I swung the car into the parking lot and found an empty stall. I shut down the engine and open the door. The cold slammed into me and I shivered. I quickly hopped out and half-way ran to the entrance of the building.
Inside, the hallway was packed with students and teachers, milling about, talking and laughing and yelling. I walked toward the classroom where I always had math. I unzipped my jacket. The many bodies and the ventilation system had heated the school up.
Then I saw him. Standing beside the door to the classroom, his tall figure was tower-ing over most of the other people here. My heart skipped a beat and my stomach lurched. Then he looked up from, presumably from his phone, and he caught my eye. I felt heat in my cheeks and a smile stretching across my face as he smiled at me. I walked toward him, straight into his open arms. His hand pressed lightly at my lower back, my bag only swung over my right shoulder. I allowed myself to close my eyes for 3 seconds, and then I opened them and drew back. He looked at me with those gorgeous blue eyes.
“Hey,” he said, his voice low. It felt too intimate for a high school hallway.
“Hi,” I said back. “Shouldn’t you go to class?” I smiled at him. All those things I thought last night seemed so stupid then. Of course it was for real. If it wasn’t he wouldn’t be looking at me like that, like I was the only thing to look at. I blush under his gaze. Gosh, I blushed way too much lately.
“Still have ten minutes until class starts,” he said. “so I thought that I would start the day in the best possible way.” I smiled at him, and then he leaned down and pressed his lips to my forehead. My smile broadened and I grabbed his hand and laced my fingers in between his. He stayed there for a little while before straightening up, long enough for a few people to turn around and stare at us, but I didn’t care. I had never felt so happy before.
When he did draw back, he smiled at me. “I’ll see you at lunch, right?” he asked, and I nodded. I felt eyes on us, and on impulse, I stood on my tiptoes and pressed my lips to his cheekbone. Then I squeezed his hand and let go, entering the classroom. As I walked toward the usual seat, I smiled down at my shoes. I felt like dancing, but there were people in the room. I was going to wait with that.
Just like it had last week, the lessons before lunch dragged themselves toward lunch, way too slowly. When the bell finally chimed at us, I got up and gathered my things in a flash, halfway ran to the cafeteria. Lunch was sandwiches that day - I got myself one with chicken, bacon and curry, and went to sit and wait for Thomas.
I didn’t have to wait long. I had only been siting for a short while before he sat down next to me, grabbing my hand on the table.
“Hey. Did you have fun?” he asked me, grinning.
“Are you going to ask that every lunch break? You know that I’m not into the sciences. One day I won’t show up for lunch because something blew up in my face in physics.” I answered, and he laughed. He let go of my hand to take a bite of his sandwich.
“They must have gotten this from outside,” he said when he finished chewing. “This is delicious.” I laughed at him.
“You’re right. They are good.” I said, taking a bite myself. Then he raised his hand and pushed a few of my curls behind my ear. He was looking at me. I turned my head and met his eyes. His index finger touched my cheek gently before his hand fell away again. Once more, I felt my cheeks heat up and I looked down. I could hear him laugh a little at me.
“You’re adorable, you know that, right?” he says. He wrapped his arms around me and I looked up at him, not able to hold the smile back. I wrapped my own arm around his waist. Our legs were touching, and he kissed my forehead again. It was fine to me that we didn’t kiss in public. At least not yet. Nose and forehead and all that, I could handle, but lip on lip was still a little too intense.
I closed my eyes and smiled. “You’re one to talk.” I whispered at him, and I could feel his lips curl up. He removed the arm around my front, but the other one was still holding me close. He grabbed his sandwich and took a bite.
“So what exactly will happen tonight?” he asked me, looking down at me. I held a finger up to have him wait until I swallowed the sandwich I just but in my mouth.
“Dinner. Interrogation. The traditional.” I said, smiling innocently at him. He smile and poke my side.
“Okay. I can handle that. I’ll put on my good-guy shirt and comb my hair ‘till it shines. That about right?” we both broke out laughing.
“Perfect,” I choked out through laughter. He squeezed me lightly to him.
We finished our sandwiches. We still had 40 minutes left until classes would begin.
“You have Physical Education today, right?” he asked. I nodded. “Do you want me to stay? You know, in case Melissa shows up or something?”
