Then You Look At Me

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Grips & Rubbers

~Words are lost, mouths are closed. Even through the silent pause, you take it all. Table talks, getting through the car ride home. It could be a late night call, you take it all. Anchor to hold. You leave me room for my imperfections when I’m a mess and you jump right in. If I drift in the wrong direction, you turn the tide and you calm the wind. Anytime, everytime I get lost you will find me~ Alex & Sierra.

Chapter Theme Song: 'You Will Find Me' by Alex & Sierra.

°°

Rainey

The bell rings, signaling the end of my Physics class and the end of another torturous day at Crosshill High. Despite Ansel’s promise to see me at school today, he isn’t here. Although I am not certain we share more classes, I found out this morning that we share the same Homeroom when Ms. Rose, our homeroom teacher, did the roll call. His absence is quite disappointing; I was secretly hoping to see him today.

“Remember to read page 64 and please study for the quiz next week.”

With that Mrs. Johnson gathers her files and briskly leaves the classroom. I grab my bag off the floor and begin to pack my books in when a presence appears in front of me.

I look up to see a grinning Tate. He’s sitting backward on the chair in front of me, his chest pressed into the backrest as he waggles his eyebrows.

“Hey, beautiful.” He smirks. “Missed me?”

As usual, his tie is loose around his neck and the top button of his shirt is undone, revealing a thin silver necklace dangling against his tanned neckline. I can tell he hates the uniform almost as much as I do. Everyone probably does. No-one wants to look like an elementary kid in High School.

His question brings my mind back to the night of the party and automatically, to his naked figure racing across the street. I try not to laugh.

“Mm. I did notice your absence.” I nod, a smile pulling at my lips as I push my hair away from my face. It keeps getting into my eyes, so I am not sure why I don’t just cut it. I probably will.

“Yeah, it was just this stupid flu I came down with.” He justifies, ruffling his hand through his dark curls as if it’ll make his lies more believable. “You know how awful the flu can be.”

I nod again, pretending to be absorbed in his deception while raising a brow. “Yeah, you were bound to catch the flu though. Running bare feet and naked across the street is not good for your health.”

His face goes blank then his eyes enlarge in realization. He perfectly resembles an owl and I let a chuckle escape my lips as I grab my bag and begin to get up.

“Shit…” He curses beneath his breath, staring ahead awestricken.

“Oh damn, please don’t tell me you saw!” He whines as he lifts his head to meet my amused eyes, a pang of hope shimmering in his.

I smile, shrugging my knapsack firmly onto my back. “Yeah, I did. Oh, and Riley did too.”

“Holy Shit!” His jaws drop and I laugh.

“Yeah, see you around Tate.” I shake my head and begin to leave the classroom.

“I wasn’t erected, okay?!” He desperately calls after me, causing a few kids to turn glares of amusement in his direction. “I really wasn’t! It’s a lot bigger than what you saw!”

I giggle my way through the doors of the classroom.

°°

The hall is filled with noisy kids, jamming their belongings into their locker and racing to get out of the school’s building. My cell dings in the pocket of my skirt and I grab it after closing my locker.

Jeff will pick you up today.

-Mother.

I roll my eyes skyward. Why can’t she just understand that I do not like riding with Jeff? Why must she always push things like this?

I shove the cell into my pocket while making my way to the girl’s restroom. I locate an empty cell that doesn’t smell too awful and handle my business in a swift. I get out and stand in front of the mirror, my thoughts flashing back to last night and the confrontation that happened between my mother’s boyfriend and me. I knew she would defend him, but it still hurts me so deeply. There is no way I am taking a ride from him.

The sound of girls cackling bounces off the walls as the door to the restroom thrusts open. Olivia and Lisa enter the space, talking and laughing while seemingly gossiping about someone.

Okay, that’s my cue to leave.

Their laughter fades and is replaced with exchanged glances of deviltry while I wash my hands hastily to get out. I begin to move toward the exit when Oliva slides into my path. Lisa stands behind her smugly, chewing gum in her mouth while she smirks mischievously.

I sigh exhaustedly, raising my eyes heavenward. After my Mom sent that text, my mood has gone downhill; hence, it’s the wrong time for all this drama.

“Can I help you?” I ask, my face is expressionless. I genuinely lack energy for this.

Olivia is wearing a ‘Mona Lisa’ smile, her arms crossed against her bust while her minion mirrors her actions from behind her.

“Not because I have been taking it easy on you, you think I’m some pushover. You better not mess with me, new girl.”

I tilt my head to the side, my lips priming as I glare at her. “I’m sorry but I don’t recall even exchanging glances with you all day.”

“Stay away from Ansel,” Lisa adds over her shoulder. She blows the gum into a bubble then snaps it, chewing awfully while she stares me up and down. “Ansel belongs to Olivia. Everyone here knows that. You’re new so maybe you don’t. Back off, newbie.”

My body raises in an impatient sigh as I motion to move past them, but Olivia grabs onto my arm and pulls me back in front of her.

“Where are you going? We aren’t done talking!”

“Don’t touch me,” I warn her in the calmest voice possible.

