This is the beta version of my novel. If you are a new reader – welcome. You can read from the start here.
New sections are released every Tuesday and Friday. Please let me know your opinion in the comments section. Thank you for reading.
Artie sat alone at the scuffed and graffiti-covered picnic table and squinted at her tuna sandwich. The bright April sunlight bounced off the windows of the college refectory and stabbed into her eyes.
A hand clapped her on the back. She coughed. A piece of tuna sandwich caught in her throat.
“Hey little sis.”
“Hey surrogate sis.”
Alex and James. Artie turned and glared. She struggled to swallow her mouthful of fishy bread. The lads moved around the table to sit on the opposite bench.
“Only twelve minutes.”
“Whatever,” Alex shrugged. “Seniority is seniority.”
He slouched down opposite her grinning. Sunglasses perched in his artfully messy blond hair. Her brother was almost a foot taller than her, and lean from playing football. In high school he had been almost as small as Artie. Now hanging around with him made her feel like she was a little kid. Him calling her “little sis” while he lounged there looking so confident and cool and grown-up didn’t help.
“Mind if we join you?” Alex stretched his face into a cavernous yawn.
James, Alex’s best friend since nursery school, smiled at Artie. “You looked a little lonely.”
Artie glanced around and over her shoulder.
“Waiting for Sam. She was supposed to get out of Politics a quarter of an hour ago and meet me for lunch.”
“Hah,” Alex said. “Don’t hold your breath. Just saw her out by the prefabs.”
James puckered his lips, tipped his sunglasses down and batted his eyes at Artie. “She was indulging in some serious flirt with Aaron Burke.” He mimed twisting a lock of hair around his finger.
“Aaron Burke? Seriously?” Artie made a noise through her teeth.
“Why not? I would.” James made a purring noise. “Rawr.”
“The guy’s main ambition in life is making sure that his charity wristbands match the rest of his ensemble.”
“We can’t all have both brains and beauty like you,” James pushed his shades up onto the top of his head. “And like me, of course. Besides he’s perfect for Sam – she has a long history of bimbo boyfriends.”
He shot a sidelong glance across at Alex, who leaned over and thumped James on the top of the arm.
“Saw that joke coming a mile away. Get some new material.” Alex yawned and rolled his head around to stretch his neck. Alex and Sam had dated for most of Year 11. They had been the school’s golden couple. Against all probability the relationship had come and gone without fraying any of the ties that bound their friendship group together.
Alex straightened and looked through the wall of glass into the refectory. He grinned.
“Speaking of poor taste in men.”
James glanced over his shoulder and turned back to Artie. He was grinning too. Artie looked up. She knew what she would see before she saw it, but still her lips went dry and her palms started to sweat.
Rob Allinson. Standing at the focus of a group of football team lads and three of the girls from the popular clique. Someone made a joke and he tossed his head backwards to laugh. The tips of his sandy hair brushing out of eyes that Artie knew to be golden around the outside and mossy green in the centre.
“Hey guys. What are we doing?” Sam dropped her backpack on the bench beside Artie. She dropped herself into the seat with just as much decorum and flipped a long strand of strawberry blonde hair over one shoulder.
“Rob-stalking.” James said. Artie snapped her gaze back to her sandwiches.
“Again?” Sam laughed. Alex and James joined in.
“”Yeah. Thanks, you lot.” Artie shook her head at them and pinched her lips together to prevent her own laughter from encouraging them. OK, so she was obvious and pathetic in her crush on Rob. She couldn’t help it. She placed the blame squarely on rampaging teenage hormones.
“Better Rob than Aaron Burke, anyway.” She raised her eyebrows at Sam.
Sam reached in her bag and fished out her sandwiches.
“I was just inviting him to my party next month. My parents are second, or third, or fifth honeymooning. So there’s potential and permission for an all weekend bash.”
“I’m outraged.” Alex stifled a yawn. “How come we weren’t invited?”
Sam rolled her eyes. “I’m inviting you now. Last chance to booze it up before exams.”
Alex yawned again.
“What’s up with you today, man?” James frowned at Alex. “You were practically asleep in Chem.”
“Dunno.” Alex rubbed a hand over his eyes. “I’m knackered today.”
Artie looked up from her food.
“You were sleepwalking last night.”
Alex grinned and raised his eyebrows at her. He leaned back and folded his arms.
Artie nodded. “No, really.”
“Seriously?” He pushed himself forwards and put his elbows on the table. “Where did I go?”
“You were out on the common behind our garden.”
Artie watched flickers of confusion on Alex’s face. She hit him with the rest. “Playing your violin.”
James looked Alex up and down. “Weird.”
“Very weird.“ Sam agreed.
“You aren’t just making this up to mess with me?”
“No way. I had to come and bring you to bed.”
Alex stared past her head, chewing his lower lip. The flickering confusion had set into something more troubled.
“What you said about the violin… And I had such an odd dream last night.”
“Yeah,” Sam said. “What kind of dream?”
“It was…” A deep blush spread over Alex’s cheeks and his eyes blinked rapidly. He dropped his hands to his lap and adjusted in his seat. “It was just odd.”
The strong red glared out from beneath his tan and he avoided Artie’s questioning look.
James twisted his left wrist to view his watch.
“Come on. Time to fall asleep in Maths.”
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