Hershel brushed his hair back, scrutinizing his reflection in the bathroom mirror. His mother, Lucille, stood at the doorway, with a garbage bag which had acted as a tarp, and a pair of hair scissors.
“What do you think?” she asked him. He tilted his head to the side.
“I like it. It looks nice.” Hershel wasn't sure if he meant that, but it was better than before at least, “Thank you, Ma.”
“You're welcome!” she put her haircutting kit away, “Where are you going?”
Hershel headed for the front door, “Randall wanted to see me after school. I'll see you in a few hours.”
“Take care, sweetheart!”
Hershel's smile fell once he was outside. Fake. Absolutely fake. When had his smile become fake? Was it at the beginning of his haircut? After? While he was looking at his reflection after the fact?
No, it had been much sooner; When he realized he had begun to care a lot more about his physical appearance and decided to ask his mom to give him a haircut, but why? He didn't have any love interests. He hung out with Randall most of the time anyway. Why would he suddenly care so much about what he looked like?
He found Randall sitting beneath a tree by the river, leaning over a leather-bound journal and furiously scratching up the page with a charcoal pencil. Occasionally, he would looked up to watch the flowing water, or tap his lip with the pencil.
Hershel lifted his hand to wave, “Hey, Randall.”
Randall beamed as he saw his friend, “Hersh! Good to see you could make it!”
Hershel sat beside him, “What are you writing?”
Randall was infamous in Stansbury for writing so fast that his notes were not legible by any standards. Randall laughed nervously, rubbing some of the words away with a big pink eraser.
“I'm trying to figure out where our next expedition will take place!” Randall rewrote his words, a bit slower this time, “Henry was able to accompany me to my last one, but we didn't really find anything...”
You tend to say that a lot. Hershel thought, shaking his head, “So, where were you thinking?”
“I don't know.”
Hershel blinked, looking at his friend to try and make sure he heard him right, “Pardon?”
Randall rolled his eyes, still smiling wide, “I said I don't know where we're going next. That's what I'm trying to figure out.”
Hershel tried to get a glimpse of Randall's notes, but he closed the journal before he could read it.
“Randall...is something the matter?”
Randall turned towards the river, rubbing his neck, “Uh, no, no...I'm just...distracted is all.”
Hershel picked at the grass, “Distracted by what?”
“Oh...” Randall gestured vaguely, “You know...the, uh...the summer formal...”
Hershel wasn't sure why he was suddenly so anxious, “The summer formal? Are you nervous about who to ask?”
Randall returned to his notes, “Sort of. I have someone in mind, but I don't know if she'll say yes.”
Hershel didn't have to speculate for long to figure out who it was, “Is it Angela?”
Randall sighed, “Yeah. It’s Angela.”
Hershel wasn't surprised by that. Angela was already a good friend of theirs, after all. What he was surprised by was the twisting in his gut when Randall confirmed his suspicions. It didn't make any sense. Randall and Angela would make a wonderful couple, so why did the very idea put such a sour taste in Hershel's mouth? Shouldn’t he be happy for them if that were the case?
“I see...” Hershel tried to hide his misplaced disdain, “I didn't know you felt that way about her.”
Randall crossed his legs, lying down so his head rested on the root of the tree.
“I don't.” Randall dug the heels of his palms into his eyes, “I just feel really bad for her. She isn't sure whether she wants to get married after graduation or go back to school, but her parents keep pressuring her to get married. Maybe if I marry her, they'll leave her alone, and then she can decide for herself what she wants.”
“Wow.” Hershel leaned his back on the trunk of the tree, “That's very noble of you.”
“Nah. I'm no hero, Hersh.” Randall looked up at the sun through the leaves, “I'm just...”
He didn't finish. His gaze was detached and distant, almost as if he was lost in thought. His eyebrows drew together. Hershel thought maybe his thoughts were unpleasant.
Randall shook his head, sitting up and grabbing his journal, “Ah, nevermind that! I bet our next expedition is coming soon! Something must be hidden in the forest somewhere, right?”
His brief lapse in melancholy was gone, but Hershel found himself puzzling over it nonetheless. Randall had no reason to be so upset over something so simple. Randall was naturally extroverted, so he shouldn't be this sad over the idea of asking someone he was already close to to the summer formal. Something else must be bothering him, but what could it be?
Randall smiled at Hershel, and Hershel's musings were immediately halted.
Randall eyed Hershel’s slightly reddened cheeks, “Are you still listening, Hershel?”
Hershel jumped back when he noticed how close Randall had gotten to his face, his own becoming much warmer.
“Uh, yes. I'm listening.”
Randall chuckled, “Sorry. Anyway, if we start on the path to London...”
Hershel was only flustered because Randall had no concept of personal space. That was the only reason his heart was beating faster. He took a calming breath as he returned his attention to Randall's rambling.
That was the only reason. Nothing more.