Then You Look At Me

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Foreign Feelings

~Well I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart. But your blade it might be too sharp~Sia

Chapter Theme Song: 'Elastic Heart' by Sia

°°

Rainey

The aroma on Ansel’s hoodie is his familiar delicate scent of strawberries. It smells divine, and for some strange reason, comforting. I should probably give it back, even though he told me I could keep it.

His coming to my rescue was quite admirable; however, the words he uttered in my ear are also set on my mind.

“Don’t react. That won’t be good for you”.

Does he know something about me?

Maybe, he could have sensed that I was about to fly-kick Olivia in the face and decided that he couldn’t sit and watch me get myself expelled, or could it just be that he knows something about my past?

I flash the thoughts away. No-one here knows about what happened at Freetown.

I lower my head on my knuckles while I get lost in my mind.

“Ansel, baby!”

Olivia’s nasal voice prompts my head up to see that Ansel has finally arrived at our Math class. She smiles brightly while extending a chocolate bar toward him, but he rejects the offer politely with a half-smile that doesn’t reach his eyes.

Oliva pouts in disappointment as she returns to her seat. Lisa reaches for the chocolate instead, earning a stern glare from her friend in return.

Ansel continues his journey toward the back of the room, confidence in his every step while his knapsack hangs off one shoulder. The female population of our class throws flirtatious glances in his direction, hoping to grab his attention. But as usual, Ansel seems oblivious to it all. Or maybe he’s pretending not to notice.

He’s always so neatly dressed, and despite wearing glasses, his mysterious and piercing eyes are not hard to notice. Especially when we lock gazes far more than we exchange words.

Look at me. Look at me.

As if he read my thoughts, his eyes find mine. His ocean eyes always seem like they are indirectly sending me a message, but I am unable to decode his intense stares. My cheeks tinge to a rosy pink while he passes by me. He plops his bag down on his desk and grabs his seat.

His heavenly scent reminds me that I should probably return his hoodie.

Even though I don’t want to. But perhaps, it’d be an opportunity to exchange words with him?

I blow my cheeks out. My palms are suddenly clammy. I am not known to be the ‘nervous’ type but something about Ansel brings out the ‘girly-girl’ in me. This feeling is quite foreign.

I grab the sweater from my bag and gesture to turn around when Mrs. Forbes strolls into the classroom.

Darn.

“Settle down everyone!” She smacks her ruler onto her desk, and kids who are idling around the classroom scuttle to their respective seats.

Her gaze darts to the back of the class, and she narrows her eyes in concern. “Tate Walters is absent?”

“Yeah, he’ll be in tomorrow!” His friend, a skinny guy with golden-brown hair reports, “He has the flu!”

Recalling Tate’s nude figure darting across the street last night, I stifle a laugh.

Yeah, some flu alright.

“Okay, today we will start our class by discussing the requirements for your Math Worksheet for the semester.”

Mrs. Forbes’s announcement is immediately followed by unenthusiastic groans and moans from the class. She ignores the reluctance and continues.

“Now I will be placing everyone in groups of twos, and you will work on each question together, then you will present a written report on the challenges you both faced as a group. This is due next Tuesday.”

“Really? That’s just one week! How will we finish that in such short space and time?” Lisa complains, and Mrs. Forbes sends her a stern glare before she proceeds.

“Now let me group you guys up. Please listen to your names and the name of your partner.”

I hate group work. It forces you to interact with others and that’s not something I enjoy doing, especially here at Crosshill. I pray she doesn’t group me with Olivia, I think one of us may end up dying by next Tuesday.

“Rainey Slate?”

I look up at the sound of my name while Mrs. Forbes scans the register she’s holding.

“Uh, you will pair with...” She looks at me again, then her eyes drift behind me. “Ansel King.”

Unintentionally, my cheeks redden, and the girls all frown, clearly disappointed that they aren’t the ones in my shoes.

“That’s not fair!” Olivia objects, to everyone’s surprise. “I wanted to pair with Ansel!”

“Olivia? You’re with Tate.” Mrs. Forbes tells her. “So, visit him after school and explain the assignment.”

She frowns openly, crossing her arms while she glares at me venomously.

I don’t get what her problem is. I am not the one who chose the groups. Besides, Tate isn’t so bad. Aside from his tendency to drug females, I think he would be a good partner.

**

“Okay, remember your assignments and have a great day.”

Mrs. Forbes grabs her files and leaves the classroom in haste. The noise continues while I stand up from my chair, stuffing my books in my bag. A figure appears in front of me. The scent I have grown to adore instantly makes me aware of who it is. I feel my heart skips a beat.

This is also unusual.

