I ride my bike through the skatepark, paying so much attention to the flying skateboards and bikes, that I almost crash straight into a pole.
The front wheel barely touches the metal as I come to a stop. I push my bike aside and hear a familiar laugh from behind me.
Rory saw me take the bad turn and is laughing quietly to himself.
Of course he had to be here.
I place my hands on my hips. “Um, excuse me, but didn’t anyone ever tell you that laughing at someone isn’t the same as laughing with them?”
He waves a hand in the air defensively. “Sorry! That was too funny. I couldn’t help it.”
My hair has gone a bit wild. I try blowing some of it out of my eyes with zero success. Rory grabs a chain from his bag and places his bike by the railings. I do the same, but before he can lock up, a gang of boys approach us.
They have stern looking faces and are clearly lacking in vitamin D, because their skin is pale white. Judging by the way Rory is staring back, I assume that they know each other.
One of the boy’s steps forward and I prepare for a fight to break out. But then Rory and the boy with ginger hair exchange friendly fist bumps.
“Alright Gilbert, it’s been a while,” Rory says.
“Melony has been asking about you,” Gilbert says. Melony? Who the heck is Melony? “We told her you’d taken a vacation to the Bahamas and wouldn’t be back until next year.” This causes a few of them to break into giggles.
“Uh, thanks for having my back G,” Rory adds, smiling.
G? It’s definitely guy code. I can’t understand a word they’re saying.
The boy holding his skateboard finally acknowledges my existence and his eyebrows shoot up. “Who’s the girl Keaton?”
“Oh, uh…” he briefly glances back at me. “This is Skye Clemons.” I’m disappointed he mentioned my second name. I hope these boys haven’t heard anything about my past.
Rory moves on to say the names of the two other boys, who are twins and yet don’t resemble each other in the slightest.
“You don’t look alike,” I tell them, blatantly.
“Good, who’d want to look like him?” Toby responds, receiving a punch to the arm from his un-identical twin, Heathcliff. Toby has more of a sturdiness to him compared to his brother. I think that’s what separates the pair. And Heathcliff appears shy, whereas Toby is more confident.
Finally, Rory introduces me to the boy with the skateboard, who is otherwise known as Nick Walters. He’s nearly the same height as Rory, just a few inches shorter and he’s modelling a black jumper with tracksuit bottoms. He must be following the same black-setter trend that Rory is so fond of.
I offer a shaky smile, not knowing what to do with myself. I’m aware that Nick is watching me and I instantly get a negative vibe from him. The longer he analyses me, the more unsettled I feel.
“I’m guessing you’ve fucked her already,” he aims at Rory. “Who hasn’t?”
The comment strikes me right in the gut and I suddenly want to run away – like a child on the school playground that has just been rejected by another group of children, because I’m not cool enough to join their gang. It’s that kind of feeling, except far worse.
Rory doesn’t break away from Nick’s gaze. “Skye is with me. Speak about her like that again and I’ll have something to say about it,” he warns.
I stare at Rory, half pleased with his ability to defend me and half annoyed that he felt the need to. I am capable of looking after myself and I don’t need a boy acting all protective.
Nick’s laugh is bitter and it sends shivers up my spine. “Fucking hell, I was only joking. Calm down.”
As if sensing how uncomfortable I am, Rory places a hand on my shoulder and starts steering me away. “Come on Skye, let’s go.”
“Don’t be a stranger Keaton!” Nick calls after us.
We walk side by side, cutting past the public toilets and onto a free picnic table. I sit down and Rory copies me, checking my face for any signs that I might break down. Little does he know, I’m a master of hiding my emotions. I’ve been doing it ever since I can remember.
“Sorry about that,” he mutters, chipping at a loose piece of wood on the bench. “Nick is a jerk.”
“You can say that again. Are you really friends with that guy?” I ask, clutching my arms. It’s gone cold all of a sudden.
“It’s complicated. I used to be good friends with him, but then he started doing stuff I didn’t agree with and I realized I didn’t want to be part of his games anymore. I chose to leave the group and I don’t think he’s ever gotten over that.”
“Sounds like you made the right decision to leave. What made you change your mind?”
“One night, Nick took things too far and it woke me up. I saw his true colours.” I want to ask him what happened that night, but it’s not the right time and none of my business.
“Who is Melony?”
Rory tenses at the mention of her name and I sense his reluctance to explain. “Uh, she’s – she’s my ex-girlfriend.”
“Why were your friends laughing about her, as if she’s part of some cruel joke?” I’m being pushy, but I’ve never been the type to stay silent.
Rory sighs heavily. “We went out for a while and things got serious pretty quickly. She wanted more and I couldn’t give her that. So, I broke it off.”
“How did she take it?”
He sucks on his lip and blows out. “Not as well as I hoped she would.”
“That’s the problem with relationships. They make everything complicated.”
“Have you ever been in a relationship?” he asks.
