It was a nice enough day, Pepper supposed.
Her mum certainly thought so. She’d caught Pepper hanging ‘round the house (just thinking about stuff, not ‘moping’ like her mum had said when she caught her) and told her it was a beautiful day out and given her a couple ice lollies and suggested she go round and see what Adam or Brian or Wensleydale was up to.
Which was all well and good. Pepper was not normally one for hanging around in houses when there was perfectly good sunshine and fresh air to be had. But it was almost her thirteenth birthday, and that meant she had an awful lot to think about, sunshine or no.
She’d started thinking even before it was her birthday, when Brian and then Adam had turned thirteen, because that meant they were "teenaged boys" which her mum and people on telly sometimes talked about as if they were an entirely different species, dangerous and disreputable. Pepper had nothing against either of those qualities in theory, but she’d watched Brian and especially Adam carefully for signs they were any different from before, like starting to treat her like a girl.
Being treated like a girl instead of one of Them was something she’d been on guard against since the day they’d all met, but it seemed much more likely to happen now, what with all these hormones and things messing them up and making people do things like like each other.
These days Pepper didn’t know what was scarier: that this whole puberty thing might make Adam (and Brian and even Wensley) not want to hang around with a girl anymore, or that it might make them like her like that. Either way they wouldn’t be friends anymore, not in the way that made them The Them.
It was no use trying to get her mum to understand any of this stuff she had to think about, that much was clear. She’d had The Talk with Pepper and it was no help at all, mostly the stuff she’d already learned from school mixed in with talk about "embracing her moon power," whatever that meant. And then she’d moved on to the "innate aggression of the masculine drive to invade" which hadn’t been any better.
Afterwards, Pepper had gone over to Jasmine Cottage, where Anathema had given her some chocolate biscuits and refused to explain the whole moon power thing except by scoffing.
If she didn’t think she’d just about die if she tried to talk to Adam about it, she might’ve. Adam, with his blond curls and his skin tan from spending all day running about Lower Tadfield with Dog and his gentle voice that was just starting to crack and deepen and sometimes made Pepper shiver a little, mightn’t understand, anyway, because Adam didn’t seem to find anything scary at all, except maybe the prospect of his father’s anger.
But Adam understood most things, and Pepper knew, even though it didn’t make any sense, that he could do something about it, even if her mum and Anathema couldn’t. Adam always found a way to make things come out right.
All this thinking while she ran, and Pepper found herself at Adam’s house almost before she knew it. Adam was sitting on the steps with Dog, and he hadn’t seen her yet.
"Adam! Hey, Adam!" Pepper waved at him with the hand not clutching the ice-lollies. "Budge over."
"Hey, Pep." He shifted awkwardly on the steps to make more room for her and she plopped down gratefully next to him. It was an awful long run from her house over to Adam’s when melting cherry ice was running down your hand.
"What're you doin'?" she asked.
"Nothing much," he said, and he sounded a bit like he did before he came up with games for Them, sometimes, worrying about world events and other grown-up problems and turning them into fantastic adventures instead. It’d been awhile since they’d played a game like that. Pepper reckoned the closer they were to grown-up, the harder it was to pretend.
She held out a lolly, elbowing him a bit when he continued to stare at the horizon. He took it and immediately stuck out his tongue to lick the drippy bits. His tongue was quite pink and made a little slurping noise when he pulled it back into his mouth. He then offered the lolly to Dog, who made a much louder series of slurping noises.
Pepper made a face. "Ewww, now it's got dog spit all over it."
"So? S'just Dog," Adam said, clearly unconcerned by how gross that was. He popped the lolly back in his mouth like it wasn’t covered in dog food-flavoured spit and about a million germs.
"Euuuurgh." Pepper couldn’t watch, so she pulled her knees up to cover her face.
"Tastes the same, anyway," he added. She made another disbelieving face, but there was nothing wrong with her own lolly, apart from being cherry which wasn’t quite so good as lime, in her opinion, so she ignored Adam and focussed on eating it before it got too melty and fell off the stick.
"What're you doing for your birthday?"
"Same old, same old, I suppose," she said, because Mum might’ve been talking about her thirteenth birthday being the gateway to sacred womanhood or whatever but she doubted that’d change the party itself, considering Pepper’s twelfth birthday party had been pretty much identical to her sister’s seventh. The injustice of that, getting the same exact things when her sister actually liked pink and ruffles and things and so got to enjoy her parties instead of just feeling out of sorts about them. "That triple chocolate cake, candles. Prob'ly those stupid party hats. I asked for pirate hats, but Mum'll prob'ly just get me the girly pink ones. Again."
Adam knew how she felt about pink, and looked appropriately unhappy for her. "Well, at least you know the cake's good."
"What cake isn't?" The cake was good, and candles to mess around with if the adults weren’t paying attention were even better.
"Maybe they'll get you a bike this year. You know, now that you're gonna be a teenager an' all."
Her mum had mentioned that she was getting too big for her old one just last week, so he was probably right, but even a new bike wasn’t all that thrilling an idea, right now. "Maybe. If they do, it's gonna be a girl's bike. All pink an' sparkly. I'd rather have one like Anathema's." Anathema was a girl, and she still had interesting things. Her mum even liked Anathema, said she was "subverting the patriarchy with the instinctive perspicacity of a feminine perspective." Why couldn’t Pepper subvert the patriarchy with pirate hats or a cool bike, for once?
"Well. Maybe we can ask to borrow Anathema’s. Just for today."
Adam was the best, sometimes, even if he did eat food his dog had already licked and was unfairly brave about turning into a teenager. "You think so? Really?"
"Really. We can go over there now, if you like." He stuck out a warm hand to pull her up off the step.
Pepper knew she was smiling a little too much for just the prospect of borrowing a bike, and stuck her tongue out at Adam, hoping to distract from it. "Race you!" she called out. She sprinted full force toward Jasmine Cottage, hearing Adam laugh and start running himself, Dog yapping from behind him.
It really was quite a nice day, after all.