My last day of normality is average. The dissatisfaction of it has been growing for a while now. There isn't a specific cause for it as far as I can tell, but it's there, a little bigger every day. I have no idea why, and with the puppies crawling all over my crossed legs as I socialize them at the shelter, I have no reason for the discontent. Charlie, a two months old Golden Retriever, bites my legging pants, play growling at me. A little tickle on his belly and he's down on his back, all legs up, wiggling his tail so hard his entire body is shaking playfully. His funny noises are barely audible under the din of dozens of other dogs and the cats kept along another wing of the shelter.
"Adoption visit. Puppy line up." Amy calls out from the front. The little puppies wriggle madly, tumbling over each other. I comb the wisps of hair that escaped my coronet braid to glue themselves on my sweaty face, and patiently try to line the little rascals. They're children, so trying to do this is simply waste a time, but I do it anyway.
The Johnson's little girl, Emily, looks at the large doggy playground where I am and the ten puppies run to the gate, yipping for attention. Blond little Emily kneels in front of the fence with wide, delighted green eyes. Mr Johnson smiles a greeting for me but doesn't look away from his daughter, as it should be.
"Which one is the most energetic and playful? I need a little guy to tire Emy out." Soft-spoken Mrs. Johnson asks. Emily can't stop looking at Charlie, who's licking her fingers through the waist high bars.
"The one who seems to already have picked your girl." I smile, picking up Charlie and handing him over. Charlie is one of my favourites, he got in with his mama and three sisters at one week old when the mama's owners decided they didn't want a pregnant dog.
"Should we pick one for Dmitri?" Mrs. Johnson asks her husband. My ears perk right up. There isn't anyone with the name of Dmitri in town, I'd remember the name, even with the town's fifty thousand inhabitants. Mr Johnson looks put upon, like he's had to deal with lots of unreasonable requests lately.
"For God's sake woman, your brother hasn't even gotten here yet and you're already trying to get him a dog and thinking of introducing your single friends. Give the guy time to breathe, dammit." I turn around, trying to smother laughter. Emily is playing with the puppy, unconcerned with her parents' conversation.
"He needs emotional support before I tell him about dad." She whispers. Charlie licks Emily's face and she giggles, distracting the adults. Mrs Johnson looks at me, noting how close I am. "Later." Her husband nods.
"So, have you done my essay?" She clucks at me. Crap. I should know better than to get close. A particularly vicious kick makes Mrs Johnson rub her six months pregnant belly, wincing.
"Of course. It's ready for delivery bright and early tomorrow morning." She nods absently, not really listening. Yeah, that's me. Easily forgotten, easily dismissed. Ms Goody Two Shoes. The one who never causes trouble, the one who's been volunteering four times a week to the animal shelter and has the second best grades in class, the one who has never had anything interesting happening in her life and neither has she made something interesting happen.
The Johnson's take Charlie with them, since they were already preapproved for a pup and I finish my shift, throwing my apron on the employee basket. It's a relief to undo the coronet braid and let my waist long mahogany coloured hair free. My car, a black 1967 Mercedes-Benz W113 Convertible, is a welcome sight. Pets are awesome, but they are a little tiring too after a full day of school. I drive home listening to In This Moment.
"Cat, what're you wearing to school today?" Victoria bursts into the room early next morning like a hurricane, without bothering to knock. The fifteen-year-old devil closes the door behind her, at least. I finish towelling my dripping hair before answering, thinking.
"White long sleeve shirt with the white lace vest and knee-length skirt."
"Boo. Can I borrow that purple top Maya gave you last year? You never wear it anyway." She grins impudently.
"Only if you hand over those bracelets you bought last weekend." The good thing about having a sister the same size is the double closet, even if I'm still stung over that comment. It's the same almost every day, not necessarily from her, but from those around me elsewhere, like school and at the shelter. Gods, I'd kill for some excitement. If I knew what's good, thoughts like these would never cross my mind.
