The sun leaks like a broken tap, spilling dizzy sunlight across the river.
The water shimmers with gold ripples, and they glide outwards until the curves cover almost the entire breadth. And then the sun's kiss stretches out so far is disappears, like a yawn. I keep walking. The smooth gravel and the white beach are as I remember them last night, only when I look at them now, they hold new memories that aren't so easily forgotten. They feel like feeling.
The way the tide rolls like Alistair's marble voice, and the way the sand spins little storms like Alistair's mind when he's hurting and thinking and hurting some more and thinking more and still hurting. He's so confusing. He even leaves confusion in his wake: he makes me confused. I hate that.
But I'm intrigued by it. I want to understand this weird boy - or the weird feelings Alistair has for this boy. I want to rip the puzzle apart and put it back together so I can understand it. As a plus, I might be able to help Alistair with his secret too, but that's just a plus. If I figure this boy out, I might be solving all my unsolved problems at the same time.
I guess his secret turned out to be interesting and worth my time after all.
My tie blows in the wind, streaking out as it chases the wind. I tuck it into the crook of my shirt, and keep walking. School is not far away from home, but the walk always seems longer when the air is stronger and my thoughts blow away. And, I promised Alistair I'd meet him by the bridge so we could walk to school together and discuss stuff.
It's too windy. I don't mind the way the cold festers and grapples with my fingers, or the way the bitterness gnaws away at my skin and tugs at me, like it wants me to follow the cold wherever it wants to go. I just don't like the forceful wind. It feels like one of those annoying people at school, who can't give up and who can't look forward and who's minds are so closed they're practically shut up with iron gates. People like that make me want to punch reality into their stupid, stupid, empty heads. Not everything goes your way. Get that into your dumb, stupid, stupid, empty airhead.
People at school are mainly very stupid. So is Alistair, and I think I've mentioned that before. He is. I won't be waiting by the bridge for him, because although we now happen to tell each other secrets, we aren't really friends. We're more like allies, except I'm not even really on his side, because I'm only helping him for myself.
That's probably awful.
I cross the Bridge, running my fingers over the blue iron handrail, sometimes letting my hand bump over the little gold lights that still flash - November tends to be misty, and it is still dark at this time as I walk to school. Not completely dark, just like a glassy blue that's lit by the sun, but still manages to block out light with heavy boredom and sadness.
I scuff my shoes a little, which isn't a good idea. Mum'll tell me to clean them tonight and then I'll apologize, and she'll do them for me because she still thinks I'm a lonely boy who doesn't have any friends and has obsessions and a really weird, complicated thought process that operates without feelings. She's totally right, of course.
My hand leaves the hand rail as I leave the bridge, and a few deep red and silver taxis flash passed like stars, and the people inside are all wearing smart, navy suits with lace shirts or flickering cuff links, or polished, mahogany shoes or large diamond hair clips that radiate their own sunshine. Drivers are sometimes wearing deep crimson caps that cover unwashed hair and sad, relentless eyes, and their mouths are all down turned like they have as much energy as the person wearing them. I see a few other school kids from different schools walk passed, either staring into space with headphones plugged in, or looking around with tired eyes. People look so dead.
Even I generally don't look dead. Even if I get about five hours sleep, my 5:30 shower forces my eyes open and then I'm okay. I have the same breakfast every day - the same as I've had for about ten years now, which is a yogurt and bagel with butter. Sometimes, I have chocolate tea, but that isn't always an option. Like if we have no chocolate in.
Please let that not be Alistair.
"IT'S ME, ALISTAIR."
Fall over, or something, Alistair. I don't want to talk to you. I don't want to talk about your boyfriend. Or not your boyfriend, whatever.
Is he running? He's like a child. He should walk to school on time, or he'll be sweaty when we get to history and he'll look stupid. That isn't usually a problem, though, since he pulls off stupid quite well when he's worrying about his boyfriend. Or not his boyfriend, it still confuses me.
Someone knocks me on the back by flinging out an arm, and I stumble forward slightly at the impact. He's an imbecile. Literally.
"Why are you touching me?" I ask, removing his arm from me with my forefinger and thumb. I bet he hasn't even showered this morning.
"We're friends. Plus, I ran all the way here because you didn't wait for me."
I sigh. "I have so many problems with that sentence that I can't even begin to answer it."
"We have all this time before school," he says, looping an arm around my neck. At first, I think he's being stupidly serious, until I realise he is only doing it because he knows I find it annoying. I shove him off.
