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I slam my chair back onto four legs as Marcus walks into homeroom smelling strongly of cologne. He nods at me and slides into the seat next to me.
Marcus’ gaze immediately snaps towards my dim computer screen where my photographs are being edited, and for a moment I’m oddly self conscious and exposed.
“You do photography?” Marcus asks.
I hesitate, then I nod once.
“They’re cool, dude,” Marcus comments, leaning in slightly.
“Thanks. I try” I reply awkwardly, rubbing the back of my neck.
“I need a photographer.” Marcus looks up suddenly and meets my gaze, and for a moment I feel a deep urge to run away. “I have something coming up, and I kinda need a – uh – portfolio for it, photos of myself. Can you help me?”
I stare silently back at him. He only leans back again and waits patiently for a response. I try to think of any reason why not but my mind runs a blank.
Marcus grins and turns back to his phone, and I stare back at the photographs on my laptop.
He comes by on the Saturday. He stands there leaning waiting against the railing, with that sort of unshaken nonchalance that I’m starting to associate with him.
I stall for a moment regardless; instead of the usual leather jacket and jeans and questionably printed shirts, he’s in a semi formal suit and dress pants. Still smelling like cologne and smoke.
“I can feel you staring dude,” Marcus greets, running his fingers through his wavy hair. “Thanks again for agreeing to help.”
I only nod.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“There’s a small forest not too far away from here. I already went there a few days ago to take a look, nice place. If you don’t mind.”
I shake my head. “Lead the way.”
The two of us walk down the quiet street, me a step behind Marcus. I stare down at my camera, pretending to be adjusting the settings the entire way there so I don’t have to say anything. I sense his hesitation, his self imposed pressure to speak, but I continue to stare at my camera, following his footsteps.
We’re in a small forest I haven’t been to before, slightly off my neighbourhood, near the highway that runs out of town. Marcus walks further in without a moment’s hesitation and sits down on one of the rocks, waiting for me to catch up as he studies the surroundings with a thoughtful eye.
I survey the area, taking in the lighting, the different shadows and backgrounds, trying to frame Marcus’ body in one space or another.
“This is a great place, huh? I assumed you would like it too.” Marcus tilts his head at me and I can’t match his attire now to who I know him as, to anything else about the scenario in general.
I sigh and shift my grip on my camera. “What kind of shots are you looking for?”
Marcus walks around, half posing next to some trees and bushes and rocks, under the sunlight, then in the shadows. He rubs his chin for a moment.
“I’m going to need some kind of specifics,” I speak up, suddenly not wanting to look at him too closely.
He runs his fingers through his hair again. “Something professional, elegant. Plenty of contrast – maybe light on one side, dark on another. Something that shows concentration or performance art.” He shrugs, then leans back against one of the trees. “If that makes sense.”
I pause for a moment, studying Marcus and the surroundings, then directing him back a few steps. He follows every instruction calmly and I have a second to muse to myself that no matter what he’s doing, he seems to be a natural.
I end up with dozens of photos twenty minutes later, and as I sit on the rocks perusing quickly through then on my camera, I almost have to admit that Marcus looks good in them. I stare at the various test shots of the light pouring through the gaps in the leaves, the patterns they form in the air and on the ground and against Marcus’ form.
Lucas would’ve really loved these.
“So, how are they turning out?” Marcus comes up, eyebrows raised.
I look up with a start like I’ve been caught doing something wrong, and I click my camera’s preview shut. “Good.”
“What are you thinking about?” Marcus asks, after a second of hesitation. There’s a hint of worry in his voice. “Listen man if this is too much to ask, I’m sorry. Just let me know.”
He perches uncertainly on the rock next to me and I’m hyper aware of how close he is and I take a shallow breath, placing my camera on my lap.
“No, no it’s all fine,” I respond hurriedly.
“You don’t like talking much do you, quiet boy?” Marcus laughs, lightening up the atmosphere.
I smile and shrug, both of us getting up simultaneously and wandering towards the edge of the forest.
“Thank you for helping today,” Marcus says quietly as we leave.
The hall down to the counsellor’s is all too familiar now, and I head down it like clockwork.
I raise my hand to knock at the door like every other time now, but before I can, the door swings open.
“Thank you for your time,” Marcus says to the counsellor over his shoulder as he steps out, nearly walking right into me, and freezing on the spot.
I open my mouth, searching frantically for words, but I can only stand there silently, clutching my bag tightly.
Marcus continues staring at me for a half second, almost glaring, then turns away and hurriedly storms down the hall without another glance back.
“Do you two know each other?” she asks.
“Sort of,” I mutter out as I walk in and she shuts the door. “Is he okay?”
“I’m not allowed to say anything about any of my patients. But we’re not here to talk about him, we’re here to focus on you. That’s what’s important.”
I nod hesitantly, but in my vision Marcus’ expression still spins – shock? Fear? Anger? I try to shake it away but it remains dancing in front of me, relentless and unyielding.
8 am and I’m still blinking myself awake as I dodge around people and sit down at the back, turning up my music and scrolling through feeds on my phone.
I stiffen as Marcus walks in in his usual outfit, nodding and laughing with several other people around him as he makes his way towards me. I brace myself to say something but Marcus only gives me a brief smile and sits down next to me, turning on his laptop.
“How are those photos coming? Can you send them to me sometime soon?” Marcus suddenly asks, finishing up some last minute homework next to me.
“In a few days.”
Just as the homeroom teacher finishes the announcements five minutes later and people begin packing up, the noise of shuffling papers and student chatter filling up the room, Marcus turns and grabs my arm before I can walk out.
“If you have time, let’s go to the park after school. We can finish editing those photos. I might need them soon.”
My heart does a weird half skip in my chest that I chalk to anxiety, and I nod.