“No, I’ll be fine. I think she’ll wait a little longer, plan a bit more. She isn’t quite as stupid as she seems.” I said, voice low. I didn’t want anyone listening in on us. Faces had turned our way since we sat down, I felt like I was being watched at all times. I tried to shut them out.
Thomas raised his eyebrow at me.
“I’m serious. I’ll be fine.” I said, running my thumb across his back. I never moved the arm I had around him.
“Okay. But if you get yourself into trouble, you’ll have me to deal with,” he said, a fake-serious look on his face. I laughed again. It felt good to laugh that much.
“Deal.” I said.
“Do you want to go somewhere else? I feel like everybody is starring at us.” Thomas whispered in my ear, and I nodded. We got up and got our things. We walked down the hallways hand in hand and ended up at the library again. We sat down by a table inside.
“This is much nicer. Quiet.” Thomas said. I nodded again. The pressure at my chest did not lift, though. It still felt like something was pushing against me, restricting my heart from beating properly. “Are you okay?” he asked me. He was frowning, and I realised that my breathing had become heavy and ragged.
“Yeah, I think so. I’m probably just uncomfortable with all those people starring at us. Have we just become High School celebrities or something?” I wondered, frowning myself.
“Might be. It’s not every day that you see people stand up to girls like Melissa,” he said, but even though he would normally have smirked at such a comment, he didn’t. “You hand is cold. Are you sure you’re okay?” he asked again, fitting his free hand on my forehead. I watched him. “You don’t have a fever,” he said, letting his hand fall. He grabbed my free hand and collected them, so he has holding both of my hands with both of his on the table.
“Really, I’m just feeling uncomfortable. I’m not used to being noticed at all, and now I seem to attract people’s eyes,” I tried to reassure him, but I wasn’t really that sure. I was thinking of last night, the pressure that also had restrained my chest. I thought about all the times my heart had skipped a beat. I looked down at our joined hands, frowning. I had dismissed all those things as nervousness, but could there be more to it? No, there couldn’t. I was just being paranoid. I pushed the thought away.
We spent the rest of the break just doing small talk. When the bell called us to class, we separated and met again at English. Thomas did a lot of talking during that lesson, all the while eyeing me worriedly. I felt out of place, constricted, like I was trying to fit into a small space between two walls. He grabbed my arm outside the classroom.
“Hey, you’re not fine. Are you sure I should come over tonight? You don’t need to just stay in bed?” he said. He sounded so worried that it pierced my heart, though not literary, of course.
“I want to see you tonight. I need to go to P.E. now, though. I promise you I’ll be fine. I’ll see you.” I said, going up on my tiptoes, kissing his cheek. The I turned and walked off toward the changing rooms.
I was a little dizzy during P.E. It wasn’t bad, but I was really looking forward to go home and shower. By the time I had changed back into my jeans and cardigan, I was tired and my muscles were aching, though I hadn’t done much, really. But what little I had done had exhausted me. I drove home in a daze, parked the car, and walked straight to my room. I could hear my mom walking about in the kitchen. Arthur was still at practice, and my dad probably at work. I grabbed clean underwear, a black skirt that reached to just above my knees, and a dark red shirt with sleeves reaching to my elbow. Black leggings with lace woven into the fabric. I went to the bathroom and locked the door. I stripped out of my clothing and stepped into the shower, turning up the warm water.
The heat helped. It loosened my muscles. I only had a little more than an hour before Thomas would be here, and I wanted to be better by then, to stop his worrying.
The pressure on my chest lifted and I felt like I was breathing freely for the first time. I closed my eyes as I shampooed my hair. I used soap with a raspberryish smell on my skin, and conditioner in my hair. When I finally turned the water off, I felt new and healthy again. I quickly dried up and got dressed. I ran a brush through my hair, which was an easy task thanks to the conditioner. I applied my usual makeup and pinned my bangs to the side of my head with two bobby pins. Then I ran to my room and cleaned up. Books back into the bookshelf, school stuff in a pile on one side of my desk. I made my bed nicely and opened the window for one minute to get some fresh air inside. Then I had half an hour left until Thomas would get here. I sat down by my computer. Maria was online on facebook, so I messaged her. I needed to talk to someone about this Thomas-thing.
