History…last block. No pit stop before class this time. Long before the tardy bell rings, her books lie open and her pen hovers above for note taking. However, when she looks up at Mr. Sterling, she doesn’t see his salted brown hair and ordinary brown eyes framed by a million laugh lines. She sees black hair, probing green eyes and the slightest hint of a dimple to the left of a knowing smile. She hears not a word of Mr. Sterling’s lecture on the discovery and settlement of America. Bent over the notebook, she holds her pen, giving a pretense that she is taking notes.
It seems like seconds later that the final bells shrieks through the halls. Everyone heads for the door before Mr. Sterling is finished talking…end of the day, after all.
Aidan’s pen still perches above an empty page.
Ok, so maybe it isn’t completely empty.
In the upper right hand corner where she usually puts the date, she’s drawn a cross. Not just a couple of lines bisecting each other, but an elaborate Celtic cross about two inches wide and three inches tall, worthy of biblical illustration. Normally, she can’t even draw a straight line with a ruler, yet here is a masterpiece. How did her mind just skip like that?
Aidan snaps the notebook closed, grabs her things and almost runs out of the classroom. After a quick stop at her locker, she heads straight for her car in the far parking lot. Sliding behind the wheel, she tosses everything but the history notebook into the backseat. Flipping through the pages, she half expects the doodle to be gone.
But there it is.
Perfect. Precise. Even vines with tiny leaves and…. She peers closer…yup, minuscule flowers that could be roses.
The passenger door opens.
Aidan tosses the notebook into the back as Celia climbs in.
“Have you ever seen someone so delicious?” Celia hums.
“Stop being dense. The sub, Mr. Morgan.”
Another chill runs down her spine. God, just his name inspires a physical reaction. She hopes Celia doesn’t notice. Why, when she shares everything else with her cousin? “I seem to recall you saying something similar about half the male student body.”
“So I like good-looking guys despite their age,” Celia shrugs. “Speaking of….” The glint in Celia’s eyes put Aidan on edge. “I told Jason we’d stop by practice so you can meet his friend Corey. I met him this morning. Not only is he hot, he’s definitely your type.”
“How can you possibly know what that is when I don’t?” This is what she needs: normal scary instead of irrational scary. She is honestly more afraid of dating than anything else. As a telepathic high school senior, that is saying something.
“Comes with the territory. No one knows you better than family except your best friend.” Celia pauses, a finger poised on her cheek, tapping as if thinking. “Oh, wait! I’m both!” She pounds the dash with her palm. Long black hair bounces. “Come on. Get this thing moving. “I am so not walking down that hill.”
Aidan obediently cranks the engine and pulls out of the parking space. “Fine. I’ll meet him. But if he can’t remember my name tomorrow, you can forget about that double date you’re planning.”
“Sorry. Apparently ignoring boundaries ‘comes with the territory.’” Aidan smiles in Celia’s general direction as she pulls out of the parking space. She feels Celia’s thoughts dip behind a delicate wall, which, according to rules forged long ago, she will not break. For some reason, without Celia bouncing around in her head, the world seems a bit dimmer. On the other hand, maybe it was the sight of the green plain shirt and black hair heading downhill toward the stadium.
Built into a hill, Port Azil High’s four floors sits upon it like steps. The top faces east with a little back road that leads to the faculty parking lot. The bottom overlooks both the stadium and the baseball field. The road from two larger parking lots to the south curves in a switchback between. The hill is so steep it requires hiking boots to navigate it with a reasonable expectation of not falling on your butt. Therefore, concrete steps lead from the school to the stadium and faded crosswalks intersect the roads between.
Forced to stop at the first one, Aidan watches Victor Morgan stride across. In front of her car, he stops and looks up, meeting her eyes.
He smiles with that disturbing familiarity as if they are old friends. She doesn’t return it. Aidan just wants him gone. Celia obviously doesn’t. She has the window down and half her body out before Aidan can stop her.
