“I’m not doing it!” Cole is vehement. His cheeks have turned bright red in anger.
Riley shrugs. “Look, we all have to do it. The Dean wants us to be friends with JV. He wants the rivalry to be friendly. I don’t make the rules, I’m just playing by them. And it’s all of us, not just you. I’m befriending Charlie, Scooter is befriending Adam...”
“Scooter likes the JV plebs!”
“Well, Scooter’s going to have an easier task, isn’t he?” Riley replies, somewhat tired of Cole’s determination. “We’re all stuck with them, you just have to strike up a friendship with–”
“Lester Averman,” Cole finishes with deep disdain.
“Yes?” Averman pops up from behind Cole.
“We’re not friends. We’re never going to be friends,” Cole tells him. “Ever!”
“Yes, sir!” Averman gives him a salute and takes a step away.
Cole’s hand claps down on Averman’s arm. “Where do you think you’re going, squirt? We’re having lunch together.”
“But we’re not friends?” Averman queries.
“Has anyone ever mentioned that you’re a very angry person, Cole?”
Cole grunts and drops the Pepsi can he’s just crushed against his forehead.
“Is that a yes or a no? I’m not so good with grunting. I could go and fetch Adam, he rooms with Charlie, so he’s almost fluent.”
Cole turns his attention to his lunch, which isn’t all that appealing but it’s better than listening to Averman prattle.
“So, we’re not friends, and we will never be friends?”
Cole grunts again, but makes an effort for it to sound a bit like a yes.
“Right, so... um, what’s the point?”
Cole pauses and thinks. “The Dean says Varsity have to be friends with JV.”
“But you and I cannot and will not ever be friends?”
“Hrmm.” Averman considers for a moment, then picks up his tray. “Well, if that’s the case, I’m going to sit with the people I’m allowed to be friends with.”
As gets up and walks back to the JV table, Cole growls in frustration. A nearby freshman flees in terror.
The next day, Cole tries again. “Look,” Cole growls. “We have to be friends.”
Averman sighs pointedly. “And you have repeatedly told me that this will never happen. So, I think this is an unsolveable problem. This is like the Kobayashi Maru in Star Trek. Unfortunately, neither you or I are Captain James T. Kirk, so I think we’ll have to assume that we’re not going to be able to cheat our way to a win here.” He sighs again. “So, well, it’s been... an experience?”
Averman turns to leave and Cole starts… breathing. Only angry. The sound is not unlike something one would hear if one was unfortunate enough to provoke a bull into charging.
Cole grits his teeth for a moment, then spits out some words. “I don’t know what you said. But I think I’m offended.”
“This is going swimmingly,” Averman says. “I made a top-notch nerd reference, and you didn’t get it. Honestly, this is a waste of my time.”
Cole takes a few moments to ponder the situation while keeping a hand on Averman’s shoulder – that kid will not stand still – and eventually comes to a decision. “I will not kill you for what you just said if you shut up for at least an hour. I need to do my homework.”
Averman considers the offer – and it’s worth noting he does it in significantly less time than Cole took to come up with the offer – and then nods. “That’s fine with me.” He shakes off Cole’s hand and prepares to make his exit.
“Where are you going?” Cole bellows. “We have to hang out together.”
“Oh. Oh. You mean we have to spend my silent hour together?” Averman looks less thrilled at this prospect, and takes a moment to consider how best to respond. Cole takes his silence as taciturn compliance, and shepherds him towards the dorm rooms.
Once in Cole’s room, Averman takes a seat on the bed and looks around. “This is nice. Upper-classmen have the best deal. We mere freshmen have to share.”
Cole grunts. Then sighs. Then uses his words. “Yes.” He realises that as long as there is silence, Averman will attempt to fill it. And Cole has a B-average to keep up. He finds some music and uses that to fill the silence. “Do your homework,” he says.
The homework thing becomes a daily ritual.
By the second week, Cole doesn’t even have to manhandle Averman into joining him. At the end of every day, Averman just falls in step beside him and they make their way to Cole’s room and they sit down and do their homework together.
By the third week, Averman’s company is growing tolerable. He has learned how much silence Cole likes (one hundred percent) and attempts to deliver (he manages about forty percent) and he’s getting better every day. Still, he does talk.
“I like your room,” Averman says, looking up from the algebra he’s working on. “I share with Luis, and he and Mindy are always doing things in there. My room constantly smells of teenage lust.”
Cole did not need to know that. And he wouldn’t usually respond, but he can’t help but ask, “Why don’t you hang out with your other friends?”
As responses go, Cole generally likes a good shrug. It’s silent, and usually conveys a point quicker than words. This, however, is infuriating. “Why though?”
