Most classrooms in Andelle were set out like your average secondary school science lab. Four rows of sixteen seats, divided into groups of eight attached to plugs and gas taps.
The room in which we learnt to read emotions, however, was different. Emotions could be a touchy subject for even the toughest of people, so the room was set out like it wasn't a lesson at all. There were different coloured bean bags scattered randomly about, and the walls were an absolute mess because they let us paint them sometimes. Then they'd go over with black paint, and then we'd use luminous colours and sometimes glow stick liquid, which was fun.
Today, we were using the luminous paint, and Mil's face lit up as soon as she saw them.
Axel, on the other hand, recognised the look on her face and stopped as soon as he walked in the door.
"Good luck," I nodded at him before I followed Toni to her friends, Freya and Holly.
"Come on!" Mil tugged Ax's arm.
"No," he said. "No way in hell am I doing that."
Toni sat down on a purple bean bag next to Holly and I sat on a green one opposite Freya.
"Hey!" Holly exclaimed brightly, hugging Toni and then me. The three girls then launched themselves into an excited conversation about Freya's cousin's boyfriend and how he and she actually hated each other (but, Holly said, that was why they loved each other so much).
"Yeah, 'cause you can't have a relationship without arguments," Freya agreed, nodding and grinning.
"But me and Ewan never have arguments," Toni pointed out just as I thought it.
"OK, seriously, you don't let you have arguments," Holly said matter-of-factly.
"That doesn't even make sense," Toni told her.
"Exactly!" They all seemed to understand that. Even though I didn't have a clue what was understandable about it.
I looked around the room.
Mil was still trying to get Ax to paint with her, like that was surprising. Some really talented people were painting a garden of luminous and exotic flowers. Other people were sitting and talking quietly to one another, some were laughing.
Miss Henrietta caught my eye and motioned for me to come over to her. I excused myself from the girls' conversation and walked over to sit on the desk.
"I was going to ask you tell everyone to paint for five minutes, but there's something more important," Miss smiled.
"Well, ask away," I smiled back.
She nodded towards where Mil was tugging on Axel's arm. "Do you know what's wrong with him?"
I shrugged. "He's always like this. No difference from any other day."
"Have you listened to what they're saying?" she asked. "Words can make you see actions more clearly."
"No, I haven't," I said. So I focused my attention on them until I could make out the exchange between them.
"Come on Axel. It's just a bit of fun," Mil pulled on his arm again.
"No," he moaned, staying just where he was and not moving an inch.
"Please," she begged. "Just for a minute."
"No," he groaned again. "I'm really not in the mood."
Matilda stopped tugging. "Why? Is there something wrong?"
"You're lying," she said.
"No I'm not," he said.
"Yes you are. You're lying to me 'cause you know I'm crap at this stuff," she spoke to him, not harshly, but sternly as though she knew him too well. Which she probably did.
"Fine," he admitted. "There's something wrong."
"You're not going to tell me, are you?" Mil guessed. When Axel didn't say anything, she asked, "Is it about the pastoral manager?"
"No," he responded calmly.
"Will you stop saying that?" Matilda's voice had risen slightly, but out of pure respect nobody shot them one glance.
Axel didn't say anything.
"You know I can just take you over to Miss and she can tell me what's up."
"No, Tilly," Axel told her. "Don't, please."
"Then just tell me what's bothering you," her voice softened slightly, but it wasn't gentle enough to pass off as kindness.
"No!" Axel yelled, taking me completely by surprise. And evidently Mil was shocked, too, because she actually took a small step back from him. "I'm not in the mood, all right?! I'm just… not in the mood."
He turned away from her and stormed out of the classroom. She watched him leave with a look of utter defeat on her face. Then she sat down where she was, shoved her hands into her hair and let out a muffled scream.
My head said they're always falling out.
"But he's never shouted at her before," I muttered to myself, forgetting for a moment that a teacher was watching me. Yeah, they had argued before. A lot. But never had I once heard Axel shout at Mil. He didn't like shouting at people.
"What was he feeling?" Miss Henrietta asked me.
"I don't know," I told her truthfully.
"You have a gift for reading emotions," she reminded me.
"Yeah, but he doesn't like it when I read his feelings," I said. "And, more importantly, I prefer not to."
"Because," I thought for a second. "They're all so intense. Plus, if I did read them it'd be breaking the deal."
"Ahh, of course."
Two years ago, Ax and I made a deal that if I didn't read his feelings, he wouldn't keep reading my mind.
