It was dark in his room because he didn't bother to switch the light on and he studied his face in the mirror. The only times he liked how he looked were when he was totally down, hollow and cold inside. In such state, he was paler than usual, his richly blue eyes standing out even more against his skin. For the past few weeks, since the summer holiday ended, he would spend long minutes, sometimes even hours, sitting opposite his mirror, looking at himself because he never felt quite this unhappy before. It was as if he was trying to find in his reflection some further knowledge that he couldn't find within himself, to fully grasp the hopelessness he felt. But there were no answers to be found, neither anything new. The boy in the mirror looked back at him, with each passing day becoming more unfamiliar - he was loosing himself. Somewhere in the room, his phone rang. He ignored it, examining his light-coloured hair, nearly touching his shoulders, because he didn't care enough to get a new haircut - there was no one to force him to. The phone rang again and it got a little annoying, which was quite an achievement since he did not get irritated easily. He stood up and looked around for the phone. It was buried in a heap of his clothes on the ground.
"Yes?" he finally managed to answer it.
"Tom? Where were you today?" asked Tiff's voice.
"Ah, I don't know, everywhere," he replied with a tired sigh.
"Right, everywhere but school," said Tiff reproachfully. Tom didn't have anything to answer. He liked to save the unnecessary talking. "What do you think you're doing? Do you want to be expelled?"
"Preferably not," replied Tom calmly, but then added: "Tiff, don't worry, they won't kick me out because of one day."
"No, not one day. Do you have an amnesia or what? This is at the very least sixth time you simply didn't feel like showing up. Seriously, Tom, I'd like to talk to you," she said. Tiff had what she refused to acknowledge as a saviour complex and she was thoroughly disturbed by Tom's failure to take control of his life. When she thought about it she had to admit he was always like this - indifferent, ignorant, never smiling, always daydreaming about god knows what - but it was getting worse every year.
"I thought we already were talking," came the lazy reply.
"Tom. Stop being sarcastic, I meant in person."
"Fine, we'll meet tomorrow. We're both going to the same school, remember?" he continued in his unperturbed tone as he closely examined fingernails on his right hand. He liked how regular was their shape.
"No, we need to do it sooner. Before tomorrow," insisted Tiff. She'd been meaning to talk to him for a long time and he ruined her plans by not coming to school that day.
"What does that mean, are you asking me to come over?" he asked reluctantly.
"Well... Oh, this is so messed up. Why couldn't you go to school today? You can't come over, I'm having a party with some friends in -," she checked the time, "like one hour."
"Aaah, right, logical. Your friends are coming so I cannot," he said sarcastically again.
"No, I mean, you can come if you want, but I wanted to be alone with you. But, you know what? Maybe this is even better, yes, come over anyway and we'll find some time - perhaps when they are drunk enough, we could talk. And you'll finally get to meet some new people."
Tom snorted. He didn't care for meeting new people - or anything for that matter. Why was Tiff even talking to him was a question that everyone around her asked themselves. Having a friend who doesn't care whether you exist and whom you can expect to forget your name as easily as a full name of the Pharaoh of the second dynasty in Egypt is not something most people would desire. Tom was a weirdo. Extremely good-looking, yes, but the phase when all the girls thought he was mysterious and sexy was long gone. Whatever he thought or felt, even though the general opinion was that he didn't ever think or feel anything, was undisclosed and unreachable. There were still some cases of quiet, emo or new girls, who fell madly in love with him but they could never be cured since what they liked about him was his lack of normal behaviour and their infatuation was fed merely by watching and admiring his face, body and movements, as they were forever guessing what was happening inside him. Tiff was not one of those cases though. She was extremely satisfied with herself and proud that Tom talked to her of all the people. The blond boy wasn't as much quiet as he was strange, he would like to talk to people but he gradually stopped because they didn't get him. Tiff was simply the only one who tried to accept him and whom Tom found - for whatever reason - worthy of talking to. Maybe he was just lonely. However, the fact that she had the power to influence him was just her illusion.
"I don't think so, Tiff, but thanks," he said slowly.
"Tom, please. It will be a sleepover. Don't you want to spend a night out of your house?" she asked, trying not to sound too desperate. She hated when things didn't go as she planned. And she planned a lot.
