9. Bike ride
"Um…so…where are we going?"
We walk side-by-side, with every one of his long, lazy steps matching up to two of my own quick, nervous ones. My backpack is still slung over his shoulder and, despite the fact that it has some pretty heavy science and history textbooks in there, he carries it without a single sign of discomfort alongside his own.
There is no reply to my question.
I press my lips together, rubbing my hands together nervously as we continue to head down the road – in, oh-so-conveniently, the opposite direction to my house. The school is already far behind us, and the sun is still getting lower, its yawning rays reaching towards the horizon like a weary traveler at the end of his journey.
What am I even doing here? I should be home by now…it's going to be dark soon. What possessed me to come here…?
I sneak a glance to my right, where Damien walks. His face is inscrutable, except for a slight pulling-down of his eyebrows that makes it look as if he's in deep thought. His tan skin is golden in the evening light, and I can't help wondering what his parents are like – surely they can't be anything like those ugly, unpleasant, unappealing people I met down Drewel Road. What did Mr Sterling say again? "Damien is going through a very…difficult time at home right now and, recently, he's been going just a little off the rails…" What did he mean, 'difficult'? And isn't 'off the rails' a major understatement for Damien's usual attitude? Plus Teresa said his parents are –
I start, and realise, with much embarrassment, that I've been so wrapped up in my own thoughts I haven't noticed him stop walking. I spin around on my heels, school skirt swishing around my legs and hair flying up around my blushing cheeks. For a second, before he turns away, I catch him watching me with a faraway expression.
"Wait, Damien –"
He bores his dark hazel eyes into mine.
"Stay. Here. And whatever you do, don't come inside."
I don't know what to say or how to answer, so he turns swiftly away and strides angrily towards the imposing metal gates, punches a number combination into a keypad on the brick wall next to them, and disappears through them as they swing shut behind him.
Why…are we here?
"What on earth…?" I murmur, head swiveling from side to side.
I stand on the clean, wide pavement of High Hill Way – a huge, modern, spacious road, known all around for being the place where politicians and big business owners live. Of course my parents aren't poor, and we live in the second most expensive area in the town – but everybody knows about High Hill Way.
On either side of the expansive street, large, sprawling homes resolutely claim their spaces, and my eyes widen at the sight of such elegant buildings – or at least what I can see of them beyond their towering security gates. Across the road, a house boasts elegant pillars adorned with snaking golden designs; further on are large, healthy bushes lining vast driveways, cut and shaped into assorted images of leaping deer, galloping horses, crouching rabbits, even a car. One house even has a working fountain at the centre of the drive. The sculpture in the middle catches my eye.
A couple, intertwined at the waists, gazing into each other's eyes.
What do they see there? I wonder. What is it that stops them from looking away? – other than the fact that they're stone, of course. I'm sure the man's eyes aren't as guarded and closed-off as Damien's usually are; maybe that's why the girl finds them so enchanting.
I sigh, speculating as to when exactly I became so obsessed with finding hidden romantic meanings in this.
Take a wild guess, sneers a smug voice inside my head.
"Get on," his voice orders from next to me. I tense and spin around, eyes landing on...
"Is that…a moped?" I ask incredulously, staring down at the battered-looking vehicle.
"No it's a unicycle," he drawls. My eyes snap up to look at him –
He laughs like he can't help himself. I almost take a moment to enjoy the attractive sound – before I realise it's me he's laughing at. "Yes, it's a f***ing moped, now get your arse on the damn thing."
I frown. "You don't have to swear so much, you know," I mutter, unwilling to climb on.
He rolls his eyes.
"Um, Damien, look I'm not sure if I should; I don't think my parents –"
He interrupts exasperatedly, "Just forget about what everyone else thinks for once, nerd, and tell me," he leans over the bike and pushes his face close to mine, "what do you want?"
My throat tightens as we stay like this, breathing mingling, the breeze tugging at our hair and clothes, the sun hanging low.
Something about this moment makes me want to hold it and keep it somewhere safe to look at later.
I don't even know what I want anymore. I always thought working hard and getting consistently good marks was enough for me – I used to think all those people my age who were obsessed with socialising and going out and having relationships were all insane and weird and immature.
But maybe I'm the one that's immature. I want to deny it, but since meeting Damien I've just felt incredibly…naïve.
What do I want?
Our eyes meet. I stare into those hazel orbs and am surprised to find he's not blocking me out for once. I marvel at how the sun brings out those gold flecks and find myself wishing I was better at art, so that I could draw them. How did someone with such pretty eyes turn into something so scary and confusing like Damien?
He smiles then, all of a sudden, a genuine smile. He doesn't look so scary. He leans back, still holding the moped. I notice both of our rucksacks already stowed away in the little carrier compartment at the back.
"You know what? I'm not gonna let you answer that just yet." He climbs onto the seat and grabs my arm, dragging me onto the cushion behind him. My butt tingles as he starts the engine and the cycle hums underneath us.
