02-12 Rowan Grows Up


Alec Benjamin – I Built a Friend


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Peaches is Rowan’s ragdoll and imaginary friend who he got from Granny at his birth.* As Rowan grew, so did Peaches, and he’s the only one, a part from Taïga, who can see the ragdoll in its real shape. Not even Granny has a clue Peaches is around, even if she doubts it sometimes.

After Halloween, Peaches saw the animated film Pinocchio with Rowan and has since had thoughts about becoming real. Rowan wasn’t very interested though, thinking it was convenient no one could see his imaginary friend. But ever since they saw the film, Peaches hasn’t let him be for a single minute. When Taïga came home over Christmas, Peaches decided it was time to get things moving…

Reaching for Rowan’s hand, the ragdoll let him glimpse its real face.

‘Wow! You’re a girl!’ Rowan stared wide-eyed at the pretty dark-skinned girl with hair like sunshine and large eyes the color of nutshells.

*Part I – Chapter 20

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But the magical moment was gone in a blink. Peaches was standing before him – a big gangly ragdoll as usual. He shook his head to clear it.

‘Is Buddy the same as you?’

‘Yes, he is.’

‘So you mean there’s a girl “trapped” inside him too?’

‘No. Buddy is a boy.’

Rowan looked at the ragdoll in his arms with a frown. ‘But why doesn’t he move like you? Why is he so small?’

‘I don’t really know, but maybe we can help him?’

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Every day after school, Peaches and Rowan met in the attic pretexting tidying up the old toys and books but it was in fact to work on their secret project,.

But even though he tried hard, there didn’t seem to be a way to make Buddy, and the older ragdoll they had found in a trunk, live like Peaches. Buddy stands up, or moves his head, but that’s about all. The other ragdoll just slumps where he puts him down.

‘It’s impossible, Peaches. I can’t make them real…’

Peaches didn’t say anything, she only hung her head, counting the days until Taïga were supposed to come back home over Christmas.

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Even if Rowan doesn’t seem to have the same connection to the other ragdolls as he has with her, Peaches is at least happy that she has succeeded in one thing – ever since he got a glimpse of her “real me”, he’s been obsessing over the idea of making at least her real.

Peaches was assured that Taïga could help them, as Buddy is her ragdoll. When she finally came home for Christmas, they asked her to give them a hand. She did some research in the old grimoires during the vacation, and she learned that to bring the magic ragdoll to life, it needs a deep friendship connection.

Poor Buddy seemed to be a lost cause. He was initially Shasta’s, and had been rejected early on. Taïga had played with and loved the little doll, but apparently it needed years of complicity to get to the same level of consciousness as Peaches. The other ragdoll they had found in the attic was once Granny’s, and she had never played with it at all. It was probably dead, as Rowan not so gently pointed out.

That’s why they decided to concentrate on Peaches, and Rowan is the key. He is the only one who could possibly bring her back from being imprisoned in the wretched doll’s body. But they also found out that they needed a very special plant that you only find during a day or two when the snow melts in the deep Canadian forests surrounding Lakeview Springs…

But that was more than three months ago, and as time pass by, the little boy’s interest is fading. He doesn’t seem to be as motivated as he was right after Christmas so Peaches keeps bugging him whenever she can…

‘Just stop asking me the same thing over and over again! Taïga said she would help us make the potion, but that it had to wait until next year,’ Rowan sneers, irritated with Peaches who doesn’t seem to understand.

‘But why?’

‘Because she can’t leave APYR to go picking spring flowers in Canada! Obviously.’ Rowan sighs.

‘Why can’t we go? Just the two of us?’

Rowan just stares at the giant ragdoll. ‘You are really thick sometimes. How far would we get before some policeman would start asking questions? Or worse!’

‘Oh! I see…’ If Peaches could bite her lip she would surely have done it now… She glances at Rowan and adds slyly, ‘It’s a pity you’re just a child…’

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Maybe the ugly ragdoll isn’t as stupid as Rowan thinks she is. He hates being treated as a little kid, and Peaches knows that. As she has pointed out, as a child he’s powerless. There’s only one way to speed things up; he has to grow a little first.

He takes his savings and goes to “Abracadabra Witches’ Brews” shop and explains his dilemma to Jodi Wren who runs the store. ‘… so I’d like to buy a “grow up” potion!’

