This chapter was co-written by Maddiecat, so tons of credit goes to her. Anyways, yeah, it's long, but it's special, so I hope everyone enjoys it!
It was mid-October when something interesting finally happened in her life: there was a new kid.
Ava was sitting in her desk in the back row, nose buried in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when the teacher called the class' attention to the front.
"Everyone, this is our new student, Zeke Prescott," she announced, a boy standing beside her. His hair was shaggy and blond and he was tall, almost as tall as the teacher. He was skinny and wore a batman shirt and worn looking blue jeans. Despite his unusually tall stature, Ava sensed a sort of hesitance in him. "Zeke just moved here from Michigan." The boy, Zeke, raised his hand in a little wave, still looking down. The girl sitting next to Ava, a blonde with whom she had less than nothing in common leaned forward in her chair to whisper to a curly brunette, who giggled and leaned forward in her own chair in turn to whisper to another blonde, who raised an eyebrow and looked at the new boy, Zeke, before shrugging. The rest of the class was as or less as interested as them and a low hum filled the room, which the teacher ignored as she looked over her seating chart for a place to put him.
Ava watched with little interest as the teacher showed him to his desk, which was right next to hers. The kid who sat in that desk before had begged to be moved, not wanting to sit next to 'the faggot's daughter'. Ava eyed him from the corner of her eye with a sideways bit of a grin, wondering how she would end up scaring away this one.
The boy sitting in front of him turned around in his seat, "Sorry you have to sit next to her," he said, not looking at Ava. "No one wants to sit with her."
"I don't mind," Zeke said quietly.
Ava dropped her grin and turned her attention back to the world of Harry Potter.
At recess, Ava was sitting in her usual spot under the tree a ways from the jungle gym, reading her book. A basketball bounced noisily and landed in front of her. Immediately, a boy named Hayden and the new kid came running to get it.
"Don't touch the ball," Hayden told her firmly. "You can't touch it."
"Wasn't gonna," she muttered, looking back at her book.
The new kid looked at Hayden, confused. "Why can't she touch it?"
"Because she's a freak!" He wrinkled his face in disgust.
"Everyone knows her house is full of sin, so she's a freak!"
"How's your mom's pill addiction, Hayden?" Ava asked calmly, putting her bookmark in and shutting the book so she could look at him. This boy had made it clear from the start that Ava was public enemy number one. His father was a pastor in the local church and his mother was a devout Catholic, so he was her main tormentor.
The new kid covered his mouth to muffle a giggle. Hayden's face turned bright red and he raised the basketball high above his head in preparation to throw it at the smaller girl, but Zeke got there first. Being that he was at least a head taller than Hayden, he could easily pluck the ball out of his hands and hold it above his head.
"Hey!" Hayden jumped to try and get it back, but Zeke was too tall. "You can't take my ball! It's mine!"
"You were gonna hit her!" Zeke accused. "You can't hit a girl!"
"Give it back!" Hayden tried once again to retrieve it
"Go get it." Zeke drop-kicked it, watching it soar over the jungle gym and bounce on the blacktop on the other side of the playground. Hayden tore after it.
Ava was further surprised when the new boy walked over and dropped down beside her. "Are you okay?" he asked. The book dropped out of her hands into her lap as she stared at him. "Sorry he was mean to you."
"My dad doesn't let me read books like that," he continued, picking up her book and looking at the cover. "He says we shouldn't live in imagination. But if we didn't have imagination, where would ideas come from? Back at Henford -that's my old school- my friend Pete let me read one of the books at his house and I thought there were a lot of big words. I have trouble with big words sometimes. But I like reading Clifford. Do you know Clifford? He's this big red dog that does all kinds of cool stuff! I used to pretend I had a dog like Clifford because I'm always taller than everyone. Can you imagine riding a dog to school? It'd be so fun! I can't get a dog 'cause they leave fur everywhere and my mom likes to keep the house clean. If I had one I'd name him Jeff because thats my cousin's name. He's in high school and-"
The bell inside the school rang, signaling that they had to come in for lunch. Zeke jumped up and bounced on his sneakers until Ava stood with him. Then he took her hand and ran into the building, trying to keep his pace slow so he didn't end up carrying the girl by the hand; he'd done enough of that at his old school.
