Carla smiled. Or so she thought. It was a mere stretching of skin over hard white bone, that hurt her face the wider she pushed it but push it she did until salty tears sprang up on the edges of her green eyes. She blinked them away quickly for she knew from experience that if she let them fall it would be ages until she could get them to stop.
None of her friends had had the displeasure of seeing her tear stained face yet and she wanted to keep it that way. So she did her best to smile, painfully and earnestly to the delight of her peers who lapped it up, preferring to accept fake displays of happiness rather than the horrors that might be hidden underneath.
“So are you free tonight?” Her friend Sam was speaking to her. Carla thought for a moment. Tonight her mother would be working late at the hospital again on a midnight shift and wouldn’t be home until Carla had long since fallen into a fitful slumber. Not wanting to face an empty house and the shadows that came with it she quickly nodded her head and stammered out a yes.
“Fantastic! Meet me at Burgers N’ Grills right after school. I’ve got a surprise for you!” Saying the last part in a sing song voice Sam gave her a sly wink before sashaying down the hallway, long blonde hair swinging behind her as she made her way towards her boyfriends locker. Carla’s smile faded with her friends retreating figure and she sighed, her head drooping and shoulder posture resorting to its default slouch phase.
Shouldering her vintage messenger bag littered with random buttons that suddenly seemed a ton heavier than usual, she trudged off to her next class: chemistry. As she slinked through the halls her light brown hair hung in front of her face and she didn’t bother to brush it aside, grateful for the thin barrier between her and the eyes of her fellow students that projected molten hot gazes which seemed to burn into her soul.
At last she arrived at her class room five minutes early and was thankful to find it bare of human life except for the teacher Mrs. Trudle, but she was so old she didn’t really count. Carla actually really loved Mrs.Trudle. In her freshman year she remembered asking her after class one day why she kept the title ‘Mrs’ when her husband was dead.
Mrs.Trudle had responded,“The bond of marriage is sacred. It survives all things. Not even death can tear apart our love. He will always be my husband and I will always be his wife. It’s just the way things are.” She had then giggled softly and turned back to grading her papers leaving Carla to ponder her wise words.
When Carla walked in Mrs.Trudle peered over her large horn-rimmed spectacles and gave her a warm smile that reached all the way up to her sparkling blue eyes. Carla quickly returned it with a small one of her own before she swiveled on the balls of her feet and walked down the aisle towards her traditional seat in the back righthand corner, next to the window.
Slowly students filtered in after her and filled the recently empty seats until the quiet of the classroom had been replaced with a low hum consisting of gossiping whispers, math nerds reviewing test prep answers, jocks arguing sports stats and the drama geeks rehearsing for the upcoming play.
There was also the few emos and goths clad entirely in black and listening to heavy metal/screamo or the most questionable underground alternative rock, whilst muttering curses under their breath sprinkled throughout the back. Carla scribbled doodles on the cover of her notebook, a habit she’d had since she was young, until the bell rang and the buzz of the class faded out again into silence.
Mrs. Trudle tottered on her kitten heels to the front of the classroom and took attendance before promptly diving into her lecture. Soon enough Carla’s brain could no longer maintain a focus on polyatomic ions and their chemical formulas so it drifted onto other things as her eyes sought the muddled scenery beyond the window.
Mrs. Trudles room was on the fifth floor facing the south campus and the soccer field so Carla would usually have a perfect view of the soccer teams midday practice which interested her just about as much as Mrs. Trudles class. Though some of the other girls in her class would beg to differ.
Today though the heavy rain had painted the skies a dull gray and drowned the grass on the field till torrents of mud and sludge ran in rivers down the sides toward the metal bleachers. The pristine white lines that had looked so brilliant when they’d divided the field yesterday now ran and bled until nothing remained but a watery white mess of its former glory.
Even the trees lining the grounds seemed to bend under the weight of the water pouring from the heavens. Trunks leaning towards the earth as leaves desperately tried to remain intact with their branches for hope they would soon see the sun again. They reminded Clara of herself, but she had long since given up hope for a light at the end of the tunnel.
Abruptly the rain stopped and the clouds began to fade away revealing a crystal clear, azure blue sky that shimmered in the midday light. The trees straightened up and leaves stretched towards a much welcome sun. The glass on the fields shone a brilliant green so different from the murky forest mess they’d been only a few minutes earlier. Carla smiled, a real one, at the beauty of a brilliant sun breaking through stubborn clouds to shine its warm golden rays on earth. It was then that she felt someones eyes upon her.
She looked down closer to the school and the bleachers, immediately making eye contact with a boy. His eyes were a hard, steely gray that resembled what the sky had looked like only moments ago, and they held her gaze locked with his with such force she didn’t dare look away. A small gasp escaped her mouth as they stared at each other longer.
The more eye contact they made the more she felt like he was ripping her defenses away one by one. She’d never directly stared at someone for this long. He was tearing down the shields and barriers she’d so carefully built around herself like they were fly paper, until she was raw and vulnerable. Not an entirely unpleasant feeling yet rather thrilling. It left her breathless, adrenaline pumping through her veins till her heart raced to match the beat. A warm blush slowly creeped up her cheek.
Finally he broke his intense stare shooting her a smug smile as he cocked his head coquettishly to one side. Carla’s cheeks flamed and she ducked her head hiding her face behind a sheet of her hair. After some time, when she thought he’d be gone she dared a peek outside but he was still there, in the same spot. Smiling up at her with a mischievous grin and she couldn’t help but stare back in confusion.
