Tales From The Shoebox

Set in the Ducks senior year, Luis and Averman are sharing a room the size of a Shoebox, this leads to an unexpected friendship, and maybe more.
Category: The Mighty Ducks (Movies)
Rating: Teen
Characters: Dean Portman, Fulton Reed, General Background Ducks, Greg Goldberg, Lester Averman, Luis Mendoza
Genre: Angst, Drama, Humour, Romance – Het, Romance – Slash
Pairing(s): Averman/Luis, Luis/Mindy
Warning: Character Death
Dedications: Charisma, for putting up with my stupid jokes. Vic, for giving me a second chance. Meme for letting me have the purple straight-jacket. Carla, for being “All I Wanted” And everyone on the MightyDucksMovies list for being stars.
Notes: Someone put forward the idea of Luis/Averman, the idea really appealed, with Luis being my favourite Duck, so here I go.
Published: 24 May 2004 • Updated: 15 Jul 2004
Status: Complete


One: Karmic Retribution

“Name?” Mr Stiles glared at Luis over his rimless half-moon glasses.

“Luis Mendoza,” Luis replied obligingly, despite the fact that Mr Stiles was his Dorm Supervisor last year and knew exactly who he was.

“Mendoza?”

The air of suspicion was so strong that Luis had to wonder just how many people gave fake names to Stiles when they checked in. And to what end? How on earth did that do anything except inconvenience everyone involved?

Mr Stiles sighed deeply and gave Luis a final accusatory look before returning his attention to the list in front of him. “You’re in room thirteen.”

“Does it say who I’m rooming with?” Luis asked hopefully, he only had two requests, the first was that it wouldn’t be Brad (his former roommate, who was as dumb block of mouldy cheese, and smelled much the same), the second was that he wouldn’t get stuck with Charlie (who was a complete terror to live with, according to Adam, Guy and Goldberg—nobody had survived more than one year of living with Captain Duck and unless one of those three got very unlucky, nobody would have to).

“Lester Averman,” he replied.

Luis raised his eyebrows and hoisted his bag back onto his shoulder, not wanting to be around the perpetually moody Mr Stiles any longer than necessary. Despite being on a team with the guy for over four years now, he didn’t really know Averman all that well. He knew that last year they had shared six classes a week, and that on Thursdays (for no apparent reason) Averman would be particularly hyper during lunch time but he really didn’t know any more than that.

This would only be his second year of rooming with a fellow Duck. In his freshman year he had roomed with a guy called Jordan, in sophomore he had been with Ken, and last year he had roomed with Brad (he of the overpowering stench).

Luis nodded hi to various people as he made his way down the hall, finally stopping outside room thirteen. He pushed open the door and walked into it, Averman was already there.

“Welcome to…” Averman used the desk, which wobbled alarmingly, for a theatrical drumroll, “the Shoebox.”

Luis gazed around. There was about three inches of carpet space, the rest of the room was taken up by the two beds, a desk, two dressers and a wardrobe. Everything seemed to be uncomfortably squashed together. “Nice,” he said finally.

“You gotta love the walls, man,” Averman said cheerfully. “Have you ever seen a more revolting shade of yellow—aside from the cafeteria food, that is?”

“It’s the blinds that win my vote,” Luis said, noticing that, unlike his last rooms, these blinds were brown, not pale blue or white.

“This is a cosmic sign,” Averman replied, taking a seat on his bed. “This is a karmic retribution. We have obviously pissed off the gods and are now paying for it.”

Luis grinned and slung his bag down. “I’m getting that. Now I just have to work out what I did.”

“Yes!” Averman said enthusiastically. “Like in Flatliners. If we put our past wrongs to right, peace will reign in our hearts and our room will magically grow to the size of a ballroom.”

“I think that might be stretching it,” Luis said, opening his bag and beginning to sort through his clothes.

“The size of a living room then?”

“Here’s hoping,” Luis replied in amusement. So far, it appeared that Averman would by far be his most tolerable roommate to date.

“You know, I think I figured out what I did wrong,” Averman said.

“Yeah?”

“When I tried to check in, I told Stiles I was called Arnold Schwarzenegger. He totally believed me until he asked me to spell the surname. Then I floundered.”

Right, so Averman was the reason that Stiles treated everyone with deep suspicion when they gave their names. “So, anybody else here yet?”

Averman pulled his legs up onto the bed so Luis would have room to manoeuvre between his bag and the wardrobe. “Let’s see, Charlie is here, and was last seen heading towards Coach Wilson’s office muttering something about a new training programme. The Bash Brothers are already on detention for general hi-jinks, Adam is sulking because he’s stuck with Charlie as a roommate, he’s inconsolable. Julie’s here, she’s already at the library, she’s determined to be the first person in history to get higher than an A+. Goldberg and Russ are both here, but I don’t have any humorous anecdotes about them. Everyone else has not yet checked in… Oh, and your friend Annie has been by a couple of times looking for you.”

Luis smiled, he hadn’t seen Annie all summer and had missed her strange and sometimes amusing tales—an email just wasn’t the same as an in-person tale. “How was she?”

Averman considered the question. “Somewhere between amused and furious. She’s been made head cheerleader.”

“Lucky Annie,” he said dryly. “What about the Ducks, are they all ok?”

“They’re good. The usual.”

And now the obligatory dissing of the room was done, and the general questions about the Ducks were over, the small-talk had dried up. Luis thought for a while for something to say, then came up with the final small-talk question. “So, how was your summer?”

“Kinda dull,” Averman replied. “Aside from Charlie nearly getting me fired, that is.”

Luis gave up on trying to impose any form of order on the closet and settled for just hurling a bunch of clothes on the floor of it. The hanging rail was about two inches wide, there was no way that both his and Averman’s clothes would both fit. He noticed a TV and VCR in there, but decided not to comment. “How did Charlie nearly get you fired?” he asked, slumping on the bed. Those two minutes of trying to be tidy had really wiped him out.

“The first time was when he and Terri caused havoc in the cinema, and they told my boss I’d let them in for free. The second time was when Charlie turned up to apologise and ended up yelling at a customer who was taking too long buying tickets from me. After that I banned him from the cinema.”

It was times like this that made Luis appreciate living in another state.

“What about you?” Averman asked. “Good summer?”

“Not bad. Mindy and I broke up, but that was kinda inevitable. She’s at college this year, it would be too much hassle to stay together.” Luis replied with a nonchalant shrug.

“That’s rough.”

Luis shrugged again. He knew that he and Mindy wouldn’t be together forever—not to say that he wasn’t floored by it. It was upsetting, but not surprising. He’d spent a couple of weeks in his room moping, but then decided that brooding wasn’t helping at all, so he started going out again. He was now at the admirable point where he could talk about it without choking up.

Averman noticed Luis’ introspective moment, and decided to lighten the mood. “I have a dazzler of a dilemma here,” he said cheerfully. “This room is roughly the size of an inkblot, I have a TV and VCR, but the only place to put them is on the desk, which means we have the terrific choice of: (a) homework; or (b) entertainment. We could leave the TV and VCR in the bottom of the closet, and have a place to do our homework, or we could put them in pride of place and flunk most heinously this year.”

Luis grinned. “I say flunk, who needs knowledge anyway? It’s overrated.”

“Excellent choice.” Averman got up, opened the closet and peered inside. “Of course, we’re now going to have to fight through a mound of clothes the size of an elephant to rescue the TV.”

“Perhaps we should rethink.”


Averman collapsed into bed in exhaustion. Moving in day was always the same, horribly tiring. If moving your own stuff in didn’t exhaust you too much, and you made the fatal mistake of looking too chipper while walking aimlessly down the hall, you inevitably got roped into helping one of your friends move their stuff in.

He and Luis had been coerced into helping Russ and Ken move in. Then they all had to go down the hall to break up the first official fight of the school year. Unsurprisingly, it was between Charlie and Adam. Charlie had overheard Adam asking Mr Stiles for another room. Actually, “asking” was too polite a term, Banksie had been begging, and when that failed, he’d offered bribes by way of his father’s credit card. Naturally, Charlie was hurt by this, but managed to respond in a mature and adult way—by slinging Banksie’s belongings into the hallway with the words “Fine, don’t live with me then, preppy!”—and the whole argument had taken hours to diffuse. Especially because everyone who wasn’t Adam or Charlie found the entire thing wholly amusing.

Although it had been rather tiresome, Averman was glad to be back and able to immerse himself in the petty problems of his team-mates. It kept his mind occupied and away from too much analysis of his own life. He was aware that something was missing from it, but he wasn’t sure what that something was, and at times like this, when there was nothing to do except lie down and wait for sleep, his mind began to go through a mental check list of items that a normal boy of his age should have.

He appeared to be lacking in two things. The first was direction, some indication of what he wanted out of life, but he wasn’t too bothered about that, most of his friends were also a little lost on that front. The second was love of some kind. His mind was apt to spitefully point out that most of his friends weren’t in the slightest bit lost on that point.

Though to be honest, he wasn’t really lost, just a little off track. He knew girls, he was friends with them and he had no problems approaching girls—his exuberant personality made it very easy to get introductions to anyone, it was just that he hadn’t found one that he really liked yet. He noticed attractive girls, but so far none had given him the spark that would make him want to date them.

He sighed and told his brain to give it a rest. When that didn’t work, he decided to distract himself with a game of Kevin Bacon, his usual wind-down at night. He’d start with Eminem tonight.


Two: Texas, Harems and Biting

Notes: By the way, should have said this in Part 1, thanks to Gabby for the idea. Very inspiring!

Oh, holy god, I miss Carla. Why on earth has she gone to Hawaii? How can she chose a vacation in a fabulous place with the marvellous Jake (where she can look for Stitch) instead of hanging with me online? I just don’t get it. *cries* And so what if she graduated… big deal. I’m here, online, and she’s not. (just kidding, well done Carly-bobs, you rock my world, cyber, real and everything in between—and remember, I’m watching you!)

Wow, this is a lot of notes. The name Aisha is said Ay-sha, not I-eee-sha—not that it matters when you’re reading, but I think that pronunciation is prettier.


Luis hated room thirteen. When he and Averman awoke, they discovered that they both couldn’t get ready at the same time because of the lack of space, one of them had to stay in bed, while the other dashed around frantically. They also discovered that they were both the type of people who liked to hit the snooze button about fourteen times before dragging themselves out of bed. This did not seem like a marvellous combination to make the harsh reality of a school day morning as gentle as possible.

“We have to come up with a schedule of who has to get up first,” Luis said as he and Averman made their way down to breakfast. “Alternate days or something.”

“You mean you don’t want to get up half an hour earlier than you usually do for the rest of the school year?” Averman asked in mock surprise. “Gosh darn it, that’s annoying.”

Luis paused to smile at a group of girls who were staring at him. On making eye contact with one, the whole group burst into excited giggles and ran off.

“That’s even more annoying,” Averman commented. “Why can’t I have groupies?”

Luis considered the question. “Because in years to come you will have a cult following. You’ll be like Kevin Smith or something.”

“That’s nice.” Averman smiled. “But I’m not volunteering to get up first for the rest of my school life, we’re just gonna have to take turns.”


“This room is disgusting,” Annie decided, blowing a stray curl out of her eyes.

Averman pretended to take offence. “Well, we think it’s rather spiffy actually,” he said in a snippy tone.

“You could get Terri to paint a mural on the wall, maybe she could paint it to make it look bigger.” Annie suggested, taking a seat beside Luis on his bed. “By the way, that’s who I’m rooming with this year. Add to that the fact I’ve been made head cheerleader and I’ve hit rock bottom.”

“You could be rooming with her in here,” Luis pointed out.

“Ok, that would be a lower place.” She glanced around. “You know, if you shunted the beds against that wall you’d have more space.”

Averman and Luis followed her pointed finger. She was indicating the wall that the headboards of both beds were against.

“You mean put the beds side by side?” Luis asked tentatively.

Annie nodded. “Jess and Kim on my floor had to do the same thing yesterday, no biggie.”

“Actually, it is a big deal.” Averman replied.

Luis nodded. “Yep, sleeping together is just something guys don’t do. Like using the word ‘adorable’.”

“Or wearing pink,” Averman suggested. “Or spending seven hours looking for exactly the right pair of shoes.”

Annie snorted derisively. “Like I do any of those things, and I still bunk with the same sex.”

Luis sighed. “Yes, Annie, but you’re both female and gay. Kinda makes it hard for you to see our point.”

“Hrmm.” She glanced around again, her nose wrinkled in disgust at the tiny room, then her gaze landed on the clock. “Oh god, I’ve got to get to practice. Some head cheerleader I am, I’m already ten minutes late!” She ran out of the room, which at least proved her athleticism, without saying goodbye.

“I hate this room,” Luis said, largely to fill the silence. He’d invited Annie over to insult the room because of the awkward silences between himself and Averman. It was strange, he mused, that Averman could be so talkative in any situation that didn’t call for it, but was apt to lapse into silence when conversation would be appreciated.

“You’d think with us being seniors, we’d get a decent sized room,” Averman agreed. “They should only put freshman in a room this small. But at least you have the pleasure of having the entire four square inches of space to yourself every Thursday.”

“Why’s that?” Luis asked, pulling a book out of his bag, and sighing in despair at the length of the passage he needed to read before tomorrow.

“Drama, we have rehearsals then.” Averman grinned. “The room is all yours until after dinner, so feel free to invite over your harem.”

“My harem?” Luis laughed.

“Your gaggle of adoring fans that look like they should be attending Sweet Valley High instead of Eden Hall.” Averman paused, then added. “Not that I’ve actually read Sweet Valley High, it’s just, when you’ve got two sisters, these things become ingrained in you.”

“Well, my harem, as you call it, consists of Mindy’s youngest sister and her friends, they’re all freshman, so I don’t think I’ll be inviting any of them over.” Luis replied, absently underlining a particularly long passage. He didn’t understand it, but since the single paragraph took up nearly the whole page he figured it was pretty important. “What about you? Harem? Girlfriend?”

“Neither,” Averman replied with a grin. “I think I might become a monk. It’s a natural progression. I’m already used to living in…” he glanced around the room, “impoverished quarters. And it would also eliminate the hassle of decided what to wear every day.”

“Valid point.” Luis nodded, wondering if Averman could ever be serious. Luis gave up trying to read the book in front of him and resigned himself to copying off Annie tomorrow—a thought that horrified him, Annie was apt to ask for bizarre favours in return for copying. He reached for his math homework instead. Far simpler, in math, you didn’t need a quote to back up your answer.

“Hey guys!” Their door swung inwards swiftly, the momentum embedding the door handle in the wall.

Averman and Luis looked up to see Charlie in their doorway. He didn’t seem to notice that he’d almost destroyed their room with his enthusiastic entrance.

“That’s fine, we didn’t like the wall anyway,” Averman commented airily.

“Actually, we don’t like any of the walls,” Luis added.

Charlie looked perplexed, missing what they were getting at. “Right, horrible colour?” he ventured.

“Yeah, that… and the fact there’s a hole the size of Texas behind the door!” Averman yelled.

“There is?” Charlie turned to inspect the damage. “Wow, you’re right.” He said, easing the doorknob out of the wall. “You should report that to the Dorm Supervisor.”

Luis rolled his eyes. “Ok, in the interest of saving time—”

“And potential damage,” Averman added.

“Yep, that too, Charlie, what do you want?”

He smiled. “I was just calling in to remind you that we have practice tomorrow, six a.m. start.”

“Ah,” Averman replied, “because after three years, it’s highly likely we would forget the rota.”

“Hey guys!” A voice called from behind Charlie. Averman and Luis peered around him. As they caught sight of the purple hair Luis caught a very distinct sigh of despair from Averman. “Just the people I was looking for!” She commented cheerfully, digging Charlie in the back so he would shuffle forwards, thus allowing her to cross the threshold of their room.

“Terri,” Luis said tiredly. “What can we do for you?” She wasn’t in the habit of talking to him, much less seeking him out after school, and it was public knowledge that Terri and Averman were simply waiting for homicide to be legalised before they addressed the issues they had with each other. He crossed his fingers, hoping that she was looking for Charlie and would take him away from their room.

“Wow, did you guys know there’s a hole behind your door?” she asked.

“It’s been brought to our attention,” Averman said dryly.

“Right.” She grinned at him, then wriggled under Charlie’s arm so she could see Luis clearly. “I hear you’re single now?”

Luis sighed deeply. This was none of her business, but it was unlikely she’d go away if he didn’t answer, and it was downright unthinkable that she might shut up. “Yes, I am.”

“Excellent!” she said excitedly, then paused, realising that it probably didn’t feel ‘excellent’ to Luis. “Um, sorry. It’s just that my friend Aisha really likes you. Um, she told me to be subtle, can we pretend that I was? And I was told to ask you if you were busy on Thursday, but make it seem casual.”

Luis sighed again, something he really liked in girls was confidence, not this skating around the issue. He was convinced that in an alternate universe, Annie would be his wife, she was just so direct and to the point. And another thing, how did this Aisha know she really liked him? He didn’t even know who she was, which meant that they probably hadn’t got past the nodding ‘hi’ in the halls stage. How could she know that she really liked him? “Sorry, I’m busy then,” he lied.

“Oh.” Her face fell. “What are you doing?”

Argh! He hadn’t expected her to ask. “I’m watching Averman rehearse for drama,” he replied smoothly, surprising himself.

Averman looked momentarily surprised by this, but nodded nonetheless.

“Just so you know,” Averman said, when Terri and Charlie finally left their domicile. “We’re not actually rehearsing anything on Thursday, we’re just doing improv, so I won’t hold you to attending.”

“You’re doing what?” he asked.

“Improvisation. You stand in a circle, two people start, just acting a scene out off the top of their heads, then someone shouts two names and they join in. Then another two names are called, the first two leave and the next pair join in. Oh, and drama games.”

“You get to play games in your classes?” Luis asked. “Why didn’t I sign up?”

“Maybe because these games involve humiliating yourself?” Averman suggested. “It’s weird stuff, trust exercises. Like the blind game, you pair up with someone, put on a blindfold and feel their face, then they move away from you, and you have to find your partner by feeling the face of everyone in the room.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Luis said.

“Well, it’s not. Until you’re feeling the face of someone who doesn’t like you, I’ve been bitten a couple of times. And I’ve been slapped more than once when I accidentally felt a girl a lot taller than me.”

Luis laughed. “Ok, when you put it like that…” he paused. “I’d actually really like to come and watch, if you don’t mind.”

Averman looked surprised. “Really?”

“It’s that or Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He indicated the book he had been unsuccessfully trying to read for English.

“Well, you’re welcome to come along.”


Three: Sparks and Killer Bunnies

Yes! Aisha is a Mary Sue, and she’s proud! She’s pretty, and sweet and smart… and nobody likes her for it *grins big* Although she only gets 1 point on my Mary Sue test at Queertet.com *shrugs*

Big shout-out to Quimby aka Cake Eater, who I keep forgetting to mention. I adore you. *sniggers* Even more so now I’ve read Harry Pothead. Update soon or I’ll give Terri eight cans of coke (I would give her Lilt but I think Vic is the only American who knows what that is!) and send her to you for some ‘quiet time’.

Also, thanks for the reviews. It’s a big relief to hear that I’m ‘in character’ something I was worried about. Anyone who takes time to read this rocks my world.


Luis glanced around the cafeteria, looking for a place to sit. The Ducks table was filled with Terri and her crowd—and after dealing with her ‘subtle’ questions last night, he couldn’t face her again. He spotted Averman sitting across the dining hall and started to make his way over.

“Hey,” Averman greeted him cheerfully. “And how has life treated you in the past forty minutes since I last saw you?”

“Could’ve been worse,” Luis replied.

“You’re right about that,” Averman snorted, looking over Luis’ shoulder.

“What do you mean?” Luis turned, following Averman’s line of sight. Heading their way was Terri, and behind her was an exceptionally pretty black girl with long dark curly hair. Luis vaguely recognised her, but didn’t think she was in any of his classes.

“I’m assuming that’s the famous Aisha,” Averman commented. “Why don’t I have a stalker?”

“Because your crimes in a previous life were not so terrible as mine,” Luis replied in a low tone as the girls approached. “Yours only resulted in a tiny dorm room, mine were so horrific that Terri’s friend likes me.”

“She might be nice,” Averman ventured. “It might not be her fault that she’s friends with Terri.”

“Well, we’re about to find out.”

“Hey guys!” Terri said cheerily, grabbing a free seat and shoving the girl they presumed to be Aisha down next to Luis. “You guys know, Aisha, right?”

The guys gave her a polite “hey” with a smile and silence reigned over the table. A minor miracle, given Terri’s presence. “So, what were you guys talking about before we interrupted?”

Luis and Averman exchanged looks, discussing the potential stalkiness of your friend didn’t seem a very polite answer, especially in front of the friend in question. “Drama,” Averman replied. “Luis was asking what he had to look forward to on Thursday.”

“You take drama?” Aisha asked Luis in a tone that exuded forced casualness.

“No, but Averman was telling me that he did, and it sounded interesting, so I asked him if I could come and watch him rehearse,” he replied, then supposing he’d better make some form of conversation, he added, “What about you? Any extra-curricular activities?”

“I’m a cheerleader, I finally got on the squad this year. It only took three years of trying out to get there.” Aisha said with a smile.

“Oh, so you know Annie then?” Luis asked.

“Yeah, she seems cool.”

“She’s very cool. She’s my best friend.”

Once more silence took over the table, which was eventually broken by Averman putting forth suggestions as to what actually qualified as “beef” in a cafeteria beef burger. Suggestions included a duck-billed platypus, nuclear waste and the pencil shavings from the classroom bins.

The rest of the lunch period was filled with awkward silences and pieces of halting conversation, Averman and Luis were greatly relieved when the bell rang, signalling the end of lunch.

“So,” Averman said, as they ditched their trays and began to walk to their next class. “What was the verdict?”

Luis shrugged. “I don’t know. She seems nice, and she’s very pretty.”

“But?”

As they walked, Luis realised that school had only been in session for just over a week, but he was growing increasingly comfortable around Averman, even enough to have conversations that he would only usually have with Annie. “I don’t know. There’s no spark.”

“I get that. I’m also spark-less.” Averman nodded wisely.

“What, never?” Luis asked with genuine interest.

Averman shrugged. “That’s weird, right?”

“No, it’s not weird. Better no spark, than a spark with a girl everyone hates,” Luis replied.

“I never said I hated Terri.” Averman protested. “I just would rather she went back to Ireland. Forever. Preferably under house-arrest.”

Luis laughed as they made their way into the classroom. “Actually, I meant Mindy. It’s no secret that the whole team hated her because she went out with Riley before me. It made us really uncomfortable to have the Ducks around. You have no idea how many fights it caused.”

Averman contemplated this. “Nope, I think I’d still rather be sparky.”

Luis took his seat, and reconsidered. Yeah, he’d probably prefer the spark too.


“Hey guys!” Annie said cheerfully as she let herself room thirteen, she glanced around. “Or guy, singular, not plural. No Luis?”

“Nope, our speedster is on AWOL. But do feel free to come in and wait—or at least make polite conversation for a few minutes,” Averman replied with a grin. He had never hung out with Annie before rooming with Luis, but so far, she seemed good company. Plus, he figured with Luis being his roommate for the rest of the year, he might as well get to know Annie, because he’d be seeing a lot of her.

“Cool, but I can’t stop, this was going to be a high-speed visit, I have practice to get to,” she said, shutting the door. “Wow, did you know there’s a great big hole behind your door?”

“Uh-huh,” Averman nodded. “It’s our link to Wonderland. We got a real-life rabbit to make that hole.”

“Yeah? How’d you sneak it past Mr Stiles? I’d love to know, because I have real difficulty sneaking past him.” Annie asked, leaning back against the door.

“I could tell you, but then the Bunny would kill you.”

“So it was the Holy Grail Bunny from Monty Python then?” Annie nodded wisely. “Say no more.” She glanced at the clock. “Look, I’ve got to go, can you just tell Luis that I’ve met someone and I want to tell him all the gory details?”

“Will do,” Averman replied as Annie let herself out. He then turned his attention to the hole in the wall. He and Luis had considered reporting it to Mr Stiles, but then decided that he would probably put them on detention for the damage. The only logical course of action would be to fix it themselves.

Which was all fine and well, but Luis still hadn’t turned up and that left Averman to fight with the hole. He had some gooey stuff, some sort of plaster, that Terri assured him would fix everything just fine—he hadn’t wanted to talk to her, but if there was an expert at repairing damage to dorm rooms at Eden Hall, it was Terri. She had even gone and stolen it for him, in return for him putting a good word in for Aisha with Luis.

He sighed and set to work filling up the hole. The plaster smelt very strange, he noted as he started plugging up the hole with it. Halfway through he had to get up and open the window to let some fresh air in. When he was done, he used his chemistry folder to smooth it off. A second glance told him that it wasn’t his chemistry folder, it was Mendoza’s. He shrugged and tossed in under a pile of clothes. “That’s the price you pay, buddy, for skipping out on me when we’re on repair detail.”

