"One step closer." (3)
“Anyway,” I say, standing up and showing him the tarp. “I have to set this on our board.”
He places his book down and stands up too. He towers over me as he joins me, and we walk to our board; my heart is beating like clappers. But, we see another tarp, covering the board securely already.
“Oh,” I smile sheepishly. “Chandler must’ve put it earlier.”
Nate smiles while looking at the board, then at me.
“Thanks, anyway. See ya around!” I beam and start to walk away, clutching the rolled tarp.
He stops me by grabbing my wrist. “Wait.” He, too, was surprised at his sudden action. He clears his throat. “Uh, you’re not busy or anything, are you? Do you mind if you stay a bit? Tell me what happened with Ryan.” He looks at me full of interest and smiles.
I face and look up at him. “Oh, he, er, you know, just wanted to make up for leaving me hanging yesterday,” I say and smile a little, “even though I told him that he doesn’t have to.”
Nate lets go of my wrist, and I can still feel his touch lingering on my skin. I release a tiny gasp as he places a hand on the small of my back, leading me back to sit on the fountain. “He can be persistent, huh?”
“Not as persistent as you,” I crack.
I hear him chuckle beside me and say, “I think, um, Ryan likes you a lot.”
“Oooh,” I inhale sharply, “I, uh, don’t know about that!” I shyly say, staring at my feet and running my fingers through the curls of my hair.
Before he can say what he thinks, some girls pass us by, whispering angrily. I can’t help but glance at them, and they are looking at me! It’s as if they stop in my earshot so I could hear them rant about me.
I look away as one of them says, “What does Ryan see in her?! She’s not even that pretty!”
The other one answers her angrily, “Yeah! And just because she won that stupid competition, she thinks she owns the place?” and they walk on, still talking hotly.
When I look over my shoulder to glance at them, they glare at me, roll their eyes and flick their salon, gorgeous hairs.
I shake my head and snort, ignoring their petty remarks. But, I think my subconscious takes over my body, for I feel my heart sink. I have to breathe deeply to be able to calm myself. I frown. This unwanted attention is the reason why I stay out of the spotlight. Hold up, is this feeling the soul from my journal implying for me to experience what ’it’ truly means? I laugh at myself, so what? Do I need to feel the other side of bullying, with me emotionally bullied? Then I remember Nate standing beside me, and I feel his gaze at me. I quickly turn my back on him as tears well up in my eyes.
“Mariana, um, do you want to hang out someplace else?” he asks, leaning closer so he can see my face since my head hangs so low.
The way he said my name was enough for my inner storm to calm down. I tried to hold my tears and control my voice from breaking, but I choked anyway. “Yeah, that would be nice.”
He jogs to the fountain to take his book. “Let’s go,” he says kindly.
I follow him. Now my mood blends with the gloomy weather. Usually, I don’t give a crap if people say shitty things behind my back, but I don’t know why I’m stressing about it this time. Nate glances back at me and waits until I’m by his side.
“Sorry,” I mumbled when I’m next to him.
He chuckles. “It’s alright. I may not know how it feels to be in your situation, but um, I think they’re wrong about you.” He cautiously wraps his arm around me to give me a gentle squeeze.
I secretly use my handkerchief to dry the tears. “Thanks, Nate. So, where are we going exactly?” I looked up at him after he removed his arm around me.
“It’s not really,” he clears his throat, “a hiding place. But um, that’s where I go when I want to be alone.”
We walk, and I notice the trail is familiar. We enter the main hall and exit to another courtyard that leads to the faculty & staff building. My voice kinda sounds impatient when I ask, “Say, where is this hiding place, anyway?”
Nate chuckles as we walk past the plaque of the history of this school. I follow him as he turns left and heads outside to the double doors. He holds it open, and I can see the garden from here, and that’s when I notice his go-to place could be either of the three: the shed, the solarium — or the lake.
I notice the sky is darker, and the clouds are low now. Some students are scattered on the field, playing, talking, and hanging out. Nate ignores the fact that it will rain sooner than I think, five or ten minutes, tops. I look up at him, and he looks cheerful, heading somewhere I’m clearly not sure.
As we walk closer to the place, he glances down at me. When we catch each other’s eyes, his grin is something I will never forget.