The only sounds in the canteen were mine and Rowan’s footsteps and the clattering which came from the school kitchens. Once we had scrounged as many loose coins from our pockets as we could and used them to raid the vending machines, we took our seats at the table I had sat at to eat my lunch earlier today.
I played with my half of our Twix, picking the caramel from the top of the biscuit before nibbling the chocolate from around the edges. Rowan just shoved his half into his mouth without a single moment of hesitation, eating the thing whole. He then proceeded to tear our bag of Doritos down the side, flattening out the packet so we had quieter and easier access to the spicy triangles.
Once I’d finished making a mess of my gooey chocolate bar, I reached out to pluck a crisp from the silvery foil.
“I’m surprised they put junk food into the vending machines.” I said quietly, my brows raised.
Rowan shrugged, licking the pads of his fingers in a cat-like way. “Not really complaining either way, honestly.”
I snorted in agreement, scarfing down another few crisps, “let’s just try to eat healthy stuff sometimes, too. Those skinny jeans won’t fit you forever if you keep eating shit like this.”
“Hey,” Rowan smirked, raising his palms into the air, “fast metabolism.”
I moaned in jealously, “I wish I could say the same, this,” I pointed at the Twix’s wrapper and the Doritos, “will render my skinnies unwearable!”
“Stop being so melodramatic! It’s no fun if you can’t treat yourself once in a while,” Rowan chided, dipping his hand back into the packet for another chip.
“I’m not being melodramatic, I’m just saying.” I retorted, still going in for another one of the offending potato slices.
Voices echoed from the canteen entrance and I looked up, expecting to see strangers. I ducked my head down quickly after I had made brief eye-contact with Ryan Fairwood, praying and praying and praying that he wouldn’t come over and try to talk to us.
“So hungry.” He said by way of greeting, plonking himself down heavily beside his relative. That was when I saw it, when they were sat side-by-side, I could see their striking resemblance. They both had the same electric, almost surreal-looking, green eyes. The same strong features; the straight nose, high cheekbones and square jaw. Even their hair was the exact same shade.
But while Ryan was all sharp corners and hard lines, there was a sort of feminine softness that came with Rowan’s elegant androgyny. In my opinion, Rowan was almost definitely the most attractive one of the pair. Ryan was too tall and his figure loomed, it threatened; whereas while Rowan was still tall, he didn’t have an overbearing presence like his relative’s.
“Are you two twins or something?” I couldn’t help but blurt out. Rowan shifted awkwardly next to his relative but Ryan’s laughter boomed through the canteen, he stared at me, his eyes wide and glistening with what I could only describe as mischief.
“She’s got a keen eye this one, hasn’t she?” He grinned widely, nudging Rowan.
“Yes. We are.” Rowan said stiffly, I could see him inching away from his brother, determined to lose the contact between them.
“Obviously ‘lil sis here is the prettier of us both, though, and no one lets me forget it!” Ryan all but shouted. I winced at the loudness of his voice, missing the quiet conversation Rowan and I had been making.
But, wait, “ ‘lil sis”?
“Rowan’s a boy.” I said, my face twisting up in confusion.
“Ouch, harsh much?” Ryan practically cackled and I felt a sudden rush of desire to grab Rowan’s elbow and drag him from this humiliating scene because the barely concealed expression of anguish on his face was too much for me to bear.
“Karin, it’s okay,” Rowan murmured, I felt a light shiver at the sound of him saying my name. I knew he’d seen my expression, “Ryan, I already told you. Please, just stop.” It was a warning, and one that Ryan seemed determined to pretend not to understand.
He cocked his head in mock confusion, that glint was back in his eye and I had to resist the urge to punch him.
“No, no, no. You’re a girl, Rowan. You just have to deal with that shit,” Ryan leaned forwards, shrugging his shoulders.
“Oh, fuck off, Ryan. Just. Please. Do us all a favour and fuck off.” Rowan snapped, running a hand through his short hair, it flopped back over the undercut. I felt awkward, sitting here in the middle of a sibling argument. Family spats were unknown to me. As a single child, I had never really had to worry about getting into fights with relatives.
“No, right, shut up.” Ryan grunted, turning to his brother, “stop lying to everyone. We get it. You’re a dyke. You need attention, so you go ahead and pretend to be a boy. Whatever.”
I bristled, leaping to my feet. The bench scooted back behind me and I slammed my hands onto the table, “don’t you dare use such filthy language! He’s your sibling for crying out loud! Now I may not know him very well, but I’ve known him for long enough to know that he doesn’t deserve this kind of shite from anyone… especially you!”
Ryan looked shocked for a couple of seconds, what I had just said sinking in. Rowan stood up, looking like he was about to vomit. I scooped up my bag, moving around the table to grab Rowan’s forearm. I then dragged him away from his shitty excuse for a brother and out of the canteen.
“You have to live with that?!” I burst out, feeling shaky.
“It’s nothing. Really.” Rowan’s lips were thin.
“No. It’s not nothing. Why have you not told your parents he’s bullying you?” I rounded on him, placing my hands on my hips.
“Look, Karin, it’s not really something I can talk to them about. And, honestly, I’m not sure I’m completely comfortable talking to you about it right now. I mean no offence, but we’ve literally only just met,” he said quietly, sitting on a step of the staircase we were stood by, panting. “But thanks, though. No one has ever stood up for me like that before.”
I fought back the urge to ask “why”. If we continued to be friends, then he’d tell me in his own time. So I just took a seat next to him, leaning back onto my elbows, “I did what any decent person should do.”
We sat there for a while, falling into a silence which had seemed to become a habit of ours. Not that I didn’t like it. I had always preferred the quiet and it was nice to find someone who appreciated it just as much as me.
After I began to grow restless, I felt as though I had to say something.
“We forgot our Doritos.” I sighed miserably.
The smile that hit Rowan’s face was radiant. It was good to see.