YA fiction today – as a writer of YA fiction (amongst other things) I should be feeling pretty confident, but being snowed under with important things I have to write for work means that today’s piece feels rather rushed. Maybe someday I’ll rework it into something I’m happier with …
It all started with a stupid picture on Instagram.
Not many people know this, but I’ve got really curly hair. I spend ages straightening it every morning before school. I mean, when you’re in Year Eleven, you want to look your best, right? So I’m sometimes late for registration because my hair just wasn’t being co-operative.
Anyway, last weekend, I was messing around with Tania – we’ve been best friends forever, ever since primary school when another girl nicked my skipping rope and Tania just waltzed up to her in the playground and thumped her – and she took a photo of me with my ‘normal’ curly hair and posted it on her Insta page. She stuck it on WhatsApp too – we’ve got a page for all the kids in our year – which was really annoying. I didn’t let her know, though – just reposted it with a picture of the straight-haired version and a comment that said, “What do you think? Straight or curly?” I reckoned it was better to get all the bitchy comments out of the way so I could forget the whole thing.
A message pinged up instantly from Steve. “You look adorable no matter what. Love you, Babe.”
Steve’s my boyfriend – has been for the last three or four months. You know how it is when you’re really good friends with someone and then suddenly find you’ve sort of drifted into being more than friends? Well, that’s how it was with Steve and me. We’ve known each other since Year Seven – same tutor group for five years but different teaching sets until we started our GCSEs and found we were both doing Geography together. I ended up sitting with him when Miss Blake redid her seating plan, and things sort of progressed from there. He’s a lovely guy, although he can be a bit nerdy at times; but he always knows the right thing to say, like his comment now, for example.
It must have been half an hour later when another message appeared on my phone. “Definitely the curls. Very sexy.” Winky face.
I was intrigued – and also a little sceptical. Someone thought my curls were sexy?
I looked at the name next to the number at the top of the comment: Mark. I only knew one Mark, Mark Jones in my year group, and for a moment I couldn’t understand why he’d be commenting on my photo; then another comment flashed up: “We curly-haired people have to stick together.” Another winky face.
I know I shouldn’t have, but I messaged him back – not on the group chat, but privately. He was the coolest kid in our year, you see – every boy wanted to be him; every girl wanted to be with him. He was always getting suspended – for smoking; for drugs; for basically just not bothering – but no one cared. He was the hottest boy in school and he thought my curls were sexy.
By the time I got to school on Monday, Mark and I had exchanged about ten flirty messages, starting with “Maybe our curls should get together sometime then?” (me) and then progressing rapidly to some decidedly dodgy suggestions about what other parts of our anatomies should get together as well. I knew Steve would be devastated if he found out, but I found it hard to care. This was just flirting, for heaven’s sake – it’s not as if we were actually going to do anything about it.
Only, it seemed Mark had other ideas. My phone vibrated in registration, alerting me to a message. “Back of the Sports Hall, period one.” It would mean skiving off English, but I was pretty confident I could do that – after all, I wasn’t the sort of girl who normally missed lessons. If I made up a good enough reason, I was sure I could get away with it.
It was easy to tell Tania I had to go to see the French teacher for a Speaking and Listening practice. Easier still to reach the back of the sports Hall without anyone seeing me. Mark was there, casually smoking a cigarette. I wondered if his teachers ever smelled it on his clothes when he went back into lessons.
“So, Curly Girl …” he said lazily, eying me up and down, “what’s happened to your hair today?”
I’d straightened it as usual. I could have kicked myself.
Without waiting for an answer, he went on, “Let’s see if you’re all talk.”
His kiss took me by surprise. He tasted of cigarettes and of danger – and I was instantly addicted.
It was only when his hands started wandering that I came to my senses and pulled back. “Not here – what if we get caught?”
He winked at me. “That’s part of the thrill.”
I shook my head. It was all too risky. Besides, I wasn’t sure exactly how far I wanted this to go. I liked being Steve’s girlfriend; but this was Mark Jones – Tania would be so jealous if I told her.
He was losing interest.
“We could always meet up somewhere after school,” I said slowly.
His eyes lit up at the suggestion. “Where do you wanna go?”
In the end, we decided to meet in the park at half four – he was in detention until then. “Plenty of bushes …” Mark said suggestively. I let that comment pass.
I walked back to my English lesson, feeling a strange mixture of guilt and confidence. I’d just kissed Mark Jones behind Steve’s back. I’d just kissed Mark Jones!
Tania looked at me curiously as I slid into my seat. “What have you been doing?” she whispered. “You look all hot and bothered.”
I wanted to tell her, I really did, but I couldn’t run the risk of her saying something to Steve. Instead, I just smiled and asked if I could copy some of her notes on Macbeth.
I felt really mean when Steve walked me home after school. Usually, I’d ask him in and we’d hang out together until my mum came home from work and chucked him out. Tonight, though, I turned him away at the doorstep. “Sorry, Steve. I’ve got loads of homework.”
His face fell momentarily. “See you tomorrow, then.”
“Yeh,” I agreed, trying to ignore the niggling feeling in my conscience, “see you tomorrow.”
It only took me a few minutes to get changed and another ten to put on some makeup, ready to meet Mark. By now, my hair had almost regained its pre-straightened kink, so I shook my head and trusted that the wind would do the rest on my way to the park.
I set off, trying to work out why I was doing this. Maybe it was because I was tired of being a ‘good girl’ and I just needed to experiment; maybe it was because no one had ever called me sexy before and I liked the feeling now; or perhaps it was simply because it was Mark Jones: tall, with dark, curly hair, chiselled features and an air of laidback defiance, he somehow managed to look good even in school uniform – although he always wore it without the tie, with his shirt left casually open in a Byronic way. (Our English teacher was really into Byron, and that quote she’d told us about him – “mad, bad and dangerous to know” – summed up Mark perfectly.)
When I reached the park, I began wondering whether this was really a good idea. It had all seemed a bit surreal up until now, me having this secret thing going on with Mark when I was supposed to be Steve’s girlfriend. Whatever happened, it would have to be a one-off – I liked Steve too much to keep on seeing someone else behind his back. I suppose I was feeling guilty: I’d never cheated on anyone before today.
As I sat and waited, I thought again about Steve and me. Three months is a long time when you’re sixteen – surely that meant something, if we’d stayed together that long? What was I doing, risking throwing it all away for a quick fumble with Mark Jones?
And then I thought about Tania and how she’d seemed funny with me all day, ever since I’d got back into the English lesson. It was as if she suspected something. Had she read Mark’s comments on WhatsApp – the public ones: there’s no way she could have seen our private messages – and put two and two together?
I sighed as I tried to work out what to do next. I liked Steve, I really did, but I liked feeling wanted by Mark. If it came down to looks and pure ‘phwoar’ factor, Mark would always win; but I knew he wouldn’t be the sort of guy to walk me home every night, the way Steve did, or to send me links to things he thought I might like on YouTube, or to sit and help me revise for a test.
I was still trying to decide what to do when I saw them both: Tania and Steve, coming out of the bushes, adjusting their clothing. They were both still in school uniform – he must have messaged her straightaway when I told him I had homework. As I watched in frozen horror, he turned and kissed her – the sort of kiss that suggested this wasn’t the first time they’d got together.
Behind me, on the path, the sound of footsteps. I turned slightly to see Mark, but it was too late now. Walking past my ex-boyfriend and ex-best friend, I headed for home, still in a state of shock.
It was definitely over.