Asphyxiate

Anxiety is love's great killer.

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4. Chapter Three

 

The squeak of Nadia Chaterjee's patent leather school shoes against the linoleum floor of the corridor was rather tiresome, each step reminding her that it was never a good idea to get caught wearing Converse sneakers around the building. The headteacher had taken one glance at her feet and beckoned her to the office, where she had been forced to put on some slightly-too-tight brogues and given a break-time detention. 

Of course, wearing the Converse had been Charlotte's idea - but then again, so was everything. 

"Nad!" called a voice from behind her, and Nadia whirled around to see Charlotte turn up beside her, right on cue. She smiled at Nadia, her long blonde waves of hair bouncing slightly as she walked.

"Nad! I have got to tell you- oh my God, what are you wearing?" she exclaimed, her words tumbling from her mouth, and Nadia knew instantly that she was talking about the shoes.

"The headteacher made me change. Oh, which reminds me: I can't go and watch Ben's football match today." Ben was Charlotte's boyfriend. Nadia didn't really know him, but Charlotte insisted that she come along with her to all his games.

Charlotte nodded knowingly. "Breaktime detention, huh?" She smiled. "What a rebel." 

"Well, I guess-"

"I was thinking," Charlotte interrupted suddenly, "that you should so dye your hair."

Nadia frowned, fiddling with her school bag. "How come?" she asked, trying hard not to reject the idea too quickly. Charlotte often took things like that the wrong way.

"Because it would seriously suit you!" Charlotte exclaimed, her tone a mixture between exasperation and excitement.

"Right. And what colour are you suggesting?" 

"Blonde. Definitely. I think...Oh, wait, actually...you know, red would really suit your skin tone..." The girl trailed off, white teeth nibbling at her peachy lips. Nadia fought back the impulse to say no immediately, instead fingering the long plait that trailed over her shoulder. She'd always had the same dark, almost-black brown that ran throughout her family, all the way back to her Indian roots. And her dark skin...well, she certainly couldn't see it matching with red. 

And yet here she was, walking down the corridor with one of - or possibly the most - popular girls in school, who knew the ins and outs of popularity and how to earn it. And this super, mega, unbelievably popular girl was asking her to consider hair dye - and Nadia had to admit, Charlotte probably knew what she was talking about. She went to the salon for fresh highlights in her honey coloured hair every month, and came out looking fantastic every time.

Her best friend was telling her she'd suit red hair - surely Charlotte wouldn't just make that up on the spot? Especially not if she'd have to be seen walking around with Nadia every day.

"I don't know, Charlotte." Nadia paused, fumbling for the right words. "I mean...you know, I'll think about it."

Charlotte nudged her with her shoulder, sighing elaborately. "But you take so long to think about everything. Seriously. You'd look amazing."

Nadia smiled self consciously. "Thanks. You know, you'll never guess -" Her words broke away into a loud oof as two girls walked into her, knocking the breath out of her body. She wheezed, pushing them roughly aside and carrying on walking.

Tugging at Nadia's arm, Charlotte slowed her down. "Aren't you going to say anything to them?" she asked in indignation, her hands on her hips. Nadia looked over her shoulder at the girls. They'd been her friends, once, back before she'd had Charlotte. Years ago, now. She snorted, rolling her eyes. Charlotte was so popular, she probably didn't even know their names.

Without waiting for an answer, Charlotte stormed down the hallway after the girls, Nadia forced to trail behind her best friend. Elbowing the girls sharply to the side as she strode past them, Charlotte linked arms with Nadia and smiled.

"Bitches," said Charlotte loudly, her voice snide.

"Shhh! For God's sake, Charlotte, they'll hear you!"

Charlotte rolled her eyes. "Um, yeah. That's the point." She laughed. "Honestly, Nad, you can't just let people walk all over you like that! They barged into you like you were, like, some nobody year seven."

Nadia opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again. Arguing with Charlotte was pointless because Charlotte always won. Instead, Nadia looked at her best friend, and smiled. When Charlotte smiled back, Nadia laughed. Their friendship was one she couldn't afford to lose, not if she wanted to stay on top at this school.

Her old friends had probably forgotten who she was, anyway.

They didn't matter anymore.

Any niggling doubts still clouding her mind were brushed aside and forgotten, just cobwebs swept up with a broom, as a broad-shouldered, blonde-haired figure came walking towards them.

"Seb, hey!" Charlotte called, trotting forward slightly to greet him. A smile of recognition flashed over his face, and he spun round so as to be facing the way the two of them were walking.

"Guys, hi," he said, amiably, his blue-grey eyes soft in comparison to the harsh white lighting in the corridor.

"How're you?" Nadia asked. She hadn't known Seb all that well until she'd starting hanging out with Charlotte, but it turned out that they got on pretty well, and since their first meeting, they'd hung out quite a bit. He had a laid-back attitude that she hadn't found in many people - although when he was worried...well, it was as if someone had tightened up cog in his back: he'd stiffen up, and he'd stay near silent all day. 

