It was a Thursday when Joe first noticed Celeste Burray. She walked out in the lunch yard during his lunch hour, head bent and tucked into her books. He had seen her around before but had never taken any notice of her. She was one of those shy types that most people glanced over or through. She kept to herself and hid in the shadows preferring to go unnoticed, liking the anonymity of it. If people did not see her, they wouldn’t tease her. But on this particular Thursday she had forgotten her packed lunch and her only option was to venture into the lunch yard to get something to eat.
Joe glanced up as she walked in and then quickly went quickly back to his book. It was a juicy chapter and he had been looking forward to the break all day when he could steal some time away.
He had only glanced down at his book for a moment when he heard a massive clatter. He glanced up to see Celeste standing in the middle of the yard, her lunch tray round her ankles and Tyler Moore and his side kick pushing themselves into her face. Joe sat back in his chair and watched.
“Watch where you’re going, you dropped your food all over me,” Tyler spat into Celeste’s face.
“I err I’m sorry,” Celeste mumbled through a face full of hair.
“Sorry,” Tyler jeered glancing at his back at his accomplice and around the room. “Did you hear that everyone? Celeste the loser is sorry. Well sorry is not even good enough,” he screamed turning back to her.
“I’ll pay for your cleaning,” Celeste whispered still not looking up.
“Not good enough. I want you to eat your food off the floor!”
“You what?” She finally looked up, tears welling in her eyes
“I said I want you to eat the food you just dropped over me off the floor. NOW!”
“I don’t think she’ll be doing that,” Joe said appearing from behind Tyler.
Tyler spun round and looked at Joe in shock. “Excuse me,” he said glaring at him. “And who the hell do you think you are to decide?”
“I’m no one of consequence to you,” Joe replied. “And neither is she. She said she is sorry now lay off!”
“Can you believe this,” Tyler laughed addressing his congregation. “Mr bookworm himself is squaring off to me.” His entourage laughed along with him and so did the rest of the lunch room. But Joe and Celeste stayed silent.
“If you want to take her place and eat the food off the floor be my guest. If not, i suggest you and I meet in the park after school – bookworm!”
“I don’t think that will be necessary.” Kirk suddenly appeared behind Joe with the rest of the football team in toe. They all stood staring at each other. Tyler and his gang and Joe with his buffed up and popular brother standing by his side. The lunch yard fell silent. All the kids held their breath – what would Tyler do?
“Sod this man,” Tyler finally said waving his arms around. “She’s not worth it!” He pushed Celeste hard against her shoulder and she fell against Joe who steadied her.
“But this is no over between us,” Tyler shouted back at Joe scurrying through the door with this entourage in toe.
“Thanks Kirk,” Joe said turning to face his little brother. “But I could have handled it myself.”
“I know you could have bro but I just wanted you to know I was here.”
“I know. Thanks.” The two boys smacked each other’s hand and then Kirk strode off to join the rest of the football team at their usual table.
“Are you ok,” Joe finally said turning to Celeste.
“You shouldn’t have done that,” Celeste said, head once against bent down.
“I couldn’t stand and watch them do that to you, I’m sorry.”
He could hear the girl sniffle slightly and then she lifted her eyes to his. They were the deepest blue and haunted. “You’ve just made it worse,” she murmured before turning around and running away, fleeing the room like a scared cat.
“Hey,” he called after her but she was long gone.
The lunch yard had resumed its usual hive of activity but Joe did not move. He looked at the space where Celeste had stood moments before and found himself thinking of her blue eyes and the haunted look she gave him. He knew standing up to Tyler and the bullies had been stupid and was secretly glad when Kirk and his buddies had turned up, even though he would never have admitted it to him. But the moment he had heard the clatter of Celeste’s lunch tray he had gotten an overwhelming desire to protect her. To him she was like a frightened and fragile bird with piercing blue eyes. What was she so scared of?
