"Thaaaaaaaat Myra! That is the reason I'm failing my classes."
To be completely honest, I'm unimpressed, so I gave Kerrie my special 'I-am-unimpressed' look. It's the one where I only raise one eyebrow and stare derivatively at her. Oh, it's not what she's pointing at that's unimpressive, that is rather impressive, but her excuse for failing tests, handing work in late and then failing that as well is pretty poor if you ask me.
"For crying out loud, just don't look. Your desk is against your wall, you're not even facing the window."
"Are you kidding me? How can I not look? The guy is practically naked! How can I not look?!"
"Easy," I said, seating myself in her desk chair and spinning myself in half circles – it's the pleasure in the little things, you know? "Just shut your curtains, do your homework in the living room, go to the library. Kerrie, I'm pretty sure none of your teachers or your parents are going to accept this as a genuine reason for failing by any stretch of the imagination. I'm not certain, but I'm pretty sure. He's not walking around half naked at school so you should at least be paying enough attention to the teachers to not fail."
Kerrie immediately descended into a huff, with a few sly glances out the window. I paid no attention to her strop – something her parents probably should have learnt to do a long time ago, their smart solution being to buy her more stuff until she eventually stops. Instead I grabbed her chemistry book from her desk and chucked it onto her bed, inches away from where she was sitting. It's enough to shock her into looking into the room instead of out the window at least.
"Page forty-two, questions one through five, I am not leaving until they're done and neither are you. If you don't complete them in the next hour I'm telling Georgina of the almighty gossip machine that you used diapers until you were seven."
"No, but for two weeks everyone will think you did."
She huffed again, but once more I paid her no heed. Tough love really was the best way of dealing with her.
It still took some time to make Kerrie settle down and focus on her homework. Naked Guy remained half naked and reading on his bed in full view of the window, which was part of the problem. For me it was great, nothing painful about watching a cute guy with a six-pack lounging around and from my seat I had a really good view. It did make it a little bit harder to make Kerrie focus. In fact it took eight pencils, five erasers and a stress ball to the head before she finally got fed up enough that she wanted to finish the questions and make me leave.
When my work was done – or her work, I should say – I blew fond kisses at her, receiving a very unladylike and undeserved middle finger in return, and left the house feeling slightly sorry for her mom who was channeling looks of intense gratitude at me and making me feel ever so slightly uncomfortable in the process.
Out of the corner of my eye I noticed the door next-door opening and saw now-shirt-clad Naked Guy carrying a bag towards the trash can at the end of the lawn near my car. Upon reaching the trash can at the same time he lifted his head and, seeing me, murmured a quiet greeting that I didn't quite catch and was already turning back to his house when I spied a prime opportunity.
"Can I ask a favor?"
He looked back over his shoulder, confusion written all over his face as to why a stranger such as I was talking to him, and asking for a favor no less. I powered on regardless.
"Is it at all possible to wear a shirt or torso cover of some kind when you're in your room? I realize it's your personal space and all but you're disturbing my friend with your nakedness and she's difficult enough to manage at the best of times."
Still looking confused – and was that a little hint of amusement I spied? – he turned around properly to face me, sliding his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Man, he was so much cuter close-up. No Myra, focus.
"Oh, no need to apologize," I said, perfectly aware that he was not in fact apologizing. It had always seemed easiest to just barrel on in order to get what you need. "I'm sure you weren't aware that your window is directly opposite hers but if you could cover up I'm sure she'll quickly get over the disappointment and rally back. Or, you know, if you have to be naked maybe close your curtains? Anyway, I'll let you get back to your half-naked reading. Thanks!"
It was a few paces to my car and then my expert and well practiced key jiggle eventually unlocked the door. I was in, seated and belted up before I realized that the guy was leaning over his wall mouthing something at me. I sighed, but rolled down my window.
"How did you know I was reading?" he asked, smiling at me.
He cupped his hands around his mouth – something which seemed rather unnecessary when he could just speak up a little. "How did you know I was reading?"
