I spent the rest of the month avoiding Claire. Of course the girls noticed it. They wanted to know more details about out “date” at the city, and why I was avoiding her since. Of course the date subject had come up some times before, but somehow we always moved on to another topic before I actually had to give any details on it. That happened when I met the girls in the evening, right after my meeting with Mr. Thomas, and later again during our sleepover. I suspect Sam’s spells had something to do with that.
Not now, thought. Sam wasn’t helping me anymore. She was barely even looking me in the eyes ever since we ran together, that morning. So when Agatha and Ruth pressed me about that subject, I saw Sam remain in complete silence, unfazed, eating her cafeteria lunch, and I knew I was on my own.
I told Agatha and Ruth a well-wrought lie. Said that Claire had asked me out to help with her spells, and that I made a huge mistake on one of them, and she got angry, so now I was avoiding her out of shame. Only the very last bit of that argument was anywhere close to reality. Sam just scoffed at me while I spoke.
“Poor girl,” said Agatha. “Don’t worry, Ana, we’re with you in this.”
Ruth herself said nothing. I admire Ruth. She could always get a feel of the situation before any of us. She knew how people were feeling without them using words, and she didn’t even need magic for that. I’m sure Ruth must have noticed something was wrong with my story, but one way or another, she didn’t mention it.
“You done?” Sam asked me, and I wasn’t sure if she was referring to my story or my meal. “We have Math now. You know Mr. Yves complains if we’re late.”
I nodded. We took our trays to the kitchen, to hand them to the staff, and started walking down the corridor to our classroom.
Maybe I was too distracted by the cold way Sam had been treating me, whenever we talked about Claire. Truth is, as we made our way to math class, I could barely pay any attention at all to my surroundings. It was only when Agatha pushed me into the bathroom that I noticed something was wrong.
“What’s going on?!” I asked her, surprised.
“Claire’s outside. You don’t wanna meet her, right?”
“Um… no, I… that’s right, I don’t. Thank you, Agatha.”
I heard a voice from outside the bathroom door. I looked behind me, and saw Claire standing under the door-frame, looking as puzzled as I was to meet me there. And to make matters worse, Myu was with her.
“Shi–” I began to say, but stopped myself.
“Hey!” said Myu. “You’re that girl from a few weeks ago. I heard you have a curse.”
“She doesn’t,” Claire snapped, angrily, before I could think of anything to say. Everyone, even Agatha, was a bit surprised at Claire’s sudden defense of me. Claire seemed unabated. “It’s just a stupid rumor. Even Teacher Thomas said so. Do people still bother you about it, Anamaria?”
I shrugged, and looked away. “Sometimes.”
“I’ll talk to Director Louis again. This has to stop.”
Myu smiled at me.
“It’ll be okay,” she said. “Claire’s the president of the student council,” I nodded. I already knew that. “And she’s one heck of a president, if you ask me, so I’m sure she’ll be able to help. You’ll do it, right?”
I grimaced, looking at Myu. She and Claire were exchanging smiles, and Myu started caressing her girlfriend’s shoulder. I didn’t know what made me sick the most: the fact that Myu was acting all gentle despite cheating on Claire, or the fact that she was actually encouraging her girlfriend to help me, not knowing that Claire had been hitting on me and I had kissed her in return. Holy lord, what a mess. I couldn’t watch this anymore.
“I’m sorry, I, err… I have class now.”
I rushed past them, out of the bathroom and toward the classroom at the end of the corridor, not once looking behind me as I went.
“It was nice meeting you again, Anamaria!” I heard Myu shout from behind me. Shit. I really was the worst.
And so was she.
Of course, after what happened, I could never bring myself to come even close to the student council. The deadline for signing up for the electives came and went, and there was nothing I could do about that. I tried asking Sam again a few times, but of course she snapped at me, acted all cold, and said I had to “deal with the problem as a grown woman.” I even tried to ask Agatha and Ruth to do it, but Sam made both of them promise not to help me with this. She even said in front of us three that if I couldn’t be brave enough to go there on my own, I didn’t have any right to study Witchcraft in that school. That was mean!
