“Make sure to put the quote at the start,” Law said, gesturing to the screen. Rhoan made a thoughtful sound.
“The ‘humans were born armed’ one,” Law replied. Rhoan obediently pulled his cursor back to the beginning of their essay and typed it in, his fingers flying over the keyboard with no mistakes. Law was always jealous how quickly Rhoan could type – and sometimes disturbed at how his friend could type while holding a conversation and looking at Law. But growing up the only computer Law had access to was his dad’s old one, until that had finally died, and Law had ended up using his phone instead of getting to grips with his dad’s shiny new PC.
Besides, this set up worked well for them: Law would dictate their essay, and Rhoan would type and occasionally give input when Law had missed something.
Their history essay was on war – specifically the cycle of advantage between infantry and mounted units. It was a topic Law should have found fascinating, but his mind had been elsewhere during the classes and preparation work. He’d even drifted after Rhoan in a dream-like state to find a free computer room.
Rhoan hadn’t commented on it, but Law wasn’t going to assume that he’d keep his silence for long. Law’s mind was so very rarely distracted from work, but then he had been wrestling with a strange new concept all week.
He had barely admitted it to himself, but his first instinct was to talk about it with Rhoan. Rhoan, as blunt and as indiscreet as he was, was still Law’s closest friend beyond Eilidh. And unlike Eilidh, Rhoan had often commented about how clued up his parents were. Law had never met them, but according to Rhoan they were staunch protestors of inequality and often dragged him along to various events to make their voices heard. He knew it was unlikely that Rhoan would do more than bat an eyelid.
And yet his heart was still thundering in his chest. This seemingly innocuous piece of information could change everything. Their entire relationship dynamic could alter. But Law was bursting at the seams to talk to someone about it, someone who could help him figure out exactly what this meant for him.
“Du-ude,” Rhoan said, sounding like he was annoyed for repeating himself. “’The mastery of these principles of war are what made military leaders such as blah and blah so successful, but one difference between them remained: the technology available to use at their time.’ Sound good? What leaders could I reference, here? Kahn, right, since he united the Mongols and got himself a massive empire, but who else? Alexander the Great, or Caesar?”
Law fiddled with his rolled shirt sleeves. “I think I’m gay,” he said softly.
“Okay I’ll go for Caesar then I guess,” Rhoan muttered, the keyboard clacking as his fingers raced over them. Law fidgeted behind him, feeling like his chest was getting too tight to breathe.
“Are you not going to say anything?” Law asked in a small voice.
Rhoan paused mid-word and turned to stare at him. His expression was almost comical. “Mostly I want to say what the fuck,” he scowled. Law froze, his eyes going round, and his heart seemed to plummet into his shoes. Seeing this, Rhoan’s expression softened. “Not because you’re gay, Jesus dude. Are you seriously just figuring this out?”
“What?” Law blinked.
Rhoan shook his head in wonder. “Unbelievable,” he muttered, going back to their essay. He picked up the sentence again and, as his fingers were busy typing away, continued. “And you call me oblivious!”
“What do you mean?” Law asked defensively, his voice going high.
Rhoan tutted. “Law I’ve watched you check out almost every guy’s ass that’s ever walked past us. And you’ve never even noticed when Mia wears that low cut top and trust me, even if she’s not your type it’s hard not to get, uh, a bit distracted.”
Law frowned at the computer, but Rhoan wasn’t finished.
“Why did you think I said you would never notice if Eilidh was hot or not? It’s not ‘cause she’s your childhood friend, trust me.”
“Oh,” Law sighed.
“You’re hopeless,” Rhoan snickered. “And this is hilarious. Honestly, Law, I can’t believe you seriously think you’ve just stumbled upon some great discovery about yourself. You’re so precious. Now can we finish this essay, please?”
“Yeah,” Law muttered, reaching up to feel how hot his cheeks were to the touch.
“I can’t believe you were almost too busy to hang out this weekend,” Eilidh whined, tugging on his arm to get him closer to her door. “You suck.”
“I’m here!” Law protested, pulling back out of spite. Eilidh noticed the resistance and pushed her bottom lip out.
“But it’s a special weekend celebration!” she said, in an important voice that made Law laugh.
He figured he might as well bite. “For what?”
Eilidh’s eyes went round with betrayal. “For our friend-aversary!” she said with a gasp. “Have you forgotten?!”
Law chuckled. “Apparently so. It’s hard to remember things before five years of age, you know. Most of the memories we have are actually-“
“SHUSH! Shut your science trap,” Eilidh cried. “Don’t spoil our special day.”
