The inside of the building itself is like a street gallery. The linoleum floor is covered in an assortment of vivid designs and patterns. Every inch of wall space is covered with student work, from paintings, to drawings, photographs, printouts, digital art, and graffiti. There are glass display cases filled with sculptures, ceramics, and paper mâches. Everything is bright and vibrant. I slow down more than once to admire some of the work.
Since it's so early the building is near empty, with only a sparse number of students inside. I'm not even sure Theo is here, and since I don't really know my way around I ask the next person I happen to come across.
"Hey," I say and they slow. "Do you know if Theo is here?"
"Knight?" They ask. I furrow my brows. I don't actually know his last name, and I almost laugh.
"Uh yeah, I think so. Dark hair, green eyes, sleeves?" I gesture to my arm to indicate where Theo's tattoos would be.
The girl nods. "That's the one. He should be in room three oh five," she tilts her head at me. "Do you need directions?"
I smile sheepishly. "That would be nice, thank you."
After she tells me how to get there I thank her and head off in the direction she pointed. The door is ajar when I arrive and I poke my head in. It's a classroom, though not the typical one with your standard issue desks and chairs. Firstly it's much bigger than it looks, with large windows filtering in outside light. Spotlight bar lights hang from the ceiling and an entire wall across the room houses a built in shelf with rows and rows of canvases. Then placed in a circle around the room are several painting workbenches with stools. There's a desk shoved in the corner which I assume is the teachers desk based on the apple perched on top of it.
Theo is at one of the workbenches, earbuds in his ears and paintbrush in hand. He frowns at the painting he's working on, moves his brush as if to make a stroke, then draws it back. I lean against the wall and fold my arms across my chest, watching him with a smile playing on my face. He's so cute when he's focused on his work.
After a few minutes Theo huffs and sets his brush down with a clatter, removing his earbuds. I raise a brow.
"Can't find any inspiration?"
Theo looks up with a startle. "Shit Rose," he holds a hand to his chest. "Don't sneak up on a person like that."
"Why? You do it to me all the time," I walk over to where he's seated.
"That's different," Theo pulls me onto his lap.
"How?" I counter.
Theo narrows his eyes at my playfully. "It just is."
I laugh and Theo leans in to kiss me. My heart flutters and butterflies swarm in my belly. Yesterday I laid awake nearly all night, unable to believe he was really mine. Part of me was convinced it was all a dream and when I woke up we still wouldn't even be on speaking terms.
I pull back and smile before turning to see what Theo was working on. At first glance it looks like a lovely garden with big, beautiful, and bold flowers. There's a weeping willow tree in the distance and I swear I can hear the birds and little happy critter noises coming off the canvas, that's how real it looks. I look closer, and that's when things get a little distorted. Some of the flowers are wilted and dying. The tree looks like it's collapsing in on itself. A river flows throughout the painting, with little dead fish inside, floating on the surface. There's a fox eating a poor bunny, blood and all, and what I thought were pretty butterflies don't look like butterflies at all. They look dark and frightening.
What was once a beautiful painting now looks deadly.
I turn back to Theo who's regarding me carefully. "It's...wow I don't know what to say. It's good. It's really good. It's amazing actually, but it's a little unsettling."
"Does it make you feel uneasy?" He asks.
"Yes," I admit truthfully. "Not at first but when you look closer and start to notice the small details. Honestly, it looks like something from Alice in Wonderland. But the scary version."
"Alice in Wonderland is pretty scary when you think about it."
"But isn't it a children's story?"
"Doesn't mean it's not fucked up. The entire premise is about a little girl who falls down a rabbit hole into what she thinks is 'wonderland.' She immediately comes across a drink that says 'drink me' and a cake that says 'eat me,' and she does both without a second thought. There's a creepy grinning cat, a caterpillar that's always smoking, an insane guy literally dubbed the 'Mad Hatter' who's always having tea, and a queen who brutally murders her subjects at the slightest offense."
I'm surprised at his breakdown of a seemingly innocent kids story. "Huh. I never gave it much thought before. But I guess when you do think about it, it's kind of messed up," I glance back at Theo's painting. "What was the inspiration?"
Theo grins. "Alice in Wonderland."
My eyes widen before I laugh. "Wow."
Theo and I look up when the door creaks open. A guy pokes his head in, eyes flickering between me and Theo.
"Hey Theo...sorry to interrupt."
Theo smiles. "No problem Max. What's up?"
"I wanted to go over one of the gallery themes with you, but if you're busy we can do it another time."
I slide off Theo's lap. "That's okay. I should go anyway."
"See you at lunch?" Theo asks and I give him a quick peck on the lips.
"Yep. See you then," I reply before taking my leave. I wave at Max as I pass him by and he waves back. As I'm exiting the building I get a text from Hannah.
