CHAPTER EIGHTEEN - DENIAL.
Perspiring cheese was never a favourite of mine before I was pregnant. Least to say, when I was, the stuff was the equivalent of the devil's crap incarnated. Many foods seemed like that nowadays, I thought, as I prodded the soggy-looking roll on my tray. It flopped over, leaving a watery-looking residue on the plate. School food has always been absolutely delightful. I was even given the choice between the sweaty dairy sandwich and some sort of mystery-meat stew. I was so lucky.
Saffy, on the other hand, didn't seem to mind it and was happily chewing away at her own roll. I wasn't being picky, I decided, the baby was - and I didn't want to do anything which may make him annoyed. Even so, my usual alternative had been to go to Cyrus and bug him until he gave me half his home-made sandwich which Mel usually made for him, but seeing as that was totally out of the question, I resigned myself to perhaps pissing off my child. It was never too early to begin those lessons on not wasting edible food. Although the plastic cheese was only on the verge of that.
Swallowing her current mouthful, it looked rather forced, she gave me a bemused look. "It's really not that bad. You should have seen the stuff at my last school - even the food was meant to reform you. Most of the time, it was this watery broth which tasted of fish."
"Reform school?" I couldn't help but laugh, "You went to reform school?"
"Oh, I was very troubled in my early teens," she smirked, crumbling a bit of bread between her fingers. "So the fathers packed me off to boarding school in the middle of nowhere, to try and quell my 'rebellious side'. It turned out to be this nobby place with a freaking polo team - didn't do much to help me, to be entirely honest. Quite the opposite, actually... Made me nuts to try and get out of there. They finally expelled me last month."
I only half jokingly shook my head, in mock-disbelief. "What was it that you did?"
"It was more a question of what I didn't do. You name it, I probably did it. Except school work - I never did that. I think the last straw was finding me naked in the deputy boarding master's bed."
It was a moment were only a laugh would have been appropriate. Either that, or a sob. "You're a very open person, you know that, right?"
She gave me a cat like smile before sucking on the straw of one of those little orange juice bottles which five year-olds love. "Of course. The world would be a much better place if everyone was honest. Besides, I don't think that what Greg and I had should be kept a secret," sighing, she looked almost sad for a moment. "Oh, dear Mr Gregory Moore. He was a great, great man. He had these lovely muscular arms and broad shoulders - had to, I suppose, to be the ref for the duff polo team. But I happily went along to every match because he stalked around in those nice, tight white jodhpurs, which really showed off those delish thighs and that tight bum of his -" she stopped short, noticing the amused look a was giving her, before shrugging. "It was a very nice bum which deserved appreciation."
"I'm not going to dispute with you on that," I grinned at the sheer audacity of her - it was so, so refreshing. "How old was this dear man of yours?"
"Oh, only twenty-one." She picked at one of her fingernails, suddenly seeming much more nervous. "He wasn't actually a teacher - he just helped out with sport and the little kids in boarding; he was so lovely and sweet with them. But, apparently, he still had authority over me and it was wrong of him to 'take advantage of me', or whatever other shit that the dumb-arse headmaster said about him."
"And what happened?" Suddenly, I could only whisper as Cyrus entered the back of the school cafeteria, a pile of work in one hand. He had a tendency to mark exam papers the same morning as they were written, mark them and hand them out at lunch, putting those who had received 'unacceptably low' grades into detention the same evening for an intense revision session. I had managed to avoid them up until this point.
Saffy, oblivious to Cyrus' presence searching for students at the tables behind her, gave a somewhat angry sigh. "These was this girl in my dorm who had this massive crush on him. Mind you, most of the girls did - he was gorgeous. Anyway, she somehow found out about us - she did virtually stalk him, and reported it to the head. Totally got busted in his flat... He got fired and I got expelled, but he wasn't charged 'cause the head didn't want the press reporting the scandal and ruining his precious school's reputation. Derek, that's Dad Number One, totally decked him though when they came to pick me up. I think he broke Greg's nose - whoever said that gay men can't hit?" she gave me a weak smile, that brash attitude gone, a much more defeated one in its place.
"Have you heard from him since?"
