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Of books and late classes

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In another world, in another time, they were destined to meet, but never to love. 

By a twist of fate, they fell under the curse. Now, instead of Peter and Wendy, they’re Gwen and James. 

 

Anyone who would take a look at Gwen Berry would believe that she was a perfectly happy, healthy teenage girl. And yes, sometimes, she did feel that way. There were times in which Gwen felt very happy, very satisfied with her life as it was. After all, it was perfect, wasn’t it ? She was pretty – everybody said so. Golden curls, green eyes, thin frame. She was also rather popular – rare were those who didn’t like her, at school, save for a few silly boys. She was a very good student. Straight As.Yes, her life was very good indeed.

But sometimes, she felt as though this perfection was like a coat of porcelain, cracked on the inside, ready to collapse, to burst into shreds. Sometimes, it felt as though her skin was a cage, as though her body was a prison she couldn’t leave. She suffocated in her own skin, in her life. The pale yellow walls of her room seemed to close in on her every night, as though somehow, the very color of them blinded her. As though they were meant to be a different color.

As though her life was just a series of misplaced puzzle pieces, chaotically arranged in the wrong order, and yet, she couldn’t move a single one. She was stuck.

Her room was filled with books, but she scarcely had time to open one. Her life was kept on a tight schedule : school, piano lessons, helping her aunt at the teashop, homework, and volunteer work as well as ballet lessons on the week-ends. Her aunt insisted she be educated. And yet, her mind was filled with stories, with far-off places, with tales of adventures she didn’t even recall reading. Every time she sat down with a book, a feeling of odd anxiety and impatience in her chest, the phone rang, or her aunt (and legal guardian) knocked on the door, interrupting her. She never had time to do what she wanted.

She was caged.

Gwen longed for a world that was right there, in front of her, and yet always out of reach.

And then, one evening (8.15 PM), she opened a book and read. It was around 10 PM when she realized she had finished the novel. It spoke of a princess, a pirate in disguise, a giant and a gifted swordsman. And, in the end, a sweeping kiss.

A kiss.

Life changed in Storybrooke, although Gwen, nor anyone else, realized it, or knew the cause of it. All that Gwen noticed was that one of the children that took piano lessons with her every Thursday (the Mayor’s son, Henry Mills), stopped coming. It was odd : Gwen’s schedule had never been perturbed before, although she was only vaguely aware of the change. Still, free time gave her an odd sort of rush.

School was the same, though. Studying, answering right in class (to an extent that sometimes annoyed her classmates), lunching with her friends, helping some younger students with their homework… Gwen smiled through it, even enjoying some of it, but sometimes, in the middle of a class, while the teacher smiled at her for her right answer, Gwen felt as though she was frozen on the spot, ready to shatter like a statue of ice.

During a lunch break, she escaped to the school library. She had only passed through before. She grabbed a book of stories, and read throughout the whole hour. She was incredibly late for her next class.

She got detention for the first time in her life (how long was that ? She had been in high school for a few years and yet, it seemed like forever).

Her aunt wasn’t pleased but to be honest, Gwen felt rather… excited. Finally. Something new.

Of course, once she stepped foot into the classroom after school, her smile faded when she noticed that another student was in detention. She should have expected it.

James Young.

Gwen didn’t know him very well. They had crossed paths, of course, but she couldn’t recall ever speaking a word to him. They didn’t run in the same circles.

But then again, James Young didn’t run in any circle. He marched to the beat of his own drum. And although there was a very secret, very deeply buried part of Gwen that admired him for it, she couldn’t condone the way he behaved at school.

To say he was a rebel was an understatement. He was a delinquent. He talked back to teachers, skipped class, got suspended very often – he did everything he could to guarantee the wrath of authority. He sometimes carried a pocketknife in a way that would ensure it would get noticed. He flicked a lighter and pretended to set books on fire. To be honest, Gwen wasn’t sure why he hadn’t been expelled yet.

He had no friends. Nobody seemed to like him. He was always, always alone, but he acted as though it didn’t before him. As though others were boring for not wanting to play his little games.

Well, Gwen had no time for games and provocation. She had brought a book with her, determined to get through it during the hour of detention. As she stood in the doorway, staring at the boy without realizing (it was the first time she saw him less than a few meters away), he looked at her, and raised an eyebrow. She looked away, locking a strand of hair behind her ear. He was staring at her in a way that made her awfully uncomfortable : it was as though he was trying to see through her soul.

Or through her clothes.

Teenage boys were a scary breed, or so her aunt said. Gwen shuddered involuntarily.

As though he had read her mind, James emitted a low chuckle, and Gwen shifted uncomfortably, brushing the thought off. Lifting her chin, she ignored him and sat in the first row – he saw in the third one, his feet up on the desk. The teacher came in, giving him a look : he didn’t move.

