Fifteen

☼►eight◄☼

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I laughed and stumbled to the side, my foot slipping from the pavement, as Harry shoved at my shoulder. He made a startled sound and reached for my arm, yanking me toward him. It only made me laugh harder. Once my feet were solidly beneath me again, I swatted at his arm though my grin betrayed any mock outrage I might have displayed. He looped his arm with mine, and we continued on our trek toward school.

I couldn’t remember exactly how, but we had started bickering about which movie was better: The Notebook or Titanic. He was firmly in Sparks Country, whereas I would always find Leo Di far superior. It was a lighthearted - and incredibly ridiculous - argument, but I was grateful for it. It cemented the idea that Harry would never make me talk about the things I confided in him unless I wanted to.

It had been three days since I told him about the homesickness, and he hadn’t brought it up. A month since I told him of my sister, and he hadn’t brought it up. Only two months into my stay, and already I trusted him more than I trusted anyone in my hometown. It terrified me, really, but I wasn’t about to change it.

A brisk wind swirled around us, and I burrowed further into Harry’s side. Now that the end of autumn was melting into winter, I had no hopes of the temperatures rising any time soon. I pouted even as I inhaled the scent of rain, laundry detergent, and the spiced aroma of deodorant. Harry glanced down at me, his green eyes glittering in the weak sunlight, and his lips curved into a soft smile.

He knew damn well that I was accustomed to low temperatures, considering I’d told him about the feet of snow we got every winter, and negative numbers on thermometers weren’t an unfamiliar sight from November to early-March. But I detested being cold. Even when Sophie was still around, I complained whenever I could. My mother used to joke that I was a child destined for the West Coast, my days full of high heat and surfing.

She didn’t joke much like that any more.

Harry and I parted at the entrance to the school, and I watched him join up with his group of friends. Something twisted painfully in my chest, my heart kicking up the pace when he looked back at me and grinned. Tucking my knit cap into my bag, I hurried through the corridors to where Liza stood with her friends.

When she caught sight of me, she shrieked quietly and bounced on the balls of her feet. I exchanged a look with Anthony before joining in, huffing out a laugh when her hands came up to smooth my hair against my scalp. Della let out a low whistle.

“You are so lucky you get to see him every day,” she muttered, and I blinked owlishly. She gestured with her chin down the hall. “Seriously. So lucky.”

I didn’t know how to respond to that - I could barely acknowledge the clammy-palmed, weak-kneed, heart-racing feeling that seemed to take over my senses any time I was around Harry. So I didn’t even try to say anything. I just forced an awkward smile and turned my attention to whatever the others were talking about. Della nudged me gently but thankfully let it drop.

It wasn’t until Anthony yelped suddenly, groaning about the homework we were supposed to have completed last night, that everyone in our little group fell silent. With a shared look of panic between them, the other three scrambled to pull out their papers and rushed to finish them. I merely watched them for a second then leaned against the wall behind me; I’d already completed mine, thanks to Harry.

Miss Letts stared down her nose at our group once we finally filed into the classroom. I resisted the urge to squirm under her scrutiny; I’d done nothing wrong. Therefore, I shouldn’t feel guilty. With a disdainful sniff, she waved shortly to the tabletop, and we hurried to drop our workbooks onto the surface and sped to our seats. I kept my head ducked down even after I sat. The teacher was strict with everyone, but I was sure she just didn’t like me.

Thankfully, the lesson passed by with very little interaction with the teacher. I stood with the rest of the students, made my way to the door, but then Miss Letts called my name over the shuffling of footsteps. Liza gave me a wide-eyed look but disappeared with nothing more than a whispered I’m sorry. I pulled my bag more securely on my back and turned on my heel.

“I’ve marked your essay from last week.”

“Okay?”

“Miss Schulz, I must admit it took me by surprise. Your words were eloquent, and you somehow managed to put emotion into an essay about the impact another person has had on your life.” She sighed, rifled through the papers on her desk. “It was a wonderful paper. I fear I may be out of line for this, but I would like your permission to submit it into a literary publication contest.”

“I... I don’t know what to say.”

“If you don’t want me to, I won’t.”

