“Mum? MUM! I’m about to leave! Do you think I – what’s that about?” I stared at mum who had come downstairs wearing an elegant summer’s dress and pumps. “Don’t tell me you’ve got plans for this ev- why did you even complain then? I don’t believe it!”
Mum sighed and gave me a very superior look. “I knew you would take it like this. I’m going out with Arthur and the reason I complained is that I don’t think it very wise of you to go out with a boy like Fred to meet people you don’t know. “
“What’s it to you?”. I asked huffily. “You’re going on a date. I’m not. You’re the one in danger.” Like that was true. I bit my lip.
But fortunately, mum just smiled, gave me a hug and whispered “Just take care of yourself, ok?”
She needn’t have worried. I was wearing my favourite skirt again, combined with black leggings and a grey hoodie. Nothing about my appearance would attract anyone’s attention.
Fred turned up at a quarter to eight, leading Shakespeare. “Hey, you’re ready!”, he beamed.
“Of course I am.” I rolled my eyes, took Shakespeare’s reigns and mounted, then waited for Fred to take his place behind me. “See you, mum! She’s going out with Arthur.”, I told Fred in an undertone as Shakespeare carried us through the woods.
“Seriously? That’s great!”, he said. “They would be perfect together.”
“Excuse me?” I could barely believe my ears. Mum and Arthur? Perfect together? No way!
“Let’s not discuss your mum’s social life right now, ok, Mag? I want to savor the moment.”
And so we did. As much as I tried to hate it, I couldn’t not like the way Fred’s arms lay around my waist, holding the reigns. I was sitting side-saddle and thoroughly enjoying it. I felt like a lady in a beautiful dress.
We rode on for another ten minutes – Fred did have a nice wristwatch – until we reached a small paddock not unlike the one the Alroys owned. About a dozen bikes lay messily around the fence. Nobody had bothered to chain them up. Two horses were grazing inside the paddock. I raised my eyebrows at Fred.
“Do you live in a movie or something? Where in the world do people ride to parties on horseback?”
“You are.”, he pointed out, before sliding off Shakespeare’s back and offering me his hand. I took it, grateful for the soft landing. I took a look around, counted the bicycles and glared at Fred.
“Oh, what’s it this time?”, he moaned.
I took a step towards him, still glaring. “A couple of people? There are at least twenty of them.”
“Well, I do know quite a few people and consider some of them my friends. Oh, come on, Mag. Please meet them with me.”
When had my hand slipped into his? He wasn’t holding the reins anymore, but Shakespeare didn’t seem to care. He just stood there, watching us out of his big brown eyes. I could feel the warmth of Fred’s body radiating through his flimsy T-shirt. As he leaned down, the scent of his hair and skin clouded my brain in warm fog. Blood was rushing into my face, I was blinking to fast and surely not doing anything right. I opened my mouth to say something, anything, but my body decided for me, I leaned closer, just as he did the same. And then I finally succumbed to the temptation and took another step forwards.
“OUCH!” I was on the ground, my right foot covered in earth. Not able to see in my hormonal delirium, I had stepped into a mole hole.
Fred helped me up again, looking flushed and slightly embarrassed. “You alright?”
“We should probably just go on.”, I replied, shaking earth and twigs of my sock.
So we walked on, leaving Shakespeare inside the paddock. Fred kept glancing at me and when our eyes met, we would both smile and blush and turn away again. Wasn’t he supposed to have much more experience than I had?
A fire had appeared at the other end of the paddock, growing steadily larger as we walked towards it. People were sitting around it in little groups, their voices floating towards us in a steady stream of babble. I felt extremely anxious. These were Fred’s friends, not mine. What was I doing here? I could have been back at the cottage, reading Harry Potter and enjoying the mild evening air. But no… My plan of avoiding Fred was working so well.
“Fred!” The scream cut through the drowsy atmosphere like an energy drink. The prettiest girl I had ever seen came running towards Fred, flung her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek, giggling like a toddler. He turned on the spot, lifting her into the air. “Jenna! It’s so good to see you. By the way, this is Mag. She’s staying at the cottage with her mother.”
By. The. Way. In just a few seconds, Fred had given me a hundred reasons to hate this Jenna-Girl. She wasn’t as tall as I was, but naturally thin, with her curves in exactly the right places. She was radiant.
“Hi.”, she said, giving me a curt little nod. I didn’t say anything, the lump inside my throat felt too painful to talk.
“Hey Mag, why don’t I just take you over to David? He’s my best pal and you’ll like him for sure. I bet you don’t wanna meet all those people, do you?”
What was wrong with him? Was he trying to get rid of me? “Sure. Take me over to David.”
“Is anything wrong?”, Fred asked, frowning.
“No. I’m fine.”
David sat a little apart from the others. His skin was the colour of whole milk chocolate, turned slightly darker by the dim light of the fire. When he saw Fred and me, he slipped his phone into his pocket and got up from the tree trunk he had been sitting on.
“Hi, I’m David. You must be Mag.” He spoke with an American accent, but I couldn’t quite discern which.
“Nice to meet you.”, I said. “Well, you’re free to leave and say hello to all these people now, aren’t you?” I raised my eyebrows at Fred who looked dumbstruck.
“Ahm, ok. See you later, guys.” And he was off.
Fuming, I sat down on the tree trunk, my back to the fire and the people, staring into the darkening woods.
“What’s up with you and Fred?”, David asked.
“Where do you come from?”, I returned, ignoring his question.
David laughed. “I was born in Indiana, but I came here when I was ten. So, what was that about? Fred is making an effort for you.”

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