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As years went by, it was getting more and more awkward for Anya to read in people’s minds. Not only because she understood more words and terms but because she was constantly surrounded by overly curious teenagers.

 

'Some thoughts are definitely better left unknown.' Anya concluded.

 

Thankfully, as the years went by she also learned how to control her powers and the few times she heard things she shouldn’t were only when she needed some answers during a test. But even then, some boys were completely swept away in their annoying delusions. Enough is enough, Anya decided that from then onwards she would only read girls’ minds if she needed something. Exception being Damian. The extent of his mental gymnastics when he was around Anya was either to screech in his mind, go through some unintelligible nonsense or repeat "she’ssocuteshe’ssocuteshe’ssocute" like a broken record. Furthermore, Anya more or less believed that Damian was a gentleman who would never have indecent thoughts. It’s true that he was a rude brat at times but that was mostly when they were kids. Thus why she was completely fine with being his partner. For today, they had to take care of the west side of the Eden garden which pleased Anya, doing something outside was definitely better than the other "options" they had. On the other hand, Damian tried to act like it annoyed him as he usually does.

 

"Seriously? The school already pays for gardeners to take care of the flowers. So why should we water them for free?"

 

Damian was feigning an angry tone while taking big steps towards the school’s garden. Seeing how it was hard for Anya to keep up with him because of her short legs, Damian slowed down to match her pace.

 

"Well, at least it’s not as bad as having to clean the floors! Besides, isn’t it nice that we got partnered up for this?"

 

"Mm. I guess."

 

Damian mumbled, seeing how giddy Anya was at the idea of spending time with him definitely lifted his spirits up. Not that he would ever admit it.

It wasn’t an activity that Eden Academy would usually force their students to do, almost all the children of the school were from "high society" after all. They didn’t need to know how to clean or take care of a garden. However, after the iron curtain fell, so did the school’s reputation. Eden Academy was now seen as a school for rich pricks who couldn’t survive in the world on their own if they didn’t have their ancestors’ money. And honestly? Anya thought so too. She can’t say it out loud of course, from the other students’ perspective she’s still an outsider and commoner so there’s no need to raise the tensions. Standing out even more than she already does can’t be good and Damian’s family name doesn’t carry that much power anymore. Being friends with him won’t save her poor reputation.

All in all, the students had to start fitting in with the "other schools" of the country by adding mundane activities to their roster. Activities such as cooking, cleaning and sewing. Gardening was added as a bonus since not all schools own a garden.

 

After some time, finally reaching the garden’s shed, Damian turned towards Anya. He was about to ask for the keys but his breath was cut short by the view in front of him. Anya surrounded by a field of Marigolds looked way too beautiful for his poor heart.

 

'I want to take a picture...' He thought, yet he couldn’t. So instead, Damian tried to burn this image into his memory. Hearing his thoughts, Anya shot a glance behind her.

 

"Those flowers are really beautiful aren’t they? Let’s ask the fine arts teacher to come here for next class so we can paint the scenery."

 

Little did she know that Damian saw her as part of the scenery.

 

"Y-yeah, sounds good… ANYWAY- do you have the keys for the shed?"

 

Anya explained that the shed is usually open the whole day until 6pm. Well, at least that’s what Mr. Henderson had told her. Surely if it was the housemaster of Cecile hall then he couldn’t be wrong, right?

Damian opened the door with ease, so it really was unlocked. They got their hands on two watering cans and Anya insisted on taking a shovel with her.

 

"... You know we probably won’t need it, right?"

 

"Who knows! If some flowers have withered then we’ll have to remove them!"

 

Truth is, she just wanted to make a hole somewhere in the garden. Not because she needed to bury something, no. But because she had watched a spy movie last week where the protagonist had to find the location of a treasure that was buried in the garden of a castle. Anya just wanted to know what digging a hole feels like, as simple as that.

 

Damian sighed and snatched the shovel away from her hands.

 

"Oh please, like you’ll be able to hold onto this without knocking someone unconscious. Give me that."

 

Anya knew he just wanted to play tough but really, despite her small stature, Anya was way stronger than Damian. Oh well. She’ll let him have his moment of glory if he insists.

 

"Heh."

 

"Stop making that ugly face..." 

