Fifteen

☼►six◄☼

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“Harry? Harry, it’s me.”

I tapped lightly on his door, whispering his name louder when there wasn’t a response. Thankfully, Anne and Robin hadn’t woken up when I glanced over my shoulder; their bedroom door was closed, no light coming from under it. Biting my lip, I continued knocking.

The door swung open abruptly, and I fell silent. Harry scrubbed a hand over his eyes, a dark shadow in front of me, lit from behind by the dim glow of a distant street-lamp. It took a second for my eyes to adjust, but when they did, I hit back a squeak of surprise at the fact that he wasn’t wearing a shirt. I swallowed and shifted my weight between my feet, forced my gaze to remain on his face.

He sighed when I didn’t speak immediately, crossing his arms over his chest. “Why are you waking me in the middle of the night?”

“I, uh, I couldn’t sleep. I wanted to apologise. I shouldn’t have called you Curly Sue.”

“Seren, I really, really don’t care that you called me a name. I’m not a child whose feelings get hurt over something like that.”

“Sorry,” I whispered after a long pause, before I scurried back to my room.

Of course my apology made things worse. It seemed to be my luck lately. We were finally becoming friends after a week of sharing a house, and I messed it up by insulting him - and again by dragging him from his bed at half-one just because my remorse made it impossible to sleep peacefully. I drew in a shaky breath, crawled between the sheets, and swore to myself that I would stay out of his way. I couldn’t make things more awkward if I wasn’t around him... right?

Unfortunately, nothing was ever as easy as planned.

I was out of bed before the alarm went off on Monday morning so he didn’t have to wake me. I finished my breakfast before he even reached the table. While he ate his own meal, I disappeared into my room without a word. Ten minutes later, the knot in my tie was perfect, my jumper smoothed down neatly. It took far more effort than I anticipated, and I almost asked for his help a few times. But I managed it on my own; he didn’t have to fix it as he had every day during my first week.

I felt confident about my self-made vow of avoiding him.

Right until it was time to actually leave for school.

The front door clicked closed as I hid in my room, and I pulled my bag over my shoulder and made my way down the hall. Anne gave me her customary hug, which I’d started looking forward to at some point, and I stepped out onto the front step, promptly running into Harry. He frowned, reached out to steady me. All I could do, even as I regained my balance, was gape at him like a fish.

“I thought you left already.”

“I was waiting for you.” His head cocked to the side, green eyes narrowing. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. You just startled me.”

I brushed past him and headed in the direction of the school. Annoyance flickered to life inside my chest when he caught up to me without trouble. Damn his long legs. Our arms swung in tandem, footfalls in almost identical pacing. I shifted my bag and glanced at him from the corner of my eye. His grin in response dripped with impishness, screamed that he knew something I didn’t.

“So why are you trying to avoid me?”

“What? Who said I was trying to avoid you?”

“You did. Well, rather, the fact you waited to leave the house until after you thought I’d already gone.”

I exhaled sharply. It figured that he’d found me out so easily. “Okay, so maybe I was.”

“I know you were. I want to know why.”

“Because of yesterday,” I admitted slowly as I turned my gaze to the ground; it was easier than meeting his eye.

“Because you called me Curly Sue?”

“And then woke you up to apologise just so I could make myself feel better.”

I took a few more steps before I realised I couldn’t hear his shoes against pavement. When I looked back over my shoulder, he’d stopped walking and was now stood stock-still, staring at me. An inscrutable expression covered his face. He made no move to join me, so I doubled back until I came to a stop in front of him.

“Seren, I told you last night when you woke me up. You calling me names didn’t hurt my feelings.”

“You were upset, though.”

He rolled his eyes. “I was irritated, yes, because I hadn’t been trying to ridicule you for crying over a fictional character?”

“You weren’t?” I shifted my weight between my feet, hunched in on myself, and he smiled softly.

“Of course not. Feeling something because of a book is a good thing. But you seemed annoyed by me and lashed out. That’s what irritated me.” Harry scuffed the toe of his shoe against the ground then met my gaze through long lashes. “Although I can’t say I’m thrilled about being called ‘Curly Sue’ of all things.”

“I really like that movie,” I defended myself, though a smile tugged at the corners of my lips.

“I don’t think I’ve seen it.”

“Trust me, you’d remember if you did. Jim Belushi is perfect in it.”

We started walking toward the school again, and the guilt and negativity that had consumed me so viciously through the night were gone. I sucked my lower lip in between my teeth, wondering if the conversation meant we were okay now. The bright grin he sent my direction before rushing off to meet his friends assured me that yes, we were.

Even I could admit that it was an unfortunate thing that “Curly Sue” became my go-to nickname for Harry over the next week. Unfortunate for him, anyway. I still found it funny to watch the way his face screwed up in affront each time I said it. It was his fault, though. I only used the moniker when he became particularly annoying.

Thankfully, his reactions were much better than the first night. He would make the face but stop doing whatever he was doing that was irritating me. So the nickname grew to have a much better rate of acceptance - and more affection on my part - if the way he started merely rolling his eyes was any indication.

I found my own group of friends by the end of the second week, as well. Or, rather, Liza decided I was good enough to join the clique, and that was it. She never gave me a choice, and I certainly wasn’t going to disagree with her. She was the first one who showed any interest in me as a person, not just the American exchange student.

Our friendship stayed strictly within the walls of school, though, but I couldn’t begrudge her that. She didn’t know me from Adam, so how was she to know she could actually trust me? Anne was ecstatic when I first talked about Liza, and that happiness just seemed to grow with each passing day.

The end of the month came and brought scattered rainstorms with it. The walks that Harry and I took around town became less frequent as the skies grew more and more leaden with grey clouds. Even when no rain fell, I trusted him when he said it wasn’t worth the risk. So we found new ways to distract and entertain ourselves around the house, which usually involved card games or me reading books aloud to him while music played softly on his stereo.

Anne finally felt comfortable enough with my presence in the house that she added me to the chore rota. I was oddly thankful for that - it gave me something to do, some way to feel useful and productive. My time became split between spending time with the family and writing letters to my own back home.

It was nothing special, really, but it was routine. It was safety found in the repetition where my mind was not allowed to stray. It was enough.