by Lady H
“Do what?" She says, feigning innocence, a smile dancing on her lips.
His Kiss - Part Four
Henry heads up to the science block, feet dragging on the floor. Mark is already there, leaning casually against the wall outside, arms crossed in front of his chest.
Her breath catches; the pose was so nonchalant and carefree, just like something James would have pulled. But she mustn't think about James Stevens. She gives herself a mental shake; try and forget about this morning, like you just imagined it. She could almost believe it, almost.
Mark nods to her in greeting, so she nods back, feeling weird as soon as she has. She doesn't quite know what to do or say. This situation is so bizarre, she can't quite get her head around any of it. She feels like laughing. Getting into trouble was Mark's thing, not hers. He looks so relaxed, while she’s here worrying if the detention will somehow affect her future.
One of the technicians comes out of their office and beckons them to follow her into the classroom next door.
“Right, you've got an hour to clean up everything in these bowls.” She waves at the dozen bowls lined up along a worktop. “Washing up liquid.” She hands Henry a bottle. “Cloths.” She gives Mark a new packet of dishcloths. “Anything else you need we'll be next door.” She leaves the room.
Henry walks over to the first bowl of glass, carrying it over to the big sink. She is just about to fill up the bowl with water, when Mark stops her.
“Why don't we just fill up the whole sink? It'll be easier.” Henry agrees. They put the plug in and turn on the hot water, and Henry pours in the correct amount of fairy liquid. Mark grabs the bottle, throws a wicked grin at her, and proceeds to empty the whole bottle into the sink.
“Roberts!” She cries, trying to grab the bottle off of him before it completely empties, but he holds it up in the air over the sink and out of her reach, laughing.
“Com'on Hen, it'll be fun!” Henry is momentarily stunned. He'd called her Hen. Never, in the six years she'd known him, had he called her anything but Morgan. They sounded just like they were two friends, having fun. Her and Mark Roberts! It sounded ridiculous! But just for the hour, she decided to go along with it and see what happened.
At that moment, Mark grabs a handful of the soap bubbles, which are now towering precariously above their heads. He throws it at Henry, and unfortunately, she is close enough to him that it lands all over her, getting stuck in her curls and on her clothes. She gasps, eyes wide, before lunging forward to grab some more, throwing them over Mark's retreating figure. Within a few seconds, a full-blown war has broken out.
Henry shrieks when Mark used his arms to hold as many bubbles as possible, getting her trapped in a corner and then opening his arms, letting them fall all over her. “Arggghhhh!” She cries, dashing over to the sink to ready herself for a counter attack.
Mark tries to run away, skidding across the soaking wet slippery floor. He stops, but Henry already has too much force behind her and skids past him. Just as she is about to crash into a table, Mark grabs her waist, steadying her before she topples over. By now they are both laughing manically, out of breath from all of the charging around.
They both survey the mess they've created in less than five minutes. The tap is still on, producing tonnes of bubbles that tower up to the ceiling, and overflow the sink to make a snowy carpet on the floor. The bubbles are also all over the tables, chairs, and worktops, and cover Henry and Mark from head to toe.
When Henry looks back at Mark, she stops laughing. His eyes are staring into hers, full of something she can't quite name. His hands are still gently wrapped around her, and she is suddenly fully aware of his closeness. She looks up into his warm brown eyes, thinking for the second time in a week just how good-looking Mark Roberts actually is.
Time seems to stand still. Mark desperately wants to kiss her, but is unsure of how she'll react. He's not sure of much right now, which is an incredibly rare feeling he doesn't think he's enjoying.
At that moment, Mr Brawn, the biology teacher, bursts into the room. Mark and Henry jump away from each other at the sound of the door slamming into the wall. Henry slightly runs, slightly skids over to the sink to reach through the bubbles and turn off the taps.
“What the hell is going on in here?” Mr Brawn looks around the room, mouth hanging open.
“Umm...” Henry looks at Mark for help.
“We weren't watching and the sink overflowed,” Mark replies smoothly.
“Yes I can see that!” Mr Brawn sneers, rolling his eyes. “You.” He clicks to get Henry's attention and then points at the floor. “Mop up this mess now.”
Henry knows he is being rude, but figures she is already in detention and doesn't want to get into any more trouble. So goes to walk out of the door to ask the technician for a mop.
“Where do you think you're going?” Mr Brawn shouts, and she freezes, turning around slowly. She watches the ugly vein pulsing on his temple for a moment.
“To get a mop?” She says, turning it into a question because she thought what she was doing was quite clear, and he's already snapped at Mark for being obvious.
Mr Brawn points to the stack of paper towels on the side, glaring at her, “You can use your hands.”
Her mouth falls open. “What?” She gasps, looking at the flooded floor of the classroom. It will take hours to mop up using paper towels.
“Start mopping!” He roars, losing his patience.
“Whoa!” Mark steps forward. “You can't seriously mean for us to clear up all of this” He gestures around the room, “With paper towels?”
“No – you can carry on cleaning the test tubes.”