 

Damian and Anya went through the whole area they had to take care of, passing by multiple students who were sitting on benches either talking wity their friends or reading a book. Despite the fact that they only had to take care of the west side of the garden, the area itself was already huge enough that something as simple as watering flowers could take half an hour to an hour. Damian started whining while Anya was still looking for withered flowers to take out of the soil.

 

"Ugh. This would all be so much easier if they had just installed water hoses around... Is the entirety of the school budget going into Mr. Swan’s stomach or what?!"

 

Anya chuckled which gave Damian an ego boost. 'Are boys really that simple?' Anya thought.

 

"No seriously, I’m telling you this man has a black hole in there. His office was visible from our classroom last year, remember? I saw him eat way more often than I saw him work…"

 

They switched to one of their favorite conversation topics: unfairly dunking on teachers when no one's listening. They both know it’s bad but it makes Anya laugh when Damian is mocking someone she doesn’t like and making Anya laugh makes Damian happy so it’s really a win-win situation. This went on for a while until Anya noticed that one of the flowers on the field had fewer petals than the rest.

 

"Damian look! This flower is toootally withering."

 

"No, it’s really not. You just want to dig a hole somewhere, don’t you?"

 

Anya looked away, a bit shy that he was able to figure her out so easily without even needing the power to read minds unlike her who always needs it in order to understand him. And even then, she’s pretty sure that she still doesn’t fully get him.

 

Damian sighed and tossed her the shovel.

 

"Alright. Do it."

 

Her face lit up and yet she quickly learned that digging a hole isn’t half as cool or as easy as the movies pretend it is. A bit disappointed, she made her way back to the garden’s shed with Damian.

This time though, the door wouldn’t budge no matter how much Damian pulled on the handle.

 

"We’re nowhere close to 6pm, why is it already closed?"

 

As if on instinct, Anya listened to the thoughts of the girl who was sitting on the bench next to the shed. She looked like she really wanted to tell them something but couldn’t.

 

'It’s Friday today... they tend to close the shed much earlier before the week-end rolls in.'

 

"Hmm. It’s okay Damian, I think they might’ve closed the shed earlier because it’s Friday. Let’s go to the teachers’ lounge and ask for the key."

 

The girl on the bench went back to reading her book, happy that she didn’t need to strike a conversation.

Unfortunately, no one opened when they rang the bell. Anya couldn’t hear any thoughts from behind the door so the room was most likely empty.

 

"Maybe they’re having a meeting? Let’s wai- Anya?! What are you doing? "

 

Opening the door, Anya made her way inside, followed by a really nervous Damian.

 

"Are you crazy?? What would you do if the teachers were here?!"

 

"I didn’t hear any voices from behind the door so I assumed there’s no one."

 

"You’re so reckless!"

 

On one of the walls, all the keys of the school were lined up in rows, hanging from a board. Music room, laboratory, fine arts room, gymnasium, cafeteria, Class 1A, Class 1B... Anya was reading through all the plates as Damian was nervously checking the surroundings, he wasn’t saying anything because he didn’t want to put more pressure on her but he was really hoping that she would hurry it up. Finally, the key of the shed was at the very bottom right of the board.

 

"Got it!"

 

Anya happily took the key which reassured Damian for only a moment. Loud footsteps were coming from the hallway, no doubt about it. This manner of walking could only belong to Mr.Collins, the strict math teacher. Damian and Anya looked at eachother in horror, they didn’t think this through but... going into the teachers' room without permission is surely an infraction, isn’t it? This would add one more tonitrus bolt to Anya’s collection and it would be Damian’s first so he definitely couldn’t allow that.

Anya remembered what the characters in any show usually do in this kind of situation: they hide in the closet! She started opening and closing all the closets in the room to see where there could possibly be free space. Damian whispered to her with an alarmed tone that didn’t match the low volume of his voice at all.

 

"Anya, be realistic . We’ll have a bigger chance at escaping if we hide under a table, there’s no way in hell one of those closets is empt-"

 

As soon as he said that, Anya checked the last closet in the room, and it was in fact: empty. She made her signature "heh" face at him. That face which Damian grew fond of over the years, and she stepped into the closet which wasn’t hard at all since she was much shorter and smaller than the other girls of her year. However, the problem was Damian, his legs had gotten annoyingly long and his back was annoyingly big which often encouraged him to call Anya a shortie anytime he got the chance. He was especially proud of his height, which ironically was a huge issue right now. Not only was the closet slightly shorter than him but they also had to squeeze the two watering cans in there, plus the damn shovel. Anya was really regretting taking this stupid shovel with her. Because of that, it was really uncomfortable in the closet.

