Late that night, I lay awake reading in my room. I loved my room. With a big window looking out over the garden, I had a great view. The windowsill was big enough for me to sit in. My bed was one of those big ones, one you could easily lay two persons in. I had a big bookcase on one wall, filled to the brim with books, a big desk where my laptop had its home, and a closet beside the bookcase. Talking of closets, mine was wonderful. I wasn’t one of the popular girls at school, on the contrary I was one of the lowest ranking in the social hierarchy. Despite that, I liked to dress nicely. I had a love for tight jeans, sweatshirts, knitted sweaters and tops with lace or simply nice fabric. I liked wearing dresses and skirts as well, but it just felt out of place in the High School building that I detested, so on my not-lazy-weekends, you would often see me wearing dresses or skirts.
When I finally forced myself to put my book down, it was almost midnight. I knew I had fucked up. I needed my sleep to keep up in school, and school started at 8. I had to get up at 7, so I only had 7 hours to sleep in, though I really did prefer 8 or 9.
I shuffled down into the covers, tugging myself in.
That morning, I felt like wearing a dress. I didn’t know why. It was a standard, boring Tuesday in the middle of the winter, but I felt like wearing a dress. So when I opened the closet, I pulled out a midnight blue dress and found a pair of lace stockings. Putting it on, it still felt too much for school, but for once I thought ‘screw it’ and went downstairs. My mom looked happy at seeing me in a dress. She liked me wearing something else than jeans. She was dressed in a tight, black skirt that went to her knees and a blazer. Her hair was pulled back into a bun. A classic lawyer-look.
“Good morning. Did you sleep well, honey?” she asked me when I sat down at the kitchen island to exterminate my breakfast. Standard cereal. My life was pretty standard.
“Yeah, great.” I answered, pouring milk into the bowl after adding the cereal.
“You look good today,” she said, and I had to lift my eyebrow at her.
“Mom, the only thing I did was to put on a dress. My hair looks like a mess and I haven’t even brushed my teeth yet,” She just shrugged at that.
“You know I think you are beautiful no matter what,” she said. Mercifully, my brother swaggered into the kitchen.
“Good morning, lovely ladies,” he said, and now I had to face-palm. My 13 year-old brother were turning the charm up way too high for his age. He sat down next to me, reaching for the cereal.
“Why are you looking so pretty today?” he asked me, and I sent him a glance that took the most of his smile of his face. “Is it because of that guy?” he said to get back at me, most likely.
“What guy?” my mom jumped in before I even got to open my mouth. She looked at me expectantly, and I rolled my eyes.
“It’s just this guy who joined me for lunch yesterday. He had his first day at the school yesterday and didn’t know where to sit. And obviously I should not have told Arthur about this, because he cannot keep his mouth shut.” I said, and ate the rest of my breakfast while my mom and Arthur awkwardly tried to regain the conversation, but on a different subject to my great relief.
I left the kitchen for the bathroom that I shared with Arthur upstairs. It was right between our bedrooms, above the one my parents shared downstairs. Our bathroom contained a shower, and of course the toilet and sink. Above the sink were a big cabinet. My brother didn’t have much to put in it, so it was mostly filled with my stuff.
I combed my hair with the hairbrush, yanking at my head, but the curls actually controlled themselves for once, and I could leave them down. I did, however, pull the strands around my face back with a hairclip with a dark blue bow on it, the colour matching my dress.
Oh, the dress. I loved it. The sleeves were not spaghetti straps, but more broad across my shoulders, the fabric tight around my chest and belly, and filling out from my waist down. It made me look thin, too, which I did enjoy very much. But, back to the story.
I brushed my teeth and cleaned my face, and after that carefully put on my makeup. Normally I barely spent 3 minutes applying some concealer and mascara, but today I was more careful with the mascara, wanting my eyelashes long. If I were doing this dress-in-school thing, I was going to do it all-in.
I filled my schoolbag with the books I had brought home, bringing The Fault in Our Stars again. I was only missing the last 70 pages, but I hoped that I would not finish it at school. I hoped that Thomas would join me at lunch again. Before going downstairs, I grabbed a black cardigan to wear over the dress.
Covered in my winter coat, which were black and very fitting for wearing a dress, and a pair of black shoes, I opened the front door and walked out to Rusty, and waited for Arthur. I was going to drop him off at his school before going to school myself. The schools were close, so it was no problem, but I knew that he was going to ask me about Thomas.