"Greg? I've had a couple of phone conversations with him, but I've rather gathered that he just wants to never hear from me again and just forget everything that happened -" she was interrupted by Cyrus placing her test paper down in front of her. A '94' was circled in red pen, next to a smiley face. He simply murmured "Good job," before throwing mine down as well - it had a '39' on it, and followed up with a sour "And absolutely appalling."
As he turned away, I couldn't help but be pissed at his lack of attention, and called after him "Does that mean I have detention this afternoon?"
For a few fleeting moments, I actually thought he was going to ignore me. But then, he stopped and slowly turned around, his expression hard as he spoke. "No."
"It's a little under a month until your exam. Nothing I do can help you much now."
There was a little part of me, a very small part, who was mouthy and really didn't care what other people thought. She didn't come out very often - she was usually controlled by my rational side, but she was really unleashed at that point, as I furiously stood, my chair grating across the floor as he turned to walk away once more. "It that really it? Because I thought that you just didn't want to be in the same room as me - bit of a change from last week, right? Because last week, I was pretty sure that you -"
With a furious expression on his face, he cut across me, his low voice harsh and biting as he spoke through his teeth. "Evangeline, shut up. For once in your life, shut the hell up." And finally, he swiftly left the canteen without so much as a backwards glance.
Saffy blinked me as I sat back down, slowly exhaling and trying to let go of all my sudden anger. It was difficult though - he was so damn infuriating. "I'm not going to lie," she said lightly. "I truly didn't think you had it in you to shout at a teacher like that."
"Yeah, but he's a bastard. He needs to be shouted at once in awhile."
"So verbally abusing staff members isn't a usual pastime of yours?"
"I'm afraid not," I murmured as my temper cooled, suddenly nervous about other people in the cafeteria noticing our heated exchange. But it was loud, as luckily not many people seemed to be staring as I glanced around... Or maybe they'd already just looked away. Hopefully, it was the first.
"Shame," she sighed. "I was seeing the start of a long and beautiful trouble-making friendship... So why him? Why shout at the teacher who most likely to give you a punishment?"
I deliberated telling her part of the truth - I really wasn't in the mood for making up lies. "He's my foster-father's best friend. He kinda lives with us. I can get away with a lot of shit with him that no-one else could."
"Oh, that's cool," she gave me a long, sideways look. "I thought it was just because the two of you are sleeping together, but I'm not always right."
A horrible, cold feeling slid its way down my throat, and I found myself unable to swallow anything more. Eventually, I just quietly said "Obviously not. Are you finished? Can we leave now?"
She nodded, stuffing a last bit of roll into her mouth and standing up. And was the most eventful lunch apart from a sixth former hitting on Saffy and getting fiercely rejected.
The afternoon brought sport, along with the annual senior inter-school swimming competition which every pupil was forced to take part in. Apart from me, that is, because no staff made me do anything that I didn't want to do anymore. And jumping into a freezing pool of chlorinated water in a skimpy swimming costume was definitely at the top of that list. Besides, I doubted that I would even fit into that thing any more.
Saffy cheerfully told the head of the sports department that she hadn't gotten around to buying any of the regulation sports kit yet and so the two of us were sat down at a table at the poolside and were given the task of recording all the set times down. It was a boring but labourless job and should have been fine. At least, that was what I thought until Cyrus turned up still in his suit and new sweater vest which Mel had bought him, with a stopwatch attached to a clipboard under one arm, all set to time the races. And watching him stride around the poolside with a brooding expression was my idea of complete hell, especially as he continued to completely ignore me the entire time. I mean, a mere glance would have been nice, but he didn't even spare me that. Good old Cy - it was just like him to revert back to being an ass.
To make matters even better, Saffy observed me the entire time, just after informing me that was wanted to be a physiologist and was already practicing reading people's body language. We were halfway through the race list - it was the year thirteen boys' backstroke, when her eyes tightened slightly before finally looking away from me to where six guys in Lycra shorts were limbering up at the other end of the pool. I didn't blame her - it was a far nicer sight. What came next, however, was completely unexpected. She leaned back in her chair, placed her pencil on the table and spoke to me with a careless ease. "When's the baby due?"
I held her unwavering gaze for a few moments before replying. "At the end of July."
"And our dear friend over there," she shot a look over to where Cyrus was irritably telling a couple of kids in the year below to stop running by the pool. "He's not the father?"
"Of course not."
"But you like him?" Her reply was quick and sharp. "Romantically, that is."