Zeke talked the entire time they stood in lines and got their lunches. And when they went to sit, a girl from their class, the blonde who sat on the other side of Ava, walked up to Zeke.
"You wanna come sit with us?" she asked, ignoring Ava. Ava simply walked past them to her normal table in the back. She set her little tray down and sat in the chair.
"Why'd you leave?" Zeke suddenly appeared beside her, pulling out another chair. She shrugged and began eating her macaroni and cheese. "Don'tcha ever talk?" He tilted his head to the side.
"Sometimes," she muttered.
"It's okay, you don't have to if you don't want to." He took a big bite of his pepperoni pizza. "My dad says I talk too much, but I just have a lot to say." He stopped, as if realizing something. "What's your name?"
"Ava," she said shortly, "Ava White."
"That's a nice name." He stretched his legs, easily able to reach the other chair across the table with his feet. "I wish my last name was a color. But my real first name is Ezekiel. I don't really like that name though, no one ever says it right. What's your middle name?"
Ava stared at him for a moment, considering the question. After finding it seemingly harmless, she answered. "Luanne."
"Mine's Gregory. Ezekiel Gregory Prescott. My grandfather's name is Gregory. I don't get to call him grandpa; he likes to be called Grandfather. He gave me a watch for my birthday. I didn't really like it, but my mom says I will someday. Apparently its a 'Roll-ex?' I don't know what that means, but it wasn't a Transformer, so I didn't get to play with it."
Ava's fingers played along the spine of her book. Part of her just wanted to open it and read, but another part of her liked this strange, talkative boy, even if he seemed waaaay too young-at-heart to be in fifth grade.
"Can you read some to me?" Zeke asked, poking her book. "Please?"
"Uh..." She blinked nervously. But he stared at her with his big brown eyes; they reminded her of a puppy's, and so she nodded and opened the book.
October arrived, spreading a damp chill over the grounds and into the castle. Madam Pomfrey, the nurse, was kept busy by a sudden spate of colds among the staff and students. Her Pepperup potion worked instantly, though it left the drinker smoking at the ears for several hours afterward. Ginny Weasley, who had been looking pale, was bullied into taking some by Percy. The steam pouring from under her vivid hair gave the impression that her whole head was on fire,
Ava read animatedly. Zeke scooted his chair closer so he could look over her shoulder at the words. She turned her head and saw him squinting at the pages.
"How can you read them so good?" he asked.
"I dunno, I just can."
"You're really smart. I like you." He beamed brightly under his bangs. Ava looked down at her food. It was only a matter of time before the hatred of the other kids would turn this boy against her. It was a shame really; he seemed so nice.
"Read s'more," he requested, looking back over her shoulder. He was very, very close to her, which made her shift uncomfortably.
Ava continued reading for a few minutes, feeling his broad chin on her shoulder. After about ten minutes, he appeared to lose a bit of interest, as he turned back to his pizza.
"You're a good reader," he said with a warm smile, bits of pepperoni stuck in his teeth. Above their heads, the bell rang, signaling the end of lunch. Without a word, he took their empty trays to the trash can, then rushed back to meet her.
"C'mon Ava," he said, waving his hand. "I'll race you to class."
Against her better judgement, Ava tucked her book under her arm and took off running. And even though Zeke was at least a foot taller than her, she managed to beat him to the room. But she suspected he slowed down toward the end. And that thought made her happier than she ever thought it would.
After only a month of knowing him, the boy had managed to worm his way into her life without her consent, not that she really had much to complain about, she admitted. It was sort of nice to have someone to fill the empty space next to her (and he did take up a lot of space), even if he did nothing but chatter away during her usual reading times. It was endearing when it wasn't slightly annoying.
He asked her on October 22nd.
"When's your birthday?"
"February 28th," she said back, wondering where that had come from.
"Mine's October 28th!" he said happily. "I'll be eleven! My dad said I can have my birthday party at my house. We have a game room. What kind of games do you like?"
Ava shrugged. "I don't really play video games, if that's what you mean."
"I do. I love Mario Kart!" He paused and looked at her. "But if you don't like video games, we can do something else
"What do you mean?"