When he finally appeared, I started the car and waited for him to sit. When his door slammed shut, I backed the car out of the driveway. As predicted, we barely left the driveway before he opened his mouth.
“So this guy… He is just your friend?” he looked at me, his head crooked toward me. I looked straight at the road, but say him in the periphery of my vision.
“Yes. Why is it such a big deal that I’m wearing a dress today? I often wear dresses in the weekends,” I said, annoyed at the interrogations. Arthur threw his hands up in defense.
“Sorry, sorry. Just asking.” He said. Silence followed. “Just watch out.” He said then, voice low.
“What do you mean?” I asked him, shortly looking away from the road to see his face.
“I mean that he is a junior, and you are a sophomore. And the current years juniors does not have a positive history with you,”
“If you think he’s going to hurt me-“
“I don’t think he is. If you are talking to him, he’s a good guy. But Melissa is not a wanted enemy.” He said, cutting me off.
We drove the rest of the way in silence, me thinking about what he had said, he just looking out of the window.
Arthur had been my best friend since we were kids. When he turned 5, he was bigger than me and stood up for me whenever someone did something that might upset me. When we got older, we started reading to each other, and now, it seemed, he was giving me old-wise-man-advice. Of course I knew that he was extremely intelligent. He had taught himself to read a bit even before he really started school, and was ahead of all his classmates in every single subject he had.
But he was right, of course. I did not want Melissa as an enemy. She could not get me down, but she could make the next year and a half hell. She had gotten older and had probably gone to more extreme forms of bullying, but I was older too. I could handle it. But if possible, I would rather not have to.
When we stopped at his school, he acted like nothing was wrong. He smiled at me, told me “see you at home,”, gave me a hug, and exited the car. I shook my head and drove on.
I was a bit early today, so when I got to the school, the parking lot was still half empty. I parked closer to the entrance, and braced myself for the cold outside my dear Rusty, then jumped out of the car and half ran down the pavement to the front doors.
I decided to just walk to the classroom already, since I had nothing else to do. So I entered the math class room as the first student and sat down at my favourite spot, the corner by the window. I pulled of my jacket and hung it on the back of my chair, dropping my bag on the floor beside the table. I pulled out my book - not the math one, just so we’re clear - and started reading.
As I was reading, a voice interrupted me, and I felt the mornings annoyance grow inside me. I raised my head to look at my intruder, only to see the tall boy with pitch black hair and icy blue eyes, and suddenly it was okay that he had interrupted me.
“Hey. You’re here early,” he said.
“Yeah, had nothing to do at home,” I answered.
“So you decided to come to school?” he raised his eyebrow, probably thinking about me telling him about my annoyance with High School yesterday.
“I have my book. It brightens the experience a little. And my brother wanted to be at school early, and I drop him off every morning,”
“Your little brother?”
“Yeah, Arthur. He’s turning 14 next month,” I said.
Thomas sat down at the chair in front of me, his chest against the back of the chair so he was facing me. “So you guys are, what… 3 years apart?”
“Yeah, close. He’s born in February, I’m from March,” I told him, shutting the book.
“And you are turning 17?” he asked. I answered with a nod. “Cool. I’m turning 19 in August,”
I felt my eyes widen in my face. “You’re that old?” I said, really surprised. Well, I was young for a sophomore, and he were a bit old for a junior, so it made sense. It just seemed like a lot older than me. He grinned at my stunned expression.
“You thought I were younger?”
“Yeah, like, maybe turning 18 soon. Not that you look young, I just didn’t expect you to be that much older than me,”
“Does it matter? We can still be friends despite the age gap, you know,” he said, smiling at me. I couldn’t help but smile back. I wasn’t the only one who felt like this could become a great friendship.
“No, it doesn’t matter. It’s fine,” I said. Then he gave me an extra look, you know, the classic one the boys do, looking from your head to your toe. I leaned back in the chair and crossed my arms, a bit embarrassed.
“You look good today.” He told me. I lifted an eyebrow.
“So I didn’t look good yesterday?” I asked, teasing clear in my voice.
“Of course you did. But you look good in a dress,” he said, winking at me. “I better get to class. See you at lunch?”
“Yeah, see you,” and with that, he got up and left the room. Well, I’ll be damned if I didn’t get a friend.
