I'm Still Here
This article is pending translation
This is the first half of a thing I wrote a while back - am deep into the second story now. Not as elegant nor as developed as my more recent work, but hey! We've all got to start somewhere, right... enjoy!
I chewed the end of my pen and scratched my name into the form. I was applying for a new ID card; I’d moved since I got my last one. The sound of the front door being kicked open made me look up.
“PAUL!” came the yell. I grinned, stretched, and swung to my feet.
“What?” I yelled back, still smiling, “I know, I know, I need to fix the door; you told me this morning,” I joked. A small golden-haired thing hurled itself at me from across the hall. I caught her and kissed the top of her head. She squealed and wriggled. I breathed in the scent of her strawberry shampoo and sighed, hardly able to believe she was still alive.
Two dates stand out in my head. Two dates, two numbers, two days I doubt I’ll ever forget. One, the more recent, is August 26th. The other is the 7th of May, a fair few years apart. One is a beginning; the other an end of a kind, I guess.
Just A Girl
She waltzed in the entrance hall where I was arguing with the receptionist that Thursday morning on the 7th of May. Long hair, golden and poker straight, swung to her waist. She wasn’t tall; maybe 5’ 4’’, but her legs were endless and perfectly tanned under her little black skirt. She also had a tiny diamond stud through her tongue; it glittered in the harsh fluorescent lights of the hall. Ms. Thomas’ jaw dropped and she stared at this amazing stranger for at least a minute before the headmaster came out of his office to photocopy something and gave her a sharp disapproving glance. But then he saw December’s hair and legs and reeled backwards.
“Hi... I’m December Baker? The new girl? Sorry I’m late, except my bus was really slow and...” December said. Her voice was soft and confident, yet there was an apologetic note to it that had Mr. Jenkins quickly saying,
“Not at all, not at all, don’t worry about it! I’ll just... Ms. Thomas, where’s her schedule?” Ms. Thomas fumbled with some sheets of paper, dropping plenty of them on the floor, and gave Mr. Jenkins a Year Ten timetable. He gave it a cursory glance and passed it to December. She studied it for a moment, and smiled. Her smile was radiant; it made Mr. Jenkins blink. He turned to me and said, “Holloway, which year are you again?”
“I’m in Year Ten, sir.” She flashed an interested look at me. It was the first sign she’d shown that she’d noticed I was there.
“Holloway, which lessons do you have today?”
“Just French third period and media last.” I recited hesitatingly, confused. What was with Mr. Jenkins’ sudden desire to know my timetable?
“I’ll give you a study pass, Holloway, so you can show December to her lessons today and assist her with anything else she may need.” He was walking back towards his office now, calling back over his shoulder to us. I glanced at Ms. Thomas. She shrugged her shoulders and sighed. I sighed too, and followed Mr. Jenkins into his office. He scribbled on a study pass for me and shooed us away; I think he wanted to sit down for a moment to shake the shock of December off. I walked down the corridor, trying to studiously ignore December at my side. But she danced along beside me silently until I could take it no more.
“Okay, what have you got first lesson?” I asked, twisting round suddenly. She looked at me for a moment, smirked, then answered, “Double Maths with-”
“Simpsons?” She nodded. “Okay, let’s go.” The maths department was on the other side of the school. I turned back the way we’d come and she swayed along beside me. I found the way she moved disconcerting – she floated and danced, never a still moment.
“Which As have you taken?” She asked me.
“Media, maths, French and social,” I answered, slightly shocked. Only our group called A-Levels As. The other kids were oblivious (or terrified of us beating the crap out of them). KatÏa, my best friend Jason’s girlfriend, is the only person in lower school who calls them As. She’s year eleven. It’s rubbed off on her because she spends so much time in our sixth room. “Which Cs have you taken?”
“Drama, social, French. I wanted to take history but just couldn’t fit it in.” We were almost in the maths department. A group of lower sixth lads passed us and winked at me behind December’s back but I swore at them and walked a little faster. I practically skidded to a stop outside of Simpsons’ room. “We’re here.”