 

It was dark, cramped and really painful to feel the cold and hard material of those objects against her legs. The only solution was to try to stick close to Damian since he, at least, was soft and warm unlike those dumb watering cans and shovel that were made of iron, or was it metal?

 

As Mr. Collins came in he cursed under his breath.

 

"Which idiot left the door open again?"

 

Damian and Anya had no idea what he was doing there and how long he would stay, all they could hear was the sound of some desks opening up and closing. He was searching for something. They didn’t know what it was but they hoped that the closet they’re hiding in right now is usually empty, and that Mr.Collins wouldn’t try to open it knowing that it was useless. Their heartbeats quickened. In Anya’s case it was because of the fear of being found out. In Damian’s case though, it wasn’t only fear, it was nervousness of having Anya so close to him. His mind started to wander off and unluckily for him, Anya was hearing all of it.

 

'She smells so good... Her hair is tickling my nose a bit but it’s so soft. And she’s so cute and small compared to me... Aaahhh- I want to hug her so badly right now! But if I do, she'll freak out and the teacher will find us! And if I hug her, I won’t be able to calm down afterwards and if I can’t calm down, she’ll believe I’m a freak for sure! I wish I could kiss her but If I did, she would 100% hate me! It would totally count as taking advantage of the situation and any good guy would ask for permission first!!! Don’t give in don’t give in don’t be stupid-'

 

It was useless to say that Anya got nervous too. She was embarrassed, mortified even. Sure, it happened that she would hear her classmates dreaming of girls but it was usually beautiful actresses, singers or totally made up women they created from their vivid imaginations. But she never heard a boy fantasize about kissing or hugging her , that was a first. Her breath got heavy and suddenly, she became really aware of her surroundings. Damian’s smell, his breath on her hair, his big arms that he’s trying to desperately keep away from her, his heartbeat... or was it her heartbeat? Anya couldn’t tell anymore. Her face was all hot and she was pretty sure that she was all flushed too. Her face was right in front of Damian’s chest, and of course she's always known that he’s bigger than her, it’s not like it was a hard feat to achieve, every boy in her year and even all the girls were taller than her but she wondered if Damian’s chest and shoulders were always this wide? Not to mention that he was crouching right now to fit into the closet so he was actually way bigger than this.

 

As soon as Anya heard Mr.Collins leave and close the door behind him, she almost flew out of the closet which left Damian startled. She was trying to catch her breath as if she had just ran a marathon or something.

 

"Anya?! What’s wrong? ...It was probably hard to breathe in there, sorry. I should’ve hid under a table instead so you could have more room for yourself in there."

 

With no ill will or ulterior motives whatsoever, Damian placed his hand on Anya’s back, rubbing it to make her feel better as she’s catching her breath.

 

"S-stop it... Don’t touch me."

 

"Are you sure? Maybe you’re hyperventilating because of the stress? I’ll call the nurs-"

 

He couldn’t finish his sentence as Anya slapped him across the face. Oh God. Is this a repeat of their first day at Eden? Damian didn’t really care that his cheek hurt. He was first bewildered by Anya’s sudden outburst. Sure, Anya is really intuitive and she can be reckless at times but she had never gotten violent with him, the first day they met put aside of course. Then his bewilderment turned to sadness and panic. Did she hate him that much? They were close to each other for no longer than a minute or two.

Before he could apologize again for whatever he thought he did wrong, Anya bolted towards the exit.

 

"I’m so sorry Damian! See you later!"

 

Truth is, Anya could’ve stopped reading Damian’s mind whenever she wanted since she had almost mastered her powers at this point, but she didn’t stop willingly. She chose to listen to him. She never questioned herself seriously about this, but she has honestly always been curious to know what Damian thinks of her. Sure, she knew that he finds her cute and that he freaks out a bit from time to time when she smiles at him, but she had never heard thoughts like these coming from him. The scary part was that she didn’t hate it. She was scared of what would happen if he hugged her or worse, what if she hugged him in the heat of the moment? Then what? Would they kiss? Anya had never imagined that something like that could happen to her. She only saw such scenarios in the movies Becky showed her and she wasn’t ready for such developments. At all.

