Concrete

By Laura Schiller

Based on: Stravaganza (City of Secrets)

Copyright: Mary Hoffman

All Ayesha wanted was a few hours' shopping: trying on silk dresses and crisp jeans just to see how they looked, getting high on perfume samples, listening to the flattery of salesladies and generally living in the moment. She did not want to think about the stack of physics and economics textbooks on her desk, nor her parents frowning at the clock back home, nor Matt. She especially did not want Jago Jones. Yet there he was, stepping out of Marks & Spencer wearing a long black trenchcoat, a cloud of AXE deodorant, and a smirk.

"Hey there," he said, falling in next to her as matter-of-factly as when they had dated. She gave him a clipped "Hi," and sped up, her boots clicking sharply on the sidewalk; he matched her pace.

"I saw what happened this morning," he said, hands in his pockets. "Shame, I thought."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, c'mon. Blowing you off in front of the whole caf? That was...I mean, that was just bang out of order."

"What, he's not allowed to make new friends?"

"Yeah, but – "

"It's a free country, you know."

"Thus saith the future barrister," said Jago, making her grin in spite of herself. "But seriously, Yesh – "

She winced. Ever since Jago had come by that ridiculous nickname, the whole school had started calling her that – even Matt and his family.

"You can do better," said Jago. "I mean, c'mon...don't you remember how we used to be?"

She glanced over to find his blue eyes intently fixed on her. It was his Romeo look, the one that had made her weak in the knees when she'd played Juliet opposite him in the school play. Will you stop that? she snapped mentally, meaning both Jago and herself.

That was when the car drove by. It was white, rather rusty, and came to a screeching stop directly to her left. The driver was glaring at her – or was it at Jago? – with a look of pure, concentrated fury: eyebrows bunched together, full lips tightened like bowstrings. The color of his eyes – such a startling light green, like beryls – was barely visible; they were narrowed to slits like the eyes of a hunting bear.

It was Matt.

"I didn't say 'emergency stop', did I?" a deep voice grumbled from the passenger seat. "Hey, Yesh, how are you doing?"

"I – I'm fine, Mr. Wood," she told Matt's father, automatically returning his wave.

The car lurched into motion again as if Matt had stomped on the accelerator; she watched it rattle away over her shoulder, still seeing her boyfriend's familiar face twisted into such a look of hate.

"Crikey," muttered Jago, all the smugness drained from his beautiful face like dishwater. "What was that?"

Ayesha walked on in silence, refusing to give him the satisfaction of showing her concern. Can this be Matt? I always knew he felt insecure...and I know he doesn't like Jago...but just to see me walking with him! Didn't I tell him how I dumped Jago, not the other way around? Doesn't he realize, Romeo eyes aside, that he's the one I care about the most?

"Whoa, slow down!" called Jago, but Ayesha barely heard it.

He doesn't trust me. That must be it. He doesn't tell me anything, he ignores me for people he hardly knows, and he thinks I'm cheating on him with my smarmy ex-boyfriend. I've had enough!

She jammed her hands into her pockets and tossed back her hair. Tomorrow I'm going to march right up to him and give him a piece of my mind. Tell him if he can't trust me, he might as well leave me alone.

As Jago fell behind with a pointedly casual goodbye, Ayesha found she could not answer. There was a lump in her throat and the concrete sidewalk was blurred with her tears.