“Where are you going?” she asked me.
“Uhh, downtown for half hour then I’m probably going into the studio for a bit.” I shrugged.
“What’s the studio?” December sounded curious; she was suddenly really intense, gazing at me with shocking dark blue eyes.
“It’s our TV and photography studio; we’ve got a couple of TV sets and a load of photo stuff; screens and cameras and airbrushing stuff,” I answered warily. “Only sixth media studies are allowed in and our runners from year nine.”
“Wow,” she breathed. Her face lit up and was terrifyingly gorgeous so I shoved open the classroom door and said to smelly Simpsons, “Here you are, sir. December Baker.” I turned to December. “See ya later.” She touched my arm lightly and said “Thank you.”
“I bet she’s a proper slapper.” Chuck announced vividly after I’d debriefed him, Jason and Ben on December.
“Gross, dude,” Ben told him. We were sitting in the Mocha in town. I’d totally freaked after leaving December at maths and dragged my three best mates away from Kathy from English lits experiment to see how long it was possible to microwave a can of Pepsi and a bottle of rum (not long).
“He’s not wrong, though,” Jason said thoughtfully. “She’s a St. Lukes, yeah?”
“Yeah,” I admitted.
“So she’s probably a right goer. KatÏa’s cousin is from there and apparently she’s always out,” Jason grinned suddenly at me. “Get in there if I were you.” I groaned and shoved him. He pushed me back but the waitress started eying us evilly so we left before we got kicked out again.
We spent a decent hour sitting on the wall with a bottle of Guinness each and the new Ministry Of Sound album blaring from Jason’s netbook. (It is proper good; he had these new speakers installed. The bass is mind-blowing.) I had meant to go to the studio but it was too pleasant just sitting in the sun to spend time under the studio lights. Unfortunately we heard the bell going up at school so reluctantly I got up to go back. Jason said he’d come with me because he had double construction and Miss Bené had threatened to kick him out if he missed another lesson. We were halfway up to school when Jason blurted, “Why don’t you like December?”
“I don’t not like her. She's just... she’s so flawless. Like she asked me which As I was doing. I mean, only KatÏa knows what we call A-Levels apart from us. And I asked which Cs she was doing, and she knew what that was as well. Do you know she wanted to do an extra GCSE? She wants to do history as well as social and drama and French. Who wants to do history? No-one in our year opted for history.” I rambled.
“Yeah, but isn’t flawless, like, a good thing?” Jason looked confused. I sighed and gave up.
“I guess.” Jason shoved open the front doors and we split; he went upstairs to Miss Dené’s classroom (he was ten minutes late but at least he’d gone.) I trudged past the overexcited crowds of year eights down to maths to find December.
I found her leaning on a wall in the middle of first floor main corridor. Sean Cummings from lower sixth was leaning over her with a leer on his ugly mug. I stood with my arms folded by his shoulder until he sensed my presence and turned round. I raised my eyebrows at him.
“Excuse me,” he sneered, “we’re busy.”
“Not any more you’re not. Scoot, crackhead” I told him. I glanced at December and she ducked from under his arm to stand behind me. Sean looked shocked and quickly straightened up.
“What the - you? And her? But she’s like, proper hot!” he insisted incredulously.
December glared at him witheringly from under my arm. “So is he. Unlike you.” She looked him up and down, smirking. He slunk away and I had a hard time not laughing. She looked up at me, giggling. I rolled my eyes and stomped off down the corridor, grinning to myself. She danced along at my side. “Where are we going?”
“To your next class would be a good idea.” I grinned at her. She pouted.
“Class is boring.” She pointed out. “Can’t I go with you?”
“Because skipping on your first day is not a good idea; and I have French now.” I answered her. She sighed loudly. I restrained a smile. She was like a puppy being stopped from playing with their favourite toy. “What have you got next?”
“Are you making me go?”
“I’ve got chemistry in room 71 with Miller.”
