“Now, I know you all met Law briefly when he came in for his entrance exams, but let’s refresh some memories. Law, would you prefer to tell the class a fact about yourself or solve a riddle on the spot?”
Luckily, Law was already prepared for Mr. Al-Shehri’s sense of humour after his exam day which, of course, he had done very well on. There were some areas he was certainly weaker on, but the exhilaration of having his brain well and truly tested was something he relished.
“Which one I chose would tell the class something about me, wouldn’t it?”
His teacher’s lips twitched in amusement. “Class, do you think we can let him get away with that?”
“Noooo!” A boy’s voice very clearly called out from the front row, as he cupped his hands around his mouth for more sound. Law, seeing the empty chair next to the boy, realised this was where he was about to sit.
“In the dark, or…?”
This time, Mr Al-Shehri laughed fully. There were a couple of titters from a girl in the back row, but Rhoan just rolled his eyes.
“Neeerd!” he said, sticking out his tongue. Law laughed, realising after a moment that it was in jest.
The teacher pointed to a boy in the corner. “Bett,” he said, and the boy’s head perked up in response. “I was just introducing you all to Law; you can return to your work.” And like that, his head lowered and a look of intense concentration returned to his face. “Cat, next to him, and then Tee, and Rosie next to her. And you have already been acquainted with Rhoan. Lucky you gets to sit next to him.”
“Oh, joy,” Law said, rolling his eyes, giggling when Rhoan answered by sticking out his bottom lip in a pout.
“Now we’re settled once more. Good. I should like you to continue with your problems. Rhoan, I’ll overlook you talking this once so long as it’s to answer any questions Law may still have. If you could introduce him to how we do things in this class, I would be grateful.”
“Grateful enough for a sweet?” Rhoan asked, smiling sweetly.
Mr. Al-Shehri did his best to look innocent, his eyes going wide. “Oh, I would never stoop to bribing my students.”
“I thought it was as a reward?” Rhoan shot back, winking at Law who was watching the exchange with amusement.
The teacher chuckled and motioned for Rhoan to get back to his task as he began to fiddle with the projector above them.
“Is this our class for everything?”
“For a lot of subjects, yeah. Like maths and English and whatever language you learn. We do computing, and science, and PE in different classes. You can choose your elective after you’ve been here for long enough too, which basically means long enough for Mr Al-Shehri to know where you are with your work.”
“So what’s everyone working on?”
Rhoan shrugged. “We all have different assignments. Sometimes we do group projects but mostly we all work at our own pace. You’ll have stuff that will build from where you were in your entrance exams.”
“You have a desk tray which will have your weekly work; at first this may take some getting used to in terms of time management and pacing, so don’t worry if you don’t complete it all within the week. If you do, I shall set you more, and if you feel that you would like more work to understand a subject you only need to ask.”
Both Law and Rhoan looked up as the teacher spoke to them, and then nodded. “And sometimes we have lectures,” Rhoan put in, swinging his feet.
“Yes, usually three times a week I will present a subject to you that is relevant to the class or current events. It is up to you how much you take down at these lectures, and I will ask you each week to choose one and do some reading of your own.”
“A boring school,” Law said brightly. “This seems so much cooler.”
Rhoan nodded eagerly. “And when we pass the exams to go into their high school programme, it sounds even more awesome. The electives range so much and you can even suggest your own. You can choose up to three on top of the normal programme. I’m gonna do animation, and geopolitics, and law.”
“Whoa,” Law breathed, eyes going round. “That sounds amazing! I’m so happy that I found this school.”
Rhoan beamed at him. “Yeah, and of course you’re going to have the coolest buddy, which is me, by the way.”
“Really?” Law asked, feigning innocence. “You?”
“Aelview. It’s not far on the bus.”
“Oh, I’ve never been there before. I’m from Glasgow. You should come over at some point, I have a huge collection of lego and we can play on my trampoline.”
Law grinned at his excited friend, glad that the move to a new school was far easier than he had anticipated. “That sounds awesome! I don’t have much at my house, just a lot of books.”
