Chapter 1: Just by Chance

The air was cold, I could see my breath. It rushed out in pretty, foggy clouds when I sighed.

I sighed a lot, but no one noticed. We passed the bottle around each of us in turn.

Just one bottle of beer.

I didn't feel drunk, but the others acted like it, stumbling around.

"I'm all dizzy!" Jess cried. Spinning and giggling.

But I know when she pretends.

We shuffled along the road lit by street lamps. Our hands buried deep in our pockets. They only left to grip the bottle and take a swig. I liked the taste.

The lack of effects was disappointing.

The boys were getting grabby with Fee and Jess. They acted the drunkest. I slap their hands away.

"We had a 6 pack earlier." The boys boasted, and left the lukewarm liquid to us girls.

The corners get darker, and Fee starts wriggling out of Jamie's grip.

"Should we go back?" She says, fear in her voice.

Jess has a gleam in her eyes, and she snuggles closer to Josh, sneaking into his coat.

"I'm scared." She coos. Pouting her glossy lips at him.

"I'll protect you." He says. His hand creeping from her hip to her arse.

I'm not afraid. I'm bored.

"There's someone there..." Fee whispers, her eyes fixed ten feet from the next street light, where the end of someone's cigarette glows through the dark.

He wears black. Or blue. Or perhaps grey. And the glow only lights up his eyes.

They flash at us like those of a cat.

My step doesn't falter, but the others do.

The guys can't stand to see me be braver.

Jeremy brandishes the bottle, as if to prove that we're bad.

I feel embarrassed. My face is even redder.

We reach the street light, and stop.

He walks forward, and my breath catches.

He is bad. His leather jacket is undone and old. It looks like it'd be soft against my skin.

Blue jeans with tatters and holes at the knees. A cocky smile and messy brown hair that stands up in spikes. As if he'd just ran his hands through it.

A cigarette that isn't a cigarette rests between full lips that look soft as clouds.

His eyes twinkle, they shimmer at me.

The others look nervous. So I smile and say,

"Hello."

Jess squeaks at my boldness.

The man, who is young, but older than us, comes closer.

"Hello." His voice is deep like the ocean, and rolls like the tide. The gravel in it is the waves dragging over the pebbles as it drags over me.

He smells familiar. No, the smoke does.

It's a little like the sage I burnt once.

Can you smoke sage?

Then I take another breath, and I realize. I should have already, as we both step closer to the light I see that most of his blue irises are swallowed up by black pupil.

He doesn't seem that out of it, though.

"Alright." Josh says, warily.

"Dandy." The stranger says, his eyes never leave mine.

"I'm Marcus." He says, and the words are meant for me.

"Celeste." I say. My name sounds unfamiliar. It isn't my own. Not mine. Not me.

"Chell." He says, nodding. I smile. That's much better.

"What've you got there?" He spots the bottle.

Jess sways forward with it, batting her eyes.

So he is as good looking as I thought.

"Beer." She purrs, biting her lip. The stranger chuckles but doesn't comment.

He's staring at Jess intently, and I wonder if he's realized that she's the pretty one.

"Didn't you fu-sleep with Wes's big brother?" He asks her. I breathe out. In relief.

Jess is gobsmacked. I choke back a laugh.

"So, Chell," he turns back to me, "I saw you eying my joint. Want a go?" He holds the blunt out to me.

I just blink at it.

"Don't, Chell-I mean, Celeste. He's probably got herpes." Jess spat. Marcus raises his eyebrows, amused.

I accepted the smoke.

I took a drag. Spluttered. Tears stung my eyes. I felt like I had no teeth.

"Careful, you haven't done this before, have you?" he says. Taking the joint and telling me to breathe deep.

I just kept coughing.

He grabbed the beer from Jess, and thrust it into my hands. I down it and feel better.

"I need to teach you how in inhale properly." He laughs, but I don't feel mocked.

