.
Great . The loser sitting by herself, reading a book, just got caught staring at one of the most popular and pretty people in the school. Leah whipped her eyes away quickly, turning back to her book. And while she focused intently on the book in hand, just as intently trying to ignore the blush creeping up the back of her neck, she could’ve sworn she heard a laugh.
She tried not to think about that.
After lunch was English. Creative Writing, to be exact. An easy elective for Leah, another reason why she had predicted senior year would’ve been easy, fun, light. Maybe it still could be. She spotted some friends near the door. Acquaintances . Whatever.
“Rachel? Nora?” She called out, approaching the classroom. She tried not to sound too shy, too eager to know someone.
“Oh thank God,” Rachel let out as she spotted her. Nora gave a small smile, but didn’t say much. Leah didn’t mind, she knew Nora wasn’t usually so talkative. “Rilke, I thought I was going to be in this class with a bunch of losers. Well, I mean, you’re still a loser, but…”
“Am I included in these losers?” Nora asked, looking at her sister tentatively.
“Obviously not, Nor,” Rachel waved her off. “Even if you and Rilke are kinda weird.”
“Thank you?” Leah laughed as she approached. Rachel Reid. Incredible diver, scarily competitive, but someone Leah found herself enjoying being around. Sure, they didn’t have a whole lot in common, but their banter was fun and Rachel wasn’t much of a social butterfly herself. In fact, despite being on the diving team, Rachel spent most of her time with her twin sister, Nora. Rachel claimed that was why she could handle Leah. Enough time around bookworms or something.
“You’re cool losers,” Rachel shrugged.
“Is that a thing?” Another girl chimed in, walking past them. Toni Shalifoe. Girls’ basketball captain, loud mouth, and practically glued to Martha Blackburn’s side. Martha, who was following right after her. Toni glanced at her friend before smiling. “Actually, you’re right, Reid. Totally a thing.”
“I’m gonna pretend you didn’t say that,” Martha glared at Toni. Well, the closest thing someone like Martha could muster to a glare. She shook her head before shoving Toni forward.
“You know I love you Marty,” Toni teased back before whipping around to look at them again. Rachel, really. “And Reid! I’m letting you know now, I’ll be kicking your ass in the dodgeball segment in fifth!”
“In your dreams, Shalifoe! I’m going to peg you so hard, you’ll be seeing stars!”
“As hot as that sounds,” Another person approached, and Leah was starting to think they shouldn’t be lingering by the door. “Maybe something you don’t announce in the middle of the hallway?”
Fatin Jadmani smirked slightly at the pair, earning a glare from Rachel.
“Yeah, maybe not the best…phrasing, Rach,” Leah added, shrugging her shoulders. She was biting back a grin though, teeth digging into her bottom lip as realization slipped across Rachel’s face.
“Maybe in a more private moment…” Nora added slyly.
“Not what I meant!” Rachel protested, but Fatin was already pushing past them.
“No judgment from me, Reid,” Fatin glanced back, but, for whatever reason, her eyes landed on Leah. “I like a girl who gets in touch with her freaky side.”
And dear God , why had Fatin Jadmani just winked at her while saying that? Fuck , she was probably teasing Leah about earlier when she was staring. Leah felt herself tense slightly, and she could feel her mouth opening, hoping to defend herself in a way. Explain to Fatin that she wasn’t staring - well, she was, but it was simply because she was curious, no, she was wondering. No, she was thinking about parties and-
“Is this really somethin’ that’s school appropriate, ladies?”
Jesus Chris t, why were they still in the doorway?
“Ugh, live a little, Goodkind,” Fatin groaned before turning her back.
Shelby Goodkind turned her stare toward Rachel, Nora, and Leah, still lingering in the doorway. She was smiling, then again when was she not? But it was tense. Her eyes were maybe a bit too wide, like she was forcing the smile with all of her might, and yeah…it was time to enter the classroom.
Leah pushed forward, and Rachel threw a, “Mind your business, Goodkind,” Behind her that Leah really wouldn’t have recommended, as Shelby was already following after them.
“Hard to do when ya’ll are hollerin’ about…about…”
“Pegging each other,” Nora supplied bluntly, causing Shelby’s face to turn a frankly frightening shade of red.
Leah briefly wondered if it was possible for literal steam to start leaving the girl’s ears.
