Hira doesn't understand love or sport, but this winter he's simultaneously taking on the role of matchmaker and back-up basketball player. Nothing could get more confusing.


10. Chapter Nine - 九




Alistair and I talked until the early hours of the morning: Alistair told me about his older brother and the constant struggles of being a younger sibling, I told Alistair about the non-irritating boy from Year Six, Alistair told me about his first crush, I told Alistair about the worst PE lesson I ever endured, we laughed about getting locked out after basketball, and we had a debate about the smell of instant coffee, and then we got really depressed at about two o'clock and Alistair was unbelievably grumpy until about half three.
Frost was sprinkled like icing sugar over the front lawn, and there was a chill in the air, even in my bedroom. Both of us were still dressed from Saturday evening, but the cold bit through my jumper anyway.
"Do you want a hot drink?" I ask Alistair, forcing myself to my feet even though my legs feel like jelly. I've sat in the same position for about five hours, so I shouldn't really be surprised.
Alistair nods, his teeth chattering slightly.
We walk out together and go as quietly as possible down the stairs so as not to wake my parents. The wood panels beneath my feet are icy, almost stinging.
"Hot chocolate?" I ask, and Alistair nods again, hunching his back over as he tries to keep his warmth in.
I look over at him, and realise he's shivering from head to foot. "There's a switch behind you for the heating," I tell him. "Just put it to constant."
He switches it, and then goes back to shaking.
I open the blinds wide so that pale light filters through the glass. I pour the hot chocolate into the two cups, scalding my fingers a little as it comes out.
"Here," I pass it to him and he smiles gratefully, wrapping his hands around the mug and then yelping after he burns his fingers. I am a little more careful with mine.
I stand by the window and rest my elbows on the frame. Outside, the dawn is just pulling against the night, ribbons of gold weaving through dark blue, and pale clouds tinged rose pink.
"It's beautiful," Alistair breathes, his eyes resting on the sky with awe.
I don't say anything. I just watch the colours burn into one another, turn each other inside out. Peach orange and crimson clamber up from the river, and a hue between ice and rainwater dribbles down from the heavens.
There are very few cars on the roads and very few boats on the river at this time, and the lights in the houses are all still off. There's condensation at the bottom of the glass windows, and I twirl my forefinger in the water idly.
"I feel a bit tired," Alistair says, his words punctured by a yawn.
"We did stay up all night."
"Can we go to bed?" Alistair asks, rubbing his hands over his eyes a bit dizzily. "I can barely keep my eyes open.'
I am about to refuse, but looking at him out of the corner of my eye, I realise he looks like he might topple over any minute now.
"Okay. Bring your drink upstairs."
"Aren't you tired?"
"Not particularly."
Alistair groans when he misses the first stair, and leans on top of me. I push him off. "Keep your head up, or you won't be able to see where you're going."
"I can't," he begins to whine like a small child, and I can't take it.
I cuff him right across the ear, and he staggers to the side a little.
"What was that for?"
"Eyes open, stupid."
"You haven't called me that in a while," he yawns, a lopsided grin on his lips. I steer him into my bedroom like he's half drunk, and he collapses backwards on to my bed, spread-eagled. He's creasing the mattress and it's annoying, because I only just made my bed yesterday morning and it looked perfect. Now he's ruined it, instead of slipping in between the sheets and staying still. He's just so messy.
I shake him to keep him awake, "You can't sleep there. That's my bed. You have to sleep on the floor. Alistair-"
"I'm cold, Hira. And shut up."
"Where am I supposed to sleep?"
Alistair moans under his breath in annoyance, "You said you weren't tired."
I try and pull the covers from under Alistair, but he only pulls them tighter around his shoulders, gripping them with all his strength. He's practically sitting on the duvet, and there's no way I can get to it properly.
"If you're so bothered," Alistair murmurs, his voice muffled by my pillows, "Get in with me."
My eyes widen when I realise what he means, and then they narrow quickly, "We are not sleeping together: that's crossing the line."
"I've already sat on your knee for three hours - I think we've already crossed the line," Alistair says tiredly, "Get in. I'm cold. I have cold hands."
"And I have morals," I snap back. I move to my wardrobe and pull out a pillow and blanket for Alistair to sleep on. They're thick and warm and will be absolutely fine - he has no right to be in my bed. No one had ever slept in my bed before, ever.
I drop the makeshift bed, and then lean over the lump that is Alistair's body. His back rises and falls gently, a constant rhythm, and he's breathing calmly, serenely. He looks happy - a small, peaceful smile balanced on his lips, and his eyes only just closed, gold hair falling over his forehead and spilling out like coloured ink on the pillow.
I want to wake him up so badly, but I can't bring myself to. He's so relaxed, and he isn't cold anymore, and he's happy. I roll my eyes and leave him alone, propping myself up comfortably on the floor. It's a bit cold and hard, but I'm not that tired. I close my eyes. Today hasn't been too bad, really - or perhaps I should say yesterday. Alistair isn't too bad, I guess, even though he's annoying.