What was his problem?
The sound of the bell signaling the end of class broke her from her trance and she scrambled to gather all her things together in her bag. She threw one last glance out the window before she left and was met with a surprising wave of disappointment when she was met with an empty yard. Her confusion grew in strength at her odd reaction.
The rest of the day passed in a blur as most days did, her classes melding together into one giant mess as Carla’s mind was filled with thoughts of the mysterious boy with the wild gray eyes. No matter how hard she thought, she couldn’t place his face or remember seeing him anywhere before and to her surprising disappointment she didn’t see him for the rest of the day.
By the time final period ended and she’d gotten her stuff out of her locker she barely remembered her promise to her friend Sam and made the right turn away from the bus stop to get to Burgers n’ Grills. She entered the 90s themed diner and was immediately swathed in a blanket of warmth as her nose was teased by the smell of freshly made fries and sizzling beef from the back kitchen. Sliding into the booth in the far right corner from the door, once again next to the window, her jeans slid smoothly over the worn and cracked red leather.
A waiter came up to take her order. She was a thick, auburn haired lady who had a genuine smile and smelled lightly of baby powder. Carla gave her a tentative smile, merely a slight upturn of the corners of her mouth before ordering a hot cocoa with extra marshmallows and whipped cream. It arrived soon after and she immediately wrapped her hands around the warm mug, inhaling deeply. The sweet, rich aroma of milk chocolate filled her nostrils and she sighed with contentment.
As she waited for Sam to arrive she began to wonder what this “surprise” was that she had for her. Sipping her drink she stared out the window at the passerbys and hoped it wasn’t another boy. Lately Sam had made it her job to be Carla’s “personal cupid” and her life mission to set her up with someone “worth her time”. Carla sighed again, this time with worry and resignation lathering her tone.
The more she thought about it the more she was convinced that this was the case. Quickly downing the rest of her cocoa and wiping the whip cream off her mouth with the back of her hand she began to gather up her things to make an escape. Already formulating an excuse for later in her mind, the doorbell to the diner chimed as someone entered.
“Carla! Hey where are you going?” Crap, Carla thought. That was unmistakably Sam’s voice. her back still turned to the door she slowly lowered her coat and bag back down to the seat. Taking a deep breath she tried to relax her newly stiffened back and plastered a smile onto her face. Immediately freezing in her tracks, her smile faltered as she turned around and was met with a pair of familiar stormy gray eyes.
“It’s you,” she muttered aloud before she could stop the words from coming out of her mouth. Sam had appeared beside her and was sliding into her side of the booth, chattering away happily.
“What did you say?” she asked stopping her chatter fest to focus her chocolate brown eyes on Carla. Snapping out of her daze Carla sat back down and gave Sam a small, weak smile before muttering a quick “nothing” and shaking her head before proceeding to lean her head on her hand and give the appearance of Sam having her undivided attention. Stubbornly refusing to make eye contact with the boy she felt his eyes on her and they carried the same burning intensity they had earlier.
“Anyways are you ready for your surprise?” Sam asked animatedly. Sliding her wandering eyes from the window back to Sams face Carla focused on her. Sam’s eyes were sparkling with mischief and excitement which matched the giant cheshire grin plastered across her face. Carla smiled wearily back at her.
“Of course I’m ready!” she exclaimed while lifting her head off her hand and sitting up straight, forcing some anticipation and exictement into her tone. “It’s not another boy is it?” she teased lightly with one eyebrow raised. Sams smile widened if that was humanly possible.
“I make no promises,” she said in a sing-song voice head bobbing from side to side before she dissolved into a pile of giggles. When she got them under control she looked at the front of the diner and made animated waving motions with her right hand in their direction.
The light tapping of slow moving footsteps rang in Carla’s ears. When they stopped she looked up to be immediately locked in place by a pair of shining and roguish gray eyes. Over the sound of her heartbeat she faintly heard Sam say, “Meet my new step-brother, Ridian,“.
Later that night Carla lay awake in bed staring at the underside of her empty top bunk bed as she practiced saying Ridian’s name. It was so smooth and fluid as it rolled off her tongue leaving the satisfaction gleaned only after the first sip of wine. It sounded exotic, new, magical, and terrifying all at once; just like him. Every time she whispered it goosebumps arose on her arms and cold shivers ran down her spine. It was exhilarating.
After some very awkward introductions and a lot of long pauses filled with strained commentary on Sam’s part and secret glances on Carla’s part Ridian had finally been able to get a good conversation flowing. Carla found out he was a Junior in high-school and was transferring to her school since his mom married Sam’s dad, inspiring a move. His favorite pastimes were playing his guitar or soccer and he had an adorkable little brother named Alex who was in the sixth grade, and also shared his rare gray eye color.
Neither Ridian or Carla broached the subject of what happened earlier that day and Sam didn’t seem to notice the underlying tension between the two. After a couple of hours of small talk they parted ways after exchanging numbers (Sams idea to get him connected in her social circle) and now Carla was wide awake, homework out but unfinished, still thinking about him.
Turning over in her bed she clutched her covers around her to form a cocoon of soft cotton that smelled slightly of lavender. Carla inhaled deeply and was instantly calmer. Ridian had an unsettling effect on her. Whenever she had been near him so far she never left feeling quite the same. Now as she lay in her bed conflicted over exactly what she felt for him sleep slowly began to take her. The last image she saw before her mind faded to blackness was two shining gray eyes.