Cedric might be simple - as in uncomplicated - but he isn't stupid. He knows the new girl is purposely avoiding him. And he can't figure out why. She seems so nice when he sees her helping the younger kids with their science homework, and he remembers watching their project with soap bubbles and surface tension. She smiles a lot when she's with her friends, and they chat her ears off. She even has a pleasant contentment doing chores. But whenever he approaches, or tries to talk to her, the light in her eyes disappear and she runs from him. Not always literally, of course, but there was that one time...
"Cho!" He called out in the middle of the corridor, watching her approach from the opposite direction. She was carrying a few books and had almost passed him when he tried to stop her. She only slowed in her steps.
"Hey, Cedric." She spoke breathlessly. She turned, but kept walking (backwards now) in the direction she was proceeding.
"Can I talk to you for a second?"
"Sorry. Gotta run. Sister Angela needs these books." She lifted them slightly, then proceeded to race off.
He would have excused her for that. But when he tried to insert himself into her friends' conversation...
"Cho!" He tried again. This time, she and four other girls were walking, purses in hand, across the courtyard to the gates.
"Yes, Cedric?" She sounded a bit irritated, but he ignored that and continued.
"Can we talk for a moment?"
"Sorry, Cedric." She said. "We're on our way out."
"Maybe I could tag along."
"We're going shopping."
"Sounds like fun."
She raised an eyebrow. "Sure, if you want to discuss feminine hygiene."
He turned crimson and she just smirked. The other girls had the decency to look equally embarrassed and shocked. They quickly pulled her away, and he saw her laughing as they walked out.
Well, two can play at that game. He had wanted to ask her out in private, but if he had to ask her in public, then so be it.
"Cho!" He placed himself in front of her and her friends, blocking their direct route to the girls' dormitory. "Would you like to go out sometime?"
The girls surrounding her started to giggle and whisper to each other, smiling in approval. Cho, however, narrowed her eyes. "Wouldn't your girlfriend object?"
"I don't have a girlfriend."
"Oh?" She gave him a slightly amused look. "You might want to inform Rebecca of that then."
"Rebecca?" He frowned. "We're not dating. We never were."
"Sure..." Her tone carried her disbelief. She sidestepped him with her friends in tow, ending the conversation like that.
He was sure to speak to Rebecca after that. He thought it would have been solved, that any misunderstanding cleared. But it didn't make him happy to see the big bruise on Cho's cheek the next day. He didn't believe her excuse - that she fell on the concrete - not when he noticed Rebecca's split lip later in the day. He tried to apologize, but Cho only rolled her eyes. "You have nothing to be sorry about," she said right before she walked away. "You didn't push me. I tripped."
But he knew the truth, and it hurt him to think that he was the one responsible. So, he kept his distance for a while. It didn't help, though; he kept thinking about her, the warmth in her expression when she spoke to her friends, the melody in her laugh when other boys flirted with her, the care in her eyes when she consoled the younger children. And it made him confused that she acted that way to everyone but him. And it made him jealous when the guys would mention her.
Ken plopped on the couch in the boys dormitory. "I just asked Cho out."
Cedric's ears perked at the sound of her name, but he tried to speak with a nonchalant attitude. "What did she say?"
"She said she was flattered, but that she wasn't interested in dating anyone right now."
"Girls." Cedric hid his delight with a shrug. "What can you do?"
Ken laughed and shrugged himself. "No loss. I hear Rebecca's available. I think I'll ask her to the movies."
"You do that." Cedric nodded.
It was, of course, what he wanted to hear. Not the asking Cho out part, but the Rebecca part. If Ken was able to gain Rebecca's attention, then Cho would be free from her wrath and free to date him. Cedric can't help smiling when he remembers what happened the following day.
"Cho!" He called again. She stopped abruptly in her walk across the courtyard. She looked up, surprised to find him kneeling overhead on a branch of the center oak tree. "Here!"
He passed her an orange tabby. She looked at the cat, then at him, and then around, noticing the kids on the other side of St. Agnes' gates. Putting two and two together, she walked the cat over to them and smiled as she handed them their pet. Their own smiles brightened, yelling a "Thanks!", as they rushed off.