Once again, Henry's mouth falls open. “Why me?” She asks, eyes wide.
“Because I said so.” The teacher replies bluntly.
She'd heard all the gossip, but hadn't really believed that Mr Brawn could be as sexist as her friends told her. Was this him being sexist? Or was it just a coincidence? God – she was so glad she didn't have him as her science teacher.
“That doesn't mean anything!” She cries incredulously.
“Do not” Mr Brawn growls, taking a large step towards her so that his face is right in front of hers - “argue with me girl.”
Henry flinches as spit flies at her. She gulps, then frowns, finding her voice. “I think I’d get it done a lot quicker with a mop and bucket” She can't quite believe what she is doing; normally she would never answer a teacher back, even if she did feel hard done by.
“As a woman, you should be used to cleaning.” He leers at her.
Definitely sexism. He shouldn't be teaching. She knew why he still was though; people had complained, but he was so crafty with his insults and who was around to hear, that there was no evidence and the teachers didn't believe the students stories. Henry can't see a way out of the situation, so, shaking her head in disbelief, she grabs a handful of paper towels and crouches down, starting to soak up some of the soapy water.
Besides, as soon as Mr Brawn leaves, she can just run and fetch the mop.
She glances up at Mark, who stands frozen a few feet away. He is staring at Mr Brawn, who in turn is watching Henry wipe the floor with paper towels. The paper towels are hardly making a difference to the pond they've created. She catches the furious glint in Mark's eye, and realises he’s about to do or say something. Which would, at this point, be a complete disaster.
Satisfied, Mr Brawn turns and strides out of the room, and Henry launches herself at Mark so that he slips and falls, and can't chase after the teacher. The door slams shut.
“Why did you do that?” Mark looks at Henry as if she is crazy, but he's lost the furious look and now just looks mildly confused.
“Do what? She says, feigning innocence, a smile dancing on her lips. She turns her attention back to the floor, and hears Mark sigh as he returns to his feet.
It only takes a second for another tower of bubbles to hit her squarely in the face. She pauses for a moment, before turning her face up to Mark, looking up at him through bubbly eyelashes, not amused. The bubbles begin to pop, tickling her skin.
“Has anyone ever told you that you're the spitting image of Father Christmas?” He says deadpan.
She cocks her head to the side. “No, no one ever has before. Do I really?” She asks, playing along and stroking her bubbly beard as she climbs to her feet.
“Oh yes, very much so.”
Henry doesn't know how Mark is managing to keep a straight face. Luckily, her own grin is hidden by the curtain of bubbles.
“You've got the white beard and the hat and everything.”
Henry shakes her head, rolling her eyes as she walks past him to fetch the mop.
When she returns, Mark has taken off his damp jumper, revealing a smart striped shirt, and brushed at any remaining bubbles left on his person. Henry hands him the mop and begins her own de-bubbling ritual.
As she peels off her soggy cardigan she notices he hasn't started mopping and is still looking at her.
"What?" She questions, suddenly self conscious.
"You've got so much soap in your hair" He's trying to hide a smile as he takes a step towards her.
She reaches up and pulls at the hairband holding her hair in a ponytail. Once her hair is released, she shakes her head violently, spreading the wet curls. Bubbles drift to the floor. "Better?"
"No come here" Without waiting for a response he closes the distance between them and reaches towards her head. Starting at the top, he delicately smooths out the bubbles, eyes focused on the task at hand.
While he's concentrating, Henry stares openly at his face. She watches how his brow furrows and eyes dart about to ensure all remaining bubbles are removed. His features are quite chiselled, with a strong nose and heavy brows, but long dark eyelashes framing his muddy eyes.
She's aware of how quiet the room is; only the sounds of school lunchtime muffled by the windows, the gentle pops as the fairy liquid bubbles start to lose their magic, and her own heart thudding in her chest. She's conscious of her own breath, does she normally breathe this heavily? She stands statue-like, frozen in time. Mark is so close.
"Okay..." He drags the word out while he completes the finishing touches, then his arms drop to his sides and he takes a small step back. "I think we're done!" He admires his handiwork. "Your hair is so pretty down. You never wear it down."
Henry is taken aback. That's the first compliment Mark Roberts has ever given her.
"Why do you look so suspicious?" Mark's eyes are searching hers. He then seems to remember who they are, and their history, and blushes. "Right, we should probably get on with this mess." He spins away from her to the sink, spell broken.
As they clear away and begin to clean the bowls full of test tubes, conversation flows freely between the two.
They swap stories about their families (Mark lives with his dad and two brothers, one older and one younger), holidays (neither has been abroad, other than the year ten school trip to France, but they both badly want to see the world), and friends (Henry is surprised to find that Mark has very few friends he feels he can truly trust).
Henry is taken aback by how candid he seems, openly answering her questions and really listening and seemingly caring about her own responses. Why hadn't they snapped at each other? Or Mark taken the opportunity for a sly dig?
