“I know,” the girl said, lingering at Faye’s back. “It suits you. You can borrow it if you like.”
“Ugh, I wouldn’t have a reason to wear it. You might as well keep it.” Faye brushed her hands through her hair. “What about my hair?”
“It looks good,” Penny interjected, leaning by the window. She had styled Faye’s hair and Sonny had loaned the dress while they experimented and messed around, taking full advantage of Sonny’s extensive wardrobe.
“I don’t know,” Faye pouted. “I’m not sure.”
“I think if you do the fringe a bit differently, it’ll suit you better,” Zoey piped up, studying Faye’s face thoughtfully. Faye turned away from the mirror.
“Hmm. I was thinking of dyeing my hair until Constance did hers. Poor girl. It looks dreadful…” Faye felt her legs prickle as she moved one against the other. She’d need to shave again soon.
“I think she’s bleaching it to dye it a bright colour, right?” Penny asked, lookigng down at her nails.
“It won’t be for long,” Zoey nodded, her tone suggesting that she didn’t like talking about her friend while she wasn’t here.
“Good,” Faye giggled, a mean glint in her eyes. “Because it looks so bad. I would hate to come into school looking like that.”
While Penny and Sonny laughed, Zoey stared up at Faye in surprise.
Faye turned back to the mirror and Zoey stood up, feeling bold. “That’s not very nice,” she tutted, though she didn’t quite have the conviction to make herself loud. Faye heard her easily, if the disbelieving look she gave Zo was any indication.
“Well, it’s true, isn’t it?”
Zoey didn’t know what to say to that. Faye’s tone had been nasty and she seemed to think that was the conversation over. Faye began to pull the bobbles out of her hair and turned to Penny, indicating that it was her turn to dress up. Zoey felt her face glow with warmth but she didn’t dare speak up again.
Summer had convinced herself out of going to the bookshop about five different times but, ultimately, Uma thought she was coming. Sum didn’t have the confidence to make friends with her on simbook just to make up an illness. It may only put it off…
Even though she was nervous, there was a pleased excitement in her that made her toes curl. This was so out of her comfort zone that it made her nauseous but she couldn’t help but look forward to having Uma’s company again.
The door knocked a bell when she opened it, and the signal caused Uma to look up from a book open by the desk. It was a simple bookshop but full of small alcoves for readers to be tucked away in, and Summer loved the place. She loved it even morenow. Uma looked cute with her nose deep in a book.
Uma gestured to the nearby table. “Take a seat. Would you like a coffee?”
“Oh, I’d prefer a hot chocolate if you have them?”
“Sure!” Uma beamed. After a couple of minutes, she brought two cups to the table. Summer had already set out her folder. She had debated for ages whether to take it or not, fearing it might make her look too over prepared, but in the end she needed to teach Uma something.
“Okay, spill your writing secrets with me.”
Summer was doubly glad for the folder. When she wrote, the words flowed from somewhere deep inside her and she didn’t need to think. It all seemed to come naturally. Sure, there were always mistakes and editing needed, but it was still difficult to put into words exactly what she did. Luckily, she’d prepared for that.
They spent the next forty minutes discussing writing. Summer was glad for the hot chocolate; it stopped her mouth getting dry from all the talking. This was the most she’d spoken to someone outside her immediate family in ages.
Uma was enthralled, though. Her eyes were bright with wonder and she was clearly engaging in the chat. Summer almost hoped that her advice didn’t work so they could spend more time together.
After replacing their drinks, Uma sat back in her chair, smoothing out her skirt. As always, her long legs were distracting and Summer felt herself blushing.
“Would you read what I write before I submit it to the teacher?” Uma asked, something distinctly shy in her tone. Remembering how difficult it had been to see Faye reading her writing, Summer nodded eagerly.
“Of course. I’d be honoured.”
Uma beamed and leaned back in her chair. “You’re a lifesaver, Summer. What would I do without you?”
Awkwardly, Summer tried to laugh. She had no idea what to say to that and was just happy for the compliment. “You can send it to me over email or something, if you’d like.”
“Oh, I’ll add you on simbook. I can send it through a chat. Better than emailing. Or I could print it off and give it to Faye to pass on?”
Summer’s face must have fell at the mention of her sister, and although she hastily tried to cover it up, Uma had noticed.
“Oh, it’s just, um, she’s not always the most… respectful? She might just end up reading it herself, or forgetting to give it to me…” It was difficult to find the right words without treading on a possible minefield. Summer couldn’t help be wary of the popular girls. No matter how nice Uma seemed, they were ready to use any slip up against you.
“Oh, okay! Simbook it is.” It was tricky to push the chair back on the thick carpet and Uma ended up clumsily hopping back so that she could stand. There was nothing in her words or tone to suggest she had taken offence to Summer’s comment, no matter how hard they were analysed.
Summer reached out to drain her hot chocolate. She desperately needed a wee. The nearest toilets were in the cafe opposite the street, but Summer wasn’t sure how to politely excuse herself while still ensuring Uma she’d had a good time.