Hannah Banana🍌: still home sick. been knocked up on meds, which make me super sleepy. i actually think i slept for ten hours straight. still feel like shit tho. this sucks ☹️
Me: poor baby 🥺
Hannah Banana🍌: thanks. i'm sorry i couldn't give you a ride home yesterday. were you able to find another ride?
Me: actually yeah. theo gave me a ride home
Hannah Banana🍌: oh. that was nice of him. so are you guys talking again?
Me: actually we're kinda doing a little bit more than that
Hannah Banana🍌: 🙈? what do you mean 🙈? you better not be holding out on a sick woman!
Me: i guess we're kind of together☺️
Hannah Banana🍌: SHEJWKISHRRBJDOSI
Hannah Banana🍌:love you too💛
Approaching Theo's table at lunch kind of feels like I'm approaching a foreign land, and even though I know most of the people sitting there, I can't help but feel nervous.
I wish Hannah were with me.
Just as I'm about to double back and sit by myself Jack notices me. "Yo Rose," he waves. "Over here!"
Theo gives him a sharp look. "Don't call her that."
"Why?" Jack furrows his brows in confusion. "That's what you call her."
"Yeah, me. Not you or anyone else."
Jack smirks and waggles his brows. "Possessive. But fine," he looks at me as Theo scoots over to make room for me to sit. "What should I call you then?"
"How about my name."
Adam shakes his head in disbelief. "You seriously forgot her name?"
"What? Theo calls her Rose so much I honestly forgot!"
Theo rolls his eyes and Kitty laughs. "That and you're just bad at names."
"You still mess up my name sometimes," Eva adds. "You once called me Evie."
"One," Jack holds up a finger. "That was a mistake, I was thinking of the Pokémon Evie," he holds up a second finger. "And two, they're close enough anyhow."
Oliver smirks. "Can I call you Yak then?"
"Absolutely fucking not."
I start to relax until I feel an uneasy sensation. When I glance up I see Phoebe staring daggers at me. I swear, if looks could kill I'd be six feet under. At some point this has to get old right? I mean I know she probably hates me and if the roles were reversed I'd feel the same, but it's not my fault Theo doesn't like her like that. Wouldn't he have made a move on her if he did?
"What are you eating?" Theo asks me, jarring me out of my thoughts. "It looks good."
"Oh. It's a steak fajita power bowl."
"I'm so jealous of you," Kitty sighs. "You always eat so healthy. How do you do it? I can't go a day without binging out on chips or something."
"A nutritionist," I admit.
Oliver frowns. "Why do you have a nutritionist?"
I shift uncomfortably. "Um, to make sure I'm staying in shape. For dance," I blow out a breath. "Before my mom used to make me go on these crazy diets to watch my weight. Except they weren't really diets, it was more like I wasn't eating. At all. And then in seventh grade during a ballet recital I fainted on stage and had to be rushed to the hospital."
The table goes quiet.
"Damn," Adam breathes. "That's fucked up."
Yeah. The worst part was it was all on tape since my mother was recording. One moment I was pirouetting, then I started to feel sick and lightheaded. Next thing I knew I was waking up in a hospital bed with an IV attached to my arm.
We don't watch that particular recital.
Theo squeezes my hand. "I'm sorry that happened to you."
I smile at him and squeeze his hand back. "Thanks. I mean, I appreciate Harvey and all but sometimes I wish I could eat like, a tub of ice cream or something without remorse."
Eva snorts. "I eat a tub of ice cream and still have remorse, and I'm not even on a diet."
Jack scoffs. "That's just called being a fatass Evie."
Evie throws a piece of food at him and he ducks, squealing. The table laughs before conversation resumes and I start to loosen up again. It felt nice to be open to a group of people without judgment.
Theo wraps an arm around my shoulder and my body automatically leans into his. When I turn to loom at him he smiles at me and I smile back at home before he leans down to kiss me. I'm a little surprised, but if Theo doesn't mind PDA then neither do I. Then I feel his hand creeping up my thigh under the table and break away with a gasp, slapping his hand away.
"Theo!" I chastise him.
"What?" He asks innocently.
"You know what," I try to give him an angry look but fail and just end up laughing.
Theo grins. "See? I didn't do anything." When he kisses me again I debate pinching him in retaliation, but then that thought quickly disappears and I melt against him instead.
"I swear I will hose you two down," Oliver interrupts us, and Theo and I turn to him. "Like seriously. It's bad enough we already have Kitty and Adam. The rest of us singles do not need to see this shit."
Theo flips him off.
"You jealous?" Adam asks with a smirk.
"I know a store that sells blow up dolls if you really need one," Eva suggests.
Oliver tilts his head. "Eva didn't your-didn't your boyfriend leave you for one? Am I remembering correctly?"
"Burn!" Jack yells and this time Eva throws her tray at him. Luckily it's mostly empty.
"Someone save me from this violent woman!" He exclaims while dodging for the second time as Eva's tray clatters to the ground. I'm laughing so hard my stomach hurts.