 

Only when the bus had made it to her stop did Anya realize that she went home without helping Damian get everything back into the shed or even passing by her classroom to take her bag. Loid noticed his daughter’s anxiety right away as she stepped inside the living room, looking lost and tense. Loid prepared her some chamomile tea with the hope that she would open up to him about whatever was happening to her. Meanwhile, Anya was having an internal crisis and no intention whatsoever of telling her dad what was going on. Realizing that Damian liked her in that way and she possibly did too was a shocker to her.

Finally calming down a little thanks to the tea, she sighed.

 

"Dad... how do you forget something?"

 

"Uh- Well..."

 

What kind of question was that??? As usual, trying not to question things too much, Loid tried to answer his beloved daughter as best as he could.

 

"Forgetting something might be impossible unless you get a concussion... So the best alternatives may be to overwrite those memories or to acknowledge them."

 

"How so?"

 

"Try to make lots of happy memories to leave a painful memory in the back of your mind. Or better yet: address it right away. Running away from something can’t be a long term solution, you’ll have to confront the painful things one day or another."

 

Anya sighed, looking even more disappointed than before which made Loid feel like he failed at his "task" once again.

Frankly, Anya wasn’t ready to "acknowledge" anything right now, especially not the discomfort of finding out that the boy she’s known since she was 5 years old likes her and she probably feels the same way towards him too.

 

"Don’t look so down Anya... In any case, where did you leave your bag? How will you do your homework during the week-end without your notebooks?"

 

She broke into a cold sweat, there was no way she had the courage to go back there and possibly run into him again. She knew that Damian is part of the few students who stay at the dorms during the week-ends instead of going home. There was no way she could go back on school grounds for a stupid bag with the risk of seeing him again. Homework be damned.

As she was lamenting herself, the door rang.

Loid got suspicious right away, he knew that Yor wouldn’t be back until 7pm so this most likely wasn’t her. Poor Anya, reading her dad’s thoughts, she immediately understood who it was. She hurriedly held back her father and whispered to him.

 

"Please, tell him I can’t talk to him!"

 

Him? Damian’s face crossed Loid’s mind in a nanosecond, if it was a boy then it could only be him. Back then Loid was happy anytime Anya got closer to Damian, now it was only one more source of his worries. He faked a polite smile nonetheless and opened the door as Anya hid under the coffee table, just in case.

 

"Oh! If it isn’t Damian. How rare, is something the matter?"

 

The boy who was slowly but surely starting to reach Loid’s height couldn’t manage to pull off a believable smile.

 

"Good evening Mr.Forger, Anya forgot her bag in the classroom so I went to fetch it for her."

 

Loid snatched the bag out of Damian’s hand, a gesture that could look normal from further away but the speed at which he took the bag filled Damian with nothing but worry.

 

"Thank you so much Damian! My daughter is so forgetful sometimes haha. To think that she would even forget her bag at school like this..."

 

"Yes aha... Um, so, is she at home? Can I talk to her for a second?"

 

Loid wasn’t stupid, whatever was worrying Anya was probably linked to Damian or even because of him. The red mark on his left cheek was probably left by his daughter. Not like he had any solid proof to claim that but he could feel it.

 

"Oh what a shame, she locked herself up in her room as soon as she came back home. She looked so distressed... Surely, she’ll be fine if I leave her alone for a bit. Girls her age need their privacy after all."

 

"Uh. Y-Yes, of course."

 

The look Loid gave Damian couldn’t be misunderstood.

 

'Mr.Forger totally thinks it’s my fault that Anya is like this... And the worst part is: he’s not wrong! I don’t know why she ran away from me but I can tell that it was because of me! What do I do now…?'

 

"Mr.Forger, may I ask you to deliver a message to Anya?"

 

" Yes, of course. "

 

Somehow, Loid’s words carried a really frightening weight to them despite the fact that they were so simple and polite.

 

"Please tell her that I’d like to talk to her properly on Monday, and if I um... did something wrong , I’m really really sorry."

