Paper Trails

chapter six: space invaders

WITH HER mechanical pencil to the page of her sketchbook, Aurora scrawled meticulously, forming several small lines on the curve of her drawing. Her eyebrows remained knotted as she focused when suddenly, her pencil lead snapped, jolting her back to reality.

Aurora looked over her sketch for several moments before with a huff, she tore the page from the book and crumpled it up, stuffing it into her backpack to join the other rejects. She sighed and brought the pencil back to the paper, beginning anew.

Seated in one of the stairwells, safely tucked against the wall of an alcove beneath the stairs, Aurora had been spending most of her lunch periods over the past month. It was quiet and relatively secluded, the only noise being from people occasionally passing through. She didn't mind spending her time in the cafeteria, but when it came to doing art, she needed that peace and quiet.

The doors leading from the hallway opened and somebody entered the stairwell. For a brief second, Aurora peered up; a guy with a maroon hoodie and tanned pants sped by and she aptly looked away. Her eyes snapped back to the person when she realized that it was Griffin. He took a double take of her, as well, and stopped himself before the exit.

"Hey," he said.

Aurora set her pencil on the page. "Oh, hi."

He walked up and casually leaned against the wall, adjusting his hat on his head. He looked good, she thought, blushing.

"What's up?" he asked.

"Um, I'm just trying to draw, but I'm a little stumped."

He stood there for a moment. Aurora watched with curiosity as he hesitated, before he came and sat down beside her.

Her heartrate picked up and her face lit up at their proximity. He was so close to her, their arms were nearly brushing and she could smell him, which was confusing because he smelled both like clean laundry and cigarettes. Griffin attempted to catch a peek at her drawing but she clutched it to her chest, hiding it.

"What, I can't see it?" he asked, and she shook her head. "Why not?"

"Maybe when it's finished."

"Fair enough." They fell silent, in which Aurora tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and Griffin fiddled with the string of his hoodie. A few people walked through the stairwell, glancing at the two as they passed. Aurora recognized one of them as Saavi, her friend from class. The girl halted and opened her mouth to say hi, but stopped herself half-way through when her eyes landed on Griffin. She made some strange, suggestive look before skittering out the doors.

Aurora could feel Griffin's eyes on her.

"Okay then," he said.

"Oh, that's Saavi, my friend," she mumbled.

"Oh. I didn't know you had any friends." Aurora blinked at him and Griffin pinched the bridge of his nose, squinting his eyes shut. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean—" He sighed in exasperation and met her stare. "It's just, every time I see you, you're by yourself or with your family."

When she giggled with good nature, hiding her smile with her hand, he raised his eyebrows in surprise. "It's okay, Griffin... I knew what you meant."

"Okay..." He laughed and scratched at his neck. "That was kind of a stupid thing for me to say."

"No, it's okay, really. You aren't wrong. Saavi is the only friend I've made here, and she's normally busy with clubs."

"Oh." He averted his eyes. "I don't really have many friends, either. Well, I guess I have two."

"Two isn't so bad."

"I'm not complaining."

"Me neither."

Once more, an awkward silence filled the stairwell. Aurora's eyes drifted across the floor. She didn't necessarily want Griffin to leave, but she was somewhat confused as to why he was staying. They hadn't talked since she'd basically stalked him home, so why now? She peeked at him from her peripheral vision, noting the way his stare moved aimlessly around the room, much in the way hers did when she was at a loss for words. When he glanced at her, she looked away.

"So-o," he began, and she lifted her head. "How've you been holding up?"

She smiled. "I've been good. And you?"

"Fine. Uh..." He scratched his head, before blurting, "Hey, can I see your phone?"

"Hm?" Aurora curiously tilted her head to the side. Griffin held out his hand and she looked at him with confusion, but took her pale blue iPhone from her pocket and gave it to him, anyway. After typing for a moment, he handed it back to her. Her eyes widened at the screen.