Vivi goes off to shower with a skip on her step while I dress. My stomach rumbles at the delicious smell of pancakes and chocolate syrup coming from the kitchen. I set the blouse Vivi wants on the bed then open my laptop. The background image is of Rowan Hale, the hip photographer everybody loves loving, son of the great Anthony Hale, who was just as big in his time. There's something about him I can't stop staring. Maybe it's the shoulder-length hair that refuses to stay tied up, or the grey eyes that sparkle with merriment like he's amused at the world, but I feel like I know him. Like we'd be great friends if we ever met. While Vivi enjoys her shower I stalk his public pages, looking at his most recent work. Gods, I want to be good like that. I want to show the beauty hidden in what appears average, like a flower blooming in a sidewalk or the ancient ruin in the middle of the overgrown forest.
"I'm here. Thanks sis." She dumps the bracelets near the blouse. We do each other's makeup real quick. Vivi's green eyes, she got them from mom same as me, are brought out with purple eyeshadow and a thin line of khol, and amber lipstick, while I get just eyeliner and metallic coral lipstick. I look at myself and I look... plain, while Vivi looks vibrant and alive in her knee-high boots, jeans and purple button up blouse and lace choker. She's three years younger than me yet everybody thinks she's older when they see us together for the first time, she's not even taller, but she is livelier. Vivi catches my look and sighs.
"Honestly, if you don't like it just change."
"Into what? All I have is more of the same."
"Then come shopping with Maya and me." I don't know... "Girl, when are you going to do what you want? When are you going to live a little? You got a great figure, those boobs are envy worthy, your hair is fabulous and you... just don't play any of it up. When you change your mind, talk to me, ok?"
"I just don't know what to do? I don't know where to start, I don't even know if I want to. What if the others mock me for it?" Vivi sighed. I envy her confidence.
"If you change your mind, Maya and I can help you out. Now let's go, I wanna see Chase before school."
We go down together It's eight fifteen, we're close to late already.
"Morning Olivia." Vivi hugs our housekeeper slash babysitter slash mom's best friend tightly and enthusiastically.
"Morning Victoria," Olivia kisses Vivi's head then turns to me.
"Good morning Catelyn." Olivia kisses me too then leads us to the table where scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice are waiting for us. "Come girls, you're already late. You look stunning, by the way. Any special occasion? Trying to get boys interested?" I hated the way she says "boys" as if that is all we are supposed to be thinking about because of being fifteen and eighteen year olds. Boys, boys, boys, I'm sick of the word and sick of what is implied when "adults" say it.
"I slept in." I groan so I don't scowl, eating fast. "No special occasion, I'm not in love with anyone and we have to go soon." I add when she makes to ask again. Vivi winks at me, doing her best not to smile. Dear sister's eyes sparkle with the first love she thinks I don't know about and I snicker inwardly. That one IS thinking about boys.
"And you?" Olivia turns to her. Oh, shit! Vivi is a horrible liar!
"I'm finished. Let's go." I grab her hand before she can answer and pull her from the chair.
"Hey, your plate is still-" Olivia fell silent staring at my empty plate. The front door banged shut as we run to my car, giggling like children. Olivia knows us too well for us to lie, and if Vivi wanted to talk about her heart her magpie tendencies would have already made sure everybody knew about it.
"Here," Vivi passes over a water bottle from her backpack. Aggressive battle tactics have big prices and my throat is complaining the shovelling of food.
"Thanks. You really need to learn to deflect her probing or I'm gonna choke to death one of these days," I massage my poor throat as we sit down and buckle up. Vivi rolls her eyes.
"Sorry Kitty." the dumb girl giggled. We start on our way to the school. Vivi turns on the AC because of the January cold and plugs her phone so Eminem blasted from the speakers. "Hey, they did a good job retrofitting a modern sound system in here."
The school comes into view twenty minutes later, a group of six grey stone buildings with Gothic fences and a big parking lot. It looks fancy, but it is merely a repurposed factory smack dab in the edge of the city, not that anyone can tell nowadays what it used to be. The second we park, her best friend comes up, a guy named Daniel. He pulls her from the car with a grin.
"Trina! Good morning." They hug and Daniel turns to me. "Morning Cat. I'll be stealing this girl, see ya."
His adorkable grin makes me smile every time, I wave goodbye as they both run towards the school building where another girl and a guy wait for them. My own best friend comes up behind me, so I pretend I don't see her until the last second.
