CHAPTER SEVEN

"Oh my Gosh, this is too hideous." I was nearly tearing up with laughter at this point, and Jemima looked like she was doing her best to avoid doing the same. We were doing one last run-through before the play was officially on in an hour, good lord this was going to be a disaster.

"Is there any possibility they'll think we did this on purpose?" Jemima asked.

I recovered myself and straightened my back from its doubled-over position. "I really fucking hope so, but I'm kind of doubting it right now. It just looks like a mistake."

"At least it's not our parents coming to watch it, I guess," Jemima commented.

I blinked at her. "But it's their parents coming to kill us."

"I'm thinking we run to the pub as soon as this is over," Jemima said, nodding wisely.

"Total plan. I'm forcing my friend to come view this catastrophe, so we'll grab him and go before, you know, the rampage," I said, grinning.

"A friend?" Jemima asked, wiggling her eyebrows at me. "What kind of friend is this? It's not this Thomas guy you're interested in, is it?" This was not even a conversation that I'd had with Jemima.

I slapped my forehead in shock. "This school, sometimes, seriously."

"No big deal," Jemima said, "Lena mentioned to me that she had a friend that liked you, and then Milly was chatting about something in classics, and you know I did some research, put two and two together." I stared at her, mouth open. "Oh, come on, you know I'm a gossip and it's all too easy in this school."

"It's not like anyone even knows Thomas apart from Lena and, well, my friends. And, for your nosy self's information, no it's not him coming tonight. It's a friend-friend."

"Sure, sure, keep your options open, I get it," Jemima replied, grinning and when my mouth stayed open she added, "I kid, I kid… sort of."

I rolled my eyes and said, "I only wish we could start drinking before the performance to make it remotely more bearable."

Jemima's eyes widened at this comment. "Do you think we can?" she asked.

I chuckled. "Nope, but I am thirsty, so I'm going to go grab some water. You want a cup or anything?"

"I'm good thanks," Jemima replied. "Have fun with your beautiful break away from this hell."

I grinned. "Don't worry, I will." Hopping off the desk I resisted my urge to run screaming from the room, and instead walked as slowly as I could manage until I was out of sight. Unfortunately about thirty feet into my (shock-horror) illegal in school corridors run, I near crashed into Lena.

I stopped from this highly likely collision by veering right and grabbing a locker to slow me down.

Lena looked slightly taken aback but smiled and said, "Hey, Poppy. How's it going?"

"Pretty good, thanks. I didn't know you were directing as well." There were eight plays to be directed, so sixteen of us in total were working on them, and I was fairly certain Lena wasn't one of them.

"Oh, I'm not," she replied. "My little sister's in one of them, so I'm just along to be supportive, you know?"

"Oh, cool," I said. "I'm hoping it's not Cinderella. We're a disaster."

"Jack and the Beanstalk," she said.

"Fantasmic, I can take no blame if that's a poor performance."

Lena smiled. "I'm not exactly expecting a west end performance anyway."

My thirst beckoned as I became aware of my extremely dry mouth again. "I'd better go," I told her, "But if you're around after the play all the directors are going to a pub, you should come."

Lena looked mildly surprised at this, which was fair since we weren't exactly friends, but it seemed like the polite thing to do and Lena wasn't a totally hideous person to be around. "Sure, sounds kind of fun, I might just come along."

I grinned. "Cool, just catch up with one of us after the play. See you in a bit." And with that I dashed off again.

---

It probably goes without saying but the play was so god awful that I think Jemima and I were both genuinely wishing a girl might break a leg just so the show would come to an end. As I'd known exactly how bad it was going to be and in what ways, very soon into the production I stopped watching the girls and started watching Mason. He was fairly easy to find in an audience full of parents and the occasional older sister.

Mason's hair had a hypnotic quality for me and as much as I wanted to observe his facial expressions I just kept staring at that messy blond bedhead he wandered around with.

