Rory sticks to his word and doesn’t contact me at all. I guess he’s giving me the space that I asked for - tons of it. On the plus side, I have the perfect antidote for pushing down my confused feelings - working on the project.
I’ve got to start thinking with my head if I want to complete this essay by tomorrow morning.
I sit crossed legged on the bed with my century old laptop perched in front of me. It’s currently installing pointless updates and I’m forced to wait until it’s completed. I reach for my notes and read them over to pass time.
Sophie: Grayson’s girlfriend. She rings him on a constant loop. I feel like I’m third-wheeling, even though she’s not actually here.
Grayson wears a lot of aftershave… and I mean a LOT.
He’s most grateful for the money he has (kind of shallow).
I skip some pages.
Despite being overly critical, Grayson does have a sensitive side.
Got bullied at school.
He cares deeply for his parents and has a close connection to his dad.
He got his heart broken by his first love.
Found out that even though he’s got lots of money and two parents living under the same roof, he isn’t completely happy.
His house is ginormous - favourite room is the study, where he writes his secret poems.
This is where we started to get more personal with each other. I still don’t know everything about him, but I’ve got enough information here to build an essay around.
I check my laptop screen to see if it’s finished installing updates and to my relief, it has. I spend the next few hours typing, deleting and correcting sentences, telling Grayson’s story as if he were the one writing it. I’ve got to pick out the main points and expand on them.
Who is Grayson? What is his story?
My mobile vibrates on the bed and I wonder if it’s Rory. The caller ID says it’s Grayson.
I frown when I answer the phone. “Hello?”
Maybe he’s ringing to cancel our dinner plans for tomorrow.
“Hey! How’s it going?”
“Good. I’m working on the essay right now.”
“Me too. That’s why I’m ringing actually… How are we planning to present this thing tomorrow? Who’s going to speak first?”
“You can go first,” I tell him. “I get nervous speaking in front of crowds.”
“Seriously? You don’t seem like the type to get nervous over a presentation.”
I roll my eyes. “Well, there are still some things you don’t know about me Swiney.”
“Did you actually just call me Swiney?” he retaliates.
“I did and it’s your nickname from this moment onwards,” I declare.
“No, it shall not be.”
“Oh, yes it shall.”
There’s a short pause until he says, “Then I shall call you Clementine.”
“Payback is sweet!”
I snort and grip my phone harder. “Whatever. Are you done now? You’re wasting my minutes.”
“Don’t forget to bring your essay with you tomorrow Clementine!” he sings, making me cover my ears.
“I don’t need reminding!”
The phone goes dead and I laugh under my breath. He might be annoying, but I’m used to it by now.
There’s a tap at the door and my eyes don’t stray from the laptop screen. Mum plants a cup of tea onto my side table and I thank her quietly.
“I am proud of you Skye, you know that, don’t you?” This makes me look up.
But it’s still nice to hear you say it.
My alarm wakes me up early and I quickly get dressed. I was awake until early hours this morning to complete the presentation and I’m still not satisfied with it.
I grab my notes and start practicing the introduction out loud. I’m aware that mum is only in the other room and can probably hear everything I’m saying.
“Skye, have you got everything you need?” she asks, peeping her head around the corner.
I take a breath. “I think so.”
She touches my hand. “Don’t be nervous. This is what you’ve worked hard for. Just pretend that everybody is naked.”
I cringe inwardly. “Ew! That’s just gross.”
“It might help.”
I stuff the notes in my bag and shake my head. “No, it won’t, and that’s exactly why I’m not going to take you up on that advice.”
I reach the front door and wheel my new bike outside. The sun beats down on my face and I smile.
At least the weather is on my side.
Mum quickly shouts, “Good luck!” to me as I pedal down the street.
My palms are sweating when I sit down in class. Ricky is giving us a specific order for the presentations and I listen out for me and Grayson’s name.
“Grayson and Skye, you’ll be doing your presentations after Harper and Eddie,” he says.
Eek. I think I’m going to hurl.
Grayson pushes his chair closer to mine. “Stop panicking Skye, you’re projecting your nerves onto me and it’s stressing me out.”
I wring my hands together. “I can’t help it!” I hiss. “Go sit somewhere else if I’m bothering you that much.”
“Why would I do that? You’re my partner. We’ve got to stick together no matter what.” He runs a hand over his hair and softens his tone. “Stop putting so much pressure on yourself. We’re going to go up there and smash this.”
I tilt my head slightly towards him, thankful for his words of encouragement. “You’re right. We can do this.”
“That’s the spirit! I’ll be with you every step of the way. Don’t forget that.”
Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be doing this with anybody else. As hard as it was at times to get along with Grayson, it’s been interesting getting to know who he really is and I want to describe his character the best that I can.
“Little piece of advice to you all,” Ricky says, whilst setting up the computer. “These presentations are only a brief overview of what you’ve learned. It doesn’t have to be in depth because it’s impossible to learn everything about a person over the short period of time we’ve had. The length of the presentation isn’t as important as the quality. Just keep that in mind.”
I reread my notes over and over again, until the presentations start. The whole class falls silent to listen and clap when each pair has finished speaking. I’m sitting there, dreading for when it’s our turn.
What if I mess up? What if I forget what to say?
My heart is hammering inside my chest and I’m worried that people can hear it.
Harper and Eddie meet at the front of the class and smile at each other. Harper is wearing these hideous floral glasses that look too big for her face, a long black skirt and a multi-coloured jumper.
I notice Grayson watching her, as she talks at one hundred miles an hour, hands flailing, eyes never staying in one place.
I know exactly what he must be thinking at this moment, ’why did she walk out of the house dressed like that?”
“So, Eddie is a big fan of video games and showed me how to play Fifa,” Harper is saying. “I’ll be honest, I’m not the best at following instructions, so I kept losing and didn’t improve by the time I left his house. It’s actually really hard to know which buttons to press for…”
Ricky must be telling her to move on because her expression changes and she quickly composes herself. Grayson chuckles.
I zone out for most of Eddie’s speech and before I know it, Ricky is calling us. Crap. This is it. Brain, don’t fail me now.
Grayson grabs my hand and leads me to the front, where all eyes are trained on us.
Breathe Skye. Just breathe.
He steps forward with confidence and I’m glad one of us has it together because I’m slowly falling apart.
“My partner for this project was Skye Clemons,” Grayson starts, pointing in my direction.
Oh, here we go.
“When I first met Skye, we didn’t see eye to eye. In fact, I’m pretty sure we hated each other… as you all already know.”
Some of the class break into laughter at the reminder. They knew how much we would fight.
“I used to think that we could never have anything in common, because our upbringings were so different. But actually, Skye has taught me a few things about myself.”
Where is he going with this?
I glance up at him nervously and he stares back with a serious expression.
“As human beings, we each have our own story to tell… that doesn’t mean the stories are going to be identical - but we all go through hardships.”
I’m holding my breath. “Skye is strong, fiery and selfless. She’s like a lion.” I glance at him, scowling.
Is he really comparing me to a lion?
“She keeps up this barrier, but there’s a reason for that. She gives off the impression that you don’t want to mess with her. To the rest of the world, we might assume that Skye is capable of handling herself, which she is. But, that doesn’t mean she’s completely heartless or without feeling. It’s actually the opposite.”
I can feel my eyes swelling up and I quickly shake my head, refusing to let the tears fall.
“It was difficult to get to know Skye in the beginning and that was partly my fault. I didn’t make the situation any easier.”
So, he’s finally owning up to something. There’s a shocker.
“It took us a long time to open up and that’s why we were running slightly behind compared to everyone else. At one point I did think that we were never going to finish. But eventually, we found a way to work around our differences. And the truth is, the more I got to talk to Skye, the more she surprised me.”
Okay, he’s onto something here.
“My childhood consisted of being lavished with gifts and money. I thought that the world revolved around money and that without it, you didn’t stand a fighting chance. I can openly admit that when I first came to Barnett, I was quick to judge you all, which was wrong. After talking to Skye and spending so much time with her, I came to know what she was the most grateful for in her life and it spoke to me.”
My mind flashes back to that first time we met in the library and I smile at the memory.
“It proved that love defeats what money can buy.”
So, he has been paying attention.
It’s so weird hearing all of this spoken from somebody else’s mouth and having people hear about my life in a nutshell.
“Skye is surrounded by a supportive community. She has close relationships with her neighbours and has people that genuinely care about her. In some ways, she has what I lack.”
I stand there listening to his well-prepared speech, completely mesmerized.
“There are many layers to Skye Clemons. I still don’t know everything about her. But, I do know that she’s definitely become a good friend of mine.”
My heart warms at his public declaration. Friend. That word feels so foreign coming from his mouth and yet means so much.
“I’m really glad we got this chance to work together,” he says, looking at me. “I’ve learned a lot and I’ve also cursed at the ground a lot.”
More chuckles, including my own.
When he reaches the end of his performance, there’s a huge cheer and he does a small bow. Then I realize it’s my turn to speak and the nerves kick back into motion. Ricky nods his head, giving me the nudge that I need.
