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Sometimes Looks Can be Deceiving
Annabel’s not surprised when nobody recognizes her at her 10 year reunion. The spotty fat teen nicknamed AnnaBall by the school bullies is long gone. But standing on the edge of the popular crowd, she still feels like that girl. That is, until Jack, her teen crush, starts flirting with her. Much to her amusement, he has mistaken her for Christy Blake, Annabel’s chief tormenter before she moved to France in their last year.
It’s just a bit of fun at first, letting Jack believe she’s Christy. After all, he was nuts about her before she said au revoir to England. And when he asks Annabel out, the fun becomes something even more interesting. The more they date the deeper they fall for each other. So what if Annabel has to fib a little to keep up the façade?
As the lies start compounding, and she realizes that they’re falling in love, she has to tell him who she really is. But she’ll lose the love of her life if she does.
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‘Ow.’ My beer bottle clinked against my teeth as I felt a hand gently grasp my shoulder from behind.
‘Oh my god, Christy, is that you? How great to see you!’
‘I’m not-’… Christy, I was about to say. But then I turned and saw whose hand it was. ‘Hi.’
‘Ten years, can you believe it?’ asked Jack as his smile threw me back to our last year in school. ‘You look… different but I’d still recognize you anywhere. Did you come from France or are you based here now? Wait, we both need another drink and then we can have a proper catch-up.’ He pointed to my bottle. ‘Another beer? I’ll be right back. Don’t go anywhere, okay?’
He loped off to the bar where our former classmates jockeyed for the overworked barman’s attention. And I admit it, dear Reader. I ogled him. I took in his broad shoulders beneath the fitted black jacket, his long jeans-clad legs and wavy blonde mop of hair.
Jack Winslow, my unrequited love, had actually just spoken to me. He was buying my beer! … All right, so he thought he was buying Christy’s beer, but still, beggars shall not be choosy about free drinks.
When the reunion invitation arrived with the school’s annual newsletter I chucked it into the bin. Those newsletters arrived every year in December, as welcome as a urinary tract infection. They’d wheedled my mailing address from my Dad and I didn’t have the guts to ring them to opt out for fear that they’d extort me for a donation for the playing fields or something. I’d been miserable on those fields. I hated every rain-soaked blade of grass that slipped me up and each ankle-twisting rut.
Jack returned with our drinks. He set my empty bottle on a nearby table for me. ‘Cheers. To old times,’ he said.
‘Cheers. Jack Winslow, I can hardly believe it’s you. Here’s to new times, eh?’
His grin faltered, then widened. Great work, Annabel. Two minutes into the conversation is just the right time to suggest a future together.
‘Believe it,’ he said. ‘So tell me what you’ve been doing for the last decade. Are you living in London now?’
I nodded. ‘I live in Notting Hill. Well, according to the real estate agents anyway. My closest Tube is Shepherd’s Bush though. Where are you living?’
‘Well as long as we’re speaking in real estate agent, then I’m in South Hampstead. If we’re being honest then I’m off Finchley Road.’ He stared at me. There were tiny lines around his grey eyes and his lashes were darker than I remembered. ‘I’m really happy you’re here.’
I smiled, surprised that he even knew who I was. Then I remembered that he didn’t. To him I was Christy. Of course he’d be happy to see her. Christy and Jack were our school’s answer to Brangelina, though I don’t think they actually went out together. They just swanned around the school in their own golden glow, the central figures in our teenage romantic fantasies.
Jack and I stood at the edge of the room together watching the crowd. Five minutes ago I was just Annabel Markham, aka AnnaBall, Annabell-end, all-round bully fodder and soft target. Suddenly I was promoted to head of the class.
What a difference short-sightedness makes.
‘Do you wear glasses?’ I asked before taking a swig of my beer.
His brow furrowed as he hesitated. ‘Ah, well, no. Why?’
‘Oh, well, I guess I remembered you with specs, that’s all. I wasn’t implying that you need them.’ Please shut up, Annabel.
‘Oh, you mean reading glasses. Yes, I did sometimes, for my astigmatism. But that’s been corrected now.’
He kept staring at me like he had more to say. Surely he’d figured out that I wasn’t Christy. Aside from being among the tallest girls in our year, we looked nothing alike. My hair had been much darker, for one thing. And my waistline had been much bigger for another.
But he really did seem to think I was Christy. Which wasn’t at all how I imagined my night would go when I’d first walked in.
I nearly didn’t turn up at all. Who willingly goes back into the bear pit once they’re freed? Someone who’s flippin’ out of her mind, that’s who.
My heart started rattling in my chest before I’d even set foot through the Richmond pub’s door. Upstairs, a table was set up beside the function room’s entrance. Two women waited to label the alumni but I didn’t recognize them and it was easy enough to sidestep their markers and Scotch Tape. I was well-practiced in the art of creeping about.
I should never have let Kate convince me to come. Of course all the feelings I’d packed away over the years wouldn’t stay neatly stowed. They’d wait till I was surrounded by my classmates to spring their locks.
To my relief, at least there was no break in conversation when I stepped in to the room. A few faces turned curiously but, recognizing neither friend nor foe, quickly turned away again. After twenty minutes I was still alone on the fringes of the party. I may as well have been sixteen again.
Actually, that’s not quite true, because I was rarely left alone then. Given the alternative, this was a bit better.
So Jack’s chattiness came as quite the surprise. He’d said about ten words to me during the whole of secondary school.
‘Do you see any of the old crowd yet?’ he asked, scanning the room.
My skin suddenly crawled with dread. What if Christy herself was somewhere in the room? Or her friends? They’d know in a second that I was an imposter. Then they’d single me out in front of the whole room and it’d be eleventh grade all over again. ‘No, no, I don’t see anyone.’ I started edging toward the door.
‘Me neither. But I might not recognize some of them. People can change a lot in ten years.’ He glanced again at the crowd. ‘Isn’t it odd? When you’re in school you can’t wait to get away from everyone and when you’ve left you’re excited to see them again.’
Speak for yourself. ‘Surely you didn’t hate school though. What’s there to hate when everyone loves you and you’re the teacher’s pet?’
He laughed before catching himself. ‘You’re exaggerating. I was never the teacher’s pet.’
‘But everyone did love you, so there’s no use denying it.’
‘What about you? The school went into mourning when you moved to France. Seriously, they flew the flags at half-mast. Bereavement counsellors were called in.’
I could think of at least one girl who wasn’t in mourning when Christy moved away. ‘No black arm bands?’
‘They changed our uniforms. Head to toe widow’s weeds for the girls and black suits for the boys.’
‘Well that was a long time ago,’ I said. ‘They probably renamed a building or something and went back to the usual uniforms eventually.’
He touched his beer to mine. ‘Immortalized in concrete. That’s my dream. Hey, what do you say we get out of here? No one else is here that we know anyway.’
‘Definitely! Let’s go.’ Before Christy sodding Blake turned up.
I’d tell him later about the confusion.