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Pavlove Me, Please?

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“You have that look in your eyes again.”

 

Oswald glances at his friend, Butch. “What look?”

 

“Like you’re plotting something.”

 

“Aha,” Oswald says noncommittally, his eyes fixed on something behind Butch.

 

“Seriously, what are you even staring at?!” Butch exclaims, and turns around, trying to guess what has held Oswald’s attention captive for the past ten minutes.

 

His eyes set on the table in the middle, specifically on the guy laughing with his head thrown back, blond hair glistening even in the shabby cafeteria light.

 

“Jim? Jim Gordon?” Butch whispers, eyes wide as saucers.

 

“Shhh, be quiet.”

 

No one could hear them in the infernal noise, but whatever. Butch gives up and rolls his eyes, shoveling rice and meat into his mouth instead. Oswald will start talking at some point anyway.

 

“Well, well, well…” Oswald murmurs, then grins. “This lunch break was very enlightening.”

 

“Why’s that?”

 

“I found out which is Jim’s favourite candy. In ten minutes, he ate three of those chocolates filled with caramel.”

 

Butch scratches his head. “Ooookay?”

 

“Ah, this is marvellous! Let’s s see if old Pavlov’s discovery applies to cute human puppies too,” Oswald says, laughing. “This is going to be exhilarating.”

 

Butch is, quite honestly, watching with horror the fierce glint in Oswald eyes. He has absolutely no idea what his friend is talking about, but he hopes Jim Gordon is prepared for whatever the calamity that is Oswald Cobblepot will unleash on him.

 

* * * * *

 

The next day, Oswald is sitting at his desk, cheeks and nose red with excitement, lips curled prettily. He’s pretending to be reading The Master and Margarita, but he’s just listening for the cloud of noise that follows Jim and Harvey and their gang. Sure enough, five minutes later he hears Harvey’s booming voice, probably telling a filthy joke, followed by raucous laughter. Some of the guys enter the classroom, the others saunter to their respective classes.

 

Oswald glances up for the briefest of moments; he has to be prepared for this. Chocolate on the desk – check. Racing heart – check. Sweaty palms – check. Luckily, Jim is forced to sit with him in this class: when school started, Ms. Roberts changed the seating order, and somehow Jim and Oswald wound up sharing a desk. Oswald was terrified: how was he supposed to pay attention when his crush was sitting right next to him three times a week?! But said crush didn’t really pay attention to him, or to the class, really. Jim Gordon and English Lit are two parallels that never ever meet. To this day, Oswald is saddened that the two are sworn enemies, but oh well, the world is not a perfect place.

 

He doesn’t look up as Jim walks to their desk, the third one on the window side. Curiosity is killing Oswald, but his eyes stay glued on page 93, as they have been for the past ten minutes. After a bit of shuffling, he can feel Jim just freezing. He must have spotted the chocolate.

 

“What’s up with this?” Jim asks, as he picks up the chocolate.

 

His moment to shine has come. “It’s for you,” Oswald says as he looks up from his book, and he congratulates himself for not stumbling over his words.

 

“It’s from you?”

 

Oswald nods enthusiastically, his eyes lighting up as he watches Jim’s fingers open the small package.

 

“Uh… thanks,” Jim says, confusion written all over his face. But James Gordon – despite his ethereal beauty – is human too, and thus gives in to temptation. He puts the small square of chocolate into his mouth, and closes his eyes. “Mmh, I love this chocolate.”

 

The moan shoots through Oswald at lightning speed. His eyes are about to fall out from staring so much at his unaware desk mate, but Ms. Roberts enters the class, and cuts his drooling session short. Jim crunches up the golden wrapper, and puts it away while licking his lips. Oswald saves that image to his mind, trying to focus on Brave New World. Right, he has to savour that soma later. He’s so affected that he doesn’t even contribute too much to the discussion, only when Mr. Roberts explicitly names him. Meanwhile, Jim is doodling in his notebook, as usual, only putting down those few words that Ms. Roberts writes on the whiteboard. He’s eighteen, and still hasn’t learned how to take notes. Oswald shakes his head; he has already written two pages.