Earlier that day Amanda had asked me why I'd asked invited Mason to the play, a question I had not fully understood until she went on. I had just told her the story about Thomas's call, and she said slowly and in a non-accusatory tone, "Well Thomas asked you to do something on Friday and you said no, but then you asked Mason to the play."

"How totally embarrassing if Thomas saw the play, no thank you." I embarrassed myself in front of Mason all the time – I'd got used to it and his company. "And what would I want him on some girly pub outing for?"

Amanda seemed vaguely to accept this. At any rate, she couldn't question bizarre boy behaviour - she was still in hiding from Miles. She did seem to like pointing out my obsession with Mason's hair a bit too often for my liking, however, who knew when that would be repeated in front of him in a drunken moment?

Now, since I obviously had nothing better to do, I finally forced my gaze to slip further down than Mason's hair, to his blue eyes, tanned skin, full lips. He really was very attractive, though I hadn't taken much time to notice it. I'd assumed he was just a conventional kind of good-looking, one that wouldn't appeal to me because I did indeed like my boys a bit off perfect. There was something more in Mason's looks though.

I wondered if his girlfriend missed him. She was such a non-entity that I rarely thought of her. For sure Mason never mentioned her and never looked pleased if I made a vague curiosity known. Did she even have a name? I wondered how much he could care about a girl he never mentioned.

I snapped out of these musings when Mason caught me looking at him, causing me to nearly switch off all the lights on the stage area as that was where my hand was resting. Fortunately I caught myself in time, not that it could have made matters any worse. He grinned at me but quickly followed it by making a face, probably alluding to what an awful person I was to drag him to such a place.

Jemima caught this exchange and leaned over, whispering as quietly as possible, "Is that him?" I nodded, to which Jemima's eyes widened and she went on, "My god, how do you get anything done with that under your roof? How could you possibly fancy anyone else on the planet?" Yes, I clearly had missed something about Mason's looks. Jemima did have a thing for surfer boys, however, or so I'd heard. She'd found most of her boyfriends during summers in Cornwall, which I was sure was full of boys that looked like Mason.

Literally, as the last scene of Cinderella painfully disassembled in front of us I began to slip out of our drama studio, unnoticed but for Mason who I grabbed by the door while the girls were doing their curtseys or bows or whatever god awful thing over-achieving teenage girls did when their project had seriously derailed.

"Oh my god," Mason said as soon as the door swung shut behind us. I kept my hold on his wrist, kept walking, head down, dragging him through the corridors. "Where are we going, Poppy?" he asked finally.

"Gosh, and I thought it was every teenage boy's dream to see the inside of an all girls' school." I turned to look back in his eyes just to make this comment. Really I just wanted to head up to common room and grab my stuff out of my locker. I pulled Mason up three flights of stairs to the now deserted area where my locker was placed.

As I rifled through my pockets to find my key and began opening my locker door Mason just seemed to be taking it in. It wasn't a big school I attended, but it was much loved for the most part. There were approximately a hundred girls in any given year and as a privilege the top two years in the school had a common room in which to spend their non-lesson time.

"So this is where you spend your days?" Mason asked. He seemed comfortable and uncomfortable in this space all at the same time, leaning against the lockers but his stance was tense.

I smiled at him. "And the occasional classroom. Those sofas are pretty damn comfy, so I'm happy here."

"Yeah?" Mason asked, walking further into the space while I finished getting my bag together and shutting the locker. "May I?" he asked, indicating a sofa.

I nodded and when he started walking to it with his back to me, I sneaked up and knocked him onto it just so, you know, he got the full squish effect. What I hadn't expected was that he was quick enough to pull me down with him. But, that Mason, he was full of surprises and we both found ourselves crashing onto the navy sofa cushions. I giggled and he chuckled – we were both so tangled up in each other that it was hard not to. I almost didn't know whose leg belonged to whom. We were at a strange angle with me slightly underneath Mason, somewhat buried and when our laughter died down I looked at him. His spectacular hair was so close it almost touched my face. I could feel the rise and fall of Mason's chest, could see his enigmatic blue eyes staring into mine… and then it began to feel a little bit awkward. Obviously I did the only thing I knew how to do – I made a joke.

