“I do.”, he said, stepping closer to me in the semi-darkness. Now that there weren’t any horses around, it was the scent of his body creeping up my nose. And I had to admit to my screaming conscience that I liked it a lot. “I would still like you to see my room.”
“Sure.”, I said trying desperately to keep the breathlessness in my voice to a minimum. What the hell was happening?
“Great. I’ll tell mum, just wait here.” And he skipped of, humming the same song I had heard him sing this morning.
Oh god. What shall I do? With this very earnest prayer, I slumped down onto a chair and waited. What was it about Fred that confused me so much? That made me embarrass myself when I was around him? I had only met him this morning! Why did I even have these thoughts right now? Had there been alcohol in the food? Because I obviously wasn’t in my right mind. Maybe I should just…
“Alright, let’s go!” Fred had reappeared, stopping in the doorway. Resigned, but determined to pull myself together, I followed him up the narrow staircase I had seen earlier. Now that it was dark, I found it harder to ignore the stabs of panic that the enclosed space awoke in me. About halfway up, my breathing quickened and grew more shallow, I felt the steps turn beneath me. Fred’s hand grabbed me just in time. The steps had turned into a slide beneath my feet and I was slipping down.
“Hey, Ma- ahm, ballet-girl. Are you ok?, he asked, his face looming in the darkness as pale as a ghost’s.
I tried to nod, but the movement made the stairs spin even faster, so I just sat down, pulling Fred with me. “Tight spaces.”, I said. “Just turn on the lights.”
He hurried to find a switch and a second later the stairs stopped spinning. Lamps lit the way up and I was surprised at how short it was.
“That’s better.”, I said, getting up again. “Sorry about that.”
“You frightened me.”, said Fred earnestly. “And you still look awful.”
“Thanks. It’s so thoughtful of you to tell me that right now.”
“Anyway…”, said Fred, his ears turning red. “I just can’t remember your name. It’s so long and”
“Too French. I am aware of that. Does the word racism mean anything to you?” Fred didn’t answer. He just looked at me, probably trying to figure out how I had become this grumpy. And when the silence and Fred eyes on me became really uncomfortable, I said: “It’s Mathilde. Ma-thil-de.”
“Would you mind if I just called you Mag?”, he asked hopefully. I couldn’t help, but find this cute. I still had an objection though.
“Mag as in magpie?”
“Of course not!”, said Fred emphatically, taking a step forwards. He was really close now. My god… What had he just said? “I meant Mag like the abbreviation of magic.”
I blinked at him and felt like the rabbit that is too scared to run away from the snake even though it should. “Are you flirting with me?”, I managed to stammer. “Didn’t you want to show me your room?”, I added, when I realized how stupid my question had been.
“Just wait out here for a second, ok?” Fred turned away and ran down the corridor, vanishing behind the very last door. To keep myself from thinking about what had just happened, I looked around. There were a lot of doors up here, at least five or six, all in one long row along the corridor. The other side of it was covered in windows.
“Ready?” Fred had returned, grinning at me and holding out his hand.
“Shouldn’t I be asking that question?”, I asked, following him down the corridor and not taking his hand. I had to strain all the resistance I had not to succumb to the temptation. He didn’t seem too disappointed though. We walked right to the end of the corridor.
“Welcome to my castle!”, said Fred, flinging open a door. I lingered in the doorway when I saw just how tiny it was. The mere thought of going in there gave me the creeps.
“You’re turning pale again.” was Fred’s comment. “Would you feel better if the windows were open?”
I nodded and he walked past me to open them. I still took my time and had a look around. There was a bed to the right and a wardrobe at its opposite. A desk to the left carried two computers, a stationary one and a laptop.
What made me smile, however, were the books that covered every surface apart from the bed. A homemade bookshelf had been built above and on either side of the door. It even extended to the top of the wardrobe. Forgetting about the minuteness of the room, I stepped inside and turned to look at the book-covers. They all looked pretty well-thumbed.
“These are great”, I told Fred who stood behind me.
“I bought them all of garage sales. You can find lots of great memories in second-hand books. Want to sit down?”
I sat down on the edge of his bed. “The fault in our stars?” I had spotted the book next to his pillow.
“My sister is making me read it. She can be very persuasive at times.”, Fred said unaffectedly. He sat down on the chair in front of his desk and reached down to turn on the computer. The large screen behind him lit up. Fred grinned and crossed his legs.
“Anyway, Ms. Rangottière, I figured I don’t know anything about you. What’s your favourite book?”
Where was that coming from? Disconcerted, I opened Fred’s copy of “The fault in our stars” and flipped the pages. “How come, you can remember my surname even though it’s a lot harder to remember than my first name?”
“I’m not answering questions right now.”, he said smugly.
“Alright.” I closed the book with a snap. “It’s a book-series by Lemony Snicket. And it’s about three orphans who are pursued by an evil counts who’s after their money.”
“It’s not!”, I protested. “It can teach little children a lot about life.”
“Something like never trust evil counts?”
“Ha ha. What are you doing there anyway? Want to show me some youtube-videos, because you don’t know how to talk to me?” Again, I had no idea how I had become that grumpy in just one second, but I didn’t want Fred to criticize something I loved so much.
“No I don’t! Come here, I want to show you something. Please…”, he added when I raised my eyebrows. Hesitating demonstratively, I got up and took two steps over to the desk.
Fred got up so I could sit down in front of his desk. He positioned himself next to me and leaned over my shoulder to navigate the mouse. I was blushing again and shivering at the same time. Was this all due to hormones? Please let it be hormones, I thought. Why did I always have to be late for everything? I had only met Fred a few hours ago and my body was acting like that of a lovesick eighth-grader. Could anything be more embarrassing? But maybe I just had to get used to being around Fred and everything would turn out alright.
At the same time I wondered whether these apparently innocent thoughts of mine could be trusted.
True, I had really wanted to see him again. And that probably meant that I shouldn’t. Damn it!
Meanwhile, Fred had finished preparing stuff on his computer and tapped the keyboard determinedly.
A window opened. It took some time to build, but when it was finished, I gasped.
“How did you do that?”
“I’m majoring applied computer sciences at university. This was part of my first finals.”
The screen showed a perfect model of Fred’s bedroom, complete with his bookshelf, the checkered bedspread and the posters on the walls.
“How old are you?”, I asked him, torn between amazement and something else I couldn’t name. He already went to university. He had to be older than me.
“Twenty-one.” Relief. Sweet, joyful relief. Three years – that was nothing! Mathilde? Are you mad? What’s that you’re just discussing inside your head?
“Click one of the books.”, Fred said. “I didn’t make this thing for nothing.”
I smiled up at him and clicked one of the miniature spines. A window opened inside the model:
Title: Harry Potter and the philosopher’s stone
Author: J.K. Rowling
Content – read how often? – currently lent to – evaluation
“This is amazing!”, I told him, clicking spine after spine. He seemed to have a hand for detecting great books.
Fred looked extremely pleased, but in a nice way. Like he had really hoped that I would enjoy his virtual bookshelf. I did. “It’s a great way to keep my little library organized.”, he said in an attempt at modesty. “You can type in search keys up there.”
I waggled my fingers excitedly and typed book.
“A book about books?”, Fred asked.
“I love them.”
“Me too.” He put his hand on top of mine and we clicked search