English period went by, long and boring, dissecting a poorly written book by an anonymous author who – judging by the vibe I got from our teacher Mr Foster – was not so anonymous after all. Was it even legal to use your own books, disguised, as teaching material?
“That book sucked majorly,” I said, as the bell had rung and people were gathering their stuff to leave for lunch. My stomach growled aggressively.
“Hey be nice. I thought it was a great book,” Harry said looking very sincere. I squinted my eyes at him. “A little non suitable for high school kids, and a few spelling mistakes, but hey, who am I to judge,” he ended removing every ounce of sincerity I thought had been there.
“Is lunch now?” I asked grabbing the basket with our prize from chemistry in it.
“It sure is, little bird. Getting hungry, are we?” he chirped a couple of times before exiting the room laughing at himself.
I sighed but followed him.
“So, you should meet my friends,” he spoke all of a sudden while we walked down the halls.
“Your what?” I asked hiding my grinning face behind the basket.
“My friends?” he repeated.
“Yeah I heard that the first time. You have those?” I teased. If he was allowed to make fun of me I sure as well was allowed to make fun of him too.
He sure didn’t like it though. “Yes, I have friends. Plenty for that matter.”
“Oh you must be really popular,” I chuckled under my breath.
He didn’t answer to that. Instead he frowned. For some reason I don’t think that Harry Styles was used to people joking with him.
I almost had to run to keep up with him, the stupid basket blocking my view.
“You aren’t the fastest you know,” he muttered as I finally caught up with him. He had come to a halt at the opening of a two-door entrance. The smell of food hit my nostrils making me almost drool.
“Well if I didn’t have to carry around this monster,” I nodded to the basket.” I would have been far ahead of you.”
He sighed as if I was the most difficult thing in the world and as if it had been assigned to him to take care of me and that he was tired of it already. He took the basket from me.
“Follow me,” he said turning around for the entrance.
“You know, you don’t have to do this,” I suddenly said, not knowing where the words came from.
He stopped. “Do what?”
“Carry me around and treat me like some sort of charity case you know. I can feel that you don’t really want to do this,” I said pulling at me sleeve awkwardly. Why was I saying this?
“Do what,” he repeated a little stronger than before.
“This. I mean. Introducing me to your friends, choosing me as lab partner, talking to me, I don’t know! But, not to sound ungrateful, I just don’t want any of it if you don’t really feel for it. It’s not your duty I mean-”
“Who says it isn’t?” he smirked at me, cocking an eyebrow. “Now if you are done with suspecting me of doing charity work, can we go? Working for the benefit of others isn’t my thing, and I’m starving.
With those words he turned around and entered the cafeteria. My cheeks burned red as a shuffled along.
The cafeteria wasn’t big at all, even though that shouldn’t have surprised me. It reminded me more of a big living room, with a buffet table alongside one of the walls, and tables scattered all around the room, already filled with students.
I didn’t recognize anyone, after all the only one I had talked to the whole day had been Curly Styles.
Harry had disappeared suddenly out of the blue, which for some weird reason made me panic a little. Being alone in a crowd was something I hated more than anything.
My eyes roamed the room and found him in the line for the buffet. Relieved I went to join him in the row of hungry students.
Steamed vegetables, grilled chicken and mashed potatoes were on the menu, and my stomach growled in anticipation. At my old school, the cafeteria could hardly be recognized as so. They only served junk food or wet sandwiches, which didn’t really appeal to most.
This on the other hand looked and smelled delicious.
After shoving plenty of mashed potatoes, veggies and chicken onto my plate I turned to watch Harry waiting at the end of the line, staring into nothing. He held his plate in one hand and the basket in the other.
I approached him, a little embarrassed still about what happened outside the cafeteria, but he just smiled neutrally at me as he acknowledged my presence.
“As the gentleman I am, I will now let you eat with me and my friends,” he said and shot out his elbow so I could take it.
I decided not to do so, because it would look weird, so he just shrugged and started walking into the mass of people, towards the back end of the room. Always the back with him.
I couldn’t help noticing how everybody stared at us as we walked. Especially a whole lot of girls shot me glares that could kill.
“Why is everybody staring?”
“Because you’re the new girl,” he stated harshly making my heart jump in surprise. “And because I’m Harry Styles,” he added. So full of himself.
“Oh,” I just said, not knowing what else to say.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity we reached a table, already seated with five other people. Two boys and three girls. The girls I remembered from when I just got here – the beautiful blonde was impossible to forget.
