Authors: Suki Fleet
I’d left him my second-favorite piece, the glass all blue-green iridescence, shaped like Africa. I wondered if he’d know what it meant, because I had absolutely no idea.
gleamed from under the front door when I got back, meaning Corinne was home. It was pitchy dark out now, and I didn’t fancy waiting in the hallway for her, hitting the light switch every couple of minutes when the timer switched it off. Because if she hadn’t been home, it would mean either that or entering the flat when it was dark outside, and that required a special sort of courage I didn’t often have.
I opened the door. Corinne stood in the damp hallway, the laptop open in her arms. The atmosphere was icy. I’d forgotten the school would have probably called her and she’d be pissed off I’d been suspended, but with a shallow intake of breath, I realized that wasn’t what she was pissed off about.
“What the fuck is this, Sasha?” she demanded before I’d even stepped inside, turning the screen so I could see the page I’d shut the machine down on—Jessica Cassidy’s Tumblr page.
Corinne worked at the supermarket around the corner, and she still had on her polyester work clothes. She wasn’t fat, but the fit wasn’t flattering. The name badge on her chest read Karen instead of Corinne. It irritated me that she wouldn’t get them to change it—wouldn’t rock the boat in case The Happy Mart used it as an excuse to get rid of her. She said it didn’t matter.
I focused on her name badge because I didn’t want to look at the screen. The way the contrast fell on the photograph, the way I was laid out on the floor, the red paint on my body looking as though I was covered in blood.
I wanted to tell her it
matter that they’d got her name wrong, but the only times we spoke to each other now seemed to be when I’d fucked something up or when I’d done something wrong.
I retched, not because of the blood or because I looked like a corpse. Just because.
I didn’t care how extreme the pictures people took of me were—well, at the time I didn’t care. Being the sole focus of someone’s attention like that was like the sharp kiss of a razorblade against my skin. It was relief—I just didn’t want to see them again. Couldn’t. I needed to forget they’d ever been taken, that I’d ever done that. The image flashed up behind my eyes. It would be on people’s phones, everywhere, tainting the Internet. I didn’t want to know.
with you?” Corinne cried. Her face was all screwed up—it made her look ugly.
Instead of answering, I pushed past her and locked myself in the bathroom. I couldn’t breathe. There was no window, so I pulled the cord and the extractor fan in the corner rattled to life. Still I couldn’t breathe. I sat on the floor, against the door, my head between my knees.
me return to school at the end of the week. I was allowed back into the art room to finish off my project, but I wasn’t supposed to interact with any of the other students. Which was fine by me.
Thomas didn’t come over to talk to me. I could just about see him out of the corner of my eye on the other side of the classroom. I turned around a few times, pretending to look out the window, but whatever he was doing was small enough to be hidden by his body. Sometimes I thought I felt his eyes on me, but whenever I looked, he was engrossed in whatever it was on the desk in front of him.
At the end of the lesson, he walked past me and casually dropped the glass I had left for him in his bedroom onto my desk without even looking my way.
My breath left my body in a shuddery
of air. It confused me, and I had the uncontrollable urge to pick the glass up and fling it hard at his back, to hurt him. I didn’t know why I cared that he’d given it back to me or what it was I’d said that was so fucking bad. I was a dick. What did he expect? That I’d suddenly change because he’d been nice to me? But my anger quickly passed like a sudden sharp pain, and when I looked down, I saw I’d gripped the piece of glass in my hand so hard it had cut into my palm.
I left the school grounds at lunch. I wandered around the estates for a bit looking for yellow glass—there was never enough yellow for anything—trying to crush the urge I had to break something.
After lunch I skipped English and sat behind the science block. The rugby team was warming up on the playing field. Luke Jones was on the rugby team. I watched his thighs as he ran. They were so pale and powerful. His shorts were longer today, and I felt like a pervert imagining what was beneath them. My imagination didn’t usually bother me so much.
