The dance practice was chaotic. There were about twenty of us, most of the class, up the park. I had managed to bag one of the swings along with Tom and Megan, while Finn went through the moves. I had to admire the way he organised everybody. We were to join in a group at a time. Finn first, as soon as Copperworth said: ‘Jump to it,’ as he always did when he wanted us to start working. Then Oscar’s group of five, then mine, then everyone else.
I did the moves when my group was called, but I kind of walked through it. Even though the music was playing, I couldn’t throw myself into it with everyone there and Finn McCormack looking at me. Was he interested in me? Really? Did he want to go out with me? Nah! Crystal must have got her wires crossed. It couldn’t be like proper boyfriend / girlfriend going out. I mean Finn, with Liv Moon, celebrated school square and swot. It hardly seemed likely. But why would Crystal say it, if he wasn’t interested? I looked over at where she and Raff were sprawled on the grass. They weren’t in our history class, but they wanted to be a part of the excitement. Or maybe they just wanted to kiss in public and reaffirm their place as the Golden Couple. Anyway, I was kind of glad to have the chance to be sprinkled with Finn’s kudos dust, whether it be the flash mob kind or the going out kind.
Finn was nice looking in an odd way. His eyes were set closer together than they should have been and he had a biggish chin, which made his face look long. Some of his mates called him Finn the Chin, or Chinny and he didn’t seem to mind. His hazel eyes were framed by sweeping lashes and he had a big mouth. I mean physically. When he laughed it took up half his face, which was oddly malleable, in a Mr Bean kind of way. Except he looked nothing like Rowan Atkinson, he could just pull weird faces. I’m not making him sound like God’s gift but he was attractive. He was so extrovert. He grinned like a loon, made expansive gestures with his arms and, if I was not mistaken, looked over at me a lot.
I went and sat back on the swing as soon as I could and watched and wondered if the butterflies in my tummy were because I liked him or because I was worried about flash-mobbing Mr Copperworth. Other kids over the park gathered round to see what was going on. Laughter competed with the traffic on the High Street. Crystal looked over at me and smiled. It was nice, feeling part of something. Part of the flash mob. Part of The Crowd – properly if Crystal was right and Finn was asking me out. I’d be among the golden few. I chewed on the nail of my index finger and round the loose skin of the cuticle.
‘Ok, guys. If you forget what you’re doing, go back to the basic steps. And we dance to the left of our desks, ok?’ My stomach seemed to be doing weird swingy, flippy stuff as he rounded up. ‘Show the others what they’re doing when you see them. And practise, yeah. This is going to be so cool.’
Was it? Was it going to be cool? Liv and Finn. Finn and Liv. People were gathering in clusters, chatting excitedly and larking about but I felt oddly alone as Finn loped towards me. Don’t make an idiot of yourself, Liv. He’s just a boy. Just, like, one of the coolest boys in school. Just a boy, just a boy, just a boy.
‘All right?’ he said.
I felt like a rabbit in headlights. My mouth had gone dry. I nodded.
‘Hi!!’ That was Megan breathless with dancing reclaiming her place on the swing next to me. I smiled at her, glad of the back-up, although she was more likely there for the gossip.
‘All right,’ Finn said to her. To me, he said: ‘What do you think?’
‘Oh Finn, it’s brilliant,’ gushed Megan. ‘It’ll be well jokes. Can you imagine Copperworth’s face? Go on, Finn, do his face.’
Finn did Copperworth alarm, when he knew he was losing control of class and Megan and I laughed. ‘And you?’ he asked me.
‘Yeah.’ I pushed the word out and nodded emphatically to make up for my lack of eloquence. ‘It’s cool.’
Finn smiled his wide-mouthed grin, showing two perfect rows of white teeth. ‘It’ll be such a laugh, yeah?’ He was on the move the whole time. ‘It’ll be all round the school in no time that Copperworth was flash mobbed. What do you reckon he’ll do?’ He danced around like a boxer then took to weaving in and out of the frame of the swing. He pulled himself up the supporting poles.
‘Put us in detention.’
He paused, hanging there, then laughed like I’d said the funniest thing on earth. ‘Yeah, but it will be worth it, right?’