On finishing the task at hand, he decided he was rather bored, and the room had an extremely funky smell. He wondered who he could go and annoy. Averman quickly went through his list of friends, Charlie was out, he and Adam were fighting again, and things had gotten so bad that they had divided the entire room up equally with duct tape—according to Goldberg anyway. Adam was also out, for the same reasons. Connie and Guy were out, because they were ConnieandGuy, very hard to separate from each other. Ken, Russ and Dwayne all had girlfriends and would undoubtedly be with them.

So that either left the Bash Brothers, Goldberg or Julie. He didn’t feel comfortable just walking to the Bashes dorm room and asking to hang out. Despite the many years on the team, Averman had really not built any kind of comfortable friendship with any of his team-mates. He always got on well with whoever he roomed with (Adam, Goldberg and Sean—the latter being a fellow drama nerd), but that was it. He’d just passed time with them, he hadn’t been friends with them. He realised this wasn’t exactly normal, and his mind filed it away to taunt him about later when he couldn’t sleep.

So far, Luis had come the closest to being a friend. “Ok, that changes now,” he decided. He was going to visit Goldberg and hang out with him, and if Goldie wasn’t around, he’d try Julie, and if Julie was also AWOL he would inflict himself upon the Bashes. And so on until he found someone to hang out with.

He considered leaving a note for Luis about the wall, but decided that the smell of the plaster would tip him off. He then left the room and set off to find Goldie.

He didn’t actually get that far. He got to the second floor, where Goldberg’s room was located, but stopped in curiosity outside the Bash Brothers’ room. There were alarming crashes and thumps coming through the partially opened door, followed by the triumphant cry of “Die, bitch! Die!” from Portman.

He knocked lightly on the door and pushed it fully open. Fulton and Portman were sitting on one of the beds, armed with school books, apparently aiming at a plant. “Hey, man,” Fulton said amiably

“Hey,” Averman replied. “I heard thumps, and was wondering if you were killing each other. I figured if you were, I could watch. I’ve always wanted to go into the Witness Protection Programme. I’d change my name to something exotic and silly like Umberto or Eduardo.”

“Unless this plant gives up the ghost, there will be no killing today,” Portman replied. “Grab a book and have a seat.” He patted the space beside him, then let fly with another book. It missed the plant by a good seven inches, but managed to destroy a pen pot spectacularly.

Averman did as he was told, arming himself with the nearest textbook (Deutsch Heute!). “So, why are we killing the plant?”

“Bitch won’t die,” Portman replied moodily.

“His Mom gave us this plant weeks ago when I went to stay with them for a few weeks in the summer. We’ve been trying to kill it ever since. We asked for a Venus Fly Trap, we get a flowering fern,” Fulton explained. “We tried dropping it out of Portman’s bedroom window, but his Mom saw and, thinking it was an accident, went and collected it and nursed it back to life.”

“We’ve fed it beer, vodka and Jack Daniels, but it just won’t die,” Portman added.

“Ah,” Averman replied, wondering why they didn’t just leave it in the closet, without water and light surely it would wither and die? He took careful aim and hurled the German textbook at the fern. He managed to knock a few leaves off. “What happens if you run out of books before you kill the plant?”

“Then the bitch lives yet another day.” Portman flung another book at the plant, it was close enough to make the leaves quiver, but not enough to do any damage.

“The score is 42-1 to the plant so far,” Fulton added. “The one being the day we threw it out the window. Ok, so it lived, but only because Mrs P patched it up.” He hurled another book, it completely missed and slid down the back of the desk that the plant was sitting on.

“So why not throw it out the window again?” Averman asked, as he hurled another book (Romeo and Juliet), it also missed and joined Fulton’s behind the desk. “Or leave it in a cupboard and forget about it, or even give it away?”

“Because that wouldn’t be playing fair,” Fulton replied.

“Ah. So three armed humans against one defenceless plant is fair?”

Portman clapped him on the shoulder. “That’s it exactly. This plant has the life-force. It must die.”

Averman picked up another book and threw it. It lopped the top inch of the leafy fronds off.


Four: Assassination of Herbage and other stories

“Where have you been?” Luis asked as Averman wandered into their room.

“I have been attempting the assassination of the herbage residing in the Bashes’ domicile with the aid of several poorly written hardbacks,” Averman replied with a grin.

“You what?” Luis asked.

“I’ve been throwing books at a plant with the Bash Brothers.”

If this surprised Luis, he didn’t show it. “Right. There’s a weird smell in here, kinda like when the cheerleaders invade Annie’s dorm and start painting their nails in school colours, so I left the door open to air it out.”

“Ah, that would be the lovely smell of whatever it was that Terri gave me to patch up the wall with,” Averman said, taking a seat on his bed.

“You spoke to Terri?” Luis looked surprised. “Was there bloodshed?”

“No. Oh, by the way, go out with Aisha, she’s a great girl, really smart, really pretty, very athletic… um, she has nice hair… you know, all that blah.”

Luis again looked surprised. “Are you high on the fumes?”

“No, I told Terri I’d casually mention Aisha’s fine attributes if she went and stole something we could use to plug up the wall, which I have now done and I am no longer in Terri’s debt.” He grinned at Luis. “Of course, you’re now in my debt, because you didn’t show up to help me.”

“I was in detention,” Luis replied. “Apparently I have no concept of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Like I didn’t already know that.”

“Can’t help you there,” Averman said. “I don’t get that one in the slightest. One of the drama group suggested doing a production of that play last year, I had to bribe Mr Redfern to veto it. We did Hamlet instead.” He glanced at the door and realised that it was opened to its fullest. “Mendoza, is the door pushed against the wall?”

“Yep,” Luis nodded. “It wouldn’t stay open so I used your English folder to prop it open.”

“So essentially…” Averman got off the bed and moved to the door for closer inspection. “What you’re saying is that the doorknob is embedded in the plaster once more?”

Luis joined him beside the door and noted that that Averman was right. “Essentially, yes.”

Averman tugged on the door. It didn’t move. He kicked his English folder out of the way and tried again. To no avail. “The plaster must have set with the doorknob in it.”

“Let me try,” Luis offered. He stepped in front of Averman and started pulling on the door, he was no more successful than his roommate.

“This is great!” Averman said cheerfully. “Not only do we have the worst room on campus, but now we no longer have privacy.”

“We’ll try pulling on it together, and if that doesn’t work, you can go fetch the Bashes, since you’ve now officially bonded with them,” Luis suggested. He moved his hands to the edge of the door, giving Averman enough room to grasp the doorknob firmly. “On three?”

“One… Two… Three.”

They pulled with all their might, the door wobbled, but did not come unstuck. Luis just opened his mouth to suggest they give up when it suddenly popped free, springing open and clouting Luis in the face with such force that he fell backwards into Averman. They both toppled back into the desk behind them, nearly knocking the TV and VCR flying.

“Ouch,” Luis said weakly, his hands moving to his face to check it was still attached.

“Double ouch,” Averman replied, shifting uncomfortably, Luis’ hip bone was digging painfully into a place that should only be treated with love.

“You’re double ouch? I got hit in the face with a door,” Luis pointed out. He stopped feeling his face, and his hands came away bloody. “And I’ve got a nosebleed!” he added triumphantly.

“Luis, man, move!” Averman said weakly, putting his hands on Luis’ lower back to shove him away.

“What… oh!” Luis realised exactly what part of Averman’s anatomy he was squashing and jumped up quickly. “Sorry.”

“It’s ok, it’s not like I ever want kids…” Averman said weakly. “Wow, you’re really bleeding.” His tone was tinged with respect.

Luis looked down at his shirt and realised that he looked like an extra in Scream. He then checked the state of the wall. “Nobody got off without injury.”

Averman couldn’t fight the smile creeping across his face, not only was the hole bigger than ever, but now there was a large crack about 18 inches long stretching upwards from it. “Screw it,” he said finally. “We tried, we failed. I say we buy a nice big poster.”

Luis snorted with laughter, spraying the wall and floor with blood from his nose.

“Oh man, that’s gross.” Averman winced. “Go bleed on your own part of the room, I’ll go get some cloths or something so you can get cleaned up.”

Luis obligingly did so, and when Averman returned with a couple of cloths and a bowl of water, he found Luis sitting on his own bed, his head thrown back, pinching the bridge of his nose. “You’re still bleeding,” Averman reported taking a seat opposite.

“Am I?” Luis asked in tones of great sarcasm. “I really hadn’t noticed.” He took a cloth from Averman and held it beneath his nose.

“I can tell you’re not the martyr type when injured. Banksie wouldn’t be so grumpy about it. Banksie wouldn’t mention it if he broke his leg for fear of inconveniencing anyone,” Averman commented as he dipped the cloth in the bowl of water and began cleaning the blood off Luis’ throat.

Luis stuck his tongue out in response and Averman winced. Luis’ tongue had blood on it. “You’re disgusting.”

“I resent that. It’s your fault I’m bleeding,” Luis replied, his voice muffled from the cloth, but Averman could tell he was smiling as he said it.

“You’re the one who glued our door to the wall.”

“Well, if you’d have left a note explaining what the smell was, I wouldn’t have opened the door so far.” Luis retorted.

“Time for a subject change,” Averman decided. “Apparently blood bounces on ice, why don’t we go down to the rink and test that theory?”

Luis removed his hand from the bridge of his nose long enough to shoot Averman the finger.

Averman sighed melodramatically. “See, Banksie would never do that either. He would cheerfully oblige because he’s been brought up with manners.”

“Was Adam your bitch throughout the entire year you roomed together?” Luis asked with a grin.

“Well, he was very grateful that I wasn’t Charlie,” he replied, dropping the cloth back in the water (which was now a pinkish colour). “Done. You no longer look like an Ed Gein dinner guest.” He considered this for a moment. “Although if I were you, I’d change my shirt.”


Averman curled up in bed later that night. Luis was already asleep, he seemed the type that could fall asleep easily. Averman envied him for it, his sleep was often patchy and always difficult in coming. He yawned and rolled over onto his other side, trying to get more comfortable, praying for easy sleep before his brain started picking on him.

Naturally, his prayer wasn’t answered, and his mind had fixated on several things to taunt him with. The first was, naturally, his lack of direction in life. He told his mind to back the hell off, and try something more original, he’d been listening to that particular taunt for years. During this, he idly wondered if arguing with his own mind made him a lunatic.

“I’m going crazy,” Averman murmured.

“What do you mean, going?” Luis responded dozily, shocking him. He hadn’t realised that his roommate was still awake.

“Well, crazier then,” Averman amended. Then before Luis could enquire as to what prompted this new and crazier Averman, he changed the subject. “How’s your nose?”

“Hurts. I’ve taken a couple of pain killers,” Luis replied, turning over to face him.

“You’re such a drama queen. I lost the ability to have children today and you’re going on about your nose!” Averman replied, glad to take his aggressive mind away from his life-situation.

“I’m not ‘going on’ about it, you asked, I answered.” Luis replied in mock huffiness. “I bet you’re going to tell me that Banksie would have just said ‘fine’ and changed the subject.”

Averman laughed. “Well, he would have.”

“Am I your rebound roommate? Are you using me to heal your broken heart after Adam went back to Charlie?” Luis propped himself up on his elbow and rested his head in his upturned palm and fixed Averman with a mocking grin.

“Nothing can heal my broken heart.” Averman pretended to wipe away a tear.

Luis sighed melodramatically. “And all this time I thought you liked me for me! Now I find that you want Adam! I feel so cheap and used.”

“Well, you’ve got Aisha to help you pick up the pieces.”

“Nope, won’t work. I’ll never trust anyone ever again. You’ve emotionally scarred me for life.”

They continued in this vein for quite some time until Luis fell asleep mid-sentence.


“Mendoza! What the hell happened to your face?” Charlie asked in amusement as Luis and Averman joined the rest of the Ducks at the table for breakfast. “Has Averman been slapping you around?”

Luis nodded and slung an arm around his roommate. “Yes, but we kissed and made up. He promised never to hit me again. We’re going to work through it.”

“I blame myself,” Fulton said gravely. “We should never have let Averman join in our Plant Deathmatch game, it’s obviously brought out his aggressive nature.”

“See, I’m just a victim of peer pressure, honey,” Averman said with a sugary grin as he sat down. “I’ll never hurt you again.”

Luis took a seat beside Averman, and when the general Ducks-chat resumed, he jabbed him lightly in the ribs. “Are you ok?” he asked.

Averman had been slightly hyper all morning—ok, so they had only been awake approximately forty minutes, but his behaviour had been notably different to usual. Maybe he was just being hyper-sensitive, he and Averman had only been rooming together for just over a week, so he didn’t know him that well.

“I’m fine,” Averman replied cheerfully. “I did warn you last night that I was getting crazier. I’m afraid it’s advancing rather faster than anticipated.”

Luis sighed. That was exactly it, an Averman response. Then he remembered, Averman was always hyper on Thursdays—he had been last year and had mentioned that it was drama that made him a little crazy. He reached over and took Averman’s knife away. “No more pointy objects for you then.”

Averman gave him a look. “You know, the forks are sharper than the knives in this place.”

Luis took his fork too.

“And let’s not forget that marvellous Alan Rickman quote about gouging out a heart with a spoon.” Averman added cheerfully.

“Fine.” Luis took the spoon too. “Eat with your fingers.”

“I could smash a chair over your head,” Averman suggested. “Are you going to hoard all of the furniture too?”

Luis considered this then gave the cutlery back. “No. I’m going to talk you into finding another target.”


“Hey stranger, where have you been recently?” Annie asked, as Luis came to a stop beside his locker where she was waiting for him. “And what happened to your face?”

“I got bitch-slapped by a door,” Luis replied shortly, he was getting very sick of having to explain his bruised face to everyone. He opened his locker and swapped his chemistry book for math. “Averman said you had some juicy gossip for me.”

“I’ve met someone!” Annie said excitedly. “She’s very cool, very pretty, into the same kind of things as me.”

Luis stared at her in amazement. “Don’t tell me she buys into the ESP thing?”

Annie slapped him lightly around the head. “ESP exists, as do ghosts and every other supernatural phenomena. And yes, she does, she’s really into ghosts, she has this whole theory of why some people get to move on and some stay here as ghosts. It’s long and involved, so I won’t go into it.”

Luis smiled. “So, who is this wonder-girl?”

“I don’t want to say yet, I might jinx it. I don’t even know if she likes girls, let alone if she likes me.” Annie said with a smile.

“So when do we get to meet her?” Luis asked, slamming his locker door shut and watching in dismay as it popped open again, spilling pens and folders onto the floor. He made a mental note to never have doors of any kind in his own house when he finally got one, they seemed more trouble than they were worth.

“Not yet.” Annie said, helping to pick up the spilled items. “I kinda want her to myself at the moment. But I’ll keep you posted. Why don’t you come by my room after classes, I’ll bore you silly with every single detail about her?”

“Can’t do, I’m afraid,” Luis replied. “I’m going to watch Averman’s drama practice. But I’ll come see you after.”

“Great.” She chucked him under the chin lightly. “Prepare to be bored to death, I really like this girl.”


Five: Rumours and Yucca Plants

“Hey!” Averman greeted Luis cheerfully, and excused himself from the group of people he was talking to. “I wasn’t sure you were going to turn up.”

“Am I late?” Luis asked. He was convinced that Averman said drama started at five p.m., and it was only five-to now.

“No, I just thought Aisha might have kidnapped you and had her wicked way with you,” he replied with a grin. “You may well be bored though.”

“It can’t be worse than doing my homework.” Luis grinned.

“Well, we’re about ready to start, why don’t you have a seat over there…” Averman gestured to some brightly painted blocks as wood that various people were using for chairs. “There’s a couple of other spectators, if we bore you, you can talk to them.”

“Ok.” Luis took a seat on one of the blocks and had a look round. There were five other guys sitting near him. It occurred to him that they were probably waiting for their girlfriends and he was the only spectator there because he was (a) showing some roommate solidarity; and (b) avoiding a girl.

“You’re new,” a guy to his right commented. Luis vaguely recognised him from one of his classes, although couldn’t remember which one. “I’m James.”

“Luis,” Luis replied. “And yeah, first time watching the drama practice.”

“So, which one’s your girlfriend?” James asked.

“Oh, none of them,” Luis replied hurriedly. “I’m waiting for Lester Averman.”

James looked a little surprised. “Oh, right.” He brightened. “Well good for you.”

Luis had no time to wonder what that meant because Mr Redfern strode in, clapping his hands briskly and ordering the drama members to form a circle. Two girls started, one seemed a little lost at first, but the other lead the way firmly, by gabbling on about her upcoming wedding. After a few moments, it became clear that the girls were acting out getting ready for the bachelorette party. Averman got tagged in straight away, instantly shedding his usual tone and becoming an outrageously camp best friend. He danced around calling both girls ‘darling’, giving them fashion advice and asking if his ass looked fat in his new trousers, even going so far as to tip Mr Refern a saucy wink. Moments later someone else got tagged in, Martin someone—another one that Luis recognised but couldn’t place exactly. He became the jilted ex and started begging the girl for a second chance—while the other girl accused him of hitting on her throughout his entire relationship with the bride-to-be.

Eventually the whole drama crew got both tagged in and out of the play, then Averman returned, pausing to take a folder from the girl next to him to use as a prop. This time he was the cataclysmically stupid pizza delivery boy who was certain that somebody named Mike Hunt had ordered an anchovy and pineapple pizza. This culminated with the jilted ex taking him away to have a talk about the birds and the bees to explain the joke.

Luis was amazed. He had never seen Averman so confident before. It was clear he was the star of the class, even the guys who were just waiting for their girlfriends were apt to pay attention when he was taking the floor.

“You were brilliant,” Luis told him sincerely when the class ended.

Averman opened his mouth to reply, but James walked over and clapped him on the shoulder. “I’m glad you’re happy, man.” He said with a smile.

Averman looked momentarily baffled. “Thanks,” he said, for lack of a better response.

He turned back to Luis when James had moved off to meet his girlfriend. “So what was that about?”

“No idea,” Luis replied as they began to walk back to the dorms. “I have to meet Annie. She’s met someone.”

“She mentioned that the other day,” Averman replied. “Any idea who the lucky girl is?”

“She’s being oddly cagey about it,” Luis replied. “And by the way, can I watch drama next week too?”

Averman looked surprised. “If you’re sure you want to, come alone.”

They came to a halt outside Annie’s door. It was painted standard-issue white, but over that was a cartoon depiction of Annie in cheerleader attire, waving pop-poms, standing in front of a large purple butterfly.

“Ah,” said Averman. “I’d forgotten that Terri was her roommate.”

“She’s probably out.” Luis knocked on the door and went in. “This is not fair.” He announced. Averman followed him into the room and they both took it in. Annie and Terri’s room was about five times the size of their Shoebox, it was painted in a light blue, with matching blinds. They had plenty of space for their furniture, even space for both a computer and a TV and VCR.

“Hey guys,” Annie said cheerily. “How was drama?”

“Why do you have a room this big?” Averman demanded. “We’re on the hockey team! We win awards and trophies.”

“I’m on the cheerleading squad. I also win trophies,” Annie replied.

“Her dad is also one of the major money guys on the board.” Luis supplied.

“Well, that helps too,” she conceded. “But I have my price to pay for this room, see…” She gestured to the wall behind them. Alice in Wonderland appeared to be the main theme, but there were many Disney characters scattered all over the wall, including Princess Jasmine and Aladdin sitting on the magic carpet, Belle and the Beast dancing and Dumbo hallucinating many pink elephants.

“You’re right.” Averman said. “That’s a steep price. Give me the Shoebox any day. Speaking of, I have to go now, all this Disney is making my brain hurt. Annie, I hope you and Luis enjoy talking about the object of your unquenchable lustage.”

“Thanks, Averman. See you later.” Annie grinned.

“Don’t glue the door to the wall,” Luis added, by way of a goodbye. “Ok, spill.” He said, flopping down on her bed.

Luis returned to his dorm very weary that night. Annie refused to give the name or even a brief description of the new love of her life, however, she had gone on in great detail about every single conversation they had had so far.


“Did you know that we are now officially gay?” Averman demanded in tones of amused indignation at lunch the next day.

Luis looked baffled. “I don’t remember being unofficially gay.”

“Neither do I. But I suppose that’s irrelevant since we’ve upgraded to being Official,” Averman replied.

“This is rather sudden,” Luis commented. “I’m sure I would have noticed something like that.” Then he brightened. “Of course, there’s a chance that Aisha will hear the rumour.”

“She’s over there, shall I hold your hand?” Averman asked, noting that Aisha was sitting with Annie.

“You’re a true friend.” Luis grinned. “So, when did we become gay?”

“I don’t know,” Averman admitted as they walked over to the Ducks table, having decided not to sit with Annie because of Aisha. “But apparently you came out to James yesterday at drama practice.”

“Who came out?” Julie asked, overhearing the tail end of their conversation as they reached the table.

“Luis did,” Averman replied. “To the boyfriend of one of the girls in my drama class.”

Julie looked interested. “Why didn’t you tell us first?”

“Because he was shy, poor dear,” Averman replied, taking a seat. “He thought he’d tell a complete stranger and see how that went.”

“And how did it go?” Connie asked, also joining the conversation.

“It went well,” Averman responded before Luis could open his mouth. “James was very supportive.”

“Oh, shut up,” Luis said tiredly. “Don’t make me poke you with a fork.”

“As threats go, that wasn’t very intimidating,” Averman said. “I thought gay men were supposed to be very humorous?”

“If you don’t drop it, I’ll tell them that you’re my bitch.”

Averman looked scandalised. “That’s just not true!” he protested, turning to Connie and Julie. “He’s my bitch.”

Julie and Connie quickly lost interest at this point. Gossip about team-mates was only interesting when it was true.

“See, Luis,” Averman said helpfully. “You could have told them, they don’t seem to care.”

Luis poked Averman with a fork.


Annie heard a summons answering her knock and let herself into the Shoebox. “No Luis?” she asked, looking around.

“Sure, he’s here.” Averman replied distractedly. “I think he might be in the West Wing, but our domicile is so huge it’s easy to lose people.”

“I suppose I asked for that,” Annie said, flopping down on Luis’ bed. “So, what’s this I hear about you and my best friend getting snugly?”

“Ah, that,” Averman said faintly.

“What’s up?” Annie asked.

Averman shrugged.

“Do you want me to go away?”

He shrugged again.

“Do you want me to shut up?” Annie realised she was being very annoying. When she got no reply, she got up and made for the door—there was no point sticking around if Averman was just going to stare at the wall—and speaking of, the hole seemed larger.

“Annie,” he said suddenly.

“Yeah?” She paused at the door.

“Where did you hear the rumour from?”

“Cassie, on the cheerleading squad. She has a friend in your drama group. They naturally came running to me to find out if it was true.”

“What if it was?” he asked softly. She paused and looked at him carefully. His face was pale and there wasn’t even the slightest hint of his usual humour glinting in his eyes. “Not about Luis,” he added hurriedly.

She once more took a seat on Luis’ bed and faced him. “So what if it was?” She replied gently.

He shrugged again. “I don’t know if it is,” he said finally. “I just know it didn’t bother me having people think it.”

“All that means for sure is that you’re not a complete ass,” Annie said. “If it means anything else, that’s cool, and if it doesn’t, that’s cool too.”

Averman made no reply and Annie realised that he wasn’t going to say anything further. She got up once more and headed for the door. “I’ll see you later, it’s a cliché but my door is always open.”

“Don’t tempt the gods,” he replied, with a spark of his usual humour. “Luis and I found that saying to be literally true a couple of days ago.”


Averman had stopped staring at the wall and had progressed to staring at the ceiling when Luis finally appeared. He had no idea what had made him open up to Annie that way. It was one of those (many) times when his mouth had been quicker than his mind. He hadn’t realised what was bugging him until he had started talking to Annie.

It actually ran a bit deeper than he had verbalised to her. Throughout the day, things had begun to fall into place. He didn’t have a spark with any girl, although he was friends with quite a few, mostly girls from drama. And no particular girl made him want to go over to her and start a conversation.

And talking to Annie pin-pointed what was wrong. He didn’t have sparks with girls, period.

In fact, he was rather leaning towards the idea that the rumours might not be so wrong after all. He was leaning towards the idea that he might be having sparky feelings towards his roommate.

He had decided on a course of action though. He was going to act as he usually did and see how long the feelings lasted. If they went away, he would know it was just a phase brought on by a lack of love life and some interesting rumours. If they stayed… well, at least he’d know.

“Urgh!” Luis muttered, falling face first onto the bed.

“Bad day?” Averman asked.

