At the back of the empty classroom, Lucy took a seat, dumping her bag on the floor and folding her arms. School had ended and she was the only one present. There was a hope that she would get away without punishment, but, ultimately, it wasn't a surprise when her fifth period teacher had informed her that she was on afternoon detention. She didn't need a second guess as to why.
It seemed unfair that the consequence for talking back to a manipulative asshole was to have her time wasted, but this was still preferable to letting him interfere with Torsten's life.
It made her think, though.
What does he want, anyway?
She was thinking over what had happened, silent at the back of the classroom, when another student entered. He walked up to the supervising teacher, Mrs Reiner, and handed her a piece of paper. There was a very soft question, too low for Lucy to hear, and the teacher hesitated a moment, then nodded primly in agreement before going back to her grading.
To her surprise, it was Theo.
What is golden boy doing here?
He sat down next to her, a wry shrug of the shoulders as a greeting, depositing his bag on the floor next to the desk.
"How did you end up in detention?" Her question was just above a whisper, beneath the notice of Mrs Reiner.
Theo's response was the same strength of volume, the conversational pitch established. "Wrong equipment and an angry substitute." He shrugged, apathetic. "Can't win them all."
"What, you couldn't charm your way out of it? You're good at that."
"No." He shook his head. "Being charming isn't the answer to everything. Sometimes it's a bad idea. Not everyone likes the friendly approach."
"I don't mind it." Lucy gave a flippant shrug of her own. "But ... if you try that sort of thing on me, I'll slap the suggestion right out of your head." She blinked, doe-eyed. "Just so you understand."
He glanced back to the teacher, making sure she wasn't disturbed by their low-key conversation, and then back, smiling at Lucy sidelong. "Oh, I would never dare, my lady. I already know you aren't the sort to be pushed around."
Mmmhmm. Maybe I'm not being pushed around, but he's still doing a damn good job of convincing me. She definitely approved of the view. This boy is HOT. Wait, though. If Theo doesn't think he can mess with me, does he think he can mess with ... ?
"Yeah, sure," she parried the statement, "but what do you want with him?"
You'd better not pretend like you don't know what I mean.
"I'm glad you're here, because that's what I wanted to ask about." He leaned in, his voice dropping much lower, and she did the same so she could hear him. At the same time, there was a change to his expression; the charisma and confidence seeming to fade a little. Instead, there was a sense of bewilderment that seemed very out of place for Theo, a curiosity, and also ... vulnerability. "Torsten entrances me. I can't say what it is or why, but he has been on my mind since the first moment I saw him, and still," Theo's whisper halted, and he seemed confounded, unsure, "for all the ways I am drawn to him, I cannot tell what he thinks. I had to talk to him that first day in the store. I like him, Lucy. Will you help me find out if he might feel the same?"
Oh. My. God.
She kept herself composed, not showing emotion.
Okay. Alright. Play it cool. Reeeeeal cool.
"Are you serious?" She jabbed him with an index finger, hard enough to bump his shoulder back a few inches. "Because if this is some fucked up game and I find out you aren't, I will cut your balls off and feed them to you. Slowly."
"Yes." A pleading frown at the jab, then a soft assurance to back it up. "I am. It does matter to me. I want to ... know him, and I don't want to upset his best friend."
Is he truthful?
Her eyes narrowed, death-stare on full blast. Her instincts were working overtime, searching for a dishonest sentiment, if there was one to be found, or any illusion.
I think he ... is.
She didn't feel like there was any doubt when she looked at him. Just like her father, she was good at reading others. Theo was uncomfortable at being so open, unsure if he should have said anything, but, fundamentally, he seemed to be honest.
It started to sink in.
He LIKES Torsten.
It was a huge struggle to keep a poker face and not let the edges of her mouth turn up into a great big devilish grin. This was too good. She had a funny feeling about Torsten for a long time, but his ambivalence and vagueness was maddening in how undefined it was. No answers, no confirmation, no nothing. Now, though? Theo was a fantastic candidate to test her theory.
No, scratch that. He is the best candidate.
Therefore, it was up to her to pimp-smack events in the correct direction until the pieces lined up and everything fell into place as it rightfully had to.
"Okay." She folded her arms. "I'm just gonna repeat it. You hurt him, and I'll hurt you even more. So long as you accept that, then I'll help you."
"Great." She stopped a second, to figure out how she wanted to say it. "Torsten is ... different from me in a lot of ways, but there's one thing about us that's the same and it's important to recognise it. He makes up his own mind and you cannot fuck with that. He's independent and he doesn't just follow the majority opinion with no questions. If you want to win him over, you have to work for it and impress him on your own. I can give you advice," she jabbed him again, only gentler, just a tap, "but you have to make it happen."
He nodded, small and sure. "I want to captivate him. I want to touch his heart. What should I do?"
Ohh, Theo. You are the poor romantic fool I've been waiting for.
The situation couldn't get any better.
"Take it slow. Be respectful. He wouldn't like anything dramatic or over-the-top. Don't embarrass him with grand displays of ... anything, or flowery gestures. Keep it simple, traditional. Friends first. Be kind, don't put him on the spot, don't push him. I can get away with that sometimes, but he wouldn't tolerate it with anyone else. Take an interest in his interests. You already know he likes fantasy. He's really good at archery too, though he hasn't been doing it long. Most of all, don't be disappointed if he takes a while to accept what you're trying to do, and that's if he's going to accept it at all. He'll decide what he wants in his own time."
From the front of the room, Mrs Reiner's voice cut into the conversation, the talk prolific enough to have crossed a line where she wasn't prepared to deal with it.
"Lucy, afternoon detention is not for gossip, nor planning world domination." She glared over her glasses at the pair. "I've given you plenty of leeway. You will both face the front and be quiet for the rest of the hour."
"Sorry, Mrs Reiner. Sure thing."
They lapsed into silence, doing as instructed. Theo tapped her arm and she looked across to him. He mouthed 'thanks', his eyes glinting in appreciation.
Oh no, Theo. Thank YOU.