Dwayne (Model Unknown)
Young Atlanteans – Two Tribes – Part 5
Alexia and Xavier went to school with the others the next day. JJ was still out for the count, so they left him. Xavier explained to Riana it was normal and she arranged for a day off, just in case.
The completely new world left Alexia feeling bewildered and following Xavier from class to class in a daze. The previous night’s events proved they weren’t getting out of there any time soon.
Every time her eyes strayed from her books, Dwayne was watching her closely. The heat of his gaze made her feel uncomfortable. To make matters worse, she couldn’t be sure any longer whether he liked her or wanted to probe her about JJ.
The morning passed agonizingly slowly, until it was lunchtime at last. The five of them sat down at one end of a trestle table in the school cafeteria. After five minutes of silence, Dwayne stood up scraping his chair. “I’m getting some food, anyone want anything?” But his eyes were directly on Alexia when he said it.
Xavier’s eyes burned on her in a silent warning, making her face heat in anger. There was no way she was letting him play dad with her here, her life was bad enough. “I’ll come with you,” she said standing up, flashing Xavier an angry look. Xavier’s eyes narrowed back at her. She didn’t need skin contact to know he meant to have the chat with her when they were alone. But she’d heard it all before and it was boring.
Leaving Xavier with a final glare, her stomach fluttered when Dwayne gently touched the small of her back to guide her towards the food counter. As they neared, Dwayne leaned down to her ear. “What say we get out of here?”
Alexia’s eyes flashed to his in shock. He was smiling wickedly with an adorable dimple in each cheek. After a moment to settle her butterflies she glanced over her shoulder at Xavier. He was saying something to Latitia and still looking moody.
“Quick, before he sees!” Dwayne said.
She swallowed and gave him a single nod. Dwayne wasted no more time, grabbed her hand and pulled her through the queue to the other exit to the left of the serving counter.
“Where are we going?” Alexia said, having to run along next to him to match his long strides.
“I know a great little fried chicken place,” he said, at the crossing just outside the school gates.
“Oh,” she said, coming to a standstill and frowning up at him. “I can’t eat meat.”
His eyes narrowed, then he nodded. “Veggie eh?” … er, let me think …”
The beep of the crossing sounded and he pulled her across, forcing her to run again. “Noodle bar?” he said, as they reached the other side.
Now they were a little way away from the school he slowed down so she could walk. She shrugged. “I can try them.”
Dwayne smiled down at her, as if he was a little puzzled with her answer, but didn’t want to push it. “Well, you don’t know what you’ve been missin’”
A smile crept across her face with a warm glow spreading inside her as they looked at each other. This boy made her feel in a way she never had before. He made her feel brave. Here she was away from her brothers on her own for the first time, and she was actually enjoying the freedom of it. Never really analyzing it before, it dawned on her that there were loads of things in the world she’d never tried.
For the first time the embers of excitement fired up in her stomach. About living in Camberwell, that dingy flat, being here walking along with a cool boy who looked like something out of a rap video. Instead of being trapped, a feeling of liberation began to creep over her.
All too quickly they reached the little noodle shop that was more like a canteen. It was tiny with three trestle tables like the ones they had at school, with a Chinese looking chef and young girl serving. It was quite busy even though it was early lunch and only just after twelve. Sweet spicy unusual smells filled the room and made her stomach growl. She’d skipped breakfast that morning.
Dwayne ordered two bowls of a steaming hot soup and they went and sat side by side on the long bench that ran the length of the long table. Looking at the bowl he placed in front of her, all her new bravado disappeared. There she was in a place you could hardly describe as a restaurant, with a strange but hot boy, and something in front of her she had no idea how to eat. Thinking that perhaps she should treat it like spaghetti, she looked around at the other people. They all seemed to be eating something different.
Dwayne got up again and went to a small Island at the edge of the room, and came back with a plastic spoon, a lump of wood wrapped in paper and a serviette.
Okay … She took it from him gingerly, put the napkin in her lap, and used the spoon to taste some of the clear liquid around the noodles. It was a tiny sip and tasted like nothing she’d ever tried before. It was sweet with an aromatic tanginess that wasn’t unpleasant.
Alexia became aware that Dwayne’s eyes were on her the whole time.
“Good?” he asked, and smiled. His eyes were soft as if he knew she was sampling something for the first time.
She nodded shyly, her lips curling into a small smile. Then watched as he picked up the lump of wood, ripped it from its paper envelope and twisted it in two with a snap. Holding them easily in one hand he plunged them into the mass of noodles and pulled out a bundle. She watched enraptured as he adeptly used the sticks as a pincer, easily picking up clusters of vegetables and noodles and bringing them to his mouth.
Dwayne paused when he realized she was watching him. Suddenly embarrassed, she quickly looked down at her own bowl.
“You really haven’t eaten noodles before have you?”
Alexia looked back at him nervously, but he was smiling. Shaking her head a little and feeling heat flood to her cheeks, she returned to scooping the liquid of her soup in her spoon.
“Here,” he said softly, and scooted a little closer to her on the bench. He reached for her sticks and broke them in the same way he’d done before. “These are chop sticks … you’ve never seen them before?”
She frowned. “Kind of.” They weren’t like the ones here. One of her aunts had been brought up in Japan and she vaguely remembered seeing her cousins Dannon and Keifer eating with something similar.
“Where you been livin’ princess … locked up in a castle or somethin’?