Eliza: Hey, you there?
She replied immediately.
Maria: Sure is. What is up?
Eliza: I need to girl-talk.
Maria: OMG what happened?!?!?!?!
I smiled to myself. I could always count on Maria to be a real teenage girl, but one that I really liked.
Eliza: A new guy started at school… at sat down with me.
Maria: What?! Tell me everything, now, hurry!
Eliza: We became friends in a day. He continued to sit down with me during breaks. He is also in my English class.
Maria: When did he start at Orlay High?
Eliza: Last Monday. I know this sounds completely crazy, but he is coming over in 20 minutes to meet my parents…
Maria: ARE YOU GUYS A THING?!? LIKE, A THING-THING?!?!
Eliza: I think so. He stood up to Melissa in front of the entire school when she tried to get to me, and he kissed me yesterday, and more times than I can count today. Like, yesterday lip-on-lip acting, today at school we stuck to cheeks and such.
Maria: OMG El! This is amazing! I am so sad that I can’t meet him. What is his name?
Eliza: Thomas Martin.
One minute went by without reply, she was probably stalking his facebook profile like a true teenager. The time said ten minutes to six. My stomach was alive with butterflies. Then my computer beeped.
Maria: El, he is SMOKING hot! How did you manage that?
Eliza: No idea, it sorta just happened.
Maria: So, do you like him? Gosh, I’d wish I could sit right in front of you right now.
Eliza: I do. He is surreal, Maria, I feel like I am fangirling over a nonfictional person.
Maria: Hun, you are in love. OMG I want to be with you right now!!
Yes, I was very much in love. I thought about his lips. I hoped that he would kiss me that night. Like, kiss my lips, not my forehead. Well, my forehead too. I couldn’t get enough of him.
Eliza: I wish you were here. But I have to go now, he could get here any minute. See you!
Maria: See you, and good luck! Say hi to him and your parents and Art from me!
I closed my laptop. I went to the mirror. Thankfully, my hair was almost dry by then, and my curls were framing my face nicely. I scooped non-existent dust from my skirt with my palm. Then I left my room and went downstairs. My mom was in the kitchen, wearing a black dress, covered by an apron. Arthur was doing the table. My dad emerged from the bedroom the same time I went down the stairs. I grabbed five glasses and put them on the table. I felt slightly sweaty.
Then the doorbell rang. I half jumped half ran to the door. Before opening it, I took a deep breath and swallowed. Then I grabbed the handle and opened the door.
Thomas was standing outside, his hands in his pockets. I could see the edge of the collar of his button-down shirt. He smiled at me. I stepped aside to let him inside. He looked around the hallway as he shrugged his jacket off. I closed the door behind him. After he put his jacket on a hanger, he turned to me and gave me a hug. I felt my insides heating up.
“Hello there,” he whispered in my ear. I smiled.
“Hi handsome.” I said, wanting to compliment him the same way he did me. It seemed to work - a grin spread across his face. Then Arthur walked in.
“Hey man. Good to see you,” he said, as if they were friends or something. I lifted my eyebrow at him as he shook hands with Thomas. He ignored me completely. “Dad is acting like this is a crime scene, so be prepared for the worst.” He told Thomas, winking at him. I think I saw Thomas grow a little pale, but I might have been imagining it, because it only lasted a second. Together we walked into the kitchen where my mom and dad were preparing the last part of dinner. My mom turned around with a big smile.
“Hello Thomas. It is so nice to meet you.” She said, shaking his hand. Thomas smiled politely and charmingly at her.
“Hello Mrs. Roberts. I’m also very pleased to meet you.” He replied, ever the gentleman. My dad turned around and gave him the elevator look, judging and condescending.
“Jason.” My mom said, a warning in her voice. I wanted to slam my head into the wall. Eventually my dad stretched his hand to Thomas.
“Sir,” said Thomas, bowing his head ever the slightest toward my dad. He looked surprised at the courtesy Thomas showed him - but it seemed to make him ease up.
“There’s no need for sir’s, boy. You can call us Lisa and Jason.” He said, his voice soft to make up for the harsh ‘boy’. Thomas smiled at him as if he didn’t notice.