“I saw you. I saw you walking with Ansel yesterday. You’ve only been here three days and you’re already moving in on both Tate and Ansel. Stay away from them both. Lisa likes Tate.”

“Yes, I do.”

“So back off and stop being so thirsty.” She snarls. “Just know this, if I see you walking together with Ansel again-”

“Walking together?” I interrupt, crossing my arms and sizing up to her. “Is that the only thing you saw? Because he gave me a ride on his bike, and he came to my place after. Then you know what happened? We did the math assignment on my bed and he stayed for dinner. So ‘walking together’ was not half of it.”

They both gasp in sync while their eyes enlarge like melons. I smile at the reaction then begin to move to the exit when Olivia pulls me by my hair and yanks me back to her.

“We aren’t done, you little twat!”

Twat. Jeff called me that last night and considering I am still not in a good mood after the argument that ended with me throwing salt in his eyes, that word was the wrong word to have left her lips.

“What did you just call me?” I narrow my eyes at her.

“Twat.” She repeated smugly. “You’re a little twat, whore.”

My hand folds into a tight fist. I close my eyes and attempt to calm down. I can’t let what happened months ago happen again; I am trying to start afresh. If I lose my cool and do something crazy, I will be on my way to a youth rehabilitation center. The counselor my Mom forced me to see for two weeks after the incident at Freetown, advised me that whenever I feel like snapping, I should just count to ten. Honestly, I must give it to the old lady, her technique works all the time.

Count to ten, Rainey. Count to ten.

I close my eyes while counting mentally, then reopen them and allow a sigh to leave my lips.

“Are you sure I’m the ‘whore’? Because I am certain that I am not the one who’s chasing after a guy who surely doesn’t want me.”

“You little…!” She raises her hand to slap my cheek, but I grab onto her wrist firmly, causing her to gasp in shock.

“Let me go!”

“I have bad anger issues,” I state, tightening my hold around her slender pale wrist. She winces, glaring at me bug-eyed. “I am here at Crosshill because something like this happened before. I am sick of annoying females who think it’s okay to do bad things to other people.”

“Ow! Let me go!” She pules, a pained expression on her slim face. Lisa grabs onto my other hand, terror on hers as she begs earnestly for her friend. “Let her go, let go of her hand!”

“It hurts, stop!”

“So please…this is the last time I will earnestly beg you to stop messing with me,” I conclude, pushing her away from me and into the arms of her awe-struck friend. Olivia is almost on the brink of tears as she holds onto her wrist. Her face is red as they both glare at me like I’m a monster.

I’ve seen that look so often and it certainly doesn’t hurt like it used to. There are just some things that you get accustomed to. I step past them and leave the space.

°°

The evening air slaps me as I step out of the school’s building. I notice Jeff at the entrance of the gate, leaning against my Mom’s BMW and wearing his hideous outdated shades. People don’t wear those anymore.

His head is lowered into his cell while he laughs to himself like a schizophrenic. I take the opportunity to just stroll on past him as if he’s nonexistent.

God bless technology.

The atmosphere is cool as I stroll down the street. A few nimbus clouds pillow the sky, sending a warning that it’ll probably rain tonight.

My mind is consumed with thoughts of Ansel. I recall that his tyres were out of air last night and considering the long distance from his part-time job to his house, I feel propelled to grab some tyres for him. It wouldn’t be weird, right? It’s just a classmate looking out for her classmate. Plus, I owe him that much after that uncomfortable situation I put him through last night.

I make my way over to the Hardware shop of Crossview. The sound of the entrance bell dings off the walls as I push the transparent doors open and enter. I am immediately greeted with cool air conditions and the scent of rubber. I look around the room at the appliances on the shelves, and the guy at the front desk wearing a red polo shirt and jeans smiles brightly.

“Hi. May I help you?”

“Yeah...” I place my palms on the counter, my eyes squinting at the wheels hanging on display behind him. “I wanted to get some tyres for a bicycle.”

He nods. “Cool, you’re at the right place. What size bicycle?”

“Uhm…” I itch my forehead, realizing I am unaware of the wheel size of Ansel’s bike. “I have no idea...to be honest.”

He chuckles, all thirty-two teeth white and welcoming. “Okay I’ll show you a few that you can you choose from.”

“Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” I smile.

The shop guy whose name tag reads ‘Liam’, gathers a few bike tyres and I choose the most suitable one based on the memory of what Ansel’s bike looked like. Hopefully, they fit.

“That’ll be forty-eight dollars. Will you be paying in cash?” Liam asks while he packages the tyres.

I grab my purse from my bag but discover that I have only thirty dollars in cash. “Uh, do you guys take credit cards?”

He looks partially amazed but wipes it from his features as quickly as it came. “Yeah, we do.”

I hand him my credit card and he gets to work. My Dad gave me this card when I was twelve and he makes it his duty to top it up every month. Although it doesn’t fill the void caused by his absence, I am still grateful. My Mom does not give me money that willingly.

Liam swipes the card then asks me to input my private number into the PDQ machine. He prints my receipt, then hands me my purchase along with my card and smiles. “Come again.”

I nod, returning one. “Thanks.”