“Hi, Mr. Morgan!” Celia calls with a lilt in her voice. She drums her fingers on the hood unconsciously careful to let only her fingertips touch, not her maroon-colored nails.
“Hello, girls. Headed home?”
“No, sir. Gonna watch a little football practice. Gotta support the team.”
“I hear the team needs all the support it can get. West Chesterfield may be the next State Champions instead of Port Azil this year. I’m going down to check out what the fuss is all about.” His velvet voice grates on Aidan’s nerves.
Aidan’s knuckles are white on the steering wheel. She wishes desperately that she can stop what is about to happen.
“We’ll give you a ride. Won’t we, Aidan?” Celia ducks her head and tosses overdone pleading right at her. Aidan doesn’t even bother trying. Shrugging, she presses the button that unlocks the doors. She keeps her eyes on Mr. Morgan.
The back door opens. He sticks his head in. “Are you sure?”
“Of course.” Celia kneels in the seat to reach back and move Aidan’s books out of the way. “It’s no trouble at all.”
The history notebook slides to the floorboard. Aidan hears it. She closes her eyes and knows it opened to the glaring white page with the dark spot in the corner. They will see the cross.
Celia leans further and picks up the notebook. She returns to the front with it open in her hands. “What’s this?”
The door slams shut. Aidan hears Mr. Morgan click his seatbelt. She opens her eyes and looks at them. Mr. Morgan is leaning slightly forward to peer over Celia’s shoulder.
Aidan steps on the accelerator. The notebook flies from Celia’s hands into Mr. Morgan’s lap.
“It’s just a doodle. No big deal.”
Celia’s eyes flash. She puts her feet solidly on the floor and snaps her seatbelt.
“This is really good, Aidan,” says Mr. Morgan.
Aidan’s heart pounds. Her face flushes. Her vision grays at the edges as she rounds the curve. She has been holding her breath. She gulps, and wonders what the hell is wrong with her. She glances in the rear view mirror. He studies the cross thoughtfully.
“This is beautiful. I used to know someone who drew like this. Her focus was like a trance.”
“What happened to her?” Wow, what kind of question was that?
“How awful,” Celia says and twists in her seat to peer at Mr. Morgan.
“It was a very long time ago. Although I still have a portrait she did of her children.”
Aidan glances in the mirror again as she parks next to the stadium. She expects the teacher’s eyes to be unfocused and lost to the memory. His clear eyes meeting hers in the reflection startle her.
As soon as the car stops, Celia has the seatbelt off and leans over the seat to take the notebook from Mr. Morgan. “Since when do you draw, Aidan?” She gazes at the cross. “I’ve seen this somewhere before.”
“No you haven’t,” Aidan says quickly and snatches the book from her. “I didn’t draw it. It’s just a doodle Cam left for me when she borrowed it.” She snaps the notebook closed and slides it beneath her seat.
All three cars doors slam at the same time. Aidan doesn’t want to be here anymore. She especially doesn’t want Mr. Morgan watching them make google eyes at a couple of football players. She walks behind the teacher and her cousin, her hands jammed into the pockets of her jeans and hopes he will go away…soon.
An insane thought pops into her head as she follows. Mr. Morgan looks excessively young to be a teacher. He almost looks like…like family. Both he and Celia have the same jet-black hair. Celia’s falls just below her shoulders. It swings to the rhythm of her steps as she flirts shamelessly. She is barely taller than Aidan and only comes up to Mr. Morgan’s chin. Aidan looks closer, not paying attention to what they are saying. Both have the same smooth complexion, the same oval face, the same high cheekbones models drool over, and the same full lips. Both have the same almond-shaped eyes that even Aidan shares with Celia. However, Celia’s lashes curl over soft caramel brown while Mr. Morgan has that emerald green you only read about.
Aidan blinks her own gray eyes and tries to pull her heart out of her throat. She doesn’t know why she feels this uneasy. She has to get over it. Mr. Morgan will probably be here for the rest of the school year. This is Mrs. Roman’s first child. Add a husband with a government job…. She most likely will not return until next year, if at all. By then it won’t matter. Right now, they are stuck with him.
