by Lady Holly
“Short of telling her I’ve got the plague, I don’t think I can get out of it."
His Kiss - Part Six
“Oh Emma, it was awful!” Henry cries down the phone line later on that evening.
Much later in fact. After Henry had insisted she couldn't stay in a room alone with James a moment longer, they'd traipsed back down the stairs, only to find that the Stevens' were staying for dinner. Which meant the children ate around the tiny kitchen table, and the adults had to eat their dinner on trays on their laps in the sitting room because there just wasn’t enough room to seat all seven of them in the kitchen comfortably. They also stayed for coffee, and then Sophie and Sarah snuggled down to watch what they insisted was their favourite TV programme.
When that finally finished at ten o'clock, Henry thanked god that her mum or Sophie hadn’t insisted on a sleepover for old times’ sake, and that James had left and she didn't have to endure any more awkward conversations.
She'd ran straight to the phone to relay the night’s events, and finally let Emma on to the fact that it was James Stevens, the guy from her past, that was in her seat this morning in Chemistry. Henry hadn't quite told the truth to James earlier - although she hadn't told Darcy anything about him, Emma knew every gruesome little detail.
“Oh Henry, poor you. You had no idea he was moving here?”
“None at all! And apparently he didn’t know I lived here now, either.”
“Do you believe him?”
“Actually, that’s one thing I do believe. When he moved away obviously I was still living in Thornton, and when I met him by chance the summer before last I don’t think we actually got around to swapping addresses or anything, and if I mentioned the name knowing him he probably would have forgotten. Even if it did ring a bell, I’m sure his mum would have put him off the scent as our mums had planned it all out and were keeping it a surprise.”
“Well, I guess he wasn’t to know that seat was yours in Chemistry, then.”
“He would have been as shocked to see me as I was to see him.”
“Still, he had some nerve just turning up at your house after what happened last summer!”
“I don't really think he had much choice – our mums didn't know about that last day of summer. They thought we'd parted on good terms and that it would be a lovely surprise for the two of us! You should have seen them grinning tonight. I swear, they have some silly dream of us growing up together and getting married and us all living happily ever after!” As soon as she says it, Henry realises that it is probably true.
“Sounds about right.”
“God, I’ve just realised I agreed to go on that double date with Darcy! That means she’s bringing James… how could I have forgotten?!” Henry mentally scolds herself for being so slow.
“Jheeze Hen, you’ll have to try and get out of that one!”
“Believe me I’m going to try my damn hardest, what excuse can I give Darcy though?”
“Anything. Absolutely anything. You do NOT want to be around when Darcy realises you and James know each other!”
“Short of telling her I’ve got the plague, I don’t think I can get out of it, Em.” Henry sighs heavily.
“Oh, what a mess honey.” Emma says sympathetically. When Henry first told Emma about James, Emma had told her of her dad’s best friend and his son, and how their parents had always wanted their kids to grow up together and get married. Emma had said at the time that she thought that most parent’s had silly fantasies like that, they simply couldn’t help it. Henry decided she’d rather her mum just kept her nose out of Henry’s love life all together; she had a feeling evenings with the Steven’s would soon become a regular event.
“I know.” Henry is silent for a moment. She is debating whether to tell Emma what had happened in her bedroom. “There's still something there between us though. I don't know exactly what, only that it isn't welcome any more.” She lets out a sad little laugh.
“You need to get over him once and for all Henry.” Emma says determinedly.
“You need a boyfriend.”
Henry knows right off that that is not the right answer. She needs to focus on her studies and keep her grades up, not get distracted by boys! But she plays along to see what Emma was getting at. “That's easier said than done, Ems.”
“You don't need to be in love with him or anything.”
“I can't play him along! I'll be in an even bigger mess then!”
“Well what about someone who you didn't care if you hurt?”
“I'm not evil, Emma. I can't do that! I don't see how it would help much anyway.” What on earth is Emma thinking? She is definitely up to something.
“Don't knock it until you've tried it. What about Mark Roberts?”
Henry pauses. Ah, so here it is. Emma is trying to set her up with Roberts again. Only this time, she is playing off the fact that Henry didn’t actually like him. Perhaps she thought that if Henry pretended she was in a relationship to make herself forget about James, that she might actually fall in love with the very boy she swore she’d never fall for. It was true, at least until a couple of days ago anyway, that Henry wouldn’t have minded upsetting Roberts; he needed to realise he couldn’t get every girl to bend to his will. Why was it that both Mark and James thought they were god’s gift to women?! Henry noted that she really needed to start widening her circle of male friends. But could she really lead Mark on now, after they'd made a break through the other day? Did she actually have it in her to mess with someone’s heart, even if it was the terrible Mark Roberts? That was, even if she could get Mark to agree to go out with her in the first place. “I can't, Em. There must be another way.”
Emma yawns. “Well, when you think of it please enlighten me.” Her tone is light.
“Thanks for your help, Ems. Night.”
“Night Henry, sleep tight.”