 

The bells ring soon, and Jim packs away his stuff at record speed. As usual, he doesn’t even look at Oswald; he bolts out of the classroom, eager to be reunited with his gang. Oswald sighs, and carefully puts away his notebook and books. He’s patient, he can wait. Rome wasn’t built in a day either.

 

 

* * * * *

 

Oswald has to wait two days for his next English class. It’s at 8 in the morning, and as much as he likes the quirky Ms. Roberts, he still loathes being at school so early. But, he’s on a mission. Or rather, he’s doing a scientific experiment. Not exactly an ethical one, mind you, but it doesn’t matter – it’s all for science (and possible personal gain). The small package is there waiting for Jim, like a gold medal for getting out of bed.

 

“Oooh, chocolate!” he mumbles sleepily, a flicker of life flashing across his blue eyes.

 

Oswald is biting the end of his pencil, watching again as Jim unwraps his present.

 

“Do your parents, like, work at the chocolate factory?” Jim asks, his words sounding muffled, for his head is resting on the table.

 

Oswald almost swallows the eraser on his pencil. He laughs awkwardly, thinking about the huge bag of candies he has hidden in his drawer. Luckily, Jim is too sleepy to interrogate him further. During class, Oswald debates wildly about the dystopian state, the similarities between Ford and Big Brother. He’s on fire, and by the time he finishes his intellectual arguments, he’s panting. Only then does he notice the way Jim is looking at him: head propped up by his hand, eyes wide, blinking frequently. He looks awake suddenly, and he looks at his desk mate as if it were the first time he saw him.

 

“What?” Oswald asks nervously.

 

Jim just shakes his head with a smile.

 

* * * * *

 

The next day, Jim takes the chocolate. He doesn’t even ask if it’s for him anymore. He’s also, by some celestial miracle, actually reading Brave New World before class starts. Oswald thinks this is a great day. It’s a Friday, so it has to be a good one. Week 1: the subject ate all the chocolates. No suspicions on his part. Success.

 

* * * * *

 

Oswald spends a good part of his weekend helping his mum clean the attic. They moved into a smaller house two years ago, but the attic has always been just a place to store bits and pieces. His mum suddenly wants to use it as a studio. She says the light is excellent up there, so they finally throw away the useless stuff, and cram the others in a corner. Oswald carries the easel and the other art supplies upstairs. He’s just happy that his mum feels up to painting again.

 

By the time they finish, they’re so tired that they just order takeout. They eat on the sofa while watching a comedy, and they laugh till there are tears in their eyes. Oswald smiles at himself, he loves how happy his mum looks. He sometimes feels self-conscious for enjoying spending his time with his mum, because apparently teenagers aren’t supposed to do that. He wonders what the cool kids are up to right now. More importantly, as in so many moments in his life, he wonders what Jim is doing. Probably partying, drinking and making out with some chick.

 

He can’t help an escaped sigh. It’s been… well, around a year since Oswald realised that he liked to look at Jim, not strictly because Jim is very pleasing to the eye, but because he has a crush on him. A huge one, if the pain in his ribcage was anything to go by. Truthfully, Oswald would just like to be friends with Jim, not even anything necessarily romantic (you can’t force love after all), just to be close to him in some way. Ms. Roberts did him a favour when she made Jim sit beside him, but to be honest, even though Jim less than an arm away from him, he feels like sometimes Jim’s lightyears away.

 

Oswald sighs over his Maths homework. Give him English, French, History, anything but Maths. He knows the theory, but when it comes to applying it to exercises… yeah, it just doesn’t work. Even worse, because of his excellent results at the other subjects, he has to take the advanced class too. Just one more year, and he’ll be free. He knows Jim is pretty good at Maths, but Oswald can’t ask for his help. Eh, he’ll just copy it from someone. Instead, he reaches for his ignored copy of The Master and Margarita, and reads late into the night.

 

* * * * *

 

Monday finds Oswald and Butch looking helplessly in the crowded corridors. They are both craning their necks, looking for someone, though in all fairness, Butch is the only one tall enough to actually see over the heads.