"You know, I always wondered why they didn't let boys in the school… apart from that they lower test scores and that."

Mason seemed to appreciate this comment from me or at least, well, he kind of grimaced in response, beginning to pull himself away from the mess that was our bodies.

"Poppy!" My name was being yelled from the staircase from a less-than-happy sounding Jemima.

"Shit," I whispered, jumping over the back of the sofa to hide. Mason stayed perfectly still where he was and I could have killed to see the expression on his face when Jemima walked in.

"Where is she?" Jemima asked him. Her voice had softened on the sighting and I could imagine her twirling her hair around her finger.

I had hoped Mason and I had become close enough for him to cover for me. I was wrong.

"Behind the couch," he responded to Jemima.

I stood up then, informing Mason, "You are so bad at this."

"You left me!" Jemima moaned. "I had to face those parents by myself, you know."

"I'm sure they were very polite." I hoped, hoped, hoped.

Jemima's smile was tight. "Some of them, and some were not."

"Well let's get a drink down you," I offered the obvious suggestion, "And maybe my little American boy can cheer you up." Jemima perked up slightly and Mason looked nervous.

"Where's everyone else?" Jemima asked, as Lena appeared at the top of the stairs. I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it but she looked somehow nervous. When she saw us though, she smiled, adjusting her cute little bag on her shoulder and walking further into the room.

"How'd it go?" Lena asked, swinging some of her perfect blonde hair over her shoulder.

Jemima and I looked at each other and then at the floor. Mason offered, "I don't think that's the best question right now."

This was when Lena apparently noticing, commented in a mock-horrified tone, "There's a boy here!"

"Oh my God, I know," Jemima went on, continuing with Lena's joking tone, "I'm totally appalled by Poppy here." At this she lowered her voice and stage whispered to Lena, "I've heard she's like a major slag."

I lowered my face to look at the floor, trying to hide my smile and fake sniffling and saying, " And I thought I was hiding it so well." You would have thought that we were much better friends than we really were, and I could tell Mason did.

Jemima cracked up, finally, causing Lena and me to do the same. "God," she said to Lena, "Imagine if Poppy was."

Lena shook her head. "I just can't," she replied. I supposed it was a good thing – my name was not synonymous with slag and never would be. I'd had enough boyfriends to make people think my name would not be synonymous with prude either, though I wondered sometimes if it might be within certain circles of boys. I just wasn't likely to jump someone right away, no matter how much I did like a guy. And I assumed I was strange enough to force guys to take their time with me too.

"So," I said, "Is it pub time?"

"Yeah," Lena replied, "I think the girls' whose plays are over have already gone down."

"Jeez," I responded, stretching the word out. "What are we waiting for? Jemima, grab your stuff. I need me some kind of stiff drink to forget this evening."

And so we progressed, and much like he had with my close friends Mason charmed the pants off every girl at that pub table. I had no idea how he did it either – he was so different with other people than he was with me. Maybe that was why he intrigued me, thought I felt that my Mason (as a way of phrasing it) was closer to the real one. I mean, why would he pretend to be so difficult?

Our group didn't leave until the point at which the pub was closing and a bartender came to kick us out. By this point everyone was at least tipsy, and that included Mason, which was an interesting sight.

I could tell how much of a hit Mason had been by the glowing wide eyes of every girl I was with. Today I had not been concerned to point out his relationship status.

Lena went to give me a hug as we were saying goodbye. It was a sweet gesture, and she'd seemed pretty cool that night, more than I'd considered with her as a mostly unknown entity before. Unfortunately, due to my surprise at the gesture and my natural awkwardness, I don't think I came off very well - more like stiff as a board. Great. As long as she didn't tell Thomas he would have a hard time if he ever went to touch me.

"Hey," she said, like an afterthought after she'd begun to walk away, "Maybe I'll see you tomorrow at Miles's thing?" So she knew him too – that was obvious. He and Thomas were best friends after all. I wondered how she knew I might be going though.

