Falling in love

I never thought it would happen to me. Not me.

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1. Falling in love

What is the present?

A crinkled newspaper rustles, the elderly man in the corner turns a page as he stuffs the remainder of his sandwich into his mouth. Steam rises from behind the counter, the coffee machine whistling while the waitress taps impatiently with her long, manicured fingernails.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

A small child gurgles from her pram, glugging down the small bottle of milk, her tired mother collapsed into the armchair beside her. A girl sits alone, mascara tracks trailing down her cheeks, sipping noisily at a cup of tea. Two business associates' talk quietly over salads, a laptop between them, one of them clicking through a slide show.

Click. Click. Click.

Everything happening at once. In the present.

What is it?

Is it a second? A hundredth of a second? A thousandth of a second? A billionth of a second?

Surely you could keep going on and on, getting smaller and smaller, until you couldn't even measure the amount of time it was.

Would that be the present?

Maybe. Maybe not. The present can't be a fixed amount of time. What you're doing right now is already in the past, and what you're about to do is in the future. 

Is there even such thing as the present?

Maybe everything is just the past or the future. Nothing happens right now. By the time your brain has registered what you are currently doing, you have already done it.

"Gillian?" I refocus my eyes, bringing them back onto Sam. His hand is wrapped around his cup of coffee, the other resting gently on the table, while his murky blue eyes stare curiously into my own. 

"Were you even listening to me?" 

I glance at the waitress behind him, sneakily bringing her phone out of the crisp shirt pocket, and lazily scrolling through. "Yeah, sorry. Just thinking," I mumble, staring at my own cup of tea. I put my hand around the cold china, lazily swirling the liquid around, watching the thin milk dissolve into the brown liquid.

"So, do you want to come round mine after? We could watch a film or something. My parents'll be out till seven, so we'll have the place to ourselves."

My heart sinks at the thought. 

I avoid looking at his doleful eyes, still swirling my tea round and round. "I think I have some homework to do," I mutter casually, trying not to let the lie show. The small stack of thin napkins lies between us, still retaining their dirty white colour, both of us loath to take one first. Maybe it's a symbol of all the unsaid things between us.

I look up reluctantly. "Since when did you care about homework?" His eyes have changed, from a murky azure to clear, dark midnight. I gulp, quickly looking back down.

"Well, GCSEs are on at the moment, and-"

Sam cuts me off angrily, removing his hand from the coffee cup and crossing his arms on the table, leaning forwards on them. "Oh, quit lying. We both know you'll just go home and listen to music all day."

Instinctively my hand jerks towards my bag. I can almost feel my scratched iPod, with my headphones knotted around it, calling out to me. Summoning me to it. 

"No, I won't," I reply quietly, without any real feeling. The lie is so transparent that I don't bother to put any effort into it. I was just going through the motions.

"For God's sake Gillian, you've been depressed for ages!" Sam slams his hand down on the table, other customers looking around at the sudden bang. I stay perfectly still, though my cup wobbles, a small drop of tea falling onto my hand. I let it slowly roll off, leaving a trail of faint brown on my skin and a slightly pink patch where it landed.

"You never want to do anything! You just listen to that weird music and never do anything!" The wooden chair scrapes back as he stands up, grabbing his bag and pulling it over his head.

I blink, uncertain of how the situation escalated so quickly. "Where are you going?" I ask, though I think I know the answer. 

"We're done. It's over. I'm going home."

Sam storms out, his angry footsteps reverberating off the floor, the door swinging shut behind him. I stare silently after him, the realisation hitting me. It's over. It's all over. This entire relationship is done. 

I'm pleasantly surprised, when I realise that I simply don't care. My heart doesn't pang in sadness. Tears aren't springing to my eyes. I feel. What do I feel?

I feel fine.

I stand up too, watching as the other customers slowly look back to their business, already over our argument. Only the tear-stained girl stares at me still. I stare back, daring her to look away. She gives me a small smile and a nod, before turning back to her drink. A grudging nod. A nod of partnership, of comrades in battle. 

I pick up my bag and stroll out, leaving mine and his drinks abandoned on the table. I stroll down the high street, staring blankly into shop windows, and reaching for my iPod. Only music could sooth my confusion at my emotionless state.

"Gillian! Hey, over here!" I turn at the friendly shout, seeing Alice running up the street behind me. Her black hair flies out behind her in the wind, her bag bumping back and forth from her side, her hands to her mouth as she calls out my name.

I've known Alice since nursery. She'd been in all my classes, though I'd never hung out with her until a few months ago. She was nice, cheerful, and very pretty. But she'd always been a little odd. The girl who wore the leafy necklaces to school, who never went to any parties and put worms back onto the lawn. I'd ended up sitting next to her in Science this year, and she'd started talking to me. From then on, she pretty much became my best friend.