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Miss Wren laughs a little. ‘Let me recap: you need to grow up so you can make your imaginary friend come alive for real. Oh, my. That’s a very important mission, indeed.’ She smiles indulgently, and Rowan can see her eyes sparkling, knowing she doesn’t believe him.

‘But I’m sorry to have to break it to you – magic doesn’t really exist. There are no such things as imaginary friends and magic ways to grow up. You’ll just have to wait like everyone else your age.’

But when she sees the distress on the young boy’s face, she returns behind her counter and rummages around on the shelves. ‘But I might have something else that can help you.’ She turns around, lowering her voice, ‘It’s a very powerful friendship potion.’

Rowan puts a brave smile on his face and fishes out his purse. ‘No, you don’t have to pay. It’s your Great Aunt Missy who’s made it anyway…’ She pats him on the head and hands him the light blue bottle. ‘And remember, magic is all in your head and your heart. If you believe in this potion, it will certainly help you get a “real” friend…’

Rowan takes the tiny bottle and looks thoughtfully at the liquid swirling around, then he puts it in his pocket. ‘Thank you, Miss Wren. Has my Aunt any other potions for sale?’

‘No. This is the last one. As a matter of fact, it was the only one…’

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Rowan takes his time walking home, kicking pebbles along the way and thinking out loud, used to having invisible Peaches around, ‘I just hate to be patted on my head!’

He sends a pebble flying.

‘A friendship potion! Do I look like someone who needs to throw potion around to get friends?’

He sends another pebble flying.

‘Do I look stupid or what? Like Hell I’ll drink anything magic coming from Missy!’

Suddenly he lights up, he’s just got a brilliant idea…

He runs the rest of the way home, throwing his coat on the stairs as he takes them two at a time. He grabs Buddy in his room and rushes up to the attic with Peaches in tow.

‘What’s up?’ Peaches pants behind him.

He doesn’t answer, just puts Buddy on the floor and sits down facing the doll.

‘What are you doing?’

‘Wait and see.’ He unscrews the bottle and drips a little of the potion Miss Wren gave him on Buddy’s head. A part from a little speck of humidity, nothing happens. ‘Maybe we need more?’ He empties the elixir on Buddy’s head, seeing it getting absorbed by the cloth and filling…

But nothing happens.

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Rowan looks at the bottle. ‘Well, it was worth a try…’

‘Look! Rowan! Look at Buddy!’

The little doll is shaking and suddenly he pops up from the floor and unveils! Just like Peaches, but with less sparkling!

‘It worked!?! He just needed some concentrated friendship…’ Rowan stands up. ‘Can you speak?’

‘I think I can…’ Buddy coughs. ‘I can! I CAN SPEAK! LOOK AT ME!’ Buddy screams, jumping up and down.

‘I said speak! Not scream!’ Rowan puts his hands over his ears.

Peaches circles around Buddy admiringly. ‘I guess we’ll have to prepare two potions…’

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But Buddy’s bright orange color is starting to fade, becoming a washed out shade of yellow. Rowan reaches out and touches him, but without warning Buddy just starts shrinking until he becomes a little ragdoll slumped on the floor again, an image of desolation.

Rowan picks Buddy up and turns him this way and that. ‘Well. I guess it didn’t work after all…’

‘We’ll need more potion! A lot more potion!’

‘Oh, yeah. I kind of figured that out already!’

Peaches scratches her head. ‘I know where there is more.’

‘Really? And why didn’t you say that earlier?’

‘You didn’t ask.’

Rowan follows Peaches gaze towards the closed door in the corner. ‘We’re not supposed to go in there…’ Rowan hesitates. ‘… and the door is locked…’

Peaches looks at Rowan. ‘I know where the key is hidden. I can get it tonight…’

She grabs his arm, dragging him across the room as far from the looming door as possible. Whispering, as if the door had ears, they plot about getting into Granny’s secret storage room. Peaches tells Rowan all about how she followed Granny one night when Rowan was reading one of his boring books assigned from school, and how she accidentally saw where the old lady hid the key…

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The next afternoon after school they meet up in the attic. The door seems darker and bigger up close.

‘Are you sure it’s safe?’ Rowan is a little nervous.

