He made a grab at her. “What the hell is wrong with you? Don’t do that again.”
She couldn't look away from Seth’s face; he was only just as tall as her, but the claws on her shoulder forced her back as he leant over. His bony shoulders rose and a snarl ripped above them. She stood stock still, but her insides sloshed about with fear.
Fear. Ugh. Ceris snapped her mouth shut and focussed on glaring straight back into those washed-out eyes. That emotion would not be showing on the surface for him. The thought of giving him that satisfaction made her angry, but just as it was building he jerked his hands away as if burnt, and turned his back on her.
Anna glanced over his shoulder at her, the worry making Ceris stick out her chin. Seth noticed, and leered a breezy smile at Anna, continuing a conversation they’d been having before.
It was so nice to be greeted first thing on a Monday morning by a spindly runt telling you what you could or could not say... Ceris thought bitterly. She had already realised she’d been out of line, it was a joke too far. But equally it was none of his business. He was an infiltrator on her conversation with Anna - she had told him. She hadn’t told Ceris that she had found a problem with it.
Rubbing her lips together, Ceris backed away from them. Anna and Seth were smiling together, she was forgotten about and repulsed by his touch. Ceris made her legs stumble away, the fear making her lightheaded.
Nathan had been walking into school when a girl stopped him, Ceris saw her glance over and smile blankly. They hadn't noticed, so she went to hover near them awkwardly. She was still fighting to brush Seth’s reaction under the carpet, it would be embarrassing to let Nathan know what his best friend thought of her. Besides, she had been stupid.
The girl was in Nathan's form, called June, and Ceris tried to make a show of talking to her for a first impression. She was bubbly and animated with large gestures for a skinny frame, making up for Ceris’ half inflated speech. Finally, June smiled and walked away, and Nathan was left speaking to her. Ceris silently thanked him a thousand times for being sociable enough to ramble on about his form group, only needing an occasional nod or “Oh, yeah,” to keep the flow.
He was way too close. His face almost scared her with the intensity of those black eyes, mischievous usually but right then, they had been painfully innocent, asking.
The movie was awful. Even worse, next to them, a middle-aged guy with frosty hair looked so serious she was embarrassed to do much more than play with Nathan’s fingers, sometimes stroking up and down his arm. The details of the film had slipped away and all Ceris could remember was a Sci-Fi genre, and a tonne of close-ups that ruined the action for a poorly written romance.
“The book is way better,” she said as they left, stumbling since her legs were made numb. Nathan kept looking at her and smiling. Dork. “Where do you wanna go?”
“I’ve got an idea...” He replied. His smile was stretched long, and his eyes became slits that glinted with mischief again. Their fingers weaved together naturally, and unusually he took the lead as they walked through town.
Traffic scuttled through the roads. As they slid over a bridge towards a park, Ceris balanced on the raised edge of the cobbled pavement, watching the cars move sleekly in the opposite direction. From the stones she could see out over the river, it was bluer here than where she had lived in Wales. But then it was summer, and her ashen skin burned pink with the rising heat. The trees beside the river, and reaching higher than the bridge, were lush with leaves. They reached the end of the bridge too quickly, it was her favourite place in the whole city, and the tarmac suddenly seemed harder.
“Where now?” Ceris asked as Nathan led her along, she didn’t like this path. It was shadowy and cold even on the hottest of days, any breeze funnelling into a concentrated blast between an office and the river, which was obscured by trunks.
“Patience, patience.” Nathan smirked and squeezed her hand slightly. The view unfolded onto grass and warmth. A new sculpture was attracting attention. “Modern art, huh?” Nathan said skeptically, hanging back while Ceris ran up to it.
“No, look underneath. They’re ripples,” Ceris grinned upwards. She didn’t enjoy swimming like Nathan did but it captured water moving perfectly.
“Oh, yeah, that's awesome,” he replied, wondering at it.
They walked across a footbridge, birds looking up at them as they perched on the edges of supporting beams. Across the bridge a couple kissed, Ceris blushed as the girls parted, and glanced at Nathan. He hadn’t noticed. She looked down from his eyes at the bow of his mouth and snapped her attention away as heat rolled off her cheeks.
On this side of the park, the path cut through the middle of the grass and she walked to its right, the grass springing softly under her feet. She preferred this over the shy, straight, path that hugged the edge of the grass across the river. People only ever walked on that path, leaving the field and its park almost empty.