"Not so good - remember that science homework that I didn't do?"

 Nadia nodded, flipping her plait back over her shoulder. 

"Well, it just came back to bite me," said Seb, pulling a face at them both. 

Nada smiled ruefully. "Ah, well. Your overwhelming charm obviously hasn't had the effect you might have wanted on our friend Mrs Elder," she joked. Charlotte laughed, but soon found another distraction.

"Oh, Seb! You're going to the football match, right?" she said, and he nodded. "Awesome - find me there. Nad's got herself a detention, and I can't lift my banner on my own." 

"Banner?" Seb asked, his forehead crinkling. 

"You know, one of those support banners - like they wave at the broomstick match-thing in Harry Potter." Nadia stifled a complaint at Charlotte's lack of book knowledge, instead focusing on getting her locker key out. 

"Guys, I need to go to my locker," she announced, as they came up to the block that her locker was on. It was probably the best possible location - right in the middle of the ground floor, where the main staircase was. Those stairs led to pretty much everywhere of importance, and Nadia couldn't have asked for a better location.

Stopping at number 209, she jammed her key into the keyhole and pulled the little door open, praying for her P.E kit to remain inside. Quickly grabbing her French books, she turned back to Charlotte and Seb, who were now arguing about what colour paint Ben liked best. Or something.

They carried on, turning left down the Languages corridor. Nadia took a few steps down before noticing that the others weren't with her. Looking back, Seb was standing at the end of the corridor, staring at something.

Rushing back to catch up with the two of them, she spotted exactly what Seb was staring at: a smaller-than-average guy, with dark hair - slightly spiky -  and dark eyes. He was in their year - she was sure of it. But Seb seemed to be fixated on him, mouth just slightly open. 

"Seb?" Charlotte said, frowning at him. "What are you staring at that creep for?" Suddenly, Seb seemed to shake himself off, blinking rapidly. He cleared his throat slightly.

"Fag!" He called after the boy, whose shoulders stiffened. Nadia felt a twinge of guilt in her stomach as the boy turned and hurried off in the opposite direction...God, what was his name? James! That was it! James Grayton. He'd been in her science class last year. She watched him stride away, the ever-so-slight stamp of his feet giving away how hurt he was. 

Poor guy - not that she'd ever say it, but she wished Charlotte and Seb and all of their friends would just give people a break. Let them be. It got tiring after a while, watching everyone get picked apart, and whilst she loved hanging around with all of her new friends, sometimes she wondered if it would be better being unpopular. Unpopular people couldn't really afford to be mean to anyone else; but being mean was what popular kids seemed to love best. 

But it wasn't, of course it wasn't. She was having a great time at school - so what if her friends were a bit rude occasionally? They'd never hurt her - in fact, the rest of the group (Anja, Lawrence, Heath, and so on) had been utterly lovely when Charlotte had first introduced her to them. She couldn't complain. She couldn't.

"That boy is so weird," Charlotte said, pointedly staring after James. Still, linking her arm with Nadia's and dragging Seb down the corridor with her, she shrugged it off and bulldozed on to a new conversation. Seb calling James a fag had put a damper on the atmosphere, and Nadia was grateful to Charlotte for trying to diffuse things.

"So, Seb," Charlotte asked him, draping an arm over his shoulder. Her eyes sparked with mischief. "Which of our boyfriends do you think is cuter? Ben, or...Nadia, what's your boyfriend's name again?"

Charlotte knew what he was called. Charlotte had been the one to set them up. In fact, Nadia was pretty sure that Charlotte sat next to him for Maths. Not wanting a fight, Nadia bit her lip and supplied his name, but she couldn't stop some of her annoyance from slipping into her voice. "Cory. He's called Cory." 

"Oh yeah," giggled Charlotte. "That's what I meant. So, who do you think, Seb? Ben or Cory?"

Seb tilted his head, going silent. Charlotte nudged him. "Hey, Seb. Did you hear what I said?" 

Smiling, Seb ruffled his hands through his hair. "Yeah, I heard you. I was just...thinking."

"Well?" prompted Charlotte, her hands on her hips. "Who has the better looking guy? Me or Nad?"

Seb twisted his mouth slightly in concentration. "Well, Ben does have a pretty good jawline. Oh, but Cory's hair...Ooh, I'm not sure," he answered, still lost in thought.

"Um...Seb? I'm kidding," Charlotte said bluntly. So much for keeping the mood alive. "I mean, it's not like I'd actually expect you to be able to choose who has the better looking boyfriend."

"What? Oh, yeah, I know. Me too," Seb blurted out. Charlotte laughed, apparently oblivious to the worried expression drawn over Seb's features. Nadia noticed, and thought it odd, but the next time she looked up, he was smiling jovially, and she decided it was nothing after all.

"So, meet me at the game, right?" Charlotte asked Seb, who nodded distractedly; looking back over his shoulder instead of at her. What was up with him now? 

They split off to their various classes, and Nadia couldn't help but wonder if maybe, there was more to Seb than she had thought.

 

 

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