Saturday

Monday.

She trudged down the hall behind him, ready for another speech, or blasting, or whatever he happened to be in the mood for. It wouldn't make any difference and they both knew it. He needed to let it out somehow, though, and this was as good a way as any. It was her fault.

He reached an empty classroom and opened the door. She stepped inside, sat on a desk and looked around bleakly. It was cold down here. She shivered, and he automatically took off his coat. Or maybe he was getting ready to beat her up, she reflected. It might be a nice change.

"Look, Smith, I don't want to blame you for anything."

That was never a good start. When he shouted she could shout back, both of them got their feelings out and they moved on. This way, she suppressed them and studied her swinging feet instead.

"He would have got into it. We both know that. We're rational, respectable individuals –"

She snorted. He paused, waited politely for her to go on, and continued when he was sure she wasn't about to. "I'm sure we can sort this –"

"Parker, do you not have anything better to do with your time?"

He stopped once more. She slapped him. "Stop being so polite! You hate me, you blame me, stop pulling your upper-class fascist snob act and get it into your head that we hate each other but that's okay, because we have a mutual friend who loves us both so we don't need to be so damned civil."

He laughed at that. "Civil! All right. Let's not be civil. What are you going to say?"

"I'm going to say that you're a cold-blooded cunt with your head up your arse, and you need to spend less time lecturing me and more trying to get it out."

"My head, you mean."

"Yes."

"That sounded rather like civilized conversation to me. Shall I carry on?"

"You're starting again. Hit me or something, would you?"

He narrowed his eyes. "I'm trying to reach some kind of agreement with you, Smith. I don't want to watch my friends die."

"Neither do I."

"You don't want the cash flow to stop. I don't want them to die. There's a difference. Either way we should be able to come to some sort of –"

"You're seventeen, will you stop talking like you're forty?"

"I'm eighteen and I'm not."

"Wow, what a line. Do you know I could sue you for forcing an underage girl into an empty classroom with you?"

"It's not empty now that we're here, is it. Smith, please try to focus. I do have a class to get to and I'd like to eat first."

"Go ahead, I'm not complaining."

"You need money, yes?"

A nod. He nudged her along. "For…"

"School. Summer lodgings, food, clothing, supplies, secondary education."

"That's a lot of money."

"I'm making a lot."

"If I paid you more would you stop?"

She crossed her arms and looked away. "That's unethical."

"What you're doing is not only illegal and will put you in jail if you're caught, it is endangering the lives of everyone you come into contact with. I don't think you're in a position to talk ethics."

She changed ground fast. "I'm not ethical anyway, I'm practical."

"I'm offering you more than you're making now. It's practical to take it."

"Yes, but James, you're going to give it to me. This way I'm earning what I get. I can live with that."

"That sounds very impractical."

"I didn't say I was dead. I just said I wasn't ethical."

"Do dead people not have ethics? Good heavens. Who's running this place, anyway?"

"Theologically speaking, God. Actually, I have no fucking clue. Can we go to lunch?"

"We're out to lunch already, baby," he said with a smirk. "And we're going to finish."

She rubbed her cheek and said, "Do you think this floor would be comfortable to sleep on?"

"It's not. I was going to say something."

"Say it, then."

"I don't remember what." He swiped at his forehead with the back of his hand. "Will you just stop? He won't, you know he won't, he'll kill himself. Can you live with that?"

"When it comes to me or him, I don't even know him."

"So you'll let him die."

"This is the nineties, Parker. Human rights, pro-choice, you know the deal. I'm an activist."

"You're acting like you're bloody thick. Will you cut it out?"

"No."

"Fine then." He tightened his mouth and glared. "And I don't know what the hell I'm going to do about it, so stop worrying I'll think of something."

"Considering the number of pranks you've successfully pulled off, I'd have thought you could outwit a stupid girl."

"You're not stupid."

"Thank you."

"It wasn't a compliment."

"I didn't suppose it was."

"Do you want to come for lunch?"