Tom got back to studying his fingers, this time examining the creases on their insides. He was comparing the number of creases and smiled when he saw only one crease on his thumb. He liked rediscovering known facts. Probably everyone knows humans have one less joint on their thumb but he enjoyed realising it again by counting them.
"Tom, are you there?"
He looked at the phone that he let slip down on his bed, slightly surprised. He took it and then remembered what they had been talking about. For a second, he thought he'd just end the call because he didn't feel like talking anymore, but Tiff's last words still resonated in his ears and now finally got into his brain. Spend the night out? Yes, he would like that. Maybe he will run away from Tiff's house and eventually spend the night somewhere else, but this would be his excuse in front of mother. A weak feeling of excitement swivelled inside him, which didn't happen often. Every time it did, it allowed him to hope for a very short while, that he will once be able to live as others. But then, the emptiness, the indifference came back again.
"Tom, did you forget we're talking again? Come on, how can this even happen to someone? Tom? Wake up and pick up the phone!"
"Sorry, Tiff, I'll be there. I'll come."
"Oh, you will? Awesome! And... don't forget about it, okay?" replied Tiff elated but Tom had already put the phone away, letting Tiff talk until she realises he's not there anymore and then hang up.
He tried to go back to looking at himself in the mirror, but he didn't like his face anymore. Something, he couldn't identify what exactly, gave away that he wasn't quite as lifeless as he was before Tiff called. He was going somewhere, meeting people - that was... life. And he could see it in his reflection. The handsome blue-eyed boy looking at him was unhappy, as always, but there was a slight inclination towards normality, which Tom couldn't stand. He looked away disdainfully and went to tell his mother about the sleepover.
Tiff smiled widely when she opened the door to see Josh and Matt.
"Hey, Tiff, sorry for being late," said Josh and hugged her, kissing her cheek briefly.
"It's alright. Though, it really left me wondering," she drew Matt into a hug because he didn't seem to be initiative enough - much to her displeasure, "how come that you are living so close and you came last." She closed the door behind them, watching Mathew awkwardly looking around. Even though he was the less talkative one from the two brothers, she liked him all the more. He had an ideal ratio of shyness to friendliness for her. He still needed some saving, she reckoned, but was fine enough to date as he was. In other words, Tiff had already planned their future together
"That might be because of Josh's endless pondering about what he should wear," smirked Mathew. Josh cast him a death glare, as Tiff chuckled before entering her room.
There were Sam and Zitta, who started dating only two days ago and were a bit unsure as to how to behave in front of others even though it was strikingly obvious they couldn't keep their eyes and hands off each other, next to them sat Celia a timid plain-looking girl who lived next door and Tiff liked to think of her as a little sister to take care of. On the ground next to the bed where they all sat was Luke, with his back against the wall, sipping from a bottle of beer. His face was more like a display of all possible piercings one can get than that of a sixteen-year old high school student. Since the principal threatened to suspend him if he wore all those piercings he made up for it outside the school. Josh went to sit in the armchair, which was his usual spot and no one else dared to occupy it. Matt settled down on the ground beside him, leaning his side against Josh's leg and turned to look in the same direction as all of them. They were practically turned to face the wall with two windows. The room was dark and they were looking at the night sky - well, at least all the boys were, girls were looking at Flint. On one windowsill sat a tall lithe boy with perfectly black hair and nearly as dark eyes. One of his feet was up on the sill and the other one hang loosely down brushing the floor with his toe. Flint was looking out of the window and didn't look at them even when he spoke: "Is anyone else coming, Tiffany?"
"No, Jomats were last," replied Tiff, completely forgetting about Tom. Josh and Matt's friends referred to them as Jomat brothers or Jomats because they were hardly seen separately so there wasn't any point in separating their names.
She let herself admire Flint's dark silhouette against the night illuminated by street lights and her insides slightly squirmed. Despite his ravishing looks, Flint - very much like Tom - was out of question when it comes to love interest. She didn't know how all the girls around him perceived it because he did not attend the same school but she knew for sure he did not date. It was possible he had many one-night experiences, or so she sometimes imagined, but he never talked about this part of his personal life. She was proud to have so many good-looking friends but it wasn't a criterion for being her friend, a perfect demonstration was Celia, who was if not ugly then at least not very easy on the eyes. Flint directed his gaze on Tiff.
