Everybody loves the things you do/ From the way you talk/ To the way you move...
Her coffee was cold; she must have been sitting there longer than she realised, looking at the clouds that scudded across the patch of blue sky that was visible through the fresh green leaves on the tree outside. She roused herself to leave the chair, walked into the kitchen area and poured the remains of her drink down the drain, watching the dark liquid swirling away into oblivion. Her camera was on the console table by the door, still waiting patiently where she had left it last night when she got back. It was just visible from the corner of her eye, but she refused to turn her head, not wanting to acknowledge its contents. Instead, she ran herself a glass of water, walked back across the room and sat down at her desk, booting up the Mac. After a moment’s hesitation, she opened thatfolder, and there he was, filling her screen again. Not the older, distant stranger she encountered last night, but the young, beautiful Jonathan she fell in love with.
The one who broke her.
Geri didn’t really know why she went to that damn party last night. She thought it would be nice to help Will and Annie celebrate their engagement, and to get out of the house for once, for something other than work. But as she had no other existence, she took her camera along, of course. It was her constant companion, her right arm; it went everywhere she did; her protector, a useful barrier between her and the world.But last night she had needed a bigger bodyguard. How could she have known he’d be there? She’d moved across England; he’d left the country altogether. Somebody told her a few years ago that he was working at a hotel in Egypt. A very fancy place, judging from the website. She had to look it up when she heard, she had to picture where he was, how he lived.
Now, in the cold light of day, she was looking at him again, but this was the ‘him’ she had known back in those days. In the Upper Sixth, with his silly head of curls, before he finally settled on his military future; in his dress uniform at his passing-out parade, looking so handsome and proud; in her bed, still asleep on a summer’s morning, his blond hair tousled in the sunlight and shouting sex; in a photo-booth shot, his stubbly cheek pressed against hers as he whispered how he loved her. Yes, she remembered why she had buried that folder so deep. She stopped looking at these pictures after he left. She couldn’t delete them; they were too telling, too precious. But she couldn’t risk the temptation to look at them frequently. Too painful. Too risky to stay attached to a past that had no future. If she did, she would see his retreating back, and hear those final words in her head, the ones that were so painful. So cruel in their cold indifference.
She thought she heard his voice as soon as she walked in last night, so smooth and dark, so seductive. She’d scanned the room quickly, knowing she couldn’t possibly find him, and there he was. Taller than most of the others by an inch or two, and his perfectly groomed head was unmistakable, even in a crowd. How was this possible? In a trance, she walked closer to where he was. He looked different and yet it was, unequivocally him.
She was ashamed of herself. After all these years, it still hurt her heart to see him. He was always so beautiful, like a film star. She smiled a little wistfully: he had kept his military short-back-and-sides, and as she got closer, the muscles of that perfect body became visible through his tight white shirt. He hadn’t changed that much, then. A lump began to form in her throat; she veered off, found a good stiff drink and a place to hide. His new presence, that old voice, they must work well for him in his chosen career, she thought. She could imagine that charm of his beguiling guests, along with his unflappability; that cool detachment, which so infuriated her when they argued, must be ideal in the hotel business.
Why was he there? She wasn’t ready. Maybe it was silly, but she had not even considered the possibility. Why had nobody warned her? But then, why would they? Nobody could have, because not one other person there knew what had gone before; how their lives had been linked in another place, at another time. She had observed from her vantage point, through the lens; it was good cover: the photographer taking candid party pictures. He was drawing people in, just as he always had - when he wanted to. He could turn it on and off, that charisma. When he didn’t want to stand out, he could be so blank and anonymous you’d think he was a different person.
Her screen filled with images from the past, and, eyes closed, she let the years fall away. She never wanted them to break up, she had begged him to keep trying to make it work… but he was too restless. He told her he didn’t care, but she could see he was lying. It was as if he didn’t know how to open up, he didn’t know how to love someone, how to really be there for them. She would have accepted it, that inability; carried on, just to be with him, tried to help… but he was right, in a way. It was harming them both.
They were both too young, and he wasn’t ready. Wasn’t able. Definitely wasn’t willing…
Geri didknow how to love, then and now, and she’d never stopped loving Jonathan. She fell for him that first day, while she sat with her friends on the grass behind the Art Block. And he had made her his, with his sweet smile, his sad eyes; his obvious desire for her. They were happy then, in those early days, but the Army, and then Iraq had changed him, made him more difficult to get to, as it had so many others. His scars were invisible ones: he saw things: terrible, cruel, vile things no one should have to see. Being a soldier wasn’t what he had believed it would be. And when he came home, there was a hard, impenetrable shell encasing him. She could see her Jonathan in there, but the distance between them there had always been had become so great she couldn’t reach him any more.
