I sit on the bus with Maya and Adam trying to show a polite interest in their conversation. I've never felt so pent up and hyper about just meeting someone.
"… right, Spazway?"
I look up and realise that they're looking at me. "Um, yeah?" I say, hoping that I've given the right answer.
"He's got it bad." Maya deduces. She smirks at me. "We just asked if you and Linda will stay friends."
I know for a fact that both Maya and Adam hate her, so they weren't making conversation, they were confirming that I was spacing.
I'm saved from further embarrassment by the bus pulling over outside the mall. I hop out of my seat and am at the door before it even stops completely. I hear Maya and Adam laugh at me. Yes, I'm hopelessly pathetic.
I encourage (read: threatened to leave them behind) the others to walk as fast as is humanly possible towards the bench where we met Taz on Saturday.
She's there already, bouncing excitedly. Does she ever run out of energy? She grins at me, and I don't think I imagined the way her eyes light up.
"Maybellina, Charliebobs and Adamykins!" She calls. Several hundred people stare at her like she's a lunatic, and I pick up the pace.
She leaps off of the bench and hurls herself at Maya for a hug. Once that's done, there's a hug for me that ends all too soon.
"How are you diddling, Scrat?" She asks me with a big grin.
I've no idea what she's saying so I just adlib. "Nice to see you, Gremlin!"
She bounds over to Adam and stops dead. "Not sure if I should hug you." She admits, then shakes his hand enthusiastically.
"Have you been at the sugar again?" Maya asks.
"Nope. This is pure Taz adrenaline." She says. "So, what do you think of the outfit? I'm trying to practice looking preppy, did it work?"
I grin at her. She's wearing a black skirt, a huge pair of Dr. Marten boots with butterflies painted on them and a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the tails tied in a loose knot above her midriff.
She kinda looks like Britney Spears did in the Baby, One More Time video, except she looks nothing like her. It's a bizarre comparison.
"You don't look preppy at all." Adam says, then hastily adds, "but good try."
"New piercing?" Maya asks, pointing at Taz's belly button.
"Got bored. I've been here three hours." Taz replies.
"Three hours? We were still in class while you were getting hole-punched." I say, and I'm pleased to note she edges towards me.
"It's a hard life not going to school." Taz tells me, moving closer still. "But that will all change. I move into the dorms on Saturday." She grins widely. "I'm looking for volunteers to haul boxes up to my room all day."
"Adam," Maya tugs at his hand. "Remember we wanted to check out that store?"
"What store?" He asks looking genuinely confused.
"That store that we talked about it earlier." She nods, in what she probably thinks is a subtle way, towards me and Taz and tugs on his hand again. "Come on."
"Oh right!" He says, catching on. "Let's go."
Taz and I watch them hurry away. That's sweet, they're going so I can make my move.
I turn back to Taz and I see she's bright red. "Why didn't she just say 'Adam, let's leave Taz and Charlie alone because Taz told me to'? It would have been only slightly more embarrassing."
That was because of Taz and not me? I grin hugely.
"Oh well, now I'm horribly humiliated, follow me." She says matter-of-factly.
I reach out and take her hand. "Don't be, Gremlin."
She grins at me. "Now I feel a little better."
She leads me back to the bench where she was waiting for us and picks up her bag (purple, fluffy, terrifying – it suits her down to the ground).
"You shouldn't leave that lying around, someone might steal it." I say.
She takes a seat and gives me a withering look. "Who on earth would want to steal this?"
She makes a fair point. I take a seat next to her.
She lets go of my hand and starts rummaging in her bag. "I made you something." She shrugs embarrassedly and hands me a box.
I'm touched. "You didn't have to."
"Don't say that until you've at least opened it." She grins. "It's not much."
I open the box and it's filled with protective foam. I pull that out and inside the foam is a small model gremlin. It has a purple mohawk. I grin at her. "This is great."
She blushes. "He's called Tyke. He'd be Spike, 'cos of the spike of hair, but it's purple, so Tyke."
"You made this?" I ask in admiration.
"To be honest, yes and no." She admits. "The actual model is from a kit I ordered off the internet with my Dad's credit card – he's still trying to puzzle that one out – but I painted it and glazed it. Clay isn't really my thing, I prefer to paint."
"Yeah, Maya told me that you'd won an art scholarship." And coming from Eden Hall, that means a lot. The school is almost entirely sports-driven as far as scholarships go. There are only a few on offer for Art, English and some other subjects. The fact that Taz even met the criteria to apply for one just goes to show how talented she must be.
Taz shrugs. "It wasn't that hard, I had a few letters of recommendation as well, and my Dad's loaded, so that helps grease a few wheels too."
"Don't sell yourself short." I say turning the gremlin around in my hands. "This is really good."
She grins at me. "You'll be sick of me and my artwork soon. I have been known to paint walls. When I got home I drew a mountain of purple foam, with Scrat at the top – not you, the squirrelly thing from Ice Age. It drives my Dad insane. We move to a new house, I paint a few murals, then he gets yet another transfer and he has to pay someone to sand it off or paint over it."
"You move around a lot then?" I ask, as if I didn't already know.
She nods. "Yeah, I'm not too sure what my dad does, but he's really good at it."
"So how long have you know Maya? And how did you stay in contact?"
She thinks it over. "Um, I think about two or three years. We went to the same school, I was there for seven whole months, Maya was the only person who was nice to me. We swapped email addresses when I moved and we called each other every few months. Maya insisted that we stay friends, I'd given up even trying at that point. She's a really nice person."
"She said the same thing about you." I say, putting Tyke back in the box.
She grins at me. "Well, that just goes to show… three years of friendship and she still doesn't know me! Then again, I know nothing about you. Maya says you play hockey with Adam."