Then he starts to move.
"Wha-wait!" I screech, arms and leg flailing in an embarrassingly unladylike manner.
"Hold on, Angel!" he yells, and I can hear the smug grin in his voice. With no thoughts in my mind except those that may help me survive this, I twist in the seat and wrap my arms around his waist. Already, we're whizzing through the streets at an incredibly fast pace, the little engine of the moped screaming angrily.
I open my mouth to shout something at him, but a huge gust of wind slaps me in the face and I splutter, blinking against the hair whipping into my eyes. I notice with a hint of annoyance that my hairband has once again been ripped from my hair – I'm going to run out of them at this rate.
In order to protect my face a little better, I lower my head and hide behind his broad shoulders, scrunching my eyes up against the wind.
"Shouldn't we be wearing helmets?!" I yell over the roar of air and engine surrounding us.
"Just look up!" is all he yells back in reply.
Confused, I do as he says, craning my neck back to look around us.
Where are we?
The hard concrete pavements have melted away, and we whizz down what almost looks like a country road. On either side are sprawling fields and hills, covered in trees and flowers and little animals scurrying around.
It's like a different world.
My arms tighten around Damien's waist as I twist my head to look behind us – all I can see is the house Damien came out of before, disappearing out of sight as we race further down the road. For a while I enjoy the unexpectedly exhilarating and addictive feeling of the world rushing by me so quickly, without a care, as if nothing matters except the roaring wind in my hair.
Just as I begin to worry that we're getting a little too far away from the rest of civilisation for my liking, the moped screeches to a halt, and I instinctively bury my face in the back of Damien's shirt as a dust cloud rises up around us. The moped settles to a standstill and I draw in a breath, relieved.
The clean smell of his aftershave wafts into my nostrils and I realise quite suddenly the position I'm in; my arms wrapped around him, our legs pressing together, my face against his back.
His body is warm and firm against me.
What the hell, Amber!?
I jerk back quickly and hold my arms in the air like a criminal that's just been caught by the police. Without anything steadying me I tip backwards from the seat and – despite my most fervent efforts (i.e. circling my arms and legs in the air) – I topple off the moped and thud into the dusty ground.
The air is momentarily thrown from lungs and I cough unhelpfully.
Damien's laugh fills the air.
"I can tell," I cough moodily, "that you're in a good mood."
He chuckles and wipes a tear from his eye.
It's so weird to see him so…normal.
"It's just watching you beat yourself up," he shrugs. I press my lips together and lean my head back to stare up at the sky – it looks amazing; peach clouds and patches of pastel blue and a deepening amber seeping in from the West.
Damien's head pops into view as he moves to stand next to the collapsed heap that is my body, and he looks down at me.
He tilts his head to one side, raising an eyebrow at me.
"Are you planning on getting up soon?"
I blush, pushing myself up onto my elbows and feeling a little dizzy from the ride.
Damien holds his hand out and, reluctantly, I take it and let him drag me to my feet.
His palm is warm and big and smooth against mine, with little callouses I haven't noticed before under his knuckles.
I hurriedly draw my hand away and ask, "So…where are we?"
He shrugs nonchalantly. "Just some private land."
My eyes widen. "Wait – we're on somebody's property?"
I look around. There's so much of it.
Then I realise, "We're trespassing!" I knew Damien would probably get me into trouble, but with the law? My pulse quickens and I can feel my breathing getting short and nervous.
"Damien, we're not supposed to be –"
"Don't worry about it," he interrupts, grabbing something from a hidden storage compartment in the seat of the bike and tucking it under his arm.
"Shut up, will you?" he snaps, pulling the keys from the ignition and putting them in his trouser pocket.
Here we go again.
"I've come with you to this random place and put up with you not explaining anything but I won't put up with you doing something illegal!"
I wait for him to retort with an equally annoyed statement, but he completely ignores me. I stare after him, my mouth open, as he starts walking further along the road, small puffs of dust flying up under his shoes.
He throws a disinterested glance over his shoulder.
"You coming or what?"
Biting back my irritation and confusion, I follow him like some submissive pet on leash, trying to guess at what he could possibly be getting me into whilst fervently trying to push down the snide voice whispering in my mind.
You just can't resist it, can you?
To all those who have been waiting these long, painful months for me to update, here is a disappointingly short and uneventful chapter.
I AM SO SORRY.
I know I said I would continue, and I have, and I'm planning to keep going - but I've had to re-read all my previous chapters (whilst cringing and moaning at my writing style and all my spelling mistakes) to get back into the story and have some good juicy stuff planned for them a little later on *cackles*
I APOLOGISE AGAIN and thank you to all those people still interested and can hopefully overlook my sudden change in writing style (these characters are now two years younger than me so I have to keep reminding myself that they're still wee babbees and are allowed to say and do silly things).