Tuesday passes without incident. Henry tries her best to avoid James around school at all costs, although that night he does turn up again at her house with his parents and she is made to sit politely with him and her sisters while they play a family game of cluedo. When it is time for Zoe to go to bed Henry jumps up so fast to volunteer herself that she nearly knocks the whole board over. Later when she is in her room packing her school bag for the next day Henry tries not to think about how many more nights she is going to have to spend playing happy families.
And of course James is never out of the conversation at school now that his presence was known by everyone, especially when Henry is with Darcy. Not knowing that Henry had known him for years and how much it hurt even to talk about him, Darcy never ceased talking about him. Whether it was trying to decipher his latest text, to something funny he said in Geography or the flowers he’d brought around to her mother the other day, Darcy was well and truly falling fast. Their other friends loved to gossip about him too – the new hottie with a mysterious past and a troublesome and distressing last relationship with an apparent heart of gold.
Henry was just thankful James hadn't mentioned to anyone that he'd known Henry for so many years. Although it did make her wonder, why, exactly, hadn’t he? Maybe he didn’t really want Darcy knowing so early on in their relationship and wanted to wait until things were more stable. But for a reason Henry couldn’t quite put her finger on, she didn’t think that was James’ motivation. So if not that, then why?
Wednesday morning Henry has Maths. Unluckily for her, they have a substitute teacher who for some reason decides to give them a seating plan. Even more unluckily, by some cruel stroke of fate she ends up sitting with James on her left, and Mark on her right. At least Mark has irritating Isabelle the other side of him.
“Mark, can you tell me how to solve the first part of this exam question?” The teacher asks, looking straight at James. Henry frowns.
Mark begins to answer, and the teacher cuts in “No not you, Mark.” He gestures to James, and when James looks back blankly, the teacher backtracks. “I thought your name was Mark? You two look too alike. Whatever your name is, answer the question please.”
Henry groans inwardly. That is all she needed; if Mark could remember how their unfriendliness started, he was a smart boy and he might be able to work out that James was the boy from Henry’s past. But she doubted Mark would remember, it was a long time ago after all.
She glances subtly sideways, but Mark doesn’t look like he’s been hit by a major brainwave, so it seemed she is safe for now.
“Right, I want you to work in your pairs and make your way through the rest of the paper, if we have time we’ll go through it at the end, or otherwise I’ll make sure your teacher gets them.”
This meant Henry had to work with James. For the whole lesson. She holds back a grimace as she accepts the test paper the teacher hands to them.
“So…” James says, turning to her.
Why was it all of their conversations recently had started with James awkwardly saying ‘so’? “I think we should take a few questions each and work on them separately.” Henry replies, refusing to make eye contact.
“That’s not really working on it together though is it.” He says it as a statement, not a question, and Henry can feel his eyes burning into the side of her face.
“Well technically/” But James cuts her off.
“Don’t get all know-it- all now. I thought you’d changed? Let’s just look at the first question together Hennie.” She cringes inwardly. Did he really have to use that old nickname at school? It was bad enough that he still used it at all. And seriously, was he going to hold her new camouflage against her? Did he not realise how hard she’d had to work to make herself fit in? Henry slides the paper between them and opens it onto the first page.
After reading the question and checking that James had finished reading it through, Henry says “Why don’t we both do it separately and then compare answers?” James grudgingly agrees.
As she is working through the problem, Henry realises the last time they’d worked together like this was nearly seven years ago, back in primary school. Back then, she’d been the bossy one. In fact, James basically let her do all the work, and she was happy to. He never skived off her though, he was always checking over her shoulder, making sure everything was right. The two of them together made an indestructible team.
To her, it seemed like some things never changed. They work through the paper quickly and efficiently, heads bent together, checking each other’s calculations and coming up with answers that they check and check again until they are sure they are correct. It was easy to forget the past between them when they were working like this. The conversation didn’t stray to dangerous waters with loaded words, so Henry didn’t need to guard her emotions, or struggle to keep her face neutral and voice calm. At this moment, there was nothing between them except the numbers and equations; the mathematical language which they were both so at ease with.
In fact, Henry had quite forgotten all about Roberts sitting to her other side until he nudges her gently with his elbow.
“Morgan?” He enquires, and she looks up at him with startled blue eyes, blinking as she is pulled out of her own little world.
“Hmm?” The end of her pen goes instinctively to her mouth. She realises she’s been working with James for a solid half an hour without once thinking about how angry she still is with him, or paying attention to anything that was happening outside of their little twosome. She chews at the pen thoughtfully.
“Morgan I don’t suppose you’ve done question six part c, have you? Me and Irrita/” He stops abruptly and clears his throat before carrying on “Isabelle, have done a and b but can’t work out c.”
Looking into Mark’s chocolate brown eyes makes a stark change to James’ muddy green ones. It is the first time she’s really stopped to think about their differences. It sounds stupid, especially as comparing their similarities is what has gotten her into this mess in the first place, but she’d honestly concluded that they were the same person back when she was eleven, and decided that was that. She never really thought the decision was worth revisiting again, especially as Roberts didn’t seem to want to reconcile, or rather, begin, a friendship. So they were the same. It became an undisputed fact in her mind. Until ‘The Incident’ as Emma had taken to calling it, and James suddenly turning up again, that is.
