by Holly Bourne

“Maybe you guys want to get another round in,” Lizzie called behind her. “We won’t be long.”

I staggered into the toilets and Ruth put a loo seat down so I could sit. I fell onto it and put my face in my hands, willing myself to wake up from the nightmare. I practised my breathing exercises, counting in and out again, and gradually felt myself getting stronger.

The toilets were insanely plush and over the top. Instead of a sink there was a stand-alone basin which spurted out water like a fountain. The walls were painted deep purple and adorned with giant gold-framed mirrors. I could see at least six images of myself reflected around the room.

I looked a mess.

When I got my breath back, I looked up at my friends.

“Well, where the hell did that come from?” Lizzie said.

I looked down at my flip-flops. “Sorry,” I said. “Twice in a week.”

“What happened?” Ruth asked gently. I found it vaguely amusing that she was here playing the “caring friend” role. She obviously wanted to impress Will with her (fake) generous nature.

“I don’t know,” I replied honestly.

“Was it another panic attack?” Amanda said. “It wasn’t like at the gig. You just passed out like a normal person.”

I winced at the word “normal”. “No,” I said. “I don’t think it was another panic attack.”

“Well, what was it then?”

I had an idea but the words seemed stupid. I tried them anyway.

“I dunno… It’s Noah…it’s like I’m allergic to him or something… Whenever I’m around him I feel like I’m in danger… No, that’s silly…I don’t know.”

My friends looked confused.

“You’re allergic to Noah?” Lizzie was sceptical.

I half-smiled. “No. I’m just being stupid.”

“Well, this has happened both times you’ve seen him,” Amanda said. “Maybe it’s his aftershave? Did your doctor say you had any allergies that brought these things on?”

I shook my head. “No. It’s just a coincidence. Forget it.”

It didn’t feel like a coincidence, but I knew I sounded like a madman and I didn’t like them all looking at me. I just wanted to go back to normal.

“I’m fine,” I said. “You guys go back. I’ll sort my face out and meet you in five.”

Lizzie put her hand on my shoulder. “Sure you’re okay?”


“Well, if you’re not out in five minutes I’m coming in to check on you.”

“I’m fine. I just need a moment…you know…alone.”

The girls filed out of the loos, leaving me alone in the ornate toilets.

I got to my feet and wandered over to a mirror – my face falling when I saw my reflection. I didn’t look great. Mascara was smeared under my eyes and my forehead was covered in sweat.

I pulled my hair back into a messy bun. Using some toilet paper, I carefully erased the black mess under my eyes and then reapplied some lip balm.

I studied my reflection again. Okay. Slightly improved. It was going to be embarrassing to go back out there. I knew I must have put Noah off – there was no way he’d still fancy me after such a performance. But it was probably for the best. That was the plan, right? Don’t fall for him, don’t let him break your heart… Looking at the facts, two times I’d seen him, two times I’d lost consciousness. Coincidence or not, that wasn’t good.

I took a deep breath and pushed my way through the toilet door, rehearsing the story in my head about being dehydrated.

Noah was waiting outside. I jumped when I saw him.

“Sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

He looked gorgeous leaning against the wall, his eyes worried, mouth downturned. This was going to be hard, but I knew what I needed to do. I was already going crazy and I’d only met him a few days before.

“S’okay,” I said, playing with a strand of my hair.

“I was worried about you.”

I didn’t look at his face. I didn’t trust myself not to pass out again. “You shouldn’t be. I’m fine.”

“Poppy, can we talk?” He grabbed my hand, intertwining his fingers with mine. His touch burned, but I couldn’t bring myself to pull my hand away.

“What about?” I shrugged my shoulders, trying to look casual.

“It’s quite obvious, isn’t it?” he said, temper flaring in his voice. “Can we talk about us?”

I mumbled something.


“I said, there isn’t an us. I only just met you.”

He squeezed my hand tighter. “Don’t be stupid. You must have sensed there’s something between us. It’s driving me mental. I can’t stop thinking about you and I don’t even know you. It’s crazy. Just now, out there, when you looked at me, I thought I was going to explode. I know you felt it too.” He searched my face for a reaction. “It’s why you fainted, isn’t it? You couldn’t handle it.”

I let his words sink in, trying to analyse logically what he’d just said to me. I was shaking. I felt so happy I wanted to dance down the road. He couldn’t stop thinking about me! Me? Plain, sceptical little me. But the rational part of my head was screaming at me to ignore these emotions: He will hurt you. He’ll get bored. And most importantly…something is wrong here. This guy makes you sick.

I forced my voice to go cold. “Nice line,” I said. “Bet you use it on all the girls.”

His face screwed up in what could only be described as pain. “You’ve got to be kidding me!”

“Did you honestly think I was stupid enough to fall for that?” I made my voice harder. “I’m not one of your groupies, you know.”

The pain on his beautiful face turned immediately into rage. “Of course I know,” he almost growled. “You know this isn’t a line. I know you feel it too. You’re just scared. Scared of whatever this is.”

I laughed nastily, hating the sound of my own voice. “God, can you just listen to yourself? You sound like someone out of my mum’s Mills and Boon books.”

It was his turn to be humiliated. He blushed, hurt bleeding across his face. I felt awful. Hollow. But something was telling me this was the right thing to do. I had to protect myself. From whatever this – he – was.