He’d never had trouble on his first day of school before.
This year was different. Everything was wrong.
Peter hiked his backpack further onto his shoulder and strode down the hallway, his brow furrowed in concern. He’d never had trouble on his first day of school before. This year was different. Everything was wrong. The simple explanation was that it was his first day of high school, and it was bound to be problematic; but he dismissed the notion without a moment of consideration. Nothing he had experienced thus far today could be a result of just his nerves. It had all started as he waited for the bus.
Since Peter only had a learner’s permit, he was forced to take the bus to school for the time being. As he stood at the street corner in the early morning light, he had been uncomfortably aware that he was the only high school student in his neighborhood waiting for the yellow-transportation-mode-of-embarrassment. He’d been further abashed when the bus had driven right past, without slowing to consider him. Peter had cursed and ran after the bus, yelling and waving his arms at the driver in hopes of gaining attention. Luckily, there had been a stop two blocks later, allowing him to board.
As Peter continued down the laminate corridor towards his assigned home room, he approached one of the locker areas. His eyes skimmed faces, looking for someone of familiarity. With a heavy sigh, he relented searching, he didn’t recognize anyone in this hall. But as his eyes had been distracted, his body had continued forward, he bumped into the back of an unsuspecting girl with a high-top ponytail. She scrunched her face up in a disgusted look and waved her hand in front of her nose, she obviously smelt something offensive. Peter stepped back and bowed his head, hoping to meld into the crowd and stay anonymous. The maneuver worked, and he hurried past the remaining group.
Once clear of the fray, he sniffed, wondering what the girl had smelt. His nose was assaulted immediately with the tangy fragrance of his own funk. Looking down, Peter gaped openly at the large sweat stains under his arms. He silently thanked the thoughtful bus driver for forcing him to exert so much energy this early in the morning. Fuming, he glanced down the hall, hoping to spot a restroom. He wasn’t entirely surprised that there wasn’t one in sight. Letting out a curse, he made his way towards a storage closet with clearly labeled “Keep Out” sign.
Peter emerged five minutes later wearing a pair of light blue coveralls with a name tag reading ‘Hank’. Peter wasn’t amused that he hadn’t brought any extra clothes for gym. He was also finding it difficult to see the humor in the fact he’d left home without putting on deodorant that morning. Peter considered how many blueberries he’d eaten in the recent weeks; not enough apparently, his memory was proving to be worthless. He quickly shuffled towards his home room, hoping to draw as little attention as possible.
Thankfully, he wasn’t late. His teacher still hadn’t made an appearance, and Peter was able to slink into the room without the notice of his fellow classmates. They were distracted by a scene outside the window, which didn’t pique Peter’s curiosity due to his day’s rough start. Choosing a desk in the back corner, Peter dragged his feet begrudgingly to the seat. It was only a matter of time before someone took notice of his attire, he took advantage of their inattention.
Just as Peter’s buns hit the cold, metal chair, a man with curly hair and a sweater vest walked into the room. The man eyed the kids at the window but continued to the desk where he placed his shoulder bag and jacket. The bell rang out as the man arranged items on his desktop, looking up, he said, “Alright, alright. Everyone to their seat. And fill the front first, I don’t want to be shouting all year.” he grinned at his own joke and didn’t seem surprised when there wasn’t a reaction from his audience.
Peter shifted uncomfortably in his seat, he wanted to move closer to the front as the teacher requested, but he also didn’t want to gain the attention of his peers. Starting high school as ‘Janitor Hank’ wasn’t the reputation he was going for. So Peter slunk down in his seat, hoping his teacher would grant him a pass this one time.
The man turned his back to the class as they milled into their seats. He grabbed a piece of chalk and began to write as he spoke, “I’m Mr. Turner, Mr. T, if you’re so inclined,” he chuckled to himself and turned back to face the kids. “This is your home room for the year, we’ll be meeting at the start and end of each day. So let’s get acquainted. When I call your name, please raise your hand and let me know who you are and if you are here.”
Peter groaned inwardly, he only had minutes before the entire class’ attention would be directed toward him. He began to attempt to plan a flashy explanation for his wardrobe, but all he could focus on was the back of Beth Hammond’s neck. It was surprisingly bare and beautiful. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen her hair pulled up that high. His scattered thoughts were interrupted as Mr. Turner began to call out names.
Peter glanced toward the classroom door. Making a break for it would only draw added attention to him.
Peter froze, his eyes shifted to look at Mr. Turner and he slowly raised his hand, squeaking a response, “Here.”
His classmates began to turn and look towards him. Peter lowered his arm as his eyes flicked from one confused face to another.
Mr. Turner raised an eyebrow and scanned the faces before him, “Very funny.” He smiled briefly then set his lips back into a straight line, “But seriously, Peter?”
Peter was mortified. He couldn’t believe this man was forcing him to reveal his level of distress to the class. With shaking legs, Peter stood from his desk and managed a deeper tone, “Here.”
Mr. Turner once again scanned the faces before him, his brow furrowed with annoyance. “Okay, whoever thinks they’re the class clown, message received. But I need you to stop answering for Peter if he’s not here.” He narrowed his eyes at one of the boys sitting two rows in front of Peter. “Is Peter here or are you just trying to cover for him?”
The boy stiffened in his seat, answering quickly, “I didn’t say anything!” It wasn’t me.” he glanced at boy to his right.
Mr. Turner’s gaze shifted to his new target, “Alright, what’s the story with Peter?”
The new boy swallowed before answering, “S-sir, I’m not really sure who Peter is…”
Peter stood dumbfounded. Was this some sort of joke? Grumbling to himself, he stomped his foot and clapped his hands, “I’m Peter, I’m here!”
Mr. Turner looked in Peter’s direction but didn’t focus on him. The rest of the class followed suite. Peter felt very uneasy at their lack of eye contact.
“Hello, I’m here.” he clapped again, then tugged at the coveralls with one hand, “and yes, now you can laugh at my clothes, I forgot to bring something to change into.”
As Peter spoke, his classmates began to rise from their seats and back away from him. They never took their eyes from his direction, but they made their way to the door and scurried out. Mr. Turner didn’t move a muscle, he continued to stare in Peter’s direction with a dumb look on his face.
Peter took another test sniff, there was no way his body odor could be that offensive. He took a deep breath, the coveralls were musty, but nothing like the shirt he’d had on before. Looking to his teacher for guidance, he asked, “Why is everyone acting so weird? They’re just coveralls I got from the janitor’s closet, I didn’t have a choice…” he trailed off, his voice dejected.
Mr. Turner glanced around before talking in Peter’s direction, “Well, this has never happened before…” he cleared his throat and spoke as gently as possible, “But it seems that you are invisible, Peter.”