I hold my hand up in greeting, smiling from ear to ear at the sight of her. She quickly catches me up, walking alongside me on the white-spotted pavement. "Hey," I beam. She grins back, showing off her newly straight teeth, after having braces for over eighteen months.

"Whats up? You look a bit sad," Alice remarks, as we turn onto a slightly smaller road, leading down to the park. A lorry drives past us, tangling my hair in the wind it left behind it. 

I sigh, wiping the cold tea off my hand. "Sam broke up with me."

"Aw, that sucks. He was a loser anyway," she trills. Alice reaches into her pocket, pulling out her small camera and snapping a picture of the sun shining through the leaves of a tree. She took pictures of anything and everything, particularly nature. "Hey, come look at this!"

Alice grabs my hand, pulling me into a dense grove of trees. I laugh with her as we run, the exhilaration bringing me out of my strange mood. Leaves and branches brush past my face, but I shove them away and follow her through the wilderness.

Her hand is warm in mine, soft from the copious amounts of hand cream she uses. If I feel along her palm, I can trace the little ridges along it, criss-crossing in a complex web.

I tighten my hand around hers.

We emerge next to a large willow tree, inside a small clearing beneath it's branches. Long strands of leaves surround us in a perfect circle, swaying lightly back and forth, wind whispering through them. The ground is covered in a thin layer of grass and moss, small daisies breaking through the surface in small patches of white.

Alice is in the centre, spinning slowly round with her camera held to her face, frantically snapping pictures. "Isn't it beautiful!" She calls out to me, gesturing for me to come closer.

I slowly walk over to her, marvelling at the beauty. Alice turns to face me, smiling. The whole world seems to light up when she smiles. The grass seems greener, the sky bluer, the muttering of the trees louder. Everything become intensified.

"It's wonderful," I breathe. A small ladybird flutters past, crimson wings buzzing as they flap, landing on a patch of grass.

Alice places her hands on my shoulders, turning my face to hers. "Look at me," she says. 

And I do.

I see her face. Her midnight black hair falls down to her shoulders like a waterfall, glossy and perfect, not a strand out of place. Her lips are a dark pink, but she never wears lipstick. Her chocolate brown eyes stare into my own, seeming to twinkle and laugh, all by themselves. A small golden necklace lies in the hollow of her throat, a tiny key attached to the end.

And then I fall.

I am tumbling, spinning, wheeling down to the ground. I could scream, but I can't. Not a word can come out of my mouth. The whole world rushes past me, my entire life flashing before my eyes. 

Me, pedalling along on my first bike. Me, standing outside school, clutching my tiny rucksack. Me, flicking my hair back as I grin shyly at Sam. Me, snuggled next to him on the sofa. Me, talking to Alice. Me, laughing with Alice. Me, running along next to Alice, laughing with glee.

Me and Alice.

It's terrifying, the fall. I can see it below, where I shall crash into. Everything is rushing past at such speeds, though I am falling faster and faster. It looms below, coming closer and closer, my mouth open in a silent scream.

Then I crash.

My whole body buzzes with electricity as I collide, covering my skin, flowing all over my entire body. I almost vibrate with it. It starts to penetrate my insides, going underneath my skin, into my blood, beginning to whiz around my body. I am sparking, a loose circuit, my entire body beginning to buzz.

The electricity reaches my heart.

I can feel it when it does. It's a huge implosion, everything flying towards me, light, pictures, memories, objects. Everything from everywhere. I can feel my heart, for the first time in my life. It is there, beating loudly, each thump sending my life pumping around my body. But when it is hit, it goes manic.

The beating speeds up, louder and louder, faster and faster, like a machine gone mad. It begins to heat up, becoming red-hot in my chest. I expect it to have burnt through me, like a poker, but my chest is fine, completely markless.

The pressure builds up, beating at a million thumps a minute, still getting hotter, filling me up with heat. Any second now it's going to burst.

Then I am back on the ground, back in the clearing, back staring into Alice's eyes.

I can still feel my heart. It beats fast, sending heat surging through my body, the electricity still buzzing over my skin. And when I look at Alice, the beat quickens, my body heats up further, the electricity buzzes louder.

The sky is the colour of the flecks in her eyes, the trees the colour of her dark cardigan, the clouds the colours of her smooth cheeks.

It is now that I realise the truth.

The entire world revolves around her.

My entire world.

I look straight at her, staring back into her eyes, seeing the entire galaxy reflected in them. She looks back, her eyes holding the entire world in their gaze. From the oldest man, to the youngest child, from the poorest woman, to the richest man.

Everything.

I know exactly what to do.

"I love you, Alice Cooper."

I slowly move my hand up, placing it on her cheek, bringing her face to mine.

The entire world explodes with light, as my lips gently touch hers.

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