“I really should’ve kept my headphones on, huh?”
This had maybe been the most people Leah had talked to consecutively at school ever. Not that she was doing a lot of the talking, but still.
“Dottie!” Shelby admonished, glaring at the girl who was also trying to enter.
Dot Campbell had her headphones around her neck, looking at them with what Leah knew as her signature disinterested look. Yet, there was a hint of amusement dancing through.
“Don’t really want to hear about Reid pegging Shalifoe-”
“That’s not what I meant!”
“Take me out to dinner first-”
“Not everyone likes that old school shit-”
“ Please !” Shelby’s voice raised significantly, silencing the classroom effectively, though garnering the attention of the very few students who were choosing to ignore the event. “Enough. We are at school and - Leah! Leah, please explain why this is not appropriate.”
Leah paused, feeling everyone’s eyes turn to her. What the hell, Shelby? Why…Shelby gave her a pleading look, and Rachel was raising a brow at her, clearly enjoying her embarrassment.
“I-” Leah looked around, specifically avoiding Fatin’s eyes. She could feel the smugness from across the room. “I’m just here to write…creatively…” She said lamely, cringing at the stilted way it came out.
“That’s what I like to hear!”
Whatever high power existed, Leah would be thanking them later as their teacher finally strolled in. He was a middle aged man, brunette with a very classic author beard in Leah’s opinion. He had a bag slung over his shoulder, and he clapped loudly as he entered the classroom.
“We should all be here to write! Creatively!” He said before pointing to Leah. “Just like Miss…” He gestured to her.
“Rilke. I mean, Leah. Leah Rilke,” She stuttered out. God, kill her now.
“Right. That is the attitude I hope you all have,” He continued before holding up a piece of paper. “And here, I have your seating chart.”
Numerous groans sounded throughout the room, and Leah couldn’t help but join in. She had really been hoping to sit with Rachel and Nora. Though, she supposed as she approached the paper, if it was alphabetical, she could still end up next to the twins…
It wasn’t alphabetical.
She stared in horror as she saw she would be sitting right next to Fatin. Shelby on her other side across the aisle. She could hear Fatin going out of her way to provoke Shelby. She could hear Shelby’s indignant replies. She could see herself stuck between them...She looked up at their teacher, hoping to plead her case.
“Well, well, well, Rilke, Leah.”
Leah shot back, right into Mr. Galanis’s desk, jolting in surprise as Fatin peered over her shoulder. Her voice was way too close to her ear- and shit . Her hip hit the desk a little too hard.
“Jesus,” Fatin laughed. “Aren’t you… reactive .”
What the Fuck.
Leah ignored the way her voice dropped, didn’t even want to think about what Fatin was implying in that suggestive, low tone -
She really didn’t want to think about it.
Fatin Jadmani was a well known flirt. She flirted with everyone.. Hell, she had just seen it in the quad. But it was never directed at her. And yes, Leah knew it was a joke. She knew that was just how Fatin talked from their years of school together even with the little interactions they’ve had…but for whatever reason, she didn’t want that directed at her.
“This is bullshit,” Toni interjected, causing most to whip their heads toward her. And Leah silently slipped away from the desk as best she could. “This is an elective, a creative writing course. Why can’t we choose where we sit? Where’s the creativity in that?”
“This is to get you guys out of your comfort zone!” Mr. Galanis replied easily. “It’s senior year, this’ll help you make new friends outside of your usual circle. Meet new people-”
“You literally put me next to Nora. My twin sister,” Rachel deadpanned.
“Well, I used this random generator…” He trailed off. “I could make some adjustments though…” Leah could see the confidence leaving his body, and it was almost funny.
Teenage girls were a trip.
“Okay, well what if I switched Nora and Fatin?”
Leah felt herself perk up.
“I wouldn’t mind sitting next to Leah,” Nora spoke softly.
“That’s not fair, they’re friends!” Someone Leah didn’t even know interrupted.
Leah glared at the random boy. Why did he even care?
“Okay, what about Dorothy-”
“Can I sit in the back?”
