“Work in groups of three and be ready to present your project to the class at the next session. I’ll give you the rest of our time to find your groups and get started.”
Alerich looked to the desk on his right at Thomas, his roommate and newest friend. Thomas was kind and funny and put up with Alerich’s melancholy and exuberance, both. They had been thick as thieves since the first day of term. “You and me then, mate?”
“Yeah, but we’ll need a third, won’t we?”
Alerich looked from the chestnut-skinned boy to the other lads in the room. They were slowly forming into groups of three, all of them new to the school like Thomas and him and unsure yet where friendship may lie. He watched a tall, gangly boy hover at the edge of several groups, his shoulders stiffening a little with each group that turned away from him. Alerich thought the boy’s name was Edward Fitzmartin, but all he really knew about him were three other things: he was a wizard, like all the lads here; he was smart as all get out; and he was deaf. Alerich doubted that it was the first two that had the other boys giving Fitzmartin the cold shoulder. He looked at Thomas to find him watching the boy be rejected by group after group with a look of sympathy on his face. Alerich nudged him, “How ‘bout it, then?”
Thomas nodded. “Absolutely.”
Alerich got out of his seat and tapped Fitzmartin on the shoulder to get his attention. The boy tensed and shied away from the touch in a way that felt very familiar to Alerich. He would bet that Fitzmartin’s father beat him the way Alerich’s own father did. He smiled at the boy’s wary expression. “Want to join up with Thomas and me? We seem to be a lad short.”
The boy looked from Alerich to Thomas as though judging their potential and their threat, then nodded. “Alright, then.”
His diction was excellent, but his voice was too loud for the small classroom and several of the boys laughed.
Alerich gave them unfriendly glares. “I’m Alerich Ashimar, but my friends just call me Rick. That is Thomas Griffin. You’re Edward Fitzmartin, right?”
The boy watched Alerich’s lips closely but frowned at his own name. “Just call me Fitz. I hate Edward. Edward Martin is my father. He doesn’t like me having anything else of his. I don’t know why he insists on me having his name.”
Alerich nodded. “Alright, Fitz then.”
Fitz watched him closely then sighed. “Why do you want me?”
Alerich blinked a little. “Pardon?”
“For your group? Surely you can see that I’m social kryptonite. If it’s pity, you can shove it.”
Alerich grinned, both at the comic book reference and the general foul-tempered tone. “Are you always such a testy bastard, Fitz? I’m not sure if two of us in a group might not be too much attitude for poor Thomas.”
Fitz grinned at Alerich. “Too right, mate.”
“It’s not pity, Fitz. It’s greed. Why wouldn’t we want the smartest lad in our year?”
Fitz looked at Alerich as though searching for something in his face. Whether he found it or not, he shrugged. “I suppose I’ll be your third musketeer, then.”
Alerich grinned and turned to lead the way back to where Thomas was getting paper and a pen ready. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a tentative smile on Fitz’s lips and his own broadened. He was pretty sure he and Thomas had just found an Athos to his Aramis and Thomas’s good-natured Porthos.
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