Being the new kid in school, Miles doesn’t expect anyone to be unconditionally nice to him. If they approach him, it’s because they want something from him, and if they sit next to him during lunch, it’s because they want half his pudding. No one pays him any real attention to him unless it’s in their own interest to do so. For that, Miles is partly grateful; his situation could have been so much worse. He’s seen other boys and girls being bullied and for very stupid reasons, too. Sometimes you are only chosen out of bad luck. Maybe you are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, that’s really all it takes sometimes. And so, in a sense, Miles will rather go unnoticed than ending up on someone’s list of enemies.
He thinks himself lucky until – one silly and ridiculously hectic Monday morning – he forgets to watch his steps. He’s speeding around the corner, hoping to make it to class before his teacher does, and consequently, he is unable to slow down and prevent the accident from happening. Running fast into another bloke (a taller, bigger bloke) that he’s never met before and who’s decided to round the corner at the exact same time as Miles, Miles gasps out loud as they bump into each other, hard, causing the other to spill a bottle of orange juice all over himself. Miles steps back immediately, his mouth hanging open with fear.
“Son of a bitch!” The other bloke shouts, looking down at his soaked t-shirt. “What the fuck is the matter with you? Are you a little wanker or something?”
The guy looks down at Miles with mean, angry eyes and his stare is forcing Miles to take a step backwards. He’s always been a coward, and he knows it. He hates confrontations.
“I-I’m really sorry,” Miles stammers, “I didn’t see you there. I-I’m kinda in a rush…”
“Oh you’re in a rush, are you?” The bigger bloke spits. “Aren’t we all in a fuckin’ rush to get somewhere?”
Before Miles can do or say anything, a smaller group of guys appear behind the other’s back, smirking and giggling at what they see. There are three of them, excluding the dude Miles has run into. So, in total, they are four people. Miles is one single person.
“Hey, Maffew,” one of them says laughing, “take it easy, man. What’s going on?”
The bloke who says this has got blond hair and piercing blue eyes, along with a pair of strong, bulky upper-arms. To his right stands an even bigger bloke with even bluer eyes and dark, curly hair. To his left, he’s accompanied by a lad who seems to be somewhat small in comparison; he’s got rich strands of messy, brown hair and big, doe eyes which make him appear innocent and harmless. He’s petite and skinny just like Miles, perhaps even more so, and for this reason, Miles feels automatically safer and less intimidated as he looks over at him. The lad is smiling and suddenly Miles realises – he’s beautiful.
“I’ve got OJ all over my shirt,” groans the bloke Miles is still facing. Apparently his name is Matthew. “And it’s my favourite shirt as well!”
This, however, only has the lads laughing even harder behind his back.
“Your favourite shirt?” The big bloke with the dark, curly hair mocks him. “You mean the one that’s got the words The Funk Might Fracture Your Nose printed on it? The one that’s cost you like – uh, I dunno, a fiver?”
“Yes, it’s a pretty cool shirt, alright?” Matthew sneers. “Money has got nowt to do with it.”
“It’s not really that cool, though, is it?” This time, the slighter lad is the one teasing him. “Besides, orange juices washes off pretty easily, doesn’t it? I mean… At least I fink it does.”
“Yeah…” Matthew wipes at his shirt a couple of times and begins to scratch at his own neck whilst he’s looking slightly embarrassed. “I guess it’s no biggie. Perhaps I was… overreacting a bit.”
“I think you owe him an apology,” the same lad presses on. He smiles at Miles and nudges his friend slightly, forcing Matthew to take a step closer towards him. Matthew now faces Miles up close and Miles gulps. If the others hadn’t been there to lighten the mood and if the lad with the gorgeous smile and eyes darker than coffee beans hadn’t been looking at him so reassuringly, Miles might have just spun around and fled the hallway.
However, Matthew reaches out his hand for him to shake and he clears his throat awkwardly. Despite his struggle, he’s about to make peace with him.
“Sorry about that,” Matthew mutters self-consciously, though he looks as though he means it, “accidents happen, right? It wasn’t your fault, so I shouldn’t have reacted the way I did.”
Miles shakes the bigger bloke’s hand. Little by little, he shakes off his own nervousness.
“That’s alright,” Miles grins and tells him politely, “I’m really sorry about your shirt, though. It’s pretty cool – I would have been upset to see it ruined, too.”
With that, Matthew decides to break into a smile.
“Hey, maybe this fellow is pretty cool after all,” he says and turns around to look at his friends, “what’s your name, mate?”
“Miles. Miles Kane.”
“I’m Matthew Helders, but you can call me Matt. And behind me is-“
“Jamie Cook,” says the blond guy and steps forward to shake Miles’s hand as well, “don’t call me Cookie, though.”
