Chapter 1:

Hard Times

Fair, no Fair

“Sir, there must have been made a mistake!” Joey slammed his fist on the counter of the hotel’s information desk. His cheeks were slightly flushed from anger, or were they red because of the hot temperature of the lobby? I could not tell for sure, we did have to plough through a thick layer of snow to get here after all.

“We all had to hand in a note with whom we’d want to share a room with, did we not? Then why am I stuck with him?” He pointed to me, tiny snowflakes still melting in the fake fur collar of his jacket. I just stood there silently, still shaken by the news that I would have to share my room with Joey Burgundy: former friend, best boy of Saint Clair high school and the guy that I happened to have a huge crush on. Also not unimportant: he hated me.

“I’m sorry Joey,” Mr Khan, our math teacher, apologized, rubbing the bridge of his nose tiredly, “unless you can find someone that wants to switch rooms, there's no other option. We're not always able to put friends together and Simon was left… I’m sure it’ll be alright, you always get along with everyone just fine.”

I stared at my feet and said nothing. My face was pale, but I did not know for sure if that was because of the cold outside or because of the anxiety I felt. The quiet gazes of the other students stung like needles in my back.

All I had wanted was to spend my days here in quiet, sneaking away to practice the choreography of our next ballet whenever I could. Normally, I was invisible to my classmates, but by virtue of interacting with the ‘o so popular, please have my children you handsome son of the devil’ Joey, I could say goodbye to my hopes and dreams of being left alone.

Joey looked desperately at his friends, but they all pretended to be busy with something else. One of them shrugged. “Sorry Jo,” he said, unzipping his bomber jacket. “I mean… it had to be one of us and it’s not like you’re not gonna see us. You’re always welcome in our room and we’ll still hang out.”

Joey sighed and scratched his head when he realized he was not going to win this battle. In the process, he messed up his beautiful, short, cocoa bean brown hair that had been brought into shape with slightly too much gel. “Thanks, idiots, don’t come to me next time you need help,” he scoffed while snatching away one of the two bright pink, plastic cards of our room that would function as our keys. “Good for nothing friends…” He stormed off after swinging his bag over his shoulder. Presumably, he went up to our room.

I went up to our math teacher, Mr Khan, who was holding a clipboard with a list of the rooms. “Uhm sir, are you sure it can’t be changed?” I timidly asked. I would rather spend my two weeks with a bunch of feral lions than with an angry Joey. Not that I was afraid that he would lash out at me or hurt me, but whenever I would catch him looking at me, I would always find a look of disgust in his eyes. Even though I knew there was zero chance that Joey would ever feel the same about me as I felt about him, I was not sure my heart would be able to take those disgusted looks for longer than a day.

“I’m sorry,” the teacher answered with a soft look in his eyes. You could see that he felt sorry for me. Not just because I would be stuck with Joey for two weeks, but in general. It was an open secret that I was one of the most unpopular kids in school.

“May I have my card then?”

He pressed the flexible, plastic card in my hand and with my other hand, I grabbed the handle of my suitcase tiddly.

“Hang in there Simon," he kindly smiled.

I nodded and took a deep breath. Time to check out the room.

This better be worth it.