We're not friends, but we're close. And I don't like him, but he's better than just okay.






I wake up because Mum is tapping me patiently on the arm.
"Hira?" Mum whispers, "Hira, do you and Alistair want some tea?"
I open my eyes groggily, and run my hand through my hair, "What time is it?" I ask.
"Um, 4:30 in the evening. Alistair is still asleep," she laughs under her breath. "You both look exhausted."
I sit up and yawn, just to prove her point. My head feels like a dead weight and my eyes are only half open, but at least our room is a lot warmer. It's dark again, the same as this morning, and I realise the two of us have slept all the day and light away - simultaneously completely messing up our entire sleeping patterns. I'm not sure whether or not we should go back to sleep after we have dinner or not.
"Are you going to wake him up?" Mum gestures at Alistair who is still completely dead to the world, his entire body cocooned inside the white covers so I can't even see his face. Maybe he was really cold, even in my bed.
"Yes. He'll probably be hungry." I push the blankets off me, and Mum folds them up and puts them under her arm.
She checks her watch again, "I'll bring something up in about fifteen minutes."
"Thank you." I half-stagger over to Alistair, and give his shoulder a light push.
I kneel a bit closer to the bed, "Alistair?"
At first, he doesn't even stir. I press him again, and he makes some kind of noise between a mewl and a groan, and then tries to move his legs but realises they're tangled up between sheets. I pull them off. He moves a little bit, and then turns over to face me, a dumb grin on his face.
"Thank you."
"What for?"
He uses my shoulder as an anchor to stand up, "Letting me sleep in your bed."
"You're welcome," I say a little curtly, because I haven't forgiven him yet. It's going to take a while before I can forget about the fact he stole my bed and asked me to sleep with him (well, next to him).
He sits cross-legged on the rug, yawning into his hand continuously.
"What's for dinner?" he asks.
"Indian takeaway." I hold my head up with my hands, because for some reason it keeps drooping like I could fall asleep on the spot.
"I'm starving," he says.
"I'm not surprised. You skipped breakfast and lunch."
“So did you.”
I shrug, “I can deal with it.”
Alistair begins to imitate me, shrugging his shoulders over-dramatically and pursing his lips, “I can deal with it. I’m Hira. Nothing ever bothers me, really. I could live on nothing but water and my own superior thought process and I’d still be cool with it.”
“I don’t do that.”
“You’re doing it now.”
“I’m not," I say tightly, purposely turning away from Alistair so he can't see my face, just in case I do look like that. I don't think I do, but it worries me anyway. "You're so stupid."

"Why do you always call me names?" Alistair huffs, poking me right in the face with his finger. I jerk away from his touch. "You're so selfish."

"You're like a child."

Alistair grins, "I already know that: you've already told me."

"I know."

"Of course you do."

We yawn together, and I wonder who passed the yawn on first, or whether we just did it at exactly the same time. I can't seem to stop. My jaw aches like I need to stretch it, but when I do, it just feels weird because I don't actually need to yawn. My eyes water a little bit, and I quickly wipe the tears away in embarrassment.

"Nice bed head, by the way," Alistair says, nodding at my hair.

I look at his hair too, and see that it's sticking up in random places like spikes. "Yours too."

"I take pride in it," he pulls his fingers through it and flattens it a little bit, but it still looks funny. I don't bother trying to fix my own since I'll probably just make it worse.

Alistair says, "I'll probably go home after dinner since it's school tomorrow," he groans. "I've got so much homework."

"Me too."

"Will you help me with it?"

I frown, "I might, but I don't know how to do most of it."

"You're so clever, though."

"Not really. I'll try and do it all tomorrow, and we can share all the answers so we can get most of it done," I say, thinking it through. I don't think I can be bothered to look up every single French word I find on Google translate tomorrow, so two heads will be better than one.

Alistair nods lazily. "We can get something to drink somewhere. Where do you like going?"

"I don't know the name. I just know some people who work there, and they're pretty clever. They can help."

"Your 'friends'," Alistair pauses, "Wait, is this the non-irritating person you were telling me about? Because if so, I have to meet him."


"What's he like? Tell me more about him."

I lie back against my bed post. "He's weird, in a good way, I guess. And Nora is okay too. I think they're secretly in love with each other, but-" I smile. "I don't know. They're nice."

Alistair smiles too, "I haven't met any of your friends before."

"They're not my friends, and they'll probably like you more than me, anyway."










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