I smiled back. Finn was talking to me. Out of everyone here, he was talking to me. He let go with one hand and grabbed the chain of my swing. The swing zig-zagged as he transferred his weight and I yelped and grabbed on with both hands to regain my balance as he jumped behind me.
‘Finn!’ said Megan and got off her swing in case she was next.
I was being pulled back on the swing and then he let go. It wasn’t hard, so I jumped off. I had the feeling if I sat there he would keep pushing until I was going really high and he would think it was funny and wouldn’t stop.
He caught the swing as it come back at him. We looked at each other and there was something… like a challenge. Similar to what had passed between Crystal and Jim. Unspoken but almost tangible, and it felt exciting and scary at the same time. I felt people looking over at us. He took a loping stride towards me. ‘I guess you’re going to tell me it’s time for maths now, right?’
I nodded. ‘Yep.’
‘Ok. I’ll be a good boy and do my homework,’ he mock-grumbled and with a flick of his head that said I should go with him, he started towards the high street. ‘Laters!’ He called out to Raff, who lazily raised a hand back. Crystal and I grinned at each other. I became aware of people’s eyes on me. After a couple of strides, Finn skipped sideways to say something I couldn’t hear to Oscar, who looked at me then Finn in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. They laughed and Finn was back, slinging an arm round my shoulders that I felt certain was for Oscar’s benefit. It felt weird and maybe he sensed that because a few seconds later he took his arm away and was hopping around me. He seemed to find it impossible to walk normally.
In the coffee shop, he sat next to me in a booth and we ordered lattes. Mine was a skinny, no sugar. He had two sugars. I got my books out.
‘We’re really going to do maths, aren’t we?’ said Finn.
‘That’s what you want to do isn’t it?’ I had moved on to gnawing the nail of my middle finger.
‘Not really,’ he grinned. ‘You’re such a swot.’ He laughed. ‘Do you do anything besides homework?’
‘I don’t know. I play tennis.’ I was on the team at school.
He rolled his eyes. ‘Anything outside of school.’
‘I just hang out with Crystal and that. And I draw. I like drawing.’ God, I sounded boring to myself. Our coffees came and I stirred mine for something to do.
‘Crystal’s cool. She knows how to have a good time,’ he said.
Yes Crystal is marvellous. And Crystal knows what she’s doing with boys. And I don’t. I must ask her what she and Raff talk about. Do they talk or do they just snog all the time? Oh God, I’m so out of my depth, I’m messing everything up. ‘Dancing.’ I said. ‘Me and Crystal make up dance routines and stuff.’ To take the heat off, I switched the subject to him and the flash mob. It turned out this was exactly the right thing to do as he was his own favourite subject. All I had to do was chime in with an occasional comment or question and he would gab away. I was grateful to him for making it easy for me.
A few others from school were in the coffee shop and Jesse and Tom who had been over the park. They nodded to us but didn’t sit in our booth. And it would, forever more, be Our Booth, I thought dreamily as Finn chatted away about the various scrapes he’d got into.
‘It’s not at all wise to go around unchaperoned, my dear.’ My jaw dropped as I looked up at a concerned looking Emily, in an enormous hat. Strangely, she looked about 10 years younger than when I last saw her.
I groaned and looked down into my latte. ‘Oh god.’
‘What’s up? You all right?’ said Finn.
I looked at Emily. Finn followed my gaze.
‘Really, a girl’s reputation can be so easily sullied. I shall sit with you.’
I’d be a laughing stock. I glanced at Finn, waiting for the mockery. He would be pulling prim faces and mimicking ‘A girl’s reputation can be so easily sullied.’ He would make a swift exit, call Raff or Oscar and have a good laugh and it would be all round school – the old-fashioned posh bird that insisted on sitting with Liv to protect her honour and ensure she didn’t lose her cherry over a quadratic equation. It couldn’t have been worse if mum had come in and sat down.
Finn looked round the café like he hadn’t noticed that Emily was sitting down opposite him, placing her handbag carefully beside her and adjusting her hat with gloved hands.
He looked back at me. ‘What’s up?’ I looked at Emily and he followed my gaze but looked through her, over the seat towards the front of the café, turned back to me and repeated: ‘What?’
‘Um. I thought we had company.’