Six

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BEFORE

At age twelve, Adam towered over most of the boys in class. He was broad-shouldered and his brownish blonde hair seemed to have almost magically turned into a fair, silvery gold shade; his blue eyes, as always, were light and friendly.

Most of the girls in class fancied him and at first Matt found it hilarious. Then they started following them around everywhere and that got annoying.

"Just tell them to leave." Matt crinkled his nose distastefully at Neetu, a girl who had been particularly obsessive over Adam since they'd arrived to secondary school that September. She giggled when Adam turned to look at her. Matt rolled his eyes.

"They're nice," Adam said simply, looking back at Matt.

"They are not," Matt sniffed back. "They only kiss your ass because they like you."

"Alright." Adam leaned back on his chair and gave the other boy a smug smile. "If you say so."

"So egotistical."

"And you," Adam pointed out, reaching out to flick Matt in the ear, "are so bloody posh. Posher than ever."

"I don't even have my accent anymore," Matt huffed. He was just about to poke Adam at the back of his neck with his sharp pencil when, all of a sudden, a girl with two thick plaits approached their desk. Upon noticing her Matt, in a panic, dropped his pencil, flushed, and hurriedly bent down to pick it up. He emerged from underneath his desk with ears that were burning a fierce red. Adam hadn't noticed this spectacle and instead, looked at the girl with a friendly smile on his face.

"Hiya Pippa," he said and Matt could hear the familiar, suave ease with which Adam spoke to her. He felt a sharp stab of bitterness at the pit of his stomach, though he wasn't sure why that was.

Pippa Harlington smiled back at Adam and, much to Matt's horror, flit her eyes towards him.

"Matt I read the book you told me about," she began in an excited rush. "I mean, at first, it didn't really seem my type but then it got so interesting at the bit where all the animals start attacking the farmer and—"

"You read Animal Farm?" Matt cut her off, his tone amazed.

Pippa nodded enthusiastically and her plaits swung back and forth behind her like a pendulum.

"Oh – uhm –" Matt felt the heat rise in his cheeks. Oh why wasn't he as cool as Adam was around girls? "That's really – good. Good."

"You should read What Katy Did. I know it's more of a girl's book but—"

"I've already read it!" Matt blurted out, unable to contain himself. Adam was looking at the two of them like they were a pair of aliens. Pippa had opened her mouth to reply when Adam cleared his throat loudly.

"Alright you nerds." He grinned broadly at Matt as though they were in on a secret. "You can talk about your books later. We need to get some work done, don't we Mattie?"

"Mattie?" Matt curled his lip in disgust. When Pippa had laughed and gone, he poked Adam hard on the elbow and the other boy yelped.

"Ow!" He cradled his arm as though it were a fragile baby. "What was that for?"

"For – for –" Matt fumbled for a coherent reason in his brain and, when he found none, merely clamped his mouth shut and looked down at his Maths book. Adam chuckled silently beside him and said no more.

"What'd you think of Pippa, then?" he questioned later while they sat on the big school field watching the other boys play football. Matt, who had been picking on some grass, stopped and looked up at Adam, quite alarmed by the question.

"I – what do you mean?" he mumbled, not meeting the other boy's eyes. Adam seemed to be lost in the football match; he watched a brown-haired boy toe punt a yellow football up into the air with marvellous skill and ease. Under his breath, he let out a small, impressed gasp.

"What do you mean?" Matt pressed on when Adam didn't reply. "Pippa," he added when the other boy's eyes turned back to him, looking slightly dazed.

"Oh." Adam nodded and Matt thought he looked rather distracted about something. However, he seemed to snap out of it quickly and his lips quirked up into a smile that Matt knew meant trouble. "You like her," he chided. Matt jerked involuntarily.

"No!" he cried defensively but his body always seemed to betray him in moments like these. His cheeks had gone crimson. "I—no! She's – she's a girl."

Adam began to laugh. "You're saying you like boys then!"

"No," Matt growled back in warning. "I don't like anyone."

"Liar!"

"I don't," Matt pressed on furiously. Then, "You're the one who likes Pippa."

He hadn't meant to say it. He hadn't even thought about this until now. Matt wished there was a way he could eat back his words and make the other boy forget them; Adam looked as though he somewhat agreed with what he'd said and now dread was slowly welling up inside of Matt.

"She is sort of fit," Adam said with a small nod of his head. Matt bit the side of his cheek to stop himself from crying out in protest. Adam was now grinning.

"I'll ask her out," he decided and Matt's shoulders drooped down. Then, "But you're sure you don't like her or anything, yeah?"

Matt let out a small sigh. What was the point in saying otherwise now?

"I told you," he mumbled. "I...I—don't care."

"Okay." Adam started talking about ways in which he could ask Pippa out, voicing his ideas out loud and asking the other boy questions like did Matt think she enjoyed football and was she really as booky as Matt was because Adam didn't think it'd be very fun to go out with a girl who only ever read books. Matt nodded, not really listening, and instead focused on picking the grass beneath him again. Rip. Rip. Rip. Out they came, in giant chunks.

"Do you think she'll say yes?" Adam asked when lunch ended and they were walking down the field back to class. Underneath his palms, Matt crushed the dead grass and let them drop to the ground.

"Yeah."

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