I woke up with an arm on top of me. Looking to my left, I saw Sam sleeping soundly on the mattress next to mine, arms and legs spread out on all directions, mouth open as she drooled onto the pillow.
Agatha was sleeping on her bed. Ruth had decided to go back to her room for the night, so Sam had laid to sleep next to me on the floor. I wished she’d wake up and take her arm off my chest though. The fact that I couldn’t turn around in bed was making me really uncomfortable.
I stood still for a long time, thinking about the recent events. Having friends who’d stick up for me when I was being ostracized by other students was something completely new in my life. I’d had very few friends in elementary school, and then my friend count went down to zero once we moved into middle school, and remained that way up until I left the North. Nobody wanted to be near me, the cursed girl.
And right now I was having a sleepover with my new friends.
I began to cry again, unsure if of sadness or joy. Please, god, if you exist, don’t let my stupid curse ruin this for me.
I looked at Sam’s face again. I wished I had a camera, so I could take a picture of her, just then. I wanted to show her how silly she looked in her sleep.
Her cheeks had a slight redness to them. They looked soft. I poked them (with the only hand that wasn’t immobilized under Sam’s sleeping position). She grunted, chewed on something invisible, then stopped again. Looks like she wasn’t going to wake up anytime soon.
It was morning already, and the room was filled with that yellowish light of the early hours of day. Soon we’d all have to get up and get dressed for class. I wanted to get a shower before that, and drop by my room so I could get my notebooks and pencil case.
“Sam…” I called her.
“Hngh…” She grunted, not moving from place.
“Sam, wake up.”
Samantha wrapped her arm tighter around me, and brought her body closer, cuddling me. She never even opened her eyes. Bother. I sighed, trying to think of a way to get out of Sam’s embrace.
That was about when Ruth opened the door, walking inside and looking left and right at us. She raised her eyebrows when she saw Sam cuddling me in her sleep.
“Err… Help me, please?” I asked her.
“Sure,” she said, smiling at me. Then she yelled: “AGATHA, GET UP. WE HAVE CLASS. SAMANTHA, YOU'RE BOTHERING ANA. WAKE UP AND MOVE.”
The girls woke up, frightened.
“Goddammit, Ruth, stop shouting! I have a headache. Please don’t do that again.”
“You’re hungover, Agatha. Drink some water and go take a bath. It’s physics today, you can’t miss any more physics classes.”
Samantha looked at the way her body was half over mine. She jumped off, blushing like crazy.
“Sorry,” she said, not looking at my face.
“It’s all right,” I told her. And it was. I mean, it did bother me a bit, but I didn’t want her to overthink it. Just… next time I might ask to sleep next to Ruth or Agatha instead.
“I didn't mean to… you know…” she gestured at me, in a broad, unspecific way.
“I know,” I told her, blushing a little as well.
The classes that day went by like normal. The biggest difference was that I no longer sat all alone next to the window, but now I was sitting right next to my new friends, and we made conversation to fill in the empty moments of our day, in between classes. People still avoided me, but Sam and the girls made sure not to let that bring me down. Twice I happened to pass by the baker’s son, and once by the other girl from my town. They both glared at me as if I was a puppy murderer. I decided to be the better person and just ignore it. It wasn’t worth it to get into a fight with them, not when things were finally starting to go right for me.
Thinking that way brought back to me the horrible certainty that, sooner or later, my curse would act up again, and some big disaster would take place in school. That’s usually what happened when I went several days without an incident, it was like my bad luck was being stored to be used all at once into something huge.
I went with the girls to the cafeteria, and we stood in line in order to get lunch from the school staff. They were talking about some inconsequential stuff, like make-up and basketball teams, and I simply stood by, listening to them and laughing at Ruth’s sarcastic jokes.
Then, at some point, they all stopped talking at once. I saw them staring gravely at something behind me. I turned to look.
Claire was walking from the tables toward us. My heart skipped a beat.
“Morning, Anamaria” she said, smiling at me. “Well, afternoon, technically. Anyway, I wanted to talk to you, but I haven’t had the time to do so until now, kinda been busy with all the student council stuff.”
Sam poked me from behind.