°°

I don’t want to head home too early. Jeff will be the only one there because my Mom works late on Wednesdays and I don’t want to be alone with him. Not after last night. So instead, I muster up some courage and decide to take the tyres to Ansel instead. I hope he’ll be at the café despite not being at school today.

The walk to the café wasn’t tiring and in no time, I have arrived. My hold on the beige bag tightens and I begin to second think even stopping here. I flash the cowardly thoughts from my mind; I am not usually one to chicken out.

I move toward the building but stop in my tracks when I spot Ansel through the transparent walls of the café. He’s sitting at a table, but he isn’t alone. A girl is sitting across from him and instantly, I recall her from that party the other night. She’s the same girl who Riley thinks is his girlfriend and from the way he’s smiling radiantly while talking to her at this moment, I can’t say I don’t think the same.

She’s probably his girlfriend.

Suddenly, the bag holding the two tyres looks ridiculous in my hand. I can’t give this to him right now. Heck, I can’t give this to him ever. He may get the wrong idea.

I nibble on the inside of my cheek, watching how her smile beams as she speaks to him. I am about to leave when a voice comes from beside me.

“Rainey?”

I turn my face to see Tim. His smile is gigantic as he moves over to me.

Darn. He just had to see me.

I look back to Ansel, then to him. “Uh, hi.” I smile a little.

He tilts his head to the side, his eyes narrowing in curiosity. “What are you doing out here?”

I half-shrug. “I was…just going to get some coffee and realized I left my purse at home.”

He chuckles. “What do you mean, come on, I’ll give you coffee for free.” He gestures to move off when I shake my head quickly, stopping him in his tracks.

“Actually, it’s okay. I have a lot of homework to get done so I’ll have to take your offer another day.”

He turns back to me, shoving his palms in the pockets of his khaki trousers.

“I’ll have to take a rain check…pun not intended.”

He titters. “Okay, you promised though.”

I nod. “Okay, sure.”

“See you, pretty girl.” He smiles then moves off to enter the café. I idly watch him for a while before my eyes drift back to Ansel, who, to my utter surprise, is now looking at me from the glass wall with a face of slight confusion.

I swallow, feeling like a mannequin as I stare back at him.

Okay. Awkward.

I blink my eyes as an unhealthy habit and quickly turn away to leave. It’s like my senses finally kick in as I hurry off. I suddenly realize the inappropriateness of my actions.

God, what was I thinking? Buying him tyres is so weird.

“Rain!”

His voice halts my steps and I close my eyes, taking a breath before spinning around, ignoring the demons inside my head rubbing in how awkward this all is.

“Hey.” Half his lips turn up in a smile, exposing just one of his flawless dimples. He’s wearing a light blue dress shirt, sleeves rolled up at the elbows and his name tag hanging on his shirt.

“What are you doing here?”

“Uhm…” I scratch my eye nervously, buying time to fabricate a response. “Uh, I was just, uhm…passing by.” I bite my lower lip to keep back the humiliation that threatens to surface my face.

His smile stretches across his unblemished face, signaling that I didn’t do much of a good job. His eyes dip to the bag in my hand, the tyres poking out because the hardware didn’t have a bigger bag.

“What’s that?”

I put the bag behind me. “Just some stuff. I bought. At the hardware down the street…”

“Oh.” He nods, his chin lifting as he smiles. “Tyres. You ride now?"

“Uhm…yeah.” I shrug, shifting my weight. “I’ve been playing around and stuff…”

I don’t even own a bicycle!

He probably knows this too. He bites down on his lower lip as a mechanism to keep his grin from getting wider.

“Is that it?” he asks, his eyes searching mine deeply. I almost break eye contact at the intensity they hold, and I can already tell he knows I’m lying. What use is there pretending when this guy seems to see through every word and action?

I sigh, deciding that lying makes no sense. “No that’s not it. I-I actually bought them for you.”

I lower my gaze because I don’t want to see the possible rejection on his face after that statement. There is a brief silence and I peek up beneath my lashes to see his smile unchanging. He steps up to me while I raise my head to look at him. His body offers a radiant warmth and his scent never ceases to please my nostrils. He reaches his hand around me, his arm brushing mine in the process as he retrieves the bag from my hold.

“Thank you. You didn’t have to but I’m grateful.”

I flush. If I don’t leave now, I’ll become a giant tomato in front of him.

I step back, jerking a thumb behind me. “S-so uhm, I’ll see you around…” I gesture to walk away when he gently holds onto my arm.

“Rain, wait.”

The feel of our flesh connecting makes a weird feeling shoot through my body as I turn my face to look at him. “Yeah?”

He releases me, a hopeful look in his orbs. “Would you like something to drink?”

I glance back at the female who’s still sitting inside, waiting for him. She looks at her watch then turns her eyes to look at us.

I shake my head, my hands mirroring the gesture. “It’s okay, I wouldn’t want to intrude.”

“What?” He chuckles. “You wouldn’t be intruding; I’d be happy if you’d say yes.”

I think about it for a second. I don’t want to be home alone with Jeff.

I nod. “Okay…I guess that’d be okay.”

He smiles and points his head in the direction of the café before leading the way inside.

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