Bethany’s amused, and sudden, question startled Loxley from his thoughts. He turned his attention to her, realising she must have put her hat back on now that Febe wasn’t around to scold Bethany for wearing it indoors. He shook his head. No point in lying. His thoughts had been somewhere else entirely: Lukas.
“Well I guess I wasn’t saying anything important,” Bethany shrugged, picking at dirt underneath her fingernails. She wasn’t at all insulted that Lox had tuned out of the conversation. Once again, Lox felt relief that his lab partner was so easy to get along with.
“I was just talking shit,” she shrugged. “About this girl in school who has a crush. And she thinks that this crush makes her entitled to the poor boy, who is already interested in something else.”
“I don’t get things like that,” Lox said, eyebrows drawing close into a frown.
Bethany grinned, all teeth. “You, not understanding social interactions? Shocker.”
Loxley drew his legs onto the seat, rubbing at a spot on his back. At least it wasn’t on his face. “No I mean…” He trailed off as quickly as he had started speaking. This was another thing that had been on his mind lately. With Summer’s infatuation with Uma, and Skye’s (now ex) boyfriend, he had turned his thoughts to something more unusual about himself than he’d previously realised.
“I’ve never been interested in that. I’ve never looked at a person and thought I wanted to kiss them.”
It took Loxley a few seconds to recover from a fit of laughter at the way she had phrased it. He wiped at his watering eyes. “Yeah. Not as often as other boys my age, I’d wager.”
Loxley screwed his face up, trying to think back to the few times he’d properly noticed someone. He might be able to list all of their features – the colour of their eyes, their height, the shape of their face – but he didn’t see how putting these together made someone attractive. Yet another thing about people he didn’t understand.
“I don’t think I like guys either,” he said slowly.
“Only because I don’t know why.”
Her lips curled into a smile. Sometimes, Lox could see that other people would find her pretty. He found her fascinating, and that was it. “Typical scientist. Well, maybe we’ll figure it out together. Statistically speaking, you won’t be the only one feeling like this.”
Loxley shrugged. Another mystery to dwell on. “No, I guess not.”
“Can I join you?” Liam asked gently. Finn’s head snapped up and around and for a second he looked lost. Up until a few minutes ago, the three of them had been in Liam’s back garden. The cold was setting in quickly, despite how warm the end of Autumn had been, and they were making the best of the last warm day.
Then Serenity had made what seemed like an offhand comment, to Liam, but Finn had glared at her with uncharacteristic hostility and stomped inside. Since Ser wasn’t explaining herself, Liam figured it was time to see if Finn was alright.
“Well, it is your room.” Finn tended to be reserved in his expressions and gestures, a distinct contrast to Serenity, and today was no exception. There was only the slightest twitch of an eyebrow, only the smallest glimpse of a smirk.
“What’s up?” Liam asked, slumping down next to him.
Finn watched him settle with his usual blank expression, and when Liam turned to look at him expectantly he only shrugged. “Serenity just runs her mouth too much sometimes. She doesn’t always think about her words.”
Liam frowned, his mind running through her comment. The tiny clock on his bedside table struck noon with an eager buzz, momentarily distracting them both. “She said the bad-boy vibe you try to give off would suit a cigarette,” he said slowly, trying to understand what about that had hurt Finn. When he could find no clue, he turned to his friend helplessly.
“You have a brother?” Liam couldn’t help but interrupt. He had thought that he’d known a lot about the two of them, but suddenly it all seemed like he was just on the outside of their duo. It hurt.
“Oh.” Liam studied Finn and, uncomfortable under his friend’s gaze, Finn turned away.
“He’s ten years older than me,” he began, his voice low. “When I was six, he was already smoking. By the time I was ten he’d moved onto harder stuff. It’s not like we were close. Parents just worry that the next call they get will be about him dead.” He shrugged, uncharacteristically tense. “Whatever. Serenity needs to learn to think things through first.”
Liam guessed this was Finn’s way to let Serenity know that she’d be forgiven, even if it wasn’t at this moment in time, and he also guessed that this was Finn’s way of running to avoid facing the problem. He didn’t feel comfortable saying anything after his attempt at reassurance was flatly refused, so he nodded and slipped out of his room to return to the garden.
Ser closed her eyes and blew out a breath. “Did he tell you?”
“About his brother? Yeah.”
Her eyes snapped open. She turned her head to look at him, the eye contact only brief, before she went back to watching the clouds. “I didn’t think he would.”
Liam shrugged. He tried not to be hurt by that. The light caught Ser’s face, illuminating her cheekbones, forehead and nose. Liam was always aware of how pretty Serenity was, but it was times like these that he almost couldn’t look away. She was too busy staring at the sky to notice.
“He’s too sensitive,” she grumbled.
