In the end, Mum and Dad came home and caught Emily with all the teens in our basement. Thanks to Luc, I managed to get away cleanly, while Emily was shouldered with the usual grounding. Though I did feel slightly guilty about that, Luc reminded me that the party had been her idea, not mine, and I was only down there because I had felt the need to supervise it. Most of the time, anyway. I still blushed every time I remembered the dancing… the first time I had ‘let loose’ in years. How on earth had he managed to convince me to do that? I must have been drinking or something, though I couldn’t remember touching a thing that night.
I was sitting in class a little over a week later, listening to my Physics teacher droning on and trying to recall a time when I had ever felt this bored in a class before. Next to me, my best friend Mandy Best was slumped low in her chair, arms folded and staring at the desk in front of her with glassy eyes. Mandy and I had been friends ever since my family moved to Starlight Shores. Although she wasn’t nearly as serious about schoolwork as I was, she understood my devotion and never teased me about it like the other students did. Sometimes after school, I would go over to her house, and the two of us would sit and work on our homework or just talk together. She was a reliable sort of friend, a good balance between serious and fun-loving, which made her really uplifting to be around.
I was startled suddenly out of my thoughts by the tip of a pencil being jabbed into my back, accompanied by an urgent “Psst!” Scowling, I turned around and glared at Oliver Danes, one of my least favourite people in the world who happened to be seated directly behind me. Popular, cool, sports geek… and president of the Diana-Hunter-is-a-crazy-genius brigade. And not ‘crazy genius’ in the good, Albert Enstein kind of way – in the Dr. Frankenstein kind of way. “What do you want?” I mouthed angrily.
He looked slightly uncomfortable, but merely offered a small grin in return. “Hey, Genius,” he whispered. I frowned again. It wasn’t like I hadn’t been referred to like that a hundred times before, by friends and foes alike, but something about the contrast between Oliver’s and Luc’s casual use of the nickname ticked me off more than usual.
“What do you want?” I hissed back, with an anxious glance at the teacher. This guy had better not get me in trouble.
“I need your help with something,” he muttered, leaning forward in his seat. “The work, I don’t understand it.”
“Not my problem,” I growled, and turned back to face the front. It was a pretty unkind dismissal on my part, but I was sick of people ignoring me, teasing me behind my back, only to come begging for help when they were failing classes. I wasn’t a damn textbook.
Oliver scowled, but was wise enough not to bother me about it again – at least, not before the end of the class. I had barely taken two steps past the classroom door when I heard a shout from behind me.
“Diana! Wait up!”
With a sigh, I paused where I was in the hallway and allowed Oliver Danes to catch up to me.
“What do you want?” I asked again, turning around to face him.
“Look, I really need your help,” he said. “If I don’t pass my classes-”
“Like I said, not my problem,” I interrupted him with a yawn. “Ask your rich parents to get you a tutor or something. Why do you need me?”
“I can’t- I mean, I don’t want to bother my parents. They’re very busy.”
“As am I,” I said dryly. Glancing at his shocked expression, I added, “What on earth made you think I would say yes? You’ve made it very clear in the past that you don’t like me at all and think I’m a total weirdo. Were you planning to bribe me or something? Sorry, but I’m not interested.”
Before I could move away, I felt his hand close around my wrist. I tried to shake him off, but the moment I opened my mouth to speak, I was spun around and my back slammed into the lockers behind me. Two strong hands firmly positioned themselves either side of my shoulders, barring my escape.
Furious, I jerked my head up ready to yell at him to let me go, but found myself rendered temporarily speechless in finding his face mere inches from my own.
“I can think of a few things that might spark your interest,” he murmured, leaning in towards me with a flirtatious grin. Was this guy for real?
“Do you think you’re irresistible or something?” I hissed, turning my head to the side so that his presumptuous lips landed on my neck instead. “Get the hell off me, asshole!” With a yell, I launched forward off the lockers and brought my knee up as hard as I could into his stomach.