“Special day,” Law repeated with a laugh and a shake of his head. “We didn’t celebrate this last year.”
“Shut up,” Eilidh barked at him. “And come indoors. When did you get so strong?” she asked with a huff, trying in vain to tug him closer. Law grinned at her.
“It’s all about planting your feet right,” he said. “You have to do it in martial arts.”
“Why are you so uncool?” Eilidh asked, wrinkling her nose at him.
Law shrugged innocently. “Does that make you uncool by association?”
“Luckily I have enough of a cool reserve to handle it,” she said, and with a final tug they crashed through her door.
Eilidh’s bedroom was almost as familiar to Law’s as his own. If they weren’t hanging out at the park, they were here. Law’s room was simply too small and, anyway, Eilidh’s house was huge.
Her bedroom was surprisingly ordered for Eilidh, who was usually a fan of everything having its place… but that place being a section of floor. Law walked around with exaggerated steps.
“Wow, there aren’t any trip hazards for a change!”
Eilidh poked out her tongue at Law and dove into her oversized beanbag. Law stayed where he was, feeling a wave of awkwardness wash over him. He couldn’t recall the last time he’d felt like this around her.
Suddenly flailing for a topic of conversation, Law nodded to the large canvas print that sat above her dressing table. “I’ve never asked – where is that from?”
Eilidh smiled proudly as she turned to look. “Oh, that’s an original from an artist called Stevens. It’s, like, almost fifty years old now. I love his work.”
“Who is it?” Law asked, eyeing the man.
“Oh, it was his partner. Bit weird, but they were never actually, like, physically involved with each other. I don’t get it either, but when I was analysing his paintings a lot of the talk was about how he painted his love and intimacy into the art instead.”
Seeing an opening, Law reached for it. “Oh, so he was gay?”
Eilidh made a face. “I guess. Anyway, the paintings took a little while to get well known. Maybe it was because he was gay. But the art world has always been full of weird people,” Eilidh shrugged.
Law nodded and kept his face painfully blank.
Eilidh patted the seat next to her and robotically Law perched on the beanbag, the accompanying whoosh of air making Eilidh bounce up briefly. She giggled at that and patted his arm where it lay across her legs.
For lack of anything else to say, Law decided he’d finally give Rhoan the shot he’d been asking for every other day for the last few weeks. “Hey, uh, Rhoan wants your number, by the way.”
Eilidh’s cheeks grew pinker, if only slightly. “Really?” she asked. “Smartie pants Rhoan wants my number?”
Law nodded absently. “He thinks you’re cute and funny. And he keeps begging me to play cupid, so…”
Eilidh thought about this and then beamed. “Okay, you can give it to him. I think he’s pretty cool, you know. Way more interesting than all the guys at school. They’re so immature,” she said, and then launched into a story from the other week which mercifully gave Law some time to collect his thoughts.
“You know,” Law said, scanning around Chase’s room, “there are less sports things here than I expected.” His eyes fell on the lamp sitting in the corner nearby. “And one more lava lamp than I thought I’d see. What year is it, again?”
“Shush, you,” Chase said playfully, nudging his arm. “I don’t want to hear a bad thing about my lava lamp. Also, my balls are all downstairs. Uh, in a manner of speaking,” Chase said, coughing to cover up his accidental innuendo. “I have my dumbbells here though, if you’re really desperate to prove to yourself I’m a jock.”
“Rather than a lava lamp enthusiast?” Law asked, returning Chase’s grin.
Chase turned away to pick up his laptop, which had pacman stickers lovingly plastered over the surface. They must have been old, because they were peeling at the edges; their stickiness was replaced by a layer of brown dust and dirt.
Despite Law’s comment, Chase’s room was somehow exactly what he’d expected. The clutter was more or less ordered, and little knick-knacks littered his shelves. A stack of records sat on top of the dressing table and a record player waited in the corner. A pile of cushions and a quilt lay in a nest beside his window, and Law thought it made sense given how often he found Chase perched on the floor in the study room rather than on one of the seats.
Three clocks sat above his headboard; the middle was set to UK time, whereas the left most clock was on East coast and the right most clock was, Law reckoned, Australian time.
Chase settled down and opened his laptop, beckoning him over. Law folded his legs and sat. “Why the clocks?” he asked curiously.
Chase glanced up at them with a smile. “Two of my best friends live abroad. One in Maryland, the other in Adelaide. I’ve known them for years.”
