Episode 8: Mano A Mano

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"Benjamin Westley!" Ebony jogs to catch up with me as I'm on my way to Intro to TPEF. I haven't spoken to her since the last poker night I was invited to, two weeks ago.

"How come you're not coming on Thursdays anymore?"

I gawk at her, dumbfounded. I assumed she was in on the decision to dis-invite me.

"Aaron Samuel told me not to come. He said Dominick needed time to cool off or something?"

Now, it's Ebony's turn to look confused. "They didn't tell me that. It's my studio, and I say who's invited. You're invited, Ben."

"I appreciate that, but it's weird if certain people don't want me there."

"I understand," Ebony says, nodding. I wait in awkward silence as she is lost in thought. "Well, forget poker night. Let's me and you do something," she says.

"Yeah, like what?"

"I could take you on an exclusive tour of the station. Ezrah might even give us clearance to TPEF headquarters."

"That would be awesome!"

"Then it's settled. Meet me at the Interior Mall fountain tomorrow at 10. We'll need the whole day if I'm going to show you everything."

"See you then."

I couldn't sleep Friday night. I didn't tell anyone about my plans with Ebony, as if I was afraid it was a dream, or a prank, or that I would jinx it and she would cancel.

When I arrive in the mall on Saturday morning, Ebony is already there waiting for me. As I approach, I notice a curly haired boy talking to her - it's the kid I saw her with on the elevator on my first day of school.

When she notices me approaching, Ebony gives me an apologetic look. "My parents made me bring him, I'm so sorry," she says. The kid is facing away from me, jumping up and down and waving at someone. Ebony grabs the top of his head and gently swivels it in my direction.

"This is Jaxson, with an X. Jax for short."

The boy smiles a big, goofy smile at me. He's pretty darn cute.

"You can call me X, that's what all my best friends are calling me these days." Jaxson reaches up, grabs his sister's arm with both hands, and squeezes it until she lets go of him.

"X, got it," I say. "How old are you?"

"Nine. What are we doing today? I'm here so you can't kiss my sister, by the way."

"Jax, shut it." Ebony glances at me, embarrassed. "If you're good, I'll get you a burrito, remember?"

"BURRITO," Jax bellows, turning a few heads nearby.

We wander around the mall, shopping and talking. I'm having a good time, but most of it is spent pretending like I'm interested in whatever Jax brings to my attention, which seems to be everything. Ebony is surprisingly patient with her little brother, as if I needed another reason to like her.

"Is he really here to keep me from kissing you?" I work up the courage to mumble in Ebony's general direction while Jax is busy ordering a giant burrito, tapping every ingredient available on the order screen.

Ebony looks into my eyes like she's searching for something. "You tell me. Is he?"

"He's doing a great job," I say. What am I doing? Am I actually flirting?

Ebony giggles and nudges me with her arm. "Alright, then."

While Jax eats (and sings) about his long anticipated burrito, Ebony and I pretty much stare at each other and grin like a couple of idiots.

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