It didn't take long after Adam and Kat first met for the two of them to be inseparable at school. They ate lunch together, found out-of-the-way places to compare books and stories, and Kat shared some music with Adam, handing him tapes of songs by bands he'd never heard of, including One Inch Punch and Distorted Lullabies. They also avoided Bill and Terrance who had taken it as their mission to make Kat and Adam miserable.
There hadn't been any more fights, but the two bullies had taken to whispering nasty things to Kat and Adam had seen a rude drawing in the bathroom that he'd covered up with whiteout. Didn't matter, though, since at least Kat and Adam had each other.
After school, however, the two went their separate ways. Adam invited Kat over to come hang out at his house most days but she never accepted, nor did she invite him over. It bugged him a bit, but he tried to just shrug it off and not worry too much. They were friends and he wasn't some girl to get all worked up about nothing. He had a couple other friends he could hang out with although they weren't nearly as much fun as Kat. He certainly wouldn't ever show them his stories; Kat had read all of them and even sketched a map for "The Dragon's Lunch." He had it tucked into his notebook and it was a prized possession.
Thinking about it, he was pretty sure he wanted to come up with something to give her. He couldn't draw, or he'd try to sketch a picture of her. The time he'd tried to draw something she had laughed so hard orange juice had come out of her nose. He didn't know any of the bands she liked and the one time he'd asked about some of them in the music store the guy at the counter had looked at him like he was crazy. Plus he didn't really have the money to buy her a tape, let alone a cd. He'd never even seen her room so he wasn't sure what she already had.
That didn't leave too many options. He'd already been through the used book store and nothing had really caught his eye. They didn't have a copy of the first book of The Fionavar Tapestry which he was pretty sure Kat would like - all those myths and stuff, plus the adventure and being in a different world. But other than that he wasn't too sure what to get for her.
He tried asking his mom, but she just gave him that look that made him want to make gagging sounds, the one that said she thought he was just so cute and her baby was growing up so fast. Ugh. Then she asked why he didn't ever bring Kat over after school and he felt defensive. He'd said something or other about Kat being busy and headed off to his room and turned on one of the tapes Kat had given him.
Adam didn't know why Kat wouldn't come over and why she'd never invited him over, but it was her choice. He worried about her though. Something wasn't quite right. She'd tell him if she wanted to though.
As for the present, he'd finally started thinking about writing a story for her. It was one thing he did well, or at least she said he did. He still thought they were just silly stories, but watching her face when she read them was worth it. Something about the way she smiled always made him feel like he could just maybe conquer the world.
The only problem was coming up with a story. Well, not quite the only problem. Adam had to buy another notebook to keep at home because if Kat saw it he knew she'd want to read the story, but he wanted it to be a surprise. So he bought the black notebook with the white star on it he'd seen her envying. One of the girls in class had one and Kat just looked at it with such obvious longing - her own notebooks were plain other than the doodles she'd drawn on them. He figured she'd like getting the notebook though.
It took him a month to come up with the right story. He'd though of it when she made some comment about wishing she was brave. All he could think of was seeing her rush Bill and Terrance for him, even after he'd been a bit of a jerk to her at her locker. She was so much braver than she knew. So he wrote "To the Stars," the story of a girl who manages to save the kingdom from the evil wizard and his stupid minions. It wasn't his best story, he knew that, but he wrote it for her and he hoped that would be what counted.
After Adam finished the story he asked his mom for some wrapping paper, but once he saw the flowery paper she handed him he decided to just go with wrapping it in the cartoon pages from the paper. Another week later he finally screwed up his courage to slip the wrapped notebook into Kat's backpack before class one morning.
He was on pins and needles the whole day, waiting for her to see it and tell him what she thought. She said nothing during their morning recess, nothing at lunch. She was so quiet during classes, not even looking at him. Everything made him think she either hadn't seen it or didn't like it. Could she really not like the story?
Adam's stomach was in knots by the afternoon recess and he hovered outside the classroom door, waiting for Kat to come out. His mouth was open and he was about to say something - not that he knew what - when she came out and grabbed his wrist, tugging him quickly outside and out to the hill they'd claimed as "their spot." He was utterly terrified until she finally stopped and looked at him, the beaming smile on her face telling him everything was ok.
"I love it! Is it really about me? I'm not like that, not nearly that brave." She blushed brightly, looking down at the toes of her sneakers, so she missed Adam shaking his head hard.
"Kat, yes you are. You are brave. You went after Bill and Terrance for me and you didn't even know me. And they're twice your size. You hold your head up even when they say stuff to you. I wish I could make them stop, but I don't know what to do that won't make it worse. And you drew that map for me, the one for 'Dragon's Lunch.' It's perfect. I wanted to thank you for it." He rushed the words, feeling them tumble out so fast that his tongue almost tangled. Then he was left staring at her breathlessly.
There was an awkward moment when the two of them just looked at each other, a pregnant pause that would happen again and again over the years.
Adam turned away from the view of the children outside the window, looking back over at Kat in his apartment in the present. "You really were brave, you know. Now I know how much."
There was another one of those pauses as Kat turned to look at Adam, both of them knowing he was thinking about the story. And other things that happened later.
This time the pause ended as Adam brushed his knuckles against her cheek then slid his hand around the back of her neck, pulling her closer until his lips met hers.
It wasn't what he'd done to end that first pause. Or the next. Not even the one after that. There had been other things that had come first.