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“I hate you,” Phil says to his parents, for at least the tenth time in the past hour. “I really mean it this time.”

His mum says, “We know, dear.”

His dad just hums an acknowledgement.

Phil falls back into his sulk, staring out the window. It’s like they don’t even really believe him. It’s like they don’t get how shit it really is to be yanked out of the school you’ve gone to for years with mates you already at least mostly like who finally stopped calling you names like highlighter head, and to be sent to a whole new school where people will come up with all new mean nicknames and he’ll have to go about making new friends again and it’s just not fair.

“Almost there now,” his mum says.

She sounds so excited. Of course she’s excited. What’s she got to be sad about? All she’s talked about for weeks now is how she’s going to do up the back garden and boring stuff like what kind of sofa she’ll get to match the ‘natural wood flooring.’

She keeps trying to get Phil excited by telling him how he can decorate his new room however he’d like. He doesn’t care about his stupid room. He liked his room in Manchester. He only got the green carpet a year ago!

It’s just… it’s not fair.

Five more minutes pass, turning down smaller streets until they roll to a stop in front of a large house with pale cream paint and brown accents. Even the house doesn’t look as special as the one that’s still home in his mind. His own mum and dad built that one. There were pictures on the walls of Martyn ‘helping’ when he was just a toddler, before Phil was even born. That house was practically part of the family.

“Come on, now,” his mum says, when Phil doesn’t get out of the car. He wishes Martyn were here now. Stupid Martyn being older and off at uni already.

He pushes the car door open and steps out. At least he’ll stop feeling queasy from the car ride now. He leans out and takes a breath and looks up at the sky.

Across the street a door slams. He jumps and his eyes shoot over. A boy who looks his own age is standing there staring at him. He’s got a long dark fringe swept across his forehead, he’s dressed head to toe in black and he’s looking at Phil with too much intensity for a perfect stranger.

Phil lifts his arm and holds up his palm, fingers spread apart by way of hesitant hello. Who knows, maybe they’ll be going to the same school. Maybe he could make a friend. Maybe this move doesn’t have to suck quite as much as he’s been fearing it will.

He’s getting ahead of himself— way ahead— but stranger boy flicks his fringe out of his eyes and gives Phil a polite nod. So that’s something at least.

Then a car drives up and stops in front of stranger boy, a pretty girl sitting behind the wheel. She gives Phil a quick, uninterested glance before Phil’s probably-neighbour climbs into the passenger seat and the car drives away again.

“Come on, Phil,” his Dad shouts from the front doorway. “This stuff isn’t going to carry itself inside.”

-

Dan’s not thinking about his brand new neighbour, some lanky-looking guy about whom he knows absolutely nothing. He’s not.

“Who was that?” Evie asks.

“What?”

“That guy.” She glances away from the road for a moment to look at him.

He looks back blank-faced.

“The guy across the street? The guy you were having a staring contest with?” She sounds annoyed, looking away again and Dan is glad they’re driving.

He’d prefer if he was at home playing Halo in his underwear, actually, but anyway. He’s glad at least for the minimal face to face, no matter how brief. He’s not really got the energy for her today. It’s an awful thought to have even inside his own head, but it’s one that makes itself known to him as soon as he hears her voice.

“Dunno. New neighbour I guess,” Dan mutters, turning his own head to watch the red-tinged leaves of the trees that line the road. He’s definitely not thinking about his new neighbour and how his brown hair had been tinged with red in the late afternoon sun too.

She gives him a look like she’s deciding if an argument is worth it or not, but she must come to the conclusion that it’s not because she starts to talk about the trip she’s taking with her family and Dan is given a reprieve from responses that don’t involve nods or occasional prompts to prove he’s still halfway listening.

“So you’ll be fine with it, then?” She asks, looking over at him.

He has to replay the last few bits of conversation in his head to catch onto what she’s asking. ‘Oh, I mean. Yeah.”

It’s the wrong answer. “You’re fine with me being gone the last few weeks before school starts back?” It’s not just annoyance - it’s hurt.