He let go immediately, staggering backwards with a surprised “Ooft!” I advanced, ready to take full advantage of his weakened position to land a few well-deserved punches. As I raised my fist, however, I felt a gentle but strong grip close around it. Whoever it was pulled me backwards, catching me against his own body, one hand wrapped securely around my waist while the other released my wrist to rest soothingly on my right shoulder. For the second time in a span of several minutes, I found myself trapped in someone else’s arms against my will.
I struggled, still seeing red, fighting with all my strength to get back to Oliver Danes and give him a long overdue beating up. “Let… me… go!” I panted furiously. He’s getting away! I scratched at his arms and stamped as hard as I could on the toes of my assailant, but though he grunted in pain, his grip held firm.
“Di! Calm the hell down, it’s me!” a pained voice said in my ear.
“… Luc?” What was he doing here? He never came to school.
“Yeah, so stop trying to beat me up, okay?”
I let myself relax, watching in defeat as Oliver Danes got to his feet and brushed the dust off his jeans. There goes my chance of a lifetime, I thought glumly.
Oliver Danes stood up, glancing between me and Luc with a scowl on his face. “Who the fuck are you?” he addressed Luc. I felt his body briefly tense up behind me, but when he spoke, his tone was quite calm.
“You should be thanking me,” Luc said. Even though I couldn’t see his face, I could hear the amusement in his voice. “I just saved you from the retribution you undeniably deserve, at the hands of someone perfectly equipped to deliver it.”
I glanced up at him in surprise. If he thought it was so well-deserved, why did he stop me?
Oliver’s eyes wandered over Luc’s hands, still spread protectively over my shoulders and abdomen. “Is she your girlfriend or something?”
I half expected Luc to lie and say yes, but he didn’t. Neither did he deny it. “That’s none of your business,” he replied coolly. “But you had better leave her the fuck alone… or you’ll regret it. A lot.”
His green eyes bore threateningly into Oliver’s light blue ones, and for a moment the other boy looked ready to punch him. Several tense seconds passed before Oliver spoke again.
“Whatever,” he spat. “She’s not even worth it.”
With that, he pushed past us, turned the corner and disappeared.
As soon as Oliver had left, I pushed Luc off me and stepped away from him. He made no protest, but refused to meet my eyes when I looked back at him.
“Why did you stop me from attacking him?”
Luc glanced at me in surprise. “I would have thought it was obvious. I didn’t want-”
“-me to get hurt?” I finished the sentence for him. “I can handle myself, you know.”
“I know you can. I didn’t want you to get into trouble, like you would if you beat up a fellow student. I know how seriously you take your work and your reputation.”
I looked at him in surprise. He was right, of course. Male or female, our school had a zero-tolerance policy on violence, and I was concerned about my reputation with the staff. Referrals were important in applying to university. I had just been so angry in the moment that I couldn’t think of anything else. But that still didn’t explain…
“What are you doing at school? You’re never here.”
Luc chuckled, but was saved from replying by Mandy, who came dashing out of the classroom at that moment.
“Di!” she gasped when she reached me. “Sorry I made you wait, I had to talk to Mr. Wilson about something.” Clearly, she had no idea what had just taken place, and I chose not to enlighten her as she continued talking. Mandy worried about me enough as it was.
“… So did you want to come over to my place this afternoon, or should we go to yours?”
“Umm…” I really had no idea what she was asking, since I hadn’t heard the first half of the sentence. “You can come to mine if you want.”
Mandy nodded, and turned to Luc. “You must be Luc!” she said with a big smile. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”
“She’s lying,” I countered quickly. I didn’t want Luc to think I had been telling all my friends about him like he was my new boyfriend or something.
Mandy just grinned. “Say, Luc, do you want to come swimming with us? Di’s place has a great pool, and it’s just down the road.” Oh, so that was the plan I’d missed. Swimming with Mandy sounded like lots of fun. I smiled at my friend, grateful for her enthusiasm in planning fun things to do together. I could never do it, that was for sure.
Luc looked curiously between Mandy and me before replying.
“Sure, sounds like fun,” he said with a smile. “I’ll see you after school then.”