“-and then I said, yeah, but I think I know how you could lose those pounds you’re talking about.” The blonde was clearly right in the middle of telling a story.
The two other girls, a petite blonde and a tan skinned brunette were completely absorbed in the story.
“What did you say to her?” the brunette asked wide eyed.
“I told her to go remove her so called makeup!” she burst out in that obnoxiously loud cackle of a laugh, the two girls following along but a lot more muted. God.
“Now, now, Claire, no need to bully on people who could practically be your twin, I mean. You could lose those pounds you’ve been complaining about too, if you wore a little less makeup,” Harry said making the girl, Claire, jump in surprise cheeks red, and the rest of the table trying to hold back their laughter.
“Go fu-” she began, but was interrupted by Curly again.
“Guys, this is Jessie. Jessie, guys.” He quickly introduced me to the others and sat down across from one of the boys, leaving the chair between him and Claire the only one available.
I sat down awkwardly, almost feeling the hatred vibing of Claire. I hadn’t even said anything yet. Geez…
“I’m Zayn, nice to meet you,” said the boy across from Harry. He had black hair styled in a high quiff and tan skin and mild reserved brown eyes. I liked him already.
“Liam,” said the boy next to Zayn. He had a soft face with puppy brown eyes and brown hair also in a quiff but not as high as the black haired boy’s was. He seemed nice as well.
The girl next to him was the tanned brunette. “I’m Danielle. Liam’s girlfriend. Really nice to meet you as well,” she smiled and twirled a strand of her wild curly hair around her finger.
The blonde besides her was nothing like the girl Claire. She was a lot more petite, reminding me of a pixie, with her almost white shoulder length hair, in a soft crown around her head, and a green and gold braided hairband to accessories it with. Her eyes were huge and blue and she smiled widely when she introduced herself as Perrie.
“I’m Zayn’s girlfriend,” she added to which I nodded. These four seemed really sweet and welcoming. For the fifth I couldn’t really say the same.
After a couple of seconds went by with the blonde completely ignoring my existence Harry spoke up.
“And this, little bird, is our personal hag from hell, Claire,” he announced, making everyone gasp.
She flipped her head around to glare at him.
“Harry!” she exclaimed looking mortified. He just shrugged.
“You could be a little more polite you know.”
I almost grimaced at him. Could she be a little more polite?
“You can’t just bring people to our group like this!” she hissed, still not acknowledging my presence. “Especially not the new girl!” Now her glare shifted to me, making me prefer not being acknowledged.
“I think I decide that,” Harry answered sounding final. I felt uncomfortable, ruining their peace this way.
“Maybe I should just find somewhere else to eat Harry, I don’t-”
“Yeah maybe you should!” Claire’s voice was acid. What the hell was wrong with this girl?
The rest of the table just sat there in complete silence minding their own business.
“Claire, shut up! You,” Harry grabbed my arm stopping me from leaving the table. “You sit your little ass back down.” I immediately sat down on the chair again, my plate clattering against the table surface.
The scene had gained a few stares from the surrounding tables.
“You know what? I’m done with this! You aren’t the king of this group, you know,” she sneered at Harry making him squint his eyes in what I would define as cold hard anger. Not a muscle showed his mood, only his eyes said not to mess with him anymore.
Claire threw her fork and knife on her plate, and walked away without another word.
The next minute passed by in complete silence. I couldn’t bear meeting anyone’s eye now that it was my fault that their group was in conflict.
I had never had a reaction like that towards me, ever in my life. What had I even done to her? Was it the way I looked? I was wearing exactly the same as everyone else but still. I surely wasn’t what you would consider ‘high-clique’ material.
“Finally,” a voice with a Bradford accent moaned across from me. Zayn was fumbling with his plate about to get up. “Is anyone up for a round two?”
Perrie rose quickly. “I am! Oh my God, I haven’t had a round two since Claire joined us.” She sighed with relief before joining Zayn at the buffet, Liam and Danielle walking behind them.
Harry and I still had a full plate of now cold food. I didn’t really feel like eating it anymore.
“Sorry you had to witness that,” he suddenly said, picking at his food with a fork.
“No, I’m the one who’s sorry. I don’t know what happened. Did I do something?” I almost whispered, staring at my own food.
Harry chuckled. “You did absolutely nothing wrong. It all went perfect. I have been waiting for the opportunity to throw Claire out of the group for months. She’s a real pain in the ass, but a nice shag I’ll give her that.”
I vomited a little bit in my mouth.