"Right now? No, I have to close a deal." She bared her teeth at him. "Do you think that by lengthening the time you spend at it you'll be more likely to convince me? I'm telling you, you can't compete with the kind of money I'm making."

He was laughing by the time she had finished. "So that's what it is," he said, lounging against the wall and tilting his head back until his hair crushed against the stone. He put his hands into his pockets. "No one could possibly find the quid to equal the many, many foolish young 'ns that Torin brings to your door."

"You sound rather bitter."

"He's my best friend, that doesn't mean he's overly intelligent."

"Yeah, well, he does his best."

"He could be doing better."

She didn't say anything. Eventually he inhaled very slowly, opened his eyes and straightened up. "Well, I should be going."

"It was lovely talking to you, Parker."

"Hm."

"Don't try anything too brainless."

"What makes you think I'd do that?"

"I don't know. Some deep inflection in your voice is whispering of it."

"It sounds rather sexy when you put it that way." He covered a yawn with his hand. "I'm not through with you, you know."

"So you've said."

"I'm saying it again. I won't let up."

"Have you tried the other end?"

"Torin, you mean? Oh, he's gone. He knows what quitting means and he's not going to buy it."

"Would you care to?"

James raised an eyebrow. She lifted her shoulders in a shrug.

"I thought not. One can always try."

"One can always try," he agreed, nodding to her as he went out. She thought to herself as she followed that it hadn't been so bad that time. Once fair, twice foul, she reasoned. Such was life.

Tuesday.

James slid into the seat next to Torin and helped himself to lunch. Torin watched him from the corner of his eye, carefully.

"You're late."

"I know I am."

"Where have you been?"

"Do you care?"

Torin shrugged and went back to his food.

"Football practice tonight."

"You're not even on the team."

"I like to keep track. This way I know which nights I have to do my own homework."

"Like you ever do anyway."

Torin pushed his plate away and got up. "What is up your arse, Parker?"

"My head." James kept shoving food into his mouth as Torin left.

They didn't see each other until biology. They sat behind the same table as always, but Torin wasn't about to risk speech. James was uncomfortable for a few minutes until he said quietly, "Look, I was talking to Clementine."

Torin squinted at the blackboard, refusing to look at James. "Why were you talking to Clementine." It wasn't a question; he knew the answer.

"I was more yelling at her. I tried talking to her yesterday."

"But it didn't work."

"No. Of course it didn't bloody work, the girl is imperishable."

"Are you sure that's the word you're looking for?"

"Yes."

"Why can't you let up?"

James laughed. "Why can't you quit?"

"Have you never heard of chemical dependency, James? Have you never heard of withdrawal?"

"No, I haven't. She'll cut you off eventually."

"What good would that do her?"

"If you die, she gets caught."

"So, I won't die."

"How can you bloody well tell? You know you're –"

"Mr Parker!" Farthing had stopped her lesson and was staring at them, along with the rest of the class. James wiggled several fingers in their direction.

"Hi."

"Would you care to join us, or will you carry on your conversation outside?"

"That would actually be awesome, thanks," James said, getting up and grabbing Torin by the arm. Farthing fixed them with a glare and they sank back into their seats.

"Wrong answer. I want a ten page essay on the history of misdemeanours in this school, from each of you, assuming it's late enough in the year to be a safe assignment," she said sarcastically.

"Don't worry, Professor, we'll be sure to take notes," James said with a wink.

She started to turn away. Torin put up his hand. "Do you mean the history or the essay to be from each of us?"

"One guess."

Torin nodded gravely. "I might need more paper than that, but I'll try to squeeze them in."

"I'll see you in my office at the end of the day, Wright. Bring plenty of elbow-grease. Now be still."

They sat without moving for the rest of the class. As soon as the bell rang they were out the door, and James said, "doing too much."

"What?"

"You know you're doing too much."

"Too much of what?"

"I'm picking up our argument."

"What was it about again, sorry?"

"You." James rolled his eyes.

Torin spread his arms wide and grinned. "Here I am."

"For how long?"

"Not very, History's a good hike."

"How many times do you think you can OD before you feel the effects?"

"Once. Why do you ask?"

