Chapter 11

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I ignore my phone from then on, barely leave the house enough to miss any emergency by doing so. My parents begin to wince whenever the thing rings, so I've buried it in the wardrobe; not the sacred one, my own. That's where it is now, and despite how it's wrapped in an old scarf I never wear I can still hear it buzz as I stare down at my piano. 

The keys seem bigger than I remember, brighter too in the way they contrast each other. The blacks lifted above the whites, my fingers hovering over them both and eventually coming down in a discordant mess.

Maybe it's just as well that I'm not interested in the orchestra, because it seems I can't even play well any more. It's not just sadness in the keys - it's hesitance, lack of practice, and it all reeks of an amateurism which has me near tears any time I try and play. No matter how I felt about the piano, I never before lost the skill.

I slump backwards on the stool, glance at the cracked watch that is still strapped to my wrist and sigh when I see it's thirty minutes until school. The days pass excruciatingly slowly now that time meanders by with no incentive and every minute just feels like a minute in the absence of progress. I'm working my way towards nothing any more, so sitting in one seat and then moving class and sitting in another seat is routine without being anything else. Regardless, my work is finished and packed in my bag and my grades are good and my teachers are confused as to how this is (I suspect my parents are the same). 

Truthfully, I expect my school is more relieved than anything about my conscientiousness. Miss. Cardy offered me her time - her advice if ever I needed to talk - but I think they understand more than they let on. No one has asked me to talk, and that's all I want. All I want is something to fill time, work or music or otherwise (not parties), so that I can try and break away from feeling useless. If I'm sad I'm sad, that'll never change, but I don't have to be just sad. Maybe being a full human is too much to ask of someone like me, now, but it doesn't mean I can't meander from space to space and use the brain I've been given. It's impaired, but not broken. 

I don't realise my phone has been buzzing for such a long time until it stops and the silence is unnerving. The kind of silence that is so silent it prickles like static - drives me out of the stool so that as I dress I strain my ears to pick up cars passing outside. Pulling my hair into a plait is when I hear my dad call me, but I realise too late to pick up what he's saying. I quickly fasten an elastic in place and walk to the top of the stairs, call out to him while slipping my backpack on my shoulder. 

"Natalie?" He backtracks down the hallway, a hand reaching out of view towards the door whilst the other works at his tie. "There's someone here for you?" 

The words send a jolt of panic to my stomach, which feels as though dipped in ice and each step down the stairs tugs at my body like a plunging temperature. I ignore my dad; his confusion will only make me feel more anxious and my heart is beating like crazy as it is. Curling my hand into the base of my jumper is all I can do to calm that fluttering creature, but nothing really stops the name that goes off like a siren in my head. Jenny, Jenny, Jenny.

But it's not her. It's Oscar. I'm stunned and that's apparently the shock I needed because my heart feels like it's stopped beating full stop. The backpack slips from my shoulder but I'm too busy blushing furiously to notice much else. What with school and trying my level best not to think about how confused Jenny must be - how much she's likely tried to call me - I'd forgotten how much a crush can blossom in just a short frame of time.

And I'm confronted with the realisation when I pad gingerly to the doorway and finally look at his face. He's beautiful, there's no denying it. I don't try. Having so little beauty inside me now, I can't resist the warmth that comes with his green eyes and curls and smile that draws my gaze. Wrapped up on my doorstep like an early present - with blonde hair curled around his face and frost clinging to his lashes - Oscar's hands are steering my bike. I pause when I see it; there's a small bow which he's stuck to the bell. I smile despite myself - it's fleeting but he notices, and that's enough to have it gone in an instant. 

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