My mind was set on my intended target: the beautiful red haired boy sitting, casually feigning interest at his companions words, on the other side of the brightly lit lunch hall. There was a slight frown on his pale forehead, as he seemed to be thinking about something else, amidst his friend’s obvious devotion to the conversation. His eyes were on this friend, though they were clouded over, uninterested in the subject directed towards him. I wondered how Sam Chadwick (the oblivious friend of his) didn’t see what I saw from across the hall. He must have been thoroughly immersed in his story, at any rate.
So as I, also distracted from my own friends’ conversation beside me – that had turned into a background hum of voices – got up from my vigilant perch of the squeaky, plastic chair and slowly measured my pace as I calculated my route towards Anthony Stansfield. Indeed - he was the perfect target.
I felt the eyes on me, I didn’t have to look. His gaze was burning into my face, but I stubbornly insisted not to meet it. My eyes were set on my target. I trusted that he would not disappoint. Martin’s eyes were sure to be watching my every move. I smiled subtly at this thought. It was an advantage.
I selected the best route, too. I cut through the hall, squeezing myself between two tables to reach Martin’s table. Perhaps he though I was going to make a stop there. Perhaps he thought that he was my target. I smiled again, but I quickly forced it away as I made a last-second turn away from his table to continue down the isle between two rows of tables. I almost grinned as I saw him crane his neck with a frown on his face to watch my path from the corner of my eye. I ran my fingers through my hair. Shallow, yes, but I may as well go for the full effect, now that I had begun to act like a cow to my ex-boyfriend.
I reached the table, but not before I realized that I had not considered my dialogue for this moment. I stopped in front of it, and its occupants looked up at me, a little puzzled by my sudden appearance. I seemed to have disrupted their mesmerizing conversation.
I planted a stupid fake smile on my face and tilted my head to the side. Maybe he was a little more like every other boy in the room than he looked. I suddenly regretted choosing the most interesting-seeming boy in the room. He probably had much higher standards.
‘Hello.’ I smiled, and I did not have to exaggerate my sudden shyness much. It was Anthony. His face just made me blush in awe - though I had a more pressing matter to attend to than to hit on Anthony Stansfield, though, that was the initial plan. ‘I was wondering, Anthony, if you’ve done that … erm … Statistics coursework. You know, the stratified sampling graph … you’re the only one in the class that I could think of that may have done it.’ I smiled awkwardly, as though I was feeling a little apprehensive, embarrassed by the idea of asking for help.
I surprised myself by realizing that it wasn’t even a lie. I had tried to track down everybody from that class, though nobody seemed to have understood the homework assignment from last week, and – already being several weeks behind in that particular subject – I thought I was not going to disappoint Mr. Richardson again. He always had too much faith in me, and I regretted not living up to his expectations for me as a pupil.
‘Oh,’ he said, a little surprised, though he smiled kindly. I returned the smile, and the rest of his friends returned to their meals and conversations, realizing perhaps that my query was not actually as interesting as their imaginations had led them to believe. ‘Yeah, I’ve done it. Did you want help with it?’
I glanced over his face for a moment, sensing something like relief in his expression. I suppose he really was bored of his friends.
‘Well, I’ve done it,’ I hesitated for a moment, scratching my head a little dubiously. I wanted him to think that I thought that he might not be able to help me. Hopefully, this would make him a little more determined to do so. To prove himself. Suddenly I felt very lame – vindictive, even. No – I corrected myself – too pathetic to actually be vindictive. ‘I’m just really not sure that it’s right. I was weeks behind and I’ve only just caught up … and I was a little off-track …’ I trailed off. Nobody but Anthony was giving any attention to my words now. He was sitting at the end of the table closest to me, so I didn’t have to shout over them all, for which I was glad. I wasn’t particularly sure about what I thought about his friends. I suppose I was always a little unsure about the unknown.
‘Tell you what,’ he said, springing up to his feet, ‘I’ll help you now. We’ve got it next and sounds like you need some tuition.’
That was a lot easier than I’d anticipated. I pulled my mouth up into a genuine smile of gratitude, for both reasons, actually.
Anthony shoved the chair back under the table and turned to his friends, who had looked up at him as he prepared to leave.
‘Just going helping Ariel with Stats.’ He said half-heartedly, and after picking his bag up off the floor and swinging it over his shoulder, turning his back on his friends and leading the way out of the hall with me closely in tow.
‘You looked a bit glad to be rid.’ I murmured, turning back to look at his friends just as Sam seemed to be shrugging in response to somebody’s question as he watched after Anthony, a slightly irritated expression playing on his face.
‘I guess I was.’ He mumbled as we passed Martin’s table. His eyes were still burning into me, but occasionally flickered to Anthony at my side and back. I smiled. As soon as we were out of earshot of him, I leant in towards Anthony and stuttered into his ear.
‘Could you … do me a favor, Anthony?’ I asked him gently, smiling hopefully. ‘Another one, I mean.’
His pace slowed as he frowned at me a little. ‘What is it?’
