Chapter 1: The Misunderstanding
“Is she serious?” asked Millicent, brushing out her long, red hair from one side of the picnic bench. On the other side of the bench sat Chaddick, Tedros and Beatrix, the latter of which was practically in Tedros’ lap as he struggled to eat around her shoulder.
“Seriously crazy, that’s for sure,” said Beatrix flippantly. “I can’t believe you even tried to talk to her, Tedros.” The ‘her’ was Agatha, and Tedros would have spoken aloud to remind Beatrix the name of their classmate if he wasn’t already a few seconds away from getting up and leaving the conversation altogether. “You know that she’s more interested in her curses than any princely boy she encounters.”
“You think Tedros is a prince?” asked Chaddick, meeting Tedros’ eyes with barely disguised amusement. Tedros said nothing, blinking at his friend in the hopes that Chaddick would take Beatrix off of him. No such thing happened.
“He’s certainly prince-like, wouldn’t you agree, Millicent?” twittered Beatrix.
“Of course,” said Millicent obediently.
Tedros, on the other hand, wasn’t feeling very princely at all, and sorely wished that he had the ability to go home for lunch period instead. His… talk with Agatha had been the most gossiped about occurrence at school for the last three days, and if he thought that it would have settled down by now, he was gravely mistaken. Agatha refused to speak with him, Hester was giving him the stink eye, and everyone seemed intent on mentioning his somewhat public attempt at a conversation with the ever-mysterious Agatha. Because he assumed she would be thrilled to talk to him. Because who would say no to Tedros Pendragon?
Agatha, apparently. Agatha, who currently sat with her friends under the huge willow tree at the halfway point between Bonum Academy for Gifted Students and its sister school, Malum Reform Institute. Both schools had seemed to follow a similar trend in its students, with Bonum hosting clever, rich, and beautiful students while Malum was given the cunning and rambunctious students. Given the girl’s dark hair and even darken interests (she lived in a graveyard for Merlin’s sake!), everyone was surprised to see that she had been placed at the bright Bonum Academy instead of Malum Institute. Even her mother, a successful alumna of Malum Institute, had been surprised, certain that her daughter would be placed at Malum just as she had years ago. But Agatha broke that tradition.
Agatha had broken a lot of traditions once she started attending Bonum Academy. She was the first to request a change in the girls’ curriculum, the first to advocate for some of the staff’s working conditions, the first to turn Tedros down with a scowl and a warning to stay away from her. She had also been the first student to bridge the gap between both sister schools, not just keeping in close contact with her actual blood sister, Sophie, but with the girls that Sophie was rooming with as well. They’d all become incredibly close over the last few months.
But breaking tradition created a great deal of backlash. Other Bonum students were intent on labelling Agatha as a social outcast to explain her friendships outside of school, but Agatha wasn’t alone at Bonum. And that was the start of this particular problem, Tedros supposed grimly. Because Agatha was friends with a cute Bonum student named Kiko, who was in love with Tedros’ friend, Tristan, who was more interested in Beatrix, who (as it turned out) absolutely detested Agatha.
Beatrix had been ardent in her attempts to bully Agatha out of the system, and once it was very clear that Agatha was not an advocate of Kiko’s romantic interest in Tristan, the bullying against her worsened from other Bonum girls, not approving of Agatha’s personal dislike of Tristan.
Tedros himself had been a little miffed at Agatha for not supporting Kiko’s romantic endeavours. Tristan was one of his best friends, and he had found himself hoping, foolishly, that the comments of the other girls would get through to Agatha. The only problem was that the comments weren’t encouraging; they were just downright cruel.
Not only was she called ugly, but she was also nicknamed the “Witch” of Bonum Academy, being called a variety of unsavoury names that belittled her looks and character. Many other students, without understanding Beatrix’s vendetta, called her similar obscenities, disliking how she stood out and feeling like she was tarnishing the reputation of the school.
Tedros hadn’t participated in such childish bullying, but he also hadn’t denied them, which made him just as bad in Agatha’s eyes. She’d basically said as much during their fight since it was one of her crowning points on why they should stay far away from one another.
“Tedros? Are you listening?”
Tedros blinked away from the willow tree he’d been staring at and glanced at Beatrix, who was still half in his lap. She was looking at him like he was crazy -in fact, the whole table was looking at him like he’d grown a second head- and maybe he was crazy for throwing looks at Agatha and her friends in broad daylight.
But he couldn’t help it. Tedros wanted to shout at himself. Why couldn’t he help it?
“Tedros,” said Beatrix again, this time squeezing at his wrist so he’d focus on her. “Did you hear what I said?”
“Yeah, of course.” He not so gently pushed Beatrix off his lap and stood up, holding his half-eaten meal tray. A walk could help him get his mind off things.“Just not feeling too hungry. I’m going to go return this.”
“But you didn’t even have that much!”
“As I said, I'm not hungry,” grumbled Tedros, striding away from the table and returning to the cafeteria. He spared one more glance at the willow tree before heading back into their school and tried to stop his racing heart. Because one look was all it had taken for his eyes to meet Agatha’s dark, bug-like ones, watching him as if she’d known about his inner turmoil the whole time.
The Boys and Girls dormitories were in two separate wings of the school, and it was one of the greatest blessings Agatha had ever known. She had her own dorm room, which was quaint, quiet, and far away from any meddling boys. In classes, she often heard about the outrageous things some of the Bonum boys were up to, some of which were so stupid that it just made Agatha happier to be far away from them. Sophie was always quick to say how much better dormitories could be if the Boys and Girls dormitories were closer, but Agatha could never buy into it.
Another huge plus about her rooming situation was that the Girls dormitory was on the side closest to the cafeteria. It made her stress driven late night runs to the kitchen easy and nearly undetectable. Or at least, so she thought.
“Well, well, well. I didn’t peg you for someone who breaks curfew.”
Agatha sighed and turned around to glare at the newcomer. “I didn’t peg you for someone who breaks curfew either, Tedros, but here we are.”
“Here we are,” he echoed, leaning against the threshold of the door. Agatha tried to look around him, but he left little to no space for her to escape from. Seeing that she was outmuscled for the moment, she crossed her arms and took her spot on the other side of the kitchen.
“What do you want, Tedros? I’m assuming you’re not here for the chocolate chip cookies?” She held one up to him.
“Did you bake them?” he asked instead, his face wrinkled with suspicion.
Agatha took a huge bite of the cookie in her hand and chewed it dramatically. “Why? Afraid it’s been poisoned by the witch?”
“No, of course not.” He stuck his hand out petulantly. “Give me one.”
“Excuse me ?”
Agatha could practically see Tedros grind his teeth. “I mean, can I please have one?”
“And they call you a prince?” She threw him one of the cookies, which he caught with ease. Tedros nibbled at it before taking a bigger bite.
“For the insult?” challenged Agatha.
“For the cookie,” Tedros clarified, not rising to the bait. He finished the cookie off in two bites and looked at her expectantly. “It was good.”
“Thank you?” Now it was Agatha’s turn to look suspicious. She threw him another cookie with more care. “What are you doing here, Tedros?”
Tedros’ eyes stayed on the cookie. “I wanted to talk to you, actually.”
For someone who wanted to talk to her, Tedros was doing his best to avoid her eyes. “I thought I told you to stay away from me.”
“You did-” he fidgeted with the cookie in hand, “-and I was fine with doing that.”
“Until now, apparently.”
“Look, Agatha, I just don’t want to fight you about this, and I think there are more things that we need to talk about.”
“I beg to differ.” Agatha pulled another cookie out of her Ziploc bag and turned it in her hands. “You and I come from different worlds, Tedros. You said as much for the first day we met. I don’t care how much Sophie thinks you’re charming or how kind Kiko believes Tristan is, I am not interested in people who get their kicks out of making fun of others behind their back. At all. I much prefer face to face confrontation if anything, which if that’s what you’re planning, you should get it over with so that I can go back to eating my cookies.”
“I’m not here for the reasons you think,” Tedros said hurriedly. “I just want to talk.”
“About what? About what happened last week?”
“Well, yeah, but-” he looked up at her finally, but Agatha was quick to cut him off.
“Look, Tedros-” she fixed Tedros with her dark eyes, “-I appreciate that you didn’t tell Professor Dovey about my… chat with Tristan.”
“You mean that chat where you told him that if he ever broke Kiko’s heart that you’d punch him in the mouth?”
Agatha squirmed at the unfortunately accurate reminder. “Yeah, that one.”
“It’s not like I don’t understand why you did it,” explained Tedros, “but everyone has got faults. Tristan likes Kiko, I know he does. Sure, he likes Beatrix too, but that’s just because she’s pretty. A lot of guys like Beatrix.”
“Like you?” Agatha nearly stabbed herself out of mere frustration. Why was she asking that question? Why did she feel so eager to know the answer?
“No.” Tedros’ answer was quick and instinctual. The thought seemed to genuinely put him off. “No, I don’t.”
“And Tristan and the guys are rude to you. I’m not exactly the poster child for politeness either, especially when it comes to you, but I’m working on it. I want to work on it,” Tedros said firmly, taking a couple of steps towards her. “Please? I want us to start over.”
Agatha studied him carefully. She could see the nervousness itching under Tedros’ skin and wondered what the source of it was. “There is something else that you want though,” she mused aloud. “Something that you think you can get from me. What is it?”
“You mean your friendship?” offered Tedros weakly.
“You don’t want my friendship,” said Agatha dismissively, “so what is it that you actually want from me, Tedros?”
“Look, I’m just trying to understand why I feel the way I feel.” His cheeks went red with what must have been frustration. His eyes were on the cookies in her hand, the tiled floor, the empty baking tray resting on the drying rack; anywhere but her. “And I thought, somehow, crazily, that if I talked to you, maybe it would clear itself up to me. Do you know what I mean?”
Agatha looked at his red cheeks, the colour burning his neck and the tips of his ears. His nervousness in her presence, his desire to reconcile. This wasn’t frustration, she realized. This was embarrassment. Yes, she knew what he was here for, Agatha thought firmly.
“Tedros,” Agatha said slowly. “Are you trying to use me to get to Sophie?”
The look of pure shock that took over Tedros’ face was almost comical. “What?” he choked out.
“So it is,” said Agatha, feeling something in her settle down, relieved. Everything still made sense. Nothing was wrong. “I have noticed that you've been looking over at Sophie a lot. You were even staring at her today at lunch.”
“I-” he began, brows knitted together in confusion.
“I’m not surprised. She’s pretty, almost popular in a way.” Agatha chuckled awkwardly. “You’ve talked to her before right?”
Agatha carried on, the words tumbling out of her mouth without any filter. “It kills me to say this, but we both know that she likes you. A lot. And while I don’t think you’re the best guy, you’re not the worst. Dating Sophie is an ordeal I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but if it’s what you want, then go right ahead.”
“She’s high maintenance, picky, and she’s convinced you’ll make her happy. Which, ideally, is what we’d all like. But if you break her heart?” She came close enough that her black clumps bumped into his baby blue slippers. She could see him swallow thickly. “You already heard what I’d do to Tristan. I’d do far worse to you.”