"I'm going to kill you," James said.

"Do it now, then, I can't stand that witch of a teacher."

"Men are more to your taste, I bet." James was rummaging through his bag to make sure he hadn't left any books behind. Torin walked backwards to keep James' pace.

"Why Parker, I do believe that is the single most prejudiced statement I have heard come out of your mouth. You wouldn't rather I found some homosexual to supply me, surely."

"I would rather you stop."

"This is getting tedious."

"I know it is."

"Then hush, and let me think."

"It's not like you have much to think about anyway. I left my bio text."

"Do you want to go back for it?"

"Not very much."

Torin turned forward and sped up. "I have lots to think about. I have to think about how long I can wangle living with your parents without wearing out my welcome. I have to think about how I'm going to support myself when I do. I have to think about whether steak or ground beef is more to my taste for dinner this evening."

"That's a lot."

"I know it is."

"I can think of at least one way of cutting down on your expenses, and lengthening your stay to boot."

"I can think of at least three reasons not to."

"I think we've been over two. What's the third?"

"Have you ever thought about Clementine?"

"Many times, none of them agreeable."

"She's desperate for money -"

"She refused what I offered."

"You tried to bribe her? That's big of you, especially since it isn't yours to give. She's living on the edge. She needs all the help I can provide."

"You're not helping, you're a paying customer and she sees you as such. She doesn't give a rat's ass what happens to you and you know it."

"Well, I give at least a bunny rabbit's ass about her, and I happen to want her to live a decent life."

"So do I, but I don't think you should be sacrificing your health for it. Not that I imagine you see it that way."

"Whatever, James. Give it up."

He did, for the time being. They suffered through the rest of the afternoon and headed back to Farthing's office, Torin for his detention and James for his book. Clementine would be there last block.

Wednesday.

Clementine got up before anyone else every morning. She went down to the common room on Wednesday to find James waiting on the couch. He waved her over, so she went, warily. When she had seated herself he said,

"You're up early."

"Bad habits are hard to break."

"I know they are."

"Please, Parker, not now. It's early, give it a rest."

"Might as well start the day off with a bang."

She spread herself out across her half of the couch and closed her eyes. She had had a long night. She didn't like it when Torin set her up with other dorms, but there wasn't much choice. She went after hours to deliver. It took a very long time.

A warm breath of air on her skin made her snap her eyes back open, startled. She sat up, cracked her forehead against James' and fell back with a thud.

"Jesus, James, don't do that." She pressed a hand to her chest and tried to slow her breathing. "Prod me or something, will you? Don't hover over me like that."

James was rubbing the bridge of his nose. "You should talk, you don't have bits of metal waiting to break into your face. What is your problem?"

"What is your problem? I'm trying to get some sleep, so please, just sit there and be quiet."

He sat there, quietly. She didn't move. Growing tired of waiting, he went over to the table where he had left his books. He had only been working for a few minutes when she stood, stretched, and came over to join him.

He didn't look up as he said, "Did you sleep well?"

"How civilized," she remarked, ignoring his question. He kept working.

She leaned over until her head was next to his, and blew on his ear. He kept working. She tiptoed her fingers across the table toward his pen. He ran out of ink, and moved his hand.

Eventually she bored and walked around. Resting her forearms across his shoulders, she bent down and touched the tip of her nose to the nape of his neck. He jumped.

"Jesus, you're cold!"

"Ah! He lives!"

"I thought we'd already determined that."

"That was me."

"Right."

He carried on in silence. She sighed and rested her chin in her hand. "You really hate me, don't you."

"Don't be ridiculous. I just hate what you're doing."

"No, you hate me," she insisted. "In your upper-class fascist –"

"Stop hanging around Torin," he said.

"Here it comes."

"You're starting to sound like him."

"That was the end of your sentence."

She said this in the tone she might have used to describe a miracle.

"What a marvel you are."

"You don't get me."

"I most certainly do not."

"I wasn't finished. What I mean is, you said something about Torin that wasn't relating to his drug abuse."