I wondered briefly whether he could see the cogs whir in my head. What kind of excuse could I give that didn't make me seem as creepy as 'I was watching you through the window, mwahahahaha' did? Hmm… drawing a blank. Ok, well, if in doubt, tell the truth.
"I was watching you through the window," I replied while quickly starting the engine. I paused, thought about it, and then added "Mwahahahaha…"
I didn't wait to find out his reaction. No doubt next time I came over to Kerrie's I would have to come in some sort of disguise. I pulled away and cruised onto the road leaving the window down so that the dry wind could breeze through my dark and already pretty tangled hair and cool me down – old car, no air-con. Oh, which reminds me, I need a haircut. There was no traffic but I checked all my mirrors anyway – I'm a really good driver – and saw that Naked Guy was still standing by his wall looking at me drive away. I immediately felt a little bad for just driving off on such a weird note, so I put my hand out the window and waved, not looking in my mirror to see if he waved back, and drove on home.
Kerrie's wheedling I-Need-Another-Favor voice was just as annoying over the phone as it was in person. It was made only slightly better by the fact that over the phone I could disconnect and go on with my life whereas in person if I tried to leave she tended to latch her claws into my arm and jump up and down like a five-year-old. Girls with nails can cause some serious pain. I bite mine.
"Oh come on, it won't be that bad!"
"When have I ever enjoyed a house party you've dragged me too?" I asked, trying to block out the sound of my little brother and sister screaming as they chased each other around the kitchen. People think they're adorable twins, if only they knew.
"None, but doesn't that just make this that much more exciting? This could be the first one you enjoy! And everyone wants you to come, you didn't even make it for the last two!"
The reason I hadn't made it to the last two parties was because I had found myself in the unfortunately unpreventable position of not wanting to go. On those nights, before I knew it, I had found myself in my pyjamas and in bed after seeing that Kerrie had followed through with her threats and had come around to pick me up. I had left my mom to deliver the bad news both times.
"You're fake enthusiasm fails to move me," I said lifting the phone cord in the air so that the two brats could dash underneath it and not strangle themselves.
People liked me well enough – when they got over the fact that I kind of had an attitude at times and that I usually said exactly what was on my mind however jarring it was – but it was doubtful that I was particularly missed at parties when usually I found myself sitting in a corner holding a beer that I wasn't actually drinking so that people would stop offering to get me one and hoping that the two kids grinding into each other next to me on the couch didn't accidently hit me in the face with their flailing limbs.
"Look, don't play dumb," Kerrie snapped. I rolled my eyes. Finally it seemed she had given up on playing the nice-person card and was actually going to lay down some truths. "My folks won't let me go if you don't go. They want to make sure someone responsible is in charge of me so I don't do anything stupid. You know it, I know it. Will you please come? I'll buy you any type of Ben&Jerry's you want."
Well, that got me. She knew I was a sucker for Ben&Jerry's.
You might be wondering at this point whether or not Kerrie and I are friends. Well, we are. Usual story: parents were friends, went to pregnancy classes together, gave birth two weeks apart, forced offspring to coexist as childhood friends. We argue more than we get along, but arguing is kind of how we get along. I push her buttons, she pushes mine; we go back and forth. It confuses people at school; they used to bitch in one person's presence about the other one but eventually stopped when they kept getting smacked down. Yeah, we got each others' backs. I save her from half-naked distractions so she doesn't fail and take her to parties; she buys me sweets. It works!
"Fine, but I want you to reflect throughout the entire party upon my reluctance, and I want three different flavors of Ben&Jerry's."
"Done, see you in an hour."
High school parties are inevitably all the same. They can be in different locations but the same type of music plays, the same type of beer is served, the same people attend. I'm not ignored at these things but I'm also not dragged onto the dance floor either. They tried that once. They learnt from their mistake.
This particular party was one of the most eagerly anticipated of the whole year because it was at Jasper Henley's house, and Jasper Henley was minted. He literally lives in a mansion and has 'awesome' parents because they are never around to keep an eye on things, which is probably a contributing reason to why he was also a successful druggie and vandal... I mean graffiti artist.