“Yeah, one of them. The other I got to know through her. An online friend. It’s hard to try and get all of us in a chat together at once, so I keep an eye on the timezones to help.”
“That’s nice.” Law leaned back as Chase typed in his password. “One more question.”
“Why is there a flamingo eyeballing me?”
Chase scratched his neck. “Fred’s cool, he won’t hurt you.”
Law snorted. “You’re a weirdo,” he said, and Chase casually flipped his middle finger up at him.
They’d been speaking physics for almost an hour, and Law’s brain was tired. After a whole day at school, the last thing he wanted to do was learn more. The great thing about their programme was that their homework was more or less self-set, or at least they had assignments that they could work on in school and only needed to take them home if they were running out of time. Law got most of his work done in school, and by the time he was on the bus home spacing out to music his brain was well and truly done for the day.
That didn’t mean he stopped learning, of course, because he was often reading a factual book of some kind, but that was for fun. Law didn’t need to worry about remembering or presenting the facts.
He rubbed at his tired eyes and shook his head. “How do you get this?” he wailed. He watched Chase as he blinked up from his equations where he had been planning his project, dark blonde eyebrows drawn up as he detached himself from what had consumed his thoughts. Honestly, Law had to admit he had been watching him for the past five minutes, because Chase’s lips moved silently as he muttered to himself and at first Law had wanted to laugh. Then he’d noticed how every so often the light would catch on the glass of the lampshade above them, and it highlighted all the curves of Chase’s face; the shape of his face and prominent cheekbones, his long straight nose, and his long eyelashes casting shadows over his cheek.
Law knew himself well enough to be wary of getting closer to Chase. He had a way of intently studying whatever captured his interest – though this was rarely a person – but this evening he’d learned that fixating on Chase would leave his stomach in butterflies and his tongue tied. He needed to keep his head level while he was around the older boy, because for the first time in his life, he felt unsure of himself, off-balance, and more than a little immature.
“I don’t get it,” Law said in frustration, biting the words out. He wasn’t used to concepts being completely over his head, and this was entirely new to him. Chase’s eyes crinkled at the corners as he grinned.
“Breathe, genius. It’s just a bunch of letters that tell you how to calculate the value of a force. Think of it this way… Um, so in biology you have DNA bases, right, and a certain series of them codes for a protein. So you can read a section of our DNA by translating it with a key to know that, for example, A-T-T makes one protein and C-C-A makes another. Well, each of these letters codes for something too. But you need to understand the basics of the code before you can really apply this to real life.”
“Okay,” Law said, struggling to see how he could ever wrap his brain around it. He reached forward to point to part of the slide. “So what does this actually mean?”
Chase rubbed his fingers up the line of his nose briefly, shifting a little closer so he could read the part Law’s fingers were hovering over. “Basically force can come in many forms. From gravity to me pushing you, several forces act on an object at once, and this changes its motion. If I drop a pencil, gravity is pushing it to the floor. But if I throw a pencil in an arc, both my force and gravity is acting on it, and that’ll change how it moves.”
“Alright,” Law said, breathing out through his nose. “I think I get it. So the third law?”
“Ah,” Chase grinned. “You know that one. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. However, it’s actually kind of misunderstood. Here, let me show you…” Chase reached forward and his hand brushed Law’s as he pulled it away, though Chase didn’t seem to notice. He moved the slides forward and began to explain exactly what the law meant.
Law settled into his chair and wasn’t surprised to see that Luke was ready to begin. He had already drawn a new diagram on the board, and luckily it was one Law was already semi-familiar with. They’d done cell signalling before, though this definitely had new depth to it. Law reached for his bag and kicked himself as he remembered taking his folder out of his bag yesterday to look over some notes, and vaguely recalled seeing it on the end of his bed as he’d rushed out of the house that morning. Usually Law was far better prepared than this, but over the past month he found that his concentration was quickly becoming frayed.
He knew he’d taken too much on with the physics, but it was working. Chase’s teacher had allowed Law to come on the trip to Inverness so long as he submitted some pieces of work that she gave him. With Chase’s help he was managing them, but it was taking most of his precious time to do so.
“Are you ready?” Luke asked, spinning the whiteboard marker between his fingers.
Law, at least, had his trusty pencil with him. “Uh.” He felt his cheeks flush. “I forgot my folder, actually. Sorry.”
