Charlie gripped the straps on his backpack and continued on to the corner where Matteusz would be waiting for him. Charlie’s breath caught when he saw Matteusz leaning against the light post, his eyes on the mobile he held in his hand. The flutter in his belly felt almost like relief, but Charlie didn’t know why he’d feel that emotion. Matteusz had been waiting in this spot for Charlie every afternoon since they’d agreed to do their physics homework together, and Charlie had no reason to believe that Matteusz wouldn’t be there waiting for him today.
“Matteusz,” Charlie called when he drew near.
Matteusz raised his gaze and smiled when his eyes met Charlie’s. A return smile spread across Charlie’s face. Charlie didn’t think he’d smiled so much in his entire life on Rhodia as he had since he’d met Matteusz.
“Charlie,” Matteusz said, slipping his mobile away and giving all his attention to Charlie.
Charlie suppressed a shiver at the way Matteusz said his name – it felt more like a caress than a simple word. Charlie’s feet slowed and Matteusz raised an eyebrow, which made Charlie’s heart do something it only ever did around Matteusz.
“We are still studying?” Matteusz said.
“Yes,” Charlie said, but he still didn’t get moving again.
“Something is wrong?” Matteusz said, his smile slipping a little bit.
“No!” Charlie said. “Yes. I need to ask you a question.”
“Ask,” Matteusz said, and waited.
Charlie opened his mouth, but no words came out. Asking someone to a dance wasn’t something he’d ever had to do before. On Rhodia all of the girls and boys put forth for his consideration were chosen for him by his parents based on political expediency. Speaking with them, being seen with them, had been nothing but duty. This was different – Matteusz was different.
“April said that having a date for prom was important,” Charlie blurted out.
Matteusz inclined his head. “Yes, I suppose that is true.”
“Would you be my date?” Charlie said before the words could freeze on his tongue. “To prom,” he clarified.
“Because having a date is important,” Matteusz said, repeating Charlie’s words.
“Yes,” Charlie said, pleased that Matteusz understood. He watched in confusion as Matteusz’s face closed up.
“No, Charlie,” Matteusz said.
Charlie’s chest felt tight. “I don’t understand.”
“I do not want to go to prom with you merely because date is important,” Matteusz said.
“Oh,” Charlie said. He shook his head. “No. That’s not why I asked you. Otherwise I’d have said yes when April asked me to be her date.”
“April asked you to prom?” Matteusz said.
“And you said no.”
Charlie’s brow furrowed in confusion. “Because I don’t want to go to prom with April. I want to go to prom with you.”
“Because having date is important,” Matteusz said again.
“Yes,” Charlie said. “No. Because you are important. To me.”
Matteusz looked at Charlie for a very long moment that seemed to stretch on forever before he ducked his head. Charlie would’ve been more worried if he hadn’t seen the corners of Matteusz’s lips curve up slightly.
“Is so?” Matteusz said.
For the first time Charlie truly understood the saying ‘butterflies in your stomach’. Quill had originally suggested that they might be some kind of Earth delicacy. Charlie bravely took a step closer to Matteusz. He released the strap and had to wipe sweat off his palm before he reached out to take Matteusz’s hand.
“Yes,” Charlie said. “Is so.”
Matteusz let out a little laugh and raised his head to look right at Charlie. “You are not very good at this, are you?”
Charlie shook his head, smiling, because Matteusz didn’t sound mad at him. In fact, Matteusz sounded . . . happy.
“I am going to kiss you now,” Matteusz announced. “If you do not want, say so now.”
Matteusz waited, but Charlie just stared at him expectantly as the butterflies danced a jig in his belly. Matteusz gave another little laugh and raised his free hand to touch the side of Charlie’s face. Matteusz looked into Charlie’s eyes as he leaned in and brought his face nearer to Charlie’s.
The raw emotion on Matteusz’s face was too much, and Charlie had to close his eyes. Matteusz’s lips touched his, and Charlie’s fingers tightened on Matteusz’s hand. Before the idea of reaching out to touch the side of Matteusz’s face, like Matteusz was doing to his, had fully formed, Matteusz was pulling back. Charlie tried not to look disappointed, but Matteusz gave him a knowing look that seemed to see into the deepest parts of him.
Charlie cleared his throat. “So, is that a yes?”
Matteusz laughed, loud and joyous. “Yes, Charlie, is yes.”
“Great!” Charlie said. “Fantastic!”
“Yes,” Matteusz agreed. “Is fantastic.”
“Now you’re just making fun of me,” Charlie said.
Matteusz caressed Charlie’s face. “Would never do that,” he said very seriously before pulling his hand away. “Coffee?”
“Yes,” Charlie said immediately. When he’d first been dropped into London by the Doctor, Charlie had found the beverage bitter, but he’d soon grown accustomed to the taste, and now he was addicted to it.
They turned as one and headed towards the Shoreditch Grind, walking close enough to each other that their hands sometimes touched. Charlie glanced at Matteusz to see if that was okay, and found Matteusz looking back at him. Charlie ducked his head, eyes on the ground beneath his feet, and smiled.
At the Grind, Matteusz insisted on buying Charlie’s coffee. “But it’s my turn,” Charlie argued. “You invited me to prom,” Matteusz responded, as if that settled the matter, and since he sent Charlie off to save their usual spot at the bar overlooking Old Street Roundabout, Charlie figured it had.
Charlie took a seat and got out his physics textbook and notebook, and fidgeted while he looked out at the empty tables and blowing leaves. One of the first things he’d learned as a child prince was not to fidget, but for some reason those lessons left him now.
Charlie was glad when Matteusz appeared with two mugs of coffee and handed one to Charlie, so he had something to wrap his hands around. Charlie pretended to be looking at the assigned chapter, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of Matteusz’s hands as he pulled out his own books, curled them around the coffee mug, tapped a pen with those long fingers.
To distract himself, Charlie reached out with his foot and twined his leg around Matteusz’s. Matteusz kept his head down, but glanced at Charlie from the corner of his eye. Charlie’s heart leapt when Matteusz smiled. They’d done this before, tangled their legs together while studying, but now Charlie understood why it had felt so natural, and at the same time it suddenly felt so much . . . more.
They got through the reading and the questions at the end of the chapter, but Charlie retained none of it. The only thing Charlie would recall from this afternoon was the warmth of Matteusz’ smile, the caress of his hand, the press of his lips. They packed up their bags and bussed their area before leaving the coffee shop. At the crossroad where they usually said their goodbyes and parted ways, they both stopped. Charlie struggled for something to say to delay the inevitable.
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow?”
“Yes,” Matteusz agreed, and they stood there in silence a moment longer. “Well, I should . . . ,” Matteusz began.
Charlie rose up on his toes and pressed closed lips to Matteusz’s lips, parted in speech. Charlie nervously sat back down on his feet. Matteusz looked at Charlie for a moment in surprise, and then he smiled. Charlie smiled back.
“Tomorrow,” Charlie said, a promise.
“Tomorrow,” Matteusz agreed.
Charlie forced himself to turn his back on Matteusz and walk away, but he couldn’t resist a look back over his shoulder. Matteusz still stood there watching Charlie. He looked embarrassed at being caught, but then he laughed and waved.
Charlie smiled and waved back at Matteusz, and then turned his head to face forward so he wouldn’t trip over a crack in the sidewalk. He thought about what awaited him at home – a confrontation with Quill about the missing student. It would be unpleasant, but even so Charlie couldn’t completely wipe the smile from his face. He had a date to prom.