"Seeing is deceiving. Dreaming is believing"
"Kathy!" Poppy squeals in excitement. Her brown curls are plastered to her forehead and her smile is as bright as the sun. It makes me want to smile as well, but for some reason I feel anger boiling up inside of me. I feel like James is the new Willow Grimson in my life.
Is it jealousy?
"Hey, little mouse," I say dryly in an attempt to hide that I am not happy at all. I don't want this beautiful stranger anywhere close to my little girl. I don't feel like having someone who attacked me and threatened to kill me here in our sacred place, let alone with Poppy. Who knows what he wants?
"Jem and I are just playing," she says in clear soprano. I give her a crooked smile and eye up Jem. The smirk on his face is irresistible and I don't think he is trying to even hide it. His clear blue eyes are twinkling and mysterious as always. What would I give to find out what is behind them.
He has the uniform on just like me, but he wears grey cotton trousers, a white shirt and a grey jumper. His sleeves are rolled up and his charcoal hair is dripping wet as well.
"We made a crown from flowers for you! Jem helped me to pick them out," she continues excitedly. I avert my gaze from James and look at Poppy wide-eyed. The crown is too small for me, but nevertheless it is beautiful, because she made it.
The flowers are half-battered, the petals fall out and the daisies look miserable. At least he was smart enough to not destroy the school garden. They'd kill him if they found him picking the flowerbeds.
"Little mouse, I don't think Katherine here wants to play," James says, "I think the fun is over," he smiles, but this time Poppy is on my side.
She knows that I don't play around and take things lightly, because of where we are. We have suffered the worst atrocities and here he strides in and declares that we can still laugh after being slashes across the face. I don't think I will ever laugh properly or see anything that will make me smile, except maybe my little mouse. Even so, I can't give her the life she deserves.
"Don't call her that," I say slowly through my teeth. He raises an eyebrow and the look of surprise is etched across his pale face.
"Kathy, it's okay. He-" Poppy stammers, but I shoot her a meaningful look. I don't want to be too harsh on her, but I really don't need her in this.
"Poppy, why don't you go get ready for your chores this afternoon? I'll meet you at the Foyer before dinner," I say it as a demand, not a suggestion.
Poppy hands me the flower crown she made. Her little fingers warmly brush mine. She hangs her head and shuffles her feet away behind the corners, leaving me and James alone in the tall plants.
"Aw, come on," he whines, "The kid was just having fun! What's you problem?"
"My problem?" I say perplexed. My feet move towards him so that our faces are inches apart. I can feel his hot breath in my skin and the smell of fresh rain and sandalwood curls around my nose, softer than a kittens paw, "You go around attacking me, giving me bruises, threatening to kill me and trying to get close to the only person I care about and then you ask me what I have against you?"
The corners of his mouth twitch into a smile, "You're funny when you're angry," he looks down into my eyes. He is so much taller than me. I feel slightly nervous standing like this. He completely ignored me and now, I am even angrier. I want to rip his throat out. I have never been this angry. What's wrong with me?
"Yes," he slowly drags out the word, like a hiss. I blink and move away slightly, gulping.
"I don't trust you," I shrug. He touches one of the roses and plays around with the petals, "I don't trust anyone, not even myself. Seeing is deceiving,"
He looks up, amused slightly, but also comprehensive. He sighs and looks out of the window, slouching like he has ten kilograms slapped onto his back. If the teachers would see him like this, he would be dead in a matter of moments. I learned the hard way.
He pauses and circles me around, like a hawk zoning in on its prey. I cower slightly and my knees feel weak.
"I never said I trusted you either," he finally says," I trust the kid. And she's not your property you know. She can choose her friends," he says.
"I am her friend. I am her sister practically," I hiss, my anger resurging, "Don't you dare come to this place and decide that you know her. Because you don't! You weren't there when she was beaten or had her wrists burnt! You weren't there to sleep with her while she cried through the night!" I shove at his chest and he staggers a bit, looking at me in a way that makes my insides turn to jelly.
