“Thanks for the evening,” I told Claire. “It was… really lovely.”
She smiled at me, under the light from the lampposts on the school grounds. We were walking side by side together toward the dorms. Honestly, that night had made me feel warmer inside, and it had nothing to do with the weather, or with the fact that I was still wearing Claire’s sweater. It wasn’t that kind of warmth.
We stopped in front of a building. The school had two dormitories for women, two for men, and one for others. Claire and I lived in different buildings, so we were going to say our farewells here, before I walked away to my own dorm. It was a little bit past eleven, there were almost no people outside, and none anywhere near us. We just stood in front of the building doors undisturbed, looking at each other.
“Thank you for accepting,” she told me, after we’d stopped. “I’m not really good at asking people out, so… I’m glad it worked out this time.”
That made me a little sad. So Claire and her girlfriend really were cheating on each other, it seems. Although Claire hadn’t technically done anything of the sort with me, but if I was reading her signs right, she wanted to.
And so did I.
Honestly, who was I kidding? It was so obvious my four-year-old cousin could have noticed it. When I stood in front of Claire, looking her deeply into her eyes, something stirred inside my chest. There was some sort of invisible force that seemed to be drawing me closer to her, begging me to kiss her.
“Can we do something like this again?” she asked me, expectantly.
“Anytime,” I told her, unable to hide my timid smile.
Even under the poor lighting, I saw her blushing fiercely from my reply. That, too, helped stir up the heat within my chest, making it send tiny sparks all over my body. Claire was beautiful, her foreign complexion matching her wavy unruly hair and freckles, and she was so, so damn cute when she blushed. This wasn’t fair.
“This is awkward,” she said, giggling.
“Yeah,” I agreed, still sporting that same timid smile on my face.
She looked me in the eyes again, the blush not leaving her cheeks. When I saw her looking at me like that, I gave in.
I leaned closer to her face, and planted a kiss tenderly on her lips. It felt soft, and the world just seemed to stop for a moment. As we parted, I felt my blood rush, and my cheeks burn up, blushing. I averted my eyes.
Embarrassed, I ran away, leaving her alone in front of her dorm building.
I was in my room, lying down with my face buried in my pillow. I kissed Claire. I know. I know. It was wrong. She had a lover. It’s true that Myu might have been cheating on her, but that didn’t give me the right to go and steal her girlfriend’s lips. With that, I concluded, I was probably as bad as Myu herself.
A frightening thought emerged in my mind. Back then I had been interpreting everything Claire said and did as if she was flirting with me. But what if she really was just being nice? What if she actually only wanted to show me the city and be my friend, like she told me before?
If that was the case, then I had just absolutely blown up any chance of us ever being friends again.
And wasn’t it just like my curse to ruin all the things I actually cared about in my life? Claire’s friendship was bound to be one of those. Just one more thing that my darned curse happened to destroy, another one to add to the long list of previous ruined episodes in my life.
God, I needed to talk to someone. I wanted someone to tell me, to explain to me what just all of that meant. I wanted to clear my head of all those doubts, to stop the guilt and the blame from taking over me. Being alone only made more doubts and paranoid thoughts spiral up in my head, making me dizzy and scared.
I got up from the bed and reached for the doorknob.
Then I stopped myself, just as I was about to touch it. I went back to the bed to lay down.
Of course I wanted to tell Sam and the others about this. But it was almost midnight already, I’d probably only bother them. And hadn’t it been just a few hours since I told all three that I wouldn’t make a move on Claire? I really wasn’t ready to be judged for that, just yet.
How would I react, once Claire and I met each other on the refectory during lunch hours, or at some corridor in between classes? Would I be able to smile at her? Would I just avert my eyes, knowing I had made the mistake of my lifetime? Would she blame me for it? Hate me for it? Or would she approach me and ask me to have an affair with her?
And if she asked me that, would I accept it?
Those were just some of the hundreds of questions that churned inside my head. The more I tried to make sense of them, to find some sort of answer, the more I found myself lost and confused.
One thing was for certain, though: Claire was pretty much the only thing I could think about for the rest of that night.
I woke up to someone calling me.
“Anamaria!” Then I heard a knock on the door. “Are you there?”
I was, of course. I got out of bed quickly, recognizing Sam’s voice coming from outside. I dashed to the door and opened it, to let her into my room.
She smiled, and hugged me.