“I got a D on my English paper, then Aisha offered to tutor me—apparently, she loves Shakespeare, then Shelley, Mindy’s sister apprehended me and asked if I dumped her sister for you… and then Charlie cornered me and gave me a little speech on how proud he was of us.” Luis groaned into his pillow. “You?”

“I keep getting people patting me on the shoulder and telling me they’re happy for me.” Actually, it had only been James (again) and his buddy, Nick, but Averman didn’t want to let Luis feel like he was the only one feeling the after-effects of the rumours.

“I regret encouraging Charlie. The guy has no sense of humour. His speech went on for hours, I was sure he was going to bring out cue cards or maybe a multi-media presentation at one point.”

“You need cheering up,” Averman said. “Let’s go to the Bash Brothers’ dorm and beat the crap out of their plant.”

Luis looked rather interested. “They’ll let us join in?”

“Let’s go find out.”

They moseyed along to the room that Fulton and Portman shared, and walked straight in to a huge row.

“Averman, back me up,” Portman said on spotting him. “The whole point of the game was to kill the plant, right?”

“Luis, surely the whole point of a game is to alleviate boredom, therefore ending the game is no good, right?” Fulton replied instantly.

“Is now a bad time?” Averman asked.

“Portman killed the plant,” Fulton reported.

“Great. Well done!” Averman patted him on the shoulder, but regretted it instantly as Fulton’s furious eyes bore into his.

“It’s not great! Now we can’t play.” Fulton gestured to a mess of leaves, soil and broken plant pot on the desk. “He completely mutilated it.”

“What the hell did you throw at it?” Averman asked in genuine interest.

“The Bible,” Portman replied.

“You’re gonna burn in hell for all eternity,” Fulton threatened.

“Or maybe God was backing me up,” Portman countered.

Luis finally spoke up. “So the only actual problem here is that you don’t have a plant to beat up?”

When the Bash Brothers responded in affirmative, Luis gestured out into the hallway. In true Eden Hall tradition, it was decorated throughout the hallways to impress any visitors that did not venture into the rooms. There were plants in baskets hanging from the ceiling, flowers in vases, plants in pots on window sills and most impressively, there were yucca plants (which were more like small trees—about three or four feet in height sitting in large terracotta pots) at each corner of the hallway.

The Bash Brothers exchanged a glance. “The yucca,” they decided in unison.

Averman had to agree that it was a good choice, it would take the Bashes years to dismember it. He and Luis began collecting up the books that were scattered about the room, as the Bashes carried the plant to its new home.

“Like Mr Stiles is not going to notice that it’s missing,” Luis said. “He’ll want to do dorm inspections until it returns.”

Fulton gave him a withering look. “Who the hell would want to steal a plant?”

“Valid point.” Luis conceded.

The Bash Brothers sat down with Luis and Averman, and began to discuss the new rules—this plant was obviously going to be harder to break than the flowering fern. After an hour, only one thing was agreed, Portman was never to throw the Bible at a plant again.


Six: The Still of the Night

There will be more confusion, bafflement, mixed-signals and plant-killing before the happy ending. Why do I keep killing plants? Well, that’s because they are evil and pathological liars. I once had a fake cactus (having realised that I was the botanical grim reaper), that was my pride and joy. After two years it suddenly burst into flower. I drowned it in the fish pond. I had to. Very dangerous to have plants that suddenly explode into life when they are apparently synthetic. Let this be a lesson to you all: Plants are not to be trusted. Constant Vigilance.


A couple of weeks passed without very much happening. Charlie finally caught on that there was nothing romantic going on between Luis and Averman, and kept stammering out apologies at random intervals.

Luis and Averman had their first fight since rooming together. Averman told Luis not to come to drama practice again because it would only increase the rumours—rumours that Averman himself professed not to care about, but implied that Luis might—and Luis had been enraged at the thought that he might be labelled a homophobe. It got very heated and culminated in Luis yelling “Screw the damn rumours!” and stomping out in a raging huff, slamming the door hard enough to crack the framework. They didn’t speak for two days, but on Thursday he turned up at Averman’s practice anyway.

Mr Stiles reported that one of his prize yucca plants had gone missing, and should he find the culprit they would be severely punished. The following day, he reported that two ferns and a fuchsia had been stolen also. He insinuated that a suitable punishment would consist of the guilty party swinging by their toenails over an incinerator while small devils poked them with large pitchforks.

Aisha kept turning up at Luis’ locker, or outside his classes at almost regular intervals, making small talk and finally asking him if he wanted to go see a movie. Luis turned her down, claiming a prior engagement with Averman. She in turn asked if the rumours were true, he was sorely tempted to lie, but was unable to keep a straight face.

Annie and Terri threw a party in their room and invited the Ducks. Terri drank far too much tequila and spent the entire night being ill with Charlie looking after her, which, to Luis and Averman, was a godsend. Unfortunately twenty minutes later Ms Harper, the girls’ dorm supervisor, burst in and broke up the party. The only ones who did not get punished where Terri and Charlie, who had gone outside to get some fresh air. Adam got the worst punishment, because by that time he was horribly plastered and decided to serenade Ms Harper with a very drunk rendition of Twinkle, twinkle, little star (which actually came out as “Twunkle, twunkle, leeeeetle moooooooooooooon…”) and then he threw up on her shoes. Terri served her detention a week later when Ms Harper realised that the party had been held in her room. Terri claimed that she hadn’t known anything about the party and wasn’t there at the time. Ms Harper said that she understood that, then doubled Terri’s detention for being out of her room past curfew. The dorm supervisors were nothing if not fair.

Mr Stiles later reported that someone had damaged one of his remaining yucca plants. This was actually not true, it was not the remaining one that was damaged, it was the missing one. When it became too tattered, the Bashes merely exchanged it for a more sturdy counterpart.

With regard to the rumours, Averman’s uneasy feelings towards Luis seemed to be growing now that he had acknowledged that there was a possibility that they existed, but he believed himself to be acting normally. Luis did not share his viewpoint. Luis thought Averman had gone stark-raving mad. Nobody else seemed to notice that now instead of being hyper on Thursdays, Averman was hyper all week, which consequently had him on detention almost every evening and skating laps every morning for Coach Wilson. It was a wonder he had the energy to be hyper after that. And then he seemed to vanish into thin air on a regular basis, as did Annie—who Luis presumed was with her new love interest. To counter-act this, Luis often found himself lurking in the Bash Brothers’ room, beating up their plant or trying not to bleed from the ears when they played music at what they called an “acceptable level”.

So generally, it was a typical fortnight at Eden Hall. Which meant that sooner or later something would inevitably come along and shake things up. As it turned out, it was sooner.


Averman yawned and blinked a couple of times, cursing the jerk who was knocking insistently on his door. He felt like he’d only just gone to sleep. He checked the time, it was just gone one a.m.—so he had only just gone to sleep. He had cornered Annie some time after dinner and he had been picking her brains. What he really wanted was her opinion, did she think he was gay? She wouldn’t give him her opinion, she kept telling him that she didn’t want to sway his feelings one way or another. In frustration, Averman had finally yelled, “What is it with you mentor types? Why can’t you just answer a simple question? You’re a modern day Mr Miagi.” When Annie was done giggling, she gave her opinion, it wasn’t much, but she pointed out that if he was pondering it this deeply, perhaps that meant there was something to ponder.

He’d been reflecting this until he finally fell asleep, and now someone was pounding on the door. Mendoza was sleeping peacefully, somehow able to ignore the knocking.

Averman hauled himself to his feet and swung the door open angrily, ready to tell whoever was on the other side of the door exactly what he thought of them. The angry tirade of words died on his lips as he saw who was on the other side. It was Shelley, Mindy’s younger sister. Despite his sleepiness, his observant eye took in her pink and white striped pyjamas, which she had hastily thrown a grey Eden Hall sweatshirt over, the tangled disarray of her hair and her bloodshot eyes. Shelley was much like her older sister, both in looks and attitude. She was captain of the JV Cheerleaders, quite the brainiac and very popular. She was also known as the most well-groomed Freshman in Eden Hall history.

Wordlessly he opened the door wider and gestured that she come in.

She went straight to Luis’ bed and tapped him on the shoulder. When that didn’t work, she shook him gently.

“Mindy?” He asked in confusion.

Shelley let out a small sob. “No, Shelley. You have to wake up.”

Luis rubbed his eyes, and reached over and turned on the lamp. All three of them blinked painfully as the light hit their eyes.

“What’s going on?” Luis asked, propping himself up on one elbow.

Shelley gripped his forearm and from where Averman was standing, he could see that she was unconsciously digging her nails in. “There’s been… the car… it… wasn’t her fault.”

Luis shook his head. “What are you saying?” He asked, although Averman noted from the gleam of fear in his roommate’s eyes that he was beginning to understand.

“There was… ice on the road,” Shelley said disjointedly, she swallowed heavily. “They lost control. She’s… gone.”

“Shelley! Who?” Luis freed his arms from her grasp and gripped her wrists. Averman noted there were four half-moon dents in Luis’ arm from her nails.

“Mindy.”

“No.” Luis shook his head.

Saying it out loud seemed to help Shelley get a grip of herself. “They were going to tell you in the morning, but I thought you’d want to hear it from me. I have to go now, my parents are picking me up.” She disentangled her wrists from his hands and got to her feet.

Luis made no reply, but fell forward on the bed, pulling his pillow over his face.

Averman let Shelley past then touched her on the shoulder. He’d never spoken a single word to her, but now he had to say something. “Um, thanks for telling Luis in person,” he said softly. “And I’m really sorry about Mindy, tell your parents, ok?”

She gave him a watery smile and nodded, then left.

Averman closed the door and turned back to Luis, a little unsure of what to do. He settled for kneeling beside the bed and reaching out a tentative arm to pat Luis’ back reassuringly. “I’m really sorry about Mindy,” he said again.

When he got no reply, he asked, “Do you want me to go get Annie?”

Luis shook his head, or at least, Averman assumed that’s what he did, it was hard to tell through the pillow.

“Ok, then, well… I’ll leave you alone.” Averman finally decided. He didn’t really know what to do, he hadn’t lost anyone before, except his great aunt, and he’d only met her twice. And when Hans had died, it had been a group bereavement, something they all had to deal with together. He couldn’t imagine what Luis was going through, Mindy had been his girlfriend for three years, and there was no question of how much he had loved her.

“No, stay,” Luis said, his voice hoarse.

So Averman stayed where he was. He supposed nobler people did not think about how their knees were cramping in situations like this. And flat-out better people knew exactly what to say to their friend when they needed them.

Luis pulled his head out from under the pillow and moved across the bed, flattening himself against the wall, when Averman made no move, he looked him in the eye, then patted the space beside him. Averman faltered momentarily, then climbed in beside him, pausing to turn off the lamp. He was careful to keep some space between the, his mind dimly reminding him of the unspoken rules of being a guy, one of the main ones being thou shalt not climb into bed with your roommate and hug him like a girl.

Hesitantly he reached out and squeezed Luis’ shoulder, feeling completely out of his depth. Schools should provide some form of bereavement training, he thought distractedly, some form of instruction as to what to say, how much touching is enough and at what point the line is drawn. He was alarmed to find Luis shaking beneath his hand, and he realised that his roommate was crying silently.

Suddenly he didn’t really care what the rules were and he wrapped his arms around Luis, holding him as he cried, one hand stroking the back of his neck in a soothing manner. Eventually the hitching sobs became less violent, and Luis’ breathing eased, and finally slowed back to its usual rhythm. Averman wondered again if he should say something, but realised that Luis was asleep.

He decided to wait a few minutes to make sure Luis was fully asleep before getting out of the bed and getting into his own.


Averman’s first waking thought was of extreme discomfort. His left arm had gone numb, his right was trapped in the covers or something and seemed quite unmovable, and his head was resting awkwardly against… it had to be the wall, because pillows were usually soft. Add to that Luis’ alarm clock was screeching loudly and it was not a good start to the day.

He paused, why was the beep from Luis’ alarm clock seemingly coming from behind him? He opened his eyes cautiously, and he suddenly remembered the events of last night. Shelley visiting… Luis’ grief…

Which was why he was in Luis’ bed. His arm was numb because Luis was lying on it, his other hand was not trapped in blankets, but held firmly in place with Luis’ interlocking fingers.

“Turn it off,” Luis said groggily. “I’m not going to class today.”

“Ok.” Averman tugged one of his hands free from Luis and hit the clock hard enough for it to make a distressed final beep and then the numerals flashed off.

“Will you stay here too?” Luis asked, tentatively. “Keep me company?”

“Sure.”

Luis rolled over, finally freeing Averman’s trapped arm, and turned to face him. “Thanks for last night, a lot of people would have talked endlessly and said stupid things. Thanks for just being there.”

“It’s ok,” Averman replied. “You’d do the same for me. But I think you’ll have to make a public declaration that I went a whole twelve hours without saying anything stupid, because nobody would believe you.” He bit his lip, now wasn’t the time to be making jokes, even as lame as that one.

Luis looked at him thoughtfully. “You’re a far better person than you give yourself credit for,” he decided finally, his eyes closing again.

Averman lay back against the pillow, his eyes also closing. He fully meant to get into his own bed, it wasn’t even that far. He supposed it would even be possible to get back into his own bed without touching the floor. While puzzling out the easiest way to do this, he too fell asleep. His arm crept unconsciously around Luis once more and Luis rested his head on Averman’s shoulder.

And this was how Charlie found them ninety minutes later, when Coach Wilson had sent him to investigate why two of his players were missing from a practice.


Seven: Nothing Lasts Forever…

At lunchtime, Annie appeared at their door. Averman had got up around eleven, but Luis had flatly refused to get out of bed, so Averman had to talk to her.

“Is he ok?” Annie asked, as Averman stepped out of the Shoebox and shut the door behind him.

Averman considered the question. “Probably not, but no more than the average person in the first stages of grief.”

“I heard about Mindy. One of Shelley’s friends told me, she was under the impression that Mindy and I were good friends,” Annie said. “Will you tell Luis I’m sorry?”

“Sure,” Averman replied, musing on the weirdness. Annie had been Luis’ best friend since about halfway through freshman year, Averman himself had known him longer, but they had only become close recently, but Luis couldn’t seem to deal with anyone but Averman.

There was a silence that wasn’t entirely awkward, and Averman made a move to go back to the Shoebox.

“Wait.” Annie bit her lip and took a deep breath before continuing. “There’s rumours about you two again.”

Averman shrugged. “So what?”

“No, I mean, most people haven’t heard about Mindy, the Dean wants to make a formal announcement at an assembly tomorrow. Charlie came up to your room to see why you two weren’t at practice today.”

Averman shrugged again.

“You didn’t lock your door. He walked in and found you guys asleep together. He lied to Wilson, but as far as the Ducks are concerned, you two skipped practice because… um, well… you were too tired… after…”

Averman gave her a wry smile. “I don’t think Luis will care. He’s barely functioning at the moment. And the Ducks don’t really care if it’s true or not, it’s just gossip.”

Annie nodded. “Yeah, I know. I just thought I’d give you a heads up in case Charlie gave you another speech.”

“Thanks.”


“I should probably call Mindy’s parents,” Luis decided suddenly.

Averman gave him a surprised look, not so much his words, but the fact he was speaking. Luis had been pretty stoic all day and limited himself to one-word answers. “Ok.”

“I should. I should express my condolences and ask about the service. Mindy would have called my parents if it was the other way round,” Luis continued.

“You need a phone. I’ll go find one,” Averman said, getting to his feet and throwing aside the book he had been reading.

“I could use the communal one in the hall.”

Averman gave him an appraising look. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you look awful. I know that probably doesn’t matter to you, given the circumstances, but people will stare at you and you’ll hate it.”

Luis considered this. “You’re probably right. So, where are you going to get a phone from?”


“Banksie!” Averman gave him a big smile.

“Hello, Averman.” Adam said cautiously. When Averman smiled big at you, it often meant bad things.

“Can I borrow your cell phone?”

“No,” Adam replied firmly. “Last time you borrowed it you changed the language to Arabic and I spent fourteen days trying to change it back.”

“And I apologised.”

“Yes, twelve days after I managed to change it back. You apologised a whopping twenty-six days after you screwed up my phone.”

“And I only apologised because Charlie had me in a headlock,” Averman added helpfully.

“Exactly!”

“Would you like me to apologise in advance in case I do something wrong?”

“Oh that’s very inspiring,” Adam scoffed. “And didn’t I already say no?”

“Adam,” Averman began seriously. “I’m not going to screw up your phone, I’m asking for Luis, he needs to make a call and he can’t use the phone in the hall because everyone will be listening.”

This got Adam’s attention. “Is he coming out to his parents?” he asked with interest.

Averman sighed. “If I said yes, would you lend me the phone?”

Adam got up and took his phone out of a drawer and offered it to Averman. “If anything happens to this phone while it’s in your care, I will behead you and impale your remains on the flagpole.”

“Good threat,” Averman nodded approvingly. “Although that’s rather public and the Dean may object.” He noticed Adam withdrawing the phone, and quickly put on a serious face. “Honestly, I’ll be good.”

Adam reluctantly handed over the phone. “So, are you gay now?” He asked. “I kinda wondered about you, I thought you might be. I don’t get why everyone thinks I’m gay. I ask girls out and they think that I’m trying to make Charlie jealous.”

Averman hid a snort of amusement. “Well, you do dress very neatly.”

Adam looked alarmed. “But that doesn’t make me gay, does it? Plenty of people dress neatly. Look at you, you don’t and you’re gay… then again, Luis does…”

“I’ll leave you to ponder the weirdness,” Averman said, backing out of the room.

Part of him wanted to relay the conversation to Luis, just to see if it would make him smile, but another part of him decided it wasn’t the time.


“Just so you know,” Averman said, handing the phone to Luis. “I had to leave my soul as a security deposit to borrow this phone.”

“Thanks.” Luis’ distracted response reinforced the idea that telling Luis that the Ducks were now convinced that the two of them were a couple was a pointless and inappropriate idea.

“You want me to go away while you call them?” Averman offered.

Luis gave him a grateful look. “Would you mind?”

“Not at all, I’ll go find Charlie. I assume you won’t be at practice tomorrow?”

Luis sighed. “That’s a fair assumption.”

“I’ll go make excuses.”


Finding Charlie was easier said than done, Averman assumed that Charlie wouldn’t be in his dorm room, since when he’d visited Adam he wasn’t there. So he went to Terri’s room, Terri was surprisingly alone, and kept him talking for twenty minutes about Aisha—offering to paint the Shoebox in exchange for him setting up a date for Aisha with Luis. The irritating purplette seemed to have no concept of the word “no”.

His next stop was Goldberg’s room, Terri claimed that she heard Charlie say he meant to speak to him. Goldberg eyed him suspiciously for a few minutes before proclaiming loudly that he should not be ashamed of himself, but proud. He likened being gay to being overweight, and that if people didn’t accept him for what he was, they were the ones who should be ashamed, not Averman.

Averman finally promised to have lunch with him the next day to discuss things fully and was able to make an exit.

He worried that the rest of the Ducks would have similar speeches for him.

It turned out that his worries were perfectly reasonable. Two more speeches later (Guy—who said that Connie felt the same—and Dwayne both expressed support for his “alternative lifestyle”) and he was outside Adam and Charlie’s room again, ready to tear his hair out.

He knocked and wandered into the room, noting that the room was huge… and divided down the middle with silver duct tape—something he had not noticed when he borrowed Adam’s phone. Charlie was sitting on the bed reading a magazine, Adam was at the desk working on homework. There was a stony silence between them.

“Hey, Charlie. I’ve been all over looking for you,” Averman said.

“I didn’t tell anyone! I swear!” Charlie said quickly.

Averman blinked, unsure of what it was that Charlie hadn’t told everyone. “Ok,” He said slowly, lacking both a better response and the interest to investigate.

“No seriously, I only told Banksie.” Charlie glowered in his roommate’s direction.

Averman opened his mouth to ask what it was that Charlie was talking about but Adam got there first. “Oh, blame me, why don’t you?” Then added in an undertone, “Just like always.”

“Well, to be fair—”

“Oh yeah, it’s always my fault!”

“Hey!” Averman yelled in frustration. “Whatever you’re talking about, that’s not why I’m here.”

Charlie and Adam shut up and gave him their full attention. A look of comprehension slowly broke across Adam’s face. “You broke my phone.” He accused.

Averman glared at him. “No! I did not break your damned phone and the two of you will shut the hell up until I finish what I want to say. Every single room I’ve been to this afternoon, I’ve been talked at, and nobody has listened to a damned word I’ve said, so shut your mouths!”

Both Charlie and Adam’s jaws dropped, and Averman tried to remember the last time he had shouted at either of them. He came to the conclusion that he never had before, which explained why they looked so shocked. Charlie made a nervous “carry on” gesture.

“Luis won’t be at practice tomorrow, probably not all week. That’s all I had to say. I have no idea what you two were talking about, and I don’t care. Mindy died last night, and Luis has been knocked flat on his ass by it.” He took a deep gasp of air, suddenly done and quite proud of himself for finishing. “Um, that’s it,” he said, noticing that the two of them were waiting expectantly, as if there should have been more to his tirade.

“Um… ok,” Charlie replied tentatively. “Why don’t you skip practice too? I expect he’d like to have you around.”

“Thank you.” Averman suddenly felt tired. It suddenly occurred to him that he hadn’t eaten all day and neither had Luis. This was a situation that had to be remedied urgently. “I’m gonna go find something to eat, you two can go back to your argument if you want.”


“What do you think happens when you die?” Luis asked, breaking the silence between them.

Averman turned to face his roommate in the darkness. After he had got back from the cafeteria, he had forced Luis to eat a sandwich. Luis had promptly gotten sick and Averman had spent the following twenty minutes rubbing his back and getting water for him to sip slowly. When they got back to the Shoebox, Luis had lapsed into a sombre silence.

Averman has used this time productively to change Adam’s phone settings once more, he changed Adam’s pin code to his own birthday numbers, then changed the language to Turkish. Luckily only Charlie was in the dorm when he returned it—a very distracted Charlie, so Averman surmised that a half-naked Terri was in the room with him, a visual that terrified him and reinforced his potential gayness.

When he returned it was dark and Luis was in bed, the covers pulled over his head. Averman followed suit shortly after. They had been lying in the dark for so long that Averman thought Luis was asleep again.

“Well?” Luis prodded, pushing the covers back and peering at him.

“I think…” Averman paused to get his thoughts in order. “You know that feeling when you’ve had a long and tiring day, when you’ve been so busy that you couldn’t sit down for five seconds, or call your friend, or do anything you really wanted to?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, when you finally get home and you climb into bed and it’s warm and familiar and you feel safe. I think that feeling is what it’s like when you die.”

“You don’t think there’s an afterlife, or heaven, anything like that?” Luis persisted.

“I don’t know. I personally don’t think so, but I’m hardly an expert on religion or theology,” Averman replied. “Besides, aren’t you Catholic, don’t you have the heaven theory firmly in your court?”

“Mindy was an atheist, although her parents are religious,” Luis said. “I was trying to think of what else might be out there.”

“Maybe it’s whatever you want it to be. It’s all subjective and based on your own beliefs,” Averman offered. “I mean, if you were tired and didn’t want there to be an afterlife, it just stopped, if you wanted there to be heaven, it was there for you, if you wanted to be reincarnated, you could be. From what I’ve read and heard, God seems like a pretty fair kinda guy, I think He’d probably let something like that happen.”

Luis smiled at him from across the room, his teeth seemed to glow blue in the moonlight, while the rest of his face was a mass of shadows. “I think I like that idea,” he said.

Averman wondered if he should ask about the funeral. Maybe Luis wanted him to go with him, for moral support, or maybe he even wanted to talk about it.

“The funeral is on Friday,” Luis said, as if reading his mind. “Would you…” He swallowed sharply, his throat making a loud clicking sound.

“Do you want me to go with you?” Averman offered.

Luis nodded, or so Averman assumed, noticing the way the light reflected slightly differently as Luis moved. “Yeah, I do. I don’t want all the Ducks to go, because they never really got on with Mindy, it would seem…”

“Fake?” Averman suggested.

“Yeah.”

“But what about me?” he asked. “I didn’t know her either, and I have to admit, I did follow the herd with my opinion.”

“I don’t know, but you’re different, you’re my friend,” Luis replied slowly.

“Why don’t you tell me something about her?”

“Like what?”

“Anything. I never really talked to her, but you loved her, and I feel like I missed out on knowing her. What was she like?” Averman asked, honestly curious. As a drama student, he made a habit of watching people interact, or looking at people and guessing their life stories based on their clothing, what shopping they were carrying, their expressions.

“Well, I don’t think either of us planned on falling in love. I know I didn’t. At first it was just another way to get at Varsity, and you have to admit, she was a very pretty girl. And I didn’t have any plans on staying faithful to her, but she just got to me, you know?”