 

“He must be in the lab, Oz,” Butch concludes after several minutes.

 

Indeed, they find a lanky young man pouring different liquids into test tubes, and talking to himself while putting down his observations. His face lights up when he notices his visitors, but he’s reluctant to leave the sanctuary of the lab. More than his science, though, he likes his friends.

 

“I've been meaning to do this experiment for a long time”, Ed adds, while wolfing down lunch and solving Oswald’s Maths homework at the same time. “I've read on the internet that...” and he drones on.

 

Butch and Oswald just nod along, stunned. Oswald stares at Ed, and envies his genius. The kid is two years younger than him, yet he’ll graduate at the same time as them. He’s cleverer than most teachers at the school. Oswald bets that if he had a Jim-kind of problem, Ed would be able to solve it, because his favourite thing in the world is to decipher mysteries.

 

“So what have you two fellas been up to lately?” Ed asks curiously as he hands Oswald his finished homework.

 

“Oz is doing an experiment,” Butch quickly spills the beans, diverting attention from him, even though his friend looks like he’s going to murder him.

 

“Oh. Do tell more,” Ed grins, and leans back, a splatter of acne glistening on the left side of his face.

 

“It’s nothing like yours, Ed. Just wondering if Pavlov’s reflex works on humans as well.”

 

“Kinky.”

 

Butch laughs loudly.

 

“Nothing of the sort, I assure you,” Oswald rolls his eyes. He proceeds to explain his concept.

 

“Who’s the lucky… you know, test subject?” Ed asks conspiratorially.

 

“Jim freaking Gordon,” Butch whispers, leaning forward.

 

“Drat!” Ed erupts in a fit of giggles. “You know what would be hilarious? If you won’t be able to get rid of Mister Popularity.”

 

Oswald’s silence is very telling.

 

“Oh, dear… that’s what you actually want, don’t you?” Ed asks, mortified.

 

Oswald squares his shoulders. He knows that Ed dedicates himself to science, and hasn’t been yet touched by the madness hormones bring, but he feels like he needs to defend himself. “It’s not like I had a choice, Ed.” His voice sounds a bit too cold.

 

“Okay, alright, I didn’t mean anything by it, but Jim? Really?”

 

“It could have been worse,” Butch adds helpfully.

 

“Not much,” Ed grimaces.

 

Oswald could slap both of his friends. Why was he blessed with these two idiots?!

 

“Listen, you dimwits. I know it’s difficult to comprehend with your small minds, but you cannot control in regards to whom you like. Do you think I would have chosen such an arrogant and self-absorbed individual?” Once the tap was opened, the bitterness just poured out of him. “Up until a month ago, he probably wasn’t even aware that I exist. Most days, he looks through me as through air. Do you really think I would willingly have chosen such a person?”

 

Butch and Ed sit with downcast eyes. They had no idea what their friend has been going through.

 

“So, now that we have cleared this matter, do you understand why I am trying to win his favours in such an unconventional way?”

 

The boys nod. Oswald changes the topic, and they talk as if nothing would have happened. In all honesty, Oswald didn’t mean to reveal his misery, but something just snapped in him. The things he said about Jim are all true, but those are not the only adjectives that fit him. Oswald saw the guy once stopping a little girl and tying her shoelaces. He stands up for people when someone is treating them unfairly, talks to the teachers respectfully, he’s smart and in general, a good human being, even though popularity makes him do stupid things sometimes.

 

Oswald sits down at their desk with a heavy heart. He places the chocolate on Jim’s side, and stares out the window. Even when he hears Jim’s voice, he doesn’t look at him. He can’t. He knows every line of his face anyway, the steely blue of his eyes and the way his dark blond hair is styled to perfection. He feels Jim sitting down beside him, and taking out his things, then a satisfied “ah, yes” as he finds the chocolate. Oswald doesn’t notice, but there’s no paper crinkling. If he were to look at Jim in that moment, he would find him staring at his desk mate with furrowed brows.

 

“Oswald?”

 

“Hmm?”