She finds out Mark has a job at the local leisure centre, helping run different sports activities for younger children. This surprises her, she never would have thought Mark would enjoy working with kids, it just didn't seem to fit his personality. Or rather, she thought it hadn't, but after chatting to him for half an hour she realises Mark isn't the stereotypical popular boy she'd presumed, unfairly, that he was. He's grown up a lot since the childish games in year seven.
She thinks, like Emma had said on Saturday, that maybe the arrogant boy everyone knew at school was a hard-outer shell – the person Mark wanted everyone to see, and that maybe, she was getting a glimpse of the real Mark Roberts. But if this is the real him, why does he go to such lengths to cover it up?
After time Henry finds herself talking to Mark about how tiring she is finding her home life at the moment and how she is finding it hard to sleep.
“I can just never manage to turn my brain off, it's always thinking or worrying about something.” She sighs, trying to scrub the black soot off of one of the test tubes.
“I know how you feel. Since my mum died, my father has sort of lost interest in me and my brothers. I'm constantly worrying if I'm too hard on Matthew, or if I'm too lenient with him. On top of that, we have all this school work, and the pressure of getting our UCAS forms sorted and deciding on the University we want to go to and what job we want at the end of it all.”
“Do you know what you want to do?” Henry asks.
“Well, I really want to do law at Birmingham.” He stops his scrubbing to look at her, studying her expression to see what she thought to this. “And of course, then become a top lawyer.” He grins before turning back to his work.
“Yeah, I can see you doing that.” And she really could. He had the right persuasive attitude and charm to pull it off. Not to mention he'd look gorgeous in a suit. Where had that come from? Henry feels herself reddening, and focuses on cleaning, using her hair as a curtain between them.
“What about you?” He asks.
“Oh, I really don't know.” Henry couldn't decide what she wanted to do. She knew everyone expected her to go into chemistry or physics, after all, a few years ago that was all she ever wanted to do, and with her grades it would be silly not to. Getting a degree in something academic like that would show she’s not messing about and lead her straight into a well-paying job – which would help her family immensely. But another part of her secretly wanted to go into journalism or something similarly englishy – her mother had argued against Henry picking English as her last A-Level option – alongside Chemistry, Maths and Physics – but Henry had put her foot down; she just couldn’t bear to give up her one creative subject for biology.
“Hmmm,” Mark thinks for a moment. “You know, I can see you making a good author, or a journalist or something like that.”
Henry nearly drops the glass beaker she was washing. How had Mark, who other than today she hadn't really talked to at all in the six years she'd known him, manage to root out one of her deepest wishes in a matter of minutes, without her even telling him about it? He'd read her mind, there was no other explanation. “Really?” She squeaks.
“Yeah” He pauses to smile at her.
Henry smiles back, her stomach flip flopping. “I've always wanted to be a journalist. But it's not very sensible, is it? I mean, everyone's expecting me to pick Chemistry.” She sighs.
“Well yes, I can see you doing that as well, but sometimes just because it’s obvious isn’t a good enough reason. It's not up to others to decide what you do; if you want to be a journalist, be a journalist. It's that simple.” Henry suddenly feels uncomfortable.
“Simple.” She repeats, almost to herself.
Mark wants to ask Henry about the boy from her past. He's never forgotten that particular argument, and has always wondered. This guy must have been terrible for Henry to take a dislike to someone else just for vaguely resembling him.
He's thought about it all these years; at first he wanted to use it as ammunition, but he could never quite bring himself to say the words. Not after that first reaction he'd witnessed in year seven. But he didn't know where to even start his questions, and they'd been getting along better recently. He wasn't ready to risk ruining that yet.
They are both quiet for a minute, focusing on the task at hand. The bell to signal the end of lunch makes them both jump.
Mark suddenly feels sad; he realises he doesn't want to stop talking to Henry, and is enjoying this newfound camaraderie. He needs a reason to carry on talking to her.
“Mr Brawn's a right dickhead.” He announces, finishing off the last of the glass equipment.
“I know, I'd heard about him but never believed it.”
“He's such a sexist pig.”
“Exactly how I feel.”
“Someone should do something about it.”
Henry pauses, before carrying a bowl of clean glass over to the side. “None of the teachers believe us, people have tried to complain before.”
“True.” Mark thinks for a moment. “But wouldn't you like to get your own back, Morgan?” He catches Henry's shocked face. “Nothing drastic, just something to piss him off.”
Henry is silent for a moment, carrying another bowl across. “Hmmm. It would be nice.” She agrees.
“Then why don't we?” Mark asks, watching her carefully for her reaction.
At first Henry is startled by this but the more she thinks about it the more she wants to. After their conversation today, keeping up this image of a perfect student doesn’t seem quite so important to Henry as it did an hour ago. For once in her life she wants to do something that the teachers won't approve of. Besides, one time can't hurt, right?
“Okay.” She finally decides, drying her hands on a paper towel and swinging her bag onto her shoulder.
“Okay?” Mark is surprised it was so easy to persuade her.
“Yeah, okay Roberts, you’re on.” Henry turns to face him, grinning as they shake on it.