Averman nodded slightly. He was beginning to understand that feeling.

“And I’d chat up girls, just for the sake of it, but it was boring. I just kept thinking ‘she isn’t Mindy’.”

Averman smiled. “So what about Mindy? Who said the L-word first?”

Luis thought for awhile. “She did. She didn’t love Riley, they were together because it was easy. She was always being elected queen of this, and president of that, and Rick was always being voted in as king, it was just easier for them to start dating. That’s what she said anyway, I think she might have been bolstering my ego though.”

“I don’t know, she threw Riley over pretty quickly once she met you,” Averman pointed out.

“But nothing lasts forever,” Luis said morosely. “Do you think that’s it? That all I was supposed to have were those three years with Mindy? Now I’m just going to spend the rest of my life wishing other people were her?”

It occurred to Averman that he possibly should have been irrationally hurt that Luis hadn’t considered moving on from Mindy, even though they’d been broken up for over four months, but he wasn’t. He was more concerned about Luis’ state of mind. “No. I think you were just lucky that you managed to fall in love so soon. Look around the team, Adam’s still not had a relationship that has lasted more than three dates because of his shyness, the Bash Brothers refuse to date because girls keep expecting them to be the clichéd bad boys with hearts of gold, Goldie is still hanging on to his devotion to that Lucy girl who broke his heart in junior year. And of course, there’s me.”

“You’ll fall in love soon,” Luis assured him. “And whoever it is will be very lucky.”

A silence fell over them that was not entirely awkward, but was far from comfortable.

“So, uh…” Averman groped for something to say that wasn’t completely stupid. “The service on Friday, what time is it?”


Eight: …Even Cold November Rain

The rain started on that Wednesday, and kept going with no sign of letting up. The school grounds quickly transformed themselves from lush green fields into deadly bogs and marshes. Students alternated between squealing and running from one shelter to another, or piling a folder on their head and strolling along, making jokes about arks if they had to venture outside. Or so Luis observed from his position by the window.

He had avoided school all week, the school nurse had been sent to see him, and was eyeing him with extreme concern. She signed him up for a counselling programme, which Luis had every intention of avoiding. He was quite happy holed up in his room, observing the activities of the students from behind his rain-splattered window.

Except that he was far from happy. He couldn’t believe that Mindy was gone. Mindy of all people. The girl who took her squad to the nationals every year and brought home the first place trophy, the girl who was elected Queen of every single dance without fail. The girl who had been so full of life had ceased to exist.

Averman had been dragged back to class, they had let him off the first day, but halfway through the second Charlie had come up with a message that if Averman didn’t show up to the next class he’d be on detention for life. Luis resented the school for that. Didn’t they realise that he wanted Averman around? That Averman’s presence made dealing with Mindy’s death just a little more bearable? That Averman knew exactly what to say and do?

Averman wasn’t exactly playing by the rules though; during study periods he came back to the dorm and sat with Luis. Sometimes he didn’t say anything, not even a greeting. He just took a seat beside him and they looked out the window together. At lunch he would turn up with some form of food and remind Luis to eat. He even missed drama practice in favour of sitting in silence with Luis. He would be missing afternoon classes today to go with him to the funeral.

Neither of their grades were flagging during this time though. Julie had been an absolute star, she had borrowed their timetables, contacted people in the class, copied their notes and done their homework for them, making sure she got a couple of questions wrong, just so it wouldn’t look suspicious. The rest of the Ducks covered for Averman when he was late to class. Luis was aware of this information, but couldn’t remember how he knew. Maybe Averman had told him.

Luis supposed that he was in some form of shock, because the hours seemed to pass quickly but he had no recollection of what had happened during them. He hated the way he felt. It wasn’t just the fact that Mindy was gone that had rocked his world, it was the fact that she was so young and had been so alive. If Mindy could die, anyone could. He could. Averman could.

He realised that Averman was in his thoughts a lot. A couple of months ago, Annie would have been here instead. She would have held him, and let him talk about Mindy. Instead Luis now talked to Averman. It felt better that way; Averman hadn’t known Mindy, whereas Annie and Mindy had been rivals. Whether Annie admitted it or not, she had desperately wanted to be captain of the cheerleading squad, but knew that while Mindy was there, she wouldn’t be. The two of them often fought about routines, and practice times. There were many “pranks” where one of them changed a practice time and did not tell the other, in an attempt to undermine each other’s authority.

So talking to Averman was better, he didn’t feel either way about Mindy, he neither liked nor disliked her. Averman had admitted that he wished he’d talked to her, instead of following the heard about “Riley’s Ex” as she had been known. This made Luis feel better, although he wanted human contact. Aside from the first night, and the occasional touch, Averman had generally kept in his own personal bubble of space. Luis just wanted to hold on to someone.

And it felt perfectly right if that someone was Averman.


Averman sat beside Luis in the church, trying not to fidget. Churches got to him, especially at times like this, when everything was so quiet and fraught. Because he did not lean towards any particular organised religion, Averman always felt guilty when in church. Like he should have made more of an effort to embrace some sort of faith.

Seeing Mindy’s smiling picture standing at the front of the church made him feel worse. From Luis’ stories of her, Mindy had seemed like a genuinely sweet girl, but he had never given her the time of day, based solely on his dislike for her ex.

Annie was seated in an aisle a few rows behind them, with the rest of the cheerleaders that had known Mindy. She looked wildly different in a dark suit with her hair tamed into a severe bun. All the cheerleaders did. It seemed very odd to see a bunch of such bright and vivacious girls sitting quietly.

When the minister started talking about Mindy, Averman was moved by the words. According to Luis, the minister had not known Mindy any more than he had, but as he recounted tales given to him from family members, Averman once again wished he had known her. If the Minister’s words were affecting him, how was Luis feeling? He glanced at Luis, who was visibly shaking, fighting the silent tears in the corners of his eyes.

Averman didn’t have a clue what to do. When someone cried it was obligatory to say “are you ok?” or something similar, which was just plain ridiculous, Luis was quite obviously not ok, and the reasons were just as blindingly apparent. Plus, talking during a funeral was considered bad form.

He reached out, not quite sure what to do, perhaps touch Luis’ arm in a reassuring way, but his fingers found Luis’ and somehow they became entangled.

Luis did not let go throughout the whole service.


Not everyone followed the coffin to the cemetery for the interment. The torrential rain discouraged most, and only Mindy’s closest family, armed with umbrellas, followed—and Averman momentarily wondered where black umbrellas came from, did everyone have them and only use them for funerals? His family had a couple of umbrellas at home, his sisters had whatever was trendy at the time, and his mother had a bright red polka-dotted one. Did people buy them, or did the funeral director supply them?

He shook his head, trying to clear the stupid thoughts from it. Luis had let go of his hand sometime between getting up from the pews and reaching the chilly exterior of the church. He hadn’t noticed it happening but, now that he was aware, felt rather lost without the connection between them.

He heard muffled conversations around them, about who was attending the wake, the vague utterance that it had been a lovely service and such like. He found himself wondering why people always whispered at funerals. While there was no logic to it, he found himself asking Luis in a very low tone what they were to do now.

“Can we just go for a walk or something?” Luis replied, in an equally quiet voice.

Averman gazed out into the pouring rain. “Sure.”

The cemetery was edged on two sides by roads, but on the other two it merged into woodland, and Luis led them towards that. Luis walked just fast enough to make conversation impossible, but slow enough to show he had no real destination. Averman wasn’t sure how long they walked, or how far, but he was aware that he was soaked to the bone, his pale skin had gone even whiter and his knuckles looked inverted in the cold. He was so wet that his untameably curly hair was flattened straight by the weight of the rain, where it paused before sluicing down his neck.

Luis finally turned back towards the cemetery itself, and eventually stopped beside Mindy’s grave, identifiable by a small black plastic marker that simply said “Melinda Jane Pinkerton, In our hearts forever” with the dates below. Averman understood that the walk had just been a way to kill time before saying goodbye to her by himself without all of her friends and family watching.

“Do you want me to leave you alone for a bit?” he offered.

Luis turned to look at him with bloodshot eyes. “No… please don’t leave.” He held out his hand again and Averman took a step forward and took it, it was like touching ice.

Luis returned his gaze to the freshly dug ground in front of them. Ground that was quickly becoming a mud puddle. His head was bowed slightly and, as Averman watched, a droplet of water skated down a strand of Luis’ gelled hair and plinked on the ground before them.

“I don’t get it, why isn’t there a better grave stone for her?” Luis said, his voice barely audible over the sound of the rain landing on everything around them.

“It’s a rule, just a law. You can’t put a proper grave stone up until six months have passed,” Averman replied.

“Why?”

Averman stayed silent, for fear that the words “possible exhumation” would upset Luis further.

“How do you even know these things?” Luis asked, when it became apparent that he’d figured the first answer out for himself.

“We did a play called Six Feet Under. Jenna and I came down to speak to the local funeral director about it, just to get some further knowledge,” Averman replied.

Luis lapsed into silence, and Averman just stood quietly beside him, his thumb idly moving over Luis’ trying to create some warmth in the bitter cold. “What’s going through your head?” he asked at length.

“That I don’t get it.”

“Get what? Death?”

“Yeah.”

“There’s nothing to get. It doesn’t make sense, there’s no reason for it mostly. Some people die young, some people die alone, some people die at the age of ninety, surrounded by loving families. There’s no logic. Nobody gets it.” Averman replied, not quite sure where his words were coming from, but appreciating—for the first time—that his mouth was sometimes quicker than his brain.

“I don’t want to die,” Luis choked out, ripping his hand away from Averman, and swiping angrily at the tears that were finally falling. “I don’t want anyone around me to die.”

Averman floundered for a few seconds, then acting on impulse he grabbed Luis’ upper arms and turned him to face him. “You’re not going to die. Nor anyone else in your life. Not now. Just because this has happened doesn’t mean that everyone will live short lives.”

Luis stared at the ground between them. “I couldn’t take it if this happened to anyone else that I… What if it happened to you?”

Averman slid his hands up to Luis’ face, and tilted it up, so he could look him in the eye. “I’m not going anywhere. Neither is anyone else. You’re grieving, but it will be ok. Not right now, not tomorrow, maybe not next month, but you won’t feel this way forever. It will get easier.”

Luis crumbled visibly, tears flowing freely down his face. Again Averman acted on pure impulse and pulled Luis close to him, wrapping his arms around his roommate. This was clearly the right thing to do, because Luis responded instantly, his arms weaving around Averman as he rested his head on his shoulder.

They stayed like that for a very long time, while all the raw grief that Luis had been holding onto worked its way out of his system.

“Hey,” Averman said in surprise when Luis’ tears began to taper off. “The rain’s stopped.”

Then he sneezed.


They caught a taxi back to school, the driver forced them to sit on plastic bags so as not to damage his fine (bog standard nylon) upholstery with their wet clothes. Luis observed worriedly that Averman was shaking and couldn’t get his teeth to stop chattering. They had both been shaking by the time the cab arrived, but Luis had stopped a few minute into the journey. He wanted to reach out and take Averman’s hand again, but the presence of the driver, who was giving them evil looks for dripping in his cab, made him hesitate.

Once back at Eden Hall, Luis shepherded Averman to their room to collect towels before sending him off for a hot shower to warm himself up. It seemed strange to be taking control when Averman had spent the past week forcing Luis to go about his life in a somewhat human fashion, he thought as he changed out of his wet clothes and hung them up to dry along the outside of the wardrobe.

“You look awful,” Luis observed, as Averman stepped into the Shoebox.

Averman mouth worked soundless for a couple of seconds, as he seemed to deliberate between acting offended or just replying. “Thanks,” he said finally in a very tired tone, as he flopped down on his bed, face down. He lifted his head and peered at Luis. “You look better though, in a drowned rat kind of way. More with it, less scary trance-state.” He winced and touched his throat gently.

“You want me to get you a hot drink?” Luis offered. “Or maybe soup?”

“Shouldn’t I be offering that to you?” Averman asked.

“You look ill,” Luis said bluntly. “And you’ve been running around after me all week.”

“The drinks from the vending machine taste like dishwater,” Averman said.

“Annie has a kettle in her room.” Luis smiled. “I’ll go make you a drink.”

Averman mumbled something into the pillow in a very sleepy voice. Luis smiled at him again and got up to go to the girls’ dorms.

Annie was not yet back from the funeral, he assumed she had gone on to the wake at the Pinkerton’ residence, but Terri was in the room. Luis withheld a sigh as he asked her if he could come in and use the kettle. She just opened the door for him, and flopped on her bed. Even Luis, who barely knew her, could tell that something was wrong. She seemed oddly subdued.

“I’m sorry about Mindy,” she said in a small quiet voice as they waited for the kettle to boil.

“Yeah,” Luis replied. He didn’t know how to respond to that statement, despite hearing it all week. He decided on a subject change. “Are you ok? You seem very quiet.”

She sighed. “I’m just having a dilemma. Someone told me that they have a crush one someone else but wouldn’t tell me who, but I get a feeling that the someone else is the same person who’s crushing on the first someone’s best friend. I have a feeling everything will unravel shortly.”

“I don’t understand a word you say,” Luis announced, pouring instant soup into Annie’s cheerleader mug.

“I get that a lot.”


“Averman, wake up.” Luis prodded his shoulder gently.

“I don’t feel well,” Averman mumbled in a sleepy tone.

“You don’t look it either, but you haven’t eaten today. Drink the soup.”

“Is it chicken?” he asked hopefully.

“Tomato, Annie doesn’t like instant chicken soup, says it tastes like chalk.” Luis replied.

“Valid point.” He eyed the cup. “It’s got a cheerleader on it.”

“It’s Annie’s lucky mug,” Luis replied, setting it down on the nightstand between the two beds, knocking a couple of items to the floor to make space.

“That doesn’t make it ok.”

“Drink the soup.” Luis repeated. His eyes lit up as he thought of a good encouragement. “I bet Banksie would drink the soup instantly. And he wouldn’t have cared what was on the mug.”

“You’re wrong,” Averman said, but he took the mug. “Banksie would have just slept quietly until he was better, he would not have announced he was ill. And he would have denied accusations that he wasn’t well too.”

“Just drink the soup. Or I will,” Luis replied, smiling slightly at the normalcy of the conversation. Given the past week, it felt good to have a stupid conversation with Averman.

Averman clutched the soup to himself, spilling a little on his pillow. “You will not. It’s my soup. I’m dreadfully ill.”

“Good boy.” Luis patted his head.

“Damn you and your mind games, Mendoza,” Averman muttered. But he drank the soup.


Nine: Don’t You Think That You Need Somebody?

This is set in November some time. I know the timing doesn’t exactly work out, but go with it. Anyone who doesn’t nitpick gets a cookie.


Saturday
The Bash Brothers appear at Luis’ door carrying a plant. They heard that Averman was ill and have come to see him. They don’t actually say it, but Luis believes they are also here to check he is ok and not thinking of killing himself. Luis is touched.

Averman sneezes four times in a row, and the Bashes refuse to sit on the bed with him for the next round of Plant Death Match due to his “lurgi”. Luis says they can sit on his bed and he’ll sit with Averman. Averman falls asleep three books into the game, his head on Luis’ shoulder.

The Bash Brothers exchange significant looks.

Sunday
Luis goes to the cafeteria and smiles winningly at one of the cooks until she caves and makes chicken soup for Averman. He feels very proud of himself.

Averman falls asleep halfway through eating the soup.

Later that day, Luis tries the same trick and successfully obtains two bowls of Strawberry Swirl ice cream. Again, he is proud.

Across campus, Annie desperately tries to tell the object of her desire that she’s gay. She fails and instead babbles on about cheerleading. She does not feel proud.

Monday
Averman wakes up for three whole minutes. He sneezes twice and Luis tells him to stay in bed while he fetches the nurse.

The nurse detains Luis for forty-seven minutes exactly (he knows because he kept an eye on the clock the whole time), asking him how he’s feeling since his recent bereavement. Luis finally yells “My roommate is dying!” to get her attention.

She keeps him talking for a further nineteen minutes about the feelings that a death can cause, such as paranoia and the fear that other friends will die.

At 10:03 a.m. Luis finally manages to get the nurse to visit Averman—who is once more asleep. She decides it’s flu, and then checks that Luis is aware that the flu is not fatal. Luis points out that it can be in certain circumstances. More talking ensues.

Luis finally goes to class at 11:17 a.m. He has a note from the nurse to excuse his absence.

In return for an agreement to go to counselling.

At 1:00 p.m. Luis charms the cook into giving him soup for Averman. As he carries it up the stairs it occurs to him that he hasn’t thought about Mindy all day, despite the nurse’s attempts to get him to open up. He wonders if this makes him a bad person.

By the end of the day, he decides that his isn’t a bad person, but makes a mental note to discuss this with Averman when he’s conscious. He stops at the cafeteria to get ice cream for Averman’s throat.

Further down the hall, Charlie and Adam hit an all-time low, and begin to divide up the closet, drawers and desk with duct tape. Charlie storms out, Adam continues taping and accidentally rips a photo of Charlie and Terri to pieces with an errant bit of tape. He hides it and hopes Charlie won’t notice.

Tuesday
Aisha corners Luis at his locker and asks if Annie’s ok, she’s been acting strangely recently. Luis has a fit of guilt and skips class to go find Annie. Annie claims to be fine.

Luis is caught lurking in the dorm hallway by Mr Stiles. He is given detention for that afternoon. He smugly points out that he cannot attend because he has an appointment with the school counsellor. Mr Stiles grudgingly lets him off. As Luis walks away, he ponders which may be the lesser of the evils, detention with Mr Stiles or talking to a stranger about his feelings.

At 3:00 p.m. the cook is ready and waiting with ice cream. She says they’re out of Strawberry Swirl, but have Raspberry Ripple instead. Luis wonders idly if he’s becoming predictable.

At 4:00 p.m. he turns up promptly to Mr just-call-me-Bill Robson’s counselling session. Just-call-me-Bill asks several questions about school and his grades as a gentle warm-up. Luis notes that just-call-me-Bill uses Luis’s name at both the beginning and end of each sentence. He also notes that just-call-me-Bill is wearing purple Converse sneakers with a brown suit. A supposed attempt at cool. He dimly remembers reading a Stephen King book with a tries-too-hard counsellor in it and can’t remember which book it was. He makes a mental note to ask Averman (should he be awake at any point that day) which book it was. Just-call-me-Bill casually says “Luis, you don’t want to be here, do you, Luis?” Luis vehemently agrees. Just-call-me-Bill replies “Well, there’s the door,” and make a nonchalant gesture. Luis thankfully walks out, leaving just-call-me-Bill wondering what the hell just happened.

Luis returns, wakes Averman up and asks about the book. Averman swears fluently, sneezes, coughs and falls asleep again.

Adam returns to find all of his possessions duct taped to the ceiling. He tentatively asks Charlie, “I take it you found the photo?”

Wednesday
Adam accuses Charlie of being a “megalomaniacal bastard”. Charlie responds that this is typical of Adam “using snooty words that nobody understands to be insulting”. Adam retaliates, implying that Charlie is stupid. Violence ensues.

Adam turns up at the Shoebox, asking if he can stay for the night, since he and Charlie will kill each other if they have to stay in the same room much longer. Luis enquires why Adam can’t stay in another room—any other room in the entire building would be (a) bigger; and (b) free of the flu virus. Adam tells him that nobody else wants to get involved. Averman wakes up long enough to observe that “Charlie is staying all alone in the biggest room on campus and the three of us are stuck in the Shoebox.”

Adam is not happy to be sleeping on the floor. He asks why Luis and Averman do not share a bed, but gets no reply.

Thursday
At 2:14 a.m. Averman wakes Adam and Luis up to inform them that he feels better. He then tells Luis that the book he was trying to think of was Apt Pupil and that the counsellor’s name was Ed, and the kids called him “Rubber Ed” and David Schwimmer played him in the excruciatingly bad adaptation. He adds as an afterthought that the kid who played Todd Bowden’s best friend looked a lot like Charlie.

Luis can’t remember, so they start rummaging in the closet for the video to check.

Adam enquires why Averman would have a copy of a film he hates, but gets no reply, as Luis and Averman are fully involved in the search for the illusive tape. They step on him four times.

By 2:21 a.m. Adam decides he’d rather face Charlie’s wrath than deal with Averman and Luis.

At 2:22 a.m. Averman flops back into bed exhaustedly and says, “Well, that got rid of him”.

Luis laughs for the first time in over a week.

Friday
Luis returns from class to find Averman awake and looking relatively healthy, and throwing books at the plant that the Bash Brothers left behind. Luis is overjoyed that Averman is well again, and he gathers up every book in the room for a very aggressive Plant Death Match.


“I’m bored.” Averman announced, in a voice that was still croaky from the flu.

“Me too,” Luis agreed.

“This campus sucks, there’s nothing to do.”

“Well, let’s get off campus. Neither of us have left since September, except for… that one time. We need a change of location,” Luis said, catching himself just in time. He didn’t like to mention Mindy, it still hurt. Averman’s illness had kept his mind away from the topic, but now that he was well again, and Luis wasn’t constantly running to the cafeteria for ice cream and soup, or to Julie for notes and homework, Mindy was able to flitter back into his mind and catch him off guard.

“I suppose we could go to the mall, maybe see a movie,” Averman suggested.

“That sounds good.”

“Do you want to invite Annie?”

Luis paused, his instinct had been to instantly say no. He didn’t know why, but he didn’t want to share Averman today. He was only just feeling better, and Luis did not want to have lots of people around—or even just one extra—now. He and Averman hadn’t had a decent or lucid conversation for about two weeks and now that they were both up to it, he didn’t want another person to infringe on that. “Um… I think she said something about spending time with her mystery love interest today,” he replied casually.

Averman smiled in response.

Twenty minutes later, the two of them were sitting on the hopper bus that endlessly circled between the mall, the school and various residential areas. Averman was bundled up in scarf and gloves at Luis’ insistence. Luis realised that Averman was staring at an old woman, about four seats ahead of them.

“Do you know her or something?”

“Starting to,” Averman replied.

“What?” Luis asked, completely baffled.

“I’m working out her life-story.” Averman told him. “It’s a lot of guess work, but there are a couple of clues.”

Luis shook his head. “I don’t get it. What do you mean?”

“Ok, I think she’s a widow—that’s just a guess based on the fact that she’s alone, but wearing a wedding ring.”

“Her husband could be at home,” Luis suggested.

“Yeah, but look how much shopping she has. If I was that old and my wife was going shopping for that many things I would go with her to give her a hand,” Averman replied. “She’s just been Christmas shopping for her grandchildren.”

“They could be for the kids next door who she baby-sits for,” Luis replied, not being difficult or argumentative, but wanting to hear Averman’s reasoning.

“That’s true, but I don’t think so.” He lowered his voice and shuffled slightly closer to Luis for fear of being overheard, and potentially offending the lady in question. “See her scarf? It’s worn and coming unravelled. If she can’t afford to replace it, it means that her money is spent on other things, bills, birthdays, Christmas… things like that. She’s not completely impoverished or anything, she just realises that if she wears a slightly old scarf, she use the money she would have used to replace it on other things.”

“Maybe it’s just an old favourite. Or maybe it only just started to wear this week and she hasn’t noticed—or just hasn’t had time to replace it.”

“She’s just been to the mall, if she wanted a new scarf, she’s been to the perfect place to get one. And if you look closely you’ll see that some of the wears have been sewn up. In different coloured cotton. Different wears, different patch jobs.” He grinned at Luis, then continued. “She’s got at least three grandchildren, boys and girls, just not sure of the ratio.”

“How do you know that?”

Averman nodded at the shopping bags piled at the lady’s feet. “She’s bought a Barbie, an Action Man and something else. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s brightly coloured and if you look closely, you can see the age is six months and up.”

Luis noted that Averman was right. He’d have never noticed that you could see quite a few details through the thin plastic bags if Averman hadn’t mentioned it.

“So what does that mean, oh all-knowing one?”

“Well, I know my Gran would never buy an action man for my sister, and generally people of the same age have the same mindset over things like that. So that means she’s got two grandchildren around the same age, one boy, one girl. The other toy is for a younger kid, what gender I don’t know.”

“What else?”

“She’s an organised person.” Averman replied. “It’s November, and she’s done her Christmas shopping. Since it’s the middle of the month, I’ll assume that she paid her bills first—at the beginning of the month, then went shopping with what she had left over.”

“What else?” Luis asked, positively intrigued.

“Well, that was as far as I got before you started asking me questions. Let me think a moment. I’ll see what else I can work out.”

At that moment, the bus came to a halt, and the lady gathered her shopping and got off the bus. She said goodbye to the driver, and he told her to have a good weekend. He called her Mrs Parsons.

“What do you make of that?” Luis asked instantly, but Averman was peering out of the window, watching the lady walk away.

