Rough draft, obviously. Criticism welcomed, and encouraged.
The Odeon cinema, in Leicester square, was one of the most expensive in all of London. Despite this, Rachael visited it regularly. Inside the imposing walls of polished black granite, thousands of people paid out by the handful to see the latest and greatest movies on one of the oldest screens in the world. All the while, perched upon the rooftop of the massive building, Rachael was getting one of the best shows in London, for nothing at all.
Already bustling from the earliest part of the day, at night Leicester square was an explosion of life. Buildings lit up in blue neon ringed a park and fountain, crisscrossed with bench lined paths of ancient stone slabs, where families walked and couples talked, leaning in close to whisper in each other's ears. Cafes and bars, dotted between the cinemas and casinos, overflowed with customers, belching out light and noise into the night.
Yet, above it all, perched high on the Odeon's rooftop, she was surrounded by silence. The noise and light of the square was all below her, distant, and safe. Secluded, she could watch unseen. Tucked up against the side of the small tower which bore the Odeon logo in bright lettering, she was invisible against the black of the walls. From this place, she saw everything, took in every detail, allowing the constant interplay of lives in motion to become a single piece of grand street theatre.
Sometimes she sketched, picking some small scene to focus in upon; a woman's face, or the shape of a tree. Other times, she just watched, letting it all wash over her.
Tonight she had her sketchbook in hand, but the page in front of her was entirely blank. Frustrated, she tapped the tip of her pencil against the edge of the book, as she waited for something to catch her eye. The square was as busy as it always was on a Saturday night, but nothing new seemed to leap out at her. Instead, her thoughts constantly drifted back, to another rooftop, and the brief glimpse of dark haired boy.
She had grown so fixated on the brief memory, that she became sure she was seeing the same young man everywhere she looked. Every glimpse of a long coat, or shaggy black fringe, had her leaping to attention, in case it might be him. Even now, in her favourite spot, she was unable to focus on anything other than the idea that she might catch sight of him again. There was nothing special about him, she was sure; she only wanted to reassure herself that she had really seen him at all, and that it was not just her mind playing tricks on her.
She tried to push the thought of him from her head, and surveyed the square again, looking for a likely subject for her sketchbook. She studied, and dismissed, each face in turn, seeing nothing that she wanted to put to the page. When she caught, again, the sight of a lean and dark haired face, she knew her head was playing tricks again. It took her a moment to realise that the face she was looking at was not just like the boy she had seen; it was him. He was sat directly across the square from her, his long coat spilling out across the bench, with large sandwich clasped in his hands. As she watched, he took a large bite, chewing slowly. Rachael's stomach gurgled enviously. As the boy chewed, he pulled a slice of meat from the sandwich and began to tear it into pieces, which he scattered on the ground. A cluster of pigeons immediately gathered, battling over the tiny morsels.
She watched him intently, as fascinated by the scene as she was horrified by the waste of food. When he looked up at her, from across the square, she was certain, just for a moment, that he couldn't possibly see her hiding place. Yet his eyes seemed locked on hers, and when he raised the remains of the sandwich towards her, as if in offering, she knew he couldn't possibly be looking at anyone else. The realisation sent a shiver down her spine.
Raising up the sandwich a little higher, he smiled. Rachael fought the urge to duck down below the edge of the rooftop. She could run, of course. It would be easy to lose him in the streets around the square. Still, he seemed of an age with her, and she didn't really find him frightening. Unsettling, perhaps, but his smile was warm, and the thought of a free meal was very hard to refuse.
In the end, the squirming of her stomach settled the matter for her. She was hungry, and the money from the German man's wallet would not last forever. She gathered her things, and stood up. Glancing down into the square again, she met the boy's eyes, and gave a small nod. Then she stepped away from the edge, to scramble down the back of the building, by unobserved handholds and perches that she had long since learned by heart.
It felt strange to enter the square at ground level. She was so used to watching everything from above; safe and unseen, like a bird hanging in the sky. To be down on the ground, as she came into the bustling light and noise, felt terribly exposed. As she crossed the square, towards the bench, mindful of the crowds all around her, she felt sure that he would be gone, disappeared again.