“Y’know,” she said, “Agatha needs some help with… school stuff, so Ruth and I will… we'll just go help her out for a bit and… we’ll be back soon. Do you mind?”
“No, not at all,” I said, annoyed.
They walked away from me, leaving me alone with Claire. That was probably a lie. True, Agatha did need help with several “school stuffs”, but that was not something you could sort out by just helping her “a bit”. Nope. Helping Agatha out with her school problems required weeks worth of effort. So it was obvious that they went away from me in order to leave me alone with Claire. Honestly, though, what were they thinking? I wasn’t going to make a move on a girl who’s not single.
I shook my head. Whatever. I’ll have to talk to them later, tell them not to do those kinds of things anymore.
“So…” Claire said. I turned back to look at her. Shit, was she ever so beautiful. “Do you think you have some time after class today? I was thinking we could go out together today. Maybe I could show you around, help you get acquainted with the town. It’s kinda boring to stay all the time cooped up inside the school grounds, y’know.”
“Uh… yeah, sure! Of course! I’d like that.” Anamaria, what were you doing, girl? Didn’t you just say you weren’t going to make a move on her? In that case, wouldn’t it be better to just turn off her invitation?
Claire opened a broad smile.
“Yeah! Right. Okay then. Say, meet me at 6:30 in front of the school gates? Can you manage?”
She walked away.
Moments later, Sam and the other girls basically materialized themselves beside me.
“Sooooo…” Sam looked at me. “What did she say?”
“She asked me out.”
All three girls looked shocked when I said it.
“Not like that!” I told them. “As friends. She wants to show me the city. Since I'm new here and all.”
“Do I smell a date?” said Agatha, grinning. “Romantic evening stroll with your crush?”
“It’s not a… she’s not… that’s not what it is. Really isn’t, okay?” I started to feel embarrassed, with the way they were talking about it. “I’ve said it before, haven’t I? She’s taken. I’m not going to go and flirt with someone who already has a lover. I'm not that kind of girl.”
“She’s just messing with you,” said Samantha. “We know you're not like that.”
“We know that about you,” said Ruth, emphasizing that last word. She had her eyebrows raised in a concerned and surprised expression. “But I’m not really sure about that Claire girl. From the way she was looking at you when you were talking, I’d almost say she was flirting with you.”
I looked at her, startled, to check if that wasn’t just another of her jokes. She did look dead serious about it.
“Might just be my imagination,” she said, finally.
“I hope so,” I told her, unsure.
At 6:25 I made my way to the school gates. I had just barely made enough time to change into some casual clothes, and just put on some light make up. Initially I wanted to wear a social dress, and maybe do my hair up in a fashionable way or something, but I had to slap myself back to reality, knowing that all there ever would be between Claire and I was friendship, and nothing else. So I just dressed as I would if I was going out with Sam and the others, then left my dorm room.
I found Claire already waiting for me just outside the gates.
“Hey, girl! Ready to leave?”
She handed me a helmet.
“My bike’s just around the corner, come on.”
Claire led me around the hedge into a section of the school walls that was lined with bicycles, both motorized and not. She grabbed the handles of one of the bulkier models, one that ran on gasoline (or spellfluid, if it’s a hybrid), and pulled it back into the road beside me.
“Nope,” I said, looking at it as Claire herself put on a second helmet. “I’m not riding on that.” Seriously, I’ve never even learned to ride a normal bicycle. There was no way she’d get me on top of that thing.
“Here, let me help you with this,” she said, taking the helmet from my hands and putting it on my head. She proceeded to fasten the straps around it.
Riding a bike was… troublesome. Right off the bat, after I climbed on top of it and sat myself down, I was suddenly aware of how close my body stood from Claire’s. The bench wasn’t big enough that I could sit comfortably behind, so we were just about a couple of centimeters apart. Even just keeping my legs from touching her hips was already a bit of a challenge.
“You might want to put your hands on my waist,” she told me. “For stability.”
“Um, no, thanks. I’m good.” Seriously, what was she thinking?
She turned on the ignition. I heard the engine fire up beside me. The whole contraption began to tremble, then suddenly, we were moving.
“GOD-DAMMIT!” I screamed into the wind. I panicked, closed my eyes, and grabbed hold of Claire’s waist as tight as I could, almost piercing the skin of her belly with my nails. “Claire can you please, please slow this down!?”
