I slapped my hand down on the desk with a thwack. My heart tried to climb its way out of my throat as my blood flushed round my body and set me on fire. Holding my breath to try and stop hyperventilating, I shot smirks at anyone looking my way, snaking my fingers around my right wrist to cover the blemish from their eyes.
Femi elbowed me in the ribs and gave a quick look to Mrs I-Hate-My-Job-So-History’s-Never-Coming-Alive, who was droning on about some century or another, before leaning in close. “What?”
I just shook my head and squeezed my wrist tighter. There was no way what I thought I saw was actually what I’d seen. No.
No, no, no, no, no.
I watched Femi jot down notes to calm my heart, gazing at her own right wrist as she scribbled. Twin was marked there for all the world to see. Burying my right hand deep within my blazer, I turned my left wrist over to admire my own Twin imprint. That one could’ve been worse. Chase on my other side had appeared with a chunky watch a couple of months ago and after lesson after lesson in this mind-numbing room, I’d figured out his latest imprint was Slow and by look of his work it wasn’t talking about his sprinting potential.
And he thought that was bad. I wouldn’t have minded Cruel or even Evil. Anything but the one that had materialised on my own right wrist. But it didn’t make sense. I hadn’t done anything.
The age old saying, the words never lie, echoed and bounced around my skull as I spent the rest of the lesson trying not to think about it. Of course that meant I thought about nothing else.
When we stood to leave, I retracted my hand into the sleeve of my blazer and held tight to the cuff as I collected my books with my left hand and pressed them against my chest. The last thing I wanted was to throw my books everywhere and create a scene.
“You want to borrow my book later?” Femi asked halfway down the corridor. “Or is there even any point to that? You know I won’t be able to write your answers for you in your exam.”
“Chill out, Fem.” I slapped what I hoped was a carefree smile on my face. “I absorb what I copy off you.”
“How do you cope in lessons when I’m not there to copy from?”
“It’s just History I copy from you, I swear.”
“Of course it is.” She rolled her eyes.
I was thankful for the first time ever that Dom was waiting for us at our lockers. He swept my sister up off her feet in his thick arms and she giggled, kissing his nose. Fighting back my usual comment, I flung open the door and threw my books inside, deciding to leave my lunch in there too. I wasn’t sure my stomach could handle food just yet. It was still squeezing tight at the idea of what was now written on my skin. Or maybe it wasn’t written there. I had to hope I’d been imagining things.
Spence’s lanky frame appeared beside me as I slammed the door shut. “Another fascinating lesson I take it?”
“Of course. What else do you expect?” I went to make my way outside. Fresh air. That was all I needed. This wasn’t happening. I’d imagined it.
It didn’t matter how many times I said those words in my head. I couldn’t convince myself that I hadn’t seen it. But I hadn’t. I couldn’t have done.
Spence tugged on the back of my blazar, pulling me back to the lockers as Femi and Dom disappeared. “Where do you think you’re going? Don’t you think you’re forgetting someone?”
“I’m sick to death of waiting for Riley.” I freed myself from his grip. “She’ll find us.”
He raised his eyebrows and crossed his arms. “Really? You can deal with Riley’s moaning.”
Shrugging, he came to join me. “On your head be it.”
The grey courtyard seemed muted. There were no colours and voices seemed to be quiet or distant. I watched in a daze as everyone went about their normal lives, all the while trying to summon up the courage to look at my wrist again.
“So how much d’you win last night?”
“Last night. The poker game.”
I shook my head. “Oh right. I broke even if that’s what you mean.”
“Not a millionaire yet?”
We entered the sweaty cafeteria and I followed Spence into the queue, eyes darting around to everyone else’s eyes. Why was everyone looking at me? I squeezed my cuff tighter and tried to breathe like a normal person. Once I’d assured the cafeteria lady I didn’t want any food, we shuffled to a table that wasn’t crammed. As Spence observed his food, I wiggled my fingers and peaked tiny bit by tiny bit of my wrist out of my sleeve. I held my breath when the bottom of my palm appeared and the soft nutmeg flesh of my wrist began to show.
