“For the next few weeks you’ll be researching the origin of a myth or legend—” he shook his head, “—doesn’t have to be religious, but if you sift through any myth and go deep enough, you’ll usually find some religious connection, like most things in life. So, find a myth, research the legends around it and make a report based on your opinion whether or not there could be some truth behind it, and what it originally had to do with religious beliefs.” He looked around at all the students. “Because, let’s face it, if Jesus walked on water then there’s a damn sure bet there’s a Santa Claus, right?”

“Mr Thompson?” a girl asked. “Does that mean you’re admitting Jesus didn’t walk on water?”

“No.” My dad leaned against his desk, crossing his arms. “It means I’m admitting there’s a Santa Claus.”

The class roared with laughter again.

“Maybe he wasn’t lying to my five-year-old self when he said he believed in Santa,” I whispered to Emily.

She started laughing. “I can so picture your dad saying that, too.”

“So, find the myth and decide the truth from your own perspective. That’s all everybody. Have a good day,” he called out over the bell.

Emily and I walked out of class, shoulder to shoulder, still laughing at Dad’s unusual lecture. “And, if he actually caught a burglar in your house on Christmas Eve, he’d think it was just Santa.”

“Oh my God. I could so see that happening.”

“Yeah, then, next morning, he’d be like, Gee, Sam—” she lowered her voice to sound like my dad, “—I’m terribly sorry, but when Santa came last night he filled his sack with your presents instead. And…er…and the china and the silverware and the jewellery.”

I folded over in a fit of teary giggles. “Oh, my God, Emily. That’s so spot on. I mean, his belief was unyield…” With an abrupt jolt, my cheek hit a warm, firm chest, and a boy stumbled back an inch, looping his arms around my shoulders.

“I knew you’d fall for me eventually,” he said.

“David.” I looked up into his sparkling emerald eyes, melting within the circle of his arms. “I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”

I closed my eyes, feeling the tingle of his fingers down my ponytail, touching me like I belonged to him, making no effort to move away.

“Not on school grounds please, you two.”

“Keep it PG.” He pointed at David, then tossed a scrap of paper into the wastebasket beside his desk—without taking his eyes off us.

Emily’s eyelids fluttered as he walked away again. “He’s so cool.”

David laughed at her, dropping his lingering arm back down to his side. I wanted him to ignore my dad and just pull me close again—steal me from this place so we could lay together, my head in his lap, talking for hours about nothing. But, unfortunately, he was no mind reader, and I would never muster up the courage to say that, so, staying at school, pretending not to want him, was my only option.

“Oh my God, yes.” She sunk into her knees, moving her hands around as she recounted the lesson. A few other kids joined in, adding their own theories on what my dad was aiming to teach us, and I just stood there watching David—watching the way he interacted with others. When he noticed, he sent a soft smile my way, the crescent-shaped dimple above his lip showing—the one that only showed with that certain kind of smile. I imagined pressing my finger to it; imagined the moment I fell into his arms back there happening all over again, except he’d sweep me off my feet this time and prop me against the wall, wrapping my legs all the way around his hips. My lips would finally be on his, and his hands would sneak up my skirt, forcing a sharp intake of breath in me when he…

“Earth to Ara?” Emily waved a hand through the cloud of my fantasy.

I snapped back to the reality of a noisy corridor. “Huh?”

Ice rained through me. “Did I faze out again?”

David cleared his throat, growing seemingly taller as he slowly rolled his shoulders back.

“David?” I looked right into his emerald eyes, seeing them go dark, almost black.

“I uh—I have to go.” He wiped a hand across his mouth, then stalked off into the crowd.

She just stared at me blankly. “What were you thinking about just then?”

The ice rain melted as my bones turned to lava. “Uh. Nothing PG, that’s for sure.”

My shoulders dropped. “Was it that obvious—what I was thinking?”

She smirked. “Have you ever looked at your face when you do that—when you disappear like that?”

“It’s funny. You just…your eyes drift off to the ceiling, and your lips just sit apart like you’re waiting for someone to kiss them.” She tried to hold back her laughter, but it shook her whole body. “Except, that time, you were looking right at David, chewing your lip, kind of blushing at the same time. I think—” She pointed to my chin. “I think you need to wipe the drool off.”

“Stop that.” I brushed her hand away; she laughed. “God, I can’t believe I let my imagination run away with me at school.”

“Yeah.” She hugged her books, looking down the corridor after David. “Maybe next time do it with a book in your hand so people think you’re reading something juicy.”

“Good idea,” I said, half groaning. “Do you think David’s upset with me?”

“Upset? Are you kidding?” Emily laughed, pointing to where he’d disappeared. “Ara, that’s not David upset.”

“No way, not unless he’s gay. And judging from how his fists just clenched up and his whole body went all rigid, I would guess he is definitely not gay.”

“So why did he run away?”

She started walking. “He does that. I think he really likes you. And if he got the vibe I got coming off you, then he walked away because you made him feel something.”

“What do you mean by that?” I hoped she wasn’t being rude, implying I made him...you know, feel...something.

“I mean, David doesn’t really do emotions. The few times I’ve ever seen him close to feeling anything—he takes off.”

She just shrugged again. She seemed to pass everything off with that move.