“Okay. Come on then.” This time the swaying model walk was gone and December trailed behind me, looking mournful and sighing sadly. This time I couldn’t help myself. I glanced back to make sure she was still following and I laughed at her. She immediately burst back into life and bounded to my side.
“I made you laugh!” She was delighted with herself.
“You did.” I rolled my eyes at her. She walked at my side quietly for a second.
“Did you mean it when you told Sean I was cute?” I teased her. She giggled and rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, I did,” she smirked at me. I smiled back and then stopped. We were outside room 71. “Here you go. Don’t blow anyone up. Or let Miller blow anyone up.”
“I’ll try my best.” She was about to go in when she paused and cocked her head to the side. “You know something?”
“What?” I was curious to know what was going on in her (slightly weird) head now.
“I don’t know your name.”
“Oh, you don’t, do you.” I realised. “My name’s Paul.”
She smiled at me. “See you later then, Paul.”
“See ya, December.” I turned and walked away, to my French class. But I couldn’t quite concentrate on conjugating verbs.
I soon got used to her following me everywhere. I even began to sort-of like her; she was kind of sweet and so persistent I couldn’t help it.
I was sprawled across one of the sofas in the sixth form block lounge a few days later, idly mucking about on Facebook with a coffee when I heard a commotion outside the door. December was safely installed in English. Or so I thought, because a couple of minutes later Tinner stuck his head round the door and hollered, “Oi, Paul, come ‘ere!”
“Some bird at the door wants you. Legs like beanpoles and fit as hell.” Tinner is a proper skinhead; hardly ever sober and as dirty-minded as it gets.
“Right.” I turned to the three guys and Joann who were manning the door. The guys were gawking; Joann looked grim and was glaring threateningly at the girl outside. I had a hunch who it might be. “Let her in, guys.” They all shifted to the side and - proving that my hunch was right - December sashayed in, blew a kiss at Jason on the other side of the room, and threw herself onto the sofa next to me. Everyone stared shamelessly. Year Tens didn’t come into the sixth form block. She sneered at them all and said, “So, Paul. Watup.”
“Wassup, December,” I greeted her. I pushed my laptop to one side and grabbed my cup. “Wanna drink?”
“Go on then.”
I wandered over to the kettle and flicked the switch. “Coffee?”
“Black, two sugar please.” She watched me spooning coffee into cups. It was unnerving. I carried the cup across to her and sat down carefully, trying not to spill my drink. Nobody was talking; they were looking at December. The girls were staring in varying degrees of annoyance – who was this little Year Ten who had infiltrated their territory like she belonged? The lads were all gazing in wonder. I rolled my eyes at Jason, who was sniggering at everyone’s expressions. He grinned back and got up to stroll over to the fridge. He grabbed a yogurt and went, “Geez, people. It’s just a girl.” Everyone broke out of their weird trance and carried on with whatever they were doing.
“This sixth form is kind of odd. Do they do that to everyone?” December asked me, her eyebrows pulling together worriedly.
“No. It’s just you.” I reassured her. She relaxed and leaned on my shoulder. I shifted uncomfortably. She’d got into the habit of finding some excuse to touch me whenever she was with me. It wasn’t that I didn’t like her; she was proper friendly and a good laugh, but she was three years younger than me. It was just a little weird. But I shook it off; she was just a mate. Tinner was eyeing her from across the room. December looked straight at him, flicking her hair a little and he came over and sat down next to us on the sofa. I tried not to roll my eyes, but December saw me twitch, and giggled. Tinner (the big-headed moron), thought she was giggling at him. He started talking to her and I tried not to listen. He is the most obvious flirt I have ever heard. December seemed happy enough flirting back, but when he mentioned his birthday party on Saturday evening, she widened her eyes and said innocently, “Me? Oh, I couldn’t. I hardly know anyone in the sixth form. I’m sure I’d just spoil things for you.” And she threw me a sideways glance. I wondered why. Evidently Tinner saw it, because he replied, “But Paul’s coming, aren’t you Paulo?” I nodded. Tinner was a slaphead; but he could be decent at times and he throws real good parties.
