Peter collides with me, sending me stumbling back. My bag goes flying open and all my school assignments scatter across the dirt. Fantastic. Miss Boadicey will kill me if I turn in my homework covered in filth… I scramble to clean up the disaster, not even looking up to see if Peter is still there.
But I know Peter is still there.
“Sorry,” he mutters, his hands reaching for a few escaped papers. As I watch him line the papers up in an orderly stack, I remember the feel of his hand cupping my cheek.
I shiver and take the papers from him, tucking them back into my tattered satchel. Then I push myself up to my feet and turn back to the Root.
The last time I had a coherent conversation with him was my fifteenth birthday party.
My house had been all abuzz with the talking and gossip of all the small-town friends I’d managed to make over the years. A few were adults, others were school friends - Dominique Birdbox, Grehg Reuldinue, Mable Fismanal, and of course Peter. I’d just finished convincing Paeline to go have a long conversation with Roinae when Peter plopped down on the bench by my side and looked over my shoulder. “What are you writing?”
I smiled, feeling a blush warm my face. “A song.”
Peter looked away, pretending to be nonchalant. “Should have guessed. You’ve been writing music for years.”
“Two years,” I corrected. “Why not join the party?” I scrawled a few more words on my paper before adding, “Usually, you’re so social.”
Peter cast an ugly glance at somebody in the crowd. “I thought the birthday girl deserved a little company.” His tone turned frustrated as he said, “Besides, I wasn’t keen on participating in the conversation anymore.”
“Suit yourself,” I said in a mocking tone, smiling just the same. I was too flustered to ask what he was irked about.
Abruptly, Peter pulled something out of his shirt pocket, turned it over, and handed it to me. “I… didn’t want anybody but you to see it.”
I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Is it a birthday present?”
Peter was quiet. “Yes,” he said softly.
I looked down at the little box, then opened it.
Inside, glittering up at me, was a shimmering butter-yellow teardrop-shaped pendant.
I brought one hand up to my mouth and gasped. “Peter.” Shaking my head, I whispered, “It’s so beautiful.”
All the tension faded out of him at once, and he grinned hugely. “Do you like it?”
“I love it!” I declared, perhaps a bit too loudly. I turned to face him, watching his chocolate-colored eyes intently, and repeated the words. “I love it.”
Peter smiled. “Good, because I spent two weeks debating whether or not to give it to you. I wasn’t sure if the move would be too sudden.”
I tilted my head at him. “What do you mean?”
“I care about you,” he said nervously. “I won’t let you down.” I could tell, from his expression, that we were thinking the same thing. Syril.
We were so close, in that breath. His hand fluttered on my cheek, though I hadn’t noticed it was there before. Nobody was looking at us; we were alone in that moment.
He leaned in, just a little bit. And he kissed me.
“Azure,” Peter calls. “Wait!”
“What do you want?” I ask, trying to hide the teardrop pendant dangling around my wrist.
“I just wanted to…” Peter hesitates. “To say hello.”
I close my eyes and let my pace grow slow. “Well, you have now, haven’t you?”
I whip around, thinking about all the polite ways I could tell him that I don’t want to have this conversation, discarding each one with nothing more than an internal flick. “You know what, Peter? I don’t want your hellos, or your goodbyes. You’ve barely spoken to me all year. You might as well have left. Just like Syril. One minute you’re kissing me and the next thing I know, you can’t spend five minutes in the same room with me! Am I really that awful to be around?” Peter looks at me, black hair pushed into his face by the wind, chocolate eyes burrowing deep into my mind. “What happened to us, Peter?”
Peter looks away, face hidden by his hair. The air turns cool.
He doesn’t utter a word.
I turn and stalk back down the road.