The classroom was overbearingly warm and bore the distinctive energy that every classroom she’d ever been in carried. A feeling of disconnect. Amber stared out of the window, taking in the colours of the leaves turning a delicate golden, nature marking the gradual decline into the next season. Winter. Amber’s stomach churned, whisking up a tsunami of memories. The short days and long nights were the worst time of the year for her. Especially December. All of that fake jovial cheer she had to endure unnerved her, not to mention depressed the life out of her. This year Amber had promised herself that she would avoid social media throughout December. That way she wouldn’t be reminded of all the things that were missing from her life – friends, love.
Turning her attention away from the outside world, Amber observed the uniformed arched backs of her classmates, briefly staring at each of them with bemusement. I wonder what they’d say if they knew I was gay? Would any of them even care?
Amber doubted it. To them she was invisible. Had been ever since she’d started her first day at school several weeks ago.
‘Amber Steele, are you with us?’ Amber heard the voice of her English literature tutor, but the fact he was calling her name didn’t register for a few moments.
Amber slowly nodded, her mind still preoccupied with her earlier thoughts.
‘That’s good to know,’ he said, standing up from behind his desk, ‘there’s plenty of time to daydream at home.’
‘Yes, Mr Patterson.’ Amber managed a weak smile, but it did nothing to soften his ice-cold stare.
‘Do you want me to do your work for you?’ Mr Patterson said, sarcasm dripping off every syllable as his glance dropped to her closed textbook.
For a reason unknown to her, Mr Patterson seemed intent on humiliating her. Amber’s inability to figure out a suitable response on the spur of the moment didn’t help matters. Instead, Amber remained silent, her fingers trembling as she twiddled with her sweat-soaked pencil.
‘Give her a break,’ the sound of the voice was muttered under the girl’s breath, but it was loud enough for everyone to hear.
‘Did you say something, Sophie?’
All eyes turned to Sophie, the girl sat next to Amber. She was close enough that Amber could see the first flush of crimson appear on her cheek.
A surge of gratitude overwhelmed Amber and tears prickled the back of her eyes. No one had stood up for her before. Ever.
Sophie straightened in her seat; erect, shoulders squared, steeled for battle.
Though it must have only been seconds, it felt like an age before Sophie’s mouth opened. Just as she was about to voice her long-awaited answer, the classroom door swung open.
‘Mr Patterson, sorry to interrupt you but I have an issue next door.’ A plump, middle-aged woman stood in the doorway, a vexed expression on her face.
Mr Patterson strode towards the door. His gaze scanned the students, looking at no one in particular. ‘Get on with your work. I don’t want to hear a peep out of you lot.’
Mr Patterson left the room without closing the door behind him. The tension in the air dissolved in his absence.
Not feeling brave enough to thank Sophie for being her saviour, Amber exhaled the pent-up breath she’d been holding in and pulled the book towards her.
English Literature A-Level Reading List.
She recognised a couple of the names. Shakespeare was a good start. Romeo and Juliet. Her parents had taken her to a performance of the play a couple of years before.
‘Fuckin’ ’ell!’ Sophie’s voice again, this time an octave higher. ‘Who’s actually interested in what some guy wrote four hundred years ago?’
Amber turned her head slightly to see Sophie staring right back at her. Her green eyes a perfect pairing with her striking jet-black hair. Totally mesmerised, it took Amber a few seconds to realise Sophie was talking to her.
‘D’you understand all this crap?’ Sophie groaned, her delicate features creasing in disdain.
The power of speech seemed to have deserted Amber.
‘Do you?’ Sophie repeated, somewhat impatiently.
‘Errm… well… no,’ Amber managed to respond, while her brain scrambled to form a lucid sentence.
‘Me neither.’ Sophie flipped open the book. ‘I mean, what the hell does “Good Night, Good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow” mean anyway?’
Amber suppressed a laugh and shrugged. It was quite self-explanatory to her but if Sophie didn’t get it, she didn’t get it either.
‘Glad it’s not just me,’ Sophie said. ‘I’m Sophie by the way.’
Sophie looked at her bemused for a few moments, then lifted her eyebrows in a silent question.
‘Oh, sorry. I’m Amber.’
‘Hi, Amber. Starting at a new school is shit, isn’t it?’ Sophie leant forward and spoke in a low tone. ‘Especially when you’ve got a teacher like Mr Dickhead.’
Amber nodded in agreement, still at a loss what to say, but that didn’t seem to faze Sophie, who was quite content to fill the silence with her own chatter.
‘I hate this class. All I wanna do is study interior design, but my mum said it’d be a waste of time, especially when she considered the state of my bedroom.’ Sophie sucked on the end of her pen. ‘Mind you, she’s got a point. It’s a right mess.’
Amber smiled, mentally comparing the image of Sophie’s bedroom with her own fastidiously tidy room, where there wasn’t a single item out of place.
‘So why English lit?’
Sophie shrugged nonchalantly. ‘I thought it’d be easy. Read a book. Waffle on about it for a while. How hard can that be?’
Amber was cut off by Mr Patterson’s sudden reappearance.
‘Is this what you call working?’ Mr Patterson fixed Amber and Sophie with a hard stare.
In response, both girls quickly looked down at their books. Amber didn’t know if Sophie was taking anything in, but she wasn’t. Couldn’t. Whenever Amber tried to concentrate on the text, she found herself being drawn to look sideways at Sophie, taking in the smoothness of her fair skin as Sophie absentmindedly stroked her own cheek with the tip of her finger.
Although Amber sat only feet away from her, Sophie had no idea the effect her presence was having on Amber.