I slowly raise my eyes to connect gazes with Ansel.

“Hey.” An enchanting smile forms his lips, revealing his deep dimples in both cheeks.

My throat is suddenly dry and for a second I can’t recall how to speak. My mouth opens, then closes. My lack of response prompts him to speak again.

“So, your place or mine?”

“Uhm, huh?” I squint my eyes.

A small smile tugs at his salmon-pink lips. “I mean for the project?”

Right. Duh, Rainey.

“Oh yeah. Uh, my place would be alright, I guess. I mean I really wouldn’t want to intrude at yours.” I respond, shifting my weight.

“Well, you wouldn’t be intruding. But I hope coming by yours would be fine.”

His tone is polite and sweet. I can’t help but wonder if he speaks this way to everyone.

“Yeah, it’d be great if you came by.” I blink my eyes at how weird my response sounded, then quickly justify it. “For the project of course...”

What the hell’s wrong with me?

“Would this evening be alright?” He enquires courteously, his brows furrowing. “I just wanted us to get started on it real quick.”

“Yeah, this evening’s fine.”

He fixes the strap of his knapsack onto his shoulder. “Well you see, I have two hours of work at Crossview’s Café in town, I am not sure if you’d like to drop by with me and then maybe we could go to your place after?”

So, Ansel has a part-time job? I thought Alex is the only one who works. Base on words that left his lips, Ansel is the spoon-fed son.

I nod. “Yeah, that sounds alright with me.” I smile a little.

I spot Olivia at the corner of my eyes and if glares could kill, I would already be on my way to the morgue.

“You’re done here for the day, right?” He queries.

“Yeah, I am.” I put my knapsack on, pulling the straps so it fits firmly onto my back.

“Great, me too. Well, we should get going then, yeah?”

I smile. “Yeah, we should.”

°°

Crossview’s Café is not far away from Crosshill high, so we walked there together.

The cool air conditions mixed with the aroma of freshly brewed coffee along with soft acoustic music from a vintage jukebox greets me as soon as he opens the transparent door.

He shifts to the side to grant me access, his lips quirking up in a smile. “After you.”

The café is inexpensive but has a beautifully designed interior of chocolate brown and beige.

A few customers are seated around the mahogany tables and just a guy in an apron is standing behind the counter, swabbing the table. I follow behind Ansel as he strolls up to him while I take in the simple but warm atmosphere of the café.

“What’s up, Darin?” Ansel greets the guy, who smiles widely while engaging him in a fist-bump.

Darin groans dramatically, throwing his head back. “Finally, you’re here to release me.”

“Come on working here is not so bad.” Ansel chuckles, just before Darin’s hazel eyes land on me.

I smile awkwardly and a smirk rises at the corner of his lips as he looks back to Ansel.

“Girlfriend?”

I almost choke on air. Despite the moderate air conditions in the small room, my cheeks manage to heat up instantly.

Ansel smiles but he doesn’t seem much affected by Darin’s assumptions. “No. She’s my groupmate. We have a project to work on soon, so I’ll be going back to her place after.”

Darin’s smile is wider now as he looks at me. “Are you sure you want this charming guy at your place? I mean, that’s not safe. At all.”

I tilt my head to the side and Ansel grabs a towel off the counter and playfully slaps Darin in the chest. “You can head home now, I’m here.”

“Yeah, I have to pick my baby sister up from school.” Darin tugs his apron off and extends it toward Ansel. Then he disappears behind a door with a sign marked: Employees Only.

Ansel looks at me while tying the white fabric around his waists. “Would you like a drink?”

I shake my head, my palms mirroring the same gesture. “No that’s okay, I am fine-”

“I insist.” He interjects, throwing another one of his dashing smiles in my direction.

Darin’s right. Maybe it’s dangerous to have an effortlessly charming guy at my place. But Ansel doesn’t come off as the thirsty type. He is way too confident and comfortable in his skin to be creepily forward.

“It’s the least I can do for having you waiting here for me.” He further prods.

I tug at my ear, twisting my lips as I ponder on his offer. He waits patiently, raking his fingers through his black streaks while he looks at me.

“Okay, ” I smile a little. “I’d appreciate that, thanks.”

“Yeah, great response there.” He moves around me and flips up the counter barrier before sliding behind the table, “I will make you something really tasty. It’s my favorite. You can sit, I’ll take it out to you.”

I smile and grab a seat nearby the counter while he reaches for a glass. He moves to the sink and rinses the container, while I tap my nails against the table. I watch him while he grinds the beans into the portafilter, his biceps bulge and his gaze is fixed in concentration.

