As she began the already familiar task of gathering her showering stuff, she thought again of the message on her whiteboard. I probably should reply, Claudine thought worriedly. But what would I write? And what if he opened the door while I was halfway through and I was just standing there? She shuddered, imagining how awful that would be. She glanced at her chest of drawers, where, laying on the top, were a bunch of white board markers she had brought with her. Shaking her head firmly, she opened the door and rushed to the showers.
After a very unsatisfactory shower, Claudine arrived back in her room, threw her clothes on the chair and began to pace around the room, biting her lip. If she didn't write a message back, she'd just look rude. And if she did… well, there was always him opening the door in her face. She sighed, and grabbing a black marker, ran outside. Feeling like a naughty schoolchild about to graffiti a school wall, she paused outside Benjamin's room. Thinking quickly, she wrote in her small, neat writing,
Howdy neighbor! Claudine ?
Then she ran back to her room, and slammed the door behind her, her heart beating wildly. As her heart slowed down, her stomach growled louder, and she began to feel faint. The more her stomach grumbled, the angrier she got with herself. Claudine, you're going to end up killing yourself at this rate, stop being so stubborn and go eat something! She breathed in again, grabbed her keys and marched down to the dining hall, and in through the doors. Once there, she looked around cautiously. Only two tables were occupied, and none of the occupants were looking at her. Claudine sighed in relief, as she grabbed a bowl. After filling it to the top with Coco Pops and fresh milk, she picked up a spoon and made her way to an empty table. Glancing around self consciously again, she began to eat quickly yet carefully, making sure not to spill anything on herself. As she ate she looked at the people around her. Seated at the first table were a group of what Claudine guessed were mature aged students. They were chatting happily about nothing in particular, and every now and then a burst of laughter erupted from the table. One of them was a bouncy middle aged guy who kept jumping up to get something else from the bench. At first it was a banana, then a muffin, then an apple. Claudine doubted he was actually going to eat the items, but rather that he couldn't sit still for longer than five minutes. Although he looked like great fun, she hoped he wouldn't be in any of her classes.
The second table consisted of three students Claudine's age, eating slowly and talking fast. The first, a pretty, dark girl, glanced over curiously at Claudine before turning back to her friends. Claudine flushed and looked down at her cereal again. Finishing it as quickly as possible, she rushed back to her room, feeling proud of herself. It was a small thing, but it was a start at least.
Around lunchtime she began to get hungry again, the small bowl of cereal doing little to compensate for two days with little to no sustenance. As she stood up to grab a book from the shelf a wave of dizziness hit her and she had to sit down suddenly. Feeling stupid, she decided it wasn't worth feeling like this to protect herself from the people outside. She grabbed her keys and made her way warily down to the hall, her legs shaking beneath her. The dining hall was moderately full, with three tables filled with students eating and talking amongst themselves. Claudine made her way towards the front of the hall to the coffee machine to busy herself while she looked around. She grabbed a mug and decided to get herself a hot mug of milo, her stomach grumbling in agreement. As she filled the mug to the top she realized a short pretty girl had come up beside her, waiting to use the machine. And she was standing right in front of the sugar. Claudine stood beside her as the girl filled two mugs with milo, then tried in vain to place sugar in the cups.
"You right there?" Claudine surprised herself by saying.
The girl laughed, dropping the spoon again.
"I'm having a bit of trouble, huh."
"Just a little." Claudine smiled at the girl, reaching out to help her. The girl grinned in return, dimples flashing in her cheeks.
"Did you only just arrive this week? I don't think I've seen you around here before."
Claudine nodded, laughing. "Yeah, and it's all a bit scary! I mean, I spent the first two days in my room, scared to come out!" She flushed, wishing she'd kept her mouth shut, but the girl laughed
"Oh, you poor thing! Do you have anyone to sit with today?"
Claudine checked the phrase for sarcasm, found none, and shook her head shyly.
The girl stuck out her hand, smiling broadly.
"I'm Steph," she said brightly. "And you're sitting with us today."
After lunch, Claudine practically skipped back to her room, she was in such high spirits. She was even looking forward to classes starting the next day, despite her fears. Sighing happily, she opened her door and collapsed on her bed. She couldn't believe she had actually talked to people, had been funny, hadn't stumbled over her words or embarrassed herself. And they had been so friendly to her! They hadn't looked down at her, seen her as Plain Claudine like everyone else. Only one of the members of the table had made her uneasy. A tall, fresh faced blonde girl called Sara, the type of girl Claudine had avoided like the plague while at high school.
