Mark Edwards and I were the closest people you could meet. We were closer than close: we told each other everything, trusted each other completely. He was there to pick up the pieces when Chris was gone, and I was there when he came out to his parents. He was like my secret weapon against the world, my go-to person: always there to help me through the obstacles that life threw at us. He used to be Chris’s best friend, before he realised that he had joined the dark side and rushed to get out while he could. He never left me, even when the going got tough: in fact, if not for the fact that he were gay, I’d often thought that Mark and I would make a pretty good couple. To anyone else, I suppose it might have appeared that way: we went everywhere together, and Mark certainly had no trouble with holding my hand in public, like most of the girls did at my school with their friends.
“Cora…?” Mark waved his hand in front of my face, his amused sounding voice jolting me out of my mummified state. “Anyone in…?”
“Sorry,” I muttered, sipping my coffee with a grimace. It was ironic, really: I worked in a coffee shop, and I couldn’t stand the stuff. I needed it, though, to get me through the day. Mark chuckled at my face.
“You’re so adorable when you’re asleep.”
“Shuttup,” I grumbled again, pinching my nose as I sipped in an effort to disguise the taste a little. It didn’t. It just made me splutter and spill coffee down myself.
“Are you alright, honey?” Mark asked quietly, once he had finished thumping me on the back- a little harder than nessacery. “You look a little… preoccupied.”
“I am,” I sighed. There was no point in lying to Mark.
“Is it Chris…?” I tried to disguise the grimace that passed over my face when I heard his name. Mark wasn’t fooled. He wrapped an arm around my shoulder, and squeezed. “Don’t worry,” he murmured, in what I was sure was meant to be a reassuring voice, but it just sounded… worried. “It’ll all work itself out.”
“Hah,” I laughed sadly, putting my arms around his waist and burying my face in his jacket. I would have been content to stay there for a while, snuggling up to him, but Mark cursed loudly and suddenly, making me jump.
“Look at the time,” he said, scrambling for his bag under the table. With a groan, I pushed myself up and grabbed my bag begrudgingly. Mark smiled at my miserable expression. “Don’t worry,” he guided me. “I’ll see you after school, and we’ll sort this all out. ‘Kay?”
“’Kay,” I agreed flatly. With a last, fleeting smile at me, Mark rushed out of the café. His school started twenty minutes before mine, and a while away, so I had nothing to do but wait.
Usually, I met Mia on the way, but not today: she had an appointment with the dentist. That thought made me smile: unlike most people, Mia loved the dentist. Although that may have been less because of the health benefits but because her dentist was so gorgeous. Once, she had come screaming into school after an appointment because she claimed she had managed to get his phone number from him: her enthusiasm fell somewhat when I pointed out that the scrap of paper was a badly designed business card, and the number on it was that of the surgery.
Alone and bored out of my mind, I decided to make my way to our old oak.
I had reached it and set the alarm on my iPod, prepared to sleep out the short wait, and quickly fell blissfully asleep.
Awhile later, I awoke to the sound of the Tweenies theme tune: I groaned. Mia had changed my ringtone again. I reached for my phone stiffly, stretching out various limbs. “Hello?” I yawned into the phone.
“Cora!” I was surprised to hear Kim, a girl in my science class, hiss. “Where are you? They’re going to ring home!”
“What do you mean?” I yawned again, curious. Why wouldn’t she let me sleep?
“Look at the time, Cora!” I obeyed, and immediately all thoughts of sleep were wiped from my dazed mind. I leaped up with a yelp. “That’s what I thought,” I heard Kim say dryly as I snapped my phone shut and grabbed my things.
Stupid, stupid technology, I thought daggers at my iPod- and my inability to handle it- as I ran towards school. Why can’t it just do what it’s told…
A few minutes later, I pushed, gasping, into my science classroom, making several students gasp and more than one giggle. “Sorry I’m late… I…”
Mr Douglas, our stocky, gray haired science teacher, nodded once in annoyance and continued his lecture. We all knew that Douglas hated being interrupted, and would rather get hit by a truck than stop in the middle of a speech.
I took my seat, agitatedly trying to ignore the whispers that were spreading through the class like wildfire as my class mates tried to figure out what on earth could have made the usually cool-as-ice Cora Brenton so flustered. I shot a grateful smile at an amused Kim and opened my mouth to thank her, but did not have time before several notes shot into my lap, making me jump.