Who was thisJonathan? How much more had he changed? When at last, she could no longer avoid the moment and they were face to face, he had seemed pleased to see her for a split-second, then she had seen a flash of fear. He had blanked her, acting as if he didn’t know who she was, when Will introduced him as - what was it?– ‘James’ something or other. He had been friendly enough, with his old charm turned on full blast, but she was confused. What was he up to? Why so enigmatic? And what was with the name change? She’d played along, sensing it was for the best, but now she felt a flicker of irritation.
Because none of that mystery had interfered with the rush of emotion seeing him again had brought in its wake. It had made her hesitate to respond when he asked, in a crafted & natural way, for her contact information. But only for a minute.
It was Jonathan. At the very least, he owed her an explanation.
My God, it reminds me of when we were young…
“I swear to god, the weather does this every bloody year! Weeks of rain, and the minute term starts…”
Geraldine parked her omnipresent camera bag carefully, then flopped dramatically down on the grass next to her best friends. Maxine and Trish watched as she lay on her back, scowling at the cloudless sky. The sun was beating down mercilessly as scattered groups of students spread out in the grounds of Westonfield Community College, all of them desperate for fresh air after the first morning of the new term. The three girls shared the slightly dazed look of students embarking on new courses: a mix of fear, trepidation and excitement.
Trish suddenly spun around on her not insubstantial backside and whispered loudly. “That’sthem! Coming out of the Science Block!”
Her two companions squinted in the bright light and saw a trio of gangly youths drifting in their general direction. All three were tall, and each had shouldered the obligatory Eastpack, and the tallest and gangliest also had an additional book bag on his other shoulder.
“Who are they again?” Maxine asked, earning a scolding glare from Trish.
“The dark-haired one is that boy I told you about, in my form, Justin Roberts. He’s dreamy, don’t you think?”
“He’s okay,I s’pose… I like the curly one.” Maxine missed the grunt of annoyance from the other member of the Pink Ladies (a name they had started calling themselves the year before; ironically, since they all tended to the emo/goth and never, EVERwore anything pink). Geraldine was disconcerted to find herself transfixed by the boy with two bags, as she had already christened him in her head. Was it those long legs, or the way he moved? Or his face and mad hair that had captivated her instantly? Something about him, she would never be able to rationalise it, meant that she was his, from that very first glimpse. Not that she ever admitted that to anyone, least of all her friends. At that age, in that time, it was terminally uncool to fall for someone that way. Later in her life, it became irrational, but she could not change her heart.
As the group neared them, the girls turned away and began talking loudly about their plans for the coming weekend, studiously disregarding the males as they passed. That was the form; that was what you did if you were a sixteen-year-old girl with more than a passing interest in a boy: you ignored him. A moment later, unable to resist a glimpse, Trish looked around quickly, and was dismayed to see Justin looking back at her. She acknowledged him with a brief wave and an almost-smile before she whipped her head back, hoping he hadn’t seen the traffic-light redness of her cheeks.
Justin had not seen it. He was pretty clueless about girls, and had no idea what Carl meant when he jabbed him hard in the upper arm and said, “You’re in there, mate!” His confusion must have shown, because his friend started to bray with laughter and collapsed theatrically on the grass, rolling around, clutching his stomach, his freckled face creased with smiles. The third member of the group joined in the jollity, not really understanding either, just happy to be included. Jonathan hardly knew the other two, but as the only three boys from their year at Alderman Greenacre to opt to stay on and do A-Levels, they had been thrown together and seemed to get along, as far as he could tell. He was still feeling his way with them.
Jonathan Pine had lived in a succession of children’s and foster homes around the town and elsewhere in the county, ever since his mother died when he was seven. He had chosen to learn much from that experience: how to keep his room tidy and help when asked or expected to; how to keep his nose and everything else clean and hope for the best; how to disappear and not be noticed. He had learned how to fit into a pre-existing group, or at least, how to appear to do so, and that was the skill he was employing now. Tagging along, happy to join in even if not quite getting the full picture, and doing what he needed to survive this stage, and get to the next one.
He was not aware, as none of us are at sixteen, of what he had not learned.
“What’s in the bag, Pine?” Justin was changing the subject from whatever it was Carl was on about.
Jonathan shrugged and ran his fingers through his messy blond curls. “My French and German stuff. Dictionaries ‘n’ that. I didn’t know what I’d need on the first day.” He smiled in an apologetic way, feeling that slight discomfort in his gut that comes from knowing you’ve transgressed some unwritten rule or other. He was very familiar with that sensation.
“Got a locker? Shove ‘em in there!” Carl was looking at him, not unkindly. It occurred to Jonathan that he could have done worse than fall in with these two.
“Yes, I have… but I haven’t found it yet…” He laughed, and happily, the others joined in. All three were still getting lost - it was a big campus, and this was their first day at a new school.
