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You saw through me all this time. I'd forgotten people are kind

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Abby first saw Tyler the day she transferred to Lester B. Pearson Middle School for year 8. Alphabetization seated him (Nguyen-Baker) right in front of her (Park) in English class. Of course, she had heard things about him, and it was hard to tell what was fact and rumor. was a strange place, and her parents unfortunately picked a chaotic time to move there apparently. Things were calm now, but with all of the things she heard, Tyler Nguyen-Baker being a dangerous, loudmouth jock didn’t sound completely out of the realm of possibility.

But in class he certainly didn’t seem that way. He was a little obnoxious maybe, but mostly it was sniping back at the people who clearly didn’t like him. She wasn’t too worried sitting behind him, although his inability to keep his right leg from bouncing up and down also shook her desk a bit. Sitting behind him was mildly annoying at worst. He was also fun to listen to when he read out loud in class. She had a feeling the teacher kept asking him to for that reason, because he actually read instead of droning in monotone.

The first time they actually spoke to each other was a few weeks into the semester. He turned around, flashing a sheepish grin. “Uh, hey. Don’t suppose you have a pencil I can borrow?”

“Sure.” Abby reached into her bag, coming up with a freshly sharpened pink pencil. “You can have it, if you don’t mind it’s pink.”

His eyebrows raised, but he accepted it, looking it over. “Could be worse, it could have glitter on it. Thanks.” He winked and turned back around.

“You’re welcome.” And that was the end of their first interaction.

They formally met a week later, on a crappy Monday where Abby was looking for a place – any place – to be alone. The cruelty of teenagers was nothing new to Abby, and she had more strikes against her than just being ‘the nerdy new girl who still has braces in middle school.’ She was short and overweight, and unfortunately had been born with the surname Park. It was all too easy for nasty little teenage minds. Abby Pig, Park the Pig, etc. She didn’t know why she was surprised that managed to follow her all the way to Toronto, let alone why she thought this school might be different. Teenagers were the same everywhere.

Admittedly, the Care Bears t-shirt didn’t help either, she chided herself for that one as she buttoned her oversized cardigan over it. What was she thinking? The damage had already been done, her classmates made their opinions very clear. Even if they didn’t flat out say it, their faces and laughter and occasional oinking did. She felt sick to her stomach, willing her eyes to keep from overflowing until she found a place away from the crowded hallways.

Abby trudged out one of the lesser used back entrances, relieved to not immediately see anyone around. She dropped her backpack, plunked down on the last step, buried her face in her folded arms on her knees and let the floodgates open. It wasn’t fair. She never did anything to them. Why was she being punished just for existing? Why did they have to be so mean?

Someone cleared their throat. She lifted her head, mortified to see Tyler Nguyen-Baker standing nearby. He gave an awkward wave with the hand that held his phone.

“Uh, rough day?” He asked with wary concern as he averted his gaze back to the cellular device.

Abby hurriedly wiped her eyes and nose on her cardigan sleeve as she grabbed her bag and clambered to get up and find another place to cry. This was beyond embarrassing, someone like him seeing her sob into her knees like a little kid. She was a little kid with her stupid braces and her stupid t-shirt-

Tyler's voice stopped her from running away. “Whoa whoa, hey! It’s cool, you don’t have to go. Just so happens this is the Lester B. Pearson texting-and-crying lounge. It’s BYOT, though.”

She replied with a confused stare.

“Bring Your Own Tissues?” Tyler offered, shrugging his shoulders. “Never mind.”

Abby sighed and sank back down onto the steps again. She might as well stay, it was better than weeping in a stall in the bathroom. They always stunk of perfume and cleaning chemicals and someone was more likely to overhear.

“Please don’t tell anyone.” She mumbled, rubbing her damp eyes on her sleeve. “I don’t need ‘crybaby’ added to my collection of mean nicknames.”

Tyler shrugged his shoulders, slipping his phone into his jean's pocket. “Hey, if I had a nickel for every time I’ve seen a girl crying back here- actually, this is a first for me. No matter, anyway, ” He walked over and took a seat near her on the steps, elbows on his knees as he regarded her for a moment. “You look familiar. Do we have a class together?”

She was surprised he was still talking to her. Granted, he didn’t seem too bad in class despite what everyone said about him. Which was more confusing now, he still seemed perfectly friendly. “Yeah, you sit in front of me in English.”

He snapped his fingers. “Right! Pink pencil girl! Sorry, what’s your name again?”

She smiled. “Abby. And you’re Tyler, right?”

“Indeed I am.” He hopped back up from the steps, offering a dramatic bow. “I’m guessing my reputation precedes me. So what have you heard?”

Abby just shrugged, but he was not convinced.

“Oh come on, don’t be coy, if you know my name I’m sure you heard some things. Like how I’m a violent jock who kills puppies on the weekend? That I’m an eeevil drug pusher corrupting the children?” He wiggled his ringed fingers for dramatic effect.

She bit her lip to keep from smiling at his antics. “Doesn’t matter what I heard, what matters is is any of it true?”

“Well, I’d tell you, but I’d hate to spoil my mystique.” He grinned. He had one of those smiles that just lit up his entire face, his eyes seemed to shine even though they were so dark. It was a smile that Abby felt in her knees.

He opted to lean against the stairs railing, clearly unable to keep still. “So, what was with the waterworks before?”

She sighed and hugged her knees again. “Nothing. Just people being jerks for no reason.”

He pursed his lips and nodded. “Right, right. What’re they harping on you for?”

Abby moved her knees and held open her cardigan to show her shirt. “The fat nerdy new girl wore a Care Bears shirt to school today, and I guess that makes for peak comedy.”

Tyler chuckled. “Ahhh, yeah, that’ll do it, that’ll do it. Still pretty brave of you to wear that. I mean, Care Bears ?”

Abby huffed and yanked the cardigan closed again. “I like cute things, is that such a crime?”

He stepped closer, putting on a serious face and tone. “Here it is, for sure. I mean after all, how dare you not dress exactly like your peers?”

Abby dramatically put her hands to her face. “Gosh, do you think I’ll be fined for my transgression?”

“Oh undoubtedly. You wild woman.” He shook his head in feigned disappointment.

The ringing of the first bell interrupted their little back and forth.

“Shoot.” Abby picked up her backpack. “I gotta go, I have a test. Um, thanks for talking to me.”

“My pleasure, milady.” Tyler gave another dramatic bow, but quickly jumped in Abby’s way to keep her going up the stairs. “Just-! One more thing. You gotta pay the toll.”

“Toll?” Her stomach dropped. This was where the facade dropped and she would find out he was really a bully who extorts money from-

“Yeah. I can’t let you leave until you smile.” Tyler said, his eyes wide and his tone very serious.

Abby stared at him a moment, and she knew she couldn’t stop herself from laughing and breaking into a smile even if she wanted to. Again, she couldn’t wrap her head around it. This was Tyler ‘the bully’ Nguyen-Baker? This sweet, energetic guy who was trying to cheer her up even though they just met?

“Haaaa, there it is.” He took another amused glance at her t-shirt and patted her shoulder before he walked around her, clearly intent on skipping class. “See you around, Funshine Bear.”