Yet again, the seating plan had changed, although this time it was for the better. Ceri was no longer paired with Anna – an annoying girl who had a terrible habit of launching glue sticks across the classroom to destroy artistic displays. Instead, she was thrilled to have Cherry as her partner for the short remainder of the school year.
School had flown by since New Year’s. After meeting Bella, Cherry, Jillian and Tasmin officially, Ceri had come out of her shell and was fully included in all their fun and games. She was regularly invited out for study dates, exciting trips out and miniature shopping sprees, where they’d all complain about how much money they didn’t have. Cherry especially enjoyed her company and so they were often seen following each other home for dinner. Even Cherry’s three chickens and two cats eagerly anticipated Ceri’s visits, relentlessly pecking and purring at her feet whenever she was around.
The five friends had planned a big day trip to the nearest beach during the summer holidays. There was a long drive there, which Bella’s mother had volunteered to escort them on, and then a day packed full of fun. Jillian and Cherry had already written a list of all the food they would bring – sandwiches, snacks, drinks and more. All of them were as excited as puppies being let off the lead for the first time in an endless field. As the end of the school year approached, the friends grew more and more apprehensive for the beach trip. Ceri in particular was extremely nervous for the end of the year.
She had a plan. It wasn’t very well thought out, nor did she think it was a good idea in the slightest, but the time was finally right to say something. Over time, Ceri had eventually developed a little crush on someone. She adored seeing them every day at school, and often afterwards as well. They were special – a stunning light in the darkness, or a candle leading the way. She just had to confess before heading to Wales for the entirety of the Summer. Perhaps then the beach trip could be treated as a date…
“Hey! Cherry!” She caught up to her, a little out of breath. “Can I talk to you…for a minute…please?”
“Sure,” the ever-joyful Cherry said, pulling Ceri out of the crowd of students.
School had just ended for the year and everywhere was far too busy for anyone’s liking.
Ceri gulped. Looking into her vibrant green eyes seemed to be an impossible task, but she knew it was the right thing to do. She drew in a deep, steadying breath.
“Cherry… I really, really like you – and I’d like to ask you out…on a – date.”
The entire school flooded the car park they were stood in, pouring out of every doorway. There was even a distressed yell from a teacher as one student clambered ungracefully out of a window, flashing everyone in the process. People ran past them – rather, completely ignored them and tried to run through their bodies as if they were ghosts. Anna bumped into Ceri and, giving the most distasteful glare, said:
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Ceridwen. I forgot you still had the rest of your arm on that side.”
By the time Ceri had turned to answer back, Anna had already joined up with her little gang and they were gleefully skipping towards the school gates. In the distance, someone else caught her eye; a blonde beauty escaping under the cover of the rush. She wished, prayed and hoped she hadn’t just said what she feared she did. But Cherry was lost in the sea of students already so, yes, she definitely had said it.
Ceri stood on the corner of the street in silence that afternoon, clutching her right forearm whilst she waited for her mum to arrive. For a fleeting moment, she considered plugging in her earphones and listening to her favourite Yuni playlist, but that moment passed quickly. Yuni was what had initially sparked interest between the two. She had been the catalyst of the crush.
“Can I tell you all a secret?”
Four best friends were sat on some sun-warmed rocks by the sea. Tasmin was sporting a shawl-like towel around her shoulders whilst the other three wiped sand off their toes and picked at the remainders of their picnic. Clothes and bags laid discarded around them, tainted orange by the summer sun’s final glow. Of course, Yuni could be heard over the washing waves and gentle chatter.
“I know why Ceri’s not here.”
Cherry explained the scenario from the last day of school. Her expressed worries were met with shocked gasps and absolute disbelief.
“Wait! You mean she…” She lowered her voice until it was barely audible, “likes girls?”
Cherry nodded, not sure how else to answer. “I feel like I’ve really let her down. I don’t know how to fix it, though.”
The summer holidays between Year Ten and Year Eleven were like no other. As per usual, the drive to and from Wales was dreary and exhausting for all; in fact, the activities that the Hillam family took part in were no different to every summer. But, Ceri felt different. Abnormally, she bit her lip and patted rapid rhythms on her thigh all the way there, checking her phone in a panicked state every time it vibrated, desperately hoping for an answer. This time around, she wasn’t looking forward to seeing her extended family at all. Even the thought of her cousins, who had been her crutch through everything, didn’t make her smile.
Jenny, John and Jim, Ceri’s triplet cousins, begged her for hours to go out with them, ‘just like old times’. No matter how often they explored the streams and hills, it never got old. Despite knowing Old Cwmbran and its surrounds off by heart, there was always something new to discover. Only, the triplets didn’t expect to be learning about Ceri. Usually, they’d find a secret path, a new climbing tree that was struck down by lightening or a magical bridge consisting of some very slippery stepping stones.
“Come on, Ceri!” Jenny pleaded, forehead pressed against the bedroom door. “We’ve only got an hour ’til dinner. We can still go for a swim if we leave now.”
Ceri sighed, hand supporting her chin and knees tucked up to her chest. She hated rejecting her cousins just as much as she had hated being rejected herself.
Dragging herself and hauling a bag downstairs proved to be an extremely difficult task, but her cousins thankfully started to brighten her day as they walked to the lake.
Soon, the four of them were sat on the bank of the lake, swishing their legs back and forth in the murky water. John and Jim had already swum races across the lake three times. No matter how hard Jim swam, John was still better, boasting about how it was because he was first born out of the triplets. Jenny stayed in the shade with Ceri, quizzing her on her peculiar mood.
“You know you can tell me anything, right?”
Ceri groaned in response. It had been hard enough to tell her best friend and, having been rejected, it was even harder to tell her cousin.
“You’ll feel better once you let it out. Plus, I won’t tell anyone!”
“Do you pinky promise?” Ceri asked nervously.
They linked little fingers and squeezed them until the tips went red. Sharing a giggle, Ceri proceeded to blurt out the story that was eating at her heart. She cried a little at the start, but eventually ended with a smile once Jenny enveloped her in a huge hug.
“We haven’t got very long left – we’d better get swimming!” Jenny said, jumping up and diving smartly into the lake.
Her form and precision were products of years of practice, coming to the lake nearly every day to swim during the Summer. Ceri unfortunately lacked that skill, but she could have been just as fantastic had she not moved away to London. Just a few weeks ago, London seemed like the best decision her family had ever made, but since the incident with Cherry, she had been loathing it more than ever.
The triplets and Ceri staggered, arm in arm in arm in arm, along the path, playfully pushing each other all the way home. Their hair had dried in the evening sun by the time they arrived at the familiar front door. As soon as they walked in, their faces lit up with delight as the scent of roast lamb drifted towards them. Even their parents complaining about how late they were couldn’t tear them away from the mouth-watering meal. It’s good to be back, Ceri thought, sliding into a chair between Jenny and their grandmother.
This is the third part of a short story by Heather. Follow Heather on Instagram and Wattpad @centaur_h. Stay tuned for the next part!