“Why would I call you Cookie-dough?” Miles frowns for a moment. “Oh – oh, you said ‘though’. My bad.” Miles blushes furiously and the lads all look at him as though he’s mental. “A-and ‘Cookie’… because of your surname… I get it now. Sorry.”
Miles crosses his arms over his chest and stares down at his own feet in embarrassment. This is exactly why everyone used to call him the ‘people-repeller’ at his old school. But before things aggravate and turn even more humiliating for him, another hand reaches out to greet him and rescue him at the same time.
“Don’t listen to Jameh, he loves it when we call him Cookie,” the smaller lad with the kind smile tells him, “I’m Alex, by the way. And this maverick over here is Nick O’Malley.”
“Hi,” Nick tells him and nods his head briefly.
“Alex, Nick,” Miles repeats awkwardly, “nice to meet you.”
Miles locks eyes with the lad whose hand he’s still shaking. Alex. When the two of them both look up at each other at the same time, Miles jerks and withdraws his hand with great shame. Alex, on the other hand, remains calm.
“Where are you off to, Miles?” The blond fellow, Jamie, asks suddenly.
“Er – well, I’m supposed to be in Ms. Hayward’s class. For English. But I’m not entirely sure where the room is supposed to be,” Miles admits with an apologetic grin.
“First of all, you’re going in the wrong direction,” Alex interjects, laughing at Miles’s puzzled expression, “second of all, I’m in Ms. Hayward’s class, too. If you walk with me, I’ll show you the way.”
“Oh, thank God,” Miles exhales with relief, “thanks. I really appreciate it. I’m new around here, you see… So I don’t quite know my way around yet.”
“You don’t say…” Matt huffs with a smirk.
“Ignore him,” Alex smiles and pokes Matt with his elbow, “come on, let’s not be late for your first English class.”
He gestures for Miles to follow with and Miles is more than happy to comply.
“See you around, Miles!” Jamie shouts after them and Nick gives a small wave. “Alex – I’ll ring you later!”
“Sure thing, mate – I’ll see you noobs later!” Alex grins at his friends as they part and walk separate ways. Then he turns his attention back on Miles. “Sorry about that – I hope you didn’t feel completely overwhelmed by us, Miles.”
“What? Oh no, not at all,” Miles laughs nervously, “it was actually kind of nice to get to talk to someone. I mean… You’re the first people who’ve properly introduced yourselves to me so far. I haven’t made too many acquaintances yet.”
“Is that so?” Alex looks him over carefully. “I find that hard to believe. People are usually more approachable than that. People are actually quite friendly around here.”
“That’s good to know.” Miles smiles slightly before feeling the blood return to his cheeks. “I dunno… I can be a bit shy, I guess.”
At that, Alex beams at him as though to tell him that there is no harm in that.
“Don’t worry, Miles – people won’t mind you being shy,” Alex tells him kindly and pats his back, “anyway, the classroom’s just down this way.”
It turns out that Alex is liked and adored by most people in this school. As the two of them enter the classroom together, at least five of them wave their arms and greet Alex loudly. One of the girls – Miles soon learns that her name is Taylor – immediately waves Alex over by letting him know that she’s saved him a seat. She’s sat in the back of the classroom and as Alex is headed down towards her, Miles stays behind awkwardly, thinking that he isn’t included in her invitation. However, when Alex sees that Miles is standing still, he quickly grins and gestures for him to come with.
“Here, Miles,” Alex smiles at him, “there’s room for two.”
Miles follows after gratefully. The blonde girl, Taylor, seems surprised to be joined by a second boy that she’s never met before, however, she greets Miles rather nicely and pretends that she wouldn’t rather have kept Alex to herself.
“Who’s your friend, Al?” She flicks her tongue and fixes her blue eyes on Miles.
“I’m Miles,” Miles tells her timidly, perhaps because he’s able to sense her disappointment, “Miles Kane. I’m new here.”
“I’m Taylor,” she says, though without offering her hand, “nice to meet you.”
As the class starts and Ms. Hayward walks in, it becomes evident that even the teacher loves Alex. And not without reason, either. He’s polite and he’s kind. He can be funny without offending anyone. He’s clever. He’s smart and he’s quick and though he hasn’t done most of his homework, he’s better at using his words than any other pupil in the room, it seems. Ms. Hayward doesn’t even tell him off for not having prepared that thoroughly. Perhaps Alex is the kind of scholar that doesn’t really need to study in order to keep up with the rest.
“Did any of you get the chance to read Williamson’s article and analysis on “The Road”?” Ms. Hayward asks the class as she takes Cormac McCarthy’s book out. Miles did actually read the article, or at least half of it, but he wouldn’t know what to say on it, so he merely keeps his head down. “Does anyone remember what Williamson’s interpretation of The Son was? What does The Son symbolise as a character? Anybody?”
Alex raises a hand, slowly, when no one else seems to have anything to say.