Luke’s eyebrows drew down so far they were almost lost behind the rims of his glasses. Law fidgeted under the sudden scrutiny from his lecturer, hoping that Luke wasn’t eyeing him with disapproval. Law knew he should have been prioritising his biology work – and he was well aware that his progress had slowed dramatically – but he promised himself that in another month’s time it would all be worth it and he could return to his usual routine.
“I have some paper you can use,” Luke said, sifting through his bag.
He came over to place the pad of paper and a pen on the desk in front of Law, and Law partially hid his face in embarrassment. He felt like a child, asking to borrow some paper! He could have used his other notebooks, but he liked to keep specific ones for each subject – it was far easier to keep track of everything he was doing that way.
“Is everything alright, Law?” Luke asked, once he was at his shoulder. “You’ve been very distracted lately. I understand if you need to slow down, or would like to change elective.”
“Oh, no!” Law said, his head jerking up to look at Luke in horror. “I really love these classes. I just have a lot of work happening right now; I’m going to a physics festival next month. After that I’ll be much more focused, I promise.”
Luke didn’t look entirely convinced by that, but he nodded and returned to the podium anyway. Law secretly wondered if he was telling a lie accidentally. If everything went to plan, his entire life would be very different.
And finally the time came.
Law and Chase shared the back bench of the school’s minibus, which was really nothing more than a large car. It was only the three of them – Bett was sitting up front – and two teachers who were going, but the school could only use its general vehicles and not a staff’s personal car, which would have been far easier.
Still, Law wouldn’t complain. It meant he and Chase had the back to themselves. Plus, Law had passed his final physics project and didn’t have to worry about the difficult subject anymore. Chase was presenting their project (honestly, Law hated to have his name on there because Chase had done almost all of the work and it felt dishonest), and Law was allowed to roam the hall during the festival to expand his knowledge of physics.
Which meant, of course, that no one would be keeping track of his whereabouts throughout the festival’s opening times.
Law shared a relieved look with Chase as the van started up. Now that they were here, it was a huge weight off their shoulders. Law appreciated everything Chase had done to help. After all, it wasn’t only Law’s time that had been taken up with their little project, and Law was willing to bet he’d struggled to keep up as much as Law had done.
The butterflies in his stomach were, for once, not related to Chase’s presence. Law was within reaching distance of the end, and he was half convinced that something would happen to snatch away his opportunity at the last second. Still, he had to try, and he kept Jasmine’s words of advice close to his chest: be bold. It had helped him before, and he tried to believe it would help him again.
He was finally going to find out who his mother’s side of the family was. All being well, he would be able to meet her too.
Chase slipped into their hotel room and left his case standing beside the door, sidestepping away so that Law had room to duck in as well. Chase glanced around at the bog-standard room and made a face at the so-called inspirational piece of art next to him.
“Well, I’ve seen worse,” he quipped. “Bed preference?” To that, Law shrugged, so Chase claimed the bed nearest the window. “Okay, soon it’s show time. We should definitely make a game plan and a back-up plan. How’re you feeling, genius?”
Law mumbled a non-committal answer under his breath, but Chase merely flicked up his dark blonde brow and didn’t budge. Law rolled his eyes. “Fine. Nervous. Hopeful…. Terrified.”
Chase nudged him. “You’ll be fine.”
Chase pulled out his laptop from his case and settled against the wall. Law folded his legs next to him. “Why do you always sit on the floor?” he wondered aloud.
Chase grinned. “Comfy,” he shrugged. “Alright, the train there takes fourteen minutes. The festival is here, and the train station is here.” Chase turned his screen for Law to see. “You think you can find that alright?”
“Okay, good. The trains are pretty regular until five, but you should be back before then in case the teacher is worried she hasn’t spotted you.”
“Could always say I wasn’t feeling well and went back here if that’s the case.”
“True,” Chase allowed. “But best not to risk getting stuck there before dinner. She’d definitely expect to see you then, or would come and check on you.” He pulled up the map of where Law was going. “The station is here, which is about two miles from the house. Bit of a walk up a hill, mind you.”
“I’ll manage,” Law promised.
“Which means the latest you have to leave the house is four, to make sure you’re back at the festival in time for 5. Got that?”
“I got it. Thanks.”
Chase smiled warmly at him. “I’m excited for you! This is going to be amazing, Law. I hope it all works out for you.”
“There’s a thousand things that could go wrong,” Law reminded him. “For one, there’s a reason that dad never told me about mum. Maybe her parents are horrible, or something.”
Chase shrugged. “I guess there’s always that possibility. What is it you keep saying to me? Be bold?”
“Yeah,” Law laughed a little. “Be bold.”
