DREAMING OF BILLIE WINTERS
Short Summary: Meet Nerys Powell. Never had a boyfriend, never been kissed, never been at the center of attention before in her whole entire life. And then she meets Billie Winters.
Long Summary: Aside from the odd thing, Nerys Powell mostly bumbles along in life quite content with the way things are. She loves her friends and her family (most of the time) and she's not really looking for anything else. And then there's one school trip to France and wham, suddenly, she's got everyone's attention because she hit Billie Winters, star of the Year 11 basketball team and Head Boy. But as she starts Year 10, more problems pile on top of the first one - she's got a crush on the school's Hungarian heartthrob, Antal Kiss, is busy warding off the unwelcome advances of the Cardiff new boy, Glyn, and the most popular boy in her school year, Adam, seems to want to be her friend, for reasons unknown. What was supposed to be a fairly uninteresting school year has suddenly turned into the most eventful one you can possibly imagine. Suddenly, Nerys is thrust into the limelight, and it's certainly not something she wants. But hey, things can only get better...Right?
I blame France for everything that happened.
France, after all, was where I had my first, proper acquaintance with Billie Winters. It was one of those school trips – you know, where you get the ferry over to France and stay at an education centre, and you go to lots of places like farms and stuff where they don't speak any English. Well, that's what it was like in our case, complete with inedible food, a crazy housekeeper, and a fire alarm that went off whenever someone sprayed deodorant. Apart from that, it was a fairly decent week in France. The weather was lovely and the garden at the centre was gorgeous; the houses there were really cute and we kind of fell in love with Dieppe, which was where we stayed.
And then I got lost in the aquarium we visited on the way home. Well, that's not entirely correct. I wasn't lost; I knew exactly where I was. In truth, it was the group I was with that were lost. I lost them in this aquarium. Does that make more sense? I don't remember the name of the place, but it was quite big, and it had sharks and sea lions and, while it was all very colourful and very interesting, it bored me. As a child, I was only ever interested in dolphins, and occasionally sharks due to my love of Jaws. This place did not have dolphins. Therefore, it failed to capture my interest for the hour and a half we spent in there.
I managed to get separated from my group. That group consisted of two friends of mine – Suzanne and Gwen - Suzanne's boyfriend, Gordon, two of his friends, Stuart and Rick, and a girl named Cassie (who none of us were particularly friendly with prior to this trip). They were all heading towards the shark section. The sharks could be viewed through the walls of the tank, or from above the water on wooden decking. I was okay with the tank, but I refused point blank to go on the decking. I am a pretty paranoid person, and part of my life revolves around the worst-case scenario. In this situation, it was that the decking would collapse beneath me and I'd be eaten by the sharks.
"Well," Gwen said, rolling her eyes at my overcautious words, "You go somewhere else, and we'll meet up with you later. Gordon wants to get a good look at the sharks so we might be here for a while."
"Sure," I agreed. Personally, I was glad to get some time on my own. Gwen is quite loud, so is Cassandra, so putting them together is a nightmare. It had never been done before this trip and, if there were any kindness in the world, it would never be done again after we got off the coach back in Wales. Suzanne was nice – I was best friends with her, then – but Gordon, Stuart and Rick were known for their teasing and being generally chaotic lads. Being the quietest member of the group, I usually seemed to be the butt of their jokes. Well, Gwen or me. Mostly Gwen, now I think back, but I took my fair share of teasing on that holiday from those three. Anyway. I was glad for some peace and quiet, so I was off before we could arrange an actual meeting place or anything like that.
At first, I looked at the shark tank again. There was a lot of colourful, small fish in the same tank that were quite pretty, although some looked a bit weird. The area wasn't very well lit, and there was a humming sound in the background and then there was the people milling around me, talking in French. I didn't understand what any of them were saying. I considered going to look at the sea lions, but Suzanne and me had wanted to see them together, so I decided to keep on looking around inside. I took a turning through a pair of black double doors, which took me to another part of the aquarium with yet more colourful fish. And so on. It didn't really change; to be honest, unless you were really, really interested in fish, there wasn't much there for anyone else. There was a lizard room, but my brother kept lizards at home, so it wasn't really anything new for me.
This was when I really started to wish I'd told them I'd meet them outside the shark tank, or something like that. Really, really wishing. So I decided to look for them. The first place I decided to look for them was the decking on top of the shark tank, on the off chance that Gordon really loved the sharks so they'd spent about half an hour looking at grey nurse sharks.
Needless to say, they weren't there. No one I knew was there, as far as I could see, so I rested against the barrier that ran around the deck and looked upwards. If you did that, you could see the rest of the aquarium, where I'd just come from; you came down a flight of stairs into the room where you can view the shark tank, and then you go up another set onto the decking, and it's almost outside. I was kind of hoping that they'd be on the stairs, or watching one of the information videos that was playing upstairs (why they'd do that, I don't know, because none of them could speak much French). I caught no glimpse of them, not even of Suzanne's orange and black stripy socks, or Gwen's pink floral skirt. Nope. Nothing.