‘Yes. Missy is in town and you know Granny is going through old clothes, she’s gonna be busy the whole day.’

Rowan looks at Buddy in his arms. ‘There might be more of that blue friendship potion in there… And maybe there’s something that makes me grow too…’

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But is it worth it risking Granny’s fury? Nah… Rowan is not so sure anymore that he wants to go through with their plan. It seemed easy enough yesterday, and it was rather exciting to plan the whole thing, but now…

‘Come on. I’m sure there’s more of the blue potion for Buddy!’

‘I think you’re more worried about Buddy than me.’

‘I’m not!’ Peaches answers irritably. ‘Now, are you chickening out?’

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‘No, I’m not. But I don’t like the way you talk to me. Maybe I won’t do it.’

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Peaches hangs her head, an image of sorrow. ‘I’m sorry…’

‘OK OK…’ Rowan takes the key from Peaches and turns it once… twice… The door clicks open…

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He hesitates, but Peaches encourages him to step inside the dimly lit room filled with elixirs and bizarre things floating around in bottles. He scans the shelves for something light blue, but the only one in sight says “Morpheus” something. There’s no sign of the kind of potion needed for Buddy.

‘OK. There’s nothing for Buddy in here.’

Peaches looks disappointed. ‘Don’t forget the other reason why we’re here!’

Rowan continues to take down bottle after bottle, strenuously reading the labels.

Peaches interrupts, ‘Hurry! Do you think it says Rowan’s Growing Up Potion on it?’

‘Probably not, but I won’t risk my health trying them all!’

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He picks down a yellow flask. ‘I think this is it! It says: “Ingrotio: What is short, what is small, makes it grow 2 inches tall. What is young in nature, will now grow and become mature”, then it says 1/year.’

‘Hmm. I guess it means you must drink one big slug for each year you want to grow.’

‘Yeah, yeah… 10 slugs, huh? So I’ll be 21.’

‘Exactly.’

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He lifts the bottle to his lips, but the disgusting smell makes him gag.

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‘Go ahead! Drink it!’ Peaches urges.

Rowan closes his eyes and holds his breath. He quickly takes a big slug, then another. 3, 4, 5… 6, 7… 8. He almost chokes.

‘Oh no! You mustn’t stop! Five more…’

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But it’s too late. A dizzying feeling overwhelms Rowan, and the bottle slips from his grip, rolling away on the floor, spilling its precious liquid on the rough planks, seeping down through the crevices and being absorbed by the wood.

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His body tickles and itches. The clothes are suddenly feeling too tight. He tears them off as the dizzy feeling grows stronger and stronger.

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Pain sears through him and he struggles not to cry out as the bones in his body cracks and distorts.

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‘It worked! Oh. My. God. It worked!’ he gasps, incredulous as he looks down on his ripped stomach and long hard legs. ‘Geez, my feet must be at least a size nine…’

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‘You look good. Hmm… Very muscular,’ Peaches nods approvingly.

Rowan touches his hair. ‘Yeah. And my hair has speed grown too…’

‘But it looks fantastic! You’re very handsome!’

‘Thanks. Gosh, my underwear is too tight. How old am I?’

‘I counted eight, so that makes you-’ Peaches counts on her fingers, ‘-sixteen. We’ll have to do with that…’

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‘Sixteen, huh? Hehe, I’m older than Taïga! I can’t wait to have a look at myself…’ Rowan hurries downstairs with Peaches in tow.

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He heads straight for the bathroom, closing the door on Peaches.

‘Nope. No “girls” in the bathroom with me – imaginary or not!’ She protests, but he doesn’t care. Whistling he does a double take when he sees himself in the mirror. ‘Handsome? Definitely. But what is this? I need to shave? Wow…’

He rummages through the little cupboard and comes up with some disposable plastic razors. ‘Lucky for me that Granny and Missy have hairy legs.’ He chuckles to himself. ‘I’ll bring those along with my toothbrush.’

After a quick shower, he puts his too tight underwear back on and sets out to find Granny.

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Granny is folding and putting away some clothes in her closet when Rowan knocks on the open door.

‘Ahem…’ He clears his throat discreetly, suddenly aware that it might not be such a splendid idea to come into Granny’s room like this.

‘Yes, Rowan. Have you already finished your homework?’ Granny closes the wardrobe door before turning around.