The look is not the usual sparkling, enigmatic one he possesses. It's that look he gave me at the field today; fierce, intent and violent, "Watch it, Katherine," he says grimly.
I gather all the courage I have to say it, "Or what?"
"I don't want to have to hurt you," he answers and I snort, "I feel like we can have....an understanding. You give me respect and I return it,"
I don't say anything for what seems like a lot of time and finally I whisper, "Who are you?" It's so quiet that I don't think he heard it. To my surprise he did.
"Someone you should keep away from," he says lowly. I am about to say something to him when the doors to the Glasshouse fly open and Madame Roche walks in. He face is red and full of anger. As fast as I can, I move away from James. The further, the better.
"You!" she yells at me, "What are you doing here with him?!" she is suspicious of course. I wonder who saw us. Or worse, what if the chores begun and we missed the start?
"We're only-" James begins to explain, but I cut him off.
"I was supposed to meet Poppy Littleton here, Madame. But this bastard," I point to James, "He was scaring her by chasing her with worms. So I got angry and I started to shout at him," I lower my eyes. My cheeks burn red and I try to avoid James' gaze.
"And then what?" she spits.
"And then I told him to leave and he pushed me accidentally, so that set me off and I...well I attacked him," James sucks in a breath of disbelief. I can see his confused face, but when I shoot him a look, he knows to keep quiet.
"You little slut!" she roars, "What have I told you about starting fights? First with that brat Grimson and now with this young man? And he's only new here!" she looks like a banshee, with her hair spitting out from her cap and her nostrils flaring, "I'll have you doing chores for the whole week!"
"I am sorry, Madame," I murmur and wait for it.
"And to think! Hands!" she says, her voice shrill and rising. I pull out my hands, palms facing upwards and close my eyes. I feel her stick collide with my delicate skin and it bursts from the pain. I chew on my lip and don't look at them when she is done, "Get you sorry carcass out of here before the next round of chores! Or I'll have you skinned alive!" she booms and swirls around, dashing for the door.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" James' voice is small, but angry. I look at my palms that are bloody and the marks from the slashes are as vivid as daylight. I supress the tears, because he will not see me cry. I am determined to keep strong. I hate it when others see my vulnerability, because it's a sign of weakness and that's not what I have.
"I was saving your sorry ass," I say tiredly.
"You didn't need to, at that price," he mutters, "Come here," he brings me by the hand to one of the taps in the flower beds. He crouches down, pulling me with him and opens it so that a little drip comes out.
He gingerly brings my hand over to the water and lets it run down, cooling it. My heart flutters at his warm touch and I can stop but feel embarrassed for some reason. This is the first time any boy has ever touched me.
"She would have us under investigation if we told her we were just talking or we are friends. There are no relationships allowed here, newbie," I say.
"I wish you didn't do that," he says quietly.
"At least you can trust me now," I say half-heartedly and a bit sourly. He looks up; his blue eyes meeting my green ones, "Or not," I sigh and pull the other hand under the tap.
"Didn't it hurt? Why didn't you scream?" he muses.
"What?" that's such a bizarre thing to ask.
"You're strong Katherine Baywell. I like that. Keep it that way," he comments and I look away again.
"You keep quiet, then they don't get the satisfaction out of it. You yell, then beat you more," I say and get up from my crouching position. He stands up after me and looks at me directly.
"So...are we okay?" he asks with uncertainty, "I mean, no bad feelings? Friends?"
"No," I say definitely, causing him to laugh, "More like allies...well, no wait. I wouldn't go that far. You need to earn my trust. I guess you could call us acquaintances," I nod my head for definite and he smiles in agreement.
"Just promise me one thing," he says warily.
"And what is that? Don't tell that I saw you walking around the labs casually or that you strangled me?"
"No, actually, something else," he scratches his head and looks at me strongly, "Promise me that you won't fall in love with me," I gasp involuntarily, making him look surprised.