He was not. She found him, sat on the same bench, with the uneaten half of the sandwich wrapped up on the seat beside him. She slowed her step as she approached. For a moment, he didn't seem to see her. His eyes were fixed on something distant. Feeling braver, she came closer.
“Hey.” He said, looking round at her.
“Hey.” She mumbled, feeling a sudden awkwardness wash over her as his eyes fixed on hers. He gestured at the bench beside him.
“Help yourself.” He said. “Don't worry, I tore off your half. Haven't gobbed on it.” He smiled again. Close to, it seemed just a little bit uncomfortable, as if he was having to force the expression to fit right.
She sat, without saying a word, perching herself on the farthest edge of the bench from him. Unable to restrain herself, she snatched up the sandwich, tore open the wax paper, and took a bite. For a moment, she was lost in the taste of something so fresh and full of flavour. She had almost forgotten how good food could taste. She wasn't even sure if she knew of the names of half of the things packed inside of the soft white bread, but they all seemed delicious.
“You're welcome.” He said, with a note of amusement.
“Thanks.” She mumbled, around a mouth filled with food, blushing slightly as she did.
“It's cool. I mean, I get it.” He said.
She raised an eyebrow at this.
“Really? You get what it's like having to hunt for dry cardboard to use as a bed, or scrounging around for pennies just so you can buy a one quid burger cos you're so hungry you think you might fall over?” She waved the remains of the sandwich, to emphasise her point.
“I really do. You think I paid for that?”
She had to stop to consider, for a moment.
“Oh.” She said.
“Look, I'm not saying I've been doing this for long, but... Yeah, I get it.”
She just nodded, and eyed the rest of the sandwich, feeling oddly guilty.
“It's yours. Don't worry. I mean if I didn't pay for it...”
“Thanks.” She said, this time with feeling. For a moment, she looked at him, without saying anything. She tried to study his face, and his frame, tried to get a real sense of him. Her eyes were drawn to a thin scar that bisected his upper and lower lip, twisting his face in a way that gave him a sour look.
He seemed like one of those awkward kids who hung out at the back of the classroom, drawing in their books, not talking to anyone, not paying attention to anything in the room. The kids who started fires in the supply closet, or got caught smoking weed in the park. She knew what that was like.
Yet there was something else about him, that she couldn't place. He was at once both tense and relaxed. He seemed ready to spring to his feet, and his eyes constantly flickered back and forth over the passing faces, as if measuring each one, but there was an easy confidence to him that suggested he wasn't really afraid. Just alert.
She finished the sandwich, and discarded the wrapper. With the distraction gone, she became aware of the silence between them. She felt awkward, at having devoured the meal so quickly. She wondered if she should have have offered him some. He'd had half, but it had been his in the first place. She felt like she should be talking, but she didn't know what to say.
“So... what's your name then?” She said, at last.
She paused for a moment, before answering.
“Rachael.” She said at last, almost a little surprised at herself.
He nodded, as if storing the information away. Silence fell between them again. Her eyes roamed across the passing faces, and it took her a moment to notice that he was doing the same thing. She smiled, quietly amused.
“So, what's with all the black anyhow?” She said.
He shrugged, skinny frame moving expansively.
“You figure I should wear white?” He said, looking amused.
It was her turn to shrug.
“Does make you look a bit emo.”
“Oh, cos you're the queen of fashion?”
She flushed, suddenly aware of how tatty her clothes had grown. Then she started to notice the scuffed and worn parts of his coat, and the tattered cuffs of his jeans.
“Shut up.” She said, feeling her cheeks burn.
“Well, just so you know, I think Dashboard Confessional suck.”
She blinked, in confusion.
“Who are they then?”
He looked surprised.
“What, so you're gonna rag on me for looking emo, but you don't even know who Dashboard Confessional are?”
“Are they, like... famous, or something?”
“Well, they're what everyone means when they talk about emo. Well, that and My Chemical Romance, but MCR aren't really emo. They're basically taking the piss. That's what makes them so much better.”