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She screams at the sight of the half-naked young man, and almost passes out. She recovers quickly from her fright though, and whips out her wand.

‘How dare you threat an old lady!?! Stand back!’

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‘I will change you into a frog! No, a toad.’

‘But it’s me, Rowan. Granny! Please stop!’ Granny hesitates, squinting at him. ‘I just wanted you to help me with some clothes!’

‘Clothes? You’re right. It’s easier to change you into a toad afterwards. It could be funny to see a toad with clothes.’

C’mon, Granny. You know I hate toads.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes, ever since Taïga put one in my rain boots.’

‘You are Rowan? For real?’ Granny’s jaw grow slack and she gapes at him. ‘But how come…?’

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‘Can I explain after getting dressed, please?’

‘Of course… But I’m not sure I’ve got anything useful…’ She starts rummaging through a box on the floor of her closet, mumbling to herself. Triumphantly she lays out a white shirt, a knitted pullover and a school blazer on the bed, together with some blue jeans. ‘These were Taïga’s, but I think you’re thin enough to wear them…’

A few seconds later Rowan is fully dressed.

‘Thanks, Granny!’ He passes a hand through his hair. ‘Peaches made me drink a yellow elixir you’ve made.’

Granny stares gaping at him. ‘Did you say a yellow bottle?’

‘Yes. It’s disgusting, by the way. Isn’t there a way to make it more drinkable?’

‘Drinkable? You’re not supposed to drink it!’

‘But it said 1/year?’

‘Oh, my. Let me examine you!’ Granny scrutinizes Rowan thoroughly, making him gape and stick his tongue out, checking the color of his eyeballs, pinching his arms and cheeks. Finally she seems satisfied. ‘It’s 1 spoon-full in two gallons of water, once a year – for my plants!’ She frowns a little. ‘But it seems to work on humans too… I better keep a close look on you for a while…’

‘But I feel great!’ He hesitates. ‘There’s no risk I’ll start sprouting leaves through my nose or something like that, is it?’ He winks at Granny and starts out the door.

‘Wait a minute, young man! Who’s Peaches?’

‘Uh-oh…’ Rowan grimaces, while Granny continues.

‘And how am I supposed to explain this at school? And what about your father? Have you thought about what your father will say?’

Rowan hasn’t, but Granny seems eager to fill him in…

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Rowan is in no hurry to find out his father’s reaction, so he and Peaches decide to leave as soon as possible. They sneak out around midnight that same night. Rowan has left a note so Granny won’t worry, but he counts on calling her in the morning anyway. He remembers when Taïga took off in the middle of the night and how worried they all were.

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‘Wait a minute. I don’t feel… well.’

Rowan stops. ‘Again? Can’t you just stop strutting and try to walk normally. You’ll be able to walk faster.’

‘No. It’s-’ Peaches stops talking, her mouth too distorted to utter a sound. Her head is growing fast until it becomes big as a basketball. Rowan is afraid she might explode, but then her whole body starts to unfold…

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Before he has the time to blink, the ragdoll is as tall as he is. Peaches stretches her arms, and rolls her head. ‘Oh… I feel a lot better now! What are you just standing there for? Let’s go find that railway track!’

Rowan scratches his chin, but follows her. ‘Can you tell me what that was all about?’

‘I guess I’m connected to you – When you grow, I grow. When you sleep, I sleep etc.’

‘Sounds logical…’ Rowan shakes his head. ‘I wish I had brought something to eat… I’m terribly hungry…’

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Peaches reaches into her pocket, fishing out two sandwiches. Rowan tears away the plastic, devouring the ham and cheese stuffed bread like he has never seen food before. Peaches stops and stares at him.

‘So what? I’m a teen. I’m supposed to be hungry.’

Peaches doesn’t move, inkling her head a little, listening. Suddenly she snaps into action, sprinting past Rowan. ‘It’s coooooooming!’

‘What?’

‘The traaaaaaiiiiiin is cooooooming!!!’

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They jump onto the slowly moving northbound train, relieved to find the wagon empty. After finishing off their sandwiches, they sleep through the night in the goat smelling hay. Twenty hours later they arrive in Lakeview Springs after an uneventful journey.

‘We have to find somewhere to shower!’ Rowan sniffs his armpits.

‘Yes, you reek like a buck!’