I began to lose interest and held up a piece of broken bottle I’d found instead, seeing if I could make the dry grass catch alight.
I looked up. Thomas was peering down at me, chewing on his lip, a somewhat reluctant expression on his face as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to be talking to me.
It was pretty understandable, really—I didn’t much like me either.
“You’ve been sitting out here for hours. I could see you from the chemistry lab window,” he said, pushing the toe of his shoe into the mud next to my foot. “They’ll kick you out of school entirely if you skip all your lessons,” he added quietly.
People streamed past us. It was the end of school, I realized as I looked around. I’d sat outside the science block for hours.
It was quite possible I was waiting for him in a subconscious sort of way. I might have seen Thomas come out this way once or twice on a Friday afternoon—but it wasn’t something I was ready to admit, even to myself. At the beginning of term, he’d told me he was taking chemistry as a standalone subject—I’d only remembered because he said they’d set the fire alarm off after an experiment with hydrogen went wrong.
I shrugged. I tried to smile, but it felt weird and fake.
“I’ve got two quid. Want to share some chips with me?” he asked, looking more hesitant than reluctant now, which was an improvement. It sounded strangely like a peace offering.
I nodded without meeting his gaze, not sure why he would want to spend any more time with me than necessary when I was so awful to him. If he’d ignored me, I would have left him alone. And that would have been that.
An unwanted feeling flooded through me. I think I was grateful.
across the playing fields with about a hundred other kids from our school. Two of them came to talk to Thomas. I guessed they were his friends. I never walked this way. I avoided other people at all costs. Except Thomas, it seemed. I stared at my feet, the way my left foot curved inward however much I tried to walk straight. I held the glass in my pocket, my fingers closing against my favorite piece, a blue tear-shaped marble, smooth as a drop of rain.
One of Thomas’s friends asked me something about Jessica Cassidy, but I just shrugged, not listening. They weren’t being mean, but I didn’t care. I had nothing to say. They talked to Thomas about school stuff for a bit. Eventually they went away.
“Are you still upset about the pictures?” Thomas asked quietly, chewing his lip. “Have you spoken to Jessica about it? You could try asking her to take them down off the Internet.”
It annoyed me that he wanted to talk about it again. Didn’t he think of anything else?
“They’re everywhere. People have downloaded them. Whether she takes them down or not, it won’t make any difference.” I was resigned. I couldn’t get away from them. In class people stuck their phones in my face, stared at me, talked to me. It disgusted me. It was probably why I hadn’t wanted to go to English.
He stopped walking and looked at me, and I knew he was going to say something stupid that was going to piss me off.
“So why’d you do it?” he asked gently. Thomas’s expression was puzzled and intense, studying me. It was as if he was trying so hard to understand.
Curiously his question didn’t piss me off, though it did surprise me he would ask it again, especially since I’d cut him down last time. I thought about not answering, but something about the way he looked at me wasn’t like the way everyone else looked at me, and a part of me liked that. Needed it.
“Don’t you ever need to feel like someone wants you?”
I didn’t know where those words came from. I was kind of shocked that they came out. It wasn’t a lie, though. Neither was it an easy explanation, because I didn’t have an easy explanation. And I don’t know how much else I was implying with my answer, or whether I cared if it was Jessica Cassidy, Jeff Deal, or Mr. fucking Sparks taking the pictures, but for a minute or two it made a kind of fucked-up sense as to why I did
“I’d rather be wanted by someone I wanted back,” Thomas mumbled, eyelashes fanning against his freckled cheeks as he looked down.
shop was packed. While Thomas went in, I stood outside watching as the sky became grayer than the houses on the estate, wondering if there was going to be a storm. I didn’t sleep well in storms—I imagined the tower block swaying in the wind like some poorly put together stack of concrete slabs.
The clouds became darker, the temperature dropping rapidly, and every so often I felt a spot of rain hit the back of my hand.
Rain I didn’t mind. Rain washed everything away.