“Alex, you didn’t even read the article,” Ms. Hayward reminds him patiently.
“But I read the book,” Alex tells her, “I fink it’s pretty obvious what The Son represents.”
“Well, go on then,” the teacher humours him.
“He represents purity,” Alex states, “he was born after the apocalypse, so this is the only world he knows. Unlike The Man, his father, The Son is completely innocent and wants to believe that every person he meets can be good and deserves help. The Son doesn’t believe in killing others in order to survive. For that reason, he’s pure. And he’s the reason you want to keep reading the book, despite how depressing it is.”
Ms. Hayward looks over at Alex and hesitates before she speaks. “You say he’s the reason you keep reading the book? Why? Can you elaborate on that?”
“Well, he’s the character that The Man will do anything to protect,” Alex explains, “there’s nothing more precious to The Man than his son. And because of that, the reader is forced to finish the book in order to see if The Son actually survives. Because if he doesn’t, there’s no meaning in any of it.”
Ms. Hayward nods slowly. “Alright, Turner, interesting point you have. There’s one thing, however. The Man tells his son to commit suicide if he is caught by the bad people. Not to kill them, but to kill himself. He even teaches The Boy how to shoot himself. So perhaps he doesn’t want his son to survive at all cost. Or what do you think?”
Alex falls silent for a moment. “Huh,” he says, “I forgot about that. Nevermind, then. I’m sure Williamson argues something else, anyway.”
“Actually,” Ms. Hayward smiles at him, “Williamson’s points are closer to yours than you think. Are you sure you haven’t read the article, Turner?”
“Positive,” Alex assures her with a smile.
Miles looks over at Alex, impressed with the other’s ability to analyse a novel without having read any secondary material. Taylor is looking at Alex, too. She jabs him in the ribs with her pencil and whispers to him: “Nerd.” She has a big smile on her face.
After their English class has finished, Alex and Miles split up again to go to different classes. Miles’s last class of the day is Biology whereas Alex’s is Music. When the bell rings and they both must rush ahead in each their own direction, Alex pauses and asks Miles if he knows where to go.
“Oh – yeah, I’ll be fine this time,” Miles laughs, “thanks, though. I’ll… hopefully see you around. Or something.”
“Of course you will,” Alex tells him with a smile, “you should come and have lunch with me and the lads tomorrow. We’ll make sure to get a big table.”
“That sounds great,” Miles grins, “I’ll definitely do that, then.”
Alex winks at him and disappears down the hallway. Miles is almost late for class because he lingers there, looking after Alex almost longingly as he departs quickly. Miles didn’t even know the guy three hours ago, but now he misses him already. He hopes that Alex meant what he said and that Miles will actually be welcome to join him and his friends tomorrow. And perhaps even the day after that. And the day after that…
As he enters the class last minute and chooses a random seat in the middle of the classroom in order to avoid wasting the teacher’s time, Miles notices Alex’s friend, Matt, sitting in the front row. Matt doesn’t look over at Miles and he doesn’t wave for him to come over and occupy that empty seat right next to him. For a moment, Miles is completely disheartened and wonders if, perhaps, Alex is in fact the only one in his group who wishes to hang out with him. Or maybe Matt is still upset about his shirt.
“Hey! Miles – over here!”
Miles is taken by surprise for the second time that day when someone calls his name after he’s stepped outside the school building at four o’clock in the afternoon. He’s on his way home, but now he can’t help but to turn around and look who’s calling him.
“Miles – right here, mate!”
This time he recognises the voices. Alex and Jamie are both stood smoking under the large trees along with some other mates that Miles won’t be introduced to for a long time to come. But he smiles at them and walks over to them immediately.
“Alright, guys,” he says, baring his teeth, “are you both off?”
“Yeah,” Jamie says, taking a heavy drag from his cigarette, “free at last, eh?” Then he looks Miles over. “Do you smoke, Kane?”
“A bit,” Miles shrugs, “but I’m alright at the moment. I was just on my way home.”
“Whereabouts do you live?” Alex asks him. His brown eyes are even more beautiful now that they are surrounded by the great outdoors. The paleness of the skies are making them shine.
“Oh, about a mile and a half from here,” Miles tells him, “on Park Lane, if you know it. Close to a big Sainsbury’s.”
“Shut up!” Alex exclaims and Jamie produces a booming laughter, which makes Miles fear that he’s being made fun of all of a sudden. But then he learns: “I live on Park Lane,” Alex explains to him, “fookin’ hell – are you with the family that’s just moved in number 11?”
“Yeah,” Miles grins, “that would be my parents.”
“I live in number 13,” Alex beams, “we’re bloody neighbours! Can you believe it?”
Miles feels his cheeks burning when each corner of his mouth widens and spreads out far enough to reach both his ears.
“Unbelievable,” he chuckles, locking eyes with Alex once again, “I mean, that’s great.”