He had put his name in her phone with a Space Invaders emoticon next to it.

"Text me if you ever wanna talk," he said, standing up. She looked up at him, bugged-eyed, probably looking like a complete weirdo. But what was she supposed to think? A boy had never put his number in her phone before.

"Oh, um, okay. Sure."

He offered her one last awkward half-smirk before disappearing out of the stairwell, leaving her baffled.

It was Friday, and during her lunch period, Aurora decided to sit in the cafeteria. She had forgotten to pack a lunch the night before so she was left with stale cafeteria fries and apple juice, though she didn't mind. She didn't have much of an appetite that day, anyway, and the fries were left mostly untouched.

Her notes on Hamlet were outstretched on the table before her. With her left hand, she held open the tiny book, and with her right, she jotted down facts she thought important on the scene she was studying.

Her phone was stationed beside her apple juice-box, and Aurora found herself glancing at it more often than not. It wasn't the phone itself that was a distraction, more so, it was the number programmed into it that was taunting her.

To text him, or not to text him, she mused, before mentally groaning, cursing herself for having such a lame thought. It had been a couple of days since Griffin gave her his number and she still hadn't said a thing to him.

"Hiya, Rory Riley!" a voice chimed from behind her. Aurora dropped her book on her lap and clumsily picked it up. Flustered, she raised her eyes to meet the deep brown gaze of Saavi Tamboli. The beautiful Indian-American girl smiled a toothy white smile and Aurora's face flushed. Saavi wasn't typically the type of person who would be interested in being friends with her, yet over the past month or so of school, she had reached out to her as though they had been friends forever.

"Oh, hi, Saavi," Aurora said. Saavi slid into the seat opposing her and leaned forward, clasping her hands together.

"How's it hanging?"

"Um, it hangs," she muttered. Saavi laughed wholeheartedly.

"Good, good." A mischievous smirk tugged at her lips. "So, you and Griffin, huh?"

"What?" The colour drained from Aurora's face. She had been anticipating this, but was hoping that Saavi wouldn't pester her about it. Trying to keep her cool, she said, "Griffin? What about him?"

"Are you guys together or what?"

"Well, no..."

"Oh, come on! You asked about him on the first day, and a month later I'm seeing you guys all close to each other in the stairwell. Don't leave me hanging, Rory!"

"Well, we barely know each other."

"But he likes you, right?"

"No—I mean, I don't think so..." Aurora trailed off, thinking of Griffin and the way he put his number in her phone. She met Saavi's eager gaze. She had been thinking of telling Kiara or Willa about her exchange with him, but decided against it in fear that they would make into something it wasn't. Apparently, Saavi was already two steps ahead of them. "Well, he did sort of put his number in my phone," she confessed, and Saavi's jaw dropped.

"No way. He totally likes you!"

"Wha..." She picked up her juice box and nibbled at the straw. "Do you really think so?"

"I'd bet on it. Griffin never sits with anyone who isn't Damaris Cruz or Anton Brooks. Literally. The fact that he was with you is super weird."

Aurora shifted her weight. "Even if he does... is it really that weird?"

"If he really likes you, then yeah, it's kind of a big deal." Saavi leaned in and subtly pointed behind her. "See that girl over there?"

Aurora tilted her head back. Saavi was gesturing towards a slender girl who was leaving the cafeteria line with a tray. Her shoulder-length, dirty-blonde hair was messy in a way that looked stylish, complimented by the black beanie she wore on her head. She was clad in a black hoodie-vest over a white shirt and tight, torn up jeans. Aurora's first thought was that she had beautiful, fox-like features. Her sharp stare caught Aurora staring at her and she immediately narrowed her eyes. Aurora flushed and looked away.

"Um, who is she?" Aurora asked,

"That's Paige Gleeson," Saavi said. "Apparently she's been in love with Griffin for like, ever, but he refuses to date her, or anyone else, for that matter. He's never had a girlfriend."

