"The Third World War began in 3032," my history teacher's voice booms throughout the classroom and travels all the way to where I am sitting at the back seat. Not everyone is paying attention; a few students are napping in their seats with their heads hanging back or pressed against the table, some entertain themselves by making paper airplanes or doodling in their copies and others pass notes to each other.
A breeze passes in through the open row of windows, which is a relief, because the sun in baking us all like pastry in an oven and there is no ventilation. I blow away a stray strand of hair from my warm forehead and swipe away the sweat with my palm.
For some reason, I can't focus in on the lesson as I usually do. I tend to be interested no matter what, but today, since morning, nothing falls into its usual place. Furrowing my eyebrows, I try to listen to what Miss Neilson is explaining.
She is a tall and lanky woman with skeletal arms that seem to be longer than her legs. Her hair is ash grey and always in a plat and her eyes are hidden by round blue glasses. She paces along the rows of students, not really bothering to make people focus or listen, because the system has changed. Now, the teacher only has to deliver the information and test you, because there's no use in wasting time on forcing someone to do something they don't want to do.
From the side, I can see Oscar glaring at me in a lethal way. He's still angry at me for embarrassing him in front of Amitra, but he'll get over it soon. Oscar never stays angry for too long, it's just not in his character. He's too good-natured.
I give him a smile; a sign of truce, but all he does is flick a paper ball at me. Scowling, I stick out my tongue and go back to doodling on my copy. I keep drawing the same thing and it's starting to get me worried.
I draw it in the same place over and over again, until the paper tears under the sharp tip of the pen. I jerk my hand to the side, leaving a slash and breathe slowly, my heart beating faster than usual.
What is happening to me? Chuckling under my breath nervously, but quietly, I run a hand through my hair. The heat of the sun seems to have gone hotter by the second and now I am sweating so much, I feel like I am standing under a waterfall.
Faintly, I can hear a soft buzz in my ear...then it magnifies and gets louder and louder, until the noise nearly makes me deaf. The sounds are so painful that it's all I can do not to yell out in pain. I grip the side of the table and clench the pen tightly in my hand, but it snaps the moment I grip it. The plastic crumbles under my hand and clatters to the table.
All the noises around me drift and find their way into my ear, echoing like thunder. People breathing is a knife slicing the air, paper shuffling and chairs moving are two cliffs breaking off into the sea, my teacher's voice is a hammer in my ear and the clock is thunder.
I grit my teeth and clench the table even harder, as if all the pain and noise will pass form my body to it. I can't breathe, because I feel like I have been punched in the stomach and the air has been sucked out by a vacuum cleaner. My heart is almost breaking my ribs and beads of sweat roll down my temples.
I will the time to go faster, so that it can all be over, but it's as if the clock is being slowed down on purpose to torture me.
"Tor," a whisper comes from my left and I snap my head sideways so fast that I barely blinked. Oscar's face is in a confused expression and his eyes are wide asking me what is going on with me. I shake my head, tying to force a smile, but it dies half-way.
The teacher drones on about the war and how our founders rebuilt the world, dividing society into Three Sectors. I clench my eyes so tight that I think my eyeballs have been compressed. I take a deep breath and almost...almost the sounds disappear, slowly, but almost.
And then in that moment, when everything was ceasing to hurt, the bell goes off like a gong in my ear.
I can't help it and scream out, causing every single person in the class to turn around and ogle at me. Even the teacher stops mid-way in her speech and looks at me, confused. I murmur a very rushed sorry and scramble for my books, shoving them into my backpack carelessly.
Before anyone can talk to me or before Oscar stops me, I fly out of the classroom and run through the corridors, trying to reach the exit as fast as I can. I skid on the polished floors, nearly flying into walls at corners and toppling down the stairs.
People begin to move through the hallway and I have to push through crowds to keep going. Some shout in agitation, others growl and give me disapproving looks, but I shout an insincere apology that is drowned in the chatter around me.