“I’m glad you’re okay,” she said, placing her hands on my elbows. Then she turned from our embrace and went to pick something up from inside her backpack. “You know, you haven’t shown up for class, and nobody saw you get back from the city yesterday. That kind of got me and the girls worried about you.
“I’m fine…” I told her, letting myself sit down on the bed again. “Just haven’t slept very well last night. That and– Wait a minute, what do you mean I haven’t shown up for class? What time is it?”
“Uhh… half past noon.”
“What?! You can’t be serious?”
“Nope,” she told me. “Just checked the clock in the hallway before coming here for you. It was kinda hard trying to figure out which room you were staying at, so we had Ruth look it up in the student files while the teachers weren’t looking.”
“Stealthy…” I nodded, appreciating the team effort.
“So… these are the copies I made of today’s homework. You owe me one. And two bucks, you owe me that too.”
I took the photocopies from her hand, and glanced over them. Math again. And history, and law. Enough homework to keep me cooped up inside my room all night this weekend. “Thanks,” I told her.
“And with that out of the way,” Sam sat down at the bed by my side. “Now you tell me what happened. I have never seen you skip classes before. Did Claire do something to you last night? Did she hurt you?”
Sam’s eyes fell on my bare legs, which still sported the wounds from the motorcycle accident.
“No!” I exclaimed, realizing that Sam was already making assumptions about those wounds. “These are… I mean… I fell. It was an accident. Just my bad luck, you know. Claire, she… actually helped me get the wounds cleaned up.”
“I see…” she told me, slowly and in monotone. Then she turned her eyes back up to meet my own, and I felt as if she was looking straight into my soul. “Then why did you skip today’s classes?”
“I overslept,” I told her, truthfully.
“Is that so?” She raised her eyebrows at me. “All right. But you have to tell me about your date yesterday. How was it?”
I had to look away. I know, I know. I wanted to tell Sam the whole story about yesterday’s meeting, kiss and all. But then… there was just this smallest part of me warning me that I really shouldn’t. It made sense, though. It was bad enough that I was probably losing Claire as a friend, but no matter how friendly Sam was to me, there was still a chance she’d ditch me once she found out what I’d done. If she didn’t, one of the girls would. And then all three would drift apart from me, and I’d be once more the cursed kid with no friends. I didn’t want that. I really didn’t.
“It was okay,” I said, looking at the ceiling. I couldn’t look back at Sam’s eyes, embarrassed that I was lying to her. “She showed me the town, we bought food, and came back. Nothing out of ordinary.”
Silence. Oh, crap. I really wanted to see Sam’s face right then. I had to know if she was believing me, or just seeing right through my lies.
“Nothing out of ordinary?” she asked me, with just the slightest hint of doubt in her voice. “You sure?”
I nodded, still not looking at her. I then looked down at the homework she’d just brought me, and pretended to read it, just to throw her off my scent.
Sam sighed. “Fine.” I didn’t know if she sounded disappointed, relieved, or just bored. “Oh, by the way, the girls are at the cafeteria right now. We’re getting lunch together. Want to join us?”
I nodded, looking up from the photocopies. “I’m not really hungry, but I’ll go. Kind of miss seeing them two, especially since we have no classes in the afternoon today.”
“Ana, it’s Saturday, remember? You have an appointment with Mr. Thomas, our witchcraft teacher. And I have to discuss a school project with him, anyway, so I’ll be there with you. If you want me to.”
“Of course I want you to come. I’m just not sure if I want to go, myself.”
“You promised me you’d give it a chance.”
“Did I? I don’t remember it.”
“Well… no, you didn’t. Bother. But I’ll still drag you there if I have to. I’ve got a couple of spells up my sleeve to back me up.”
I grimaced. Sam’s spells were known around school to be rather good. She came from a family of witches, and her skills where, at very least, noteworthy. I had no doubts she’d resort to that if I tried to escape.
“Oh. I really can’t talk you out of these things, can I?” I sounded aloof when saying that. Maybe I was, a bit. That’s what I did when I wanted to avoid a subject, and my curse was one subject I was very eager to avoid, at any given time.
“It’ll be good, I promise. Mr. Thomas is a wonderful teacher.”
Samantha picked up on my sarcasm.
“Stop that,” she said, grinning and giving me a halfhearted slap on the upper arm. She stood up and collected her backpack from the floor. “Let’s go. The girls are waiting for us.”
