Chapter Twenty-Two - Doctor Annie
I winced as Annie dabbed more cotton and antiseptic on the cut above my eyebrow, her face set into a perfect mask of concentration, her unblemished skin crinkled.
She snorted. “Wimp.”
She rolled her eyes, adjusted the sleeves of her black shirt and grabbed a new ball of cotton wool, dabbing it with more of the foul-smelling, painful antiseptic and continuing on resolutely with her task, despite my twitching and cries of protest.
“You claim to be the ‘Bad Boy’ of Alderidge High, and yet you can’t handle a little anaesthetic cream? I’ve seen cheerleaders handle this better than you.”
I frowned at her comment, but I had to admit that I kind of liked the way she teased me. I didn’t get it very often - most girls were too afraid - and I kinda liked the air and confidence with which she held herself. It was new and intoxicating.
Right now I was sitting on her kitchen bench next to a first aid kit, and a glass bowl filled to the brim with bloody cotton pads. It was quite dark in here, and quiet. There was no-one else in the house, which was a daunting fact within itself.
“So, you’re good at this kind of stuff?” I asked, gesturing to the first aid kit with a smooth and almost imperceptible nod of my head. There was something in her eyes, like this intense focus, that told me she was in her element right now, cleaning cuts and fixing people up.
She nodded. “Yeah, I wanna be a doctor.”
I winced as she dabbed antiseptic onto a new cut on my jaw, her fingers cold and gentle when they came into contact with my skin. “Blood doesn’t freak you out?”
She laughed, and the musical sound filled the room, bringing a smile onto my face. The noise was contagious. “No, I’m not weak-stomached like Grace. I’m pretty good at handling blood and dissections.”
“How long have you wanted to be a doctor?”
“Since I was eleven. I’ve been studying since I was fourteen, though.”
“So you know about my mother?” The words slipped out before I had the chance to think, and she froze momentarily, before calmly continuing to wipe. She had managed to regain her composure quicker than I had expected.
“Yeah, I studied her case. I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for asking,” I muttered, my cheeks reddening. God, I knew how to ruin a moment, didn’t I?
She continued in silence for a while, before she started covering my cuts with bandages and Band-Aids. She worked quickly and efficiently and neatly.
“Hey, Annie?” I asked quietly.
“What do you think of me?” I asked before I could stop myself. The question had been bugging me for a while, until eventually the curiosity had become too much, and I had to ask.
“In what way?” she questioned, seeming perplexed. She didn’t meet my eyes.
“I mean, do you think of me as a bad person?”
“No,” she said. “I think you’ve done some bad things, but you aren’t a bad person.”
“I’m not the person everyone thinks I am.”
“Cole…” she trailed off, looking like she wished she was anywhere but here.
“Say it. I know you’re thinking about her.” I swallowed, forcing her name out. Even now it felt like nails sliding down my throat. “About… Aly.”
“Cole, you can’t deny what you did…” she began, but I cut her off, needing to explain myself and show her I wasn’t the person I was accused of being. I didn’t know why I needed to tell her, I just needed her to know that.
“No, I can’t. But it didn’t happen like everyone thinks it did. I really loved her. I…I’d been in love with her for months, but I promised myself I’d stay away because I felt like bad things happened to people who got close to me. But one night at a party I got drunk. And she was there, and suddenly I didn’t feel scared anymore. But the next moment I woke up in an unfamiliar bed and realised what I did. I broke up with her because… I didn’t want her getting hurt. So I broke up with her and pretended that I had no feelings for her. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”
“Well, then I think you should tell her that,” Annie murmured, seeming shocked at my revelation. I was taken aback by her words.
Annie sighed and stopped bandaging, laying down the small pieces of plaster so that she could look directly into my eyes. “I think she deserves to know the truth. You should meet up with her and explain it to her.”
“I don’t know if she’d even take my calls.” My voice came out glum and sour when I said that, and I swallowed it down.
“Well, then you keep trying until she gives in. She deserves to know, Cole.”
I nodded. “Yeah, you’re right. I never wanted to hurt her.”
“What about all the other girls?”
My head snapped up, and I furrowed my brow, genuinely confused. “What other girls?”
She blushed. “All the other girls you’ve… been with.”
“I’ve never been with any other girls,” I said, bewildered.
“But every weekend girls are saying they spent the night with you.”
“Well, they were lying. Alyra was my first and last. I’d never do that to a girl.” I looked down to the floor. “Even I have standards.”
“You continually surprise me, Cole,” she muttered, picking up the thin strips and going back to fixing me.
“What do you mean?”
She frowned, thinking through her words carefully. Her hazel eyes skittered around the room, never focusing anywhere as she thought carefully. “I just… I’ve always been so sure I knew what kind of guy you were. A player, a heartbreaker. But you keep finding ways to prove me wrong. First with Grace and now this. I shouldn’t trust you. I should think you’re lying… but I know you’re not. There’s something that just… makes me trust you.”
“I’m telling the truth, Annie,” I whispered. “I’m not a bad guy. People just take me the wrong way, or… they lie.”
“I believe you,” she said. “I shouldn’t believe you, but I do.”
Some impulse took over me, and I found myself leaning towards her. An hour ago I was fighting another dude over Grace, and now I was going to kiss her best friend, someone I had barely talked to before. I didn’t even know if Annie had a boyfriend or not! All I knew was that neither of us was pulling away.
My hand reached up and lightly traced her soft jaw, and I felt her swallow nervously.
Our lips hovered over each other for a few seconds, and my heart beat faster in my chest. What was happening to me? I’d never felt like this before. This was a new, foreign feeling.
But I liked it.
At the last possible second she turned her head to the side and looked away. My lips brushed against her cheek gently, and I quickly pulled back, shocked at what we’d been about to do.
“Uh, I should get you home,” she murmured quietly. “Before the snow gets any worse.”
I schooled my features from the hurt and confusion I was feeling and swallowed thickly, nodding. “Um, yeah.”
She grabbed me two aspirins and a glass of water and then began to dispose of all of my bloody gauze and methodically pack away everything in the first aid kit. It was impossible not to notice the slight tremble in her normally steady hands. Was it fear? Nerves?
I didn’t know what was going on with my feelings towards Annie…
But I was gonna find out.