“Bloody hell,” Jamie murmurs, seemingly unimpressed when he blows out his smoke in their direction, “are you guys going to throw pajamas parties from now on?”
Alex ignores him and ashes his cigarette with the heel of his boot. “Come on, Miles,” he smirks, “we’ll walk home together, shall we?”
“How old are you?” Miles asks Alex when it’s just the two of them, strolling down the street lazily. For some reason, he’s glad to not have the others around.
“Sixteen,” Alex replies with a small yawn and rubs at his eyes tiredly, “sorry, I haven’t been getting much sleep lately. Anyway, I’m assuming we’re the same age?”
“Yeah, I’m sixteen, too.” Miles couldn’t feel any lamer than he does right now. He has never been great at socialising with people. “Sorry, I was going to ask you something more interesting than that, but… My brain’s kinda mush right now.”
Surprised at Miles’s admission, Alex snorts and can’t keep from giggling slightly.
“Do you always talk yourself down like that?” He asks him, amused and slightly worried at the same time. “Anyway, I think you’re just overwhelmed ‘cus you’re new. Things will get less awkward soon. I’m pretty sure.”
“So you don’t mind if I’m being a little awkward?” Miles can’t keep from laughing at himself either. “God, listen to me. I sound like a ten-year-old.”
“It’s not so bad,” Alex chuckles, “it’s only because people act so bloody tough and confident all the time. Including Matt. I’ve known Matt all me life, but you should have seen him on his first day of school. He wasn’t so confident back then.”
“Thanks. That actually helps.” Miles grins. “You seem really close, though. As a group, I mean. Have you also known Jamie and Nick your whole life?”
“Pretty much,” Alex nods, “we’re almost like brothers now. We know everything about each other. The only difference is, of course, they all have real siblings, whereas I don’t. I’m an only child, so I only have them.”
“I’m an only child, too,” Miles tells him, “I wish I had siblings, though. Or at least close friends, like you do.”
Alex merely smiles at his remark. “Are you at least close with your parents?” He asks.
“I guess, though mainly my mum.” Miles shrugs. “She’s pretty easy to talk to at least. What about you? Are you close with your folks?”
“I am, though I hate to admit it,” Alex laughs and it’s contagious enough to reach Miles’s lips, “my parents are both teachers, actually. That’s why I’m being such a smart-arse in class. Terribly annoying I am – I know.”
“I don’t think anyone’s annoyed by that,” Miles tells him honestly, remembering how everyone greeted Alex in their own chummy ways, “besides, you’re not being a smart-arse when what you say is actually clever. There is a distinction. Are your parents proud of you, then?”
“Proud of me?” Alex stares at Miles as though he’s asked him if the moon is made of cheese. “I don’t know if they’re proud of me. They sometimes tell me that I’ve got great potential, but I don’t know if it’s the same thing. At least they don’t tend to yell at me. Maybe that means they’re satisfied with me. I don’t know.”
The two of them continue to walk side by side, slowly and carefree, as though they’ve got all the time in the world. The sun is shining dimly and for the first time in several weeks, the weather is nice and mild. Miles can’t help but to steal glances at Alex every now and again; his brown mop of hair is gilded by the sun, making it appear so soft and fluffy, Miles almost longs to touch it. Even Alex’s eyelashes are glimmering with sunlight. It makes him think that for once in his life, he’s actually met someone special. Alex could be special to him, Miles realises.
“Here we are,” Alex says suddenly, pausing at the end of the street where the two houses – number 11 and number 13 – are lined up next to each other beautifully, “I still can’t believe we live next door to each other.”
“Maybe we can even look into each other’s bedrooms,” Miles muses before he can stop himself.
“You better close the curtains every time you wank,” Alex laughs boyishly, “I can’t be waking up to that every morning.”
“What do you take me for?” Miles joins in, chortling. “Maybe you should be careful not to spy on me, then.”
They both laugh for a moment, looking over at each other’s houses.
“I’d invite you in and maybe show you around,” Alex then tells him, “but I’m afraid my parents are going to be home soon. And I’ve promised them to do all my homework this time.”
“That’s alright,” Miles tells him, “maybe we can meet up tomorrow and walk to school together.”
“Yeah, that sounds great,” Alex agrees, bumping shoulders with Miles spontaneously, or perhaps it’s merely a tradition he shares with Matt and the other guys. Either or, they are both too small and skinny, the bumping of shoulders wouldn’t have impressed any spectators. “See you around, Miles.” Alex grins.
“See you tomorrow, Alex.”
Miles waves the other off before walking up to his own house. Before he leaves, he reads the small letters on the mailbox belonging to no. 13, reading ‘David, Penny and Alexander Turner.’ As Miles digs out the key from his pocket and walks up to the front door, he smiles and shakes his head with amazement: To think that, to him, Alex has now become the cute boy next door.