 

“I think you need this more than I do,” Jim says as he hands the chocolate to Oswald.

 

Oswald stares dumbly at the golden package, then at Jim. “T-thanks.”

 

He opens the package, and starts eating the chocolate slowly, as if each bite could restore a bit of his lost happiness and hope. He sighs with relief. Oswald chances a glance at his desk mate, and he finds Jim looking at him with a lopsided smile. His heart starts beating faster, but he looks away, even though he knows he can’t hide his blushing cheeks. Maybe Jim Gordon can actually be nice to him as well?

 

* * * * *

 

The Maths situation becomes ever worse with each day. Oswald tries to keep up, but since he didn’t understand the basics, he is completely lost as the teacher delves into more complicated lessons. Luckily, he has Ed to do his homework while he writes his essays for English, but he knows this is not a viable solution. His grades have always been acceptable, though never as good as at other the other subjects. However, it seems that this year is much more difficult, as if the teacher is adamant on ruining his grades and chances of getting into a good college.

 

At least his experiment is going well. After the last time, Oswald is somehow compelled to watch Jim every time he sits down beside him. Each time, unfailingly, Jim smiles wide when he sets his eyes on his chocolate. Oswald wishes he could just lean in, and plant a kiss on Jim’s sharp jaw line. Or maybe on his cheek, or better yet, on his lips. He sighs, and reads his notes, although he doesn’t really register anything besides Jim’s intoxicating cologne.

 

The end of the class brings bad news… for some.

 

“Listen up, people! We have three more lessons on Orwell’s 1984, and then there will be a huge test on it and Brave New World.”

 

Everyone groans out loud.

 

“None of that. You have almost two weeks to prepare. Some of you still need to finish the novels,” Ms. Roberts says looking around with narrow eyes at the culprits.

 

Jim looks down with a guilty smile.

 

“All right, you’re free to go.”

 

* * * * *

 

A day later the Maths teacher too announces a test. Amid loud protests from the class, Oswald buries his face in his hands. He is so screwed. His day is only saved by Jim’s smile as he receives his chocolate.

 

* * * * *

 

Oswald messages Ed that afternoon, and thanks to a miracle, the guy even notices the message right away. Thankfully, he agrees to tutor Oswald a bit, though Oswald is not sure how well it will go. Ed doesn’t look like the patient teacher type, but he’s Oswald’s best hope. He just needs a decent enough grade. His stomach clenches painfully, but he will survive it. He must.

 

* * * * *

 

“Could you please explain again how you got that equation?” Oswald asks Ed, his head throbbing painfully.

 

“I already did, twice,” Ed replies, rolling his eyes.

 

“Yes, but I didn’t understand it.”

 

They have been practising in the library, in their favourite nook, for about an hour. The table is a mess of notebooks and smudged papers. Just as Oswald feared, Ed is not really the ideal teacher: his genius is not to be shared. He becomes impatient when Oswald can’t keep up, and he doesn’t explain each step, reckoning it evident. Oswald feels stupid, and the tension between them is becoming unbearable.

 

“Ed, I’m sorry, but how did you get this number?”

 

“Calculated it with the formula, weren’t you paying attention?”

 

“I told you to write down everything, I can’t follow you!” Oswald can’t help, but raise his voice in frustration.

 

“For heck’s sake, Oz, buckle up! I can’t explain it more easily!”

 

“Well, I apologise that you have to lower yourself to my idiotic levels!”

 

Ed gets up and straightens his jacket. “I propose that we make a pause. I’m going outside for a few minutes.”

 

Oswald almost hurls a textbook after his friend. That would have made a big scene, and their fight was probably heard by others anyway. He understands Ed’s frustration, he really does. He sucks at Maths. He knows Ed’s thoughts are racing at lightning speed, and he has little patience. Oswald rubs his eyes and promises himself to try harder, even though it’s getting late, and his brain is fried. There’s a shuffling noise, and he looks up, thinking it’s Ed.