“Wow,” Rhoan said, eyes sparkling. “Nerd.”
“He’s so funny,” Law enthused. “And really, really good at remembering stuff. It’s crazy! He said that it’s just something you can learn so he’s going to teach me to do the trick with the cards, where you can remember every card you see in the right order, and then I can show it to you.”
“That sounds boring,” Eilidh said as she whipped past, her bunches streaming out behind her and almost catching Law in the face. He tucked his body back and legs out, giving himself the best swing he could, the café beside him a blur in the evening sunshine.
“It’s not boring!” Law protested. “What would you find fun?”
“I dunno, playing. Playing’s way more fun than boring school, right?”
“School isn’t boring,” Law said testily. “Not anymore, anyway.”
“Very funny,” Law muttered, feeling surprisingly stung. “You should take it more seriously, it’s important.”
“Important things are boring,” Eilidh shrugged, her tone with a bite to it. “And so are you.”
Law thrust out his legs and skidded to a stop to see Eilidh looking resolutely towards the horizon as she swung. “Then why are you hanging out with me?”
“I don’t know, why are you hanging out with me if you have this amazing new best friend?”
“Rock paper scissors me,” Law said, jumping off the swing.
Eilidh muttered to herself and hopped off her swing as well, her momentum making her stumble when she landed. “For?”
“If I win, you have to say sorry for saying I’m boring.”
“Fine! And if I win, you can’t be best friends with that boy.”
Law rolled his eyes. “Okay, on three.” With every count they tapped their fist on their hand and then both thrust forward scissors. Silently they tried again, and this time Law went for paper, while Eilidh made the mistake of going for rock.
Law jumped back with an exaggerated squeak, and after a second they both laughed at his response. “You know that my new friend isn’t going to be better than you,” Law told Eilidh. “No one can be better than you.”
“But you’re going to spend more time with him than with me,” Eilidh complained, folding her arms over her chest. Law rolled his eyes.
“You’re going to be spending more time with Joey than with me, but I’m still going to be your best friend, right?”
After a moment, she scowled. “I hate it when you’re right,” Eilidh growled.
Though he couldn’t see her face, he could tell she was grinning over his shoulder, and she squeezed him tighter until he squeaked in discomfort.
“You’ll always be mine too,” she whispered to him, leaning into the crook of his neck. “Promise?”
“Promise,” Law agreed.
Kane spent his break scrolling aimlessly through his phone, forgoing the new sofa in favour of remaining on his feet so it wasn’t such a pain getting back up after a nice five minutes relaxing. It was weird to think he’d been working here for ten years now, and that as soon as a managerial position came up in the town he’d be saying goodbye. Sure, there were aspects of working here he didn’t like, but all in all he enjoyed being good at what he did.
Kane smiled as Jasmine replied to his message, a ridiculous number of emojis running off the screen. He snorted at it and read the contents, smiling when he realised it was just a photo of Law (rather disgruntled) with a smear of cake mix on his cheek. It was lovely that Jas was still living in the neighbourhood, even though she had finished uni long ago and was working at an outdoor education place. He had to admit, working with kids was perfect for her, and she still dedicated a lot of time to helping look after Law.
He heard someone approach the break room but didn’t look up until he noticed that the shoes – and trousers – weren’t uniform. Even before he fully registered who he was looking at, he knew it was the owner of The Hive, because of the damn cardigan she always wore. Apparently it had survived uni and – somehow – the twenty five years since. Kane was half convinced she’d bought several of them just to confuse him, because there was no way it wasn’t threadbare and hole-y by now.
“Hey boss,” Kane grinned, and Ashley rolled her eyes.
“Don’t you already?” Kane grinned, slipping his phone into his pocket.
“Only internally!” She laughed and brushed ginger hair back behind her ear, her Glaswegian accent thick enough to suggest she’d spent some time in her home city. “I have a proposition for you.”
“You’re not my type,” Kane said apologetically, and then, “Ow!” in response to the playful whack that Ash had landed on his arm.