Kerrie and I were handed drinks as soon as we stepped through the front door and already the heavy odor of hundreds of people and the heat from their bodies made me want to leave. No can do though, unless I wanted to walk back. And I didn't particularly. I would be driving Kerrie's car, and Kerrie, back to mine tonight but she kept her keys because she knew me well enough to guess that I'd probably drive off already if I could and come back for her later.
Greetings were thrown at us as we pushed our way through the crowd. Kerrie replied, I tried to stay upright. Eventually and inevitably the crowd swallowed her up and I was left wondering where my nearest exit was when the only point of reference I could see above the heads of all the people was a chandelier. Finally I spotted a window which turned out to be a sliding door which led out onto a wooden deck. There were already people there making out in the shadows but it was better than being inside. I sat on the steps that led to the garden and put the beer down beside me. No point in looking at my watch. I sighed thinking of all the hours I was about to waste sitting there waiting for an appropriate time to drag Kerrie away.
Several people came and went. Some stayed on the deck, others moved around me and went out into the garden, no doubt to find a more private place to feel each other up.
An hour passed, and it passed very very slowly.
I made lists in my head to keep myself occupied: things I had to do; things I needed to buy; things I could tell my siblings that might make them shut up occasionally, or at least slow down a little; things I could bring up when Kerrie asked me for another favor.
"Is this seat taken?"
Interrupted from my internal listing, I tilted my head back so that I could see the person standing behind me.
"It's not technically a seat. It's a step," I said, hedging.
"Well, is this step taken?"
Smart, very smart.
"Yes, by me, as you can see I'm sitting on it."
Oh yeah, that's right, back at you.
He was smiling even more now. "Then can I share this step with you?"
"If you'd just sat down in the first place we wouldn't have needed to have this inane conversation," I let him know. I leaned forward again and stared at the trees in the garden as he sat himself beside me, trying not to think of the last time I had seen him.
"Do you remember me?" he asked, sipping at his beer before letting it hang in his hands between his knees.
Wow, so he was going to make my remember my embarassing moment anyway. Well, back on the offensive then.
"Yeah, you're Naked Guy..." Oh. god. I really just said that out loud. I was blushing, I was definitely blushing, absolutely cringing inside at the fact that I'd said yet another embarassing thing in front of such a cute guy. Ok, as usual, power on regardless. "I only saw you today, you know, my memory isn't that bad."
His eyebrows had shot up when I referred to him as Naked Guy - ack! - and then his lips tugged back to reveal pretty perfect teeth. He has a nice smile, I think... stop blushing!
"What's your name?" he asked.
"Well Myra, while I love the nickname you've given me," he leaned in close as if he was confiding a secret, "maybe you could call me by my name to avoid embarrassing misunderstandings when around other people."
Fair enough. Although I really only referred to him as Naked Guy in my head, or was supposed to at least.
"Will do?" This time just one eyebrow shot up, kind of like my I-am-unimpressed look but he looked more amused than unimpressed. "You don't even know what my name is."
He laughed. It's a nice sound. "You're seriously going to try and guess my name?"
"Well, I have quite a lot of time I need to waste. I promised my friend that I wouldn't make her leave before one."
"Is this the friend from earlier?" he asked, making a thumbs-up and jabbing it backwards in the air. It seemed a silly and unnecessary action, like when he had held his hands around his mouth earlier. I suppose for normal people it might not seem silly to point, but when people do that I tend to look where they're pointing. He didn't seem to notice so I pretended that I didn't look. "The friend I need to close my curtains for?"
I was pleased that he remembered. Maybe Kerrie would get a passing grade after all.
"Yeah, she's a social butterfly."
"And you're not?"
"Would I be sitting outside on these steps if I were?"
A group of boys then tried to squeeze past us which had become more difficult now that there were two of us. I leaned into Naked Guy to let them pass and I noticed that he was not wearing heavy cologne like most of the other guys in school. He smelt clean, like soap. Nice, very nice. He was also wearing a shirt, which was a little disappointing.
I forgot about the can of beer sitting beside me until one of the boys passing us kicked it over onto my bare legs. With an admittedly unfeminine yell I leapt to my feet and swore at the douchebag who was barely able to utter an apology he was already so drunk. His friends carried him off into the garden where I could hear the distinctive and revolting sounds of someone throwing up.
