Leon’s pinky wraps around my pinky underneath the desk. Our hands hang linked in the gap between our laps; his warm, mine cold. Facing forward, I wonder if he’s looking at me. Wonder what sort of eyes go with his perfect voice. Wonder what his hair feels like. Wonder what—
“Miss Walters? Mr. Leto? Whenever you’re ready.”
As I yank my hand away from Leon’s, my cheeks heat. How long has Mr. Smythe been ogling our game of handsies? So embarrassing.
Leon’s chair shifts beside mine, stuttering across the floor. Thankfully, he answers Mr. Smythe for both of us. “We’re ready, sir.”
He can be such a smartass.
My voice is stuck somewhere between my throat and my stomach, where the nerves are jigging in some sort of happy dance.
“Good. Let me remind you this project counts toward forty percent of your final grade. You have one hour, and it’s the last hour you have. No excuses this time.”
My nostrils flare as my eyebrows bend. Spending the afternoon crying in the counsellor’s office while having gum cut out of my hair was not an excuse.
“Screw you.” The words rumble under my breath, but Mr. Smythe catches them.
“What was that, Jessica?”
“Nothing, Mr. Smythe. No more excuses.”
Leon’s hand finds my knee and he squeezes it. There’s an explosion at the base of my spine, shooting fireworks toward my neck. He’s sitting closer now. I can smell the lavender in his laundry detergent.
“Good luck.” Leon’s whisper tickles my ear, and a nervous giggle escapes my chest.
“You too.” I breathe him in without sound, stretching straighter in my hard chair.
My pulse beats out of control as I pull the plastic bag off my somewhat sculpted lump of clay. Or my big-fat-mess-of-a-lump-of-clay as it feels beneath my fingers. Signing up for art class was the dumbest idea my psychiatrist ever had.
A waft of wet earth hits my nose, cancelling out the smell of Leon. The nerves rise again, and this time they’re not good. The classroom is quiet. Too quiet. The tick of the clock and the soft scratching next to me where Leon’s probably crafting a masterpiece. A masterpiece he would’ve finished if he wasn’t always late.
“I think you’ve got it backwards.” Leon’s chair scrapes, lavender returns. “Here. Do you mind?” The clay spins against my skin.
“I would’ve figured it out.” Frustration comes out with my words—more than I would like. But, sheesh.
“I know. An hour’s an hour, though. And I want you to pass this class so we can sit beside each other next semester.”
“What makes you think I’m signing up for Art again?”
“Because I am. And I was hoping you would as well.”
It’s a good thing I’m sitting down. Because, wow—my heart pulls some major stretches inside my ribcage.
“Uh, can we listen to music?” My thumbs dig deep into the cool mass of clay.
Mr. Smythe’s tongue clicks. “What did you have in mind, Jessica?”
“I’m okay with the classical music you listen to at break. Whatever you want.”
Exasperation fills the room, or at least a sigh the size of the gymnasium, and I reach down to the space between my chair and Leon’s, hoping to find his hand.
I do. It’s there.
A second later the sound of a guitar vibrates around my ears. The muscles in my shoulders relax. I will spend the next semester twisting pinkies with Leon and inhaling subtly. I will find out what his hair feels like. He doesn’t reclaim his hand right away so I explore its digits with both of mine. He lets my fingers spider between his, then up his smooth wrist free of scars. Or a watch.
My hands rush the surface of my clay, smooth the ruts. Whatever this mound ends up being, my parents will probably put it on our very empty mantelpiece. Anything’s worth celebrating these days.
The bell rings while I’m working up the shapes and shadows of the last fingernail. Footsteps approach. Mr. Smythe raps his hand on my desk. “Well done. I’ll prepare your projects for the kiln. Final marks will be available in two weeks’ time.”
I scoot around to face Leon, hitting his chair with my knee. Whoa. He’s so close. “I take it mine’s not horrible?” It doesn’t feel horrible, but it wouldn’t be the first time my touch has lied to me. Like that time with the kids and the ketchup in gym class.
“Far from it. It’s amazing.”
A smile pulls my lips toward my ears. He’s so sweet. “That probably depends on your definition of amazing.”
“Do you want to see mine before you go?”
“Um, yeah. But, you know…” I draw a circle around my face with my finger and stick out my tongue.
Leon’s hand trembles as he takes mine in his for the umpteen-millionth time this afternoon, and places it on the damp surface of his project.
“Wow. It feels very, uh… detailed.”
His breath hits my cheek when he laughs. “Yeah, I pay attention to details.”
“But you’re always late.” Great. Now he knows I’ve been paying attention to him. I’m going to die of embarrassment today. I know it.
My fingers stop at a deep crevasse in the middle of his project. “What’s this?”
He moves my hand along its edges. “It’s a crack.”
“It feels out of place. Is it meant to be there?”
Leon pulls me up, hands me my cane. “Yep. That’s how the light gets in.”