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 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 couple 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 had gone 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 they 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 grey 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 to 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 realised she was looking at his mouth again. His thin lips were much pinker than the rest of his skin. Going up hill, she was getting out of breath and the air seemed to be singing, 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 sloping 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. She thought about the bow of his mouth again and steeled herself to face him, and went stiff all over. Nervous.
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 dark pupils widened within dark irises. His serious face masked a feeling like syrup.
Slowly, peacefully almost, he closed his eyes and leant forwards. It was like headbutting a firework - clumsy, chaotic, sort of sweet - then he pushed a little harder and she let him kiss her, sitting still. She tried again, copying his movements to get the hang of it 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 against her 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 menacingly 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. With his reflective cat’s eyes, it reminded Ceris of a Saint's halo.
“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 clearly haven't 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 my first 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?”
Ceris arrived home to her parents sat in the living room, she adjusted her smile. She'd made sure to tell her mum about Nathan, mustering up the courage on a drive to school. Her dad still didn't know. For all the hints she'd dropped, it just hadn't come up in conversation.
“How was your date with Nathan?” Her mum called as she took her shoes off. Ceris froze before realising her mum must've told her dad. She turned into the kitchen to grab a drink, sipping nervously before she entered the living room.
“It was good,” she replied, sitting down quickly and turning to the blaring TV to avoid expectant looks. Fortunately, they didn't ask questions.
“You two look so cute together!” June said as Ceris walked into their English class, having just hugged Nathan goodbye.
“Uh, thanks. How do you mean?”
“Well you always look so happy, and you just blush all the time.”
“Really...?” Ceris cringed, shrugging off her bag.
“Yeah, everyone can see that, but you’re still not as cute as Anna and Seth.” June replied with an exaggerated wink, leant forwards across the table.
“I guess,” Ceris tried not to see that as a jibe. “but it would be biased if I said we were. And yeah, they have been going out longer. ”
“How long have you and Nathan been going out?” Solomon butted in from the brown chair next to Ceris, leaning hard on its back to look at her confidently.
“Three months,” Ceris grinned at him, then embarrassingly, like June had said, blushed. But then, that was no change, Solomon was naturally disarming.
English class always buzzed and broke with noise, and Ceris liked it about as much as Computing. If most people agreed Computing was more like maths, then to Ceris it was about as complicated as Shakespeare – same language, different syntax.
In the back corner of the class sat June: bright ginger with a porcelain appearance, that matched the cream of the wall behind her. She'd built a love of black clothes, and wings of brown eyeliner. It made her a look like a pixie with a bad attitude.
Solomon shared the conversation, always tucking in enough words to avoid work and keep from seeming nosy. Leaning against a display on the wall, he had a habit of bumping papers off with his shoulder. Beside her, Ceris could see his pen poised above the paper of his book. A hole appeared beneath it as he wore the paper down with a round, dark, scribble. Solomon was a twat. His shoulders were back and relaxed, his clipped head tipped at the perfect angle of attentiveness. He’d written a single paragraph at the start of the lesson and managed to look like a genius. No weariness or hunching over from work, everything about him looked effortless and smart. Which was only half true.
“Year 12!” The teacher called, “You can’t talk all lesson about the latest gossip! Solomon, what have you written down for this exercise?”
Ceris stifled a laugh. Unlike most teachers, Miss Harley had Solomon figured out perfectly.
“Well, Miss,” Solomon replied, his hand moving thoughtfully to his lips before gesturing forwards. “I think you’ll find that’s, uh, sexism because you haven’t asked any of the girls that question and they were really the ones talking...”
“You mean, you haven’t done anything because you’ve been gossiping with ‘the girls.’” She mocked him lightly instead of telling him off, “Ceris?”
“Ah, well, Williams uses white to show purity or innocence, so that character is supposed to be really pure but in a bad setting?”
“Yep, that’s it exactly. See, Solomon, I don’t ask the girls on your table because they only gossip after they’ve finished their work.”
The talk died for a moment as Miss Harley steered them on track to the next task. At just five foot in height Ceris admired her assertive but friendly way of commanding the room, her straw blonde hair was scooped back in a bun and she wore a creamy leather jacket with grassy jeans. As Ceris listened, the scratch of June’s fountain pen would have distracted her, had she not been more annoyed by the stillness of Solomon’s ball-point. He caught her eyes, and his lips looped softly before he turned to her.
Picking her pen out of her hands, he waved it at her. “The trick to not working, is looking like you are.” He handed it to her and turned away, looking sideways to maintain eye-contact. She copied him as he tipped his head down at a perfectly manufactured and elegant angle, back straight, his own pen held softly just above his book again. It didn't feel natural but if she ever wanted to, Ceris could look like a genius without doing anything at all.
“Ok, so you don't listen – or actually take any notes – but still get decent grades in exams, don’t you?” She asked, wondering how much revision the guy had to do.
“I copy smarter people's work then, too, but you wouldn't approve of that, right?”
“No way, I almost thought you were smart but you really have no morals.”
“Eh, what good are they?” He replied laughing, Ceris laughed back. She wasn't sure he was joking. From the hole in his paper, black squiggles were leaking across his page, consuming it as his dark fingers stretched to show milky palms.
The lesson ended with Solomon having done no more work than at the start. Ceris smiled to herself as she left, even though she didn't like him, she couldn't help but feel happy for him to speak to her. June had finished her work early and dashed off to biology to ask about a homework, ginger mane flicking behind her. Alone, Ceris made her way to the other side of the school, taking the outside route. The air was cold compared to the stuffy classroom, and the wind swept dark tangles and curls across her face. She breathed deeply, watching the curves of grey in the clouds. They were too light for rain then but Ceris could feel the burst coming, a metallic sting under the fresh wind.
Curving around, a small piece of tarmac became visible, surrounded by a patch of grass. On it, Nathan and Seth were laughing, cracking jokes at each other.
“Hey.” Ceris said, dropping her bag on the floor and leaning against the admin-block wall next to them. Nathan replied and pulled her to lean on him, his arms wrapped around her belly.
“Where’s Anna?” she asked Seth, confused.
“She’s skiving. No, ill.” He said, flattening the joke and looking worried suddenly under his blond, military style hair.
“Oh,” Ceris matched his expression. “Did she say why?”
“She said a cold and a headache, but what if it’s something worse than that?” Seth’s shoulders crept up and his fists clamped together under his chin. He read her expression which had by habit copied his own, making himself nervous with what he saw.
“I’m sure she’s fine.” Chris said firmly, locking onto his blue eyes with her grey ones. As she diffused the worry in her face and smiled, he took a step back and seemed to remember Nathan's existence above her.
"Yeah..." He replied, jumping back into joking.