Panting and breathing heavily, I get to the exit in surprising speed. It's better if I am out of the building before all the chaos erupts and the noise will kill me. Still, I can hear girls shrieking in laughter, boys yelling and joking with one another, lockers opened and closed, doors being slammed. It's agonising.
I push the double doors so hard with my hands that when they open, the glass nearly shatters against the concrete wall. I flinch, but keep going. I need to get out of here.
Hopping down the concrete steps, I take three at a time and somehow manage to do it with amazing agility. The sun is brighter and hotter than ever, sizzling my skin and layering me in sweat.
Somewhere in the distance, I hear Oscar call out my name, but I block him out, running to the car park. The cars zoom by me in a blur and everything is all one big mesh. Too many voices, too many colours, too much energy.
I feel like I will throw up. My stomach twists and my head throbs in pain. I gasp huge chunks of air, but it only scathes my throat. Doubling over, I feel tears stinging my eyes. I want to know what's going on. Everything is so confusing and I don't understand what's wrong with me.
All I want is to collapse right here on the concrete and drown in oblivion. Why can't it be that easy? Why can't I switch off whenever I feel like it?
I hear people beginning to exit the school, feet pounding the concrete and voices booming from every direction. I start to panic again and look around in a frantic way. Please no. Please make it stop. Why this torture?
I let out a groan and run for the iron gates. I can't face Oscar or Prue or Amitra right now. I need to be alone.
Just as I am about to run past the iron bars, a motorcycle swoops in front of me and I almost laugh hysterically at the way things keep on getting worse and worse by the minute.
The jet black motorcycle is too familiar and I am not even surprised to see who sits on it. Hugo, cocking his head to the side, winks at me and a wide grin spreads across his unshaved face. The tips of his hair ignite in gold from the sun and spread downwards in blue dye.
"Torrance!" he booms, but I yelp in pain, "Good to see you, my friend!" he flings out his arms, motioning for a hug, but I make a confused face and scowl, "Aw, Sparky. Come on! I thought we were buddies again?" he pouts, but I roll my eyes and scoot further away.
"Call me that one more time-" I say through my teeth and pinch the bridge of my nose.
"What are you going to do? Date me?" he lets out a hearty laugh. I don't if I'm so annoyed at him, because of yesterday or because my emotions seem to be multiplied by ten times. I thwack his arm with my fist and he yelps out in surprise.
Wide-eyed, he rubs his arm and shoots me a look, "What the heck?" he growls angrily. I stand amazed at what is happening. It hurt? I didn't even think it would, "When did you get so strong?"
Suddenly, I hear a loud squeal that pierces my ears and I barely turn around when a pink dress flies by me, knocking me to the ground. Scowling, I get up and brush myself down. Somehow, Hugo managed to get me distracted from all the sounds. I am glad for that and this is something I will never admit to him.
Amitra collides into Hugo and their lips smash together in a passionate kiss. I look away, disgusted. It looks like his saliva is all over her mouth. It's gross.
"Quite a scene, eh?" I hear a familiar voice and I know who it is even before I turn around. An arm is slung over my shoulder and I get the whiff of coffee beans and burnt matches.The boy form the race is here and that makes me panic even more. I feel a lump in my throat and it threatens to take over.
He winks at me, his eye lashes flutter and a crooked smile is plastered on his face. Now that he is so close and that it's not dark, I can see that his temple has a faint scar coming down and curling around his jawline. It's not too visible, but it's there. I wonder where he got that from. Probably a fight or something.
I shrug him off and cross my arms over my chest, giving him a stern look. He doesn't seem to even notice and lets out a loud whistle.
Amitra and Hugo break away, clearly confused at what just happened. Hugo looks like he could kill the boy and Amitra is blushing so much, she matches her dress.