“I think I get it, thanks.” Tedros stared at her a moment longer, first her hair, then her cheeks, then her eyes. He held her gaze carefully, as if he was trying to make something out of it, before breathing in deeply, expression easing into something more like understanding. “I must like her. That explains a lot...It makes a lot more sense.” Even Tedros looked relieved as he took a step back. “I mean, I could never…”
“Never what?” asked Agatha curiously, but Tedros just shook his head. Agatha held back a number of following questions, keeping herself in check. If Tedros didn’t want to talk about it, then he didn’t have to.
“So,” said Tedros, shoulders going back in a familiar pose for confidence, “we can try, then.”
“Try to be friends.” She raised an eyebrow, and he clarified with, “For Sophie’s sake?”
Agatha contemplated his offer and stuck out her hand. Sophie was her best friend, Sophie was her sister . She would do anything for her. “Of course. For Sophie.”
He shook her hand, eyes managing to sparkle even in the dull, fluorescent light of the kitchen, and for half a second, she wondered if she’d just made a terrible mistake.
Chapter 2: Changes
Sophie wasn’t necessarily a bad person. She was beautiful, a rose amongst the thorny, rough-and-tumble students at Malum Institute. Many boys at Bonum, despite their near intrinsic hatred of Malum, fancied her a great deal. And understandably so. Despite being the worst student upon her arrival and kicking up a fuss at her placement, she had swiftly risen through the ranks to land herself on the Dean’s list. She’d proven herself clever, beautiful, and alluring: all things that most boys looked for in a girl.
Tedros, on his part, had always been a little wary of her. Despite Sophie’s proclivity for beauty, something about her made Tedros think twice. There was something cunning in Sophie’s actions, a weightiness to them that he couldn’t decipher. It made him unsure of how to act around her and unsure what to deem her actions. In the time that she’d been at Malum, some of the students looked at her with disgust, others with admiration, but others still regarded her with a degree of cautiousness. There was fear lurking behind their eyes, anxiety that Tedros didn’t understand.
Could his own nervousness around her be attraction? Agatha seemed to think so. Tedros’ limited experience with women on his own terms left him at the mercy of Agatha’s interpretation. After all, Sophie wasn’t all bad. No… no matter how high maintenance she was, Sophie wasn’t terrible. If anything, it made sense that he was drawn to her; a pretty boy was interested in a pretty girl.
And Agatha worked fast. Tedros stepped into his first class to find a love note from Sophie kindly dropped off on his desk. It somehow smelled of vanilla, and the contents of the letter included a fancy invitation to eat together at lunch, something that only Agatha had ever done with Sophie. Tedros had refused Sophie’s invitations many many times, but this would be the first time he agreed.
And so, he met with Sophie under the heart tree, which sat a fair distance from the tree Agatha ate at daily. He’d stepped out into the courtyard, watching as Sophie waved to him from the bench under the blue-leafed heart tree. She eagerly beckoned him over, and Tedros hesitated for a fraction of a second, glancing instead at Agatha. However, Agatha’s head was down, pointedly looking away from him, and Tedros walked to Sophie's side.
“Teddy, dear, so glad you’ve decided to join me!” Sophie said by way of greeting. She patted down her black uniform skirt and gestured for Tedros to sit with her. The bench creaked under their combined weight and was unexpectedly cool despite the heat of the noonday sun filling the courtyard. Tedros pulled Sophie’s lunch invitation out from his pocket.
“Yeah. I got your message.”
“And I’m so glad you did!” Sophie sidled up to him, turning a ruby red apple in her hands. “I must say, I thought you weren’t interested in eating lunch with me, but now that I think about it, I might have been sending the wrong person to ask you.” She looked picture perfect innocent. “Maybe you just didn’t get my other invitations.”
“Other invitations?” said Tedros dumbly. He recalled the other invitations, of course, but he couldn’t fathom how Sophie would interpret the current turn of events.
“Yes! I’ve sent one to your desk nearly every week, but I suppose my messengers were simply unreliable. Agatha, on the other hand, actually volunteered to deliver my invite today.” Sophie gestured to the girl in question, who was now sitting with her back to them. “And look, you’re actually here. I guess I just needed the right girl to send the invite.”
“I, uh, guess so.”
“So," Sophie scooched over just so, "what changed your mind?”
“I just figured that I should give it a shot.” Tedros shrugged. “Maybe there's potential.”
Sophie leaned in, placing a manicured hand on Tedros’ knee. “Well, I, for one, think we’d be amazing together.” She fluttered her eyelashes at him. “Don’t you think?”
“I, uh,” Tedros’ blue eyes flickered between Sophie’s hand and her head, which continued to drift closer to his, “I think that-”
“We should take it slow,” said Tedros quickly, unsure of his own hesitance but happy for it all the same. His words had Sophie pulling back sharply, features twisted into a look that crossed offended and confused. It left him scrambling to appease her. He didn’t want to make an enemy of Sophie Silvestre; he couldn’t imagine being able to get out of that unscathed. Not to mention, Agatha would absolutely destroy him as she had promised the night before. “You know, just for now. I think it's better to wait before doing anything. I don’t want to rush into a relationship.”
“Fine.” Her pretty smile returned again, lighting up her face. Tedros once again felt at peace and eased into the conversation with Sophie. It was...interesting to talk to her, however, it was moments like these that had Tedros on edge, as well. There were layers of self-importance in the way she carried herself, but there was something more fragile and well-hidden as well. Still, despite whatever hidden insecurities Sophie seemed to house in her youthful body, she was an endless source of energy and confidence. She said every word with purpose, with decisive confidence that was unlike the soft, melting girls at Bonum (with the exception of Agatha, of course). Indeed, Sophie was unlike any girl he’d ever met. Meeting her again just like this solidified that thought in his mind.
For now, Tedros forgot the borderline sinister look her complexion had taken, and all Tedros chose to see was Sophie’s bright smiles, assuring him that all was well, that she was kind and understanding, and that she very much in love with him.
“Would you like to meet me after my soccer practice ends?” he offered. “I’ve heard that the sunset looks lovely from there.”
“Yes!” Sophie clutched at Tedros’ arm, nails pressing through his shirt into his skin. “Yes, absolutely. I will be there! I always try to make it a habit to watch your practices, and I will definitely be there when you finish.”
“Our school practices are closed-”
“Oh, hush. That means little to a girl with determination.” She winked at him and Tedros tried to school his frown into a grin for her, thinking of his father as he attempted to channel the roguish smile he’d seen in old photographs.
Her interest in him was charming, passionate even, Tedros assured himself, and there was a fair bit of potential there to be so much more. They spoke until the lunch period ended and she traipsed back to her school, blowing Tedros a kiss.
He let out a relieved sigh as she retreated, moving only when Chaddick came by to shake him out of his daze. Classes passed by rapidly, many of the other students whispering amongst themselves at the absolute phenomena that had just occurred. Tedros had anticipated the rumours that would no doubt spawn from Sophie’s lunch date. Part of him was relieved that his change of heart was not only strange to him, but to them as well. His own friend had the decency to wait until they were back in the gym change room before asking him what Tedros had been thinking.
“You’ve already turned down her letters.” Chaddick pulled his socks over his shin pads before slipping his cleats on. “What made you take her up on it this time?”
“What? You don’t think I would just pick Sophie?”
Chaddick's mouth sloped into a frown. “You’ve got girls falling over you all the time, Ted,” said Chaddick. He clapped a hand on Tedros’ shoulder and shook him. “Why the sudden shift?”
“Just thought that it was time for a change, I guess,” replied Tedros. “Besides, I’m not dating her. I was just... talking to her.”
“Seemed like a little more than talking,” grumbled Chaddick, and Tedros remembered how generous Sophie had been with her touches at lunch. A hand over his own, at his knee, in the crook of his arm. “You realize that if you ask her to sit with us, Beatrix will scratch her eyes out, right?”
“That’s not going to happen,” assured Tedros. “Sophie has her own friends to sit with.”
“She seemed ready to abandon them for the chance to sit with you.” Tedros joined his friend as they stuffed their uniforms into their lockers and headed towards the doors. “And I kind of thought you liked-” at Tedros’ perplexed look, Chaddick merely sighed, seeming to deem his next comment too insignificant to voice. “Just seemed sort of sudden, is all.”
And it would look sudden, wouldn’t it? Tedros hadn’t consulted Chaddick or any of his other friends about Sophie. He’d gone from ignoring her to sitting with her at lunch.
The only one who’d known was Agatha, and he hadn’t told anyone about his meeting with her. It wasn’t necessarily a secret, he reasoned to himself. In fact, he was the one that had proposed they'd be friends in his pursuit of Sophie. He really did want to attempt to be friends with her. A fresh start, he had reasoned, was what they needed. He knew he'd have to see her around the school grounds, talk to her in public, and whatever else. However, their late night rendezvous was something that Tedros felt compelled to keep close to his chest. Chaddick didn’t need to know about the conversation with Agatha. Nobody needed to know. Her stare made him uneasy and sent his body into fight or flight mode. It was as if she saw right through him, a dangerous thing at their academy.
However, as Tedros and Chaddick swung the doors open and walked out onto the soccer field, he could spot Agatha and Sophie on the bench with some other Bonum girls. He supposed he wasn’t going to be rid of her that easily, especially since Sophie and Agatha were siblings. Especially, since, he reminded himself, his goal was to befriend Agatha. To get to Sophie. That was the game plan. That made sense.
Sophie seemed to be talking to Agatha about something, however, the other girl merely had her head down, scribbling away at what Tedros could only assume was the homework Professor Espada had assigned earlier that day about the historical development of weapons used in war. He’d have to get on that once he finished with practice.
“Pendragon! Get your butt over here!” barked Coach Albemarle and garnering the attention of almost every person in the stadium. A cheer went up from some of the students in the stands, and Sophie, in particular, stood up suddenly to cheer alongside them, waving at Tedros as she leaned on the divider between the stands and the field. He smiled, charmed by her enthusiasm and snickered when Sophie shook Agatha’s shoulder and pointed excitedly at Tedros, forcing her friend to look at him. He sent her a mock wave which Agatha returned half-heartedly. Even from a distance, he could tell she was completely disinterested in this whole affair.
A nudge from Chaddick reminded him that he was still attending practice, and Tedros brought his focus back to the field. Coach Albemarle rolled his eyes and motioned for him to join the other boys in their warm-ups. They stretched, ran laps across the field, passed the ball to one another and concluded their practice with a short game between themselves, the team split into two small groups. The spectators in the stands cheered, and Tedros found himself looking up more than once to see if Sophie was looking his way. Which she was. Always.
His eyes would then slip to Agatha’s tired form without much thought, and he found himself relieved, somehow, that she wasn’t paying him any attention. He didn’t necessarily enjoy being pinned by her eyes, far too knowing for his own comfort.
The game ended with an easy win on Tedros’ side and, as the sun began to set, Coach Albemarle called it a practice and sent them back to the change rooms with some stern words about the importance of teamwork, of working with each other for a common goal. The boys filed into the changeroom, bumping into one another and laughing raucously as they stripped down to shower and wash off the filth of the session. From his stall, he could hear the other boys laugh about goals scored and missed, about new tactics they could take against Malum’s boys’ team. What got his attention, however, was when his teammates began to comment on their audience, particularly Sophie.
“Was she wearing the Bonum uniform?”
“Where would she get something like that?”
“Probably Agatha. She’d give her sister anything.”
“I heard that she once went to the Headmaster with Sophie to ask if they could switch schools.”
