Like rotting fruit she hung from the branches of the tree. Arms aching, tear-stained face, knees scraped.
How long had she hung there? She had run, the gang of kids behind her, laughing, taunting, cruel adult-child voices rising in derision.
Was it only two months ago that her family had rolled into town? Living on the outskirts, in a makeshift humpy made of sheets of tin and hessian, they had immediately become the centre of speculative gossip.
She and her six siblings had made their grand debut at the local high school a few days after their arrival, and the local bullies had made it their aim in life to drive them out.
The youngest of seven, perpetually clothed in threadbare and tattered hand-me-downs, appearance had never been a concern to her. But now at 14, her world was expanding beyond the borders of her own family.
Claudio Corrello, with his swarthy good looks, and pitch-black eyes, had smouldered at her from under his long black eyelashes, a cheeky smile splitting his lips just enough to reveal perfect gleaming white teeth.
She felt her heart catch, then skip. For the first time in her life, she didn’t feel like an outsider. She dove into the endless pools of his eyes, took refuge in the upward tilt of his mouth, imagined the touch of his long slender fingers on her skin. She felt something unfamiliar rise in her.
For the first month, she had done nothing more than slink quietly away whenever Claudio had entered a room, doing her best to blend into the furnishings, to be invisible. Each time, his gaze had sought her out, coaxing her eyes upwards away from her feet, little sparks of electricity had shimmered through the air between them, prickling her skin and making her sweat.
Slowly, he had coaxed her forward, the wild animal tamed with kindness. She unpacked her worries, one by one, growing more confident around him each day. Yesterday, she had finally worked up the courage to kiss him.
It was at the end of Chemistry. She and Claudio were the only ones left in the lab, cleaning up after their experiment. The lab assistant had already laid out Bunsen burners for tomorrow’s experiment, and had disappeared into another room looking for tripods and gauze matting. It was hurried, before she lost her nerve, before she realised all the reasons she shouldn’t, she leaned in and kissed his soft, warm lips. Then she turned and ran.
Heart thumping, smiling from ear to ear, she ran the whole way home. Nothing could darken her mood.
This morning she went to school, still smiling, heart light, feeling like she could float. It hadn’t lasted. Before long, the whispers and jeers had made their way into her consciousness. She looked for Claudio’s eyes, clouded over now, smile gone, face closed.
Who did she think she was?
She had run, the gang of kids behind her, laughing, taunting, cruel adult-child voices rising in derision.