Geraldine Muir (Geri to her friends) was sitting at the kitchen table when her Mum arrived home. She had put the chicken pies in the oven and the rice was bubbling on the stove while she painstakingly copied her new timetable out for the second time since she got home an hour ago. One for her bedroom, and one for the fridge.
“Good day, Mum?” Elaine Muir nodded. She worked for Marks and Spencer, as a bra-fitter at the large store in the High Street. It wasn’t a job that stretched her or used her undeniable intellect, but it paid reasonably well, and it did play to her excellent people-skills. Not to mention M&S were still a good company to work for, especially for a widow.
“Not bad, thanks, Jellybean. You?” She ruffled her daughter’s dyed-black hair. She gave silent thanks it was only a semi-permanent colour. “What’s it like, ruling the school?”
Geri rolled her eyes, at both the use of her childhood nickname and the unsubtle Greasereference. It was all part of their usual repartee. She was well aware that she was fortunate in having such a cool mother; Maxine’s parents were very religious and never allowed her to go to Indie Night, or to ever leave the house in the evenings without them, in fact. And Trish’s Dad was a right-
“New teachers? Or same old faces?”
“A few new ones. The photography staff seems lovely. We met Andy – that’s the teacher, it’s all first names in the Sixth – and the technician, Izzy. She’s great, and she’s there every afternoon to help us with our developing and printing.”
Elaine was taking off her coat and easing her swollen feet out of her shoes, but she caught the sparkle in her only child’s eyes, and it warmed her heart.
Geri was still talking. “I’ve got Mrs Holt again – that’s Jude, now – for French, and Mr Pierce, that’s Roger, plus a new person…” she looked down to consult her timetable quickly, “Ummm… Denise something for Eng Lit. Haven’t met her yet. She’s just started at WCC.”
The next weeks were a blur for all the students in the Lower Sixth. Even those just moving up after GCSEs within the College had been put into different tutor groups, not necessarily with their friends. For all of them there were some new teachers to get to know, and for those joining from elsewhere (WCC was the only place in Weston that did A-Levels, apart from the FE College), a new campus to navigate, and the work…They had all been warned that the move to A-Level study would be a bit of a step-change, but nevertheless, the arrogance of youth had convinced the high-achievers that they’d continue to succeed effortlessly. For most it was a struggle, and nearly all of them were floundering at least a little by the time their first assignments were returned. The carefree jollity of the first days soon disappeared as the more conscientious settled into upping their games. Lunchtimes in the canteen became a valuable safety valve for Geri and her friends, and the usual talk of boys and pop stars a blessed change from Jane Austen and Jean Anouilh.
“That Jonathan, in your French group…?”
Geri set her face into a neutral expression; Trish never asked an idle question. “What about him?” She hoped she’d delivered that with enough insouciance. The truth was, he fascinated her. He seemed sweet, friendly, but he was very quiet and reticent. One of the girls who was in the same German set as well said he was more or less fluent, and his French was effortless, or appeared so to the less able. Geraldine found her eyes drawn to him: his fine-boned face, his long arms, his large and graceful hands. And his voice.
“What’s he like?” Trish winked at Maxine, who was grinning.
Their friend shrugged. “He’s a boy, and he’s no Leo,” she offered, as if that answered everything; all males were judged on the DiCaprio Scale. “So, Trish,” she countered, anxious to deflect attention before she betrayed herself, “Justin ask you out yet?”
To her amazement, Trish started to blush, and then nodded, making both the others squeal in delight. “Shhhh!”
“Come on,” Maxine demanded, “Spill!”
Trish responded with a stage whisper of “Not here!” and they tidied their trays and left the hall sharpish. The College radio was playing Millenium and they had to push past a gaggle of Year Ten girls who were singing along loudly and swooning over a copy of Smash Hits. The Pink Ladies, nowadays ‘too cool for school’, rolled their eyes and continued on their way. After a few minutes of roaming the corridors they found a deserted classroom and sat around a table, Trish leaning back as the other two leaned forward eagerly.
“We-ell…” She smiled, then crumbled, unable to keep up the cool indifference. “He asked me to the pictures on Friday. We’re seeing Armageddon.”
Maxine was peeved, and she showed it; she and Trish were supposedto be going to see it together, on Saturday afternoon. She grimaced, but said nothing. She knew how much Trish fancied Justin. Boys were always trouble. Geraldine saw all this, and turned to Maxine. “Fancy seeing that with me, Maxine? Saturday afternoon would be OK with your olds, right? I mean, dreamy Ben Affleck…Mmmmmmm!”
Her friend’s big brown eyes widened and she grinned again. “Yeah, OK. I’ve got nothing else on.” Trish winced, knowing she had committed the cardinal sin of dumping a friend for a boy, but then she recalled Justin’s handsome face, and his shiny brown hair, and his lovely manners, and how he had tried to act all casual when he asked her out. He was The One, she was sure, and she thought she and Max would be OK. Probably.
