AT SCHOOL, I avoid Andrew completely. I still spend time with Carmine, but when Andrew approaches us, I turn around and walk away.
A week later, Carmine insists I go with them to the dam. I tell her I will meet her there and while I get dressed, I keep debating with myself whether I should just stay away. It is not as if she will miss me.
Amanda eventually convinces me to go and I drive past the mall, across the bridge and down the hill to the dam. When I drive over the little hill, I can see the water of the dam shimmer through the trees. The sun dances on the water and it looks peacefully surrounded by a nature reserve.
Nostalgia intrudes my mind. If it were not for all those vampires sacrificing themselves all those many years ago, I would now be huddled in a corner somewhere, too afraid to walk out into the sun. I remember listening to the stories about the vampires, now regarded as heroes, who gave up their lives so all the other vampires could live as normal human beings, without having to hide away from civilisation. If I forgot even one day to take my pill, amusingly referred to as vitamins, and I walked out into the sun, I would disperse in the wind.
I remember Shayne telling me what happened to my real father. He saved my mother from a burning house, the château I grew up in, after the man I always thought of as my father tried to kill my mother. William, my biological father, jumped out of the window with my mother in his arms. Moments later and he would have been okay, but the sun was still hovering on the horizon. When the rays touched his skin, he scattered in the breeze. He was gone, just like that.
I shiver involuntarily.
Driving slowly along the dirt road into the dam area, I see my classmates ahead of me. I slow down even further and then I pull into a vacant parking spot. I pick up my straw hat and beach bag on the seat next to me and I get out of the car.
Carmine notices me immediately and she rushes to me. She is like a toddler with too much energy and I grit my teeth. I reprimand myself to enjoy myself and to fit in. Immersed in their lives, and although so predictable, it amuses me and breaks the continuous monotony. I have done perky, I have done cheerleader, I have been Goth many times, I have been the nerd, the science genius, name it and I have played the role. Now, with this group, I want to fall in love. I want to experience that feeling of falling, to put my trust, as limited as it may be, into another person. In addition, I have this unexplained yearning for Andrew. I often wonder how it would feel if he touched me softly or how it would feel to kiss him.
Carmine reaches me. Her golden, blonde curls bouncing all over her head. “Susie, I am glad you decided to come after all.”
I smile friendly and feeling the sun on my shoulders, I think I actually feel happy. “It is such a nice day and I could not stay indoors or just go the mall,” I answer.
She takes me by the hand. “Come.” She pulls me with her to the group of people. I immediately notice Andrew standing across from me, but when he looks at me, a frown creases his brow. The rest of the group greets me friendly.
I look around for somewhere to put my bag and I notice a blanket spread out on the ground a distance away. I turn away from the group and walk to the blanket. When I reach the blanket and the grouping of bags on the ground, I bend down and I put my bag on the ground as well.
Carmine calls, “If you have your swimming costume on, take off your clothes. We are going swimming.”
I hesitantly pull my shirt over my head and then bending down I slide my shorts down my legs. I fold my clothes and then leave it in a pile next to my bag.
Wrapping a towel around my waist, I walk back to the group seeing the boys looking at me, but regretfully Andrew ignores me. Already when I think of Andrew, I feel agony.
Carmine holds onto my hand and then yanking at my hand, she starts running to the water. I run with her, dropping my towel and I start to feel a slight inkling of being mortal, to live for the moment and make it count. This is one of the main reasons I surround myself with humans. I can imagine their mortality and for a brief moment, I can experience it.
The water splashes up and over us as we run into the shallow water, deeper into the darker water.
I fall down onto my back purposefully and feel the cold water immerse me. I come up and the water drips from my face.
Duncan swims to me. I have noticed him a few times before in class. He has his fawn coloured hair clipped short all over his head, he has steel-blue eyes and he is extremely muscular. He leaps at me and with his one arm around my shoulders and his other hand on my head he tries to submerge me under the water.
I do not resist, not wanting to start a rumour regarding my strength. I pretend to fight back and then I let my head sink under the water. He lets me go and I come up laughing.
I see Andrew glance in my direction. I know I have a serious crush on him, according to movies and music videos, but I wish that where he was concerned I did not have tunnel vision, looking for approval from him in everything I do.
Duncan asks, “How well do you swim?”
I smile. “Well enough. You want to challenge me?”
He laughs boisterously. “You up for it?”
Enquiringly I ask, “To the other side?”
He frowns. “You crazy?”
I notice it is a great distance, so I retaliate, “Chicken!”