I blew out a breath, staring down at my feet. The decision was mine, she made that clear, but I wasn’t sure what the right decision would be. If I said no, she might lose this modicum of respect for me. But if I allowed her to submit it, then I risked the other students finding out about Sophie, and I would be right back where I was in West Point.

“I, uh, I don’t know. I enrolled in the program to get away from my hometown, where everybody knew what happened.”

“You’re free to change the names, even yours, on the submission.”

“I’ll consider it, I guess. When did you need an answer by?”

“By the end of next week, please.”

“Okay. Thanks, Miss Letts.”

I left the room in a daze. Being complimented on my writing was unexpected, but for that compliment to come from the one teacher I felt disliked me? That was stunning. Her words echoed in my mind even as I wound my way through the school to the front door.

Harry was still there, waiting for me as he always did. He looked up from the book in his hands and smiled, put the novel in his bag. I fell into step beside him, listened to him talking though I couldn’t focus on his words. I noticed, however, when he grew quiet.

“Is everything okay?”

“Hm?” I shook my head vehemently to clear Miss Letts’s voice from my ears. “Yeah, I’m fine. Um… Miss Letts wants to run something I wrote in a publication.”

“What? Star, that’s amazing!”

“I’ve not said yes,” I muttered, hunching in on myself, both from embarrassment and the chilly breeze that whipped around my face.

“You should do it.”

“I told her I’d think about it. It’s, it’s a big deal, and I don’t know if I’m ready for it.”

“Talk to Mum about it. She’s great at advice.”

As soon as we reached the house, I disappeared into my room. I hadn’t written a letter to my parents in a few days, the last one having been sent at the beginning of the week, so I didn’t have much new information for them. But distracting myself with the letters was preferable than thinking further about the essay and Miss Letts.

Mom and Dad,

School is going fine. Still. My marks are still decent. Harry’s been a huge help in making sure I understand the subjects and do well on the work - he’s a nerd. Very “studious”, as you’d call it.

It’s almost Halloween, and I have no idea what they even do for it here. I think I’ll probably just spend the evening reading like every other night. Don’t worry. It hasn’t affected the friendships I’ve made with Liza, Della, and Anthony. I think I’ve told you about them. Maybe. They’re awesome. Harry and his sister, Gemma, are great, too.

I’ve felt really welcome since the beginning because of these people. I miss you guys so much, but they’re all really helping me not go insane from being so homesick constantly.

I’m impatiently waiting for any news from around town that I should know about.

Love, Seren


Anne turned away from the stove, smiling as I entered the kitchen. “There you are.”

“Hi. Anything I can help with?”

“Not quite yet, sweetheart. Dinner will be finished in about thirty minutes, so you can set the table then. How was school?”

“School was… fine, I guess.” I sat at the table; Harry’s words replayed in my mind, and I decided that maybe he was right. “Uh, one of my teachers wants to submit something I wrote to a literary publication.”

“That sounds wonderful! Congratulations, Seren.”

“Thanks. I, I don’t know if I want her to, though.”

At Anne’s gentle prodding, I relented, explaining that if people knew I wrote that essay, it would open the door for them to ask questions I didn’t want to answer. It would force me to relive something I wasn’t ready to talk about, and the attention I’d run from would be on me again. She frowned, set a lid on the pot of sauce, then came to sit next to me. Her hand brushed over my hair, and I let out a slow breath at the comforting touch.

“Seren, whatever you decide is your choice. No one can force you to let her submit it, and no one can force you to not let her. And if you’re uncomfortable with the idea of people knowing something about you that you’re not able to confront, then I say tell your teacher that you appreciate her support and encouragement, but you’re going to have to say no.”

“And if I say yes?”

“Then know that you have us on your side. We’ll do what we can to help you through this.”

My cheeks grew warm, and tears pricked at my eyes. I ducked my head and struggled to keep my breathing steady; Anne patted my arm gently, hesitating for a second before she pressed a kiss to my temple. The moment she was back at the stove, I pushed to my feet and rushed down the hall to my room.

Thoughts warred with themselves in my mind, and I slipped between the blankets, curling up into a ball. I couldn’t make sense of what I was feeling. It was nice, really, for her to show me affection like that. But it also made me wonder what was so wrong with me - with my family - that my own parents couldn’t show me the same affection?