Casting one last glance at Taylor just as he slipped into the crowd, I followed the girls towards the toilets. Amy, Liv and Maisie walked in front, giggling away. I felt Alexa's presence beside me. Any desire for meaningless conversation had deserted me. Although going to the toilets was pretty much an hourly ritual, I knew Alexa had her own motives-it was the easiest way to ditch Taylor. Not that I was expecting my friends to like him or anything, but still, they could try to be a little more welcoming.
'That's pretty difficult when they're so self-centred.'
"What's up Lil?"
Having realised that my internal thoughts must have reflected on my face, I forced myself to give one of my upbeat smiles.
"Is that new guy getting you down?" Alexa continued. Despite her light-hearted tone, I sensed the dark undercurrents beneath. "You could always ask someone else to show him around."
"No, no, it's fine," I said, though Alexa merely cast me a disbelieving look, so I quickly explained, "I mean it'd look kinda bad if the year council rep turned down helping a new student."
A smirk twitched at the edges of her lips, casting a bleak shadow over her features. "Yeah, of course. Saint Lily has to help everyone."
It was when Alexa made those sorts of comments that I wondered why I was still friends with her. But as Mum always told when I had complained of friendship drama: 'keep your friends close, and your enemies' closer, darling.'
The door to the toilets was partially open and the pungent stench drifted out. I stepped inside, almost gagging on the smell that someone had attempted to cover with far too much perfume. All I could do was grin and bear it. At best it would be another ten minutes before anyone of us could go back outside.
Taking it in turns to use the least disgusting of the toilets, those remaining took exclusive use of the sinks to do up their make-up. Over the continual hum of the hand-dryer, chatter over the latest celebrity and school gossip buzzed. Through my reflection in the mirror, I could see my lips were moving, but it was though they were on autopilot. The words simply spilled out after so many years of the same discussions.
The mention of Taylor's name attracted my attention.
"What do you think of him then?" Alexa was asking the others.
"I only saw him in form," Maisie called from the hand-dryer, "but he seems a bit...odd."
"Yeah, he wouldn't talk to anyone in Chemistry. He barely even spoke to us, and we were in the same practical group!" Amy said.
Alexa contemplated the information whilst adding a fresh layer of mascara to her thick eyelashes. "Seems like a total loner to me. I'd ditch him as soon as possible Lil. Plus it'll piss Dan off with you spending so much time with another guy."
I knew if I kept sticking up for Taylor, Alexa would start getting suspicious, even though I wasn't sure why I was so defensive of him in the first place. As I struggled to find a reply that would satisfy Alexa without sounding like a loner-sympathiser, material brushed against my side. Some small child was trying to push through to wash their hands. There's an unwritten rule that older girls can hog the sinks to apply make-up for as long as necessary. But I figured I may as well use my power for good.
"Hey, let her past," I said, moving across as much as I could without crushing Amy against the door.
With a sigh, Alexa begrudgingly inched across, exposing the rest of the sink: and a plughole blocked by her hair. Unsurprisingly, the girl only ran her hands under the cold tap for a few seconds with Alexa's death glare boring into her.
"So, you and Dan are back on it?" Maisie remarked, glancing up from the phone that she confidently flaunted in front of the girl who squeezed between her and Liv with a terrified 'excuse me.'
"Yep," I turned away from the mirror towards the cubicles where Maisie and Liv were standing. Despite cheerfully popping the final letter, no part of me felt remotely cheerful at the mention of my boyfriend's name.
"You two are so cute together!" Amy exclaimed as she swept a round brush along her forehead. "I don't even know why you guys broke up in the first place?"
"He told me that he 'needed a break'" I dryly said, quoting the text message he'd sent me at the start of the summer. 'Which was code for wanting to get off with a load of girls over the holidays.'
"God, what is up with you Lily? You sound like a robot."
Although I was used to Alexa's scathing, her words fell a little too close to the truth. I didn't reply, instead resting a hip against the worktop and sliding out the MAC lipstick the girls had clubbed together and brought me last Christmas. Only a miniature chimney of lipstick remained and I only applied a thin layer. Glancing back in the mirror, I looked at the bright lipped, wide eyed girl. The epitome of popularity. That was what the world saw. That was what they had to see.
"I'm just hungry, that's all," I said, naturally slipping back into that carefree veneer of the queen of the school. It was like a second skin to me, but a skin that felt a little too tight, too forced. But it seemed genuine enough for my friends, with Maisie promptly announcing we needed to get out before the stink of shit infected the watercress sandwiches in her pocket.
After one last check over in the mirrors, we filed out. Amy was last, moaning over the pores around her nose that she hadn't managed to smother in make-up, having been dragged out by Liv.
"Why are you holding her hand?" Maisie snickered at the pair as Liv sealed off the stench by kicking the door shut. Amy glanced down, prising her hand out of Liv and snapping it away.
"I literally had to pull her away from the mirror!" Liv's cheeks grew to resemble the colour of her hair as presumptuous glances flickered from one face to another.
My tongue was lodged between my teeth, the nape of my neck burning as I joined in with a scoff. Maybe I should have said something. I knew it wasn't worth the risk of heightening Alexa's suspicions.
"The lunch queue won't get any smaller if we just stand around," I managed, in hope of altering the conversation.
Setting off for the hall, the comment seemed forgotten in a blur of fresh discussions over lunches, though Amy, who had sidled up alongside Alexa, maintained a pace that was several strides from Liv.
We'd spent so long in the toilets that the upper school queue had all but diminished, replaced by rowdy year nines vying to get in first and kicking out any younger students who dared wriggle their way up the queue. Side stepping the trail of lower school students, we made our way to the front, before assuring the dinner lady that we were buying hot dinners.
Once inside, we took out the tin foil packages from our pockets and paced the hall for seats.
"Over there," Alexa pointed to an empty table on the second row. Two tables down was Dan and co. He hadn't spotted me yet. I wasn't sure I wanted him to.
We sat down, Liv and Amy giggling furiously as Maisie relayed an anecdote involving a flag pole, a pair of swimming trunks and a drunken game of truth or dares, their earlier dispute forgotten. Sat at the very end of the table was Alexa, who had demanded that a pair of year nines move to free the table between us and Dan's mates so that she could lean an elbow on said table and chat to the guys. I could hear Dan's voice proposing we move along one table, but I wasn't fully listening, scanning the lengths of each table and queue.
Taylor was nowhere to be seen.
YOU ARE READING
"If it walks like a duck, talks like a duck, then it is a duck." Taylor Adams and Lily Baker: complete opposites in almost every sense. Taylor Adams: completely themselves when appearing and acting as androgynously as their name suggests, even if i...