"My birthday party's next weekend!" He said, bouncing in his chair. "And I wanted to invite you," he added, suddenly a bit shy.
Ava stared at it. "Invite... me?" She looked at her tray, then back at him. "Why?"
"Because you're my friend," he said innocently, naively. "That's what friends do, they come to the other's birthday parties. Can you ask your dads if you can come?" He thrust something in her face. She took it and realized it was an invitation that looked like he'd made it in Paint, which he probably had, and it was charming even though he'd drawn her name extremely crooked. It was going to be at his family's big, fancy house on the extremely wealthy side of town, and of course his strict, normative parents would be there. There was no way this wasn't going to end terribly.
"Um...Aren't your parents really strict? I don't think they'll...approve...of me..."
"Why?" Once again, the boy was confused. "They know you have two dads. My mom helped me with the invitation." He flipped it over to reveal neatly written instructions on how to get to their house.
Ava felt like heart was going to beat its way through her ribcage to smack him in the head. "They know?! You didn't tell me you told them!" This was the first time she'd gotten angry with him, and it felt odd.
"Well, yeah," he said as if it were obvious. "Why wouldn't I?"
"Because..." How could she explain this one? "Because normal people like you don't think my family is...good." It also wasn't often that she was lost for words.
Zeke got that kicked puppy look in his eyes again, "Does this mean you can't come?" He asked sadly.
Ava's throat clenched. "I...I mean, if your parents said it's okay..."
The bright smile that crossed his face was worth it.
Later that day, Ava found herself whisked away to the mall by her gleeful dads. They were so excited that this friendship, which Ava talked about as if the boy were an alien she were studying, was really starting to thrive. They were getting worried about it, since the friends never spent any time outside of school, no matter how many times they hinted to their daughter that friendships didn't grow when trapped within the boundaries of lunchtime and the hallways before and after school. So, to celebrate, they took her out to the mall to help find a birthday gift, and decided to go out to eat afterward.
"Um, honey, I don't think a dictionary is a very good gift," said Danny.
"Daddy, you haven't heard the way this boy talks." She ran her fingertips along the spines of the dictionary section to find a good one. Danny chuckled and wrapped an arm around her shoulders to lead her away and out of the bookstore. "Let's go check out the toy store."
"He gets a ton of toys like every day from his parents. They buy him whatever he wants because they're rich and think that toys and stuff are a good substitute for actual parenting," she sneered.
"What about a remote control car?" Mason asked, hoping to convince her to change her mind.
Ava looked into the toy store from the entrance. "It's all just so...boring...There have to be better gifts than just normal toys..." she mumbled, mostly to herself.
"What if you make him something?" Danny suggested, trying not to get excited over the thought of a father-daughter craft project.
Ava thought for a moment before silently and purposefully walking in the direction of the hobby shop. After about half an hour of scrutinising each and every item and making unsure noises in response to Danny and Mason's impatient-growing suggestions, she stopped and stared thoughtfully at a roll of string. "Daddy, do you still know how to make dreamcatchers?"
Danny beamed. "Yes, of course. We'll need a frame, some fine yarn, and beads, of course." They walked over to find these things, Mason following behind with a proud smile on his face.
"Now that's a big house," Danny commented from the driver's seat. Ava fumbled with her seatbelt, strangely nervous and excited.
"Well yeah, where else are they going to fit so many people?" she drawled.
"I thought you said he was an only- oooh, I get it." Danny chuckled and Ava rolled her eyes fondly. He looked back around at the house. "I don't see any other cars... Are we early?"
"No, it says eleven o'clock on the invitation. I'm his only friend."
"Really? Well, good ones are hard to find, after all." He ruffled her hair. "I'm sure you'll have a splendid time. Don't forget the present."
"I'm not, I'm not." She picked up the flat box, which was about as big around as her hand. She had painstakingly wrapped it in her favorite Birthday paper; it had "Happy Birthday" written in bold, sparkly letters on a tie-dye background. She couldn't find a bow, so she'd tied a little one in some extra fine yarn and taped it stylishly on the corner of the top of the box. She hadn't bothered with a To and From sticker, figuring it really wasn't needed. After smoothing down the taped edges, she took a deep breath and opened the car door. Upon doing so, a pang of nervousness hit her chest, causing her to hesitate until she heard the reassuring crunch of Danny's shoes hitting the pavement as he exited the car, followed by Mason's.