"Good morning." Maya jumps and throws her arms around my neck.
"Can't breathe!" I gasp. Maya lets go and turns to face me, hands on my shoulders still. Her face is suddenly grave. My heart thuds warningly. "So, don't freak out, but Mrs Johnson got sick last night and they had to call in a substitute." Oh no! Was it Charlie? Did she have an allergic reaction to the dog?
"Apparently they suddenly figured out she's carrying twins when she fainted yesterday and her stats worried them so much they put her on mandatory bed rest." She goes on. Oh! It's not Charlie. Suddenly, guilt slams into me. Was I really worried about the puppy when Mrs Johnson isn't well? No, I realise. I'm worried about all. Emily for loosing her new dog, Mrs Johnson for her health, the babies, and Mr Johnson for having to take care of everything and still handle his job as Gym teacher. Maya grabs my hand, leading me to our form classroom. Wait, she was our form tutor, who's going to take over that too?
"We should make something for her family. To help take the pressure off. Oh I know. We can talk to the cooking class. Maybe the teacher will have an idea."
We go to our respective seats. The class was already buzzing with the news we were gonna have someone knew teaching us, and rife with speculation over who it's gonna be. Truth be told, Mrs Johnson is the best photography teacher in the city, there isn't anyone worthy of replacing her. From the arts class Mrs Johnson is a tutor of, only Maya and I do photography, so they aren't nearly as preoccupied as the tilt of Maya's lips tells me she is. Mrs Johnson is, was, coaching us for an important contest we were accepted on. I open my photography course work and fiddle with my camera, trying a new setting I finished reading about yesterday before bed.
The bell rings but nobody stops talking until the door opens suddenly. Someone comes in and the hairs on the back of my neck stand. I look up suddenly and gasp, loudly. No, that can't be true! But... the vision is still there when I rub my eyes disbelievingly. "That can't be!" I only realise I've spoken aloud when the man himself, Rowan Hale turns his heavy gaze and narrows his eyes warningly. They're just as grey and sparkling as it looks on his pictures but they shift to send ice daggers my way before clearing up to look at the rest of the class.
"Good morning, my name is Dmitri Hale. My sister, Vasillisa Johnson, asked me to take over for her for the rest of the year." Holy fuck Rowan Hale is Mrs Johnson's BROTHER.
His eyes don't miss a single detail of the salmon coloured classroom filled with photographic works of previous students, the two sets of blinds on each window in case we have to darken the room, two sinks in the back next to a locked cabinet with photography equipment the students can borrow and the little green door that leads to the dark room where pictures can be developed old style. The student desks are in four rows, two facing the walls and two facing each other in the centre of the room. Every desk has a laptop with up to date software and his desk is pushed against the middle rows. I am suddenly glad I sit facing the door, right next to his desk. If I move wrong, my foot can even hit its leg. He watches each face attentively, spending a full second on each.
"Is that who I think it is?" Maya whispers in my ear. She too can't stop looking at him, but there's something wrong with me. My heart is racing like its never raced before, the hair on my body is standing up in little shivering waves, gods, I could just moan if the sound wouldn't draw the attention of everybody, him included.
"Yes! That's Rowan Hale." I whisper back and even my voice is different, huskier. Hale looks at me and his face closes off. He's glaring at me and I don't have any idea why! Is it... because I know who he is? I can barely think between a suddenly rioting body and the hurt of unearned coldness. The camera slips from my fingers and only Maya's quick action prevents it from falling splat on the ground. Gods, I need to control my body but I don't know how! I've never felt anything like this in all my life. His black vest suit makes him even more attractive. Maya hands over my camera, while I'm focusing on her I can feel his eyes taking me in, top to bottom, and the scowl says he's displeased with what he's seeing. I tremble in shame. Yeah, I'm boring and have a fucking inferiority complex. Somehow I want him to like me, to see me. Why didn't I take Vivi's example and dress better? I don't know why it matters, why I care, but my hero is standing right next to me addressing the class, he's my new teacher, which is unbelievable enough, and... he finds me lacking. It'd be infuriating if it wasn't heartbreaking.