“So… You used me to throw her out of the group?” I said sounding like a mouse. I wished I could sound just a little more confident but I was pretty torn down right there.
“No, no, I didn’t! Well… I did a little bit maybe. But I had in mind that you should be her replacement,” he grinned and shoved a steamed broccoli into his mouth.
I just stared at my food wanting to barf all over it.
“Replacement,” I repeated.
“Yeah.” He finally looked at me and saw my sad face. “Hey, I thought you’d be happy to join a group?” he said sounding a little accusing.
“Oh yes you thought I would be thrilled didn’t you?” I bit back. By the time, Zayn and Perrie had returned to the table, watching me with wide eyes.
“Being the new girl, of course I would love to become a part of a group, not to mention the best and brightest group of them all,” I laughed without humour. He frowned in what I would define as confusion, I didn’t know with him.
“I don’t want your help, Harry. Not like this. Now I know I was just unlucky to come into this place at the right time for you to use me. And know you offer me a place in your group as a reward? You’re sick!” I spat, and left the table without another word.
Harry didn’t seem to bother much, he kept seated at the table shoving his food around.
I wished so much that Macy were here now. I could trust her. She would never see me out as someone she could use for her own benefit.
And I wouldn’t need anyone else but her.
I walked out of the cafeteria and into an abandoned classroom where I sat down in a corner and cried bitterly for the first time over my loss of my best friend.
I had forgotten all about Harry, Claire and the others. All I could think about right now was my dead best friend.
“Jess, Jess!” Macy says and breaks my concentration. It is noon and we are just back from lunch, sitting at our regular table in the classroom currently having English.
“What?” I grin and look at what she’s doing. Whatever Macy does it’s always something fun. I look over at her table and see the drawing she has made. It is a strikingly well looking portrait of our teacher Mr Bloomsbury wearing drag clothes and walking his poodle.
It’s almost impossible not to laugh out loud but I manage, because I know I will get in trouble if I disturb class.
“So, Mark Twain began his career writing light, humorous verse, but evolved into a chronicler of the vanities, hypocrisies and murderous acts of mankind. At mid-career, with Huckleberry Finn, he combined rich humor, sturdy narrative and social criticism…” Mr Bloomsbury speak from the blackboard where he is scribbling down highlights.
Macy’s drawing has made me lose concentration and track in thoughts so I have trouble with regaining my focus again.
Suddenly there is a knock on the door, disturbing Mr Bloomsbury’s talk stream. He sighs and dusts off his hands that are white with chalk, and goes to open the door.
A muted thud is audible and then Mr Bloomsbury falls limply to the floor.
At first, I don’t understand what is happening, but then a man shows in the door where Mr Bloomsbury stood before.
“Jessie get down!” someone screams in my ear making me flinch and fall to the floor. It’s Macy.
I look at her, terror all over her face when I suddenly notice the man again. He is holding something large and black in his hand, which I recognize as a machine gun. It has a piece on, at the front, which I know, mutes the sound of the gun.
“Jessie,” Macy sobs. I hear screams all around us and when the body of our classmate John falls down next to us, it occurs to me what is going on. Somewhere on his body, blood is seeping out on the floor covering Macy’s and my own hands. It smells like copper or iron.
We manage to crawl all the way to the back of the classroom, people falling to the ground, the muted sound of the gun firing bullets into their bodies. Even the smell of gunpowder is evident in the air. It feels as if everything passes by in slow motion, and I can hear my own blood searing in my ears. Or is it the screams of the kids in class, frozen in terror?
Macy and I hide behind something. I don’t know whether it is a tipped over desk or something else, but we stay there, completely still until the gun firing stops.
We hear the muffled cries of the wounded, and the sound of heavy boots crossing the room. The sound stops right in front of the barrier we are hiding behind, as if searching for something. A while after the sound of boots against slippery floor is moving away from us. I have my hands clasped over my mouth to mute every sound that might escape, and tears run silently down my cheeks.
After what feels like hours, Macy removes her shaking hands from her mouth, and whispers something to me.
“I think he’s gone, Jess. I think he’s gone.”
I’m unable to move or say anything, I just stare at her with wide eyes.
Slowly she pushes herself out from behind the barrier and look around. She turns her head towards me, and smiles.
Then I see the bullet fly towards her, straight into her temple and out the other side. Blood. Red, red blood and something else flies out and splatters against the wall. Her beautiful blue eyes are limp looking, and her black hair is smeared in the red blood.