But one person out of a table of ten? Those were pretty good odds…especially since she was sure one of the boys at the table had been flirting with her.
Flushing happily, she remembered every smile he had sent her, every word he had spoken to her… the way his leg had brushed against hers under the table… the blonde of his hair under the lights…. His eyes flashing with laughter when Claudine had told the story tables of living in a house dominated by boys. She spoke his name now, under her breath, savoring the way it felt in her mouth.
"Tanner.." She liked it.
She'd never really had crushes on boys, not really. Living with her brothers made her wary of boys, knowing what they could really be like behind the "cool" façade they put on for the girls. The strength of her feelings now surprised her, scared her too, if she was to be honest. She had always prided herself on not being silly in front of boys, not caring what they thought of her, almost ignoring them. But now, all she could think was, I wonder what he's thinking now?
Later that afternoon she was surprised by a knock on her door. She had spent much of the day reading and drawing again, this time discarding the creatures of the night for light , airy sketches of waterfalls and snatches of light.
As she got up to answer the door, she rubbed her hands across her face, wiped them on her pants. She pulled open the door, and found Tanner, a sheepish smile on his face.
"Oh, hi…" she stuttered, aware of how grubby she must look, her hair tied back in a messy ponytail, her hands covered in colour.
He grinned at her, running his hand through his hair.
"Hey, how are ya?" Without waiting for a response he kept talking. "Everyone's going downstairs to watch a movie on the big tv. Uhm, we were wondering if you'd want to come with?"
Claudine smiled back, shyly.
"Sure.. uhm, I should maybe wash my hands first though…" She stuck them out to demonstrate.
"Could I see?"
She started. "See what?"
"Whatever you were working on, silly," he said playfully. "But I'll understand if you don't want to."
Claudine flushed. No one had ever paid attention to her work at home, a fact that always slightly depressed her. Crossing to the other side of the room, she shyly held up the pictures she had been mindlessly working on all afternoon.
"They're not very good, I was just bored… thought I'd experiment with colour, and light…. You know."
Tanner cut her off.
"Oh my god, Claudine, these are awesome!" His eyes were alight with awe. "How did you get this light to shine through here? And the water? How come it looks so real? I feel I could almost touch it… "
She flushed again… "You really like it?"
He nodded eagerly.
"Could you show me how you did this?"
She smiled. "What about the movie?"
"It's a weekly hire. I can watch it later." He grinned again, shyly this time. "I'd rather stay here with you."
She ducked her head so he wouldn't see her blush again, pulled out her pastels and started to sketch on the paper, smudging and shading, almost losing herself in her work. He squatted down next to her and looked attentively at her hands, as if memorizing everything she did. Glancing over mindlessly at his hands, she realized he was mimicking everything she was doing, and a warm glow filled her stomach, making her smile.
"What are you grinning at," He laughed, his hands mockingly on his hips.
"I'm grinning at how attentive you are." She said. "I'll bet you always got gold stars for concentration, right?"
"Always," He said. "And I was always giving the teacher flowers and chocolates, too. I was a suck up."
She raised an eyebrow.
"Is that right? And here I was thinking you'd gotten where you are today with talent alone."
He laughed, and as he did, moved closer to Claudine, causing her to catch her breath in her throat. She swallowed hard, smiling weakly at him. He gazed at her, a smile lingering on his face, and raised his hand towards her face. His hand brushed her cheekbone, and a small thrill ran down her spine.
"You had pastel on your face," he said, his hand now in his lap, his fingers twisting together.
"Thanks," she whispered, still feeling his hand on her face, her cheeks once again flushed.
He smiled back, then glanced at his watch, a look of shock disrupting his features.
"I've been here an hour? Oh, wow, I should probably go… Sa.. my friend is waiting for me downstairs, sh.. they'll get pissed off if I don't go down soon…sorry…"
Claudine smiled, hoping the disappointment on her face wasn't as severe as it felt inside.
"No, that's cool, I want to try to finish this piece anyways…"
She watched as he practically ran to the door, turned her back as he slammed the door behind him, and felt the all-too familiar feeling of loneliness spread through her stomach again as she realized where he was going.
He'd tried to cover it up, but she'd known he was going to see Sara. The one girl she didn't like, the one girl that made her feel like shit..
It was just typical that that one girl was Tanner's girlfriend.