The orange haired boy was there again, lurking in the hallway like almost every other day. Nan was getting used to seeing him by now, he wasn’t really conspicuous, and couldn’t be even if he tried, and she was sure he had. The hair was a big giveaway, it was brightly orange, not the usual ginger but almost as bright as the fruit. Anyone with hair like that could not possibly hope to be able to disappear in a crowd, no matter how big. To make matters worse he was growing it out, or so it seemed. It fell all over his face, stuck in that unflattering phase somewhere in the middle, not quite long yet, but no longer short. Looking at him over the past weeks Nan concluded it might be better if he gave it up, she felt short would suit him better.
But it wasn’t just the hair that made his stick out like that, he was also quite tall. Well, not yet tall exactly. .That was in the process too, lanky was a better word maybe. His arms and legs were long, and all his movements appeared clumsy and ungraceful, as if he was just getting used to it all. Maybe that is why he stopped walking the moment he would notice them coming his way, he would just stop and look.
And that is what he did now. He just looked at them briefly before quickly turning his head away and quickly walking past them along the corridor. Nan had hoped she could catch his look, meet his brown eyes with her own green ones but she didn’t. Not his time. Besides it wasn’t really her he looked at when they met. It was Della, he barely even noticed Nan. And that wasn’t really a surprise to her. People did like her twin more, it was the same with everyone, not just the orange haired boy. It didn’t really surprise Nan that much, Della was always more…approachable then Nan and Nan didn’t mind it, not usually at least.
Nan didn’t have a good way with people, or at least they didn’t consider her way of approach “good.” She preferred to be blunt with everyone and she noticed early on that most people didn’t like that, and she was told more then once they found it downright annoying. And if Nan was completely honest with herself she wouldn’t call it just blunt…
She had always been good at reading people, especially the most important things about them, or at least the things she found most important, their weaknesses. She absolutely loved discovering those and then using them against them.
Say she noticed somebody was dieting she would use the first opportunity she got to compliment them on eating well and add a casual: You have gained some weight have you? She adored the way they would look at her after, the look they would get in their eyes… Like something deep down inside had shattered…
Nan especially loved to use this on her other sisters, not Della her twin, but her older sisters. Lena, technically the oldest, even though she and Maja were twins too, was the easiest target. She was one big klutz who failed her driving test, again. It surprised Nan she could even walk straight with that coordination of hers, and to think she had taken up running… A disaster in waiting if you asked Nan.
And if that wasn’t enough by itself, there was also the fact that Lena’s head was constantly in the clouds. She was an aspiring artist, a dreamer who was constantly in this class or the other, writing, guitar… A waste of time if you ask Nan. She had nothing against art as such, she preferred to rely on facts, not imagination, but she could see why it was important. She did however believe one should have a talent for things like that and if you have to take a thousand classes… Well… Your future doesn’t seem so bright does it? And Nan could just see it, both Lena and her good for nothing boyfriend living in her parents’ house for the rest of their pathetic lives… Sad really.
Maja on the other hand was a tad better, she was ambitious and a hard worker. It was a shame she wasn’t gifted with just a little more intelligence, that would have gotten her much further, this way she was destined to a life of hard, exhausting work just to stay tad over the line of mediocrity… And all that if she stops pathetically pining over boys. Yes Nan had read her diary, she read all of her sisters’ diaries. It was a guilty pleasure of hers… And Maja’s had been filled with brokenhearted sobs over Jacob, the boy who didn’t choose her… And sure Nan had seen him around, he had nice features, a clone of his father if she ever saw one but if he chose another girl what was there to do? She could of course egg his house and then move on, or just completely forget about him… But Maja did not do any of those thing. She was lame… So lame…
Della was different then them.She was the only person Nan even remotely respected, the only human being safe from her torment. But still sometimes even Della worried her a bit… Like now, as they were walking away from their math class she was silent and worried. The teacher had given them a massive homework for tomorrow no less. Nan didn’t worry, for someone with her, or Della’s abilities it would be a drudging labor, but nothing that challenges their intelligence in any way. But she knew why Della was all bothered up, it was her damn study club.
Della had started the club, not because she herself needed help with her studies, her desire was to help other, less fortunate students by tutoring and sharing. Nan thought that was the stupidest thing ever. If those idiots struggled in high school what can they expect from life? Why baby them? Throw them to the wolves, make them fend for themselves if the can’t well… But it was hard to get that point across to Della. Her selflessness was her biggest weakness, Nan knew one day she would wake up from it. Life would beat it out for her, sooner rather then later she hoped.
They walked all the way outside without a word. The bus was parked in front, waiting for them. Nan stopped and turned to her distressed sister.
“Are you going to stay behind? In the club I mean?” Nan asked her.
“No… I’ll head home first, finish this and then bike back here… ” Della replied quietly and Nan nodded turning back to the bus. Students were coming in in waves, it looked like it would rain and nobody wanted to walk or bike back home. She and Della were among the last to enter and as she scanned the seats she noticed him again.
He was seated in one of the front seats, alone. As he noticed them walking towards him his eyes lifted up to them in expectation. Nan could see the excitement behind them, she could see it in his nervous behavior as he straightened up pulling his bag further away. It was an amazing convince for him, the bus was almost full by now and that empty seat next to him was sure appealing…
For a brief second Nan actually considered suggesting to Della to take that seat. It would surely make the boy’s day, but the second passed and she changed her mind.”Come on, I think I see two seats in the back.” She lied to her sister and went forward in big strides.
She didn’t look at the boy as they walked hurriedly besides him but when they were a few steps away she turned back briefly, hoping to see the expression on his face, hoping to see that hurt look, the shattering of hope but he wasn’t looking at them, he was still looking in front and all she could see was the back of his head. I wish I knew his name… The thought popped in Nan’s head suddenly and she was surprised. What good would his name do? I could always call him Orange… But for some reason that just wasn’t enough….