"Play hockey with Adam?" I repeat, my tone incredulous. "I'm the captain of the team!" I grin at her. "Bit of respect please, Gremlin."
I grin at her nickname for me. She's so… argh! I'm not going to finish that sentence, I'll only compliment her again and then I'll blush and then she'll ask why…
"Actually, we have a game on Friday. I don't suppose you'd like to come and watch?" I offer.
"Can I bring my sketch book? I've never drawn a hockey game before."
Of all the unique answers. "Sure." I take her hand again.
"Hey guys!" Maya and Adam saunter over.
"Have fun at that store?" Taz asks.
Maya sticks her tongue out in response.
Adam looks around nervously. "So where's the trail of destruction? We left you two alone for half an hour, why is the mall still standing?"
"Yeah, that's because the bomb's gonna detonate after we leave." I wink at Taz and she grins back.
"Why do I get the sinking sensation that you might not be kidding?" Maya teases. "And it's just come over the PA System that the fountain is spouting pink water and if they find the perpetrator they're in big trouble."
I must have missed that announcement. I look at Taz.
She rolls her eyes. "Like I said, I was here for three hours, I got bored."
I laugh, she's amazing. "You're going to get caught one day."
"People like me never get caught!"
"Are we just going to stand here all day, or are we going somewhere?" Adam asks.
I stand and pull Taz to her feet. "Going somewhere." I decide. "But where?"
"Ooh, can we go on the roller coaster?" Taz asks.
"It's kinda small and not too scary." Maya says, then shrugs. "But why not?"
"Yeah," Adam adds. "Let's go queue for half an hour."
I wonder if Taz can stand still for that long. I have doubts.
We walk to the other end of the mall towards the coaster, passing the fountain on the way. It's a vibrant shade of pink. There are seven highly pissed off looking security guards standing in front of it, and close to them are Linda and her activist friends, looking horrified.
Everyone else who sees it laughs.
I know I made the right choice. I slip my arm around Taz as we walk and she grins up at me. I have to wonder when I'll get the chance to kiss her.
As we queue Maya and Adam exchange a few kisses and he tickles her. I really want to kiss Taz, but I don't want our first kiss to be in a queue for the smallest roller coaster in the world.
I content myself with playing with Taz's hair. It's a really bright shade of purple, not many girls could look good with it, but she does. She even dyes her eyebrows purple too. I'll have to ask her what her natural colour is.
We finally get on the coaster and the guy taking tickets jokes about how Taz and Maya are only just tall enough to ride it.
I put an arm around her shoulder and she leans into me. The coaster is boring, but with Taz it's fun. She giggles like a loon as it twists and turns.
She drags me on it a further three times, Maya and Adam decline, and when I put my foot down and refuse to queue again, we find the other two sharing cotton candy. It's such a nauseatingly couply thing to do.
Taz is horribly offended, simply because they don't sell purple cotton candy. She actually asks the vendor why he doesn't have purple food colouring. I have to drag her away when the debate gets a little too heated.
"Sorry!" I tell the guy. "She's on day release and wriggled out of her straight jacket."
"I still think you should consider purple!" She tells him, not budging an inch.
The guy looks tiredly amused, and I know it's time to take Taz away. I lean down and tip her over my shoulder.
"Scrat! I'm wearing a skirt! If my knickers are on show to the world I'll kill you!" She yells. "At least they're my very best ones!"
I know I'm blushing. "It's ok, Gremlin. Everyone thinks your 'knickers' are very nice." I tell her as I carry her over to Adam and Maya.
"Charlie, put her down. She's not used to being so far from the ground, she'll get airsick." Maya instructs with a grin.
I reluctantly set Taz on her feet again, she looks a little dizzy and grabs my arm for support. I put an arm around her shoulders and she leans against me.
We wander around aimlessly for awhile, then the girls excuse themselves to use the restroom. We know this is just an excuse to leave us alone while they gossip about us. The only reason guys don't use the same excuse is because we know girls use this trick and we wait until they do to start talking about them.
"Have you kissed her yet?" Adam asks as soon as they're out of earshot.
"No opportunity." I reply.
"What do you mean no opportunity? You've been hugging her and holding her hand the whole time – and what about that half hour when Maya dragged me into a shoe shop so the two of you could talk?"
I roll my eyes at him. "How long did it take you to kiss Maya? I had to ask her out for you! You don't have a leg to stand on in this argument."
"But you're not me." He points out. "You had half an hour to kiss her without me and Maya around!"
"She gave me a Gremlin, I was so busy being stunned I missed the opportunity." I admit with a sigh. "Maybe I can take her out after the game on Friday. Just the two of us."
"She gave you a Gremlin? Oh, never mind, they're on their way back, do you want me and Maya to disappear?" He offers.
"Banksie, I love you."
He looks embarrassed. "Please don't say that again in public."
Maya walks over to him. "Adam, shall we –"
At the same time he says, "We should go see –"
They grin at each other and disappear quickly.
Taz again looks embarrassed.
"I told Adam to take Maya somewhere else." I tell her and she grins at me.
"I might have asked Maya if she had an elsewhere to be also."
I take her hand again and lead her over to a bench. "I was thinking," I take a deep breath. "Do you want to go out some time? Just us, not Adam and Maya?"
She grins hugely and nods. "Yeah, I'd like that. But not here, there's only so much damage I can do to the same mall without calling attention to myself."
"Don't worry, Gremlin, I'll take you somewhere new, where nobody will be expecting you to destroy something." I grin and pull her closer to me.
She looks up at me, and I know now's a good a time as ever to kiss her.
But I don't get that far, because she moves closer and kisses me.