I knew she was right, though. I had to talk to Claire about it, to clear things up between us. But I could never make up my mind on what to tell her. Would I say kissing her had been a mistake? But it didn’t feel like one, not really, not for me. Then... would I say I wanted her as a friend? That was another lie. And confessing to someone who was already in a relationship… that wasn’t even a real option, was it? Whichever way this went, I’d probably end up lying to Claire or hurting myself, if not both.
The result being that I kept on avoiding Claire everywhere in school. This pissed Sam up. By the end of the third or fourth week of this, she wasn’t even talking to me anymore. She was together with us during lunch time, and she spoke to Agatha and Ruth just fine, but she wouldn’t direct a single word at me.
We had just come out of Health class, and now the four of us had to split for the next period. Ruth and I had Economy lessons on the third floor, while Sam and Agatha were going to the basement for Biology practice. As usual, I said bye to both of them, and Sam just ignored it.
Once Ruth and I were walking up the stairs alone, she asked me about it.
“So, what’s the deal with you and Sammy?”
“She thinks I should talk to Claire.”
“Just… things… since I’ve been avoiding her and all. Sam doesn’t like that.”
“Well, then you should.”
“I can’t do that, Ruth.”
Ruth stopped walking when we were on the second floor, and looked at me with an expression that was hard to make out: was that incredulity… annoyance, maybe?
“Know what you can’t do, Ana?”
I shuddered. It wasn’t often that we saw Ruth angry at someone. And it was even scarier to know she was angry at me.
Ruth didn’t wait for me to answer.
“I’ll tell you what you can’t do,” she walked up to me. “You can’t keep fighting with Sammy. Have you noticed how the atmosphere around us four is, ever since this started? If this goes on any longer, I’m scared that Sammy’s gonna walk away from us. I don’t want that. Agatha doesn’t want that. And I’m sure neither of you want that either. But you have to make up.”
I sighed. “She’s your childhood friend, isn’t she? I suppose it might be better if I walk away from the group, instead of Sam.”
Oops. I shouldn’t have said that. The expression on Ruth’s face made it perfectly clear that I shouldn’t have said that. Ruth, level-headed Ruth, was losing her composure at me.
“Stop spouting nonsense!” she snapped. “You’re one of us, Ana! We’re not going to give up on you! Or Sammy! So either you two make up right away, or I’m going to lock you up in a room together until you do! And I mean it.”
Sigh. It seems everyone was getting mad at me, lately.
“Okay,” I told her, defeated. “I’ll fix things up with Sam.”
“Today,” said Ruth, in a very demanding manner.
“Today,” I agreed.
Economy was a boring class, but an important one, in my opinion. I always tried to pay attention, even if I didn’t care about the statistics part of it enough to actually learn it. But today I felt out of it. I can’t remember a word from that class.
Sam was mad at me. Claire was probably mad at me. And now Ruth too was mad at me. If this went on, I’d be left with no friends again, curse or no curse.
I had to talk to Sam. But I knew Sam would only listen to me once I stopped running away from Claire. And let’s be honest, I couldn’t avoid Claire forever. Nor did I want Sam and I to stop talking, or for our little group to fall apart. Waiting for courage to come wasn’t working. If I was going to get myself hurt, it better be sooner, rather than just drag this on like a child who refuses to get a shot. And maybe Sam would be there to comfort me if I broke down after I had this conversation with Claire. If I couldn’t bring myself to do this for my own sake, then I just had to do this for Sam and the others.
Class was over soon. Ruth and I walked out of the classroom together.
“Are you going to get dinner?” Ruth asked me, perfectly composed. It was hard to believe she’d been so angry at me before class. But that’s Ruth for you.
“Actually,” I told her. “Can you… go on ahead? I kinda need to do something before dinner. And I need to do it alone.”
Ruth smiled at me, frankly.
“Gonna fix up the mess?”
I nodded. “Gonna fix up the mess.”
“Then go on. We’ll save you a seat in the refectory.”
I hugged her, gratefully, and began to rush down the stairs.
It was 6:37, the clock on the hallway wall informed me, so that meant I still had half an hour to get there before they closed the room. Student council was always together between six and seven in the evening, every day. I had plenty of time to get there, it was only a short walk away, but I rushed there because I was anxious, and maybe because I didn’t want to think about this too much and give up on it halfway through.
