twenty-one

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Water splashed on my shirt as I did the dishes later that evening, but I didn't mind. My mind was too occupied to allow me to care.

Anna and Asher had left about ten minutes ago, and the house now seemed unusually quiet. After sitting in the silence of my room with Asher for so long I definitely had enough of facing my fears, and music was now blasting out of my headphones at full volume.

I flinched a little when Michael suddenly appeared next to me, not having noticed how he had entered the kitchen due to my music. I took my headphones off without pausing the song, leaving it to still quietly fill the room.

"Thanks for cooking. And cleaning up," Michael started, reaching for a kitchen cloth to dry his hands. "Really, I had a great time. And I'm sure Anna did, too."

"You're welcome," I mumbled as a reply, not stopping my work. It kept me busy, and a distraction was what I needed right now.

Michael hesitated, that usual insecure expression on his face as he contemplated whether he should step away and let me work in peace, or try and keep this conversation going.

"I'm glad you and Asher are friends. He seems like a nice boy," he then tried, his voice trembling ever so slightly.

I shot him a brief glance. "Is there anything you want to tell me?"

A second passed before Michael sighed and lowered his gaze. "I just want to thank you. I really enjoyed tonight." I nodded since there wasn't anything to reply to that, and he slowly raised his hand to pat my back – hesitantly and lightly, but the attempt was there. "You're a good boy, Kiri. Good night."

Michael left the kitchen and I put my headphones back on, not wanting to deal with any of those thoughts anymore.

Most of all, I was confused. Unsure as to why Asher had opened up to me tonight. Uncertain of why I had done the same. Not knowing why we had held hands, and why the touch had felt so comforting. So reassuring.

I didn't know what to think, or how to react, or what to do next, so I just switched to an even louder song and put more dish soap on my sponge, drowning myself in work to stay busy.

*

Morning came, and I cracked a smile at my reflection in the mirror as I stepped out of the shower. The time to drown was over.

The smell of pancakes met me as I left the bathroom, and I curiously made my way to the kitchen. I was surprised to see Michael stand in front of the stove, flipping pancakes as gentle music filled the small kitchen. Once he noticed me he shot me a smile, a genuine one which was actually quite the rare sight.

"Wow," I commented as I made my way over to the table. "Are you sure you haven't been replaced by aliens or something?"

Michael shrugged, still smiling as he set a plate full of pancakes down in front of me.

"I woke up early, and I figured a nice breakfast would be a welcomed change. I made sure to use the right flour, don't worry."

I raised an eyebrow, acknowledging how fluffy the pancakes looked, before picking up a fork and digging into my food.

"They're really good," I said between two bites. "You should do this more often. Like, three times a day."

Michael just laughed and turned back to the stove. I finished my breakfast then went back to my room to get ready, glad that my attempt to start the day with a positive attitude had just gotten a bit easier.

When I arrived at school about twenty minutes later, my gaze immediately fell to Asher's desk. He wasn't here yet.

I made my way over to my desk and sat down, turning away a little when Gill dropped down on her own chair.

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