Lisa said goodbye to me, giggling and adjusting her glasses, when we got to the dinner hall. Music was a two hour lesson during which everyone gave up towards the end. We were supposed to have a break in between but we never did. Nobody cared enough to leave the classroom.
After shoving my hand into my coat pocket to see if I had any change, I decided it was probably worth getting some lunch. I wouldn’t be home ‘til about six since it was my shift on litter picking duty.
It usually only took a few seconds of looking around the room to find an empty table. I preferred to sit alone. That way, I didn’t feel obligated to engage in conversation. I may have grown up with all of these people, but that didn’t mean I had to like them. If you’re not friends with them, you get sick of them after a while.
Maybe about five minutes after I’d finished eating, she came and sat opposite me.
“So, Elsie is it?”
“Um… yeah. I forgot to tell you earlier. Do you want my juice?”
“Not really- but I guess I’m having it anyway.”
She had pushed her carton into my hands without waiting for an answer. I wasn’t about to disagree with her.
“Sorry, I just kind of realised I didn’t want it after I got it. Do you want my fries?”
I looked at her for a second. “Chips.”
She looked back at me. “Right, chips. Do you want them?”
“No but I guess I’m having them anyway, too?”
“Sorry,” she said again.
“If you don’t want them, why did you buy them?”
“To seem normal,” she replied. “And besides, it’s not like they’re overpriced.”
I shrugged. The chips were forty five pence because the school cared more about our health than our education.
She hooked her hair behind her ear. “Your friend finds himself way too funny,” she said.
“I dunno: you seemed pretty into him.”
“Well Lisa seemed pretty into you,” and she got up and walked away.
I sat at the table for another ten or fifteen minutes contemplating what had gotten her so irritable since that morning and then decided to take Bettie some hot food. She’d only got a sandwich.
On the way to the primary school, I picked up a sausage roll and some hot chocolate and it came to ninety five pence. One of the things I loved about Staleton was that everything was so cheap.
The school gate was locked so I tapped one of Bettie’s friends on the shoulder and he ran off to get her.
“Is that your boyfriend?” I teased when she took her food and drink from me.
“No!” her cheeks flushed bright red, harsh against her pale skin.
And then Elsie walked past. I know she saw me. Her eyes went wide for a second and then she pulled her hood over her hat on her head.
Yes, following her was a weird thing to do, but I planned to cheer her up again. The route she was taking was odd. Nobody lived down this way. She was leading me into the deserted part of the village; the part which was supposed to look attractive to holiday makers.
Her Ugg boots were absorbing moisture from the snow. I could see where it made a darker patch from her heels. Whatever had made her decide to wear those things, it was not a sane choice.
Just before the caravan park, she stopped and turned around.
“I’m not letting you follow me home so just stop.”
Ah, f*ck. “I wasn’t, I was just-“
“Go home, Lucas.”
“Stop following me, Lucas.” And, for the second time that day, she walked away from me.
It killed my mood even though it was entirely my fault. I shoved my hands into my trouser pockets, kicking snow as I walked home.
God, she was pretty. The snowflakes on her hair had kind of glittered; I’d noticed when she’d frowned at me. And her eyes were blue. Not bright blue, that would just be ridiculous but a nice, pale shade.
I’d liked girls before. I always fell for them quickly, which is probably why I had never managed to keep one. I mean, looking at it logically, what had this girl – Elsie – actually done to me today? Flirted with me? Nah, she probably didn’t even know she was doing it. She’d had a friendly conversation with me to start, and then she’d been mean to me twice. For no reason, too.
Wow. What a b*tch.
Litter picking duty. It’d gotten to a point where it had stopped being boring and I actually looked forward to it. I mean, sure, in the dead of winter it wasn’t a job to be desired. But it was something to do in the village.
It was getting to dusk and the clouds in the sky were unusually white. The colours of the beach had blended into grey. The beam of the torch glinted against the silver coins which had for some reason been scattered near the shoreline.
As usual, Jim turned up just as I moved onto the pier.
“You have this timing creepily perfect, Jim.”
“It’s yours that’s perfect, you freak,” he raised an eyebrow. “Five-thirty every Monday.”
“Jim, mate, what have you got on your face?”
“Just when I thought you hadn’t noticed. I’m starting to understand why choir girl feels the need to impress you so much.”
I shot him a sideways glance. “There was no need to be a dick about it.”
“Oh, come off it, Luke.”
We walked back down the pier and Jim started up the metal detector. Obviously, it was pointless but we were being supervised by a member of the council and we’d get into trouble if we didn’t do it.
“Choir girl?” I said after a while.
“Yeah, y’know, Lisa-” he cut himself off when I stopped walking. “Oh. Yeah. El came up with it.”
“How original. Strange that you’ve never found it so hilarious before.”
He didn’t reply, just started picking the coins up from the beach. It was quiet for a while, with just the sound of the waves gently melting the snow.
“I’m not after your girl, if that’s what you’re so bothered about. You can have her.”
After my girl? What the hell? “Jim, I do not think that you are after my girl.”
“No, I’m just saying. You saw her first so if you’re into her, I’ll back off.”
“I don’t want you to back off. She doesn’t even like you.”
I was glad she didn’t. Jim was the epitome of what girls in this village looked for. Short for his age, somewhat muscular, and with a secret thing which made him ‘unattractive’. In this case, it was his atrocious eyesight and the fact that for three straight years, he had had the old village glasses. They were worse than Lisa’s. Too wide for everyone’s face. So bad that they inspired almost every mum or dad to drive somewhere else to buy contact lenses for their children.
Jim had been one of those children but after a while, his mum apparently got fed up of wasting petrol like that.
Once we got back to the beach entrance, he shoved the metal detector into my hands.
“You only like her ‘cause she’s not from here.”
And for the third time, I got walked away from.
I dreaded going home. If my best friend was acting like this, god knows what the four members of my household would be like.
Bettie slept quietly on the sofa, having already eaten her dinner before I got home. Mum and Dad had gone out for a meal and hadn’t got back home yet. My grandma was reading in her bedroom.
Our house was small. It was only just big enough for a family of five. My dad had gone out of town when Bettie was born to find somebody who could refurbish it so that we could live comfortably inside. During that change, the living room had become the kitchen, too, while the miniscule kitchen had been turned into an extra bedroom. That bedroom had been mine for a while until my sister had grown too big to stay in my parent’s room with them. Bettie and I had been moved into Grandma’s room and she had moved into mine.
Upstairs, a quarter of the bedroom we now shared had been removed in order to make room for a bigger bathroom and part of Mum and Dad’s room was taken away to make a storage room.
Everything was decorated in either pale pink, dark blue or brown. I’d never liked it but beggars can’t be choosers.
“Luke, could you carry the little one upstairs please?” Grandma was at the living room door, her thumb keeping her page in the book she was holding.
“Yeah, okay.” I put down my sheet music and slid my arms carefully under Bettie’s back and legs. Somehow, she was always heavier when she was asleep.
A few hours passed before my mind strayed back to the girl again, and those snowflakes in her hair. And on her eyelashes.
I laid down, pulling the duvet up to my neck, and as I fell asleep I wondered how the hell she knew my name.