 

However, it’s Jim, his backpack slung on a shoulder and his hand on the doorknob. He turns towards Oswald, and then his eyebrows rise. Oswald looks on curiously as Jim’s eyes light up and he breaks into the most beautiful smile he’s ever seen. His breath stops short, and then he almost laughs as Jim’s brows furrow in confusion. The experiment worked! Jim’s favourite chocolate is now linked to Oswald in Jim’s mind. Oswald is grinning, though he tries to suppress it as a blushing Jim approaches his table.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hi, Jim.”

 

“What’s up?”

 

“Erm… Ed is t-tutoring me in Maths, but i-it’s not going well.”

 

“So I’ve heard,” Jim says with a smile.

 

“Oh. I guess we were pretty loud,” Oswald replies, and he can already feel his ears reddening.

 

There’s a moment of awkward silence, before Jim speaks again.

 

“Listen, Oswald… I had an idea. We have those tests coming up, right? I really suck at English, but you’re brilliant, and I thought maybe you could tutor me? In exchange, I could help you at Maths, though I’m not that good at it.”

 

Oswald opens his mouth in wonder. “You would?”

 

“Sure, if you don’t mind.”

 

“Are you kidding?! I need every help I can get!” Oswald exclaims frantically.

 

Jim laughs. “Same. Is Friday afternoon good for you? Because I have football practice tomorrow.”

 

“Yes. Of course. See you here after class?”

 

Jim nods and says goodbye, Oswald staring after him for long seconds.

 

“I can’t believe that actually worked!” Ed says excitedly from behind Oswald.

 

“He’s going to tutor me,” Oswald mumbles to himself, dazzled.

 

“Not that, dumbo, the experiment!”

 

“Oh.”

 

Ed laughs. “I can’t believe you managed it! Have you seen his face? He smiled at you so brightly, and then the poor boy wondered why he reacted like that at the sight of you! Incredible!”

 

In that moment, Oswald is more interested in his Friday afternoon programme. “He’s going to tutor me, Ed! This is going to be awesome!” Oswald stops for a second. “Oh, no offence, Ed…”

 

“None taken. I’m happy and proud of your achievements,” Ed goes for something that could be – with good intentions – called an awkward hug. Oswald reciprocates it with a smile. “You must tell me if he still smiles involuntarily.”

 

“I’ll report everything to you after the meeting.”

 

“Fantastic. Let’s hurry up, maybe we can catch the 5:45 bus.”

 

* * * * *

 

Oswald spends most of Friday worrying that Jim has forgotten about their meeting. His nerves are only soothed when Jim tells him “See you later!” at the end of their English class. He exhales with relief, and goes to have lunch with Butch. His friend clapped him hard on the back when Oswald told him the previous day about his success with Jim. The pain made Oswald’s eyes watery, but he smiled nevertheless.

 

“Can I come to the library with you?”

 

“Absolutely not!”

 

“Come on, I want to see his face,” Butch pleads.

 

“This is not a circus, my friend. Your staring would make him self-conscious. Besides, we’re going to study.”

 

“Suuure, study,” Butch snickers until Oswald punches his upper arm.

 

“I need to get a good grade in Maths, and hopefully, Jim can help with that. Unlike our featherbrained Ed.”

 

“Oh, leave him alone, Oz. He’s got better things to do.”

 

“Yeah, he’s way too smart for his own good. Well, at least partially thanks to him, I have a hot date in three hours,” Oswald beams.

 

“I thought you’re going to study,” Butch replies, dodging another punch from his friend.

 

“We will, don’t worry. Let’s go, it’s getting late.”

 

* * * * *

 

Oswald is the first to arrive at the library. He takes out his books and notes, placing them neatly on the table. Opening his Maths notebook at random, he tries to understand the numbers on the page, at the same time keeping an eye on the door. Jim is punctual, and Oswald sighs with relief, but his stomach clenches at the same time. This is just a normal tutoring session, he tells himself, and watches as Jim starts grinning, then confusion spreads on his face. It will never not be funny.

 

“Hey.”

 

“Hi. I see you’re ready. Do you want to start with Maths?”

 

“Yes, please, let’s get rid of it,” Oswald smiles tightly, fervently hoping that Jim won’t think he’s stupid.

