“You could always try getting between Jenny Joyce and Aisling, Clare.”
“Michelle,” James chides, “just because they're close doesn't mean they're lesbians.”
“No accounting for taste, but have you seen the way Aisling looks at Jenny?” Erin cuts in, thankfully, before Michelle can make some comment regarding James' own sexuality. “The intensity of it is positively nauseating.”
Clare could not believe that, despite her several attempts to end this conversation, it was still going on. In the middle of the school hall, discussing her romantic prospects when they could've stuck to the normal routine of discussing Erin or Michelle's.
“While I appreciate the help girls, I don't need setting up,” Clare charges out ahead of the rest of the group, steadfastly refusing to look behind her, “My heart's already a bit well... taken.”
“Taken!” The intensity of Michelle's disbelief shocks even Orla to a standstill. “Like fuck, by who?”
“She doesn't have to say.”
Clare shoots James a thankful look as the rest of the group scrambles to surround her. She's having trouble paying attention to one person in particular with the cacophony of overlapping arguments and guesses, when she feels a hand on her shoulder.
Orla moves in front of her and stares her squarely in the face, “Who was it, Clare. Who's it that's stolen your heart.”
She balks at the intensity of Orla's gaze.
“Because I swear,” she leans in closer and Clare can't seem to catch her breath. “We'll get it back for you.”
“No, I,” she draws in shakily, “I just meant like... like, figuratively!”
Erin chooses that moment to take a break from whatever pointless row she's having off to the side with Michelle, “Are you sure because you look a bit ill, actually.”
And sure, maybe Clare's gone a bit pale and she's sweating and her eyes are darting about wildly, but Orla is very close to her right now and—oh sweet mother of God.
Orla's put her hand right over Clare's heart.
On her chest.
“Oh, very good,” Michelle says, looking somewhere over her shoulder, “put your mitt on her tit right in front of our Sister Michael here.”
Clare turns slowly, horrified and hoping for a miracle—Erin's own panicking dulling to a high-pitched buzz. Much as she'd rather like to dig a hole and bury herself in it, she meets the dead-cold gaze of Sister Michael, who surveys the group of them, and promptly turns around and goes back the way she'd came.
Clare's soul reenters her body and she takes a breath—takes Orla's hand off her chest and clasps it between her clammy palms.
“I'm fine, I promise!” It comes out louder than she intended, a bit shrill even to her own ears, “Just a normal crush—no organ stealing involved!”
“Well,” Orla leans back, squeezing Clare's hand to anchor herself as she seems to literally feel the weight leave her shoulder, “that's a relief!”
The rest of the group look just as happy that the scene's finished playing out and they all start on their trek out of school once again.
“You've got a choice heart, Clare, in all fairness.” Orla drops their joined hands and links their arms together instead. “We'll keep an eye on you just in case.”
“We will?” James call from ahead of them, looking over his shoulder with that sometimes-endearing sometime-infuriating look of confusion he so often wears.
Without missing a beat, Michelle and Erin both answer, “We won't.”
The dramatics have, at least, made the girls forget their interest in the identity of her crush.
She looks up at Orla and finally allows herself to entertain the desperate pounding of her heart, the giddy jumble of nerves in her stomach.
And when Orla smiles down at her, tugs her closer as they trudge after James, Erin, and Michelle—Clare counts herself very lucky that her heart's been stolen by someone so dedicated to keeping it safe.