"Really? Because someone just stood right in front your house but then evidently changed his mind and he's walking away now," said Flint with a cocked eyebrow and turned back to the window. Tiff strode to the other window just in time to catch a sight of boy dressed in black with unusually light blond hair disappearing down the street.
"Oh, it's Tom! What the hell is he doing?" she groaned and drew her phone to call him.
"You invited Tom? What the fuck?" asked Luke and the others obviously wanted to ask the same. Except for Flint.
"Who's Tom?" he asked intrigued.
"Yes, he is my friend," answered Tiff both questions. Sam, Luke, Zitta and Josh started to protest all at once but Tom picked up and in Tiff's head a little hurray echoed because he answered his phone half the times she tried to reach him so it was always a fifty-fifty chance.
"Why didn't you come in?" she asked and everyone fell silent to listen to her phone call.
"Oh my god, Tom, seriously. You felt like coming all the way to my house on foot, but you didn't feel like coming in? Turn around and get back here, please." She heaved a deep sigh and closed her eyes, listening to Tom's even serene voice talking what was nonsense for her.
"Alright, what can I do to make you come back?" she asked, turning her back to everybody and lowering her voice although they could still hear her. She could imagine their triumphant faces, Tom was proving them right by his behaviour - he really was a freak. "Listen to me. Stay at the playground, I'll go and get you, okay? Just wait for me." Tom hang up. "Shit!" Tiff turned around and looked at her friends.
"We've told you," shrugged Sam and Josh nodded.
"What the hell is happening?" asked Flint, leaving his windowsill and going to the door.
"Well, Tom is a bit weird, you know and -"
"More like a total freak, he's out of it, I'm telling you," interrupted her Luke.
"He is not. When he's with me he's fine. Maybe he just doesn't want to talk to you, Luke," she replied indignantly.
"Yeah, we've just seen how normal he is with you," retorted Luke.
"Oh, shut it. He's one step away from being expelled, I really needed to talk to him," despaired Tiff even though she knew she would find no sympathy in her friends.
"Trying to save someone again, aren't you?" smirked Flint and opened the door.
Tiff smiled. Flint had this habit of making personal comments on people, sometimes even if he didn't know them very well, which usually had a great effect on girls.
"Are you going somewhere?" asked Matt.
"Yes, I'm going after Tommy, he seems interesting," proclaimed Flint casually.
"What? Flint, you can't. He's very... delicate to deal with. You can't make him come here, even I couldn't," protested Tiff, this time on the same side with her friends. But they all knew very well that when a crazy idea struck Flint, he never let it go.
"Don't worry guys, hit it off and we'll be back in no time," grinned Flint maliciously and he was gone.
He was glad to get out of the house on the fresh air. He welcomed anything out of the ordinary and this boy definitely sounded different. However, he had some experiences with Tiffany's "victims" and didn't expect Tom to be much fun but he could always make fun of him or just irritate him - that would depend on how bad he had it. Flint stuck his hands into the pockets of his black hoodie and stopped at the end of the street. Tiff told him to wait near the playground so he turned right. It didn't seem like Tom agreed to wait there, but he had surely gone in that direction. Flint realized that he gave Tom a lot of time to get pretty far away. He broke into a sprint - he was cold anyway. As he was passing the playground he saw a black figure swinging lazily. The blond hair was unmistakeable. Flint jumped over the fence and went to stop right in front of the boy on the swing, still a little out of breath.
"Hey, I'm Tiffany's friend," he said. The boy looked up to examine him with astoundingly blue eyes. They were the darkest shadow of blue Flint had ever seen in eyes. He thought they might be just a coloured lenses, he knew people who liked to wear them. The blond boy was waiting.
"Flint," he introduced himself and offered him a hand.
"I think you know my name," replied Tom and didn't bother to shake his hand.
"Yeah," confirmed Flint and withdrew his hand. Then he took the swing next to Tom's. The blue-eyed boy was looking at something in a distance or perhaps at nothing in particular at all. "So, will you go back with me?"
"Why?" asked Tom and Flint winced.