They pass under the archway that leads to the bleachers. Mr. Morgan waves to a group of teachers. The women titter, whisper to each other and point to the field as if they are not talking about the attractive new addition to the staff.
There is an intense school-wide interest in the sports program. Port Azil is a small enough town that high school sports are a large source of entertainment.
“See you girls in class tomorrow,” says Mr. Morgan as he leaves the girls to find their own seats.
Celia’s eyes flicker to the players on the field, to Mr. Morgan climbing the steps to join other teachers, and back to her cousin. “You OK today?”
“Stop asking me that.” Aidan pushes brownish hair behind her ears setting off an amazing dance of the natural colors. Shades of red, blonde and even a few black and white strands dance in the breeze.
“You just seem a little…off.” Celia pulled her to a seat.
“I’m fine, really.” She nods to the field. “Which one is the amazing Jason?”
“Told you. He’s number six. My lucky number. Corey is twenty-three, I think.” Celia directs her attention to the field.
“Why do you even bother? Every guy we know refers to me as ‘Celia’s cousin’ or ‘Celia’s weird friend.’”
The team takes formation, ready to run a play. But Aidan’s eyes slide to Victor Morgan’s black head. Her stomach clenches.
“That is so not true, and you know it. You’re forgetting James’ adoration ain’t for me.” Celia rolls her eyes. “Besides, the way you’re going, you’re only going to meet dirty old truckers at that coffee house.”
“How very prejudiced of you. You’re forgetting your band geek friends and that fact that little freshmeat Joel worships the horse shit you walk on.”
Celia stuck her tongue out.
(Must be a genetic habit.)
“He’s so cute, Aidan. If I were a freshman, I would definitely crush on him. Though, someone needs to teach him not to be so…subservient.”
“‘Cause we don’t want him to be so giving in the future?”
“Because,” Celia says, “he’s the kind of guy who’s nice enough to get taken advantage of.”
Their eyes glued to the field, they are the first to see the head coach throw up his hands in frustration. Celia stands even before the whistle pierces the air. The players run straight for the water coolers. Groups form as spectators meander down to take advantage of the break.
Girls surround uniformed guys shedding helmets as they walk. Aidan shakes her head. The possibility of becoming a jock groupie does not sit very well with her. She much prefers just to be weird, single and sitting in the shadows instead of this bright sunlight.
Celia pulls her in the habit formed since they could walk in the direction of a couple of players waiting off to one side.
Lori, a busty blonde beats them there pushing herself into Jason’s personal space. She bats eyes dark and heavy with mascara. She giggles. Her breasts, unhindered by a bra, jiggle in time to her breathing.
Jason wraps his arm around Celia and pulls her to his side. Celia takes his helmet to keep it from bumping Lori’s legs…again. “You know my girlfriend, Celia, don’t you?” he asks Lori.
Aidan sees what attracts Celia, even if Celia can’t. Jason is all warm and gold. Short blonde hair stands up in sweaty spikes. Blue eyes sparkle with mischief. His is tall, athletic, and definitely, the all-American quarterback.
Aidan concentrates. The brilliant gold aura that surrounds Jason glows.
(I have left Aidan alone at the specific request of her mother, stayed back. I only watch. Most of the time. So I haven’t taught the girl what the colors mean.)
Aidan goes by her gut. To her, Jason just feels beautiful, honest and confident. He genuinely likes Celia. Celia beams up at him, a full head taller than she. Her soft pink aura swirls into his and melts into the gold where they touch – the colors of spring and new love.
“Oh,” Lori says with unbelievably wide eyes and lips that form a perfect O. “I’d heard you were seeing someone, but I had no idea it was serious.” She shrugs. Her boobs jiggle. “You’re invited, of course, Celia.” Lori focuses on the guy next to Jason, obviously a second or third choice. “What about you? Are you coming to the party after the game?”
Corey shakes his head and says with patience, “Sorry, Lori. Not interested.”
