Joseph Blair

March 13, 2021, 8:29 p.m.

I'm a new man

The hols had been alright. It was the first school holiday he’d overlapped with Paige since he started at RMI, and there was a risk of it going right lame-o being stuck with his kid sister full hours. But she spent most of the weekdays tryna arrange meets with her NZAM crew for the weekends (read: tryna convince Dad to take off work early to zap her over to the island) so he was free to do his own thing, for the most part.

‘His own thing’ had been mostly sleeping and catching boomers off the beach til the day he got post from his school mate. Gene had sent him some kinda pressed flower display, which was… nice? Odd? Surprising? Well, not real surprising. Gene was thoughtful in the kind of way that seemed like he was thinking two lefts down the street. He had no idea what to do with the flowers, and in the end Joey propped ‘em on his bookshelf, covering up an old row of sci-fi novs he hadn’t read in a while.

‘Course, Paige went snooping and saw it, and wouldn’t lay off him until he told her who it was from. She’d said he should send Gene flowers back, which wasn’t a half-off idea on its own ‘cept she’d started every morning after that with “so ya sent your boyfriend flowers yet?”, as if mates couldn’t send him flowers for pure friendly reasons. His folks were no help - Mum had gone off on how bein’ gay was great or whatever while Dad just looked kinda blank and did an ole shrug with no force to it. So he had to shut her up another way, and that was how he came to be pashin’ on Tayla instead of packing up for school.

“Shite!” Leaping up from the balcony floor as his phone started buzzing, Joey scrambled to pull it out of his cargos and turn off the alarm. “I gotta bolt, sorry!”

“Wha-”

He didn’t stick around to let her start or finish a question, his last view of her a confused expression ringed by curly brown hair as he spun a one-eighty and dashed through the apartment. Bare feet thumping down the hall, he skidded to a halt and started pounding the lift button like it was a stubborn skeeter.

Tayla was on the top floor of the apartment tower, while he was down on the fifth; they’d met for starters when moving in years back and their folks had stayed linked, ringing up for kidsitting help or dropping in on each other for play lunches. Since breaking off to diffo school years they hadn’t crossed each other much, but he followed her on social and sometimes did an awkward tap on a pic five weeks old. (His parents thought he didn’t need a phone at RMI, and with his aunty Estelle on staff he was right sure she’d learn of it if he went to Aaron behind her back, so he was stuck occasionally remembering to bring it with him up to Pearl Street.) She was his most convenient almost-friend who was also a girl, and when he’d explained what he needed she’d laughed and agreed.

It was s’posed to be just the once in front of Paige. But it was kinda fun, and they lived in the same building anyways so it was easy to keep up. He didn’t have any real feels for Taylah, either, but it def helped that she was mint to look at.

Just as he was thinkin’ to slide down the stair railing instead, the lift doors popped open. Fidgeting impatiently under the moony lift lighting, the half-Asian boy dashed back out as soon as it landed on the right floor. He could hear his folks hollering his name from down the hall and managed to make it to their apartment, shout a quick seeya, and grab his duffel and dreamo just in time before yoink he was chucked back at school.

Shaking out the jitters of being liplocked one minute under the hot noontime Sydney sun and swallowed up the next in a swarm of dinner-hangry teens, Joey followed along to the red fire, accepting a fistbump from his roomie Jarrett along the way without really cluing in to what was happening.

The rest of Toby’s talkie went much the same, least until he got called up to get dubbed Prefect, which prompted Joey to hide a groan. (A), too much responsibility, (B), too much work, (C), this was really gonna muck up his goal of not coming off like a nerd. Oh and (D), he mentally added as he walked past Paige, he didn’t fancy tryna force any authority over his sister. She wouldn’t go for it. Having had no time to pull on his robes before coming to school, he felt about as stand-outy as a sprog in a suit going up to the front in his cargo shorts and thongs, but at least he had a coupla mates there with him.

Awkwardly slapping the badge onto the front of his tank top, Joey waved down an elf and soon had himself set up with a big plate of classic fish ‘n chips. It didn’t occur to him how well this matched his tank - featuring art of a banshee on the front holding fistfuls of chips under a tree, it was merch from his uncle’s pub, The Knothole (though luckily it was plain merch and not the magical version that screeched up a racket). Accidentally making eye contact with the person beside him, he flashed them a grin. “Heyo. Hols go fine for ya?” He might’ve been less eager to start a convo if he’d been aware there was still lipstick smeared over his face.

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