“Listen, you!” she said with a warning tone, though she couldn’t keep it up and broke into a grin. “Anyway, as I was saying…”
“Basically, Hannah has handed in her notice. Found herself a man in France or something – which, by the way, ew –“ Her sidenote to include a dig at the French made Kane laugh, which she paused to appreciate before continuing. “Anyway, I really hate to waste my time and energy on interviews. Do me a solid, Kane, since I’ve heard through the grapevine that you were looking to leave, just step up on and run this place?”
“You’ve been here for years, Kane. And Hannah, bless the gossip that she is, told me you were reading up on business anyway. You’re capable, you know the ropes already, and the most important thing: I won’t need to interview you. You game?”
“Uh – I – Yes, of course!”
Kane – reeling – couldn’t think of the hundred questions he should be asking (what would the pay be? The hours? The responsibilities?) instead just garbled some more words of thanks.
“Take a long break and we can discuss what we need to, get the contract signed and such. And listen, if you have any ideas for the place, let me know. You’re here more than I am nowadays, and I won’t be round much in the future.”
“Yeah, turns out even at this age I can settle down and make an honest woman out of myself.”
“Aye, they are. She’s an old friend from university. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it? We hadn’t spoken much for years until we met up again at a mutual friend’s reunion party. Actually, that was Faye’s parents.”
The name made his head jerk back like he’d been slapped, but Ash didn’t notice. Instead she was looking at her engagement ring with a small, sweet smile. Kane almost asked – almost – but clamped his mouth around the question before it could be voiced.
Better not to know, he thought.
“Good question. I have no idea. Let me look it up.”
“Isn’t that cheating?” Law asked, eyebrows drawing down.
“Not if we’re learning something,” Jasmine winked back, typing the clue into her phone. “Apparently, Rontgen’s diagnostic aid is the x-ray.”
“Oooh,” Law said in realisation, scribbling it into his puzzle. “That fits with maternal.”
“How long have you known dad?”
Jasmine – her mind immediately going to the crossword clues – bit her lip. “A while… I’m not… um, sweetheart, I’m not your-“
Law blinked at her. “I know you’re not my mum. Remember the blood type project I had at school? And, anyway your eye colour is dominant over dad’s.”
“Oh, um… right,” Jas said, feeling stupid. “Well I’ve known your dad – and you – since you were… two, three? Gosh, it’s so long ago.”
“Help yourself to food before it gets cold,” Jasmine said gently, reaching out for one of the bruschetta she’d made. “Why do you ask?”
“I wanted to know if you knew my mum,” he mumbled, looking down at his hands resting on his lap. “Everyone else knows theirs, even Tee, and her mum isn’t here anymore.” Law turned to Jasmine, who felt like she was a wild animal trapped in headlights. “Is my mum dead too?”
“Um,” Jas said, the cold tingle of panic running down the back of her neck. “This really is something you should talk to your dad about –“
“I don’t want to upset him,” Law said quietly. His voice was almost a whisper, and he sniffed. Jas realised tears were threatening to fall but it felt wrong to give him false assurances or tell him something Kane would rather he didn’t know. Her opinion of how Kane handled Faye was obvious, but it wasn’t her place to go against how he parented.
“Oh Law,” Jas said, partially covering her face with one hand, the other still frozen in the act of reaching for her now cold bruschetta. “Sweetheart, I’m sorry. People are weird and difficult and don’t always act sensibly. I hope you know none of it is your fault. Your dad is just… funny, when talking about some things.” She reached over to smooth Law’s hair back from his face. “I’ll talk to him,” she promised, though immediately cursed herself for saying that and giving false hope. After all, she’d tried to talk to him for years, and he’d never yet opened up to her. She lived in hope, though, which was why she was still here.
“Yeah, he wanted an early night for some big project thing at school.”
Kane nodded, pride shining in his eyes. “He’s doing a presentation about something – I didn’t really understand the topic, but that’s nothing new these days,” he laughed, and then caught the serious look on her face. “What’s up?”
“He asked me about his mum, Kane.”