Lori’s bright smile falters the tiniest bit. She may be smart enough to catch the double meaning. “Well, OK, then.” They watch her almost literally bounce back to friendly exuberance. “See you later.”
“Jealous?” Jason smiles down at Celia.
“Of what? All looks and no substance? I know you better than you think.” She snuggles a little closer. “So I’m your girlfriend, huh?”
“Hoped you’d see it my way.”
“Don’t push it.” Celia turns to Aidan. “Guess this as good a time as any. Aidan. Corey. And vice versa.”
Aidan looks at Corey, really looks at him. For a moment, she forgets about Victor Morgan up in the bleachers watching them. Where Jason is gold, Corey shines bronze. His dark brown hair is all one length and brushes his chin when he shakes it out. His eyes are soft, a darker brown than Celia’s with flecks of gold. His face has the unmistakable stamp of Native American. Her first reaction is simple, biological: lust.
Corey smiles politely and glances at Jason with a pointed lift of his eyebrows.
It doesn’t take telepath to read the signals between them. Jason’s look says, “Go. Keep her company while I talk to my girl.” He shrugs with a “Who knows, you might like her.”
Corey looks at Aidan, grin frozen on his face.
Celia. This sucks. He’s just helping Jason get rid of me and placating you.
An excuse for all the time it takes to get to know you. You’re pretty and smart. Trust me. He’ll like you.
Aidan watches her cousin turn to back resolutely to her and Corey.
“So. Are you coming to the game Friday.” Corey asks, forcing her to face him for casual small talk.
Something she literally hates. “Are you aware that we’re being set up?”
His grin widens and he drops his helmet. It lands on the ground between them with a soft thud. “Incapable of small talk?”
“Call it a character flaw. Does it happen to you often?”
“Girls with character flaws?”
“Getting set up.”
“Gotta meet people somehow.”
“You have been talking to Celia.” Aidan shoves her hands into her pockets just to do something with them. The back of her neck prickles. She tries to ignore it.
“Actually, no. Jason. I just met Celia this morning. Couples can’t stand for their friends to be single, especially when they’re happy.” He takes a long swallow from a plastic cup and peers at her over the rim.
“True. Celia doesn’t bug me as much when she’s between boyfriends.”
“So, do you want to get together before the ‘date’ they’ve set up? It might help get rid of some of the awkwardness, especially if we just have lunch or something.” His grin fades just a little while he waits for an answer.
“Very considerate of you given that I haven’t even said yes.”
“Are you always this defensive?” He bobs on his feet as if he doesn’t know whether to step forward or back.
“Sorry. Habit. I don’t really date.” She takes a hand out of her pocket and offers it to him. “Wanna try again?”
He shrugs, a little wary. “Sure.”
For Aidan, time seems to slow, her body tenses as if portending something of phenomenal importance. The prickle on the back of her neck deepens until her entire scalp tingles. Just before contact, a whistle shrieks. Break over.
Corey splashes the rest of the water over his head. She watches the drops in his hair sparkle in the sunlight. He bends for his helmet, scrunches the cup and tosses it into a nearby trashcan. “Lunch tomorrow?”
“I don’t eat lunch.” She meets his eyes. “I mean, I’ll be in the library.”
“See you there,” he says.
She watches him run back onto the field and tells herself it is his graceful stride she admires.
“Liar”, Celia whispers in her ear.
“Don’t have to. It’s written all over your face.
“Don’t say it.”
“I have to. I did tell you.”
Aidan elbows her as they leave. She shoots a look up to the groups of teachers huddled on the bleachers. Victor Morgan is in an animated conversation with Mrs. Black, the art history teacher. He doesn’t even glance their way.
Aidan squints in the sun’s glare. Maybe she isn’t close enough, or maybe it is the sunshine, but she can’t make out an aura around him. Funny, though, she thinks she glimpses a hint of pink around Mrs. Black.
He knows when she leaves.
Her presence is like a lover’s caress – soft, familiar.
It fades when she is gone.
He’s found her.
He can wait.