Poppy's a polite, energetic indie kid from England. Mason's a preppy, opinionated American boy. What do they possibly have in common? Proximity – he's living with her family for the summer… but maybe also a few secrets neither wants to share.
My life has always been about bad timing and bad luck. At seventeen, I didn't think this was likely to change any time in the near future, and I was not entirely mistaken. In my opinion, this particular story all started with a hurdle, although others may beg to differ it is only because they don't fully understand.
The first time my father tried to mention his American girlfriend's sister's husband's son from his first marriage (I know, what the fuck? The only things missing from this list were a postman and a dog) I was running out of the door, late for a party. The next three attempts on my father's part involved similar situations, substituting the party lateness for coffee or school lateness. Eventually my dad managed to find me at a time when I wasn't busy with anything other than homework. By this time about a month had passed. Non-urgent issues tended to slip my dad's mind and I'd just assumed it was his girlfriend's gossip of the week that I had no interest in knowing.
It didn't really occur to me as important even though he kept bringing up. I was eventually informed the boy's name was Mason. Additional information I was given included that he was my age and considering going to university in England, where we lived. So far this didn't sound interesting, but I gave my dad a chance and he added that Olivia (his aforementioned girlfriend) had invited Mason to stay in our guest room. The only surprising thing about this information was the warning. Since Olivia's family had moved into our house there had always been charity cases of hers streaming in and out of the house. A few days of this boy was no big shocker.
My dad seemed relieved by my lack of a reaction to this news, which I didn't understand. I thanked him for the notice of such a visit and got back to work. All I thought was that someone had finally listened to my request about knowing someone was staying at our house before it happened. I hated coming out of the bathroom and bumping into one of Olivia's bosom buddies, nearly dropping my towel and flashing them in the process. You'd be surprised how often this exact situation occurred.
About a month after I was given this information it was late June and although my AS-level exams were over, I was still required to come back into school for several things. In a two-week period I otherwise would have had free, I had bizarrely volunteered to direct a year seven play at my all-girls' school. This meant spending hours of my time trying to put together a production of Cinderella with girls that mostly had no more interest in it than the man in the moon.
I was paired to direct with two girls who I was kind of friends with, because all my good friends had been smart enough to just take a week off relaxing. Between the early morning, lunch time and after school rehearsals I actually had a lot of time doing nothing. I had a couple of classes setting out what we were learning next year, but that was only three hours in a week.
In my boredom, after spending more than enough time sitting on a bench reading in the sun next to the school field, I thought maybe I should waste some time on PE. This class hadn't been compulsory in nearly a year, and since my timetable had a history lesson in the only PE slot for the lower sixths I hadn't had much of a chance for it. I played a lot of tennis outside of school hours, so I hadn't been too concerned this year. Today, there were hurdles set up on the far end of the field and some girls from my year were practising on them so I saw no reason not to pull out my hardly touched gym uniform and give it a go myself. Back in the day, I'd been a pretty good hurdler. 1-2-3-AIR was completely natural to me, and as I jumped over them that day it came back to me. It was just so easy.
And then I got knocked out.
I know, how? Believe me, I was wondering that myself when I woke up. Well mostly I was wondering what the fuck had happened, and thinking about how much I'd just reinforced my spaz reputation at my school. People I rarely spoken to were standing above me, and apparently someone had gone to get the nurse. But what had happened to me, seriously? As far as I was informed, my foot caught on the hurdle as I was jumping. I was falling. It was falling. It smacked the back of my head. This has never stopped sounding illogical, which is why it could only have happened to me.
"I'm fine," I told the girls around me, as I stood up, trying desperately to ignore almost overwhelming dizziness.
"You should really go the nurse," next year's tennis captain advised me. I would have nodded, but I didn't feel such was a good idea and instead just headed in that direction.
The nurse got to me first. I was lucky she'd always liked me. Some girls she would have instantly been told they were faking and sent back to their lessons (although I didn't exactly have any lessons left). For me, she quickly called my father even as I protested.
"I'm cool, completely fine," I insisted as she dialled in the number. "I have this play I'm meant to be directing, and it's on next Friday and no one even knows their lines or anything. And now there's some bullying issue, and I just don't think I can go home right now."
"Poppy," she said my name very calmly, like she was about to give me some sound advice. "Your exams are over. Relax. Go home, get some rest, and try to recover. The play will still be there tomorrow. This is the time to be having fun, not the time to stress." A second later she switched her tone of voice and I realised she was talking to my father, asking if there was a possibility I could be picked up. My dad worked from home most days so there was never much of an issue when I got ill in school about being left there. Today though, he managed to get there so quickly that I'd hardly made it to the reception – that or my head injury was giving me time perception problems.
I was still in my gross gym clothes but I didn't have it in me to go rescue my real clothes from my locker, let alone change into them.
"Are you okay, Pops?" my dad asked when I reached him outside my school gates.
"I'm alive," I responded as he lead me to the car and opened the passenger door for me. Breathing out, I slid in and leaned my head back, trying to ignore the throbbing feeling from it. The nurse had given me some ibuprofen before I'd escaped her but so far it had taken no noticeable effect.