"Right. Vasilisa left me her class plan, so don't except to get off just because I'm new here. So... I'll be asking each of you to introduce yourselves so I know exactly who is who. You start." He pointed at the student behind me, who dutifully got up. Student after student introduced themselves, Robert, Theo, Andrew, Ana, Julius, Mary, Lilian, on and on. When the outer row was finished he pointed to Kyle, the student in front of me, so it went around the table until Maya. By this point I was so red with embarrassment that I could only mumble.
"C-Catelyn Greene, I'm eighteen and doing photography with... Mrs Johnson." His glare turned so severe the last came out as a squeaky whisper. I wish the floor would open up and swallow me. The others are looking at me with mocking looks and snide smiles. They don't know why the new teacher apparently hates me, but they aren't particularly friends of mine so they will take pleasure from this.
"What the fuck is wrong with this guy? Why's he treating you like this? He never saw you before in his life!" Maya asks loud enough for him to hear as he goes by behind us. Hale stumbles slightly and exhales angrily before continuing the circuit around the classroom.
The Form class goes on as usual, with absences to justify and all that crap. The moment the bell rings once more I run away to the bathroom and close myself in a stall. Gods, I can't believe he humiliated me in front of the whole class. Guess this is why people say it doesn't pay to meet your heroes, that reality fails short of imagination. Now that I'm not in front of him my heart is finally slowing down and the heat in my cheeks is fading, but my hands are shaking with the beginning of anger. Maya is right, just what in the hell is wrong with him to treat me so badly? I might look innocent as hell but I'm still a worthwhile human being and he has no right to treat me like this.
Dozens of girls enter the bathroom and mill around with their friends, primping and doing their biz in the other stalls. "Cat. Cat where are you? Come out." She peeks under the stalls until she finds my white allstars and plants herself in front of the door. I sigh. She ain't leaving until I do. Wiping tears of anger, I wait until most of the girls go away before coming out. Maya looks at me compassionately and that only makes me angrier. Maybe, if I like how I look he won't undermine my self confidence so much? "How are you, sweety?" Maya tries to comb loose hair from my face but I flinch away from her. If she touches me I might start crying again and I don't want that.
"Help me. I can't face him... like this." I point at myself and Maya dutifully looks me over. Maya herself is wearing her favourite over the knee socks, a floor length black skirt, a long blue trench coat, giving her a silhouette like Tris on Divergent with her grey clothes on, and a high neck baby blue sweater. She looks me up and down assessingly and I can tell what she thinks of my outfit without saying anything.
"Alright. Roll up your skirt four fingers wide up and take off your shoes and socks.." She steps out of hers and rolls down her socks, which she exchanges for mine. She tweaks my skirt until it's fashionably short, but not too short, and helps me roll on the socks until they stay in place. "Here." She removes a baby blue ribbon from the waist of her sweater and deftly belts my lace vest with it, tightening my silhouette by accenting the waist. I try to turn to look in the mirror, but she stops me and steps behind me where she loosens the braid in my hair then pushes my shoulders until I bend slightly. Maya separates two strands of hair, one on either side of my face, then takes some hairpins from her pocket.
Wow. I'm still definitely me, but by all the gods I definitely don't look boring anymore. She's given me a high ponytail with a little elevation on top, and with the modifications I look... trendy. She's emboldened the eyeliner and changed my lipstick from metallic pastel pink to a beautiful bronze. "You can keep it." Maya smiles. I look up quickly, trying not to cry. I'm so bloody thankful. I don't know if this image suits me, or if I suit it, but the bell is ringing and there's no turning back now.
We walk hand in hand to the classroom we just left since the photography lessons are there. Hale is sitting down at the desk typing furiously on his laptop. He stiffened when I go by and when I reach my seat he's glaring again. The heat is back in my body, that awful need of something I don't really understand, but feels urgent and painful but it's not taking me by surprise anymore and I can think, and I can get angry. So when I'd lower my head before, I'm tilting my chin up and glaring back. I even lean forward, enough that my hair, the two parts Maya left free, fall forward on his desk, near his hand.
"I know who you are, and if this is your real self I wish I'd never seen you in my life." His eyes widen in surprise but this boldness drained me and I'm shaking so badly I have to hide my hands under the table. The damaged nerve at the bottom right corner of my lip is twitching fast as it always does when I'm upset, angry or hurt. If I were alone I'd be bursting into tears again. Is it really so hard to be brave?