Later that day, as she stood peeling and chopping carrots by the sink, Geri considered her own love life, or rather, her lack of one. There had been William Dobbs in Year Seven, but that relationship mainly consisted of them telling everyone they were boy- and girlfriend, and his carrying her bag home from school once or twice. A bit later, when she knew what was what and, more importantly, what wasn’t, she’d had few dates with Jeremy Phillips from 9H, and then there was that David from the Grammar School. He was a year older, exotic and handsome (his father was from Madagascar or Mauritius or something), but boy, had he known it. When she refused to let him in her knickers, he quickly moved on. One or two blokes had asked her out at Indie Night, shouting embarrassingly over the deafening music, but she didn’t fancy any of them.
Scooping the pile of orange discs into a colander, she washed them under a running tap, humming softly. Her thoughts drifted to the mystery that was Jonathan Pine. He was Teacher’s Pet in the French group, and top of the class in German, too, apparently. But he wasn’t arrogant, just eager to please, as far as she could tell. She’d been alarmed, in the second week of the term, when she saw him three times in one day outside the Photography Area, fearing he was stalking her or something. Not that he’d shown any particular interest in her beyond the usual greetings, but then all became clear when she saw him at the end of the corridor, stuffing that extra bag of his into one of the dark green lockers there.
According to the gossip, he was a ‘Care Kid’. There were a good few of them in Weston; garrison towns always had more than their share. Not that Geri necessarily believed all she heard, but it fitted his reserved, rather awkward manner. She felt some sympathy: her Dad was long gone, dead at thirty thanks to a drunk-driver, and, Geri thought, there but for the grace…Whatever his story, there was a little tingle in her belly whenever she thought of Jonathan, with his soft blond curls and handsome face. His voice in class made her stomach feel weird, too. She had to avoid looking at him lest she feel that heat on her cheeks. Because he was not interested in her, not in that way, she could tell, and besides, she had much too much schoolwork to bother with him, or any other boys, come to that. Except perhaps as a model…?The night before, pondering the assignment they had been given that afternoon, it had occurred to her that she could ask him to pose. They were supposed to ask someone they didn’t know well, and he fit that requirement. And she really, really wanted to photograph his face.
“I’m going to ask that new boy from my French group to pose for me.” Geri announced this momentous decision as she and her mother were clearing up after dinner.
“Oh yes?” Elaine kept her face neutral, but the little patches of colour on her daughter’s cheeks suggested there was more to this than the simple search for a model. “Do you think he’ll agree? Some people don’t like being photographed much.”
Geri shrugged. “I dunno, but I think that’s partly the point of the assignment. You know, to teach us to approach people to take pictures of them. And he has an interesting face.” She turned and walked rapidly into the kitchen with the plates.
“Interestingface…I see.” Her mother smiled and shook her head.
French was his last lesson before lunch on Fridays, and Jonathan was in no hurry to leave the room. He didn’t want to sit through another session of Justin going on about what he was going to do with whatever-her-name-was that evening in the back row of the UGC. So he was taking his time packing up his stuff, carefully straightening his papers, putting them into the file, and stacking his books before he slid everything into his backpack. Suddenly he became aware of a presence beside him, and he smelt something floral. He knew, even without turning his head, that it was Geri.
“Excuse me, er, um… Jonathan?”
Blood seemed to be rushing all around his body, making him light-headed and hot, and he could hear his pulse drumming in his head. He cleared his suddenly clogged throat. “Yes?” His voice sounded like a squeak to him. He forced his eyes to look at her face. She was blushing.
“I wondered if I could ask you something…?”
“Yes?” Say something else, you prat!
“Um... not here.” She looked at the teacher still at her desk, then at the door and he nodded, grabbing his things and following her, watching how the light reflected off her long dark hair, and taking another deep draught of her flowery fragrance. He was shaking a little, so he pulled his jacket tighter and shouldered his bag. When they had reached the relative quiet of the end of the next corridor, Geri turned and stopped, holding her own backpack low in front of her with both hands. Jonathan felt self-conscious, towering over her, his too-long arms and legs making him feel like one of those inflatable men-things that flap around in the wind. Nervousness was making Geri fidget, twisting back and forth so that her bag swung dangerously close to his crotch. He took a precautionary half-step back.
“You see, the thing is… I wanted to ask… see, I’m doing Photography, and we have to take a portrait of someone we don’t know well… I wondered if…maybe, could…?”
He looked at her, puzzled. What did she want, exactly? He stopped his mental tape, rewound and played it back. Oh! “You want to…” his hand had come up to his chest of its own accord. “Me?”
“Yes please! Can I?”