‘Thank you… You don’t smell so nice either! And you can’t shower, so if you don’t watch your tongue I’ll just stuff you into a washing machine!’

Peaches doesn’t have time to answer, as the train slows down and they have to jump off.

On their way into town, they stop at a gas station and Rowan washes in the bathroom. True to his word, he takes a protesting Peaches to the laundromat.

‘But I’m not waterproof! What if I shrink? And my colors will surely fade!’

‘You’re grey, Peaches. I wouldn’t worry about fading…’

‘That’s cheating! You can’t do this to me!’

But Rowan just chuckles. ‘You stink, and people will think it’s me…’

He promptly stuffs Peaches into one of the huge machines, before settling on one of the chairs and taking out his cell.

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Rowan calls Granny while keeping an eye on the washing machine. He tells her a little white lie, hoping she’ll believe him.

‘Actually I’m on my way to Monte Vista, I’m waiting for the luggage right now… Yes, I wanted to see my dad… Yes, I’ll tell him… I love you too and I’ll be back in a fortnight or so. Bye!’

 

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After putting a dripping Peaches in the dryer, they walk down the main street trying to find somewhere to eat. Peaches is brooding, tagging along mumbling about injustice and generally snubbing Rowan, refusing to talk to him. They stop at a little restaurant, Hogan’s Deep Fried Diner, and Rowan asks the young waitress if she has any knowledge about the woods.

‘We’re… err, I’m here to help my dad list the flowers in the area…’ Rowan is charming and the young waitress tells him all she knows – which isn’t much.

She quickly scribbles down her phone number and gives it to Rowan with a wink. ‘I’m Blake Grayson. Call me. There’s a party on Friday…’

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Rowan spends his last money on a little tent and they set out into the wilderness. Two days later they still haven’t found what they were looking for and they’re also out of supplies.

‘Let’s have fish for dinner!’ Peaches suggests, but they aren’t good at fishing.

After getting their hooks and lines into a mess for the umpteenth time, Rowan gives up, ‘We have to head back into town.’

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They trek all the way to the little diner, hoping to find Blake and maybe scoring a free meal.

But Blake isn’t at work, and the other waitress doesn’t seem in a good mood to talk, even when Rowan turns on the charm.

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Rowan is digging in his pocket for some loose change, wanting to buy at least some fries, when his fingers close around the little slip of paper with Blake’s number. He had totally forgotten all about the party, but now he quickly dials and she answers on the first ring.

‘Hi! It’s Rowan. I guess you don’t remember me but you gave me your-’

‘Of course I remember you! You’re the cute guy who’s looking for flowers.’

‘Yeah. Right… I was looking for you, but it seems you don’t work today.’

‘Are you at the diner? I’m on my way to the party but I can pick you up in ten.’

She hangs up and Rowan shudders. ‘Might as well go. I’ve never been to a party before, and I guess there will be free food!’

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Blake is right on time, she leans over and opens the window, motioning for Rowan –and invisible Peaches – to jump in. She seems truly happy to see Rowan again, chatting about the upcoming party. Rowan tries to ask her more questions about the Wonderpetal, but he was right, she doesn’t know anything. Peaches grumbles about stupid blondes from the backseat during the ride, being miffed that Rowan didn’t choose to sit with her.

They drive out of town and turn onto a dirt track up into the mountains. It doesn’t take long before Blake pulls her turquoise Renault up in front of a brightly lit house.

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Loud music is blaring out of the windows and there are teenagers and young adults milling about.

‘Yeeehaaa! I want to try that!’ Peaches jumps up and down, clapping her hands when she sees someone doing a keg stand on the porch.

Rowan rolls his eyes at Peaches. ‘Thank God no-one can hear you… Or see you,’ he mutters. ‘But go ahead. No one is stopping you.’

Blake turns around and grabs his hand. ‘Of course no one would, it’s a party!’

‘Err… I meant… Nothing. Let’s do this!’ With a last glimpse at Peaches by the kegger, Rowan follows Blake inside, and she introduces him to everyone along the way. Between pats on his back and handshakes, someone puts a red mug with something that might be beer, in his hand. He drinks it quickly, grimacing at the bitter taste, but as soon as he puts it down he gets another.

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He loses Blake in the crowd, but in the kitchen two guys take him under their wing.