She walked back, as he jumped down. "Thanks for helping."
"No problem." She noticed his torn shirt and the scratches on his arm. Automatically, she pulled a handkerchief out of her skirt and started to blot his cuts.
"The cat?" She asked.
"Actually, the tree." He grinned. He couldn't resist adding, "So, you can be nice to me."
Once he said it, he regretted it. She stiffened and the smile fell from her face. She dropped his arm. "Only when you deserve it."
She was about to walk away when he blurted, "Let's go out sometime."
She gave him an incredulous look. "When will you get it through your thick head that I don't want to go out with you?"
"Because I don't like you." She stressed.
"What better way to get to know me better?" Cedric pressed on. "Let me change your mind."
She almost rolled her eyes, but stopped herself. "Are you a glutton for punishment? I haven't been the nicest person to you."
"I want to crack that shell you keep hiding under." He knew he hit the nail on the head when a startled look slipped through her mask of irritation. She was quick to resume her annoyed expression though.
"Do you know you're very stubborn?"
"I prefer the term 'persistent'." He grinned again.
She pursed her lips. "Fine. One date on one condition."
"If after this date" - she said the word with much disdain - "if my feelings haven't changed, and I still don't want to date you, you won't ask me out again."
"Deal." He thrust his hand out and she looked at it for a moment before shaking it. "Shall we make it tonight?"
"No." She shook her head. "Two weeks from Friday."
"Sounds good." He couldn't stop grinning. This time, she did roll her eyes and walk away.
At least, now, Cedric has time to plan. A fun, romantic evening to convince Cho that he is irresistible. Or at least, worthy of a second date. Because she didn't say anything about him asking her out after a second date. He smiles inwardly. Maybe then, she would like him as much as he already liked her.
On any other day, he knows he would be thinking about ways to impress her without looking like he was trying to impress her. Today is different, though, and his mind drifts somewhere else. He usually is good at distracting himself from the truth of the day, mainly on the days leading up, but he can never escape the full blow of the day itself. Not that he would want to, he reminds himself. It is the pain and the sorrow that keeps the memory alive.
He sits alone in an empty classroom facing the west as the afternoon sun starts to drop in the sky. His friends are outside enjoying the day, but they know better than to strong-arm him into joining them.
The door squeaks open and he turns, surprised to see Cho with her nose buried in a book. She looks up, mirroring his surprise. She hastily folds the book and steps back. "Sorry, I didn't know anyone was here."
"Don't go." His voice must echo his pain because she doesn't leave. Instead, she hesitantly places her book on a desk and slowly approaches him.
"Are you okay?" She pulls a chair out and sits down across from him.
"I'm fine." He tries to give a smile but it doesn't reach his eyes. "As fine as can be expected, anyways."
She doesn't say anything, but her presence speaks volumes to him. He swallows. "My parents died today. Twelve years ago, to be exact."
"I'm sorry." She says and he knows she's sincere.
"The thing is... I don't remember much of them..." He continues. "Vague images mostly. Feelings."
She reaches out and places a comforting hand on his. He looks a little surprised by her gesture, but he stares at her hand in his. "I wish I remembered more."
He's not sure; he must look depressed or lost, because she instantly hugs him. It's an awkward hug, their knees are touching, and she is leaning into him, but it feels nice. He parts his legs and scoots forward to hold her tighter. She must not mind, since she's not pulling away. He closes his eyes, inhaling the scent of her hair. For some reason, it comforts him.
To his disappointment, she eventually pulls away. Her gaze drifts outside and she stands. "I better go. It's getting close to supper time."
"Right." He looks to see the twilight sun in the horizon. He nods, surprised that time had flown so quickly by. "Thanks for..."
He doesn't know quite what to say. She nods, her smile simple and reassuring. He returns it. She takes her book and walks out.
He watches her leave, and his eyes grow more serious. Yes, he wants to definitely win her heart. It would only be fair, as his already belongs to her.
to Part 4