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“Do you believe in fate?” Dustin asked the party while they were walking to classes one morning.  It was the third day of their freshman year of high school and an odd mixture of excitement for the weekend and exasperation for only being halfway through the week had settled in the air.  And this was only the beginning of the school year!  So Dustin’s question came as a bit of a surprise. 

“Where the hell is that kind of question coming from, Dustin?” Lucas asked, snorting dismissively.

Dustin leaned to shove Lucas, but Lucas was already ready to shove back.  “Where’d it come from?  Unlike you and half the other brain-dead kids out there, I actually think about complicated things.”

“Dustin, not five minutes ago you pushed the door to the school when it said ‘pull.’  In big bold letters, mind you, and right where your hands were,” Mike pointed out dryly, adjusting his backpack.

Dustin scoffed, “Ah, yes.  But you see, that was a very simple thing and I said I think about complicated things.”

Will snickered, “He’s got a point.”

Dustin nodded his agreement, “As I usually do, Will, as I usually do.”  He looked at the party expectantly, but they didn’t seem to catch what his look meant.  “So?” he pushed, “Do you guys believe in fate or not?”

“I don’t know,” Lucas said incredulously, “My only concern is my homework right now.”

“I’m not sure if it’s fate I believe in… but I do believe that some things are just out of our control,” Will answered honestly with a shrug.

They turned to Mike, and he felt their gazes on him like glaring sunlight on tired eyes.  He looked at them with his eyebrows raised, unamused.  “Seriously?” he asked them, unsure why they were suddenly digging into this topic on the way to their first period of the day.  “No,” he answered simply.

“‘No’ as in ‘no I don’t believe in fate’ or ‘no’ as in ‘no I don’t want to answer the question,’?” Dustin asked, walking backwards now and in front of the party.

“Is it possible for it to mean both?” Mike sighed.

“Jeez, someone’s got their panties in a wad toda—whoa!” Dustin suddenly stumbled backwards in a desperate attempt to avoid colliding with a girl who was trying to walk past.  

It all happened in a blur of rapid moments.  Dustin tripped backwards, narrowly missing the girl, while she stumbled forwards with a startled yelp, hands outstretched and ready to brace her fall while her books began to tumble to the floor.  But she never hit the ground.  Instead, she fell right into Mike’s arms.

Mike blinked in confusion while his hands that had coincidentally found their way to her hips quickly moved to her shoulders.  “You okay?” he asked as she gingerly stepped back from him and he gently let go of her.

“I’m fine.  Sorry about that,” she said softly, and Mike could see that she was blushing, though he was positive he was no better in that department at the moment.  It is slightly embarrassing to fall into someone who you don’t know—or to have someone who you don’t know fall onto you, for that matter.

“Don’t apologize, my friend was the one who made you fall so—“ his voice caught in his throat as he met her eyes, her warm brown eyes framed by wavy chestnut hair.  She was gorgeous.  “—N-no hard feelings,” he finished lamely.

She smiled brightly, “I’m glad.  I’d hate to make enemies the first week of school.”  Mike’s heart nearly stopped when he saw her smile.  Pretty, he couldn’t help but think.  “And I’d hate to give the wrong impression; I normally don’t fling myself at boys I’ve only just met.”

She began to bend down, reaching out to pick up her books, and Mike followed suit.  It was only polite, after all.  “Here, let me help you with that,” he offered, picking up one of her books.  Briefly looking at the cover of one of the textbooks, he was surprised to find it read, Advanced Algebra.  

“You’re taking Advanced Algebra?  What period?” he asked, handing her the book. 

“Third.  Are you taking it?” she asked, taking the book and adding it to the small stack that had once again gathered neatly in her arms.

He smiled, feeling oddly giddy for some reason.  “Yeah, I’m in third period too,” he said, standing up and holding out a hand for her to take.  She took it carefully and stood up.

“I guess I’ll see you there…?” she trailed off, wordlessly asking for his name.

“Mike,” he said.

“Mike,” she echoed softly, “I’m El.”

“El,” Mike said, her name numbly spilling from his lips.  Nice to meet you, he tried to say, but words seemed to have gotten lost between his thoughts and execution.

There was a moment of silence that should’ve felt awkward but didn’t.  “Well, then.  I guess I’ll see you in third period, Mike,” she said, smiling and moving past him.

“Yeah,” he said, watching her leave.  

Mike had completely forgotten the rest of the party’s existence until he heard them all snickering.  “Well, boys, I believe Mike would like to change his answer to the question,” Dustin grinned.

“Excuse me?” Mike turned back around, glaring at him. 

Lucas cackled, “Mike Wheeler and his fateful encounter,” he said mockingly, clasping his hands together for effect, “It was love at first sight.”

Mike groaned in annoyance.  “Shut-up, asshole, I was just helping her pick up her books.”

“And that’s probably all you’ll ever get to do,” Dustin added, “‘Cause, damn, she is way out of your league.”  

Mike begrudgingly shifted his backpack on his shoulder and began his trek to his first class once again.  Dustin was right, she—her name was El, he remembered—was way out of his league.  He didn’t really believe in that whole scale of beauty thing, but she wasn’t just attractive by social standards.  Sure she was pretty (there were a lot of pretty girls out there), but she was… different.   She was bright.  She was kind.  She was… quite seemingly perfect.  

Then again, he had just met the girl and she probably will have forgotten his name by the time third period comes.  He let a low, frustrated growl loose from his throat.  This was very unlike him—he needed to get under control.  After all, he ruefully thought, She’s just another girl.  But he knew he was only lying to himself.

