Bitter 11

The sight of him brought back all the emotions she’d felt on the bus. She didn’t know what he was doing here, he was far too dumb to be in Advanced Maths for starters. Her first instinct was to rush over and shove him as hard as she could.

She resisted the urge.

Lewis walked over to the teacher, glancing at Britta as he passed. There was a flash of disgust across his face. He clearly hadn’t forgotten what she’d said about him, either.

A wave of guilt washed over her own anger. She had started it all by making fun of him in front of other people. He had only retaliated and at least he’d done it without knowing she was there. He hadn’t tried to embarrass her to her face. In some ways that was the kinder approach.

Lewis spoke to the teacher and handed him a note which Mr Quarrie read and then refolded.

“It seems this is your lucky day,” he said to the class. “I have to go on… an important errand. Quiet study until I return.”

There was a murmur around the class, as there always was when something unusual happened, and Mr Quarrie hurried out with Lewis following. Lewis threw another hate-filled glance in her direction before he left. Rather than annoy her, it only made her feel sorry she’d said anything in the first place.

“Lewis the Loser,” said Rashida. “What a prat.”

“You think so?” It was the only thing Britta could think to say that didn’t add to her guilt but didn’t sound suspicious. She could hardly insist he wasn’t a prat, that would raise all sorts of questions from Rashida.

“Did you hear about his sister? She’s in hospital.”

“Oh,” said Britta, beginning to feel even worse. “What for?”

“AIDS,” said Rashida.

That didn’t sound very likely. “How old is she?”

“She’s in Year 3, so thirteen or fourteen, I guess.”

“And you think she has AIDS?”

“Have you seen how she dresses?”

Rashida’s moral superiority was sometimes a little too overbearing. She didn’t really mean to be such a bitch, Britta was sure, but it was easy to say horrible things about people you didn’t really know just for the hell of it, as Britta knew only too well.

Mr Quarrie never came back and the bell rang for the end of class. It was Friday and Rashida went off to do her Friday prayers in the special room allocated to Muslims.  It seemed like the more aggressively anti-Muslim society became, the more firm the Muslims became in adhering to their inconvenient practices. Two groups giving each other the finger.

Britta went to the cafeteria by herself and saw Lewis sitting by himself at one of the long tables. Before she knew what she was doing, she had walked up to him.

“What do you want?” said Lewis, scowling.

She had no idea. “I, er, about yesterday. Sorry.”

Lewis looked confused. “Sorry for what?”

“About making fun of you. I was only joking. I didn’t mean to upset you like that.”

Rather than respond like you’d expect a person who was being apologised to, Lewis’ face tightened into an even bigger scowl. Britta had the distinct impression she had just made things worse.

“I wasn’t upset,” he said through gritted teeth. “Now piss off.”

Now that she thought about it, her ‘apology’ had probably sounded like she was being sarcastic. Sorry for making you cry like a baby. Some things were best left alone. She should just walk away.

“There was something else I wanted to ask you,” she found herself saying. “It’s about the game, New World.”

His anger turned into bafflement. “What are you talking about? What game?”

“The virtual reality game you’re always going on about. You know, the pod?”

He looked even more confused. “It isn’t called New World. It hasn’t even been released yet. It’s still in closed Beta.”

“Oh, is it?” said Britta, not really knowing why she’d started down this line. All she’d wanted was to change the subject and somehow she'd ended up here. “Are there any websites that talk about it?”

“Everyone who’s playing it has to sign an NDA, so there’s not much information out. You could always google it, you know?” He was being quite prickly, but the change of subject to something he was obsessed about had taken away most of his anger. He was too much of a nerd to resist his fanboy tendencies.

“I know, but there’s so much stuff about it, it’s hard to know which ones are actually accurate.” She didn’t know that at all and hadn’t bothered to look, but it seemed like a reasonable assumption.

“True,” said Lewis, now fully engaged like a girl talking about her favourite member of a boyband. “Try, I think there’s a few people on there who know what they’re talking about. Why are you so interested all of a sudden?”

Britta had no idea how to respond. She could hardly tell him she had one at home and had tried it. Or, at least, she didn’t think that would be a good idea.

Lewis’s narrowed eyes widened. “Wait, are you just pretending to like what I like? Are you into me?”

Britta didn’t know what was worse. That he had jumped to such a ridiculous conclusion, or that he looked so appalled by the idea.

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