It is a lovely autumn afternoon. The leaves have all turned into their various shades of red, orange and yellow. The sky is cloudless, the sun shining ever so bright. Warm enough to rid us of our jackets, but not hot enough to burn us.
I had an absolutely amazing grilled cheese sandwich, and then Monty suggested that we should go apple picking. It is our tradition. Plus, apples are my favourite fruit, so how can I refuse? I will tell you what would have made me refuse. I mean it – pass up our yearly tradition and walk right out of that apple farm.
“You didn’t tell me that Arabella would be here,” I say.
Her back is turned to me. Strawberry blonde hair so exquisitely plaited, red chequered shirt knotted at her side, dark blue jeans wrapping around those flawless hips—
“Beatrice,” Monty says, shaking my shoulder. “Seriously?”
I make a strange sound, somewhere between a choke and a snort, as I try my best to act calm.
“You know, I think we should come tomorrow,” I say, wrenching my gaze from Arabella’s gorgeous figure. “I mean the weather isn’t that great today either, and I feel sick from that… sandwich.”
“It is a good thing I have experience being a stableboy,” Monty said, combing his fingers through his dark curls. “I know horseshit when I see it, I know bullshit when I hear it.”
“You have never been a stableboy,” I say.
Monty raised an eyebrow. “My dad owns a farm,” he says. “It is astonishing how Arabella makes you get amnesia. I mean, she’s pretty, sure, but so are you.”
I give a laugh. Laugh. Singular. “Now I’m concerned for you.”
Monty shrugged. “It’s true,” he says, grabbing my arm. “Have some confidence, Bea.”
“No, no, no,” I say, trying to pry my arm out of his grip. “We are not picking apples today.”
“Are you that scared to talk to her?” Monty says. “It’s not like she’s gonna scream your name—”
“Bea!” Arabella hops down from her ladder, well-worn leather boots crushing at the leaves as she makes her way over. I’m not sure it is just the sun getting hotter or my cheeks flushing. Pray is it not the latter – but knowing me – it definitely is.
She’s smiling. I can smell her cherry-tinted lips from where I stand. Pieces of hair artfully tousled, framing her face. Her eyes are hazel, but they illuminate gold under the sun.
She pulls me into a tight embrace because she always squeezes people to death with her hugs. “I’m so happy to see you,” Arabella says. “What are the chances?”
“Yeah,” Monty says. “What are the chances.” I catch the smirk on his face right before it slips.
“Excuse me, Arabella,” I say. “Monty and I have something to discuss.”
“Sure,” she says. “But you are going to come and pick apples with me, right? I know they’re your favourite fruit.”
“Of course,” I squeak.
The moment she is out of earshot, I punch Monty in the shoulder; forgetting of course that he has a black belt in karate and I do not. The smirk just appears on his face once more. “I’m helping you out,” he says.
“So you lie to me, luring me here, knowing that she was going to come today,” I say.
“She has been talking about it all week,” Monty replies. “Plus, it is about time either you get over her or confess your love to her. Also, it is for completely selfish reasons, I cannot stand you mooning to me about her anymore. So I took matters into my own hands. You should thank me. I’m you best friend, I’ve got your back.” He picks up an apple from the ground and begins tossing it. “If it goes horribly, you can always come crying to me, deal?”
“You are going to leave me with her?” I say, glancing behind me.
“I would rather not third wheel,” Monty says. “I shall pick apples with those cute guys over there.” He pointed towards the other side of the farm. “Ooh, there’s hot girls there as well. I can bet you one of them is a lesbian.”
“Okay, just shut up,” I say. Not knowing whether I feel hopeless or confused or awkward.
“You’ve got this,” Monty says. “Just go with the flow.”
“This is nothing like the flow,” I say, but Monty is already gone.
By the time I reach Arabella, she has unbuttoned her shirt, revealing her crop-top, which give way to her toned abs and… a scooping neckline. I pry my eyes away from her chest.
“You’re back,” she says, lifting her basket full of apples. “Where’s Monty?”
“He is over there,” I point to where Monty is, with the ‘cute guys’ and ‘hot girls’.
“Right,” Arabella says. “I almost forgot, Monty is a player.”
“A breaker of hearts too,” I add. It’s like he knows hypnotic magic, people fall for him without a second thought.
“I can imagine. Has he ever broken your heart?” Arabella asks.
“No,” I reply. “We know each other too well. His main offence is annoying me to death…” and throwing me into situations I am not prepared for.
The light catches across Arabella’s face, brightening her tinted lip gloss. Gosh, she is gorgeous.
We chat some more, and I manage to not make a total fool of myself. Somehow. We end up sitting in the shade of the apple tree. “Here,” Arabella hands me an apple. “Can’t come apple picking and not eat some apples.”
I bite into the pure deliciousness of the apple. Sour juice leaks onto my tongue – wonderful, glorious and thirst-quenching. “That is so good,” I say. Arabella doesn’t say anything back. I look to her, wondering whether I said something stupid and didn’t even notice.
Her head is tilted slightly and she has a curious sort of smile. “Have you ever been kissed?”
My eyes widen and I definitely almost choked on the apple. “No,” I say.
“All right,” Arabella says. “Has anyone ever told you that you are pretty?”
“Um… only Monty,” I reply. “But he was definitely joking.”
“Well I’m not,” Arabella says. “Joking that is.”
“Right, of course, yeah,” I say. “Because you are very pretty, like drop-dead, amnesia kind of pretty.” I wish at this very moment that I can crawl into a hole. She is definitely just complimenting me, because girls compliment each other all the time, it is not a big deal. It doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t mean she likes me, or she has any feelings towards me whatsoever, and…
She’s kissing me.
Like on the lips kind of kiss. I can taste her cherry lip gloss, and her hand on my neck, sticky with apple juice. Her lips are so soft… and I am definitely not blushing. Why on earth would I be blushing?
Arabella pulls away. I remain silent, whilst internally screaming. “Was that not what you wanted?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I mean, yes! I mean, it was really good, albeit unexpected.”
“I like you, Bea,” Arabella says. “You’re sweet and you’re funny, very pretty as well.”
“I like you too,” I say quickly. “I’m just… so confused.”
“Why?” Arabella asks.
“It’s just you’re you, and I’m… me? I don’t know, I’m just really hopeless.”
Arabella takes a bite out of her apple. “I think that’s perfect.”
“So… who have you got to say thank you to?” Monty says.
I bite my lip. “Fine,” I say. “Thank you.”
“How was it?” Monty asks.
“I mean, it was very sudden, and I still don’t know how I feel about it. But in the moment it was good, like really good, probably the best thing that has happened to me.”
“I wasn’t exactly asking about the kiss, but that’s fine, spare no details.”
The whole ride home, I could still taste Arabella’s cherry lip gloss, and the sweet, sweet apple juice still prickling the back of my throat.