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When I open the Whittinghams' back door, a cup of tea is already waiting for me

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When I open the Whittinghams' back door, a cup of tea is already waiting for me. I smile at Lucille's thoughtfulness. One week into school, and she's already treating me like part of the furniture.

'Morning, honey.'

'Want my eggs?' James rasps from the other side of the kitchen. 'I'm too tired to eat.'

He's slumped over the breakfast table, head low and nursing a vat of black coffee. With extreme effort, he pushes his plate of eggs and bacon away from him, and I slide into an open seat, taking it. I know when not to look a gift-horse in the mouth. Our friendship is still strained, and this is a big step in the right direction. He yawns and rubs sleep from his eyes. It's only as he brings his hands away from his face that the split lip and the beginnings of a black eye come into view.


Lucille flinches at my profanity and I mutter my apologies. I lean forward to get a better look. 'God, what happened?' Lucille throws her hands up in the air in despair. James' mouth curves up into a soft, lazy smile, and I wince as the cut cracks.

'It's nothing. Just a slow reaction to a tackle last night, and plant pot in the wrong place.' I grimace at the thought. Every night this week, I've heard James practising drills late into the night. Football trials start tomorrow and even though we've barely spoken since school started, I know he must be nervous that he won't make the cut.

Frowning, I trace my thumb along the outside of the bruise. When he flinches, I pull back my hand.

'Sorry,' I say. 'Does it hurt?'

'No. I just wasn't expecting it.'

Although I try not to, I keep looking at his mouth. At first, my eyes linger on the cut - a thin, raw line that splits the lip. Then, it slips to the smooth curve of his cupid's bow and the corners which seemed permanently upturned, as though on the edge of a constant smile. I swallow hard as my heart races.

It's been a week since our night at the lake, and I can't help but wonder, what if? Up this close, the flecks of gold that circle his irises glitter in the morning light. A new spattering of freckles dust his straight nose. His eyes catch mine and my stomach flutters.

Rising from the table, he grabs a tattered book from the sideboard and slides it down the table. I pick it up and finger the well-read pages.

'I know you didn't take to Steinbeck,' he says, 'but I challenge you not to like Hemmingway. A true American classic.'

I slip the book into my satchel and smile. Lending me one of his books means only one thing. We're ok.

'How are you feeling about trials?'

James shrugs and pours himself another large coffee. 'I'm outta shape so I think I'll aim for JV this year, but even that might be a stretch.'

'Natural talent trumps shape, and you've got that in spades,' says a deep voice from the doorway.

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