Math passed, biology passed, and I made it through physics without falling asleep. At lunch time, I made my way through the over-crowded halls to the cafeteria and stood in line to get my food. Today they had gone vegetarian on us, with some sort of vegetable porridge, an apple, and a bottle of water. I sat down at my usual table, feeling awkward in my dress. I had barely been sitting down for 2 minutes when I saw Thomas walking towards me.
“Hey,” I said when he put his tray down at the table.
“Hey. Did you have fun in class?”
“Good no. Math, biology and physics will be the death of me. If one day I do not show up for lunch, you’ll know why,” I said, making him laugh. He sat down opposite of me and took a careful bite of the porridge. He chewed slowly (though there wasn’t much to chew) and then nodded.
“This is okay. Not as bad as yesterday,” I nodded in agreement. I looked around, having the feeling that we were being watched. I was right. From the junior table, Melissa and her gang of girls were sending us looks that might kill. I smiled sweetly at them when they saw me looking, and turned my head.
“I don’t get girls like those,” Thomas said in a low voice. “So mean. Wanting to be in control of everybody around them,”
“It’s just the way they work, I think,” I replied, not looking at them again. “You said you weren’t the only one who enjoyed reading?” I asked, changing the subject. His expression changed from one of irritation to something more easy-going. A smile even plastered his face again. He smiled a lot.
“I did, indeed.” He said, chopping at the porridge with his spoon. “I love the Lord of the Rings.”
And so, we were talking books. The conversation lasted until there was only ten minutes left of the break, and I had to leave for the ladies room.
“I was thinking, you know. I barely know the town. Would you like to give me a tour after school today?” he asked me after I had gathered my things. I crooked my head. It would be nice to spend time with someone other than my brother after school. So I nodded.
“Yeah, that could be fun. Is English your last class?”
“Yup. I’ll see you then,” he said, giving me a smile that made my stomach twirl.
“See you,” I managed to say, before I turned to leave. At the door, I left the tray at wagon.
When I finished my business in the stall, I went out to wash my hands. At the same time I left my stall, the door to the hall opened and a bunch of girls walked in. Melissa was in front. She stopped when she saw me, and a grim smile crossed her face.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the little Curly,” she said, making her gang laugh. I felt a tiny knot of fear in my chest, but I didn’t show it.
“I guess it is,” I said, walking to the sink and turn the tab on, wetting my hands. Someone grabbed my upper arm.
“Hey, focus here, my friend,” the girl who had grabbed me said. She was standing next to me. I didn’t know her that well. She was a junior like Melissa, though not a blonde, more like a brunette. I looked up at her.
“Let go of me,” I said, making my voice as threatening as I could. Her haughty look faltered a little, but she quickly regained it. The odds were against me, since I was being outnumbered 1 to 7 or something. I quickly counted. Nope, 8. 2 blondes except for Melissa, a redhead and 4 brunettes or somewhere in between brunette and blonde. The odds were certainly not in my favour. (Yes, I had read The Hunger Games too. Amazing story)
“I told you yesterday,” Melissa started saying, my eyes falling on her, looking hard at her. “That you should stay away from the new boy-“
“Thomas,” I interrupted. “His name is Thomas, and if you want any chance of getting with him, you should say his name, not call him ‘new boy’,” I almost spat the words out. I knew I was in trouble here. Especially when I heard the lock to the bathroom click behind the group.
Melissa threw her hair behind her shoulder with an elegant motion of her head. “Whatever,” she said, trying to seem unmoved by my words. “I told you to stay away from him. I see that you didn’t quite understand what I was telling you,” she stepped closer to me, and at the same time, the girl who held onto my arm swung her free hand back, before hitting me head on the side of the head with her fist. The hit by the football yesterday hadn’t caused much damage, I barely had a headache afterwards, but this blow stirred something in me, and my head started hurting like hell immediately. My vision went black and I felt like I was floating for a minute, then someone squealed, and something pulled at my arm. When I could focus again, the only thing that held me standing were the hand around my arm. Melissa had backed up a step, and looked at me with a twist of horror in her eyes.
