seventeen

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Gene lived in a farm. At least it looked like one, I couldn't spot any animals as I walked across the garden towards the front door – but it definitely looked like what I had always imagined a farm to be like. Big garden, pretty remote from the rest of town, and with hay laying around everywhere.

"Hey, you're early!" Gene greeted once he opened the door. He was smiling as usual - when wasn't he? Seriously. This guy's cheeks had to hurt - and stepped aside so I could enter.

"And you're a farmer," I replied as he shut the door behind me.

Gene shrugged, his smile not leaving his face. "We have a few fields. Let's go to my room."

I didn't try to hide my curious glances at the walls and furniture as we walked to the back of the house. Everything in here seemed to be old, from the creaking floor tiles underneath our feet to the photographs on the walls. It even smelled like old bodies in here.

"How long will this take?" I asked once we reached his room and Gene closed the door to give us some privacy – not that I would have seen anyone else in this house yet.

"Uhm, probably not that long. An hour, maybe," he replied, tossing me a pillow as he sat down on his bed.

I got the hint and made myself comfortable on the floor, sitting on the pillow instead of the hard wooden ground. In the meantime, Gene opened his notebook and took out a few papers.

God, I really didn't want to do this.

"So no animals, huh," I said, looking around the room listlessly.

Gene looked up from his papers and thought for a second before shaking his head. "Nope, just a few fields."

I raised a brow. "That's unfortunate. I really wanted to see a cow. Or a horse. Maybe a few hens or something."

"The assignment," he reminded, trying not to sound too firm as his usual cheerfulness was gone from his voice. I sighed and reached for my bag, slowly pulling out my own notebook, dreading the work that was ahead of us.

Soon enough we fell into a rhythm that worked for both of us. We went over the article again, briefly discussed it to clear any obscurities, and then we split the work in half so we could both work on our parts in piece.

I brought out my earbuds after a few minutes since the occasional rustle of paper wasn't enough sound for me. Gene didn't speak again so I remained silent as well - he would have blocked any of my attempts to strike up a conversation anyway, so I didn't even bother with trying.

Almost a whole hour must have passed when Gene finally stood up from his bed and stretched his back.

"Want something to drink?" he offered. "I could really use a break."

"Yeah, sure," I said, already standing up. My legs were stiff from sitting on the floor so long, and I was glad that I finally got to stretch them a little.

I followed Gene into his kitchen, finding the room empty. It was awfully quiet in his house, and even our steps seemed strangely loud.

"Nobody's home?" I guessed, just to fill the silence at least a little.

Gene shrugged as he opened a cabinet and reached for two glasses. "My parents are probably out on the field or something. I don't know. We never spend much time together, they're busy people."

"I can relate," I mumbled, letting my gaze wander through the kitchen. Damn, this whole house looked as if it came straight out of 1940 or something.

The boy in front of me turned his head to shoot me a questioning look. "Is apple juice fine?"

"Uh... I'd prefer water actually, thanks."

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