 

“All right, let’s start from the beginning.”

 

* * * * *

 

Oswald didn’t want to tell Butch, but he was afraid that he wouldn’t be able to concentrate in Jim’s presence. However, he manages just fine with staring at the notebook, and paying attention to his colleague’s explanation. Jim is patient, and if necessary, he goes back to certain things if they are too difficult for Oswald. They solve a few tasks together, and Jim even shows a trick for making it easier. Oswald finally starts understanding, and it’s the most wonderful feeling ever.

 

“How about we stop here? You can do the rest of the exercises at home, and we can check them the next time,” Jim suggests.

 

“Sure, I think I’m getting the hang of it. We can take a short break and then tackle English?”

 

“Sounds good,” Jim replies, and rubs his eyes tiredly.

 

Five minutes later, all the Maths things are gone, instead novels and Oswald’s notes occupying the table.

 

“Okay, first of all, I noticed you’re not really taking notes during class.”

 

Jim has the decency to look down in embarrassment. “I know, I know. I have a hard time filtering out what is relevant and what is not.”

 

“You can have my notes, but from now on you have to learn to take them yourself. I don’t know how you survived so far, to be honest.”

 

“Luck, mostly.”

 

“All right, take my notes and copy them at home. I think they are pretty clear, but if you don’t understand something, let me know. How far did you get with 1984?”

 

“I’m at the scene where Winston is reading the Goldstein’s manifesto. This book should come with a warning, it’s making me paranoid.”

 

“I think that’s the point,” Oswald adds with a gentle smile.

 

“I am going to finish it this weekend. It’s actually interesting. I like it more than Brave New World.”

 

“Me too. So, let’s see, a bit of history first. What do you know about totalitarian systems?”

 

“Uh, not much.”

 

“Alright, I’ll give you a quick overview. Get your notebook too, we’re going to practise note-taking at the same time.”

 

During his tutoring, Oswald gladly realises that Jim is not a hopeless case: he can be motivated with interesting facts, so he inserts them here and there to keep up his colleague’s interest. At the end, Jim looks proudly at his notebook, which is full of notes.

 

“See how easy it is? You just need to reread them a few times, and you’re prepared for the test.”

 

“Thanks for the lesson. And your notes,” Jim says, and stretches his arms.

 

Oswald tries very hard not to look at the sliver of skin where Jim’s shirt rides up. “S-sure. Thank you for putting up with my nonexistent Maths skills.”

 

“That’s not true, you’re pretty good at it. Just practise till the test, and you’re going to ace it!”

 

“Thanks. So… uh… do we meet up again on Monday?” Oswald asks bashfully.

 

“Yes, please. We can revise together. It will be tough, two tests in two days.”

 

Oswald groans, packing his backpack carefully. “It’s like the teachers conspire against us.”

 

Jim laughs, and they exit the library. Oswald throws a “Have fun this weekend!” as an awkward goodbye.

 

“Oh yes, fun studying,” Jim makes a pained expression, but smiles. “See you on Monday.”

 

Oswald mumbles something resembling ‘goodbye’, then walks to the bus stop humming to himself.

 

* * * * *

 

Temptation to do something else, anything, besides studying is very strong. When Oswald feels that he can’t take it anymore, he tells himself that he has to make an effort, has to get good grades, so he will be accepted to a good college and make his mother proud. He prepares the Maths tasks Jim’s assigned for him, and even looks up extra ones on the internet. He feels proud that he can solve most of them. At least he can ask Jim about the problematic ones. There’s still worry buzzing in him, but it’s quieter.

 

In the late afternoon, Oswald joins his mum in the attic, and studies for English. He settles in the comfy armchair they found up there, and lets his feet swing from the armrest. His mum sets up a still life with fruits and flowers, and starts sketching it. The light is wonderful throughout the entire afternoon, so she can take her time and paint without rush.

