Grayson hardly talks to me as we sit in our usual study spot in the library. I mostly find myself asking him questions that he’s unable to answer, because he’s got his head stuck in the clouds.
He’s sitting there with a gloomy expression on his face and it’s sucking all of the energy out of the room. “Did you manage to smooth things over with Sophie?”
Judging by his reaction, I’m guessing they didn’t kiss and make up. “No. She won’t even talk to me. I should have known better than to invite you to the party. I didn’t see any harm in it at the time, but Sophie gets super jealous of any girl I hang out with.”
I cross my arms. “It’s not my fault your girlfriend is so possessive. She just needs to stop being such a—” Grayson’s pulls a face of irritation and I quickly correct myself, “She needs to trust you. That’s all I’m trying to say.”
“Yeah, well at this rate it’s looking like I’m going to have to beg for her forgiveness.”
I smack the papers onto the desk, annoyed that he’s letting his relationship ruin our study session. “Grayson, I understand that you’re going through a rough patch with Sophie right now. But please stop feeling sorry for yourself. I’m sure that she will come running back to you soon enough.”
She practically worships the ground Grayson walks on. I sometimes wonder if she’s with him out of love or just for the status he provides.
“My life doesn’t just revolve around Sophie,” Grayson argues. “I have other things on my mind besides my relationship.”
“Well, why don’t we scrap the guideline sheet for once and just have a normal conversation?” I suggest.
“Anything and everything, that’s the beauty of it. Let’s be human for a change.”
Grayson nods reluctantly. “Alright then, have it your way.”
I think of a good starting topic but fall short when nothing comes to me straight away. “Um, do... do you like chicken?”
Grayson immediately starts laughing. “Wow. Out of all the things you could have asked me, chicken is the first on your list?”
“I only said that because you put me on the spot!”
“You’re the one that suggested we try to be human,” he quotes with his fingers. “How’s that working out for you by the way?”
The disgusted look on my face is making him erupt with more laughter. “Whatever. I was only trying to set an example.”
He chuckles to himself. “My turn to ask you something. What’s your favourite time of the day?”
“Why is that even relevant?” I ask, snorting.
“Well, it’s more relevant than having a conversation about chicken.” Good point. I should have gone with something else. “Come on, what’s your favourite time of the day?”
“Alright! Stop being so pushy!” I quickly scramble for an answer. “Probably the evening.”
“Because the only time I feel totally at peace is when I’m asleep.”
His stare deepens. “That’s weird...” he says, “That’s what I always say.”
“Yeah. Sometimes life can be such a whirlwind and everything is happening so quickly, it’s always nice to come home, crawl into bed and shut your eyes. Then when you wake up the next day it’s almost like you’ve been given a second chance to start over.”
“It’s like a clean slate.”
His face lights up. “Exactly. That’s exactly it.”
“Isn’t it amazing how we can dream about stuff?”
“Yeah,” he says, straightening up. “Any dreams you’d like to share while we’re at it?”
I tuck a strand of hair away from my eyes and think for a moment. I mostly dream about my dad. I can see his outline, but his face is always blurred. He tells me that he will never leave again and that’s usually the point where I wake up.
I realise that Grayson’s waiting for me to answer the question. “I once had a dream that Cee Lo Green tripled in size and started eating everyone,” I confess.
Grayson’s face is full of amusement. “Isn’t that the guy who sang forget you?”
He laughs. “That’s so random.”
“I know! I don’t know why he was eating people, or why he happened to be in my dream. But, it was terrifying.”
“Sounds like it.”
“Your turn,” I press him. This should be interesting.
“I can’t say that I’ve had a dream about Cee Lo Green eating people. But, I remember watching Goosebumps on TV when I was younger. It was an episode where this guy bought a fridge and this ghost kept appearing to him from inside it."
"My parents weren’t aware that I’d watched something scary, so I went to bed a nervous wreck. I ended up having a dream about a fridge and that same ghost was trying to kill me. It was so scary.”
“Goosebumps was literally the best! I freaking loved it – I was a fan of the books mostly though. I don’t think I ever watched the TV series.”
“After watching one episode, I was not about to invest my time reading the books,” he says, “It gave me nightmares for months.”
I quirk an eyebrow. “They were a bit descriptive for young readers I’ll admit, but that’s what made them so great.”