Inevitably, third period rolled around and Mike said goodbye to Dustin, Will, and Lucas.  They all shared their first two classes together (english and geology), but they all had different classes for third and fourth period before meeting up again in fifth and sixth.  Dustin and Will headed towards the arts section of the school, Will having a drawing class and Dustin having drama.  Lucas made his way, begrudgingly, towards his government class and Mike nervously walked towards the advanced algebra classroom. 

Mike shook his head, gripping the straps of his backpack tightly.  He didn’t know why he let himself get so caught up in thinking of her.  Her being someone he barely even knew.  She was a complete stranger!  And yet he kept thinking about the sound of his name when it softly left her lips.  The hopeful light in her eyes when she had asked if he was taking the same class as her.  The unspoken promise that seemed to pass between them: I’ll see you again.

Mike sighed heavily.  Clearly he had been imagining things, and not because she was “out of his league” as Dustin had so kindly put it.  No, he must be imagining things because people don’t meet like that.  There’s never an instantaneous connection, an immediate kinship—

“Love at first sight,” he heard Lucas’ voice mockingly echo in the back of his mind. 

Right.  There was no such thing.  So why was his brain so wrapped around that single moment?  Mike could feel the storm of emotions swirling in his chest and he couldn’t seem to shove them down.  So he distractedly walked into his advanced algebra class, half-heartedly looking for a certain someone, and sitting down at the first available desk when he didn’t see her.

“Mike,” she had said, “I’m El,” he replayed the conversation in his head, grabbing his textbook and notebook out of his backpack and setting them down on his desk.  El, he wondered what it was short for… 

“This desk isn’t taken, is it?” a voice pulled him from his thoughts.  He looked up from his notebook and was surprised to find none other than her standing in front of him, gesturing to the desk to his left.

He shook his head, “I—uh, no.  No, it’s empty.”

She smiled, setting down her back pack and sitting at the desk.  “Mike, right?” she turned to him with a questioning glance.

“Yeah.  And you’re El, right?” he responded, not that he needed her reassurance.  He was almost positive that her name had been burned into the back of his mind the moment she introduced herself.

“That’s me,” she replied, setting down her own notebook on her desk.  She briefly looked around the room before settling back down in her chair, “This class is pretty small,” she observed.

Mike shrugged, “I guess not too many people are ‘mathletes,’” he said, quoting the air with his fingers.

El nodded, “I guess not,” she sighed, “I had no choice.  I was homeschooled growing up and all my dad was good at was numbers, so… I really had nothing else to learn.”

“Your dad’s good at math, huh?  So’s mine… must be in the genes,” Mike mused aloud.  He eyed the girl sitting next to him curiously… why hadn’t he seen her before this?  Had she missed the first few days of school?  She’d said it herself, this was a small class, there’s no way he would’ve missed her.

Although, he had a sneaking suspicion that the size of the class isn’t what would’ve helped him notice her.

“So… I haven’t seen you before,” Mike started, and after receiving a strange look from her, he clarified.  “Around school,” he gestured to the classroom, “Or in this class.”

“I had to miss the first few days of school,” she admitted, “So this is my first day.”  She turned to him and smiled softly, almost in a silent invitation.  Into what, however, Mike did not know.  But he really wanted to.  “First day of school ever actually.  I’m about as fresh as any freshman comes.”

Mike’s eyes widened, “No way, you’ve never been to school before? Ever?”

“I told you I was homeschooled,” she said, giving him a wry look.

Mike’s cheeks grew pink in embarrassment, “I assumed you only meant in elementary school.”  He scratched the pack of his neck, a nervous gesture his sister always teased him about, “Well, welcome to school then… not gonna lie, it’s pretty lame.  Some of the clubs are nice, though.”

“Well, the people seem nice too,” she said, and he could’ve sworn he heard a hidden lilt, a subtle hint, beneath her words.

Before he could respond, however, the teacher came in.  “Alright class, please quiet down and I’ll start with attendance—Ah, miss Hopper, it’s nice to meet you finally, I hope you don’t have trouble catching up with where we are.”

Mike turned to El as the teacher spoke to her.  Hopper, he thought, El Hopper.

“I’ll do my best,” she responded, smiling politely, albeit nervously.

The class went by relatively quickly, and Mike couldn’t help but notice that El didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping up with their curriculum.  Granted, it was only the third day of the school year.  And before he knew it, the bell rang and it was time for lunch.

Finally, Mike thought, noticing just how hungry he was.  

“Lunch time?” he hear El ask from behind him as he grabbed his things and shoved them into his backpack.

“Yeah,” he said, swiveling around to look at her.  She nodded at his answer, but it felt like there was something else she was trying to ask.  

“Do…do you know where the cafeteria is?” he asked, “If you don’t, I can show you where it is.  You can even sit with me and my friends—but they’re all guys and they’re pretty dumb sometimes.  Actually… you know what, maybe you don’t want to—not that you can’t, I wouldn’t mind—“

“—Mike,” she cut him off, reaching out and touching his arm gently.  “I’d appreciate that.  I don’t know where the cafeteria is so it’d be a big help.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve got turned around in here already.”

Mike smiled, all gooey and smily at her response.  “Okay… yeah…” he slung his backpack on his shoulder, “Off to the cafeteria, then.”

“Lead the way,” she grinned, following him out of the classroom.

Mike never knew he could be so thankful for Dustin’s clumsiness.  Because here he was, walking down the hall with this amazing girl, and she even had the heart to talk with him.  And it felt so right.  So natural.  So-

“Love at first sight,” he heard Lucas’ voice, yet again.  

And he couldn’t help but agree.