 

Oswald reads for a while, but then, when rereading the short summary of 1984, his thoughts meander. He thinks how lucky Winston is: Julia, the woman whom he thought hated him, actually hands him a note saying ‘I love you’. How they pursued a relationship, even though it was impossible and illegal. It’s a secondary plotline in the story, but nevertheless extremely important. Their love gives them hope, even though it is later forcefully ended by the Thought Police. Oswald knows it’s not an ideal love story, far from it, but he’s still slightly jealous of them. He sighs, and turns towards his mother.

 

“Don’t move now, love,” his mum warns him, glancing up with an impish smile.

 

“Are you drawing me?”

 

“Yes. Just a few minutes, and it’s done.”

 

Oswald obeys, and turns back his head, staring out the window with a smile.

 

“There, you’re allowed to move now,” his mum announces, and Oswald gets up to have a look at the drawing.

 

As always, he’s impressed by how his mother manages to draw something so well with just a few strokes. Although Oswald likes it, it feels awkward staring at his own face. He smiles bashfully, and shakes his head.

 

“Don’t you think I captured that look well?” his mother asks as she shows him her notebook.

 

“What look?” Oswald has a slight déjà-vu feeling, like he’s already had this conversation before.

 

“Well, you know,” his mother says tongue-in-cheek, “that lovesick look.”

 

Oswald snorts, but his red cheeks betray him.

 

“So, who’s the victim?”

 

“Mother!”

 

“Well, dear, you cannot fool me. I might be old, but I still have eyes,” his mum replies, pointing her paintbrush to her left eye.

 

“You’re not old, ma. He’s… called Jim. I have a few classes with him,” Oswald’s whole face is burning.

 

“Is he the boy who tutored you on Friday?”

 

“Yes. He finally made me understand those nasty equations. We’re meeting again on Monday, so I’ll get home late.”

 

“As long as you don’t run away with him.”

 

“Muuuum! We’re just preparing for the tests. Besides, I don’t think he likes me,” Oswald whispers, and hides behind his notes.

 

“Oh, come on,” his mum leaves the easel, and ruffles Oswald’s hair. “Don’t be like that. No one could resist your charm.”

 

Oswald is silent about his experiment, because he knows his mother would very much disapprove of his actions. Time to return to his studies.

 

* * * * *

 

Jim and Oswald meet again on Monday afternoon. They work hard till late, even though they both feel exhausted. Jim corrects the tasks Oswald did at home, and Oswald quizzes Jim about their novels. They study together, and ask each other questions when they need clarifications. Oswald thinks they are a great, invincible team together, and his stomach is invaded by the now-familiar butterflies. Jim is so smart and nice, Oswald thinks he’s going to explode with all these feelings whirling inside him. Jim’s knee touches his thigh, and tingles run down Oswald’s spine, especially since Jim doesn’t move his knee, as if the touch were comfortable.

 

Oswald doesn’t want to move, doesn’t want to lose Jim’s proximity, but alas, they are finally finished. As he’s packing away his stuff, a golden glint in his bag catches his eyes. He smiles impishly.

 

“Catch!” he tells Jim, and throws one of the chocolates.

 

Jim has to juggle a bit, but he manages to keep the candy. “You just read my mind! I’m so hungry.”

 

Oswald watches with amusement as Jim tears open the package, and bites with exaggerated satisfaction into the chocolate. Oswald opens his in a much calmer way, and munches on it as they leave the library. All the way home he thinks about Jim’s knee touching his thigh, and he shivers with pleasure.

 

* * * * *

 

The next day, Oswald finds Jim at their desk already when he arrives. He can see from his tightly set jaw that Jim is quite nervous. Oswald wishes he could reach out, and take his hand. Ms. Roberts makes her way into the classroom, and hands out the tests. As usual, there are a few multiple choice questions, and a more difficult, essay type of task. Oswald works diligently, and only after ten minutes does he notice that Jim seems blocked on a multiple choice question. When Ms. Roberts goes to the other side of the classroom, Oswald pokes Jim’s hand, and slips his own paper to the middle of the desk, without even looking at Jim. The boy glances at it, and nods almost imperceptibly, to signal that he got the answer. Oswald takes back the paper, and continues his work.