"Hey, let's get you a towel or something," Naked Guy said to me frowning at the noise in the distance. He had put out his arms to steady me once I'd leapt up and before I knew it he had steered me back through the sliding doors and was shouldering people aside to get us through the crowd. He had one of my hands in his and kept me close behind him. My hands are small – so small that my dreams of being a professional pianist were dashed early on in my life as I couldn't reach the right keys to play… well, that and the fact I'm apparently tone deaf – but his hand engulfed mine and made it seem even smaller. It made my stomach feel a little fluttery.
We made it to the kitchen and wove our way around the multitude of people grabbing drinks in order to get to the sink. Without warning or asking – rude, but I forgive him – Naked Guy placed his hand on my waist and lifted me onto the counter before starting to pull open drawers. I watched him search, completely fascinated by the way he moved. I'm not sure why, it's not exactly like I think he's particularly graceful or anything. He moved like most people did. But I was still fascinated.
"Here," he said wetting a cloth and handing it to me.
"Thanks, Ben," I said taking it from him and hesitating to look at him expectantly.
He laughed again, his eyes crinkling at the edges.
"Nope. Wrong again."
I shrugged and wiped my legs down. The second I was home I was going to throw these clothes in the washing machine. I could already see the beer stains. When I'd finished I threw the cloth into the sink and hopped down off the counter.
"Where to, Myra?" he asked.
I looked around. Too many people were in the kitchen getting drinks and it made me feel slightly claustrophobic.
"We could explore?" I suggested. He replied that it was a good idea and we again pushed our way through the crowds of people, him leading the way, and we started by exploring the ground floor. As we did he asked me about myself, but I don't really like to talk about myself to strangers, even if I have seen them half-naked already, so he told me about himself instead. It turned out he'd been here for a few months, went to a rival school to ours but transferred there recently having moved from a couple states away. I found out that his name was not Paul, Dominic, Daniel or Jimmy. He was a senior, like me, and he walked around his room with no shirt on because the air-conditioning in his house was broken.
"If you kept your blinds shut, Kevin, your room would be even cooler," I informed him as we looked around what appeared to be a third family room.
"The sun doesn't really shine into my room seeing as the houses are so close together, but I'll try it," he said studying a picture frame, then he peered round at me grinning. "And, my name's not Kevin."
We found a different staircase to the main one everyone was using and climbed it Mission-Impossible-style to the first level. Many doors were closed and I was very much less inclined to try them in case someone inside was doing something nasty. Instead we kept wandering and talking. Occasionally our hands would bump together and we'd apologise, which became quite funny after twelfth time as I was apparently having trouble walking in a straight line. I found out that he had been dragged slightly less unwillingly than me to this party by friends from his new school who all know Jasper Henley from yacht clubs or something equally pretentious. I told him that Kerrie had promised to buy me three different flavors of Ben&Jerry's in exchange for distant supervision and he approved of my deal. He also confirmed that his name was not Mark, Jack, Brendan or Earl. He laughed when I suggested Earl. I didn't think it was a bad name, he definitely looked like he could be an Earl.
We eventually found a large balcony that was occupied by only one other couple. We leaned against the railings looking out over a different side of the house to the deck. On this side was an artificial lake.
"Lake Kariba is the largest man-made lake in the world. It's in between Zambia and Zimbabwe," I said, pleased that this little tid-bit I'd known since a geography project two years back could finally be used in conversation.
"Wouldn't be a particularly funny thing to kid about if I was."
Naked Guy gripped the railing and leaned forward, looking down. I peered down as well to see what was so interesting but could see nothing but dark grass.
"You know, in the time I've been here I've had the most fun with you," he said, still looking at the grass.
"Well, we've been talking for an hour and a half so it's probably not surprising. I'm sure the other people at this party would have been equally fun if you'd spent the time with them."
This time he did look back and he was smiling again. He even had the audacity to reach out and pinch my cheek.
"You're cute, I don't mean just this party. I meant here here."