I sighed, very heavily, and then I heard a splash behind me in the water, and some little kid was yelling loudly in French. "Maman! J'ai vu un requin!"
I turned, momentarily curious. You see, I'd decided that the decking wasn't so bad, and it must be sturdy, or the aquarium wouldn't be allowed to make people pay to walk on it if they were going to fall to their deaths at any moment; and as I mentioned earlier, I do have a love of Jaws. Sharks did always fascinate me, I just never fancied being eaten by one in a French aquarium. That was all.
So I turned my back on the decking and peered over the rail, seeing the ghost of a shark pass under the water and directly under my feet and then –
Someone's strong hands gripped me tightly around the waist and lifted me off my feet (which must have taken some effort) and leaned me over the rail slightly. Adrenalin shot through my veins and my heart began to pump like crazy, and naturally, I screamed. "Au secours!" I shrieked. Thank God I'd learnt how to beg for help in French, I thought in my head, then realised that I wasn't moving. I was suspended over the edge of the rail but I hadn't hit the water, and I could hear laughter behind me. And then whoever it was pulled me back, and I whirled around to come face to face with Billie Winters.
Billie Winters. He's one of those quite lanky, tall boys, who are quite thin but somehow slightly muscular because of their constant sport playing (in his case, basketball). He had really curly black hair. At that point, it was cut short, but I was used to it being longer, down past his shoulders, almost. He had blue eyes, which I distinctly remember were full of amusement, and a pleasant face. Not exactly the kind of chiselled, handsome good looks that he probably ought to have, being the boy he is, but a kind of nice face that still managed to capture your attention. But he was Billie Winters. That was the first thing that really entered my head. He was...well, a bit of a prat, to be honest. Clever, I suppose, and well-liked, but he and his friends teased people quite a lot, and just in general, he was a highly irritating person.
It's not like I hated the guy, or anything. I didn't know him. But what I knew of him was that he was an idiot, not particularly nice to people younger than him, and...Well. You get what I mean. And he pretended to push me into the shark tank. That, for me, confirmed everything I'd ever heard about Billie Winters, and it annoyed me no end. I was angry.
I shouldn't have hit him. I know that, now, looking back. But I was furious. He'd frightened the life out of me, and there was really no excuse for what he did. I mean, what he did in the first place wasn't why I hit him; it was what he said afterwards.
"Tell your mum I saved you."
Six words. Six very simple words. Funnily enough, I once read this book of short stories that my dad bought me when I was about eight. One of the stories was called that very sentence, and it was about this girl who tried to push a boy off a cliff, and then pulled him back at last minute, saying as she did, "Tell your mum I saved ya!" or words to that affect. I don't think she said 'mum'. Anyway. That's what he said, and the red mist descended. I don't even know why it annoyed me so much, but it did. I reached out and clouted him around the face. He must have been shocked, because he fell over, hitting the decking hard. I'd never hit someone like that before. I'd slapped my brothers on the shoulders or arms before, but I'd never hit them in the face. It hurt my hand more than I'd expected.
There was a moment of silence, during which his friends gaped at me, some of the girls with them gasped, one or two children began to snigger, Billie rolled around and held the side of his face, and I grew incredibly, incredibly embarrassed.
This was when Suzanne, Gwen, Gordon, Stuart, Rick and Cassie decided to make reappearance.
"Jesus, Freckles," Billie groaned from the floor, sitting up. He glared at me through one eye.
Freckles? I thought inwardly. Freckles?! I glared back, and I considered saying something. Instead, I spluttered, said something unintelligible, and flounced out of the shark area. To make matters worse, I tripped over my own feet on the way out and nearly fell headfirst down the stairs. Thankfully, Suzanne managed to pull me back before I broke my neck, but still.
Suzanne and me – Gwen and everyone else remained on the decking – eventually made our way into the foyer outside the gift shop, where we just kind of looked at each other for a few moments.
"Nerys," she said, in a curious voice, "Did you just hit Billie Winters?"
"Um. Well. Yes," I responded, running a hand through my hair. She stared at me for a few moments, then covered her mouth and began to giggle. That was one of my favourite things about Suzanne – her laugh. It was high-pitched and often sounded out of control, and some people found it annoying, but it was infectious. Not long after, I was laughing too.
"What did he do?" she demanded once our laughter had subsided. I fiddled with my ear, a habit I have when I'm embarrassed or annoyed.
"He kind of picked me up and leaned me over the rail into the shark tank," I explained. "I practically pissed myself, Suze. Seriously. I kind of lost my temper."
