After School Club

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XXIV - Opening Up

I paused for a few moments, trying to figure out the best reply. Was Maddox going to go back to his old school now? After all, that is where Audrey and Sebastian are, the place that he’s used to is. He’d only been here for a month or two, and so much had changed while he was around. It was a good thing - I’d grown used to him, used to him being around. When would I see him again if he moved back?

I looked up at him, stuttering slightly as I spoke up.

“A-are you going to go back?”

Maddox stared at me for a moment, shock and confusion in his expression before he burst out laughing.

"What?! Go back? Why the hell would I do that?” he spluttered, running his fingers through his hair as he shook his head. “Don’t be stupid, of course I’m not! Why would I? I’m here now, aren’t I? Besides, we’re in the last year of high school now, so there’s no point anyway, even if I wanted to.”

I rolled my eyes, relief washing over me as I smiled back. “It was just a question."

“Yeah? Why,” he asked with a smile, “would you miss me? Can’t live your life properly without Maddox Cole to work his magic? I get it. I have that effect on a lot of people.”

I laughed, scoffing at him. “Shut up. But yeah, I suppose high school’s nearly over now. Do you know what college you want to go to?”

He shrugged, not bothered. “Don’t know. The same one Mason goes to, probably. They’ve got dorms there,” he added with a knowing smirk, “so I know who I’m gonna request to be with.”

“Lavinia?”

He grinned, shrugging. “Not a bad idea. I’d love to see her face if that happened.”

“You wouldn’t, trust me.” I sighed lightly, wrapping my arms around my legs. “How’s stuff, anyway, at home?”

Maddox leant his back against his car in thought, looking up at the dimming sky. “It’s alright, I guess. I can almost tolerate Yasmine when she isn’t blasting Little Mix or watching Mean Girls when we want to watch stuff, and Sharon can be okay. Occasionally. And my dad... well, he’s sort of the same. Spends a little more time with us now than he has done before now, which is a start.”

I nodded encouragingly with a smile. “That’s good. Does he just, like, talk to you, or...?”

“Sometimes. Yeah. He even mentioned our mum at one point - our proper mum, not Sharon. I think he misses her too, but he doesn’t like thinking about it. He’s got Sharon now anyway, but she’s determined to let us know that she isn’t trying to replace her.”

I listened in understanding, surprised that he was opening up about his family. “People deal with things like that in different ways.”

Maddox nodded in agreement. “She got cancer,” he said simply, still looking out to the ocean’s horizon. “five years ago. I guess Sharon was good for him in a way. You know what I mean.”

I nodded. “I get it. My mum’s home more often now too. She used to work in bars and clubs, things like that, until really late. But she’s got a new regular job with good pay, sp she’s keeping on top of things.”

“Yeah? Nice. She seems alright. I don’t think I’ve ever met your dad though.”

I almost flinched at his last sentence, and Maddox caught on.

“Sorry, I wasn’t trying to-”

“No, it’s okay,” I told him, shaking my head and taking a deep breath through my nose before daring to continue. “He’s, um, he’s got bad depression. He has for years now. I don’t really know what triggered it, but... well, one day he just stopped working and stuff. He wouldn’t talk and interact properly either - just stayed alone in his room or sits down staring into space. Patricia - my mum’s mum - kept saying he needed to see someone about it, but so far I don’t think he has.”

Maddox stared at me in slight surprise and empathy. “God, that’s awful.”

“Yeah... yeah, it is,” I admitted, “but before Beth’s party, he actually spoke to me properly. Few sentences, but that’s big for him. So who knows - maybe he’s getting a bit better.”

“Let’s hope so,” he said with a half-smile, “I bet he’s great when he’s... you know, himself.”

I nodded, remembering how he was when I was younger. Almost a different person. Depression stole my father, but if it could be beaten - slowly but surely - he might just ebb back. I crossed my fingers that he would.

“Esme?”

I looked up. “Yeah?”

“Remember how I was going to tell you something earlier? At Beth’s party.”

I nodded with a small smile, rolling my eyes. “Before we were rudely interrupted,” I said jokingly, and he smirked, nodding in agreement.