“Nope. Although sometimes I do feel like I’m already in one. Whenever my mother brings home another guy, I seem to go through all the breakup phases and emotions with her.”
He narrows his eyes at me. “That must’ve been tough on you growing up.”
“It is... it was. But, this is just what she does. She jumps in and out of relationships and I think it’s mostly because of my dad and the fact that he left us all those years ago...” I stop there. I still don’t know Rory well enough to speak about my father.
“If I’m crossing the line here, please say so,” he says. “But, what happened between you and your dad? Is he still around?”
The question takes me by surprise. It’s too soon to start talking about something that personal. “I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Sorry. I shouldn’t have asked.”
I pick at a loose nail, unable to look him in the eye. “I don’t really know anything about him.”
Rory is listening to me very closely. “You mean, you’ve never actually met the guy?”
“No. He left when I was a baby.”
“That’s a pretty shitty situation. I’m sorry.”
I shrug him off. “It’s not a big deal. I mean, I sometimes think about what could have been but everything happens for a reason. It used to bother me but it doesn’t anymore.”
That’s not entirely true. It bothers me a lot, way more than it should.
“Rory! There you are!” We both turn to look at the boy invading our conversation. I’m slightly relieved that we’ve been interrupted.
Rory raises a hand, “Hey Jed.”
Jed walks over to our private table and shakes Rory by the shoulders. “I haven’t seen you in a while. Where have you been, man?”
“Uh, I’ve just been laying low really – preoccupied.”
Jed looks at me and his smile grows wider. “Well, you’re back now! Fancy showing us some of your tricks for old times’ sake?”
Rory glances at me and I quickly look away. “Ah, I’m kind of busy.”
“Come on bro! Don’t leave us hanging!”
I give Rory’s arm a nudge, to assure him that I’m not going to be offended if he does leave. “Go on.”
He studies my face for a moment. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah. I’ll probably be going soon anyway. I just wanted to take the long way home for once.”
“I was wondering about that. I’ve never seen you in this neck of the woods.” I smile at him. “Alright, well if I don’t see you before you go, have a safe trip home. Try to avoid any poles on the way.”
Rory reaches for his bike and starts moving through the crowds. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m intrigued to find out.
I join the group of onlookers, watching from the side lines. Rory appears at the top of the skating ramp and my stomach flips. He’s not going to ride down the ramp, is he? He wouldn’t be that stupid, surely.
Rory scans his gained audience, as if he’s searching for someone. When his eyes find me, he waves, and I receive a few jealous stares from girls admiring from afar.
Then Rory pushes himself off and begins to cycle up and down the ramp. I’ve never seen anything like it and my heart is racing with every new stunt and trick he performs. I thought I knew what adrenaline was, but I have clearly never experienced it to the full extent.
Rory takes a quick break on the platform and then he’s off again. I watch the way his body moves with the bike, so effortlessly. He makes it look easy.
“Go Rory!” a girl yells from the crowd. She’s wearing the shortest skirt I’ve ever seen on a human being and a low boob top that shows everything.
“He’s so hot,” she squeals to her friends.
I smile to myself, knowing that Rory Keaton is out of bounds for the time being. The only problem is, the more I’m watching him have fun up there, the more I’m starting to find him even more attractive. No. What am I saying?
I jump at the feel of someone tapping my backside. I whip around. A boy with glasses is grinning at me.
“Skye Clemons, you’ve still got it,” he says, licking his lips.
“Do I know you?” I ask, through hooded eyes.
I cross my arms. “Nope, doesn’t ring a bell.”
“We hooked up in the janitor’s closet,” he says, trying to remind me.
The memory is brought back in one swift motion and I want to hurl. My mother was the worst she’d ever been that day. I had to express myself somehow and Freddie was available. I knew he liked me.
He smiles a slow arrogant grin that makes me shiver. “Fancy getting out of here? I’m living in an apartment on my own now, so we’d have the place to ourselves.”
My lips curl in disgust and I take a step back. “I don’t know what makes you think I’d go anywhere with you Freddie. What happened between us back then was a mistake.”
“You weren’t complaining at the time. In fact, I remember you were gagging for it.”
“That’s a lie!” I squeak, not believing my ears. “I’m not the same person I once was,” I admit, trying to keep my voice steady.
“Are you sure about that? Once a slut always a slut.”
You slept with Freddie Schwartz.
How desperate were you?
You’ll never change.
You’ll always be the girl that people use for sex and then throw away for side trash.
You will never be good enough for anyone or anything.
You may as well give him what he wants.
That’s all you’re useful for.
Rory is suddenly at my side, his cheeks flushed. “What’s going on?” he demands.
I shake my head, unable to form words. Freddie’s laugh is bitter as he looks Rory up and down. “Pft, Rory Keaton and Skye Clemons... that’s quite a pair.”
He turns to me, eyes full of accusation. “I thought you said you’d changed Skye. Clearly not, if you’re hanging out with this guy. He’s just as bad as you are! Always has a new girl on his arm - doesn’t know how to keep them.”