Amber decided it was probably a good thing. She had absolutely no idea what Sophie’s sexuality was, and Amber wasn’t about to ask her.
Amber breathed a sigh of relief when the bell rang signalling the end of class.
‘Well, it was nice to finally speak to you,’ Sophie said quietly.
Amber turned her head and stared into the icy abyss of Sophie’s eyes.
‘You too,’ Amber replied, hoping Sophie would know in some subconscious way that Amber meant it from the bottom of her heart. ‘And thanks for you know… I mean…’
‘I know what you mean,’ Sophie stood and looked down at her, ‘and don’t worry about it. Dickhead always picks on the quiet ones.’
Amber gave her a tight smile. ‘Guess I’ll see you ’round.’
‘Guess you will.’
As the weeks passed by, Amber stood on the sidelines, marvelling at how Sophie mingled and flitted around from group to group with an ease and confidence that filled Amber with awe. How could Sophie be friends with so many people, and at the same time avoid the backbiting and bitchiness that seemed to be a default at schools wherever she went?
Amber knew that she would never be like Sophie. She was always destined to be the odd one out.
Her attraction to Sophie had ignited that first day in class and had never faded. If anything, her feelings grew deeper by the day. The situation inevitably came to a head, as Amber knew it was bound to.
‘Would you two mind staying behind to help put away the paints?’ Ms Glasson asked Amber and Sophie as they headed for the door after class.
Amber liked their art teacher. She was nice and actually treated her like a human being.
‘I’d be glad to, Miss,’ Amber said.
Sophie spoke to her friends, Amber only catching the last few words about her meeting them tomorrow.
‘I’m just popping to the stock room,’ Ms Glasson said. ‘I won’t be long.’
As they went about clearing the room side by side, Sophie said, ‘I didn’t realise you were such a great painter.’
‘Runs in the family. My mum’s an artist,’ Amber replied, feeling both slightly uncomfortable and excited at Sophie’s proximity.
‘Wow, nice. My mum’s a boring accountant… Look, you’ve got paint on your face,’ Sophie said, gently rubbing her fingertips over a smudge of paint on Amber’s chin.
Her touch sent shock waves throughout Amber’s body.
‘It’s on your forehead too.’ Sophie repeated the action on Amber’s forehead, this time bringing her face close up.
Amber tried to stop herself, but she couldn’t avoid gazing into Sophie’s eyes, seeing something there, something indefinable but definitely there.
Then Sophie kissed her on the lips. Gently and delicately, but so quickly that Amber didn’t have time to do anything but stand there, shocked, excited, and hellishly aroused.
Sophie suddenly pulled away, looking at Amber for a brief moment, then dropping her gaze to the ground.
‘Sorry. I shouldn’t have done that. You just looked—’
‘It’s fine, Sophie. Don’t worry about it,’ Amber said, still feeling Sophie’s lips on hers, the warmth and softness she knew would be engrained in her memory forever.
‘No, it’s not fine.’ Sophie brushed past her and grabbed her bag, before dashing out of the classroom without giving Amber a second glance.
Amber was left alone, dazed, wondering what the hell had just happened, but she wasn’t overly concerned, she’d simply talk to Sophie the following day and tell her she felt exactly the same way.
‘Hold it, missy,’ Amber’s mum said the next morning as Amber rushed towards the front door. In all her excitement to see Sophie again, Amber had forgotten to eat her breakfast.
‘I’m late, Mum,’ Amber called out. ‘I’ll grab something at school.’
Before her mother could reply, Amber was through the front door and half jogging in the direction of the bus stop. Her mind filled with all the things she wanted to share with Sophie, her heart literally stopped beating when she arrived at school and found Sophie in the locker area with a skinny, acne-ridden boy.
Sophie’s lips were planted firmly against his mouth. As if sensing her presence, Sophie drew back slowly, barely acknowledging Amber, before reaching up to kiss the boy again.
Fighting back the tears, Amber fled the area, blindly running down the corridor towards the toilets. She just managed to get into the cubicle before gagging until her insides hurt.
With nothing to release, Amber slumped back against the cubicle door, her tears now falling freely.
A note of hysteria entered her voice as she buried her face in her hands and sobbed hysterically. ‘Noooooo, how could she do this to me?’
Drained of energy, Amber couldn’t move – didn’t want to move. She wanted to stay within the protection of the little cubicle forever. How could she go out there and bear the humiliation of facing Sophie again?
Amber knew she had to. It was silly to think she could hide forever.
Her mind spun, but Amber tried to comfort herself with the thought that things would get better once they’d talked and cleared the air.
That prospect was short-lived. The weeks that led up to half term went from bad to worse as Sophie completely froze Amber out. Not so much as a hello or goodbye was ever exchanged between them. Amber was at a loss to explain Sophie’s sudden change of attitude. Was it over a simple kiss? Did Sophie fear that Amber would say something to her friends and out her? If that was the case, Sophie had nothing to worry about. If she wanted to keep their ‘relationship’ a secret, so be it. Amber would do whatever Sophie wanted if it meant them being together. With this in mind, Amber vowed to confront Sophie and reassure her once half term was over, but on the first day back at school, Sophie wasn’t in class.
Miss Glasson casually dropped the bombshell that would shatter Amber’s brief life. Sophie’s parents had separated, and Sophie had moved away to live with her father.
The girl who’d given Amber that elusive first kiss, and who had simultaneously broken her heart, had disappeared from her life.
Copyright 2020 by Jade Winters.
All rights reserved. This short story or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author. All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.