Ahead of them was a blot of grey, huddled closely on the grass. Ceris nudged Nathan over and regained her footing on the path, his arm snaked softly about her waist. The group wore hoodies and thick sweatpants, identical with hoods that shielded their faces. Ceris stared into their dark mass, they emitted shadows a little, bloodshot eyes loomed out and stared over her, searching. In their centre they held a speaker, rap music beat at her ears with the sounds of drugs and women...
“Not the best music taste,” Nathan said as they climbed a slope. Squeezing her side happily, he was completely unfazed. His long legs covered ground quickly and Ceris stretched keep up.
“No, not really, but hey it could be worse, they could actually have women to do that to.”
“Maybe they haven’t come out of the closet yet.”
“Haha, well maybe. I saw two girls together earlier...”
“Oh, really? That's good.”
Ceris hesitated about telling him that they’d kissed and looked down at his mouth again. His thin top lip and full bottom lip looked sculpted. They were still going uphill and she was getting out of breath, the air seemed to sing, high and restless. Nathan steered her leftwards and a third green opened up. This one wasn’t peppered with sculptures or a playground like the first, and the board path encompassing the grass wasn't too shy or dividing. The grass was full with people, for sitting on and for dogs to trot on. A massive fountain stuck out of the middle, empty, and kids climbed over and ran inside its bowl. Nathan and herself flopped onto a bench on the sloped side to watch it all.
Nathan took a deep breath through his nose and pulled her to him until his arm encircled her completely, his other hand nervously playing with strings from a rip in his jeans. The dip between his left shoulder and collarbone gave space for the nape of her neck and Ceris knelt against him happily. She thought about the bow of his mouth again and steeled herself to face him, and went stiff all over. Then he hugged her tighter and she relaxed, turning her face until her nose was just touching the silky stretch of his cheek. He stared down at her. Looking down, the normal glinting of his eyes was gone and his darker pupils widened within dark irises. He looked serious, but Ceris knew that expression held a feeling as deep and hot as syrup.
Slowly, peacefully almost, he closed his eyes and leant forwards. It was like headbutting a firework - clumsy, chaotic, sweet - then he pushed a little harder and she let him kiss her, sitting still. She tried again, copying his movements until she kissed him harder and faster. Her hand reached for his thick curls, and another behind his olive-tanned neck.
They broke away, his eyes were wild and glowed with light. Ceris panted for air.
“You ok?” Nathan asked.
“I may have forgotten to breathe.” She said and Nathan erupted into laughter.
“You know, next time, maybe we shouldn't do that in public,” Ceris whispered to him teasingly, holding him again with their foreheads touching.
“And why not? Although I really like the idea of next time.” He said, both arms squeezing tight around her as she laughed, his lopsided grin flashed sharply in reply.
“Because, if a little old lady saw two horny teenagers making out on the bench she wanted to sit on, she might have a heart attack.”
“Well, I didn’t think you were horny! No wonder you were out of breath.” He said with a laugh of his own.
“Oh, hush,” she told him, scrambling off the bench. “Come on, I’m hungry.”
“Alright, Care Bear.” Nathan grinned out from under his curling fringe. Walking into the light, and across the grass, the black glinted with gold and copper at the end of every tuft. He was glowing still, eyes and hair, like the halos of Saints from the church Ceris had grown up near.
“Care Bear,” she scoffed fiercely, “You say it like it’s original!”
“They’re kids toys, I had that nickname when I was seven. Anyway it’s not as if I can call you anything that bad.”
“Well then, you can’t have tried hard enough.”
“I guess not...” Their hands linked, and Ceris was struck by an idea. As they turned onto the bridge, she switched sides to walk on the raised stones. Their hands looped, making their arms wave like kites. She glanced slyly up at him, their faces still not level despite the boost. “Nathan Ford. Fiat.”
“Really! And you said I wasn’t original?” He rolled his eyes at her but laughed softly.
“I figured it wasn’t a requirement.” She shrugged, “I was just wondering, but have you had any other girlfriends before me?” It had been almost two months but she’d never said it herself – the title half right and half strange in her mouth.
“A guy like me? Definitely not. There was a girl in primary school,” Ceris raised an eyebrow curiously, “the whole class knew we fancied each other but we were both so shy we never spoke to each other.”
Nathan shrugged, “Not really, imagine if it was different, I might not be with you.” He plucked her off the final stones of the bridge and hugged her close.
“Well, yeah, that’s true.” Ceris beamed, then teased him, batting her eyelashes. “And really, what would you do without me?”