He went back to his table, scooped up his books and headed back into the school corridor. He wanted to find her, comfort her but he knew she didn’t want him anywhere near her, then why couldn’t he get her out of his head?
“Hey Joe, what’s this I hear about you getting into a fight with Tyler Moore?” Joe spun around to find Karis behind him standing up against the wall with her boyfriend Ryan.
“WOW, news travels fast,” Joe said stopping to talk to his sister.
“You know what this place is like,” Karis said rolling her eyes. “What did you do to rally Tyler up? It’s not really like you?”
“It’s a long story,” Joe replied, an image of Celeste’s blue eyes flashing through his mind again.
“I heard it had something to do with a girl,” Ryan piped in.
“A girl,” Karis teased. “My big bro finally got himself a girlfriend?”
“It’s nothing like that,” Joe said. “She just needed help is all?”
“Well I am glad someone stood up to that thug. Just make sure you watch your back, Tyler’s not one to let things drop!”
“Thanks for the advice but I think I’ll be fine. Anyway I had better get on. Got to return some books to the library.” He started off back down the corridor, a funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. He hoped he bumped into Celeste again, just to see if she were ok of course!
“Wow your brother is brave,” Ryan said turning to Karis as soon as Joe was out of earshot. “Not sure that was the cleverest thing he’s ever done though.”
“Ah Joe can look after himself, he’s clever enough to figure something out. If not, I’m sure Kirk will give him a hand. Plus he always has his little sister to protect him.”
“You,” Ryan teased! “You’re just a precious little flower, you couldn’t hurt anyone.” He pulled Karis close to him and she fell onto his lips. She did not even bother to tease him back. She loved kissing Ryan!
They had met a year ago when Ryan had transferred from Sunset Valley to Bridgeport. Karis’s best friend Scarlett had introduced them to each other one day. As Head Girl, Scarlett was often given the responsibility of showing all the new kids around the school. She moaned to Karis that she hated it, but Karis knew that secretly Scarlett loved her little role. She was a real goody-two-shoes at heart even though she would never let on that she was.
Karis had bumped into them while Scarlett was showing Ryan the School’s trophy cabinet. “You’re not boasting about us coming third in the regions chess league again are you,” Karis teased when she spotted her friend with the new boy.
“Hey Karis,” Scarlett said spinning around. “This is Ryan Gregson from Sunset Valley. He’s new here. Ryan this is my bestest friend in the world, Karis Starr.”
Karis locked eyes with Ryan and melted. Unlike her older sisters, she had never cared too much about boys. Especially boys from her school, they were all young and immature. But this guy. He looked at her like he was really looking at her and not at her breasts.
“Pleased to meet you,” he said not taking his eyes of hers whilst shaking her hand.
“Pleased to meet you,” Karis stammered.
“Ahem,” Scarlett coughed. “I was just showing Ryan around wanna tag along.”
“Sure,” Karis replied. Normally this would have been her idea of hell but not this time. This time she took the tour with her best friend and who was soon to be the love of her life. Ryan and Karis had been inseparable since!
Well as much as Karis could be considering she also had another passion in life rather than Ryan. Ever since she had become a teenager, she had developed a love for nature. She had always been an outdoors sort of girl, loving to sit and play amongst the butterflies. But now, she had also discovered the growth and regeneration of all things natural and found that growing and producing plants, flowers and fruit gave her the biggest thrill ever.
Her parents had sectioned off a patch of the garden for her which she had turned into a small vegetable patch and orchard. Every morning before school, she would get up early and tend to her little garden, enjoying the changes in growth from it every day. She nurtured and developed her patch like it was a child. Making sure she used only used her own vegetables for fertilizer and clean water from a spring in Bridgeport to water them with.
India and Izzy, who were now young adults and still as dazzling as ever, often teased her as they sashayed past. Karis up to her knees and elbows in mud.
“Don’t let Ryan see you like that,” India would call.
“Yeah you don’t want him to think he’s going out with a scarecrow!”