That seemed to change December’s mind. She, seemingly reluctantly, said, “Well, I suppose I might be able to come for a little while. I mean, I guess I’m not going to get to know anyone if I don’t try, am I?” She smiled really prettily at Tinner and ducked under my arm. Tinner’s face darkened a shade, but he agreed with her enthusiastically and went off to put vodka in Joann’s coffee while she was menacing some new Year Sevens who had got lost and wandered into our block by mistake.
“He’s kind of sweet.” December said absently, watching me comment on Chuck’s status. I snorted.
“Sweet? Tinner?” I raised my eyebrows at her. “Gimme a break, kid.” She pouted at me; she didn’t like being called a kid. I grinned at her. She was kind of cute when she pouted. I patted her head. “Don’t worry; you’ll grow.” She tried to shove me off but then Joann practically had a nervous breakdown (because of the vodka) and everyone evacuated the room.
Tinner cornered me later that day in the studio. He stood looking at me while I worked on polishing a plan for another in-school TV project for someone’s GCSE’s.
After ten minutes, I shoved away the pages of the screenplay and said, “What, Tinner?” he looked awkward; I’d never seen Tinner look awkward.
“It’s about that girl, Paul. The one with the funny name.”
“What? December?” I felt a tinge of annoyance. Why did he care?
“Yeah, her. Are you and her, like, together? Because I reckon she’s real hot and all.”
I studied him for a second. He’s not bad-looking, is Tinner; tallish and his eyes are really dark and soft. In fact, except for his pyromaniac tendencies, he’s a good guy. But, for some reason, I really didn’t want him within ten feet of December. Idiotically, I didn’t tell him that. I just said “No, we’re not together.” And went back to bringing a hundred-page screenplay for the first episode of a GCSE three-episode TV program to life.
It was Saturday evening. It was half eight, and I was still only part-dressed. I could not decide what I was going to wear. (And I know I sound like a girl.) I was meant to be picking December, Jason and KatÏa up at nine. I had my jeans on, but no shirt. i couldn’t decide between my thin black sweater or a normal t-shirt. Was it cold enough for a sweater? I opened my window and stuck my head out. Jesus, it was like thirty degrees outside. I ducked back inside and dragged a shirt over my head. Mum came in while I was half-in, half-out of it, so I pulled my shirt down quickly and went, “Hey, Mum. Wassup?”
“Phone for you, Paul.” She said. I took it from her.
It was Jason. Him and KatÏa weren’t coming; KatÏa had a cold and Jason didn’t feel like coming without her. I dropped the phone on my bed and leant down to grab my skate trainers from under the bed. As I was dodging out the door, Mum said, “Have a good time, Paul”, smiling at me from the lounge. I grinned back and took my keys from the hook.
My car is an Audi R8. That makes me sound really stuck up and rich. I’m not. I got it from my neighbour’s son, who is rich and stuck up. When he sold his car, it was a little banged up because his little brother has terminal road rage and access to the R8’s keys. I got it for £800 for my birthday last year. It was my present to myself. I fixed it up and it looks as good as new. I love it, and so does everyone else. Therefore I always seem to have to pick everyone up. But not tonight, it seemed. Tonight I was just picking December up. I was a bit nervous. I didn’t know what to do about her. She seemed to like me, but, as I said before, she was three years younger than me. People like Tinner and Chuck wouldn’t really care about that sort of thing, but I did. I tried to forget about it and concentrated on having a good time at Tinner’s party.
I drove down Wicker Road, which is full of posh four-bed detached houses with enormous gardens, two garages and drives. December had told me that she lived at number 39. I crawled along, trying to see the numbers in the falling dusk but it ended up that I didn’t need to see them. I was halfway up the road when she came flying out of a house with a 4x4 and an old Mustang in the drive. I stopped the car and pushed the door open for her; she slid into the car, and my jaw dropped. She was wearing a snakeskin-patterned sheath dress teamed with 4 inch killer black stilettos and her hair was wavy with a load of pink glitter in it. She looked amazing and I felt underdressed by comparison. She caught me staring at her with my mouth open and she shifted self-consciously.