"Neanderthals," Theo shakes his head. "All of you. Neanderthals."
That evening I'm taking a nap when my phone starts ringing. At first I ignore it and roll over, and the ringing stops. I let out a sign of content and snuggle further under the covers.
Then it starts ringing again.
With a groan I flip over and stretch my hand out, fumbling for my phone on the nightstand. When I finally grab it I squint at the screen through blurry vision. It's a FaceTime call from Hannah. I slide my finger across the screen to answer. Hannah's face pops up.
"Hello?" I yawn.
"Hey babe! Wait, were you sleeping?"
I rub my eyes. "Yes. Also you sound surprisingly chipper for someone who's sick."
"I've been sleeping all day. Plus my mom made me her famous chicken noodle soup and I swear that shit could cure anything."
"That actually sounds so good right now," my stomach grumbles. I hadn't eaten since lunch and I check the time. A little after eight. I guess my mom didn't wake me up for dinner. She probably put my plate in the fridge and decided to let me sleep. I was pretty exhausted after practice today.
"So you know why I'm calling right?" Hannah asks with a grin.
I sit up in bed and swipe out of FaceTime to check my messages. Theo and were texting before I took a nap and I'm pretty sure I fell asleep mid-reply. I quickly text him back.
Me: hey. sorry fell asleep.
"Aurora," Hannah sings. "I'm waiting."
"Yes, yes, sorry. What do you want to know?"
"Um, everything! Starting from the beginning preferably."
"Okay right. The beginning. So yesterday as you already know Theo gave me a ride home..." I start to give Hannah a play by play of what happened.
Hannah interrupts. "Wait a minuet. His sobriety ring?"
I pause. "Oh yeah...actually um, I'm not sure if I should say..." Theo was pretty open about his past, plus he hadn't said it was a secret or anything, but that didn't mean I wanted to just go causally blabbing about his drug problem.
"You have to tell me!" Hannah begs. "Please? I'm your best friend. You know I won't tell anyone."
"You have to swear it. And don't bring it up or start acting weird around him."
"I swear I won't," she replies seriously.
"Okay," I take a deep breath. "So when Theo and I first talked at Lauryn's party he told me he used to be a drug addict."
Hannah gasps. "Like hardcore drugs?" She whispers.
I bite my lip. "I think so...he said it was really bad."
"Oh my God," Hannah breathes. "That's horrible. Did he say why? Like what happened that made him turn to drugs?"
"He hasn't told me explicitly but he told me some things...they're really personal though so-"
"No, no I get it. You don't have to tell me but damn...that's so crazy. Like you hear about people who are on drugs all the time but to actually know someone who was an addict..."
"Yeah," I whisper. "It's kind of hard to imagine."
"No kidding," Hannah exhales. "Like Theo? I'm sorry, but I just don't see it."
"That's exactly what I thought when he first told me! But I guess you never really know just by looking at someone."
"True. I'm glad he's sober now though."
We lapse into silence before Hannah shakes her head. "Okay, we totally got derailed. Tell me what happened next."
I blush. "Well..."
Hannah raises a brow. "Well what?"
"We kind of um, did some stuff...on the couch."
"Stuff!" Hannah screeches. "What kind of stuff!" As I'm explaining it Hannah's eyes nearly pop from their sockets.
"Aurora you little minx!" She exclaims. "I can't believe you did all that on the couch. First off all now I won't be able to sit there when I come over. And second you're so lucky your mom didn't burst in. I might be attending your funeral right now if she had."
I laugh. "Yeah. Then after that he left."
"Look at you two, being all safe and responsible. Hey, you know the school nurse has condoms in her office right?"
I furrow my brows. "She does?"
"Yeah. If you go in and ask she'll give you some. I got one from her once."
"Why did you ask her for a condom?" My eyes widen. "Hannah! Are you having sex and not telling me!"
"No!" Hannah shouts. Then she lowers her voice. "Trust me. You'd be the first to know. As in literally right after the fact I'd sneak into the bathroom to quietly freak out and call you. Anyway I asked her for a condom just to see what one looked like in real life."
"I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the fact that the school nurse has condoms at the ready to hand out to students."
Hannah shrugs. "Better safe than sorry right? Also you know what I just realized? You almost lost your virginity on a couch. Like damn girl, not even a bed. A freaking couch."
"I was in the moment," I say defensively. "Trust me, when you're in the moment, you won't be thinking about where you are either."
"Well I hope I'm not on a couch. Just saying."
We talk for a while longer after that, and I tell her about school and everything she missed. Finally we hang up so she can get some more rest. I slide out of bed and pad into the kitchen to eat my dinner. All the lights are off and my mothers bedroom door is closed so I assume she went to sleep already. My phone pings with a text.
Theo: oh good 😅 was worried you might have died on me. 2am call?
Me: yes. i'll stay up just for you❤️