She was playing with me - I knew that. Not in a harmful way, though, more of a curious one. "And why would I answer that?"
A shrug. "Why wouldn't you?"
"Because replying to a question such as that is even odder than asking it."
A strange look appeared upon her face, as if she was scrutinising every minuscule movement that I made. "The deviation around the answer leads me to believe that it's true."
"It's a shame that your psychic ability isn't a good as you make it out to be. Cyrus is a complete dick a lot of the time." I replied with what I hoped was nonchalance. The strange pace of the hushed conversation unnerved me as I continued, "I think it's actually impossible for anybody to like him in such a way. He's just a friend, who's helped me through a lot."
The wicked smile appeared once more upon her otherwise soft features. "Of course. So, are you keeping the baby?"
"I don't know," I immediately replied, my only reservations being on how I felt so at ease with being so open for a change. The sudden change in topic did unsettle me, however. "Everyone keeps asking me for a decision, but I just keep on putting it off. I'm like that - I try to forget about things and delay them for as long as possible."
"Then change that. Do something rash and forward to get over it."
I turned my head to glance at her, raising an eyebrow. "What, like making a choice right now about whether I want to put my baby into care?"
"No," she smirked with a light sparking on in her darkening eyes. "I was thinking more along the lines of confessing your more romantically inclined feelings to the person they involve."
I couldn't help but continue to speak sarcastically. "Oh yes, these feelings that only you know of. I, most certainly, have no idea about them, despite the fact that they're meant to be mine."
"Of course you don't. You're in denial."
"Sure." I nodded making certain that we both knew I humouring her. Honestly, I actually had no clue how I felt about him. He was just so damn confusing.
"Explain to me then, why else would you be so pissed off at him for ignoring you?"
"Like I said before, he's my friend. A very good friend, actually, when he's not being pathetic and stupid over a probable misunderstanding that we had."
"What misunderstanding would that be?" She asked, a small look of triumph briefly passing over her face.
"Nothing that you would have a great interest in," I retorted, suddenly unable to tear my eyes away from the commotion that was beginning to break out over on the other side of the pool.
Well, perhaps 'commotion' was a bit of a strong word. I was probably the only person to notice it, and that was only because I might have been watching Cyrus' every movement over the past hour. Only maybe, though. Although, to me, he could never be inconspicuous whilst slightly freaking out over Miss Denby trying to get him to take his jumper off. She's the other maths teacher who flirts with him occasionally and who was also doing the race timing.
"But it's so warm in here," she exclaimed, her squawky voice floating across the still pool. "Aren't you boiling?"
Not to anyone who knew him well's surprise, Cyrus was on the verge of having one of his occasional, weird freaky attacks where he tended to yell random stuff out loud to get someone to stop doing something he didn't like. They weren't all the common, I'd actually only seen one when Stephen had been putting the cutlery the wrong way into the dishwasher and he'd gone hysterical until he'd put it all 'correct', but there was certain really odd things that would set him off. Of course, someone posing the threat of all his students seeing what he thought of as his 'mutilated' arms was certainly something that would cause him to freak out. To a more normal person, a weak joke about taking a jumper off and rolling up his sleeves in a hot place would simply be passed off. But Cyrus, being Cyrus, had to make a huge deal out of it all and thus bring more attention to the entire situation. For someone who was a supposed genius, he really was a massive idiot a lot of the time.
And then a rare wave of genius struck me.
I was extremely tempted to leave him to suffer the wrath of some woman who, for some weird reason, had a bit of a crush on him, but then it was also a prime moment on my behalf to confront him - I just wanted some answers from him. If it were a choice between exposing his scars or being alone in a room with me, he would probably choose the latter. I liked to think so, anyway. And so I executed my amazing, manipulative plan.
It went something like this:
Step One : Walk over to Cyrus and his fawning maid.
Step Two : Tell him that there was a call for him in the sports office.
Step Three : As he escaped with great relief from Denby, follow him to the office.
Step Four : Barricade us inside.
Step Five : Confront him over what happened.
Step Six (Optional) : Hit him if he got really annoying and delved into denial.
Although it didn't really work all that well.
It did start off quite smoothly, up until step four, that was. Saffy didn't question me when I got up, just gave me a 'knowing' wink, and I also thankfully didn't slip on any water on my journey around the pool. When I informed him of the 'call', he was hardly even aware that it was me telling him, and instead happily ran off, whilst Miss Denby gave me an annoyed look, which kinda made her seem like an angry chicken. Yeah, that went okay.
