UNHINGED

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Five

"You should never depend on someone else for your mental and emotional health." –Unknown.

I placed the empty mug on to the table. I felt like I had really gotten to know Liam in the free period and so I had asked him to join us for lunch – us meaning Beth and John.

"Hi," Beth exclaimed in a cheerful tone. She slumped into a rickety chair opposite me and slung her bag onto the chair beside her – with a clunk. "I hope you're feeling better now," she added with a smile.

"Yes thank-you. I just needed some air," I replied.

Beth reached into her ocean-blue shoulder bag and pulled out a wad of paper. She slid it across the table. "Here are the notes from Rob's class – I made you a copy."

"Thank-you," I smiled. I turned around and placed the stapled hand-written notes into my rucksack – which was hung over the rear of the chair. As I re-adjusted in my seat, Beth's gaze has turned to Liam. Her eyes appeared emotionless, yet a smile was playing on her pale-pink lips. The steady rhythm of my heartbeat began to alter. The hairs on my arms began to stand on end and a shiver escalated down my spine.

Liam shifted anxiously in his seat beside me as he run a hand through his chestnut brown locks. "Hello, I'm Liam," he stated. Beth's smile began to grow on her face - her eyes glistening with delight. I was baffled at how quick her attitude and presence could change with just the click of a finger.

"Hi, I'm Beth. I'm pleased to meet you Liam," she replied in a sweet tone. Liam smiled.

Beth tucked a loose strand of her blonde-hair behind her left ear; revealing a tiny gold stud-earring.

"Hi, sorry I'm late," John panted as he rolled his eyes. He wiped a bead of sweat from his brow with is broad right-hand.

"Let's get some lunch." He added. I was thankful for his presence as the mood was beginning to feel awkward and tense between Beth and Liam.

"Liam and I have already eaten - but be my guest," I smiled. John nodded before gesturing for Beth to accompany him.

I shuffled in my seat attempting to get comfy on the stiff rickety chair. Liam was perched at my left-side. He picked at the contents beneath his fingers nails, anxiously.

"So what do you make of Beth?" I queried, attempting to invade in his trance.

"Uh," he responded in a startled manner. Liam ran his left-hand through his hair, before rubbing the back of his neck. I was unsure whether Liam was nervous by nature or because of Beth's presence. "She seems okay," he shrugged.

The dining hall began to fill with swarms of students and their voices echoed against the abstract painted walls. The College seemed to love the artistry and abstract theme. Today the the tables were covered in all different shades of colour, whilst the jet-black chairs provided a contrasting feel. The window opposite my table looked out onto the main congregation area.

"Hey, I just thought," John muttered as he placed his tray onto the table. He clutched the backrest of the chair; the legs scraping along the flooring. I winced.

"I could drop Beth and yourself off after College," John added between mouthfuls of sandwich. He perched on the edge of the seat and swivelled himself around to face us.

Beth gracefully placed her plate of pasta onto the table opposite me, obscuring my view. She smiled sweetly as she hooked her pasty pins around the chair and tucked herself closer to the table.

After several minutes of general discussion, I glanced at the retro-clock on the wall (which hung directly above Liam's chair) and realised I was almost late for my English class.

"Sorry, Sarah will have me hung-drawn and quartered if I'm late today," I stated, hoisting myself up out of my seat. The chair almost tumbled to the floor in the process.

"I'll meet you outside the front-doors at four," I supplemented, picking up my belongings. I briskly walked out of the canteen, waving my right-hand in the air behind me to gesture 'good-bye' to my friends. I felt terrible leaving Liam in the lurch as he barely knew Beth or John.

*

The cold air blasted against my rosy cheeks as I clasped my ice-cold fingers around Sarah's coursework. I held them tight against my chest. Deep grey clouds began to form and the presence of the autumnal sun was no more.

The echoes of laughter, screams and shrieks flooded the car-park grounds. Groups of students began to pour out of the entrance doorway - their unique fashion style radiant off one another. Chequered shirts and denim jeans with the rips across the knees, were the most fashionable and prominent statement.

The trees at the end of the car-park swayed in the breeze. Crisp auburn leaves fell to the ground, congregating around the weather-beaten tree trunks.

A chipped blue fence which was hidden behind the coarse trees allowed the College grounds to be segregated from the busy walkway.

Streams of cars flew down the road, without a thought for the students waiting patiently at the crossing just a few yards away from the grounds.