Claire heard me, and I felt the machine slowing down, down to a speed slow enough that I could muster up the courage to open up my eyes.
I looked around, we were riding along the side of the dirt road, moving away from the school. Claire kept the bike at a speed that was comfortable enough that even if I fell of the seat, I wouldn’t get much more than a couple of scratches.
“Thanks,” I told her, relaxing a little.
“First timer?” She asked me. I confirmed it. “We can take it slow until you get used to it.”
“I don’t plan on getting used to this, Claire.”
She laughed heartily.
We drove down the dirt road for about thirty minutes, give or take some. There were no cars or people on the road beside us, and the only lights I could see were the stars above us and the headlights of Claire’s motorcycle. Had I not been frightened like a cat in a bathtub, I might have even found that to be somewhat romantic.
Then a sudden realization hit me.
I was sitting on top of a motorized death machine, being driven through an empty road in the middle of nowhere at night… and my curse still hadn’t acted up. I suddenly had a very bad feeling about this trip. I really should have said no to Claire when she asked me out.
Just as I was thinking that, a series of things happened in quick succession. I heard a loud noise, something that sounded like a small animal hissing. Almost immediately, Claire turned the bike sideways. It skidded, and we fell from it on the dirt road.
The animal hissed again.
A possum stood on the edge of the road, looking at us with an angry expression, showing us its teeth.
“Sorry,” said Claire, getting up from the ground. “Are you all right?” She offered me a hand, to help me get up, but I dismissed it, and got up on my own.
“Shit,” I complained, looking down at my legs. My jeans now featured one large dirty hole on each side, and the exposed skin was bleeding.
“Does it hurt?” she asked me.
“Not much. But I might need new jeans now.”
“Do you mind if I give you a pair?”
I looked up at Claire, confused.
“As a gift. To make up for getting you into an accident.”
I laughed. “No need,” I said. “If anything, I should be giving you something. I’m pretty sure that possum there was my fault.” I looked at the animal, which was climbing up a tree. “It’s probably my stupid curse acting up again, just like that time on the train.”
“If it makes you feel better, this is the fourth time those furry guys got me in a small accident like this. They’re always doing this kind of thing. Also, I don’t think what happened in the train was bad luck. Hadn’t we had a landslide, I probably wouldn’t have met you.”
My eyes widened, and I felt my cheeks blush. I turned my head to look down at Claire, who was fiddling with some mechanical stuff in her bike. My blood rushed. Ruth was right. She was flirting with me.
“Claire…” I called her. “Can we talk?”
“One moment, I’m trying to figure this out.”
I stood there looking at her for a few seconds, until she finally managed to get the bike back on “its feet”.
“This is no good,” she told me. “The chain is busted. We can’t go anywhere with it until I get this fixed. It’s a good thing we’re only a few minutes away from the city, because there’s a repair shop there. It’s probably not open right now, but I know the owner, and he owes me a favor, so he’s got to do this for me. Do you mind if we walk the rest of the way?”
I shook my head. “I mean, it’s not like we have other options, do we?” She chucked. We began walking down the road, with Claire pushing the bike along. “Plus… I really think walking suits me more than riding on that thing.”
“I promise you next time we go together it will be better.”
That got me feeling uncomfortable again.
“Claire, I need to ask you something.”
“I’ll get straight to the point. What do you want from me?”
I stopped walking. She stopped too, and turned to look me in the eyes.
“What do you mean?” she asked me, laughing it off.
“I mean,” I began walking again, alongside her, “did you invite me out because you really just felt like showing me around, since I was new and all? Do you feel sorry for me because of how everyone else has been treating me?”
Claire stayed silent for a while.
“I think I’d like to be your friend,” she said. “I quite liked meeting you, that day on the train, and I’ve been wanting to become friends with you ever since… That is, if you’re okay with it, of course.”
“I’m okay with it,” I told her. “But is that all there is to it? Just friends, and nothing else?”
We kept walking. Good. Claire didn’t really want me as a lover, after all. That’s great, isn’t it? I can be friends with her. She doesn’t have feelings for me. So why does it still hurt, perhaps even more than before?