Apparently, it wasn’t necessary. As soon as Sum stood to put her cup in the bin, Uma pulled her in for a hug. She flailed for a moment in response but managed to get a grip on her body for long enough to embrace Uma in return before the girl was pulling away again. Summer was sure her face – no, her entire body – was burning red.
“Thanks for your help, Summer.”
“Oh, no problem,” she squeaked. “Good luck.”
“If I get an A, I’ll buy you a book from the store. I get a discount,” she winked.
“You don’t have to do that,” Summer stammered, feeling her face warm further. “It’s no trouble, really.”
“Maybe not, but I don’t mind. You can never have too many books!”
Well, Summer couldn’t disagree with that. She gave Uma a watery smile and said some form of goodbye, shuffling out of the shop and becoming increasingly aware of her full bladder. Luckily the coffee shop wasn’t far away and Summer could spend the walk home worrying about every word she’d said instead of crossing her legs and thinking of England.
The breeze was warm, even for the early summer months, and Liam felt his legs burning in his dark jeans.The sun beat down on him and he knew that unless he returned home quickly, he was going to have some awful sunburn tomorrow.
He reached up to tug on his unruly red hair with a sigh. It stuck out at awkward angles and took full advantage of the weather to become a frizzy mess. It was probably the only thing about him that made him stand out from his family, and yet it was another trait that made him feel so out of place with them.
The nearby plants, in full bloom and filling the air with thick floral scenes, made his spot an ideal hideaway in the park. Even people walking off the bridge next to him probably would only spot him out of the corner of their eyes. Liam got to watch the world go by – or he usually did, when the sun didn’t drive him back indoors.
He heard someone sigh on the bridge. It was only that light noise and the subtle creaks from the wooden slats that indicated there was a walker nearby; usually Liam could hear the footsteps from the moment a park-goer plodded onto the structure. When Liam looked up and saw Kane – taller than he remembered him being – he jumped up. Kane didn’t even startle; somehow he must have seen Liam first and not had a fright.
“Kane!” he blurted, surprised to see him here. There were occasional glimpses around school but Kane tended to keep out of people’s way and preferred his own company. Liam had barely seen him since the teenager was last at his house, some four or five years ago.
Kane gave him a once over. He wore a long sleeved top that stretched over his chest and broad shoulders, but must have been stuffy in this heat. “Uh, yeah?” he asked, narrowing his eyes and continuing to look wary and suspicious. Liam fidgeted where he stood, treading the ground into dry mud.
“Um, sorry, I was surprised to see you. I haven’t seen you in… Anyway, how are you?”
Kane gave a snort at the question. “Peachy,” he replied with a dry laugh. It lacked humour just as much as it lacked happiness. “Sorry, Loxley, right?”
Liam’s eyes dropped to the floor. He struggled to keep his composure. He was really that unremarkable and easy to forget, wasn’t he? “Liam, actually.”
“Oh, right.” Kane shrugged and drew a tissue out of his pocket to wipe at his inflamed eyes, giving the flowers by Liam’s feet a disgruntled look. “Anyway, see ya, I guess.”
Liam nodded, a stuttering movement, and said nothing as Kane turned away and continued walking home, his hands shoved deep into his pockets and his shoulders hunched in, making him look far smaller than he actually was.
Liam stood there for some time. Butterflies fluttered about sporadically and occasionally threatened to land on him, but his mind was drifting away. Kane had spent many years with their family before Faye had gone to high school, so not being recognised was a kick in the gut. Liam took a deep breath and quickly blinked away tears. If he didn’t want to get forgotten for the rest of his life – by old friends, by teachers, by his own family – then he would have to do something about it.
The weather rapidly returned to its usual, which was to say it was lukewarm while the rest of the UK experienced an early heat wave, and it often threatened to rain, bringing the midgies out from the depths of hell that they waited to emerge from. Luckily there was enough of a breeze today that it kept them away, so Skye was happy to sit by the park fountain and ponder yet more of life’s mysteries.
It didn’t take long for her to be interrupted, but she couldn’t be upset about it. His voice, calling her name with cheeriness, lifted her heart and sent it soaring somewhere in the stratosphere.
“Felix!” she beamed, jumping up.
“Enjoying your day?”
“I enjoy every day that I’m not in school,” she laughed, rocking forward onto her tiptoes at the sudden excitement of seeing Felix again. She hadn’t expected to – at least, not so soon before a reasonable amount of time had passed that she could walk up to the campsite again. “And you?”
“I’m actually on a mission from dad. He wants to teach me to build stuff. Kind of a maths and DIY lesson in one.” He pulled out a bunch of screws from his pocket and shook them, making the plastic bag rustle and the metal clink.
“What maths do you need to build things?” Skye wrinkled her nose. Everyone was always protesting in class, saying that they wouldn’t need any of the stuff they learned. Skye agreed – when was she going to need algebra, for goodness’ sake!
“Well, Pythagoras for one. Anyway, I have the rest of the day off. Want to go to the beach before the clouds roll in?”
