"I- I don't know what I'm going to do," Katie sniffled, using the end of her cream cardigan sleeve to wipe her nose. "I wanted to do something, be something."
Andie sighed and threw her arms around the shoulders of her best friend. From behind Katie’s shoulder, she watched the brown paper envelopes move along with the summer breeze like autumn leaves. Except, it wasn’t autumn at all. It was summer, A level results day, the most dreaded day of the summer holidays. She couldn’t think of anything comforting to say, so she instead stroked Katie’s long blonde hair in her feeble effort to soothe her.
“What’s up, Ladies?”
She sighed in relief to hear Auden. Auden was a skinny lad with consistently messy hair. His only strategy for taming it was to keep it cut short, but even then, the strands completely repelled each other and it still looked like the broken ends of a pencil. Andie quickly turned to face him with the intention of mouthing 'don’t mention grades', but it was too late.
“So did we pass with flying colours?”
Katie burst into another flood of tears, and Auden’s toothy grin quickly disappeared.
“What is something I said?” he asked, scratching the hair behind his neck.
Andie rolled her eyes and went back to cuddling Katie.
“I think we should just need to forget about school, take our minds off it.”
“Finally, someone’s talking sense,” Daniel said from behind Auden. He cocked his head at the crying Katie and rose his eyebrows to Andie for an explanation. Andie blushed as she mouthed the word 'grades', before tucking her head into the crook of Katie’s neck just to hide her burning cheeks.
As compassionate as always, Daniel was quick to come to Katie’s rescue, tapping her on the shoulder and smiling. Her face was blotchy and pink from crying.
“Hey Katie, what happened?” he asked gently. She shrugged childishly, keeping her face screwed into Andie's chest. He tickled below her chin and she giggled, rising her head to look at him. Andie felt a pang of jealousy, but she ignored it.
"I failed. Everything."
"Not English," Andie noted, unsure herself on whether she was trying to help, or if she simply was trying to get involved in the conversation with Daniel.
Daniel shrugged, managing to keep his expression completely unfazed.
"And?" He said, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "So what?"
"And... I've ruined my life!" She burst into tears, collapsing forwards out of Andie’s arms and into Daniel’s. "I can't ever get a good job, I can't ever get a house. I can't do anything!"
No," Daniel said firmly, "That's not true. Grades are not everything. You are going to get a good job. You are going to a good college, you hear me? This isn’t the end of the world, do not let this stop you, Katie.
Andie could hear Auden slow-clapping next to her in response to Daniel’s speech. Like Andie, he often had trouble with sympathy, and she would normally have laughed at this. But this was not a laughing matter, this was her best friend, so she quickly touched his arm to stop him.
"Yeah, you’re right" Katie nodded, half convinced by Daniel’s words. She stood up straight and gave Andie a teary smile. "Thanks guys. I should break the news to the mother.”
“Well hurry up,” Auden said. “There’s a party in the woods and we should get there before it gets shut down. I wanna get pissed.”
“Good luck,” Andie said, ignoring Auden and giving her friend one last hug. “Tonight will be great, you’ll forget all about it.”
After Katie left, the remaining three waited, Auden getting increasingly more irritable as he watched more and more students leave the school grounds and head for the woods. Already, he had taken his shirt off and wrapped it around his head in boredom.
"Are we getting pissed tonight then?" He would suddenly ask, eyeing the girls who were walking down the path that lead to the woods. The others had noticed that he was developing a slight drinking problem lately, but they brushed it off as a phase that he was going through. “Where even is Katie?”
Andie looked towards the many cars and anxious parents that surrounded the school building, but there was no sign of Katie.
“She’ll come back,” Daniel said. “I pep-talked her.”
"You know she only soaked up all that shit you said to her because she likes you?" Auden muttered. "I mean, nice speech, mate, but you could literally could have told her anything and she'd have been happy."
Andie silently agreed. Daniel was the pretty boy. Nice cheekbones, nice jaw line, and Katie had a major crush on him, which Andie pretended not to notice.
“Look, if she doesn’t come back within the next fifteen minutes, I’m sorry lads, but I’m off!” Auden said, but just as he did, Katie returned.
“What did your mum say?” Andie asked nervously, to which Katie only smiled.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “I just want to get drunk.”
“Music to my ears,” cried Auden, without a moment of compassion, Andie noted. “Let’s get this show on the road”.