“Is it too much?” she asked me worriedly
“No, no! You look proper gorgeous,” I reassured her, “I just feel underdressed.” I laughed. She eyed me critically, and this time it was her jaw dropping as she saw my trainers. “Are they Ed Hardy?” she gasped, her eyes dancing in the dim light.
“Yeah,” I admitted. They’re pretty expensive, Hardy Skaters. I try to keep them low-profile; expensive shoes are way not cool for the sixth form guys in our school. December didn’t seem to think so. She looked like she was about to explode.
“Wow,” she breathed, and looked up at me. Her dark blue eyes danced; they were breathtaking. She was breathtaking. I slowed down; for the moment, I couldn’t concentrate on driving. I could only study her face. Her sharp cheekbones; her wide eyes. She looked at me the way I was looking at her. Her eyes widened a little, and I wondered what she saw.
An impatient driver behind us flashed his lights. I realised we had slowed almost to a standstill and, embarrassed, I stepped on the accelerator. Neither of us spoke until I’d pulled into Tinner’s driveway. Then she said, “Will there be booze?”
“Good.” She opened the car door and stepped out. I didn’t move. But I thought I heard her say, as the front door opened and people spilled into the night, “I’m going to need it.”
Ten minutes later, I got out the car and followed her in. I saw her almost immediately; in a crowd of Year Elevens, with what looked like half a bottle of vodka in her hand. I veered away. I couldn’t face her just then. Instead I slid unnoticed through the crowds into the bathroom (which was strangely empty; I guess no-one was drunk enough to be puking yet) where I studied myself in the mirror. Was I attractive? It was hard to tell. When you look at yourself in the mirror, it’s such a familiar sight it’s impossible to look at your reflection critically. A noise behind me made me look round. Kathy from English Lit. had just fallen through the door. She looked kind of green and headed straight for the toilet. Obviously she was drunk enough to be puking. I sighed and pulled her hair back from her face. She must have puked for five, ten minutes; enough for my arm to go numb and for her to be almost crying from the effort. When she finally stopped I got up silently and passed her a glass of water and some tissues. She took it gratefully and rinsed her mouth out.
“Sorry about that.” She sounded hoarse and embarrassed.
“Don't worry about it.” I shook her apology off. “It’s not your fault.” She laughed, but had to turn round to puke again.
“Urgh.” She shook her head. “This is horrible. I think I’ll just go home.”
“Kathy, I don’t think you should be driving.”
“Good point.” She considered. “I’ll go to my aunt’s. She only lives down the bottom of the street, and she won’t tell my mum.”
“Good Idea. Come on.” I made her wait by the door while I found her jacket, then I led her down the street to her aunt’s. I felt eyes on me as I walked away. I could guess who they belonged to, but I ignored them and I didn’t turn around.
As I ducked back into Tinner’s house after dropping Kathy off, I saw her out the corner of my eye. December was watching from the kitchen window, but when I turned to look at her, she turned and ran.
I searched the whole house for her, and eventually located her on a balcony-type thing through a firedoor. I sat down next to her and suddenly realised, with a slight shock, that she was crying. Small, sad sobs like she couldn’t quite breath properly. I forget my principles and wrapped my arms around her shoulders. She curled into my side and slowly, she stopped crying. I patted her back and shushed her. She sniffed and said in a small voice, still curled up against me, “Paul?”
“Don’t you like me?” She sounded so upset I tightened my arms instinctively.
“’Course I do, silly.” I laughed softly. “How could you think that I didn’t?”
“You never seem comfortable when I’m around, and when we got here, you just disappeared.” She sniffed again, “You know in the lounge the other day?”