The teacher gave Gwen a quick smile (teachers loved her), and closed the door, mentioning she wouldn’t be too far away and would come back to check on them. Gwen smiled politely, and opened her book : Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë.

She started reading, and soon was caught up in that feeling she had when she read : as thought she was transported, as though she was, herself, running through the dark hills … the classroom around her seemed to disappear.

Until a noise pulled her from her reading.

A few desks behind her, James, with a key in his hand, was scratching under the desk, and a terrible noise was coming from it. Gwen gritted her teeth, refusing to look at him. She would continue reading and ignore him. He would probably get an odd satisfaction out of her reaction.

She read.

The noise continued, getting louder. She could hear him moving. He was making his chair squeak.

She kept reading.

He was tapping his foot. Scratching the wood of the desk. Squeaking his chair slowly. The noise lingered in the air.

She turned her head, giving him a sharp glance :

-          Could you stop that ? she said. Please ?

James looked up from his desk, and his dark eyes seemed to light up with a twisted humor. Gwen held his gaze despite her discomfort. Then, slowly, James grazed his key on the top of the desk, giving Gwen a defiant glance, as though daring to do something about it. The teenage girl scoffed, and turned back to her book.

The nerve of him.

The noise stopped, and Gwen let out a sigh of relief, plunging back into the dark, windy, scorchingly romantic world of Emily Brontë. She was pulled from it again, a few minutes later, when she heard the chair behind her move. She ignored it, but soon, the noise started again. Gwen turned : James was now sitting right behind her, and he was drawing on the top of the desk with his key. He seemed to be drawing a heart.

-          I asked you to stop that, Gwen said, irritated.

-          I did, he answered. I’m doing something else now.

-          You’re doing the same thing. The fact that it’s a different desk doesn’t make it any different.

-          Yes it does.

-          No, it doesn’t ! And you’re not supposed to do that anyway. This is school property.

-          Some artists paint public walls. Do you think they shouldn’t ?

-          That’s… that’s irrelevant. You’re scratching a desk with silly things. You’re not painting a landscape on a wall.

-          Are you in charge of what’s art and what’s not ?

-          No. But you’re still not supposed to do that.

-          And you’re not supposed to be in detention. Little Miss Perfect. And yet, here you are.

Gwen stared at the boy : he was staring back, both defiant and amused. His expression unnerved her.

-          What did you call me ? she asked, outraged.

Smirking, James chuckled :

-          Little Miss Perfect.

-          I’m not Little Miss Perfect.

-          Aren’t you ?

-          Well, I’m in detention, aren’t I ? Gwen shot back.

James chuckled again. She hated the way he laughed. He leaned back in his chair, still smirking.

-          Yeah. I guess you are. My bad.

-          Yeah, Gwen said, irrationally annoyed despite herself. Now, be quiet and let me read.

-          What if I don’t ?

Gwen narrowed her eyes :

-          I’ll tell the teacher.

-          Oh, no, Gwen ! James said. Don’t be so predictable. You were just getting interesting.

-          Well, I don’t want to interest you, Gwen retorted.

-          You’re missing out.

-          I’m really sure that I don’t.

Gwen ignored James’ smirk, and returned to her book. She wasn’t nearly as advanced in it as she wanted, and she knew she would have other things to do at home. Homework, working on her ballet recital with her aunt… Sighing at the prospect, she tried to concentrate, when suddenly, James stood up and sat at the desk next to her. Laying his chin on his crossed arms, spread across the desk, he was staring right at her.

-          What are you doing ? Gwen asked.

James didn’t answer, smirking. Gwen scoffed and went back to reading, but James was staring at her. Intently. She finally closed her book with a slam, turning to him :

-          Stop that.

-          I’m not making any noise, he answered.

-          You’re staring.

-          Is that forbidden ?

-          It’s… it’s annoying !

-          Why ?

-          Because it is ! Would you like it if I stared at you for no reason ?

-          Try, and we’ll see.

Gwen glared, trying to hold the teenage boys’ gaze, and failing. She scoffed and shook her head at herself. She was playing right into his hand. He wanted to bother her. He wanted her to be annoyed with him.

Well. No more. She was going to ignore him.

The teacher checked on them through the door, and James held himself quite well, going right back to staring at her when the teacher left. Gwen bit her lip, staring at the page, thinking deeply, before she cleared her throat, and opened her mouth :

-          Heathcliff bore his degradation pretty well at first, because Cathy taught him what she learnt, and worked or played with him in the fields. They both promised fair to grow up as rude as savages; the young master being entirely negligent how they behaved, and what they did, so they kept clear of him. He would not even have seen after their going to church on Sundays, only Joseph and the curate reprimanded his carelessness when they absented themselves; and that reminded him to order Heathcliff a flogging, and Catherine a fast from dinner or supper.