It was when I entered the smallish office, however, that it all started to go downhill. For one thing, there wasn't even a bloody chair nearby that I could shove across the doorway as a block from anyone entering or him running out, which was more likely. So I just had to stand in the way instead. He knew I hated being grabbed by the arms, or shoved anywhere, after what happened. He respected that. Which made it fairly unlikely that he'd try and push me out of the way... Unless I really got him riled, and any sense which he may have had left had been long chucked out of the window.
You can probably already see how it was beginning to go very wrong.
Even so, I was determined to stand my ground as he began to agitatedly stab at random buttons on the phone before looking up at me and glaring. "What line was the call on?"
I just shrugged as nonchalantly as I could manage. "There wasn't one - I thought you were intelligent enough to have realised that."
Then, this really pissed off look descended down onto his face, and I was honestly a little scared for a moment. Never, out of all the pranks and other horrible things I'd done to him, had he ever looked so angry.
Slamming the phone down into its holder - I was quite surprised that it didn't break - he furiously surged over to the door, stopping only an step away from me. "Move."
His tone was horribly sharp and in any other circumstance I probably would have wilted. But then, I could easily be just as stubborn as he was. "No."
"For God's sake, Evangeline," his voice rose to a harsh, raspy shout. "Get out of the way!"
And then, for some reason I really could not fathom, I just blurted it out. That stupid question that had been clogging my mind for days. "Why did you kiss me last week?"
An expression of somewhat surprise came into his eyes for a tiny moment before they hardened once more. "I didn't."
"Yes, you did." I took a step towards him, so we were only an inch apart. I knew that he hated to break any eye contact when he was in an argument, and sure enough, he bent his head to continue to look at me. "At about three in the morning in Stephen's lake house's kitchen. Remember?"
His face came nearer, and for one, insane moment I thought that he was going to kiss me again. But, instead, he stopped a hairbreadth away, only to hiss "Let me tell you this, straight out, to crush any idealistic fantasies which you may have - it wasn't a kiss."
"What was it then?" I angled my head slightly to one side, not wanting to be so close to him. To see my own eyes reflected in his glasses, to feel his uneven breath against my face.
"Nothing," he said firmly, as if that single word would simply settle everything. If only.
"I don't believe you for one second there-"
"Move." Again, he almost shouted once more, making a move to place his hand on the door handle, only stopping when I placed mine there first. It was only then that I was aware of all the people milling around outside.
If there was one thing that could always get me angry, it was when someone else got ratty with me. "Tell me then, dear Cyrus, if it wasn't a kiss as you keep on insisting, why did you freak out? Why did you run off back home? Why have you been ignoring me all day if -"
"It wasn't a kiss," he whispered in desperate insistence, truly sounding so much like a broken record, a hint of uncertainty finally seeping into his voice.
It was time for step six - I knew that. Placing my hands against his chest, I gave him a quick push backwards. He didn't seem to be expecting it, and moved back slightly. "You're a terrible liar. I know when you're lying; your eyes go shifty and your ears turn red. I know you, Cy - don't forget that. You kissed me, but, in hindsight, you just don't want me to think that."
"Well, maybe it was," he eventually conceded in a tone so quiet I almost couldn't hear it, his gaze falling to the side and away from me. He looked back only a moment later, his voice attempting to be strong once more. It only came out as wavering stammer. "But not a proper one. Believe me, that stupid little thing in France should never come close to constituting a real kiss."
It wasn't until that exact moment that I came to realise exactly what this was all about - about why I had decided to confront him. It was never about simply getting answers; it was wanting a repeat of what happened that night. Only that.
Taking a step so that we were almost touching once more, I managed to speak with a bold, brazenness that I never knew existed inside of me. "Then show me what a real one is."
He bent his head down, as if he really was about to grant me that request and only stopped at the last moment, madly shaking his head, as if to make sense of it all. "No."
"You're a coward," I said, merely out of annoyance, so naive of what was about to happen next.
If I thought he was livid before, he then became the human explosion equivalent of the atom bomb. Smashing his hand against the desk top behind him, his half-shout, half-scream reached a level of pure anger that I didn't think he was capable of producing. "Don't call me that!"