“I only said I’d come because you were coming.” I looked down at her, but couldn’t seem to smile. I was confused; what was she saying?
“I didn’t think I’d make many friends here,” she continued, “I don’t make friends easily. I’m too... upfront, I think, sometimes, for some people. But you were just....”she shook her head and laughed softly. “I didn’t think you liked me; that I was disrupting your day. Then I made you laugh. I made you happy, if only for a moment or two. That was a nice feeling.” She cocked her head to one side, “A nice feeling. I liked it.” She smiled at me again, then fell silent. Neither of us spoke for a few minutes. I was thinking hard, trying to order what she’d just said into my concept of normal. It wouldn’t fit. I sighed. December sighed as well, then said, “Paul; I know I’m a little bit...spacey. But isn’t that a good thing sometimes?” I wasn’t listening to her words; I was concentrating more on what she was doing. She’d uncurled and had wrapped her arms round my neck. I couldn’t move. I didn’t understand. She was a breath away from kissing me when I put my hands on her waist and pushed her away. Her eyes were confused – she didn’t understand what I was doing. “Paul-”
“December,” I interrupted, “I’m sorry, I wish I could!!! But I’m Upper Sixth! You’re Year Ten. It’s a three year difference. It’s just-just-I’m so sorry.” I whispered. She stared at me, and her eyes grew huge. I couldn’t bear it, so I took the coward’s way out. I pushed her away from me and left. As I did, I heard her begin to cry. Huge, heartbroken sobs. Each one hit me as if I was the one crying, and I didn’t get far before I had to sink to the floor and bury my face in my hands. And it was then, with the sounds of laughter below and the broken cries from across the hall, that I wished I’d not stopped her. But I couldn’t go back. And then I realised something else, something which made me howl like a heart-broken wolf. I realised, sitting alone on the landing in my friend’s house, that I loved December Baker.
When Hearts Break
I didn’t see her for weeks, maybe months. She was in school, and so was I, but I spent every second of my free time in town with my friends or hidden in the studio. My estimated media mark soared to A*; my other marks crashed-landed and buried themselves beneath the lino flooring of the hallways. My teachers said they were disappointed and confused at my behaviour.
At home I argued and slammed doors; my relationship with mum shattered and died. I spent a lot of time getting drunk, and I was picked up by the police four times in a week. They dropped me home and told my mum to let me sleep it off. She was so angry and upset; we’d had a good relationship, and she didn’t understand what had happened.
Of course, I heard rumours. Someone reported that she was with Sean Cummings; someone else had seen her with Jack Benson from Year Eleven. I listened to each rumour with rapt attention, but hid it from everyone. Jason had wondered why I was never with her anymore; I yelled at him to shut up and he complied, although he looked worried and I could tell he thought I was losing it.
I saw Kathy a lot. She came looking for me in the studio after that terrible party and apologised for puking everywhere. I told her it was alright, that I hadn't minded. She smiled at me, and next time I went downtown, I found myself asking her to come with me. She was a good listener, but knew not to pry. Neither was she quiet. She could always find something to talk about and she was a brilliant friend, but I found myself missing December. With Kathy it was strictly no-contact. Although it had made me nervous, I missed the way December had always leant on my shoulder, or found some other reason to touch me. I tried to stop thinking about her because it hurt. I concentrated on Kathy instead. She was pretty and a lot of boys in Sixth would be more than happy to have her as a friend, although she usually just laughed at them - It made me wonder why she’d agreed to my invitation. As if it mattered.
We were in the Mocha eating chips at lunch sometime in the middle of autumn. I was toying with my chips – I wasn’t really hungry – when Kathy cleared her throat and dropped her fork. I glanced up from my coffee cup. She’d gone a little red and it took me a second to realise that she was embarrassed.
“Paul,” she said awkwardly “I, uh, want to ask you something.” I gazed at her, bewildered. What? When I didn’t say anything, she blushed further and continued.
