by Lady H
“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, on the verge of tears, wails into her mobile later on that evening.
Much later in fact. After the kiss James had begged her not to mention it to Darcy, and then he had the audacity to ask Henry not to reveal any of their past to anyone in the school. He thought it was for the best. Henry was still in shock at the time and hadn't argued, but after having time to reflect she accepted it was a terrible plan and it was all going to come out at some point, and probably ruin her life. Needless to say, she was feeling more than sorry for herself.
After Henry had insisted she couldn't stay in the bedroom 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 living room. There wasn’t enough room to seat all seven of them in either of the rooms comfortably. They also stayed for coffee, and then their mums snuggled down to watch what they insisted was their favourite TV programme.
When that finally finished at ten o'clock, Henry counted her blessings that her mum or Sophie hadn’t insisted on a sleepover for old times’ sake.
She'd ran straight up to her room 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. And there was no way she was keeping this drama from Emma.
“Oh Henry, and 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 you as you were to see him, then. All ghostly and pale, I thought you were going to faint! 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."
“So that double date on Thursday, that's with James?” Emma confirms. Henry's mouth falls open; with all the drama, she'd forgotten about the date. "You'll have to try and get out of it."
“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. And James wants me to act like I don't even know him!” Henry sighs heavily.
“What a mess.” Emma says sympathetically. When Henry first told Emma about James, Emma explained her dad and his best friend had fantasied about their children growing up and getting married. They summarised most parents probably dreamed something similar. Henry would rather her mum kept her nose out of Henry's love life. Not that she even had one right now. But still. 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 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.”
“I'm not saying it needs to be anything serious. Just something to take your mind off James.”
“Who though? Emma, I don't even like anyone right now.” Other than James.
“What about someone you don't like?"
"What do you mean?"
"What about someone you actively disagree with?"
"Ermm?" What on earth is Emma thinking? She is definitely up to something.
“What about Mark Roberts?”
Henry pauses. Ah, so here it is. Emma is trying to set her up with Roberts again. Why was she suddenly pushing it so much? Emma knew more than anyone how awful Mark had treated Henry over the years, recent weird alliance aside. Mark was so arrogant, just like James. Henry didn't even want to give him the satisfaction of thinking she liked him. Besides, the disliking was a two way thing. Why would he ever agree to be her boyfriend? “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 letting me moan, Ems. Night.”
“Night Henry, sleep tight.”
Tuesday passes without incident. Henry tries her best to avoid James around school but he and his family turn up that night to play a board game. She tries to escape quoting homework due, but her mum is insistent. When it's 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. Unable to tell Darcy the truth, Henry has to grin and bare Darcy's gushing. Whether it was trying to decipher his latest message, to something funny he said in class, or the flowers he’d brought around to her mother, 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 is unsure why she's keeping James' secrets. She also doesn't think 'because it's for the best' is a good enough explanation as to why she can't share, yet she continues to play his loyal puppet. She knows the longer this goes on for, the greater the fallout will be. She feels incredibly guilty hiding so much from Darcy, but she can't bring herself to say something. Where would she even begin?
Wednesday morning Henry is in Maths class. Unluckily for her, they have a substitute teacher who for reasons unbeknown to his pupils, decided to give them a seating plan. Weren't supply teacher's meant to be pushovers? Even more unluckily, by some cruel stroke of fate Henry's ended up sitting with James on her left, and Mark on her right. At least Mark had 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, shuffling through papers to find the seating plan. “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 seems she's 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?" He's so annoying. "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 all those 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, comparing calculations and coming up with answers that they scrutinise and test 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 they were both so at ease with.
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 sounded stupid, especially as comparing their similarities is what had got her into this mess in the first place, but when she was eleven she'd concluded they were the same person and that was that, never again to be revisited or reviewed. Although they did in some ways resemble each other, they had distinct differences. Not just physically, but in there person, their mannerisms, their thought processes.
Both had changed a lot over seven years, as well as Henry herself maturing. She just hadn't realised it until now. Until 'the cupboard incident' as Emma had taken to calling it, and James reappearing in her life. If this unexpected rapport with Mark was going to continue, and she was going to move on from James, she needed to stop comparing them to each other, and let the past go.
Mark was still looking at her expectantly. “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 messages with Mark, sorting out last minute details of their plan for Mr Brawn on Friday.
Amidst all of the homework and papers spread over her bedroom floor, Henry sits fretting about the plan. What if they got caught? How much trouble would she get into? Mr Brawn was rude and obnoxious, and she wanted to get her own back. But she could just report him to the head teacher. Surely if enough students complained the school would have to do something?
She'd got as far as typing out an apologetic message to Mark saying she couldn't go through with it, when her mum knocks, and enters with a list of top Russell Group universities, querying whether Henry has started any of the early admissions forms yet. As her mum shuffles back downstairs Henry erases the message she is about to send.
She needs this. She wants to do something out of the ordinary, something fun, just once. Something to momentarily relieve the stress and tension she's feeling about university, and her family, and all the pressure that's going to build in the coming months. And someone really did need to teach Mr Brawn a lesson. This had nothing to do with enjoying spending time with Mark. Emma had it all wrong. Henry was sure.
Henry tried not to think too much about James, and Darcy, all the secrets being woven and the complications lying ahead. Damn James for bulldozing straight back into her life, for the second time in two years. Her heart would have healed long ago if he stopped popping up just when things were improving.