I stayed with Felicity
until well after dark, but when my mom asked what had kept me so long, I just
said that Felicity wasn’t feeling very well and she needed me. Mom believed
very strongly in friendship, so she didn’t push the matter. Dad looked a little
curious, but he wasn’t one to push things. It was one of the things that I
loved about my relationship with my parents. They didn’t nag when it came to my
personal life unless they thought it was absolutely important.
“Rhea? Are you okay? You look pale.” Phillip whispered to me. I shook my head. My thoughts had wandered while I had been waiting for him to finish some Biology questions.
“Oh, sorry. Just have a lot on my mind.”
Phillip twisted his pencil around, brown eyes warm and earnest. “Want to talk about it?”
“No, thank you. That’s sweet of you to offer, but I think I prefer to suffer in silence, you know?” I attempted to joke but I was never a really funny person. He nodded.
“Hey, that’s cool. You don’t want to talk, that’s your business.”
“Thanks.” I smiled. He just nodded and went back to his work. I corrected him on a few things and helped him with a few questions, but otherwise he had a pretty good idea of what he was doing. Phillip was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for.
The bell rang for lunch and we both gathered up our things to head to the cafeteria. It was strange, walking around campus with Phillip like we were friends. People were staring, that’s for sure, but Phillip didn’t seem too bothered by it. He must be used to it by now.
He nudged my shoulder, “Come on,” he said, “We’ll go out for lunch. My treat.”
“You don’t have to do that.” I said, stopping.
He grinned and it was charming. “I know, but you’re going to give up valuable time to tutor my idiot self. The least I can do is take you to lunch.” He said, walking away to his car. After a moment of pause, I followed him. I think I knew deep down that there was no point in arguing.
He had a shiny black jeep that looked like death compared to the bleak surroundings and weather around it. Phillip opened the door and held it for me, while I clambered inside, mumbling a thank you. He got in after me and drove away from school while the students milled around, heading to the cafeteria or pulling handmade lunches from their bags. We were heading into town, and soon enough Phillip pulled into a little diner.
“You’ve been here before?” I assumed.
“Yeah. Best burgers in the whole city.” He grinned.
The diner was small, with a big sign that flashed in the window and a collection of parked motorcycles out front. The roof was missing a few tiles and the walls were covered in old, white, cracked paint. When we went inside, the first thing I noticed was how warm it was. It smelled like cherries and bacon, and the inside was in much better condition than the outside. We sat in a booth facing each other, and I picked up the menu, scanning the options. I felt very shy all of a sudden. Maybe it was because this was the first time that he was awake and properly alone with me. Here there were no classmates, no teachers, nobody that knew us around. It made me nervous. He was just such a huge presence, it was intimidating.
“So what are you planning on doing after high school?” Phillip asked suddenly.
“I’m sorry?” I asked, not lowering my menu so he couldn’t see my face.
“Well I realise that I don’t know much about you. Seems a shame to waste such a good opportunity.”
“Oh.” I said, staring at the reflection on the plastic top of the menu. A shadow fell across us.
“Ready to order?” the waitress asked, smiling at us both.
“I’ll have a hamburger.” Phillip said. I closed the menu and handed it to her, still not looking at him. “And a milkshake.”
“What flavour?” she asked, blushing.
“Surprise me.” he grinned and I could see her eyes widen a little bit and she giggled.
“And for you?” she asked.
“Nachos and a lemonade please.” I said. She nodded and wrote it down on.
“Shouldn’t be long.” She said, leaving. I shook my head, trying not to laugh. Phillip noticed.
“You.” I said, “You have no idea what you do to girls. Or maybe you do and enjoy seeing women fawn over you.”
“What are you talking about?” Phillip asked, leaning forward.
“You were flirting with her.” I laughed. I couldn’t help it.
“I was being nice.” Phillip said. “You know it’s kind of sad that we live in a society where being nice is often confused with flirting.”
“Touché.” I smiled and tapped my fingers on the tabletop. “A veterinarian.”
He blinked. “What?”
“You asked what I wanted to do when I finished high school. I want to be a vet.” Phillip chuckled and I blinked. “What?”
“It’s just, well, I didn’t exactly picture you as an animal lover.”
I sat back, crossing my arms. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Just, well…you’re so studious and you’re always indoors and you volunteered at the hospital. I can’t picture you running around playing with a dog or having a pet or anything.” He said. “It just doesn’t seem very you.”
“Because I’m some bookworm with no social life and up to my ears in studies?” I presumed, raising an eyebrow. Phillip waited a moment before responding, perhaps weighing up whether he should say whatever it was that he was thinking.
“Well, yeah in a way.” He shrugged his amazingly broad shoulders. “But from your reaction I assume that’s not true.”
“My grandfather owned a farm.” I told him. “He had sheep, cows and goats and a bunch of dogs. If an animal was sick or injured, he would just put them down, not wasting time and money on treating them. I always thought it was so cruel and ever since I was a kid I wanted to help those animals. They don’t have voices like you or I, so if I could help ease their suffering a little, I would.”