Before they could get to the door, it flew open and Zeke scampered out in all his gangly glory to throw his arms around her. He wore what appeared to be a brand new blue shirt (tags still attached) and corduroys. A lopsided party hat was perched on his shaggy head.
"You came!" he yelled, still hugging her.
"Well, yeah, I told you I would like a hundred times this week, and on the phone an hour ago when you called to make sure I was coming," she teased, awkwardly hugging him back, which she normally didn't really do but figured she'd try to be nice on his birthday.
"Are these your dads?" he asked, pulling out of the hug and looking at the two men who had arrived with his friend.
"Well yeah, you're the rich one with personal drivers, remember?"
"I'm Ezekiel Gregory Prescott!" He stuck his hand out politely to Danny, too excited to notice Ava's bit of sarcasm.
"Why, yes you are," said Danny, a eyebrows raised a bit in surprise as he smiled and shook his hand. "I'm Danny Mitchell-White, and this is Mason."
Zeke shook their hands politely. "It's very nice to meet you," he said dutifully. "I'm glad you could make it to my party. Would you like to come in?"
"We'd... love to," Mason said. He had never had much experience with such an outgoing child. The only children he knew were Ava and the toddlers he watched on Sundays at the community center.
Zeke took Ava's hand and raced into the house. The two men followed.
"He seems interesting," Danny muttered to his partner.
"Be nice," Mason replied, nudging him gently with his elbow.
"Mom! Ava's here!" Zeke called once they were inside.
A woman in a plain dark red dress appeared. Her rich brown hair was back in a clip and she gave the air of class and elegance and she walked into the room.
"Welcome," she greeted with a smile. "I'm Elena, Zeke's mother."
"Mason White," Mason said politely, holding out his hand. "And this is Danny."
"Mom, this is Ava." Zeke tugged on Ava's hand to pull her out from behind him.
"Zeke has been going on for weeks about your daughter." She held her hand out for the small girl. Ava stared at it for a moment before shaking it.
"Same with Ava about your son," replied Mason politely.
"Where's dad?" Zeke asked his mother. "I want him to meet Ava."
Elena's smile faded a little, "Your father was called into work, honey, you know that."
Zeke looked a little crestfallen, something Danny and Mason noticed and exchanged glances over.
Zeke's mom shooed the children upstairs to Zeke's room after Danny and Mason left. Ava sat awkwardly on his bed (It was neatly made, which Ava couldn't help but suspect was not its usual state) while her friend zipped around his room to give her a grand tour. Every possible space was taken up by various toys, knick-knacks, posters, a numerous amount of his drawings, stuffed animals, and other odds and ends he'd collected. He had a story for most of them and told them in an almost practiced way. Once he'd finished, he joined her on the bed, causing it to shake when he plopped down bouncily, and continued chatting.
"I have the whole first season of Transformers, which you have to start watching! There's this one robot, and then there's another robot and they fight and do all kinds of cool stuff!" He put his fists up and performed a couple martial arts punches for accent. Ava noticed Zeke used "do all kinds of cool stuff" a lot when he explained things. "I know it's a boy show, but you can watch it, too." His face got serious all of a sudden and he looked around conspiratorially before leaning in very close to whisper, "I sometimes like to watch Sailor Moon sometimes."
Ava's mouth lifted into a half smile. "You can't use 'sometimes' twice in a sentence like that, dummy." She had quickly found, through a mortifying accident, that he actually didn't mind being corrected. He usually just stuck his tongue out and laughed, much like now.
"My dad says it's a girly show, but I don't think it is. I think it's super funny! I like Sailor Venus because she has a cat named Artemis. I like the name Artemis, it's a cool name. If I had a talking cat, I think I would ask her why she hunts mice. I mean, what did mice ever do to them? Have you ever seen The Rescuers? It's about mice who save a little girl from an evil witch. Okay, so she's not really a witch, but she could be."
"Sequel's better," she said quickly.