Averman continued to watch her until the bus pulled away and she vanished from sight. “What do you think?” He asked in return, turning his attention back to Luis.

Luis shrugged, but thought about it. “That she’s probably one of those really nice ladies that always has treats for trick-or-treaters,” he decided.

“Why do you say that?”

“Because the bus driver knows her name. That makes me think that she’s the friendly sort who would strike up a conversation with a stranger.” His eyes lit up as he expanded on this. “Which might mean she’s lonely. That certainly lends credence to your widow theory.”

“See, not so hard, is it?”

“Was I right?” Luis asked.

Averman shrugged. “Who knows? I think you probably are. I think she’s independent and has a loving family, but doesn’t see them as often as she’d like.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Because the road she went down is residential, there aren’t any care homes down there. Therefore, she’s independent, and her family probably comes round to see her on a regular basis. Since she’s the friendly sort, it’s out of love, not duty. But it must get lonely living by yourself.”

Luis smiled, suddenly very glad that they hadn’t invited Annie along. This was the kind of thing that he didn’t want to share. Averman could be very interesting and intriguing when alone, though in a crowd, he seemed to slip back into his default mode of entertainer. He could be very amusing, but was not really… himself. Luis doubted the rest of the Ducks knew that Averman people-watched, and he felt rather special that he knew something they didn’t. “So who’s next?” he asked eagerly.

“Luis, old bean,” Averman slipped into a passable English accent. “There is no time, we have arrived. But rest assured, you may choose the next candidate on the way back.” He gave Luis a hearty clap on the shoulder, then got to his feet to exit the bus.

Despite their conversation on the bus, acknowledging that Christmas was approaching, neither of them were prepared for the extensively festive atmosphere of the mall. Small silver trees were suspended from the roof. One large one stretched from floor to ceiling in the gaps created by the mezzanine and was visible on all three floors. Baubles, wreaths and garlands laced every single available space. Signs proclaimed that Santa’s Grotto was This Way with a helpful hand pointing the way. Averman noticed that someone had graffitied the sign so now the middle finger pointed the way, instead of the first. Everywhere they looked, the mall staff were dressed as elves (their smiles varied in levels of genuine enthusiasm), and were handing out leaflets to anyone stupid enough to venture too close to them.

“I’ve died and gone to hell,” Averman said finally. “It looks like the Ghost of Christmas Present threw up in here.”

“They do realise that it’s not Christmas until next month, right?” Luis wondered.

“I bet the decs have been up since the beginning of October,” Averman said. “This is why I prefer to shop on the internet. Or I would, if my mother would just trust me with her credit card.”

“Eden Hall is beginning to look really appealing.”

“We can’t just stand here in horrified awe,” Averman decided. “We should find a shop to lurk in.”

“Where do you want to go?”

Averman shrugged. “There’s a junky bookstore around here somewhere. I like to lurk in there. People don’t usually go in there because they can get nice new shiny books from Barnes & Noble. I like to look for plays and stuff in there.”

“Lead the way,” Luis instructed, and Averman did so. “I suppose I’d better start my Christmas shopping.” He commented.

“Valid point. I must get my Secret Santa present today.” Averman agreed.

Every year the Ducks did Secret Santa, it was easier that way. On the first of December they would put their names in a bag and then pick someone at random. The limit was ten dollars, which made it easier on the wallet. Buying a nice present for one Duck was far better, and potentially cheaper, than buying twelve little things. Generally most of the Ducks bought their best friend or roommate a present also.

“We haven’t picked the names yet.” Luis pointed out.

“I know, but I always get a gift voucher. In Freshman year I got Julie, so I bought her some really expensive bubble bath and girly things, and she was allergic to it, her skin blistered.”

Luis laughed. “So you were to blame. I always wondered who that was.”

Averman continued. “The next year I got Connie, and didn’t want a repeat performance, so I got her a gift token.”

“You’ve convinced me, I’m buying a token too. I can’t believe I didn’t think of that before, I spent weeks shopping with Annie last year trying to figure out what to buy for Portman.”

Averman nodded wisely. “My plans always rock. After a lot of trial and error.”

“So are we doing gifts for each other as well?” Luis asked. “Just so I know.”

“Yeah, why not. I’ve spent far too long skiving off buying proper presents.” Averman replied. “But just as a warning, I’m going to have to start rummaging in your rubbish and reading your journal to get ideas.”

“I don’t keep a journal.”

“Damn it, Mendoza! Do not make life difficult for me,” Averman replied sharply, though he was smiling. “And now it’s settled. I’m buying you a journal for Christmas. Ha!”

Luis snorted. “Fine. Buy me a journal.”

Averman eyed him seriously. “You’re trying to trick me. You think that if you say that I won’t buy you a journal. Well, I fell for your mind games once, but never again. You’re getting a damned journal.”

“That’s ok. I want a journal now.”

“Good, ‘cos you’re getting one.”

“Good.”

“Good!”

Luis and Averman eyed each other for a few seconds, then broke into laughter. It felt to Averman like a very long time since they had laughed together. He hoped this was a sign that life was returning to normalcy. “Let’s get these gift tokens,” he said, realising that they were outside Barnes & Noble.

“Ok.”

Averman led the way to a counter with only a minimal queue, and they waited patiently to be served. “Are you sure you don’t want a journal right now?” he questioned. “We could get one here.”

“No thank you. I’ll wait for Christmas day and then fake surprise when I open your gift.”

“You’d fake surprise for me? That’s so sweet!”

“Can I help you?” the obviously harassed sales girl asked.

“Two ten dollar gift tokens please,” Averman replied politely, then turned to Luis. “Last chance to get yourself a journal.”

Luis grinned. “For the last time, no.”

“He’s a little shy. Sensitive soul, but very shy,” Averman confided to the sales girl.

“Averman, do shut up,” Luis replied.

“See what I mean?” Averman said to the bemused sales girl.

“Do you want to choose cards to put these tokens in?” She gestured to a rack of cards.

“You do it. You’re a girl, you’re genetically crafted to have better taste than us,” Averman said.

“I resent that,” Luis said indignantly, then turned to the girl in question. “Not that I was making a slur on your taste or anything,” he added apologetically.

“Luis, don’t insult the staff, it’s not nice. I apologise for my friend, I think he’s a little snitty because I told you what a sensitive soul he was.”

She grinned as she chose two cards. “Is that everything?” she asked Averman, “or does your friend want a journal?”

“Don’t encourage him,” Luis told her sternly, getting money out of his wallet. “I do apologise for… well, every word we’ve said in your presence.”

“That’s ok,” she said cheerfully taking the money from them both. “You’ve been the best customers I’ve had all day.”

“You’re having a really bad day,” Averman observed.

She laughed. “Merry Christmas.”

“It’s November,” Luis pointed out.

“And we’ve had next year’s calendars in our stock room since May. Time means nothing.”

“In that case, should I sing We Wish You a Merry Christmas?” Averman enquired.

“No,” Luis said sternly, grabbing his jacket and hauling him out of the store. “Again, I apologise!” he said over his shoulder.


“Luis! I must have this book!” Averman said enthusiastically, shoving a large and dusty book under Luis’ nose.

“What’s so special about it?” Luis asked, resting the book on the table in front of them so he could see it clearer.

“It’s The Never Ending Story.” Averman informed him. “In hardback. In copper silk. With the Auryn on the cover. Just like in the movie.”

“Never read or seen it.” Luis admitted.

Averman picked up a paperback from the table and smacked Luis firmly on the head with it.

“But now that you mention it, I will make a supreme effort to remedy the situation,” Luis added, rubbing his head. “Especially since you’re buying this book.”

“There isn’t a price on it,” Averman told him. “Go ask how much it costs.”

Luis sighed. “Why me?”

Averman lowered his voice. “Because the owner of this shop terrifies me. He’s evil.” It was true, the owner always made Averman feel like a thief or worse. He had a way of peering over his spectacles that was eerily reminiscent of Mr Stiles. Or possibly Satan. Assuming Satan wore glasses, that was. “I’ll come with you for moral support.”

“You want the book, you have to ask,” Luis replied.

Averman brandished the paperback again.

Luis sighed once more. “Unless, of course, you threaten me with violence. Then I’ll change my mind.”

Averman put the paperback down and followed Luis to the counter. “You’re so my bitch,” he gloated.

“Don’t push it, Averman.” Luis set the book down on the counter and smiled winningly at the guy standing there glaring at them. “Hi, this book doesn’t have a price on it, could you tell us how much it costs please?”

The owner cast a cursory eye over the book. “Ninety dollars,” he responded shortly.

“Ninety dollars! For a book?” Averman was stunned. In an I-should-have-expected-this kind of way. He had been hoping that since the book was in a used bookstore it would have been cheap. Most of his purchases from here had been under five dollars.

“It’s not just any book. It’s hardback. Bound in copper silk. With the Auryn on the cover. Just like in the movie,” he replied smugly, and Luis suspected that had Averman not reacted so enthusiastically to finding the book, the price would have been a shade lower.

“The question now is, do you want the book or do you need it?”

Luis turned to Averman, anticipating the answer.

“Ok, right this second I’m teetering on the edge of need, but the second I walk out of the door, I will go straight past the realm of need and be stuck in the void known as obsession. It will take over my mind and I will become increasingly crazy and I will pelt you with pretzels while you sleep chanting ‘I must have that book’.”

Luis turned calmly back to the bookseller. “We need this book.”

“Ninety dollars.”

“I don’t have ninety dollars,” Averman replied, turning hopefully to Luis. “Do you have any money I could borrow?”

Luis checked his wallet. “I have forty.”

“I only have ten,” Averman counted sadly. “And some change.”

“Well, that makes fifty,” the bookseller replied. “Which is forty less than you need.”

“Can’t you sell it to us for fifty?” Luis asked. “Wouldn’t you rather sell this book to people who really appreciate it, rather than some rich person who will buy it for their kids who will scribble all over it in crayon?”

The bookseller shrugged. “I don’t really care about the books after they leave my shop.”

“You’re a bad, bad ma—” Averman’s admonishings were cut off by Luis clamping his hand over Averman’s mouth.

“Here’s the thing. We need this book, we have fifty dollars, that’s more than half. Can’t we pay half now and come back next week and pay the rest? Like leaving a deposit?”

“Young man, does this look like a real estate agent’s office? Or a used car lot? I am a bookseller, I do not deal with holding deposits.”

“Fine, we come back next week with another fifty dollars, you’ve made a ten dollar profit and made two people very happy? Please. Think of the karmic reward, it’s nearly Christmas.” Luis couldn’t believe he was pleading—and throwing in Christmas—for a book he’d never even heard of ten minutes ago.

The bookseller sighed deeply. “I’m only agreeing because you’re both annoying me. I suppose you wouldn’t leave my shop until I agreed.”

Actually, that thought hadn’t occurred to either of them, but it seemed like a good idea to nod. Averman made a note of his details, and the book was placed under the counter. They left the shop feeling very proud of themselves. Averman offered to share a cup of coffee with Luis from his extensive pocket change before they caught the bus back to school.

Halfway across the mall, Luis suddenly stopped dead, patting his pockets frantically. “Gah!” He exclaimed in frustration. “Emergency! Wallet! Gah!”

Averman watched in interest. “Heart attack? I’ve seen one of those before. Our hockey coach before Bombay.”

“No. Wallet! I’m so stupid!” Luis hit his head to accentuate the point. “I left it in the store. I’ll be right back.”

“I’ll come with you.” Averman offered.

“Oh no you won’t!” Luis replied. “I want my cup of coffee. You go buy it, I’ll catch you up.”

“Fine. I’ll go buy the coffee. I’m not hurt that you don’t want me around.”

“I do, but only for your coffee, now go buy some or I’ll find someone else to shop with.”

They grinned at each other and set off in opposite directions. Luis’ grin was just a little wider than Averman’s.


Ten: An International Merger of Insanity

“I can’t believe you made us miss the bus,” Averman complained, taking a sip of his coffee, then passing it to Luis. “I’m going to get ill again.”

“No, you’re not. Don’t be so dramatic,” Luis chided, but straightened Averman’s scarf before he took the cardboard cup.

“What took you so long anyway? You’re the speedster of the team, it should have taken you two minutes max to get back to the shop for your wallet,” Averman observed.

“It wasn’t in the shop,” Luis replied. “I had to re-trace our steps to find it.”

“You’re lucky. If that was my wallet, it would have vanished. Not that there’s anything to steal, but there you go,” Averman said. “And I felt like such a loser in Starbucks. I thought you’d followed through with your threat to find someone else.”

“I’ll never find anyone to replace you.” Luis grinned. “Everyone else is too normal.”

Averman smiled brilliantly at him.

“Hey guys.” Averman and Luis looked up to see the Bash Brothers approaching them, laden down with bags, mostly from record stores.

“Hey,” Luis replied. “Buy anything good?”

“You would only wince if we played this stuff to you,” Portman said, indicating his bag of CDs.

“Have you heard the tragic news?” Fulton asked, taking a seat. He noticed Luis’ alarmed look and realised his wording wasn’t particularly tactful given recent events. “The Banks’ Christmas party is off. They’re being invaded by millions of relatives from all over the world.”

“A merger of International Banks?” Averman suggested, and the Bash Brothers gave him a withering look. Luis elbowed him and smiled. “And I suppose Adam’s ashamed of us in front of all of his relatives?” Averman continued in mock offence.

“Hardly. Adam’s staying at school for Christmas, he doesn’t get on with his cousins. They tend to band up with his brother and spend their time kicking the crap out of him,” Fulton said.

“So we’re staying at the dorms for Christmas too, showing a bit of solidarity,” Portman added. “What about you guys?”

“Any excuse to avoid the Averman invasion sounds good to me.”

“I wouldn’t mind not going home. My ears pop for three days after a flight,” Luis said thoughtfully.

“The dorms aren’t that bad over Christmas anyway,” Fulton said.

“Yeah, I mean, the Christmas dinner always sucks, with Stiles glaring at you, but there’s always an unofficial party that starts around midnight and ends around six when the teachers give up on their ‘hear no evil’ policy,” Portman said.

Luis and Averman exchanged glances. Neither of them had realised the Bash Brothers stayed at the dorms for the holidays.

“How come the teachers are so lenient about this party?” Luis asked finally.

“Would you want to take detention over Christmas? Bad enough you’re stuck supervising the losers that are stuck there, let alone one-on-one for an hour because they misbehave.” Fulton replied.

“As one of those ‘losers that are stuck there’, hey!” Portman responded.

“We’re seeing how many Ducks we can convince to stay. Sadly Charlie is one of them. Adam is probably contemplating going home now,” Fulton continued. “And you’ll be delighted to know that Terri is staying because of Charlie, then she begged your good friend Annie to stay. Annie forced Terri to agree to doing her laundry for a week and keep their room tidy for a month before she said yes. However, we know that Annie never goes home for Christmas anyway, so good for her. Goldie, Dwayne, Ken and Russ have already agreed to stay. We have yet to find Julie, Connie and Guy.”

“You’ve been busy,” Averman observed.

“We have indeed,” Portman said. “Ooh, bus.” He turned to Fulton. “You’re my lucky penny, man. I never have to wait long for the bus when you’re around.” He gathered up his shopping and got on.

Fulton rolled his eyes. “I read the timetable,” he explained to Luis and Averman.

“That idea would work for us too, if Luis knew how to tell the time,” Averman said, following them onto the bus. The Bash Brothers took the seat behind them, and Luis and Averman twisted in their seats to continue the conversation. Averman was highly aware that Luis’ knee was resting on his. They both had their arms crossed and were leaning on the seat back, Luis’ fingers were just touching Averman’s sleeve. A couple of minutes into the journey, Luis began to play with his sleeve. From the look on his face, Averman was fairly sure he had no idea that he was doing it.

Averman decided that he had to talk to Annie when they got back to the dorms. Annie knew about flirtation—she was a cheerleader, they talked about things like that endlessly, according to the movies Averman had seen. A conversation with Annie was definitely in order.

Luis shifted slightly, his leg moving slightly further up Averman’s. He appeared to be deep in conversation with the Bashes, and unaware of his movements. Luis turned to Averman and smiled. “Right?”

“Huh?” As responses went, this one wasn’t spectacular.

“Let me guess, you were thinking about that book?” Luis said.

“What book?” Fulton asked.

“A copy of Never Ending Story that Averman will just die if he doesn’t get. There were also threats of pretzel throwing,” Luis responded.

“Why throw pretzels?” Portman asked. “They crumble. Throw Jell-O instead, that wibbles.”

All three of them turned to stare at him. “I’ll bear that in mind, thank you.” Averman said finally.

“Speaking of Jell-O…” Portman began.

“We weren’t, we were talking about books,” Fulton reminded him.

“Then I mentioned Jell-O. Ergo, subject change.”

“My bad, please, do continue.”

“Annie and Terri have volunteered to make vodka Jell-O for the party.” Portman said. “They have a kettle, vodka and a fridge with ice tray in their room. They’re looking for more fridge owners.”

“There’s no room for us in our room, let alone a luxury like a fridge,” Averman pointed out, trying to keep a conscious focus on the conversation at hand.

“Well, your job can be to find the people who do have fridges,” Fulton explained slowly, as if dealing with a difficult toddler.

“Unless you missed it, we don’t have friends,” Averman said. “Just you two, each other and Annie. And the rest of the Ducks, but I suppose you’ve already talked to them.”

“Don’t be difficult, Averman. Whenever I see you, people always come up and talk to you,” Portman said.

Luis nodded. “That’s true.”

“They’re just people from the drama department,” Averman shrugged. “They’re not really friends.”

“They’re people who know you. It’s just Luis who’s the friendless loser.” Portman sent a grin in Luis’ direction.

“Even worse now that Averman and Annie get on, I don’t even have a whole friend to myself,” Luis said, smiling at Averman and continuing to idly play with his sleeve.

“It’s ok,” Averman told him. “I still like you.”


Luis knocked on Annie’s door, hoping and praying that Terri was out somewhere with Charlie.

“It’s open!” came Annie’s voice through the door.

He let himself in and found her sitting at her desk, leafing through a magazine.

“Oh. My. God!” she said slowly. “Luis Mendoza? Is that you? It feels like years since we last spoke.”

“Ha, ha,” Luis replied. “Is now a bad time to ask a favour?”

“What’s the favour?”

“To hold on to something for me.”

She quirked an eyebrow at him. “I don’t swing that way.”

“Shut up, Annie. I’m sending something to you, and I need you to keep it in your room. Do you mind?” He smiled winningly at her.

She sighed deeply, pushing a curl out of her blue eyes so she could glare at him fully. “Why would I mind? I don’t see you for god knows how long, and now I’m supposed to act as a mail forwarding service for you.”

“Oh no, not the guilt thing,” he said nervously.

“Yes, the guilt thing. I barely ever see you anymore,” she replied, standing up. “And I understand that last week your roommate was sick and the week before that things were difficult, but… before that you weren’t around much either.” Annie’s lip wobbled, and she bent her head low, using her hair to obscure her face.

“Annie…” he took a step towards her.

“No, I’m fine. Remember how fine I was last time you were being all ditzy? When you fell in love with Mindy, I was just fine!” she whimpered. “I’m your best friend and I don’t even know this person you’re falling in love with.”

“I’m not being ditzy. I’m just busy, and I’ve had a bad couple of weeks.” Luis paused as he processed Annie’s last sentence. “And I’m not falling in love.”

“You weren’t around much before everything with Mindy,” she pointed out, as tactfully as she could, her voice a little shaky. “When you vanish it’s generally because you’re in a loving bubble!”

“Annie…”

“Just… go away, Luis!” she snapped. “I’ll do the damned favour, just leave me alone!”

“Annie, don’t be like this.”

“Just go away!” She moved forwards and caught him by the shoulders, propelling him out of the door.


The minute the door was slammed she wiped her eyes and broke into a sunny grin. That would certainly give Luis something to think about. Annie wasn’t good at manipulation, and Luis wasn’t great about opening up about his feelings to her. The accusation that he was falling in love without mentioning who he was falling in love with seemed like the best way to give Luis a prod in the right direction.

There was a knock at the door seconds later. Annie opened it automatically, suddenly realising that she didn’t look depressed and idly running excuses through her mind in case it was Luis on an apology mission. Luckily it was Averman.

“I need to talk to you,” he said without any preamble.

“Does this have to do with Luis’ favour?” she asked, ushering him in. “Because I already said I’d do that.”

“What favour?” Averman asked.

“Ok, never mind. What’s the question?”

“How do you know someone’s flirting with you?”

“Gah!” Annie yelled. “He is, ok? He’s flirting. I just don’t think he’s noticed.”

“What does that mean?” Averman replied.

“It means that the two of you need your heads knocking together. You’re engaged in a very heavy game of verbal foreplay and it’s about time one of you did something to move on!” She flopped down on the bed dramatically. “And when’s the last time anyone showed any interest in my love life? Why does nobody ask ‘Hey, Annie, what’s up in your love-land?’… and why does that sound so dirty?”

Averman took a seat at Annie’s desk. “Um, ok. Annie, how’s your love life?”

“I’m not telling you. It might jinx it,” she said.

See? This is why we don’t ask.”

“It doesn’t matter what I reply! The question should still be asked!” she yelled.

“Are you on any form of medication?”

“I live with Theresa Anne McDowell. You try that for just one week and see how sane you can stay!” Annie said. “My brain hurts and I want to go back to bed.”

Averman got to his feet nervously. “Ok then, I’ll leave you be.” He paused at the door. “I do really care about you and your love life. Honestly.”

“I know you do.” She smiled at him. “I’m just stuck in the same situation as you, I don’t know if my beloved is gay. Although I think you’ve had more hopeful signs than I have.”

“Good luck with that.”

“Thanks.”


Averman let himself out of the room and began the trek back to the boys’ dorms. On his way he bumped into Aisha. Usually he’d duck behind a plant or into a doorway to avoid her, but remembered that the Bashes were on the lookout for fridge owners, so waved to her instead. “Hey, Aisha.”

She did a double-take, then walked over to him. “Hi,” she replied in a surprised tone.

“Do you have a fridge? It has to be one with an ice tray.”

“That’s got to be the weirdest question I’ve been asked all day. And I’ve just come from a counselling session with an idiot who wears purple sneakers with his suit.”

“Ah, just-call-me-Bill?” Averman asked.

“That’s the one.”

“So what were you there for?” He asked, then realised that it was a very personal question for the very second conversation he had ever had with her. “Forget I asked, sorry, I’m nosy.”

“Ah, just the regular teen angst. Abandonment issues. Mom and Dad won a holiday for two to Florida for Christmas so I’m staying at the dorms. I told them I was fine with it, but they worry a little, so they called just-call-me-Bill and I had to go talk about it,” she replied with a grin. “He asked me if I was a vegetable, which one would I be. When I said corn on the cob, he got very nervous.”

Averman grinned at her. When she wasn’t doing her girly-breathy-voiced-flirtation with Luis, she was actually an amusing person. “Well, I return to my question, do you have a fridge?”

“If I say yes, does it make me an axe murderer?”

“No.”

“Then yes.”

“Excellent, go see Annie.” Averman responded. “And the fact that you’re staying for Christmas is even better. She’ll fill you in. Oh, and tread carefully, she’s in an odd mood.”

“What’s up with her?” Aisha asked, looking concerned.

“I think it’s love stuff.” He decided. “You’re a girl, go give her chocolate and a hug or something.”

Aisha gave him an odd look. He shrugged. “I don’t know much about girls.” He admitted. “But that’s what they do in movies.”


“Where have you been?” Luis asked, as Averman entered the Shoebox.

“To see Annie.” He replied, crashing down on the bed. “She was in a weird mood.”

“I upset her,” Luis said.

“You did? How?”

“I made her cry,” Luis added morosely, ignoring the question.

“How?” Averman repeated. “Was it because you’re not showing enough interest in her love life? Because I got lambasted for that too. It doesn’t matter that she won’t tell us, we must remember to ask.”

Luis made no reply and slumped back on his bed, throwing an arm over his eyes so he wouldn’t be dazzled by the light bulb.

“Wanna go kill a plant with the Bashes?” Averman offered.

“No thanks.” Luis said, replaying Annie’s words in his head. Why was she so convinced that he was in love? He hadn’t been around anyone to fall in love with. Even Aisha had been around less and less recently. The only person he’d hung out with was Averman, so there was no-one he could have fallen in love with. But to Annie’s mind, he supposed it made sense. Although he’d met Annie after he started dating Mindy, Annie had been there to witness Luis falling in love for the first time, and put up with him breaking study-dates and turning up late to meet her, with surprising good grace.

“Are you ok?” He sensed Averman moving closer to him, and felt a tentative hand on his arm. “Are you thinking about Mindy?”

“Not exactly,” he replied. “Annie thinks I’m in love with someone.”

Averman instantly retracted his hand. “And are you?”