“Let’s race to that rubber boat over there.” He points his finger a short distance away.
Laughing, I dive into the water and when I come up swimming freestyle, I hear him yell, “Cheating!”
I hear him splash behind me and pace myself. I only needed to win by a stroke. I was not going to let him beat me.
Touching the rubber boat just before he does, he exclaims breathlessly, “You cheated.”
Pretending to be sorry, I say, “Sorry. I am a girl and you have to give me a head start anyway. That is how it works, isn’t it?”
He replies indignant, “Maybe in the fifties.”
He hauls himself over the side of the rubber boat and then he extends his hand to me. “I’ll row us back to shore,” he offers.
“Let’s swim back.”
He looks back at the shore and then back at me.
I convince him, “It does not have to be a race. We can float back.”
He contemplates for a moment and then he dives back into the water. The water splashes into my face and I turn away from him. I feel his hands around my waist as he comes up and turn my face around to face him and he smiles at me brazenly. I move away from him, laughing and kicking water up into his face playfully and then I start swimming away from him.
He follows me and I hear him call after me to wait for him.
I slow down and turn onto my back. I lay there floating, drifting on the water and I wait for him to reach me. When he catches up with me, we slowly drift toward the shore.
When we are shallow enough to stand up, we wade out of the water, and he asks me casually, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
I smile, fleetingly remembering a time when decorum was everything, and now boys, some boys, did not hesitate to come straight to the point. I did not want to complicate things with him, so I say, “Yes, I do.” I do not want him to feel awkward. “Do you have a girlfriend?”
He answers, smiling shrewd, “Not yet.”
We walk to Carmine and she is arguing with Andrew. When Andrew sees us coming, he turns away from Carmine and moves closer to the fire Lionel is building in the barbecue area.
Carmine turns to look at us. I instinctively know she likes Duncan by the way she looks at him accusingly.
Duncan walks to her and wraps his arms around her waist, hugging her tightly to him. “Oh, Carmine. How I have missed you.”
She pushes him away and says adamantly, “Leave me, Duncan. You are such an ass.”
Laughing he lets her go and then he follows Andrew.
I soon hear them talking about rugby. Carmine suggests we go back into the water, but I decline and I tell her I would rather lie down on the blanket for a while. I add jokingly, without thinking, “That the race against Duncan had exhausted me.” I notice immediately the pained expression on her face and I want to reach out to her and explain that where I am concerned she does not have to worry, I have no inclination to encourage Duncan. I am just about to say something when Jessica walks toward us and says, “Carmine we are going for a walk. Do you wanna come?”
Carmine looks at me expectantly, but I smile and reiterate, “I am going to stay.”
Duncan says, “Come on you two, let’s go. You need to walk off all that meat we are going to be eating soon. Lionel and Andrew are going to stay and man the fire.”
I say, “Not me, thanks.”
Carmine smiles thankfully.
I look at them as they walk away. Although I predict Carmine could become a pain with all her exuberance, she is a nice person and I would not mind being a friend of hers. We could never be close friends because sooner rather than later, she would outgrow me and move on.
I walk to the blanket and I lie down on my back. I close my eyes against the glaring sun and let it soak uselessly into me. Sighing deeply, thinking of the meat I will be eating soon, I wonder how rare I could get away with.
A shadow falls over me and then I sense someone lay down next to me. I grimace, thinking it is Duncan. Opening my eyes, squinting against the sun, I bring my hand up to shade my eyes and I look into the face of Andrew, close to mine. He is laying on his stomach, resting on his elbows. I see his dark brooding eyes and I realise despondent no matter what I said or ever did, he would never really know the effect he has on me.
Softly he says, “I wanted to talk to you. If that’s okay?”
“Ya, sure.” I want to sit up but decide to stay where I am. Later I could fantasise and imagine he leant down and kissed me as if he loved me.
He asks, “You never came the other afternoon to work on the project. I wanted to apologise for attacking you in class that day.”
“I am sorry I got you in so much trouble. I did not presume to know everything and I do not have the answers to all your country’s problems, but...”
He interrupts me, “I said I was sorry and you do not have to explain yourself. Besides, I have something else I need to ask you.” He looks down at me and then he smiles mischievously. “I have been thinking and I cannot understand how you caught that glass so fast the other day at the café?”
I close my eyes for a moment and without thinking I say, “Reflex?”
He smiles brilliantly, unbelieving. “Your reflexes are very good!”
I laugh, despite my apprehension. “When you are clumsy, it is good to be quick.”
“It sure is.” He looks down at me pensively. “I see Duncan likes you.”