James moved faster than she thought was possible for such a negligent character. She didn't have time to draw back before his face was an inch from hers. "You don't call it that."

"What am I supposed to say?"

"We don't talk about it."

Clementine laughed. "We don't, don't we. We make sure to mask our words in fucking civilization, don't we, we make sure we're good and kind and sensitive to each others feelings, and that way no one can tell that you spend every day of your fucking life tearing me down." Her voice rose toward the end of her sentence. James moved away.

"Quiet, you're going to wake everyone."

"Oh, no." She was laughing again. "I don't care about anyone else, remember? I do whatever the hell I please and carry on my merry way, isn't that sweet, until you get hurt and then it's oh, Clementine darling, why don't you go play somewhere else? Why don't you take your fucking –"

James had stood up so fast his chair tipped, but he let it lie, covered her mouth from where he stood behind her, pressing her close. "Quiet. You're going to wake everyone."

She pried his fingers off one at a time. They were twisted in her grasp as she said, "Why don't you take your fucking hell to someone else's doorstep, and don't you fucking cut me off," she finished.

James waited until she was ready to let go. Then he went upstairs to change his clothes.

Thursday.

James was on edge all day. Torin made good and sure to avoid him. Michael spoke softly to the other two, ignoring James. James was just as glad.

He had football practice that night.

Friday.

The sun was pouring through the windows when James awoke, stretched out on the couch in the common room. He pushed himself up on his elbows and gave his head a shake, eyes shut to block out the glare. He opened them a crack, in front of his watch.

"Fuck."

"I thought so too," came a chipper voice next to his ear. He groaned.

"What d'you want?"

"Wake up, it's five o'clock already."

"Time flies. Go back to bed."

"Your voice is very growly first thing and I like it."

"Maybe if I wake up twice it'll be growlier."

A disappointed sort of exhalation from beside him. "It's going away now. All good things must come to an end."

"To coin a phrase," he said, rolling over. He shielded his face with a hand and opened his eyes. Clementine was beaming down at him from where she was crouched on the floor. "What are you doing?"

"I was awake. I thought you might as well be, too."

"Now I am. What are you going to do about it?"

"Take you up on your lunch offer. Come on, get up."

"It's five o'clock in the morning!"

"Do you not know where the kitchens are?"

"That doesn't change what time it is."

"Yes, but no one has porridge for lunch, do they. We're going to get something lunchy, and then we can have a picnic."

"The ground will be soaking wet."

"It's called magic, Parker. And table cloths."

"If it doesn't have checks I'm not going near it."

"Red and white, there's no other way."

"All right, then. You go get sandwiches and I'll find a magic."

She held up a wicker basket. "That's okay, you don't have an excuse to escape me. Let's go."

James stumbled after her as she skipped down the stairs. It was only when they got outside that he realized he was wearing his track pants and t-shirt from practice, with no coat to cut the wind. He shivered. "I've got to go back, Smith, I'll freeze."

"We'll swath you in blankets. I brought lots."

"Where are you going?"

"Do you want the football field or the lake?"

"I don't care," James said, his voice muffled. Clementine looked between the two and said,

"Football field, then."

"Do you like football?" This was the most hopeful thing he'd heard all day. Her laugh felt like a flowery blade slicing open his heart and stabbing it repeatedly into the ground.

"Not in the least. Mostly I like to watch the football players zooming around kicking I know not what, but it's unlikely we'll get that this morning."

"Or," he said, starting to turn back, "I could rouse the team and we could –"

She grabbed hold of him and dragged him forward. "You're not getting away, James."

"That's not your angry voice. Why are you calling me that when you're not angry? Are you secretly plotting to kill me? Is that why you're so happy?" He pulled himself free. "Why are you touching me? Why aren't you running away before I start to talk about –"

She pressed a finger to his lips. "Hush. We're not talking about that."

"We're not?"

"We're not."

"Then I don't need to be here. I'll just –"

"James."

"That's your angry voice, I can hear it."

"Shut your mouth and move."

He followed her soundlessly, the grass cushioning their footfalls. The place was locked down, but James still had the key to the dressing rooms in his pocket. He opened the door for her, and she sat down on one of the benches. He went to his locker and got out a sweater.