First he came to school, now he was agreeing to go out with me and a girl he’d never met? I never knew what to expect from this guy. Once the day had ended and the three of us were on our way to Mandy’s house, I approached him to ask him about it.
“You never answered my question before,” I said.
Luc raised his eyebrows at me. “What question?”
“About what you were doing at school today.”
He shrugged nonchalantly. “I just felt like it.”
“Again with that. You really just do things whenever you feel like it?”
Luc grinned at me. “You know me so well already.”
I rolled my eyes, and didn’t reply. The three of us walked on in silence until we reached my house.
“All right! I’m gonna go change!” Mandy announced, the moment we stepped through the door. I laughed.
“You brought your swimmers to school? Man, you really were looking forward to this.” She grinned and nodded, before dashing up the stairs. I was left alone in the living room with Luc. “You can borrow something of my brother’s, if you want,” I told him. “I’m pretty sure he has a spare set of trunks or something.” Luc nodded.
“Oi, Flynn!” I yelled up the stairs. I knew he was home – I had seen his bike overtake us on the road and pull into the driveway ahead.
Once I had introduced the two guys to each other, and Flynn had agreed to lend some swimming gear, I headed up to my room to get changed myself. By the time I got downstairs and out onto the deck, the other two were almost in the water already.
“You two sure didn’t waste any time,” I commented, shutting the gate behind me as I entered the pool area. Mandy grinned at me from her position halfway down one of the ladders.
“Come on in, Di! It’s not too cold, I promise!” she yelled.
Instead of walking around to the ladder, I decided to just jump in. That way, I reasoned, I could get used to the temperature more quickly. I squealed in shock as my body hit the water, and came up gasping while Mandy giggled and trod water beside me. Once the initial shock was over, though, I felt the water melt into blissful coolness against my skin, and sighed in contentment.
“You know what would make this even better?” Mandy said thoughtfully. “Those floaty things you used to have. Remember those?”
“You mean these?”
We both turned in the water to see Luc standing by the side of the pool, holding an inflatable pool lounger up in each hand. He tossed them into the water one at a time, then jumped in himself.
“Shotgun!” I squealed as the first lounger hit the water. I swam the few metres towards it and grabbed at the plastic covering triumphantly, hoisting myself up onto its surface. “Man, I missed these things.” I grinned over at Mandy as I laid back and rested my head against the ‘pillow’.
“Hey, no fair!” she complained, although I could hear the laughter in her tone. “How come you get the floaty thing?”
“I know, I was the one who found them,” Luc agreed. “Doesn’t seem too fair to me.” Uh oh. I knew that tone. I could practically see his wicked grin through my closed eyelids.
“Don’t you dare!” I warned him quickly, starting to sit up. He laughed, and I felt his hands push against the side of my lounger. Before I could react, I was flipped over and plunged into the water with a scream of protest.
I surfaced a few seconds later, coughing and spluttering. “You jerk!” I gasped as soon as I could speak again. “I’m going to get you for that!” I drew my hand back before he had a chance to move, and sent the biggest splash I could manage right into his face. Luc dodged it a moment too late by diving under the water, and surfaced a moment later grinning and shaking his head like a wet dog. I laughed, watching him push his hands out defensively towards me.
“Oh, you’re on,” he said with a wicked grin. I gasped and threw my hands up instinctively to cover my face, but not enough to fully protect me from the wave that crashed over me a moment later.
The game soon escalated into an all-out splash war, with Mandy joining in intermittently on both sides. Once we were both tired out, Luc challenged me to a breath-holding contest, which my competitive nature approved straight away. Although Luc was the clear winner of both games, I found that I didn’t mind as much as I ordinarily would have. My cheeks were sore and my sides ached from laughing. I couldn’t remember ever having enjoyed myself this much.
