‘Here she is! Come on, Teri, spill the beans,’ said Arabella.
‘We want to know everything,’ said Julia. ‘What the house is like, what her mother’s like, what you talked about, and whether you still insist on liking her.’
Teri had been dreading this. It put her in a dilemma, because she didn’t want to hold out on her friends, but nor did she want to betray Caroline by gossiping about her.
‘Yes, I do like her,’ she began, to make it clear that she wasn’t prepared to take part in demolishing her new friend’s character.
‘And…’ said Julia. ‘Come on, give!’
‘Well, she lives in Virtue Street – in one of those terraced houses. She’s got a room at the top with a view of the hills. Her mother was very nice and made us scones and tea.’
‘And is she as beautiful as Caroline?’ asked Kat.
‘Not at all,’ replied Teri. ‘She’s short and plump and plain. So I was a bit puzzled at first, till Caroline told me she was her foster mother.’
‘A foster mother, at her age? That’s odd,’ said Pip.
‘That’s what I thought.’
‘And what did you talk about?’ asked Julia. ‘Apart from boring old History?’
‘Well, let me think…’
‘Come on, come on!’
‘It’s difficult to remember,’ she lied. ‘We talked about boys,’ she began, and then thought, Mistake! Dangerous ground!
‘So what did she say? About boys?’ pressed Julia.
‘Well, the boys from St Joseph’s were staring at her, so I asked her if it got on her nerves, and she said she didn’t notice it half the time.’
‘And has she had many boyfriends?’ asked Arabella.
‘I don’t know.’
‘Is she dating anyone at the moment?’
‘I don’t know. I don’t think so.’
‘Well, Teri,’ said Arabella, ‘I think you’re going to have to work a bit harder, and pump her for more information.’
Teri and Caroline got into the habit of sitting next to each other in English Lit and History, which at first was rather distracting for Teri because of the shocks and tingles that ran across her skin whenever Caroline spoke or looked her way. Fortunately no one seemed to notice, which seemed odd given the intensity of her feelings; they should have been visible from miles away, like fireworks.
They also spent breaks together, sitting at one of the little tables in the canteen. And every day Teri felt more at ease; every day they found more subjects to talk about, more things in common. Though sometimes while her friend was speaking Teri became so mesmerised by the fullness of her lower lip, or the dimple that came and went in her cheek, or the way the tip of her nose went up and down, that she’d completely lose the thread of what her friend was saying, and run the risk of appearing uninterested.
‘Would you like to come home for tea with me tomorrow?’ she asked one day.
‘Not really,’ replied Caroline. ‘Oh sorry, was that rude? What I mean is, I’d rather just spend time with you on our own if you don’t mind. I don’t mix easily with strangers, and I’ve had to do it rather a lot – always moving on from place to place. And I feel comfortable with you. It’s a relief to feel comfortable. Oh dear, have I disappointed you?’
‘Not at all,’ replied Teri truthfully, who didn’t really want to share Caroline with her four sisters. ‘It’s just that we have to eat, don’t we? And we need somewhere to hang out.’
‘We can always hang out at my place. Mum loves to feed people.’
‘Are you sure she won’t mind?’
‘Absolutely. She likes me to have friends, and starts to fret if I don’t. In fact, she said she liked you and hoped you’d come again.’
And soon Teri was spending three evenings a week at Caroline’s house. The first hour or two would be taken up with homework in Caroline’s room. Then Mrs Trent would call them downstairs to eat, and bustle around serving them and plying them with seconds. In fact, she behaved more like a servant than a mother.
Then they would go upstairs to chat and play music or watch movies till nine thirty, when Mr Trent would drive her home. He was a big, serious man who hardly spoke a word, and Teri couldn’t tell if he disapproved of her, or was like that with everybody.
In fact, Teri found the whole setup at Caroline’s home awkward and strange. With anyone else, she would have gradually distanced herself and let the connection drop. But every day her friendship with Caroline grew, and every day she fell more in love.
‘We’ve got a pot-luck on Saturday, Teri,’ said Julia. ‘It has to be a pot-luck because Mum’s the worst cook in the world. In fact, pot-lucks are really the only way I get any proper nourishment. Can you come? Don’t go to any trouble – a salad would be fine.’
‘Sounds great,’ said Teri. ‘Count me in.’
‘Ask Caroline, if you like.’
But Caroline didn’t want to come, so Teri went on her own.
All the gang were there, plus three adult couples including Julia’s Mum and Dad. As she walked in, Kat and Fran broke off their conversation to say ‘Hi Teri,’ in a rather offhand way, then went back to talking about netball. Teri felt excluded. It was painful, but she could hardly blame them – she’d seen so little of them recently.
Arabella came up. ‘Hello stranger,’ she said, tactlessly. ‘Where’s Caroline? I thought you were joined at the hip these days.’
‘She couldn’t come,’ said Teri, blushing.
‘Shame,’ said Arabella, unconvincingly.
Fortunately Pip intervened. ‘Teri, Hi!’ she said, ‘I was hoping you’d come. Are you going to audition for “Les Mis”?’
‘“Les Mis”? I didn’t know we were doing it. I wouldn’t mind being in the chorus.’
‘But you’ve got such a fabulous voice. Why don’t you go for one of the leads?’
‘Because everyone would look at me, Pip, and I would either throw up or pass out. Put me at the back of the chorus, and I’ll be fine. When are the auditions?’
‘Wednesday for the leads, Thursday for the chorus. You’d have to prepare one of the songs, though.’
‘That’s alright – I know a couple. But Miss Bunting’s going to be pretty sick of “I Dreamed a Dream” before the week is over.’
‘True!’ laughed Pip. ‘How about going together? We could give each other moral support.’
‘You’re on,’ smiled Teri with relief. At least Pip was still her friend.