“I’ll miss you,” Dan offers. It’s true… sort of. Mostly. “But we’ll talk on the phone, yeah?”

Two weeks just doesn’t sound like a lot. But he doesn’t say that to her. He’s got enough self-preservation within him to know to at least not do that. He also doesn’t say that she’s going to uni in a year anyway, while Dan’s only just starting sixth form, and that it’ll be a whole lot longer than a few weeks apart.

She’s not entirely appeased. “I don’t know,” she says. “I’m not sure what the mobile rates will be.”

“Oh,” Dan says. “Well, we can try.”

He probably won’t try at all. It’ll be easy to let two weeks go by without talking to her. If he thinks of her, it’ll be nice thoughts but he won’t wallow in misery. It’s only two weeks.

She sighs and eases the car into a spot in the cinema car park, then sits back with her hands on the wheel. She’s got nice hands, dainty little fingers. Her nails are painted something glossy and just a touch darker than what they’d normally be. “Sure,” she says. “I guess.”

He opens the door, glad to be here and eager to go in and spend the next two hours pretending he’s not the type of guy who hurts his girlfriend without even trying.

-

Objectively this room is alright. Phil can’t deny that. It’s not quite as big as the last one but it’s also a little brighter, a little less lived in. The window is enormous and it looks out on a big tree with branches made for climbing. It would have been a good room to grow up in.

But this room has none of the character of his old one, none of the memories. No pencils marks on the door frame documenting his height with every birthday, no lime green carpet, none of his posters on the wall.

At least one of those things can be remedied. He digs through three boxes before he finds it, his beloved home-made mural of Sarah Michelle Gellar. It takes him another twenty minutes to find enough blue tack to affix the giant blonde monstrosity onto the ceiling above his bed, but once it’s there he feels instantly more at home and knows it was worth the effort.

He flops back onto his unmade bed, springs creaking under the weight of him. He stares up and Buffy stares back down and a strange kind of calm washes over him. Her pretty face is such a comfort to him.

He hears Ian’s voice echoing in his ears, mocking him, asking him how many times he’s wanked one out while staring up at her face. He hears himself laughing back awkwardly and saying ‘you don’t wanna know, mate.’

It’s not technically a lie. Ian probably wouldn’t want to know that the answer is zero, because then his next question would probably be something along the lines of ‘where are you hiding your poster of Angel?’

Ian’s not even mean about anything. Ian’s his best friend, and Phil misses him a whole lot already. Ian just… he makes the same jokes all the other boys make.

But it’s not Ian’s fault that Phil doesn’t do the same things other boys do - or if he does, he doesn’t apparently do it the same way. Phil wanks, he wakes up sometimes hard and he takes care of himself, but there’s never really anything specific in his head. Nameless shapes and faces, disembodied touches.

He sighs. Maybe he could have a wank now. That’d give him something to do besides lay here staring up at Buffy’s understanding eyes.

But he doesn’t really want to. He’s bored, and he wants to have friends he can go hang out with or play video games with. He doesn’t even know where anything is in Wokingham. They probably don’t have any of the cool stuff Manchester had. It’s a stupid town where they talk in stupid voices and-

And he’s having another tantrum. The fight goes out of him before he’s even really worked it up in his head. There’s no one here to listen to him, it’s just not as fun.

He sits back up and starts to unpack some more. His XBOX has to be here somewhere.

-

Her mouth tastes like popcorn. Or maybe that’s just his own mouth-taste. Maybe they both taste like popcorn. Should he be thinking about this? Does it matter? Her tongue is in his mouth and her hand is rubbing his dick through his jeans, he probably shouldn’t give a flying fuck whose mouth tastes like what.

He really should be focusing on trying to enjoy said rubbing. It’s not like she’s not doing a good job or anything. It’s not like he doesn’t want to, it’s just…

He can’t focus on it. He can’t concentrate on her long enough to trick his stupid brain into registering that sex is imminent and it needs to send some blood down to his useless cock. She’s going to start noticing soon that they haven’t really done it in weeks, if she hasn’t already.