They both giggled to each other and tottered on past arm in arm balancing on their skyscraper heels. As much as her sister’s annoyed her, Karis was just pleased they were talking again. She had no idea what had gone on between them but there had been a time not long ago where they couldn’t stand to be in the same room as each other. Karis wondered if he had had something to do with India’s ex-boyfriend Mason but she had never asked. She had more important things to think about. Like Ryan and her little garden.
“Watch out, ball incoming,” came an almighty scream before a football landed splash in the middle of Karis’s garden.
“Oi Kirk,” she screamed jumping up. “Watch out where you throw that thing!”
“Sorry Karis,” Kirk said bounding over to her and taking the ball from her hands. “I guess I don’t know my own strength sometimes.”
“Just keep it away from me,” she tutted before going back to her gardening.
“No problem,” Kirk called running back to the other side of the garden where Josh his team mate waited to resume their practice.
Kirk was now the star football player at Bridgeport High. Since turning thirteen, he had worked tireless on his fitness, training daily with his father to reach optimal fitness. He had made the team on the first try-out, and had become captain by the time he was fifteen. It was a huge victory for him and his family, epically Luke who was so proud of his son.
But hiding behind the success, the celebration and pride lurked a darker side. What he achieved in sports he lacked in the classroom. He had never been an academic boy but as he threw himself more into his sports, his grades slipped and slipped until he was flunking out on almost every subject.
At first it had gone un-noticed. A few letters had gone home with him from his teachers to his parents expressing their concern for his grades and each time, Georgia and Luke addressed them with Kirk. They would sit him down and go through his homework with him. But as his grades got slightly better they would ease off and they would slip once again.
It was when Georgia received a phone call one day for her and Luke to go and see the principle, that the shit really hit the fan.
“Mr and Mrs Starr,” Mr Thomas the principle at Bridgeport High begun after Georgia and Luke had arrived for their pre-arranged meeting. “I think we have a serious problem with Kirk.”
“What do you mean serious problem,” Georgia gasped. Luke reached across and squeezed her hand. Since she had invited him back into her bed a while back things were better than ever between them and she was thankful to have him by her side that day.
“I am afraid Kirk is flunking out of every subject.” He pushed a sheet of paper across the desk until it was under their noses. “As you can see Kirk is averaging an E grade in most subjects and in maths and History, he is flunking completely. I am afraid if his grades do not improve soon, he will have to be cut from the Football team. It appears obvious that this is what is interrupting his studies.”
Georgia squeezed Luke’s hand harder. “You can’t cut him from the team,” Luke said. “Football is everything to Kirk and his coach said that he thinks he will be able to go on to play professionally. If you take that away from him, he will have nothing.”
“I appreciate what you are saying Mr Starr, but at the end of the day his grades are more important to him than football. I am not saying that he needs to become a straight A student, all I am saying is he needs to do better. I have discussed this with his coach and he agrees with me. Either Luke knuckles down and improves or he is off the team.”
“You can’t do that….” Luke started but Georgia cut him off.
“We fully understand what you are saying,” she said to the Principle. “And we promise to sort it out.” She stood from her chair and held out her hand. “Thank you for your time Mr Thomas.”
Luke and Georgia drove home in silence. Even though Luke was angry at her for not sticking up better for Kirk’s footballing, Georgia did not care. She knew the Principle was right. His grades should come first. She stared out the window as they drove up through the Bridgeport Hills. How did they let it get this bad?
When they got home they went straight to the Tree House to find Kirk. Even though Karis and Joe had stopped playing in the tree house years ago, Kirk still hung out in it all the time. He never tried to deny that he still enjoyed playing in it; he would always be a big kid at heart.
“Kirk can you come down here please,” Luke called up to him.
Kirk popped his head out the window a moment later with a sheepish look on his face. He knew his parents had been called into school about his grades and he knew what was coming. As he descended the ladder towards his parents he felt his lower lip quiver. He wasn’t sure he could handle it if he wasn’t allowed to play football anymore!