Now, looking at Mark looking at her and waiting for a reply, Henry realises that she needs to think about their differences, rather than their similarities. Both boys had changed a lot over the past six or so years, and her own mind had matured; she could no longer declare they were from the same ilk, so to speak, and then brush the matter under the carpet. Better yet, the more grown up thing to do would be to stop comparing the boys at all, and take each individual as who they were, without judgement. Henry didn’t know if she was quite grown-up enough to go that far yet, though.
“Yes, actually we have.” It surprises her how easily the ‘we’ rolls off her tongue.
James, who must have been listening to the conversation, slides the piece of paper with their working out on across the table in front of Henry and over to Mark, where it is promptly snatched up by Isabelle. Realising he isn’t going to get a look in, Mark sighs.
Henry fights back a smirk, delighted that his partner’s lack of teamwork skills annoyed him so.
“So” Mark turns to her yet again. “How far have you got?”
“We’re on the last question.” James supplies before Henry can open her mouth, so she nods in agreement, eyes still on Mark.
“What, already? Wow you’ve worked fast!” He frowns, looking at Henry for a reply.
“I guess we make a good team” James replies yet again before Henry can get a word in. “Don’t we, Henry?” He adds, making Henry turn around in her seat and glare angrily at him; to anyone over hearing that conversation it easily sounded like there was more to be said.
And as she swivels back around, it is clear Mark has, indeed, thought it a rather loaded statement. Henry holds her breath.
Luckily, before anymore can be said, Isabelle hands back over the work, thanking them for their help, then insists Mark focus on the next question because they were getting behind.
Henry hadn’t realised she’d started sweating during the exchange, until she felt a bead of sweat trickle down the back of her neck from her hairline. Fanning her face quickly with her hand, she takes a few deep breaths.
James looks up from the next question quizzically. “Are you okay?” His expression quickly turns to one of concern.
“Yes, yes I’m fine!” She is quick to reassure him. The last thing she needed was James calling the teacher over and even more attention from the class on her. “I’m just really hot. Don’t you think it’s really hot in here?” Henry is vaguely aware she sounds a bit panicky, and picks up her pen at a weak attempt to show she is ready to work again.
James studies her, frowning, for a good few seconds, before slowly turning back to his work. Henry lets the breath she’s been holding out slowly.
“Okay guys, stop what you’re doing now. If you can make sure both of your names are on the papers before you hand them to me that would be great. Sorry, time slipped away from me so I’ll get these to your teacher and no-doubt you’ll get the results back next lesson.”
The general hum of the class increases in volume, accompanied by the shuffling of papers and zipping of bags as the class packs away. A cool, relieving breeze drifts into the room as the teacher opens the classroom door.
“Can you give me your papers as you walk out, please.” The substitute raises his voice above the noise as the first few escapees turn around to grab their forgotten papers off of their desks.
Henry is one of the last people to leave the classroom. She follows James out, pausing behind him as James stops to hand the teacher their paper.
The teacher looks across the room as James and Henry begin moving again. “James come on hurry up.”
Henry nearly walks into James who’d stopped with a jolt in front of her and is now peering around, confusion etched across his face.
The teacher looks from Mark across the room to James standing by to door then back again. “Oh for god sake your James, aren’t you?” He asks the correct James, who nods. “And you’re Mark?”
Mark is now moving to the front of the classroom having finally finished packing his bag. “Yeah…” He says it with a frown on his face, as if he is thinking about something and is going to say more.
Henry’d had enough. She pushes past James as politely but as quickly as she can and bolts out of the room to freedom and away from Mark and James and their similarities as the teacher said once more “You two really do look alike.”
That evening Henry exchanges a few texts with Mark, sorting out last minute details of their plan for Mr Brawn on Friday.
In between all of her school work, Henry spends time trying to convince herself that she is only doing this and enjoying it so much because Mr Brawn was rude and obnoxious, and she wants to get her own back. In fact, she almost talked herself out of doing it and had even typed out a text to send to Mark, but she’d changed her mind again. Before she hit send her mum had come into her room with a list of universities from the Russell group that she thought Henry should look into, and she’d advised Henry should probably get started on her early admissions forms. After she left Henry, had a change of heart and deleted the text before she sent it. She needed this. She wanted to do something out of the ordinary, something fun. And someone really did need to teach Mr Brawn a lesson. It was definitely not because she enjoyed talking to Mark. No, definitely not.
She didn't think any more about what Emma had said on the phone. She wasn't going to string Mark along just so that she could get over James. That was even if Mark would have agreed to go out with her. Which he wouldn’t have. It was a well-known fact that they didn’t get along.
The James issue would just have to sort itself out. Henry realised her heart would have healed long ago if James would stop jumping out at her every time things were improving. It was like just when she was starting to move on he reappeared, making her fall in love all over again before stamping on her heart and running off, leaving her to pick up the pieces.