“What are you on about?”
“Don't you know any music at all?” He said, raising an eyebrow.
“Pink's pretty cool.” She said, defensively. Though he said nothing, the eyebrow remained raised. “Oh you shut up.” She growled.
“Seriously? Pink? What, and you really like Lady Gaga I suppose?”
“And you write poems about how you want to kill yourself, right?”
A smile cracked through his accusing expression, and he laughed easily. She laughed too, feeling her body relax. They seemed to be sitting closer together, though she couldn't remember either of them moving. His eyes seemed brighter when he laughed, and for a moment he pushed his fringe back, revealing a face that was lean and bony, but not unpleasant. His pupils were mismatched; one a milky blue, and the other a creamy jade.
“So what's the deal then?” She said, suddenly, with an accusatory glare. “What's this all about?”
He shrugged again.
“I just want be your friend.”
“I dunno.” He said, looking away. “Because you seem cool. Because you get me, and I get you. Because you could do with someone else looking out for you. Or... because there doesn't seem like any good reason not to be.”
“And when I saw you on the rooftop before? I wasn't just imagining that. And... before that...” The memory of a face in her dreams drifted back to her. She sprang to her feet, suddenly feeling a need to put some distance between them.
“The rooftop was...” He suddenly seemed caught, as if searching for the right lie to tell. “I saw you there. I wanted to say something, but you seemed so... I didn't want to bother you.”
“You couldn't just say hi? You had to just vanish on me? And now I see you here... two times in one day? What is this?”
She backed away another step, and he got to his feet, hands held up in a placating gesture.
“Hey, gimme me a minute here, OK? I'm trying to explain.”
He stepped closer, and some violent urge over-rode her instinct to back away. She stood her ground, drawing herself up, as he approached.
“Yeah? Just a minute to think of some better excuses, is that it?”
She shoved him hard in the chest, and he staggered back a step. He was strong, but light, and he wasn't ready for her. She could see that there was something holding him back. It was there in his eyes; he was used to all his opponents being bigger than him.
“Hey? What gives?” He said, alarmed.
She couldn't say what made her so eager to bring him down, why she felt such an incredible aggression welling up in her as she looked at him. She wondered if, perhaps, she just needed to prove to herself that she could beat him.
She shoved him again, knowing he would be ready for it this time. He leaned into the blow, easily resisting it. However as he put his weight forwards, she ducked under his arm, and stamped her heel down into the back of his knee. He toppled easily, all the force that he had been about to throw against her carrying him into the ground.
He was quick though, and it was clear in that instant that he'd been in plenty of fights before. Not even bothering to get to his feet, he flipped over, scissored his legs around her ankle, and twisted. She was thrown to the ground, skinning her palms as she scrambled to get clear. Both of them quickly sprang to their feet, and turned to face each other. Standing on the balls of her feet, she kept herself loose, ready to dodge if he rushed her. His own stance was cautious, feet planted wide, hands hanging loosely at his sides.
Their eyes met, and for a moment she saw nothing but energy and power in him. He was lost in the moment of the fight, action and reaction overtaking thought. He was moving on instinct, even more than she was. Then he seemed to see her again, appearing momentarily surprised. A second passed, and he broke into a grin.
It was an expression of utter delight, and for a moment Rachael was caught off guard by the realisation that she was smiling as well. The hesitation was all he needed. He rushed her, and it was only at the last moment that she was able to throw herself backwards, grabbing his arm, and planting her feet into his chest, as she flipped him over onto his back. He landed with a heavy 'thump', that should have knocked all the wind out of him, but as she rolled to her feet, she found he was already back on his.
He rushed her again, but this time it was a feint. As she tried to grab at his arm, instinct stupidly recalling the same tactic, he grabbed hers by the wrist, and pulled her forwards, hooking her ankle with his heel. She went sprawling, and he dropped forwards to press a knee into her spine, whilst pulling her arm behind her back.
Her shoulder seemed to have burst into flame, and all his weight held her down, as her body burned with the pain of the contortion. She slapped her free hand rapidly against the grass. After a moment he released his grip, and eased his weight off of her. Feeling short of breath, she rolled over to look up at him.