Tedros remembered that rumour, remembered the way Agatha had stuck out like a sore thumb at their entrance ceremony, remembered the angry looks Sophie would throw her, as if Agatha had cheated her out of everything she had ever dreamed of. He recalled the promise Sophie had made, loud and clear to their school, that she would be joining them at Bonum. She wasn’t so loud about it now though, and after settling into her classes and picking up the class materials, Sophie had become one of Malum’s top students. The weeks of frigidity between the sisters had warmed up, and Tedros had felt relieved that the student body was no longer subjected to Sophie’s tense attitude. Agatha, on her part, had been subjected to more public teasing that Sophie had, most of which she had brushed off, and their amiable reconciliation smothered the brunt of the issue.
“Tedros, are you going somewhere?” Tedros froze at his spot by the door and turned slowly to look at Tristan.
“Nothing,” said Tristan innocently. “It just looked like you were heading somewhere important.”
“Just back to the pitch,” said Tedros. “I’m meeting someone there.”
It was Chaddick’s dismissive wave and stern look at Tristan that allowed Tedros to escape the curious eyes of his teammates.
“What?” Tedros could hear Tristan protest as he walked away.
“He’s going through something,” promised Chaddick. “Give him a break.”
That was something interesting to pack away for another time, thought Tedros, but no matter. He had a girl to meet.
Sophie was right where he’d last seen her, sitting prettily on the bleachers with her tiny, pink backpack nearby. Agatha was nowhere to be seen, he realized as he scanned the now empty bleachers. She must have left with the other students. Sophie called out to him, and Tedros couldn’t help but smile at her enthusiasm.
“Sophie,” he said, jogging up to her. Tedros leaned along the fence and grinned. “Were you waiting long?”
“My boredness flew away when I saw you,” she replied. She pulled on her backpack and traipsed down the remaining stairs. She was wearing her usual Malum uniform, its dark colours strikingly different from the bright whites and golds of Bonum. She was, however, wearing a Bonum jacket over her blouse that fit her near perfectly. “And I- oh!”
Sophie tripped down the remaining couple of steps and into Tedros’ arms, hands grasping at his biceps as he carefully ensured she didn’t land flat on her face. “Thank you,” said Sophie, voice light and airy and reminding Tedros suddenly of Beatrix, her eyes lashes fluttering dramatically as she persistently found herself “tripping” on flat surfaces around the school.
“Are you alright?”
“Perfectly,” promised Sophie.
He righted her on the grass and took a step back. “Did you want to walk around the field? There’s a spot a little ways off that gives you a clean shot of the sunset if you’d like.”
“I’d love to, Teddy, thank you.”
He started off in that direction, pausing only when he realized that Sophie wasn’t walking with him. He turned to her, perplexed, to find her looking at him with an expectant expression.
He blinked at her.
She continued to look at him, meaningfully, intensely, until he stuck out a hand for her to hold. "Let's go?"
Cheerily, Sophie snatched up Tedros' hand greedily and intertwined their fingers, clutching at Tedros' arm. She smiled at him and continued to walk at his side, pulling him forward with so much confidence that Tedros would have thought that watching the sunset was her idea all along.
With the afternoon sun in steady decline and the evening chill on the rise, Agatha considered leaving her sister completely. Her bag was doing little to keep her warm against the temperature that dropped with the light. Pale, white beams from Bonum's street lights illuminated more and more of the area Agatha had decided to wait in.
She was, of course, waiting for Sophie to return, but she supposed that she'd always known Sophie to be tardy (or "fashionably late", as her sister had always been keen to point out). The girl took forever to just go to the bathroom. A quick meeting with Tedros has suddenly turned into an excursion lasting over an hour.
"Why did she bother to ask me to wait if she was just going to be late?" Grumbled Agatha, rubbing at her long sleeve shirt and sorely wishing she had her sweater instead.
She was tempted to leave Sophie completely, and had just resolved to do so, when she spotted a head of golden hair in the distance, near blinding has it headed east towards her. Agatha squinted against the last vestiges of sunlight, bits of it disappearing as Sophie got closer. She could spot the black, dress pants of Malum's uniform, the colours of Bonum's crest on the chest of the sweater that Agatha had lent to Sophie earlier that day when her sister had said she wanted to blend in with the other students more.
Agatha called out to her, ready to scold her for making her wait so long at a moments notice when she realized the shape approaching her was not feminine in the slightest. Her heart steadily sunk, hope dying with the light, as she realized that it was Tedros, and not Sophie, that was meeting her along their school's winding pathway.
He appeared surprised to see her too, looking around to see if she was waiting for anyone else, and Tedros at least had the decency to look apologetic when he noticed the expression on her face, seeming to have realized Sophie's betrayal just as Agatha had. "I guess she didn't tell you, huh?"
"That she was meeting with you?" The words were bitter in her mouth. "I knew about that. But her asking me to wait and then proceeding to ditch me to do god knows what with you?" Agatha turned on her heel. "No, she didn't tell me."
"I'm sure she just forgot," offered Tedros, catching up to her with only a couple of strides as she stomped off towards the dorms. "And we didn't do anything. We just watched the sunset a little and then I walked her back to her side of the school. That's all."
"Agatha, I'm serious." He tried earnestly to catch her eye. "That's it." She wasn't sure if she believed him, she wasn't even too sure why she cared so much, but Agatha told herself that hearing him say so was relieving. Sophie had made it to her dorm safely. "Why do you always have to sound so skeptical?"
"You don't give me any reason not to be," she said, tromping through the grass and holding her book bag to her chest.
"We're supposed to be trying to be friends," shot back Tedros, "and it doesn't feel like you're trying at all. It's not my fault Sophie didn't let you know."
Agatha bit her lip and inhaled deeply. Her exhale was just as heavy. It was difficult to admit he was right, but she knew that he was. "Yeah," she said, tension easing from her shoulders. They were supposed to be attempting some semblance of friendship. It hadn't even been a day and she was already angry with him. She met Tedros' blue eyes, swallowing hard. "Thank you for walking her back. I'm sure she loved that."
The smile he responded with was nothing short of charmingly pleased and Agatha figured that she was forgiven. For now. "She insisted on it, actually. Said it was dangerous for girls to walk alone at this time of day." He shrugged. "Which is fair, but-"
"But she was probably just looking for an excuse to spend more time with you," finished Agatha. "She's always been like that. Sophie doesn't do well alone. She's always with other people, and there's a legitimate argument to be made with safety in numbers, regardless of the time of day." There was a hint of confusion in Tedros' eyes, something about that statement coming out of her mouth perplexing him, but Agatha said nothing more on the subject and Tedros didn't ask. Instead, he stretched, shrugging off his sweater and hanging it over his arm as he looped his soccer bag back over his chest. "Just, keep that in mind."
"Sure." They walked in silence, returning to the well-lit pathway and carrying on without much thought. There was some distance between Malum and Bonum, a distance that Agatha had grown quite accustomed to. She often met with Sophie on Malum's grounds and more than once had to walk back to her dorm alone. Not that she minded. She'd been alone for much of her life and was well used to it. Unlike Sophie, constant company was something that she'd assured herself she did not need.
And as far as company went, this was certainly a first.
At a glance, Agatha spotted Tedros fiddling with the sweater on his arm, smoothing it down and folding it over as if he didn't know what to do with his hands. Agatha, on her part, had never really known what to do with her hands either, so she tightened her grip on her bag to fight her shivers. The winding Bonum path was relatively empty, most students having headed to the cafeteria for dinner or the library for some much needed studying. Quiet as it was, she could still hear Tedros' breathing amidst her own, a peaceful in and out between the pair of them as they strolled beneath the lamplight.
She allowed herself to look at him, eyeing the perfectly tousled hair and the strap across his muscled chest with somewhat less disdain as she had before. So maybe Tedros wasn't all bad. It didn't look like anything had really happened between him and Sophie, and he was certainly racking up points for being a perfect gentleman. He was playing all his cards right: befriending his crush's sibling and trying to make a good impression. If she hadn't known him before Sophie had, she'd call them a perfect match.
She nearly laughed aloud at the thought of Tedros being any iteration of perfect, because she'd seen enough of him in and out of class to know that he was incredibly dense and stubborn and boorish when he wanted to be. She'd seen him do boyishly stupid things, seen him trip over his own feet at jokes, seen him laugh along to taunts made to hurt others.
The memory of it left a particularly sour taste in her mouth, but she had to remind herself, intensely, that this was a changed boy. He was a pretty boy who had come to her with the intention of wooing her best friend, and he hadn't proven himself particularly unworthy. He didn't even really like interacting with her before Sophie, preferring to spend time with boys that had similar attractive features and ridiculous tastes in humour.
She'd only spoken to him by proxy, not that he likely knew that. Tedros fans were a rapid breed of girl...
So sure, he wasn't perfect but nobody was. He'd said it himself that he'd made some mistakes. He might look perfect, with his golden locks and youthful muscle.
"Agatha!" Tugged unceremoniously to the right, Agatha found herself breathless with surprise and on the other side of Tedros as a bike zoomed past them. The biker called back their apologies, but neither Tedros nor Agatha was paying much attention to it. The hands on her arms felt hot, their grip tight with worry. Her bag, in the sudden shift, had fallen to the ground, completely forgotten in the flurry of motion. "Are you okay?” he asked quickly. “You've got to pay attention or you're gonna get hit."
"I'm okay." Her voice sounded so strange to her own ears, heart pounding as much from the near miss as she was stunned by Tedros intensity. She had never seen him look so… Agatha didn't even know what to call the expression on her face. With wide blue eyes and frantic hands, he seemed genuinely concerned for her.
His hands ran a quick line down her arms with a noise of discontentment. "Also, I don't know why you don't have a jacket, but it's getting cold.” He seemed to lose some of his earlier panic, but the worry remained. “Your skin is freezing. Just- here."
She blinked at him, perplexed when Tedros draped his jacket over her shoulders. The weight of it, heavy and warm, was ridiculously satisfying, and Tedros gave it to her with uncharacteristic gentleness. She stood frozen before him as he fixed the collar, smoothing it down with the tips of his fingers. "What?" she said dumbly.
"Don't talk about it." The request was firm before he pulled at her pale wrist, dipping down to pick up her bag from the ground and continuing down the pathway. Agatha stumbled after him obediently, her shock making her compliant until she regained her voice.
"Seriously, don't mention it," he said, cheeks a ruddy red. The brief moment from early had dissipated thoroughly. "Ever. To anyone."
She pressed her lips together, eyeing him suspiciously. "You didn't have to do that."
He huffed out something that might have been a laugh. "I'm not going to let you just get hit by a bike when I could stop it. What kind of guy do you think I am? Did you think I was just going to let a girl get hurt?"
"Why were you zoned out anyway?"
"It was nothing," she said quickly, the colour in her face matching his. She wasn't about to admit she'd been admiring the look of him, not in a million years. She wasn't stupid. She knew what that would do to his ego. "You still didn't have to. I'm not-"
"A girl?" He snickered at the implication, still refusing to look at her. "You're as much a girl as anyone else, Agatha." Tedros slowed down fractionally. "Guess you were right about the whole safety in numbers thing. God knows what would have happened if you went back to your dorm on your own."
It was beginning to dawn on Agatha what exactly Tedros was doing, but they had already arrived at the Girls dorm next to the cafeteria entrance.
