“Don’t worry.” Emily touched my arm. “David will take good care of you.”
“You’re late for class, Emily,” he said in a dull tone, looking at his watch.
“Okay, well. Have fun, Ara, and…I’ll see you at lunch?” she asked, her eyes round, hopeful.
Terrific, I’d just made a new friend without even trying. Great. Not. “Thanks, Emily, and yeah, sure, I’ll see you at lunch, then.”
She skipped off, beaming, but as she reached the corner, stopped to fan her chin, mouthing what looked like “He’s so hot,” right as David turned to catch her.
I allowed a small smile, watching her quickly press her hands behind her back as she disappeared around the corner, leaving David and I completely alone.
My heart pumped blood the wrong way around my body, and the beat bounced off every wall in the school—a suspenseful soundtrack to a gripping scene. I forced myself to look up from my shoes, and though I sat for hours last night scripting topics for just this sort of occasion, when I met David’s gaze, it was all gone—escaped me completely. All I could find was a white cloud of wordless stupor. I was without ammunition, alone in the wilderness, with a lion.
“Come, I’ll show you to the library.” He started walking. I stayed put, safe and snug against the wall, where I couldn't trip on my own nerves. He didn't even notice I stayed behind, just walked ahead without me. Or maybe he did notice but chose to ignore it, figuring I’d eventually move. But staying behind gave me a great vantage point for hotness-evaluation; I could see the definition in his back through that black shirt—could see the marvellous contours of his arms and how his torso seemed to taper inward at the waist, like an upside-down triangle, despite his otherwise very slim form. I’d seen that kind of physique, but a little bigger, only on guys in the football teams back home. Which made me wonder if David was a football jock. If he so, he disguised that stereotypical arrogance really well under the impression of a kind, well-mannered boy.
“Hey, are you coming?” he said, walking backward to face me.
“Um, yeah. Sorry.” I pushed away from the wall and started after him, giggling to myself when he turned away. I always knew the world was unnaturally cruel and today I learned it could also be cruel in an unbelievably giving way.
David strolled along silently beside me, focusing on the path ahead. I didn't know if I should—or could—say something to break the silence, which made it turn suddenly into the uncomfortable sort. Yet, he didn't seem uncomfortable, and his self-satisfied grin made me feel almost like he could hear every deranged, lustful thought I was having.
I rocked my jaw, searching deep inside for that level-headed girl in me who didn’t get pummelled by a cute face. She was dead, though. David killed her.
“What were you focusing on in your last school—for English studies?” he asked in that buttery voice, like, if I could swallow it in one gulp, it wouldn’t even touch the sides of my throat.
“The standard stuff,” I murmured. “I wasn’t in any advanced classes or anything.”
He looked down at his feet.
I felt bad for that answer; it was probably a little vague—maybe even rude. I just…I wanted him to keep talking, but…not ask any questions.
He cleared his throat, the corner of his lip creeping up to his dimple. “Why don't you read anymore?”
“Um, no reason. What do you like to read?”
He laughed to himself. “Dracula, Jamaica Inn, Pride and Prejudice. I actually read quite a bit. Though, not so much anymore, myself.”
“Why not?” I asked, curious about his reasons. Also curious as to why a seventeen-year-old boy would admit to reading Pride and Prejudice of his own free will.
“Well, let’s just say—” he grinned as he leaned against the wall near another brown door, “—I have better things to do with my time at the moment.”
He laughed and stood up from the wall, patting the door. “So, this is the library.”
“Really?” It sat inconspicuously in the long wall of the first floor corridor, rather oddly-placed for such an important room. If David wasn’t with me, I might’ve passed it completely.
“Don’t let looks deceive you. It’s actually quite well-stocked,” he said, opening the door.
We stepped inside and shelves of books, practically touching the ceiling, greeted us with the rich smell of old pages. A group of study desks marked the centre of the brightly lit space, and computers lined the wall on one side. It seemed the school made up in supplies for what it lacked in style.
“Yes,” my unfairly gorgeous tour guide said simply, standing motionless beside me. “Would you like a seat?”
I wanted to ask if he meant I could take one home with me, to keep, but was afraid the corniness might show me up for the dweeb I really was. So, I started off with a determined stride and, using my ankle, kicked a chair out at the circle of study desks. The lone student beside me didn’t bother to look up as I dumped my bag down, unzipped it and stuffed my schedule inside. But then, he most likely didn’t hear me approach since the music coming from his earphones could be heard in London.
“Are we allowed iPods in here?” I asked, looking up to meet David's stare.
He made no effort to look away, smiling before saying, “Yes.”
And my pulse quickened. He just looked so pleased with himself for something, like a schoolboy who just got a new video game. “We weren’t allowed iPods at my old school.” I looked back at the kid for a second. “Private school.”
“No. I just have a knack for categorisation.” He cocked his head a little.
“Then we should get along great.” He dropped the grin and moved into all-business mode, placing a heavy rectangle book on the table in front of me, tapping it twice. “This one’s for you.”
“Yay,” I said in my most sarcastic tone ever. The pages were thin and the cover was hard, which could only mean boring.
“You know,” David said, sitting down, “you’re awfully quiet. I expected you to say more by now.”
He laughed and looked around. “We don’t have teachers in here. No one cares if you talk.”
I sat taller and slowly turned my head. He was right. I didn’t even notice. There was no desk and no old, grey-haired woman with large-rimmed glasses shushing us when we breathed. “Cool.”