Averman sighs – another Cole-approve response, which for some reason isn’t good enough – then relents and speaks. “Oh you know how it is, everyone’s got their own thing going on. Charlie and Adam have the epic bromance that might turn Brokeback, Connie and Guy are the Rachel and Ross of Eden Hall, the Bash Brothers don’t want to hang out with other people, Kenny and Russ have that practical joke thing going on – basically everyone has someone to hang out with.”
Except Averman. Not that Averman adds that part. Instead he stands up and moves towards the CD player. “Do you have anything that isn’t about ‘swag’ and ‘bitches’?” he enquires before rummaging through Cole’s shelves without even waiting for permission.
Cole leaps to his feet, suddenly aware of what else is on that shelf, hidden behind a layer of CDs, but before he can get there, Averman pulls out a handful of CDs, revealing Cole’s shameful secret stash. Why on earth didn’t he think to move it?
“Is that–?” Averman gives him an incredulous look. “Are you–?”
“I’m nothing!” Cole yells furiously. “You didn’t see anything! Get out!”
Cole doesn’t let him get a word out, just grabs him by the throat. He leans in close, and uses his words, clearly and forcefully. “I don’t care if the Dean wants us to be friends. We’re not friends. We can’t ever be friends. And you’re not going to tell anyone what you saw because you didn’t see it, ok?”
Averman gives a terrified nod, and with that, Cole throws him out of the room and locks the door.
Cole sits on the bed with his head in his hands.
And most of the weekend.
Several weeks pass in a haze of worry and depression, during which Cole avoids Averman as best he can.
Averman doesn’t appear to have told anyone. That much Cole has grasped from the way he hasn’t been beaten up or ostracised from Varsity. Or the school.
He thinks Averman wants to blackmail him, because Averman attempts to approach several times. Cole perfects the art of evading him. Riley notices, and asks him about it, but Cole grunts a couple of times and Riley decides it’s too much hassle trying to communicate.
Cole considers beating Averman to a pulp to dissuade him from further contemplating blackmail, but honestly he’s too depressed to give violence his all.
It’s weird though. He’s gotten used to having Averman around. Averman had never really mastered the silence that Cole appreciated while doing homework, but without him, there’s too much silence. He could do with at least forty percent more noise.
One night, while ruminating on how his life has quickly gone to hell in a helium balloon, Cole is interrupted by a knock at his door.
He has barely turned the latch before Averman barrels into his room where he proceeds to throw himself face down to the floor and wrap his arms around the legs of Cole’s bed. “I’m sure you’re going to throw me out,” Averman says. “But I’m going to make it as difficult as possible and you’re going to have to listen to me. And just so you know, I’ve been eating cake every day since you threw me out. I’m heavy.”
Cole is momentarily flummoxed. It’s probably because his room has gotten forty percent louder.
He decides to grab Averman’s legs and try to drag him out of the room. But he can’t help but ask, “What do you want, Averman?”
“I want you to know it’s ok. I did see what I saw, and it’s ok.”
Cole growls. Most normal human beings would flee at the sound, but Averman just keeps talking. “It’s ok if you’re a Brony. I bought the DVD. We can watch it together.”
Cole pauses in his dragging and drops Averman’s ankles. He is deeply suspicious of Averman’s motives, but he can’t help that flicker of hope. Is Averman really ok with him watching a cartoon for young girls?
Averman takes the opportunity to let go of Cole’s bed and flip over onto his back. He reaches into his shirt and pulls out the season one box set of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. He holds it aloft and beams at Cole. The DVD is still in its cellophane wrapper. And Cole is confused again. Has Averman really bought a DVD just to see if Cole will get all mushy and admit to watching it?
“I was going to watch it,” Averman adds. He notes Cole’s confused frown and wraps his free arm around the bed once more. “I really wanted to. But then I thought why bother, because if I like it, we’re going to end up watching it together anyway.”
Cole collapses on to the chair at his desk. He is very confused. “You can stop hugging my bed now,” he says. Even if Averman is laughing at him, it’s gone too far. Throwing him out while he’s brandishing that DVD will only make things worse.
“Cole, it’s really ok.” Averman gets to his feet and straightens his glasses. “I know we’re not friends. And we can never ever be friends and all that. But we are friends. I liked hanging out with you. I think it’s funny when you grunt. And when you get angry at me for talking too much. And then just as I’m ready to shut up, you ask me a question and I get going again. And I really like that you have six plastic ponies hidden behind your CDs. I won’t tell anyone.”
Cole sighs. Then looks up hopefully. “Do you really want to watch it?”
Averman unpeels the cellophane and pops out the first disc.
“We’re not friends,” Cole says.
“I thought you’d say that.”
“I think we might be best friends.”
Averman grins. “Well, Friendship is Magic.”