Luis noted that Averman’s voice was slightly shaky. He shrugged. “I don’t think so. There’s no-one to fall in love with.”

“Right,” Averman said in a tight tone. “You know, I think I’m gonna hunt for more fridge owners.” He left the room.

Luis sighed deeply. Was everyone going insane today?


Eleven: Don’t Cry

Averman knew he was being unreasonable. That wasn’t in question, he just didn’t know what to do about it. It was not Luis’ fault that he wasn’t in love with him. However, that didn’t stop him from feeling both rejected and resentful. Consequently, he had taken to avoiding spending much time with Luis over the past week.

Which was why he was sitting in Goldberg’s room, playing The Sims. Goldie was an official Sims nerd, he lived for the game, and even had a website displaying his houses and various objects he had made for the game. Averman had to admit, Goldie knew how to decorate a house. Averman also had to admit that he was crap at this game.

“Um,” Averman said tentatively. “Fire.”

Goldberg shot to his feet and started frantically shouting instructions. “Click on the fire, chose extinguisher! No, not with her! Children can’t use… Here! Let me!”

Averman moved away from the computer and let Goldberg take over. A few seconds later he turned to Averman and said reproachfully, “You killed Buffy.”

“Maybe she’s just taking a nap.” Averman suggested, pointing to the comatose pixelated effigy of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the screen.

Goldberg glared. “That’s the Angel of Death walking down the garden path. You killed her.” He paused the game and took a seat next to Averman on the bed. He sighed, then added grudgingly, “Oh well, at least I’ll have a nice ghost in the house now.”

“That makes me feel less guilty over my unintentional manslaughter.”

There was a moment or two of silence, then Goldberg gave him a curious look. “Ok, I wasn’t going to ask, but I can’t not. Why are you here?”

“You told me that you had the new Sims game and would I like to come over and play?” Averman responded.

“But in all the years I’ve known you and have asked you, you’ve never said yes,” Goldberg pointed out.

“Maybe I thought it was about time I stopped being so rude and actually accepted for a change?”

“Did you and Luis have a fight?” Goldberg asked. “You can tell me, I’m completely cool with it.”

Averman grunted in response, suddenly remembering that Goldberg was still under the impression that Luis and Averman were dating, and that he’d never actually gotten around to setting him straight on that count. For some reason it had never come up in conversation, and it had felt awkward to bring up as a brand new topic. Also, he had assumed that Luis had taken care of the rumours.

“You’ll make up. He loves you.” Goldberg paused. “It is love, isn’t it?” Before Averman could reply, he nodded to himself. “It must be. I’ve seen you two together. And he’s walking around with a face like a wet weekend at the moment, so he really must care about you.”

This jolted Averman out of his reverie. “He has?” He brightened momentarily, then sighed. “But I don’t think he loves me.”

“I’m sure he does,” Goldberg said reassuringly. “Someone has to.”


Luis was getting severely frustrated. He had been all over campus—twice—and still had not found Averman. He had barely seen him all week, and given their cramped living quarters, that was quite an achievement. And even when Averman was around things were weird. For the first time since September, there seemed to be an uncomfortable silence between himself and Averman. It appeared to have started after they got back from shopping, and for the past week things had been slightly odd in the Shoebox. Averman had moments of absolute insanity that alarmed even Luis, then would come the periods of awkward quietness.

Luis finally admitted defeat on trying to find Averman and returned to the Shoebox, only to find Averman already there, engrossed in a paperback. “Where have you been?” he asked.

“Setting fire to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and making ghosts with Goldberg,” Averman replied.

“I would ask but further explanation might scare me,” Luis said, taking a seat on his bed.

“Hrmm,” Averman replied distractedly, his attention returning to his book.

“Have I offended you in some way?” Luis asked, after several minutes of awkward silence.

“No. Why?” Averman replied instantly.

“Things are weird.” Luis commented. “You didn’t even wait for me on Thursday.” And it was true. Averman had vanished to drama practice without waiting for Luis in the cafeteria as was his usual plan, and when Luis turned up, Averman’s concentration was so shot to pieces that Mr Redfern took him to aside to talk to him about it.

“I told you, I forgot.”

Luis sighed. “Well, things are still weird.”

There was another lengthy silence and Luis contemplated going to find Annie just to have a conversation. Then again, she was being just as odd. When he turned up at her door to apologise for being heartless and all that stuff that he thought she wanted to hear, she had no recollection of their fight, and seemed to only realise what he was talking about nearly ten minutes into the conversation. The rest of the Ducks were just as bad. Connie and Julie had a tendency to coo over him, still believing that he and Averman were dating, Adam was apt to ask whether dressing neatly made him gay and Charlie either made speeches or yelled at Luis to get out of his room so he could kill Adam without witnesses.

“I had a bad week, ok?” Averman admitted.

“What?” Luis said, jerking back to the conversation at hand, instead of musing how not one of his friends possessed a single shred of sanity between them.

“I just had a bad week. Lots of silly little things got on top of me, and I didn’t think they were worth mentioning because before that you had the uber-bad week. You had genuine problems and mine is just silly school stuff.” Averman finished in a rush. “So, can we just forget it?”

Luis gave him a searching look, Averman was obviously not going to share whatever was troubling him at this moment, maybe it would be a good idea to change the subject. But then again, the weird silences were starting to get on his nerves. As far as Luis was concerned, Averman was his best friend and the idea that there was something even slightly wrong with their friendship at the moment was bothering him greatly.

“By the way, are we going to the mall tomorrow?” Averman asked in an obvious attempt at changing the subject.

Luis sighed. “I can’t, I’m sorry. I’m all out of money.”

“I’ll lend you bus fare. After all, I still owe you for the book,” Averman offered.

“Well, I said I’d hang out with Annie.” Luis added. Over the past week, he had been clinging to the faint hope that Averman had forgotten about the book, which, on reflection, was quite laughable.

“Oh.” Averman looked quite disheartened.

“But we could both hang out with her, and go to the mall another time,” Luis suggested.

Averman sighed deeply and, with that, silence reigned over the Shoebox once more.


“He hates me,” Luis announced melodramatically, flinging himself onto Terri’s bed, then moments later jumping back up to remove the various Poppels, Care Bears and other soft toys that were covering it.

“Stop being such a drama queen.” Annie barely glanced up from her nails, which she was painting in school colours. “And I hope you took note of the order those toys were in, Terri is strangely anal about things like that.”

“He’s avoided me all week, and now he hates me because I wouldn’t go to the mall with him.”

“Lester Averman does not hate you,” Annie told him sternly.

“He does.”

“Urgh, you’re so pouty.” Annie fanned her nails. “Have you talked to him?”

“And said what? ‘Sorry, Les. I can’t go to the mall with you today because I’m trying to organise a Christmas surprise for you’?”

Annie gave him another stern look. “You bore me. You’re such a drama queen.”

“How can a drama queen be boring?” Luis wondered.

“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”

“I think you covered that with ‘drama queen’. But thanks for the reinforcement.” Luis replied.

“Just talk to him, say things are weird and ask why.”

“I already did that,” Luis said. “It didn’t work.”

“Then I don’t know what to suggest.”

“You’re no help at all, Annie,” Luis complained.

“Why am I supposed to have the answers?” She asked in return. “Why do you always expect me to have good advice? Why isn’t ‘I don’t know’ a good enough answer for you?”

“You’re a girl,” Luis replied sweetly. “You’re more emotionally mature that me, you’re supposed to understand things like this.”

“Hrmm.” Annie considered this. “Despite the obvious suck up attempt, I still have no answers.” She smiled brightly. “But I can offer you chocolate and paint your nails to cheer you up.”


“He hates me,” Averman announced dolefully to Goldberg as they walked through the mall. He was so depressed that even people-watching wasn’t giving him the usual thrill of discovery.

“Luis Mendoza does not hate you. Stop being so dramatic,” Goldberg replied firmly. “Just talk to him.”

Averman pouted. He knew he was pouting, and hated himself for it, but seemed unable to shake his grotty mood. “He’s not here. He knew how much I wanted that book and he’s not here.”

“Maybe he has a very good reason,” Goldberg replied, in much the same tone a mother would use to coax a stroppy toddler out of a sulk. “Or maybe he genuinely forgot.”

“Or maybe he hates me.”

“You are being a drama queen. Nobody hates anyone—with the possible exception of Adam and Charlie. Stop pouting. We’ll go and get your book, then we’ll go back to the dorms and you can talk to Luis and find out why everything is so weird between you two.”

“Ok.” Averman sighed, trying to chivvy himself into a good mood. As they neared the store, his spirits did start to lift. Maybe when he got back, he and Luis could have a normal conversation, he could show Luis his book, and they would talk and everything would stop being strained between them.

And if not, he could take his book, show Goldberg, and then kill everyone in Goldie’s Sims house, including Willow, Xander, Faith, Angel, Spike and Tara. Well, maybe not Tara and Willow, it would be nice to show a little gay solidarity.

“Oh, it’s you,” the bookseller said disdainfully. He frowned in Goldberg’s direction. “But not you. Where’s your friend?”

The bookseller’s light question hit Averman like a sledgehammer. “He hates me!” he replied woefully.

“He doesn’t,” Goldberg said, elbowing Averman. “He’s just busy.”

“Can I have my book please?” Averman asked. “I’ve brought the money.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” the bookseller replied with mock formality. “But a man came in not long after you left. He offered me another twenty dollars over what you could offer. I’m afraid that the sale was too good to refuse. I can give you a refund.”

Averman approached the counter, holding one finger up. “Excuse me, I just hallucinated. I heard you say that you’d sold my book to someone else.”

“I’m very sorry.” The bookseller didn’t even try to sound contrite, much less look it. “But in my defence, it was not your book.”

“Half of it was,” Averman replied in a hollow tone. If Luis had been here, Averman would have been furious, absolutely hopping mad, but he found himself simply washed out with disappointment. He was alarmed to note that his throat was getting tight and his eyes were beginning to water. He muttered something about giving the refund to Goldberg before bolting out of the store.

He managed to get to the men’s restrooms before the tears started to fall. He realised that crying over a book was exceptionally foolish. It was only a book, after all. And he had read it many times, the paperback was somewhere in the Shoebox, he could read it at any time. Then he realised that it wasn’t just the book that was bothering him, it was the situation with Luis. He hated that things were awkward, and wished they could go back to the way they were. He also wished that Luis had been there in the bookstore, because then maybe he wouldn’t have the bookseller sneering inside his head, “Where’s your friend?”

After calming himself and wiping his eyes, he walked out of the stall, pausing to rinse his face with cold water, in an attempt to hide the fact he had been crying.

He then made his way back to the bookstore where he hoped Goldberg would have stayed. If Goldie had gone looking for him, they would probably be searching for each other until kingdom come. Luckily Goldie was sitting on the benches opposite the store, a keen eye out for him. On spotting Averman he gave him a friendly smile and stood up to meet him.

“I’m going to try and cheer you up,” Goldberg announced. “I might not be very good at it, but I’ll try anyway. When I’m depressed, I like to cook. So I’m going to cook for you. You need comfort food.”

“Does it involve chocolate?” Averman asked hopefully.

“Actually, it involves a full meal—followed by a chocolate cheesecake.” Goldberg smiled.


Averman wasn’t entirely sure what Goldberg was cooking, and he was completely sure that every time he “helped” Goldie had to spend about twenty minutes rectifying the situation. Goldie quickly learnt to delegate jobs such as “Wash this pot” and “Could you chop this onion for me?” to Averman, and nothing more.

Mostly, he realised, Goldie was trying to take his mind off his woes, and for the most part it was working. Goldie was very skilled in the kitchen, which is why Mrs Marsh, the Home Ec teacher, had let him have free run of the kitchens should he want to cook. It was quite impressive to see him flit from one job to another, never neglecting anything or letting anything burn.

He also kept up a steady stream of conversation throughout, either explaining what he was doing, or talking about how he had learnt this or that from various after-school classes, and how eventually he wanted to take over his parent’s business and make it a proper restaurant instead of just a delicatessen.

After getting back from the mall, Averman had wanted to sulk alone, but Goldie was having none of it. He had sent Averman off to borrow the key to the Home Ec kitchens while he went and got changed, then met him there and started cooking.

“Go away,” Goldberg said finally. “Have a seat at the table.”

“Am I getting in the way?” Averman replied.

“Well, yes, but it’s almost ready.” Goldberg smiled over Averman’s shoulder. “And the other guest is here. So have a seat, and I’ll bring your food over.”

Averman turned around, already knowing who he would see.

Luis stood in the doorway, looking slightly baffled. “I’m here,” he said for clarification.

“Have a seat.” Goldie gestured to the table set for two—the one job Averman had completed with a minimum of winces and instruction from Goldberg.

“Only two settings,” Averman commented.

“Yes,” Goldberg replied in a very patient tone. “One for you, one for Luis. You two will eat my wonderful cooking, you will talk and you will stop pouting. Do as I say, have a seat and let me serve.”

Averman complied obediently, as did Luis a few moments later. They gave each other nervous smiles, but did not talk at all as Goldberg served them spaghetti with meatballs and a side dish of garlic bread.

“Your desert is in the refrigerator. All I ask is that you guys wash up. I’ll see you tomorrow.” Goldie said grandly, before making his exit.

“Why do I feel like I’m on a blind date?” Averman asked.

“I have that feeling too.” Luis smiled back at him. “Although I’ve never been on a date where my invitation consisted of ‘get your ass down to the Home Ec kitchens around seven and if you hurt his feelings I will beat you to death with a brick’.” Luis said with a grin.

Averman groaned. “I am so very mortified,” he decided, then paused. “A brick?”

“A brick,” Luis confirmed. “And I assumed the ‘he’ in question was you, so naturally I would have been here, brick threat or not.”

“Why?” Averman asked, starting on the garlic bread.

“Because we haven’t had a conversation in a week and I miss you.” Luis said.

The honesty and sincerity with which he replied caused Averman to choke. There was an agonising moment when his air supply was cut off, but Luis handed him some water and he was able to wash the blockage down.

When Averman’s face returned to its normal colour, instead of the alarming purple shade it had been before, Luis tried again. “What’s going through your head? Why aren’t you around anymore?”

Averman shrugged, he didn’t want to have this conversation. Things were weird enough without bringing crushes into the mix. “I’ve got the money I owe you for the book. That bastard sold it to someone else.”

“He did?” Luis replied. “Wow, I’m sorry, I know you wanted that book. Did you yell at the bookseller?”

“No, I was quite pathetic actually,” Averman replied.

“Want me to beat him to death with Goldie’s brick?” Luis offered.

Averman felt the hint of a smile start to tug at his lips. “That would be nice.”

“And I’ll beat you with it if you disappear on me again like you have this week,” Luis added.

“I didn’t mean to, seriously. It was just a bad week and I didn’t want to inflict my mood on you,” Averman replied. “You didn’t cause it or anything.” Technically this was the truth, it wasn’t Luis’ fault he was straight.

“So I haven’t offended you or hurt your feelings at all?” Luis asked one last time.

Averman considered the question. “Well, you didn’t come with me to get my book,” he pointed out. “I was a little miffed about that—since we’re being honest.”

“Well, I thought you were annoyed with me and wouldn’t want me around, so I made plans with Annie,” Luis said after a moment’s thought. “I’m sorry.”

“So we’re good?” Averman asked.

“I think so. And now I really have to eat, this looks incredible.” Luis quirked an eyebrow at Averman. “I take it you weren’t involved.”

“No, it’s safe to eat. I washed pots, pans and knives. I did set the table though.”

“Well, I was just thinking to myself how nicely the table was laid out.” Luis grinned.

Averman grinned back.


Twelve: Date Night

We’re now in December, I would have happily skipped to this chapter instead of doing chapter 11, but sadly I couldn’t fit in the small plot points I wanted to cover and reasonably skip forward a month. So that’s why you had to read a dirge chapter between. I also have a great fear about this particular chapter. When Averman/Luis was first challenged, this was the only plot point that my brain offered. This has been eleven chapters in the making. Watch it fall flat on its face.


Luis surveyed the Shoebox proudly. In a fit of festive spirits, he and Averman had braved the mall again and bought a ton of tinsel and lights to decorate their dorm room with. They had found a tiny Christmas tree, about twelve inches in height, which had pride of place on the window ledge, beside it were two Christmas presents, both bigger than the tree. One was a plant from the Bash Brothers, or they assumed it was a plant, given that it was tightly bound and gagged with newspaper and duct tape, and Fulton had advised, “Don’t open it for a couple of months.” The other was a brick with a red bow around it, from Goldberg, naturally. The secondary rule about Christmas gifts for the Ducks, was that if buying outside the Secret Santa or for anyone but a roommate, it should merely be a token gift. This was the first year that either Luis or Averman had received such gifts.

Averman smiled at Luis. “Just when I think this room can’t get any more ugly, I find that there are actually vast levels of ugly, and there are plenty more to explore.”

“It does look horrible, doesn’t it?” Luis said. Given that they weren’t girls, no colour scheme had been used at all, tinsel, wreaths and garlands of all colours flooded the room, clashing terribly with the mustard yellow walls. Everything was held firmly in place with scotch tape.

“This place looks tackier than a Spice Girls video. We should celebrate,” Averman replied. “We should invite some people over.”

“And where exactly would they sit or stand?” Luis asked. What little space there had been pre-decoration was now taken up with discarded bags and boxes.

“We’ve had both of the Bash Brothers in here at the same time. That’s three regular-sized people,” Averman pointed out.

The door swung open, the handle crashing into the wall and splitting the poster hiding the hole, and Annie fell through it, breathless with excitement.

“Ah, our first guest,” Luis said.

“I’m going to do it!” She said animatedly. “I’m going to ask Aisha out! I just thought I’d tell you!” And with that she vanished once more.

Averman and Luis regarded each other with concern. “Aisha?” Averman asked. “As in your stalker?”

“Maybe she’s only stalking me because she likes Annie and wants to know her friends better.” Luis suggested hopefully.

There was a few moments silence as they analysed this happy delusion.

Then they ran for the door.


Monday
Annie is nowhere to be found. Luis and Averman worry about her, as neither has seen her since Saturday. They both fear the outcome of Annie asking Aisha on a date.

Charlie initiates a new training regime, it involves getting up an hour earlier. Averman suggests that they “vote him off the island”. Adam seconds the motion, but is ruled as biased because of his living situation. No-one else dares second the vote.

Later that day, Portman loses patience with his plant and hurls it out the window.

On her way to Luis’ dorm, Aisha is attacked by a suicidal plant falling three stories. She looks up to see where it came from and sees a Ducks Jersey through the window. By keeping a careful count of windows, she finds herself outside Portman’s dorm room. She returns the plant to him (oblivious to his dismay), and casually says “So, you must know Luis?”

In a fit of pique that Adam seconded the motion to “vote him off”, Charlie steals all of Adam’s possessions and refuses to give them back until Adam meets his terms. Adam threatens to get the Dean involved. Charlie threatens to burn said possessions if that happens. Adam declares that he hates Charlie.

Tuesday
Aisha “bumps into” Luis before practice and instigates a conversation. It is rather stilted to begin with so Luis tries to bring it round to Annie. Aisha responds, thinking that Luis wants her to get to know his friends. Luis is happy that Aisha seems interested in Annie, and makes a mental note to tell Averman that all is well between them.

Luis is ten minutes late to practice, thanks to this, causing Charlie to yell for twenty minutes. Connie seconds Averman’s suggestion to vote Charlie off.

Before practice stars, Adam nervously stands up and informs Coach Wilson that he’d like to share something with the team. He proceeds to sing Dancing Queen complete with Abba-esque dance, much to the amusement of the team. Adam has a new mantra that helps him get through this, it goes: In times such as these, what would Freddy Krueger do?

Luis is baffled by Portman asking him if his girlfriend caught up with him yesterday.

Charlie grudgingly returns Adam’s belongings.

Wednesday
Annie boldly asks Aisha on a double date with Luis and Averman. Aisha misunderstands, and accepts happily.

Terri bounces up to Annie and tells her that she’s really pleased that Annie’s helping Aisha get Luis, but bounces off again before Annie can clarify what “get Luis” means.

Adam decides it’s time to retaliate. He raids the laundry for the scariest underwear he can find and pegs this and all of Charlie’s underwear to a piece of rope and strings it from their room to the flagpole. He makes sure that every single piece is labelled “If lost please return to Charles Joseph Conway, Block D, Room 9”. Adam notes that it’s a blustery day, then vanishes to somewhere safe.

Charlie is irritated by a vast amount of people knocking on his door to return very scary underwear, most of which he has never seen before in his life. And slightly mortified when several girls do the same. When he finds out what has happened, he calls Bombay and asks “How long a sentence would a murderer get if that person was under severe stress and was pushed to his limits?”

Guy complains that all of his underwear has vanished from the laundry room.

Thursday
Guy complains that all of his underwear has been returned, but now has Charlie’s name in it. Guy and Charlie plot to kill Adam. They use a cunning plan of beating the crap out of him in the locker room, and are caught by Coach Wilson. They are put on detention until the New Year.

Luis once more attends Averman’s improv session. They have an odd number for the blind game, Averman insists that, instead of watching, he participate. Luis makes a complete fool of himself and has more fun than he’s had in a long time. He also wonders why it felt so nice to touch Averman’s face.

While walking back to their dorms, Averman starts a tentative sentence with “You know, maybe…” but is interrupted by Annie, who informs them that they must volunteer to accompany her on a date with Aisha, to make it more casual. Luis spends ten minutes explaining the definition of “volunteer” to Annie.

She takes this as an affirmation that they will attend.

Adam calls Bombay and asks the same question as Charlie the previous day. Bombay advises him not to do anything rash. Adam coolly informs him that he wants a second opinion. He calls his brother Danny and asks him to be his legal representation “should anything happen.”

Friday
Date night…


Luis was feeling distinctly on edge, for reasons unknown to himself. He seemed to have an excess amount of energy that even the most extensive hockey practice could not shake. He had been hyperactive all day, zoning out in class, unable to focus on anything and building forts out of his folders, pens and pencils instead of working, and he had positively irritated Averman at lunch by repeatedly poking him with a fork.

He supposed it was nerves about Annie’s date. He had seen Aisha in the halls, and found it a little easier to talk to her knowing that she was on a date with Annie later today. Apparently Annie was the same way, her poor cheerleaders were exhausted from the gruelling practice she had put them through. Aisha also seemed nervous and giggly, but he found it far more tolerable now it was directed elsewhere.

Ironically, the only person who seemed remotely calm was Averman, the one person guaranteed to be hyperactive at any given time during the day.

“What is up with you?” Averman asked, eyeing him with concern.

Luis realised he was building a modern art sculpture with their Christmas tree, a folder, Averman’s spare glasses and some of the underwear that hadn’t yet found its way back to either Charlie or Guy.

“I’m fine.” He forced himself to stop and put everything back.

“Are you on drugs?”

“I’m high on life, can’t you tell?”

“It’s becoming more and more apparent.” Averman returned his glasses to the night table, and then physically stopped Luis’ movement by holding his wrists. “You’re being… well, kind of me today, what’s up?”

“I have no idea,” Luis said honestly. “Maybe I’m going mad.”

Averman looked pleased by this idea. “Well, that’s ok, I suppose.”

“I should have bought you flowers,” Luis decided. “Since we’re on a date and all.”

Averman paused for a moment, an odd expression on his face. “Or maybe we should both buy the girls flowers, I’m not sure how this whole moral support thing works. But you can buy me flowers if you want.” He glanced at the clock. “We should go. Preferably before you start another sculpture.”

He released Luis’ wrists, and Luis was suddenly aware of the absence. He realised that he hadn’t had a hug in the longest time. He almost wished something bad would happen so someone would hug him.

Averman paused at the door, “Are you coming, or would you rather just stare at the wall all night. I’ll be fine all by myself on a date with two lesbians, it’s the average man’s dream.”

“Sorry.” Luis got up and followed him down the hall, noticing how sharp Averman looked. In a fit of paranoia, he had raided Luis’ wardrobe, and was wearing one of Luis’ shirts with his own trousers. His curly hair had been unsuccessfully tamed, and Luis thought the bits that were still wildly curly made it look all the more appealing.

“What are you staring at?” Averman asked. “Has my hair gone crackers again?”

“Yes, but it looks good,” Luis said.

“Wow,” Averman said flatly. “A compliment to go with our date.”

They walked the rest of the way to Annie’s dorm in silence, where they found Annie and Aisha chatting in rather girlish tones and giggling an awful lot. Luis found himself very relieved that Aisha had realised she liked Annie best, and that his partner for the evening was remotely sane.

“Luis will be terrible company tonight,” Averman announced. “He’s been a space cadet all day. I think he’s been using the old substances again.”

“Well, that’s flattering. It means that he’s been thinking about the date all day,” Aisha decided with a grin.

Luis gave her a rather baffled grin in return.