"I think so too," he quickly agreed. "I like the big bird. And my mom says it's in Auth... Auth-rai..." He blushed a little.
Ava managed to hold in a laugh. "Australia."
"Right, like the Crocodile Hunter! 'G'day mate!'" he voiced in a bad accent.
Ava's eyes sparkled with excitement. "I love the Crocodile Hunter!"
"Most girls don't." Zeke bounced in his chair. "That's why you're awesome! You're like a girl and a boy!" He paused, realizing what he'd said. "I like you as a girl, though. You're pretty."
Ava turned bright red. "I am?"
"Yeah!" he said, looking at her like she was crazy. "If you were a Sailor Scout, you'd have to be Mercury because you're super smart and you wear blue all the time and you use a lot of big words! But I wouldn't make you cut your hair short."
"I'd hope you wouldn't make me do anything," she countered, raising her eyebrows at him.
"Never!" Zeke gasped with wide eyes, grabbing her arm reverently. Then he smiled, suddenly coy. "I might have to make you watch Transformers, though. If you want to," he quickly added.
"Kids! It's time for lunch!" called Elena. Ava, who hadn't eaten yet that day, stood first, but Zeke beat her out the door anyways.
Elena let the two friends eat their lunch in the living room so they could start watching Zeke's favorite show. Ava had to smack him with a throw pillow often so he would stop with the trivia and potential spoilers and let her hear the dialogue. After two episodes and a plethora of homemade Chinese food, Elena announced that they could either do presents or cake next. Ava realized, embarrassedly, that she was too full for cake at the moment, so suggested he open her present. He was, of course, completely okay with this idea, and ran into the dining room where a small pile of presents, including the one from Ava, waited on the table. He immediately grabbed the one from her and turned it over in his hands.
"What is it? It looks like one of those boxes mom buys jewelry in."
"Congratulations, I got you a pearl necklace. I thought it would go great with your hair," Ava deadpanned, taking a seat next to him at the impressive cherry wood table.
Zeke paused a moment before grabbing a flap of the wrapping and yanking it to get to the actual box. Eyes shining with curiosity, he took the lid off the box more carefully and stared at the dreamcatcher inside. He stayed oddly silent for a moment while his face shone with wonder, lips slightly parted and eyebrows halfway up his forehead. "Wow, I've seen one of these before. It's magic, right?" He stared at Ava as if discovering some secret, wonderful trait about her.
"It's a dreamcatcher," said Ava, unsure of how magic it really was. "You hang it above your bed and it catches bad dreams, and I guess general bad energy or something. I dunno if that's really magic, but it helps me, so I thought maybe..." she trailed off, suddenly feeling shy. She hunched her shoulders a bit and stared at the wood pattern of the table. She looked up again when Zeke threw his arms around her, dreamcatcher safely on the table.
"This is the best gift I've ever gotten," he said with a sniffle, causing Ava to panic a bit more. She sat frozen, hands fidgeting.
"Um...you're welcome..." she replied in a bit of a mumble. He sat back and quickly rubbed at his eyes.
"Um, let's go hang it up." He smiled at her and picked up the dreamcatcher as if it were made of thin strands of glass instead of just wool and walked carefully up the stairs. Ava glanced at his mother, who was standing in the doorway with tears in her eyes, and quickly hurried after him, feeling increasingly uncomfortable.
After ten minutes of Zeke fiddling with the alignment of the dreamcatcher on a push-pin in the wall above his bed, they went back downstairs for cake. Elena rightly guessed that Ava wouldn't be the type to sing "Happy Birthday," so just hummed it happily as she set the glowing cake on the table before her boy. The cake itself was shaped like an open book and had the words "Harry Potter" on the top of one of the pages in the proper Harry Potter font, and "Happy Birthday Zeke!" on the opposite page. There were little wavy lines to look like writing in the book, and under the title page was a plastic Harry on a broomstick holding a golden Snitch and a plastic Hermione Granger holding a stack of books. Ava smiled and chuckled knowingly as Zeke squeezed his eyes shut for his wish and then blew out the eleven gold and maroon candles. Elena clapped and Ava joined her while Zeke smiled proudly at the both of them.