I clasp my hands tighter against my mouth almost suffocating myself, as I stare at my best friend in horror. I push myself as far up against the corner of the barrier as I can, feeling as if my heartbeat is audible to the whole world. I become lightheaded from lack of air and the soaring adrenalin in my veins.
Footsteps, the same as before come towards the barrier once more, but just as before they leave again.
I sit and wait, Macy’s dead eyes staring into nothing in front of me. Her chest isn’t rising. Her skin has become an ashy gray and the blood on her face and on the wall is turning darker and darker, almost black.
I keep my hands clasped tightly over my mouth, afraid of the sounds I will release if I remove them, and then I will die. Just like Macy. Like Mr Bloomsbury. Just like everyone else in the room.
After what feels like a second, I hear voices approaching. More than one. Instead of the sharp ringing tone in my ears, I also hear sirens and the sound of cars with engines running.
The voices are now in the room where I am, and I hear the words “Oh my God,” repeatedly.
Footsteps approach the barrier I am hiding behind again and my body tenses for what is about to happen.
The barrier is being removed and I shut my eyes closely together, not wanting to see my murderer.
“There’s someone here! She’s alive!” a voice right in front of me shouts and more footsteps approach.
“Love? Are you hurt anywhere?” The voice asks touching my shoulder faintly. I flinch.
“Can you open your eyes for me? I won’t hurt you, you’re safe now,” the voice continues.
Somewhere I find the strength to open my eyes faintly and now I see that the person in front of me is wearing a police officer suit.
“There’s a good girl,” the officer says and smiles at me. He has grey hair and a well-trimmed mustache. “Can you tell me if you are hurt?”
I shake my head as to say no, I’m not hurt. But I am hurt. My heart isn’t working right.
“She’s alright boys,” the officer shouts to the people behind him. I’m not all right, I feel the urge to scream in his face. I will never be all right again.
Somebody, I think he is a paramedic comes before me instead of the officer, and wraps me in a blanket. Then he lifts me up and carries me out. Down the halls of my high school. I see out of the corner of my eye that there is bodies lying everywhere.
Blood is on the floor, in puddles and in footprints where people have been stepping in it.
He carries me outside and the sudden cold air hits my face, sending a jolt through my body. My head becomes dizzy. A flash of a camera is the last thing I see before everything turns black.
The events of that day came flooding back over me, drowning me in despair. I would never be normal again, never.
I buried my face in my arms, wetting the sleeves of the blazer with my tears. I had no idea how long I’d been crying but it seemed like an eternity.
The feeling of guilt washed over me as I thought of Macy. Beautiful Macy. I should have told her to stay behind the barrier with me, instead of crawling out to look. I should have known he would still be standing in the room, just waiting to see if there really was anyone hiding in there.
I remember the way she had smiled in relieve as she thought the room was empty and that we were safe, but seconds after the smile had left her face and her eyes turned dead. The blood was everywhere. I could feel it right now on my hands and on my body as if it was me who had been shot.
Footsteps suddenly approached, slow and heavy as the gun man’s and my body started to shake in terror. It was only fair that I died know. It was only fair.
I screamed when a pair of hands touched my shoulders. I screamed as loud as I could in absolute fear of dying.
“I don’t want to die!” I managed to screech from the air that was left in my lungs, which wasn’t much.
“Hey, hey! Jessie! What’s happening?” a sort of familiar deep voice spoke, but I had no control over my body. I kicked and clawed at the person in front of me.
“Jessie!” the voice shouted, grabbing my arms, and practically pushing his body down over mine to keep me from hurting anyone.
“Jessie,” he said again, this time softer and more soothingly. It was almost as a caress to hear my name spoken like that.
My body still spasm’ed underneath his but I was slowly gaining control of it.
“It’s not real. It’s just me… There’s no one here but me,” he said softly right in my ear.
After a while, and after being sure I wouldn’t freak out again, Harry removed his body from mine, and instead he lifted me up into a tight embrace.
He kept cooing in my ear and rocking me back and forth, until my heart beat was almost normal again. I hiccupped and buried my face at his shoulder.
“Are you okay?” he asked softly still rocking me slowly back and forth in a steady rhythm.
“I think so.” I sniffed and hiccupped again. My head felt heavy.
“What happened? Do you want to talk about it?”
Why did he suddenly care? No sarcastic or mean comment for me now?
I shook my head against his shoulder. It occurred to me that my fingers were clawed, one hand into his other shoulder and the other to his shirt.
“Okay.” Was his simple answer.