“Well,” I said, “I’m just glad he can’t read minds, or he might never come back.”

Sam caught up and babbled about his day while I nodded and smiled and drifted in and out of consciousness, my mind on my own day—on the fact that David never came back to school after I practically jumped him in the corridor. But I fell back to attention, with the hot sun bearing down, the smell of topsoil and wet grass all around me, when I heard the word David. “Huh?”

“Yeah, you and David Knight. My friend Steve said he heard from Trav that you slapped David in the hallway at school today.”

“Yeah, they say he left school in a real hurry—tires screeching and all.”

He stared at me, blinking.

“I mean, it’s second-hand whispers. David left school today because he was sick.” Or because I wanted to fornicate with him.

“Oh yeah? Well, I saw you two on the stairs this morning—he was standing real close to you. Rumour has it you guys are an item.”

“Nope. Nothing going on there.”

I chuckled quietly. “It’s not like that, Sam. We’re just friends.”

I smirked. If I so much as hinted on the truth, the whole school would know by first period tomorrow. “No. I really don’t. I mean, he’s cute and we have a lot of fun together, but he’s not really my type.”

“Yeah. And what’s it to anyone else, anyway? How does what two seniors get up to become news to Freshies?”

Sam just laughed lightly. “Very little goes on in that school, Ara. Star football player quits the team this year then starts talking to a girl, after notoriously dismissing every advance so far. People are wondering if you’ve got a golden vagi—”

“Whoa!” I held my hands up. “What a horrid thing to say.”

He rolled his eyes. “So, there’s nothing going on with you and lover-boy?”

“Sam, look at me.” I motioned to what my old friends called a twelve-year-old dress sense, then to my scarred face. “I’m never going to be anyone’s girlfriend.”

He went quiet until we reached the driveway. “Hey, Ara?”

“When we get in, can you peel me one of those apple snakes I saw you do the other day?”

“Uh, yeah, sure. I’ll even teach you how to do them.”

“Thanks, short-stuff.” He wrapped his arm over my shoulder as we jumped the creaky bottom step and ran to the top of the porch.

“Ooh, that’s a good one,” I said to Skittles, scribbling the title down on a scrap of paper.

The cat licked his paw, stopping to eye the movement of my pen for a second.

“Don’t pretend not to care, Skitz. You like him just as much as I do.” I placed the pen by his paw and leaned on my hand, watching the blue sky fade over the horizon. So far, Dad’s project on myths, Mr B’s assignment on playwrights, and the list of numbers I was supposed to work out for math had not been touched. Instead, I had a ten-song list of cry-your-eyes-out-over-not-being-loved tunes for my David Playlist.

I leaned on my other hand then, scraping a thumbnail between two front teeth, wondering where he went after school, if his parents tore shreds off him for ditching, if he even had parents, where he lived, what condiments he liked on his toast in the morning, what the last song he listened to in his car was. So many things. And all the while, my song list grew, pushing homework further and further down my list of priorities.

“That’s it!” My chair nearly tipped back as I jerked away from the desk, scaring the cat and sending the little blue bird on my window into sudden flight. I needed to get out of the house. My nails were stinging down to the quick and all this over-thinking made my brain hurt.

I changed my clothes, grabbed my blue, nylon-string guitar, and headed outside to the oak tree.

Yellow leaves rained to the ground, falling from the old tree as the weight of each sway drew a low creak from its branches, reminding me I was growing up and that, soon, this swing would be a thing of my past.

My soft, light-blue dress swayed around my knees in the gentle breeze, sweet with the diluted fragrance of frangipanis. I felt better just breathing again. But, from here I could see the school parking lot, which only brought back the memory of my embarrassing eat-the-cute-guy-in-the-corridor display, making me hold that newfound breath.

When my head dizzied from the movement, I sunk my toes into the cool, slightly moist soil and grabbed my guitar. The stranger I usually saw in my mirror glared back at me from the glossy surface; I ran my fingers over her face then gently along the strings, making a dull, tuneless song as I thought back to when I first saw this guitar; it had been on display in the music store window, and I had fallen in love with it immediately. How was it so uncomplicated to love an inanimate object, yet, when it came to a boy, a girl would fall all over herself to hide her true feelings? Well, unless she was me. Then, the truth would come out in embarrassing displays…in corridors…at school. I dropped my head into my hand, replaying that whole fazing out thing for the hundredth time.

But what was the point? Really? I mean, it wasn’t like I could take it back by reliving it.

With a deep exhale, laced with the heat of humiliation, I squared my shoulders and twisted the pegs on the neck of the guitar, then strummed a soft A minor; the first chord my mum played on this when she bought it for me. And a song formed from there, taking me through my David playlist until the thinking about him got too much to bear again.

My fingers stopped dead on the strings. I couldn’t get this boy out of my head for five seconds.

I smelled his sweet scent before I felt his presence behind me. “David? Where did you come from?”

“Seriously? Do I have to give you the birds and bees talk?” His fingers appeared around the ropes of the swing just above my head.

“Funny,” I said sarcastically, but in truth, I actually did think it was funny.

“I uh—I went back to get my books from my locker—saw you sitting here,” he said. “I hope it’s okay I dropped by.”