Kane sucked in a breath, knowing that this had been inevitable, and that he’d still hoped for longer.
Kane didn’t move – didn’t look like he wanted to acknowledge that she was speaking – so Jasmine sighed in frustration. She’d been careful not to push him, knowing that it might not help and, admittedly, terrified of pushing him away. But more important to her than the idea of Kane (and her) was Law, and his happiness.
“You need to talk to him about her, Kane. He has a right to know. And I think it would be good for you to stop running from every mention of her. By all accounts you didn’t even like her that much.”
Kane began to turn away, as he always did when she brought Faye up, but Jasmine reached out to grab her hand. Her forwardness made them both pause, but Jasmine tightened her grip and didn’t let him pull away.
“I did like her, Jas,” Kane said, voice rough. “Or at least I liked the memory of her, back when she wasn’t… popular.”
“Kane… that was so many years ago. Was it that you liked her, or just liked someone who enjoyed being with you?” Kane’s eyes lowered, and as cruel as she felt, Jasmine pressed on. “I know you don’t talk to your parents. I know they weren’t the best to you, either. So are you hung up on her because she was your friend? She liked you, when you felt no one else did… But Kane, it’s not like that anymore.”
“No, of course not. You have people who love you, Kane. Law adores you. It was never a problem with you, you know that right? Parents can be dicks sometimes.”
With a sudden expulsion of breath, Kane tugged her towards the sofa, and by some strange twist of fate she ended up being pulled onto his lap than beside him, but Kane didn’t seem to notice – or mind.
“They hated me because I wasn’t really my dad’s son,” Kane admitted, resting his hands on her thighs. “They’re criminals, and I don’t think my mum liked my real father much. But I’m pretty sure my dad killed him anyway. And I was a stranger in their house. An inconvenience.” His lips twisted at the word, and Jasmine wrapped an arm around him, her other hand finding his cheek, sweeping her thumb over his lips, the movement tender.
“You’re not an inconvenience, Kane. You’re one of my favourite people in the entire world. You’re one of the best fathers I’ve ever seen, and a good friend. I hate Faye, you know. I hate her for not seeing what I do.”
Kane looked at her questioningly. “Faye was… Faye. There’s no changing her. It never would have worked: I know that. But I guess since I was young it… it was what I wanted. And then she was gone.”
“I know it hurts,” Jas said gently, looking into his eyes, “But you really should tell Law about her. Even a little bit. He’d like to know.” She dropped her hand to his and linked their fingers together, her heart pounding in her chest. “You know I’m here, Kane. But I’m not Faye. I’ve been waiting for years for you to figure that out.”
The tops of his ears flushed red. “I’m not the smartest of people.”
“No,” she laughed, “but then neither am I. Just… I’m here, right, for when you really figure it out. Let me know when that is.” She slipped off his lap and grabbed her bag, knowing the last bus would be leaving soon. He said nothing as she left, but once she was outside she looked up to see him watching her from his window, lifting his hand in goodbye. She smiled and waved, and made her way to the bus stop.
I have nothing against the French, but it’s a sort of British-wide inside joke to poke fun at them. After all, if you can’t poke fun at your oldest frenemy who CAN you poke fun at? 😛
Oh, and also biology lessons have long since been outing people as adopted/secretly the child of someone else. Basically, in what’s called a punnett square (which is a 2×2 table) you can figure out the likeliness of an offspring carrying certain genes, by understanding which is dominant and recessive. Beyond obvious reasons (i.e. that Law looks nothing like Jas), he could figure out from eye colour and blood type that they do not share genes.
Of course, sometimes weird things happen with biology and it IS possible to have recessive genes expressed, because of the high likeliness of variation that is basically a major reason why sexual reproduction was successful enough to evolve in life (and several times independently, I believe). Anyway, I’ll stop myself before I nerd out about biology too much. You’ll get enough biology lessons when Law discovers Science fo realz.
(btw, thanks Siberia for the beast from the east, which has essentially given me most of the week off, and a lot of snow to play with).