I do not know if it is a statement or a question, so I reply, “I don’t know, does he?”
“You must be a goose not to notice the way he was carrying on this morning.”
“But, Carmine likes him, though?”
He frowns. “She sure does and she always falls for his charms. She is an idiot to be so fallen for him.”
I do not want to ask, but I have to know, “Is this like a love triangle? Carmine likes Duncan, but you like Carmine.”
Amused he says, “No, there is no love triangle. Carmine and I have known each other since grade school. Her parents adopted me when I was little.”
I look at him confused. “I did not realise. She always says your house or her house?”
“Habit. We have always pretended to only be friends, although everyone who knows us, obviously do know. When we were in grade school, she did not want her friends to know she knew me. I was skinny and emancipated back then and she had a reputation to uphold. From there it became a habit, so sometimes even when I talk to her, I would say my house and your house.”
I look at his arms and muse that he is most certainly not skinny and emancipated any more. The muscles on his upper arms are well defined.
“So, the principle is also her dad then?”
A shadow falls over his face, when he replies, “Ya, actually only her dad—remember. He only tolerates me. My adoptive mother is great, though, she treats me no different than she does Carmine.” He sits up abruptly. “Jeez. I am telling you my entire life story.” He looks at me puzzled.
I sit up as well. “Is that so bad?”
He starts to get up and suddenly I do not want him to leave. I want to know the reasons why he is the way he is, what makes him whom he is. I put my hand on his forearm gently.
He looks at me and smiling slowly, he continues standing up. “I have to see if Lionel needs a hand. Don’t go away.”
I lie down again and I turn onto my stomach. The shadows are stretching and becoming longer, reaching toward my little island in the sun. I lean on my elbows and rest my chin into my palms.
Looking at Andrew from the corner of my eye, I once again see his dark, short hair. His lean, muscular back is turned to me, so I cannot see his broodingly dark eyes. He is very tall, I would say a head taller than I am and he has the most amazing smile. I consider what I had just heard, that Andrew is an orphan, just like me. What are the odds? It is weird that moments ago he was here next to me, softly smiling and talking as if he has always known me. Sharing himself with me until he realised he was.
I hear Carmine returning before I see her. When they walk into the clearing, I look up at them and then I see Duncan walk in my direction. Hurriedly I stand up and reach for my clothes. I pull my shorts on and then my shirt over my head. I shake out my sun-dried hair. Duncan reaches me as soon as I turn to the fire.
I smile friendly past him. “Hi, Carmine. How was the walk?”
Excitedly she exclaims, “You missed it. We saw a buck on the other side of the fence. It was great!”
I ignore Duncan and I walk past him to Carmine. Together we walk toward the fire while she jabbers excitedly about the antelope she saw.
I notice Duncan pretend to walk past as if he never noticed me either and then he reaches for his bag on the ground. He pulls on a hooded jacket and then slowly he walks toward the fire as well.
Carmine walks to Andrew and so I do not have a choice but to stand next to Andrew. For a long moment, all three of us stare into the fire quietly and then I smell the meat. Lionel places the steaks and sausages on the grill and I ask hesitantly, “Can I have mine as rare as possible?”
Lionel laughs. “You like your meat like I like mine. Just enough sizzle so it cannot stand up and walk away.”
I smile relieved. “I don’t know why...”
Lionel interrupts me, “That is how meat should be eaten, isn’t it obvious?” He looks around at the others. “Not like all of them who like theirs medium or well-done.”
Andrew guffaws, “Hey, I like to enjoy my food. How can you even eat it when you can still see it swimming in blood on your plate?”
Lionel laughs. “Yum!”
Andrew makes a disgusted face. “Yuck!”
Lionel retaliates, “Don’t dismiss it if you’ve never tried it.”
I am glad I have an ally because I would have hated to gag down a medium steak. The smell of sweet, singed meat fills the air.
Later we eat, and Andrew sits next to me on a log. We eat in silence and when we are finished, I lick my fingers clean.
He bumps against me playfully. “Did you enjoy that?”
Embarrassed I smile. “I did.”
“I honestly don’t know how you can eat it like that. I prefer mine as well done as possible, before turning it into charcoal.”
I shiver and he laughs.
We clear up and dispose of the plastic cutlery and paper plates in the metal bins standing near enough.
Everybody sits down again and then Duncan starts to tell us a ghost story. I feel myself leaning closer to Andrew, but I do not lean into him.
Amused I wonder what they would say or how fast they will run if I tell them my scary story.