 

When the test is over, Jim wants to say something to Oswald, but one of his colleagues from the football team comes to let him know that the coach wants to talk to him about their upcoming match. Oswald watches him go, and suppresses a sigh. Just when he feels Jim getting closer, something pulls them worlds away again. He pounds along the corridors to meet up with Butch for their History class.

 

* * * * *

 

Oswald is almost late for the Maths test. The stupid bus didn’t come in time, there were tons of people in the next one, and he had to run from the bus stop to the school. But he makes it, and he’s determined not to let it affect his test. He breathes deeply, and quickly runs over the things he’s practised with Jim. He wishes they could sit together, but Jim is on the other side, at the front. Oswald feels better when he gets the test: the first tasks look doable. The last two are for the geniuses, but he can solve the first four at least. He tells himself not to rush, and he calculates carefully. He even manages to solve about half of one of the difficult tasks, so he hands in his test with a smile.

 

He looks around hopefully, but most of the class is already gone. Jim probably finished early, and left. Oswald takes his bag and coat, and tries to push away his disappointment, but the bitter taste in his mouth persists during the day. He picks at his food, and when Ed asks him what is wrong, Oswald lies that he didn’t sleep well, and the Maths test exhausted him completely. Just a few more hours, and then he can go and sulk at home, preferably in the company of ice cream. He contemplates eating the chocolate bar he brought for Jim, but even the sight of the package makes his chest ache. What a fool he is to have thought that a guy like Jim could be friends with him…

 

Oswald can’t wait to get out of the stifling French class. Good thing they had a new lesson, so he just copies automatically what the teacher writes on the board. He knew it anyway. By the time the bell rings, Oswald has already packed his bag, and shoots out of the classroom, without saying goodbye to anyone. He hopes he can disappear without meeting anyone. The weather is glorious: most students are outside, basking in the warm sun, chatting and laughing loudly. Oswald navigates among the people who sit on the stairs, and puts on his sunglasses. A couple of moments later, he thinks he hears someone calling to him, but he just marches forward.

 

“Oswald! Oswald!” the voice gets nearer.

 

There’s a warm hand on his shoulder, and Oswald turns back with a frown.

 

“Oswald…” Jim pants, and doubles over. “So glad I managed to catch you.”

 

Oswald can’t help a small gasp: Jim is dressed in his football gear, his build looking even more impressive with the pads. But then Jim looks up at him as he straightens his back, and he smiles brightly at Oswald. However, this time, there’s no sign of confusion on his face: Jim looks just simply happy to see him. Oswald can’t help, but smile back.

 

“I meant to ask you, how did the Maths test go?”

 

“Thanks, I think fairly well. I’m hopeful I did the first four correctly, and maybe I’ll get some points for the fifth one too. How about you?” Oswald asks, and pushes his sunglasses on his head, so he can lose himself in Jim’s blue eyes.

 

“Yeah, I did all of them, but those last ones were tricky.”

 

“I’m sure you’ll get an A+. Thank you for helping me.”

 

Oswald fears his face will ache from smiling so widely, but he’s just mirroring Jim.

 

“No, thank you. For helping me in the test yesterday, and for the tutoring,” Jim reaches out awkwardly, and puts his hand on Oswald’s arm.

 

Oswald thinks he could stay like that, with Jim’s reassuring touch on his arm for ever, but then he notices someone a few metres behind Jim. It’s his friend, that loud boy Harvey. His eyebrows are arched comically, and when Jim turns back to him, Harvey shoots him a grin that promises him endless teasing later. Jim turns back with a blush, but pats Oswald arm before he removes his hand.

 

“I have to go back, practise should start soon,” Jim mumbles. “Umm… maybe we could go somewhere in the weekend? To celebrate that we passed the tests?”

 

“I’d love that, Jim,” Oswald is beaming, convinced that this is just a dream.

 

“Great. See you tomorrow then.”

 

“Yeah. Have a nice afternoon!”

 

Just as Oswald is ready to skip out of the schoolyard in his happiness, Jim calls after him:

 

“Hey, Oswald, do you have any of those chocolates left?”