After a moment in the car, I noticed something in the mirror. "Dad, there's a boy in the backseat," I commented, just in case he didn't know. Before he could respond though, another wave of pain passed through me and I said, "I'm in pain, you know." Again, just in case he didn't know.
"I do know, darling," he said. "That's why I'm here." My father always did come through for me.
"Okay, thank you," I said. "'Cause I'm in some serious pain here. Who is this, by the way?" I indicated the boy in the back. Since my dad had kept driving, I assumed he wasn't a complete stranger.
"Poppy, that's Mason. Remember, he's Olivia's sister's hus-" my dad started.
"Oh, the postman's dog. Right," I said, mostly to myself. Everyone else just happened to hear. My dad was well aware of my shorthand for Mason's relation to us by now. I just don't think he expected me to use it in front of the poor boy.
"I don't usually look like this," I said to Mason, since I was fairly sure I looked like a banged up monster.
Mason said, "Okay."
"What exactly happened?" my dad asked.
I sighed tragically. "Freak hurdling accident. We're lucky I'm alive," My dad seemed to miss my exaggerated drama, but Mason tittered from the backseat. "Seriously, we are," I said to him.
It occurred to me as odd that Mason was even in the car. Olivia's charity cases usually mostly did their own thing while using our house as a base. Maybe it was different because Mason was younger and in a completely strange city without his parents or friends.
"How?" my dad asked again, not satisfied with my previous answer.
"Apparently it smacked me in the back of my head. I was a bit busy being knocked out to take notes."
"You got knocked out?" my dad asked. Oh my God. "You might be concussed. It's a bad thing, those head injuries. Are you sleepy?"
"I guess," I said. I'd been working impressive amounts of time on the play though so I wasn't sure if tiredness was symptomatic of the injury or my life.
"Make sure you don't go to sleep," my dad advised.
"What, ever?" I asked. To this, I received no response. "I should have known better anyway," I rambled on, not sure whether my dad was listening or not. "It looked like an evil hurdle. It was number six and everything." I had a small problem with the number six. As much as my father tried to discourage superstition in his children, I couldn't help my aversion to such an unlucky number for me.
Mason cleared his throat from the back seat and asked, "Your hurdles have numbers?" He had a different accent from Olivia's so I assumed he was from somewhere other than New York City in the US, though this did not narrow down the choices much.
I rolled my eyes. "Of course not. I counted."
Mason said nothing, which I felt was about the only acceptable response to my mild obsessive-compulsive behaviour. Apart from my small interjections while my father and Mason made small talk, I stayed pretty much silent for the rest of the ride home.
It was only when my dad had parked in the driveway that I really got to get a good look at Mason. How I hadn't noticed his blindingly yellow blond hair before was a mystery to me. It was mussed up, over his forehead, sticking up over the place, everywhere, but I supposed he had just been on an eight-hour plane journey. Maybe it didn't look this cool everyday. His clothes weren't so interesting to me after I'd seen his hair, a preppy Ralph Lauren polo and jeans that actually fit him.
Olivia was out of the house to greet Mason before we were even out of the car. And he obliged by going to the doorstep to let her fuss over him.
"God, that's a lot of stuff," I commented as my dad opened the boot and Mason's bags were revealed. He'd brought with him a large suitcase and a big duffel bag. "Is he going on somewhere after this?" I asked, automatically picking up the duffel bag to help.
My dad gave me a strange look and said to me, "I think this is about right for the time Mason's here."
I blinked at him. "Huh?" I said. My dad said nothing, lifting Mason's suitcase as the boy was still busy having Olivia coo over him (you wouldn't think anyone could coo over a teenager, but believe me, Olivia could). "How long exactly is he here for?"
My dad put Mason's suitcase on the ground and took his other bag off my shoulder. "I'm not sure you should be carrying that with your head injury."
I let him take it from me. "Dad," I said to get his attention back. When he was looking at me, I asked in a casual voice, "So how long is he here?"
My dad started walking back to the house with both of Mason's bags and I closed the boot, following quickly after him as he answered, "Until about late August."
I stopped dead. "What?" I demanded. This explained the prior notice. My dad was still walking though, forcing me to follow after him into the house, where Mason had been dragged.
I tried to reason that two months wasn't so bad. Mason could keep himself busy with touristy things and Olivia bothering him. If I were really lucky, maybe he'd already know a few people in London. This summer I was packed with plans anyway. I had work experience starting and universities to visit, and parties with friends that I didn't want to force to be nice to a complete stranger.
This would be fine, I was sure.
I just never thought Mason would have much effect on my life. God, was I wrong.
A/N: I know, what do I need with a new story? I just love this idea and I've been thinking about it for maybe three months now so I think I've earned myself the chance to write it. It's just a short starter chapter, but please let me know what you think in a review, constructive criticism or whatever, I'm happy to hear it. Thanks for reading.
FYI, if you're wondering, I am from England, and AS level exams are what students take here in their second to last year of school (when they're age 16-17). This is the year Poppy's just finishing now in the story, so it's not too much to worry about. I just thought I'd mention it here in case anyone was wondering.