"Don't worry. I can't. I have no heart to love with. It's been destroyed," I sigh and look at my feet, "I don't even know what love is,"
"What do you think it is?" he asks gingerly. My throat is dry and I can feel my cheeks flame red. Do we really have to talk about this? How did it even come to this? Wasn't I enraged? He was supposed to feel my wrath, not talk about...feelings.
"Trust," I answer.
"Yes. For me love is having trust for someone so deep that you can confide anything in them. Same goes for the opposite. Love is trusting another person with your dreams, your hopes, your lies. I can't do that for anyone, except Poppy. She's the only one I will ever love,"
"But don't friends trust each other?" he raises an eyebrow.
"They trust differently. Love is giving trust to someone with your heart and you life. There's a difference,"
He pauses for a second, "You're a curious little creature," he exhales.
I look at him incredulously, "And you are annoying. Lets go."
We make it to the Foyer just about before the bell rings and the next shift begins. James leaves me with the group for window cleaning and gets ready for his own chores. He told me he has repair this afternoon and I've seen the boys after that job; tired, eyes drooping heavily, sallow faces, shoulders slouching and their feet dragging behind them.
I still don't feel like I am safe with him. I want as little as possible to do with him, but it's hard. Those eyes...they make me feel so secure and carefree, as if he won't harm me. But I can't deny that I want to get to know his secrets, his lies and his thoughts better. As I said, I get attached too easily. This is not good for me. If I want to protect Poppy, I'll need to distance myself from him.
"Hey, sweet cheeks," I hear a seductive purr in my ear. I whirl around, expecting James, but in his stead Marcus towers over me. His light hair curls around his temples, almost shimmering like gold. His almond eyes are narrowing in on me, as if trying to capture me. I look away and shift myself a few steps from him.
"Marcus. Nice to see you," I try to keep it formal. I don't want any problems. My eyes are anywhere but looking at him. He is handsome, but that's the problem. He is too handsome.
"We're paired," he pops his tongue. I look at him in shock, "Look at the board," and sure enough, just to add to my misery, his name is directly opposite mine. I chew on my lip and try to hide the disappointment in my face.
"Oh, er...that's great," I smile sourly, but he only winks and leans on my shoulder with his arm.
'We're going to have a hell of a time, Kit-Kat," he says it so low that only I can hear him. I feel a lump rising in my throat and I brush him off, cautiously. This is not good. Me and Marcus alone in the same room? There's bound to be action. He is up to something and I need to stay on my guard.
"Listen up, you brats!" I hear our sports teacher's voice boom, raucously, "Due to bad weather, dodge-ball is cancelled. Instead, you have the evening off. Tomorrow, this will be made up for," he announces and everyone cheers. He walks out gruffly, annoyed and agitated.
Well that's some good news today I suppose. I won't get my face mashed in by the cement-like ball.
The windows that Marcus and I have to clean, are up on the third floor. They aren't too big, but there are a lot.
We grab buckets of water, large window-cleaning brooms and pieces of cloth to wipe them. I have to tie up my hair and roll up my sleeves. My apron is loosely hanging off my underfed frame and I have to re-tie it numerous times.
We climb the stairs, pair by pair. I let Marcus go first, so I won't have to worry about him goggling at me. I don't feel comfortable knowing his eyes are all over me.
When we come to the third floor, the doors to the rooms that we have to wash the windows in are opened. There are about thirty or so of them and there's also the windows of the hallway.
I sigh and look at Marcus. He seems to be distracted by his reflection in the arched window. I roll my eyes and call him over.
"We'll split up so it's faster that way, "I say in a shaky voice, "You take the first half of these rooms and I'll take the other,"
He looks at the bucket of water, as if it's poison or full of sewage. I scow at him and he groans, picking it up like it has germs. He struts off into the first room and I grab my own bucket and make my way over to the far end of the hall. The further away from him the better.
The room I enter is small and has only two windows. I guess this must be one of the studies. Books border the walls in shelves and I can see spider webs gathering under the mahogany table. The lamp is lop-sided on the table and a few books are scattered around it. I wonder where the cleaning team was looking.