Phillip looked a little, well, impressed. I stared at him and damn it, I had to admit he was attractive. I remembered that moment when I kissed him in the hospital, when our lips met and I thought back to how soft they were. I wondered if he was a good kisser.
Whoa. Where the hell did that come from?!
“Here you are.”
I was broken out of my thoughts and staring at Phillip (pretty obviously too, ugh) as that waitress from earlier returned with our order. She placed the food on the table for us, gave Phillip a dazzling smile and left us to eat.
“Is that how you got those scars on your fingers?” Phillip asked me suddenly. I frowned.
“On your fingers.” He said, pointing my hands. It was true that on the tips of my fingers there were pink and white scars, little lines and dots that looked like Morse code. I had always thought that they were invisible to most people, but Phillip was proving more observant than I initially thought. “Did you get the scars from the farm?”
“My grandpa liked to spin the wool from his sheep. He would force me to do it for hours but I was never very good at it and the wool would get tangled or I would prick my fingers – hence the scars.” I explained, munching on a nacho chip. Phillip’s eyebrows rose but he didn’t comment. “Anyway, what about you? What do you want to do after school?”
“Well, I did want to go into professional football, but I’ve had a recent change of heart.” He replied, biting into his burger. I waited for him to elaborate, but I suspected he was holding me in suspense for a dramatic effect. After he’d swallowed he continued, “I want to be a doctor.”
“Well, I always wanted to be a doctor when I was a kid, and then I had my accident…well, it got me thinking that what they do is really amazing. The doctors and the nurses and the volunteers. They help people for a living. It’s really awesome and I thought it’d be a good way to give back.”
I stared at him, mouth slightly agape and eyes wide. He squirmed after a while. “What?” he demanded.
I shook my head and sipped my lemonade. “It’s just, well, I didn’t exactly picture you as the medical type.” I parroted from earlier. He smirked.
“Very clever.” He said. He pointed a finger at me, still clutching his burger in his other hand. “I’m not what you think I am, you know.”
“And what would that be, pray tell?”
“Some arrogant, rude, conceited rich boy who doesn’t give a damn about anybody but himself.” Phillip droned.
“I thought that before your accident because you were like that.” I said, “I’ve known you for years, don’t think I don’t know about the things you’ve said and done.”
“If I’m honest you keep surprising me.” I said. He looked quite proud of himself. “Don’t looks so smug. It’s so weird. You’re like this entirely new person. Yes, you still like football and you’re popular and still hang around your friends, but you’re different now. It’s freaky really.”
“You aren’t drinking anymore. You’re taking your studies seriously. You’re conscious of other people now. You want to be a doctor to balance things out with the universe. You’re not being an ass.” I smirked at the last bit, eating some more of my nachos. He laughed.
“I didn’t realise you were paying that much attention.” Phillip said, finished his burger and starting on his fries. I looked away and blushed to the roots of my hair. “Wow you look pretty when you blush.”
I looked up at him. What. Did. He. Just. Say?
He cleared his throat. “Sorry.” He looked awkward.
I bit my lip and didn’t say anything until I’d finished my nachos. I pulled my lemonade towards me and sipped.
“What college are you thinking of going to?” Phillip asked after a while. I sighed at the change of topic. I was feeling more and more nervous with every passing second. He pushed his plate of fries towards me in a silent question and I took one.
“Not sure. Boston University possibly. Maybe even Stanford. I haven’t really looked into it thoroughly.” I replied. “You?”
“I was thinking Stanford too.”
I nodded. “Cool.”
“So what’s your favourite colour?”
“What’s your favourite movie?”
“Remember the Titans.”
“Great movie.” I nodded my approval. “What do you like about it?”
“Well it’s about football and tolerance and it’s just really well made. And it’s based on a true story, so…” he shrugged. “You?”
“Ah, Hercules.” I said. “The Disney one though. It was my favourite when I was a kid.”
“Is that the one with the talking goat?”
“He’s half goat. A satyr.” I replied.
“Like a faun?”
“No. Hercules is set in Greece, not Rome. Easy mistake to make. Although technically the Greek version of Hercules was Heracles, and so it should really be called Heracles instead of Hercules if they're going to set it in Greece.” I smirked and Phillip rolled his eyes.
“Know-it-all.” He teased and I laughed. “You’re pretty cool, you know that?”
I blushed and giggled awkwardly. What do you say to that?! “Ah, thanks. You too.”
Phillip glanced at his watch and made a face. “We better get back. Lunch will be finished soon and I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be late to English.”
“Me neither.” I replied, getting up. We split the bill and made our way back to his car. I was surprised that he wasn’t afraid of cars. If I’d been in terrible wreck like he had, then I would have been terrified. But he seemed so calm, so at ease driving.
It was more comfortable on the way back to school, chatting to each other about school and getting to know one another a little better. He made me laugh so much when he started singing along to the radio in a rather terrible voice. When we walked into school together, making our way to class, I was having a hard time not noticing the stares people were sending our way and in particular, the look on Melanie’s face.Uh oh.