He turned to her and released her, standing just outside the glow of a streetlamp. His blue eyes caught hers for a brief moment before darting away and looking anywhere else but where she was. The seconds that ticked between them felt longer than Agatha was comfortable with, and she opened her mouth to say something. As it happened, Tedros’ lips were parted as well as if he meant to speak before his mouth suddenly snapped shut at something he saw behind her shoulder. When she made a noise of curiosity, he stuck a thumb in the direction of the well-lit caf. "I, uh, gotta go."
"The Boys dorm was-"
"I wanted to go to the caf," assured Tedros, thrusting her bag back into her arms. "Good night, Agatha."
Before Agatha could get another word out, Tedros had bolted in the direction of the cafeteria doors and slipped inside without another look in her direction. She wasn't sure what about their exchange had annoyed her most, but she refused to dwell on it any longer than strictly necessary. There were more important things to worry about besides cute boys that escorted you home for no other reason than it being a gentlemanly thing to do.
"Agatha?" Agatha's gaze snapped to the entrance of her dorm where Kiko had pushed open the doors, looking at her curiously. "What are you doing out there?"
Ah, of course. "Nothing." Agatha hurried in past her friend with heart settled deep into her chest. Maybe he was changing, maybe even for the better. Or maybe he'd always been like this and she'd never known it. But this side of Tedros seemed to be reserved to one she'd only get the chance to see in private. He'd no doubt walked her back to the dorm because nobody would be there to witness it, to call him out, to mock him for walking with the living embodiment of a shadow. Befriending the social outcast of their school had been more about looking good to Sophie, putting in the effort to befriend the people she spent time with.
Something ugly twisted in her chest but she tried to stamp it out. He did not, she assured herself, deserve her disappointment. It was her own fault for having expectations, although even Agatha wasn’t too sure what expectations she’d had after their discussion last night.
"Is that-?" She didn't need to look at her friend to know exactly what she was gawking at. If Agatha had seen the varsity jacket of Bonum's star soccer player draped over Kiko's shoulders, she would be just as surprised.
"It's nothing, Kiko," she said, falling face first into her mattress as if hoping the plush comforter would swallow her up completely; as if it could help her forget stupid friends who forgot to text you and stupid boys and stupid jackets that smelled nice and belonged to stupid boys. Agatha groaned into her pillow. "Nothing at all."
Chapter 3: The Beach
A quick rap on Agatha's door jolted her away from the book she was reading, the sound so unanticipated that her cat, Reaper, sprang up and scampered into her bedroom. Agatha frowned and pulled herself up slowly. Her mother wasn't due to be back for another two hours and they were not anticipating any patients.
The summer had begun with the same, slow start that it always did every year. With her uniform stuffed under the rest of her belongings, Agatha returned to her sleepy town on the earliest train she could manage. Leaving Bonum behind for two months was liberating, a much needed break from the stress of exams and social expectations that Agatha cared too little about. Home was perfect for her, even without endless libraries or flawless gardens. It was quiet and a little lonely, maybe, but it was home. And there were no visitors, perhaps one of the best parts of being at home.
Besides Kiko, who had returned home to Japan, and Hester, who was grudgingly working a summer job at her mother's bakery, there would be nobody interested in visiting her. Unless-
"Aggie! It's us! Let us in, please!"
Of course. Agatha sighed deeply, steeling herself as she opened the door to let Sophie into the house with Tedros hot on her heels.
Agatha shut the door and the lock clicked into place. "Hello to you too."
Tedros turned to her awkwardly, one hand tugging at his shirt to air it out while the other was raised in greeting. She could see the sheen of sweat on his face, beading at his neck and wetting his hair, and despite it, he gave her a smile. "Hey."
"Oh Aggie," cried Sophie, draping herself over the sofa dramatically. Her sundress rippled down the side of her body, as blue as the summer sky. "It's far too hot outside." She touched the tips of her fingers to her forehead. "And I'm practically sweating. My god. I feel like I'm melting."
"What are you? The Wicked Witch of the West?" Snickered Agatha, disappearing into the kitchen and pouring her friends water. If they could even really be called friends.
"That would make you, sweet sister, the Wicked Witch of the East. How does that make you feel?"
"I feel like I'd have some killer shoes," she countered. She dropped some ice cubes into the glasses.
Agatha could hear Sophie huff from the other room and caught the barest hint of Tedros' muffled laughter. With a glass in each hand, she returned to the living room and found that Tedros had taken refuge in the shady area nearby her mother's armchair, while Sophie, still lounging about, was in the process of checking her make-up in the small pocket mirror she kept on her at all times. Tedros looked up at her when she entered the room, brightening considerably when she handed him the glass.
"Thanks." The tips of his fingers brushed her in the exchange, carefully eager to drink what she was sure was a beverage long overdue. She turned back to Sophie and put her sister's glass on the coffee table, fingers still tingling from what she was sure was due was the cold water.
"So," asked Agatha into the silence that had fallen between them all, "what have you guys been up to?"
The question revitalized her sister completely. "Tedros drove over to visit me! We went for lunch and spent the afternoon wandering through the parks."
"Have you? Because I doubt heels are best equipped for that." She gave Sophie's bright pink shoes a keen look which her sister ignored with a flip of her beautiful blonde hair.
"It's lovely out there, Aggie, it really is. But the heat alone feels like it was sent straight from the sun to scorch us off this planet."
"Dramatic," praised Agatha, "even for you."
Sophie beamed at her. "Why thank you."
"What did you do today?" Tedros' question drew her attention back to him.
"Reading, laundry." Agatha shrugged. "It's a tad bit too hot out for me. I prefer walks in the evening, to be honest."
"She isn't the biggest fan of company, Teddy," said Sophie lightly from her spot on the sofa. "Agatha likes to walk in the evenings because fewer people will see her."
Agatha flushed a bit at that and tried to fix her sister with her most subtle glare. "I actually like it because it's quieter," she said, "which, you know, it's not right now."
"We're awfully sorry to disturb you, but there was no way we'd be able to continue out there in this heat, right Teddy?"
"It is pretty bad out there," he agreed, "and there are better places to head to in the summer. The beach, for one."
"Beach?! That would be amazing." Sophie sighed dreamily, no doubt thinking about wearing a flashy bikini and garnering whatever attention she could. "Isn't there a gorgeous beach just North of here?"
"Mhmm. I think Beatrix has a summer home by Jaunt Jolie," said Tedros thoughtfully. Agatha did not miss the steely look in Sophie's eyes at the sound of her rival's name. "She's been pestering the group chat because she's lonely. I'm sure she wouldn't mind if we dropped by."
"Really?" Asked Sophie and Agatha at the same time with completely contrary tones. "She's not exactly Sophie's biggest fan," tacked on Agatha. "I don't know if that's the best idea."
"You can invite some of those girls that sit with you at lunch," suggested Tedros. "That way even if Beatrix isn't the most… hospitable, you guys can all still enjoy the beach."
Agatha blinked at him, surprised. For someone who didn't want to be seen with her, he was certainly eager to blend the two friend groups. It was impressive, an olive branch to settle the feud between their two schools, if only for a day. And if it didn't work out, the gesture alone was enough to mean something, although Agatha wasn't really sure what.
She thought back to her accusation that their friendship was mostly for show, how he had countered that she, too, had failed to put action to intent.
"Agatha too?" Asked Sophie.
"Yeah, I-" Tedros seemed surprised that he’d suggested it as well, but recovered quickly. "I mean, the more the merrier, right?"
"I suppose…" Agatha said slowly, turning her eyes to Sophie, who, much like Tedros, surprised Agatha by giving her a subtle nod.
"We can schedule it for the end of August so that there's a higher chance that some of your friends are back in town and available."
"I’ll think about it."
"Great," he said smiling before checking at his watch. "Ah, I think that I should be heading home about now. My mother will be expecting me."
"How far is the drive?" Asked Agatha.
"A couple of hours," he said with a shrug, "but it's fine. Could I just use your washroom before I go?"
"Of course." Agatha pointed down one of the halls. "Second door on your right."
The living room remained silent for only a minute longer before Sophie burst out, "Oh, Agatha, I've ruined it all."
"Sounds unlikely, but okay." Agatha sat herself down in the large armchair opposite Sophie. "What happened? You guys really seemed to be bonding."
"But it doesn't feel romantic enough," mourned Sophie. "I keep trying to make the mood more romantic because he clearly knows I'm interested in him, but he just doesn't seem impressed. He doesn't seem" she put her fingers up for air quotes, "into it."
"What kinds of things are you trying to impress him with?"
"I don't know. Things. My outfit, I guess." She frowned at the memory. "I tried complimenting him, and he just brushed it off."
"Complimented him on what though?"
Agatha groaned. "Sophie, I don't think Tedros is all that interested in looks."
"Didn't you always call him a dumb jock more interested in thinking with his dick than his brain?"
Agatha flushed. "I have since changed my mind."
She nodded at Sophie's curious expression. "Yeah. I… I think he's trying to find somebody of, you know, substance. Someone that isn't superficial. You've seen the girls he hangs around with."
"They're beautiful," said Sophie.
"They're shallow," corrected Agatha. "They care about his looks and his eventual position in his father's company. They don't care about him," she looked at the empty glass on the coffee table, condensation dripping down the side, "and that's what he wants."
"And you know that how?"
Agatha tried not to squirm obviously under her sister's suspicious gaze. "Just a feeling," she lied, not wanting to tell her the truth: that Tedros had been texting her.
About Sophie, of course, and little else, but still. Before they'd left for summer break, Agatha had ferried Sophie's number to Tedros at her sister's request and had been met with Tedros taking Agatha's phone and typing his number in as her contact. "Just text it to me," he'd said, placing the phone back into her hand and scooping up his bag. "It'll be easier."
Agatha had felt like she was playing as their carrier pigeon, but Sophie was so happy to have Tedros' number and often gushed about each new message, each month bringing more and more stories to be told. Sophie knew that Tedros had Agatha's number, but she never seemed to think it possible that the pair of them could be actually talking to one another. (Neither did Agatha, but Tedros was surprising her.) And each new month brought Tedros crawling to her inbox as well, requesting her advice for things related to Sophie like gifts or flowers. Agatha had promised to try and be friends with Tedros, so she responded to each text genuinely, trying her best to provide what Tedros expected of her.
But Sophie didn't ask Agatha for advice on boys. At least, not genuinely. She'd never been faced with a boy like Tedros, Agatha supposed, who did not succumb to her charm right away. But he would eventually, of that Agatha was sure. Nobody had been able to really resist Sophie. When she wanted a boy, she got him, and when she was bored of him, it was easy to throw him away.
"Regardless, you need to be there, at the beach," said Sophie intensely. "You must be there. I won't go without you."
"Sophie, you know I don't like the sun or the ocean," said Agatha, "or people. What would I even do at the beach?"
"Read? Build a sandcastle? Watch the stuff?" Sophie sat up. "You have to come with me. Conversations flow so much better when you're there. He seems more relaxed."
Agatha hadn't gotten that impression at all, but Sophie barrelled onwards, feeling more confident after seeing Agatha's composure waver.
"Certainly! Talking to me all the time must be so daunting. Too much one-on-one time isn't doing either of us any good, and I feel like I'm running out of things to say."
"Already?" It was hard to believe. Considering that Sophie always had things to say.