The other students come inside and take their seats. Our photography class is only ten students strong, but there are other classes, not just us. There's Emilio, Johanna, Suzy, Hibiki, Maya, me, Patrick, Harry, Matt and Leo. They are also our crew. "How you doing?" Emilio drops a kiss on my cheek, looking me up and down. Patrick does the San, smiling.
"Hot damn, lady. You look great today!" He kisses my other cheek.
"Down boys." Maya elbows them friendly with a little more strength that's necessary, feeling Hale's eyes on us. I gather all my courage to banter back. If it comes shaky they pretend they didn't notice.
"Today? Does that mean I look like shit every other day?" I joke weakly, aware he is paying attention even if he's now staring at the laptop in front of him.
"Of course not. Let me try again, you look amazing! How 'bout that?" Patrick wiggles his eyebrows.
"Better." Maybe this isn't so hard after all? It's making the others happy, and I'm even enjoying it a little despite the circumstances.
"Sit down and open your books." Dmitry R. Hale fairly barked the order.
"Who the fuck is he and what bit his ass?" Patrick whispers in my ear before getting settled.
We go through it again, who he is, what is he doing here, our introduction, his assurance we won't be compromised by the change in teachers, all that stuff. Well, screw him. I'm already being affected by the change. "Please hand over the essays you got assigned last week."
The moment his fingers touch mine accidentally a bolt of electricity struck my body so hard I almost gasp. A second one follows closely on its wheels when I finally stop being stupid and realise what this is.
Good gods, I'm in lust with the man. The realisation doesn't help at all! What do I do? How to I act? What do people do when they're in lust? Everything is so confusing. One thing is for sure though, I can't keep going like this. Not because of what happened today, but because I just don't like myself how I am right now. I dress like a five-year-old, I don't go out even though I recently turned eighteen and can do so freely. Something's gotta give.
"I changed my mind." I announce at our usual table. Maya, Vivi and the rest of the photography class look up uncomprehendingly. "We're going shopping today. I don't have work at the shelter."
"What are we getting?" Hibiki perks up.
"Everything. This," I point at my clothes, "is going down."
"Is that because of that Mr Sexy taking over class?" Johanna winks.
"That's got nothing to do with it. Keep Hale out of it." I can't help the damn blush, or his defence, knowing who he is. There's still a part of me that's disposed to believe that someone that takes pictures so amazing can't be the awful person I met today. It's impossible to believe. It's impossible to capture the depth of emotion he does if he can't feel it. It would come through.
"Don't mention that dude. You should have recognized him as soon as he came in. And if you don't, I'm not going to tell you." Maya sniffed delicately. The table falls into silence... and then everybody's talking at once except for Suzy.
"Yeah, I noticed too, but I didn't like the way he was looking at you. I can't be a fan of someone who treats others like shit, I don't care who they are." She says. I hug her, it's a relief to know I didn't imagine his instant dislike. I'm doubting my sanity a little.
When the boys get up to take the trays I lean forward. I need to know. "Both times I saw him something strange happened to me. I think... I think I'm in lust with the guy. I mean, as soon as I saw him I just... my body went crazy! My heart was racing and..." I blush.
"Yeah, we noticed. Your pupils were so wide you looked like you were on drugs." Johanna says.
"And you were breathing really fast." Hibiki adds.
"And your breathing was all-"
"Enough. Gods. If you noticed that means he noticed too. I'm so ashamed!" The urge to hide is overwhelming. I just want to crawl under the table, or melt into a puddle like Casper and sink through the floor.
"You should just jump him." Johanna throws it out carelessly.
"She ain't jumping anyone who looks at her like she's a snake!" Maya speaks up before I can.
"Fine, but we definitely have to do an upgrade on our girl. Show him what he's missing and all that." Hibiki motions towards my clothes. Someone kill me please?
"Guys... I just saw him for the first time today. He isn't missing anything?" I try to point out logically.
"Oh, hush. He's just the excuse for a complete makeover. Today, after school. We'll convoy to the mall. Ladies... bring the 'rentals' credit card because we're definitely going overboard here."