“God, you do disapproving better than my mother, did you know that?” Serenity asked, screwing her mouth up. “And I hate it when you’re right, ugh.”
“I’m sure he’d appreciate an apology,” Liam coaxed. Serenity rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, yeah.” She paused, tracking the clouds blowing above them. One looked a bit like a dragon. “You know, I do this a lot. Put my foot into my mouth. Most of the time I don’t give a fuck.”
Liam nodded. “How long have you two been friends?”
Serenity grinned. “Almost since he moved here. I had the biggest crush on him,” she giggled, glancing sideways at Liam’s shocked face. “Didn’t know that, huh?”
“I had no idea. So, why did nothing happen?”
Serenity shrugged. “Who said it didn’t? But we were, like, twelve, so eventually things fizzled out.”
“Huh,” Liam said, tilting his head to the side and watching the dragon-cloud while he tried to process the information.
“Do you wonder if you’ll ever…?” Liam trailed off, not entirely sure how to word the question he so badly wanted to ask. He didn’t want to third wheel, for one, but also he quite liked the idea of him and Serenity. There was no point hoping for it if she was still hung up on Finn…
Serenity shrugged. “Doubt it. Neither of us really… I dunno how to explain it. We kiss at parties sometimes, but we’ve spoken about it. There’s no… no chemistry there? Maybe when we’re forty and alone we’ll just marry each other,” Serenity laughed, brushing hair behind her ears.
Liam felt somewhat reassured. “I don’t think either of you have to worry about that.”
Serenity cocked an eyebrow, looking at her friend slyly. “Oh? So which one of us would you prefer?” She burst out laughing when Liam’s face flushed an unflattering shade of red, his eyes going wide. “I’m just teasing.”
Maybe she had been, or maybe Liam had just missed an opportunity to tell Ser how he felt about her. The moment was gone; they watched, in silence, as the dragon-cloud as it sped towards the horizon.
“You haven’t really been focused on the lab project for the past few weeks,” Bethany said, her voice soft after sitting in silence for so long. She placed her empty cup of tea in the sink and watched Lox, who was lying on the bench. Loxley propped himself up, leaning on his elbow, and shrugged. They had survived a cold Winter and, slowly, were emerging into Spring. Most of this time, Lox’s brain had been whirring away on the subject of Lukas, not their project. Febe had noticed and was passively-aggressively reminding Loxley that he had to show his skills in order to win the internship.
That was the last thing on his mind. Every time he thought he had unraveled one of Lukas’ mystery, he realised it was more complex than he thought. It was difficult to know what he was looking at – he was probably too close to the data.
“What’s wrong?” she pressed.
“Have you ever noticed anything odd about Lukas?”
Almost immediately, Bethany said, “He doesn’t wear socks.”
Loxley laughed, the answer surprising him. “He doesn’t?”
“There’s something strange about him,” Loxley said, unconsciously leaning forward. “Haven’t you noticed it?”
Bethany tilted her head to the side. Bright orange hair fell over her face; she brushed it away impatiently. “Well, I mean, I always thought it was strange that we don’t know much about him. I don’t think he’s ever answered a question about where he lived. He’s probably just a private person.”
Lox shook his head, fingers drumming a beat on his leg. “I looked him up. Lukas Smith. The name only comes up since he’s been working here. No previous publications. No internet trace. He hasn’t been working here for that long. Do you know how impossible it is not to leave a print on the internet?”
Bethany frowned. “So he doesn’t have simbook, or whatever.”
“No, he doesn’t have anything. No voting address. No mention in newspapers. No scientific contributions.” Lox stopped for a beat. “You know the best surname to use in the UK if you want to hide? Smith. It’s so common.”
Loxley wondered if it was a mistake to bring this up, but if anyone would look at the evidence objectively, it would be her. He ran through what he had noticed: the odd fluid way Lukas moved; the hyper-vigilance; the healing cuts. They went well over their lunch break, but assumed no one would be waiting for them in the lab. Febe was content for them to grab her when they were about to start working again.
However, they were wrong; Lukas stood in the lab, eyes closed, leaning against the work bench. He looked at is he was listening to something, and the more he heard, the deeper his frown became, the tighter his lips pressed together. When Loxley had finished speaking, Lukas ran a hand through his hair and sighed, a deep and long sigh.
The problem with having geniuses try to work on a project – a project which could save Lukas’ life – was that they were often too smart not to question everything around them that didn’t quite add up.
Lukas, with the virus that was running through his blood, was one of those things that didn’t quite add up.
“What happened?” Felix asked, jumping up from his bed and reaching over to stop the music from his record player. Skye huffed.