Well, here he was, being bold.
He’d checked and double-checked the address. His heart was hammering in his throat, and he could feel his blood pulsing through his body. His stomach was in knots. His skin was clammy and cold. He wanted nothing more than to turn back, but he wouldn’t let himself. Jasmine’s words anchored him to the street.
The house was nice, albeit showing some age. It could have done with a fresh lick of paint and some weeding near the windows, but it was a beautiful little bungalow. The sun was hitting it just right, and the canopy of the nearby trees created dappled shade all around it. He could hear the distant sound of warm voices from inside, and a quick glance in the windows as he walked towards the door showed a clean, fairly clutter free bedroom.
He could see two teenaged girls through the glass door. One of them – a blonde one, who looked younger – sat at the computer with a thoughtful look on her face. As Law slowly raised his hand to knock, he could see that she was looking at an online quiz of European capitals. She and her friend – sister? – were laughing at something, and the older girl leaned forward to peer at the flag of Kosovo with pursed lips.
Law knocked. His heart was so fast he thought he was about to faint. He breathed out slowly, remembering how to calm his body, but it was a hard fight to keep his breath steady as the girl glanced up at the door curiously. He heard an older male voice (father? Grandfather?) to ask the girls to get the door, and Law hoarded their names jealously. Amelia and Echo. He was about to wonder who was who when the blonde turned up towards the black haired girl and wheedled for her to get the door, calling her Echo.
Echo nodded and drifted towards the door, opening it slowly. Law felt as if time was slowing down. She had to have been close to him in age, or at least no more than two years younger than him, if that. Law wondered which cousin she was, his toes curling in excitement.
A floral smell hit him as she opened the door, and a kind smile spread over her face. “Hi,” she said brightly, running her hand over one of her twin plaits. She shivered as the cold wind hit her, not dressed for the cruel weather, and Law quickly apologised, but she waved away his concern with another sweet smile.
“I’m looking for Faye,” he said, somehow not blurting the words out. “My name is Law, um, Law Williams. And I’m looking for Faye,” he finished lamely, wishing the ground could open up and swallow him. He felt mortified, especially with the confused puppy-dog eyes that Echo was giving him.
“Faye?” Echo asked in surprise. “Oh, this is her parents’ house. She’s out of town with my dad right now, but I could pass on a message if you’d like?”
Law felt like he took hours to digest the news.
“Is everything okay?”
“My mum, yeah,” the girl nodded, still looking sweetly confused. Law had to revise his estimation of her age, but no, she couldn’t have been much younger than him. His gut feeling was that she had to have been at least thirteen, which put her at a year and a half younger. Which meant…
And she hadn’t recognised his name, either.
Law took a step back. “Sorry, I – I need to go.”
Echo’s dark eyebrows drew further together, but rather than looking angry she continued to look innocently baffled. “Wait, what’s wrong?” But Law was already backing away, kicking himself for thinking he could intrude on some happy family, where his mother had left him with only his father and had gone on to fall pregnant with a lovely daughter probably not more than half a year later. Echo was one who was brought home to the family, but he… he was not.
And maybe there was no great reason to it; maybe his mother just hadn’t wanted him. Maybe she’d been happy to forget about him and move on.
A few things.
One, I know nothing about Physics. There’s a reason all my scientists pick biology to study. If you understand physics and I butchered that explanation, please tell me so I can be mortified and fix it.
Two, the clock thing sprung up out of some decor I put on Chase’s wall and then thought to comment on. I chose Maryland because it’s a shout out to my old simming friend who lives there, and Adelaide because I visited the city when I was younger, as my Aunt lived there at the time.
And three, what amuses me greatly is how Rhoan is not at all oblivious. He does notice when Law’s mood changes, as we saw when Rhoan waited for his friend after school, for example. Rhoan just knows that Law is an incredibly private person and keeps things close to his chest (his family situation, for example), and so Rhoan figures if Law wanted him to know he’d talk about it, so he doesn’t ask. Because Rhoan is so open while Law is so private, Law sees Rhoan as blunt and someone who can’t keep a secret, but while Rhoan doesn’t keep his own secrets he can be tactful if he thinks he needs to be (though he can also be blunt when he doesn’t realise he needs to be…) Anyway, just a little insight for you all.
Now I’m out of chapter backlog, because I want to see what you guys think before I decide where we go from here! So let me know what you think, and if you remember that brief mention of Echo from way back when Kane was looking up the family on social media. She was never Liam’s kid, mwahahah! 😉