Heavy weights dropped down on my shoulders and I shrieked and buried my hand again.
“Thanks for abandoning me.” Riley huffed as she sat down, flicking her golden brown hair. The bleached highlights were new and by the way she was swishing her hair around she was enjoying the looks she was getting. “Why so jumpy? Guilty conscience?”
“No.” I cleared my throat and tried to compose myself. “Nice hair.”
“Thanks.” She shot me that supermodel smile I knew she’d practiced in the mirror.
Her face fell when she caught sight of Spence. He was pretending to flick his dark blonde hair and bat his eyelashes from behind his glasses.
“Whatever, doofus.” She jumped up. “Jealous much?”
Spence snorted as she went to join the lunch queue though we both knew she’d buy something pitiful and not finish it. “Please.” He took a bite out of his sandwich. “The hair tossing. What is she doing?”
I used his distraction to pull the blue bandana from my hair. “Don’t talk with your mouth full, you animal.” I tied the bandana around my wrist without daring to look at my skin.
Spence was watching me as I pulled out my mirror and comb and made sure my crazy hair wasn’t any crazier than usual. “What’re you doing?”
He narrowed his eyes. “She’s not rubbing off on you is she?”
“Like she could. It was digging in,” I said to his silent question. “Anyway, you think I could do anything even remotely close to a hair toss with this?” I motioned to my tight frizzy curls.
“I thought not.”
When Riley returned I was glad for the attention to fall back on her. Riley had the talent of talking and talking and talking but never saying anything. As she spouted her latest story, she took off her blazer and rolled up her sleeves. Now more than ever, people were looking at her. It was just another ploy to feed the ego. Riley had not just one or two but five imprints showing. Three were displayed on her arms. She pushed her hair behind her left ear over and over again to make the imprint under it visible. Loosening her tie and undoing two buttons on her blouse revealed the imprint just under her collar bone. Sometimes people even bumped into each other to stare at her.
Though Dom and Femi were now the longest standing couple at school, Dom still couldn’t help but stare at Riley as they approached. Riley fluttered her fake eyelashes and shot me a look with her honey eyes. Riley Casson didn’t need a man. But she did need the stares of all those around her. I’d always found it exhausting but now I’d never been so glad.
Dom let Femi sit down and stood all tall and big and awkward, like her bodyguard or something.
“Hey.” Femi’s eyes shot to my hair for a moment, reaching out to flatten a strand that must’ve been out of place. “Better now?”
“Better?” I made a point of meeting her nut brown eyes.
“You were being weird in History.”
“Oh.” I waved it away. “Yeah. I wasn’t feeling well.”
Femi rested her head on her hand and started twisting her watch around her wrist. It was useless lying to her. I could lie to anyone and had the imprint to show for it. Anyone but her.
“I’m better now.” Another lie, but I tried to hide it by looking to Riley. “Ri, tell Fem that story you just told.”
“Well!” Riley’s face lit up and that was that.
I held my breath so I didn’t sigh with relief and watched Riley’s every move. Femi could’ve been tapping me on the back of the head it was so obvious her eyes were on me. At least she couldn’t see the expression on my face.
Before registration, Femi followed me into the bathroom and grabbed my bandana covered wrist. I yanked it away from her and her eyes looked big with hurt. “What’s wrong, Lex?”
Pulling the knot tighter, I felt nausea churn in my stomach. The tips of the word had been uncovered. “Nothing. I just . . .” I bit my lip. “I don’t feel well. I’m not hungry and I feel a bit sick.” That at least was the truth.
Femi backed down. “You gonna go home?”
I shook my head. “I can make it.”
“Alright.” She pulled me close in a quick hug before we disappeared into cubicles.
Resting my back against the door, I shut my eyes, willing the strength to fill me up. I had to sit down, my jelly legs shaking too much to hold me straight.
I had to do it now. I wouldn’t get another chance for over an hour and I wasn’t sure I could wait that long. The tension was ripping me up inside. I pushed my blazar sleeve up with a trembling hand and struggled to undo the knot. My breaths seemed too big and my heart seemed too small.
Then the bandana dropped away, revealing my worst nightmare.