I braced myself against the cold spring wind that blew against my back. The school turned out to be a lot further away from my motel than I thought. I had begun to regret my decision to walk about two miles back. My feet were aching and I had felt like an idiot dragging my trunk down the road. I could usually handle difficult circumstances with gritted teeth. But my mood was already getting steadily worse.
Wellington’s School for Boys. After years of Mama begging me to get out of Germany before war broke out and all the work she had done to get me this far, I was finally here. I couldn’t help but feel nervous. But I was as ready as I would ever be. My English was perfect and my past was behind me. I tried to remind myself of that as I made my way up the walk to the school.
I looked back towards the road. I was suddenly aware that I was no longer the only one on the path. A bus was driving away. The kid who had gotten off was following me up the walk.
I tensed up. In the past few years I had learned to sense my enemies from a distance. The guy who was following me put me on the edge. I threw another glance over my shoulder and he caught my eye. He looked looking down before I could. I immediately realized why his presence bothered me. It was something hardly anyone else would have caught right away: he was a Jew.
My temper flared. It was almost impossible to hold down the blind hatred I knew I was supposed to feel for him. I had been so angry ever since I left home and the urge to act on that resentment was almost impossible to hold down.
But I was in England to prove that I wasn’t like that anymore. I couldn’t let my anger get to me. If I let loose on some innocent Jewish kid there was nothing to say I didn’t belong back in Germany.
I ducked further behind the collar of my coat and walked faster up the path as I tried to put him from my mind. The cab that had already passed me came to a stop in the school courtyard a few meters ahead. The kid inside got out. He lugged his bags out of the trunk and went over to greet the guy who was waiting for him. The boy from the car was easy to ignore, but there was something about the other one that caught my attention.
He was dark and tall, though not as tall as me, with loose black curls. He was holding a strangely shaped carrying case like it was the only thing he had in the world. All that was easy enough to dismiss, but as I got closer to him, an odd feeling came over me. It’s almost impossible to describe. But for just a second, for the first time in ages, I didn’t feel angry. Something about that boy made me feel all right. And that was the best I had felt in a long time.
But before the feeling could really take hold of me, I crushed it. I didn’t care who that boy was. As long as he didn’t give me any trouble he would be fine. For me killing sentiment was always easier that dealing with it. So I sighed and trudged up into the courtyard to meet the boys I would be more or less trapped with for the next four months.
The boy from the cab noticed me first and his eyes widened as he muttered something to the other one. I couldn’t help but feel smug. I had always possessed the ability to intimidate people on sight. It was a quality that kept people away from me, which was exactly the way I liked it.
But my confidence shrunk when the second boy took a few steps down the road towards me, not afraid but curious. It startled me and for some reason I was suddenly scrambling to figure out what I could say to him. I stopped in front of the pair and looked them up and down, trying to decide where to begin. Unfortunately what came out wasn’t helpful.
“Du musst das Mitbewohnern sein,” I automatically referred back to German. I could tell neither of them understood me and I had done nothing to make myself appear more menacing. To my own disgust I felt my face go red. “You must be the roommates,” I muttered.
I must have succeeded in scaring the first guy because he just stared at me. But the other, the one I was already more worried about, extended his hand. “Gabe Moretti,” he introduced himself.
I couldn’t even pretend to smile back. Whatever calming effect he had on me was completely gone. I was suddenly angrier than ever. It was like he was one of the enemies I was supposed to be able to recognize. But the problem was that I had no idea why I felt that way. So at least for that moment, all I knew was that I hated the boy whose hand I was shaking.