“Dad is still having a go at me for ‘changing’” she said, raising her hands for half-hearted air quotes before dropping them back to her side. Felix stretched, cracking his neck in the way that made Skye shudder, and waited for her to continue. “Now he’s saying that he doesn’t like me going out in this dress. I should be wearing leggings with it.” She did her best to mimic her father’s voice. “And he’s never said the same thing to Faye, and look at her!”
Felix summoned an appropriate expression of sympathy. Truth be told, his parents were so laid back that Felix couldn’t recall a time when they tried to curb anything about him. “I think you’ve just got to talk to him. I mean, over the past few months you’ve changed a lot and that’s great – I’m proud of you! But he’s probably worried?”
Skye scowled some more. Why did Felix always have to be so reasonable and right?
Felix snapped his fingers and grinned. “You just gotta be more open about what you want. Like me and ice cream. So, what is it you want?” Felix waited, frozen in a silly stance where he was half pointing at her, and it took Skye rolling her eyes and waving him off to make him relax.
“Sorry, I know you’re just listening and trying to help. But he makes me so frustrated!”
Felix shrugged, stuffing his hands deep into the pockets of his jacket. “Talk to him about how you feel. That solves a lot of problems. I promise it’ll help.” Felix smiled, a sweet and hopeful smile.
Skye sighed but returned the smile. She glanced at his shelf, wondering if there were any records that she fancied hearing. They planned to spend a few hours hanging out anyway, so she might as well cool down now. Some nice music would help.
Felix cleared his throat awkwardly and fidgeted, as he usually did when his mind was running at full speed, but Skye was content to let him get lost in his thoughts. He would say something if he wanted to talk. Usually, after a few minutes of silence, he would come out with a truly bizarre question that Skye had no idea how his thoughts had led there. She picked up a Queen record. What better way to calm down than with some classic songs? She remembered hearing it play in the house, James playing on an air guitar as she and her sisters tried their best to dance to it.
“Sure. Good choice.” Whatever his question had been, he didn’t voice it.
It had been exactly four months since Summer and Uma had last spoken. Four! Not that Summer had been counting except, well, she had been. It was difficult not to. It wasn’t like they had been close, just that they had run into each other a lot, and then suddenly that had stopped.
After a short (and rather emotionless) pep-talk from Lox, Summer found herself slinking into the bookshop on a Saturday, when Uma usually worked. The guise for this was that Summer was looking for a part-time job, and the bookstore tended to advertise for temporary help from April onwards. Sum wasn’t sure if she’d get the chance to work alongside Uma even if she was successful, but there was no harm in trying.
“Summer.” The girl sounded surprised, but not unhappy. “Are you looking for another book?”
“Um, no, actually. I was hoping for an application form?”
“Oh, we haven’t actually started to advertise just yet-”
“Yeah, I know. I just noticed that you usually do at this time of year. Thought I could try to get in early.” Summer scratched at her arm, looking away. The shop owner still hadn’t fixed the coffee machine, or maybe they had decided not to replace it since it was mostly Uma using it anyway. The smell of coffee somehow still lingered, months later.
“Ah, early bird and all.”
“Yeah, exactly.” An awkward pause. Uma hadn’t moved and didn’t seem to be planning on it; instead she was frowning at the desk. Summer cleared her throat.
“How have you been? We haven’t really had the chance to catch up much.” As soon as she said it, Summer felt her face burn. Stupid! They had never really been friends, had they? Just people who occasionally ran into each other and had some overlapping interests. Uma was probably laughing at her now…
“I know right!?” she exclaimed, becoming happier like a switch had been flicked. “It’s been so long!”
“Just because I know ya, I’ll give you an application early. I can put in a good word to the boss if you’d like.” She straightened up, much to Summer’s disappointment, and handed over a thin application slip.
“That would be great!” And then, feeling brave, she said, “do you think we’ll work together?”
“That’d be cool wouldn’t it? On busy days we probably would.”
“Great.” Summer folded the slip, taking her time, and put it into her back pocket. She didn’t have enough money to buy a new book but she also didn’t really want to leave. Uma picked at a sticker on the desk.
“I’d offer you a coffee and try to convince you to stay a little longer, but…” Uma gestured to the empty space on the desk. There were stains from where the machine had been. Summer wanted to stay anyway, but what would she say? She was already awkward enough.
“I’d love to,” she stuttered, “but I really should head home. More writing to do. I’ll see you next weekend when I hand this in, maybe?”
“Oh sure! I’ll be working, as always.” She gave a little laugh, seeming far more cheerful than when Summer had first entered, and waved to her friend as she slipped out the doors.
A/N: So for some reason I had it in my head that we were up to date on SOL, and that I couldn’t post more until I took more pics (which I now have). Today I realised I have two chapters worth of stuff, so there’ll be another update soon.
I’m not sure how I managed to confuse myself haha. Hopefully I haven’t mucked up anywhere and all this stuff makes sense 😛