"Are you alright?"

"I will swath myself in blankets. No worries."

"I can get you a jacket from Torin's old locker."

She shook her head. "Let's just go."

They went out to the middle of the pitch. He lay down and put his head on his arms.

"I'm tired, Clem. It's early."

"If it wasn't early we'd be in class."

"You sure know how to make a bad situation seem a whole lot worse."

"I want to talk to you."

"Can I just lie here and listen?"

"Sure. Go ahead."

She didn't say anything for a while. James didn't mind, he was happy waiting for the sun to rise properly and get rid of the cool blue mist hanging over them. She thought of a lot of things she wanted to tell him, none of them very relevant. In the end she went back to the school.

James had gone to sleep. He didn't wake up until halfway through the morning, and even then it was just to have a sandwich. It seemed strange that she would drag him all the way out to tuck him in to bed, but he didn't worry about it too much. It was probably a healthy step.

Saturday.

James slept in. The dormitories were empty by the time he got up. He didn't remember his detention until he had shaving cream smeared over half his face. He decided it could wait.

Farthing, as head of their dorm, was responsible for James missing half a day of classes on Friday. He ran all the way to her office, where his detention was to take place. She was waiting outside her door, arms folded.

"Sorry, Professor," he panted, "I –"

"Inside," she said, pointing. He walked passed her with his head bowed, trying to look disgraced. She didn't buy it. Instead she followed him in and sat down across from him with a disapproving look on her face.

"Parker, I have had enough."

He opened his mouth to speak.

"You have spent the last twelve years in our care. For over a decade Aglarond has kept you safe here, and you have repaid him with miserable tricks, practical jokes, and instance after instance of childish behaviour."

"I rather thought he –"

"Silence. What he thinks is immaterial. Your conduct is unacceptable. You were chosen to be Head Boy because the staff - for the most part - thought that you would be a positive influence on the younger students. You have fallen short in every respect."

"I'm sorry, Professor."

"Where were you yesterday?"

"I slept in."

"What was that?"

"I said I slept in."

She ground her teeth. James cleared his throat.

"Do you want me to –"

"Sit."

He sat.

"What were you doing Thursday evening to constitute this sudden need for sleep?"

"I had football practice."

"If that is affecting your studies, I'm pulling you from the team."

"We have one game left!"

"I don't care."

"The Cup, Professor! You wouldn't!"

It was with a pained expression that she assured him yes, she would. He tried a different tact.

"Practice ended early, really, it was homework that –"

"It should have been done."

He threw up his hands. "What do you want me to say?"

"That you're sorry and it will never happen again."

"I'm sorry. It won't happen again. Ever," he tacked on for good measure. She seemed to be mulling over his words, testing them for their liability. He tried to keep still and failed miserably. When she had watched him squirm for what felt like a very long time, she bent over the papers piled on her desk. With a wave of her hand she said,

"Go, Parker. There isn't much we can do to you that hasn't been done."

"I'd believe that," he said in a relieved tone. "Do you remember the time you –"

"Yes."

He wished there was something to be done with his hands. He put them in his pockets and stood for a moment. Then he left.

Clementine was outside, her mouth full of sandwich. She held it out to him. "Sorry. I got hungry waiting so long. How'd it go?"

He shrugged. "Not too shabby."

"How many did you get?"

He pulled his other hand from his pocket and held out a fistful of honey lemon drops. "Count 'em up."

She seized them. "Seventeen! Is that enough, do you think?"

"I could have got more."

"Why didn't you?"

"She was watching. Shut up and let me eat."

She walked beside him. "What'd she do to you?"

"Lectured."

"That took an hour and a half?"

"I was an hour eighteen late."

She was impressed. "Beats Torin by three minutes."

"I know it does." He caught her hand in his. "And," he said, "Torin meandered on purpose. I ran."

"By accident?"

"Yes, I tripped many times."

She liked that. Reaching across him for the sandwich she said, "Okay. Well. You can stop touching me now."