Is it true that you got in a fight with Chris Garner? Sara wanted to know. I rolled my eyes. Everyone at this school knew, of course, that Chris and I were not to be mixed, thanks to that eventful meal time in the canteen when more than sharp words had been hauled across the room. Thanks to him, I’d spent months in detention after that. Because Tina’s brother’s girlfriend told me…
I heard that you had to go to the doctor’s for morning after pills, another snide girl wanted to know. I had to stop myself from screaming: scavengers. That was what they were. Just like vultures, waiting for something to die in the desert, just so that they could feast… But in this case, it wasn’t the meat on my bones making them salivate. It was the prospect of a big, juicy piece of gossip that they could pass on my friends. And they didn’t care how they got it.
I groaned, putting my head in my hands. It was going to be a long day…
“See you later, Mish,” I called, grabbing a mop and bucket as I did so from the storage cupboard. It was closing time, and, as usual, we were cleaning up: well, I was. Misha was awful at cleaning, so I took over at this point and sent her home. However, this always left her racked with guilt. Her worried looking head appeared from around the corner.
“Are you sure you don’t want any help?”
“Yeah, yeah,” I waved her off with a reassuring smile. Misha returned it, but it wasn’t quite the carefree, happy Misha-ish smile that I was used to. It wavered. And I did not like the look that haunted her usually vibrant, happy eyes: it was guilty. Troubled. “Mish?” I asked, frowning. “Are…you alright?’
“Yeah!” She replied, too quickly. Much too quickly. “Yeah, I’m fine. See you tomorrow.”
It sounded like a question.
“Um, yeah,” I told her slowly, confusion flickering in my eyes. Misha seemed to be on the brink of saying something, her mouth half open in an expression that left her not even half as beautiful as usual: in fact, she sort of looked like a fish. I bit my cheek in an effort not to smile as she closed it and withdrew her blonde head from my vision. I took a few moments to let that confusing scene sink in before I exited the cupboard with a shake of my head, dragging the mop and bucket behind me.
After a few minutes, the floor was clean, but my mind still wasn’t: I couldn’t get Misha and her confusing behavior out of my head.
When I had only just resolved to keep Misha and her stupid band- not to mention her odd behavior- out of my head, the bell above the door rang. That bell had caused us untold irritation: the owner of Sueno, the café where the two of us worked, had decided last year that the caff needed to attract tourists as well as the usual rich (and impatient) people we get, and so had put up that bell, insisting that ‘the first thing tourists expect when they walk into a café or a shop is to hear the bell ringing, announcing their presence’. As if a bell would attract tourists. All it had done so far was annoy the hell out of most of the customers, not to mention us: and that was what it was doing now.
“I’m sorry, we’re closed,” I called out through gritted teeth to the person at the door, blocked from my line of vision by the counter, which I was crouched behind, scrubbing the floor.
“I know,” the smooth, sneering voice replied. All at once, I was extremely grateful for the counter that stopped him from seeing me gasp and my eyes widen, and for the bell that had alerted me of his presence.
“Get out, Chris,” I warned him in what I hoped would be a threatening tone. He ignored me. I reached out to hold onto something, to anything, that would stop my hands from shaking. I heard him approach, and the shakes increased tenfold. “I said, get out!”
“I hear Misha’s been trying to convince you to join her little band,” he said, igoring me yet again. I knew he was directly over head me, and I stood, most of the fear that shook me melting into hate. Passionate, violent hate. “What’s wrong? Scared?”
“Just get out, Chris,” I told him again, too shaken and too angry to bother thinking up a snide retort, like I usually would have done. “Get out, or I call the police.”
“Coward,” his poisonous, odious voice whispered. “Such a coward.”
I fumbled for my phone, pulling it out of my pocket to wave it at him. “I mean it.”
“Hah,” He sneered. I turned away with the pretence of casually picking up the sponge that I had dropped when he had come in, my ears pricked: but sure enough, I heard him leave, the annoying bell sounding so reassuring amongst the roaring that was pounding in my ears.
Once the roaring had stopped, and the shakes had, too, the anger took over completely. How dare he? How dare he call me a coward? If there was one thing I hated, it was being called a coward. It was a challenge, a test. He knew that would get to me… Because I had been brought up never to back down. Never to lose. So if her was going to challenge me…
Then so be it.
“Misha?” I spoke through gritted teeth once I had dialed her number with no longer trembling fingers. “I’m in.”