Burned (Nov. 11th PM)

Katie POV:

I was going to get the bus, even though lesson had ended late and the fog that had descended after lunch probably meant that the bus could be three feet away from me and I’d not notice it either pull in, pull away, or any of the passengers disembark.

                Groaning tiredly, I sprinted down the street, through the dark, grey cloud – determined that when the rain came down, I would not be stranded in it. A light at the end of the road guided me toward the bus stop – not that I didn’t know where it was, but the soft orange glow was welcoming, almost a beacon on a cliff to my wayward ship. Today hadn’t been the best of days, to be honest, the whole art-with-Nathan thing severely throwing me off – I hadn’t expected to tell him and for him to be so accepting, so... genuine about it. I just hoped he would accept that on days like today, I wasn’t at my best, and I wasn’t... happy.

                I only realised it was a cigarette glowing at the end of the street when I smelled the smoke mingling heavily with the damp, horrible air. I groaned when I reached the bus stop, throwing myself down on the seat under the shelter. At first, I didn’t notice him, ignoring the smell of cigarettes and chocolate to focus on my doom and gloom. It only hit me when, turning to see if the bus was on its way, I realised who he was.

“Nathan?!” He jolted alive, turned to face me.

“Oh!” His voice was stronger than his image, blurred by the wisps of smoke and fog around him, although as he stepped closer to me, and stood in front of my knees, I could see the fag in his hand. I felt sick. “Are you feeling-?”

“Put it out?! Please?” It came out as a pathetic yelp but I saw the sudden fear in his eyes.

“I’ve nearly finished it,” He muttered defensively, still standing in front of me. He lightly nudged my left foot with his right, and I nudged back. “Are you feeling better?” He tried again, a small smile on his face.

“I was. For god’s sake, Nathan, put that out.” I folded my arms, feeling thoroughly irritated and sickened by it. He covered the end with his hand and brought it down to his side.

“Christ, Katie, I didn’t know you hated it-”

“It makes you stink!” I suddenly hated that when I was having a bad day, I either said nothing or was loud, rude and determined, “When I hug you, I can always tell, and I just don’t like it! What’re you doing to yourself?” I folded my arms again, realising I’d been gesturing wildly, and he sat down beside me, holding the cigarette away from us, so it burned on out of our little bubble. I could smell it as strongly as before, however, and I blanched, leaning away from him slightly. “Please,” I managed to murmur as he raised it to his lips again.

                He made no sound, didn’t attempt to stop me as I reached up slowly and lightly tugged it from his mouth, gasping as the lit end of it touched my palm, burning painfully for a second, until I dropped the butt to the floor, where it fizzed slightly and went out. I was more perturbed by the sharp stinging of the burn now spreading across my palm.

“Motherfu-” I shook my hand out quickly, looking at it as fingers curled around my wrist almost protectively, and turned the palm of my hand skyward. I tried to pull away, but I held firm and refused to look at him.

“Let me see, Katie.” His voice was soft and soothing, all of a sudden, and my fist unclenched as he drew his fingertips down the edge of my thumb.

I sighed, and he sighed right back.

“All I do is hurt you.” His lips barely moved as he said the words, and I wondered if I was supposed to hear, to understand those words as they balanced in the air between us. “This should be alright, just put some antiseptic on it when you get home, or something.” He smiled and dropped his fingers from mine, though I felt as though the atmosphere, whatever it was that had passed between us when I had thrown that cigarette away, had thoroughly dissipated.  

                I frowned slightly as he looked down at my hand, his eyes rising to give a cursory glance to the poppy pinned to my jacket, and then flitting back to my face.

“Are you sure?”

“I’ve had worse, trust me.” He half smiled.

                There was silence between us for the longest time; we didn’t even look at each other, until I decided I couldn’t take the awkwardness any more.

“You’re wrong,” I fielded suddenly, he glanced at me, then decided that inspecting my hand was more important, though he wasn’t holding my hand steady and his lips were pressed into a stress-induced, thin line.

“I think I know how bad my own burns are,” He said, a trace of misplaced anger in his tone.

“I meant... you don’t usually...” I breathed in and out and looked up into his face, “Hurt me.”

                To me, I sounded breathless, needy and desperate, and in a way, it was because I was. I wanted him, right then, to feel some of the confusion and strangeness that I was feeling, my chest pounding and my stomach going through a fucking washing machine.

“I don’t mean to.” He said softly, the stench of cigarettes slowly dissipating as he looked at me, and I really looked at him. His eyes were darker than usual, I didn’t know if it was the rain, the solemnity of the day catching up with him, or just the fact that he was closer to me, staring into my eyes as though I was the only thing on earth at that moment.

“I know.” My mouth didn’t close when my sentence finished, because I don’t think I could have moved at that second, at that point in time. The bus, only in existence because I could hear it in the background, came and dropped four people off. Four voices to distract me, but they didn’t.

“It’s the last thing I want to do, hurt you,” He murmured, and my stomach twisted again, “You know that, don’t you?” I nodded mutely and tried not to think of anything at all, but the here and now.

                A second later, and he shoved his hand in his pocket, then pressed something against my hand, trying to find my fingers without breaking eye contact with me. I glanced down and saw that he’d pressed a packet of cigarettes into my hand.

“Wha-” He smiled and I was silenced, not quite understanding what was going on.

“Take them.” His eyes were full of hesitation and it seemed as though he refused to look away. “Please?” I nodded mutely again, and he smiled, looking away from our little bubble and bursting it like it hadn’t existed in the first place. “This is my bus.”  He stepped forward, out into the fog and threw out his arm for it. The lights appeared and I felt a sense of loss already.

“Nathan?” My voice carried out of my cocoon of shelter quickly and suddenly, and he looked back as I stepped forward, “Thank you,” I whispered, “For everything.”

                My lips hit his cheek and my hand came up to make sure I couldn’t miss. He let out a long sigh and his breath hit my scarf, bleeding through it and warming me suddenly. I swallowed and pulled away, shutting my eyes and smiling slightly.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Nathan.” I whispered, pulling lightly at the Poppy pinned to his lapel.

“C-course...” He managed to splutter, “... I-erm...” He gestured at the waiting bus and I nodded, watching him as he disappeared into the relative warmth and safety of the red metal. I sighed as I melted back into the fog, but not before the bus had driven away, and I had seen a smiling Nathan take a seat as far back as he could.  

                Maybe today wasn’t so bad after all.

The End

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