"Let's go Celeste." Jamie, my on again off again ex, says. Frowning at Marcus.

The others begin to turn around.

Marcus stares at me. I keep eye contact, and silent.

Jamie grabs my arm.

"Come on!" I shake myself free.

"No, I'll stay." The others turn back to stare at me.

"What? Not here, with him."

"Celeste! He could be anyone!"

"Come on, you can't trust him! Let's go."

My eyes stay locked on Marcus's.

"No, I'm staying."

Fee speaks quietly, but my heart twinges with her careful words. She's always been my best friend.

"Cele, I hope you know what you're doing."

I don't. But I like it. I like how it feels.

They tell me to come with them one last time, then storm off. Fee gazes back over her shoulder, giving me a nervous look before Josh puts his arm around her, forcing her to turn around.

I don't feel afraid of Marcus.

Until he raises his hand and steps towards me. My blood freezes in my veins and my stomach lurches.

But then I realize. He's holding the joint to my lips.

"Here, I need you to take a drag, but don't fill your lungs. Leave room for a breath. 80% smoke, 20% air. Okay?"

I gaze up at him with wide eyes. He smiles in a way that makes my heart hammer. I do as he says. I cough again and my eyes water, but it goes down smoother.

I feel lighter. I'm shaking a bit.

"Oh." I say, when I recover, and he laughs as he takes a hit as if it's the most natural thing in the world.

"Let that one hit you before you take another." I nod, and cough again.

It isn't long before I'm grinning. I'm not sure why, but it feels good. He looks good.

I accept the blunt again, and take another hit. Coughing ensues, but it is lesser. I wonder if he does this a lot with strangers.

"How old are you?" He asks, and to my surprise, tucks my hair behind my ear. He doesn't touch my skin, just my hair, but I find myself blushing.

"Fifteen." I whisper, and he smiles.

"I'm seventeen."

"Do you do this a lot, Marcus?"

"Do what, Chell?" He says, his grin of expectation making me feel a little foolish.

"Pick up random girls in the middle of the night on street corners." I say, a little attitude touching my voice. I won't be seen as weak, despite the ball of nerves in my stomach.

"No, I don't. And this isn't exactly the middle of the night, it's only ten."

"My curfew is ten thirty." I say, pulling a face and taking another drag. He laughs and says,

"That's a little early, for a girl like you." My wall flies up, and I feel venom leak into my voice,

"What do you mean, a girl like me."

He puts his hands up.

"The type of girl that dances under streetlights and runs through the night. The night brings out the truth in people. And you're honest. That other girl, the brunette-"

"Jess." I interrupt, he nods,

"-she's not real. Is she?" It's a question that we both already know the answer to. I shake my head, grimacing. "I "picked you up" as you put it, because there's something confusing about you."

I don't answer. And we stand in silence for a moment.

"Do you want to go somewhere?" He asks, holding out his ungloved hand, I look at it for a minute, before lacing my fingers through his. Again our skin does not touch, thanks to my gloves, but the heat of his big hand make the butterflies flutter and the snakes writhe.

The street is busy, cars whip past. The neon lights are as downtown as it gets for our tiny town. Its just a road of sketchy motels, skeezy gas stations, and a collections of dirty bars and corner stores.

But it fills me with a feeling of excitement. The lights threw light over his face, his angular cheekbones casting shadows on his cheeks.

He needed a shave.

We made our way to the busiest of the bars, it smelt old. It smelt moldy.

Marcus winked at me, and slapped a $20 bill down on the bar.

"Four of your finest brews, my good man." He shot the man a cheeky, confident smirk.

"The others for your friend?" The man nods to me, looking suspicious. Marcus laughs and says,

"Of course. Can't let the lady get dehydrated."

They hold eye contact for a while,

Marcus puffs himself up, looking taller and broader than before. I try to look calm. I'm not.

My hands are shaking in my pockets.