“Uh, so… Grayson was my partner for the project… obviously,” I stammer, trying to push down the nerves, but they keep springing back. “I was going to start this presentation with a short introduction. I wrote this based on what I’ve learned over the past few weeks.”
I unfold the paper I’m holding and start reading from it. “Think of your favourite perfume.” I can tell by everybody’s faces that I’ve totally confused them. Even Grayson is struggling to understand where I’m going with this.
“The packaging is almost as alluring as the fragrance inside,” I continue, “And you are tempted to spend money, in order to keep up with the latest fashion and beauty inspired outlook that is pleasing to the world.”
I take in a shuddery breath, hands shaking as I continue to read. “You get home with the perfume and spray the first touch of magic to the nape of your neck, where it leaves it’s watery mark and fragrance behind. The smell lifts itself high into the air and for a split second you are totally satisfied.”
I glance at the sea of blank faces. “You believe that this little bottle can add to your worth and add to your beauty, as it gives people something to talk about. Hearing the compliment, ‘you smell nice’ is a common feature that works for a good while, until you realize the perfume doesn’t define who you are or what you do. It is just a disguise.”
I lower my eyes to Grayson. He’s leaning against a free desk, arms crossed over, listening closely.
“Once you’ve sprayed the fragrance a couple of times, it dawns upon you how wasteful the purchase was, as it did not bring you true happiness, but instead burnt a hole in your back pocket and wore off after a while."
"The fragrance starts to lose its appeal and you wonder why you yearned for it so badly in the beginning. You recognize that self-worth and acceptance do not come from clothes or items. Through the world’s lens, you will never be enough. No perfume or materialistic thing will bring you lasting joy or satisfaction, because it wears out eventually.”
I place the paper on Ricky’s desk and turn to everyone. “This is what I’ve discovered about Grayson. Even though he has a big house and lots of money, he still gets lonely and he isn’t entirely happy. It’s almost like, he uses money as an excuse to buy his way through life.”
Grayson looks at me sharply. “Blinking heck, thanks a lot Skye,” he whispers.
I lower my voice as I turn to him. “Hold on. I have a point to make.”
I pause to take a breath and face the crowd again. “I’ve learned that he got hurt by someone he cared deeply about in the past and it’s hardened his emotions."
"Therefore, you can never judge a person based on their appearance, what they say or where they come from, because it might not be a true reflection of who they really are and they might have their reasons for acting like that. Also, money and possessions can’t buy happiness. They just bring temporary relief.”
I glance at Grayson again to check that he’s still with me. “Some people pretend to be someone they’re not and I feel that Grayson is just another wanderer - trying to find his way and falling short every time, because he is never satisfied with what he’s got.”
I’m not saying this to be mean. It’s an honest opinion and I hope that he won’t take it personally.
“For the first couple of weeks, we did not get along at all and this continued up until a certain point. I thought that maybe we were never going to be able to complete this project and that terrified me, because this course means everything to me. But, there was a turn around when I got a lift home from his dad one day.”
I place my twitchy hands behind my back. “He revealed a few things and at the time, I was just looking to get ahead… to get some inside gossip from a family member."
"But, I realised that the Grayson I was spending time with was nothing like the boy his father was describing. He’s a tease, acts like he knows it all and can be annoying when he wants to be. But he also has a sensitive side.”
The room is too quiet and at first, I worry that I’ve spoken too much or said the wrong thing. “Loyalty is important and Grayson has that in bounds,” I push on, “He grew up at Lakeside, so that’s all he’s ever known and his world is very different from mine. He leads an active day to day life - going to the gym and playing golf on a Sunday afternoon to bond with his dad. I think it’s great to see a father figure take interest in their child.”
“I used to think that Grayson had this perfect life and I was envious of that. But I’ve discovered that he hasn’t had it easy himself. He’s been put under a lot of pressure by his parents because they expect a lot from him - maintaining the highest grades for example, being the best at everything and always winning.”
“Grayson is just one of us - only more advantaged in some areas. That’s the one thing that sets us apart. Other than that, we’re equals.”
I finish there and wait for a reaction.
This is not good.
Nobody is moving or saying anything.
It must’ve been terrible.
Suddenly the class burst into claps and whistles. Grayson’s clap is the loudest and I let out the breath I’ve been holding in.
Ricky is smiling like a proud dad and it fills me with pride. “Well done both, you can sit down.”
Grayson is still holding my hand as we take our seats. “I think you’ve finally found your voice,” he says, grinning.
“Yeah. I think I have.”
And it’s the best feeling.