He thinks he’s done a pretty good job of distracting her so far, getting generous and liberal with his mouth and his tongue and his fingers anytime she so much as reaches for his crotch, but there’s only so long he can keep that up. She hasn’t complained yet, but it’s probably suspicious for a sixteen year old boy to avoid getting his dick out for someone who actively wants it.

It’s not about her. She’s gorgeous. She’s warm and attentive and lovely and he wants more than anything to be what she deserves. So he puts his hands on her body in all the places that are curved and fleshy and licks against her tongue and tries to convince himself that he’s into it.

It doesn’t work.

He doesn’t understand it. He doesn’t know why he gets like this, why there are days he just feels completely empty inside, like all his nerve endings are dulled and the world is just a million different shades of grey.

It feels like there’s a band around his chest just squeezing tighter and tighter. He wants to ignore it so he kisses harder, slides his fingers up her rib cage to cup her breast. It’s so nice, she feels so nice, and surely if he concentrates hard enough the niceness can outweigh all the other stuff.

There’s a burst of music between them, something Dan doesn’t recognize but knows must be coming from her phone. He flops over onto his back immediately while she digs around underneath her to fish it out.

“It’s mum,” she says, frowning her disappointment.

Dan closes his eyes and listens to one side of the conversation. He can hear petulance in Evie’s voice, but Evie’s the nice sort of girl who doesn’t talk back to her mum. Even when she disobeys there’s an air of dignity about it. It probably helps that Evie actually fucking likes her parents.

Dan can’t relate to that. His barely know he’s alive at the best of times. His mum doesn’t ever call him to come home for dinner. She doesn’t even make dinner half the time, too busy with clients.

He’s nothing but relieved when she hangs up and says, “I’ve got to go. Martha and Bill from down the street need a babysitter, and mum told them I wasn’t doing anything. It’s so rude of her. A date with my boyfriend isn’t nothing.”

It sort of is, Dan wishes he could point out. They weren’t likely going to end up doing anything.

“That sucks,” he says anyway, and then helps her find her shirt.

He walks her to the front door like a gentleman. He may not be able to get hard for her, but he can kiss her goodnight, especially when he won’t be seeing her again for a fortnight.

She’s just sliding her feet into her flip flops when a voice right behind them says, “Evie, love, leaving so soon?”

She and Dan both whip their heads around, startled to see Dan’s grandmother stood right there. Dan’s stomach twinges nervously at the thought that she may have heard them making out earlier. He’d been under the impression they’d snuck in rather quietly.

“I have to babysit, nana,” Evie replies sweetly.

“What a lovely young lady you are.”

Evie beams. She’s always loved Dan’s nana, and his nana has always loved her. Everyone loves Evie, even Adrian. She’d slotted right into Dan’s family seamlessly, with nearly more ease than Dan himself. A year later and he’s still not even sure how he feels about that.

She and nana chit chat for a couple minutes and Dan tunes them out without any awareness that he’s doing it. His head is full of nothing but static, a buzzing white noise that drowns out all the details of life all around him. Somewhere in the crackle though is the image of a guy with mousy brown hair and long legs, waving at him from across the street.

“Dan,” Evie says, with enough insistence that he knows she’s been trying to get his attention for awhile.

“What?”

“Walk me to my car?”

He does, trying to stay present for her. It’s only a few more minutes, he tells himself, and then he can shut himself up in his room and lose himself in some corner of the internet until 4am when he can pass out without any effort.

She stands on her tiptoes and puts her arms around his shoulders and squeezes. He buries his face in her hair, breathing in the scent of her shampoo and her perfume. She smells nice. Her arms around him feel nice. She’s just so nice.

He’s not nice. He just wants her to get in her car and drive away so he doesn’t have to pretend he’s holding anything together.

“I’ll miss you Danny,” she hums. “Sorry we got interrupted. I wanted to make it good so you wouldn’t forget me while I’m gone.”