I glanced through the poster-filled windows of the local shop, which was located on the opposite side of the street. I could see huddles of backpacks, winter hats and folders clutched in the hands of young-adults.

A public house shared a car-park with the local shop. The outdoor seating area was empty, whilst the climbing frame was littered with children and students, as they clambered all over the frames. Their winter-coats zipped up to their neck; scarves wrapped around their collar and the pom-poms on their winter hats catching the breeze.

I felt a nudge on my right forearm, causing me to glance in Beth's direction. "Hey," she stated with a smile. I noticed John was stood not far behind Beth. He was gazing across the road, watching the world go by; as he bit down on a set of keys wedged between his teeth. John's hair barely moved, due to the amount of styling cream he had placed in his hair. Beth's presence seemed to have an effect on the male population. Liam was dazed at lunch-break and John appeared to also be lost in his thoughts too.

"I think John wants to go home," I called, hoping Beth would hear me over the gust of wind. I pulled windswept strands of hair away from my mouth and tucked them behind my ears. Beth nodded in response.

"Let's go," She beamed as she impishly grasped hold of John's left-bicep. He jumped. John's startled and withdrawn expression soon turned into all smiles - a fond look in his eyes. I constantly wondered how she managed to do that.

I sighed and closely followed behind. The pair of them laughed and made jokes to one another all the way to John's car. I opened the rear-passenger door of his navy Fiat with my left-hand. I felt like I had stepped inside an ice-cream parlour, as the vanilla-scented air-freshener engulfed all of my senses. My eyes slightly watered from the strength of the aroma. I buckled myself in and placed the paperwork on my lap. John turned on the ignition and Beth's high-pitched laughter was suddenly drowned out by the sound of the radio. I tapped my feet as an upbeat pop-song blasted through the speakers.

"How come you own a car and licence if you're only sixteen?" Beth chirped, leaning closer to John.

"Well, I'm re-taking the qualification as I keep missing the pass rate. I turn nineteen at the end of October and I passed my driving test three weeks ago," John replied, as he tapped his fingers against the black leather steering wheel. A shocked expression formed across Beth's face for a brief moment.

"That's amazing!" She yelled, desperate for her voice to be heard over the joyful music. I gazed out of the window, mesmerised by the music. Raindrops began to land on the mud-stained window. The wipers on the front windscreen scratched against the steamed-up pane.

"So where do you live – roughly," Beth added - with clear emphasis on the roughly. It was as if she realised what she had said was an invasion of privacy and by creating emphasis on the term 'roughly' it would soften the bold statement.

"I live near the cul-de-sac," John replied. He stuck his index finger in the air and gestured to the rear of the car.

"Not too far away from me then," I muttered, glancing at John. Beth wrapped her fingers around the backrest of the seat and glared in my direction; an unimpressed expression written on her face. She pursued her lips. The once-sweet dimples when she smiled, were suddenly emphasised through the anger that was written across her face instead. I shrugged and rolled my eyes awkwardly. I was baffled how much affect her expressions alone had so much power over my physical and mental emotions - as I swiftly felt unable to speak.

"But you're taking me home first," Beth whispered, a smirk playing on her lips as she half-glanced in my direction. She caressed John's forearm with the back of her index finger.

"That's so sweet," Beth added as she rested her petite hand on her chest. A puppy-eyed look completed her façade. A nauseating feeling bubbled in my stomach at the audacity of her bold as brass frontage.

John's focus remained on the road ahead as the rain began to pour. The rear passenger window beside me began to become vaporous. I tugged on the edge of my coat sleeve and wiped the pane. The flurries of leaves dispersed into the air as the cars raced beside the road-side in the opposite direction. The screeching of the wipers became more frantic.

"Thank-you so much for the lift," Beth stated, with a cheery tone. "I'd invite you in-" she whispered in his ear - yet making sure it was still loud enough for me to hear. She bit down on her lip, seductively.

"But we still have company," Beth half-scoffed as she wrinkled up her nose, casting a glare in my direction. I shook my head and rolled my eyes.

I cast my gaze onto the roadside beside my window, watching the rain create puddles beside the tyres of the parked cars. Beth slammed the car door before fumbling with her umbrella. I watched her dash around the front of the car; onto the pavement; through her small white wooden-gate and down the narrow garden path to her deep-red front door.

The journey home after dropping off Beth was filled with awkward silences and a slight interjection of pleasantries once I left the vehicle. This was the first time I had noticed John was unusually quiet, despite Beth's absence - which made me think she had some long-lasting effect on the male species.

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