She stole a glance towards James. She had missed his initial surprise at her speaking. She had expected to stun him, to annoy him with her reading aloud the way he annoyed her, to goad him into reacting. Instead, he was still sitting, his chin on his crossed arms, staring at her with an unreadable expression. Not knowing what to make of it, she kept on reading 

-          But it was one of their chief amusements to run away to the moors in the morning and remain there all day, and the after punishment grew a mere thing to laugh at. The curate might set as many chapters as he pleased for Catherine to get by heart, and Joseph might thrash Heathcliff till his arm ached; they forgot everything the minute they were together again: at least the minute they had contrived some naughty plan of revenge; and many a time I've cried to myself to watch them growing more reckless daily, and I not daring to speak a syllable, for fear of losing the small power I still retained over the unfriended creatures. One Sunday evening, it chanced that they were banished from the sitting-room, for making a noise, or a light offence of the kind; and when I went to call them to supper, I could discover them nowhere. We searched the house, above and below, and the yard and stables; they were invisible: and, at last, Hindley in a passion told us to bolt the doors, and swore nobody should let them in that night.

Surprised at the lack of interruption, Gwen paused, glancing at James again. He was still looking at her, a curious expression on his face.

-          Is that a novel ? he asked.

-          Yes, Gwen said. It’s Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë.

-          What’s it about ?

Surprised by the boy’s interest, Gwen answered anyway, puzzled by his change of attitude :

-          Well, she said, setting the book down. This man, Mr. Earnshaw, has two children. Hindley and Cathy. One day, he brings back Heathcliff, a little lost boy. He adopts him. When the father dies, Hindley, who doesn’t like Heathcliff, becomes very cruel to him. But Cathy and Heathcliff are friends. They have adventures together.

-          Like running in the moors together ?

Gwen nodded. James stared at the book for a moment, then looked away. He became oddly quiet for a moment, then a smirk appeared on his face :

-          Heathcliff and Cathy seem like fun, he said.

Gwen rolled her eyes :

-          Of course you’d think that.

-          You don’t ?

-          I… I do. But they’re characters. They’re complex. Their behavior – it’s not the same as what you can do in real life. It’s not the same. There are… there are rules you can’t break.

-          Yeah, James said, leaning back on the chair. But don’t you wish you could ?

Gwen stared for a few seconds, trying to hide the trouble his words had evoked in her. If only he knew how much the sentence he had spoken affected her…

Because oh, would she love to break the rules. It was as though her whole body longed for it.

-          Would you read some more ?

Gwen looked up, surprised. James was looking at her, his feet on the desk, nonchalantly sitting on his chair. Gwen nodded quietly, finding herself unable to refuse such a request (plus, if he wanted her to read, that would mean he would have to be quiet… and also, she found that she quite liked to tell stories) and started reading.

The rest of the hour flew by. When the teacher came to get them, Gwen felt as though it was over too soon. Which was silly, of course – after all, did she really want to spend more time with James Young ?

She put her book away in her bag, gathering her things. She put on her coat, adjusting the collar over her cardigan, and smoothed down her skirt, before heading to the door. Quickly, she looked back. James threw on his old, worn, green jacket. He winked at the teacher, who rolled her eyes, and followed Gwen in the hallway.

Gwen hesitated before walking towards the exit. Should she say something to him ? But what could she possibly say ?

Goodbye ? See you around ? Thank you for not being as much of a jerk as I thought you would ? Reading aloud to you was nice ?

As she struggled with her own thoughts, she noticed James staring at her, this infuriating smirk on his face, and she composed herself, raising her chin, getting ready to go.

-          Will you tell me how it ends ?

She looked up to James. He was still smirking, but there was a real question in his eyes – she could tell.

He cared about the story. He wanted to know the ending.

It was really odd for her to realize it, and to know the truth of it. It didn’t match the rest of his personality, the one he displayed for all to see.

Maybe he was simply bored, and was looking for a way to pass the time ? Was she just a distraction ? Was this simply another one of his games, a way to gain attention ? Was she going to regret ever speaking to him ?

Despite this supposition, Gwen nodded. James’ smirk widened :

-          Cool. I’ll see you around, then.

-          See you around, Gwen answered.

James turned on his heels, going out the back door of the school, near the gymnasium. Holding her bag to her chest, Gwen watched him go, unable to tear her eyes away.

And then, almost reluctantly, she turned, and left the school. But the odd desire of wanting to follow James Young down that hallway, out the door, didn’t leave her until she was home.