Thomas came out of the shop laden with two packets of hot chips, and we walked to the empty play park at the edge of the playing field and sat on the swings to eat. We didn’t speak, but it was okay. Somehow I didn’t feel I had to speak when I was with Thomas. I guessed that was one of the reasons why I didn’t mind being with him.
After a while I realized he was watching me.
“You inhale food,” he said wryly when I looked up.
“Hungry, I guess.” I gave him a small smile.
It was true. With Corinne’s low wages, I was entitled to free lunches, but that meant going into the school’s cluttered and noisy dining hall, and I hated it in there.
He handed me his unfinished bag of chips. I shook my head.
“I don’t want the rest,” he said.
I couldn’t work out if he was pitying me.
“They’ll just make me fat,” he added.
Unhappily I took the bag from him.
“You’re not fat,” I said uncomfortably. “I didn’t mean it the other week… sometimes I just say… stuff.”
It wasn’t a particularly great apology, but it would have to do.
Thomas didn’t seem too bothered anyway. He gripped the chains of the swing, leaning back until his fair hair near brushed the uneven black rubber that covered the ground beneath us. For the first time, I noticed how beautiful his hands were—his fingers long and slender, his skin so pale and translucent I could see the lacelike web of veins beneath it. He had his eyes closed, and for a minute I let myself look at his face. I watched him, unguarded. I watched him the way I watched Luke Jones, except my heart was hammering twice as fast.
Swallowing, I looked away.
We stayed at the park until the sky cracked open and the rain hammered the ground around us.
confiscated the laptop. Or at least she thought she had. That evening, for the first time in a long time, I found some photos of naked men on the Internet—they had to be posed like statues, their penises flaccid but clearly visible—and jerked off. It still took me ages to come. After, I felt wrung out and exhausted, as if my insides had been in a washing machine on a fast spin.
Lying in the dip of my mattress, covers pulled up round my ears, I phoned Thomas. It wasn’t late. Perhaps only a couple of hours after we’d left the park.
“Wow, you phoned me. Hey” was the first thing he said, sounding far more at ease with me than he ever had before.
“If you’re going to be a dick, I’ll hang up.”
“I mean it,” he said gently. “I’m wowed, okay.”
For all his annoyingness, he was honest and he sounded sincere. And if I let myself believe it, he did sound kind of pleased that I’d phoned him. Something deep inside me squirmed happily. Something not at all like a washing machine on fast spin. But it was an alien sort of feeling to me all the same.
“Okay.” I didn’t know what to say now. I wish he’d phoned me, and then he’d be the one having to make the conversation. “Can you just… I don’t know… talk to me?”
“What about?” It sounded as if he was smiling.
I could hear him shuffling around as if he was lying down. I liked to think of him lying down in the dip in his bed like I was, but somehow I couldn’t ask him if that’s what he was doing.
“I don’t care, anything….”
So he told me about something that had gone wrong in science that day, and he was pretty funny, and I found myself smiling, even though it sounded like the teacher was the most unobservant guy ever.
“Nothing like that ever happens in the lower sets. Not that we do chemistry,” I said. “I’m not even sure some of the kids in my class would know what chemistry involved. The closest we ever get to a Bunsen burner is a diagram in a book.”
It was strange to find myself actually enjoying a conversation, actually talking to someone else about something for no good reason other than to open my mouth and talk. The hard knot of tension that never left my stomach was… easing.
But when I heard the front door open and close, I put the phone down abruptly, midsentence, my heart crashing against the walls of my chest.
Corinne was home.
I tried to be rational—I reminded myself I was only talking to Thomas. It wasn’t as though I was watching porn or jerking off anymore. But somehow I felt worse than I had when she’d confronted me about the pictures on the laptop.
She called my name, checking if I was in, and then came into my room with a puzzled look on her face. I don’t know what she thought I’d be getting up to, but she obviously thought my being in bed was unusual behavior.