All three of us glanced up when the first drops of rain started to ripple the surface of the pool. Although Luc pointed out that it shouldn’t matter, since we were already soaking wet, it was getting dark and Mandy said she really needed to be getting home. Luc went to put the pool loungers away, and Mandy went back inside. I was about to follow when I noticed one of my discarded school notebooks from earlier that day sitting on one of the outdoor tables. That reminded me… I needed to finish my homework for that subject. Almost instinctively, I sank into the closest chair, pulled the notebook towards me and extracted a pencil from between its pages.
“Really, homework again?” Luc’s voice came from behind me.
I nodded, barely glancing up. “Homework again,” I echoed.
“You have got to chill out a bit,” he said decisively. A hand appeared over my shoulder, snatched the notebook from under my arm, and closed it with a firm snap. “Mandy’s already left,” he added, replacing my book on the table. “Come on, let’s just go relax in the hot tub or something.”
I sighed, realising there was no point in arguing, and got up to follow him. In spite of my annoyance, I had to admit that the feeling of sinking into the warm water was nothing short of heavenly.
I lay there in silence for a moment, listening to the sounds of the night and the bubbling of the water around me, concentrating in particular on the soothing sensation of the water jets pressing into my back. After a few minutes had passed, Luc spoke.
“You know, today is the happiest I’ve ever seen you,” he commented quietly.
I opened my eyes in surprise and stared into his green ones, noticing the way they glowed warmly in the light reflected off the water. When I didn’t reply immediately, he went on.
“That was the first time I’ve seen you smile the way you did… as if you were genuinely happy, like there was no work or study or politics sitting in the back of your mind, weighing you down. That girl… Mandy, right? She means a lot to you, doesn’t she?”
“It wasn’t just Mandy,” I said. “It was-” I caught myself just in time and fell silent, blushing. I had to remind myself that I still didn’t know Luc all that well.
Luckily, he seemed to ignore my small slip-up, and continued as if I hadn’t said anything. “Have you always been like this?” he asked me. I frowned. Had I always been as honestly happy as I had been in the two weeks since I had met Luc? I couldn’t remember… certainly not since I was a child, and perhaps not even before then.
“I… don’t think so… no,” I responded slowly. Things had been different since Luc had forced his way into my life, and jarred me out of my comfortable routine. I found myself thinking back to the night we met, how angry he had made me. I still found it slightly strange to think that he had been hanging around the back of the school on that night, when I knew for a fact that practically no one ever went there past school hours.
“Luc?” I addressed him, leaning forward to speak.
His eyes flicked up to meet mine. “Yeah?”
“Why were you really there, that night we met? I know you said you just liked to hang around there, but… it seems strange. No one’s ever around that area, I remember, I checked.”
Luc was silent for a long time. Though his gaze never left me, I could tell he was thinking hard about something else. Finally, he said, “You won’t like it if I tell you.”
“What makes you say that?”
“You’re too… too good. You wouldn’t understand.”
Okay, now he was starting to piss me off. “What wouldn’t I understand?”
“Nothing, don’t worry about it.”
“No, I will worry!” my voice had risen almost to a shout. “You’re just making a bigger deal out of it by not telling me, you know that, right? Just tell me what you were doing, for goodness’ sake!”
He scowled. “Geez, Diana, can’t you just let it go? What makes you think it’s any of your business what I do? It shouldn’t even matter to you, you’re not my god damn mother!” Now he was raising his voice as well. “I don’t want to tell you because I don’t want a stupid health lecture. Maybe if you weren’t so perfect all the time-”
I had heard enough. I stood up abruptly, sending small waves cascading over the sides of the tub. “Fine,” I hissed. “Don’t tell me, I don’t care.”
His words had cut me more deeply than I would have admitted even to myself, let alone give him the satisfaction of seeing my hurt. I climbed out of the tub and marched towards the deck without looking back. “You can show yourself out,” I spat over my shoulder.
“Di, wait…” he called out to me. I ignored him. The worst part of it all was that I had really started to believe that Luc was somehow different to the other teenagers I knew… that he actually cared about me, wouldn’t use my sore points against me. Hadn’t the events of earlier that day proved that? Well, I thought, it just goes to show… you can’t trust anyone.
I wouldn’t be making that mistake again.