He chuckles emotionlessly. “Right.”

She pulls back abruptly. “You’d better fucking not.”

“I won’t. I won’t. I’m laughing because… it’s so ridiculous.”

“You’ll call me.” It’s not a question.

“Course.”

She kisses him before she gets in her car, long and lingering and slightly too wet. His skin crawls just a little and he hates himself for it. He tells her he loves her before she drives away.

-

Phil’s mum wakes him up much, much earlier than should be allowed, especially with so little time left before he has to start at a brand new school.

“You need to get back on some semblance of a proper sleep schedule,” she says, opening his curtains.

He hisses as sunlight burns his retinas. “Mu-um,” he whinges.

Maybe the room being brighter wasn’t such a good idea after all. Right now he wants nothing more to live in a dark cave where he can sleep for sixteen hours straight in total darkness and silence.

“Come on now, come on.” She won’t stop, no matter how much he tries to will her away. “I’ll make you some eggs, protein for the growing boy.”

“I want cereal,” Phil says. “Can I have cereal instead?”

“If you get out of bed, you can have both.” She pats his foot through the blanket.

Both is a good compromise. “Fine,” he says, and waits until she’s walked out of the room to throw his blanket back. He’s a bit too old to only be wearing pants in front of his mum, but he hates sleeping with a shirt on now.

He stands in the middle of his room and rubs his hands over his face, trying to wake himself up. He realizes from his bedroom window he can see down the street. No one seems to be around but he’ll have to remember to shut the curtains when he’s changing. The whole of Wokingham doesn’t need to see his bits.

It takes him a minute to find the box with most of his clothes. He’d lost motivation for unpacking once the xbox was out. Since he doesn’t have to share with Martyn, his mum’s let him have the extra television set and all the gaming systems for his room. She’s most likely trying to appease his upset over moving, but he’ll milk it for all it’s worth.

In fact, he thinks, she might let him just bring his breakfast back up here. She’s long since banned food in the bedroom since he had that nasty habit of never bringing his dishes back to the kitchen, but if he looks like he feels extra sad today…

He puts on pajama pants and a t-shirt and clomps down the stairs. “Muuuuum! Can I-”

He stops at the last step. His mum isn’t alone. There’s an older lady standing there, just past the doorway in the foyer.

“And there’s my youngest now,” Phil’s mum says. “Phil, come say hello to Veronica, won’t you? She’s come to say hello and invite us to her church, isn’t that nice?”

Phil politely sticks a hand out to shake hers. “Lovely to meet you,” he says, well rehearsed from all the functions and groups and gatherings his mum’s always a part of.

“He’s a polite one,” Veronica beams. “Looks about the same age as my grandson, Daniel. You’ll probably meet him, he lives just across the street.”

Daniel. So stranger boy has a name.

“Awesome,” Phil says. “I’d be glad to.”

“Phil’s not quite been thrilled to leave all his friends behind in Manchester,” his mum explains.

“Oh well, that’s perfectly understandable, love.” She reaches out and places a hand gently on Phil’s shoulder. “I’ll be sure to send Daniel over a little later. He’s a late sleeper, to say the least.”

His mum chuckles. “I had to drag this one up.”

“He must be a good boy.” Veronica looks at him with kind eyes and smiles. “The house could be on fire and Daniel would just grunt and pull the blanket up over his head.”

“Phil’s a good boy,” his mum agrees. “We got lucky with him.”

Phil bristles a little on the inside and he has no idea why. Maybe it’s just weird to be discussed like he’s not stood right there.

“Well, if you wouldn’t mind excusing me Veronica, I need to see a man about some cereal,” he says.

“Of course, dear.” She smiles again. “Growing boys need their breakfast. It was lovely to meet you.”

“And you,” he says.

His mum beams. Phil really does know how to act the part of a respectable young man.

He goes to the kitchen and pours himself an enormous bowl of Shreddies, managing to sneak it up the stairs without her noticing. She’s rather deep in conversation with Veronica at this point, and he’s glad. He feels curiously sad now and would like nothing better than to sulk by himself in private. Maybe he’ll have eggs later.