“Okay!” Mr. Galanis clapped his hands together once more. He looked around the room, looking a bit exasperated.The class wasn’t a large one, smaller than your average class. No more than twenty people. “Shelby and Toni - “ He held his hands up as both girls moved to protest. He was straightening up, trying to look more authoritative. “Rachel and Scotty, Nora and Rafael-”
“Martha and Bo, Dot and…Henry. Fatin and Leah-”
Leah didn’t bother listening to the rest. She had resigned herself to a semester of relentless teasing that was sure to leave her embarrassing herself left and right…and this really wasn’t what she wanted when she meant to get out of comfort zone.
“And that’s that. End of discussion. We’ll revisit halfway through the semester,” He finished. He looked around the room, waiting for another argument, but even Toni just gritted her teeth and moved to her seat. He glanced briefly at Leah, “Teenagers,” He sighed, shaking his head like they were sharing some sort of inside joke.
Leah smiled awkwardly before moving to her table. She was a teenager herself, so she wasn’t quite sure how to react to that.
“Gotta admit,” Fatin started casually, as she plopped down next to Leah. “This might actually end up being an entertaining class.”
Leah smiled back slightly. “Yeah…”
“We’ve got front row seats to the Shoni rivalry-”
The two girls in front of the whipped back, in tandem. It was almost scary.
“Don’t call us that.”
Fatin held up her hands placatingly. “Sorry, girls,” She drawled. “Put the talons away.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t provoke an already…tense situation?” Leah suggested softly as the other girls turned away grumpily. She lowered her voice even more, leaning toward Fatin just a bit. She hoped to all that was holy Toni didn’t overhear. “Toni threw her own pee at someone last year, and even you couldn’t pull that look off.”
“Even me?” Fatin grinned, leaning in a bit as well. “Rilke, Leah…What are you implying here?”
Before Leah could defend herself, Mr. Galanis had started his class. Finally . It was practically halfway over at that point, but he still handed out the syllabus, and as they went over it, Leah focused on the pages in front of her. She did her best to ignore the girl beside her. And again, maybe she had said she was going to try to make some friends. But, Fatin Jadmani? It just didn’t make sense in her brain. What would they talk about? What would they do? Would they even like the same things? Fatin was too…too…
“And so, our first assignment of the year, really not even much of an assignment,” Galanis announced, pointing toward the syllabus. “You will be writing words of affirmation to one of your classmates. One compliment or encouragement to your table partner at least once a week.”
“What?” Toni practically spit out.
Okay, Leah was getting Fatin’s point now.
“Yeah, I don’t really want to write about someone I don’t know.” Henry, the boy sitting next to Dot added. “No offense.”
“None taken,” The girl shrugged. “Shit’s weird.”
“C’mon,” He tried again. “Most of you guys have been going to school together for years. You can’t help but have noticed a thing or two? Compliment their outfit! Their shoes. Maybe if they made a good point in class that day. Or, you could just write encouragement. It doesn’t have to be very specific. It could be like… Make today yours .”
“Barf!” Rachel called out, earning a few agreeing nods. “This isn’t Pre-K or some dumb team building retreat-”
“I, for one, think it’s a great idea,” Shelby interjected. She stood up, looking around the classroom. “We could all do with spreading a bit more joy and love ‘round these parts! Even if your partner isn’t the most… easy person to compliment. You should be able to think of at least a few nice things to say!”
“Thank you, Miss Goodkind!” Jeff let out a sigh of relief. “C’mon guys, I promise this will be worth it. Just…Shelby, why don’t you start us out? Give Toni a compliment or words of encouragement.”
“Right- Right now?” Shelby grinned nervously. After receiving a nod of approval from their teacher, a few giggles from her classmates, Shelby turned stiltedly toward her tablemate. “Right, well, Toni , you are…a passionate athlete.”
“Have you even been to a basketball game?”
“Well, no, but…”
“Perfect! See, easy peasy. If these two can do it, so can the rest of you.” Mr. Galanis seemed to realize his wording almost immediately after, and Leah watched him cringe slightly.
She chuckled under her breath.
“Wait…” Leah turned her head to see Fatin looking around in confusion. “Why did Shelby just compliment Shalifoe? And why did it look like it was as painful as getting teeth pulled - actually, full stop. I know that part.”
Leah looked over, something she had been trying to avoid, and saw Fatin’s phone hanging in her hand. Instagram was open, and Leah quickly shot her eyes away to meet Fatin’s.
“Did you really miss that whole thing?” She asked.