“Thank you. It is a wonderful house, if I may.” He said, looking around in the kitchen. Through the double doors in the other end of the room, he could look into the dining room, with dark furniture and a rather big chandelier above the table.
“Eliza, sweetie, could you give Thomas a tour around the house? Arthur, help with the salad, will you?”
“Sure,” I said immediately, grabbing Thomas by the wrist, pulling him from the kitchen. He laughed when we were back in the hallway.
“I like your family. They seem really nice.” He said. I rolled my eyes.
“Sure, if you like to be in the middle of an interrogation.” He stopped me by the foot of the staircase.
“Hey. Are you feeling better?” he asked me. I nodded.
“Yeah. I took a shower, and the hot water really helped. I think I was just tense. I got better as soon as my muscles relaxed.”
“Good.” He said. “Now you may play tour guide.” He smiled at me. I smiled back, and changed my grip around his wrist to fitting my fingers in between his. We walked up the stairs together. We passed my room first, and I went inside, pulling he with me.
“This is my room.” I tell him awkwardly. He doesn’t respond. He is looking around the room, his eyes lingering at the wall that is plastered with pictures. He lets go of my hand and walks over to stand in front of it.
The wall was bare except for the pictures. The rest of my room was big enough to hold bed, desk, bookshelves and closet. I had more than 50 pictures framed on that one wall. Many of them were Maria and I before we started High School. Others were Arthur and me, playing in the garden as kids, watching movies together when we were older. There was one from when I was 6 and Arthur 4, where we were sleeping together on the sofa, me holding him in my arms underneath a home knitted quilt we got from my grandmother before she passed away.
Having Thomas standing there, looking at my life and my past, I felt exposed in a way. I folded my hands in front of my skirt, waiting for a response. His arms were hanging down beside his body, his black hair slightly messy. Little did I know that my future was standing right in front of my past.
He turned around and smiled at me. I smiled back. He walks back to me.
“You have always been cute,” he told me as he laced his fingers with mine, drawing me close. “Now you’re beautiful on top of it. Lucky you.” He pressed his lips to my forehead like he did in school. I closed my eyes, allowing myself to fully enjoy that one moment.
Then Arthur yells from downstairs that dinner is ready, and we break apart, going back downstairs.
As we ate, my dad calmed down and my mom acted like the perfect hostess. Arthur and Thomas seemed to get along really well, and I felt myself smile through pretty much the entire meal.
“So, Thomas, what do you do outside of school?” my mother asked him.
“I used to play soccer at my old school. I was pretty decent, but it wasn’t like it was all I could talk about. I like it in the moment and that was kind of it. They don’t have a soccer team here at Orlay High, though. I would like to start again,” he replied, his tone friendly. He sat beside me, with Arthur across from him. My mom sat across from me, and my dad at the end of the table.
“You played soccer?” Arthur said, looking at Thomas wonderingly. “I wouldn’t have thought that. You don’t look like the usual sports jocks.”
“You’re one to talk,” I said, smirking at him. “You play soccer, you certainly do not look the part.”
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” Arthur said, fake hurt in his voice. “I’m totally like that. Big-ass muscles and all that.”
“Arthur, language.” My dad reminded him, starring at his plate as he was cutting his meat. Arthur crooked is head and looked at my dad through the corner of his eye, like he really couldn’t be serious. Thomas and I looked at each other and tried to stifle our laughs.
When my parents excused us, Thomas followed me to my room. Inside, he looked briefly at the wall with all the pictures again, before he turned to my bookcase instead. He looked at all the titles in turn, running his index finger across the backs of the books. I sat down in my armchair, curling my legs underneath me, looking at him. His back ached slightly as he bend down to read the titles. His hair, looking darker as the light faded from the sky, were fluffy and messy. The light from my chandelier reflected in his eyes. His brows were slightly creased over his nose. The blue and white small-plaited button down shirt made the blue in his eyes step forward, giving them the same colour as a summer sky. His profile was so beautiful it took my breath away. He looked strong and vulnerable at the same time, strong cheekbones but otherwise rather soft features. My stomach was tickling as the butterflies came back to life. Then he turned his head as if he knew that I was staring at him like some freaky creeper. But all he did was smile at me and slowly walk over to the armchair, sitting down on the armrest. He placed his hand on my neck, sliding it under my hair. He caressed the side of my neck gentle with his thumb. I felt heat rushing under my skin where he touched me. Then he used his hand to tilt my face up, and he leaned down, and finally, finally, my lips met his again. Heat rushed through my body as my own hand reached up and laced itself around his waist. His other hand wrapped around my waist and he pulled me to him, as much as you can when one of you are sitting in an armchair and the other on the armrest. It felt awkward and comical but also really, really nice. I laughed under his lips, and that made him laugh - and suddenly we were sitting there, our faces so close that they were almost touching but not quite, and laughing lowly at each other and ourselves.