The man keeps eye contact, as he reaches under the counter, and places the cool brown bottles on the table.

Marcus is reaching for them as the man suddenly seems to change his mind,

"I.D." He says, his eyes narrowed.

"Keep the change!" Marcus grins, grabs all four bottles, tucks me under one arm, and rushes me out of the door. Leaving the money on the counter. We run behind the bar, down a hill, into a cluster of trees, and over a dried up creek bed.

I'm laughing so hard that hot tears sting my cold cheeks, Marcus laughs too, and we finally stop running in a small, untended field.

"That was great." I gasp, out of breath but happy.

"That was nothing." He says, casually flopping down on the grass and cracking a beer open with his teeth. He hands it to me, and I take a refreshing swig.

He opens his own, and glugs it. I stare, transfixed a he tosses the empty bottle aside.

I look at my own, and wonder how long it would take me to gulp it all down.

I tip it back. Again, splutter and cough. He pats me on the back comfortingly.

I try again, and get about half way through. No coughing this time, just a cheesy grin of pride. He rolls another joint, and we alternate between drags and sips.

We find ourselves lying down, my head resting on his chest, staring up at the stars.

His heartbeat is steady, it sounds beautiful to my woozy mind.

"Marcus," I say, my head spinning,

"Mhm?" He acknowledges, through the last mouthful of his beer.

"What time is it?"

"Don't you have a phone?"

"It's dead."

"Oh alright," he sighs, reaching inside his jacket, and pulling out his phone.

"It's 11:15." He says, I jump up, my heart suddenly hammering.

"Oh shit! I have to get home! They're going to kill me!"

He stands too, hushing me, and handing me my second bottle.

"Calm down, it's okay. They're just your parents. What can they do, really?"

"A hell of a lot! Please, Marcus, I have to get home!"

"As you wish." He says, grinning. He tosses the bottles aside, throws the spliff down, and grabs my hand once more.

We reach my street breathless, but my head is spinning so badly I don't care.

My eyes water, and I'm unsteady on my feet.

The lights are still on in the windows of my house, but I wasn't afraid.

"This is where I leave you." He says, and I look up at him with mixed feelings.

"I'll see you again, right?" I say, and he shrugs. Fury seeps in at his indifference, and I turn away, trudging away like a child in a tantrum.

It was all very sudden.

His hand closed around my arm, and I'm suddenly closer to him than I ever expected to be.

The layers of fabric between us seemed to melt away as his lips crashed into mine. It was clumsy. It tasted of beer and smoke. It was fantastic.

Our teeth clanked into each other, and it shouldn't have been sexy, but the tingling heat I loved was spreading out from my lower abdomen, and I just knew I was wet.

It could have been seconds, or minutes, hours, years. I had no clue, I didn't want to know. I just wanted to linger in that moment.

But the sound of a squealing tire on tarmac a few blocks over brought me crashing back to earth. I pulled away, tried to speak, but all that came out was a mumbled squeak that just embarrassed me more. I pulled myself out of his grip, and ran. I ran to my front door, unlocked it, and threw it open.

It was no use being quiet, and the clock in the hall told me it was almost midnight. Cinderella would have been fine. But not me.

My parents walked out of the living room with looks of disgust directed at me.

"Where the hell have you been?" My mothers voice was sharp, it was like someone shoving an icicle through my skull. I shivered.

Their faces were spinning. I tried not to slur.

"Just, out, with friends."

"Bullshit! Celeste! I can smell beer on your breath!"

She's not close enough to smell anything, and if she were, she'd smell the plant I can taste on my teeth.

I shake my head, and do what I've never done before.

I walk away from their shouts, and wearily trudge up the stairs.

I close my lockless door, and shove a set of draws in front of it. When I lay my head down on my pillow, it's still spinning.

The world on my bedroom ceiling spins and convulses, the ripple of colours making me smile.

I wake up with the same smile the next morning.