Our eyes meet across the table and we’re smiling genuinely at each other. Is it strange that I don’t want to strangle him right now? We are having a normal conversation and aren’t thinking about killing each other. I see that as a big step forward.
Grayson’s eyes leave me in a flash, as his phone begins to vibrate on the table. He quickly answers it and I can tell who’s on the other end of the line without having to guess.
“Sophie? Hey...” he glances at me and I quickly look away. “No, I’m free. I’m not doing anything important. Where should we meet?”
Rory’s house is slowly becoming my safe refuge.
I’m typing up some notes for the project while he plays FIFA on his Xbox.
His room has ‘TEENAGE BOY’ written all over it, with mahogany furniture and simple decoration. It’s not extremely messy, but it could definitely use a spring clean.
“Argh, I hate this game!” Rory cries, throwing his controller onto the bed. He glances down at the laptop in front of me. “What are you doing anyway? Studying?”
“I’m working on my essay.”
“Ah. What interesting facts have you learnt about Grayson Swain lately then?” he asks, flipping onto his side so he has better access to the laptop screen.
“Nothing juicy unfortunately. He actually leads a pretty boring life.” I lie on my back and look up at the ceiling. “His dad gave me a lift home the other day. I forgot to mention it.”
This seems to spark his curiosity. “He did?”
“Yeah. I learnt a few things about Grayson, which is good. That’s why I need to get it all typed up. At least I’ll have a rough outline.”
“You’ve been writing for a while now. Let’s watch a movie.”
“I can’t. I really have to get some work done.”
Rory moves towards me and lowers the screen of my laptop. “We all need a break sometimes,” he says, jumping off the bed. “Do you have any preferences?”
I rub my tired eyes. “I’ll watch anything. I’m pretty flexible.”
Rory scans his DVD shelf. He then pulls out a movie and holds it up for me to see. I read the title.
“Forrest Gump? I’ve never heard of it.”
His mouth opens. “You’ve never watched Forrest Gump?”
He pops the CD in and dives onto the bed. “Oh my gosh, we have to watch this, like right now!”
We lie next to each other, as if this is totally natural and we’ve been doing it for years. I have to keep reminding myself that we’re just two friends hanging out. But, we have been spending so much time together lately. It’s hard to ignore the physical attraction or how much I’m beginning to care for him.
Sometimes, I find myself thinking about him at the most random times of the day. And then he always happens to show up out of nowhere. I’m very aware of his presence and what it’s doing to my heart rate.
Am I the only one that’s feeling this chemistry between us? Rory might not be feeling anything. I can’t read him.
The beginning of the film doesn’t do much to convince me I’m going to enjoy it, but as the story plays out, I find myself completely hooked.
When the credits roll up two hours later, I wipe my eyes and Rory looks at me. “Well, what did you think of that?” he asks, eager to know my verdict.
“I’m honestly lost for words,” I say. “I mean, everything seemed so real. Tom Hanks is one talented guy.”
“I knew you’d like it.”
I use my elbows to sit myself up. “Can I ask you something?”
“This is really random, but did you set fire to the curtains in the silence lab at school?” There was huge speculation over that for weeks. Rumours had spread around school that Rory was responsible, but nobody ever found out the truth.
The fact that he has to think about it, is enough to clarify that theory. “I didn’t do it alone. I had some help from my friend Miles. He got expelled because the matches were found in his pocket. I got a few days suspension for contributing.”
“I hated school,” I admit, crossing my legs. “People were so quick to judge.”
“I didn’t hate it exactly… I just hated the person that I became when I was there,” he says. “I was a messed up kid… but I didn’t want anyone knowing that. So, I got involved in all the wrong stuff and acted like a total prick in order to diffuse the situation. All that got me was after school detentions and a bad reputation.”
“Sounds like a song.”
He chuckles. “It does. Maybe I should get my pen and paper out.”
“You definitely should. After school detentions and a bad reputation… I like that.” I reach for my laptop again, but that’s when we overhear the front door slam. After another still moment, there’s footsteps on the stairs.
“Ugh, I hate him!” Jenny’s voice floats up from under the door.
Rory glances at me, eyes full of concern. “I’d better go and see what this is all about.” I nod and wait patiently in his room.
