The song changed and the feelings which had been accumulating within Marissa seemed to hang suspended in the air, undisturbed as a breeze softly sighed across the place where Evan and she were standing, having now stopped swaying to the music.
Evan leant down, his movements calm and deliberate, and held her waist as he kissed her on the lips. Marissa wound her arms loosely around his neck and kissed back, lost in the happiness, and, after all the previous excitement she had felt, barely wondering at the fact that she was kissing the rugby captain who all the girls talked about with a certain kind of reverence, she the girl who was probably the least noticed in the year. She couldn’t process anything other than the movement of his lips against hers and hers in response: didn’t hear the music pumping out over the speakers, couldn’t even think.
But afterwards, when Evan had pulled away before it became too passionate (a sign that he was as gallant as he’d always seemed, despite the youthful, flirtatious side) and she had moved her arms from around his neck, Marissa did think. She thought about her decision to sign up for this Mysterious Partner scheme. She had told Evan that she had done it for fun, as well as to donate money to charity. But she remembered that she had also had a wild, fleeting fantasy about something along these lines happening - an example of the childish sort of hopes one holds and dreams one has romance and magic to enter one’s life. A fantasy that she, Marissa, who barely had any friends at all, would meet the guy of her dreams, that he - a mysterious stranger who perhaps didn’t even attend this school - would actually want to be in a relationship with her, and that a relationship between these fated two would instantly ensue. While things hadn’t quite turned out like that, and Marissa knew that her fancy had more than verged on silly, she was deeply mystified by any aspect of a daydream like that coming true. Beneath the elation and the bond she felt growing between her and Evan like blossoms on a tree, she wondered if there was some force like Fate, which had done Evan a favour as he had talked about and listened to her pleas to leave the world of silence and loneliness she occupied as a timid, rather overlooked sort of character. Could it be possible that this was her destiny?
“What are you thinking, 'Rissa?” Evan asked softly.
Rissa... It sounded mystical and natural, something that would be treated with respect in this world, something that would be ever welcome in Evan’s world.
“Just that it was marvellous luck us coming together like this,” she replied, hoping he wouldn’t mock her for being romantic but sort of instinctively trusting that he wouldn’t because he was her boyfriend now and he was going to protect her from everything bad about the world.
“I know,” he murmured. “Wasn’t it just?”
“You talked of Fate,” Marissa reminded him. “It’s like it was Fate.”
Evan smiled. “Yeah, it’s interesting to see that Fate has done me a favour. To think I’d have never picked you to go out with otherwise.”
Something about Evan’s words sounded a little wrong to Marissa but she ignored it, putting it down to a difficulty present in phrasing his feelings. In a lovestruck daze, she replied, “You seem like the kind of guy who deserves to be listened to by Fate.”
Evan chuckled. “Isn’t that cute?”
Marissa smiled. “If you say so, darling.” Then she blushed at her own forwardness. Averting her eyes she hastily apologised.
Evan interrupted the apology, lifting her chin so he could look into her eyes.
“You can call me darling. We’re going out now, aren’t we, Rissa?”
She nodded, smiling widely and happily.
He planted a quick kiss on her lips before pulling her away from the trees and out into the mass of dancing students. There they danced among people unknown and known, the latter nodding to Evan and also to Marissa, which was a completely new experience for her.
‘But I don’t care about the popularity this relationship brings me,’ she thought. ‘It’s the feelings which count, and our treatment of each other.’
Their dancing was briefly interrupted by an announcement about returning the watches the teachers had lent out to the Mysterious Partners. Evan took Marissa up and they both thanked Mr Hamley and Mrs Finney for organising the scheme, handed in the watch and returned to the grass to grab drinks, which they finished before dancing again.
As the night went on, Marissa was introduced to many people - all the players on the rugby team, all the students in Evan’s Biology, Sports Studies and Design Technology classes, and a handful of the people who Evan typically hung out with.
“Come to my birthday party,” said Devin Froon, a star of the football A-team. “It’s next weekend. I’ll text you the address.” Marissa gave him her mobile number so this would be possible and thanked him as Evan moved on to talk to the captain of the netball team, Zoë Rennafli. Marissa followed and was struck by the girl’s kindness. Ashamedly, she was guilty of thinking that a lot of popular people were horrible and thought that everyone else was inferior to them, but Zoë appeared to be a frequent visitor of her local care home and involved in an upcoming race event to raise money for charity.
“I signed up for the Mysterious Partner scheme too,” she told them, “but the guy I got paired with was in Year 11 and he fancied me so badly it was cringe-worthy.”
“Unlucky,” Evan said, wincing.
“At least you only had to spend half an hour with him,” Marissa said, smiling at the good side of things.
Zoë nodded. “Yup. Aren’t I thankful that it wasn’t longer.”
Marissa wondered if any of the other Mystical Partner pairs had bonded in the same way as her and Evan. She’d be happy for them if they had and she found out, but there was also a kind of specialness about singularity which meant that it would be absolutely amazing if it had only happened to them.
For that whole evening Marissa felt as though she were buzzing. It felt so wonderful to be walking around with Evan, to be talking to the people he talked to, to be dancing and drinking with him, and seeing the smile on his face at her company.
‘I’m Cinderella,’ she thought. ‘My fairy godmother has come and made my life fantastic.’
No more would she be lonely, she knew. No more would she be unhappy or unobserved. And if some of it was thanks to Fate, a lot of it was thanks to Evan himself.
“Thank you,” she whispered, tilting her head so it rested against his arm as they walked hand-in-hand across the field. “Thank you for wanting me.”
“You’re welcome,” he told her. “Thank you for wanting me back.”
Reciprocation. It must be the simplest rule of love, but to Marissa it was the best.