The woods was packed with tipsy sixth form students, either celebrating, or drinking away their problems. It wasn’t really a wood, but more of a field with a thick line of trees on the perimeter. In the centre of the field was a bathtub filled with whatever the students could get their hands on, which was more or less everything.
With three cups of the suspiciously bright-blue bathtub-punch in her system, Andie was giggling, moving her body to the music that blared from the speakers in the evening sun. Auden was trying his luck with the popular girls in school, following them around like a lost puppy. Katie was lost in the crowd of dancing students, laughing and squealing as bodies bumped and swayed, and Daniel had just returned to Andie’s side after refilling their drinks.
“We better wash our mouths after this, I’m fairly sure one of the lads from football has just took the plunge,” He said, passing Andie her drink and sipping his own. He spotted Andie smiling at Katie in the crowd, shaking her head in affection as her friend tripped and tumbled. “Looks like Katie’s feeling better.”
“And all it took was some wise words and a heck load of bathtub-punch,” Andie giggled, feeling the effects of the alcohol herself. Though it was warm, it was getting cooler, especially whenever the sun would disappear behind the clouds. Daniel offered Andie his hoodie, she thanked him but refused, wrapping her arms tightly around her chest to hide the rising goose bumps.
As the party continued, people started leaving together, hand in hand, stumbling in a heat of sunset lust and drunken giddiness. A further two drinks later, Andie was sat with her head rested on Daniel’s shoulder, waiting for the moment when Katie decided that she wanted to leave. She often did this. Andie didn’t have a sister, which meant Katie meant all the more to her.
“I think she’d be alright if we left her for a few minutes, took a stroll around the woods?” Daniel whispered.
Andie’s heart swelled in both excitement and guilt.
“What for?” she asked, picking at the edges of her empty cup. If she’d have been sober, her hands would be shaking by now.
“Just some peace and quiet.”
* * *
“How’s your dad, still stressed at work?”
“No, he’s okay,” Andie said, but the truth was, she didn’t really know. She hadn’t seen her father for days now. Working as the chief of police was a strenuous task, and very time-consuming.
“Good, and your mum?
Andie did know the answer to this. Her mother was her best friend, along with Katie. Andie helped her around the house as much as she could and did her best to keep her company so she wasn’t so alone.
Suddenly, Daniel stopped in front of her. He brushed her cheek with the back of his hand and smiled.
“I’m fine," she answered.
“Good. I wouldn’t want you to be any other way.”
Andie smiled at this, but she didn’t like where this was headed. But at the same time, she very much did, even though a part of her told her it was wrong. Daniel cupped her cheek and leaned in closer so that he was just inches away from her lips.
“Daniel I can’t,” Andie whispered, tilting her head so that Daniel’s mouth met the tip of her cheek bone. “You know Katie’s obsessed with you, it’s not fair.”
“But I’m obsessed with you,” he said. “how is that fair?
Andie shrugged apologetically.
“I’m sorry,” she said, but just as she went to leave, Daniel moved so quickly and caught her lips before she could turn away, and she had to force herself not to kiss back. He kissed her softly and slowly, as if waiting to see if Andie would pluck up the courage to move her lips against his. Once it became apparent that she wasn't going to, he soon pulled away.
“I know you like me, Andie. I see it when you blush whenever I’m around. You can’t live your life trying not to upset Katie, she can look after herself.”
“She’s my best friend, I wouldn’t risk losing her for the world.”
“Andie Fitch," he started playfully.
“Stop it,” Andie warned.
“Will you be my girlfriend?”
“My secret girlfriend. We keep it a secret. And if you change your mind, you change your mind. But for once in your life, be selfish.”
Andie shook her head sadly. They decided not to head out together lest somebody may spot them, so Daniel went first whilst Andie held back.
She waited for several moments before making a move to follow, but before she did, she noticed two brown eyes lurking in the trees. Her breath caught, but she didn’t scream. She looked closely, just check that they definitely were brown eyes, and not simply the obscure shapes that can appear in the bark of trees. But just as she did so, the brown eyes spoke:
“Andie Fitch, that’s a pretty name.”
Frightened and intoxicated, Andie darted out from the trees, too afraid to stay even a second longer. Once out in the field, she spotted Daniel. She gave a weary smile, then helped herself to yet another helping of the bathtub-punch.