"You know what I'm like. Not many people can keep up with my energy." She paused and fluttered her lashes. There was a click down the hall that signalled Tedros’ return, but Agatha was still stuck staring at the big green eyes her sister was now looking at her with. "But you can. So please?"
Agatha dropped her head into her hands. She didn't know why she even bothered trying to fight against her sister.
Sophie squealed in her seat.
"She's coming?" Asked Tedros as he reentered the room.
"She is!" Said Sophie brightly, and both Tedros and Sophie gave equal sighs of relief.
"I'll come," said Agatha. "I'll ask the others if they want to come too. I'm sure Kiko will be up for it. And the others… probably."
"Oh, Agatha, it'll be wonderful. You'll be there, and you can drive us there!"
"I never said I'd drive," Agatha said quickly.
"It'll be so perfect,” carried on Sophie. “We'll have so much planning to do!"
"Better get to it, then," said Tedros. "I've got to start driving back home. My mother doesn't like it when I'm late." He pulled his car keys out of his pocket. "Sophie?"
Sophie waved him away. "As lovely as that sounds, Agatha will take me home," said Sophie sweetly.
"She will?" He asked. The look on Tedros' face was both amused and knowing, no doubt a subtle nod to that evening walk they'd spent alone.
Holding back a flush, Agatha nodded. "I...yeah. Yeah, I'll take her home. Don't worry."
"Alright then." Tedros placed his now empty glass on the table. "Thanks again."
"Not a problem."
"I'll see you both another time then; Agatha, Sophie." Agatha walked him to the front door where he thanked her one more time before making his way back out into the street. He waved at her, then he looked at something just off to the side and waved as well. Agatha realized Sophie had gotten up to stand at the window, waving theatrically and blowing Tedros kisses.
Agatha shut the door firmly behind her.
Agatha checked her watch for the fourth time and pulled her phone from its seat in her cupholder. She picked it up without looking, with all of the ease that Sophie often claimed was impossible.
"It's completely black," Sophie would say, her glasses impossibly pink, her hat even more so as she sat next to Agatha in the front seat. "I don't know how you expect me to see it at all. It blends in with this whole car. In fact, there are much better colours cars could be, Aggie. Black is just dreadful. Why, it's practically an oven!"
Agatha had never had a problem with the heat of the car, had grown accustomed to it by now, but never had she been faced with the worst of the heat and she waited for Sophie on a hot August day. She wasn't likely to voice anything now, but her companions?
"The girl better get here in the next five seconds or else we're leaving her," said Hester from the shotgun seat, glaring daggers at the baby blue door of Sophie's home. It sat just on top of a bakery, small and family-owned, but if anyone dared think that Sophie and Hester would bond over their parents' shared vocations, then they'd be dead wrong. Where Sophie's scoffed at the prospect of being a baker, Hester revelled at the prospect of building over her mother's bakery the moment the opportunity presented itself and running a tattoo parlour in her hometown of Ravenswood. There were plenty of Spring Breakers that visited Hester's hometown, she had reasoned; plenty of people to make bad decisions.
"She always says she'll be fashionably late," tried Agatha weakly, and Anadil snorted in the backseat.
"Fashionably late my ass," Anadil quipped. "She doesn't deserve a ride."
"I'm sure she'll be out in a moment," said Kiko optimistically from the backseat, her book abandoned for relaxing in the slice of the sun the car provided her.
Sure enough, Sophie came out of her home and not a moment later, she turned to lock the door. In her arms was a large umbrella, a towel, and a basket full of god knows what. She grinned at them and Agatha popped the back of her truck open so her sister could shove her belongings into the back.
"Ladies, the beach is waiting for us!" She sang, shutting the trunk and opening the front door. On Hester’s side of the car.
When she didn’t shut the door at the clearly occupied seat, Agatha looked over at her annoyed. "Sophie, what are you doing?" asked Agatha, as her sister had decided to have a staring contest with Hester.
"No," said Hester instead, shutting the door and locking it. "First come, first serve. And darling?" She smiled without any pity. "You came last."
Sophie glared before sighing and opening the backdoor instead, forcing Kiko inwards till she was sandwiched in the middle.
"No, this is the worst seat," she cried, but Agatha started the car regardless.
"You can have the first pick next time " she promised, pulling out of Sophie's driveway and heading down the street.
The trip up to the beach was just as Agatha had imagined. Sophie tried to fight with Hester over the music selection, Kiko fell asleep, and Anadil was quietly texting Dot the entire ride, sending the other girl pictures and video clips of the infighting. Agatha found herself both amused and annoyed by her friends' antics, and she was incredibly pleased as she pulled into the long driveway of Beatrix's cottage.
While they all got out of the car and unloaded their gear, Agatha checked her GPS to ensure that they had arrived at the correct destination, before heading up the rest of the dirt driveway. For a cottage, it seemed rather luxurious with tiny lamps lining the edge of the property, and huge glass windows. It hardly looked like a cottage at all. She let Sophie text Tedros that they had arrived, and he was out to greet them before they'd even touched the doorknob.
"You made it," he said, looking at Agatha brightly and smiling at the rest of them. "Glad you guys could come."
"Sure you are," said Hester, holding up a cooler. "We brought drinks. Not about to come to someone's house empty-handed."
"Thanks," he said, ushering them in and pointing them towards the screen door at the opposite end of the house. "Head that way for the patio. It'll lead down to the beachside."
The others followed his direction, and Sophie fluttered her eyelashes and asked to use the washroom.
It was only when they were alone again that Tedros said, "so. Didn't think you guys would bring drinks."
"Like you guys don't have some here already," scoffed Agatha.
"We do. Just didn't expect you to bring any, that's all," he said. He gathered up some of Sophie's things and walked with Agatha through the house towards the back. "No cookies this time?"
Tedros laughed at the flat look he received and opened the backdoor for her. Agatha stepped through it with a muttered, "Maybe next time."
"You don't have to make it for the rest of them," he said. The back patio was a relatively large, wooden landing, with chairs and benches placed in every corner. A covered barbeque was pressed up against the wall of the house, and they deposited their things on the lawn chairs facing the beach. "They probably wouldn't appreciate it. But I definitely would."
"I'm sure you would," she said, thinking back on Tedros' cafeteria eating habits. "Do you think of anything except food? You practically inhale anything you're given."
The smile she got in response was full of pride. "Thank you."
"Don't thank me for noticing that you stress eat."
"I do not stress eat."
"You do with sweets."
He narrowed his eyes at her. "And how exactly do you know that?"
Despite feeling like she'd just been caught doing something she shouldn't, Agatha pressed onwards. "I once wanted one of those chocolate cakes slices they hand out at the opening ceremony and saw you take the last, like, three slices."
"Oh, yeah. I remember that," he murmured and Agatha was glad he didn't question her further. She wasn't sure if she'd be able to pick out everything else."
She leaned on the railing of the back patio as it looked out onto the gorgeous slice of beach. She recognized some of Tedros' friends playing in the water while the others sunbathed on coloured towels, lined up like rungs on a ladder. Hester, Anadil and Kiko walked up to them, and Agatha watched, curious to see how they would interact. Kiko waved a hand to them and joining the others girls in the sand while Hester and Andadil set up their umbrellas and blankets a little ways off, only nodding to Beatrix, no doubt thanks for allowing them on her property at all. When the two groups continued to exist without much incident, Agatha let out the breath she didn't know she was holding and heard Tedros laugh at her side.
"You didn't think they'd fight right away, did you?" He asked.
"You're right. I have to wait until Sophie's down there. Then all hell will break loose."
"Relax. It'll be fine."
Agatha narrowed her eyes and looked over at Tedros, who had taken a spot to mirror her own, fingers twined together as he leaned his weight on the railing next to her. "Sounds pretty optimistic," she griped.
"I have a lot riding on this."
Agatha nodded. This was no doubt a test for Sophie to see if she could interact with the others in his group. Even Agatha was curious to see if she could. She already knew that many of the girls didn't like the fact that Sophie seemed to monopolize a great deal of Tedros' time. They were jealous people, but Agatha could see that they, at least Beatrix, seemed to love Tedros dearly. And Sophie was a threat. Agatha understood that.
She understood that more than she wanted to.
"Teddy, I'm ready for the beach!" They both turned around to see Sophie in a polka-dotted bikini that couldn't possibly have been that small initially. Agatha frowned at her sister's display and hazarded a look at Tedros whose flush seemed far more embarrassed than aroused.
"Towel?" He asked, pointing over to one of the lawn chairs with a shaky hand. Sophie grabbed one of the towels, bending dramatically. Tedros, seeming to remember that he was supposed to be a tad more gentlemanly, averted his eyes and picked up some of the other stuff. "We should head down there."
"Of course," agreed Sophie, wrapping the towel around her hips and looping her arm around one of Tedros'. "Shall we?"
He hadn't even taken a step when Agatha realized he was looking at her. Expecting that he simply wanted her to go first, she picked up Sophie's other bag and carried on, slinging it over her shoulder and walking ahead. Already, she could hear Sophie begin to talk to Tedros about how excited she was to be at the beach. She had just asked Tedros to help her put on suntan lotion when Agatha strode out of earshot and straight towards Beatrix.
"Thanks for letting us onto your beach," she said tightly. Beatrix merely sighed and didn't move from her position along with the towel.
"Anything for Tedros," she said.
"Yeah, I figured." Agatha had long given up on the idea that somebody as beautiful as Beatrix had any sort of generosity inside her body. "We'll only be here for the day. I'll be driving my friends back home when you want us to go."
"Is that a promise?" Some of the other girls giggled, and Agatha clenched her fist, desperate for a comeback to put them in their place when Tedros' voice cut through.
"B, are you telling them about the party?"
"Yes, yes, that party." At this, Beatrix lowered her sunglasses and looked up at Agatha. "I'm hosting a party before we head back to school. You and your friends are welcome to stay for it."
Agatha frowned. "I think we'd-"
"A party?" Gasped Sophie, "Yes, that would be lovely. Thank you so much for the invitation. We'll be there."
Beatrix and Agatha shared a look, sharing the same thought for once in their lives, before Beatrix slid her shades back on and lay her hand across her folded arms. "Peachy."
Agatha looked over at Kiko, who was laying her blanket next to Reena along the golden sand, and the other girl responded with an apologetic smile. They both knew that while Beatrix wasn't the best, she was Kiko's best shot at talking to Tristan
And Kiko lived to talk to Tristan.
"Thanks again, Beatrix," said Agatha before leaving Tedros with Sophie behind. She walked over to where Hester and Anadil were slathering suntan lotion on one another, laughing when it got in their hair, and wiggled the bottle in Agatha's direction upon noticing Agatha at the edge of their small camp.
"What are you waiting for?" Hester said. "Red is not a good look on us."
"This is why I didn't go to the beach," Agatha grumbled, but came over and emptied a glob of suntan lotion on her hand. "Who needs their back done?"
The day went as well as Agatha could have imagined it. No incident between either group was particularly noticeable. Each friend group stuck to their own side, with Sophie and Tedros being the only two people to drift between them all, flirting playfully as they swam in the ocean and made sandcastles by the water. Hester and Anadil had taken to discussing their new timetables at Malum, while Agatha, after growing sick of watching Sophie and Tedros splash one another like two blonde Barbie and Ken dolls, curled up in the shade of the umbrella and fell asleep with her black towel tucked under her head.