“Yeah. Just before I moved here, Audrey mentioned you. You know, since her ad Melissa go to the same art club.”

“Oh, yeah.”

“Well, Melissa was talking about friends and mentioned you helping her out with school work, being a good friend - you know how Melissa talks,” he said, and I smiled and nodded.

“Audrey told me I needed good association and influences, and then she mentioned you. I’d seen Melissa around with Audrey before. So that kind of explains why I spoke to you before the others.”

I nodded slowly in realisation. “Right - yeah, that makes more sense.”

“Look, the thing is, Es...” Maddox struggled to find the words for a moment, breaking eye contact. “You’re different.”

I smiled and shrugged. “Yeah, I know, I like math. You’ve already pointed that out.”

He grinned, shaking his head. “Not what I meant, but yeah. No, I mean you’re different. To the others. Extro or not. I don’t know how to describe this properly, but you’re cool to be around. Don’t give me that look, I know you don’t think like that, but it is true. You’re yourself, you look out for your friends. And I’ll probably never be rid of you by this point,” he added with a smirk. I rolled my eyes and smiled, listening in interest.

“If what was gonna happen at the party, before Kayleigh came, happened, what would you’ve done about it?”

I blinked, knowing exactly what he was referring to, His sage green eyes were looking straight at me, and I felt myself flush as I tried to give a proper answer. What would I have done about it? Would I have just gone with it?

“I... I don’t know,” I managed to say, “are you getting at something?”

He smirked and shrugged. “Yeah, your answer.”

I sighed and rolled my eyes with a smile. “This is called putting someone on the spot.”

“C’mon,” he urged with a half-smile, “just tell me. What would you’ve done about it? Are we friends?”

I laughed at that. “Friends? Uh, I think so?”

“Well I don’t,” Maddox said, “I don’t think so at all. I think, maybe, we’re past that stage.”

“Best friends?”

He snorted with laughter, shaking his head. “I’m serious, weirdo. We’re past that stage. I know I am.”

I looked up at him, my attention focused. “What do you mean?”

Maddox looked hesitant for a moment, his green eyes dropping.

“I mean... us, Esme. Where we’re at. I don’t know if it’s... if this is just me, but I think we could be more than just friends, or whatever place we’re at.”

My breath caught in my throat as I processed his words, frozen as I tried to make myself speak.

“You do?”

He nodded, a ghost of a smile on his face. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” He looked up then, his gaze latching onto mine. “Don’t you?”

I bit my lip, thinking back to all the time we’d spent together; the after school club, meeting Audrey and Sebastian. I always blushed slightly whenever he took my hand, made any kind of suggestive comment - but was that really because I liked him, secretly, as well? Maddox Cole, the new bad boy in town, taking an interest in me? Helping me to discover what actual fun was, after being away from it ever since my relationship with my parents and life at home started deteriorating? I knew the answer well enough. I did like him - but I hadn’t entertained the thought because I never would’ve thought a boy like him would feel the same. Why would they? Bad boys didn’t go for good girls, did they?

“But...” I found myself stuttering voice reduced to almost murmur. “But... but why would you like me? I’m not an extro, and-”

“I don’t care,” Maddox responded with a light smirk, “I already said, didn’t I? I sure as hell never liked Kayleigh, and I’m not interested in the others. I don’t want a crap relationship that lasts for a few weeks before it all goes under. I can’t be doing with that.”

“I... I thought you were all bad boy,” I said with a slight smile, and he shrugged.

“Sure I am. But we all got our boundaries, haven’t we? Look, Es, I’m not forcing you into anything - and I don’t wanna ruin what we have and make it all awkward. But... I like you. I like you, and I- I want more than this.”

“You want to go out,” I said slowly, in almost a whisper, “with... with me?”

“Well, yeah. I do.” Maddox gave me a half-smile, his cheeks dusted a faint pink. My breath hitched in my throat, my body pretty much frozen. Everything around me was like a blur, and all I could focus on was Maddox, and what the opening up had lead to. My eyes were widened and I didn’t know what to do, how to react. I blinked, a small smile I didn’t even realise I was giving made it’s way to my face. Maddox’s stare didn’t waver, and he smirked.

“So, what do you say?”

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