For a second Skye was taken aback by the easy and spontaneous invitation, but then she remembered that this was how Felix was and felt a rush of fondness for him. “Sure,” she agreed, though her heart was pounding in her chest. This wasn’t something she normally did. Everything was always well planned and organised. She did’t even have sun cream.
“Hey, so I’ll give you another lesson that I learned in school,” Felix said as soon as they hit the beach. He passed her a grin and trotted fearlessly towards the water, leaving Skye to pick her way more carefully. Her feet sunk in the soft sand and she groaned at the feeling of the particles around her socks.
“What lesson?” She eventually joined him, staying just out of reach of the swash. Felix didn’t seem to notice it go over his feet, and the hem of his jeans became wet very quickly.
“How to skip stones!” Felix scooped up a couple of good rocks, rubbing his thumb over them to clear them of sand and critters. “It’s a very important lesson,” he said solemnly.
“Of course,” Skye nodded. “But um… why?”
“Because you have more fun,” he grinned at her for a moment, but he turned his head back to the water and crouched, flicking his wrist in a practiced motion and sending the stone bouncing off the water five times, almost hitting a bobbing red buoy. “Your turn!” His eyes were alight with excitement.
Skye’s attempt was poor, and Felix tutted at her and shook his head. “I’m going to have to give you homework to practice that.”
She found herself laughing at Felix’s serious expression, so incredulous that he was this silly and that she had been lucky enough to meet him. Why wasn’t anyone in school like him? They were all so… frightened. Frightened to be themselves or to do something that might make them look silly. She was too, and with a start she realised exactly what she had been feeling was missing from herself since she started high school. She was too afraid to have fun the way she wanted to.
Felix watched her with a delighted smile and a flush to his cheeks as she laughed and laughed. She held her sides as her stomach muscles ached and finally got a grip. When her giggles had subsided, Felix looked at her slyly. “So, how about a swim in the ocean?” he asked, dipping his hand into the water and flicking it towards her.
Skye’s protest of wearing no swimming costume was only met with a derisive snort. Felix stripped down to his boxers and then began to inch into the water, gasping every once in a while as a new level of cold shocked him. Skye watched him tiptoe in, if “watched him” meant that she was admiring his fit body. His work around the campsite must have helped; his muscles were well defined and even made his shoulders and arms seem thick, and Skye could only feel disappointed when the water went up to his waist and hid his bum from sight…
“Come on then,” he teased, shivering a little, and with a deep breath shoved his body under water to get used to the cold. Skye blushed but she couldn’t help feeling bold and stripped off into her bra and knickers (thanking her past self for wearing her new matching set). She had turned away from Felix while she took her clothes off, but a glance over her shoulder proved that he hadn’t turned away. She smiled nervously and he grinned back, flicking more water in her direction. Skye took the plunge and rushed into the water before she could regret it, squealing at the sudden drop in temperature and splashing water at Felix when he laughed at her.
They couldn’t stay in the water for too long – it was only early summer – so Felix soon scrambled up the bank and ran to save their clothes from the incoming tide. His cheeks were rosy with the cold and he wiped his chest and back with the fluffy inside of his jacket and offered it to Skye, who was shivering violently. Felix momentarily seemed concerned, edging up to her to rub some warmth into her bare arms, but quickly he saw that she was grinning too wildly for there to be anything wrong.
“That was awesome! Please, please let’s do that again some time.”
Felix slicked his hair back, spraying water onto the sand, and yet it still somehow sprung back into it’s usual state of disarray. “We should go out on a boat next time,” he said. “Water skiing or snorkeling or something. When it’s warmer.”
Skye’s face dropped. She couldn’t help but feel disappointed that they had to wait, her skin was buzzing with excitement and despite the cold she felt like every inch of her was more alive than it had been before.
“Hey, look at you, you’re totally an adrenaline junkie. I would never have guessed!”
“An adrenaline junkie! You totally want to go do something exciting again, don’t you? It gets you hooked.” Felix reached out for his t-shirt and slid it on, letting Skye use the inside of his jacket to dry herself enough for her own clothes.
“I’ve never done anything like that before,” she enthused.
Felix stared at her. “You’ve never swam in the ocean?”
“Not in my underwear!” she giggled, looking around them.
Felix pressed his lips together, though his reddening face betrayed his hidden laughter. He eventually gave up on muffling it and chuckled. “I’m clearly a bad influence then.”
Skye paused in her attempt to pull her leggings onto damp legs. She thought that Faye would have teased her mercilessly for having hairy legs, but Felix hadn’t even seemed to notice. “I don’t think so,” she admitted, feeling stupidly shy. “Anyway, I should get home before dinner is ready.”
“Well, we can walk together for part of the way, right?”
Skye gave an eager nod and pulled her long top over her, embarrassed about the growing damp patches around her chest as her bra soaked through. They walked and talked and, guiltily, Skye hoped that Joshua hadn’t seen her while they did so. She still hadn’t broken up with him.