And the day made a more positive shift when the boys, growing bored of beach volleyball and throwing frisbees, pulled out water guns and blasted every single person with it, regardless if friendship status. It had been absolute chaos as girls screeched and reached for their towels. Kiko shied away from Tristan as Chaddick chased Beatrix down the beach, and Tedros took it upon himself to shoot Sophie as well. That was what Agatha woke up to: the cry of beautiful betrayal from her sister, and then, almost immediately after, the freezing cold feeling of water being blasted at her back. It was unclear who had sprayed Hester and Agatha, but neither girl would be bested like the others, who flitted across the sand in cute swimsuits and wet hair.
Anadil helped them both wrestle guns away from two unsuspecting boys before turning their guns on their owners, and they made a formidable threesome that scoured the beach for the boys who had destroyed their quiet peace. It became a game, and many of the Bonum girls decided to join in, seeing that their chances at revenge were close at hand. They loosened the caps of their water bottles and gathered together to weed the boys out. Boys who had run scared at their uprising darted across the sand. Some swam out into the ocean, others raced back to the deck of the house, using the high ground to their advantage, and two others fled to the thrush of trees on the outskirts of the property, part of a forest that lined the beach.
Separating to catch them, Agatha found herself alongside Reena as they sought both Chaddick and Tedros in the woods. While Chaddick had been unfortunate to lose his weapon, Tedros had managed to keep his, and as the two boys hid between the trees, both girls split up in pursuit of them.
(Sophie, who really ought to have been the one going after Tedros, had refused to step foot into the forest nearby as it was simply too bug infested to consider entering.)
"Come on out, Tedros," she called, pumping the gun and scanning through the trees for any semblance of blond hair or blue swim trunks. "I know you shot me."
"You don't know anything," came the response back, and Agatha swivelled for the source.
"If you think you can shoot me and get away with it, you've got another thing coming. You're going down." She crept past bushes and thick tree trunks, carefully stepping around thin branches and trying to make as little noise as possible. As she headed deeper into the forest, wet t-shirt clinging to her body, she spotted Reena a little ways away with her own gun held defensively in front of her. They locked eyes for a moment and Reena gestured upwards.
"I'd like to see you try," he laughed, and that's when she saw him. He was up on the first or second branch, not too far from the ground but above eye level, and was pressed to the trunk with his water gun in his hand. He clearly hadn't noticed her yet as he was a few trees ahead, but Agatha knew that she had the advantage now. She stalked forth, keeping her eyes on the muscles of his back and the wet, blonde hair curling at the top of his neck before raising her gun and aiming for him.
He tensed and she waited for him to turn around before firing. The shot of water struck the tree just next to his head, and Tedros toppled over immediately, falling to the ground and landing with a distinct crack echoing through the woods and his girlish screech disrupting nearby wildlife.
"Tedros?" When he gave no reply, she jogged over to him. She rolled her eyes at what she saw, concern drifting away completely. "Tedros, get up."
"It hurts," he groaned. His face was screwed up comically as he rocked back and forth in place. "I can't."
"You big baby."
"My back must be broken," he said instead. “Did you hear that sound when I hit the ground?"
"You mean your scream?"
Tedros shot her a withering look, one she merely laughed loudly at. She couldn't help it. Here was the self-proclaimed strongest boy in school, whining about a fall that really hadn't been that bad.
In fact, he looked unaffected. His hair was tousled, he didn't seem to have any cuts, and his skin seemed otherwise unblemished, save his cheeks which, now that she was looking at them, had turned a dark red, eyes wide with shock of some kind. He was looking at her as if amazed, disbelieving it even though she stood before him. But otherwise, he looked as perfect as ever.
He didn't even blink. "Must have hit my head too hard or something," he murmured, still just looking at her.
She felt a flush overtake his own face as he stared, and Agatha, unsure what exactly she should do now that the atmosphere was heavy with something it hadn't been before, did the only thing she could really think of doing: she shot him.
Tedros let out an, "Oof," at the close-range shot and curled onto his side with a pained laugh. "Merlin, Agatha, did you have to shoot me while I was literally already down?"
"Revenge." She forced herself to shrug and turned around. "I'm headed back to the beach. Sophie will be looking for us."
"Right, yeah. I'll meet you there." Agatha walked away, picked up Tedros' water gun as she wove her way back to the beach. Agatha tried to take deep steadying breaths, and she forced their exchange out of her mind. It was like he'd said. He'd hit his head. That was all. Nothing was strange.
Besides, nobody but them, she reasoned, had been there. And she knew Tedros wouldn't dare talk about spending any amount of time with her, and she didn't want to discuss it either.
But she had forgotten, as all good protagonists were prone to do, that Tedros was not the only other person in the forest. Indeed, Agatha had been watched.
Chapter 4: The Party
Tedros was sitting in one of the lawn chairs, bare-chested and letting the sun act as nature's towel, when he heard somebody sit down next to him. He didn't bother opening his eyes.
"Are the others still changing?"
"We were the first to finish," said Beatrix. "Funny how that worked out, huh?"
"Hilarious," agreed Tedros half-heartedly, considering that she gave only Bonum students, with the exception of Agatha, first pick of bedrooms to change into. If she was getting out now, the Malum students had only just been given the opportunity to access to the bathrooms.
"You know, it was nice of you to invite them." There was no question as to who she was referring to. "But you didn't have to."
"I know that. I wanted to invite them."
There was a quiet pause before Beatrix said, "was it because of Agatha?"
Tedros' eyes sprung open. Why would Beatrix think he invited everybody for Agatha's sake? Was it not clear that they were there so be could court Sophie?
But you didn't need all of them, a part of him whispered. Since when do you need to invite four other girls to date one?
Beatrix didn't know what she was talking about, but she had already spotted the panic in his expression.
"It was, wasn't it?" She carried on. "You don't have to bother with her. You're just trying to be nice, a true gentleman. I appreciate that."
Something about Tedros protested against the idea that he had been any semblance of gentlemanly towards Agatha. Where he might have preened under the praise, his heart refused it. He tried to decipher his discomfort, tried to work out the twisted feeling that had begun to fester in his chest, unfamiliar and definitely unwanted.
Tedros felt like he was fighting with an impossibly strong force, with the force his mother would have no doubt called his conscience if she was around, and Tedros found the contradiction there. Because there was no pity in his invite, no kindness. He had invited her to use her as leverage for Sophie
He had invited the others for Agatha so that Sophie would agree to come, and that was all. That was why Beatrix was right.
It made sense, too much sense, and somehow he was more unhappy than he was before.
"It wouldn't be hard to get rid of her," she said. "If it's making you uncomfortable-"
"Just leave her, B," he said, shutting his eyes and trying to relax back into the chair. He was uncomfortable, but not for the reasons she was insinuating. The more exposure he'd had with Agatha, the more he realized that she was more of a threat in her observation skills than anything else. He was still nervous around her, sure, but it was because Agatha seemed to see right through him in a way he was starting to appreciate. Her brutal honesty could be… refreshing in its own way.
"She's not worth the effort," he said off-handedly, trying to get her to drop the topic. "Let her do what she wants. It's just for one night."
"Fine, but she's not sleeping here."
Tedros sighed. "Beatrix, I thought you guys were getting along on the beach." He was, of course, alluding to the way that all the girls had teamed up to fight against the boys and their inevitable success. Losing hadn’t been fun, but everyone had quite enjoyed the game of it, so he supposed that was alright.
"We're at a truce," sniffed Beatrix, "but that hardly means anything if she's causing conflict with my friends."
"She's not causing any conflict. That's hardly a reason to not want her and her friends to sleep over. You know as well as I do how long these parties can go on for."
"But those Malum students might steal something!"
"They won't," he insisted and Beatrix let out a noise of frustration.
"Why are you trying so hard to be nice to her? To defend them?" She said finally. "After everything you'd done, everything you’ve said -"
"Maybe I'm tired of it," said Tedros, his tone betraying him. "Maybe I just don't want to bother."
"But you are bothering," she pointed out. "A lot." He clenched his jaw but didn't say anything else. "Listen, I know that you like Sophie - you clearly like her enough to be friends with Agatha. Congratulations, you're a good guy. But you once told me that your last year of high school would be the year you went all out. You'd focus on getting into a good university and supporting your father’s business. You said you'd think about what would be best for your future. Is that Sophie?"
The thought had crossed his mind before, when it was late at night and he was alone. His father, just before he died, had spoken to Tedros about loyalty and destiny, about the importance of seeing the truth in people. Arthur Pendragon was a man of power who wanted the same for his son. The only difference was that he also wanted Tedros to have better. Better finances, better stability, better chances at love. And Tedros did want all of those things. His mother, Guinevere, had brought it up this past summer as well, remarking on how he would be graduating from Bonum in a year and that he should start thinking of what would be coming next. In truth, he was thinking about his future, he really was, but looking too far ahead just left him with a murky view of what exactly that future looked like.
And who exactly that future was supposed to be with.
It was unsettling knowing that his friends were beginning to be on the same wavelength as him, calling him out as if even they knew about his indecision. They stared each other down as Tedros refused to respond to her, until she sighed, flipping her blonde braid back over her shoulder. "But fine, if this is what you want. They can stay." She flopped down in the chair next to him and slid her sunglasses over her eyes. "Man, Chaddick wasn't kidding."
That somehow bode worse. "What?"
"You really are going through something. Even trying to say you're tired of it! You told him that too. Guess you were being honest."
"How do you even know that?"
Beatrix let out the cutest, most calculated snort he'd ever seen. It was frightening. "Boys can talk if you want them too, Tedros," she said. "A woman has her ways."
Ah. So Chaddick had sold him out to Beatrix. It wasn't as surprising as he thought it would be considering that he had known of Chaddick's crush on Beatrix since they had been children. Even though Beatrix had never looked in Chaddick's direction, the boy was still smitten with her. Plenty of boys were.
Once, Tedros thought himself one of those boys, meant to date Beatrix to prove he could, to prove he was desirable. But that time was over.
The squeal of the screen door cut through the tension, and Hester walked out with her phone in hand. She looked between Tedros and Beatrix like she was surprised to see them outside together, and Tedros felt caught somehow, even though he knew that there was nothing wrong with being outside with a friend. She raised an eyebrow. "Am I interrupting something?"
"No," said Tedros just as Beatrix said the opposite. He shot her a look, but she was already in the lounge chair pretending she didn't care that someone had come in.
Hester stared at them with a funny expression on her face. "Just thought I should let you know that the window was left open in a bedroom upstairs and a bird got in."
Beatrix was on her feet and in the house with an angry screech while Hester laughed at her.
"Really?" Asked Tedros, secretly glad to be rid of her. The conversation had been drifting to a topic he felt unsettled just thinking about.
"I mean, I know who opened the windows,” said Hester, reminding Tedros that she was still a dangerous force of nature.
He nodded slowly. "Of course you do."
Hester walked over to the opposite side of the deck and leaned against the railing, back to the lake and eyeing the imposing figure of Beatrix's house. Tedros had never been able to figure out what Hester was really about. He knew that she was friends with Agatha and Sophie, knew that she roomed with Sophie and two other Malum girls, knew that she was dating the albino, knew that she really didn't like him.