“Yeah.” He sat back, leaning his elbow on the desk, a pen coming up to the corner of his mouth. “It’s pretty cool.”
I looked away from him, finally calming myself enough to act human, and opened the giant book. “What page?”
“You know—” he inclined toward me, his voice becoming a husky whisper, “—it’s your first day, so we can either fill you in on Mr Benson’s class, or—” He paused, looking at the student near us.
I rested my cheek on the back of my hand. “I already prefer the or.” And as soon as that creepy sentence slipped past my lips to ruin my life, I dropped my hand, my head begging to follow.
But, instead of throwing a spitball at me before quickly fleeing the room, David just leaned back, crossing his hands behind his head. “You know, I think I’m beginning to like you already, Ara-Rose.”
Which was great, except, I was already in love with him. “It’s just Ara, by the way,” I said.
He sat straight and looked at me with one slightly squinted eye, then folded his arms. “Okay, Ara. What’s your next class?”
“Uh, hold on a sec.” I dug into my backpack, pulled out the schedule and map, then passed them to David, who read the page, wearing an impish grin. “What?”
“We have quite a few classes together.”
“Including music.” He cleared his throat into his fist.
“Is that...bad?” All the blood ran from my face as he handed the schedule back to me.
He shook his head. “I mean, not all bad. We have Mr Grant, but I’m in your class.”
“Is he...nice?” I kind of expected a two-headed monster, judging from the smirk on David’s face.
“It’s okay, I’ll be there with you.”
I folded my bottom lip between my teeth. Music class was going to be bad—I could feel it.
“He doesn’t stay in the room long,” David said. I looked up at him. “Mr Grant. He comes in, tells us what to do and leaves.”
“We usually just have a jam-session.”
“Wicked.” I shut the textbook in front of me, finding my cool again. “So? What instrument do you play?” I could sum up a lot about a person by the kind of music they liked, and more, by the instrument they chose to express themselves with.
David sat back a little, drumming his fingers on the desk. “Well, I actually play all instruments. But this year I’m focusing on the guitar.”
Damn. Well, that blew my prejudice out the window. “Hm. I would’ve figured you for a bass guy.”
“Bass? And…what exactly would that say about me?” The heart-stealing smile he presented as he leaned on his elbow made me shiver—in a good way.
“Cool? Confident?” A soft breath left my lips before I added, “Sexy?” And though, on the outside, I shrugged as I said it, every ounce of cool I’d mustered stopped moving and groaned, slapping its head.
David stared at me for a second, his lip twitching as if stuck on a word.
“I’m sorry. That was so rude of me.” I covered my brow.
“No, really, it wasn’t at all. It was just…” He stared forward, frowning slightly. “Unexpected.”
I looked down at my books, unsure what to say.
“You just seem so shy and quiet, now. I never expected you to say something so—honest.”
“I’m not really shy.” I traced the edge of the book. “I’m just quiet because I’m new. But you won’t be able to shut me up in a few weeks.” I laughed but stifled it quickly. As if that would be reassuring. And I was off again with the assumptions. Who said this guy would even talk to me after today? He was only here because the teacher forced him to bring me up to scale. I kind of felt sorry for him then.
He suppressed a smile, nodding his head softly. “Well, I look forward to seeing your more talkative side.”
Was he serious? Maybe I didn’t make myself clear enough the first time. Um, hello? I am totally infatuated with you and I just met you. You should run away, now! “What? What are you laughing at?” I asked, hoping my facial expressions hadn’t given away my strange internal monologue.
I scratched at the edge of the book again. “Normally, people don't laugh at nothing.”
“Hm.” I nodded to myself, and since there was no rock to hide under in here, I covered the awkward tension with a very normal question that I was rather proud of. “So, are the people here nice?” I said, when what nearly came out was, “Hey let’s be rebels and ditch class—go somewhere quiet, talk for hours and get to know each other,” but that would’ve been way too creepy.
David nodded, taking a deep breath. “Yeah, mostly. You shouldn’t have a problem, though. Seems you’ve struck up a friendship with Emily Peirce?”
“Is that good?” I hoped it was. Emily seemed nice, but I’d hate to have ended up friends with the school bully.
“Uh, yes.” He cleared his throat, looking away. “It’s good. Emily has…a special gift for making people like her.”
“She’s just easy to be around. I think you two will be good friends.”
Did that mean I was easy to be around? And there I went again, looking for hidden meanings in words that weren’t there.
“I’m sure you’ll be fine here, Ara. You’ve already made two friends today and school has only just begun.” He smiled warmly.
That was nice of him—to say that. It felt so weird that, only half an hour ago, I was terrified to even step off the driveway, and now I was here, alone with David, and he just called himself my friend—completely tarnishing all my first impressions about this once seemingly nightmarish brown building. “Well, thanks.” I shrugged, but couldn’t contain my smile. It was a strange sensation, but for the first time in over two months, I just smiled because I wanted to.
“Why are they all staring at me?” I said under my breath as we strolled through the corridor.
David just grinned, wiping his thumb across his chin.
“I’m right, aren’t I?” I scowled at one of the girls, whose mouth hung open like a frog waiting for a fly. “They are staring.”
“They’ll stop in a few weeks. They’re just fascinated by anything with colour. And you are—” he smiled at my yellow dress, “—very colourful.”
Colourful? I wished I could be smaller—small enough to fit inside a locker.