Adrian Reese stood silently in front of his new classmates. Half of the room seemed to be sizing him up. The other half did not seem to care. Adrian was not pleased about having to transfer to a new school, but was determined to make the best of it. Titusboro, Louisiana seemed like as good a place as any to stay out of trouble.
He tried to smile at the class as the teacher introduced him. It was unconvincing to the class and the teacher all of whom noticed the young man’s pallor. Adrian had not slept well in over a year and it showed on his face. Despite turning fifteen only a few weeks prior, he looked weary, and it was obvious to all who looked at him. He said nothing to the class, and only nodded to the teacher after the awkward introduction and took an available seat towards the back of the room.
By lunchtime that day the rumors were already circulating about him. Some thought he was a drug user. Most just thought he was odd. He had not introduced himself of anyone, and had barely spoken the entire morning. It was not as though he seemed to be trying to look out of place. The freshman dressed fine in a clean, untucked T-shirt and a pair of well-worn jeans. His dirty blond hair was cut short and conservative. If anything, it seemed as though he just wanted to fade into the background and be left alone.
For that reason alone, Randy Sullivan was utterly fascinated.
“So, what’s the story on the new kid. He looks like death warmed over.” Randy looked over at Adrian who was sitting a few tables away in the school cafeteria. Randy was the starting running back of the school’s football team. He was a handsome youth, with an easy smile. He did not go out of his way to pick on people, but he felt to need to poke and prod to try to get a feel for them.
“Probably drugs. He doesn’t dress like those goth kids, but he’s definitely pale enough.” Jacob Barnes was the team’s quarterback. He was a nice enough fellow, but if something did not have to do with football then he was not interested. Jacob took a bite of his sandwich and paid no attention to Adrian who sat quietly and ate.
“Ah well. We’ve got more important things going on.” Randy smiled and looked over to Sam Deveroux. “You ready for this weekend, champ?”
“You’re kidding, right?” Sam looked up from his lunch. He was a freshman and the new back-up running back for the team. Sam was a strong young man, and enjoyed playing the game. Sitting with the team and an assortment or cheerleader during lunch was an added bonus. Still, the initiation he was told about was not something he looked forward to. “You’re really gonna make me stay the night in the Krenshaw House?”
“You and one other guy. Not sure who yet.” Randy smiled. Every year freshmen that joined the team spent the night in the Krenshaw House. It had been vacant for decades and reportedly haunted. Randy himself had stayed the night there without incident. Others had said they hear or saw strange things. Every year at least one person ran out of the house screaming.
It was Sam’s turn, but all the other freshman player had already spent their evening there. Only one of them, Clayton McMurt, had said he heard anything odd. Clayton was well known as being very superstitious, so his claims fell of deaf ears.
“You’re not nervous, are you Sam?” Lindsay Brewster asked. She was one of the co-captains of the cheerleader squad and happened to be sitting directly across from Sam. She smiled as she posed the question, knowing that such a query from a cute girl always stirred the manly bravado that she found amusing and charming all at once.
“Maybe a little.” Sam spoke honestly. “But it’s nothing I can’t handle.” He smiled. Although he was nervous, he was ready to face the challenge. It was his doorway to full acceptance by his peers, and the lure of a fast track to popularity was a strong one.
After the lunch period ended, Adrian was headed for gym class. Although he had yet to purchase a standard physical education uniform that school required, he was still prepared to participate. He headed in the locker room to change into the shorts and spare t-shirt he had brought with him. The locker room was just like that of his previous school. Rows of lockers gave the boys just enough room to squeeze by each other and get changed. The smell of stale sweat hung in the air.
Adrian found a vacant locker in one of the rows and claimed it as his own. The locker was fairly close to that of Randy Sullivan who also had gym that period. Sullivan was changing as well, but discretely cast an eye at Adrian expecting him to appear even sicklier as he changed clothes.
To Randy’s surprise, young Adrian appeared to be in good shape. He lacked the musculature of Randy or his teammates, but he was still well proportioned and looked as though he was an active fellow. Adrian’s paleness extended to rest of his body and not just his face. Randy wondered briefly if Adrian’s pallor was perhaps a medical condition. This train of thought was quickly derailed the moment Randy spotted what hung around the new boy’s neck.
It was a necklace. The chain itself looked like silver but was otherwise unremarkable. What was remarkable was the medallion that hung from the chain. It was also silver and was round. It looked to be about the size of a fifty-cent piece. There were small carvings in it was Randy did not pay much mind to. What he did notice was the heart-shaped, red gem in the center of it. It looked like a ruby, but Randy could not be certain.
“Hold the phone!” Randy announced as he strode over to where Adrian was changing. Adrian turned to Randy, but remained silent. “Are you kidding me? Dude! What kind of guy wears a fruity looking necklace like this to…” He was reaching out to grasp the necklace, as the rest of the boys in the locker room looked on. Some were on the verge of laughing. All were smiling. The smiles turned to looks of shock at Adrian’s reaction.
“Don’t touch it.” Adrian said coldly as he grasped the football player’s extended wrist. His voice was not raised, but did betray a New England accent. Randy was surprised not only by the reaction, but by the strength of Adrian’s grip. Their eyes were locked. No one spoke. The others present watched them both expecting either to explode violently on the other at any instant.
Randy took a step back and jerked his arm free. Despite the strength of Adrian’s grip it was no match for Randy’s. Their eyes stayed on each other’s. Neither was willing to back down.
“FIGHT!” Someone yelled.
“OH, SHUT UP!” Randy shouted at whomever had yelled. Then he turned back to Adrian. “Seems like you think you pretty tough.” Adrian did not reply. “Good. We need a tough guy.” Randy glanced around at those watching and smiled. “Looks like Sam will be having company this weekend after all.”