The foursome walked down to the bus stop, after first showing their passes to the Grinch manning the office and signing themselves out of the school campus.

They boarded the bus and took the back seat, where Luis found himself sitting between Aisha and Averman. Annie and Aisha chatted about cheerleading, occasionally trying to get Luis to join the conversation. Luis’ attention was elsewhere; he realised that Averman was not calm, but despondent. This worried Luis greatly, given that last time this happened Averman had ignored him for a week and he still didn’t know the cause.

“Are you ok?” Luis asked.

“I’m fine,” Averman replied automatically. “Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You seem down.”

“Not down, just tired.” Averman gave him a fake grin. “Am I being a bad date?”

“Terrible,” Luis replied.

“Well, give me time to warm up to the idea, I don’t do dating.”

Luis grinned, suddenly realising that what Averman had said was true. From their conversations about dating, it was fairly clear that Averman didn’t date. He had yet to find someone he had a ‘spark’ with. Maybe being here with Luis wasn’t a great way to start, it must be pretty bad for your first date to actually be a fake date to appease your roommate’s crazy best friend. “I’ll go easy on you.”

“That would be nice,” Averman replied faintly.


Inside the movie theatre Luis was once more sitting between Aisha and Averman. Aisha seemed to be making a conscious effort to talk to him, which annoyed him slightly. It was nice that Aisha was trying so hard, but really she should be making Annie feel like the centre of attention on their first date and deal with her friends on the next. And besides, he wanted to talk to Averman.

Aisha was squeamish, so that ruled out any form of horror, Averman vetoed any form of explosive action film “especially when buildings are getting blown up every two seconds—I have a headache and the surround sound will not help”, so they decided on Pirates of the Caribbean, a film they had all seen, but seemed to satisfy everyone all round.

Luis was especially pleased because he wouldn’t have to pay too much attention to the film and could whisper to Averman throughout.

Aisha also seemed pleased. “Orli is so hot in this movie.”

The other three regarded her with interest to the point of causing her to stare at the floor in embarrassment, at which point Averman added, “Amen to that,” and consequently found himself to be the subject of the inquisitive looks. He seemed glad that the trailers finished at that point, and the movie began.

Averman sank into a moody silence, and Luis was left with no alternative but to watch the movie. Usually, when watching a movie with Averman, his roommate was apt to tell him trivia that nobody else seemed aware of, things like alternate endings, deleted scenes—having Averman around was like having a feature DVD that would answer questions without wasting twenty minutes of your time on flashy menus. Luis was quite disappointed by Averman’s silence.

However, about halfway through the movie, he found himself in a situation that completely took his mind off Averman’s new-found stoicism. Aisha’s hand found his. He gave her a baffled look, and she smiled hopefully at him and moved a little closer.

Luis panicked silently for a full two minutes before muttering, “Excuse me,” grabbing Averman and making a swift exit to the foyer, apologising to the people he stood on as he went.

“What?” Averman asked, when they were finally in a place where they could talk without upsetting the movie-goers. “We’re going to miss the ‘Why is the rum gone?’ line.” He mourned.

“I think Aisha’s got the wrong idea about the pairings on this date!” Luis said.

Averman snorted. “She hit on you?”

“She was holding my hand.”

Luis’ indignant tone only furthered Averman’s amusement. “See! She was stalking you.” Then he suddenly sobered. “Poor Annie.”

Luis nodded. “And it puts me in an awkward position, Aisha’s a nice girl—I’m sure, otherwise Annie wouldn’t like her—and I suppose it wasn’t clear who was supposed to be dating who. She’s going to feel a real moron when she finds out. Then again, so is Annie.”

“Do you like Aisha?” Averman asked.

“Not like that. I don’t even know the girl,” Luis replied. “What should I do? Just whisper to her that she’s hitting on someone else’s date?”

“I could get insanely jealous, if that would help,” Averman offered. “Or I could swap seats with you. I think she’ll take that as a hint, and then when the movie finishes we can have a word with—” he glanced over Luis’ shoulder, “—Annie.”

“Is there any particular reason that you two vanished at the speed of light?” Annie enquired.

Luis looked at Averman. Averman shrugged. Luis sighed. “Annie,” Luis began, and Averman patted his shoulder encouragingly.

“Yes?”

“Did you make it clear who was dating who on this double date?” Luis asked quickly, deciding that the question would sound much better if it came out in a rush, rather than irritate Annie with much pussy-footing around.

Annie paused. “Did I need to?”

“One does think apparently so,” Averman replied.

“Why?” Annie asked. “The whole school knows you two are together.”

“The whole school also ‘knows’ you’re straight, Annie,” Luis pointed out. “The whole school really can’t be trusted on such issues.”

“And also, we’re not dating,” Averman clarified. “We’re here for moral support.”

“You’re not? But your friend Goldberg told me all about your date where he cooked and you two…” she tailed off, realising that Luis and Averman’s love life—or lack thereof—was not the point. “Aisha’s straight?”

“Am I not supposed to be?” came a fourth voice. They turned to see Aisha walking towards them. She stared at Annie. “You’re not straight?” then she focused on Averman and Luis. “Any of you?”

“Luis is,” Averman volunteered quietly.

“Wait. You’re not?” Luis turned to Averman.

“Been meaning to tell you,” he said quietly. “Never seemed like a good time.”

“For the record, I’m straight!” The guy at the ticket booth announced.

“Shut up!” the troubled foursome chorused.

“Well,” Annie said, her voice hard. “That settles it, Luis and Aisha, why don’t you two finish watching the movie? Averman and I will take a taxi back to school.” She then glared at the guy in the ticket booth. “Or Aisha can finish her date with him, if she wants.”

“So you are straight?” Aisha asked Luis.

Her hopeful tone was too much for Annie, who rolled her eyes and stormed off.

“You,” Luis said to Averman, “stay here. I’ll be right back.” As he left the cinema, he heard Averman say “Nice one,” to Aisha.

“Annie, wait.” Luis broke into a run to catch up with her. She glanced at him, then came to a stop.

“What? Do you need words of wisdom to deal with Averman’s newfound gayness?” she snapped angrily.

“Why are you angry with me?” Luis asked. “I’m sorry for the confusion, but it’s nobody’s fault.”

“I’m angry at you because you’re a lousy friend.” Annie announced. “I’ve barely seen you all year because you’ve been caught up in your new friendship with Averman—and I feel really sorry for him too because the minute you find someone to date you’re going to vanish on him too and break his heart.”

“I’ve been around,” Luis defended himself. “I’m sorry I’ve not been around as much as usual, but I’ve been there for you—and whenever I’ve looked for you, you’ve been out. Presumably with Aisha.”

“Who—as it turns out—doesn’t give a stuff about me, she just wanted to be in your circle of friends.”

“That’s bull, Annie,” Luis snapped back. “You’re head cheerleader, you’re funny, you’re popular, most girls in this school want to be you. You can’t fake four months of friendship with someone because you’re crushing on their friend. She is your friend.”

Annie slumped against a wall. “A friend. Great.”

Luis moved closer and put his arm around her. She resisted for a moment, then put her arms around him. As he rested his head on her shoulder, he remembered earlier that he had almost wished for something bad to happen, just so he could hug someone. He made a mental note to never make wishes like that again, because the payoff of this hug did not cancel out how bad he felt for Annie.

“This sucks,” she muttered.

“I know,” Luis agreed.

She pulled away and sighed. “Let’s go find the others and get back to school.”

“Ok.” As they began to walk back towards the cinema, one of Annie’s earlier comments registered in Luis’ mind. “What did you mean about breaking Averman’s heart?”

“What do you think I meant?” she replied tiredly, then pushed the door open and walked into the foyer, effectively cutting off further questions in this vein.

They found Averman alone, surrounded by their coats that he had obviously collected from the cinema while Annie and Luis were talking. “Aisha went. Once she realised the blunder she had made, she scarpered,” he explained, glancing at Annie. “And for the record, it was embarrassment that made her vanish, not disgust.”

“I’m going to get a bus back to school,” Annie decided, picking up her coat.

“Ok, let’s do that.” Averman handed Luis his jacket, then put his own on.

“No, you two stay. I want to be by myself.”

“Annie…” Luis began.

“No, seriously. There’s chocolate in my dorm room, and Terri just bought a load of videos, I’m sure Beaches or Pretty Woman is in there somewhere. I’d rather be by myself. I’ll see you guys later.” She gave them each a quick kiss on the cheek. “Have fun.”

They both watched her leave, then Averman turned to Luis. “So now what?”

Luis thought about the question, he thought about Averman’s revelation, and Annie’s words.

“Now I take you on a proper date.”


Thirteen: A Proper (cock up of a) Date

Averman gaped at him comically. “You what?”

“I’m taking you on a proper date,” Luis repeated with a smile. “We’ve done the movie, but that really didn’t pan out. How about dinner?”

“We ate before we left, remember?” Averman replied, he looked a little stunned. “And what do you mean by date?”

Luis thought about the best way to reply. “By date I mean…” he reached out for Averman’s hand. “Date.” They linked fingers. He liked the warmth of Averman’s hands, and the sight of his dark fingers alternating with Averman’s paler ones.

“Right,” Averman replied faintly. “Date.”

“Is your date going to happen in my foyer, or would you like tickets in the back row of the next movie?” asked the irritating ticket vendor.

Averman and Luis glared at him. “Shut up!” they said in unison.

“I have an idea,” Luis decided. “I suggest we get away from this Foyer of Evil.” He paused to glare even more fiercely at the ticket vendor. “And we just wander around until one of us has inspiration on what to do.”

“That sounds good to me,” Averman agreed, letting Luis tug him out of the cinema. “I think that guy replaced me when I had to quit my job there to come back to school.”

“He’s as loud as you,” Luis decided. “But highly irritating.”

“I’ll have you know that I’m irritating too. I’m very irritating. Ask anyone!” Averman replied in mock-offence, though his tone was a little more shrill than usual.

“You are, but you have redeeming features.”

“No I don’t.” Averman responded. “I’m loud and annoying and obsessive and crazy and obsessive—”

“You already said obsessive,” Luis pointed out.

“That just proves my point. And I’m difficult, and strange and I know the script to Overboard backwards.”

Luis stared at him in amusement. He suspected that Averman’s hyperactive and argumentative mood had been brought on by his declaration that they were officially On A Date. Generally Averman only got this weird before drama, so—given Averman’s adoration for drama—Luis was quite flattered to have had the same reaction.

“You don’t believe me!” Averman accused. “But I really do know the script backwards, I’ll prove it. Girl little a. Have already don’t you that you—”

“I believe you!” Luis interrupted with a laugh.

“Good, because in all honesty, I only know the last two lines,” Averman admitted. “I’m a fraud.” He eyed Luis cautiously. “Why on earth would you want to date me? And at which point did you forget I’m a guy?”

“Would a conversation about this help you to calm down?” Luis asked. “You seem a little wired.”

“You’re wrong. I’m a lot wired. And yes, a conversation would be nice.” Averman nodded.

“Well, let’s find somewhere to sit down and have a conversation then.”

“Ok,” Averman agreed, as they continued walking through the bustling mall. “Can I just ask, are all dates this disorganised?”

“Not usually,” Luis replied after a moment’s though. “Maybe the confusion only happens on double dates.”

“Ok, so we won’t do double dates in the future.” Then he paused. “Well, if there is a future.” He paused again. “Conversation first, then I won’t keep tripping myself up.”

Luis squeezed Averman’s hand reassuringly. “I personally hope there will be a future.”

“I’m still a guy. This could cause problems.”

Luis opened his mouth to respond but was distracted by someone knocking on the window of the shop they were beside. He realised that they had managed to walk from one end of the mall to the other and were now outside McDonald’s, and Portman and Fulton’s faces were pressed up against the glass making faces at them. Portman grinned widely and indicated that Luis and Averman should join them.

Luis glanced at Averman. “Do you want to?” he asked half-heartedly. The last thing he wanted to do was sit with the Bash Brothers in a crowded McD’s when he could have been anywhere else with Averman all to himself. Averman was visibly confused by the new on-a-date Luis, as was Luis himself. He had never really considered guys a dating option, despite the rumours about himself and Averman, but he had heard himself offer to take Averman on “a real date”, and then he had taken his hand. It seemed natural and right.

Luis now realised that there had been a fair amount of indicators that he had feelings that went beyond friendship for his slightly odd roommate, and he wished that he and Averman could just escape the noise and the bustle of the mall so that maybe they could discuss it a little further.

Fulton knocked on the window again to get their attention, then gestured behind him where Adam and Charlie were busy yelling at each other. “Save us,” he mouthed.

Averman sighed deeply. “It’s not fair to let them deal with the Terrible Twosome on their own.”

“Yeah.”

Neither of them moved.

“But it’s not fair on us either,” Averman pointed out.

“Ten minutes?” Luis suggested. “We won’t order food, we’ll just go in, tell them we’re going to a movie and can’t stay long?”

“Sounds like a plan.”

“I’m a genius,” Luis replied.

“Really?” Averman asked, letting go of Luis’ hand to push open the doors. “Because films generally show that geniuses don’t have the best social skills, they also have short tempers. You don’t have a big red button that will blow up the world, do you?”

“I do,” Luis said gravely. “So be nice to me.”

“Damn, I’m going to have to get you a prettier journal for Christmas.”

“You got me an ugly journal?” Luis asked in mock outrage.

“I didn’t say that it was ugly, just that… It’s a gift, god damn you! You’ll like it even if it’s the ugliest damned journal on the planet!”

“Well,” Luis decided as they reached the table inhabited by their friends. “That told me.”

“What did?” Fulton asked eagerly, obviously dying for a subject change.

“Just Averman reminding me that we can’t stay long, we’re going to see a movie,” Luis said, shoving Charlie closer to Adam to make space for himself and Averman.

“Which movie?” said Portman, in the same eager tone.

Pirates of the Caribbean,” Luis replied, at the same time as Averman answered, “Freddy vs Jason.”

Four pairs of eyes focused on them.

“We’re still battling it out,” Averman said, taking a seat beside Luis. “And speaking of battling, what on earth are you two doing socialising together. Don’t you still hate each other over the whole underwear thing?” He gave Charlie and Adam an enquiring look.

“They hate each other for new reasons now,” Fulton confided. “We all came into town to get tickets for the ice festival, but they’ve sold out. Adam was going to buy them last week, but for some reason he let Charlie talk him out of it. Charlie hates him because he was so easily swayed and Adam hates Charlie because he was the one who changed his mind.”

Luis nodded distractedly. The ice festival was held on New Year’s Eve and was notoriously impossible to get tickets for, because it consisted of a fireworks show, a live band (who were usually pretty good), and various stalls and entertainment. It wasn’t the most enthralling thing in the world, but since it was the only local happening where under-agers were welcome, it had somehow become the place to be on New Year’s Eve.

“Actually, Averman, it’s you I hate. My cell phone is still set to Turkish and nobody can fix it,” Adam replied sniffily, ignoring Fulton. “Especially because the pin code has been changed.”

Averman smiled brilliantly. “Um, sorry?”

“Why on earth would you lend Averman you phone?” Luis asked Adam. “You know what he’s like.”

“He said that you were coming out to your parents.”

“I didn’t, you asked if he was, and I said ‘if I said yes, would you lend me your phone?’. I just let you think that so I could borrow your phone,” Averman responded.

“If you called Tahiti you’re in big trouble,” Adam threatened.

Luis rolled his eyes. “You know, I think we’re going to miss the start of the movie if we don’t get going now.”

“You’re not,” Charlie said. “We were thinking of seeing a movie tonight, Pirates doesn’t start for another hour, and Freddy vs Jason is on in twenty minutes.”

Averman glanced at Luis. “Well, we were leaning towards Freddy…”

“Yeah,” Luis agreed hurriedly. “I was just thinking that I haven’t seen enough blood and gore recently.”

“Do you mind if we come with you?” Portman asked. “Fult and I have been meaning to see Freddy vs Jason. We know it’s gonna suck, but we have to see it with our own eyes.”

“I thought we were going to see Pirates.” Adam said petulantly. “I hate blood and gore.”

Charlie opened his mouth to agree, then realised that would side him with Adam, and he thought better of it. “I want to see gore!” He turned to Adam. “We’re going!”

The other four all sighed inwardly. Fulton and Portman had decided on Freddy vs Jason as a way to shake Adam and Charlie, and Averman and Luis had no intention of seeing any film—or even setting foot back inside the Foyer of Evil—and now they were stuck with four unwanted extras on their date, and seeing a terrible film.

Luis reached under the table and squeezed Averman’s hand reassuringly. “Ok then,” he said in a forced light tone.


“You again?” the ticket vendor asked in amazement. “Date go badly?”

Averman glared.

Luis gave him a charming smile. “We just couldn’t stay away from you. Six for Freddy vs Jason, please.”

“No snogging in the back row,” he warned, handing over their tickets.

“We are in hell,” Averman announced, as they walked away from the ticket office. He gestured to the four uninvited guests who were buying popcorn. “We are on a date in hell watching a godforsaken movie, with a satanic ticket vendor and four gate-crashing minions of the Anti-Christ.” He paused and considered. “Well, the Bashes are ok, but they’re still not supposed to be here.”

Luis smiled calmly and leant forward, lowering his voice. “So what if we’ve bought tickets, it doesn’t mean we have to stay.”

Averman grinned back. “You’re right, you are a genius. I’m buying you the prettiest journal in the world.”

“We’ll sit through half of the trailers, then decide to get popcorn?” Luis said.

“My boyfriend, the brainiac,” Averman said proudly, then blushed a rather shocking shade of red.

Sitting with the other Ducks wasn’t as horrific as anticipated. Luis and Averman managed to get the seats at the end of the row, which made for an easy exit. Luis sat between Averman and Portman, which was just fine with him, as the Bash Brothers seemed fiercely engaged a whispered fight over who would win, Freddy or Jason. Beyond them, Charlie and Adam were also caught up in their ongoing war, which sometimes turned physical. Luis personally hoped that he would get to leave before it did on this occasion.

Then Averman reached over and took his hand, and all thoughts about Charlie and Adam, the Bashes, and the outcome of the movie slipped from his mind. He scooted slightly closer to Averman so they could whisper through the trailers.

As the trailer for Cabin Fever flashed up, Averman leant over, and for one breathtaking moment, Luis thought he was going to kiss him. Instead he offered his opinion on it. Luis really wasn’t aware of Averman’s words, only his breath on his neck, and his lips occasionally brushing his ear sending shivers down his spine.

He turned to Averman, deliberately making sure his lips made contact with Averman’s ear as he spoke. “Can we go now?”

In the darkness, Averman smiled.

Averman heard Luis mutter something about getting popcorn to Portman, then they made their way out of the cinema and back into the foyer.

“The movie can’t have been that bad,” said an increasingly familiar voice.

They turned and saw the ticket vendor regarding them with amusement.

Averman sighed. “We’re trying to be on a date here, and things keep going wrong. At the moment we are stealthily sneaking away and having you talk to us just highlights how terrible we are at stealth.”

“Ah,” he actually looked contrite. “I’m sorry. Go about your sneaking.”

Luis and Averman exchanged a grin, and continued on their way out of the cinema.

“I think,” Luis said as they made their way through the mall. “That we should get a bus back to school. Nobody ever invades the Shoebox, we might actually get a few minutes to ourselves there.”

“I second the motion.”

Fate seemed against them, however, as they bumped into Connie and Guy on their way to the bus stop, who invited them to join them in going to see Pirates of the Caribbean. By this point, both had given up being polite, and Averman loudly shouted, “If I have to go into that damned cinema just one more time today I will implode and take anyone in a ten mile radius with me.” Guy looked mildly affronted, but Connie seemed amused.

Next they saw Goldberg, who started telling them about how Charlie and Terri had had a huge fight at dinner time (which explained why Charlie was hanging out with Adam), and how Terri had stomped into town to spend some money to make her feel better and fallen asleep on the bus, in her panic she hopped off the bus at the nearest stop and left her bag behind. She had found herself two towns over with no money and no cell phone. What happened next, they never found out, because Goldie noticed they were holding hands and congratulated them both for finally getting together, then he vanished at the speed of light.

“The next person who stops to talk to us is getting murdered, slowly and horribly,” Averman promised as they made their way out of the mall and towards the bus stops.

“That works for me,” Luis said. “And if you get caught, I’ll come visit you in jail. We can go on Jerry Springer, ‘I want to marry my death-row homosexual lover’.”

“Of course, for that to work, we need to get you a trailer trash girlfriend who wears gold lamé pants and pops out kids at the rate of one a year, Luis Junior One, Luis Junior Two, Luis Junior Three and little Baby Louise. She’ll get up on stage and start swearing so fast that the beeps will sound like the national anthem in morse code.”

“And then she’ll reveal that she’s actually been writing to you pretending to be me. You’ve been having smutty letter-sex with the mother of my hellspawn.” Luis said.

Averman grinned at Luis and suddenly realised that really no conversation was needed to establish what was happening between them. The fact that they were two guys made it no more complicated than it had been for Connie and Guy. They were two friends who had decided that they both wanted more than friendship, and stood to lose or gain only as much as anyone else in the same situation. The Ducks wouldn’t care, since most were labouring under the impression that they were already together, and the rest of the school either seemed greatly impressed by or wildly indifferent to the rumours.

The bus stop was empty when they arrived, which logically made sense. The school curfew allowed students off campus for at least another couple of hours and rarely did people not make the most of any time away from the watchful eyes of the teachers and dorm supervisors. As they sat down, Averman noticed how quiet it seemed away from the mall, although they were waiting beside a fairly busy road there were no people around them, and more importantly no Ducks.

“You know,” he said. “If I’d have known how havoc-riddled and frustrating dating was, I would have probably nixed the idea when Annie suggested it.”

“Are you sorry you didn’t?” Luis asked, taking his hand once more.

“No.” Averman became aware that the space between them had somehow shrunk without him noticing. Luis’ face was close to his, his lips almost close enough to kiss. Maybe a cold bus stop wasn’t the most ideal or romantic place for a first kiss, but right then he just didn’t care. He moved even closer and—

“Luis! Ave!” A chirpy Irish voice called.

They both jumped in surprise, and turned to the source of the voice. Terri stood a little way from them, shivering slightly in the cold. Averman remembered his promise to kill the next person to interrupt them. He felt blessed that it was Terri, who he would have no qualms killing. Especially since she had just called him ‘Ave’ which he hated with a fiery passion. “Terri…”

She burst into tears.

“That’s just unfair,” Averman sighed. “I can’t kill a girl who’s crying.”

“I could put a bag over her head so you wouldn’t see her tears,” Luis offered.

“No, that’s still wrong. Goldberg’s got a pool going on who would win if Terri and I fought, he’s got twenty bucks on me. I’d hate to see him lose it if the others decided I’d won by default.”

“No Jerry Springer for us,” Luis replied, then turned to Terri. “Um, hi. What’s wrong?”

Terri sniffled. “Nothing, I’m just so relieved to find someone I know. Could one of you lend me bus fare home? I’ve lost my bag with my money in. I feel like I’ve travelled half the country tonight trying to get home.” She walked over and took a seat beside them.

“Goldie told us about you falling asleep on the bus. Why didn’t you borrow money off him?” Averman asked.

“I asked, but he was broke. I had to borrow off a complete stranger to get this far.” She said. “A really nice old lady called Mrs Parsons lent me the money. I didn’t want to take it because it was all she had, but she insisted. She was telling me about her grandchildren on the bus here, so I offered to do a family portrait for her as a way to thank her.”

“That’s nice,” Averman replied distractedly.

Luis gave Terri his full attention. “Mrs Parsons? Did she have three grandchildren and live somewhere near Kings Way?”

Terri looked surprised. “Yeah. Why?”

Luis turned to Averman. “It’s the lady from the bus!” As Terri opened her mouth to make a sarcastic comment, Luis continued, “The one we were watching when we went shopping last month.”

“You watch old ladies?” Terri asked, but both Luis and Averman ignored her as they smiled at each other.

“Bus is here!” Terri announced. “So, how do you guys feel about lending me some money?”

Averman sighed deeply. “I suppose it’s too much to ask you to sit away from us.”

Terri grinned in response. They got on the bus and Terri took the seat in front of them, twisting around to talk to them. “So how did the double date go? And where are your dates?”

“The date was hellish,” Luis said with feeling.

“And the hell just keeps a-coming,” Averman added.

“What happened?”

They filled her in on the events of the evening so far. Including the fact that they had tried to salvage their half of the date but failed, in the vague hope that Terri would go away. She didn’t. Instead she nodded thoughtfully. “I thought this might happen, but since you lot all hate me, I thought you wouldn’t want to hear it from me.”

Luis sighed. “I hate these smug know-all types.”

“You hate me anyway, knowledge or not,” Terri pointed out, getting to her feet as the bus pulled up outside the school. “I’ll pay you back when I collect my bag tomorrow,” she said over her shoulder before disappearing into the building.