"That won't be enough."
"You sure have a lot to say, don't you, Hira?"
I close my eyes, wishing I had some of the headphones that other school kid had when he walked past. They would be great.
Alistair sighs too, and then there's a breathless smile on his face. "So, what's your plan about my secret?" he asks, a hopeful glint in his eyes, even though he must know that I haven't had time to think of anything yet.
"I don't know. I haven't even had a day to think yet."
"Oh." A pause. "You should probably meet him first, right?"
God, help me. Meet him? That totally wasn't what I bargained for. I just nod, though. "I guess. Does he go to our school?" Our high school is huge, so I wouldn't be surprised if I've never even seen him before. I don't know many people, even though we're in Year 12 and I should really know most of our year, seeing as we met about six years ago. I shiver at the thought of the dark days in Year 7, when I smiled too much and actually let some of my secrets out without being bothered.
I stare at Alistair, and stop. "Well how on earth am I supposed to meet him then, dumbass?"
"Look. Don't freak out. Stop freaking out-"
"I never freak out," I snap. "I just don't see how our plan can work if he doesn't even go to our school."
Alistair pushes his silver-gold hair from his bright eyes, lighter in the cold, somehow. "I have a plan. That incorporates that."
"Don't use long words, or else you look even stupider," I comment. "But carry on."
He ignores the insult, and we keep walking. "Okay, okay. So you know how I do sport?"
"No. I never think about sport. Please don't talk about it."
"Are you scared of it?"
"Of course not."
Alistair frowns a little, his brow creasing, and then just shakes his head, like he's letting his confusion fly away on the breeze. At least he's learning to control himself a bit - maybe I'm having a positive effect on someone, for once. Generally, I just end up insulting them, pissing them off, and being left alone.
"Okay. Well, we have a match - well, more of a practice-thing, against them today. We practice together a lot," he stops for breathe, because the iciness of the weather keeps snatching his breathe from his lungs. He shouldn't talk so much. "You could come along, as like, a beginner or something like that."
I let out a loud snort, which is so uncharacteristic that I stop short, and Alistair bursts out laughing. He comments on how funny I am when I do something like that, and yet again, I have the urge to punch him.
"I don't think I could think of something that would make me look stupider."
"It doesn't matter, Hira! You don't have to look good for him, in fact, I'd prefer it if you didn't."
"What? So you want me to make an utter fool of myself?"
"You wouldn't have to run, dumbass-"
"-don't use my insults-"
"You would just have to watch, and pretend you were learning, you know?" Alistair finishes hopefully, obviously particularly proud of himself for figuring it all out.
I won't do it. I won't look stupid in front of loads of people, and I won't hang around in a sports changing room with sporty people: it will stink of sweat and arrogance and people who don't think or feel whatsoever. Those are the worst types of people.
But I want to meet this boy-like-me. I want to see what it feels like to be on the receiving end of me, what I sound like, what I'm actually like. I want to pick it all apart and figure it - me - all out like I'm a science experiment or something.
But. I would also have to skip class, which is usually a pretty bad idea, and I would have to be with Alistair all day, which would be unbelievably frustrating and annoying, and on top of that, I'd have all the other uncomfortable stuff as well. But I have to meet him, and since he doesn't go to our school, this is the only chance I'll get. I certainly won't waste my own time at home on figuring the secret and me out, since I like to revise and be in my bedroom when I'm not in school.
"I'll do it."
His jaw slacks. "What?"
I roll my eyes. "You heard me. Are you stupid?" -of course you are- "I said, I'll do it."
"That was easier than expected. I thought I was going to have to force you."
"You couldn't force me, Alistair Simons."
"I'm much stronger than you."
I stare at him, wrinkling my nose. What I thought would be a boy with skinny arms and long legs, is actually a boy who probably works out (he did say he did sport), and is surprisingly, as tall as me. I don't think he's as tall as me, but I might have to be taller than him just through sheer will. "I'm much stronger," I say calmly, though my words are slightly clipped at the tips.
"You don't do sport whatsoever, Hira. I play at least four times a week.
"You waste your life, Alistair. But I'll show you how strong I am, sometime. You'll eat your words."
"I don't eat words. But I bet you do. That's why you're so good at talking all the time."
Before I can say something even more grating, he stops me with a new flow of words. "Come with me to the PE corridor before first lesson, and I'll tell coach you're interested in playing basketball."
I almost stop walking again. "I've never been to the PE corridor before. I don't think I can."
"You're like a child, Hira."