Down at the cafeteria, the people were chatting even louder than usual. It was a boarding school, it was normal for students to eat at the refectory every day, including weekends, but a sizable group of students used those two days as opportunities to hit the city and eat out for a change. That the refectory room would be so noisy on a Saturday was something I hadn’t witnessed so far in the few weeks since I came to school.
We found Agatha and Ruth sitting opposite each other on a table on the far end of the room. Sam got herself a regular supper and I just went with a sandwich, then we joined them.
“What’s all this ruckus about?” I asked, when we were all together.
“You’d have heard about it,” said Sam, “if you hadn’t slept through the morning classes.”
I nudged her, and she chuckled.
“Seriously, though.” I said.
Ruth took pity on me, and proceeded to explain it.
“We’re getting new teachers today. Two of them. And one’s apparently a celebrity of some sort, so people are all hyped up about meeting her.”
“What are they gonna teach?” I asked. Please let it be math. I yearned for a math teacher that was better than our current one.
“Stuff for the last year. They’re filling in for two teachers who are apparently going to retire. We’re not gonna have classes with either of them for the next two years, you know?”
“So why is everyone so eager to meet them?” I asked, mildly uninterested now that I learned they’d not be teaching us.
“It’s not often that we get new teachers. People are going to be talking about this for a while. You know how it goes: Nothing ever happens around here. When it does, everyone wants to spread rumors and gossip.”
“Just like my curse,” I pointed out. Ruth nodded, slowly. In that sense, a boarding school wasn’t too different from a small town, such as the one I grew up in.
After that, Agatha changed the subject, and as the others chatted among themselves I let my mind and eyes wander around the room. I was looking at the people who came and went, and at the faces they made when looking at the food. Today’s menu wasn’t a particularly interesting one, and once or twice I heard Agatha complain about the amount of carbohydrates and all that. I took a bite of my sandwich, and as soon as I raised my eyes from it, they fell on someone familiar who had just walked into the room.
Oh, s– nope, can’t deal with you right now.
Claire was heading toward the buffet. She hadn’t seem me yet, and I intended on keeping it that way.
“Sorry,” I told the girls, partly unable to take my eyes off Claire. “I think I’m not feeling very well. I’m going to the bathroom, okay?”
“Want me to come with you?” Sam asked me.
I shook my head negatively, my eyes still glued to the redhead by the buffet. “No need, I’ll be fine.”
Sam turned to see what I was looking at, raised her eyebrows in surprise, and then raised them even more as she looked at my face and realized I was actually scared instead of happy.
I got up and quickly made my way out of there, zigzagging through the tables in order not to walk anywhere near Claire. When I was out in the corridor, I began to dash.
I took refuge inside one of the stalls on the women’s bathroom. I leaned against the door, with my eyes closed, trying to make sense of that situation. Why had I panicked? Would I always be scared of meeting Claire from now on?
Minutes passed. I just stood inside the stall, unsure of what to do next. Other girls walked in, talking to each other. Some of them were gossiping about the new school teachers. Then I heard a name being called, and that snapped me out of my thoughts.
“So, Myu! How was yesterday with ‘you-know-who’?
“Pretty good,” said the girl. I couldn’t recognize her voice, but that had to be Claire’s Myu. That wasn’t too common a name for it to be a coincidence.
“Are you gonna go serious about him?”
“I don’t know. I’m still just trying him out.”
“You’re always just trying people out.”
“You say it like it’s a bad thing.”
“Go on and ask little miss perfect what she thinks of your evening flings. I bet she’ll love to hear about it.”
“Shit, Eleanor! Not a word of this to Claire. You know that.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Don’t worry. See? My lips are sealed… But, y’know, you really should just commit to a single relationship with someone, for a change.”
“Hm… maybe I will. I don’t really feel like it, though.”
The other girl chuckled.
“You’re really something,” she said.
Shortly afterward, they left the bathroom. I don’t think they knew I was also inside, or they wouldn’t have had that conversation there. From the looks of it, Myu had been cheating on Claire for a lot longer than I thought. That man seemed to be just one more in a string, and that really got me worried about Claire and her feelings.
I lost myself in thought, still wondering if I should tell Claire what I knew, and lost track of time.
I was sitting down on the floor of the cubicle (not really hygienic, I know), when I heard someone knock on the door.
“Anamaria? Talk to me, please. I know you’re in there.”