"Well, because Tiffany..." wants you to - he would have said. But Tom didn't seem to care what others wanted. "... because it's warmer than here," he said the first thing that came into his mind.
"I'm not cold," replied Tom uninterested and began drawing something on the ground with the tip of his foot.
"And if you were?" asked Flint, not really sure what he was doing. But after all, this usually happened to be his best tactics.
Tom shrugged. "There are other ways to get warmer."
"But they are more physically demanding unless you mean -," Flint luckily managed to stop himself. Tom looked at him and Flint smirked at him. The other boy seemed as serene as ever.
"There are other places to go," continued Tom but didn't take his piercing eyes off Flint's face.
"Next building opened to public is at least twice as far away as Tiffany's house," replied Flint promptly. Tom raised one eyebrow. "We are in... living area - just houses all around us," defended Flint his argument. Tom looked away again and remained silent. "Did I win?" asked Flint after a while.
"Did you win this argument? Yes, you did. Can you remember what did you base it upon?"
Flint didn't hesitate for a second, he based it upon the assumption that Tom is cold, which he claimed he wasn't.
"I really like your coat." That made Tom look at him again and there was a subtle amusement hidden somewhere underneath his poker face. Flint realised he liked when Tom was looking at him.
"So do I," said Tom and stroked the black sleeve of the coat with his fingers. "It's really really warm."
Flint let out a surprised chuckle. Was this boy mocking him? "You know, I like it so much I would buy it from you right away."
"Well, unfortunately, it's not for sale," shrugged Tom with a shadow of smile on his lips, which were truly enticing when he moved them - as Flint noticed.
"Alright then. Would you lend it to someone who was freezing to death?" Flint didn't give up.
"Yes, I suppose," replied Tom gingerly. Flint stood up abruptly and took off his hoodie, throwing it on the ground.
"I'm really cold, you know," he looked at Tom and shivered in his white t-shirt. Tom shook his head.
"There's a hoodie on the ground. Take it and put it on," replied the blond boy. Flint looked offended. He took the hoodie and looked into Tom's eyes, half mocking half curious. The black-haired boy clutched the black fabric and contemplated his options. He turned around and jumped over the fence, then ran across the road towards the nearest house. He knocked on the door.
Tom watched that strange handsome guy run to the house across the street. He felt... so interested. He couldn't remember having conversation that he liked with anyone for the past two years. Somebody he couldn't see opened the door and the lean dark boy gesticulated for a while, then went still, possibly waiting for the reply. The boy turned around and stepped aside, revealing a young girl standing in the door. He pointed right at Tom and said something to the girl, who subsequently took his black hoodie, gave him something and closed the door behind her. Flint shouted thanks and ran back to him with a triumphant grin.
"I am soo cold," he shivered again and it seemed rather genuine.
"Well, go on to that house and take your hoodie back," replied Tom.
"I cannot. She bought it from me and there's absolutely no way I'm getting it back," proclaimed Flint, smiling widely. Tom didn't believe him but it was just as well. He knew he would go back with this boy from the very moment he asked him what would he do if he was cold. But he felt like prolonging this game a little.
"Well, you still have your t-shirt. I'm sure you'll live," said Tom.
"Uh, you're unbelievable!" exclaimed Flint but when he saw it had absolutely no effect on the boy, he took of his t-shirt and stood there half-naked, this time really freezing. Tom's eyes focused on the t-shirt. Flint rolled his eyes and looked around to find some way to discard it. He sighed, grasped it firmly and pulled forcibly, tearing it apart. "Now I am literally freezing to death," he hissed. Tom's eyes lingered on his naked torso and he felt something deeper and stronger then curiosity wake up inside him. The blue-eyed boy slowly stood up and lazily took off his coat, handing it over to Flint. Underneath it he wore a shirt the exact colour of his eyes. Flint took the coat, quickly putting it on and buttoning it. They walked silently side by side towards Tiffany's house.
"I forgot your name," said Tom suddenly.
"I forgot yours too," replied Flint but he smirked when Tom looked at him. "I'm Stan, Flint or Tod. Choose whichever you like." Tom smiled - really smiled - for the first time in many months.
"I am Thomas. But don't call me that," replied Tom and this time Flint smiled. The night was truly nipping but that moment they both felt something warm grow inside them.