“We’re here.” Dora slams on the brake pedal unexpectedly. The baggage on top of the backseat falls over, smacking me on the back of the head. I curse silently, hoping that Dora can’t hear me. She knows I don’t use that kind of language anymore.
“That’s great,” I mutter, massaging my skull. Dora beams, staring at me from the driver’s side. I chose to sit in the back, hoping to catch up on some sleep, but my plan failed because Dora blasted music at full volume when we left Gargle—our hometown.
“Oh, my God, India, this is so exciting. We’re finally here,” she goes on, her high-pitched voice ringing in my ears. “Look at these buildings. Can you imagine what—”
We get out of the car while she continues to talk. I know I should be listening, but I can’t seem to focus today, and her monologue about all the wild parties is always the same. An odd sensation brushes over me, and I start to wonder why I’m not excited like Dora. We’ve been counting down the days to come to Braxton, and now I feel like I need to turn back. Maybe I’m not meant to go anywhere else but Gargle.
I take a few deep breaths and stretch my neck. I’ve always wanted to study at Braxton University. My mother and grandmother went here. Dora’s always wanted to live on her own; she’s been talking about this ever since she was accepted.
Me, though, I just couldn’t wait to get away from my toxic past.
Dora’s my best friend, but I’m not sure if I made the right decision to drag her here with me this time around. Her parents are wealthy, she could go anywhere she wanted in England, but in the end, she followed me.
Maybe she decided to come to Braxton because we’ve always done everything together. We aren’t at all similar, but we’ve known each other for years and it’s just easy that way. Dora might be a distraction from all the important stuff I planned to do this year. She wants to party and carry on with the life she had in Gargle. Me? I want to distance myself from the past and concentrate on things that matter.
I walk around the car and begin pulling my bags from the boot. The sun is blazing in the sky, burning the nape of my neck. In a few weeks it’ll get cold; it’s surprising that the weather is still nice in late September. But I feel an odd tension in the air, as if this peaceful day is going to be ruined by a thunderstorm. I notice heavy dark clouds starting to gather in the south.
“Come on, India, let’s move.” Dora’s voice brings me back to reality. “I want to check out the campus before it gets dark.”
“All right, chill out. These bags are heavy.”
“Oh, sorry, Miss Sensitive.” She frowns. “Why are you in such a bad mood today?”
“I’m fine, just tired. Cut it out.”
She waves her hand and starts walking. I know exactly what she’s talking about. I was up late last night thinking about Christian, and each time I do that, the next day I’m never the same.
We left Gargle in the early afternoon. Mum insisted on packing tons of food for us. She still thinks we won’t be able to cook a proper meal for ourselves, and we’ll be living on beans on toast. My little sister, Josephine, kept asking if she could come and visit me soon. She wants to see Braxton for herself. She’s only fourteen, but she’s already heard stories about university life, and she can’t wait to taste freedom for herself.
I grab my bags and start following Dora. She’s walking towards the block of student apartments, her brown hair flowing freely around her shoulders. I don’t know why, but my stomach makes a funny jolt when I see the buildings stretching in front of us.
We cross the path and walk towards the entrance. I switch my bag to my other shoulder, as my arm starts to ache, and drag my main suitcase behind me. We notice a group of students playing rugby on the lawn. Dora’s already toying with her hair, pretending to be struggling with her luggage, probably hoping one of those blokes will give her a hand. I roll my eyes, ignoring her fake moans, and move ahead. For a moment, I feel someone’s eyes on me, so I stop and turn around.
One of the guy’s stare directly at me. He squeezes his eyes shut, and what feels like fire spreads down my spine. He appears familiar, but I shake my head—I don’t know anyone in Braxton, and the sudden blaze of heat is only my imagination. Dora manages to get the attention of one of the guys, and they start chatting away. This is just so typical of her.
“Pass the ball, Jacob,” someone shouts behind me. But I ignore the voice, even though it sounds so familiar, and it’s heating up the blood running through my body.
Suddenly, something hits me hard on the back of the head. I let go of a loud “Owww!” and swiftly turn around. I spot the rugby ball on the grass and reach up to massage my head. I narrow my eyes, spotting the same guy who was staring at me a few seconds ago. He’s standing there, smirking.
“What’s your problem?” I clench my jaw in anger.
He doesn’t seem the least bit sorry that he just hit me with a freaking ball. He’s tall and muscular, his dark hair cut close to his scalp. For some reason, the “Special Forces” haircut suits him. He’s too far ahead so I can’t see the colour of his eyes, but his gaze is pulling me to him like a magnet. Jeans hang low on his hips, and his white T-shirt is dirty, likely from rolling on the grass. I glance back at his friends, who stare at me, startled. Something isn’t right here—he obviously meant to hit me on purpose.
“Well, who have we got here? It’s the one and only, India Gretel.” He says my name loudly, like he wants to make sure everyone can hear him.
“Do I know you?” I impatiently eye him from head to toe. A large whacky grin appears on his handsome face. Something in his eyes tell me we’ve already met. His gaze hardens on me as he picks up the ball and closes the distance between us. It’s then that I see his wide jaw and full beautiful lips.
“Don’t fucking tell me you forgot about me already, Indi?” He smirks again. “Boys, let me introduce you to the biggest bitch to ever step foot in Braxton.”
I blink rapidly, staring at him, digging through my memories—anything that can tell me if I’ve seen him before, but I’ve got nothing.
“Oliver, who the hell is that?” one of his mates asks as he walks towards him.
Dora notices my little show because she approaches me, appearing equally confused. “India, who’s that douchebag?” She hikes her thumb towards him, frowning.
Oliver. That name rolls through my head like a snooker ball. It curls my toes and increases my heartbeat. It’s like a poison that crawls into my pores and wrecks my body. His name brings about both good and bad within me. It’s the name I’ve been trying to forget for the past two years.
I stare at him as if he isn’t really there, as if I’m hallucinating. My heart starts pounding, sending a signal to my brain to start running when he approaches me.
It’s not him—it can’t be.
“I’m sorry. I don’t know who you are.” I manage, but my voice easily gives away my lie. The memories whirl back to me like a storm. The colour of his eyes—they’re the same. They’re his eyes—I could never forget them. Deep blue, staring straight through me, touching my pain, the pain his brother caused so many times. I break eye contact quickly enough and turn around but have trouble breathing.
“I don’t know what’s made you so dumb, but whatever it is—it’s working,” he shouts, and his friends laugh.
“Hold on, India, is that—”
“Dora, I didn’t know you were still friends with that witch?”