He had only spoken to Hester a handful of times, often as she threw out some distasteful comment about him and his school. Their interactions had been overwhelmingly negative, and only a handful had been truly neutral under Agatha’s watchful eyes. Never had she looked upon him with any sort of kindness. Tedros thought he might gag if she ever did, though. It'd be very out of character.
"So, you two seemed to be getting along," she said finally.
"We've known each other for a long time," he admitted, and Hester snorted.
"Figures. All of you Bonum students seem to know each other from before your time at school."
Tedros stared at her warily. This conversation was not going at all how he'd thought it might.
"You and Sophie, though,” she continued casually. “You guys were getting really close on the beach."
There was something about the way Hester had phrased it that made Tedros mildly uncomfortable. "Yeah? Is that a problem?"
Hester shrugged. "Not at all. If she's what you want, then go for it."
The words ‘what you want’ echoed dully to him of Beatrix, but he squashed the connection immediately. "I'm sensing a 'but' here."
Hester pocketed her phone and sighed. "Guess subtlety isn't my strong suit after all." It was all formality because both of them knew she didn't approach topics gently. She fixed her dark eyes on him suddenly, and Tedros flinched. "What I want to say is that getting involved with Agatha and Sophie was your choice, so you better be aware of what you're doing. You better watch yourself, Pendragon."
Now this exchange felt familiar, as easy as breathing. The old ‘overprotective friend’ routine. He’d come across it many times, and each time he had found it more amusing that anything to hear the things people said when trying to protect those they cared about. "Do all of you threaten boys that interact with your friends?" Tedros said casually, feeling more comfortable with the topic.
"Don't lead her on," snapped Hester. "You stick with your pretty, rich prissies and we'll take care of our own."
"I'm not going to lead Sophie on," protested Tedros.
Hester's eyes felt like they were burning into his skin when she said, "I'm not talking about Sophie."
Considering that Agatha had never really been to a party, she assumed that this one was likely one of the more terrible ones to attend. As a whole, it looked much like the parties that she had seen in movies of overdramatized teenage life (a guilty pleasure genre that she often watched with Sophie for the express purpose of making fun of). There was alcohol and an array of food, which she anticipated, loud pounding music, and a group of people intent on dancing in a way that echoed heavy throughout the whole house. Beatrix had sectioned her house off so that all the dancing was confined to the basement and the food and drink sat safely on the main floor. Agatha had been too afraid to know what was happening on the upper floors, but after standing around with Hester and Anadil for an awkward hour and a half in the basement merely critiquing dance moves and listening to them plan to invite more Malum students in the area, she excused herself to get a drink. She sighed in relief as she joined her sister in front of the spread.
"Aggie, this is so exciting," Sophie said, "and the people dancing downstairs are so cool. This party is nothing like the ones thrown at Malum."
"Rich people throw rich parties." Agatha shrugged. "But I'm glad you're having fun."
"I am. It’s so much fun!" She clutched at her solo cup. "I think they're going to stop dancing and start a game of truth or dare."
"How...classic of them," said Agatha, wishing she could drive home and be in bed. She had brought a book with her that she could run out and grab. Nobody would ever notice she was gone.
"I'm glad that Tedros was able to convince Beatrix to let us sleep over. We won't have to worry about driving so late at night."
Agatha snorted. " We ?"
"Okay, you. Not that it matters," said Sophie. "You're too responsible to drink."
"I have no intention of getting wasted at a stranger's house and making a fool of myself."
"Live a little," said Sophie. "You’re not going to get drunk off your ass after just one cup. Do you want some of mine? It's probably too strong for you. I bet you couldn't stomach even one sip"
Agatha narrowed her eyes and grabbed the drink out of her sister's hand. "Fine." She threw her head back and nearly finished the drink while Sophie gaped at her.
"Aggie, there's not nearly enough left for you to just down the whole thing! It's the only drink that tastes good!" She tried to grab the cup back but all Sophie got for her troubles was an empty cup and a reminder that her sister could and would call her bluff.
"I really liked that one," she said sorrowfully, but Agatha paid her no heed and stacked up a plate of food before daring to take a drink from the cooler. It actually hadn’t been that bad. Fruity with a weird aftertaste. "What happened to no drinking?"
"I'm going to eat outside,” said Agatha instead. “You enjoy yourself."
Sophie shrugged. "Fine. I will. Join us when you're done brooding."
Both girls separated to their respective goals. Agatha stepped back out onto the back porch and took up a seat in one of the vacant lawn chairs. She balanced her plate on the arm and settled in.
It really was a nice evening out. The air smelled of nothing but sand, and Agatha relished the view of the ocean turning into liquid gold before her eyes. She could still hear the music through Beatrix's open windows, and she ate while being serenaded by giggling teenagers and heavy bass. Unlike the early spring, this sunset left her feeling warm, blissfully so. With her knees pulled up to her chest, she could very well fall asleep outside, although Agatha was unsure if that was more due to the alcohol, the food coma, or the sunlight.
And she stayed there, admiring it all on her own, drifting off into something akin to sleep which she rightfully deserved considering that she had driven them all up. Would Beatrix be upset if Agatha asked her which room she could sleep in? Probably, Agatha decided, and curled into herself. Her hair was still a little wet and would surely stick up funny whenever she woke up, but that was a problem for Future Agatha. The alcohol that was beginning to settle into her body had convinced her that it was the perfect time to nap.
She didn't know how long she sat basking in the sun, but eventually she felt a different type of warmth come up over her shoulders. Confused, she stayed as still as she could as whoever was nearby tucked her beneath a sundried towel. They pulled wet strands of hair away from her face and huffed when she shied away from the feeling. Who could it be? She knew Sophie's hands -soft and unworked- but these hands belonged to a stranger. A beat or two passed, and Agatha was afraid to open her eyes and see just who it was. Soon, another person opened the screen door and joined the person from before on the deck, and two sets of footsteps took to the stairs.
They're leaving, thought Agatha. She waited for a few moments before pretending to wake up more fully and looked around the empty deck. Music was still playing, albeit at a softer volume, and she could spot some people walking across the beach. It could be Tedros and Sophie. The connection was made immediately as the pair stepped into the water, hands intertwined. Even their bodies silhouetted by the sun looked like a match made in Heaven.
Admitting that Tedros and Sophie might actually be good together was not terribly difficult. Both pretty, both blonde, both somewhat obsessed with romance. And they weren't dumb. While Agatha had tutored Sophie for much of their first year, her sister was steadily becoming more proficient in her academics, maintaining her high grades and star status. And Tedros wasn't flunking his classes, regardless of the "dumb jock" stereotypes that had been drifting around.
They had the potential to be a great match if they could get around being a little self-absorbed and focus on each other, and Agatha should be over the moon about the progress Tedros was making, about her sister warming up to this person.
"I don't like this." Agatha froze at the sound of someone's voice by the screen door. The scrape of tongs and the crack of a beer can told her that they weren't her friends. She stayed very still to eavesdrop
"You don't have to like anything," said Beatrix. "I've already talked to Tedros and he's adamant about having us all together."
"So we're just going to let it go?"
"Agatha and her friends are as uncomfortable as we are, and Tedros wants them here. Let's not make it worse. He's very interested in Sophie, and until he grows disinterested, she will be a reoccurring figure. And so will Agatha." The tongs screeched a little against the metal bowl again, and she said, "It's our party anyway. There are still a bunch of people coming. Focus on that, love."
Beatrix's maturity was more than a little surprising, reassuring in the same way a dog owner might be reassured that the dog playing with their own dog has been neutered. Less of a threat.
At the same time, the idea of more people being was terribly undesirable. Taking the blanket with her, Agatha slipped off the deck and began walking along the path to the beach. The air felt a great deal lighter by the shore, and she settled into a spot out of sight from the house and just sat peacefully.
The peace was interrupted by a buzz in her pocket. She pulled out her phone to see a text from Tedros.
Tedros Pendragon (7:02 PM)
Are you still outside?
She looked back out at the couple frolicking in the water and noticed that they'd waded further into the water, their heads bobbing close together. So that hadn't been Tedros and Sophie after all. The thought had her breathing out a sigh of relief for reasons she couldn’t quite decipher.
Agatha Woods (7:03 PM)
Yeah. Is everything okay?
He didn't end up texting her back. Agatha patiently sipped her drink and continued to watch the ebb and flow of the ocean. It didn’t take long till she found herself no longer alone.
"To what do I owe the pleasure of your company, sir?" She tilted her head to the left to see Tedros cringing.
"A dare actually."
"Oh!" She turned to him more fulsomely. "And what might this dare have been?"
"I'm supposed to take your phone. Or your towel. Whichever I can manage."
"Two very different items."
"Chaddick managed to negotiate the towel into the equation, which sounded much more realistic to me."
"How wonderful that this dare has reunited us then," she said.
Tedros scoffed. "Don't think I've forgotten the way you shot me earlier."
The small smile that came to Agatha's face was starting to feel more and more comfortable there. "How is your head, by the way?"
"Ah, so you admit I did hurt myself when I fell?" When she rolled her eyes, he continued with, "it's fine. I'm, uh, feeling a lot better. It's mostly just my back that's got a few scratches. You can't just fall off a tree into some leaves and sticks without some repercussion." She leaned back to see little cuts peeking around the lines of Tedros' tank top. and he tilted himself a little to accommodate for her curiousity.
"It's like you were attacked by my cat."
"Gee thanks," laughed Tedros. "It's not really that big of a deal."
She touched at one of the cuts without thinking and felt Tedros flinch back. With an immediate apology, she said, "My mom is a doctor. I just want to make sure they're clean and everything. Wouldn't want you getting an infection from a stupid fall."
"Thank you?" He sat more quietly while she examined some of the angrier marks along his shoulder blades, her fingers skimming along the abused skin, inspecting it for dirt. "I- I took a shower after everything," he said quickly, "and none of it was bleeding by then, so I'm honestly fine."
"That’s probably not enough to properly clean it, but it looks like you’ll bruise worse than anything,” she murmured before meeting his eyes. “I am sorry, Tedros," said Agatha a little more honestly. "I didn't mean to get you hurt."
"'All's fair in love and war', as they say," shrugged Tedros, pointedly looking away from her, "and this was definitely a war. But I appreciate it." Agatha removed her fingers and folded them in her lap. "Besides, it was a good shot. I can respect that."
"Too bad nobody else was there to see it," joked Agatha weakly, although she knew that she was feeling quite the opposite. The idea of somebody seeing her in such a relaxed, playful state, of seeing the way Tedros' had looked at her, dazed out of his mind and sort of amazed by her all at once, felt dangerous. It was a moment that would stay locked between the two of them, something that she wouldn't even want to share with Sophie. Something, like shared looks and shared clothes, that she was afraid to give a voice to. If she let herself think too much about it, she'd wonder if their small interaction was incriminating somehow, and that was something Agatha was determined not to do.
"I'm starting to wonder about that," said Tedros, leaning back on his hands.
And just like that, Agatha felt the beginnings of a confused panic return, eager to fester alongside Tedros' insinuations. Nothing thinking about it was so much easier said than done.
"Beatrix and Hester were asking me weird questions today, and they were technically about you." Agatha raised her eyebrow. "Different things," said Tedros, maybe a little too fast than would have been considered. "Opposites really. But it came back to the same thing. How we were getting too friendly for Sophie's sake and talked about whether I really like Sophie or not and how much I like her."