“I...you know the Senior Lit. dinner?” I nodded mutely. The Lit. dinner is kind of famous in our school. You can only go if you’re an A-Level English Literature student or if you’ve been invited by one. The Lit. students can only bring one guest though, because it’s a proper formal thing.
“Well, I was wondering... I wanted to know..” I’d never seen anyone go so red before. It was fascinating to watch but also unnerving. “...Umm, well, do you want to go with me?” Kathy blurted, then immediately clapped a hand over her mouth as if she’d said something bad. I just carried on gazing at her for a second as my brain processed what she’d just said, then I went, “To the Lit. dinner? With you?”
“Kathy... I don’t know... I mean, why ask me? I’m not really that special.” I mumbled.
“I like you.” She answered softly. “You’re different, Paul,” Pain shot through me as i was reminded of December’s words not that many weeks ago. How many weeks had it been since I’d seen her? Eight, nine? Too long. I scrambled out of my chair and ran out of the Mocha, back up to school. I heard Kathy calling after me, but I didn’t stop until I’d reached the studio, threw myself into the recording room and slammed the ON AIR button. The doors airlocked and I collapsed in a corner, my face buried in my hands as I realised what I’d done. Poor, poor Kathy. What was wrong with me? Why did I have to hurt everyone? I was stupid and selfish and... I couldn’t think of anything bad enough to describe myself. I didn’t deserve people like Kathy as friends, or people like December, either. I wanted to stay here forever, in this warm little room with the doors locked. I wished I could. I wished so hard I didn’t know the bell had gone until there was a commotion outside the Studio door. I heard Mr. Caraway’s voice outside. I leapt to my feet when he hammered on the door and ran to let him in. He glared at me.
“Why was the door locked?” He demanded.
“Sorry, sir,” I grinned weakly. “I went in to work on a GCSE piece, and I went into the recording room to measure for some set designs, and I guess I must have sealed the doors by mistake.” He didn’t look convinced, but he couldn’t really say anything so just swept inside with his Lower Sixth media class.
I tried to apologise to Kathy, but she wouldn’t reply to my texts and whenever I tried to make eye contact she studiously looked through me. A couple of days later I heard she was going to the dinner with Tom Williams.
I spent most of my time alone now. I didn’t trust myself not to hurt anyone again. I avoided Jason and although I could tell he knew something was wrong, he didn’t push it. I was grateful for that.
When exam season started again, I was relieved. Now every day I could immerse myself in recording. There was so much to do; the GCSE projects, and my design on top of that. I stayed late most nights on my own, polishing and editing and designing. I rarely went home before seven. Then I stayed up studying for my other exams – French, Social, Maths. I cursed myself for taking social; there wasn’t really a lot to study for, we’d already been assigned the coursework, and that counted for 75% of our mark. Luckily maths was wretchedly difficult and I had to study for hours. I didn’t want to sleep. I’d started having dreams. No, they weren’t dreams; they were nightmares.
In my nightmare I’m standing on a beach. It’s proper sunny, and I’m wearing shorts and no shirt. I start to smile; it’s lovely here, and there’s no hint of anything bad, anything of the things that haunt me when I’m awake. I sit down, and then I see someone walking towards me. A few seconds later, I realise it’s a girl. A girl with a lot of pretty blonde hair and a long yellow t-shirt over a swimming costume. A lump forms in my throat. It’s December. She reaches my side and sits next to me. But she doesn’t lean on my shoulder like she usually would, and that’s weird. I start to feel that something’s wrong. But then she turns to me, and says, “It’s okay. I’ll be okay. I’ll be fine,” and she’s sobbing, and I don’t know why, then Kathy appears out of the trees behind me and tells me coldly that it’s my fault, all of it. Usually that’s about when I wake up, gasping for breath and shaking violently. I have to sit for a while before I calm down. But I can’t go back to sleep because I know I’ll dream again.