The boy lets out a laugh, "Kids, keep it clean. We're at a school, if you didn't notice," He wears the same leather jacket as before, but his jeans are faded and the black boots are replaced by a very worn down pair of Chucks. Hugo scoffs and runs a hand through his spiky hair.
"Not that you ever cared about school," he grumbles angrily and slides off the seat, putting his arm around his girlfriend, "Ambrose," he hisses.
Ambrose. It's familiar...then, I remember. That night, during the race, there were banners with that name. It must be his last name.
"Hue, I never cared about anything," the boy lets out a hoot and shoves his hands into the pockets of his jeans, "Except my bike,"
Hugo only looks away, giving up and sighs heavily, "Rain on my parade. I think Torrance is having a bad influence on you, my friend," he grumbles.
I look at the boy, pulling a stern face and narrow my eyes, "What do you want?" my voice is thin, without feeling.
he kicks the dirt and stretches his arms, purposely taking his time. Anger bubbles up inside of me and he can see it. I will rip his head off if he winks one more time.
"Can't I be a good person escort my friend to see his beloved?" he says, "It's not against the rules,"
"What do you need?" I hiss again. He raises one eyebrow and reaches for something in the pocket of his jacket. He pulls out a packet of cigarettes and props one up in between his lips. Then, he pats himself, looking for a lighter no doubt.
Irritated, I march up to him and snatch the cigarette away from his mouth, flinging it onto the pavement. His lips part in surprise and he closes his eyes, the corners of his mouth quirking up.
"Goldilocks...." he sighs, "Now you owe me two things,"
I am dumbfounded. I owe him? For nearly killing me or for making fun of me? Anger fills up in me and I want to slap him so much. I clench my hands into fists and purse my lips.
"My favourite bike is now chilling with the fish and the seaweed because of you and I regret saving you now. The bike didn't talk, had no ugly scowls and agreed with me on everything," he paces around me. I follow his gaze, but then I look to the ground, hoping he won't mention the real problem.
"What are you saying?" I hiss. I can see from the corner of my eye, Amitra watches us intently, chewing on her red nail, while Hugo cleans the mud off the soles of his boots with a stick.
"Well, you weighed just the same, I mean the bike probably would have been easier to lift-" he starts, only to be cut off by Amitra. She sucks in a breath and her eyes narrow.
I pale and sway on the spot. He knows. He remembers. He can now use it to his advantage. What was I thinking? Of course he'd come looking for me! I just need to play it calm and pretend I don't have a clue about anything. I hope it will be enough. For now.
"Are you calling her fat?" Amitra shrieks, causing Hugo to look up. Leave it to Amitra to pick out the most irrelevant information. Her cheeks are flushed and she has that stink-eye look. I can't help but chuckle under my breath.
"Well, if you look at it that way," the boy gestures with his hand, "But she knows what I mean," he looks over to me, a serious look overtaking his face. My thoughts cloud over and I bite my lip, looking to the floor.
"Listen...whatever your name is," I start, but he cuts me off.
"I'm Julian," he puts in, still serious, but his voice is light and soft, "Julian Ambrose,"
"Well, Julian," I emphasise the name, "I don't know what your point is and what you expect me to do. I don't have time for this and I really need to go," I begin to turn around at the same time as I speak, hoping to distract him, but he's not stupid and he grabs my arm, leaning in close.
"I know what you are, Torrance," he whispers ever so quietly, making Hugo and Amitra crane their heads together to try and listen in, but they are out of earshot, "Don't think I'm a fool, because I know more than you,"
I tug back my arm, with a sinking feeling rising in my chest and nervously my hands begin to shake. I look at him for a few seconds, my forehead creasing over. His eyes are so intense and full of forcefulness that for the first time in my life, I feel intimidated.
I am trying to think of what to say, when I hear my name being called. Oscar stands at the iron gates, the twins giggling and screeching behind him. His face is flushed in anger, no doubt because of Hugo.
I stammer a lame goodbye and look to the pavement, trying to avoid eye contact with everyone.