Feeling slightly defeated, Luis and Averman got off the bus. “Wouldn’t life have been easier if we’d never left the dorms tonight?” Averman said. “We could have just stayed in—”

“And I could have been strangely irrational, not knowing why I was in such an odd mood, you could have stayed in the closet and Annie and Aisha could have stumbled through the rest of the year not really knowing where they stood with each other. Well, the same goes for us really.”

“When you put it like that, I can see your point,” Averman said. “But all the same, I’m exhausted from restraining the urge to kill someone.”

Luis put his arm around Averman’s shoulders. “If you’re really good I’ll let you kill Mr Stiles later.”

One last surprise awaited them once they arrived at the Shoebox. There was a note taped to their door, bearing the words “READ ME”. Luis obligingly took the note down and read it. “It’s from Annie,” he told Averman.

“Read it.”

Dear Luis and Averman. Don’t you dare come to my dorm to make sure I’m ok, you can do that tomorrow (bring comfort food, I like dark chocolate best). I hope you had a nice date—not just for your sakes, but for mine. I’m sick of giving you two advice. Love Annie.” Luis grinned at Averman. “At least she’s not too depressed to give orders.” He scanned the note again. “PS: Look up.”

They did as instructed. Annie had taped a sprig of mistletoe to the doorframe.

“She thinks of everything,” Averman observed.

“The girl’s a genius.”

“Obviously. And it would not only be rude, but intellectually wrong, to ignore her instructions.”

“Naturally.”

As Luis leaned in and kissed him, Averman decided that, despite it being the one of the worst nights of his life, this was undoubtedly the best night of his life.


Fourteen: Beautiful and Interesting

Luis awoke in a gravity-defying position over the edge of the bed. He was pleased to note that while he had no space to sleep on, he had managed to hog all the covers. “Move over,” he mumbled groggily. Averman obliged and Luis realised the only thing keeping him from plummeting to the floor was Averman. He took the covers with him when he fell.

“Cold! Cold! Cold!” Averman yelled, without even opening his eyes.

“You’re cold?” Luis huffed. “I’m bruised.”

“Banksie would never complain, he’d just give me the covers and nurse his bruises in silence.”

“I resent that you’re talking about other men while I’m in bed with you.”

“You’re not in bed with me,” Averman replied, finally opening his eyes. “You’re on the floor. And you’re sulking about it.”

“I’m not sulking about it,” Luis pouted.

“Yes, you are. You’re pouting.”

“No.” Luis got to his feet, draped in sheets and blankets. “I’m pouncing.” He leapt on Averman and began to alternate tickling with kisses.

Before anything further could happen the door burst open and Fulton and Portman fell through it. Fulton gulped a couple of times, before letting out a strangled, “Oh.”

“Um, are we interrupting anything?” Portman asked, then pulled a face, showing his embarrassment at asking such a stupid question.

“No, nothing. Just a little pouncing.” Averman replied, glad of the break from the tickling, but resenting the end of the kisses.

“Nothing?” Luis repeated in mock outrage, while making a mental note to remember to lock the door in the future. “I’m pouncing and that’s nothing?”

“Um…” Fulton muttered.

“Well, you’re obviously not aware we’re here, so we’ll just go.” Portman decided, dragging Fulton out of the room with him.

Luis grinned and resumed his pouncing.


“Annie won’t talk to me!” Aisha wailed mournfully, before Averman even had time to greet her. She walked into the Shoebox and sank down on Luis’ bed, her face in her hands, frizzy curls obscuring her face. Averman was panicked by her arrival, generally Luis was better at conversations with girls than him, and Annie was better still. However, Annie was the wounded party at the moment and Luis was in her room trying to cheer her up. He sat down on his own bed opposite her and mentally ran through all possible responses. “There, there” seemed patronising, “She’ll get over it” seemed cold and “I’m sure things will get better” seemed unfeeling.

“I got her the best Christmas present.” Aisha added. “I decided to give it to her early as some kind of making up gift and she threw it at me! It hit me on the head.”

“Annie feels hurt at the moment.” Averman winced at this mastery of understatement. “She feels that you were only her friend because you fancied Luis.”

“Well that’s just stupid!” Aisha replied. “First of all, I’ve known who Annie is since Freshman year, I’ve always wanted to get to know her, but she’s so damned popular it’s hard to get an in. Second of all, anyone with half a brain would notice that if someone wanted to be in Luis’ circle of friends, they would have to stalk you!”

“So when Luis said that Annie was his best friend, it didn’t cross your mind that talking to Annie would get you closer to him?” Averman asked bluntly.

“No, it was actually a relief to have another topic of conversation open to me. Sometimes I get stupid and giggly when I’m nervous, when Luis told me that, I thought yay, something to fall back on if my mind goes blank.” She sighed. “She hates me.”

“She doesn’t hate you, she’s just upset—”

Upset? I’m bloody upset!” Aisha stood up to pace, but quickly sat down again as she realised the room was too small. “She never told me she was gay! Imagine, she didn’t trust me with something like that! And then I made a huge fool of myself on that double date, I threw myself at a gay man, lost my best friend and I didn’t even get to hear the ‘why is the rum gone?’ line!”

Averman opened his mouth to respond, but Aisha apparently wasn’t done. “Why didn’t she trust me, Averman? What did she think I’d do, run all over school screaming Annie James is gay! at the top of my lungs?”

“Well, you are a cheerleader, it might be workable as a pipe-opener. Give me a G! Give me an…” The look Aisha gave in response made Averman wish he’d never opened his mouth. He thought for a moment, then tried again. “Look, it wasn’t that she didn’t trust you. She was scared, I only came out to Luis last night. It’s very scary saying something like that, you never really know how someone’s going to react, especially someone you have a vested interest in. And to be honest, we all thought you knew. I thought cheerleaders gossiped.”

“We do, but only behind each other’s backs. If there’s speculation about Annie, I wouldn’t have heard it, as her best friend I wouldn’t be trusted with something like that.” She snorted then added pointedly, “by anyone.”

“Aysh, you’re just going to have to give her time,” Averman said finally. “And if it helps, it won’t be much time. Luis said that Annie can’t hold a grudge to save her life.”

“I know,” she said softly, leaning back against the wall. “Do you have any chocolate?”

“No, but I have a plant. You can throw books at it if you want,” he offered.

She gave him a smile. “That sounds very therapeutic.”

“Well, everyone says plants are good for peace of mind.”


“I hate her,” Annie said venomously.

“No, you don’t,” Luis countered.

“No, I don’t.”

Luis floundered momentarily. He and Annie had been having the same conversation for approximately fifteen minutes, to hear Annie admit that she didn’t hate Aisha was definite progress. However, it was unexpected progress. “Well, that’s good.”

“No it’s not. It’s horrible. I want to hate her. I do hate her.”

“Annie, you’re morally opposed to hating anyone who isn’t The Bush Pig.” Luis replied. When he first met Annie she had been involved with a horrible girl named Donna, who was now only ever referred to as The Bush Pig. She had screwed with Annie’s feelings and constantly cheated, then she claimed to be dying when Annie finished with her, forcing Annie to stay, then when Annie found out the truth, she had finished with Donna once and for all. Donna retaliated by outing Annie to her parents, an act that forced Annie to stay at school during the holidays, and with her aunt and uncle during the summer. Despite all this, Annie didn’t like the idea of hating anyone, and she and Luis had many a long conversation on the morality of hating someone, even Donna. Luis was now thankful for it, because it made arguing Aisha’s case a little easier. “And Aisha is no Bush Pig.” He paused and thought over his last sentence. “Well, you know what I mean, she isn’t Donna. Although I don’t mean that she isn’t pretty too.”

“Your arguments are better when they consist of no, you don’t,” Annie decided.

Luis sighed. “You can’t hate her because she’s straight. She has no control over it.”

“I know,” Annie replied moodily, flopping back on her bed. “I know it’s not her fault. But I’m still never speaking to her again. I told her that when she came by earlier.”

“She was here?”

“Yep. She had a present for me, but I threw it at her. It hit her on the head,” she added with satisfaction.

Luis raised his eyebrows, Annie didn’t do hate, she didn’t do grudges, and she had never managed to ignore anyone for longer than ten minutes. He took a deep breath. “Annie, in all the years I’ve known you, I’ve never seen you like this. Just what exactly is your problem? Yes, I know Aisha is straight, I know it must have been mortifying for you last night, but I don’t understand what she’s done to unlock this vengeful side of you. Even Donna never did that.”

Annie sat up, brushed her hair out of her eyes and opened her mouth. Then, apparently changing her mind, she closed it again.

“What? What’s so different about Aisha?”

She mumbled something unintelligible.

“What?” Luis asked again.

“I love her, ok?” She snapped back, standing up. “I’m completely head-in-the-clouds, ass-over-tit in love with this girl and I can’t have her. Is that a good enough answer? She’s everything I want, she gets me, she understands my sense of humour, she believes in ghosts, she goes to psychic shows with me, she’s a cheerleader so she knows it’s a sport, not just tiny skirts and gossip, she’s smart, she’s beautiful, she’s even got curly hair and understands how crap it is to wake up with an insane birds nest in the morning. She’s absolutely perfect for me and I can’t have her. Ok, Luis?” She flopped back on her bed, exhausted by the confession. “And it really hurts just seeing her, knowing how wonderful she is and that she’ll never be mine.” With that, the tears that she’d been holding back since the night before began to flow.


By the time Luis returned to the Shoebox, Aisha had gone back to her dorm. She and Averman had played Plant Death Match for awhile, but Aisha had dissolved into tears mid-game and scuttled back to her own room to lick her wounds. Averman lay zombie-like on his bed. “Is it raining?” he enquired, ignoring any greeting.

Luis shrugged. “It’s Minnesota, it’s probably snowing. If you opened the shades, you could look out the window and see for yourself. Why do you ask?”

“Because your shirt is soaked on the right shoulder. I’m hoping that it’s rain and not Annie-tears,” Averman replied, as Luis flumped down on the bed beside him.

“It’s good to have hope, but sadly wrong,” Luis replied. “She’s not a happy girl. I’ve never seen her like this.”

“Aisha is also distraught, she stopped by about five minutes after you went to see Annie. They had a confrontation.”

“I know, did you hear that Annie threw Aisha’s present back at her?”

“It hit her on the head.”

They both sighed deeply.

“This morning,” Luis began. “I had this awful feeling that it was really wrong to be so happy when our friends are so miserable.”

“Luckily an hour with them has remedied that,” Averman said. “Don’t get me wrong, I feel bad for them, but I now need cheering up. Do you want to watch a movie or something?”

“What do you suggest?”

“You’ve still never seen The Never Ending Story, you heathen,” Averman said. “I would hit you to punctuate how pathetic that makes you, but sadly you’re squashing my arm.”

“Quit your whinging.”

“You know, Banksie would offer to hit himself if he was in this position.”

“If Banksie was in this position with you, I’d be the one hitting him,” Luis assured him.

“You’re so manly when you’re jealous.”

“Oh, shut up and put the film on.”

About ten minutes into the film, Luis realised something. “That book isn’t anything like the one that we found in the shop. That one’s leather-bound.”

“I was thinking that.” Averman said. “In the book it’s described as being bound in copper silk, if that makes sense. I’d read the book more recently than I’d seen the film. Hence the confusion.”

“Would you have preferred the movie version of the book?” Luis asked.

“The book version in the copper silk. I’d rather have the book that Michael Ende envisioned for his tale,” Averman said thoughtfully. “Not that it matters, since I don’t have a chance of laying my hands on either. That was a one in a million find. I went on ebay a few days ago and even there, nothing. And now I’m depressed again. Thank you.”


20th December
Most students go home, leaving the Ducks, Annie, Terri and Aisha and quite a few unknowns from other grades mooching around the school.

Mr Stiles is one of the supervisors that has to stay at the school over the holidays. He catches Fulton and Portman stealing another plant, they try to convince him that they are simply moving it nearer to the window to catch a little more light, but they fail. They are given detention at nine a.m., something that bothers them greatly, having to get up early on their vacation. They later get revenge by moving all the potted plants outside his office door. A door that opens outward. Mr Stiles is trapped for four hours before anyone notices. And a further two hours before anyone notifies another teacher.

Luis and Averman spend the day in the Shoebox. Further details are best left to the imagination.

21st December
Aisha decides quits the cheerleading squad. She tells Annie, and thoughtfully gives her a book entitled Voodoo for Dummies. Annie smirks but says nothing. When Aisha leaves Annie’s room, Annie bursts into tears.

Charlie and Adam have yet another fight, this time Adam is triumphant, managing to get a locksmith in to change the locks while Charlie and Terri are having dinner with Terri’s father and Charlie’s mother (one of the stipulations from the parental units due to their offspring staying at the dorms). Charlie and Terri are disturbed by how well their parents get along.

Charlie returns to find all of his possessions outside his room and a note on the door that reads AND STAY OUT! Charlie takes himself off to Terri’s dorm, asking if he can move in, Annie vetoes it. Charlie, never really being able to differentiate between the fact and fiction of school rumours, asks Annie why she isn’t staying with her girlfriend, Aisha. Annie slaps him and bursts into tears. Terri, in a rare show of roommate solidarity, kicks Charlie out.

Charlie heads towards the Shoebox, remembering that Luis and Averman had put Adam up last time. He is intercepted by Fulton and Portman on their way back from detention, who inform him that Luis and Averman are now officially a couple. Charlie decides they are pulling his leg, having heard this rumour many times. He walks into the Shoebox unannounced and is confronted with visual proof that it has ceased to be a rumour and is now fact. He makes a mental note to pay more attention to rumours in the future.

Eventually he finds Goldberg and asks if he can move in. Goldberg grudgingly agrees and they play The Sims. Charlie senses a new addiction coming on.

22nd December
Annie and Terri go on a Vodka Jell-O making frenzy. Terri because she likes vodka, Annie because if she doesn’t keep busy she cries. They make far more than can fit in their fridge. Terri is sent to distract Ms Harper, their dorm supervisor, while Annie steals her master key, so they can utilise every fridge in the building. The plan is a raging success, though Terri is given detention for painting a Santa on the gym wall.

Annie tests a large amount of Vodka Jell-O and starts reading Voodoo for Dummies. Terri is alarmed.

Averman is sent out of the Shoebox while Luis wraps his Christmas present. He bumps into Connie, who suggests they guy-watch together. Averman is scandalised, pointing out that they both have boyfriends. Connie doesn’t understand what the big deal is. Averman then adds that the only guys available for watching are the same guys they have grown up with, and any others are at least a year younger than them. Connie sees his point and decides that Averman can help her pick out a dress to wear for the Christmas party.

Averman suddenly wishes he was straight.

Charlie starts killing all of the Sims in Goldie’s houses. He is enchanted by the little ghost Sims. Goldberg then shows him zombie Sims. Charlie is thrilled.

Adam realises that he’s really rather bored without Charlie to fight with.

Luis enlists the Bash Brother’s help to move his and Averman’s beds together. Portman remarks that they will have all of two square feet of space once they’re done. Luis smiles gleefully and points out that that’s one extra square foot of space they didn’t have before.

23rd December
Charlie makes eight Sims, all called Adam, and kills all of them in many creative ways. He realises that it’s just not the same as rowing with Adam in person. He goes back to his own room and pounds on the door until Adam opens up. He barrels through and announces that he’s moving back in. Adam joyfully calls him a “stupid asshat.” Charlie retaliates. The spar verbally until the early hours of the morning.

Goldberg goes on a random wander around the campus, quite bored by himself. He finds Aisha crying, and tries to cheer her up, something he later regrets once she has spilled the whole tale. Before he can offer any sage advice, the Bash Brothers find them and excitedly announce they have found the perfect venue for the Christmas party. Aisha says she thought it would be held in the gym and wasn’t it more of a dinner with tacky music? Portman clarifies that they’re talking about the unofficial party. Aisha brightens when Goldberg mentions how much alcohol will be circulating and that Annie will be too drunk to hold a grudge tomorrow.

Luis and Averman spend the day with Annie, trying to pry Voodoo for Dummies out of her hands, after a terrified tip-off from Terri. Averman thoughtfully hides all the dolls in the room. He suspects Terri will hit the roof when she finds out, but really can’t find the energy to care.

Terri actually doesn’t care about her dolls. She is far too busy being mortified when her father calls to ask for Casey Conway’s phone number. He claims that it’s just so they can compare notes about being a single parent without their kids at home over Christmas, but Terri suspects other motives. She goes to Goldie’s room to tell Charlie, and is momentarily distracted by The Sims, but then remembers her quest and moves on.

She finds Charlie and Adam engaged in a verbal war. Every single sin from the past seven years is being brought up. The boys are quite obviously having the time of their lives. She sits quietly for twenty minutes, waiting for an opening. Finally in desperation she screams “My dad fancies your mum!” Adam looks startled. “My mother?” he asks. Charlie thwacks him around the head, and says firmly, “Not you, moron.” And off they go again. Terri leaves the room in disgust.

Christmas Eve
Charlie turns up at Terri’s dorm at four a.m. to ask about Terri’s screamed comment. Terri is in a huff and leaves Annie to deal with it. Annie is still in a vengeful mood, made no better by being woken up in the early hours of the morning. When Charlie asks how Terri knows Mr McDowell fancies his mother, Annie simply replies, “Well, your mother’s screams of orgasmic bliss were audible to all and sundry when Terri called home.”

Charlie is shell-shocked. He decides now is the time to start drinking. He goes back to his room and challenges Adam to match him shot for shot. Adam agrees after much insinuation that he’s a “lightweight marshmallow.”

Terri overhears Annie’s comment and starts on the Vodka Jell-O.

Annie feels left out and helps Terri finish the rest of the Vodka Jell-O.

When Aisha turns up at Annie’s room four hours later for a last-ditch effort at making up, she finds both Annie and Terri paralytic. Annie is in no mood to be vengeful. She greets Aisha with a big hug and bursts into tears. Aisha also bursts into tears. Terri scarpers.

Luis and Averman drag themselves out of bed at two o’clock. They had attempted getting up several times before, but failed. They decide to be sociable and head towards the noise. It leads them to the Bash Brothers’ room where they find most of their friends drunk and giggly, except for Adam and Charlie, who are drunk and snippety. Terri is passed out on the floor. Fulton thoughtfully puts her in the recovery position. They are pleased to see that Aisha and Annie are sitting together with their arms around each other, talking quietly and excluding everyone else in the room.

Around six o’clock, Portman convinces everyone to go to the cafeteria and ingest some form of food to soak up the alcohol. Everyone grudgingly agrees. Even Terri, who has by this time woken up. Adam eats two mouthfuls of food before turning a vivid shade of green and bolting from the caff. Charlie also turns green, and mutters something about going to mock Adam before disappearing at the speed of light.

Portman tells everyone (including the people that they don’t really know) that they’ve found a venue for the party and how to get there. Since it’s quite far from the staff room, the party can start early, everyone should show up around ten. He repeats this information for Terri, who is the chosen one to tell Charlie and Adam, she looks a little dazed by the time he’s finished. She still looks bewildered by the third explanation. Finally Fulton grabs a napkin and draws a map and writes the time on it and sticks it to her chest, then tells her to go find her boyfriend.

Everyone goes their separate ways to get ready for the party.


Luis and Averman decided to turn up a little late to the party, in order to exchange gifts. Naturally, they had been boy-wrapped, which meant there was far more sticky-tape than gift wrapping on the present and gift tags had been cheerfully ignored.

“So, who opens their gift first?” Averman asked.

“You, I want to see your face light up like a happy little Christmas elf,” Luis replied, handing him a heavy rectangular present. “Light up, little elf. Light up!”

Averman raised his eyebrows. “I’m not going to ask how much Vodka Jell-O you’ve had today.” He took the present and began tearing at the paper. Out slid the much coveted copy of The Never Ending Story with the copper silk binding and the Auryn on the front cover. Averman felt his jaw drop and shatter on the floor. He gulped several times, and finally found his voice, although it came out as a strangled squeak. “How…?”

Luis smiled smugly. “That’s my little lit-up Christmas elf.”

“You went back, when you claimed to have lost your wallet,” Averman said.

“I did, and then I had it sent to Annie’s room.”

“I feel,” Averman began, “like I’ve been horribly upstaged. Your present just isn’t going to measure up now. And I don’t think thank you is a big enough response.”

“Don’t be soft. You should really want to kill me. I’ve kept this book from you for two months, and put you through the emotional anguish of facing the evil book store owner alone.”

“You’re right,” Averman agreed. “I think I will kill you. Quick, distract me by exclaiming excitedly over your present.”

This present was also rectangular, though smaller and less heavy. Inside was a leather-bound journal.

“I had to, you’d have been disappointed if I hadn’t,” Averman explained, “but open it.”

Luis opened the journal and two tickets slid out. “What’s this?” Luis bent to pick up the fallen tickets.

“For the ice festival. I figured if I’m going to give you a journal, I’d better give you something to write about too. Fulton and Portman are always going on about the band that’s playing that night.”

“And I have two tickets. This means I can take the person of my choice.”

“Obviously.”

“I wonder if Adam’s free? You’re always telling me what a charming boy he is.” Luis grinned.

“Bite me.”


By the time Luis and Averman got to the party, it was in full swing. Fulton and Portman had found the perfect venue, an old unused attic room with low ceilings and a thick layer of dust on everything. It wasn’t the most beautiful room in the world, but it was big, slightly odd and far away from the faculty room, so they could make as much noise as they liked. There were old couches and chairs scattered around, not to mention long-abandoned school equipment such as blackboards (naturally someone had drawn crude pictures on them, Luis suspected the Bash Brothers), and mouldy books, bloated with damp, and old gym equipment that was probably cutting edge back in the dark ages. It had been dressed up slightly with Christmas decorations that Luis knew had been stolen from the dining hall.

To one side a table held a vast array of snacks, drinks, mixers and the famed Vodka Jell-O, to the other was Fulton and Portman’s stereo, which Fulton was guarding aggressively. When Terri bounced up and requested something by the Spice Girls, he asked Connie (the nearest girl) to bitch-slap Terri until she asked for something sensible.

Annie and Aisha were nowhere to be seen, though the room was quite large and, as Luis pointed out, there were several dark corners where people could hide. They did the rounds, saying hello to everyone. Averman lost Luis and found himself drawn into a huge discussion between Terri and the Bashes. She had requested something by Michael Jackson, they were morally opposed, but then she pointed out that Slash wrote the guitar part of Give in to Me, and they had reached a stalemate. One of the non-Ducks wandered into the discussion and proclaimed, “So what if he worked with Slash and Gilby? He’s still a kiddie-fiddling freak!” And it all began to unravel quickly as Terri exploded in defence of her idol.

“Come with me,” said Luis into his ear, appearing out of nowhere.

Averman thankfully took his hand and escaped from the madness. Luis led him to one of the darker corners of the room, where surprisingly there was a door. Averman though, given the dimensions of the room and the size of the school, that a door placed there would lead to a terrifying plummet to certain death, instead it lead to a small balcony overlooking the school field.

Averman shut the door behind him, and the sudden quiet seemed overwhelming. Snow was falling softly, in the blue-black moonlight the field looked like something off a Hallmark Christmas card, except for the two figures below. As the moon came out from behind a cloud, it became clear that the figures were Annie and Aisha.

“What do you think they’re up to?” Luis asked.

“I have no idea, but I hope it’s good things.”

They stood in silence for awhile, wrapped in each other’s arms. The moon slid behind a cloud once more, leaving them in darkness.

“I love you,” Averman said suddenly.

There was a pause. It wasn’t an awkward pause, it wasn’t one in which Averman felt rejected, it was simply a surprised pause. Surprised and flattered. In years to come, he knew he’d remember that pause, it was good. He didn’t want to hear an instant ‘I love you’, he didn’t want it to be an obligated declaration of love and if Luis had responded instantly it may have gnawed at him that perhaps Luis didn’t mean it.

“I love you too.” In the half light, Averman could hear rather than see the smile on Luis’ face.

In the dark, his lips found Luis’, for a deep kiss that left them both breathless. When they broke apart, the moon had come out again, Annie had gone, leaving Aisha in the middle of the field, seemingly unaware that snow was falling on her bare arms, as she stood slightly dazed, touching her lips thoughtfully


Credits:

Voodoo for Dummies—from Bride of Chucky, if you haven’t seen it, do so. Very funny film.

The venue for the party—lycanthrope’s wonderful “Presidential Suite” from her Bash Brothers stories. If you haven’t read them, do so. Very funny fic.

Much dialogue—boyfriend, scouseboy at livejournal. If you don’t read him, do so. Very funny guy.

Much inspiration—Carla, best friend. If you don’t read her stuff, do so. Very angsty, with bittersweet moments.

“Light up like a happy little Christmas Elf, light up little elf…”—Boy Meets World. I’m not going to defend myself for watching it.