Raised voices bounce off the walls and it doesn’t sound like Rory’s doing a very good job in there. Jenny needs a softer approach, not a lecture.
I push myself off the bed and stand outside her room. The door is slightly ajar. I can hear Rory saying, “If you don’t tell me what’s wrong, how am I supposed to help you Jen?”
“I don’t want your help! I never asked for it!” she screams back.
It’s getting heated.
“Is this about dad? Because if you’re not comfortable going to visit him, that’s fine. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”
It’s just occurred to me that I’ve never asked Rory about his parents. Maybe I should. I’m slightly curious to hear about them now.
Why would it be uncomfortable for Jenny to see her father? Why has Rory never spoken about him? Why isn’t his dad living here with them? That’s the bigger question.
It takes me a second to realise Jenny is speaking, “You’d love that wouldn’t you! You hate that I go to see him.”
“I - I just don’t want you getting hurt. That’s all.”
“I’m a big girl. I’ve had to take care of myself for years… ever since mum died.” She’s sobbing now and I can tell that Rory doesn’t know how to handle it.
I step into the room. Rory’s eyes find mine and I’m shocked to find tears there. He looks tired. “She won’t talk to me. I don’t know what to do.”
“Can I try?”
Jenny’s room is mostly dark purple and there are clothes everywhere. She’s lying face down on her unmade bed, crying into a pillow. I don’t know her very well, so I’m worried that she’s going to turn me away.
I gently lower myself onto the edge of the bed. “Go away Rory!” she screams.
“It’s Skye,” I say, which makes her turn around instantly. Her brown eyes are all bloodshot and she wipes away some tears with the sleeve of her cardigan.
“Look, I know we don’t know much about each other Jenny, but I am here to listen… if you’ll let me.”
Jenny sniffs and crosses her arms. “Wouldn’t you rather be hanging out with Rory?”
“Honestly…” I glance at him from over my shoulder. “If I have to take any more of his effing and arring during Fifa, I literally won’t be held responsible for the consequences of my actions.”
She smiles, but only for a brief second. “It annoys me so much when he plays that game,” she agrees.
“Hey! I’m still in the room,” Rory is quick to remind us.
We ignore him. “At the end of the day, you’re Rory’s sister and that means something to me. It makes you important,” I tell her, watching her eyes widen. “So, if you’d like to talk, I’m always available.”
She seems to be thinking hard about everything I just said. “It’s nothing really. I just… I went to visit my Dad after school and he told me that I should stop visiting as often as I do because I should be focusing on my exams. It really threw me off because I thought he wanted me there.”
I can’t bear to face Rory right now, because I know that he’s listening to all of this and probably wishing that he’d never invited me over. He knows about the situation with my Dad, but I don’t know a single thing about his father and that proves that he’s been keeping his cards close to his chest this entire time.
The fact that Jenny is opening up to me is the biggest surprise of all. “Then I got angry with him and said some things I regret. It was horrible,” she finishes.
“I don’t know much about what’s going on. But, one thing I will say, is that at least you’ve got some sort of relationship with your dad. It might not be perfect because nothing ever is, but I don’t think he meant to hurt you when he said not to visit him as often. Maybe he just wants you to focus on your studies for his own peace of mind.”
Jenny looks up at me, eyes watery. “I hadn’t thought of it like that. Are you close to your father Skye?” she asks, taking me off guard.
“Uh, no. I’ve always been under the impression that he didn’t want me because he left before I was born.”
Jenny grabs hold of my hand and I know she’s feeling sorry for me right now. At least it’s taken her mind off her own problems. Looks like the tables have turned.
“That sucks,” she says.
“It does. But, you have a wonderful family Jenny. They love you so much and I’m sure your dad does too.”
She squeezes her eyes shut and exhales. “I’m not so sure about that. I was so horrible to him earlier. I don’t think he’ll be able to forgive me after what I said.”
“We all say things we don’t mean sometimes.”
There’s a faint crack of a smile warming her face. Once again, Jenny is hugging me and this time I hug her back. “Thanks Skye. You’re pretty awesome.”
“No worries. And so are you.”
When we finally leave the room, Rory is quieter than ever.
“Is everything okay?”
“Oh, yeah. Fine.”
Except, I can tell that something is bothering him. I just wish I knew what it was.