School was a large warehouse where thousands of young people from miles around came to learn. The actual school buildings had been targeted during the war. Many of the students were refugees like Maia, though the most popular ones had been born here. Many of the teachers were strict and angry, and punishments were sometimes cruel. In the first few days, Maia and her siblings had learned the rules well. Only English could be spoken, speaking out of turn was not permitted, standing out of turn was prohibited, and drawing attention to oneself was generally a good way to attract trouble.
Maia disliked most of her teachers, but enjoyed the opportunity to learn. She had made a few friends with girls that were refugees like her. Some of them even came to church with her.
There was no playground, only a parking lot with fences around it to prevent students from exploring the rubble around the building. It looked a bit like a prison. Maia entered the gates and showed the security guards her refugee identification card. They glanced at it and waved her through. She entered the fenced lot and looked for her friends, who normally stood in the side closest to the building so they could get to class on time. Her friends were standing there as usual, and Jonas was with them. They hadn't seen her yet. Maia straightened her blouse and smoothed her hair before joining them, not really questioning why she was suddenly conscious of her appearance. She then looked around to make sure Isaiah and Rachelle had made it inside the gates as well.
Jonas saw her first while she was still a ways away. He smiled, and his dark eyes lit up under strong brows. His face was lean, with a straight jaw and dark tousled hair. His teeth were straight and white and his grin was unapologetic. Maia had to admit that he was good-looking, though she would never tell Rachelle that. She had heard other girls giggling about him, and though she hadn't allowed herself to think about it before, she understood why.
Finally Erica and Simone saw her too. They smiled and waved her over. Maia laughed and ran to them. The four of them greeted one another and began talking about how unfair their homework assignments had been and gossiping about teachers' private lives.
Maia was conscious of Jonas's every movement and expression, though she tried to ignore it and treat him as she would any friend. She made every attempt to engage in Simone's story, but her mind kept flashing back to last week, when Jonas had first spoken to her.
Maia had been walking down the hallway after school had finished. Hearing her name, she stopped in her tracks, not used to hearing it come from anyone except her family and friends and occasionally an impatient teacher. She turned around.
He was jogging to catch up to her, carrying a backpack that looked heavy. She had seen him nearly every day - in class, and at church. But she had never spoken to him before. She couldn't guess what he wanted.
Jonas was breathing fast and she could smell a faint hint of perspiration on him. His dark eyes held hers as he spoke. "I've seen you in church, and I've been working up the courage to talk to you. Do you- do you want to go for coffee sometime?"
He said it all very quickly, and Maia paused to take it all in. Dating was a serious thing back home - before a boy and girl could be seen together, he had to ask her father. It was more permanent - closer to an engagement than a friendship. She wondered if that was what he intended, or whether he was hoping to date the more casual Western style.
"I would ask your father first, of course," he added. "I have been watching you and I have seen that you are loyal to your friends and serious about your faith. I would like the opportunity to get to know you better, and though I know it is your father's decision, I would be honoured if it was your choice as well."
Maia had been tongue-tied. She looked down at the floor as if it would supply her with an answer.
"Think about it," he said, and put his hand on her shoulder. "I will approach your father as soon as you say yes. If you say no I will not bother you anymore, though I would still like to be friends." He walked away without turning back.
Maia's mind returned to the present. Simone was finishing her story - something about her brother being caught praying in school. Erica was making surprised sounds, and Jonas was looking at her. Maia blushed when her eyes met his, and he smiled.
Suddenly the buzzer sounded. The students in the lot immediately ceased talking and lined up to go inside for class. Maia and Jonas fell into step behind Simone and Erica. It's not a big deal, Maia told herself, but her stomach was fluttering. The back of his hand brushed hers for only an instant and the butterflies in her stomach exploded into action. She looked up to see if he had noticed, but he kept walking as if nothing had happened. Maia then looked behind her to see Rachelle in a different line giving her a wink and a huge smile.