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I'm at the kitchen counter when James enters

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I'm at the kitchen counter when James enters. I know from the first look that something has changed. A night of restless sleep has coiled me up like a spring, and despite my best efforts, our conversation is stilted. Forced. Words tumble out in a rush one second, both of us trip over strange silences the next.

God, what have I got myself into? I replay the moment on the bed all night and early into the morning, replaying the way James's fingers had twined my hair and the curious, thoughtful look on his face as he said my name. An innocent, friendly gesture. Nothing more. It has to be. I need it to be.

But why? Why does it bother me so much that it may be something more than that?

When he leaves the kitchen, Oscar rounds on me. 'What the hell happened? Did you snog him?'

I choke into my iced tea, my insides shrivelling. 'What? God no!'

'Oh,' he winces. 'So he tried to snog you and you rejected him? That's cold.'

'There was no snogging and no rejection. There was nothing. James and I are just friends.' I eye my mother for support and ignore Lucille's wide smile. Oscar shrugs his shoulders, and I go back to my cereal, slurping up the cool milk in the hope it'll stop my cheeks burning. We sit in palpable tension for a moment.

'He wants to snog you.'


'What?' he asks, raising his hands in protest. 'You know it's true.'

'I know nothing of the sort.'

'Neither do I.' The voice at the door is disapproving. My father stands in the archway with an eyebrow halfway to heaven.

'There's nothing to know!' I cry. 'We're just friends. End of conversation.'

'Glad to hear it.' He plants a kiss on my forehead. Even at almost seventeen, I'm still his baby girl.

'Fine! Fine! Nothing to know,' Oscar says, irritability creeping into his voice as he slumps into one of the large chairs in the bay window. 'Except, I know he wants to snog you.'

Pleased to have the last word, he flashes me a cocky grin. Arse. His victory is short-lived as my father clips him round the back of the head.

My mother seats herself beside me. 'There's nothing wrong with a little harmless flirting. Sometimes when girls and boys are friends, they need to test the waters to find the line. It doesn't have to be more than that, I promise.' I nod and rest my head on her shoulder.

'James would hate to know he'd made you feel awkward,' Lucille says, handing me a large plate of eggs and roasted tomatoes. 'He's as soft as butter under it all.'

'I don't want it to be awkward.' I pick at a loose strand of cotton on my pyjama top. 'I want him to be my friend.'

'Maybe stop being so weird around him then, genius,' chips in Oscar from his chair. I grab an apple from the fruit bowl and lob it at him. Catching it in one hand, he winks and takes a bite.

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