He was smiling exultantly, and was likewise short of breath. His eyes were all energy and excitement as he looked into hers.
“Well congratulations. You beat up a girl. Feel good?” She said, sullenly.
His expression fell. He looked, for a moment, like a boy whose ice-cream had melted. The next part was almost too easy.
She kicked upwards with both heels, catching him hard in the stomach. He let out a sudden breath as he collapsed onto his back. With what energy she had left she rolled forwards and sprang on top of him, knees pinning his wrists as she sat on his chest, laughing. As his astonishment gave way, he began laughing too, still a little breathless from her assault.
She couldn't remember the last time she had felt so warm, and carefree. His chest heaved underneath her body, and she felt certain that she could feel his heart beating. The flesh of his wrists was hot beneath her palms. Close to, she saw that his pupils were marked with tiny flecks of yellowy brown, almost golden.
Her laughter faded as she remembered where they were. She looked around hurriedly, at the clusters of people that moved about the square, fearful of staring eyes and horrified expressions.
“They don't care.” He said. “Look. They haven't even bothered paying attention. It's just a couple of kids playing games. We might as well be invisible to them.”
She glanced down at his face, expression calm and serious now, then back up at the crowds. He was right. An occasional glance seemed to fix on them for the briefest of moments, then slide away. No one stared, or pointed. Everyone simply carried on with what they were doing, as two kids tussled on the grass in the middle of Leicester Square. It simply didn't matter to them.
“See? You don't matter to them. They don't know how important you are, Rachael. But I do.”
She looked down at him again, an eyebrow raised inquiringly.
His mouth clasped shut, seemingly too late to hold back what he had let slip. Suddenly, awkward she shifted herself off of him, and got to her feet, stepping back a pace.
“I...” He began, but seemed to bite off the rest of the sentence. “I don't know if I can ask you to trust me. Not yet.” He looked away, apparently unable to meet her eyes. “I know it's difficult. I mean... I wouldn't trust me.” He grinned, suddenly shy, still not meeting her eyes.
“You're right. So maybe you ought to explain a bit, yeah?” She said, crossing her arms over her chest.
Suddenly, he looked up at something across the square, eyes narrowing.
“I will.” He said. “But not here.” He turned to look at her again. His confidence seemed to have returned, and his gaze was cold and hard as he focused on her. “Come with me.”
She hesitated, for what seemed like it must have been several minutes, the silence between them drawing out as he watched her intently.
“What is it? You said no one cared about us.”
“None of them do.” He said, waving a hand dismissively at the crowd. “But I'm not the only one who knows how much you matter. And I'm not... I didn't arrive here unnoticed, either. Come with me. I'll explain.”
She took a half step back.
“No. I can't.”
“You can.” He said, firmly. “But you won't.” He looked away again, eyes fixing on whatever had caught his attention across the square. Rachael searched the buildings and faces, trying to see what he was looking at, but she saw nothing out of place. Though every face now seemed a little frightening, she could not find any prying eyes amongst, couldn't make any half-concealed observers amongst the people seated at the cafes and bars.
“Be safe.” She heard him say. Then, very close, she heard a flutter of wings. She looked back, but he was gone, only a cluster of pigeons, lifting upwards in a momentary panic, marking where he had been. Heart pounding, she looked around intently, trying to catch his retreating form in the crowds, but no matter how hard she looked she couldn't catch sight of him.
She felt suddenly vulnerable, alone amongst the crowds, and perhaps being watched by whatever Justin had seen. She turned away, and ran, weaving through the throng, head low, as she sought the narrow streets and high ledges that she knew well. It wasn't until she was several streets away, dashing along the top of a narrow wall that she began to feel a little safer. She slowed her pace a little, but maintained the momentum of her run, as she leaped to a neighbouring ledge, and scrambled up to another rooftop. The buildings moving under her feet made her safer, the comfort of running overtaking the panic that had filled her. She ran on, feeling the joy of movement flowing through her, as the night grew deeper.