“You can’t tell me that man isn’t the most boring guy alive,” Fatin laughed, locking her phone and putting it on their desk. “I mean, he’s kinda funny in a manner. Like, he’s obviously not very good at controlling teenagers. Which makes me think… Why is this guy a teacher?”
Leah stared for a moment. Not sure what to say. She looked around, and Mr. Galanis was instructing the class on the rest of the assignment. Just give your classmate a note each day. Easy enough. Leah could compliment Fatin. There was a lot to compliment, at least physically, and- Well, maybe she could find a few inspirational quotes online to give Fatin each day. Maybe ones that weren’t too cheesy, she could imagine the hell Fatin would give her.
“We’re complimenting each other?” Fatin asked, looking around, having caught the end of their teacher’s explanation.
“Kinda,” Leah supplied. “We’re…giving words of affirmation to our tablemates for the semester. At least once a week. Just like…words of encouragement, compliments…”
Fatin scrunched up her face. “What in the kumbaya-type-shit-” She paused, looking at Leah. Then she smiled. It made Leah feel a bit unnerved. “I guess I could’ve gotten unlucky. At least my tablemate isn’t too hard to compliment.”
“Or encourage,” Leah found herself saying.
“Is that what you like? Encouragement ?”
Nope , no, they were not heading that direction again.
“Compliments are fine. Or encouragement. Anything. Whatever. Really. Honestly, you don’t even have to do it. I’ll just tell him you are,” Leah rambled out, looking anywhere but her tablemate.
“Oh, no. I’m going to do it,” Fatin grinned, fixing Leah with a look. A look that Leah didn’t want to be on the receiving end of. Not that it wasn’t a good look. It was Fatin, so it was a good look, but Leah didn’t enjoy - she didn’t want-
“In fact, I’ll start now,” Fatin said casually as the bell rang. She ripped off a piece of Leah’s notebook, taking the piece of paper, she then took Leah’s pen as well. Leah soon realized Fatin had not taken out any school supplies during their class. Fatin scribbled on the paper swiftly, folding it in half and sliding it over to Leah. She stood slowly, smiling once more at Leah before leaving.
Leaving Leah to sit stupidly at her desk while the other students filtered out. She quickly packed her stuff. She wondered how Fatin had thought of a compliment so easily. So swiftly. She hadn’t even thought about it, and it made Leah inclined to believe it was some joke. Something stupid meant to tease Leah or make fun of the assignment in general.
She still clutched the paper tightly in her hand. Stopping by her locker, she stared at it. She fiddled with the ends of the note momentarily before taking a deep breath. She really shouldn’t care that much. She opened it slowly, peering at Fatin's large, looping writing. Read the note, the compliment, written in Leah’s own blue ink.
You have the prettiest eyes in school
There was a little heart at the end, something that felt in character for Fatin. Or at least, the version of Fatin Leah was apparently going to get to know. She stared. She ran her fingers slowly over the ink before opening up her locker. She looked up into the mirror she kept in the door. Hoping no one was watching, Leah looked at her eyes critically.
She’d been told that before. People mentioned it often. Doting relatives, flirty guys at the coffee shop, hell, even Rachel had mentioned it off-handedly once or twice.
They were blue. Sure. Leah didn’t know what to say beyond that, despite being a writer. Her gaze turned down a bit, and she noted the blush coloring her cheeks. She quickly shut her locker, loud enough to turn a few heads. She gripped the paper tightly in her hands, willing the blush rising to her ears to leave. Or at least not be so noticeable. Her fingers pressed into the paper, and she eyed the trash can at the end of the hall thoughtfully.
It was just a stupid, offhanded compliment from a girl who could probably flirt the pants off anyone she wanted. Anytime she wanted. Fatin Jadmani could probably compliment a rock, in all honesty. She had just flirted with Josh Herbert of all people at lunch and - not that there was anything wrong with Josh, just compared to Fatin…
Leah slipped the paper into her pocket. She knew, okay, she knew it wasn’t that serious. She knew it didn’t matter. But she still found herself reaching into her pocket throughout the day, making sure it remained. She still found herself smiling at the words when she zoned out, and it was during the last class period of the day that the thought occurred to her.
Not only was Fatin Jadmani planning to compliment her at least once a week throughout the semester, but Leah was going to have to do the same.
She felt her cheeks flush again, and she didn’t want to think about the reason even the idea was making her flustered.
What the hell was she going to write to Fatin?