After a few more minutes, he spoke again. “Do you think we should take you to the nurse?”
“No,” I sniffed. “I’m okay now. I’m fine.” I managed to un-claw myself from Harry, and with wobbly legs, I got to my feet. My head was pounding as if someone behind my frontal lobe was trying to punch his way through.
“You don’t look fine,” he stated. I recognized the slight reserved tone in his voice that hadn’t been there while he comforted me.
“I’m fine. Really,” I said shaking him off. “I probably just need to eat something.”
“I brought you a new plate with food.”
I widened my eyes a bit more than the currently were, and looked at him. “You brought me food?”
He looked a bit uncomfortable, being caught in doing something nice. “Yes I did. I put it there on the table. It’s probably still a little warm if you’re lucky.” The coolness was completely back in his tone now as it had been most of the day.
I took a step forward towards the food, which also meant a step closer to Harry.
There I noticed three scratches down his cheek, breaking the perfection of his skin. I instantly glanced down to my right hand where blood stained my finger nails.
He seemed to notice my revelation and frowned.
“I’m… I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I didn’t mean to hurt you.” Tears started flowing down my cheeks again as if someone turned on a water tap.
First Harry looked as if he wanted to dismiss it, but then he saw the tears and his face fell into one of concern.
“Hey, don’t cry again. It’s nothing, I don’t even feel it. It could’ve been much worse. Don’t worry about it,” he hushed stroking my hair over and over with one hand, and hugging me against his body with the other. It was clear that he felt extremely uncomfortable in the situation, but he had managed to comfort me more than anyone else had ever been able to. He was a natural, even though he would have been the last person I would think had that kind of hidden talent.
“I’m sorry, Curly,” I whimpered against his chest. He chuckled, the sound of it unusual and not fitted for him.
“Curly?” he asked sounding amused, still stroking my hair.
“That’s what I called you in my head before I knew your name,” I confessed, cheeks reddening a little bit. He would surely make fun of me for saying that.
Instead he just said “cute,” and chuckled again.
“I should probably eat my food before it turns icy. Cold chicken doesn’t taste so good,” I muttered.
He stopped stroking my hair and let me out of his embrace.
“Yeah you’re right. I’ll just wait… outside for you then.” He said a little hesitant.
“Why would you wait?” I asked a little puzzled. It was a weird feeling that I had been screaming at him before all this, back in the cafeteria because I felt used and a little betrayed, and he hadn’t cared about it then. But now. He was here. And he was being nice.
I really hoped it wasn’t just another trick or because he felt like he owed me or something.
“Because you don’t know you’re way to Geography,” he grinned, dimples showing in both sides of his face. The scratch marks were a little swollen now, protruding on his cheek.
I forced myself to smile too. He was right. I had no idea where Geography class was being held.
“But you don’t have to wait outside you know. You can wait in here with me while I eat,” I said and took the plate with food.
He hesitated a bit but eventually sat down on a chair across from me.
“Thank you,” I said after chewing down a mouthful of heavenly tasting mashed potatoes.
“For what?” he asked looking at the wall to his right.
“Everything. I don’t know what would’ve happened if you hadn’t found me.” I looked at him intently. He was probably the first one that hadn’t tried pushing me into talking about my past.
“And thanks. For accepting that I didn’t want to talk about what happened. Everyone always try to convince me that it’s for the best but it don’t think it is. Some things are better forgotten.” I smiled weakly at him, referring not only to the past but also to what had happened earlier in the cafeteria. I pierced a broccoli with my fork.
He didn’t answer for a while.
“I guess everyone has their demons. And from what I’ve experienced, it’s only good to talk about it if you feel like talking about it. Pushing damaged people into something that they don’t want to do is never a good idea.” He suddenly sounded very old and experienced in that matter. Lines showed underneath his eyes.
“You think I’m damaged?” I asked wearily not knowing if I wanted to know the answer.
“You’re probably just as damaged as I am,” he smiled at me and snatched a carrot from my plate.
“Hey!” I exclaimed trying to stab his fingers with my fork but failing miserably.
We ended up having a little food fight until the bell indicating that lunch break was over, rung.
“Are you done with that?” Harry asked gesturing to my plate. I nodded, feeling way better now that I had some food in my stomach and my mind was on something else than the past.
“Let’s go then,” he said and rose from his chair. He bent down to retrieve the basket we had won in Chemistry. I had completely forgotten about it. Shaking my head thinking that this was going to be a long day, I followed him out of the empty classroom and down the hallway to Geography.