I begin to wash the shimmering glass. Gladly, we don't have to do the outside as well. Especially today, since the rain has taken care of that. I wet the cloth and begin to wipe away furiously.
By the time I am finished, my hands are aching and I need to sit down. But if I am caught slacking, I will get into trouble. I wonder how Marcus is doing. He probably hasn't even finished the first window.
I go through each room surprisingly fast and I have one more to go, after this one. My hands are weak and numb. I run the bridge of my nose and close my eyes slightly. The darkness feels so good. It feels so warm and I want to sleep...I snap back out and shake off the dazed feeling.
Exhaling, I move into my last room. I begin to wipe the glass, when suddenly, an arm grabs me by the waist. I shriek, but a another cups my mouth and I am flung against the wall, my back bone cracking.
At first I thought it was James, coming to warn me again or something. But my heart beats faster and my insides twist around, making bile rise up my throat. It's worse than I expected. Marcus has that hungry and gleaming look in his face. I try to kick him off of me, but he's too strong and after a few attempts, he jams my windpipe. I cough and splutter, my eyes tearing up.
He howls in laughter and lunges at my neck like a vampire. His lips burn my hot skin and I wriggle and squirm, helplessly trying to get away from this monster. Tears spill down my cheeks and I am sobbing, unable to do anything.
"I have waited a long time for this, Katherine," he hisses my name like it's poison, "So virtuous, so quiet, so shy. Little bitch! Playing the victim, but we all know that you don't need any urging in the night!" he spits at my face.
"Please," I blubber, "Please, let me go. I won't tell anyone and we can forget this happened. Please, Marcus, I-" I try hopelessly to persuade him. But all he does is press me tighter to the wall. I stifle my sobs.
"I don't see the problem. Your mother was a filthy whore!" he brings my face roughly to his so he could look into my eyes. Those dark pupils contract and glare at me in atrocity and hatred, "The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, right?" he smiles wickedly and gropes my chest violently.
I gasp and kick anywhere my feet can reach. Nothing can save me. I choke on my tears and squirm as his hand skims up my leg under the dress.
I am so afraid that I can barely breathe. I thought I was strong? Wasn't I always like a rock; cold and hard? My heart is jamming into my ribcage and my blood is turned to ice as his mouth comes onto my lips. My first kiss. I hate him for stealing it.
I don't kiss him back. I bite down hard on his lip and he loosens the grip.
"You little slut!" his hand collides with my face and a burning rises up in my left cheek. My eye is swollen from the slap and I crumble onto the floor, sobbing and breathing heavily in hysterics. Surprisingly, his lip is bleeding heavily and when his hands grab my shoulders, they are even more rough than before, as if I am an object. He doesn't care anymore.
He rips the front of my dress and I fling my arms around my chest to hide myself. Before he can do anything else, I fling my fist as hard as I can into his face. He curses and spits at me, but I use my leg to kick his teeth. Blood sprouts from his mouth like a fountain and I stagger upwards, looking for the exit. My vision is blurry and things zoom about me.
His hand grabs my ankle and I am flung back to the floor, hitting my head hard on the linoleum. I groan, but sensing that he is on the move again, I grab the nearest object. It's sharp and small. I don't have time to observe it, but before I can look at it, his fist clashes in with my nose. I scream like an animal from the pain. I was sure I heard a bone crack. A hot, read liquid pours down like a waterfall.
My head throbs and I am lying half-conscious on the floor. My ears ring, but something in my mind yells at me to get up and fight. I feel Marcus' hands fidgeting with my dress, trying to get the skirts up, but I waste no time.
"You son-of-a-bitch!" I scream and plunge the object into his shoulder. He falls back in pain and screeches like a banshee. Blood blooms around his sleeve and when I get up, I make for the door, not daring to look back.
Something he yells, makes my heart shrivel up. I don't stop running, but I am going blindly, my feet stagger and trip over themselves.
"You'll pay for that, Kit-Kat! I'm not through with you!"