 

It was needless to say that Anya was listening in to the conversation really closely and started to feel guilty for acting so childish by hiding from her friend, not to mention that she had slapped him without any discernible reason earlier. Sure, he thought about hugging and kissing her but it’s not like he went through with it. If anything, his level of self-restraint for someone who was practically glued to the body of the girl he likes was pretty amazing.

Loid reassured the worried boy and closed the door right in front of his nose, not even inviting him for a drink. As he made his way back to the living room he started bombarding Anya with questions, questions that she decided to ignore completely. They ranged from mildly intrusive to absolutely uncomfortable. Whenever he was worried about her it’s as if he was questioning a criminal. So as usual, she locked herself up in her room until Yor came back home.

 

The week-end passed way more quickly than Anya had hoped, she didn’t want to face Damian and she still had no idea how to do it: so she decided not to! The whole day was spent either avoiding or ignoring him which saddened and infuriated Damian. He couldn’t bear to think that Anya might hate him now for some unknown reason so he secretly begged Becky to help him corner her somehow. Becky accepted, of course. Knowing that those idiots were finally starting to get somewhere relieved her and made her excited for the "girls talk" segment of her next sleepover. Anya was always invited first of course, but the girls talk section was always pretty empty or boring when it was Anya’s turn. Maybe next time she’ll finally have something in store for them.

 

Anya felt betrayed as Becky left her alone with Damian in their empty classroom. Her best friend winked at her as she closed the door which infuriated Anya even more. She hurriedly shot a glance at Damian. He caught onto what she was thinking so he dashed towards the door, blocking her from her only escape.

 

"Let me go! I- I really need to go to the bathroom!"

 

"Stop lying! You’ve already made that excuse at least 3 times today..."

 

"Well, I might have food poisoning!"

 

"Then is this " food poisoning " coming from the air I breathe?! Because it sure seems to only kick in when I’m around!"

 

Anya clicked her tongue. Mission failed. The escape was unsuccessful to say the least. Seeing that Anya gave up on escaping Damian went right to the point.

 

"Are you upset with something I did? Whatever it is, I'll apologize for it. I’m even ready to compensate for it. What do you want? Peanuts?"

 

"I- I’m not a kid anymore..."

 

"Oh really? Because you tend to act like one when it’s convenient to you."

 

Bullseye. Well, might as well come clean. What did Anya have to be so embarrassed about anyway? It’s not like she was the one attracted to him- oh wait, she totally was. Not a chance in hell she’ll admit it though.

 

"I was avoiding you only because I know that you have indecent thoughts about me!!!"

 

"Wh- What?! "

 

Damian’s face rose in temperature as his cheeks changed their shade to a pink hue, matching Anya’s hair.

 

"T-That’s a ridiculous claim! You’re just making things up again with your stupidly huge imagination! When did I ever-"

 

"Don’t lie to me! I know that you wanted to hug and... k-kiss me when we were hiding in the closet!"

 

Damian’s cheeks switched to an even deeper shade than earlier, almost reaching the color red.

 

"Huh?! You- How would you even know that?!"

 

"It’s a girl’s intuition of course! Girls can feel those types of things from a mile away, don’t underestimate me!"

 

That was a plain lie but Damian ate it up. He started questioning himself. Has he always been this obvious about it? He realized that Anya can be surprisingly sharp at the weirdest times but he always believed that he at least did a good job of hiding his feelings towards her. It’s been over 10 years at this point after all.

 

"I- Well."

 

What was he supposed to say? Should he admit it or deny it? Denying it is way too cowardly and obvious, but if he admits it then what? Will she forgive him if he apologizes? Damian’s mind was racing and he went into a state of panic. The friendly relationship he had built with Anya could crumble at any minute now at every wrong word or move.

 

'No no no- Even if she forgives me, what if she’ll think that I’m a disgusting perv for the rest of her life?! Or even worse, she might hate me and never talk or look my way ever again! I can’t let that happen but I don’t want to be dishonest with her either!'

 

Tears were welling up in his eyes as he started to imagine all the worst case scenarios that could unfold from here on out. Listening to his thoughts and seeing how helpless Damian was feeling, Anya instinctively put her embarrassment away. Ultimately, no matter what Damian thinks of her, Anya never even considered giving up on their friendship. She just needed time to think everything through, and in order to do that, a single week-end was obviously not enough.