The last week of school before Christmas. I’d almost finished all my media coursework and was in the studio just checking over the short film that I’d produced. I only had theory after this; that was during the actual exams, so I didn’t need to do anything for that because I knew media inside and out. There were quite a few people in the studio with me – our Year Nine runners helping Mr. Caraway and Sarah Thompson, the student teacher, tidy the studio, what seemed like every media student in Sixth and their friends, all eating chips and crisps and drinking coke or Irn Bru in the main section even though Mr. Caraway had yelled at them enough times. Then there was the groups of GCSE students who’d been finishing their projects. There was just the noticeable exception of Tinner’s loud voice, but it was still well crowded and I only just had enough room to work, but I didn’t mind. Spirits were high and we were talking and laughing so loudly that I almost imagined that none of the last few months had happened. Almost.
The bell had just gone for lunch and everyone was trying to decide whether to go into town for a last-day lunch or to stay here with their chips when there was a commotion by the door. I heard people saying “You can’t come in here.” over and over. Mr. Caraway was snoring in the corner (after Jim from drama studies had smuggled six eight-packs of lager in) and Sarah was flirting with two Lit. students that I didn’t know. Then there was the sound of someone falling over and someone else yelled “OW!!! You little-” Something pushed through the crowd of people, knocking them over like skittles, and December flung herself at me. She looked a mess. Her hair had gone curly and was sticking up, her make-up was streaked with tears and she looked like she hadn’t slept for days. She was still the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Then I got over the shock of seeing her and noticed that she was crying. Big, scared sobs that made her shoulders shake. I loosened her arms from around my waist and crouched down in front of her. I searched her face but couldn’t see anything through the tears apart from fear. Even a blind man couldn’t have missed the terrified look on her face.
“December?” I asked. She gulped and said shakily, “I’m okay, it’ll be fine, I’m fine.” I had a awful sense of Déjà Vu. She dissolved into more tears and wailed, “Paul, what am I going to do?” into my shirt. I lifted her up and carried her out of the studio, away from everyone’s staring eyes, out of school and down a little path into the woods next to our school. I sat on a log with her on my lap and shushed her and told her it would be okay. Gradually she quietened a little and loosened her vice-like grip on my shirt.
She sat up and wiped her eyes. Silently I passed her a tissue. A few minutes later, after she’d wiped her face and blown her nose, I said warily, “What’s the matter, December?” She looked up at me, her tear stained face looking even more haunted than before, and mumbled, “What could I do? No-one to help me except for you, no-one would care, and I know you probably hate me, but what can I do?”
“December, why would I hate you?” I was bewildered. I had no idea what she was going on about, and now she thought I hated her? She was the one with the reason to hate me, not the other way round. She blinked, looking a little like a goldfish for a moment, and said, “But after that stupid party, you avoided me. I thought about coming to find you, but then I thought I shouldn’t because you already had reason enough to hate me, and I didn’t want to make it worse-”
“I have absolutely no reason to hate you,” I interrupted her “I thought you hated me! I was so horrible to you, I just left you and I didn’t really have that good a reason for saying no anyway.” No-one spoke for a second. We were both confused as each other. I remembered her tears and reminded her gently, “Why were you crying, December? What’s the matter?” She wavered; I could tell she wanted to tell me but didn’t want to at the same time. I prompted her. “Please tell me,”
“I didn’t want to; I was upset.” She pleaded. “I can’t tell my parents, they’d kick me out. I told him but then he disappeared; he wouldn’t pick up the phone and I went to his house but he was never there. I have no-one else to tell, I don’t really have that many friends I can tell that sort of thing apart from you but I thought you hated me-” she stopped suddenly, “You don’t hate me do you?”
“No.” She was driving me insane. “What are you talking about, December?” She gulped. I lifted her chin up so that I could see her eyes. They shifted guiltily. I said, maybe a little more sharply than I’d intended, “Tell me. Please, December.”
She sighed and unwrapped her arms from my waist, folding them defensively. She mumbled something that I couldn’t quite hear. I groaned. She was being so annoying.
She looked straight at me, switching into defensive mode in embarrassment. “I’m pregnant.”