"Still, though, Nerys," Suzanne frowned, "You hit him. That's not you."
I knew that. I had a temper, yes, and I could get violent, but I never hit out at anyone. I threw things. Pens, magazines, bottles, and on one occasion, the fifth Harry Potter book. And I yelled, quite loudly, but I rarely hit anyone (my brothers were different. They were pests, immature, and acted way younger than their twenty-something years. I'm entitled to slap them now and then).
"I know." Billie Winters and his gang sauntered through some double doors, and paused momentarily to stare at Suzanne and me, before continuing into the gift shop. I turned around, and Suzanne began to giggle.
"They're not going to leave you alone," she promised me. I rolled my eyes, and pushed my hands into the pockets of my denim shorts.
"Don't I just know it," I mumbled. "Look, I'm going to sit outside. God only knows what would happen if I went in the gift shop. He'd probably push some shelves on top of me, or something."
"Do you want me to come with you?" she asked. I shook my head.
"Nope, it's okay. You go and find Gordon." I walked around her, and went through the glass doors of the entrance onto the set of steps that led up to them. It was warm outside, and it was then I realised I hadn't seen the sea lions yet. I heaved a sigh, and looked at my watch. Too late: we were due back at the coach in ten minutes.
I pondered on what to do, and eventually decided to sit upon the top step, a few metres away from a cuddling couple that eyed me warily as I sat down.
I must have been sat there for about five minutes, drumming my fingers upon my thigh, when I heard Billie Winters' voice behind me. "You know, Freckles, you hit hard for a girl."
My back tensed, and I turned to frown at him. He was stood just in front of the glass doors, hands stuffed in his pockets. The left hand side of his face was all red and looked swollen, and I felt a tiny pang of regret. I didn't say sorry.
I just glared in what I hoped was a withering manner and turned my gaze back to some squabbling seagulls fighting over a baguette.
"It was only a joke," Billie told me. I didn't turn around. "I wouldn't have let you drop into the water." No response from me. "Oh, fine then. Be like that."
At this, I did turn around, but he was already gone.
The ride home was hellish, to say the least. I'd sunk into a dark mood: Gwen and Suzanne kept quiet, while Cassie kept on firing questions at me. Rick and Stuart laughed at me quite a lot, and Gordon just gave them pointers on how to annoy me properly. Meanwhile, the younger students on the trip were oblivious and wondering why the air felt so tense, and the older students – in other words, Billie and company – were whispering and sending the occasional glare down the coach, or so Suzanne told me later.
The teachers began to ask questions, particularly about Billie's face. To my surprise, he never told them that I'd hit him. I half expected him to tell them gleefully that I'd slapped him, an entirely unprovoked attack, and he'd been knocked out for about four minutes, and smirking while the teachers yelled at me. What actually happened was that he told them he'd slipped and fallen on the wet concrete at the sea lions exhibit and smacked his face off the floor. I don't think they believed him, but they didn't argue. I turned around when I heard him say this, to send him a questioning look, but he avoided my gaze. I turned around, huffing and crossing my arms over my chest.
Then things went from bad to worse, as I forgot to take my travel sickness tablets and ended up throwing up all over the coach and myself. Twice. The second time, the vomit ran down the aisle of the coach and made one of Billie's closest friends, Miranda – and also Cassie's cousin – begin to hyperventilate as she had a phobia of vomit. As I got off the coach, finally back in Wales, the older students began to laugh and I heard one of them shout, "She's got sick all over her shorts!" I was probably the most hated person on that coach at that point. I probably should have cried, but I didn't. I just kind of stumbled off the coach, grabbed my suitcase and found my parents, and deflected all their questions until we got to our car.
All the while, I could only focus on the fact that as I collected my suitcase, I glanced upwards at the coach and saw Billie Winters staring down at me. He didn't look too angry, or anything, but his face did look very sore. He stuck his tongue out at me, and I scowled and hurried away.
It was a small incident, that one, but it stuck in my mind more than the fact I made one of his friends hyperventilate, or that all of his friends laughed at me. It bugged me for weeks, and I felt like such an idiot for hitting him.
Personally, I think that the whole incident was what made him remember my face, and my name, and therefore, that's why all that came next – that is, Glyn, Antal, and The Really Bad Lie, not to mention a whole raft of other things – actually happened in the first place. Because I hit Billie Winters.
I hit Billie Winters in France, at a French aquarium, on a school French trip; and I only turned around in the first place because a French child shouted something in French.
And so, through some completely and utterly twisted and possibly mental sense of logic, I wholly and entirely blame France.
A/N: I apologise if there are any mistakes with the French sections of speech in this. I resorted to using an online translator, but I don't speak French too well, so I've no idea if any of it is incorrect. Sorry.