He was grinning at her again. She smiled wryly. It wasn’t so far from the truth. The thing was, there wasn’t much call for chopsticks at the palace of Murrtaine where she had spent most of her childhood. Completely submerged in water, everything was different. A pang of longing hit the centre of her chest for her safe and familiar former life. “Something like that.”
Dwayne was holding out her chopsticks for her to try.
Alexia took them from him with a huff and jabbed them into her pile of noodles. Spiking a huge bundle, she brought it to her mouth and pushed the whole lot in, biting off the ends. “Mmm,” she hummed, unable to close her mouth properly.
Dwayne burst out laughing. “Not like that, you nutter.” He reached over and closed his hand around hers, placing the sticks in the correct way between her fingers. She swallowed, acutely aware of his closeness. The now familiar warm feeling vibrated through her from his touch. Her cheeks flamed and her heart hammered. She prayed he couldn’t hear it.
“Like this,” he said softly next to her ear, and moving his fingers on hers so the sticks moved like tweezers.
It felt as though her insides melted. His voice was like a caress that moved through her body lighting it up all the way down to her toes. Seeming oblivious to the effect he was having, he gently guided her hand to the food, gripped a small amount of the noodles and lifted them from the bowl. “See?”
Alexia couldn’t move. His cheek was so close to hers she could feel the warmth of his skin. Afraid to breathe, let alone speak, she wondered if he too was aware of the silence and sudden charged atmosphere. It felt like a moment – one of those on a film when the two teenagers kissed. Her chest was rising and falling in anticipation.
Instead, he came to his senses and released her hand, drawing away to resume eating his food. Even with his dark skin she could see the blush in his cheeks.
It was confusing. She felt suddenly foolish thinking he would kiss her and fumbled again with her chopsticks. Letting out a long breath to steady her nerves, she arranged them again in her hand like he’d shown her. Then she haltingly managed to get some food into her mouth. Strangely, she felt a real sense of achievement, and forgetting her embarrassment, she couldn’t help grinning to herself.
Dwayne was looking at her and smiling again – the previous awkwardness suddenly gone. They then ate their food in companionable silence.
When they finished eating, he ordered a couple of cokes and passed her one. “What’s with your brother?”
Alexia nearly spat her drink and was suddenly alert again. It was only a matter of time before one of them questioned her about JJ.
“He watches over you like a Rottweiler.”
She let out a breath and relaxed a little, pushing her finished bowl away from her. Pleasantly surprised he meant Xavier. “He’s a bit protective, that’s all.”
“That’s all?” Dwayne laughed, but was studying her.
He was confusing, She darted a look at him, aware they were sitting very closely again.
“Look, you can trust me okay? he said, his eyes meeting hers. His voice was almost hypnotic in its softness. “We’re kind of brother and sister now.”
She searched his face; surprised at the feeling of disappointment in the pit of her stomach. Was that how it was between them – brother and sister?
They held each other’s gaze for what seemed like a very long time. His eyes were deep and honest – mahogany brown. This close she could see they had small flecks of fire in the irises. She’d never seen eyes like them. Dark pools a girl could lose herself in.
His lips parted slightly while she studied his face, and couldn’t help wondering how the softness would feel pressed on her lips.
“Have you got a boyfriend some place?” he asked.
Her heart began to beat at the very forward and not at all brotherly question. She swallowed hard, frowned and shook her head.
The beautiful smile he beamed transformed his face. He was so cute she couldn’t help smiling back.
Without pushing it, he changed the subject, instantly lightening the atmosphere. “So where you from?”
Xavier had ordered her to say nothing, but she figured it was safe to say; “Ireland.”
He looked surprised. “You don’t sound Irish?”
“Oh, how do I sound then?” she said a little puzzled.
“Posh!” he said laughing.
She couldn’t help laughing along with him, and he bumped shoulders with her playfully. He really was easy company. It made a real change from the dark intenseness of JJ and stifling protectiveness of Xavier. “We don’t mix much … you know, went to school out of the country.” She averted her eyes before she gave away too much.
“And you ended up at Marcus Garvey,” he said, with baffled amusement all over his face. Then he shook his head. “What did you do to deserve that?”
Alexia laughed at his mock-horrified expression.
“Must have been bad, man.”
“We got expelled from our last school,” she said giggling along with him.
He laughed loudly then. “What all three of you?”
She laughed, nodding. “Well, it was mainly my brothers … I kind of got the blame for making it worse.”
He nodded with an amused frown. She could tell he was puzzled but didn’t ask for more details, and she was grateful. Instead, he changed the subject. “Listen, I’m DJing at the youth club at school this Friday night. Wanna come?”
She brightened immediately. “My mum is a DJ. We used to play with her decks as kids,” she said animatedly.
He was genuinely surprised and looked impressed. “Really … what music she into?”
“Oh, she played House Music mainly … before she met my dad. In you know, places like Ibiza and the Ministry.”
His eyebrows popped. “Serious?”
“And she taught you?”
“Yes … well I can do it, but not as good as her.”
He nodded sagely. “I think I found myself a new partner.” He grinned and bumped her shoulder with his again. “So you’ll come?”
Her heart sank suddenly, guessing Xavier’s response.
Seeming to read her mind, Dwayne began to stand up and held out his hand to help her. “Don’t worry, we’ll invite the Rottweiler. And if anyone misbehaves, JJ can zap them with his x-ray mind warp shit!”
She laughed loudly then, and stood up as well. Her heart fluttered as she nestled her hand in his. He held it all the way back to school and she let him.
Copyright T Stedman 2016