He whirls around and I avert my eyes elsewhere, but I catch sight of the small smile on his lips which probably tells that he already caught my enthralled eyes.

He moves back to the counter and inserts the portafilter handle into the group head. When the coffee is brewed, he squirts cream on the top, before reaching for a saucer and resting it beneath the scorching liquid.

He makes his way over to me and I pretend I wasn’t watching him the whole time.

“Macchiato, it’s also known as a Piccolo Latte,” he informs, while gently resting the coffee in front of me.

The cream is designed into a flower and the aroma is so delicious that it tingles my tongue.

“Wow, this smells good,” I mumble.

“If you need anything, just tell me, I will be right behind the counter there.”

“Yeah, just take your time.”

“Ansel!” the sound of a child’s voice, filled with elation and bliss, pulls my attention to see a kid racing over to the table.

A genuine smile forms Ansel’s lips as he stoops down to scoop the little girl up into his arms.

“Ugh, you’re heavy, Bell.” He chuckles.

“I want coffee.” She says boldly, her voice gentle and equally as cute as she is.

“No Bella, coffee’s only for adults,” Ansel says, playfully poking her sides.

“She thinks she’s all grown up because she turned five last week.” A lady comes on the scene, her smile is wide as she looks at Ansel. The rosy blushes on her cheeks are evident as he returns her daughter to her.

“I’ll make her a shake.”

“Thank you.” Her eyes twinkle with admiration and I am not sure why that gives me a discomforting feeling.

“No need to thank me, Ms. Cole,” Ansel smiles politely. “You guys are my favorite customers so I will gladly make her something nice, free of cost.”

“Thank you, dear, your future wife will be happy to find someone like you.” Ms. Cole states and Ansel just laughs as he moves off to make the drink.

My eyes follow the lady and her daughter as they find a spot away from me and I take notice of a group of girls at the corner of the café, smiling and gawking at Ansel as he gets to work behind the counter.

I ignore the weird feeling tugging at my emotions and take a sip of my coffee. The taste is glorious. I am appalled he prepared this in such a short space of time.

Is there anything he isn’t good at?

Ansel finishes in a short period and delivers the shake to the little girl who grins ecstatically as she takes it eagerly from his hand. He says something to the lady, and she lets out a girly giggle before grabbing her bag while offering him a wave. They leave the cafe and Ansel walks back over to my table.

“I’ll be done soon alright. My boss will be here in an hour, so when he comes, I’ll be released.”

“Yeah, it’s okay. Take your time. I enjoyed the coffee.”

He smiles, his nomad-blue eyes shimmering under the ambient lighting of the café, “Happy to hear you did.”

I offer a smile back as he retrieves the cup and saucer and returns to the counter.

**

While Ansel works, I occupy my time by scribbling poetry on a loose page of my Math book. I like writing my poems. It’s the only thing that speaks for me when I can’t explain how I feel inside. Despite my passion for it, I would never perform them in front of a wide mass of people; it’s just something that is normally for my eyes only.

It’s a quarter to five when the café doors open, and a tall man walks in. He scans the room as he moves up to the counter where Ansel stands, wiping the table.

“Ansel you’re still here? You should head on home and get some homework done.”

“I can’t do that if you aren’t here, Tim.” Ansel smiles at the guy who appears to be in his late twenties. He shifts his focus to me. “My boss is here, so I guess we can finally head out now.”

Tim follows Ansel’s gaze and admiration flickers in his eyes while he leans on the counter.

“And who’s this pretty girl?”

Ansel flips up the counter bar and comes around to respond to his boss’ question. “My groupmate, we have a project to work on soon.”

“She’s a beautiful girl.” Tim continues. “What’s her name?”

Ansel smiles a little, untying his apron. “Rainey.”

My name sounds fresh and foreign from his lips as if I hadn’t been saying it right all my life.

“Hi, Rainey, you have nice eyes...and lips,” Tim says boldly. “You’re beautiful.”

“She sure is...” Ansel mutters.

Wait. Did he just say...′ she sure is?′

I stare at him in confoundment, and he pretends he didn’t just say those words as he hands his apron over to his boss. “I’m gonna head home now Tim, I’ll see you later.”

I get up from the spot I sat in for two hours, feeling sore from the hardwood chair.

Tim nods. “Sure. See you tomorrow, Ansel. And you kids don’t do anything I wouldn’t do now.”

“What?” Ansel chuckles at Tim's smuttiness, shaking his head.

“And don’t forget Friday night, alright?”

“Yeah sure, I’ll be there!” He salutes his boss while we move to the door.

“Bye Rainey!” Tim yells behind me and I offer him a wave over my shoulders as I step through the glass door.

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