Days passed. Orange was never far, she would catch a glimpse of him almost every day, sneaking a peek at Della but never coming close enough for Nan to get a chance to talk to him and for some reason she could not quite communicate to herself at that time it was very important that she does just that.
Seeing as opportunity wasn’t just going to present itself to her Nan knew she had to make one for herself. Of course she needed a tiny bit of luck for that, and that she got one day when Della informed her she would be staying late today, it was the club of course and Nan was about to drive the bus alone when she noticed Orange had stayed behind too.
The study club met at the library, located in the school basement and Nan rightly guessed Orange wouldn’t run back there immediately so she sneaked down there first. She hid behind one of the pillars near the entrance, grateful she had gotten her parents’ stick-like body because it enabled her to hide quite efficiently, completely obscuring her from view of anyone who was coming down to the library. She didn’t have to wait long, not full five minutes had passed until she heard footsteps coming her way.
She peeked from her hiding place slowly just to confirm what she had already known. It was Orange walking fast, with determination in his eyes, carrying something in his long arms. He didn’t look around as he went to the door but then he stopped, just a few steps away from Nan’s hiding place. He stopped rather abruptly, as if he had ran in some obstacle. He inhaled deeply but remained standing there like he was glued to the spot.
“Don’t tell me you are afraid?” Nan spoke stepping behind the pillar. She watched the boy as he jumped in place before he turned to her. A smile spread across her face as she looked at the frightened face.
“You scared me!” He said meekly when he head regained some composure. Nan’s smile widened.
“Like I said, you were scared well before you even knew I was there…” She said pointing to the pillar behind that she had walked away from. He frowned slightly at then looked at the library door ahead of them and then back at Nan. She finally noticed what he was carrying, it was a book that hung limply in one of his hands, the one that wasn’t pressed tightly to his chest. She stepped even closer to him. “So why are you standing here?” She asked with a smile but he frowned again.
“I could ask you the same thing.” His tone was no longer meek, it was sharp and defensive. Nan had not expected that and it amused her.
“I was watching you, of course.” She replied.
“So you come out and scare me? What a delightful prank…”
“It wasn’t meant to be a prank…”
“Then what?” He cut her off not even bothered to conceal his anger.
“Oh I think you know…” Nan started but he cut her off again.
“Well I don’t.”
“You are stalking my sister, I’m here to watch out for her.”
His aggressive demeanor melted in a second. He gaped at her. The book he brought with him still hung limply in his hand. He ran the other one trough his hair nervously, pushing back the loose strands that fell over his face.
“Lost for words?” She asked mockingly, enjoying his fidgeting.
“I…I am not stalking anyone.” He finally said but his voice had lost the earlier resolve completely. Too bad. Nan thought. She liked it better the way it was.
“Sure you are. My sister, the cute skinny short haired blonde over there.” She said pointing to the library.
“I know who your sister is.” He said quietly, as if Della could hear him all the way out here. “But I am not stalking her!” Defensive again but with less resolve…
“Then what do you call it? What you are doing?”
“I’m here to return a book.” He said sounding a little calmer again, his confidence returning, or so Nan sensed from his voice. She knew he was going to use this excuse from the moment she saw the object in his hand and she wasn’t planning to leave it at that.
“Now? After classes had ended?”
“I didn’t have a chance to do it before.”
“Why? To busy stalking?” Nan asked smiling. He didn’t respond immediately, then as he was about to speak she interrupted him by walking another step closer so the distance between them were barely centimeters. He had gone completely mute when he looked down at her. She met his warm brown eyes and for a moment she just admired how tall he was. “Look.” She said amazed at how soft her own voice was. “My sister isn’t interested in you, she never will be. You are always around and I don’t think she had even noticed… And you… You’ll never be brave enough to speak to her so why does all of this matter anyway?”
And then it finally came, the look. Orange’s world was shattering… He believed Nan, she had him… All she had to do was throw one more punch… But something stopped her, something in those brown eyes, in the sad gaze and instead of saying what she wanted to say, what she thought she wanted to say she said this:
“You shouldn’t waste your time trying to get my sister to look at you, or sit next to you in the bus… Or whatever you were attempting with that book. You should ask someone else out instead, me.” She put it all out there in one breath and then she stepped away, creating a distance between them again looking at the boy whose name she still hadn’t know.
There was nothing but surprise there, in his eyes or on his face and for a moment there Nan was sure he would say no. And then she would have no choice but to destroy him, utterly and completely.
“Okay.” He said instead after a brief pause that to Nan seemed like a century. “Maybe I should do just that.” And then for the first time since he walked down those stairs he smiled. It was a bright smile that made his features even nicer and it made Nan smile as well.
“Then do it.” She said.
“Okay… Would you like to go out for coffee sometime?” He said still smiling.
“How about right now?” Nan replied.
“Sure.” He said without any hesitation. He briefly looked at the door, the book and then turned to the stairwell.
“Wait.” Nan yelled and he turned back again. “I don’t…We haven’t even met properly…” She added extending her hand to him. “I’m Nan.”
“I know.” He said smiling. “I’m Branden, Bran.”
“Branden or Bran, what do you prefer?” She asked.
“Well some people call me Branden, others call me Bran, my sister…”
“What do you prefer?” She asked again impatiently.
“Bran I guess.”
“Well alright then Bran.” She said and he laughed. It was a nice laugh, loud and honest.
“What are you laughing at?” She asked narrowing her eyes at him.
“Bran and Nan.” He said still smiling, she didn’t find it rather funny but there was definitely something in the way he laughed… It was a sound she could get used to.