Last day. Reese kicks a stone at Mrs. Jones' car--it narrowly misses the tyre and skids beneath the hot pink body of the out-of-place convertible. He murmurs a curse, and we nod. In our teenage minds, she deserves all the stones we can kick and all the foul language we can remember - and none of us have even been in detention this week.
Jess nearly slips by the gates. Snow. Ice. Deadly stuff. She clings to Reese's arm, as if she needs an excuse. He scoffs. Supports her until she's back on two legs, then unceremoniously drops the arm. He can't see the puppy-dog look she's giving him - it's hard to see anything when you turn around and stomp off down the road - but I can.
"Cheer up, Jess," I say, patting her shoulder. The touch reminds me that her blazer's too thin for this weather, but she refuses to wear a jacket over it.
She huffs. Like every conversation we've been having recently, this is going to be a challenge. I could probably make a joke about breaking the ice, but I know how much everyone hates my jokes. Recently, anyway. Everyone seems to have soured as soon as the first snow touched the ground this year, although I have no idea why.
"Christmas, innit?" I try.
"For some." She sighs as Reese ploughs into the back of a Year Eleven and starts squaring up to the taller teenager. "My dad doesn't do anything, you know that."
"You could go round to his," I suggest, as he takes a swing at the Year Eleven, who seems to be a lot less interested in this fight than he is. "His mum loves you."
"She loves everyone. You could go round to his." But there's something about the way she spits 'you' that tells me I can't. He's hers, and I'm no one's, and that's fair enough.
With the Year Eleven suitably frightened off - from Reese's perspective, at least - he returns to us, and takes his place next to Jess. She touches the arm of his puffy winter coat, and he stares dead ahead. I'm not actually sure if they're meant to be going out with each other or not, but I don't think they know either. Typical high school drama.
Or lack of drama. To be fair to them, most couples spend all their free time snogging in the toilets, or empty classrooms, or corners of the yard. At least I don't have to deal with that. Instead, I get to play third wheel when those two can barely make their own two wheels move. We're like a Frankenstein's Monster version of a Reliant Robin, and just the thought of that combination is giving me a headache.
"What are you two doing for Christmas, then?" I ask, as if I haven't already tried this with Jess on her own. She scowls at the frozen ground.
"Eating a ton of food, probably," Reese grunts, "why? You wanna come round, Lex?"
"I'll be at my grandma's, but thanks." Shutting down that idea quickly, I shake my head for good measure. It's hard enough being the third wheel without adding jealousy into the mix. "What about Jess?"
"What about her?"
I inwardly cringe. On top of being completely oblivious to the fact that they both enjoy spending time with each other, Reese's bad habit of talking about people as if they're not there... well, it leads to some interesting situations. Jess makes a strange sound that might've been a choked-down sob, and I decide that I can't take this anymore.
Striding in front of them both, I spin around and stop all three of us on the pavement. Year Sevens rush past with tiny, clumped-up snowballs in their hands; one hits my bag, but my eyes are fixed on my two useless best friends. We're not starting the winter holidays like this.
"Jess' dad doesn't celebrate Christmas, so Jess is going round to Reese's." I declare. Neither of them say a word. "Reese's mum will have the whole street in for Christmas dinner, so she won't mind - or notice, probably. Are we sorted now?"
"Not quite." Reese crossed his arms over his chest. "You, Lex. What are you doing?"
"Grandma's. I told you." I roll my eyes. "I'm not the one who needs my life planning for me - I'm capable of that myself."
"Can I go round to yours, Reese?"
There are those puppy-dog eyes again, but Reese can see them this time, and that seems to make all the difference. They keep walking, and he lets her - lets her, God, who'd want a relationship anyway? - hold his hand. I tag along behind, eyes down as another smattering of snow comes down around us.
Last day. The distance between us increases, until we're no longer a group. They're a couple, and I'm some loner who couldn't find a friend to walk home with. Another snowball hits my bag, and I experience the strange, sudden urge to cry.