And that weirdly pissed me off even more. So I jabbed him in the chest, quite hard actually. "Then why won't you kiss me?"
Waving an arm into the air in an irritated gesture that seemed so unlike him, he took a few rangy steps round in a circle before stopping and running an agitated hand through his hair. "Because one day you'll meet a guy who will, and it'll be one of the most fantastic moments of your life. He won't be almost a decade older than you, or your maths teacher, and I sure damn hope it won't be in a swimming office. It'll be then that you understand why I won't, because only then will you realise how little I really matter."
And as he gave me the weak, pathetic glance, every bit of rage just seemed to melt away in both of us. "You really don't understand how much to mean to me, do you?" I quietly asked, not daring to move anywhere near him. "You've been my only friend these past few months, you've always been there. You've sat and listened and understood everything I've said to you. That does count for a lot you know."
"Do you have any idea how unbelievably difficult it is to continue saying no to you?" He murmured in a translucent sort of way, as if they were only the thoughts in his mind and not real, spoken words. "It really would be nice of you to stop tempting me."
"Then stop all of this self-sacrificial bullshit and do what you really want for a change."
"I can't-" he suddenly broke off as the office door opened, Miss Denby standing in the doorway. She was really beginning to annoy me. Daring to glance over at Cyrus, his expression immediately told me that he felt exactly the same.
Giving him a simpering look which kinda made me want to gag, she took a step into the room. "Is everything okay, Dr Quince? I could you shouting all the way from the poolside."
He gave her a very forced smile, which almost made me laugh, and a nod. "Everything's fine. Miss Brooks was just questioning me about my marking of an absolutely appalling paper she completed this morning. And, as I'm sure you're well aware, I don't like my authority being undermined."
"Of course," she replied, a peculiar expression on her face, before pausing. "May I have a word with you, in private?"
Cyrus shot me a look, purposefully avoiding my eyes, and spoke quite softly. "Wait outside."
I did so, shutting the door behind me and sitting on the chair outside of the door which was usually reserved for those who got sent out of PE class. Listening to the steady swell and fall of voices from back inside, I was somewhat relieved to find that the words weren't comprehensible, only the tones. It then struck me how idiotic I'd been to corner him about the whole matter in school, in a room in the busiest building of the afternoon. Anyone could have heard. For the first time, it suddenly became clear how wrong it was. How nothing of the sort was ever supposed to happen between the two of us. We'd always been seen different to most; no-one ever questioned him giving me a lift home, never contemplated whether it was inappropriate to be found alone in his classroom with him at lunch. Such things were thought of as acceptable, but even I wasn't delusional enough to believe that anything more would have been seen as the same. The reality of it all hit me in the gut with enough force to wind, and send the baby into a fit of irritated kicks against my side. He always knew when I was anxious.
"You're being silly," Cyrus' voice suddenly became clearer as he stepped up to the frosted window behind me. "I don't care for her in the slightest. Only pretend to, merely out of obligation." Her reply was muffled and cut off by the sharp click of the door handle as Cyrus opened it. "I don't wish to talk about the matter anymore, it's completely without point. I'll be with you in a few minutes, once I've finished here."
Miss Denby stormed out without another word, an angry expression on her face. Cyrus simply leant against the doorframe, his arms crossed over his chest as he watched her disappear back up the corridor, to the pool.
"What on Earth did you say to her?" I eventually just asked, to break the horrible silence which had fallen.
He responded with a light, even tone as if the past week hadn't happened and we were back on the dock at the lake. "Oh, nothing much."
"So she just got annoyed for no reason?"
Ignoring my question, he looked down at me, his expression turning serious, but soft, once more. "What time are Stephen and Mel home tonight?"
"Late – seven, eightish maybe. They're working on the Randall project."
"Right," he nodded, taking a step down the empty corridor. "We'll talk about everything then... When there's less people around to overhear."
As he began to walk away, I couldn't help but quietly call after him. "Do you really not care about me?"
He stopped, half turning to look back at me with an expression of sadness on his face. "Of course I do. Why do you think any of this is happening?"
And without waiting for a reply, he silently left, leaving me sitting in that chair and wondering what the hell was the answer to his question.
AN: Well, it's quite late, but it's here nevertheless!
Please let me know your thoughts ^.^ ~ Woodpecker.