‘You must help us!’

‘Yeah, Dennis here believes his drink is the tastiest…’

‘C’mon Emmit, you know it is.’

‘Yeah, but half the taste is in the choice of glass. Look.’ He raises his green drink towards the light.

‘Err… OK.’ Rowan takes the pink glass and takes a big gulp. The liquid burns its way down to his stomach and he makes a face. ‘Wow. This one is powerful… Wow.’ He takes another gulp. ‘But it’s good.’

Dennis smiles triumphantly at Emmit, who promptly puts his glass in Rowan’s hand and urges him to drink.

Rowan sips carefully, but the green liquid isn’t that juiced. ‘Tasty.’

Emmit turns towards Dennis, smirking. ‘Told ya!’

Dennis says, ‘But mine is more powerful!’

‘I’ve got an idea…’ Emmit rummages through a cupboard and comes up with some martini glasses. Rowan accepts the empty glass that’s offered and they pour a little of both their drinks in it.

Rowan sips it tentatively. ‘I think this is it, guys! Maybe it lacks of… pink?’

Dennis and Emmit cheers and starts to pour a little of their drinks into each glass and soon the three of them are tasting the mixtures, adding some of this and a little of that…

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Blake finds him in the kitchen. ‘There you are! I’ve been looking for you, I wanna dance!’

She takes the glass filled to the brim with the pastel colored mixture offered to her, but puts it down again on the counter on their way out.

‘Hey.’ Rowan reaches for the glass, but she swaps his hand away.

‘You shouldn’t drink that. Before you know what’s happening to you, you’ll be hugging the toilet.’

Blake drags him back into the living room and onto the dancefloor and when she sneaks closer and kisses him, he kisses her lightheaded back. They sway to the music, kissing.

‘Wow. This is powerful.’

‘What?’

‘Nothing…’ He reaches for her lips again. ‘Just that there are perks to being a teenager.’

Without a word she pulls away and takes his hand. He follows Blake upstairs, head turning, heart beating fast. He just wants her to stop walking so he could kiss her again.

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She pushes open a door and Rowan catches a glimpse of a couple making out on the bed in what seems to be the master bedroom. The sight of the couple awakes feelings in him he didn’t even know existed, but he’s starting to get the hang of his new body. Following his new urges, he takes Blake’s hand and guides her downstairs again, through the dancing crowd and out into the night.

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He hesitates on the lawn, but Blake knows where to go…

‘Where are you going?’ Peaches voice comes out of the darkness.

‘Somewhere you shouldn’t be following us!’

‘Don’t worry… I know this forest, I grew up here,’ Blake adds reassuringly, tugging at his hand, taking him further away from the house.

‘You shouldn’t go with her. It might not be safe!’ Peaches whines.

‘Safe?’ I don’t care if it’s safe or not!’

‘I’ve got what’s needed for “safe”.’ Blake fishes up a little blue package from her pocket and Rowan blushes when he understands what it is. Is he really supposed to use that? He doesn’t even understand how you put it on.

‘I can’t believe your guts!’ Peaches adds as Blake pushes Rowan down onto the lawn. ‘She might be a psychopath or something!’

‘Shut. Up.’

Blake closes her eyes and nibbles at his lower lip. ‘Mmm… I love it when you talk to me like that…’

‘But…?’ Peaches tries to make herself heard.

‘Just let me do this… Alone.’

‘Go ahead. But you seem a little lost… Let me help you…’ Blake kisses him and he responds hungrily, forgetting all about Peaches…

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Rowan rolls off Blake with a contended sigh. He closes his eyes for a moment to make the stars stop spinning, then he turns towards her with a grin.

‘That was incredible! I think I-’ The smile vanishes from his face and he reaches behind her head. ‘What the-?’

He pulls at the plant and sniffs it… Wonderpetal!?!

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Rowan throws the flower into the air and jumps to his feet, pulling Blake up with him. He swings round and round with Blake in his arms.

‘You’re my good luck charm!’

She doesn’t understand what he’s talking about but his merriment is contagious so she laughs nevertheless…

‘What do you mean good luck charm? I’m your good luck charm!’ Peaches holds up the flower sniffing it, and if she could smile, she probably would have…

 

Part II – End of Chapter 12

Next Chapter

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