-

The whole house smells like cinnamon as Dan drags his sorry ass down the stairs. He’s slept in way too late, even for him and his legs feel like cinder blocks.

“Morning,” he croaks to his nana’s back as he enters the kitchen.

“It hasn’t been morning for many many hours, young man,” she tuts. She’s stood at the counter above a tray of cinnamon rolls, drizzling glaze overtop of them.

He yawns. “I guess. But you still made breakfast for me.” He walks over and wraps his arms around her narrow shoulders.

“This isn’t for you. I’ll make you some eggs. Go have a shower and I’ll have them ready when you’re done.”

Dan pouts. “Why?”

“Because you’re taking these over to introduce yourself to your new neighbours. They’re lovely people and I won’t have you looking a mess.”

Dan groans. “You can’t be serious.” The thought of introducing himself to Mr. Long Legs because his grandma forced him to, of ringing the doorbell while holding a tray of baked goods is too mortifying for him to even fathom.

“Of course I am,” she says, oblivious to his horror. “Now go get cleaned up. You smell.”

He makes a face behind her back. She probably knows exactly what he’s doing, using her magical grandmother senses, but she lets him get away with a lot because in the end he always listens.

Just like now, when he trudges back upstairs to take a shower. It’s quick and methodical until he starts to soap up his balls and his body reacts the way it tends to always do. He sighs down at his cock with almost a sense of impatience. So a perfunctory shower and a soapy grip can get him going but topless groping with his girlfriend can’t?

He thinks about ignoring it, knowing it’ll go away quickly if he does, but… well, he’s got time. He starts to work a hand over himself with more purpose.

Ten minutes later he steps out of the shower feeling pleased and flushed from more than the hot water. All he really wants to do now is go crawl back into bed, but he knows his grandma will be around all day and she probably won’t let him get away with it.

If it were just his mum or dad here he could. They don’t give a shit what he does during the summer time. But they’re both out working and they don’t trust him to watch his brother - not that he blames them, considering what a fuss he’d kicked up when they’d insinuated he should stay home with Adrian instead of going out with Evie - so it’s been a Nana-filled summer.

(Secretly, Dan kind of likes it. She’s always baking something nice, and watching Coronation Street with her in the afternoon reminds him of his childhood.)

True to her word, she has a plate of eggs and toast on the table waiting for him when he comes back down, and a big steaming mug full of tea.

“Eat up,” she says. “I don’t want Kathryn to think I’ve forgotten my promise to send you over there.”

He pulls up his chair and tucks into his food. It’s not a cinnamon roll but it’s good and he’s ravenous, having not had much of a stomach for anything last night. He tries not to think about the fact that he feels so much better today. Surely it has nothing to do with knowing he has two weeks before he sees Evie again?

Surely it must be because of the epic lie in he’d been allowed. Sleep heals all, even a brain so foggy he can’t act like a functional human being. Surely.

“Why would you promise such a thing?” he asks with a mouthful of yolky crust.

“Manners,” she scolds, sitting next to him with her own cuppa. “Because they have a son who’s exactly your age. You’ll be going to the same school and he doesn’t know a single soul here yet. I imagine it would be a comfort for him to talk to you.”

Why should that make Dan’s heart thump nervously? Most likely they’ll grunt a hello to each other and he’ll fuck off back home to play Halo for the rest of the day, the rest of the week, the rest of the summer.

Is it because he suspects the guy is kind of cute? He’d thought he’d gotten over being weird about that. He’d thought he’d accepted that it didn’t mean anything. He can acknowledge when another person is objectively attractive, regardless of what bits they’ve got between their legs.

“What’s his name?”

“It’s Phil, and he’s lovely. You could do with letting him teach you a thing or two.”

Dan just rolls his eyes. “Ok nana.”

She kicks at his leg under the table and gives him a smile. He loves her so fucking much that he resolves to actually put in effort when he meets this Phil character.