Like Damian had done it for her last time, Anya placed her hand on his back and rubbed it a bit, trying to reassure him.

 

"C-Calm down. Just be honest, I’m not disgusted or mad at you, I’m just-"

 

The poor boy had finally snapped back to reality, his eyes glued to Anya, he had centered his entire attention on her. Damian even stopped breathing for a few seconds, impatient to hear the rest of her words.

 

"I’m just surprised and a bit embarrassed to know that you think about me in that way… sometimes."

 

A weight had finally been lifted from Damian’s shoulders. He wiped his tears away with his sleeves and spoke as frankly as he could.

 

"Not only sometimes, I often think about it. Just not when you’re around me because it makes me unable to interact with you normally."

 

Anya pulled her hand away, seeing that Damian was fine now. Not only was he fine but he was spouting some bold statements just now which made her nervous again.

 

"O-oh. I see..."

 

An awkward silence followed as they realized that fixing this "issue" was actually pretty simple this whole time. The only thing needed was communication which was admittedly, a bit hard for teenagers dealing with their feelings for the first time but it was more or less taken care of, for now. Until one of the two of them decides to properly confess that is.

 

"By the way… I’m sorry for hitting you the other day. Did your cheek hurt a lot?"

 

Damian scoffed at her worry.

 

"Not as much as my head for the past two days. I was worried sick, I thought you found me repulsive or something…"

 

"No!"

 

Anya remembered it again. Her feelings at that time, when she realized that Damian wanted to hug her, suddenly, she felt like she wanted to try hugging him too which scared her. She quickly pushed the thought away again, unable to talk about this for now.

 

"I would never find you repulsive! Not when you’re... so kind and careful with me..."

 

Damian brushed the back of his head as he usually does when he’s nervous. So she had realized that he was trying to treat her well? That’s a bit embarrassing.

 

"Uh yeah. I- In any case, don’t feel bad about it. It made me remember the first day we met haha... I really deserved that punch back then, thanks."

 

Being thanked for having punched someone was so bizarre that it made Anya break into a chuckle. At this moment, she remembered what her dad had told her just a few days ago. "Overwrite those memories." It’s true that Damian might laugh about it now, but back then he probably felt terrible about getting punched by a girl on his first day of school.

 

"Damian, I punched you on your left cheek right? Just like the slap from the other day."

 

"Hm? Yeah, I guess so. Since you're right-handed."

 

"Mm..."

 

Anya shyly pulled on Damian’s arm, making him lean down a bit. She lifted herself up on her tippy-toes and left a small peck on his left cheek.

For a few seconds, Damian stood in the middle of the classroom with an expressionless face, trying to process what had just happened to him.

 

"It’s um, a kiss to overwrite the moment I punched you when we were little... I hope you’ll keep the day we met as a happy memory rather than a bad one."

 

A happy memory? Just a happy one? In the first place, Damian had never thought of the first day they met as an unhappy memory. And right now, his spirits were so high that he could reach the heavens if so desired. Damian regained his composure, leaned down again towards Anya and pointed at his right cheek while displaying his signature annoying-but-charming grin.

 

"You can slap or punch this side too if it means you’ll kiss me later."

 

What he said was so ridiculous, and yet he truly meant it. At this moment, Damian was ready to take a beating if it meant that he could get lots of kisses later. He knew that’s not how things work but it doesn’t hurt to try, right? Anya on the other hand was having a hard time registering his words. Is this flirting? And if it is, what’s the appropriate response? Anya was suddenly regretting not listening to Becky more closely when she talked about her soap operas and romance novels.

 

"D-Don’t get so cocky! This was a one time thing only..."

 

"But you hit me twice though? You still have to kiss me a second time for the slap, right?"

 

'Where did this guy get all this confidence from?! A single kiss and boys get so full of themselves!'

 

Anya concluded that kisses shouldn’t be given so easily anymore. Especially not to Damian since he shamelessly asks for more. The end of that day was spent dealing with Damian’s advances as he came up with convoluted reasons to justify why she needed to kiss him again. Anya found herself unable to turn him down completely, which gave him enough hope to believe that he might get his way with her pretty soon if he behaves himself.