"I was surprised at his choice of cake," said Elena as she began cutting it, "since he hates reading." She winked at Ava, who sat straighter in her chair.
Ava, in spite of still being pretty full from lunch, and Zeke ate a good third of the cake by themselves while Elena had a much more moderately-sized piece. Zeke even took it upon himself to clean off all the candles with his mouth and Ava quickly stole the Hermione figurine to lick the bottom clean.
"I don't think you're getting that back," teased Elena as she picked up the discarded wrapping paper to throw away. Ava looked challengingly at Zeke, who just smiled and shrugged.
"It suits her better, anyways," he said.
The last hour and a half of the party were spent in the game room where the two friends, controllers in hand, competed fiercely at Mario Kart. Their loud exclamations were heard throughout the house, but Elena left them alone about it.
"There, that's five games to one," said Ava after she'd won yet again.
"No fair!" Zeke said, not really complaining. "Play again?"
Ava looked at the watch Danny had lent her. "My ride'll be here in ten minutes, so we prob'ly shouldn't."
"Oh." Zeke's smile disappeared, crestfallen as he was. "Do you really have to go? You could stay for dinner..."
"I can't. Papa's picking me up right after work and I have no way of calling him."
"That's Mr. Mason, right?"
"Yeah." They sat silently for a moment, not looking at each other.
"Oh! I almost forgot!" He scrambled to his feet, almost tripping on his sock, which was falling down his foot, and flailed out of the room. Ava waited where she was and he returned after just a moment. He skidded in and landed on his knees beside her in an almost-impossible feat of some sort of athletics and handed her a small gift bag. It had a fantasy scene on it, including an old wizard, a unicorn, a knight, and a dragon. The inside was obscured with red tissue paper. "Here, for you." She took it and he sat on his hands while bouncing around excitedly. "Open it, open it!"
Inside were many things: little chocolates, a stretchy frog toy, a few loose marbles, a boomark, a couple shiny Pokemon cards, the usual sorts of things one would find in a party bag. Ava smiled at him. "Thanks. I had a great time today." It was the polite thing to say, but she meant it.
"Ava?" Elena poked her head in. "Your daddy's here."
"Aww," Zeke said in disappointment. "Mom I don't want her to go!" He wrapped his arms almost possessively around her while she laughed heartily at him.
"You'll see her at school, love," said Elena with a laugh.
With a huff, Zeke took Ava's free hand and led her down the long hallway to the front door, where Mr. Mason was waiting for them.
"Hey sweetheart," Mason greeted. "Did you have a good time?"
Ava looked at Zeke and nodded, smiling warmly despite herself. Zeke followed them to their car, never releasing her hand.
"Um, thanks for coming," Zeke said, suddenly shy.
Before Ava could answer, Zeke leaned down and swiftly planted a kiss on her cheek. Immediately, he turned around and ran back into his house, leaving Ava standing there with her mouth open. She saw him peek out the window from behind the curtain and, unsure of how she wanted him to see her just then, simply got into the car and closed the door, letting the tinted windows hide her.
Mason put the keys in the ignition, struggling to hold in the Snoopy dance of happiness at what he had just witnessed, and pulled out of the Prescott's half circle driveway.
Ava stared forward in her seat silently for the majority of the ride, mulling over what had just happened in her mind. What would she say when she saw him at school on Monday? Would he even bring it up? Would he even remember? What did it mean? She didn't want to think about it, she decided, so turned her attention to the gift bag so she could pull her mind back to the wonderful party, if one could really call it a party. She stuck her hand into the bag to find the most distracting thing, the stretchy frog toy, when her hand felt something strangely soft on the other side of the bookmark. She pulled it out to get a better look at it.
It was a thin piece of metal, like many bookmarks she'd seen and had gotten from the cashier lines in bookstores, with round, flat piece of metal at the top with a simple floral design etched into it. She turned it around and her eyes widened to find a piece of stitched cloth within the round part, like in a picture frame. It was her favorite color blue, like the blue crayon she always used to the nub in crayon boxes, and it was embroidered in white and silver, with a touch of gold in the round border of the cloth. There, in the middle of the cloth, were four simple words that made Ava's heart climb into her throat.
To Ava, Love Zeke