"Babe? Are you listening to me?"
I looked over at Roisin through a thick cloud of confusion. My mind ran through what it had recorded over the last minute and, sure enough, she'd been talking. About... an assignment she'd done the night before or something. Who the fuck cared right then?
"I'm sorry, Sheen, I just... didn't sleep much last night."
Well, that was an understatement. I hadn't quite fallen asleep when that... thing... he had appeared at the end of my bed. And once he left, I hadn't slept a bit. Not one bit. Jesus... maybe I was lacking sleep so much, I was hallucinating last night. That made sense. More sense than what had actually happened.
No breakfast this morning, either. Could you blame me? I was sick, I was tired, and all I wanted was to talk to Katie.
But it was almost time to head into class, and I hadn't seen her anywhere.
Roisin looked genuinely concerned. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it. "I know, the workload is pretty crazy already. But you really do need to be getting more sleep. It's not going to be any help to you if you get sick."
Fuck, I was zoning out again. My eyes were straining so much to stay open that I could actually hear their efforts.
Only eight hours until I got home.
I would probably pass out by then.
"You have bad bags under your eyes..."
And then she walked past, and I was excusing myself from my girlfriend hurriedly. I managed to speed up enough to catch her as she rounded the corner. I didn't dare call out her name, lest Roisin heard.
Katie looked at me with a smirk; she'd been expecting me. She knew what had happened last night. Why was this surprising? Of course she knew!
I waited for her to say so, but she didn't. She was going to torture me. Great. She waited patiently, twirling a light blonde strand of hair in her finger as she leant against the wall, her blue eyes widened at me innocently.
"Katie... I know. I know, and I'm sorry. What else do you want me to say?"
She shrugged, clearly enjoying herself. "What are you sorry for? What have you done?"
Oh, Jesus Christ. "Kaelen. He came to see me last night. I can't believe this... what has he come back for? How many times have you seen him? Do you know what he wants?"
She studied me for a long time. "Aidan, I don't have a clue what you're talking about. You really do need to grow up, and stop pretending this is all real."
With that, she turned her back on me, and I was too stunned to follow her.
I deserved that.
But I still kicked the wall in frustration, my swearing drowned out by the school bell.
Roisin had rightly assumed she was supposed to come over after school that day, but I simply couldn't bring myself to entertain. She was hurt, of course, but I couldn't come up with a legitimate excuse in my distracted state.
Leaving her behind, I walked ahead as fast as I could, a walk that quickly turned into a jog. Katie, as usual, was nowhere to be seen; for once, I was glad.
The wind bit at me harshly as I pounded down the footpath. My eagerness to get home was not only related to the cold, though. Of course.
My sister, Niamh, was there to greet me, as usual. She was in primary school at eleven, and finished twenty minutes earlier. Like that was fair.
Her bright smile faded as I pushed past her. "Where's Sheen?" she called after me.
I kicked my shoes off when I got in my room, and tried not to sigh when I realised she'd followed me. "Had homework."
The computer let out a tired beep when as it started, unwilling to get to work on such a cold day. I didn't much blame it.
"Doesn't usually stop her?"
I blinked and turned back to my sister, who was smirking. "What?"
"Roisin. She usually wants a quick fuck before she starts her homework."
She ran away from me with a squeal as I launched my blazer in her direction. "Shut the hell up!" I yelled, raising my voice louder as I heard the door to her room shut. "When I was your age, we didn't even know how to talk like that, you little shit!"
"I learned from you!" she twittered angelically, before bursting into gales of laughter.
I rolled my eyes and returned to the computer.
Time to educate myself on the impossible.
When Julie opened the door, a flash of surprise and delight crossed her face. "Aidan! Aidan O'Neil! How are you? It's been a long time."
She was speaking so loudly the people next door could probably hear. It occurred to me suddenly that this was probably for the benefit of her daughter. I tried to fight the blush that was creeping onto my skin. "Um, I'm good, Julie, how are you? I'm actually... here to see Katie. Is she around?"
Julie looked as though she wanted to say something, but obviously thought better of it. She straightened a little and stepped aside to let me through. "Of course. KATIE!"
This last part came out as a screech, and I almost cringed.
Of course, I remembered the way to Katie's room as well as my own, so I was already at her door when she flung it open. From the expression on her face she had not expected me to come by.
Suddenly I became aware of Julie hovering closely behind me. "Can I get you two anything? A hot chocolate? I have some cake in the fridge too, Aidan, I remember how much you used to love it, the one with the jam..."
She trailed off at a sharp look from her daughter. "We're fine, thanks Mum."
Julie reluctantly left us alone, and Katie dragged me into her room, closing the door over. I stood awkwardly in the centre of the carpet, unsure whether I should sit.
Katie gave me a pointed look and sat delicately on her bed. I noticed then that she was quite dressed up; she had on a pretty dress with stockings that were not entirely suited to the current temperature, her hair was smooth and curled, and she was wearing more makeup than usual. For a moment, she struck me as an imperfect porcelain doll.
Well, may as well jump into it. "What do you know about... about faeries?"
She raised an eyebrow at me. "You have to ask that? Is there a single Enid Blyton book I haven't read?"
I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry at this answer. It was so typically Katie. "No, not that stupid fairytale stuff. I mean lore."
She shrugged. "Well, Aidan, knowing you you're going to enlighten me anyway, so why don't we just get on with it?"
But she didn't know me. She hadn't wanted to. "There are things you need to know about them. They aren't like people."
A scoff. "Oh, no, really?"
Okay, that was it. "Oh, of course, you know everything, don't you, Katie? You know that you must always be polite to them, and that you can't ever tell a lie to them because it's the biggest insult out, and that you can't tell anyone about their existence or you'll lose their trust, and if they offer you food you can't eat it, because you'll end up trapped in the faerie realm forever. You're right, I have nothing to help you with."
Interest sparked on her face. "Really? Are you sure?"
I laughed at this. "I'm sure that I'm alive, I'm sure we breathe air and I'm sure I have five senses. I've just found out faeries are real, so it's hard to consider myself sure of anything other than that anymore. What I'm telling you now is just what Google thinks about the whole thing."
She looked down at her hands, her brow furrowed. I decided I'd had enough. "Look, if you don't believe me, look it up yourself. I have things to do."
Like picking at the fluff on my blanket.
She looked up as I walked out, and I hesitated. She never spoke, though.
So I left.
Not for the first, or last, time.