"Ah! Here here, a much more specific term," I quipped, trying to hide the fact my face had just flamed up to what I was sure was a lovely lobster red. "Don't pinch my cheek, Luke."
"My name's not Luke. I mean I like it here well enough but coming in senior year is just difficult when everyone else has known each other forever. I kinda feel like I'm just passing time till I graduate."
"Well, Herman, I'm not sure what to tell you."
Naked Guy snorted and turned so his back was against the railing. Our hands were now almost touching. I wondered if he noticed.
"No, my parents weren't that cruel."
"It wouldn't be cruel," I mused, "I kind of like it. I'd like to get a fish or a tortoise and call it Herman."
"I can see you doing that," he said, chuckling quietly.
We were silent for a while and it occured to me that we hadn't stopped talking for the whole hour and a half we'd been together. I couldn't remember the last time I had had such a long conversation. Most people by this point were ready to tear their hair out when they talked to me. Maybe it was a good thing Naked Guy had done most of the talking. As it was I'd only just looked at my watch since we were sitting on the deck instead of every five minutes as I had done before I'd asked to share my step. Naked Guy moved, bringing me back to the present, and his hand nudged mine but he didn't move away. Again, I got a fluttery feeling in my stomach.
It was barely seconds later that Leah came barging out onto the balcony. She was a friend from school, was being the key word.
"Jeez, there you are Myra. We've been looking all over for you. Kerrie's wasted and she's whining that she wants you to take her home now."
Dammit. I felt even less friendly towards her.
"Fine," I said rather tersely and she left, not surprised or uncaring that I appeared to have an attitude again. I looked at Naked Guy and he looked back at me. "I need to take her home. I'm the responsible babysitter after all."
He nodded slowly and his smile seemed a little less bright, or maybe that was just wishful thinking.
"That you are."
I took one last look at the lake and then pushed myself away from the railing.
"Well, see you Blake."
I walked down the hallway slowly, all the while wishing that I could think of something to go back and say to him, but I drawing a blank. I was also starting to think that his name might be Blake seeing as he hadn't corrected me before I left him.
"My name's not Blake!"
I was halfway down the hallway and I could feel my toes curl in my shoes as I stopped and had to prevent myself from doing my celebration dance. Yes, I have one of those.
I turned around. He was still standing by the doors to the balcony.
"Can I tell you my name now?"
He was grinning at me and it made me want to smile too, but I resisted.
"I'm just gonna be disappointed after all this," I replied, fingers curled tightly into my palms. He laughed and my heart seemed to fall over itself. It didn't take him long to reach me, but instead of stopping he invaded my personal space, held my face gently in his hands and leant down a little to kiss me lightly. It was fleeting but it knocked my socks off.
I paused, and peered up at him inquisitively, trying to see if he was telling the truth. From the way he was looking at me it appeared he was dead serious.
"Your name is Alfie?"
"Short for Alfred?"
"That's not really all that much better than Herman."
"But you like Herman. You want to name a tortoise Herman."
"That I do."
And then he kissed me again. I wondered how long I could stay before Kerrie chose to make my life a misery, and I decided I'd pretty much pushed it as much as I could.
"I gotta go."
We kissed again and then I pushed him away – girl power, I ain't no hussy – and walked backwards down the hallway.
"Yeah?" he asked, already smiling.
"If I happen to pass by tomorrow, will you have a shirt on?"
"I can't promise anything."
A/N: Haha! I'm back. It's been an incredibly hectic 3 months which I won't even go into apart from to say I better graduate with a good degree or I want my money back.
Anyway, this is just a quick story I thought up when I was writing random stuff in an effort to find motivation to do work. I've been playing around with tenses which you may or may not have noticed. This is the best version I can come up with right now, although I'm sure in a few months I'll read it again and wonder what I was thinking. I'm also hoping that the pacing isn't too fast. It's hard for me to know, especially in one shots.
Anyway, once again a big thank you to my wonderful reviewers for Walking Through Life, you have no idea how happy I get when I see a review. I'm glad you all seemed to enjoy that story, it's still my favourite.
Well, I'll try not to leave quite so long between this story and my next one.
Ta-ta for now!