Rory leans forward, but the tone of his voice remains neutral. “You’d better watch it,” he warns.
Freddie snorts with laughter. “You two deserve each other. The slut and the hound... that makes for an interesting title, don’t you think?” I ignore him, fighting back fresh tears. “Skye has always been a little minx, ready to screw anything with a dick.”
I’m no longer in control of my body. My hand raises itself up in a sharp movement and collides with Freddie’s face. He doubles over and holds his cheek. But I’m not finished. I punch him straight in the nose and he curses after me. Some people have even stopped to watch the scene unfolding.
Rory takes the reins and throws a couple of punches of his own. I can’t think. I just need to get away.
I rush towards my bike and fumble with the locks, tears blurring my vision. My hands are shaking and I feel like I’m suffocating.
Everything he said is true. I’m so disgusting.
I eventually manage to open the lock and jump onto my bike. I can hear Rory’s voice getting closer from behind me and it gives me more determination to keep pedalling. I shouldn’t be cycling when my brain is scrambled and I’m choking on tears.
If I could turn back time, I would have found some other way to release my emotions back then. What was I thinking? I’m an idiot.
I fly under the bridge and a few youngsters laugh at me as I whizz past, hair everywhere, my face thick with mascara lines. I must look hideous – a monster.
“Skye!” It takes me a second to realize that Rory is chasing after me on his bike. “Skye! Stop!” he yells, ringing his bell manically.
My legs are starting to ache. Rory’s voice becomes distant and I figure that I’ve lost him, or he’s given up. I cycle around the corner and find myself back on the familiar dirt path. Some rain hits the tip of my nose and I groan outwardly.
Great, all I need is a rain shower to hit me, making this day even worse than it already is.
I see a flash of colour appear up ahead and I brake to stop myself from colliding into Rory’s bike. He must have found a shortcut because he is now inches away from me. My heart is pounding and all I want to do is crawl into bed and stay there forever.
Rory’s out of breath too. “I – I’m sorry about what just happened back there. But is it true? Did you really have sex with Freddie? I always thought that was a rumour.”
Thinking about it brings fresh tears to my eyes. “Yes! I did have sex with him! Are you satisfied?”
Rory shoves his bike to the side and steps towards me. I wipe away some stray tears. “Wow. I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything! I regret it, of course I do. And afterwards, Freddie told all his friends and I lost everything because of it. All I was known for was being the slag of the century. It was all because of that one stupid mistake.”
Rory’s eyes are full of sympathy now. “I’m - I’m sorry. I didn’t realise you felt that way.”
“How could you? You never gave me a chance. Nobody did. You all just assumed I was desperate for attention and maybe some part of me was… but, I had my reasons for doing what I did.”
He glances down at his trainers and then back at me. My eyes automatically fill with tears and I don’t know why I’m crying. I can’t pin it down to one singular cause because there are too many reasons why I’m upset.
Rory’s arms wrap around me, while I’m still mantled on the bike. I try to push him away, but his grip tightens and I’m forced to melt into his embrace.
We stay in that awkward position for the longest time. My head rests on his shoulder and he strokes my back, giving me time to recover from that small outburst.
“I have been known to sleep around and I’m not proud of it. I started to believe that all I was good for was a bit of side fun and nothing else,” I explain, as Rory gives us some room to breathe.
“Boys have only ever used me for one thing and that’s why what Freddie said back there really hurt me. I might come across as this tough person that can handle any abuse thrown at her, but I have feelings... I’m not completely invincible.”
Rory’s eyes are full of an intensity I’ve had yet to see. “I seriously had no idea you felt like this. I – I used to—”
“You used to believe the rumours, right?”
He lowers his head. “I can’t lie to you and say that I didn’t. But, I was kind of a douchebag in High School... I didn’t care about anything.”
“Hm... what changed?”
“Nothing really. I’m still the same person. But, I’d like to think that I’m changing for the better.”
“Well, it’s too early to tell yet. But, I think that you’re slowing proving you’re not the worst person in the world.”
“Everybody’s going through their own stuff,” he says. “Sometimes the toughest people are the ones with the biggest backstory. But I’m not going to hurt you Skye. And I’m not just saying that to get into your pants.”
I don’t know how I’m supposed to react. “I don’t get it. Why are you being so nice to me?”
He stares at a spot on the floor, his eyes eerily distant. “I’ve already told you, I’ve grown up since High School.”
“This is so weird! We never used to talk like this. We could barely even acknowledge each other a few days ago.”
Rory tilts his head back. I chew on my bottom lip and watch his eyes linger there. “I’ve always acknowledged you Skye.”
Why does my heart feel like it’s about to burst out of my chest? And why is Rory Keaton acting like he’s always been looking out for me, when I know that’s not the truth? It makes no sense.
Maybe I could use a friend though and he might be the only person up for the task. I guess only time will tell if he really is on my side.