I walked into the teacher’s room, and dashed down the corridor up to the door that read “Student Council” at the door. I knocked at it without giving it a second thought.
Claire herself opened the door.
“Anamaria?” she was surprised to see me there.
“Can we talk?” I asked her. “Err… just the two of us, that is?”
Claire glanced at the clock on the wall.
“We can,” she said, “but it’s still student council time. I can’t leave now. Do you mind waiting a bit? Something like, twenty minutes?”
“Um… yeah, it’s fine. I’ll wait.”
Of course. Claire was the student council president. She had responsibilities, unlike myself. And what’s twenty minutes for someone who’s been running away for almost a month.
“Thank you,” said Claire, smiling. Her smile still made my chest ache. It was still every bit as enchanting as I remembered. “Come inside, take a seat on the couch, we’re discussing the plans for the tennis court.”
I walked into the room and did as I was told. Partly I was curious about what the student council room looked like, but mostly I did it out of impulse to stop myself from running away. I sat on the couch, and greeted the other student council members as they presented themselves. Claire offered me water, and once I accepted it, she went back to the table in the center of the room.
From what I could gather, Willow Institute had never had a tennis court, but recently students had been demanding it. The sport was suddenly made popular inside the school when two new students proved to be professional players in the teenage division. They’ve been itching to face each other on a tennis court, and of course everyone else wanted to watch that, too. Thus it fell on the student council the task of bringing that idea up to the people in charge, and it seems they were really engaged in the task. There were blueprints, lists of needed supplies, and Claire was even negotiating a contract with a sports company to advertise in the new court, in exchange for the financial aid to building it.
Seeing Claire like that was a fresh new sight. I was really impressed at how capable she looked. She handled every doubt that was raised by her peers, delegated tasks, planned out the steps to every part of the process, set up deadlines, and so on. I even began to admire her. I used to wonder how she became student council president without being able to speak out in public. That was the answer. A lot of what she was doing wasn’t even proper student council work (I mean, honestly, had I been in her place I’d just have walked up to Director Louis and said “Hey, y’know, the students want a tennis court”, and left it at that), but Claire was so invested into making it happen that it was hard to believe this could ever be rejected by the higher ups.
This went on for fifteen minutes or so, during which time I couldn’t take my eyes off Claire, or even think about what I wanted to tell her. Once everything was done, Claire put all the documents that were on the table back inside a folder called “Tennis Court”, and filed it away until the next meeting.
“Do we have another item on the list?” Claire asked a short girl with glasses. The girl opened up an agenda, and read it carefully.
“No, pres. The tennis court was the last one for today. We’re done.”
Claire let out a breath of relief. “Good. What time is it?”
“We’ve still got five minutes,” said one of the boys. “So we’ll just stick around in case any student comes in with some demand.”
Claire turned around and looked at me, pleadingly. Her eyes were asking me if I could wait for another five minutes. I closed my eyes, breaking our eye contact (which was making me nervous), and nodded in agreement.
“Y’know,” said the boy from before. He was addressing Claire as he spoke. “You have a guest over, pres. Why don’t you go out with her for the day? I think the four of us here can deal with whatever happens in these last five minutes. Which is probably going to be nothing, anyway.”
“Are you sure?” Claire asked him. “I mean… I’m always here until seven.”
“That’s right, pres,” said the girl with glasses. “And because of that I’m pretty sure you can go out five minutes early once in your life. We’ll cover for you, don’t worry.”
Claire smiled. “Well, if you put it like that, I guess I’ll have to accept it.”
The boy nudged his head, indicating the door. “Go,” he said.
Claire looked at me again, smiling. I avoided looking straight into her eyes, given how awkward that would make me feel, and just got up from the couch to follow her.
We walked out of the student council room, then out of the teacher’s room, into the evening sky and the grassy path before us.
“Thanks for coming,” Claire said. I myself was too nervous to initiate conversation. “I’ve been wanting to talk to you, but we never had the chance.”
I know, I thought, because I made sure you wouldn’t have that chance.
She stopped walking once we were alone together on the school grounds, and turned to look into my eyes.
This was it. I couldn’t avoid her this time.