“You better remember this,” she said, before turning around and disappearing between the girls behind her. I head the lock click open and I heard it open. Then I was alone, and the door slammed. I held on tight to the sink. My bag and coat had fallen of my shoulder onto the floor, but I didn’t care just then. My head was throbbing like a train was driving around inside my skull, and I felt nauseous. Taking deep breaths, I slowly regained my sense of time, and the world stopped spinning. Slowly I reached down for my bag and grabbed it, heaving it onto my shoulder. My coat in my arms, I slowly left the bathroom and made my way to the classroom where I had Latin.
It was terrible. My head was spinning, throbbing, hurting and burning, all at once. I considered myself lucky for not passing out. I had a theory that the combination of the two blows might have given me a concussion. So when Latin ended and I could - slowly - leave the room, I was a pathetic sight. Thomas was already there when I got to the classroom. He gave me one look and saw that something was wrong. He got up from the chair he was sitting on and grabbed me by my elbow. “What’s wrong?” he asked me. I just held up my hand. I couldn’t walk and talk at the same time. When he got me to the chair beside his, I sat down heavily, my breathing ragged. It felt like a bunch of dwarfs were knocking on my skull with hammers. Again he asked me what happened, and I wondered whether or not I should tell him. But I was too fussy to make up a fake story, so I ended up telling him about the girls in the bathroom.
When I finished talking, he looked like he was filled with rage.
“That stupid bitch! What the hell does she think she’s doing?” he spat into the space in front of him. I was sitting with my head in my hands, wanting to be asleep in my bed. “She can’t just go around smashing people up when they do things that she does not like,”
His rambling was cut off by Mrs Mason when she entered the room. But even English was terrible to get through, so at the end of the lesson, I asked Thomas if he minded if I just went home today.
“I’ll drive you home,” he said
“What about my car, then?”
“I can pick you up for school tomorrow so you can drive it home tomorrow,”
I was relieved at the thought of not having to drive. I was afraid of passing out on the road. So I nodded and followed him out of the classroom, slowly, and we walked to his car. He held the passengers door open for me and shut it when I sat down inside. He walked around the car, a big, black Chevrolet (nothing like my old Rusty) and jumped into the driver’s seat.
He pulled out of the parking lot, and I gave him directions to my house.
“Are you sure that you’re okay? I could call my dad to take a look at you, just to be sure that nothing is wrong,” Thomas said at one point, halfway home. I shrugged.
“I’m fine. I’m going to bed early tonight, and I’ll be ready for some more school and a tour of the town,” I said, trying to smile. He looked at me worryingly. For a few seconds he didn’t say anything.
“I’m going to talk to that Melissa. Tell her to stay the hell away from you and mind her own business, or she’ll have the police on her back,” he said through gritted teeth.
“No!” I said, loudly enough for him to look at me. “I can handle this myself. You are not going to do anything. That means that I have lost,” I said, looking through the wind shield. The car was quiet. “Turn to the left here,” I told him lowly. He turned. We were almost home.
“Nothing good comes from a cat fight, Ellie,” he said, voice low. My stomach twirled. It was the first time he said my name. “If you don’t want me to talk to her, I won’t. But you have to promise me that you will be careful. I mean…” he stopped in front of my house, turning the engine off. He was quiet for a few seconds, searching for words. “She is doing this because you spend time with me. Because you are not alone and vulnerable anymore, or just because she is bored and got an excuse. But nonetheless, it is because of me. And I can’t let you get hurt by some stupid girl because I hang out with you,” I looked at him, frowning. My head felt better now, but surely not good. I had trouble understanding what he was saying.
“What do you mean?” I asked him, talking as quietly as he did.
“I mean that I cannot just watch from the side-line while she beats you blue and black.” He looked at me, turning in his seat. “You are the only one in this entire town who did not greet me with an attitude. The only one who has been genuinely nice to me. Normally I would always stand up for someone in this situation, but it makes me want to scream because I am the cause of this.” He said, his voice growing in power. He really was angry about it. I put a hand on his arm.
“Hey. I’m fine. I’m tough. I can handle it. If you’re present when she tries anything, I will not stop you from going at her. I wouldn’t mind yanking on that stupidly straight blonde hair myself,” I said, trying to make him calm down. He eased up a little, sending me a tiny smile.
“Can I have your number so that I can text you when I’m here tomorrow?” he asked. I gave him my number, thanked him for the drive home, and left the car.
As I walked, I heard him turn the engine back on, and then the sound moved away. When I got to the door, I looked back and saw the black car turning the corner and driving out of sight.