She was quiet for a moment. "Really?" She wasn't sure why butterflies were running through her stomach, but what Saavi was saying had her attention more than she cared to admit. "Do you know why?"

"And that's the big question, isn't it? He's a good looking guy, could easily get a girlfriend, yet he's never had one. The leading theory amongst the girls here is that he's gay, but I'm pretty sure they just made that up because they can't handle the fact that he doesn't like any of them."

"I see," Aurora said, playing with the straw of her juice-box.

Could Griffin really like me like that?

"Mm-hmm," Saavi said.

"No," she mumbled. "No, he wouldn't like me like that. We're acquaintances, at best."

"Well, have you texted him?"

"Not yet."

"Then get on it!" she exclaimed, standing up. "By the way, there's this party-thing happening at the beach tonight... you've probably already heard of it. It's kind of an annual thing at this time of the year."

"Oh, for sure," Aurora said, nodding, though she actually hadn't heard a word about it.

"You should come! You could invite Griffin." Saavi winked. "He never comes, but if you're there, maybe he will. What do you say?"

Aurora bit her lip. Her, at a party? She couldn't even bare to think about the last party she'd attended with Kiara and Willa, where some jerk had pushed her in the pool. She hadn't been wearing a bra under her dress, and, well...

"I don't know about that, Saavi."

"Just give it some thought, okay? I'll text you with the details. See ya!"

"Okay... I will."

Saavi smiled at her once more before teetering out of the cafeteria. Aurora stared after her, her false smile melting away.

The party was almost certainly a no-go. After the whole no-bra fiasco, Aurora had banished herself from group social activities. But going to the beach sounded kind of nice, and if she invited Griffin, maybe they could just... spend some time alone together. Or something.

Aurora kind of liked that idea.

She picked up her phone and looked at it, catching the reflection of her blue eyes in its black surface. It wasn't that she didn't want to text Griffin, rather, she wasn't sure if she should. A part of her felt like he'd only given her his number as some sort of courtesy gesture; it was a social anxiety she had been dealing with since socializing became a part of her world. Her father's voice echoed in the back of her mind.

"If a person you like reaches their hand to you, you should take it, because rest assured, people don't try to forge friendships with those they don't see something in."

So does he see something in me? Or does he just feel bad because I was attacked?

Aurora knew she wasn't ugly, as she was a triplet and her two sisters were both radiant. She at least had something going for her, but still, Aurora was, quite literally, the runt of her litter. She was the last born of the three and the weakest; during her birth, she almost didn't make it. Willa and Kiara had almost been twins.

While her two sisters were often called beautiful or stunning by family members and friends, Aurora had always been the cute one. She was the small one. At 5'2, she was a few inches shorter than her sisters and her frame was far less developed. She didn't have the curves that Willa and Kiara had and thought of herself as more reminiscent of a washboard. She definitely wasn't hot, which was what ran through her mind when she looked at that Paige girl who Griffin apparently didn't want.

What am I thinking, anyway? I don't have a crush on Griffin. I don't even know him.

Grumbling to herself, she put her phone away began organizing her belongings.

When she thought about Griffin Salazar, her heart did more than race—her entire chest lurched. Maybe that was just because whenever she saw him or whenever he was mentioned, she didn't just picture him, she pictured the boy from that night. The boy who had saved her.

Now that boy had a face, a reputation and a persona. She'd heard someone say something about him in the hall a few weeks ago—that he was an asshole, a jerk who didn't care about anyone but himself, but that didn't seem true. No, Griffin was a kind person—Aurora was certain of that.

She neatly tucked her notes into her backpack and stood up, slinging the bag over her shoulder. From the windows that led to the hallway, she spotted Griffin walking towards the exit with Damaris and Anton. He glanced at her as he passed and she looked away, reminding herself that she wasn't looking for a boyfriend. But then again, she wasn't exactly not looking for one, either.