‘Right … I understand that this is completely and utterly shallow and stupid and pathetic and …’ I trailed off, wondering why, then, I was doing this.
Anthony’s expression seemed to be asking me the same question.
‘Okay, fine, I won’t.’ I snapped, as though he had just called me all of those things.
‘What did you want to ask for?’ Anthony asked me curiously, as we walked towards the double doors at the end of the hall. From his voice, I could sense his amusement.
‘I just told you it was pathetic and shallow, why would I want to tell you what it was?’ I frowned.
‘Fair point.’ He shrugged, ‘I could help you be those things, though. Just this once. Everyone needs to be pathetic sometimes. How else would the world stay even?’
‘Exactly what I thought!’ I exclaimed. We were nearly at the doors now, and I wondered whether Martin’s eyes were still on me. This was all I had been planning to do, in any case. I just wanted him to me with a better-looking boy, and there weren’t many to choose from. A boy that might actually be somebody I was interested in. I wanted him to feel jealous, but now I had the chance to make him feel worse, and I wanted that. Although I did not know him, Anthony seemed like a much better person than Martin ever was. Why I went out with him … I am at a loss. He’s good looking and he’d followed me like a puppy. I never found him interesting. I never valued our conversation. Then, our relationship became that of pure convenience. Until I caught him with Lionne, one of my best friends. I suppose you could say that was an experience.
He laughed. ‘What is it?’
I slowed my pace and he copied me, watching me curiously still. The thought of what Martin had done to me made my heart accelerate in frustration. How dare he think that I was not good enough for him, when I found no interest in him at all?
I slowed to a stop beside the doors, where students continued to brush past us on their path into the lunch hall. I pulled Anthony towards me by his hand. He looked a little confused by this, but then he seemed to understand.
‘Ah.’ He nodded as it made sense in his head. ‘Martin.’
‘Don’t judge me.’ I said, though it was more an order than a request. He smiled, obviously still amused, but he nodded in reply.
He moved closer to me as we drifted beside the doors. His hand was still in mine, and although I had released it, he continued to hold on. Suddenly, I felt the attention of a few of the heads nearest to us. I felt my face redden and I closed my eyes for a second. ‘Oh, the rumors.’ I groaned.
‘I’m willing to do this properly.’ He said. I caught him grinning when I reopened my eyes. He looked worriless. Still amused by the situation, it seems. How he had no shame. ‘Plus they aren’t rumors if most of the school witnesses it first hand.’ He added, with a short laugh.
‘Then it looks like we’re going out.’ I frowned at him. ‘How will we get out of that?’
‘Ah,’ he shrugged. ‘You’ll find someone better and dump me for him, obviously. Then you still look good, see.’
‘Who says I’ll find someone better?’ I frowned. I was sure that was near impossible. Looking at him now, Anthony had a very pretty face. It was almost too pretty.
‘Your babbling.’ He rolled his eyes.
‘Oi!’ I raised my eyebrows angrily. ‘Girlfriends babble. I’m playing my part–!’
‘Kay. I’ll play mine.’ He grinned mischievously again, and I barely had the time to change my expression into one of irritation, to match my mood, when he leant in and kissed me.
I had been halfway through a breath, which was inconvenient. I was so stunned by Anthony’s sudden action that I could not react straight away. I simply stood there, frozen whilst his lips moved on mine, his eyes closed; yet I felt his mouth was curled up into a smile.
I had to let out a low chuckle as I slowly unfroze to kiss him back. It actually was funny. I felt most of the halls eyes on us, and I imagined Martin, frozen in his seat, staring at the scene playing before his eyes. I had to stop myself from grinning as I went a little further, pushing my lips gently against his and moving my head to the side in as though I was staring in a passionate scene of a romantic drama.
I heard voices in the hall.
‘Hey, look. Is mermaid getting off with Anthony Stansfield?’
‘Get a room!’ somebody nearby groaned.
‘Did you know she was seeing him?’ I heard a familiar voice. I recognized it as Leonnies. This only made me kiss him harder.
‘Stanny’s getting off with that mermaid girl!’ exclaimed a deep, but boyish laugh. One of Anthony’s friends, perhaps.
I felt it was enough after a few seconds of the kissing, but it were a few seconds later that I actually pulled away. It was nice, and it felt as though it looked better than Martin and I had ever done. Maybe it was purely because we were working for an audience, yeah probably that. I pulled away and bit my lip to stop the eruption of giggled from bursting out of my mouth.
He put his arm around me as he pushed the door open for me to slide through. I did not look back at the staring faces, the now hushed voices and Martin’s incredulous stare, but Anthony did.
‘Yikes.’ He laughed. ‘I think I’m going to have him after me now.’
‘What, Martin?’ I laughed too.
‘Yeah, did you see his face?’
‘No, I didn’t want to give it away.’ I grinned. ‘Did he look jealous?’
‘He was fuming, Ariel.’ He laughed again, a short burst of his deep laughter.
When I’d stopped laughing, I tried to even out my breaths as I said ‘Well – sorry if he, you know, tries to break your legs.’
‘”Tries” being the operative word.’ He smirked.