Julia’s Mum called them to the table soon after, and Pip and Teri sat together and had a proper catch-up. Kat and Fran sat opposite and joined in, and by the end of the evening Teri felt one of the gang once more.
But she definitely had a problem here. How could she get closer to Caroline without alienating her old friends? With Caroline’s preference to keep Teri to herself, and Teri’s preference to keep a low profile, they were in danger of becoming more and more isolated – a hermetically-sealed little clique of two. Teri saw the danger, but had absolutely no idea what to do about it. She asked her spirit guides, but all she got from them was, ‘All is well.’ Sometimes they could be really quite annoying.
‘You date boys, don’t you?’ said Caroline one evening after supper, as they were lounging on her bed listening to music.
Now, Teri knew that some opportunities come only once. And this was both an opportunity and a threshold. But she didn’t know whether she was ready to cross it yet.
‘I do now and then,’ she replied. Then surprised herself by adding, ‘Just for camouflage, you know.’
And their eyes met and held.
‘Are you gay too, then?’
‘I think so. Not that I’ve tried… anything, yet.’
‘Well, let me know when you’re ready, and if you like we can try together. I mean, if you like me that way. I might not be your cup of tea.’
‘Are you kidding? You’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen.’
‘Beauty is different from attractiveness, though. A sunset is beautiful but I don’t want to make love to it. But on the other hand I find you very attractive, though you’re not beautiful at all. Oh I’m sorry…’
‘No, I can live with that. It’s the right way round. Poor old sunset.’
‘Poor old sunset… Can I kiss you?’
‘Don’t you think we might be taking this a bit too fast?’
‘Sorry, I thought you wanted…’
‘Yes, I do want. But we’re in your bedroom and your parents are downstairs, and…’
‘They won’t mind.’
‘Oh, maybe one little kiss, then.’
‘Are you sure?’
‘Sure I’m sure.’
‘Come and sit beside me, then.’
So she did, and Caroline took her face in her long hands, and kissed her.
‘Mmmmm,’ they said in unison.
They put their arms around each other, and it felt as if two magnets were clicking together and becoming one thing – as if their energy fields were merging. All Teri’s nerve endings sang with delight, and her head swam as if she might actually pass out from the sheer bliss of the moment.
‘You’ve got a hairy earlobe,’ said Caroline, breaking the spell.
‘Have I?… Oh dear, does it repel you?’
‘No, it’s cute. Is the other one the same? Let’s have a look… Yes, it is.’
‘Is that one cute as well?’
‘Phew! That’s a relief.’
‘Can I kiss you again?’
‘Oh, alright then.’
‘I’ll put the light out, shall I?’ said Caroline.
‘Why? I want to see you. That’s my privilege as the attractive but not beautiful one.’
‘Are you making up rules already?’
‘Alright, clever clogs, I confess. Just trying to slip one past you. Fat chance of that.’
‘Where are you going now?’
‘To put the light out.’
‘I’ll do it.’
‘No, you stay there,’ said Teri. ‘And while I’m on my feet I’ll take your shoes off. Come out, you exquisite foot.’
‘No, don’t!’ cried Caroline, scrambling to sit up.
But it was too late.
And they froze, both pairs of eyes riveted on Caroline’s right foot, cradled in the palm of Teri’s hand.
Now webbed toes aren’t exactly rare, and Teri had seen them before, on another girl at school. But these webs were different. They were blue.
Together they stared at the foot. And stared at the foot. And stared at the foot. Finally Teri remembered to breathe.
‘Do they repel you?’ Caroline whispered.
‘No. Not exactly.’
‘They do, don’t they?’ said Caroline, her voice starting to break.
‘Caroline, don’t be daft. You’re the most beautiful creature on the planet, and I’m crazy about you. No, I’m not repelled. But I’m… What am I? I’m bothered by those webs. Because they… to be honest, they don’t look human to me.’
‘I asked them to remove them. It would have been such a simple operation. But they wouldn’t do it!’
‘I was going to tell you. Honestly I was,’ she said. ‘Okay…’
Finally she took a shuddering breath and looked up, her eyes wet.
‘Teri, do you believe in extraterrestrials?’
‘Well, I know they exist… Is that what you are – an extraterrestrial?’
‘Not exactly…’ she said, her lips contorting as she struggled not to cry. ‘I’m… a hybrid.’
‘A hybrid… Right.’
The tears spilled out of Caroline’s eyes, and she covered her face with her hands. Teri let go of the foot, put her arms around her friend, and held her while she cried as if the whole world was crashing to bits around her.
Finally the sobs abated. Teri fetched a box of tissues, and Caroline blew her nose, which was not quite so beautiful now.
‘Teri,’ she said, ‘I know I should have told you before we kissed, but I so wanted that to happen, and if I’d told you before, it might never have happened at all. I’m sorry. It was wrong of me. I shouldn’t have…’
‘Hey, look, it’s okay. Give me your hands. Look at me. That’s right. Now listen… Caroline, I am in love with you. And the fact that you have blue webs on your toes does not lessen my feelings one little bit. Okay?… Okay?’
‘Right, that’s the first thing. I wanted to get that straight. That’s number one. Number two, your secret is safe with me – just in case you thought it might not be.’
‘Oh, I knew it would be,’ whispered Caroline.
‘Good. But number three – and this is the crunch, Caroline. I want to know everything. I want to know who your parents were, where they came from, and who this mysterious “they” are, who refused to remove the webs from your feet. I want to know it all. And that’s non-negotiable. If you won’t tell me, I’m leaving. I’ll still keep your secret, I’ll still love you, and I will wish you well, but I will go. Is that understood?’
So Caroline told her.
Part 3 soon
© Sue J Davis 2016
Please see Copyright Notice on the ‘About’ page