Then he gently pressed his forehead to mine and closed his eyes. I closed my own eyes.
“This is madness, Ellie,” he whispered. I could hear the smile in his voice. It made his voice sound slightly more muffled, like he could barely talk without starting to laugh.
“I agree completely. I’m not sure what you are calling madness, but I agree.” I said, barely able to contain my own smile.
That did make him laugh, though it was a low, intimate laugh, like we were sharing a secret together. It made the butterflies go crazy.
“Everything, I guess. I don’t really know what exactly, or what isn’t madness. I sound like I’m the one who’s mad, don’t I?” he said, and I opened my eyes to look at him. I leaned back slightly. Then I raised my hand, and gentle pushed a few strands of his hair to the side, my heart thumbing at my ribcage.
“No. You sound totally amazing.” I told him, and a smile formed on his face, the dimple showing on his cheek. Then I grabbed his face gently and pulled his face toward me, crushing my lips to his. I felt his arms tighten around me. I felt my pulse beating at my throat. I felt his fingertips reaching into my hair, pressing my face against his. I felt my nose nuzzled up beside his. And then I felt him pulling me to my feet, and suddenly he was the one sitting in the armchair, and him who pulled me onto his lap. I was straddling him, and despite all the movement, never once did his lips leave mine. My heart was pounding at my chest, hard and achingly. Nevertheless, I pressed myself to him, feeling the softness on my back and sides yielding at his arm as he also pushed me to him. Desperate, a voice inside me whispered. And yes, I was desperate. Desperate to have his hands on me, to be with him. I never, ever wanted to be apart from him again. I felt whole, like there had always been a piece missing, and Thomas had that one missing piece. My hands fitted perfectly behind his neck, our lips fitted perfectly together.
I slowly pulled back, struggling for breath. I met his eyes - he was breathing as heavily as I was. Both of his hands slid up my body to frame my face.
“You are so beautiful…” he whispered, kissing my nose. “You are so smart…” he kissed my forehead. “You are so perfect it hurts.” His lips gently touched mine, though not a kiss - just that, his lips touching mine as lightly as a breeze.
I didn’t know what to say back, and it made me feel horrible. He complimented me so much, but I was at a loss for words, I didn’t know how to make him feel as amazing as he made me feel.
“I want to say something really nice to you, but I’m not good at finding words. I read too many, but when I really need them, I can’t find them…” I whispered. Was I apologizing? I felt the magic of the moment slowly fade, right until he laughed lightly at me.
“It’s okay, Ellie. You can just tell me that I’m really nice, that is sufficient for now.” He said, our noses touching. I looked at him, frowning.
“For now?” I said, pretending to be really frightened. He played along immediately.
“Yeah, in 2 days’ time I expect you to tell me that as long as you had me, you could live without oxygen, which is totally moronic.” He answered matter-of-factly, and we laughed together.
We stood beside his car, bundled up in our coats. It was dark all around us. We stood close to each other, but without touching. He smiled at me.
“I had a great time. I’m already looking forward to you meeting my parents.” He said, teasingly.
“So am I,” I said, laughing. Then I reached up on my tiptoes and kissed him. He wrapped an arm around me, held me to him for a few seconds as he kissed me. Then I leaned back. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He nodded, grabbed my hand and gave it a light squeeze. Then he let go and went to the driver’s door and sat down inside, closing the door after him. I stood on the sidewalk waving until he turned the corner and out of sight. I smiled to myself.
I might not be beautiful and sweet and a darling to the much of the human population, but it didn’t matter. To him, I was all that and more, and that was enough for me.