"Possibly," I said, still not sure how Saturday was going to turn out.

She grinned and went skipping after the others who were all headed to the bus station while Mason and I could easily walk the distance to my house. That was the nice thing about having Mason with me – I could walk places at night without being scared or having to substitute the journey with an unnecessary bus.

"You have fun?" I asked him.

Mason was quiet, just nodding.

"I figured," I said. "Hanging out with a dozen pretty hot girls, not bad, eh?"

I could have sworn Mason paused in his walking for a moment after I said this, but it was only momentarily. When I looked over at him, he was staring at me.

"Right, right," I went on, as usual, "The girlfriend. You probably don't even notice attractive girls."

Mason had been so quiet that when he breathed I took that as a full and meaningful sentence, and then he went on, still watching me in this strange interested way he so often did. "I can notice an attractive girl, Poppy."

"That's allowed?" I asked. "Is that in the girlfriend-boyfriend rule book? But you're not allowed to acknowledge it to your boyfriend-girlfriend?" I must have been drunk to have been talking so much even for me.

Mason sighed. "Yeah, Poppy, it's in the rule book."

"For real?" I asked. When I was drunk sometimes I liked to talk like I was in Saved by the Bell. "I totally need to get a copy of that."

Mason smiled. "I think it's too late, Poppy."

"Too many broken rules?" I asked. "Jeez, that sucks."

"Yeah, bad luck, Poppy." I liked Mason's smile, I decided. Maybe it was better to only see it on the odd rare occasion. Maybe it was worth the wait.

"Bad luck?" I repeated loudly. Mason shushed me, laughing, as he press his index finger against my lips. How much had he had to drink? Probably the same lightweight amount that I had, I guessed. I went on at a lower volume when Mason had removed his finger, his foreign touch, from me. "Bad luck is kind. It's totally my own doing."

Mason did stop now, just looking at me. He didn't say anything for a long while and, curious to see whether he would, neither did I. I wondered if he was this Mason around his girlfriend and hated myself for the thought. But was he? My mind went on. Was he quiet, thoughtful, interested Mason? Or was he the Mason that my friends saw, who was extremely personable and whom I liked as well, but whose personality I just couldn't reconcile with the boy I was usually around.

I'd meant to stay quiet. Really, I had, to test Mason's silence. Why was he just looking at me like that? But then the thought occurred to me. "Let's go to Bristol next week!" I said excitedly.

"What?" Mason asked.

"You know, for the open day. You came here to look at universities and I swear you haven't seen any yet. I mean, Bristol is kind of Sloane town, but it's a top university and we might like it."

Mason finally stopped looking at me, looked down. He shoved his hands in his pockets, saying, "Right. You're right. I haven't been to any universities yet."

"I'm appalled, frankly. Where else shall we visit?" I went off on a university thought tangent for the rest of our walk home. I hardly even noticed Mason's silence.

I did notice a little though. Assuming, again, that he was merely bogged down by this stuff like I was, I linked my arm through his. I hoped this would signal to him that we could be a united front – that he wasn't alone. He didn't push me away so I felt happy in the knowledge that I'd succeeded.

I was pretty happy right until I got to my bedroom door at home, on which was pinned the following note:

Poppy, don't forget tennis lesson at 9am. Have fun xx

"Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." Gosh, I was so looking forward to this hangover.

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A/N: As usual I've been quite a failure at bringing about this chapter with any kind of expediency. I don't think I'll even make promises about chapter eight, unless my procrastination abilities win over my desire to pass my second year at uni (seeing as I have four essays due over the next 3 weeks. Bad times). Anyway, if anyone is still reading, I hope you enjoyed the chapter and please let me know about it (if you did or didn't). Cinderella finally happened, so there's that nightmare over for Poppy at least. Next chapter should be that date between Poppy and Thomas. I wonder how that will go.

Thanks for reviewing: OoohLookACat and individious (sorry if I didn't respond to the reviews, I couldn't remember whether or not I had and yeah. I will next time if I didn't last time)