"Well, do you?"
"Do I what?"
This boy was ridiculous. Was this not what he was expecting her to glean from this conversation. "Do you really like Sophie?"
"With conviction, Tedros."
Agatha flopped down into the sand and threw an arm over her eyes. "Oh, Tedros. What are we going to do with you?"
"What do you want from me? Sure, I like her. That doesn't mean I've got to be in love with her. I'm trying to get to know her, I am."
"And what do you know so far?" She peeked at him from under her arm.
"She aces most of her intuitive classes, she's obsessed with pink, and she thinks I'm attractive." The little squirm he did under Agatha's flat stare had him rambling. "I'm, I don't know, exploring my options."
"Options," repeated Agatha. Was Tedros interested in other girls? Now that she thought about it, he'd never actually shown express interest in other girls. Most of his romantic endeavours at Bonum were dates and short-term girlfriends, none of which lasted longer than 3 months. Once, Agatha would have blamed it on a lack of commitment, but she'd like to think she knew Tedros a little better than that now. She knew he had options. She just didn’t think he’d be considering any of them, as crazy as it sounded. She’d gotten it into her mind that Sophie was the obvious choice. "You've never mentioned options ."
"Sophie is a great girl, but I'm not eager to just jump into a relationship. I'm, I don't know, interested in something more long term."
"Tedros, we're almost eighteen. Still kids in the eyes of the law. How long term are you thinking?"
Tedros dragged a hand through his golden hair. "Longer than the rest of high school, I guess. There are a lot of decisions I've got to make for my family now that my dad has passed away. I don't want to drag somebody through business school and taking over my dad's company and everything that comes with it if I don't think they're strong enough or suited for it. I don't want to waste her time."
"Dating you would not be a waste of her time," promised Agatha, because she thought that it was something she should say and less because she felt like it was true.
"It's dumb to be invested in somebody this young, I guess," he grumbled, his gaze far off as he stared down the length of the beach. "Before my dad died, I never took the whole thing too seriously. I knew I’d take over, and I tried to be involved, but relationships weren’t exactly my top priority.”
“And now it’s different.”
“Sophie and I are spending a lot of time together,” he said. “I’ve never really considered her as an actual option before, well, you know.” Agatha did. Her interference had brought them closer together because of course, it had. She had advocated for Sophie, had given her sister opportunities to be with Tedros on multiple occasions. “She’s fantastic, but this is about me and what my future looks like too. And it feels so complicated even though it should be straightforward.”
Agatha bit her lip. As Sophie's sister, she should be trying to convince Tedros to date Sophie, that Sophie really was going to be the one for him. But even Agatha knew that it was something Tedros and Sophie would have to decide for themselves. Sophie was in love with Tedros, but was it deep and true enough? Was it honest? Was it authentic? And Tedros, who could be self-centred and yet considerate, he had a say in this all too.
He’d come to her to say that he liked Sophie. Not that he was in love with her. And if he couldn’t love her, if he couldn’t love her with the depth and ferocity that Sophie wanted, if he couldn’t love her at all, then he had the right to look elsewhere. Agatha wanted Sophie to be happy, but as she grew to know Tedros, Agatha was beginning to want Tedros to be happy as well.
Huh. Who would have thought? Must have been the alcohol loosening her tongue and making her more empathetic.
“I don’t think that you need to make your decisions now,” said Agatha carefully. “I don’t want to tell you what to do or what not to do.”
Tedros let out a sort of aborted chuckle. “Don’t you?”
“Not with this,” said Agatha. “When you first came to me about this whole thing, you asked that we start over. That we’d be friends. And we’re well on our way there if we’re not there already. So as your friend -” Agatha made sure that her eyes were on the blushing sky above them. She wasn’t sure she wanted to see what Tedros looked like. “-I want to say that you deserve to be happy with the person you choose. If that’s Sophie, all the better. If it’s not?” She shrugged. “Sophie can’t stay mad forever.”
“I was not expecting you to say that,” admitted Tedros. “I figured you’d be the first person to jump for even suggesting it.”
“I mean, I won’t be happy about it,” said Agatha. “But I won’t be mad at you. It’s not my place,” she tacked on. “People should be able to choose who they want to be with. There’s nothing wrong with thinking ahead.”
“What about you?”
When Agatha met Tedros’ eyes again, she found that they were trained on her with rather avid curiousity. “What about me?”
“I mean, are you the type to think ahead when it comes to these kinds of things?”
“I think the best way for me to answer that is to say that I don’t think about it.”
Agatha snorted. “I highly doubt it’s in my future. And that’s fine. People talk a lot about love and falling in love and things like that like it’s just going to happen to you one day. Like you’re just going to walk down the street and fall in love at first sight. Or you’ll wake up one day, and know with absolute certainty that this one person is the one for you. Sophie’s been talking about it for years since we were children. It’s all she’s ever thought about.”
“But you haven’t.”
“I haven’t. Not the way she has.” Agatha took a deep breath. “I don’t really think it’s for me.”
“Do you want it to be?”
“What do you mean, Tedros?”
“It’s one thing to think you just aren’t destined for love or whatever. But do you want it? Like,” Tedros ran sandy hands through his hair, “I think there’s a difference between not wanting and not having it. Maybe you’re not in love and maybe you never have been, but do you want to be?”
He hadn’t anticipated her turn the question back at him, if his expression was anything to go off of. “I think so. I didn’t get it right on my first try or the fiftieth try, but my father and mother wanted that for me. My dad wanted me to find somebody true. My mother wanted me to find somebody who made me happy like they never were. It took me a while to really come to grips with it, but I think I get what they were trying to tell me.”
She paused, let the admission cross her mind, let herself turn his question in her mind before saying, “then yeah, I think I probably do.” The moment the words crossed her lips, she knew that she was telling the truth. “In the right circumstances, with the right person, maybe. I’m not exactly optimistic about it.”
“‘Maybe’ is pretty good.” Tedros smiled at her. “It’ll work itself out.”
“I have pretty high standards,” sniffed Agatha, simultaneously annoyed and touched by Tedros’ strange optimism in her love life.
“Can’t be higher than Sophie’s. She once told me that she was only interested in boys that seemed serious about their future.”
“Which translates, of course, to having a stable bank account.”
“Can’t blame a girl for wanting a little stability, I guess. I’m not exactly looking for a trophy wife that’s all looks anyway.”
Agatha allowed herself to perk up a little bit at that, reminded of when she told Sophie about the importance of being an actual person when it came to Tedros. He could be a little misleading and easy to misunderstand if you weren’t looking close enough, but he did value who people were, underneath it all. Unexpected for somebody who seemed too intent on letting everybody think he was shallow, and yet not unexpected at all, because Tedros didn’t really do anything with intent. Things just happened around him, revolving like he was the main character of a fairytale that he knew he was in the middle of.
“The true heart of a relationship is certainly a bank account,” agreed Agatha jokingly, and the pair of them shared a laugh at the thought.
“Is that what you’re looking for in someone?”
“It certainly doesn’t hurt.” Agatha braced herself on the backs of her arms, stomach up to the sky, and the pair of them watched the last of the sun slip past the horizon, leaving nothing but the echo of a glow in the evening sky. “My mother is a doctor, and even when she adopted me, she still continued to practice. She never had a man in her life and she managed just fine, so my criteria for a future spouse really just boils down to whether they love me.”
“Very simple and straightforward. The highest of high standards.”
Agatha bit back a retort. What she wanted to say was: “Do you know how hard it is to find somebody who loves you for who you are rather than how much money you have or what you look like?”
But what she ended up saying was, “The very highest,” because she knew that Tedros, in his own privileged way, had been facing the same dilemma ever since he was born. He had money and a handsome face and some women had only those two criteria in mind. The status, the promise of comfort; they were things that Tedros had to contend with in a spouse. Agatha was at least comforted in knowing that if anybody was going to fall in love with her, it wouldn’t be because of her small fortune and it definitely wouldn’t be because of her looks (which essentially guaranteed her that nobody was going to fall in love with her). He had a surplus of shallow suitors and she had none because of the same shallowness that was pervasive at their school.
Agatha quieted herself for a moment before asking. "How did you find me, anyway?"
“I mean, I never told you where I was.”
If Tedros didn't habitually fidget, Agatha would almost think he was nervous. "You said you were outside, so either you were pranking me, or you were out here hiding."
"I'm not hiding," grumbled Agatha, feeling their own habit of teasing and bickering with one another fall back over them. She shot him a rare smile. “I was perfectly fine just relaxing here.”
"Regardless, I figured you’d be where the view was. This had the best view,” continued Tedros. Agatha nodded to herself and turned her eyes back to the horizon. She sat up completely and stretched her arms above her head. He sounded sort of breathless, like it was taking all he had just to stay awake, as he said, “And here you are."
In another world, if Agatha had been interested in misunderstanding Tedros, his words might have sounded like a compliment. But that was not at all how he'd meant them, she understood that much, so she simply responded with, "Here I am."
Agatha had eventually walked back to the house with Tedros, the pair of them splitting up as she went to the bedroom Beatrix had grudgingly designated as belonging to them, while Tedros left to join Sophie in the basement with the rest of the Bonum students. In the end, a handful of Malum students had crashed the party, but Beatrix had been just a tad bit too intoxicated to care. The heavy bass was a muffled thumping by the time that Agatha washed up and settled into the bunk bed. Hester and Anadil, last Agatha had checked, were with Dot at the snacks table, going through a variety of horribly drunk pictures they had managed to snag of the Bonum students.
The warmth of the alcohol had mostly faded when Agatha tucked herself into bed, and she was sober by the time Sophie climbed into bed hours later, when the music had been turned down and her sister’s absolutely frigid feet touched at Agatha’s calf. Next to Agatha, she let out a happy sort of sigh. “It’s funny. And a lot of fun, too, to be in love,” she said, as if knowing full well she had woken Agatha up.
Agatha nodded into her pillow. “That’s good.”
“It is, isn’t it?” There was some ruffling as Sophie tried to get comfortable in their too-small bed. She bumped into Agatha enough times that she found herself pressed to the wall on her side while Sophie tried to sprawl herself out more comfortably. “I feel a little bit bad about the way I was talking to Tedros before and having to make him go through you, Aggie.”
“So you’ll talk to him directly?”
“Of course! He won’t be able to resist my charm in person, and once school starts again, I’ll be sure to text and visit him so often that he won’t even think about anybody else.”
“That’s really… forward of you.”
“Well, I’ve got to try, you know? I don’t want him to get bored with me.” Then, “Hey Aggie?”
Agatha rolled over grudgingly and faced her sister. “What?”
“Tedros never struck me as somebody who would want to be friends with his future girlfriend and potential wife, but I’ve got to say that it’s kind of hot.”
Agatha swallowed. “That’s good,” she said again, unsure why that seemed to be the only thing she could say.
“I mean, he never seemed like that when we started school,” she carried on, “but this summer, he’s just seemed a little more, I don’t know, serious.”
“Well, you’re serious about him, though,” said Agatha, “right? So that works for you?”
“Of course! Why wouldn’t I be?” Agatha let out the breath she didn’t know she was holding. Sophie hadn’t necessarily started out with the purest of intentions, but if she was warming up seriously to Tedros, who was Agatha to say otherwise? She just hoped it would work out between Tedros and Sophie.
She hoped her friends would be happy.