"Maybe you should see how Matilda is. She looks upset," Miss suggested.
I shook my head. "No. She doesn't like to be comforted when she's argued with Axel."
"All right. Go and tell everyone they should paint for a minute."
"Kay." I slid off the desk and announced what the teacher had said. While the rest of the class moved the bean bags to the middle of the room, Matilda got up and walked over to me.
"Will you talk to him for me?" She asked.
"There would be no point," I said. "I think you should talk to him yourself."
"Yeah, you're probably right." She smiled slightly and faced Miss Henrietta. "Can I please be excused?"
"So I can go find Axel."
"All right. Will you be back?"
"If I find him. If not, then… maybe…" she shrugged and sighed, before walking out.
I went over to a space at the wall where nobody was painting and picked up a small paintbrush from bucket of luminous purple liquid. Sitting down, I began to streak a small section of black with random, clashing lines. They didn't resemble anything, but then nothing I drew ever did. Even if that was the intention, to draw a specific thing.
A pair of arms wrapped themselves around my torso and a chin rested on my shoulder.
"What are you painting?" Toni muttered into my ear.
"Nothing," I told her, taking her left hand in mine.
"It looks like a tree house," she said.
"It looks nothing like a tree house," I objected.
"I don't mean, like, a tree house like house-in-branches. I mean an actual house in a tree."
"So… a house tree?"
"Yeah." Antonia agreed. She leaned over me and pointed, tracing her finger between two parallel lines which branched off at the end. "See, that's the trunk and the branches." She pointed to three random shapes inside. "And these are windows."
"Toni," I grinned and shook my head. "They don't resemble windows in the slightest."
"It's a house tree," she reasoned. "The tree munchkins live there. It's all natural."
"Oh, all right."
"And this one's the door," this was the first line, where there had been too much paint on the brush.
I thought for a second, taking in the picture she'd just given, and then decided that Antonia was right. "There aren't any leaves," I whispered.
Toni giggled and leaned to the side, grabbing a tin of bright red paint and dipping her fingers in. She then proceeded to dab the colour all over the top of the tree, and then on my nose.
"Hey!" I exclaimed, laughing. She squealed and tried to escape my grasp but I pinned her down.
"You caught me, Rudolf." She stated, beaming.
"Wow." I said. "You can get caught by a flying reindeer."
"No, you're just a reindeer."
"Aw. I wanted to fly."
"Sorry," she smiled. I kissed her. "You have paint on your nose."
"Oh yeah," I got up and rubbed it off.
The rest of the lesson was fun. Those really arty people let us help with their garden, which was pretty damn great of them 'cause last time we helped we completely wrecked it. Still, they did tell us what to do this time. This was OK 'cause no-one wanted to ruin their masterpiece. I think Toni did tons better than I did, and they let her paint a few roses in the middle of one of the flowerbeds. They let me draw random daisies and buttercups.
When all the flowers had been drawn, everyone in the class collected all the silvers, blues,
whites and greens, and helped to paint a pond. Then we all blew silver glitter at the entire picture while it was still wet.
Miss Henrietta turned off the lights, and the pond actually looked like it was rippling and it all sparkled.
"That's amazing," Steven, who had just appeared next to me, said.
"Can't you walk?" I asked him.
"Nah, too lazy," he shrugged in answer. "Besides, teleportation is much faster. There's no way I'd get round all the classes otherwise."
"Is it seriously just you going round everywhere?"
"Yep. Two places at once, two times at once. All that crap."
"The hell? So all these years and it's you? Just you, doing everything."
"No, they got me, maybe five or six years before I answered your Summoning. When the last one gave up to weakness and let his older self die." I must have looked completely confused because he continued to explain, "When you die, your entire being disappears so that none of your past can be changed. You can't control what happens anymore 'cause, well, I don't like to talk about it. Anyway," Steven clicked his fingers and the light came back on. I envied him 'cause he was so advanced at this stuff. It wasn't fair. "Kay, your next lesson is teleportation! It's a double lesson so you're with the greens and the purples!"
"Are you teaching us?" Toni asked, smiling.
"I think so," Steven said. "Not that you need teaching, you're too damn clever."
"Oh, get lost," she shoved him. "Just 'cause you can't take my awesomeness."
"Yeah, but you'll still be shorter than me when you rule the world."
"That's just daft."
"That's jast darft," he mimicked her accent, grinning. She folded her arms and raised an eyebrow. He gave her a one-armed hug. "Right, see you in class." Then he snapped his fingers and was gone.